It should be Basic Common Sense that if you’re a White Person you just don’t go tramping off into the woods in the middle of the night to find out what that Weird Dull Thumping Sound Was Because It Was Totally Not A Tree Falling.
That’s why you lace up your old combat boots from the goth phase you never really grew out of, don the thickest leather jacket you own over your classic red and black flannel you bought out of spite from a fancy outdoors catalogue, tie your hair back, and load the double barrel shotgun you’re more than familiar with.
That’s what Lena tells herself anyways.
Maybe she had tucked her Too Big Knife into the back of her belt on the way out just in case . If only Lillian could see her now. Grease under her nails and dressed down like some blue collar worker, something that didn’t bother Lena in the slightest because unlike her mother she had the utmost respect for the labor workers. But that was the perk of having a cabin high in the mountains outside of National City. She didn’t have to be Miss Corporate Rich Bitch all the time, even if she did love her perfectly tailored skirts and slacks and towering Louboutins. It was very against the grain of her very strong femininity, but sometimes armor needed to be exchanged. Sometimes she just needed to be formless after all of the scrutiny of the media she put up with day in and day out.
And exchanged the armor was as she crept as quietly as she could through the undergrowth, breathing slow and evenly as her breath fogged sluggishly around her face in the cold night air. Her boots squished softly on the thick mossy floor of the forest, ferns whispering against her legs as she waded through them like tide water. The shotgun was icy cold in her grip, tucked carefully into her shoulder as her thumb rested on the safety. Lena mentally recounted the extra shells she had stuffed into her pockets and hoped they would be enough if it was something… worse.
Lena shook the thought from her head and trekked on towards where the sound had come from, feeling reckless and a little stupid for not leaving whatever it was well enough alone. She regretted not sending one of her drones out first like a Smart Person, but if it was something worse she didn’t want to risk her technology falling into the wrong hands as it was want to do . But she was out here now, in the cold and the dark with her shotgun, squinting ahead as that something else started to cast a low light onto the trees a couple hundred yards in front of her. Something red and flashing. She paused and patted the tactical light she had strapped to her chest, making sure she knew where the on switch was by her shoulder. There . Lena crept forward again, thumb firm on the safety for the time being.
The red blinking light grew stronger the closer she inched forward, closer to whatever it was down in a small gully. Lena paused about fifty feet away with her mouth open in shock as the true amount of destruction came into view. There was a gouge in the land like a deep wound running further than she could see in the dark. But she could make out the huge felled trees and the shallow trench of whatever had hit the ground… leading right into the gully. She could hear the faint ticking sounds of cooling metal, and the smell of churned up earth and the heat from strange engines was acridly thick in the air. It didn’t smell like any other heat pollutant Lena recognized.
Lena swallowed thickly and thumbed the safety off. She inhaled deeply, forcing down a wince at the chilly air bit into her lungs, and started forward again with the shotgun up to bear. A soft mechanical beeping grew louder the closer she prowled. The deep amber glow of warning lights flashed brighter, lighting the shallow gully in a slow steady pulse. Lena licked her dry lips and raised the rifle, peering wide-eyed over the uneven edge of the gully.
A small, sleek silver ship of an extraterrestrial design lay half buried in the black earth. It had three tail fins with an almost lacey cut out design, elegant and comically unbalanced looking. It had one exhaust port.
It was big enough only for one person. One alien? One occupant. The glass shielding of the cockpit was cracked and fogged up but Lena could see a figure inside moving sluggishly. She was debating on what to do when there was a hissss and the shielding retracted with a terrible grinding sound, as if the locking mechanisms had been in place for years. The figure struggled out of their safety harness as black dirt spilled into the ship. The were lit eerily by deep red and blue warning lights flashing on a control panel that was more hologram than physical. Highly advanced, like Querl Dox’s ship. Whoever it was, was slender with long hair, and definitely not faring well after their crash to earth. Lena waited quietly, with her heart in her throat as the figure turned.
About her age? Scared and groggy, eyes wide as she looked up at the sky gasping for breath. She grasped the edge of the pod closest to Lena’s perch, visibly shaking in the dark form fitting suit and started to pull herself up with a pained groan. It was then that Lena saw the faint crest on her chest, embossed in a similar toned grey forming the familiar swooping S.
The House of El.
Lena thumbed the safety back on and lowered the shotgun as shock numbed her further in the cold night.
That couldn’t be .
All of Superman’s family was dead . Who was this woman?
The woman groaned in pain and slumped forward. A shaking hand glued itself her her ribs. An unbidden wash of panic surged through Lena’s chest.
“Oh, fucking hell .”
Lena was crashing noisily down the side of the gully before she knew it, boots digging deeply into the soft soil and shotgun held out in front of her for balance. The woman’s head snapped up and she recoiled in terror, saying something in a raspy voice that Lena couldn’t understand over her own footfalls. She needed to get this woman to safety. Especially since Clark was off-world, and Sam was somewhere in the world, there was no time to dawdle. She was even surprised the DEO wasn’t out here already, but was afraid to find out why they might not be. There were still too many people who would hurt someone like her, people like her own family who were still lurking somewhere at large. Lena knew how to keep someone like her safe until proper authorities could be contacted. She was very good at keeping secrets.
Her boots ground to a halt as the woman slipped back into the pod, one arm curled around her middle while her free hand came up in a defensive manner. She said something else in Kryptonian and the warning lights reflected off the shiny tracks her tears cut down her cheeks. Lena balked, realizing that she cut an intimidating figure in the dim light with a weapon .
“ Fuck- um. Hello?”
The woman watched her, frozen.
Lena tried again, slowly lowering the shotgun so the barrel pointed to the ground and held her free hand up in what was hopefully a non-threatening gesture.
Her Kryptonian was not great , and she didn’t know much, but she did know enough thanks to Clark and Sam wanting to know more about where they came from. She had helped Querl Dox gather and repackage data for them and had picked up some things in her non-existent spare time. One of them being an elementary understanding of the long-dead language. Clearly it was no longer long-dead and she may need to start practicing again.
The woman stared at her in disbelief, and then relief and her face was twisting in grief as she started babbling and saying something and Lena was panicking because something was very very wrong. She rushed forward, stumbling over the churned up earth and laid her shotgun down as carefully as she could. The woman was still trying to speak to her as Lena reached the pod.
“Wait- WAIT- ” She leaned in and let the distraught woman take one of her hands. It was clammy and her grip was weak.
“ I do not speak much Kryptonian .” She managed to sound out.
The woman dissolved into tears and started saying something over and over and over until Lena finally parsed it together.
“ Krypton is dead.”
Lena knew that she had left a trail leading from her private cabin to the crash site. She knew that her scent was all over the area and it would undoubtedly lead back to her. She knew as a Luthor that the investigators would immediately suspect foul play and that was the absolute last thing she wanted.
There were three people at the DEO she trusted. One was Querl Dox, who had texted and called her no less than sixty-seven times within the last half hour. The second was Director J’onn J’onzz, level headed and sternly kind with the intention to steer the department away from endeavors that violated the Geneva Convention.
And Agent Alex Danvers.
“No I need you to get Querl to send his ship out so I can hide this damn thing! And your teams to sweep and scrub the area of everything all the way back to my house because I will not have the FBI up my ass again this year.”
Her words were hissed into the phone as she leaned awkwardly into the pod, trying to check the woman over without hurting her further. She hadn’t been able to weasel anything else out of her for the time being. The air had grown chillier and damp. Rain was coming.
“- and I told you, Querl is masking the ion trail from her ship. He’ll get there as soon as he can. We have birds in the air but you need to get her out of there. We can take care of the clean up. I-hang on the Director wants to talk to you.”
Lena huffed quietly and waited. The woman had calmed some, but she was fading fast. If Lena didn’t get her out of there soon she’d fall asleep where she sat curled up under a thick blue cloak. There was something else, a deep red fabric swaddled around her shoulders like a scarf, and a form fitting deep navy fabric of a techy nature covered her from the backs of her hands to her matching boots. It was a highly advanced material that Lena had never seen before, though it mimicked the style of what Clark wore… but more otherworldly.
“ Miss Luthor? ”
“ Is she bleeding? ”
Lena frowned and repeated her not that I can see back to him that she had given Alex. He sighed heavily.
“ Concussion? ”
“Again, most likely but I can’t figure that out right now. It’s too dark out here.”
Director J’onzz hummed another worried sound and Lena could hear him pacing the HUB at the DEO. She wanted him to hurry up . She was fucking cold .
“ I’m going to have to keep this quiet. We’ll plant a meteorite of a strange but not unbelievable mineral composition after removing her escape pod. Due to… our Federal supervisors, we can’t house that pod here. Not with our current political climate. Not until Superman returns from his mission.”
A miserable, chilly mist sifted down from the low overhanging clouds. Lena let her eyes close in resignation for just a moment, watching the new Kryptonian perk up.
“ Can you hide it? ”
“...Yes, I have an open bay at the cabin. Director, it’s starting to rain.” She quipped, feeling too strung out as she watched the woman stare at the dark sky in wonder.
“ Alright, get going. Check in when you get back safe. ”
“Will do. Talk soon.”
Lena hung up and stuffed the phone back into the chest pocket of her flannel. She gently shook her hand out of the woman’s clammy grip, zipped her jacket to her chin, and flipped the collar up around her neck in an attempt to stay just a smidge warmer. The woman watched her quietly for a moment and then started sluggishly pulling things out of compartments in the pod. She produced two satchels and a nondescript black box. She noticed one of the satchels was already full with something and she briefly wondered about off-world contamination.
Too late now.
Lena waited patiently while she tucked the red shawl and the box into the empty bag, glad that she was at least alert enough to realize that it was time to go. She wished she had the words to tell her that her pod would be safely with them later that night, but if taking her belongings with her gave her comfort Lena wouldn’t deny her that. There was something off about how upset she was. As far as Lena knew, Krypton had exploded nearly twenty-five years ago. This distress seemed fresh. Too raw.
The woman was finally ready and hesitantly let Lena sling one of the bags across her chest. She lifted the other strap over her own head and hissed again in pain as the muscles in her side pulled. Lena reached out to take the bag from her, afraid that she was going to make her injury worse, but snatched her hand back when the woman jerked it out of her reach. There was a wild desperate look in her eye and Lena realized it was the bag with the black box and red shawl. She held her hands up again in a placating gesture.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.”
The woman eyed her for a moment and let some of her tension leave her shoulders. Lena reached out again, this time with her hands palm up in an offer to help her get out of the pod. The rain was falling a little heavier than a mist now. The woman jumped when a larger drop hit her nose and she reached up to wipe it away. She looked at the pads of her fingers curiously, damp now from the droplet. Lena had a strong suspicion that she had never seen rain before. But that was something she could learn about later when Lena wasn’t about to freeze her ass off.
“Hey, come on. Let’s go.”
The gentle beckon brought the woman out of her inspection and let Lena take her hands. Somehow, Lena got her out of the pod without much effort. The ship was embedded into the ground and it was more of a step up than a step down, but the woman was still unsteady on her feet and pitched forward into Lena. She smelled like something she couldn’t place, and the distinct electric smell of damaged equipment. The woman was heavier than she expected and her knees almost buckled under her weight. Lena steadied her as she mumbled was sounded like an apology and kept her hands on her shoulders until she was sure she wouldn’t tip over.
“ Okay ?”
The woman nodded. Lena realized she had been so caught up in the panic of first seeing if she was okay and then calling Alex that she had forgotten to ask the woman her name . Lena took a step back and picked her shotgun back up. When she straightened up the woman was watching her intently and Lena felt almost uncomfortable under her heavy gaze. She pointed to her own chest.
The woman looked at her for a moment, and then pointed to her own chest.
“ Okay . Okay, good. You possibly have the only living kin of Superman standing right in front of you and she is not invulnerable. Fuck . Hey, Kara?” Lena stamped down her surge of panic.
Kara was still watching her and Lena realized she was studying her through her short freak out. Lena didn't know if she liked that or not. Instead she beckoned with her free hand and started making her way back toward the slope of the gully. They needed to get out of the rain before they got soaked through. Kara eyed her suspiciously and asked her a question that Lena couldn’t understand.
“ Fuck , Kara, come with me.” Lena beckoned again with more emphasis, and thankfully Kara warily listened this time.
Lena’s breath fogged around her face as she breathed a sigh of relief. She made sure the bag was secure across her chest and started to climb out of the gully with the goal of warm clothes and a hot mug of spiced tea on her mind.
By the time the two of them reached Lena’s cabin home they were exhausted and soaked to the bone. The sky had opened up after barely a few minutes of walking and they had hurried back the best they could. Kara was still sluggish and tried to look around every chance she got, but Lena had turned the tactical light on and tried to hustle her along. The heavy rain cut the beam of her light short and the rainfall was nearly deafening. She had tried to take her by the elbow at one point when she slowed to nearly a stop, but Kara had stiffened and pulled away. Lena got the message that Kara didn’t want to be touched and the rest of the short trek went smoothly.
