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people will say we're in love

Chapter Text

Who cares what happens now.

Just keep your hand in mine.

Your hand feels so grand in mine,

Let people say we're in love!

. . .

An old friend comes to visit, when Kara is halfway between everything.

She hasn’t moved from this place in what feels like an eternity. Then again, time seems to pass differently here, so maybe she’s only just arrived.

 

It’s comfortable here, wherever here is. Kara can’t feel much of anything, anymore, a strange departure from a life in which she felt too much, all of the time, with an intensity that ached. She can drift in and out of awareness, and listen to the stillness of the air, and not worry about the hundreds of billions of sensory signals that used to overwhelm her brain. Supergirl isn’t needed here, and neither is Kara Zor-El.

Here, she simply exists, without any expectations for anything more.

That’s not to say that there isn’t more out there if she wants to find it. Kara knows that she hasn’t explored what’s next, has been riveted here, to this spot between it all. Voices call out from all sides to her; some happy, some proud, some sad, and some desperate.

It’s getting more and more difficult to recall why she’s stuck here, why she is so reluctant about moving forward, but Kara tries to hold on. There’s a reason why she hasn’t passed on, she knows, even if it’s fading away.

Maybe the man taking a seat beside her will have the answers she’s searching for.

“It’s been a long time, Kara Zor-El,” he says, and something about the way he says it helps Kara to remember.

“I thought I told you to call me Kara,” she answers, and Mar Novu smiles over at her gently. The armor is gone, replaced by a simple tunic and pants. His heavy metal boots are nowhere to be seen, and Mar reclines back. He doesn’t look as tired, anymore. Still sad, maybe, but less burdened or guilty. Like he’s been waiting for something for a very long time, and it’s finally within his reach.

They sit there for a while, neither one feeling the need to carry on a conversation. Kara is content to sit with this blurry figure from the past. She could ask who he is, or why she remembers him so clearly when everything else seems cast in a fog, but she doesn’t. He seems to be at peace up here, and far be it from Kara to take that from him.

“I’m dead,” she says, looking over at the man for confirmation. Kara has never been sure of what dying would be like, but if this is it… it isn’t so bad. “I didn’t think it would feel this way.”

Mar just smiles, seemingly in agreement, and Kara laces her fingers together and stays silent.

“You did it, you know,” he comments eventually. Whether it’s minutes or hours later, Kara isn’t sure. “Everything worked out alright, thanks to you. They’re all safe.”

Flashes of memory flit through Kara’s mind— an endless, starry sky, a burning city, and then pouring rain, jagged bolts of lightning. An enemy taking its last breath. A red sun, reflecting off the symbol she wears on her chest even up here.

(Kara can’t recall what the red and gold means, but knows in her soul that it must mean something important. And if it’s right over her heart, she must hold it very dear indeed.)

“I’m glad,” she says, even if she doesn’t quite grasp the weighty significance of his words. She is glad, however; if she helped someone, then she’s happy. Kara tilts her head back, revels in the stretch of her muscles. Something tells her that she isn’t used to feeling something so simple as a fatigued body. It feels novel, and it makes the feeling easy to slip into.

He turns to look over at her, his lips twitching into something pleasant and amused, like he knows something she doesn’t. “That’s it?” he asks, spreading his legs out further until he’s laying down completely. Mar chuckles at her ensuing shrug. “I would’ve thought you’d be full to the brim with questions.”

“A few, maybe.” She joins him on the ground, tucking her arms behind her head and cushioning her neck. There are scars on her body that seem unfamiliar— thin, silvery lines along her forearms, and little dents notched into her back. The largest one is right under her heart. Maybe she could ask about those, but she doesn’t see the point. “You already answered the most important one. Besides, I’ll just forget the rest anyway.”

“Ah, I see. You’ve forgotten so much. I wonder what’s still there.”

“You are, if you can believe it,” she says. Mar smiles, surprised, and Kara smiles back. Everything feels better between them, like whatever happened came to pass. Like they’re each free now, in their own way. “I can remember parts of a battle. It seems I was some sort of hero, whatever happened. I was, wasn’t I?” she asks, just making sure.

“The best of them,” Mar agrees, easing something inside of Kara that she didn’t realize was there. “And what else? Who else?”

He says it like he can’t believe that Kara hasn’t brought it up already, the flashes of remembrance that tug at her heart and make her feel something almost like pain. An ache, perhaps; something pleading and longing, deep inside of her, older than anything else she remembers. It’s like it’s branded into her very bones, the pull of whatever— no, whoever— she left behind.

“I- they’re there, somewhere. It’s hard.” Kara closes her eyes and thinks hard, dredging up familiar glimpses. She can almost cry with just the thought of them. “Sometimes, I wonder if it would be easier to forget.”

“Easier, maybe. But is that really what you want?”

No, it isn’t. Even if she can’t admit it out loud, Kara knows that’s true. So, she wades into the depths of her memories.

There’s a man in blue and red, wearing the same suit as she has on now. Maybe Mar would know what it means. But no, if she looks closer, she can remember more. A different man just like her, not in DNA, but in the way he carried his ghosts, cradled them close to his chest; he’d lost something very dear to him, and Kara knew she had too.

And there are others: a man and a woman by a coastline, taking her hand and staying by her side even as she cried, grieving something immense. A building filled with huge windows that overlooked a city, and a cheerful, funny boy who scurried around with a computer and never failed to make Kara laugh. And another man, taller and with the kindest eyes Kara had ever seen, a camera around his neck and the reputations of others hanging over the both of them.

She can see an older woman, witty and sharp, and fiercely protective of what she believed in. Somehow, Kara can’t remember why, that woman had decided to believe in her, and she had helped her through when Kara began to doubt herself. Later on, a younger girl appears there too, with a bright, earnest smile that makes Kara wonder why it’s so familiar to herself. A new boy shows up in her memories locked-step with this girl; he was perhaps a little stilted, but if Kara knew one thing, it was that he loved that girl.

Then there is her sister. Kara can’t recall much, but she knows this fact to be true: that the girl who is there the most, from when they were young to now, is her sister. They’re still young— she knows how foolishly, devastatingly young she is— but her sister seems to have been by her side for eternity, through the good and the bad and the even worse.

Kara knows how much they love each other.

Alex, a voice says somewhere in the recesses of her memory, and the emotion behind the name comes pouring back into Kara’s body all at once, and the gaping, aching, hole in her heart suddenly has a reason for existing.

“I had a family,” she says, the words coming out a little strained and lopsided, and Mar bows his head in acknowledgment. Suddenly, Kara gets the feeling that he knows what that’s like.

“You did.”

“And I did this for them,” she says, stronger now, knowing innately that these people would be her only reason to fight until her last breath. “So they would be safe.”

“They are. No one else was harmed.” A part of Kara’s soul is soothed by those words, and even if she can’t remember everything, can’t remember why it was her that chose this sacrifice, the fact that she prevented any more pain seems like it was worth it, in the end. This must have been her destiny, what she had been living for.

(It must have been worth it, right?)

Things finally make sense. Now, Kara wonders why it feels like something is still missing. There must be a reason why she’s been rooted here to this spot, why she can’t find it in herself to move forwards towards the voices.

Then, even quieter, the voice whispers again. Lena.

That is a name that means something enormous to her, even if she can’t remember why.

Lena must be the woman who lingers, the one by her side in so many of these memories. She is there next to Alex and smiling over at her across a room full of the others. Kara can remember her bright eyes, and her careful hands, and the determined set to her jaw, and how warm she made Kara feel. Lena means just as much to her as her own sister, but it’s… different, with her.

There’s a longing that Kara feels, remembering Lena, that she doesn’t feel with the others. Maybe that has something to do with the other memories she has of Lena— the ones that aren’t so kind.

Kara can’t quite feel pain here, can’t feel much of anything at all, but when she gets a flash of Lena’s tear-stained, heartbroken face, it’s the closest she’s come to hurt. Whatever it is that happened, Kara knows that it was her fault— and that she never got to mend it.

Maybe that’s why she doesn’t feel the peace that she’d always hoped death would bring.

“They’re safe— but are they… okay?” she asks, and this time, Mar can’t bring himself to smile. He lets out a breath through his nose, and Kara tilts her head away so she doesn’t have to see the hesitation on his face.

“You are a very hard person to lose, Kara,” he answers at last. “Though I must admit that I didn’t know you for long, I know that much.”

“And Lena?” Kara says, almost impulsively, but the name feels so natural on her tongue that she reasons that she must have talked about this woman quite a bit. Mar doesn’t seem surprised at all by the name, just looks at her, waiting for the question.

“Ah, yes. Lena Luthor is more familiar to me than most.” Mar looks over at her with a smile that is almost sentimental, poking at something Kara doesn’t yet understand, and his next words are all the more confusing for it. “She’s been… persistent, hounding me across the universe. She is rather set on undoing what happened to you.”

“Is she- why do I still know her name? Why do I feel like this when I remember her?” Kara raises a hand and presses it against her chest without another word, hoping that this strange tightness would go away with Mar’s explanation.

Mar reaches out and squeezes her shoulder. “Because you’re in love. It’s both the sickness and the remedy, as they say.”

Something about the way he says it seems out of place and Kara frowns. How could she be in love if she was dead? Why, if she could never get back to this woman, is her heart so set on remembering every little thing about her? And why, if she really did love Lena, is there such a persistent ache in her chest when she tries to remember her?

Then again, if she really thinks about it, Kara’s pretty sure she knows the answer to that.

“I hurt her.”

“You did,” is all Mar offers in return, a sympathetic curl to his lips, and Kara doesn’t have the patience for this exercise in remembrance anymore. Whatever peace she had found up here she knows now was a blissful sort of emptiness, and now that she has a reminder of her life, she can’t return to it. Alex, and Lena, and her family tether her to the spot, and Kara knows she couldn’t forget them now if she tried.

“Show me,” she demands, enough blind hope and arrogance in her to assume that Mar can even do such a thing. “I want my memories back. All of them. Even the bad ones.”

“What about the ease in forgetting? This is not something that can be taken back,” he asks, not critical, but genuinely curious, like she can remember being once. She has a vague memory of being a child again, raising her hand and asking anyone nearby about whatever little thing crossed her mind. It was never done out of malice; Kara has always wanted to seek out the truth to things, and in that way, she and Mar are not so different. “You have passed on. There is no shame in forgetting, especially for someone who has carried so much.”

Kara closes her eyes and feels a surge of conviction rush through her body. It isn’t something that she’s found in herself in a long time, and she holds on tight to the boldness it gives her. “I’ve always liked a challenge,” she says, and Mar dares to smile.

“Very well,” he says at last and places a hand on her shoulder. At the simple touch, Kara remembers it all.

She remembers the battles, and the blows landed and given. She remembers watching Krypton explode, remembers what the symbol on her chest means— remembers why she chose to make the sacrifice she made.

But more than that, Kara remembers the feeling behind it all, the big and small moments that were all-encompassing and above all filled to the brim with emotion. She remembers now how it was those feelings that dictated everything she did; she’d always followed her heart more than her head, and it’s evident in the swirl of memories surging back now.

Kara can see the brightness in Brainy’s eyes again, and the wisdom in J’onn’s. She can remember how proud she was every time Nia fought at her side or stood up for herself at Catco. She remembers weekends spent huddled around a police scanner with James and Winn when she was first starting as Supergirl that left her feeling warm and light— and sometimes, when not even her friends could help ease the weight on her shoulders, talking quietly with Cat Grant, the city spread out and shining underneath them.

Of course, she also remembers the pain. Looking back on it now, seeing her life in front of her as if painted on a canvas, Kara knows that darkness has guided her life as much as the light has. The tragedies and the defeats and the failures sometimes removed her choice altogether. She remembers how she felt under the control of the Black Mercy, or Red Kryptonite; she relives the agonizing helplessness holding Astra in her arms as she had died. Non and Lillian Luthor, Rhea and Reign and Agent Liberty all loom large in some corner of her mind, and she understands again the agony of being beaten down into the ground, of getting back up only to stare a new threat in the eyes, to grit her teeth and prepare to get hurt all over again.

Then, there’s Lex. He… actually killed her— actually put an end to the vicious cycle. It’s a tough pill to swallow, even if it’s all said and done now— even if it had been just one single loss in the face of saving the rest of the universe. She can’t help but take it personally— knew that’s how Lex had taken it himself. The man had finally gotten what he’d always wanted: bringing a Kryptonian to their knees by his own hand.

Kara remembers why she had been so worried about it playing out like that.

Because she remembers her sister, and she remembers the girl she had been in love with. Alex, her soul, and Lena, her heart. She remembers what it felt like to be ripped away from them— to make the decision to leave them.

It had been for the greater good; it had been for their good. But now, knowing everything that happened before and knowing that life still carried on without her, Kara can’t help but feel terribly greedy for something so noble.

Kara doesn’t say anything when the memories finish finding their way back into her mind, refilling a vast ocean of little moments one drop at a time, and Mar seems to understand. He lets her soak in it for a moment, taking the time to recline further back on his hands and survey the simple grayness of their surroundings. Once, Kara had found it wonderfully empty; now, it feels barren, so vacant that her imagination begins filling in the blanks. For the first time, she sees ghosts— not of the people waiting for her, but those she left behind.

As she starts to fill in the blanks and unknown edges with familiar faces, Kara finds herself wanting to cry.

Right alongside the memories and the mistakes and the hard, resolute decisions and actions she took are the fleeting moments. The flashes of gray in between the black and the white— the could have beens, and the maybes, and the nearlys. She can’t help but wonder what it is she missed out on. She has a feeling she’ll always wonder about what she almost had.

(Kara wonders, sometimes, why she longs most for the things that she will never know. Or maybe, she thinks, that is what she’s always feared the most, deep down— the unknown. The lack of control. The almosts, and the maybes.)

“Oh,” she finally says, hugging her knees and hoping that if she blinks hard enough, the corners of her vision won’t be so blurry. Kara doesn’t want to cry here; she’s supposed to be at peace, isn’t she? “I get what you mean about the ease in forgetting.” She cracks a smile, however forced, and chuckles. “Very wise.”

“I am sorry if it… disappointed you. I did not intend to cause you any pain.” The Monitor takes a breath, looks over at Kara like he wants to say more, but Kara doesn’t want to hear it. She doesn’t want his pity.

“No. Don’t be sorry.” She takes a shaky breath, wishing there was something else to look at. “There’s no sense in mourning a life that I chose to give away.”

“It’s alright to have regrets,” Mar says, pressing for something. “You have every right-”

“I don’t regret it,” Kara cuts in, leaving no room for argument. “I will always make the decision I made. Every single time.” Her words feel so similar to the ones she had said to Alex all those years ago, and Kara can feel the same surge of pride when she says them again. But then she deflates and thinks about what she’s done, and that pride starts to seem more like hubris. “But you’re right. I do have some… regrets.”

She clears her throat to mask the stinging bout of laughter fighting to bubble out of her. Calling the feeling burning inside of her regret washes out its intensity. Kara doesn’t think there’s a strong enough word in any language on earth to describe how she feels about leaving her family, about turning her back on Lena, about walking away from Alex without a single word of warning, about-

It’s worth it, to know that they’re safe. Kara repeats that to herself like a mantra. It’s enough, it’s enough, it’s enough. It should be. It has to be.

They sit together in silence once more, until Kara can’t ignore the disarming intensity of Mar’s presence any longer. It’s like he’s holding in a breath and waiting for permission to let it go. Kara knows that the Monitor doesn’t make social calls, especially not to the afterlife. She still doesn’t know if they’re friends, exactly— there’s too much war and sacrifice and blood between them to make that clear— but she does know that Mar Novu always has a purpose.

“You’re here for something, aren’t you,” she says, observing more than asking. Mar’s face betrays nothing, but he doesn’t have to, not when Kara understands him so well. There is nothing the Monitor does without intent behind it. “You want something. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. You never would have given me my memories back if not.”

The breath is released, so to speak, and Mar finally looks over at her, resolute. Still calm, and still pensive, but holding more of the unimaginable power he possesses in the straightness of his spine. Kara knows then with certainty that he really is here for a reason— and knows that whatever it is, it involves her.

“After your death, I continued to travel all across the universe,” Mar starts, and Kara follows, trusting that eventually, he will tell her what he needs to. The Monitor isn’t one for pointless tangents. “I restored peace, and rebuilt planets, and maintained order, just as I’d always done. I felt it was my duty to ensure that things were set right. Everything was normal. Or at least, that was what I believed.”

“You told me things were fine,” Kara says, sharper now that her memories are clear, now that she remembers how much she cares.

“And they are,” Mar answers, patient. “Your world kept spinning, no matter what it had endured. But something was off, and I couldn’t fathom why, until now. It was you,” he tells her, and Kara furrows her brow, lost.

“Me?” Kara chuckles simply because there’s nothing else for her to do. It sounds nervous, and it dies as soon as it begins.

“Earth may have survived the loss of Supergirl, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t changed.”

“Okay, that’s… understandable,” Kara says and attempts to venture out into the no-man’s land between them— trying to figure out why Mar is acting like he’s giving her pieces of a puzzle she should be putting together. Of course, the Earth would be different. Kara isn’t an overly arrogant person, but she’d always known that her death wouldn’t be without its consequences. “I’m sorry,” she says with a huff, giving up. “I’m not grasping what it is you’re implying.”

“Kara,” he answers, patient and amused and strangely over-eager. “They still need you.”

She winces against the unintentional sting of the words. “Maybe in another lifetime,”

she says, fighting to keep the guilt out of her voice. “It’s too late for that now.”

“What if I told you it wasn’t?”

Kara stops cold.

“Mar, what are you talking about?” she asks, trying hard to remain calm. His words, as simple and as leading as they were, are leading her down a rabbit hole she’d really rather not be caught in if it collapses. Kara doesn’t believe in false hope, but she can’t stop her mind from wandering. “What are you trying to say?”

“I came here to help you. I’m offering you a choice. A new deal.” Mar takes a breath, and Kara hangs on to every word, knowing that whatever is coming next will forever shatter the sense of ease she’d been basking in here in this blank space. “You can go back to them if that is what you decide.”

Kara laughs.

It’s a quick, uncomfortable chuckle that bursts its way out of her mouth, but Kara can’t do anything to stop it nor does she try to because the words that had just come from Mar’s mouth are equally absurd. They’re more than that; they’re practically unfathomable, and they’re not sinking in the way she feels they probably should, with how he stares over at her.

“I’m sorry,” she says, still bemused, clearing her throat and wondering why Mar isn’t laughing too. It’s an excellent joke, even if it is mean-spirited and a little hard to believe. “What?”

“You can go back,” Mar says again, no less serious than before, and Kara’s smile fades. Somehow, she’s getting the feeling that maybe this isn’t one last prank the universe is pulling on her. “Kara, I have the power to bring you back.”

“But I’m dead,” she retorts, and this isn’t funny at all anymore. Panic floods into the cracks that her laughter created in her facade. While she still isn’t grasping what it is Mar is offering, she is beginning to feel the enormity of it and doesn’t like it one bit. “You can’t do that.”

“I can,” he answers, and Kara splutters. She isn’t sure if she doesn’t believe that the Monitor is that powerful or if she doesn’t want him to be.

(If it’s the latter, if Kara doesn’t actually want any of this to be possible, then Kara needs to take a good hard look at herself and ask herself why.)

“No, you can’t,” she repeats, inexplicably angry now. Maybe it’s because this seems too good to be true— or maybe it’s because her original deal feels tactless now if the Monitor has always had such control over life and death. “I died. I finished my deal and Lex’s deal and evened it all out. It’s all null and void, now. It was supposed to be done with.”

“You kept up your side of the agreement, yes. I’m not offering a chance to undo what happened. I’m giving you a new start. A chance for redemption.”

“Don’t speak in riddles,” Kara says, balling her fists. Maybe she was scared of the Monitor, once upon a time— or at least respected his abilities enough to not challenge him directly unless she had to. But she’s dead now, with nothing else in the way, and if she killed his brother then Kara knows she could take Mar on too if he doesn’t start telling her the truth. “You can’t just say something like that and expect me to believe there won’t be any consequences.”

Mar raises his hands in defense, still having the nerve to look collected when he’s just told Kara something that’s shaken her to her core.

“I never said there wouldn’t be consequences.”

“So what are they?” Kara asks, her voice unnaturally loud in the space they’re sitting in. It echoes jaggedly through the haze, and for the first time, Kara can’t hear the voices whispering her name. “What, I get to come back but my world gets destroyed again? I know how these things work, Mar.” Her voice hardens. “I know someone always pays for these things with blood.”

“Your world will be safe no matter the outcome,” Mar responds, reassuring the part of her that still remembers the way she’d felt when Alex and Oliver and Barry had told her what had happened— when she found out what else she’d managed to lose.

“Then what’s the catch?” she asks him. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Mar sets his jaw and turns more fully to face her, looking more powerful than Kara can ever remember seeing him. “This time around, this isn’t your deal, Kara. It’s mine.”

“What-?”

Mar cuts her off. “It’s a simple trade, really. My life for yours,” he says, and sensing the fact that Kara is about to boil over, he keeps talking, his voice never faltering or wavering. The Monitor is ceaseless. “Now, it isn’t set in stone. You are under no obligation to do anything on my behalf, but yes, Kara. If I stay behind, then you can return to your Earth.”

“How is that a fair trade?” Kara asks because this is the Monitor she’s bargaining with. Kara probably knows him better than most, yet she knows that he has shoes she can’t fill. “I’m- I’m just me, and no matter how powerful I am, I can’t be you! You’ve done things that I can’t even begin to comprehend. You… you watch over the entire universe, for Rao’s sake!”