Lena had never been more grateful to see the warm yellow lights of her mountain home through the trees. She pointed forward, making sure that Kara could understand that they had made it to their destination. She nodded weakly, looking pale and drawn as the light from her tactical lamp outlined her face. Kara shivered and tried to pull her cloak tighter around her body and followed doggedly after Lena. Their boots crunched onto the white decorative stone path that ran the border of the small yard. A floodlight clicked on from its motion sensor and Kara jumped in surprise. The rain was falling harder now in icy sheets. Lena was glad she had worn her thickest leather jacket even if her jeans and hair were soaked. She’d need a hot shower quick to keep from getting a cold.
“Almost there, Kara.”
Her call set the Kryptonian into motion again and they finally stumbled up to the house. She led them to the side door under the porch and keyed them in, scuffing her boots on the mat in front of the door. Her muscles spasmed in a chill as she quickly sped through the biometric locks and ushered the both of them into the warm house. The sniffed and shivered against the cold as the door clicked shut behind them. Lena locked the house down and returned her shotgun to its wall rack, quickly unloading it and triple checking that the safety was on. She felt too exposed in the basement living room and quickly removed the satchel to shuck her jacket, feeling about twenty pounds lighter as the soaked leather slid down her arms. Lena dropped it to the mat and took another moment to fumble against her shoelaces. Her fingers were cold and numb, stinging uncomfortably as she tugged the knots loose.
She looked up at Kara’s panicked call and saw that she was frozen, staring into the house with fear painted across her face. Lena turned, her hand reaching behind her back and jerking the large knife out of the sheath. It came free with a metallic scrape and she spun on her knees and jumped up clumsily in front of Kara. There was an enormous dark figure with red glowing eyes stepping in the room and her heart leapt into her throat-until she realized that it was J’onn in his martian form.
“ Dammit , J’onn. Don’t do that.” She hissed, fighting against the heat of panic that had surged up into her chest.
He stepped in closer as Lena sheathed her knife again. “Forgive me, I wanted to make sure your home was secure.”
“Yeah, well, give me a heads up next time.” She groused and turned back to Kara, who wasn’t frozen anymore but still very wary after taking note of Lena’s reaction.
“Kara? J’onn J'onzz. Friend.”
The tension in the Kryptonian's shoulders eased a little and she nodded, but she stayed put and continued to shiver. Lena bent and started trying to remove her boots again.
“Since you’re here and not dripping water everywhere, can you go into the linen closet and bring us some towels? It’s upstairs, third door on the left.”
J’onn grumbled something and let Lena boss him around, even though he held a much higher rank than she did. Lena thought it was fair since he had more or less broken into her home. He returned a moment later with towels and an empty laundry basket Lena had forgotten she owned. She thanked him and pulled the soggy elastic tie out of her wet hair. Lena took a moment to quickly wrap her hair up and finally toed her boots off. When Kara had seen the towels she had relented her defensive stance and carefully set her satchel down. Lena tried not to scrutinizer her too much as she shrugged out of the rain-soaked cloak with a pained grimace and took a towel. Lena piled their wet clothes in the basket, stripping out of her damp flannel so she was left in a black tee and wet jeans. She picked the basket up and gestured to Kara to follow her.
“I’m going to get her into something dry before you interrogate her.” She murmured to J’onn. “And she’s hurt. I know Alex will want to take a look at her.”
“She should be here within the hour. Something came up with Dreamer and she had to set up tactical support for her if she needed it.”
Lena hummed in understanding as they squished into her home. She could feel Kara close at her elbow and glanced over her shoulder, finding J’onn a respectable distance away.
“You haven’t heard anything from the higher ups?”
“Surprisingly no, everything is quite. It’s very unusual.” he answered with a frown, his deep baritone humming in duel tones. “Agent Schott is monitoring the comms and all incoming traffic.”
“In Metropolis covering for Superman.”
Lena shivered as her hair wet the back of her collar, muttering dryly. “Fantastic.”
Lena led them up into the cabin, gratefully accepting J’onn’s offer to put the kettle on. Her new guest followed her quietly, eyes slowly dimming with fresh grief. She parked Kara in the middle of her dim bedroom and left her there, making an immediate beeline to her drawer of comfort clothes. She could hear Superman’s cousin slowly turning in her spot as she pulled out old soft t-shirts and a few pairs of leggings and sweatpants. Socks were next, thick and cushy and warm. And last, getting over her embarrassment, a pair of clean underwear she hadn't worn yet.
Kara had started inching towards one of her bookshelves, drawn by the complex molecular compound models she had pieced together for recent projects she was still tweaking. She said something to Lena over her shoulder in a lilting accent, far gentler in pronunciation than her previous comments. It was almost reverent, almost wistful in how she was speaking and Lena wished that she could understand her. It seemed that Kara Zor-El was of a scientific mind.
Lena stepped a little closer and held out the clothes. She couldn’t think of how to tell her here have some dry clothes , and just hoped that the offer was clear enough. Kara blinked at her for an almost awkward moment, and then started when she realized what Lena was trying to do. She took the clothes with a soft murmur of gratitude and let Lena show her to the bathroom. Lena left the door cracked after Kara made a small panicked noise when she made a move to shut it behind her, and quickly changed into some dry clothing with a little more noise than necessary so the Kryptonian could hear her. Whatever had happened, Kara very clearly didn’t want to be alone nor shut inside of a small space. She felt infinitely better in a layer of leggings and thick sweatpants she had bought on a whim, and her favorite oversized cable knit sweater. The door to the bathroom opened as she was tugging on some warm socks and Kara shuffled out.
“ Thank you .” She murmured.
She was carefully clutching her soggy clothing and boots in the towel she had worn up into the house, looking uncomfortable in the clothes Lena had given her. Lena supposed that the looser clothing wasn’t something she was used to, and slid off the bed to find her a sweater that might help. She found an old one, emerald in color and soft, and traded Kara for her wet clothes. Kara tugged it on with another wince and her shoulders relaxed as it pulled snug over her arms and shoulders. It wasn’t her futuristic bodysuit, but hopefully it would be an acceptable temporary replacement. Lena nodded and gestured for her to follow, shuffling back out of her bedroom with Kara on her heels. They took a detour to hang up Kara’s suit in the laundry room and made their way to the kitchen, where J’onn was patiently waiting for Lena’s kettle to come to a gentle boil.
“Agent Danvers and Querl Dox will be here within the hour.” He rumbled.
Lena pulled a couple different teas out of her cupboard and paused when she caught Kara shivering out of the corner of her eye.
“Could you get the bread out to toast? She might need a little something, and you’re welcome to something to eat as well. I’m going to go find some blankets.”
J’onn hummed in his two-toned baritone and easily humored her request. Lena took the chance to pull a chair out for Kara and left to go collect the throw blankets she kept out in her living room. This home was entirely Lena, a blend of sleek design and cozy comfort she didn’t have in her penthouse flat in down town National City. The only people who saw the inside of this property besides her were discreet cleaners and service providers, leaving her to let her personality show through without an overbearing team of stylists. Which allowed her to revel in her addiction to comfortable throw blankets. Lena grabbed a couple and shuffled back into the kitchen, Kara catching her attention with her questions.
With each new phrase, the Kryptonian was speaking in a different language. First lilting and silky, then humming and guttural. She was trying to find a language they could understand and Lena couldn’t help but be impressed by how many she apparently knew, and by how incredibly bright she was. First science and then languages? She filed away another topic of conversation for a later date. Unfortunately, they were all alien languages that they didn’t know and Lena had to keep shaking her head as she draped a blanket around her shoulders, fixed her tea, and slid a couple pieces of plain toast in front of her. As they waited for Alex and Querl, Kara grew more and more frustrated as she started running out of languages to try, only to be met with them shaking their heads.
When no better communication other than Lena’s rudimentary Kryptonian and basic pantomiming, Kara sunk further into the cushy blanket she had pulled up around her ears with a deeply haunted expression. Her face had more color than before and she had stopped shivering, but Lena could tell her ribs were still bothering her. She wanted to give her some ibuprofen, or advil, anything really, but she didn’t want to accidentally poison her. Kara may be Kryptonian, but she hadn’t been exposed to the rays of their yellow sun. She was just as vulnerable and mortal as Lena was, and Lena didn’t know how her body would process earth medicines. The thought made her doubt the tea and toast they had given her, but so far she wasn’t showing any signs of negative reaction. They had sunk into an uneasy silence, broken only by Lena and J’onn speaking every couple minutes, when her phone mercifully started vibrating.
“Alex, please tell me you’re on your way.” Lena muttered into the receiver.
“ Two minutes. How is she? ”
Lena cut her eyes to Kara, who was barely paying attention to her. She had tucked her hands inside of the heavy blanket and was slowly sinking down onto the table with a terrifyingly blank expression.
“ Okay. We’re bringing her ship. ”
“Come around the back, I’ll open a bay door.”
Agent Danvers murmured be there soon and hung up. Lena relayed the information to J’onn and pushed herself to her feet with a yawn. For once she was thankful that she didn’t have to work the next day, she was fairly certain that she wouldn’t be getting a lot of sleep that night. She muttered a be right back , took another sip of her cooling tea, and shuffled back into her house. Rain poured in heavy sheets, drumming deafeningly on the roof. Just under the rain she could hear and feel the low thrum of the Braniac’s plasma propulsion engines in her chest. She went back down the stairs and took a left away from the back door she had brought Kara Zor-El through, and keyed her way in to a secure lab at the back of her house. Fluorescent lights clicked on as the door shut and locked behind her, illuminating a state of the art space of sleek metal and carefully stored and catalogued tech.
“Fiona, we have some guests this evening. Please open bay door two, and disregard all extra life form signatures within the initial perimeter.”
From somewhere inside the room, a calm feminine voice answered genially, “ Good evening, Miss Luthor. Request acknowledged. Opening bay door two .”
A deep hum jolted the concrete floor as Lena continued through the lab. At the end of the room was a wide staircase that led down into the earth and she followed the growing sounds of metal gears. More lights flickered on as soon as the sole of her foot hit the first metal step and the deep space was illuminated beneath her. It was a depot of sorts, as well as storage and a more secure location to house her personal servers. At the far end of the sub level rain was pouring into a rapidly opening set of doors in the ceiling. She could feel the low thrumming pulse of Querl Dox’s ship idling above the closer she move towards it.
“Fiona, prepare decontamination measures.”
“ Acknowledged. Matrices ready in fifteen seconds .”
Before she could direct Fiona further, three heavily armed and armored DEO agents rappelled down into the second bay. Their body lamps cut through the sheets of water in a series of glittering rays and Lena paused, making sure she was within an easy line of sight. One of them, shorter and more feminine, spotted her and raised a hand in greeting.
Lena waited as the three agents unclipped themselves and formed a loose triangle on the edges of the opening’s perimeters. The sound and feel of Querl’s engine increased, slowly lowering the damaged Kryptonian escape pod into her laboratory. She quickly called out another order to Fiona, and an AI-driven trolly was moved into place underneath the pod. Thick steel spun cables lowered the pod into the bay and Lena finally got a good look at it. The hull was heavily damaged, one long gash starting from the nose cone spanned nearly the entire length of the craft, jagged and gaping. Black dirt was ground into the deep scrapes and sloughed off in the heavy rain. As soon as the top stabilizing fin was in sight, Lena called out to Fiona again.
There was a trill of acknowledgement and a lattice of light blinking into existence with a loud hum. The lattice spidered over the ship and the three agents, eliminating any extra terrestrial bacterias, hissing quietly when it encountered any to target. As the ship lowered and the lattice worked, the three agents carefully guided the pod onto the trolley and locked it into place. The cables were disconnected and retracted back up and out of sight, rattling as the tension eased. Lena watched the decontamination lattice work the remained of its cycle as the agents checked the pod over to make sure it was secure. Once the process was complete and the light blinked out of existence, the roof began to close and Agent Danvers led the other two agents over.
“Agent Danvers.” She greeted.
Lena couldn’t control the quirk of her brow at the Agent’s dry response. “If you’ll follow me?” She eyed the other two agents. “Please try not to drip too much on the hardwood until I can get you a towel.”
The agent gave her an annoyed huff but slid in next to her as they made their way back towards the stairs, the bay door closing and locking down with a whir of mechanical hisses and gears.
“As soon as we can secure our facilities, we will move her pod. But until then, thank you for hiding it for us.”
Lena tilted her head back to the side, catching the other two towering agents in her periphery. The men had their pistols holstered and their rifles on their backs, their hands relaxed and swinging with their steps.
“Six other agents including Sohla and Guierro.” Agent Danvers jerked her head back towards their silent escort. “The whole department knows something isn't right. Our team tonight personally knows Kal-El, so we’re counting on their discretion to extend to her .”
There was an edge of steel in the agent’s voice that Lena had never heard before, but knowing how important family was to Agent Danvers? Lena was comfortably certain she wouldn’t have to worry about word getting out. At least not overnight. The agents following didn’t make a sound, but she couldn’t help but turn and look over her shoulder. Without hesitation, both of them nodded to her in greeting and with a solemn seriousness in the set of their jaws. A silent promise that eased the gnawing anxiety in her belly.
“Alright then. Let me take you to her.”
The small party tramped their way back up the metal steps and back out through the lab. Lena made a quick stop for towels and the agents blotted off as much of the water as they could. Just as they were about to head upstairs, there was a quiet knock on the glass back door. The three agents brought their pistols up in a blur of motion and released safety switches and stepped into a tight shield formation between Lena and the door. Her heart jumped into her throat, but they all relaxed when the familiar blue-white glow of a series of three emitters lit Querl’s Dox’s face, his blue hand waving benignly. One of the agents quickly let him in and locked the door back up.
“Good evening, Miss Luthor.”
“Hello Querl. I’m really hoping your knowledge of alien languages is vast.”
The Braniac cocked his head to the side at her weary tone, his fingers steepling for a moment in front of his stomach as a black medical bag shifted on his back. “I am going to assume that there is a communication barrier.”
Agent Danvers snorted. Lena sighed. “Unfortunately.”
“Very well. I will do my best.” He responded in his overly enunciated vernacular.
They made their way back up into Lena’s house, Querl passing the medical bag off to Agent Danvers, and filed into the kitchen. The commotion roused the bundle of blankets slumped over the table and Kara Zor-El sat up with a frown of confused apprehension. But as soon as Querl Dox stepped into her line of sight she came alive. She started trying to rise up out of her seat, speaking rapidly in a language Lena hadn’t heard her use yet. Querl rushed to her with a deeply worried expression and encouraged her to sit back down, gently speaking back to her in the same language. The two agents moved to stand guard with a broad view through Lena’s home, and Agent Danvers started unpacking the medical kit on the kitchen table. Lena scooped her cool tea up and got out of the way, settling into the open chair next to J’onn.
“She said she was trapped in a pocket dimension where time doesn’t pass.”
The room paused. Querl started speaking again to Kara in a calm tone, asking questions and listening carefully to the distraught woman. Lena suddenly couldn’t stomach her tea as Querl Dox’s face slowly paled.
“Miss Zor-El was sent after her baby cousin Kal to protect him. She doesn’t know how long it’s been, but she left just moments after his pod was launched. She wants to find him.”
Agent Danvers shifted uncomfortably. “Clark’s twenty-four…”
Kara kept speaking as Querl kept up his translations.
“She says she saw Krypton collapse. The shock wave knocked her into the Phantom Zone where the Kryptonian prison resides. She says she escaped detection and put herself into cryo-sleep, hoping to get out as quickly as she could through low level dark matter scans.”
Kara’s voice turned pleading and Lena didn’t need Querl’s translation to understand that she was begging for help to find her only living relative.
The room grew uncomfortable as Kara’s pleading bled off into the slow build of a panic attack when she looked up and saw their expressions of apprehension. Lena felt like she was swallowing glass.
“You have to tell her the truth. To keep it from her would be cruel.” She told him, ignoring Alex’s torn expression.
Querl sighed and nodded at her instruction, and began lowly speaking to Kara. Her face lit up with relief, and then fell into horror. Her shoulders slumped. She sank into her seat as if an enormous weight was pressing down upon her. Querl finished speaking.
Kara stared blankly.
The sound of the heavy rain was all that Lena could hear for an uncomfortably long moment until Agent Danvers started laying out her first aid materials to make some kind of noise. Lena felt like she was going to throw up.
“Querl, please tell Kara that I’m going to check on her injuries.” the agent instructed, shifting into a no-nonsense attitude. “I want to make sure she didn’t sustain a concussion too.”
The spell was broken and Lena breathed again as Querl rose up out of the seat next to the Kryptonian. The agent worked quickly with gentle hands, the Brainiac standing behind her shoulder translating her instructions as she examined her with a mix of earth implements and special scanning tools from Querl’s ship. It was over in barely fifteen minutes and Agent Danvers was encouraging the broken woman to take a mild pain medication that Querl felt would work with her Kryptonian biology.
“She doesn’t have a concussion but she does have some contusions on her ribs and chest. Nothing is broken and her internal organs seem to be fine compared to what we have on record for Clark.” Agent Danvers informed them. “I don’t know how soon she’ll begin to gain powers. That’s my biggest concern.”
Querl steepled his fingers again and stepped back to let Agent Danvers rearrange the heavy blanket around Kara’s slumped shoulders. “I will send word to Kal-El. Perhaps he will be able to come home soon.”
“Where is he again?” Lena asked and tried not to rub at her tired eyes, her fingers fiddling with her mug of cold tea.
“He is answering a distress call. Tameranian refugees who were already enroute to earth ran into some system failures and parts were needed for repair. I would have gone in his stead, but he insisted on going himself and left before I could argue. I hope his cousin isn’t as hard headed.”
Agent Danvers rolled her eyes.
“Okay, so. What do we do now ?” Lena asked, feeling the weight of the day pull on her body. She was tired .
“Now, we try to get some rest. But we can’t take her back to the DEO. Not yet.” Agent Danvers gave her an apologetic look.
Lena closed her eyes for just a moment, knowing exactly what she was asking. She inhaled deeply and opened her eyes again with a tired blink.
“I’ll make up the guest bed. But you need to bring her some clothes. Mine don’t fit her too well.”
Agent Danvers grimaced a sorry and Lena got to work, pouring out her abandoned tea and shuffling back into her house. The guest room was down the hall from the master bedroom, already cleaned and prepared. She closed the curtains and turned on the warm lamp, then basic toiletries and towels were collected. They led Kara to it after Lena quickly showed her the bathroom and how to use the toilet and shower with Querl’s quiet instruction, and helped her settle in. She hadn’t said a word since the short answers to Agent Danvers’s questions as she checked her over.
It was creeping on three in the morning and they had left Kara to herself, the door ajar and the small lamp still lit on the chest of drawers. They quickly hashed out details for discreet security, made a more extensive list of needs to shuttle over for Kara, and spent another half hour worrying about the government oversight at the DEO. Lena had a lot of bones to pick with the department in general, but she especially didn’t like that its powers were being twisted further. Eventually she shooed them out of her home, agreeing to let three agents stay and watch the perimeter of her house. Lena could take care of herself, but she was glad to have the extra fire power.
Finally at nearly quarter til four, Lena locked up her home, turned the lights out, and crawled wearily into bed dreading the alarm that was set to go off in just barely two hours. A power nap would have to do, and she’d just make sure she kept the coffee flowing. She had just brushed her teeth and settled in when a soft knock made her pause as she reached to turn out her lamp. Kara was standing in the doorway looking small and scared.
“ Too quiet .”
Lena stifled a sigh, just wanting to sleep, and patted the other side of the bed in a silent invitation. She didn’t have the heart to tell her to go back to her own bed. The Kryptonian slipped into her room and climbed gingerly onto the tall bed, carefully wiggling underneath the covers as if she were afraid to disturb her. Lena reached slowly for the light, and turned it off when the other woman gave her a tentative nod. The room was plunged into darkness and she heard Kara gasp quietly, but she didn’t make a noise of complaint. Lena settled down into her covers with a tired sigh, too ready to sleep to be bothered about a strange body in her bed.
When she woke with her alarm just a few hours later, feeling gross and wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep, the other side of the bed was empty. She rolled over blinking blearily, and found Kara sitting curled up in the large cushioned bay window seat. The familiar red of the House of El was draped tightly around her shoulders and drying tear tracks caught the slowly rising sun as the sky warmed from lavender to gold.
Lena ended up barely working from home that day.
She had risen, skipped over her morning exercise and chose to feel like death in an extra long shower, dressed for the day, and was in the process of putting her bag together to go down to her lab when Kara started hovering. Not just hovering, but nervously hovering. She wasn’t quite underfoot, but every time Lena turned around she seemed to be stepping around her. Kara started speaking quietly, a note of panic in her voice when Lena picked out some shoes and started making her way to the back of the house, and then it clicked. She knew Lena was leaving her, but was afraid to be alone. There was something about the open trust in her expression that made Lena want to scream. To tell her that she wasn’t worth imprinting on like a baby duckling. That there were other, better , people for her to become attached to. She gave up and called Jess, informing her with a coded language they had developed that she wouldn’t be able to have a proper work day and to forward all business to her email and work phone. Kara had watched her anxiously through the phone call, and then slumped in relief when Lena walked back into the kitchen and put her bag on the table.
“ Stay ?”
Lena nodded. “ Stay. ”
Lena’s day consisted of spreading out on the kitchen table and providing Kara with the difficult puzzle boxes she favored in her free time. About mid morning the DEO agents changed shift with the three other trusted agents and Agent Danvers reappeared with a suitcase of newly purchased clothing and a tablet.
“Language learning program.” She announced, holding the device out to Lena. “Braniac’s language to English, and vice versa. Unfortunately Kryptonian isn’t in our database, but I think if Kara’s up to that challenge she could help.”
Lena grabbed the tablet out of her hands with a rushed oh thank god , and quickly typed in a message. Kara looked up from her neatly assembled puzzle boxes, her frown of concentration easing when she realized Agent Danvers had come back. Her eyes grew wide as Lena shoved the tablet in her face, a translated message in bold type lighting her face up.
Now we can talk.
Kara grabbed the tablet out of her hand and started typing, looking far more hopeful than she had in a long time. She showed Lena the tablet, her expression open and trusting again.
Thank you for saving me.
Lena nodded, and gestured for the tablet.
I am glad I found you.
Now you can use this tablet to learn my language, English .
Kara frowned and waited patiently as Lena typed a third message.
It’s a terrible language, I’m afraid. But it will be useful.
For the first time since Kara landed on earth, she cracked a small smile. Lena gave her the tablet back, watching her hands fly over the keys with practiced ease.
I will learn it quickly.
She erased it.
My cousin ?
Lena turned back to Agent Danvers, who was watching them closely. “Any word on Clark?”
“He’ll be back in a couple days, Querl says he managed to reach the Tamaranians in time and he’s escorting them here.”
Lena relayed the information, which prompted another question from Kara.
Is this planet a refugee planet ?
Lena balked. She showed the tablet to Agent Danvers. “Agent?”
The other woman scooped it up off the table and typed out a diplomatically generic response that made Kara purse her lips. But she accepted the non-answer for the time being and started asking rapid-fire questions about everything she could think of, only pausing long enough to see what Agent Danvers had brought and to take a warm shower. Eventually the agent left with the three men who had stayed the first guard shift and it was back to work.
Lena’s day was a jumbled mess of fielding phone calls and emails from L-Corp, and answering Kara’s questions. Thankfully the woman understood that she needed to work, and kept herself busy with some scrap tinkering. Lena noticed she kept mumbling a similar set of words when she’d get frustrated, and asked her over lunch. The Kryptonian, even though she was noticeably upset, was trying to hold herself together and remember the rites of passing, while becoming more and more annoyed with how primitive Earth’s technology was compared to Krypton. That prompted an uncomfortable conversation on mourning and loss as they picked at their sandwiches. Lena got the gist of it, and was able to find a few candles in her pantry she used for emergencies.
That evening after a simple dinner of scrambled eggs and fruit and toast, Lena helped Kara calculate the direction of Rao in the night sky and set up a little space for her facing out one of the second story windows. She left her to mourn, retreating to the kitchen and coordinating a story with Jess that some private contracting work had been sprung on her and she didn’t know when she would be back at L-Corp. She trusted Jess to take her secretive excuse at face level, becasue the less people to know about Kara Zor-El, the better. In a moment of selfishness she hoped that the DEO issue would be resolved as soon as possible so she could go back to her own life. She wasn’t trying to be cruel, but it was incredibly inconvenient to be saddled with the care of an alien refugee when she had a multibillion dollar conglomerate to oversee.
She was Clark’s cousin. Kal’s only living family.
It would be ridiculous of her to pretend she wasn’t jealous.
Lena worked through the rest of the evening, setting up a courier appointment to have paperwork and certain components delivered the following morning. She really wanted to be working down in her lab, but she wasn’t of a mind to let a complete stranger into it. Secrets were second nature to her, and a valuable currency. She had a vast mental library of delicate information that now included the fact that there were three surviving Kryptonians. Her ability to keep that information close to her chest was something she was secretly proud of.
However, Lena wasn’t sure how well Kara Zor-El could keep quiet.
Language barrier or not, she needed Kal to hurry up and return to earth so she could set some boundaries.