“I do watch over the universe,” Mar agrees, tapping his fingers against the ground like he’s already thought this through a million times— and if Kara had to place a bet, she’d guess that’s exactly what he’d done. “That’s why I know that I’m no longer needed. It isn’t the same place you left it as, Kara. Because of what you did to defeat my brother, I feel… content, for the first time in millennia. I feel ready to move on if that is also what you want.”

“What I want?” Kara says, barely able to speak. What she wants? That isn’t a question Kara gets asked, nor is it one she’s prepared to answer, yet Mar sits by her side now, with his life on the line, asking her exactly that. It only adds to her rising terror. “How can you even say that? I have no idea what I want.”

“I think you do.” At Kara’s unimpressed look, Mar presses forwards. “What did you seek out most on Earth?”

“I… I wanted to protect people. I wanted to spare them the same fate as Krypton.”

Mar just shakes his head— like Kara isn’t getting his point. “That’s what you were sent to Earth to do. You were tasked with looking after Kal-El, and when you couldn’t do that, you decided to guard over everyone else instead.” He puts a hand on her shoulder that Kara neither welcomes nor shakes off. It feels so alien now, after who knows how long she’d been up here alone, to have someone else reaching out for her who she can see, who she can touch back— who is asking something so monumental of her.

“Look, for just a moment, past your sense of duty. Beyond your responsibilities. I’m not asking you what Supergirl wanted. I’m asking what that little girl who crashed all alone in a strange new world did.” Kara inhales shakily, and Mar gives her shoulder one last squeeze before taking his hand away. “What did you hope to find, Kara?”

“What anyone else would,” she answers honestly, and Kaa thinks she’s finally starting to understand what it is Mar is asking her. He’s already seen into the deepest, darkest recesses of her mind, after all; every test he’d given her hadn’t been about what Supergirl was capable of. It was about what she was willing to sacrifice her life for, about what she was willing to forsake— and she knows that is the answer now. “I wanted people to belong with. Someone to love. I didn’t want to be abandoned again. I wanted a family.”

“You found one, didn’t you?” At Kara’s ensuing nod, Mar smiles over at her, encouraging. “And is that what you still want?”

“Of course,” she replies, but still reluctant. “More than anything, but-”

“Then you can go back. Your family hasn’t gone anywhere.”

“I don’t believe you,” she blurts out suddenly, unable to suspend her disbelief any longer. Mar nods, like it’s completely understandable, and gives her a careful, genuine smile.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Kara. I promise you that this is sincere.”

Kara balks, feeling overwhelmed and doubtful and above all, terrified. Mar doesn’t understand what he’s offering her. He can’t understand what could happen if this is real, if Kara really can come back to life. But, when she studies his eyes, Kara only finds honesty. Mar is telling her the truth.

She really could begin again. She can go back to National City, and be Supergirl again. She could save people again. Kara can see her family again— see Alex again, and Lena.

Kara could finish what she started— or, she could only make things worse.

Suddenly, tears come to her eyes.

“I don’t know if I can,” she says, fighting to keep her voice steady. “They don’t need me anymore.”

She watches the Monitor look away through blurry vision, maybe giving her a moment of privacy. He must sense what Kara is really struggling with, but he doesn’t react, just sits patiently as Kara blinks away her tears.

“I can assure you that Earth will always need Supergirl,” he tells her. “You brought hope, and light, and courage to a world that can sorely lack those things. If you choose to return, it will be in good favor.”

“I don’t mean as Supergirl,” Kara says sharply, because, despite his kindness, Mar doesn’t seem to grasp that Kara is far more concerned with filling the shoes of Kara Danvers again, not Supergirl. “I don’t- I gave up on what I wanted so I could be Supergirl. I saved my world… but I did exactly what my parents did to me on Krypton. I was so scared of being abandoned again that instead, I was the one who abandoned my friends, my family.”

At the mention of Krypton, the voices seem to swell again, so forceful that Kara can almost imagine them standing around her now, reaching out and beckoning for her. She can see her father, with the same mournful look of pride that he had on his face when he first sent her away, now waiting for her to rejoin him and the rest of Krypton. Has Kara always seen his forsaking her noble, or is it only because that’s what she’s subjected her own family to?

It’s what Kara’s always thought she wanted. Death with dignity, with honor, with the same type of sacrifice that had allowed her to survive Krypton. Kara has always wondered if she had been meant to die with her people all along if her coming to Earth was nothing more than a fluke. She’s found people on Earth who see her as some type of miracle— but Kara doesn’t have the heart nor the strength to admit it was really nothing more than a freak accident.

Somehow, she was the one who ended up in that pod out of millions, and Kara has been trying to justify that fact to herself ever since. She’d thought that with a death like hers, that part of her unruly heart would finally be tamed.

Then she thinks of Krypton, blown to bits with little pomp or circumstance, or her aunt, stabbed in the back and entering Rao’s light on an unfamiliar planet. Kara thinks of her own death now, of that long fall back to the ground, and how the red sun that had once offered her such childlike comfort only brought pain. Lena was right all along, Kara thinks. Death is never all that dignified, and maybe it’s time Kara’s stopped hoping that it would be her chance at atonement.

But, still, Kara lingers here, tears in her eyes and torn between two worlds, like she had been when she first came to Earth. It would be so easy to join her father and aunt in the stars. There, she knows she will at least find some peace, however bittersweet. Back on Earth, though, Kara knows she will take on the burden of the world again— and the weight of her own sins.

She turns and looks at Mar hard, searching for answers from him and from herself. “How can I face them, knowing what I did? How can I believe that they’ll forgive me if I never forgave my parents? How can I justify to myself that I’m deserving of what I once had?”

“It was a good life that you led.” Mar places a careful hand on her shoulder and Kara flinches, no longer accustomed to carrying any sort of weight. Her back aches almost with a phantom pain, and she doesn’t know who to believe: Mar speaking to her with such soft sincerity, or the scars on her body that seem to tell her otherwise. “One that you are still deserving of. It may be hard to see that now, when all you can think of is your ending act, but you were good, and you were kind, and-”

“And a liar,” Kara finishes for him. She can’t understand why he’s offering her the chance to go back. What she did isn’t something that can be swept under the rug; Kara can’t recapture the life that she once had, nor can she ever have the one she wanted to before she died. Some things can’t be undone. “You say I’m all of these things— that I’m supposed to be a hero to all these people— and yet I hurt everyone around me.”

“Isn’t that part of being human?” Mar asks, and even if it is bait Kara bites anyway, the voices swirling around them reminding her of Krypton and her pod and the Phantom Zone. She swears she can hear Astra and her father and the rest of her family, and they’re too strong to tune out.

I’m no human,” she answers, just as she had told Alex years before. This time it’s different when the words leave her mouth. This time, it’s a lament— this time, human is exactly what Kara wants to be. Even as Krypton waits for her somewhere in the distance with open arms, even if she knows she could turn away and embrace her lost home, Kara can’t escape the same yearning she’d held in her heart growing up in Midvale. “Sometimes, I really wish I was.”

Sometimes, she wants the happy ending that only humans ever get.

“Kara Zor-El,” Mar says, smiling with such kindness that Kara is unable to look away. “You may bear a Kryptonian name, and come from another world, but I have never seen someone so human when they loved. It was your greatest strength, just as it was your greatest tragedy. Your home is on earth now. You can go back to it as soon as you realize that you are worthy of it.”

“Worthy? After everything, what can I possibly be worthy of?”

“Forgiveness, Kara. You must forgive yourself now. You deserve the mercy that you so willingly give others.”

“I- I don’t know how to do that,” she says with a watery scoff, bringing her knees up against her chest. She feels like a little kid again— full of big emotions and with no place large enough to place them— then remembers that she still is young. She had to grow up too fast, and it’s times like these where Kara realizes how much she still doesn’t know, and how much she’d never thought she’d get to. “I never learned how.”

“I understand. You were never taught to value that type of love. It held no real importance on Krypton, did it? Not that it would have changed anything about its death. And you have always been such a devout carrier of your people’s sins.”

The words stung, but Kara couldn’t deny the truth of them. Forgiveness couldn’t save her world, or bring back her family or her people, and ever since, that had become a part of her. Forgiveness of others was easy, but for someone who had survived what Kara had, who had lost and failed and made so many mistakes, turning that on herself seemed a Herculean task that not even she could carry out.

“I can’t teach you. I’m not better than you in that regard.” Mar shrugs his shoulders and he looks so incredibly mortal, looks no less sure about anything than Kara is, that she actually takes faith in it. It takes a great deal of courage to be someone as almighty as the Monitor and still sit in the dirt, no less enlightened than anyone else. “I’m still looking for that answer myself, Kara. All I know is that if you seek the forgiveness of others, you need to also find it within. Take it from a man who understands better than most: even you are capable of mistakes. You don’t deserve to die for them.”

“Mar, I- I...” Kara falters, tries to find the words to convey the enormity of what he’s offering— of what he’s suggesting about her and her heart. “I can’t just… forgive myself. My choices aren’t small, or meaningless, they- they change everything. One misstep and someone can die. Someone always gets hurt.” The guilt she’s become so used to has never felt so hot against her ribs; it burns and bites and gnaws away at her insides until it feels impossible to ever wash her hands of it. “I won’t ever forgive myself.”

And that’s true, not a measly attempt at an excuse or deflection. That’s honesty, and frankly, it’s terrifying to realize. If Krypton taught her one thing, it was that no amount of forgiveness in the world could ever bring back her parents, or save her world. And Earth had taught her to be selfless, to see the good in others above all else. To believe in second chances, and the ability to change, and the power in redemption.

But how can she expect anyone to forgive her if she can’t even do it herself?

“You say you won’t, that you can’t.” Mar raises his eyebrow and gives her a sideways look. “You weren’t supposed to defeat my brother, either— but you’ve always had a talent for defying the odds. Nothing is impossible for someone like you. Have you ever even tried?”

Kara knows the answer to that. In fact, she knows her answer to quite a few things now.

“I’m scared,” she whispers, confessing, and Mar inclines his head. Once more, Kara feels an odd sense of kinship with him, whoever he is. “So scared. How can I be more scared of this than I was of leaving it all in the first place?”

Mar just laughs, sympathetic but still not pitying. “Life is harder than death, and that does make it terrifying. The most important part of facing your fear is accepting its existence,” he says. “But you deserve a chance to overcome and start anew.”

Kara’s head spins; she grits her teeth and tries to approach this calmly. Mar is right about her fears— but that doesn’t stop the uncertainty from creeping in, shrouding her vision. She frowns and tries one last-ditch attempt for Mar to see reason, says it slow and quiet so he can finally understand the swirling mess of a person he is trading himself for.

“Surely I can’t be worth it.” She says it with a wry chuckle that hides very real doubts, reaching out and pulling her knees to her chest as her half-hearted smile disappears. “Supergirl is the one who does the saving. I make the hard choices, but that’s… I’m the one that loses. That’s what I’m used to.”

“Have you ever considered that I’m not losing?” Mar asks, and when Kara’s wide eyes snap back to him, she notices the depths to his eyes, how hollow and vast they are. “I am an old man— older than you know. Traveling alone has made me weary, and I am tired of it. I have been waiting for this for a long time.”

Something flickers behind the weathered stone of the Monitor’s eyes, and Kara knows she is right about him being more than just a husk. Despite it all, Mar does not seem reluctant about the deal he’s asking her to make, but firm. Resolute, like it’s something he’s already made his peace with and nothing she could say would change it. Kara knows the feeling— knows what it’s like, the moment before you give yourself up.

She never thought anyone would return the favor. Not for her.

“I learned long ago that this universe is cold and indifferent. I used to abide by its rules— until I met you, Kara. You taught me the value of doing good— of being good— despite it all. And it isn’t just me.” He smiles, shakes his head in a way that Kara knows she’s seen before, like Mar is waiting for Kara to realize something he’s known for quite some time. “You may think that your value holds nothing more than what you can give for others, but that is not true. You mean much more than that to a great many people.”

Somewhere, distantly, Kara feels his words ring true, feels them take root in her and strengthen her wavering resolve. But the lesson he imparts feels impossible all the same. Perhaps she’s always been too much of a martyr, always seeking out a cause to give herself to that she’s never realized it. Maybe, she is more than that.

“I might not be able to fix it this time,” Kara confesses, feeling like she’s teetering on the edge but still digging in with her fingertips, afraid to drop. She knows that whatever could be waiting for her back on Earth could be nothing but more pain, and suffering, and exhaustion, and Kara is tired of it all— she’s been tired of it for some time, which is what made giving her life so easy. “I don’t know if I’ll get a second chance. And what’s the point then, if I come back and still lose everything?”

“From what I’ve learned, that’s where you must hope. It’s your choice. I won’t pretend to know what complications may await you back on Earth,” Mar says, glancing once more at the blank sky before meeting her gaze at last. There, Kara sees uncertainty, but underneath that, hope; Mar practices exactly what he preaches. She wonders what voices Mar hears, beckoning to him in this place, and is reminded of the fact that for him, this might be the ultimate victory. “But I do know that we both have people who miss us. I’d very much like to see my family again. If you want, you can see yours too. So again, Kara: what do you really want?”

Really, Kara knows that it isn’t a choice. Not anymore. She’s made her mistakes, and dug her own grave, and left her blood at the altar; she’s given her life away— but if there’s one lesson she’s learned being up here, it’s that she isn’t ready to move on from it. Kara isn’t finished down there. She’s still chasing after something— has been seeking it out for what feels like her entire life— and she won’t let it slip through her fingers again. Maybe, she realizes, what she’s been missing all along is the chance to find peace in someplace other than in death.

Besides, Mar is right about another thing. Kara would do anything to see Alex again. To talk with James, and dance with J’onn, and to laugh with Nia and Brainy, and visit Clark. She would do anything to have one last chance to be with Lena, to do all the things she never got to.

Maybe this time, she’ll say the things she should have been all along.

Kara nods, hardly able to speak. “Thank you.” She swallows hard, the consequences of what she is about to do a fluttering pulse against her throat like she can feel her heart bringing itself back to life. She braces against the strange mix of emotions bubbling in her chest and smiles despite it. “I really hope you’re happy, wherever you go,” she says, and Mar places his hands on her shoulders for the last time. She can feel the power crackling between them, and knows that this will be the last time they talk for a long while. She’s sadder than she thought she’d be.

“Remarkable,” he says, and Kara knows he is smiling too, even with blinding light flooding out from his fingertips, obscuring her vision. He has the warmth of a man about to go home, and Kara can understand how he feels. She feels the same. “Don’t ever lose that hope, Kara Zor-El. For yourself as well as everyone else.”

“Goodbye,” Kara says, and she closes her eyes.

When she opens them again, Kara is back to a place that no longer feels quite as familiar— but it’s home all the same.

. . .

The sun is setting back at Midvale, and Kara takes just a moment to bask in its last few rays. She’s sitting on a bench near the cemetery— having been spared the unpleasantness of clawing her way out of her grave. Still, she’s cold and aching, her bones tired as if that’s exactly what she’d spent a lifetime doing. She feels on the verge of collapsing, and leans into the warmth a little more; something tells her she’s going to need every last ounce of strength that she can find to return to her old life.

She’s alone— and it’s different, being alone here than it was when she died. Wherever she was, wherever she went, it never held the same grip over her as earth does. She remembers how lonely it can be, surrounded by the world and feeling very small in it. Her eyes dart across the cemetery and settle on the valley that Midvale is nestled in, and Kara takes a deep breath in the silence. It seems like a lifetime ago, being here. She supposes that for her, it really was.

She doesn’t feel the urge to wander among the dead until she finds her own name, even if she knows it is there. Kara could have asked Mar for the details, she knows; she could have asked about Alex, and Eliza, and her friends back in National City. She could have asked more about Lena. Kara could have demanded every detail of the pain and the grief that her choice caused, could have let the guilt and the shame of it rise steadily until she was soaked in it, could have reveled in the familiarity of having a debt to repay.

And yet, oddly enough, she didn’t.

Something Mar said sticks with her even now, about what it is she deserves. Forgiveness, he’d said. Mercy. It isn’t something she’s ever thought to extend to herself, but maybe that’s what she’s been missing all along. Maybe, she needs to find something else to seek out besides new burdens to carry. Maybe, she should start asking for something to ease her already heavy shoulders.

The blazing, golden light settles gorgeously on the marbled gravestones and tombs that she has returned to, glancing off of the carved letters and dates and making even the cracked stones and overgrown weeds look like they belong. The sun has a way of doing that, after all; it’s always made Kara feel at home. Now, it helps usher her back into a life that she’d thought was lost to her forever, casting everything in a glow that is so soothing that it practically aches.

She could spend forever out here, can feel her eyes drift closed and her body tugging her towards unconsciousness under the balm. But she doesn’t want to; she wants to stumble her way through the familiar fields, drag her feet along the beach, and crawl, if she had to, just to get to Eliza’s front porch. What will happen, next, she isn’t sure, but she can’t wait any longer.

Kara would very much like to go home now.

The rest of the night is hazy at best. While Mar had performed a genuine miracle in bringing her back home, Kara soon learns it barely extends past keeping her breathing. The wounds from the Anti-Monitor are faded, but they sting and tear and burn as if they’re fresh; without her powers, she’s lost any chance of healing quickly. With her vision swimming and her chest seizing with every inhale, Kara is left limping, feeling feverish as she makes her way through familiar fields. One thing is certain, even through the fog in her mind: she needs to get home now— before her chance at life flickers out.

Somehow, she finds herself on a familiar porch, her body collapsed cold and clammy against the chipped paint and weathered wood of her own childhood house. Kara can’t even remember half of the trip, but that’s the least of her concerns; with shaking arms, she raises herself just high enough to ring the doorbell. It echoes faintly inside, and Kara moves to a slumped, but upright position. She sits leaned against the porch stairs and stares blankly out into the yard. The tire swing that she and Alex had hung up is still tethered to the old oak tree, and she focuses on its slow swaying movement, fighting the way her eyelids droop and wondering what will happen when that door is opened.

If she is honest, Kara didn’t think this through. One of her hands tries to tame the matted appearance of her hair and brush the dirt off of her clothes before she stops, feeling silly. It looks like she just crawled her way back to the living, but really, that’s exactly what she did. And she doesn’t know how to act after coming back from the dead; all she can hope for, as she listens to padding feet getting closer, is that she doesn’t give Eliza a heart attack.

But despite it all— all of her worry, and exhaustion, and the ache in her bones, Kara can only really focus on one thing. She’s home, and it would be really nice to see her mom again.

Because Kara can’t stop her eyes from fluttering shut any longer, she hears more than sees the moment that Eliza finds her out in the setting sun.

She hears the soft, casual footsteps stutter to a halt, and the creak of the door as it’s opened too fast. She can hear a strange strangled sound come out of Eliza’s throat. Kara wonders if Eliza feels the same way she did when Kara first arrived at her doorstep when Kal handed her off and flew away.

Kara hears her name being spoken, over and over again— first disbelieving, then soft, and sad, almost reverential. After that, her hearing starts to drift in and out, but that’s when Eliza falls to her knees and brings her into her arms, and Kara knows she doesn’t need to be scared. She’s home, and she’s safe, and her mom will look after her just like she has from the first day she took Kara’s hand.

Eliza is still calling her name, still cradling her head and murmuring words of comfort and shock alike. Kara knows this isn’t what she expected. This is as close to a miracle as anyone’s seen, and even to Kara, the wonder of it takes her breath away.

Her head lolls back to rest against Eliza’s shoulder, and just before she passes out completely, she manages a small smile. The warmth that she feels makes her feel like she’s floating, makes her want to bow her head and trust; has coming home always felt this much like a blissful surrender? Kara isn’t sure, but she welcomes the feeling anyway.

“Hi, Mom,” she whispers, her voice cracking apart and weak from disuse. Her throat aches with the effort, and she isn’t sure if what she said is intelligible at all, but it’s enough for Eliza, who begins crying, pulling her tighter into her arms.

“Sweetheart. It’s okay to rest now,” Kara can hear her say, even as sleep is coming upon her too fast for her to prepare for. She lets out a deep breath and lets herself drift off, knowing that things will be alright. “You’re home.”

Eventually, there’s silence.

Not at first. No, at first, Alex reacts in exactly the way Kara had imagined she would. She bursts through the front door to find her bleary-eyed, beaming mother and her dead sister sitting gingerly on the couch, pale and somber but very much alive, and that’s enough for her. And Alex, always practical, always cynical, always doubtful Alex, doesn’t ask for proof; she sees Kara’s face and barely makes it to the living room, her motorcycle still running outside. Alex doesn’t care. She sinks to her knees in front of Kara and tilts her head in a silent question, and Kara just looks into her eyes and nods. That’s all the proof Alex needs.

When she finally pulls Kara into her arms on the floor of their living room, the crying begins. Fierce, uncontrolled sobs are ripped from Alex’s throat as she buries herself into Kara’s chest, and by the way Eliza’s eyes widen and she holds a hand up to her mouth, a picture of surprised sympathy, maybe this is the first time Alex has really let out her emotions in quite some time. Eliza runs to join their trembling embrace, and when someone presses a tear-soaked kiss to Kara’s forehead, that’s all it takes for her to start crying too.

Kara falls back on old habits, paying close attention to the small details and imperceptible sensations that have always rooted her to the earth. Eliza smells like home, like a second chance at childhood that Kara hadn’t thought she’d get. She’s wearing a silk bathrobe that Kara can remember giving her on one of the first birthdays Kara spent with the Danvers, and she can picture a million little memories shared in this house— learning to bake cookies, and the rules of hide and seek, and how to shake someone’s hand without breaking their fingers. Eliza smells like coffee grounds and vanilla and something so distinct, yet familiar at the same time. Kara can’t quite place it until she can remember faintly hugging her mother back on Krypton, and then again on Argo, and realizes that Eliza smells the same as her mother does. It’s comforting, knowing that her two mothers, though separated by miles of stars, bring her the same sensation of warmth and safety— of the absolute recognition that she is loved.