On the afternoon of the fourth day of being cooped up in her home with a quiet and grieving Kryptonian stranger, Fiona calmly informed her that Querl Dox and Superman were at her front door.
Lena’s sudden relief crashed heavily into anxiety.
She quickly keyed in a message for Fiona to let the men know she would be there in a moment and pulled the communication tablet towards her. Kara paused in her fiddling, looking tired and worn down as Lena carefully typed up a new message.
Your cousin is here with Querl Dox. Will you go wait for him in the other room while I retrieve them? I need to tell him some important information before he sees you.
Kara’s face twisted into pain and confusion, deleting Lena’s message and nearly throwing the tablet back at her in anger.
Lena knew Kara had every right to be upset to be told to wait, and tried to push down her own frustration.
Because once he sees you he won’t want to focus on anything else. It will only take a minute.
Kara’s frowned deepened, a heavy crease growing in between her brows. Her hands flexed and clenched for an uncomfortable moment, and then she nodded curtly. The kitchen chair scraped on the floor as Kara roughly pushed away from the table and tried not to stomp into the living room. Lena swallowed down her nerves and hustled to the front door in a flurry of clicking heels on hardwood. She was half surprised Superman hadn’t broken her door down and Lena quickly let them into the foyer, but blocked their path. Kal was already scanning unblinkingly over her shoulder as soon as he stepped into the house, finally able to see past the thin framing of lead in the walls.
“Where is she?”
His gaze finally locked on a fixed point over her left shoulder. Lena stepped directly in front of him.
“How much do you know?”
“I just got here-”
“She doesn’t know what you look like. Kal, wait .” Lena slapped her hands to the center of his chest when he took a step forward and pushed . It wouldn’t have mattered if he really wanted to get around her, but his common sense made him pause even if he still didn’t look at her. Lena withdrew her hands.
“She just knows you’ve been here for years. She was trapped in a place where time didn’t pass so the destruction of your home is still very fresh for her. She doesn’t know you have powers, either.”
Kal’s throat bobbed as he swallowed, still staring into Lena’s home.
“What do I do?” He croaked.
“Be careful . And… try to give her a chance. You’re each other’s only family.”
Superman finally looked at her and nodded with a jerk of his head, looking every inch the young twenty-five year old he was and not one of earth’s greatest defenders. Lena let him slip past her. She and Querl followed his hurried step and billowing cape, and she was surprised he went at a more human speed. At least he had been listening to her. He made it just a few steps into the living room before his feet seemed to be too heavy to lift, and just stared at his cousin. Kara was looking at him as if she were looking at a ghost, and approached him with wide eyes. Her hands reached up, trembling, and cradled his jaw. She murmured a few words in the language Lena recognized as Querl’s, tears sliding down her face. Querl Dox stepped calmly into the room, but Lena felt as if something was holding her back from crossing the threshold.
“What did she say?” Kal asked Querl, afraid to take his eyes off his cousin.
Querl linked his hands behind his back, and spared Lena a glance and a nod of thanks for the quick welcome, and stepped closer to Superman.
“She said you look just like your father, Jor El.”
Lena had never seen a grown man crumple so quickly and turned away, quietly stealing down into her lab to avoid intruding on a painful reunion.
Superman and Querl Dox left after the evening meal and Lena’s home smelled like cheap delivery pizza and pasta.
Kara sluggishly helped clean up, practically weaving on her feet from an emotionally draining day. Lena didn’t really know what they had talked about, even if her nosey curiosity was begging for her to ask. Eventually Lena gently pushed her up towards the bedrooms and Kara whispered a rough sounding Thank You and left to rest. Lena took the rest of the wine down into the lab and didn’t pause in her work until she nearly smacked her forehead on her desk as she dozed.
A loose pattern formed over the next couple days. Lena would rise early, often finding Kara somewhere in the house watching the sun rise. They ate breakfast and Kara sat at her small altar while Lena exercised and showered. Mornings were filled with work and Kara dutifully learning English in the living room on her tablet, her soft voice tripping over the strange words with a lilting accent. Lunch was quick and polite, and then if the weather was nice Lena would take her on a short walk outside the house, nodding hello to the DEO agents who still kept watch. Then it was back to work, and Kara would quietly tinker at the kitchen table with Lena. When she would inevitably get bored of that, she’d leave to go continue her English lessons even though Lena could tell she wanted nothing more than to ask her all sorts of questions. They would pause for dinner, or in Lena’s case a strong drink first, and the questions would stream forth. Superman would show up close to 9 and stay for a little while, quickly bonding with Kara and getting to know her. Lena would always retreat to her lab. Fiona would inform her a little while later that Superman was about to leave, and she’d pause in her work and return upstairs. Sometimes Kara would want to stay up and talk a little and practice speaking her english, sometimes she would go directly to bed. Eventually Lena would get too tired and retire as well. Sometimes she would get woken up by Kara in the middle of the night. Lena didn’t want to pry, but needed to ask sooner or later what was wrong even if she had some pretty strong assumptions.
Kara Zor-El somehow managed to become mostly fluent in English in a week and a half, and it clued Lena in to how smart she actually was. At a truly otherworldly level.
Lena also missed going to her office, but she was still stuck. The good thing was, now that she could hold fairly full conversations with Kara.
Her opportunity came in the middle of the second week.
The Kryptonian looked up from her tablet, her expression smoothing out of its disappointed frown from the news that her cousin wouldn’t be able to visit that evening.
“I want to show you something.”
She waited for her houseguest to climb out of the couch and follow her. Lena led her down to the basement, down to the door to her lab.
“You said you are a scientist?”
Kara nodded, holding her DEO issued tablet close to her chest. “I was.”
Lena tried not to frown at the past tense of her answer and keyed them in, holding the door open for the Kryptonian to slip inside as the lights flickered on. She let the door close behind them, clicking softly as it locked.
“This is my lab. You may use it if you wish.”
What Lena didn’t tell her was that she had moved some of her more sensitive projects out of the house already. She didn’t think that Kara would do anything with her work, but she had to abide by her strict contracts, and it also made her feel safer to be overly-cautious.
“I have an artificial intelligence, Fiona, who can help you if I’m not around.” She continued, and quickly walked Kara through the rest of the lab. The AI in question greeted them genially and set Kara off on a tangent of questions.
Lena showed her where the tools and equipment were and the safety procedures for each once she had successfully caught her attention again. She only had to say everything once for the Kryptonian to soak up the directions like a sponge. Lastly, she started towards the stairs that lead to the underground hangar.
“I have your escape pod down here. To be safe.”
Kara hurried after her with a murky expression, her brief excitement dampened. Their footsteps echoed down the metal stairs and the lights turned on with a surge. The various small vehicles and work benches were illuminated, and the silvery dull pod rested on its trolley. Lena hung back as Kara continued forward, her shoulders slumping the closer she got.
“It has not been touched other than to be decontaminated. You are welcome to do with it as you wish.”
Lena watched Kara slink past her, the tablet clutched tightly to her chest. She stepped into the cool blue-white halo of light, throwing her features into haggard relief. A slender hand reached out and touched the largest gash in the nose cone.
“Badly damaged.” She mumbled sadly, and then slowly started to circle the craft.
Kara examined it loosely, taking note of the worst damage. “Lena?”
She made a sound of acknowledgement.
“I want to fix it.”
Kara paused and slumped, pressing her hand flat to the silvery metal. “No. To be… sentimental.”
Lena pressed her lips together, swallowing down a wave of sympathetic loneliness. “Okay.”
Kara took one last look at it and gave a firm nod. “I will start tomorrow.”
Lena watched her putter around for a moment longer, and then they both went back up and into the house for the evening. They had a quiet night and Lena introduced Kara to chocolate covered popcorn. It was in hindsight that Lena realized that giving her the sweet and salty treat may have unleashed a junk food monster, the Kryptonian happily munching her way through the entire bag on the other end of the couch. She put it back on her grocery order without complaint, and added a few other things to let Kara try.
By the time they started getting ready for bed Kara was growing antsy again, peeking out into the hall to see where Lena was and looking sheepish when she caught herself doing so. Lena guessed seeing her escape pod again had stirred up some uncomfortable memories. Her guess was confirmed when there was a soft knock on her doorframe. Kara was standing hesitantly in the doorway, hands bunched into the ends of her sweatshirt sleeves and arms crossed protectively across her chest. Lena paused with the edge of her comforter in her hands.
“May I stay here tonight? I am afraid to be alone.”
It was different than the may I stay here for an hour request.
Lena nodded without hesitation and beckoned her into the room. She was surprised that she didn’t feel a lingering annoyance this time and decided to examine that when she wasn’t about to fall dead asleep. Kara murmured a thank you and shuffled to the other side of the bed, slipping underneath the covers at a polite distance like she normally did. Lena climbed in after her and set her alarm, and listened to Kara burrow into the sheets and blankets. She flipped the light off, exchanged a soft good night , and promptly fell asleep.
Lena was startled awake.
The mattress was moving.
A foot kicked her in the shin. Hard .
“ OW .”
Lena was really awake now, and Kara was thrashing in her sleep.
“ Ow. Ow ! Kara!” She dodged an arm and shook her strongly by the closest shoulder.
Kara jolted awake with a strangled noise and froze, sucking in deep steadying breaths. Lena rolled over and flipped the light back on and crammed her glasses onto her face just as Kara started trying to disentangle herself from the sheets twisted around her. Lena could see the fear in her eyes and the tears on her cheeks, but her face was crumpled with shame.
“I am sorry, I will go-”
Lena reached out again and caught her, her hand curling in her elbow. “ Kara. ”
The Kryptonian froze, but didn’t look at her. A fresh set of tears rolled down her face. Lena could feel her shaking. It must have been a terrible dream.
“You can stay.”
Kara finally looked at her. Devastated was the word that came to mind first. Lena let go of her and held her hand out in a silent invitation, not knowing what else to do. What she did know was that Kara did not need to be alone right now. It would only make things worse. When she hesitated, Lena beckoned to her again, pulling on the thread of compassion she usually kept bottled up.
“Come here. It’s okay.”
Kara’s face twisted and she slid across the mattress, allowing Lena to draw her into a tight hug. Lena wrapped her arms around her as Kara curled into her, tucking her head under her chin. It wasn’t necessarily an uncomfortable position, but it was unfamiliar. A tired, weak sob came from the Kryptonian and Lena just squeeze her tighter, wishing she could find a way to help ease some of the heartbreak.
She had a lovely purple bruise on her shin the next morning.
Kara started spending more nights in Lena’s room, either in her bed or curled up in the bay window. She still had nightmares, but would take to the cushioned bay window seat after particularly hard days. Those were the nights when her dreams were the worst, and Lena knew she still felt bad about kicking her that one night. Her shins were grateful for her thoughtfulness, but she couldn’t help but worry about the woman.
But when Kara did feel like she would be calm enough, she slept in Lena’s bed. Sometimes Lena would wake with her alarm to Kara half on top of her with her ear pressed to her chest. She learned the steady beat of her heart and rhythm of her breathing were soothing organic sounds that didn’t resemble the low thrum of her pod’s propulsion engine. It was something else for her to get used to, having not shared a bed with another body for quite a while. Or, at least, not in such a platonic manner. It had caused some one-sided embarrassment but Lena forced herself to quickly get over it.
Just another odd addition to her already weird day.
Kara started working on her pod, spending hours down in Lena’s personal lab and only emerging for meals and sleep and a shower. Superman also continued to visit and Lena remembered how inquisitive and bewildered Kara was when he started showing her his powers. She also remembered how uncomfortable she became when she learned that she would be gaining the same powers too. Even if her powers weren’t presenting themselves yet, Kara threw herself into strength and control exercises, terrified of accidentally becoming destructive.
Fiona informed Lena one evening that Miss Danvers is in distress in the lab , and she kicked off her heels and rushed barefoot through her house. When she got to the low work room she found Kara pacing next to one of the low tables, strewn with metal components and circuitry from her pod. Lena discovered the source of Kara’s distress in the form of a mangled wrench, perfectly impressed with the Kryptonian's grip.
“I thought I had more time.” Kara gasped. “I’m not ready, I don’t want this.”
Lena let her pace and mumble a little more before gently catching her by the elbow. “It will be alright, Kara. I know it’s scary but I also know that you’ll learn to master these new powers.”
Kara stumbled to a stop in front of her, hands fisting in her messy hair. “But I don’t want to hurt you .”
“And if you’re careful and keep practicing, you won’t .”
They breathed quietly for a moment, and then Kara was speaking again in her lilting accent.
“You have such faith in my abilities. Why?”
Lena managed a quirk of a smile, pushing down a betraying ray of trust. “You’re an El.”
Kara laughed, not quite hollow but with a degree of some brusqueness, and let her hands drop to her sides. “Another title to live up to.”
“So make a new title to reach for. You have a clean slate now.” She crossed her arms protectively across her chest and extended a small olive branch.
“I know what it’s like to be overshadowed by your family. By your name . Take this opportunity to forge your own path. Or at least think about it until you can safely do so.”
Kara propped her hands on her hips and swallowed heavily, the muscles in her neck moving with the difficult act. She blinked a few times against the betraying glassiness. “We must be more alike than I first thought.”
It was Lena’s turn to have a hollow laugh. “You’re a better person than I am, it isn’t much of a comparison.”
Lena started back out of the lab, calling up to her AI. She missed the forlorn look her Kryptonian guest gave her. “Fiona, please help Miss Zor-El where you can. And order a replacement tool as well as some extras for the ones she favors.”
“ Right away, Miss Luthor .”
Life became a bit more interesting after that evening. More stressful .
Kara stopped sleeping next to Lena out of fear of hurting her, but she did make a more permanent nest in the bay window. Her list of items to replace started extending from her tools to her silverware and dishes. Kara started using paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery after one glass exploded spectacularly in what she thought was a gentle grip. Superman started visiting even more frequently, taking Kara out into the woods once she started showing signs of her flight powers and would return hours later tired and filthy. Lena had ordered they start hosing themselves down before even thinking of stepping foot in her home . She at least left them some old towels on the back stoop.
It was a rough adjustment period for all of them, and Lena had to start making appearances at L-Corp or risk the rumor-mill flying off the axel. To go from barely leaving her office and labs to barely showing up had the press ravenous. The only reason her Board of Directors hadn’t expressed concern was because she was still producing more than excellent results. But the in-person meetings she had managed to make always felt like an olympic game of catch-up. Lena hated not being in the loop. It messed with her need for structure and planning.
Lena never left the mountain house for full days, just long enough for more important meetings or project overviews, her cover story for Doctor’s Ordered Rest holding for the time being. It appeared to be enough after a few weeks, and it also helped Lena feel like her life was returning to normal. But still, Kara had to remain in her home for the unforeseeable future. Alex kept insisting that the issue inside the DEO hadn’t been resolved. If anything, she admitted that it might have even gotten worse. It unfortunately led to Alex having to withdraw the meager security detail from her cabin in the woods, which hiked her stress levels up a little further. She knew her way around a gun, but it was only her and a half-powered Kryptonian still too new to her powers.
There were still too many unknown things to even try to make heads or tails of what was going on. Key data was missing and Lena’s imagination was running rampant in a sea of anxiety. Her uncomfortable dreams almost made her wish Kara was still sleeping beside her some nights. It would have been a fair excuse to try to steal a few moments of creature comfort in the form of cuddling. But that moment had passed and her extra pillow was the next best option.
Lena tried not to dwell on her skittish thoughts for too long, but things were bound to get messy.
It did get messy, but not in a way that was really expected. Though maybe it should have been.
Kara started to really grow on Lena.
That . Was messy.
Lena was nervous and didn’t want the Kryptonian to think of her as someone she wasn’t, even if she didn’t really know what that meant. It was possible it was just her learned fear of opening up to others. People like the Luthors, like Lena , couldn’t afford to have a real connection with someone. It was always business, from jobs to lifestyle… even to family and children. Everything had a cost. Everything could be manipulated.
But Kara was a much different story.
Kara wasn’t even from earth .
She had no ties to this planet other than her cousin, her common sense, and science. Familial ties hadn’t quite come up yet, save for the quick moment of sympathy in her home lab, but Kara did know that Kal and Lex were on opposite sides of the playing field. She knew that Lena and Lex were half siblings. Kara also knew that Lena had helped and protected Superman, and continues to do so. The allegiances were clear and Kara trusted her to keep her safe, whatever that definition of safe happened to be.
To Lena, safe was a terrifying word. Even she was rarely what you would call safe .
But she could pretend.
She could pretend the lack of extra security didn’t bother her. She could pretend that the small modifications to her home defense were only out of reasonable caution and not some worse threat. Lena liked structure and planning. She liked preparation. She could facilitate the act of those things through pretending.
Unfortunately, pretending she wasn’t emotionally bothered by something wasn’t necessarily her strong suit and Kara easily waltzed through the facade one cool spring evening.
Kara’s voice was soft and cautious, her knife paused over the vegetables she was helping chop for their dinner. Lena tossed a glance in her direction from the new-ish spice rack she had finally been learning how to utilize in this somewhat self-imposed isolation. Kara started chopping again hesitantly, her hair pulled back in a low tail.
“My hearing is very strong now.” She started, and took a moment to carefully transfer her carrots to a bowl. “Sometimes I can hear your heartbeat.”
“Oh?” Lena tried not to feel too weirded out. She knew it was A Thing for Superman to be able to listen across the entire world for a single person. It had somehow slipped her mind that Kara would gain this ability too.
“Yes. I, um. Am able to tell that you are stressed. It beats a little faster every day. You also have bad dreams.”
Kara put her knife down and rested the heels of her hands on the edge of the big wooden cutting board. Her eyes were a murky blue and the tell tale crinkle was thinking about forming in between her brows.
“Are we in danger?”
There was no way to hide the sudden nervous lurch of her heart from Kryptonian ears.
“Well. Things aren’t ideal at the moment. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
Kara frowned and pressed her lips together in a thin line, but she hesitantly picked the knife back up. It flashed as she started chopping through a zucchini. “Okay. I trust you.”
Lena barely contained her sigh of relief and put the wok on the stove. They cooked in an uneasy silence, periodically broken by small talk or directions. As they prepared their meal and brought it to the kitchen table, Lena’s insecurities and second guessing at her previous answer grew. She didn’t want Kara to have to worry more than she already was. The poor woman didn’t need anything else on her plate.
She started picking at her mediocre, but hot, meal. Perhaps she’d ease up on the garlic powder next time and add a touch more coriander. At least the vegetables weren’t soggy this time. The longer she nibbled as Kara went back for seconds and fixed some tea, the worse her second guessing became. Finally, she had to say something to vent the nervous energy that was starting to make her knees jackhammer under the table.
“Do you remember that day when you crushed my wrench like tin foil?”
Kara nodded meekly, her fingers fluttering nervously around her mug.
“I mentioned something about family. I know you know that my brother is a… terrible person, but has Kal told you any more?”
Kara shook her head politely. “I asked but he said that I should ask you. He was afraid he would be too biased.”
Lena grimace a poor excuse of a smile and finally took an adequate bite of her lukewarm meal. She thought about her answer as she chewed and swallowed.
“I’ll tell you. But let’s get through dinner first.”
Dinner didn’t last much longer, but Lena did force herself to eat most of what was on her plate. The kitchen was cleaned up and the dishwasher set to cycle, and they settled into the the couch on their favored spots. Kara had taken yet another mug of tea with an unhealthy amount of honey but Lena had decided to opt for something stronger, already not looking forward to telling her about her mess of a family. She tucked her feet up under her and angled herself towards Kara.
Lena paused. She took a long sip of her scotch.
“Refresh my memory, how much do you know?”
Kara curled her hands around her mug and mirrored Lena’s posture. “I know that Kal and your brother Lex are… at odds. They fought and have been fighting. That your family has been dangerous, but you sided with my cousin. And-”
Kara sat up a little straighter, a crease forming between her brow as her expression drew somber, her accent growing thicker as she fought to keep her feelings in check.
“-and I think that you are a good person. A bad person would not be as kind as you.”
A weird twang thrummed in Lena’s chest. “Bad people are good at pretending.”
Kara huffed. “ Stop lying.”
Lena flushed, heat coloring her face. “S-stop listening to my heart.”
“You are not a bad person.” Kara insisted, but still looking a little cowed. “Your heart is loud. It is difficult to… to not listen to it.”
Lena was taken aback by the sudden soft current of Kara’s admission. The Kryptonian had always been polite at the very least to her, and had become fairly comfortable around her as the weeks had passed. Despite the obvious cultural and economic differences, just existing as two people came a lot easier for them than Lena had thought it would. She relaxed back into the couch and tried to scrape her thoughts together against the reverberating warmth in her chest.
“I, um. I was adopted by the Luthors when I was four.” She began, packing Kara’s last comment away for later. “My real mother died. She went to swim and-and she drowned. I…” Lena sighed, cutting herself off and picking her words carefully as she stared into the amber liquor in her glass.
“My father was Lionel Luthor. His affair with my mother had been kept secret and the day mother died, he took me home. Lillian hated me the moment she knew I existed. I was a stain on the Luthor name, on Lionel’s loyalty to her. A bastard, if you will.”
Kara shifted with an unhappy noise but didn’t say anything. Lena continued to talk into her drink, afraid that whatever she saw in Kara’s face would make her break down. It was an old and tired subject, but it never stopped stinging.
“Lex accepted me right away, or so I thought. He was a good brother. Kind. Encouraging. He was always eager to talk to me about anything and everything. Because I am a Luthor, I was pushed to be better than everyone else. To know more, to be more capable, to be better than my best. I don’t know what Krypton’s education was like, but I moved through the high level studies here at an… alarming rate. I did not have a childhood, I had schooling.”
She paused and took another sip of her drink, watching Kara mirror her out of the corner of her eye.
“Lex met your cousin a few years ago and they became close friends before father died. I don’t remember exactly how they but Lex’s friendship with Clark, with Kal , was his only escape into what we could picture as a normal life. But that didn’t last. Father was actively anti-alien, amongst his run-of-the-mill racism and bigotry. He got into Lex’s head. Indoctrinated him.”
“Krypton was the same.” Kara murmured. Lena looked up in surprise.
Kara’s brow was pulled low in a troubled expression. “Krypton had cut itself off from our surrounding neighbors. We were unkind and biased, even if we took a more passive role in our solar system.”
“I suppose that’s a universal flaw.” Lena managed, still taken aback that after never talking about her home, Kara decided to drop some information.
Kara shrugged, but didn’t say anything else. Lena nodded, and went back to her story.
“Lex grew to be just as anti-alien as father. Lillian is too, but she’s more… quiet about it. I have been working very hard not to fall into the same traps, and going into public universities helped me combat their rhetoric. It’s still something at the back of my mind that I have to actively work against, but because I didn’t box myself away it has gotten easier with each year.”
“Had I not looked like you, would you have let me stay with you?”
The many faces of her employees at L-Corp flashed through her mind. Human and alien alike, from human-passing to reptilian and canine and feline and features you could only imagine as if from a sci-fi movie. She thought about how capable and smart and dedicated they were, how wonderfully normal and still strange they were to her, and nodded her head.
“But I won’t lie to you, it was not a comfortable situation to be in regardless of your lineage. I’m sure you can agree.”
Kara laughed aloud, her eyes going squinty for a moment. “I can. But it is better now.”
Lena grinned in response. “Yes, it’s better.”
“This has been a strange relationship, but…” Kara wiggled a little in her seat and cradled her mug to her chest. “-I can’t help but begin to see you as a close companion. It is reasonable to assume I am projecting my lost friendships onto you…”
The Kryptonian trailed off as her smile started slipping from her face. But it wasn’t an outlandish thing to Lena.
“Maybe not, Kara.”
Kara looked up at her, a new spark of hope shining in her eyes. Lena continued, feeling sure with each syllable even though it scared her to death.
“I think we’re friends now.”
Kara smiled again, sunny and open. “Friends.”
There was a funny pause, and then it was as if they both remembered what they had been talking about. Lena cleared her throat and Kara wiped at her smile with her palm.
“Right. So. Your cousin tried to save him. Tried to talk to Lex and to help him understand that aliens weren’t the enemy. Lex… didn’t know that Kal was Superman. And the day he did, I think he just stopped caring about anything. Finding out that his best friend was one of the people he hated broke him. He couldn’t reconcile, father’s hatred had grown too deep and now it was his own. When father died, Lex took over the family business. Mother helped control and hide his more impulsive outbursts, but in the end she just influenced him.”
The scotch in Lena’s glass was getting low.
“The day Lex became a domestic terrorist was one of the darkest days in my life. In many people’s lives, including your cousin’s. He lined an entire block in Metropolis with dirty bombs laced with kryptonite and killed over a hundred people. Kal tried to help with the rescue efforts but there was so much kryptonite radiation in the air he couldn’t get closer than three blocks before getting sick. I… was a stupid young woman and stole one of Lex’s spare exo-suits in a reckless attempt to help. I didn’t know what else to do and the military would have been too late.”
Lena stole a glance at Kara, who was still listening closely with a sad frown.
“I helped with the evacuation where Kal couldn’t. They fought, but Lex never plays fair. He had a lethal amount of kryptonite mounted in the chest of his suit. Kal held him off and drew him to a park away from any other buildings while I helped get the people out of the worst of it, but then my only other choice was to risk losing civilians in order to stop Lex.”
Lena drained her glass and carefully set it on the coffee table, wishing it would have numbed her a little more.