Her nose bumps against the familiar, worn leather of Alex’s jacket. The shoulders are damp, as are the ends of Alex’s hair— and Kara can easily picture Alex racing through the early morning fog to get here. She smells stale, like dried sweat and spilled bourbon, so pervasive that Kara is surprised she isn’t drunk right now. She knows her sister, and most importantly, knows how she grieves. Kara knows without asking how hard Alex must have taken this.

She’s never seen her sister like this. Not even after what happened to Jeremiah, or when she and Maggie broke up, and not from any of the other small tragedies that she has witnessed her sister trudge through. She knows that she is the reason that Alex is crying so jaggedly, and her heart breaks dully at the thought. Somewhere past the roaring in her ears, Kara closes her eyes tighter and tunes into the beating of her sister’s heart—the one sound that has always managed to bring her peace— and finds comfort in the fact that it is still beating despite it all.

That first embrace is perfect. But when Alex pulls away after what could be hours later, with a scratchy throat and a pink nose and fingers that must be cramped and sore from gripping Kara’s shirt so hard, she won’t meet Kara’s eyes. She accepts a cup of tea that Eliza had left to go make and wipes her eyes with her sleeve and with one last trembling sigh, Alex goes quiet.

Kara watches it happen, can practically see the new walls put up between her and her sister, and knows with a sinking certainty that this whole resurrection thing won’t exactly be simple. After all, she can still hear the words of the other Alex that Mar had conjured up in her ear and knows that they’ll still ring true. What Kara did won’t be easy to move past, not without coming to terms with it first.

Alex has never been one for words. Her sister prefers action over talk, and Kara knows this— but she also knows that this is different. When it mattered— when it really mattered— Alex had always said what she needed to. Now, it’s Kara’s turn.

She’ll wait until her sister is ready. Then, no matter what, Kara will listen. If she could make a sacrifice for the rest of the world, this time around, she can make one for her sister.

While she’s still in the middle of figuring out how forgiveness works for herself, Kara knows that getting Alex back will be a start. If she can learn how to earn back her sister, then the rest of the world won’t be so bad. Family is all she’s ever really wanted anyway.

. . .

In the end, it doesn’t take long for Alex to explode.

Kara really should have anticipated it. Alex isn’t patient. She doesn’t bide her time, or gather her thoughts, or wait until the moment is right. She lashes out; she prefers a full-frontal assault, not a stealth mission.

Besides. Kara really should have known what was coming because, in the end, she’s the one that initiates it.

She knows what she told herself. She knows that she made herself a promise to wait, and stand by until Alex was ready to come to her on her own terms. She knows she told herself that she’d follow Alex’s example and learn how to be forgiven, even if she had to wait the rest of her life for it, but Kara really should have known better. Kara really isn’t any more patient than Alex is, especially not when it comes to her emotions, and she’s also always preferred to jump in feet first without testing the water.

So in the end, it isn’t that Alex ignites on her own. It’s more like… Kara swipes the match, lights the fuse, and waits for it to blow.

“Are we going to talk about this at some point?” she asks during lunch, when Eliza has just cleared the table and Alex and Kara sit nursing two iced teas. It’s the day after they reunited, and despite seeing her sister again, Alex still doesn’t seem to be coping all that well because Kara catches her pouring something from her flask into the drink.

Alex’s head shoots up, and Kara can hear Eliza suck in a breath in the kitchen, and just like that, smoke is in the air.

“Huh?” her sister asks, her knuckles growing white around the glass, and Kara frowns.

“You’ve barely said a word to me,” she points out, even as Alex glowers over at her. She knows that’s the last warning sign her sister is going to give her, and it’s an obvious one at that— all flashing lights and screaming sirens that signal clearly to Kara to keep her mouth shut— but she moves forwards anyway, turning fully to Alex and silently demanding an answer.

“That- that isn’t true,” Alex responds shortly as if that doesn’t prove Kara’s point perfectly. She scowls when Kara doesn’t say anything back, just crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Alex. You haven’t said more than fifteen words to me since last night. I counted.” Kara swallows hard and tries to remain calm, despite knowing that she’s about to start something that she has no doubt Alex doesn’t want any part of— and if she’s honest, Kara’s not sure she does either. This is the part that’s going to hurt. “You’re angry with me.”

“No, I’m not,” Alex says, practically growling. It’s more of a threat than a denial, one last-ditch effort to get Kara to drop it and mind her own business, but Kara has seen this before. Mar showed her how Alex would react, and she knows that if she pushes enough times, her sister will push back.

(This is probably healthy, right? Kara probably should have asked Kelly for advice before poking the bear that is her older sister, but she isn’t convinced that even a professional therapist’s instruction could prevent this impending trainwreck.)

“Come on, Alex. You’re brooding. And you’re ignoring me. I know how you act when you’re upset with me.”

“Oh you do, do you?” Alex asks, snapping a little, and Eliza picks that time to speak up.

“I’m going to town to run some errands. We’re out of eggs… and some other things, probably. I’ll be back in a few hours,” she says, giving Kara a small smile that could be interpreted as encouraging and a sympathetic frown in Alex’s direction when she whirls around in her seat, looking betrayed.

“Mom, wait, I can come help-” Alex tries, but Eliza shuts her down swiftly, already grabbing her keys.

“No, Alexandra, it shouldn’t be any trouble,” Eliza says, leaving no room for argument. “You spend some time with your sister. Why don’t you go on the roof? I know how much you two loved it up there when you were kids.”

Mom-” Alex says again, a little desperate, and her eyes flash when this time it’s Kara who cuts her off with a weak smile.

“That’s a great idea. I haven’t been up there in years.”

“Sounds wonderful, honey,” Eliza says, leaning down to press a quick kiss to each of their foreheads. “Just be safe up there, alright? You don’t have your powers back yet, and I don’t want any injuries, alright? Lord knows you two have given me enough stress as is.”

Kara winces, and Alex scoffs, her eyes sparking with the anger Kara had known was there but is only seeing clearly now. “Don’t worry, Mom,” Alex says, fuming. “I’ll be careful. Just, don’t ask the same of Kara, though. I think she’d rather die.

A beat of uncomfortable silences passes through the room, and Eliza sighs.

“Just, be gentle with each other, please,” she says, and Kara looks down at her shoes. “I know how hard this has been for both of you, but don’t forget what’s really important.”

Eliza walks out the front door, then, hopping in the family truck before starting the engine. By the time the clock on the microwave changes, Eliza is safely out of earshot, and finally, Kara and Alex are alone.

“Roof?” Kara asks, her voice small and lacking the bravado from earlier now that it’s sunk in that this is really going to happen.

Alex rolls her eyes and tips back the last of her drink. “Whatever,” she says, standing up with a huff, and Kara follows silently behind.

Kara takes in the familiar, comforting scenery as she follows her sister out their bedroom window, climbing up onto the part of the roof that hangs over their backyard. It really is one of her favorite places in the world; Kara has endless fond, carefree memories of sitting on the shingles with her sister, talking late into the night, and watching for shooting stars. Once the two of them had finally clicked together, this became their place, where Kara could tell her sister about Krypton and Alex could explain the stupidest, most mundane things about earth and Kara would still listen, enraptured.

They’d spent the night of Kara’s first homecoming dance up here after she accidentally broke her date’s toe dancing. Alex had followed Kara here after the death of Kenny, and Kara had done the same for her the night before Alex left for college, when she was nervous and excited and feeling guilty about leaving Kara alone in Midvale. No matter what happened up on that roof, it had always been about the two of them.

This has always been a place of honesty for them. A place of growth, and a place of love. This is the place where Kara first really understood what it meant to have Alex in her life. This is where she first found her sister, and now, Kara hopes that this can be where she gets her back.

She tries not to let it get to her when Alex refuses to sit on the blanket Kara had brought up with her, when she doesn’t even take a pillow and instead sits a good few feet away, knees pulled tight and hunched over on the hard, pointy shingles. Kara sighs and leaves Alex be, for now, instead focusing on unfurling the soft quilt and grabbing her own pillow to hug to her chest. Kara wonders what her sister is thinking; it’s hard to tell when she’s faced fully away from her, yet still darting her eyes back at her jerkily every couple seconds. If she could just get a glimpse inside Alex’s head, even just a hint as to where she’s at, then maybe Kara won’t feel like she’s grasping at straws.

But Alex doesn’t budge, and her walls seem to be made of reinforced steel now, so all Kara can do is take a deep breath and try.

“Alex,” she says, already feeling the tension work into her bones. It makes her jaw hard to move, and Kara has to struggle to remain steady. “Can you please, just give me something? I mean, how are you? Are you okay?”

“How am I?” Alex mutters more to herself than to Kara. It’s mocking and clearly furious, and Kara tries to find encouragement in the fact that at least her sister isn’t denying her anger any longer. “That’s really something to hear, coming from you.”

“See, this is why I get the feeling that you’re angry,” Kara says. She’d do or say just about anything to get Alex to talk to her with some degree of emotional honesty.

“I am NOT angry!” Alex seethes, so upset that she’s lost all self-awareness of the fact that her raised voice and bared teeth tell Kara otherwise. Kara does her best to tamp down the nervous, strangled laugh fighting to make its way out of her throat.

“Okay,” she says, trying to keep the peace, but her sister still glowers over at her.

“I’m doing just fine,” she says, and the encouraging words do nothing to hide the bitterness they’re built upon. “I mean, my sister’s back from the dead. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Alex, you don’t have to be fine about this,” Kara says, trying her best not to sound pestering. The truth is that she has no idea what she’s doing. Her relationship with Alex has been so natural, so strong and tight-knit for so many years that Kara’s forgotten what it’s like to have to work at it. She’s forgotten what it’s like to have her sister close herself off from her. “Clearly, you’re not great. Which is okay, of course,” she adds quickly. “I don’t want you to think that I want things to be normal again. Not right away, at least. But I think we could get there eventually, don’t you?”

Alex doesn’t react.

“Look,” Kara says with a sigh when Alex says or does nothing to initiate anything between them. Kara, more than anything else, is tired. She’s sick of this tension between them, and just wants her sister back, no strings attached. “I know this is hard. And I know maybe I’m asking too much of you. But I’m just trying to understand where you’re at. I want to know what I missed.”

This time, Alex does react, turning and spitting venom in Kara’s direction.

“What you missed? You’re acting like you took a sabbatical, Kara! You didn’t go on some vacation.” Alex hunches her shoulders and grits her teeth, like talking about this is physically painful. “You died. I had to bury you.”

This is a good start, Kara tries to tell herself, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when Alex’s hurt is aimed directly at her. This is probably very healthy, and important, and a chance to release some pent up feelings.

Kara squeezes the pillow tighter and tries to approach this calmly. While she may have been the one to instigate this, that doesn’t mean she wants Alex to blow up on her. If she can, Kara would much rather defuse the entire situation. “I know that, and I understand how that must have impacted you-”

“Oh, don’t you fucking patronize me,” Alex yells, and Kara gulps. Clearly, her sister is well past the point of disarmament. “How the hell could you understand? You’re not the one who lost a sister, or a friend, or family. Don’t tell me you understand my pain! If you did, you wouldn’t have caused it in the first place.”

“Well, how am I supposed to act?” Kara asks, feeling herself losing her temper as well. “Alex, I’m trying here. I really am. Just… tell me what to do.”

“Tell you what to do?”

“Yes!” Kara answers, throwing her arms up. “I can’t help, or make any of this better-”

“You can’t just magically fix this, Kara.”

“-I know that!” Kara says, yelling herself. She huffs out a breath and glares at the back of her sister’s head, wishing they were fighting about something else— anything else but this. At least then she’d stand a better chance at understanding where her sister was coming from, but Kara doesn’t even know what Alex has been through. Instead, she just has to go in blind. “But I still want to try. So, tell me what you need.”

Alex turns around and regards her for a moment in silence, before her eyes turn to ice.

“Alright, Kara. I’ll tell you what I need,” she says, her voice quiet and all the more dangerous for it. “I need to know why you did it.”

“I… I’m not sure about that. Now might not be the best time-”

“You just asked me what I needed from you,” Alex points out, cornering her in. “And this is it, Kara. So, either tell me right now or I’m going into town to find Mom and I won’t ever give you the chance to fix this ever again.”

Kara hesitates. While she knew they’d have to talk about this at some point— knew Alex wouldn’t let her off the hook without them having a long, drawn-out fight about what happened with the Monitor— she really wishes they could skip over that part. It’s going to be nothing but unpleasant, and Kara is still getting used to having Alex back. She doesn’t want that to be immediately overshadowed by her death.

Forgiveness, she reminds herself. She has to do this with Alex, no matter how painful.

“I don’t understand,” she says, unable to stop herself from evading Alex’s question one last time.

Alex leans forward, punctuates her words with a steely glare. Kara couldn’t escape it if she tried. “I want to know why you made that deal,” Alex says, then seems to reconsider. “No,” she says, the ice spreading to her voice now. “I want you to explain it to me. You better have a damn good reason for doing what you did, Kara, and I want to hear it.”

“I...” Kara tries, her face growing pale. She isn’t sure she’ll have the answer her sister is looking for.

“I mean, you must have known what would happen, right?” Alex asks. “You must have known you’d be brought back to life. You would have guaranteed that you’d be alright before going off on your own.”

“Alex-”

“Because what I can’t quite wrap my head around, Kara, is the fact that you didn’t even say goodbye,” Alex says, and her voice wavers at the end. Kara swallows down the lump in her throat and wills herself not to remember that last pleading, helpless look Alex had sent her way before Kara had left with Mar. “And I know you. You’re not so cruel that you wouldn’t… you must have had a plan,” Alex finishes. “Just tell me you had a plan, Kara, and I can forgive you.”

Kara’s deafening silence is answer enough, but still she feels the need to explain. Anything to wipe that terrible look off of Alex’s face, like she’s being torn in two, still halfway stuck in her grief while the other part of her is newly betrayed.

“I didn’t have a plan,” she concedes, and it isn’t the answer Alex wanted to hear; her face twists with something unfamiliar to Kara but distinctly acidic, and for a moment, Kara wonders if she’s going to punch her. She keeps talking— because if Alex wants the truth, she’s going to get it fully. “I didn’t know I could be brought back. I thought I was going to die, and that would be it. I was prepared for it to be the end.”

Alex’s gaze hardens, then all at once, loses its intensity. She lets out a huge, trembling breath, her shoulders sagging with it, and she looks defeated, like her worst fears were being confirmed. Like Kara had given her the answer she expected, not the one she wanted desperately to hear.

“Of course you did,” she says, looking up at the passing clouds with such an intense look of melancholy that Kara feels her own body sag from its weight.

“You have to understand, Alex,” Kara starts, hoping that maybe if she keeps talking she’ll say something that eases that wounded look in her sister’s eyes. “When I found out about our Earth, about all our friends and family… I couldn’t do that again. I couldn’t live myself if I lost two worlds and did nothing about it. I would have done anything to undo what happened to Krypton, and this time around, I had that chance. I could actually fix things.”

She takes in a deep, gulping breath, and tumbles forwards, unable to stop herself from revisiting older, darker memories. The loss she’d felt when she’d found out about the destruction of their world feels as acute now as it did all that time ago, and she feels like she’s drowning in it. Doesn’t Alex feel the same way? She must have felt the same way.

“I- I was sent here to protect,” Kara says firmly, and she packs conviction behind every word, trying to justify to Alex that it was worthy, that what she did was needed. “My parents asked me to watch over Kal-El and you know how much it hurt me when I realized I’d failed. But then, I realized— I could still protect my new family, and my new world, and that is exactly what I did. I couldn’t fail again, Alex. Even if it meant dying. I couldn’t fail.”

Alex wipes hard at her eyes, shaking her head and staring up at the sky and pointedly nowhere near Kara.

“You know, I always knew someone was going to have to make a sacrifice,” she says, so hollow that Kara’s vision grows blurry. It feels despondent— like there’s no way for her to bridge this gap. It feels like her death has changed Alex in ways that Kara won’t be able to heal. “I’ve seen battles like that before. I know how a room feels when people are down to their last resort, and that room…” She heaves out a massive sigh. “Full to the brim of idiotic, self-sacrificing heroes. All of them wanted to make the big play, the grand gesture, but of course, it had to be you, Kara. Deep down, I always knew that it was going to be you.”

Kara doesn’t know how to respond to that.

It’s the rawest and honest Alex has been with her since they first reunited, and it takes away most of Kara’s resilience because now Alex isn’t hiding how much what Kara did tore her apart. Maybe, Kara is realizing, Alex’s silence wasn’t only out of spite; perhaps it had been to spare her from the jagged heartbreak she can hear in Alex’s words now.

“It was always going to be me,” she confesses, finding something quiet and raw inside of her own head and bringing it to the light. Kara hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but Alex is right. It would never have been anyone but Kara.

“And who saves the hero, then? Who saves you if you’re so busy looking after everyone else?”

Kara’s shoulders tense, and her hands ball into fists. “Sometimes, no one does,” she says. “And that’s okay.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Alex,” Kara says, toeing the line between gentleness and unwavering steel. “I was just trying to do the right thing.”

Alex glances over at her at last, her face storming. “Then you’re right, Kara. I am angry.” She swallows hard, looks over at her and this time, doesn’t look away. “I really, really hate you for what you did. Who gives a shit if it was the right thing to do? You still died. I still deal with that, all alone.”

Kara nods, attempts to take the blow in stride. “I get it,” she says again, but once again, Alex wants none of her weak attempts at consolation.

“No, I don’t think you do,” Alex says, rubbing her hands down her face. She’s unhappy, and uncomfortable, and maybe even a little guilty, though Kara doesn’t know what for. “I turned into the woman with the dead sister. I was the woman who lost everything on a day that everyone else got to go home to their loved ones. I had to call our mom and tell her you weren’t coming home, and I had to pick out the flowers and the music for your stupid funeral, and I had to lower your casket into the dirt. I wasn’t me anymore. I stopped being myself the moment I found your body. You may have been the one who was killed, but I was the one who had to deal with all the shit you left behind.”

Kara feels her heart twist as Alex scoffs, shakes her head at some distant memory before continuing. “And everyone around me was just so goddamn nice,” she says, grits out between clenched teeth. “They were so kind, and supportive, and sympathetic, because they thought I was sad. They didn’t understand how much I hated you for it. In fact, I bet they only loved you more for what you did. Because you died in such a beautiful, dignified way, right?” Alex closes her eyes, her face pale. “I bet they wouldn’t feel that way if they’d watched it happen.”

Kara sticks out her chin, regretful yet also defiant. Alex is too close to her to understand that what Kara did was necessary. What she did saved more lives than her own could ever be worth.

“Maybe they knew what needed to be done,” she says, and Alex’s eyes flare.

“Don’t give yourself so much credit,” she snarls, getting to her feet. Kara follows suit, standing unbalanced on the slanting surface. “You’re under the same delusions as they were, that this was some kind of storybook ending. There was nothing poetic about your bloody, mangled body, or your shattered legs,” Alex says, and Kara’s stomach drops out from under her. “There was nothing pretty about how your face was so bruised and broken that I only knew it was you because of the symbol on your chest.”

“Are you so sure that it wasn’t you who wanted my death to be perfect?” Kara asks, her voice low and dangerous. “Because maybe you’re the only one who couldn’t handle what happens when someone makes the hard choices! You’ve always put too much of your own life into keeping me safe. Maybe you’re too overly-attached to see that I did what I did for the greater good.”

Shocked silence follows her outburst, and Kara realizes a moment or two too late that she’d made a terrible mistake. She hadn’t meant for her words to come out so harshly, but that’s exactly how Alex interprets them. Her face colors with hurt before she’s in Kara’s face, furious and with tears in her eyes.

“Jesus, Kara,” she says, still shaken but coming back in full force. “Maybe you are heartless.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Kara pleads, immediately regretful. She’s supposed to be making things better, not tearing them further apart.

“You really think I’d ever see your death as something justified? As something to just… get over? You’re my family, Kara. There’s no greater good for me that doesn’t include you coming home safe. And you think I’m weak for thinking that?”

“Of course I don’t-” Kara says, but Alex doesn’t want to hear it.

“No, fuck you!” she says, putting her hands up and shoving Kara away from her when she tries to reach out to touch Alex’s shoulder, to try and do something to make this right.

And while the shove isn’t all that hard— more half-hearted and emotional than anything else— Kara doesn’t have her powers, nor does she know how to take any degree of force without them. She reels back instinctively; her foot slips on a bit of wetness leftover from the morning dew, and because Kara has never been a graceful person, she goes sliding right off the roof, landing with an oomph in a large bush.

Really, there’s no reason to panic. Eliza had only been half-joking about being careful on the roof. She knew full well that the particular overhanging patch of shingles that Kara and Alex had always favored wasn’t more than seven or eight feet off the ground. With the shrubbery surrounding the area, it would be impossible to get injured on accident, much less on purpose.

Still, that doesn’t stop Alex from letting out a gasp and jumping down after her.

Kara stays where she is, stunned, with her arms and legs stuck rather firmly amongst the leaves and twigs. She’s fine— though there is a twinge in her tailbone that she’s unaccustomed to and has a bad feeling will turn into a bruise later— and other than a few minuscule cuts on her hands and face from going down upside down, she’s uninjured.