“I still have the scars from the electrical burns on my back from the fight. I was lucky the suit padding saved me from the worst of it. With Kal’s help, we stopped him. But the damage was done.”
“Thank you for saving him.”
Lena swallowed against the old tired burn of emotion and nodded. She looked directly into Kara’s eyes to make sure that she knew her next words were the truth. “Your cousin is a good man. He’s also become a close friend of mine, and I would put on that suit for him again in a heartbeat. The world is brighter because of him.”
Kara blinked against tears and nodded again. “ Thank you .”
“Now I act as a resource for technology and information for him, as well as the organization Agent Danvers works for. I may not agree with a lot of the work the DEO does, but they have been instrumental in helping Kal as well as you and other aliens.” Lena paused to choose her next words carefully, with a measured seriousness.
“The reason you’re here with me is because something isn’t right at the DEO.”
“And it would be difficult for Kal to hide me.”
Kara studied the contents of her mug. “Where is Lex?”
“Locked away. But mother is in hiding and has taken up his mantle. She is the head of an anti-alien terrorist group.” Lena laughed hollowly. “I’m a black sheep in a family of terrorists.”
“You think that they are looking for me?”
Lena shrugged a shoulder halfheartedly, feeling drained. “It’s a very strong possibility.”
Kara swallowed thickly and set her mug on the coffee table. “I wish to give you a hug.”
Lena nodded. “Okay.”
Kara set her face with purpose and pushed herself up, skimming across the couch like a low hovering balloon and stopping right in front of Lena. Kara settled onto the cushions again, her knee pressing warmly into Lena’s thigh. She reached out and gently wrapped her arms around her shoulders in a carefully calculated hug. It wasn’t like the other ones she had given her after nightmares. It was a little stiff and awkward, but the intention of comfort was the same and Lena appreciated the kindness behind it. Kara sat back with a sheepish expression.
“Forgive my lackluster attempt. Casual physical touch on Krypton was, um, reserved for special occasions.” Kara explained.
“You don’t have to hug me if it makes you feel uncomfortable, Kara.”
Kara frowned. “But it is an important human custom. Kal hugs. You hug. A hug shows care and companionship, and we are friends.”
Lena was touched by her attention to her observations.
“I-yes, but you don’t have to feel pressured to conform. I hug very few people too. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to.”
Kara reluctantly nodded again. “Okay.”
Lena watched her open and close her mouth a few times, and tilted her head to catch Kara’s eye. “I feel like there's a but in there.”
Kara smiled softly through her worry, caught. “ But. Something does not appear to be right. A hug can offer comfort in a stressful time.”
“Well…” Lena sighed. “I haven’t heard anything new. But, no. Something is not right.”
She didn’t want to tell her that the DEO was compromised, or at least not until she had concrete evidence. The worried crinkle between Kara’s brows grew.
“Agent Danvers? Querl Dox?”
Lena shrugged. “They’re working on it.”
Kara frowned deeper. “I do not like that.”
Lena sighed tiredly, thinking of getting another drink.
Lena was down in her personal lab with Kara one evening a few days after their heart to heart when her phone rang, AGENT DANVERS lighting up on the screen. She picked it up on the third ring, holding a wire in place for Kara to solder, and had only gotten the first syllable of her greeting out before she was cut off with a single word.
“ Cadmus .”
The line went dead.
Kara had nearly panicked when she heard Lena’s heart nearly leap out of her chest earlier. Lena had let her coax her onto one of the high stools even when she insisted no, I don’t need to sit , and was quiet for a long time as the Kryptonian quite literally hovered over her in worry. She had said, we’re in trouble I need to think , but that didn’t stop Kara from never straying farther than a couple feet. It was a sleepless night for the both of them. Lena sent an encrypted message to Superman, warning him and urging him to be vigilant. And then spent the rest of the night beefing up her home security and taking stock of what they had in the house.
Her mother .
The armed group of extremists driven by anti-alien hatred were involved with the infiltration of the DEO, and Lena didn’t have any information to help. She could start poking around, but even though her hacking skills were superior, it would still put her and Kara at an even greater risk. Superman had reassured her that Kara had grown very quickly into her new powers and was already catching up to him, but that still wasn’t a burden she wanted to put on her new friend’s shoulders. Her paramount concern was keeping Kara-and herself-safe, and that meant no stupid heroic acts.
Survival was now her utmost goal for the both of them.
The first week was quiet. Lena stopped going into L-Corp and insisted that if Kara needed to use her powers, she do so in the basement and not out in the woods. The Kryptonian instead followed the sun around the house, charging herself up like a battery when she felt secure enough to leave Lena alone for a half hour or so. Their scheduled grocery delivery arrived on Friday without incident or anything out of place. It didn’t make Lena feel any better and she still scanned and tested everything for poison and kryptonite.
The first week bled into a second, and then a third. Lena also should have realized that their talk about Lex and friendship would open the flood gates. Not just for Kara wanting to spend more time with her, but she surprisingly found herself talking more to her in return because she wanted to. Now that she knew they were on the same page, Lena wanted to know everything. She didn’t try to pry about Krypton, but she wanted to know what Kara was thinking about whatever they were doing. She wanted to know what she thought about the food, about the creature comforts in her home, and about theories that humankind hadn’t yet solved. That last topic was particularly difficult, because while Kara was ecstatic to talk to Lena about them, she also was wary of moving Earth’s sciences too quickly. It drove Lena bonkers. She knew that Kara had the answers, but all she would do was give her the barest of hints to coax her in the right direction. She did appreciate the challenge and the chance to figure it out on her own, but it was so tempting to just have Kara tell her. Kara at least tried to appease her by teaching her Kryptonian. It was an extremely rare language and Lena accepted the compromise, which she knew would make Kara happy if she could continue to speak in her native tongue as well.
The shared drive for knowledge had made their time together bearable, but now it became one of the strong supports of their new true friendship. In another unexpected vein, Kara was also curious about the different spices found on earth and the many ways they could be used and combined in cuisine. Lena wasn’t much of a foodie, but Kara’s strong interest had the both of them hunched over a laptop every late afternoon looking up a new recipe to try chatting in an odd mix of english and Kryptonian. She still didn’t quite trust herself with a large chef’s knife, but she was getting there.
Weeks turned into a month. Then two months. And no word from Agent Danvers other than an encrypted coding that was nothing but the word stay .
They stayed put.
Staying cooped up inside was detrimental for the both of them, and they started venturing out into the back yard at night again. But not without precautions. With Fiona constantly scanning the surrounding three miles for radio and infrared frequencies as well as blackout abnormalities, and with Kara’s heightened senses they started making laps in the yard. The Kryptonian would always stare wistfully at the stars when they were visible, but never lifted more than a few inches off the ground. Lena knew she wanted to fly, to feel free. But she knew she couldn’t, and Lena could practically feel her vibrating with energy when she stood close enough. They started sharing their fears more freely, trying not to get into loops on what was happening and who was out there. Spiraling into worry wasn’t a helpful tactic, and it took a lot of their energy to combat it.
With more understanding and more conversation came more casual friendly touches. More hugs to the surprise of both of them. They no longer sat on the opposite ends of the couch, but comfortably next to each other in the evenings. Lena unconsciously found herself creeping into Kara’s space as they prepared meals together, fixing her collar or untucking an awkward lock of hair like she used to for Samantha and Andrea. Kara started feeling a little braver to sleep next to her again, haltingly explaining that she was feeling better about her power control even though Lena kept waking up with Kara’s ear pressed to her chest or to her back. She didn’t mind it as much now, knowing that the steady sound of her pulse was soothing to her friend.
Her friend .
Lena liked the sound of that.
Lena actually cared for her now, and that?
That was exhilarating and scary.
Lena didn’t know how to describe it.
Something… wasn’t right.
Something didn’t feel right.
The heat had risen with the sun, the dawn warming into an unbearably muggy day. The air was heavy and oppressive, making it difficult to breathe if she stayed outside for too long. Just the few minutes it took for her to take out the trash and walk a quick lap in the early evening had her slapping away mosquitos and squirming against a bead of sweat that tracked down her spine. It was disgusting .
Kara had picked up on her uneasiness as well. She was almost always nearby, if not in the same room. While she was physically present, she was distracted. Listening and watching as she checked with Fiona that what she had noticed wasn’t a threat. It was almost like living with a human doppler radar. Had the circumstance been different, Lena would have made a game of it.
Lena was in the middle of showing Kara one of her ideas regarding teleportation portals when the power went out.
The emergency lights from the second set of backup lab generators blinked on in an eerie red as Fiona piped up over the speaker. For the first set to not immediately kick on had Lena fighting back a quick rise of panic.
“ Multiple intruders two miles out .”
Lena dropped her tablet onto the counter and ran to the secure room at the back of her lab with Kara on her heels. Her heart had leapt, then sank like a stone as Fiona continued to rattle out coordinates and speed, informing her that there was lead shielding and they were armed. And they would be there before they had a chance to run. Kara was saying something about hearing but not seeing as she slapped her palm to the biometric lock, the metal components in the door sliding free as the entire panel retracted into the wall. It wasn’t a safe room, or a room that could withstand heavy explosions, but a climate controlled storage room for her more delicate and secretive work that she hadn’t moved back to L-Corp.
“Kara, come here.” She called, pulling a small lockbox out of a cabinet and throwing it open on the metal table in the center of the room. The word Honos was etched into the lid in neat lettering.
Her friend slid into her space as she lifted a small red box out of the lockbox. “This is a protective suit, but it won’t cover your face. No claustrophobia. I’m going to put it on you, okay?”
Kara nodded, her eyes wide and wild with worry. “A suit?”
Lena pressed the box to her sternum and pressed a tiny button, the sides opening as her nanotech got to work. “An anti-kryptonite suit. It was one of the last prototypes I made for Clark. It’s only unfinished with its data sync, but it’ll help. It’s also shock-absorbent and kevlar based.”
The material blossomed out from the little red box, quickly covering and encasing Kara from her jaw to her wrists to form sleek boots around her feet. It was a plain matte navy with extra armor on her shins, forearms, and torso. The final locks clicked into place and a quiet hum lowly lit the ghost of the House of El crest on her chest in red. Kara looked herself over in surprise as Lena found another lockbox and donned her own armored nano-suit in plain black, the partial helmet incasing her skull and sides of her face. As the suit slunk over her body Lena instructed Fiona to enact the bug out programming, a series of coding that quickly backed up everything to her personal servers at a secure location and fried all connected devices beyond repair within the house. She also sent a quick distress signal to not just Clark, but also Agent Danvers and Querl Dox. If they could stay safe and survive until the calvary arrived, their chances of walking away from this alive would increase.
“ Emergency contacts notified. Bug-Out programming enacted. ”
There was a sharp ftz-pop from the lab behind them.
“ Bug-Out programming complete. Intruders four-thousand feet and closing, ETA five minutes and sixteen seconds .”
Lena grabbed an earpiece set and gave one to Kara. “Left ear. Fiona, withdraw and radio in.”
“ Withdrawing. Remote communication online in twenty seconds .”
She was already across the room at her weapons locker, tucking the earpiece firmly into her right ear. Lena pressed her thumb to the lock on the door and jerked it open as soon as the lock clicked free. She pulled a rifle out and slung it onto her back with a magnetic clack and reached for a pistol, affixing it magnetically to her thigh. Kara shuffled over and looked in, and made a quiet noise of disgust.
“ Barbaric .”
“Yeah, well, these people coming to get us are barbaric.” Lena snapped back. “We aren’t taking chances. Understand?”
“ I do not kill .” Kara ground out gutturally.
“You’re in luck. I do.” Lena answered halfheartedly, slapping extra magazines for her pistol to her belt. As she slammed the locker shut and slipped past her friend, she tapped her closest fist.
“Use those instead.”
Kara hummed uneasily and followed after her and back out into the hall just as Fiona crackled back in over their earpieces.
“ Withdrawal complete and secure. Radio transmission, secure. Awaiting instructions. ”
“Status update on our guests?” Lena asked, scooping up a chunky armored gauntlet from her workbench and shoving her left arm into it.
“ Three minutes out .”
The glove powered on with a high pitched electronic eeeeeeeee and she pulled up the hollow display. A blue-green panel shimmered above the inside of the wrist guard with a digital read out of the current power reserves. Enough for five charges. It would have to do.
“ Lovely . Kara?”
Lena turned and found her friend staring at the door to the underground hangar. Or where it used to be. Now it was a solid wall of steel.
Her pod was still in the hangar. Lena almost went back to grab her by the elbow. They didn’t have time to worry about her pod.
“It will be safe down there. Come with me.”
For a long moment Lena thought Kara was going to tear through the blast door, but she set her shoulders and turned towards her.
“Come on, we have to get upstairs before they get here.” She beckoned, taking a few steps towards the stairs that lead up into her home.