Alex is at her side in a moment, tugging her out of the bush with a heave and immediately running her hands up and down, scanning Kara for injuries. Kara lets out a huff but lets her sister do it anyway. It reminds her of when they were kids, when Alex first began her protective streak, reminds her even more of them together at the DEO, Kara always brushing off even the worst scrapes with death with a sheepish smile and a reckless energy that was never really sated. It reminds her of old times, when she always walked it off, and when Alex was always there waiting for her when she woke up.

Kara wonders what it had been like for Alex to have no one to wait for. What it had been like for her to realize Kara wasn’t going to wake up this time.

Judging by the sudden shine in Alex’s eyes, Kara guesses that similar thoughts might be running through her sister’s head.

Shit,” her sister gasps, hands still wrapped around Kara’s biceps as she frantically meets her gaze. “I’m so sorry- I didn’t mean-”

“Alex, I’m okay,” Kara says, as gently as she can. She doesn’t want to break this fragile moment between the two of them, not when just a second ago they were hurling such harsh words at each other. When her sister casts a wide eye down on a small cut on Kara’s cheek, still clearly fearful, she grimaces, tries to play it off. “Or, I will be. It’s just a few scratches.”

“I know. I know,” Alex repeats, but her iron grip doesn’t loosen, and Kara can see that she’s trying hard not to cry. “You’re alright.” Then something crumbles in her eyes, and before Kara can react, Alex is hugging her hard, the tears coming freely now. “You’re really alright?” she asks, incredulous and desperate in a way that makes Kara’s heart break.

Kara, still half in the bush, lets her defenses fall too at the sight of her sister crying. Her shoulders sag, and she pulls Alex in even tighter, closing her eyes. She can remember how tiring it had been, carrying all of that pain— how tiring it still is. She knows how exhausted her sister must be from doing the exact same thing.

“I will be,” she whispers, her voice breaking. Alex’s tears stain the collar of her shirt, and there’s a branch poking her ribs, but Kara doesn’t move. This is more important than any discomfort she may have. This is the first time that Kara can see a glimmer of hope in the future when it comes to her and Alex, and she pulls away just enough to look into her sister’s eyes. She needs Alex to see that she means what she says. “I want to be. But I think I’m going to need some help along the way.”

When Alex meets her eyes, the cynicism is gone. All Kara can see is the remnants of her grief, which have been holding together her insides for all this time. But underneath all that, Kara sees a flicker of something else. She wants more than anything for it to be hope.

Her sister releases a shuddering breath, bringing Kara in for one last hug. “I know you will. And… I need some help too. Maybe we can be that for each other if you want.”

Kara’s smile is watery, but no less beaming. “I would love that, Alex,” she says, burying her face into Alex’s shoulder, breathing it all in. She’d never thought she’d get to have this again, twigs and all. She’d thought she’d given away her sister for good. “I missed you. So much.”

Alex smiles too, and even when she steps away from the hug to help Kara escape fully from the bush, she doesn’t step away. Kara takes that small victory for what it is— progress. It’s not forgiveness, not yet— but it’s something Kara wants to keep trying for. Maybe this is something she can fix after all. “I missed you too,” her sister responds, and for just a moment, Kara lets herself have this. The sun is peeking out through the clouds, the sky is somewhat blue, and Alex is smiling again.

Progress.

Relatively, that night is a much tamer affair.

After they go inside and get cleaned up, Alex retreats somewhat into herself, but it isn’t as cold or as harsh as before. She helps pick a few burrs out of Kara’s snaggled hair with a sympathetic frown and even leaves out a fresh pair of clothes for Kara when she gets out of the shower. It’s a pair of Alex’s favorite sweatpants and one of the t-shirts Kara won at their homecoming game way back in high school, and Kara feels young when she slips them on— younger than she’s felt in years. It adds on nicely to this whole fresh slate thing that Kara’s been trying out, and she comes out of the bathroom with a small smile and a quiet air of ease.

Eliza creeps through their back door like she’s expecting to find the ruins of a warzone. She peeks her head in first, opening the porch door so carefully that it barely squeaks, and sets down her bags with as much stealth as Alex during a DEO mission. Then, taking a breath, she rounds the corner with already fidgeting fingers, ready to mediate— or, break up a brawl if she had to.

Instead, she finds her daughters together on the couch, both looking at her with raised eyebrows. They’re not talking animatedly or wrestling for the remote like they used to, but they also aren’t glaring at each other in silence. The tension that had hovered over them like a foreboding cloud is mostly gone now— spread out to the winds— and the sight alone of the two of them together is enough for Eliza to breathe a sigh of relief.

She turns towards the door and rummages around for a second before emerging with a few grease-stained paper bags in tow. A smile begins to form on Kara’s face— and her stomach growls as if in greeting; Eliza had stopped by the local diner on her way home.

“Who’s hungry?” Eliza asks with a hopeful smile, and Kara has never been so excited to eat before in her life. After all, she’s about to become reacquainted with the best cheeseburger in the world. Maybe coming back from the dead had more perks than she’d realized.

Dinner… is nice. The burgers are even more incredible than Kara remembered them, Eliza spoils her with an extra-large fry and a side of pie on the side, and Alex— Alex doesn’t seem to actively hate her guts anymore, at least not openly. There’s more warmth to her movements now, in the way she chooses to sit right next to Kara, in the way she allows their feet to brush up against each other whenever Kara reaches for the ketchup, and in the way there’s a hint of a smile on her face as Kara groans and waxes poetic about the food. She still doesn’t talk all that much, but Kara doesn’t mind it so much anymore; it’s less stifling and more thoughtful— more peaceful.

The three of them stay at the table long after the food is finished, and in their comfortable, familial haze, Kara feels brave enough to start asking about what she missed. Just little details is all she’s really after— nothing that she thinks would bring back bad memories— and Eliza and Alex indulge her, Alex cautious but willing to answer any questions Kara has for her.

She learns she’s been gone seven months, and while Kara had already begun to glean that based on the noticeable chill in the air and the strokes of bright color painted on the edges of the trees, it’s jarring to hear it confirmed. Seven months is a long time— and even though Kara knows it could have been much longer, could have not happened at all, she still needs a moment to wrap her head around it.

Her wandering heart brings her back to Lena, back to when their friendship had first fallen apart, back to when every day with radio silence felt like an eternity. Kara knows how long seven months can be— and she wonders what she could have missed.

(Kara doesn’t bring up Lena, though she could have— could have asked some innocent question veiled as simple curiosity, but she doesn’t. She isn’t brave enough to. Not yet.)

So, she asks about other things instead. Kara learns about the new smoothie stand right across from Alex’s apartment, and that the National City baseball team had lost out to Gotham in the World Series, and that for a week or so, Nia had dyed Brainy’s hair blonde. Kara hears a wild story about a client that J’onn had helped out, and Alex tells her about the sushi place she took Kelly to for their six month anniversary, and learns that James is picking up photography again, while Eliza regales them both about a conference she’d attended about bridging the gap between theoretical technology and actual, real-life medical practices being carried out every day.

Kara learns all about the life she’d missed, and it’s a strange experience. She and Alex and Eliza all teeter on the edge between harmless, fond nostalgia and the kind of ache that runs much deeper, but Kara counts it as a success that no one plummets fully over. And as bittersweet as it is, Kara takes all of the stories and holds them tight against her heart; those stories mean that her friends and family were happy, at least some of the time, and it means that life went on. It means that the world didn’t end for them when she was gone, just changed.

The world will always find a way to change.

That is how Alex gently breaks the news to her that their Earth is now also the home of Barry Allen and the rest of them. Bringing up the Flash and his team and all the others is something Kara hadn’t wanted to do, had been worried that it would skim too close to old wounds, but Alex volunteers the information herself.

In the end, it’s worth it for the moment of levity that comes when Alex laughs quietly as Kara’s jaw drops, as she splutters and asks if that means that the Green Arrow is a thing on this new earth now.

When Alex nods, Kara buries her head down in her arms on the table and groans. “As if we needed any other rich playboys with too many toys,” she says, and Alex only smiles wider.

Eliza looks upon the scene with a private, warm smile, and that night, it feels like everything really is perfect.

What that really means is that Kara should have been ready to go a second round with Alex.

Her sister strikes back up their conversation from the roof calmly, as they’re both climbing into bed. Eliza is fast asleep by now, but still, Alex keeps her voice soft. It isn’t as biting as before, but Kara still knows from when she’s clearing her throat that a trap is being set.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said to me earlier,” she starts, innocent and vague enough that Kara can’t possibly prepare for whatever’s coming next. “How you called me overly-attached.”

Kara winces at the words, which still are grating even hours after she spoke them. “I didn’t mean that,” she replies, but with the lights out and Alex’s face in shadow, she can’t tell if her sister believes that. So, she sits up straighter in bed and tries to ensure that Alex does. “I mean, I just meant that- that you… you care about me. So much. Which means that your perspective on what happened was never going to be objective, you know?”

“I’m your sister, Kara,” Alex says, and a hint of that steel is back in the way she says those words like an admonishment. “I don’t have to be objective, or unbiased, or any of that crap. I get to march in and make sure that my sister isn’t the one doing anything stupid.”

“Not even when I’m Supergirl and you’re the Director of the DEO?” Kara asks, feeling the way that sleep is making her body heavy and her words short. Alex could have picked a more diplomatic time of day to do this other than half past midnight, especially when Kara really hasn’t slept much for days. Not that Alex can ever be described as being diplomatic.

“Not even then,” is Alex’s curt, simple reply, and Kara frowns.

“Come on,” she says. “We both know there are times where Supergirl can’t be put first. You’re a leader, Alex. You’ve been trained to make the same tough calls as I’ve made.”

“Stop treating this like some… tactical exercise, Kara.” Alex takes a breath, then holds it. Kara thinks she can see the white of her eyes flash in the darkness. “Maybe that’s how you had to rationalize it in order to actually go through with it, but that isn’t how it was. Why don’t you put yourself in my shoes, huh?”

“I can do that,” Kara says.

“Fine. How would you feel if I was the one who’d died?”

“I wouldn’t have let that happen,” Kara replies stubbornly, knows it isn’t fair but says it anyway. “As long as I have my powers, I’ll be able to keep you safe.”

Alex fixes her with a withering glare, and Kara realizes her error, realizes how badly that must sound. “Well, we’re not all Supergirl, are we? We don’t all get the windswept hair and the free Girl Scout cookies and the reckless bravado, do we? We don’t all get to assume things will work out alright in the end.”

“You know I don’t think that,” Kara replies, trying to work out the tension in her fists by grabbing her fluffiest pillow. The fabric tears a bit when her knuckles flex, but they’re both too worked up to pay it much mind. “I always know the stakes. Always.”

“No, Kara. You know the risk for everyone else but yourself.”

Kara rolls her eyes and barely stifles a groan. Her bed is looking incredibly appealing right now, where she can hide under the covers and roll and her side and even out her breathing until even Alex won’t be able to tell if she’s sleeping or not. “Can we just… drop this? At least for tonight?” she deflects, despite knowing that she’ll listen to Alex whether she likes it or not because that’s what’s fair, and also because Kara is in no position to ignore her sister.

Somehow, impossibly, Alex actually folds. She scoffs but pulls down her covers on the bed anyways, not even glancing over once. “Fine.”

“Fine,” Kara agrees, still too on-edge to even feel happy about getting her way. She stays sitting, awkwardly watching as her sister looks anywhere but at her.

Alex seems to linger too. Her covers remain untouched, and she doesn’t seem in any rush to go to bed. She turns off the lamp between their two beds but stills after that, and Kara knows that she wants to say something.

“Do you really think I’m too attached?” Alex asks at last. Kara opens her mouth then closes it.

Yes, she wants to scream, at the same time she wants to say no. Theirs is a self-dependency that Kara, well… Kara has grown to rely on quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t recognize its danger. She and Alex were always a bridge meant to crumble, and it seems that Kara had been the one to strike the killing blow.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” she says. “I was tired and frustrated about the fact that we were arguing.”

“Hm. Well, I said some harsh things too, in the heat of the moment,” Alex agrees. She purses her lips and folds her arms across her chest. “But… just because they were cruel doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the truth. So, how did you mean it?”

“I thought we weren’t gonna do this tonight,” Kara tries one last time, despite knowing that this isn’t something that the two of them can sleep on and approach it any more level-headed. “Can’t we just… go to bed?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Alex points out, and Kara really hopes her sister can’t see that well in the dark because the glare that Kara levels her way is downright immature, and Kara doesn’t want to do this knowing her sister is taking the high road. “And actually, I’m not really that tired. Let’s talk about this now.”

Kara’s glare grows dirtier, and she doesn’t care about acting childish anymore. They’re about to fight in their childhood bedroom anyway, surrounded by baby and school photos and old, cherished stuffed animals— and Alex basically just stuck her tongue at her. Maybe they can allow themselves to not be quite so mature here.

At least, they don’t have to pretend to like each other all that much at the moment.

“What I mean, Alex, is that you- you built your life around me. To protect me, and keep me safe. But sometimes… it can be consuming. And you know that’s true.”

Her sister scoffs, unimpressed. “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. How about something more original?”

“How about the fact that you can’t understand that what I did was the right call?” Kara asks. “You don’t think that comes across as a little too attached?”

“Right call my ass,” Alex challenges.

Kara grinds her teeth together. “It was one life. One single life compared to trillions. Me for the entire multiverse. That was the right call.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“You- you’re thinking about this from the wrong angle,” Kara says, as gentle as possible despite the frustration curling in her throat that makes her fingers clench. “You’re being too emotional.”

“Well, you’re acting like a Kryptonian!” Alex fires back. Kara can’t fight the anger that’s been boiling in her gut like bile anymore.

“And what’s wrong with that?” she asks, sitting up straight, stubborn and prideful. “That’s who I am. That’s who I’ve always been, way before I was Kara Danvers!”

“And why did you have to become Kara Danvers in the first place?” Alex retorts. “Because your parents were just as self-sacrificing as you! I grew up with you, Kara. I remember the shattered look in your eye when you first showed up here. I remember your nightmares, and your silence, and I heard you cry every night— even on the nights where you tried to hide it. I remember what losing Krypton did to you. How could you go through something like that and turn around and repeat the cycle?”

“There’s a difference,” Kara claims, but her voice falters as the wash of old, sad memories passes through her. She clears her throat and injects even more steel into her voice than before. She won’t bend— not for something like this. “I was one of the only survivors. You think I don’t remember what it’s like to lose a world?” Her face darkens. “I’ve done it too many times. I wasn’t going to do it again, and I wasn’t going to allow you to go through it either.”

Alex actually softens— or tries to, at least. Kara can’t see her face, but she can the deep, slow breath she takes. So, Kara does it too.

“I wish I could understand. I really do,” Alex says, blowing out a long breath through her nose. “But what you did just… it defies everything that I thought I knew about you.”

“I just think that you ignore the role I agreed to play, Alex,” she says with a sigh. “I’m Supergirl. I’m always going to do whatever I can to save lives. And if that means my life to make sure no one else ever has to go through what I did, then it will be worth it. That’s what a hero is supposed to do.”

“I-” Alex balls her hands into fists. “I do not want to hear one of your stupid speeches right now, Kara. I’m not a gullible little fifth-grader.”

It shouldn’t be funny, not in this situation, but it still is, seeing Alex act so tough and say those things while she’s curled up in her childhood bed, as they’re surrounded by baby pictures and old blankets and sports equipment that’s just as muddy as it was ten years ago. Alex is acting like they aren’t still so incredibly young; Kara knows just how little times they’ve actually spent together, even if they’ve grown up during it.

There’s a beat of silence, like Alex is letting her words circle through her head a few extra times. “I didn’t want you to be a hero,” she says at last. “I wanted you to be my sister. I just wanted you to live.”

Alex is right. They’re sisters, but more than that, too. They swore to protect each other first and above all else, and isn’t that kind of love inherently destructive? Not bad, just… fated. Not built to last, and certainly not to end with grace. The reason Kara does what she does is to keep Alex safe, to keep her close to her.

“You told me, once, that you’d been abandoned before, and that you didn’t want to be abandoned again,” Alex whispers, and even in the dark Kara closes her eyes, doesn’t want to get even a fleeting glimpse of the look on her sister’s face. “I promised you that wouldn’t happen. Not ever. Not from me.”

“I know,” Kara whispers back, and a lump grows in her throat that she can’t for the life of her swallow down and it’s because she knows her sister, and she knows what she’s going to say next.

“Now it’s my turn.”

Kara nods slowly, resolutely, but it’s like she can already taste blood in her mouth, knows that this will only end badly. Alex sits up and turns on the lamp. When Kara looks over, she realizes that Alex has been crying this whole time.

“You need to promise me, Kara,” Alex says, and even as she wipes hard at the tears trailing down her face, Kara marvels at her big sister— how she can be so strong, so fierce, so resolute. So committed to her and her safety. “Please, Kara. Promise me you’ll never do that again.”

Kara just sits there, and despite Alex welcoming her voice, expecting it, she can’t get it to dislodge itself from her throat.

She looks down at her lap instead, and Alex’s face twitches. “Alex,” she whispers, fidgeting with her hands and trying not to cry herself, and that’s all her sister really needs to hear before her face hardens back into stone.

While she doesn’t look up, Kara hears the springs creaking and sheets rustling, knows that Alex has gotten into bed and curled up away from Kara.

“Goodnight, Kara,” she says flatly and not even Kara can miss the signal that this is a lot more than just a simple goodnight. If she doesn’t fix this right here and right now, she might lose her sister forever. There are some things that can’t be forgiven. For Alex, this will be one of them.

She makes up her mind and jumps up from her own bed, leaping over Alex and getting in under the covers beside her. Kara grabs Alex’s shoulders and stares into her eyes even as her sister scowls and tries to turn the other way. Instead, they face each other, and beneath the weak lamplight, Kara hopes that Alex can see the determination on her face.

“No, Alex- Alex, wait. I can’t promise that,” she says, grip tightening when Alex tries to get up at her words. But Kara has finally found her voice; she won’t stop using it now. “Alex- I can’t. But next time— if there is a next time— I promise that I won’t do it alone. I won’t fight alone, and I’ll let others help me, and I won’t shut you out.”

Some of the anger releases from Alex’s rigid jawline, but her eyes are still like flint. So, Kara keeps talking.

“I didn’t come back just to die again. You have to believe me.” While Alex doesn’t outwardly respond, she rolls closer so their legs can tangle together, just like when they were kids. Kara chooses to take that as a good sign. “Alex, I know things are bad right now, and I know you’re hurt, but I can promise you this: I came back to be with you. And I want to be with you for as long as we possibly can be. Until you’ve got dentures and a cane and wrinkles all over your face and a bad back and-”

“Okay, I get it,” Alex says dryly. But the corners of her mouth quirk up despite it. “Jesus, you’re going to be just as insufferably chipper when we’re old, aren’t you?”

There’s a sadness to her words; Alex has experienced firsthand the reality of Kara dying unspeakably young, of being the one to bury her little sister and not the other way around. Alex knows the stakes, but that’s what makes it all that more meaningful.

“Depends. Will you be just as grumpy in the morning?” Kara asks, and chances a poke at her sister’s ribs. This time, Alex laughs, and it’s as much of a balm as anything else.

“Probably,” she admits with a smirk. Her shoulders relax, and when Kara’s eyes start to drift shut, Alex begins to run her hands through her hair, just like she’s always done to lull both of them to sleep.

Kara can feel sleep coming, and thinks Alex herself might have already drifted off. But then her sister whispers something else into the night air, and despite the cold wind coming in through the windows, it warms Kara like nothing else.

“I love you, Kara,” Alex says. “I haven’t- I should have told you that even more when I had the chance. But I want you to know that even if I’m- even if I’m like this, that part won’t ever change. You know that, don’t you?”

Kara snuggles in closer, lets herself be the little sister for the first time in forever. She wants Alex to have this moment— wants this moment for herself as well. While she knows that she and Alex will always be a constant in a universe that loves to change, it’s still nice to hear from her sister that even if things are rocky right now, the love is still there.

“I know,” she responds simply, but no less genuine. Kara always means what she says when it comes to how much she cares about her sister. “I love you too.”

And for tonight, at least, that’s enough.

Eventually, Kara asks about Lena.

Once she and Alex get through those rough first few days together, things smooth out some. They get into a routine of sorts with Eliza: a late brunch, a walk along the cliff sides, maybe running a few errands in town. There’s the matter of explaining away what had been Kara’s very real death and funeral, because, in a small town like Midvale, her return wouldn’t be innocuous. Luckily enough for Kara, there is the fact that multiple earths merged together— and quite frankly, weirder things had already happened than one random reporter mysteriously returning home out of the blue.

Kara’s learned over the years that the people of Earth can overlook a surprising amount of strangeness when the world at large is already so bizarre.

She’s surprised that she waited as long as she did, if she’s being honest with herself. Sure, she had enough on her plate as is with Alex and Eliza and navigating a world that still believed her to be dead, but when it came to Lena, Kara had never liked to leave things be. She’d been back a week now and honestly, Kara was going a little crazy. Mar had given her such tantalizing details about the other woman that Kara was desperate to understand— had hinted at a story that Kara knows she doesn’t know all the sides to. All she does know is that Lena had tracked down an interdimensional being and had followed him across the globe, all for the sake of bringing Kara back to life.

Kara… isn’t really sure what to make of that. She doesn’t know if she should let her heart grasp onto those vague details and use them to fuel what hope is left inside of her that maybe Lena still cares about her, because why else would she drop everything for Kara? They hadn’t even been friends at the end of the world— hadn’t been much of anything at all, yet despite that, and despite what Kara can remember about that horrible night Lena had told her she never wanted to see her again, Lena’s actions contradict that.

While she doesn’t know much, Kara does know that what Lena did for her hadn’t been the actions of someone who hated her. At least, she doesn’t think so.

In the end, the best thing is to ask her sister, because Alex had always had a way of understanding the things that Kara didn’t.

Really, all Kara wants to know is if her death hurt Lena as much as it had hurt her sister.

She brings it up in the middle of one of their nightly talks, which have become a new tradition. It’s a chance for them to re-align themselves with the other, for Alex to both finish her mourning and deal with her sister’s return— and for Kara, it’s a way to feel a little less like a stranger in a place she’s called home longer than Krypton.

“How is she?” she asks, not really needing to elaborate on who she’s asking about. Alex knows better, and besides— Kara really only ever would ask about one person. She only talks about one person with that much concern in her voice lately.

“Lena?” her sister asks anyway, and at Kara’s ensuing nod, rolls her eyes, which causes something in Kara’s chest to twist. She’d assumed that Alex and Lena had stayed close in the wake of her death— at least enough to be on speaking terms— but something in the set to Alex’s jaw tells Kara that maybe that hadn’t been the case. And that scares Kara, because if her sister didn’t look out for Lena, Kara doesn’t know who did.

“I just want to know if she’s alright,” Kara says, pressing. “If… she handled what happened in a good way.”

“You’re worried about her. Well, I wouldn’t be.” Alex scoffs, the kind that’s loaded with a history that not even Kara knows about— the kind two people can only share in grief. She laughs, halfway between bitter and concerned. “Lena’s been too busy to be sad.”

Kara furrows her eyebrows and frowns, a familiar feeling of worry making itself affectionately known in her stomach again like an old friend. Once upon a time, it had been her job to make sure Lena was alright, that she wasn’t overworking— that she was taking care of herself. Even in the fallout of the reveal of her identity, when they weren’t speaking— weren’t interacting on any level— Kara had still checked in on her. She used to sit on the roof of the building off to the corner of the LCorp campus, sitting in its shadows and listening to her heartbeat. Some days, it was enough just to know it was still beating.

Kara hadn’t even known if Lena would grieve for her— and honestly, she doesn’t know what she wants Alex to tell her.

“Mar told me she’d been chasing after him.” Alex raises an eyebrow at Kara’s casual mention of the Monitor, who Kara belatedly realizes she does not think of as a friend. Kara grimaces, but continues. “He said she was trying to bring me back.”

Her sister shrugs, turning back into her back to stare up at the ceiling, away from Kara. Maybe she doesn’t want Kara to see the anger clear on her face, but she does anyway. Kara can only stare and wonder what exactly went down between the two most important people in her life. She considers asking Alex, but decides against it; they had only just reached a sense of peace themselves. Kara doesn’t know yet if she even has the right to ask about what happened after she died, especially since she seems to be the root of this particular rift.

“She was— at least I think so. Lena… she just dropped off the face of the Earth. I don’t know if it was because she was out building a time machine or if she was drinking herself to death out in the gutters every night. All I know is that she had a difficult time accepting what happened,” Alex says, and her voice doesn’t hide her conflict any more than her face does. “We all did, you know? Nobody wanted to believe that you were... that that was how it ended. Least of all me.”

“I know,” Kara replies simply; she’s grieved before, and she’ll grieve again. She knows exactly how hard it is to move on. “But you didn’t check up on her?” she asks, unable to keep the admonition out of her voice. She’d thought Alex would lookout for the people Kara loved when she was gone— and that included Lena, no matter their past. “She needed someone. No matter what happened before-“

“I tried,” Alex says. “Believe me, I did. I mean, I-“ she stops and swallows hard, grabbing the alarm clock they had as kids off of the bedside table and fiddling with it, avoiding Kara’s eyes. “I needed someone too. And as much as I don’t want to admit it, Lena was the one who got it. More than anyone else.”

“Alex,” Kara says, the same way she’s been saying it this entire time. Her own soft, gentle way of saying sorry again. Alex accepts it with a quiet sigh, glancing over impulsively as she has been the entire night— like she’s been doing for days. Like she’s making sure Kara is really there.

“Lena was in rough shape for a while, what with the role her brother played in what happened. She… felt responsible for your death, and you know how she copes. About as well as me, if not worse.”

“Oh, Lena,” Kara murmurs, lost in thought. Kara knows exactly how both Alex and Lena deal with their emotions, and purses her lips against the bad taste in her mouth. She should have known Lena would think that what happened with Kara and with Lex was her own fault. Lena had always had a talent for taking the blame.

“For a moment though, I thought things would change,” Alex continues. “She helped us catch Lex. I thought that would be a turning point for her, that she would finally stop suppressing every goddamn feeling she…” Alex sighs, pinches her nose. “It doesn’t matter now. All I know is she drifted away from all of us.”

“But… was she okay?” Kara asks, because knowing Lena is physically and technically alive and well is very different than what she’s really asking Alex for. “Was she doing better?”

Kara just wants to know if she messed things up for good this time.

“I think deep down, the only thing that was going to make things better was you. Lena knew that, and she was hell-bent on it.” Alex glances over again, and Kara can tell what’s coming next. They haven’t talked much about what happened to Kara after. Kara wasn’t sure it was something Alex wanted to hear about, but maybe it is. “We all fought to get you back, in our own ways. Did it make a difference?”

Kara thinks of the flashes of memory that hadn’t even left her in death, the flashes of smiles and echoes of laughter, and the phantom touches that lingered. She knows why she came back, and it wasn’t for the whole world.

For once, it was just for herself.

“Of course it did,” she says. “You make all the difference in the world.”

Earlier, Alex would have lashed out again, muttered angry words, and hurled the run-off of her grief back at Kara. She would have asked why she hadn’t made a difference before. But instead, she just smiles like that was exactly what she needed to hear and turns towards the window, face tilted toward the stars.

Alex answers Kara’s unasked question at last, as the two of them watch the moonlight shine through their window. It hits Kara’s body in slats, the shadow and the light divided neatly by the window blinds.

“I called her. Before we went to bed.” She pauses, waiting for Kara to react. She must think she’s going to be angry because she defends herself before Kara can even glance over, before it sinks in that Lena knows. “I needed to make sure all of this was real before… she didn’t need false hope. And besides, there were things that you and I needed to talk about without Lena Luthor kicking down our door.”

Kara smiles a little as her stomach flips at Lena’s name alone.

Her sister glances over at Kara’s quiet smile and frowns, worry lines around her eyes. “Look, while you were gone… things are different now. The world changed. People changed. Some more than others.” Alex raised herself up on one elbow and looked across the room. Kara was hugging her pillow on her own twin bed, looking thoughtful. “I can’t tell you what’ll happen. I don’t know.”

Alex is right, like she usually is, and she is voicing the same thoughts that have been bouncing around in Kara’s head for a while now. There has never been a way to predict anything about her and Lena. They’d defied most expectations from the start, and even now, with years of memories both good and bad between them, Kara knew she still couldn’t prepare for Lena any better.

And yeah, there’s no denying that they’ve changed. They could be entirely different people for all Kara knows. Maybe Lena is a stranger to her, and maybe there is a chance that she would be for the rest of their lives.

But Kara’s love hasn’t changed. Not in the slightest, and she is willing to take that chance.

This time around, Lena deserves to know it all.

And, so does her sister.

“I really love her, Alex,” Kara says, and even though she whispers it the truth seems to come bursting from her all at once, an explosion. “Lena… she’s the most important thing that’s happened to me in a long time. She changed my life, and she’s my best friend, and I love her. But… I love her more than a best friend should.”

It’s the first time she’s said it out loud, the first time she’s really, truly told anyone, and it feels a little life-changing. It feels capable of shaking the world, and she waits to watch the ripples play out and rattle the foundation, waits for something to crumble or at least move, but Alex… Alex just purses her lips and gives Kara an exasperated, affectionate smile, like it isn’t quite the shattering revelation that it is for Kara.

“Gee, I’m glad you finally figured it out, you idiot,” she says, rolling her eyes for emphasis. Kara’s eyes go wide, and Alex seems to fight off a bout of laughter. “Jesus, Kara. You’re an alien, and you can fly, and you just came back from the dead. You really think the most shocking thing for me to find out is that you’re in love with Lena Luthor?”

Kara stares, her mouth dropping open. “Well… maybe? It was sort of a surprise for me.”

Alex groans. “Anyone within a few hundred feet of you could spot the fact that you were a goner, Kara. Did you know that Cat Grant had to pull some strings to get an avalanche of photos of you away from the press?”

“What?” Kara shrieks, her face growing hot. Cat Grant has always had a talent for working her claws into Kara’s life, has always loved meddling, but this feels… well, this feels kind, actually. Less the skillful, sharp actions of a media mogul and more of a concerned, likely annoyed mentor, maybe even a friend.

“Lois told me,” Alex continues innocently, unaware that even that simple comment made Kara’s jaw drop again. “She said Cat Grant threatened a hostile takeover of the Daily Planet unless Perry White made his gossip columnist stand down.”

Lois knew about me and- and Lena?!” Kara’s mind starts to spin, because where Lois Lane goes her cousin usually follows, and Rao… is that why Clark acted so strange whenever she talked about Lena? Is that why he had been so unusually supportive of her and Lena being friends in the first place? Is that why when she asked him about learning to dance he-

“Uh, yeah. Obviously. Keep up, Kara.” Alex throws a pillow her way, and Kara is too shocked to dodge it. The pillow hits her right between the eyes, bringing her back to her present conversation, and she lets out a little huff when a few feathers get in her hair. “I’m pretty sure the whole freaking world knew before you did. You know, Mom always asked if you two were together yet. Like, every time I called her.”

Kara’s face grows even pinker as she recalls the amused expression Eliza always had around her and Lena during the holidays, the way she would watch the two of them bantering by the oven, waiting for the turkey to be ready, or teasing each other while the others began passing out gifts, the way Eliza would always smile like she knew a joke that Kara didn’t. Rao… no wonder Eliza was always so eager to talk about Lena with Kara.

“Hey,” Kara defends, albeit weakly. It comes out as more of a whine. “This is kind of big for me, you know. I know I can be sort of… oblivious, sometimes-”

“Understatement of the century,” Alex snorts, and gets a pillow right back to the face in punishment.

“-and I don’t always see what’s right in front of me. I admit it.” Kara takes a deep breath, and Alex, getting the hint, stops with her teasing. “But I know what I want, now. I know how I feel about her, and I’ve never felt so strongly about anything in my life.”

“Kara,” Alex says, her tone softening. She moves over to Kara’s bed and wraps an arm around her, just like she did when they were kids and Alex would teach her the names of unfamiliar constellations. “I’m proud of you. You know that, right? And I think you deserve to be happy.”

“I know you are, silly,” Kara answers, her voice muffled into her sister’s shoulder. Alex is the last person who Kara worried wouldn’t be accepting of how Kara felt and who she felt it for. No, what Kara doesn’t know is what Alex will tell her to do next. Her sister has always guarded over Kara’s secrets, both big and small, steadfastly, and Kara is waiting for her to do the same now.

“Are you going to tell her?” Alex asks, and Kara stays quiet. This time around, it’s entirely her decision. She’s got a fresh slate— a blank page— and she knows exactly what she wants to make of it.

“I’m so tired of secrets, Alex,” she says at last. “And no matter if it was misguided, I did what I did out of love. I did it for you. For her. Even if it hurts, she should know that. I owe her that much.”

“God, death really has changed you,” her sister says, and maybe it’s meant as a joke but it comes off her tongue completely genuine and maybe even a little moved instead.

Kara, however, isn’t feeling so confident in her newfound determination. Lena and the truth had spent so many years occupying separate spaces in Kara’s life that now she’s not sure she even knows how to bring the two together. She can still remember the last time she was honest with Lena, after all. She knows this isn’t the type of thing that can be taken back.

“I’m scared,” she admits. “Last time I saw her— the last time we really talked— she didn’t want anything to do with me. She told me she never wanted to see me again. The last thing I want to do is to hurt her any more than I have. What if this only makes things worse?

Alex sighs, wrapping her arm a little tighter around Kara and squeezing once for good measure. “Like I said, I can’t tell you what Lena will do or how she feels. But,” she says, looking Kara in the eye, “I do remember the way she was after you… after you died. I will always remember that it was her with me in that rubble. No one else.”

An almost imperceptible shudder goes through her sister, and Kara wiggles in closer, leaning her head on Alex’s shoulder and hoping that this normal, regular gesture of affection— one that they shared thousands of times before and she hopes they’ll share thousands more times in the future— will be enough to sway Alex from straying into bad memories.

For something that could be considered so mundane, Kara really had missed hugging her sister.

“She might hate me,” she whispers into Alex’s shirt.

“Kara,” Alex says, calm, like she’s never been so sure of anything in her life. “No one who hates you could ever look at you the way Lena did.”

Kara can remember Lena’s eyes too— can remember every shade of green and flicker of emotion that crossed them. She thinks of the way Lena would look at her, smiling, at game night, or when they were grabbing coffee or the way they’d crinkle at the end of a movie. She thinks of how they sparkled when they were dancing, or when Lena gazed over at her at those holiday parties, like the rest of the world had faded away and Kara was the only person in the world.

Even when Kara remembers what happened next— when they fought and cried and she could see how the hurt blossomed across Lena’s face like a bruise— she also remembers how Lena wouldn’t look her in the eye, which Kara had been grateful for. She knows that seeing the betrayal in her best friend’s eyes would have been worse than anything Lena could have said to her because theirs had always been a relationship founded on the fleeting moments— the quiet, private smiles, and the quick touches, and the love in their eyes.

And the last time they’d shared a glance, even when it was across the room and amidst the chaos and fear and anger of witnessing the universe being torn apart, Kara knows it wasn’t hate in Lena’s eyes. Not at all.

She knows Lena doesn’t hate her. Deep down, Kara knows what that look meant because it’s the same way she’s always looked at Lena.

Alex leans over and kisses her temple before getting up, leaving Kara to wander through her thoughts alone. “Things will work out one way or another, Kara. You just have to trust that,” she says, climbing back under the covers of her own bed and turning off the lamp. “Now if I were you, I’d get some rest. I have a feeling she’s already on her way here, and you’re going to need all the sleep you can get.”

Kara listens to her sister, curls up and hugs a pillow to her chest and tries to imagine what Lena must be thinking— can barely comprehend the thoughts racing through her own mind. Her stomach twists itself into knots, and she swallows down a lump in her throat, but Kara isn’t nervous. More expectant; she knows that whatever’s coming will come, and things will change. She knows they will, but for once, Kara doesn’t mind that certainty of transformation.

All her life change has worked against her, sending her spinning into the cosmos and crashing onto an unknown planet with the knowledge that nothing ever stays the same. Kara had never really liked it; change made her feel powerless, made her feel like a toy to be played with until she broke as she lost friends and allies and watched the Earth offer up new challenges that would cause yet another shift in the world and the people who lived there.

But Lena had always meant change too, in the most fantastic way. She’s the one who first encouraged Kara to be a reporter; she became her best friend, and at a time when Kara was doubting whether or not Kara Danvers was a worthwhile charade to put up with anymore, Lena reminded her how much she could matter to a person without the cape. Lena helped her bring down the bad guys and got into trouble and sometimes made mistakes but that was okay because at the end of the day, Lena brought with the kind of change that shaped Kara’s life for the better, in the way that only falling in love can do.

She loves Lena in an indelible way, in a way that she knows will be impossible to erase or forget or even move on from completely. Kara loves Lena so much that she feels she’ll burn up from the intensity of it, and if Lena doesn’t feel the same way, if Kara is left with the remnants of a forest fire and the ashes of trees all around her, then so be it. Lena still altered the course of her life in a way that’ll endure, even if its monument will be found in a broken heart. Lena… makes Kara happy, joyful, fierce and strong and brave and above all, hopeful.

Lena made Kara believe wholeheartedly in that symbol she wore on her chest, and all Kara can do now is hope that somehow, they’ll manage to fall back into each other. If Kara could accidentally fall in love, then she can continue to love Lena with purpose. This time around, she can be brave enough to tell the truth, to take the leap and hope for something not so painful.

Kara can always hope. Maybe their movie won’t have such a sad ending.

. . .

She’s taking a walk on the beach when Lena arrives.

Kara knows without a doubt that it’s her; even with her powers still mostly gone and her hearing more muted than it usually is, Kara knows what Lena’s heartbeat sounds like. She can hear it pumping furiously, loud even over the roar of the engine and the squealing brakes of the car she must be driving as she comes skidding to a stop in the Danvers’ driveway. Lena’s heart is louder than the crash of the waves or the blustering winds as she knocks on the door, as she exchanges a few quick words with Alex and turns towards the beach.

She can hear it beat as Lena makes her way down the cliffside towards the surf, and she can hear it skip to a stop the moment she sees Kara, standing with her feet in the water and her hair down, waiting. Kara knows what Lena must be thinking: here is Kara, looking small and pale and maybe a little too frail, but very much alive. How she’s realizing that Kara is different but the same, and above all, that this is real. Kara can hear Lena’s breath hitch when that realization hits.

Kara looks up; their eyes meet, and she can’t help the nervous way her own heart begins to hammer against her ribcage as Lena stops in her tracks, still a hundred or so yards away but realer than she’s been to Kara in a very long time.

Thunder cracks somewhere in the distance, and the fog rolling in from the ocean covers what’s left of the sunlight. There’s a storm coming in— but Kara can’t decide if she sees more of the tempest in the rising waves or in the woman standing across from her.

Lena walks forwards— walks like she couldn’t stop if she tried, like there’s something magnetic about Kara that’s too powerful to resist. Kara knows because she feels the same way; her feet drag over themselves as she walks parallel to the waves coming in over her feet, getting closer to the pebbled walkway Lena is making her way down.

Even as her body enters autopilot— even as the roar of the waves seems to pause and Kara grows too numb to feel the cold of the water and she can’t see anything but the woman in front of her— Kara finds it in herself to wonder. She’d spent the morning out here, walking and thinking and trying to decide what to say, but now that Lena’s here in front of her, it all falls away.

She’s been imagining what this would be like if they were just two ordinary people, if Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor were just two best friends, reuniting at last and nothing more.

Kara wonders what it would be like, to fall in love and not have the weight of the world and ugly family histories and war and death wedge itself in the way. Kara wonders if someone normal could ever feel as strongly as she does about Lena because ordinary people don’t travel through the universe and happen to fall in love despite everything. What she feels for Lena has never felt accidental; it feels like fate, like something that had been written for her in the stars.

Kara’s come to the realization that maybe she’s always been destined to get tangled up in Lena Luthor’s life, and as they finally reach each other, that’s all she can think about. All she knows is that this feels destined; this feels like a long time in the making, an epic on its last few pages.

There’s only one way for Kara to know if she gets a good epilogue.

They stand a handful of feet apart, and Kara can’t ignore how fast her own heart is pounding, can’t ignore that Lena’s matches hers in ferocity. Kara just stares at Lena, noticing the small, insignificant, new details— like the fact that Lena is wearing a new shade of lipstick and has bags under her eyes that not even her expensive makeup can hide, the way that her hands are trembling and Lena doesn’t even try to hide it, much less control the way they shake. Kara’s mouth drops open a little as she soaks in the fact that this is Lena in front of her again; her hands dig deep in her pockets and her eyes go wide, and she tries to decide what to do, what to say-

“Kara? Is that really you?” Lena asks, like she still doesn’t believe it, and the quiet pleading behind her voice is enough to send Kara hurtling forwards. Her feet jerk forwards in big, staggering steps as she closes the distance and brings Lena in for a tight hug.

“It’s really me,” she whispers, buries her face in Lena’s hair. It’s the closest she’s ever held Lena, the strongest. Kara has spent her entire life on Earth holding herself back, being so gentle with Alex and Streaky and later, with Lena. Especially with Lena. But now, without her powers, without that fear of hurting someone looming over her shoulder, Kara lets herself have this, lets herself wrap her arms around Lena’s waist with such force that she lifts her up for a moment.

Kara closes her eyes, breathes in Lena’s perfume, and tries not to notice how Lena’s entire body is still stiff, how her arms are just barely touching Kara’s shoulders, like she can’t bear to get so close to Kara again.

One of Lena’s hands is wrapped so tightly in the hem of Kara’s sweatshirt that she thinks it might tear, however. It’s the only thing anchoring the two of them together, and Kara chooses to focus on that instead, not the distance that can be felt so acutely between them even if they are wrapped up in each other.

Eventually, she pulls away, when she realizes that Lena’s heart is still beating too fast and her spine is still ramrod straight and Lena’s breathing is labored. Perhaps that hug had been more for her own comfort than for anyone else— so Kara squeezes once more and then lets her arms drop back down to her sides. Lena takes a small step back, and in the gap, the tension builds along with the silence. Kara just keeps staring and tries to figure out what to say.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Kara decides on. “I know it must have been a shock, getting the call.” She takes another deep breath in the silence. The beach is impossibly quiet even with the roar of the ocean in her ears, and Kara laces her fingers tightly together behind her back, deciding to face this head-on. “I was gone, and now- I’m here now, which must be… confusing. I won’t pretend to know how you may be feeling-”

“What is your problem?”

Kara flinches, mind spinning. That isn’t really what she’d expected Lena to say, even if she knew that eventually, the emotion from the reunion would wear off and the anger would take its place, just as it had with Alex. She opens her mouth to speak, to try and get ahead of what’s coming, but Lena raises up a hand before she can even draw in a breath, shaking her head and laughing a humorless laugh. Kara’s stomach drops at the sound because she’s heard it before, knows that this is Lena at her most hurt.

“Why are you like this?” Lena asks again, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes, looking at Kara with genuine anger now. “Why are you acting like everything is normal?”