Kara pressed her lips into a thin determined line and followed after her. Lena turned and led them out of the lab, barely sparing a glance to the smoking scorched mess of what used to be her phone and tablet. Another trivial expense to replace later. If she made it out alive.
They surged up into the house, the lab door closing and locking behind them. It was pitch black, illuminated only by the soft glow of Kara’s suit and the tiny white-blue lights on her weapons and the visor of her helmet.
“ Total count of encroaching enemies calculated at twenty-six and one platoon vehicle stalling two hundred yards away. Nine more individuals are on the truck. ”
Lena drew in a steadying breath at Fiona’s quietly relayed information. Thirty-five was a lot. She moved on, barreling through her home and taking the stairs to the bedrooms two at a time with Kara on her heels. When they got to the top Lena moved them back in a crouch, just far enough that they would be able to see over the top step and down into the open floor plan. They needed more cover. Sturdy cover.
“Kara? The heavy chest in the guest bedroom. Can you get it?”
Kara didn’t even answer, she just vanished with a robust current of air. There was the sound of wood scraping, and then she was back to Lena with an enormous cedar chest in her arms. It was a lovely piece of furniture and Lena was loath to destroy it, but she needed it. With a silent point she motioned to where she wanted Kara to set it down. Her friend slipped past her and set it down, easily adjusting it as Lena directed her.
“That will have to do. Fiona?” Lena crouched behind the chest, thumbing the brightness of her visor to its lowest brightness setting.
“ Forty-seven seconds .”
Lena turned quickly to Kara and pulled her in, moving her to stay right behind the chest to hide the glow of her suit and her blonde hair. “There’s a low probability that they won’t immediately try for aggression. We need to try to take out as many of them as possible before they see us if they’re hostile. Maybe try to bottleneck them on the stairs. It’s okay if you only work to stun them, just make sure they aren’t going to get up right away.”
Kara nodded and Lena could already see the gears turning behind her eyes. Fiona calmly informed them thirty seconds and Lena pulled the rifle from her back and powered it on. She held it low behind the chest and covered the brightest light of the sight guide with her hand.
“Did Clark teach you how to punch?”
“Soft parts, no bone, avoid delicate spots for breathing, the right amount of force to wind and incapacitate my opponent, not harm.” Kara recited dutifully.
Lena spared a quick sigh. “ Not harm . Well. I’ll do that job if it comes to it. If we get out of here alive I’ll take you to Noonan’s cafe after this. I think you would like their sticky buns. Lots of cinnamon and sugar in a soft pastry.”
Kara hummed in agreement and Lena felt her hand curl around her thigh just above her knee. She couldn’t feel the warmth of her touch through her suit, but it was a steady comforting pressure.
“I will eat twenty at once.” She whispered with wide scared eyes.
It slammed into Lena’s chest that Kara had most likely never been in any kind of mortal danger other than the panicked evacuation from Krypton. Ripped from her home, forced to stay cooped up with a stranger, and then facing a deadly assault just because of the stardust in her veins. Lena’s heart thundered in her chest and she wished down to her bones that she could spirit Kara away from there, to save her from the violence that was impressed into her skin from years of abuse. Kara didn’t deserve to be exposed to this. But it was already too late.
“We’ll make a game of it.” Lena grinned widely, putting on a mask she knew Kara could see through as Fiona informed them intruders have breached the tree line, ten seconds . She thumbed the safety off of her rifle and hunkered down. Kara withdrew her hand and squished in closer, laying out about eight inches off the ground in an eerie hover. Her hands blurred for a moment and her hair was contained in a tight braid, neatly tied off with an elastic.
“ Prepare for breach .”
Fiona’s pleasant acknowledgement barely crackled through as the sound of glass breaking shattered the overwhelming stillness. Something metal and tube-like clattered into her living room. Lena ducked her head behind the chest and hissed a close your eyes . The stun grenade igniting with a deafening pop and blinding flash of light that illuminated her home as bright as day.
Heavy boots crunched into her home as she heard the back door shatter and another loud concussive pop from a second stun grenade. She was saved from the worst of the volley as her visor blacked out in an automatic response to the flash, but her ears still rang. Kara had flinched next to her, plugging her ears with her fingers as she wobbled in her hover. When a third grenade never came Lena reached out and patted her tricep clumsily at an attempt of comfort.
“ Warning. Infrared readings show lethal doses of kryptonite on each intruder. ”
Lena’s heart sank. They were here for Kara. No matter the size of the dose, any significant amount would be fatal. Fiona continued as more agents encroached into her home.
“ The Honos suit will protect against certain doses, however prolonged exposure will be detrimental to Kara Zor-El’s quality of life .”
“Okay. So. Kara?”
Her friend peeked up at her in the dark.
“Try not to get close.”
Her front door tore open, pulled off its hinges by the platoon truck. The deep rumble of the diesel engine backed up and kept backing. Heavy tires ground loudly on her nice front walk and squished into her lawn. It kept retreating back into the surrounding forest until it was a faint idling. Bright light from the high beams streamed into her front hall, bouncing into the living room and to the foot of the stairs. The figures in black fatigues quickly retreated out of the house.
Another clatter and roll of a third stun grenade rattled into her front hall and they ducked their heads behind the chest again, flinching at the jarring explosion. This one was closer to the bottom of the stairs and strong enough to feel the reverberation of the blast. The boots crunched over glass again and Kara vanished from her side. There was a moment of quiet grinding from the bathroom behind her, soft enough that the Cadmus agents below didn’t hear over their own glassy footsteps, and Kara was back with a fist-full of tile pieces from the guest bathroom floor. She shot Lena an apologetic look and whispered an inaudible sorry . Lena just pressed her lips together in a grim line and nodded. Re-tiling a floor was inconsequential.
Fiona informed them of where the Cadmus agents were in and around the house, how many were at the front and back doors, how many were creeping into the shattered out glass in her living room. Kara took a single piece of tile and held it up, and then pointed at the gauntlet on Lena’s hand.
“ A distraction .”
Lena nodded in understanding, lowering her rifle and quickly priming the gauntlet to release a blast. It would be messy. She nodded to Kara when the readout on the inside of her wrist flashed green. In the blink of an eye, Kara whipped her arm up and over the cedar chest, throwing one of the pieces of tile across the house and into the far corner of the living room where the heavy bookshelves could look like possible shelter for a body.
The tile breaking against the wall was deafening in the tense silence, and the agents snapped around in their slow creep to point the barrel of their weapons into the corner. One of the agents raised a hand and signed off a sequence of directions, and then crept towards the corner with two other agents. The palm of the gauntlet warmed as the controlled plasma cannon started blooming thermal energy. If she let it idle for much longer, the blast would be weak. Or , if she had to, she could sacrifice one of her five blasts to make sure this one counted . Her decision was made for her when Kara threw another piece of tile behind one of the agents in the corner adjacent to the one they were encroaching upon. Two more towering men slunk into the living room and they all converged on the second corner, their rifles powering up as a woman called out SHOW YOURSELF -
Lena took a deep breath, the only thing she could hear was her pulse roaring in her ears as she whispered a don’t look to Kara, and rose up from behind the chest. She reached out with her left hand, the outline of her fingers splayed wide, crisp against the blue-white charge blinking into existence in her palm in a split second. Without second guessing herself, she fired.
The cannon in the gauntlet hummed with a sizzling crackle of a concussive blast that rattled her to the bone. A bolt of superheated plasma rocketed into her living room-and made contact with one of the Agents. His scream was cut short by the impact that was large enough to catch all five agents, shaking the entire house with a sickening squelch and crunch of wood and stone.
Fiona calmly informed her Five targets terminated as all hell broke loose.
Lena didn’t have time to think anymore, only to react. Her vision was a blur of blue from her rifle and green from the Cadmus agents. The bolts chipped away at the cedar chest and surrounding wall. Drywall dust and splinters flew all around her as she continued to pop out of her cover at odd intervals with Kara’s assistance with her x-ray vision. She could barely hear anything other than the powerful thmp of her firearm kicking back into her shoulder, the crunch of the returning volley around her, and Kara’s voice.
She didn’t want to be here.
She didn’t want to be holding this gun.
She didn’t want to be taking lives again .
But she couldn’t let them have Kara.
Wouldn’t let them take her without a fight.
Lena pushed her morals and humanity back with the happier memories of her friendship and let the cool, calculatingly cruel numbness she had learned from the Luthors take over. It made her feel sick to her stomach, but its what she needed to do.
These Cadmus agents weren’t human anymore, they were simply targets to be eliminated.
Lena briefly spared herself the wry thought that she was going to need a lot of therapy after this, and hunkered down again to vent the thermal discharge of her rifle. An unfortunate design flaw that would cost her precious seconds.
“Lena, they are coming up the stairs-” Kara warned as the thunder of boots ran towards them.
She was about to tell her to get back as the gauntlet began to charge for its second bolt, but Kara looked at her with wild afraid eyes and a set jaw. It started as a pinprick in the center of her pupil, a white hot coal. The solar energy that Kara had been soaking up bled into her irises in a ring of red, then to a bright white as the familiar blue disappeared. Her brow pulled low in a furrow as the heat filled her vision, and Kara powered to her feet.
Lena would never forget the way Kara’s heat vision sizzled as it shot from her eyes and impacted the bodies she couldn’t see.
It only lasted a moment, and then Kara was ducking down behind the chest again with a shell-shocked expression and the glowing skin around her eyes steaming. Fiona piped up over their earpieces that the Cadmus agents were incapacitated, but not dead. Kara’s shoulders drooped in relief.
“I was aiming for their guns.” She told Lena in an unsteady voice.
Lena leaned down and pressed a firm kiss to the top of her head. “Keep trying to do that if you want, but you don’t have to fight. Let me protect you.”
Kara nodded tightly but didn’t say a word. Lena wanted to press for a more clear answer but Fiona was chiming in their ear again that one of the incapacitated agents was pulling out another stun grenade to throw at them. She didn’t hesitate to pop back up over the chest again, the bolt from her rifle catching him square in the chest. His body jerked awkwardly with the impact and the activated grenade fell from his limp hand, going off at the foot of the stairs with a pop and blinding flash of light.
“ Cadmus agents have breached your bedroom, Miss Luthor .”
Lena bit out a swear and hauled Kara to her feet. “Let’s go, Kara. Don’t let the green touch you, it’s kryptonite.”
Kara garbled something in distress that sounded like the red shawl in her bedroom, but there was no time to save family heirlooms. They stumbled around the ruined chest and down the stairs. It was a frantic scramble from any available form of cover to the next as Lena worked a tight circuit around the open floor plan of her living room, kitchen, and dining area with Kara close behind. A tricky dance with no beat to follow as they hid from more kryptonite fire and a few agents that got brave enough to try to tackle her to the ground. Their barks of orders bounced around her home and when one got too close, Kara zipped out from behind Lena and tripped him up in the blink of an eye. Before the agent tumbled to the ground Kara grabbed him by the shoulder straps of his protective vest and bodily threw him into another agent hard . The men crumpled to the ground in a heap and didn’t move. In one heart-stopping moment of fear when her foot slipped on something dark and wet, a bolt of green passed just in front of her nose in a crackle of energy. Kara lobbed one of the metal kitchen stools in the direction the bolt came from and a woman screamed in pain. They formed a new pattern, tag-teaming with Kara using the environment to stun and Lena her rifle to take down the Cadmus agents.
Lena had just scrambled to a new cabinet corner to hide behind, but wasn’t quite quick enough. A green bolt caught her in the front of her right shoulder, thankfully glancing off her protective shielding but the force knocked her flat on her back and her rifle slid away from her. She still felt the force of the impact, and it hurt . It nearly knocked the breath from her lungs but she had the clarity to grab the pistol off her thigh and point it towards the Cadmus agent who shot her. Lena bared her teeth in a snarl as she thumbed the safety and her finger squeezed around the trigger with her heart in her throat-
Kara blinked into existence right in front of the Cadmus agent in a blur of dark navy and soft glowing red, the blonde tail of her braid whipping around with her speed. Her fist cracked across the agent’s jaw and Lena heard the audible snap of the bone breaking before he crumpled to the floor in an unmoving heap. Then gunfire, real gunfire from a handgun. Kara’s hands darted out, catching some or swatting them down and into the floor with loud cracks . Lena saw the agent peeking in from the broken living room glass and swung her gun around with a squeeze of the trigger. The static jolting leap of the pistol firing in her hand shook all the way up her arm as her visor dimmed with each muzzle flash. She thought she had missed him, but Kara took a step towards him and brought her hands together in a clap.
A supersonic wave rippled out from Kara’s hands shattering the windows in the kitchen and forcing Lena back a few feet, her protective armor grinding on the dark hardwood floor. But the wave pushed her into a better angle, and the hunkered down Cadmus agent came into view as he fought against the unexpected gale. Lena squeezed the trigger once, hitting his shoulder and pushing him back. She squeezed again, hitting him square in the center of his protective vest. Then aiming as carefully as she could, she shot a third time. His body jerked back and he clapped a hand over the side of his neck. The agent pointed his gun at her as he staggered to the side, but Kara was there. Sweeping her up and out of harm’s way with ease.