“I’m not- of course this isn’t normal,” she tries, but Lena isn’t having it. Maybe this isn’t what the other woman imagined would happen if Kara rose from the dead. Lena probably hadn’t expected Kara in a ratty sweatshirt and sandals, looking a little pale but no worse for wear, awkwardly beating around the bush. “I don’t know what to do!” She throws her arms up in the air— and immediately brings them back to her sides. “Lena,” she says again. “I’m just so happy to see you.”

You’re happy to see me?” Lena shouts, a little shrill, and Kara decides to just shut up for a little while, because Lena is rarely this way— rarely lets her emotions get the best of her, and Kara doesn’t want to get in the way of that. “You- you absolute… you’re the one that died!” She seems lost for words for a moment, caught between staring at Kara like she wants to punch her and just drinking in her presence. It’s the same way Alex had treated her, those first days with Eliza. “How do you think everyone else felt, huh? Or did that thought not pass through your reckless, stubborn, stupid—” she kicks her shoe into the sand for emphasis, flinging it Kara’s way— “head? God, Kara!”

“This isn’t what I wanted.” Kara takes a deep breath, and her arms tighten around herself, rooting her to the spot. She feels immovable, even as she knows that any moment now, Lena could walk away. It feels like they’re walking a thin line, a tightrope capable of snapping at any moment and leaving them both to plummet. “I never wanted it to go this way.”

“Then what did you want? Or does that not even matter to you?”

“I… of course it matters! I was only doing what I had to. It was the only choice.”

“You and your unthinkable choices,” Lena says at last, and when she finally looks up, Kara can see that she’s making Lena cry. She’s hurting Lena again even as she’s trying again to fix things between them. “Did you ever think that just once, it doesn’t have to be you?”

“I know I went about it the wrong way. I know that. But Lena… people were dying. Our world was gone. I only knew one way to change that.” Kara closes her eyes, swallows hard against the lump in her throat. Lena may understand her, but she can’t understand this— that Kara was sent here with a purpose, a pre-written destiny that would always end the same way. She owes it to Krypton, to her parents. “I will always make that choice.”

“You promised me!” Lena yells, loud and piercing even over the crashing waves, and Kara’s heart jolts at the emotion behind it. “You said things would be okay. You said you’d be alright. You’re a lot of things, Kara, but I never thought you’d break a promise like that.”

It hurts, Rao does it hurt, seeing Lena like this, but she tries to remind herself that this is good, in a terrible way. It’s maybe even healthy— and at the very least, it was bound to happen. They couldn’t keep up their guards forever. Lena’s voice gets quiet again, and the sea draws back from the shore, as if it’s inhaling, preparing for the next collision with the sand. Kara does the same thing.

“I made promises of my own, you know,” she says, and Kara remembers all too well the slow calm to Lena’s words when she vowed to Alex that she’d protect Kara. The way she’d hidden the trembling of her fingers behind her back. “I swore that I’d bring you home. I didn’t know you’d already thrown your life away without even a moment of hesitation. Instead, I had to go back knowing that I let Supergirl die. That I’d let you die.”

I’m sorry,” she says again, apologizing for more than just her deal with the Monitor, and for more than her death. This is a far more selfish regret, and she can feel tears of her own build. As soon as she blinks, they will begin falling in earnest, so she keeps her eyes wide, taking in the woman across from her who’s doing the exact same thing. In the most heartbreaking of circumstances, she and Lena are finally back on the same page. “I never wanted it to end like that. I- I tried to fix it. It just wasn’t enough.”

“Maybe it would have been.” Lena’s voice trembles, and Kara’s head jerks up at the sound. The way Lena is looking at her makes her wonder if maybe, Lena is talking about more than just the battle too. “Have you ever thought about that?”

“Lena. Please, I-”

“No. Just, stop. It’s not worth it, anymore.” Lena closes her eyes and turns away from Kara. “You.. you haven’t changed at all, yet it feels like I can barely recognize you.”

“You know me,” Kara says, and she wishes it didn’t come out so keening. She can’t believe that she’s letting Lena slip away from her again, even with her last chance to fix things. “You’ve always known me. I’m… I’m just Kara.”

“I loved Kara,” Lena says over her shoulder even as they begin to heave. Through her own tears, the words knock the breath out of her with a broken little sigh. “More than anything. And the worst part is, for the first time in my life, I thought that would be enough.”

Oh, Lena.

Kara wants to surge forwards, wants to pull Lena into her arms again and never let go, wants to finally tell her how she really feels about her. But her arms hang limply at their sides, and her tongue stays silent, and Kara stands by and lets her heart break at Lena’s last confession.

“It was more than enough,” she says, pleading silently for a spark, or a nudge, or a shove to push her forwards. She told herself that if she came back, this would be different, that she would stop hiding behind lies and take this new chance at life seriously. But the words get stuck in her throat, so she circles around them instead. “Lena, you were always enough.”

“Then why did you just give up?” Lena asks, more an accusation than a genuine question. Her voice breaks halfway through, and for just a moment, Kara can see a sliver of the grief and the pain that this is causing Lena flash in her eyes.

“I did it for you!” Kara pleads, even though she knows that that isn’t what Lena wants to hear. If anything, that’s the one thing she probably doesn’t want to hear. Knowing that Kara sacrificed herself for her won’t bring any comfort, not even after the fact. “Everything that I did was out of love. You know that.”

“I don’t know what you think love is, but that isn’t it,” Lena replies, and that ache that Kara had hoped would stay away is back in full force. It cripples what’s left of her defenses, and leaves Kara painfully adrift. She’s no better off than the crashing waves in the distance. “And I won’t torture myself with letting you convince me that love, for you, is anything but spilled blood on the ground.”

Kara has nothing to say to that, and Lena just nods to herself, satisfied about something, but not necessarily happy about it. More like Kara’s silence is exactly what she’d expected.

“That’s what I thought,” she says with a sense of finality. “I suppose-”

“You want to know why I gave up my life here on Earth?” Kara interjects. If this is really what Lena wants, then Kara will do it. She’ll put all her cards on the table. “It’s because I didn’t think I deserved it. It was because I didn’t deserve you,” she whispers, and Lena looks at her with a mixture of shock and disbelief. She hadn’t been expecting that.

“And so you threw away the chance you had to learn how to be?” Lena asks, and well, Kara hadn’t ever thought of it that way. What she deserved has always been black and white. It isn’t something that can be learned or unlearned… it’s just whatever she can stomach taking for herself without feeling guilt split her open. “Kara, just because you felt like you didn’t deserve that… it doesn’t mean that you deserved to die.”

“No-”

“You need to draw a line somewhere,” Lena says, as forceful as she’s ever been, as angry and as hurt and all on Kara’s behalf. “You need to decide where it stops, because you don’t always get a second chance, Kara. I saw it for myself. Sometimes, you don’t get back up. So what’s going to make you decide enough is enough?”

Maybe this was what Mar had been trying to help her understand all along.

Amidst the chaos, and amidst the pain, Kara finds herself growing strangely calm. “Lena,” she says. “I think it’s time you knew something.”

Lena rounds back on her, her face dark and wounded. “So what?”

“Please, just let me-”

Lena cuts her off with a shrug, wrapping her arms tight around her stomach. “I don’t want to hear it. There isn’t anything left to say.”

Something strong propels Kara forwards, gives her the guts to reach out and wrap her hand around one of Lena’s wrists. And while it’s not like that’s the first time they’ve touched since Kara returned, there’s something different, here. That same strong something passes between the two of them like an electrical current, and Kara nearly jerks and drops Lena’s hand because of it. As for Lena, she must feel it too; she stares down at their joined hands and Kara watches the tendons jump and dance as Lena flexes her wrist. But she doesn’t pull away— not yet at least— so Kara keeps holding on.

“Yes there is.” They’re so close now that Kara can whisper, and not even the roar of the ocean can disrupt this moment. “Please. You need to know.”

Lena narrows her eyes, and tightens her jaw, but she doesn’t pull away.

“You know, I had to make my peace with a lot of things before I died. Afterwards, too. But I never could come to terms with what happened to us.” Kara squeezes Lena’s wrist as gently as she can, and takes a moment to take a breath. She hadn’t thought it would feel this way. Then again, with Lena, Kara never knew what she would feel. “And by now, you’ve heard it all. I know that. I know you’re sick of the sob story, and the excuses, all of it. For the record, I don’t blame you for any of it. I betrayed your trust, and I’m sorry for that.”

Lena says nothing. She raises an eyebrow instead, a silent invitation for Kara to keep talking, so she does, feeling the intensity behind it show as her words begin to tumble over themselves.

“All my life, Lena, I never knew what I wanted. I knew what my parents wanted from me, and Kal-El, and Eliza and Jeremiah, and my friends. What they expected me to do. How I was to act, and behave, and blend in. What the world demanded of me. For most of my time here on Earth, I was just someone to carry my family’s legacy and the weight of the world.” Their eyes lock. “Just like you.”

Lena actually looks hesitant. “That isn’t the same. We aren’t the same,” she says, but it isn’t cruel, more shocked. Like she can’t believe that Kara would ever consider their burdens on par with each other.

“I think we are,” Kara replies gently. “I think that’s what drew me to you in the first place.”

“Kara-” Lena says, and she sounds exhausted by it all, sounds truly like she can’t handle much more of this. Kara knows that, and she hates it, but she won’t be able to live with herself if she loses Lena forever without her at least knowing this.

“Nobody thought I should be your friend.” Lena scoffs, digs her feet in the sand, and she probably already knows that, had probably figured it out the first few times they ever spent time together. “And to be honest, for the longest time I didn’t know why I didn’t listen to them. I realize now that meeting you, being your best friend, it was the first time that I’d done something completely for myself. Not for Krypton, or Kal-El, or the Danvers. Not out of some vague sense of duty. It was just for me.” Kara takes a deep breath, about to take the plunge. “All because of you. And I’m sorry that it took me so long despite that, but I know what I want, now. Even if it took me dying to realize it.”

“And what do you want, Kara?” Lena asks, bitter in a way that Kara knows comes from heartache.

“I’m in love with you,” Kara says. “I have been, all this time. And for the longest time I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t want it to end badly. I couldn’t handle it hurting so much anymore.”

“What did you just say?” Lena asks but Kara knows she had heard what she said because her eyes have gone wide, stunned for a different reason than just seeing Kara again.

Kara just barrels forwards.“But when I loved you, it wasn’t just me who got hurt. You did too. And I don’t blame you for running, or for ignoring me, or for any of it. Fighting the Anti-Monitor… you’re right. I thought that it would be better to lose my life— to lose you, to lose everything, than to let you get hurt again.”

“You just think you’re so good at handling pain, don’t you?” Lena says, spits it out, even if she’s lost most of her venom. If anything, Lena sounds scared— sounds like she doesn’t have a clue where this is headed, and isn’t entirely sure if she wants to reach the final destination at all. “You say it’s so no one else has to. So I don’t have to.” Lena sticks up her chin, but that doesn’t stop it from trembling. What Kara has said to her has stuck her somewhere deep, and somewhere vulnerable. “I think deep down, you just like to seek it out.”

For what it’s worth, Kara doesn’t ignore the criticism behind Lena’s anger. It’s the same thing that Alex has been telling her all along, the same thing that Kara’s slowly been realizing herself; she’s always been drawn to blood, has always thought it held some sort of devotion— has known that ever since her parents gave her their hearts in the form of fire and ash and death— and maybe, she can’t resist spilling her own.

“Maybe you’re right,” she says with a shrug, never taking her eyes off of Lena. “Maybe I was so concerned with never hurting you again that I ended up losing you in the long run. But now I know that losing you is worse— I took that to my grave, and I won’t screw that up again. This time, there will be no secrets, no lies, nothing.”

“Kara, I-” Lena takes in a gulp of air, pacing away for just a moment before returning with a wild, desperate fire in her eyes. “I don’t know the first thing about love! And you just stand here, asking me to… what? Be brave? To face whatever this is between us?”

“I don’t know.” Lena turns away again, not to ignore Kara’s calm words but to spare herself from the rawness of them. “Lena, I don’t know what I’m asking for. I guess I want whatever you’ll give me. I want a chance.”

“A chance?” Lena echoes, sounding carved out inside. She looks caught between walking away and colliding forwards, and the ocean wind does nothing to temper the chaos on her face. “A chance for what? More heartbreak?” Her voice breaks, and her face contorts into something awful. “For me to find you dead in the rubble again?”

Kara takes a breath, then allows herself to hope. “The chance for something new. Something better. Something good, for once.” Then, she meets Lena’s eyes, tries to put all of the feeling behind what she’s just said into a look. They’d always been better at sharing moments like these, anyway. “So now I’m asking you what you want, Lena. Because if you want even a sliver of what I do, if you feel like I do right now, then I think— I hope— that there’s something here worth fighting for.”

For a moment, she thinks she really has changed Lena. For a moment, she thinks that that might have actually broken through. Kara's heart swells, and she watches with bated breath as Lena teeters, staring unblinking into her eyes and swallowing hard.

But then Lena shakes her head and drops Kara’s hand.

“I- I can’t do this,” she says, and Kara’s eyes close of their own accord, like they don’t want to watch Lena walk away forever. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Lena, please-” Kara tries, but it’s too late. She can see the panic in Lena’s eyes, can tell that Lena would rather be anywhere else in the world than here, and knows that she can’t stop it from happening.

“No, Kara, I- I can’t. I need to go,” Lena says, sending her one last wild look over her shoulder before practically running away, fleeing the scene of the crime.

Kara stays where she is, alone in the surf, watching Lena’s form steadily retreat until it’s just her silhouette, climbing into her car and pulling quickly out of Eliza’s driveway. She watches her drive fast down the coastline road, watches Lena drive far away, watches her leave maybe for good this time, and still she does nothing.

She tries to take solace in the fact that at least she told the truth. At least Lena knows it all now. There’s no more lies between them, no more pretense or false convictions or masks put up hastily to hide the truth. Kara’s walls are all down now, and maybe she should find some peace in that but her heart still breaks anyway. The ocean still floods her moats and surges through her crumbling defenses and Kara still drowns in the cold, dark deep. She imagines that it would be Lena’s eyes that she sees from above.

Where’s the solace to be found in a new life without Lena?

She stands frozen out there for the longest time, longer than she can remember, until she hears cautious footsteps join her. For the briefest of moments, Kara thinks it’s Lena; but if she listens closely she can hear Lena’s heart beat sharp and erratic somewhere past the last highway connecting Midvale to the rest of the world, and Kara knows she’s well and truly gone.

As she turns to face Alex, Kara can already feel the tears start to fall.

“Hey, how did-” Alex starts, but stops as soon as she sees Kara’s face. Kara screws her eyes shut before she can see the pity on Alex’s. “Oh, no. Kara, I’m so sorry.”

Kara all but throws herself at her sister, lets her wrap her arms around her and lets herself cry without feeling selfish for it. Maybe this is what Mar meant, when he told Kara what she’s worthy of. Maybe it’s not just love, or forgiveness, or peace. Maybe Kara deserves to feel the bad along with the good— to be hurt every once in a while without feeling like she’s a burden.

After all, isn’t this kind of pain what it means to be human?

“It’s okay,” she says, even as she burrows deeper into Alex’s shoulder to cry. “At least she knows. It’ll get better.”

Kara says it more for herself than for anyone else, because she needs something to hold onto. A mantra like that is better than nothing, and Kara almost believes it. She wants to believe things will be better someday. They will. Right?

“You’ll always have me,” her sister says, and Kara knows that is true. Alex isn’t going anywhere, and her sister is all she’s ever needed anyways. They’ll go back to the city, and Kara will get to see her friends again, will get to help people again, and that’ll be enough. Kara will be enough.

She has a new shot at life now, and this time, she’s determined to make it her own.

(She really wanted Lena to be a part of that, though. She’d been hoping that Lena would be what she’s always been reaching for. All she really wanted was Lena.)

Oh well. Kara releases a shaking sigh and closes her eyes. She’s never really had it all. She’ll just have to learn to live without Lena again. She’s done it before— has spent most of her life without the other woman by her side— so she’ll do it again. It won’t be that hard.

Right?

Just before they leave back to National City, Clark and Lois come to visit.

Kara likes to think that she’s experienced more than the average person in the universe— what with the time travel and the alternate dimensions and the multiple earths thrown in for good measure— but nothing prepares her for when Alex starts the process of calling their friends.

They sit together on the porch, just the two of them, the morning after Lena left. Kara had given herself the rest of that day to deal with her heartbreak— which in her case, meant ice cream and sitcom reruns and even forcing Alex to go through their old high school yearbooks. It’s a relic of an older version of themselves, ancient history by now, but that’s exactly why Kara looks through them. The pictures are faded and the fashion is outrageous and Alex nearly breaks a finger in her haste to snap the book shut when they reach her braces stage, but it’s a time in Kara’s life that’s far removed from National City and from Lena.

Not that Kara wants to escape. No, she actually quite likes wallowing, especially now that her feelings aren’t the open secret they were previously. Alex is extra-nice and patient, Kara gets to wear her pajamas for the rest of the day, and Eliza makes hot cocoa. As has been the case for this entire stay in Midvale, Kara actually manages to find comfort amidst her misery.

But this warm bubble they’ve created can’t last forever, which is why the next morning, Kara wraps herself in a blanket and listens as Alex carefully, dutifully delivers world-shattering news to all of their closest family and friends.

At least this time the news isn’t quite so sad.

Most of their friends agree to stay put in National City and wait until the two of them get back before they see Kara again— though in the case of J’onn and poor, sweet Nia especially, Kara has to grab the phone to talk them down herself. Alex does wonderfully, gives news that would be impossible to believe even if Kara flew down in front of her friends and explained it herself— but there’s only so much that she can do, only so much chaos she can avoid.

Which is exactly why they find Clark and Lois touching down in the backyard barely a half-hour after they give them a call.

Kara watches her cousin land with an uneven thud on the ground, red cape billowing and their coat of arms glinting in the sun. It’s eerily similar to the first time he ever brought her here, a careful, strong hand on her shoulder and well-meaning but stilted Kryptonian falling loosely from his lips. Kara had been so scared, so lost, so devastated, but that suit had calmed her down. That was still the House of El displayed proudly, even if it was across the broad chest of a man and not the baby that Kara had expected to find.

Coming here, meeting the Danvers, it had been a rebirth of its own. Really, Kara supposes that this time around really isn’t any different.

She stands and goes to meet them out in the yard, wishing that she had her own suit to wear. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her old jeans and borrowed flannel from Alex— not at all. It’s just that that suit had always been a source of comfort to Kara, and a source of pride. Kara doesn’t know where it is. She hadn’t been buried in it, she knows that much— and she’s been too nervous to ask Alex about it. The fight with the Anti-Monitor hadn’t been a clean or dignified one, and Kara knows in her heart that the cape and the suit are probably long gone.

(She hopes Alex somehow managed to salvage the cape. It had always connected her to Kal-El, and it’s one of the few tangible mementos of Krypton that either of them had left.)

Kal meets her on the hill in the blink of an eye, pulling her into a strong hug that takes Kara by surprise. Although her powers are still slowly making their way back to her, what makes the ferocity of this embrace surprising isn’t the way that her cousin holds her tight, but because they haven’t hugged like this in years— maybe ever.

Kara just pats her cousin on the back until he’s ready to say something. They’ve always loved each other, Kara knows that— but that didn’t mean there weren't some bad things between them. Nothing can be perfectly pretty, Kara’s learned, and her relationship with her baby cousin is no exception to that rule. There was lingering resentment between them, spoiled pride and shared grief that had only served to keep them apart.

Funnily enough, Kara’s always wished that Kal would stop being Superman every once and a while and just be her cousin. She’s got a feeling that the man in front of her is exactly that, despite the red boots.

“Kara,” he says, as sad as she’s ever heard him; it isn’t until she feels wetness against the fabric of her shirt that Kara realizes that Kal is crying. “Kara, I’m so sorry.”

Kara squeezes back as tightly as her powers allow her to, bowing her head. She’d guessed that Kal would feel guilty about her death, and would feel ashamed that he wasn’t there. It’s exactly how she would have felt if she’d been the one left behind. While she’d been sent to Earth to protect him, in the end, they looked after each other. Truly being the last Kryptonian on Earth… Kara can only imagine how lonely that would be.

“It’s alright,” she murmurs, shushing him gently. “It’s alright, Kal.”

“No, I- I should have been there to help. If I’d been there, I could’ve helped you, or I- I should have been there to watch Lex.” His eyes are icy and angry but at no one but himself— and Lex, Kara supposes. There won’t ever be a time where Clark Kent and Lex Luthor don’t hate each other with a burning intensity. It makes Kara a little sick to her stomach. “I… I made him into what he is,” he says. “It’s all my fault, and you suffered for it.”

Kara pulls away and puts her hands on her cousin’s shoulders, raising an eyebrow. “He wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of me either,” she points out gently. “I know you have a history with him, but Kal… don’t blame yourself for what Lex Luthor does. This time around, I think it truly was about what I’d done to him.”

“But Kara-”

“Let’s not talk about him, okay?” she requests, and after a moment, Kal-El nods, his throat bobbing. “I’m here now, and I’ve learned the hard way not to let the past consume your present.”

Kal fiddles with the ring on his hand, staring down at the grass. For such a tall, strong, imposing man, he sure is good at being small when he wants to be. He wants to ask her something, Kara knows, but he can’t seem to say it.

She squeezes his shoulder and gives him a cautious smile. “I’m here now. It really is okay,” Kara says, and that’s all it takes to coax him out of his shell.

“What was it like?” he asks. “Dying?”

Kara lets out a long breath through her nose. “It isn’t so bad,” she answers after a while. “Less of an ending, and more of a… slipping away.” She meets his gaze, and suddenly, there’s so much she wants to tell him. “I heard these voices, Kal. I heard our family. Krypton… it isn’t gone. It’s just waiting for us someplace else. Somewhere beyond.”

For a second, when she sees his eyes go wide and his jaw clench, Kara thinks he doesn’t believe her. But then he says, “I heard them too. My parents,” and Kara’s heart skips a beat.

“You did?” she asks breathlessly, and he nods with enthusiasm.

“When the world disappeared,” he says. “But just as soon as I heard them, we were back, like nothing had happened at all. I asked Lois about it and she says she doesn’t remember anything at all. I doubt anyone else does either.”

Kara bites her lip, not sure what to make of that. At the time, she hadn’t been worried about what would happen if she brought her world back— only that she would in the first place. Now that she knows that there are consequences, that there are wrinkles and complications that they haven’t even found yet, Kara is glad Kal was there to see things through.

“Even for me, it feels like a… dream, now,” he continues. “Like when you wake up and the details are already distant and foggy.” Kal levels his gaze on her now, and there’s something intense behind it, something that makes Kara want to look away. But she doesn’t, and he keeps talking. “Still, even if I don’t remember, I know how much courage that must have taken for you to do what you did.”

Kara breaks their stare to glance down at the ground, feeling a swell of emotion threaten to overtake her. Out of anyone, she knows that Kal understands how she must have felt in that moment. For the first time Kara lets herself remember how scared she’d been. How much she didn’t want to leave them.

“I just did what needed to be done,” she says, and even if there’s steel in her words, her voice itself still wavers. Kal doesn’t judge; he just leans down and plants a kiss on her forehead.

“You did more than that, Kara. I didn’t have a warning,” he says carefully. “I didn’t know that the world was ending, and I didn’t know that I was about to die. But you… you knew what would happen, didn’t you?” Kara nods, and he gives her a sad smile. “You willingly took that leap for the sake of everyone else. I don’t know if I could have.”

“Yes you would,” Kara answers. “If it had been for the people you loved, trust me. It was an easy choice.”

“Our parents would be proud,” Kal-El says in the quiet. “It’s what they wanted for us.”

Kara turns and sees Alex and Lois walking up the hill slowly, Lois with a bundle in her arms. With a start, Kara realizes that it’s a baby; this is little Jonathan, living proof that Krypton doesn’t have to die with the two of them— that their hopes and dreams for a family are more than possible. Alex and Lois are laughing, teasing, and Alex’s finger is being held by one of Jonathan’s hands. There is something about seeing a baby, witnessing a new chapter of life that will grow in front of your eyes, that puts things into perspective.

Kara used to believe in what Kal’s just told her. But now, she isn’t so sure. Now, she thinks she’s learning to believe in something different.

“No,” she tells Clark, a smile growing on her face as she sees a familiar curl of dark hair beneath the blanket. “Our parents wanted more for us than that. They wanted us to live. They wanted us to have a chance to find something like this again. They’re proud of the both of us, Kal, and they always will be.”

He looks over at her in surprise, but something soft and sincere pulls at the corners of his mouth as well. “I think you’re right,” Kal says.

As soon as she gets within distance, Lois is already giving Kara her most blinding smile and wiggling her eyebrows. She drops off Jonathan into a bemused Clark’s arms, and then practically jumps on top of Kara, squealing in delight.

“I knew you’d find a way back, kid,” she crows, but despite her bravado, Kara can see the way her eyes crinkle and shine, recognizes the tears there for what they are. Lois may like to put on a show, but at heart, she’s just happy to see Kara again, and Kara feels the same. “You’ve got a knack for getting in and out of trouble. Learned it from the best,” she says, pointing a finger at her own chest with pride.

Kara huffs out a laugh and wraps her arms around Lois in return, blushing. “Hi, Lois. It’s good to see you.”

Without a baby in her arms to actively divert her attention away, Lois is just as sharp as ever, and when she steps away from the hug and punches Kara’s shoulder with a smirk, Kara knows that Lois isn’t done just yet with the teasing.

“So… I hear the cat’s out of the bag,” she remarks snidely, and at Kara’s confused glance at Alex, Lois rolls her eyes. “About you and Luthor, I mean,” she clarifies, and if Kara was blushing before, she’s positively scarlet now. “I’ll be the first to nab an exclusive when you two makes things official, won’t I?”

Despite the overwhelming feelings of joy and warmth at seeing two of her favorite people again, Kara can’t stop her heart from sinking just a bit.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to scrap that interview,” she informs Lois morosely. “Lena… she doesn’t feel the same way.”

Lois just stares, not even attempting to look anything other than unimpressed. Even Clark, as oblivious and happy-go-lucky as he is, shoots Kara a look out of the corner of his eye. Whatever she said apparently isn’t winning them over.

After a beat of awkward silence, Lois claps her on the shoulder again. “I wouldn’t look so bummed about it if I were you,” she says, and it actually sounds encouraging. “I’ve got a good feeling about you two— and, 150 bucks on the line. We’ve got a betting pool going.”

There’s the fond exasperation Kara usually feels around Lois Lane.

Flabbergasted, she exchanges a questioning look with Alex, who just shrugs, ears red, and stares up at the sky, looking suspiciously complicit. Clark, on the other hand, nearly drops Jonathan in his haste to shake his head and send Kara every nonverbal signal possible that he’s innocent.

“I- I had nothing to do with this, Kara, I promise,” he stammers, rocking Jonathan nervously. “I mean, I- I would never bet on my own cousin’s love life-”

“Sorry to break it to you babe, but it’s your name on the check,” Lois counters, squeezing his forearms while Clark’s mouth drops open and he gapes over at Kara, still profusely objecting. “You’re in just as deep as me.”

Maybe it’s because it’s been a long, crazy day, or maybe Kara hasn’t gotten enough sleep— or maybe she’s just missed these two so much that she’s bursting at the seams with affection now— but Kara just laughs it off. Everyone else joins in too, even Clark, and when they quiet down, Kara turns her attention towards the baby.

She asks Clark an unspoken question with a tilt of her head, and Clark understands easily.

“Here,” he says, transferring Jonathan over to her, nestling him carefully in her arms. For two of the strongest people on the planet, the two of them are exceedingly gentle. “It’s time for you to meet your nephew.”

Kara looks down in surprise as Jonathan shifts closer, as he opens his eyes blearily and yawns. His eyes are blue, just like Kal’s just like hers— just like the rest of their family.

“Hello, little one,” she says with a smile, adjusting the blanket over the child. Kara’s forgotten how small a child can be, so fragile. She holds him against her chest with all the care in the universe. Once upon a time, and fate worked out a little differently, this is how she would have spent her life on Earth, raising Kal, protecting Krypton’s legacy. Her grin softens, and she glances up at Clark, who’s leaning against Lois. They look happy. Her cousin really has grown up. “He looks just like you,” she tells him, and if he sees the tears in her eyes as she says it, Kal doesn’t think any less of her for it.

“I’m glad you get to be there for him.”

A few tears fall from Kara’s eyes, but no one says anything. Everyone here recognizes that to Kara, this moment is special. Her nephew, this small, wonderful baby in her arms, has given her a type of peace she’d been worried she wouldn’t ever find.

Krypton is going to live on no matter what. Maybe that means that Kara won’t have to live life wondering if everything is in vain. Maybe this time around, she can just live.

“I am too.”

Kara moves back to National City the next morning, Alex in tow.

Their plan, for now, is to keep things quiet; they sneak back into Kara’s apartment— that Alex had still stubbornly, heartbreakingly been paying rent on— and pull the sheets off of the furniture, unpack some of the boxes. They agree to order takeout and call J’onn the next morning, once they both catch their breath.

Kara wants to see everyone, she really does— but seeing the thick layer of dust in her apartment and the cold, abandoned feeling to a place that was once warm and full of sun is jarring enough. She and Alex decide that for now, throwing Kara right into the thick of things isn’t the best route to take— even if that thick involves a veritable mob of concerned, excited, well-meaning friends and family.

That’s the plan, and Kara is content to stick to it— which is why she’s so confused when, maybe an hour or so after she and Alex get back to her apartment, Alex does something different.

Right around lunchtime, her phone buzzes from where it had been turned over on the coffee table, and Alex clambers up to her feet and walks over to get it. Kara assumes that it’s J’onn, or Eliza, or even Clark checking in, making sure they got home alright. But when Alex reads whatever is on her screen she gets the strangest look on her face, glancing back and forth between her phone and her sister, and that perks Kara’s interest.

“What-?”

“I’m going to go check in with Kelly,” Alex announces abruptly, throwing on her jacket and lacing up her boots at an inhuman speed Kara isn’t even sure if she could achieve. “I should be back later tonight.” She practically rips the door from its hinges and jogs out, but just before it closes shut again, Alex pokes her head in. “I love you, Kara,” she says, still with that same odd expression. “Call or text me if you need anything, and I mean anything.

Then, her sister is down the hallway and down the stairs before it feels like Kara can even finish whipping her head around to ask her what’s wrong. And even though they’ve had an admittedly crazy week, even if the both of them have been acting irrationally for most of it, Kara isn’t so clueless as to not notice that this is bizarre.

Something— or someone— had sent Alex flying out of the apartment in a hurry, despite the fact that Alex really hasn’t left her side since they reunited, and that’s the part that’s confusing. Kara honestly isn’t sure who has that kind of power over her sister, but she has a feeling in her suddenly rolling gut that she’s going to be finding out sooner rather than later.

Huh.

When Kara gets a knock on her door not even ten minutes later, somehow, she knows exactly who it is.

She opens the door, heart pounding, and sure enough, there is Lena, who, after taking a moment to stare with wide eyes at the bizarre sight of Kara Danvers back in her old apartment, narrows them, looking by all accounts to be a woman on a mission.

Lena marches into Kara’s apartment without even one look over her shoulder, throwing her purse on the armchair and turning back around. It’s an abrupt departure from the first time she ever knocked on the door and walked in with a timid smile, and Kara is blown away by how such a simple thing can make such a difference. Lena walks in with their shared history and years of baggage in tow, but all Kara can think about is how much she’d missed Lena standing here in her kitchen. It reminds her of home more than her sun-faded furniture does.

Kara considers waving, thinks about squeaking out some bland, vague greeting, really weighs the pros and cons of leaping out her window and hoping that the adrenaline will send her powers rushing back, but before she can act on any of those Lena takes charge. She clears her throat, flips her hair over one shoulder, and turns back around to face Kara, seeming to be measured and collected. This is the Lena Luthor that Kara always imagined ruled effortlessly over a board meeting, and here she is in front of her now.

But then she starts talking, and Kara realizes that the poise in Lena’s eyes is really only scratching the surface.

“Kara,” she says, speaking in a clipped, rehearsed tone. Kara wonders how many times Lena has practiced this imminent speech she has prepared. “I reacted… poorly, to your return, and I apologize for that. I’m here now because I feel prepared to try this again, and because there are some things I need to say to you.”

“Okay,” Kara replies, because there isn’t much else to say. She knows better than most when to get out of Lena Luthor’s way when she’s in pursuit of something. Whatever it is that Lena’s after, Kara’s involved, and although just seeing Lena again makes Kara feel a little bit like crying, she swallows it down and sits on the couch, ready to take what Lena has to offer. “Alright. What’s wrong?”

Lena stays where she is, pacing by the coffee table, and when she finally speaks, Kara is taken aback by the ferocity of her words.

“How dare you tell me you’re in love with me,” Lena seethes, accusatory. Kara cringes and wishes Lena hadn’t gone straight for her jugular, but doesn’t react other than that. Lena’s voice gets louder, bursting at the seams with emotion, and Kara can understand why she spent so much time preparing for this— because this is something Lena can barely control as is, and Kara knows how much Lena hates feeling uncomposed. “How could you do that to me?”

“Lena, I-”

“And how dare you show up out of the blue and tell me that while I was in the middle of yelling at you! I was incredibly angry with you, and I still am,” Lena says, yelling once more. Kara knows better than to interrupt it this time. “You… you threw your life away before we could fix any of this—” Lena gestures wildly between the two of them— “between us! What, did you think that would be your get out of jail free card?”

“Well, no, of course not,” Kara retorts, but when Lena raises an eyebrow she finds she doesn’t have anything more to support her argument. While her intentions were good, telling Lena how she felt like that, in the heat of an already charged moment had been reckless. There were better ways of going about it, but Kara couldn’t wait any longer. “I just needed you to know.”

“How long?” Lena asks, practically demands, and all Kara can do is blink rapidly.

“Um… sorry?”

“For how long have you been in love with me?” Lena asks again, her hands on her hips, but there’s something tumultuous around the edges of her voice. It’s shaky, and clearly fragile, and all it does is make her question seem that much more urgent. Kara actually understands that this is an answer that Lena needs to hear.

It’s too bad, then, that she really has no idea.

“Well, I mean…” Kara stops hoping a good answer will appear out of the blue and just bites her lip instead, shooting Lena an apologetic wince. “I feel like maybe you won’t like this, but… I don’t really know?”

“What do you mean?” Lena puts her hands on her hips. There’s momentum behind her stance, behind the set to her shoulders. Lena looks like she’s trying hard to keep herself from falling forwards. “How can you not know?”

“I really only figured it out after we- after, you know… it was a recent thing.” Kara knows that it’s weak, but it’s all she’s got at the moment. How can she even begin to put to words her feelings for Lena when she is still coming to terms with them herself? “But,” she says, stronger now, “What I realized was that the feelings that I’d always had around you, the ones I could never name… was love.”

“Did you plan on ever telling me?” Lena asks, and Kara wants to open her mouth, wants to point out that they’re only having this conversation because Kara told her, but she understands the real question Lena’s asking.

“You mean before I died?” Kara’s voice is gentle, but it still sends a shockwave through the both of them. Lena reels back slightly, her momentum stalled, and for the first time since marching in here, Lena looks doubtful. Unsure of herself. She nods her head.

There’s nothing left but for Kara to be honest. “Eventually, I think I would have,” she says with a shrug, and Lena’s eyes, still sharp, lose some of their hardness. “What happened between us tore me up inside. And once I figured it out… well, I’ve learned that love isn’t something to hide from. Even if it hurts.”

Lena lets out a sigh, and after a long moment of silence, wraps her arms carefully around herself. Whatever power that has been spurring her on this whole time seems to have overtaken her. The scales have been tipped, and Kara knows from the raw look in Lena’s eyes that something has shifted. She’s been sent hurtling towards something, but Kara doesn’t know what.

“I grew up thinking that love like that was a burden,” Lena says at last, unexpectedly brittle, but Kara decides to stay quiet and let her have the moment— to trust that this isn’t Lena working her way towards a permanent goodbye. “And then I met you— and it wasn’t like that at all. If what you’re saying is true, if you’ve really always loved me, then you carried it beautifully. You’ve always been like that, wearing your heart on your sleeve. And so, when I found myself caring for you in ways that I’d never-” She stops herself, taking a breath through her nose, and leaves Kara wondering where she had been heading.

“I learned from you to treat whatever we had like a gift. And so I was content to just be your friend, and never expect anything more, even if there was a part of me that always felt like you were keeping something hidden away from me. Even if that thought terrified me, I left it alone. I thought it was the selfless thing to do. It’s what you would have done.”

“I’m not as selfless as you think,” Kara says. “I can be as greedy as anyone else on this planet.”

“You frame selfishness like it’s a flaw, Kara. You act like you’d rather die than-” Lena stops, and laughs humorlessly. “Well, I suppose you did, didn’t you? Why can’t you ever put yourself first? Do you have any idea how agonizing it is to care about someone who loves you more than they love themselves?”

“You’re the exact same way,” Kara fights back, feeling the need to defend herself. Sure, she understands now the hurt that her sacrifice had caused, knows now the value in choosing herself over others, but that doesn’t make what she did completely meaningless. It had saved Lena’s life, hadn’t it?

Lena scoffs, but perks up, like she’s actually glad Kara isn’t backing down and taking her blows like a punching bag. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I always cared about you more than myself. But I did it because I couldn’t bear to lose you. It was for my own selfish need to keep you in my life. You… you do it for the sake of the world. You do it because you feel like atoning for the people you couldn’t save.”

Kara’s face darkens, and Lena’s softens. For a fleeting moment, this is exactly what Kara had always hoped for after Lena found out her secret. She’d always thought that Lena would understand her more than most, and she knows she’s right, except now Lena is throwing it back in her face.

“It makes more sense now, Kara, why you always seemed so lonely. I always felt like it was my fault for not being there for you fully, but I can’t fill that gap that Krypton left. And I’m sorry, I really am. I wish I could have been. But Kara, the part that I still don’t understand is this. You’re the last of a dead world. Why can’t you, of all people, be selfish every once in a while? Why can’t you choose self-preservation when you know how easy it is to lose everything?”

“I don’t know,” Kara evades weakly, feeling the walls caving in all around her.

“Why can’t you ever get your way?”

“Lena, please-”

“Why don’t you ever get to decide what it is that you want?”

“Because the last time I let myself be selfish, I hurt you!” Kara yells, and Lena stops talking, just lets out a gasp and stares. Kara takes in a long, shuddering breath, and meets her eyes no matter how badly she wants to look away. “You were what I wanted. You were… everything, and I lost you anyway. Just like I’d lost everything else.”

“Kara, you didn’t-”

“I would rather die than lose you. I would rather give my life over and over again than have to live in a world without you.” Kara’s mouth sets in a firm line, and her jaw locks in place. She bites her tongue hard to keep herself from crying. Crying seems to be all that she does, anymore, but Lena needs to hear this. “Isn’t that pretty selfish?”

Lena opens her mouth to say something but Kara barrels forwards, too much force behind these words for her to stop them now. It feels like she’s been waiting her whole life to say them— to admit to somebody that she isn’t so perfect, isn’t so selfless, isn’t as noble as she’s supposed to be. She’s made so many mistakes, and has so many regrets— and her biggest one is standing in front of her now, looking a little out of her depths.

“And I know it was my fault,” Kara says, and she wants to clutch at her stomach to stop it from churning so intensely but she just balls up her fists instead, letting her guilt propel her forwards. “I know that. I know that Lena, and I am so, so sorry that you got caught up in it. I’m sorry I hurt you, and I’m sorry for ruining what we had. I just wanted you to know the truth. I wanted you to know what you meant to me.”

Lena regards her silently, looking mystified. “You… you think I’m angry because you told me you’re in love with me?” she asks, like she’s just making sure she has her facts straight.

Kara grimaces and looks down at the floor, wishing Lena hadn’t found such a blunt way of putting it. Still, she’s right, and Kara nods, eyes firmly on the floorboards.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

Lena starts laughing then.

It isn’t cold, or humorless, or cutting; it sounds genuinely amused, and the sound alone causes Kara to look up, more than a little confused. There she sees Lena laughing a true, warm laugh that Kara hasn’t heard in a long time, one hand up to cover the grin dawning on her face, the other around her stomach. When Lena finally meets her gaze, Kara is shocked to see nothing but bemusement— no anger or sadness or anything remotely negative in her eyes. By the way she coughs and clears her throat to get it under control, Lena seems surprised by her outburst as well.

“Kara,” she says, and Kara can practically feel the warmth coming from her voice, so much so that she feels goosebumps break out down her spine. She stays rooted to the spot, eyes wide and trying not to look at Lena like she’s grown a second head. Lena… Lena actually takes a step towards her, actually reaches out and wraps a shaking hand around her forearm, keeping her in place— not that Kara would move even if she wanted to now. “You can be a little bit of an idiot sometimes, you know that?”

“I’m… sorry?” Kara repeats, because Lena is looking at her like she used to and laughing at her like she used to and Kara can’t help but feel like they’re teetering on some massive precipice now, almost back to the point of being themselves again— and what good are words anyway when Lena is giving her the tiniest of smiles again?

Lena squeezes her arm, and Kara swallows hard. “We’ve both said that word too much lately,” she says, meaning it. “I know you’re sorry, Kara. I am too. Just for now, can we stop?”

“Sorry- I mean, alright. Of course,” Kara answers, because at this point she’ll do anything Lena asks just to feel like she’s keeping up with where Lena is leading them. When Lena gives her a grateful smile but doesn’t say anything, Kara furrows her brow. “Um, okay. So… I’m not… really following what’s happening right now? You aren’t upset about what happened?”

Lena hesitates, lets out a sigh before moving her hand away from Kara’s arm and turning away. Kara tries to ignore how immediately her body wants Lena to touch her again, how badly she needs someone to ground her, and watches the other woman carefully. Lena really doesn’t seem mad. She’s more… conflicted. Unsure. Maybe even a little scared.

“I… no, Kara,” she says, then backtracks, looking like she’s more at odds with herself than with Kara. “That’s not true. I am upset, but… I don’t know.” She stops, looking over at Kara with a hint of the heat from the beach, and Kara does her best not to back down from it. “I’m angry, but not because of what you said.”

“Okay,” Kara says, trying not to sound overly relieved, not when Lena is still so pained. She leans against her counter, digs her fingers into the marble top behind her, and tries her best to be open. She takes a breath, reminding herself that this is on Lena’s terms, not hers. “Do you wanna talk about it?” she asks, praying to Rao that she said the right thing.

What?” Lena asks, disbelieving, and maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say but Kara’s stuck with it now so she digs her heels in and presses forward.

“I’m always gonna be here for you, Lena. For anything.” Kara does her best to sound more earnest and genuine than nervous but it’s hard when Lena is holding her gaze like so. It’s… terrifying, being around Lena again, now that everything's out in the open and Kara has absolutely nowhere to hide. “I know I may be the last person you want to talk to about this, but you still can. No pressure,” she adds weakly at the end, giving Lena a half smile that probably does nothing to mask her general skittishness.

“You’re… here for me?” The other woman frowns, then smiles for half a second before shaking her head, still looking at Kara like she’s stuck between slapping her and… well, Kara isn’t sure what to make of the undecipherable emotion hidden behind Lena’s tense jaw, but she knows she prefers it to the hurt from earlier.

“Uhh… y-yes?” Kara asks, clearly fishing. She doesn’t know what to make of Lena right now, so she reverts back to stammering to try and bridge the tense silence in the room. “Yeah. I am.”

Lena decides on something, swallows hard and narrows her eyes, and she marches over to Kara with a jittery intensity. “You make me so confused,” she announces, punctuating her point by poking Kara’s chest. “You always have. From the first moment I met you, you just… you have a way of turning things upside down.”

Kara gapes down at her and almost apologizes again just to have some kind of response, but instead she stays blessedly silent, because this doesn’t seem like the right time to trip over her words, not without ruining whatever realization Lena is coming to.

“And after years of being around you, after finding out you were hiding an entire side of yourself from me, after seeing you die and then show up one day good as new, you’d think I’d be used to it,” Lena says, removing her hand but keeping herself defiantly in Kara’s space. “You’d think I’d be used to the way you just… change everything, so effortlessly.”

Lena finally looks away. She fiddles with her hands and bites her lip and Kara knows then, in that fleeting moment of vulnerability, that Lena is just as nervous as she is. It’s oddly calming knowing that the two of them are both struggling to stay afloat, both way out of their comfort zones and both just trying to make things right, to make sense of things. And maybe she shouldn’t— maybe she’s reading too much into this, or relying too heavily on years of getting to know Lena through the small details— but Kara can’t help but take comfort in the fact that Lena is being vulnerable around her in the first place.

It may be stupid, or insignificant, but Kara knows that Lena only chews on her lip when she’s anxious, when she’s feeling exposed. Kara hadn’t thought Lena would ever allow herself to be this vulnerable around Kara ever again.

So while it may not be progress, and it may not be healing, Kara still decides on it being a glimmer of hope. A light at the end of the tunnel, telling her that maybe, just maybe, she hasn’t screwed this up completely.

Lena’s next words bring Kara screeching back to reality, back to the enigmatic, captivating, possibly very pissed off woman in front of her.

“But then, on that beach, you told me you were in love with me,” Lena says, letting out a tiny little breath like just remembering that moment has punched the air out of her. Kara feels her stomach flip and she understands exactly how it feels. “The way you said it… it was like you’d crawled out of your own grave just so I’d know. And I knew then that I’ll never be used to it the way you change my life. How can I when you say something like that, Kara?”

“I didn’t- I didn’t want it to be a burden,” Kara finds herself saying, mostly because she can’t shake the breathless way Lena just said her name and if she stays silent much longer and just listens to Lena’s aching voice her knees might just give out. “I was just trying to tell you the truth for once.”

“I know that, Kara,” Lena says. She takes a tiny step back and Kara lets out a breath, able to focus on something besides the flecks of blue in Lena’s eyes or the way her perfume wrapped around the both of them, able to finally wrench her eyes away from the other woman. “And it wasn’t a burden.”

Kara nods, because what else can she do? She’s entirely at Lena’s mercy and finds that she doesn’t actually mind. This is part of what being in love with someone— and actually accepting it— means, doesn’t it? Giving them your heart, knowing that they could hurt it, but hoping that they won’t despite it all?

Lena swallows hard and meets her eyes again. “You wanted to know what I’m angry about. I’m not mad because of what you said, Kara. I’m not angry because you’re in love with me. I’m angry because even after everything, I still couldn’t say it back.”

The world goes out of focus for just a moment as Kara’s eyes go impossibly wide. She wonders if she should ask Alex to check her ears, because it sounded like Lena just said that…

“Um,” she manages to choke out, wondering if the world had always slowed down when Lena talked or if it was just her. “Lena-”

“I wanted to, Kara. I did. But I’ve never been all that adept at letting people in without also guaranteeing that I would eventually get hurt.” Lena sighs, but leans in closer. “You know, my brother called me a fool for loving you. For letting you so fully into my hurt that it was impossible for you not to leave a scar. Sometimes I wonder if that’s true.”

While Kara doesn’t fully understand what’s happening right now, she doesn’t miss a beat. “Then I’m a fool too,” she says boldly, and maybe it’s a little corny, or stupid, and maybe Lena won’t take it as anything but a hackneyed attempt on Kara’s part to reassure her, but when Lena scoffs, she’s smiling too. “And if being foolish means loving someone like you, then I don’t see what’s so bad about it.”

When she glances down at something other than Lena’s green eyes or her ruby red lips or the small constellations of freckles on her collarbone, Kara realizes that Lena has backed her against the arm of her couch, has lifted her hands up so they’re just barely brushing against Kara’s hips. She isn’t sure if the gesture is to ground her or Lena, but now that she’s noticed, it’s all Kara can feel. Her arms break out in goosebumps, and when she reaches up to adjust her glasses, Lena is closer than ever.

“You really are extraordinary, you know that?” Lena asks, and Kara wants so badly to run her hands through her hair, to trail her fingers along her jaw, because they haven’t been this close since Kara realized how utterly in love she was with her and quite frankly, this nearness is making her see stars. But she keeps her hands to herself, because although they are in her apartment, this is on Lena’s terms, and Kara is going to let it play out. “You say something like that… and somehow, I actually believe that you mean it.”

“That’s because I do,” Kara says softly. Dimly, she wonders when her voice had gotten so breathy, so quiet. The silence wraps around the both of them like sunlight after a long, cold winter, and Kara wouldn’t leave this moment for anything. “When it’s about someone like you, how could I not?”

Lena closes her eyes, and when she opens them again, they’re impossibly greener than ever before, so enchanting and bright and lovely that Kara’s knees give out just a bit.

“Do you remember that night we danced at my gala?” she asks, and Kara nods. Nothing, not even death, could make her forget how she felt that night. “Jess told me, after she heard about your funeral, what you did that night. How you had it all planned out, and how you convinced her to go along with it. You learned to waltz for me. No one had ever done something like that for me before. And dancing with you… if I hadn’t known before, I did then.”

“What do you mean?” Kara asks, but her heart is starting to beat faster and faster; she remembers the look in Lena’s eyes that night— and while Kara knows nothing hurts worse than false hope, she’s starting to understand what Lena’s working up the nerve to tell her.

“I wanted to tell you something that night,” Lena whispers, and this time, her hands trail up Kara’s ribcage and wrap themselves around her shoulders. Kara, trying not to collapse on the spot, just swallows against the lump in her throat and takes in every minute detail on Lena’s face.

“You did?”

“I told you that I was happy. That you made me so unbelievably happy.” Lena captures her gaze. “But there was more to it than just that.”

Kara replays the memory in her head, the way Lena had bit her lip and shook her head and had given her the brightest smile when Kara asked her what was wrong. Nothing was wrong; the both of them knew that. Perhaps Lena had come to understand that night, just as Kara had, that there was something special about the two of them. Something irreplaceable

“Sometimes words fall flat,” Lena murmurs. “How you made me feel wasn’t even something I could say out loud. It scared me, that night, because I knew that once I said it, that would be it.” She smiles despite it all, and it makes Kara want to cry with joy. She’s been so worried that she’d never really get to see Lena smile ever again. “You asked me what I wanted, on the beach. I know now. I’ve never been so sure about anything in my life.”

Kara stammers, feels her eyes fluttering shut and her cheeks going pink under the absolute allure of this woman in front of her. She can barely hear anything anymore past the rushing in her ears, can’t feel anything but the gentle weight of Lena’s wrists against the back of her neck.

“I’m- I’m glad,” she squeaks out. “You can- you can tell me. If you want to.”

Lena bites her lip, looks up at Kara with teary eyes but in a way that she hasn’t since she found out she was Supergirl. For Kara, it feels like it’s been a lifetime without seeing that kind of warmth in Lena’s eyes, that kind of gentleness on her face.

“It might be easier if I showed you,” Lena says, and still smiling, brings Kara in for a kiss.

It feels like a fever breaks. It feels like everything breaks, in a beautiful sort of way.

Kissing Lena is perfect. It’s perfect in the way that’s completely imperfect; her lips are dry and chapped for the maybe the first time ever, Lena’s lips are tear-stained and Kara can still taste the lingering tears still steadily falling. She’s so shocked by it that she stumbles back at first, unaccustomed to the intensity at which Lena surges forward. Her ankle rolls, and their teeth click together, and suddenly Kara is falling back into the couch cushions, her side hitting the hard frame of the couch arm and never feeling so vulnerable. She falls gracelessly onto her back, but it doesn’t matter because Lena is falling too, her arms never unwrapping themselves from around Kara’s neck.

Lena lands hard on top of her and Kara gets the air knocked out of air with a wheeze but it doesn’t matter because Lena Luthor is kissing her— and gets right back to it. They tangle together even as one of their feet knocks over a long-abandoned mug of hot cocoa on the coffee table. Kara can hear the cup shatter, knows her table is a mess and her rug might be stained but it still doesn’t matter; Kara’s fingers thread through soft raven hair and another hand wraps around Lena’s waist, pulling her impossibly closer.

“I love you too,” Lena whispers, her voice coming out trembling and hot against Kara’s skin and even if she already knew that— had known it for years with every smile and soft touch and action Lena had done for her— hearing those words come directly from Lena is enough to knock her over. “So, so much. And while I’m still hurt,” she continues, putting a reassuring hand to Kara’s cheek when she tenses slightly, “And I think we need to have a real discussion about what happened, I won’t let you slip away again. I want this. I want you. Do you?”

Kara brings her close, hugging her hard and beaming against Lena’s neck. She squeezes her eyes shut and tries to capture this moment exactly as is because this is what she’s been looking for. Not a new destiny, or mission, or reason for existence. No. Really, Kara’s always just wanted a chance. And this chance, with Lena, is something she can see herself gladly fighting for— for a very long time, if Lena will let her.

“Yeah, I do,” she answers, whispers it right back. It’s so overwhelming that she accidentally blows a breath of icy air right against Lena’s warm skin and she panics, but Lena just laughs. She chuckles in the quiet, warm way that she used to and threads her fingers through Kara’s hair, bringing her in for another kiss, and this is exactly what Kara wants to fight for.

“I love you,” Kara says tearfully, pressing kisses against Lena’s lips, her cheeks, her jaw, her hair, her forehead. “That’s never changed, and it never will.”

They’re both smiling softly and somebody— maybe both of them— are crying, and it isn’t how Kara imagined it happening. It isn’t out of a movie. The credits aren’t rolling above their heads, and there is no orchestra swelling in the distance. This isn’t an ending, but a beginning, and Kara had never imagined how spectacular that would feel.

It’s perfect in the way that it’s real. And that is all Kara has ever really wanted.

. . .

Starlight looks swell on us

Let the stars beam from above

Who cares if they tell on us!

Let people say we're in love!

It’s relatively quiet when they get together. Not in the way that their lives get any easier— Kara would have liked an easy week back to National City after actually dying, but in the next few months suddenly there are dinosaurs and a few stops missing from the bus route and Kara realizes that the whole worlds colliding bit is going to be a pain in the ass, so no. They are still very much wrapped up in the chaos and surrealness of a world with superheroes. As Kara learns, a world in which Barry Allen and the rest live a hop, skip, and a flight away is not one that’s any more peaceful.

No, it’s quiet in how it all happens. One of them leads, Kara honestly can’t remember which one, and the other follows steadfastly behind.

The trauma doesn’t just go away. Kara’s still coming to terms with the sacrifice she made on top of a lifetime of offering up her body, mind, and soul to protect the world, trying to understand the full ramifications of her decision and where to go from here. She knows she wants to be Supergirl, knows she wants to keep being a hero, knows that she’ll always want to save the people that she can; now, she needs to learn how to do it without forsaking herself along the way.

Lena has her own demons to wrestle with, years of guilt and shame, and the belief that she would never be good enough to escape her family that carries over into every aspect of her life. There’s lingering hurt between them, heartbreak, and pain that both of them still harbor, but for the first time in forever, Kara can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Kelly gave them both recommendations for therapists in the city, and surprisingly enough, they take her up on it. She and Lena are moving forward together, and that’s what really matters.

Once the emotional intensity from the reunion wears off and Kara finds that Lena still wants to be with her, they make it official. To their surprise, there’s little fanfare; the paparazzi don’t whip into a frenzy like they assumed they would, the gossip rags stay silent, and even their friends just raise an eyebrow and get back to the game of charades they’re playing. Kara lets out the breath she’s been holding and looks around, waiting for someone to do something, but there’s nothing.

She asks Nia if they did something wrong later, when they’re in-between games and most people left the couches to refill their wine glasses. The other girl just laughs, hitting Kara’s shoulder before getting back to gathering up the pieces left over from their first few board games.

“What? Of course not,” Nia says, still grinning and looking at Kara like she still can’t believe she’s here. Everyone has been doing that lately, like they know how close they had come to actually losing Supergirl, how they did lose her, and are trying to soak up her presence while they have it. “It’s silly, actually. I know you never talked to me about it, but Brainy and I kinda thought you guys had been together this whole time.”

Kara’s mouth opens, then shuts again. “Brainy thought we were together?” Whatever tension she and Lena had, romantic or otherwise, it was still only subtext, something that Brainy has never been adept at reading. It was hard to believe that their pining had been enough to convince their 12th intellect friend. Their friend from the future, not to mention, who probably knows exactly how Kara lives and dies and has had the kindness to remain silent and let her forge ahead on her own.

(She asked Brainy to do that for her, back when he first arrived, telling him that she didn’t want the expectations of the future to be her responsibility, not when she was already tasked with carrying the past. Brainy being Brainy, agreed immediately, quoting Back to the Future in the process.)

“You know how he is about the affairs of the heart,” Nia says, smiling over at her boyfriend even as she rolls her eyes at him, and Kara bites her cheek. The girl is absolutely smitten. She’s distracted enough that she throws the Monopoly pieces into the Sorry box, but Kara finds the display too endearing to comment. “I can’t say that I blame him this time, though. I’ve been pretty confused these past few months. I assumed Lena had broken up with you.”

“You can’t be serious,” Kara replies, even though when she thinks about it, she can understand where Nia went wrong. She had been acting like a love-stricken idiot, even if she didn’t recognize that love was what it was for quite some time.

“You should’ve seen the way you two looked at each other,” Nia says, turning her fond brand of exasperation on Kara now. “Honestly, it would be nauseating if I didn’t know how much you had to go through for this to happen.”

Kara blushes and Nia nods, her smile growing, as if Kara’s reaction has confirmed something for her. “And you love her, yeah? This whole time?” Nia asks, even if it’s a question that she already knows the answer to.

Once upon a time, even the insinuation that Nia is making would immediately cause Kara to pull down her shutters, to laugh it off, and deny everything. Once upon a time, Kara would have been terrified to admit the truth to herself, much less have her friends look at her like they know how far gone she is. But now, now that she’s back and alive and so is Lena and they actually have a real shot of making this work, she finds that she doesn’t care for keeping secrets any longer. She doesn’t care that Nia and Alex and Rao, even Cat Grant will all have something to say about her and Lena. She won’t mind if the tradeoff is Lena, to have and to hold, for the rest of her life.

“Yeah. I do.”

Nia’s face softens, and she might even be a little proud when she looks at Kara. “We really weren’t that far off, then. You two have always been inevitable.”

Inevitable isn’t a word that has been kind to her. Krypton’s destruction was deemed inevitable, and so her parents sent her away from everything she’d ever known. And it had been inevitable then that her parents wouldn’t end up being the heroes she’d immortalized them as in her heart. It had been inevitable that Astra would be killed for her sins, and that Mon-El of Daxam would only lead to disappointment, and that Kara would keep on losing the people she tried to protect.

She’d always known that she wouldn’t live forever, that Supergirl couldn’t. She’d embraced that fact as soon as the Monitor chose her. And when she saw the carnage on Barry’s Earth, had seen her friends bloodied and spent in the rubble, she knew that she had to be the one to finish it; she was the only one who could— and if she couldn’t, then she must. She’d accepted it much sooner, before the Anti-Monitor, and before Lex Luthor, and before Reign.

Death became inescapable when her planet collapsed into itself before her eyes and she did escape, living on borrowed time. She tried every day to convince herself that she was deserving of her survival, that even if she couldn’t protect Clark, she could protect this planet. As inevitable as her end was, Kara knew that she was also destined to use the time she’s been granted, to be Supergirl, and nothing could prevent her from saving the people she loved.

And she was right. She died, and came back again, because her family needed her. Because Lena had asked her to. Because deep down, no matter how many years they’d danced around it, their feelings for each other were always there. Kara wasn’t about to miss out on the one part of her destiny that she’s been wanting so badly.

“I guess you were right about that,” she says, and if her throat closes up around the realization, Nia has the good grace not to tease her for it.

Not too much, at least.

Nia’s grin turns a little evil. “You’re whipped,” she whispers, wiggling her eyebrows for emphasis, and while Kara makes a lunge for her, wrapping an arm around the other girl and tickling her until Brainy swoops in to make an awkward, valiant intervention, Kara really isn’t all that upset.

How can she be upset? This is everything Kara’s ever wanted. She quiets down and leans back against the couch and smiles while Nia and Brainy are tucked into each other now, both still laughing, and Alex is resting her head on Kelly’s shoulder, and James is talking animatedly to J’onn, Clark, and Lois, who stopped by for a visit and Lena… Lena is over in the kitchen next to Alex and Kelly, holding baby Jonathan in her arms. It makes Kara smile even bigger, because this is her home, her family. She can take a bit of ribbing at her expense if this kind of love and warmth is what she gets in return.

Lena rejoins her then, still a little shy, Kara still a little nervous. As Kara beams up at her, Lena settles in beside her and hands Jonathan over to Kara, who takes him gladly, still sneaking glances at the woman beside her. She feels like a teenager, fidgeting on the front porch and waiting for a goodnight kiss. In a way, this is the most human Kara’s ever felt about anything— about anyone. This is how it was always supposed to feel, she thinks, the way people felt swathed in technicolor lights in all those musicals she watched to keep herself company.

Kara offers to take Lena home once everyone is full of wine and snacks and have convinced themselves that she’s fine, she’s alive, and she’s happy. Alex tears up again, like she’s done every day since Kara died and reappeared at her door, but Kelly squeezes her hand and Kara hugs her extra tight at the door. Her sister will be alright, even if Kara really scared her this time. Even if she scared everyone this time.

(Kara doesn’t mind when Alex lets a few tears slip into the collar of her shirt. Discreetly, of course. After all, Alex has a reputation to keep, even though there isn’t a person in the room who can’t see past her tough exterior anymore.)

Kara asks Lena if she wants to fly home, and warmth moves through her fingers when Lena says yes; she doesn’t flinch at the way Kara’s toes float off the ground, untethered to gravity, and she doesn’t grow cold when she looks down at the crest on Kara’s chest.

The stars are out, and the moon is bright enough to reflect on the waves of National City’s harbor. Kara decides to take the long way home. Who can blame her? Spring has finally returned, the lights of the city look stunning out on the water, and she has a beautiful girl in her arms. A woman who, from the way she’s loosely wrapped her arms around Kara’s neck and is gazing at the streets below with shining eyes, doesn’t seem to mind the delay.

And Rao, is Lena beautiful. It’s not like she hasn’t been aware of the fact before— someone like Lena Luthor can’t be described as anything other than objectively gorgeous— but it’s different now. Now that they belong to each other. Now that Kara can take in her windblown hair and rosy cheeks and bright green eyes and know without a doubt that she’s in love.

Lena glances up at her then, and Kara knows she’s been caught staring by the smirk growing on Lena’s face, turning up her nose and biting her cheek. She was probably grinning like an idiot too, and Kara’s own cheeks grow red. Her smile only grows, however, and she hurries them home to Lena’s apartment.

They land on the balcony, slowly, with the tips of Lena’s toes touching down first. She must have left her stilettos back at Kara’s place, or else they’d fallen somewhere over the beach, a strange sight for whoever found them in the morning. The stone floor is cold against Lena’s bare skin; Kara can tell in the way her toes curl and she grips a little tighter onto Kara’s arms.

“Here,” she whispers, letting her own boots land solidly on the ground and motioning for Lena to step up. Even through her suit, Kara knows that she’s warm, and Lena doesn’t complain, stepping readily up, still gripping Kara’s biceps for balance. “Care to dance?” she asks, her lips pressing up against the cold skin of Lena’s neck, and she can feel the rumble as Lena laughs.

“Always.”

They start to sway, Kara in charge of keeping the beat to a song inside her head. She listens to the roar of the cars below, and the wind combing through their hair, and the steady pounding of Lena’s heart, and finds it to be the perfect tune. Lena just follows along, too sated by a pleasant cocktail of drowsiness and alcohol to tease Kara when she misses a step.

Lena lets out a little hum as Kara starts to slowly spin the two of them. “Just a few more minutes, darling,” she mutters against Kara’s skin, and she doesn’t object. It’s a quiet, warm night, and Kara knows that if Lena would let her, she would stay out here forever.

She kisses Lena again, soft and assured. She doesn’t feel worried anymore that this is all a dream or a trick; this isn’t a Black Mercy fantasy. It’s real. This world that she returned to isn’t perfect— it’s still full of evil, and pain, and problems that Kara knows she can’t fix alone, but that’s what makes it genuine. She’s so hopeful that it feels like she might burst with it; finally, after everything she lost and had to find her way back to, Kara is home.

And for someone who’s always doubted whether or not she could have it all, she can’t help but feel like so long as Lena is by her side, she does.

Kara knows she is loved, and she knows she loves Lena.

And that is the dearest inevitability of all.