“ There are eight remaining intruders inside the house .”
Lena felt like a scrambled up mess of adrenaline and panic as Kara set her back on her feet in the kitchen. She was tired. She was wired. She was jittery. She was hot and sweaty and exhausted and still so afraid. And there were still more people trying to kill her and take Kara.
She didn’t have time to panic.
Kara turned and looked around them as she ejected the nearly spent magazine, tossing it next to her stand mixer and replaced it with a fresh one. Lena slapped the pistol back onto her thigh and retrieved her rifle with her mind already churning out options.
“Target location?” She muttered, crouching down and out of sight as she vented the thermal discharge.
“ Two outside the front door. One near the living room. Two in the down stairs. Three on the second floor. ”
Lena checked the charges on her gauntlet.
If she was correct in her assumptions, she would save that last blast for the platoon truck. More specifically, the person inside.
“Okay. Okay, this is doable. Um.”
The creeping numbness started picking at the edges of her concentration. She shook her head in an attempt to clear it. Her shoulder was annoyingly sore, but there wasn’t any damage to her suit other than a gouge in the plating.
“Right. Eight more.” Lena mumbled, and reached out to touch Kara on the knee. “Eight more. Are you okay?”
Kara shook her head in a firm no. “I don’t like this, Lena.”
“I know, I know I’m so sorry. It’ll be over soon, I promise.”
Lena couldn’t see her expression too well, but Kara knew it was an empty platitude. Their breather ended abruptly as the remaining Cadmus agents stormed them all at once in an attempt to catch them off guard. Lena fuzzed her emotions out again and brought the muzzle of her rifle to bear. Everything fell into chaos in the blink of an eye. Lena relied on a mix of instinct, minimal training, and Kara. Kara who zipped in and out of the fray like a static illusion of distraction, dodging kryptonite blasts and the Cadmus agents if they got too close to give Lena openings to take a shot. Her right shoulder ached and she felt overheated and chilled at the same time, but she kept going.
The agents dropped slowly, felled one by one at the end of Lena’s gun until the last man clawed his way out of the front door with a whimper and a knee facing the wrong direction thanks to a sharp kick from Kara. They hunkered down, rigidly tense as they listened to the man crawl awkwardly onto the front porch and cry for help.
The diesel engine of the platoon truck rumbled closer again, drowning out the agent’s pitiful wailing as the high beams brightly illuminated the front hall. Lena took those precious seconds to vent her rifle and checked the pistol on her thigh one more time. Then, she started cycling the gauntlet for its last charge at a low stand-by frequency. Kara appeared at her elbow with a dull, wide-eyed look.
“I think I can fly us away.” She rasped. Lena tried not to look at the speck of what was probably blood on her chin.
“Go. Find Superman. Stick to the tree line. I can pause them long enough for you to get away.” She took a step towards the door instead of taking Kara up on the risk. She was too important to let her fall into Cadmus’s grasp, and Lena didn’t want to slow her down.
A firm hand caught her by the elbow and pulled her back. Lena stumbled a little, but there was no use in fighting Kara. She could have pulled away, Kara was holding her loose enough and wouldn’t hurt her if she tried, but a little voice in the back of her head was telling her to see what would happen. She pivoted, and nearly crashed right into her friend, not realizing how close they were standing.
Kara’s hand let go of her elbow and she reached up with both, brushing her trembling knuckles against the line of Lena’s jaw. Her visor illuminated her face, showing every millimeter of stress and worry in a drawn expression. Her eyes were still so blue, but flat. Sad. The crinkle between her brow deepened and she looked down, tilting her head forward until her forehead pressed into Lena’s over her visor.
“ Don’t .”
Lena felt her breath puff across her chin and it yanked her back to the present and out of the numbness. Her blood still felt like it was mostly composed of adrenaline, but she could feel other aches from contusions starting to form. She could feel exhaustion clawing at her bones and driving needles into her muscles.
“ Multiple targets approaching. ”
She was just about to reach up to hold on to Kara, but Fiona’s ever-helpful nature had them stepping apart.
“Really, Kara. You should leave.” Lena checked her gauntlet one more time. “It's the safe and logical thing to do.”
Kara snorted humorlessly. “Logical responses resulted in the death of my planet. No. I will not leave you.”
Lena was about about to fuss at her and try to send her away one more time-
“ Lena, darling. It’s time to give up .”
Ice poured down Lena’s spine.
“Who is that?”
Lena swallowed down acid. She couldn’t even catch Kara’s eye, she was afraid that if she looked at her she would take her up on her offer to run.
Kara shifted uneasily next to her and Lena checked her gauntlet, enacting the coding to tie to her suit’s vitals that if she were to get hurt-it would fire. Not quite a dead man’s switch, but close enough. Lena looked towards the brightly lit front hallway. The smell of diesel exhaust started encroaching into her wrecked home.
“You can still go.”
Lena didn’t mean for it to sound pleading, or for her voice to threaten to crack, but it did and she sounded small and scared.
And she was.
She set her shoulders and started towards the front door, her heart nearly breaking when she heard Kara follow after her without hesitation.
That walk from her ruined kitchen to the front hallway and into the platoon truck’s high beams was the longest walk of her life. Her visor dimmed to protect her eyes and she kept walking, picking out the tall slender form of her mother standing on the edge of her front walk. As Lena stepped over the threshold she raised her hand and pointed the cannon on her palm right at Lillian.
“ Leave .”
Lillian’s face drew into a calculating smirk. “You should have shot when you had the chance.”
There was movement out of the corner of her eye, something large and dark barreling towards her-and then the bright flash of Kara’s heat vision as she dropped the charging Cadmus agent. She felt her step closer and whisper, I won’t leave . Lillian nearly broke into a full grin and shifted comfortably on her stylish heels. She looked formidable in her long coat despite the warm night.
“ Ah . There you are.”
Lena remained firm, bolstered by Kara’s support. There were still seven agents with kryptonite weapons and Lena only had one gauntlet blast if she could make it count. She didn’t want to shoot Lillian. She didn’t even know if she could. Maybe if she shot the truck engine the force would knock them all over and Kara could knock the other agents out.
“ Leave .” Lena repeated.
“Not without your friend there. She is very valuable and would be a great asset.”
“You mean a great lab rat.”
Lillian pursed her lips. “You always had a harsh way with words.”
“Harsh words? You know I’m more capable than that, mother . You should see what I did to your men.” The words were raw and gravelly in her chest.
Lillian smiled cruelly. “Just like your father.”
The words cut deeper than she would have liked.
“Now. Be a good daughter and give me the Kryptonian. I won't ask again.”
There were a whole slew of words that Lena wanted to shout, but all she managed was- “ No .”
Lillian sighed in mock resignation. “Very well, we’ll do it your way.”
Lena watched carefully, just about to cycle the gauntlet into its last charge-but Lillian paused. She tilted her head away with her hand coming up to her ear-and then swore softly.
“It seems I don’t get to have any fun today.” She started walking back towards the platoon truck as nonchalantly as she had appeared, but the disappointment and frustration was a strong undercurrent that Lena could pick out. “Your little friends are fast. I had thought I had done enough damage at that poorly organized excuse of a government office. Ah, well. There’s always next time.”
Lena almost couldn’t breathe. “There won’t be a next time.”
One of the Cadmus agents opened the cab passenger door for Lillian, but she turned and looked one last time at them. The headlight lit her face for the first time, severe in it’s lines and features, her eyes a dangerous flinty black.
“You can’t outrun me forever, Lena. I will have that Kryptonian.”
Kara stepped around her right side and slid in front of her, still mindful of Lena’s extended arm. She could hear the low sizzle of Kara’s eyes warming with her heat vision.
“I can outrun your gun. I am faster than your bullets.”
Lillian’s expression turned curious as Kara spoke into the tense air between them in her heavily accented speech. Despite Kara’s harsh tone and protective posture, she smiled widely in a way that Lena hadn’t seen before. It made her hair stand on end.
“We’ll see about that , Kryptonian .”
Lillian’s low and threatening tone almost had Lena pulling the trigger, but she balked. Part of her wanted to shoot now while her mother and the Cadmus agents were all climbing back into the truck, the small cries of the last injured agent carrying over the engine as they loaded him into the rear. She had the chance to eliminate an enemy that would only come back to hurt them…
...but a larger annoying part of her told her it would be the wrong thing to do.
Just when she had talked herself out of being nice and was about to discharge the final blast, Kara reached back and gently pushed her back into the house.
“Kar-no wait we need to stop them .” She hissed, hot anger roiling up in her belly when Kara pulled her arm down and backed them into the front hallway.
The Kryptonian didn’t say a word until the truck reversed and tore out of Lena’s front lawn and back into the woods. Lena watched the red tail lights vanish into the black in dismay. With the high beams of the platoon truck gone, the only light available to them on that cloudy night was the soft red glow from Kara’s suit. They breathed steadily for a long tense moment.
“You are not your mother, Lena.” Kara murmured.
The fight in Lena’s body drained from her as the illusion of safety finally settled. She deactivated the gauntlet. Then. Low in the distance, the pulsing thump of DEO helicopters approaching. Lena took a wild guess, searching for anything concrete to latch onto after what had just happened.
“Is that why you stayed? You could hear them coming to us?”
Kara spun around and Lena was face to face with her a second time that evening. “ No . I stayed because you are my friend , Lena. My important friend.”
Her heart twanged in a way she wasn’t used to and Lena finally let her shoulders relax. She ignored the urge to lean forward and ask Kara to hug her, and stepped back into the house bringing her rifle to bear. They still weren’t quite safe.
“ Agents who were able to flee are no longer present. All remaining threats are incapacitated or neutralized. ”
Without even doubting her, Lena replaced the rifle onto her back and trudged into the kitchen as Fiona continued to privately inform her of the details of their fire fight. Kara followed her, still more alert and on edge as she reached into one of her cabinets charred with blaster fire and pulled out her emergency candles. The generators that hadn’t been compromised were still keeping her lab stable, but that was it. She took a moment to arrange the candles around her kitchen and light them, slowly illuminating the ruined space in a warm golden glow.
“I want to check the house.” Kara piped up, already shuffling out of the kitchen.
Lena nodded. “Be careful.”
Kara pressed her lips together in a serious line, and then she vanished without a sound. Lena stared into the empty space for a long moment, and then once she blinked herself back into a more clear headed state of mind she removed her helmet with tired fingers. It felt good to take it off and she immediately felt about ten degrees cooler. She had to take another long moment to let her eyes adjust to the darker candle lit room. There were footsteps in the hallway and Kara reappeared.
Lena just nodded and retrieved one of the half-drunk bottles of scotch that hadn’t been damaged from her liquor cabinet. Kara watched her closely as she checked the legs of the solid kitchen table, and then levered herself up onto it with a tired groan. She settled, letting her feet dangle, and beckoned Kara over.
“C’mere. You can sit.” She pulled the cork stopper out and took a large sip directly from the bottle. The alcohol warmed her all the way down her chest to her belly.
Kara joined her and sat close, tugging the pistol off Lena’s thigh so it wouldn’t be between them. Lena offered her the bottle and watched her take a small sip with a grimace, and then a second larger sip before passing it back.
“I’ll have to find you some Aldebaran rum. That’s what your cousin likes.” She told Kara around the mouth of the scotch bottle.
“Does it taste as bad as that?” She griped, sticking her tongue out in disgust.
Lena laughed tiredly and took another sip. “I wouldn’t know. It’s too strong for humans to safely digest even in small quantities. Instant alcohol poisoning.”
Kara hummed in thought and took the bottle from Lena again, allowing herself another large swig. She still grimaced, but at least she didn’t act like she wanted to wipe her tongue off a second time. After Lena took it back she held out her free hand in an open offer-and Kara took it. Kara even laced their fingers together, even though Lena couldn’t feel it too well through her gloves, and tucked their joined hands between them. Lena finally took a real look at her and realized she had found her mother’s shawl. It sparkled around her broad shoulders from the broken glass of her bedroom window.
“Is that okay?” She bumped their shoulders together, nodding towards the shawl. “And your ship?”
“I- oh . Yes. Undamaged. And you were right, it stayed safe.”
Her voice sounded dangerously flat and Lena squeezed her hand hard to catch her attention. Kara gently answered the squeeze and met her gaze. Lena eased on the pressure of her grip a little and pressed in close.
“ Hey . Good job. You did a good job . You didn’t kill anyone.”
“How do you know?”
Kara’s eyes were so wide and so sacred Lena almost pulled her into a hug. “Fiona briefed me while you checked the house.”
It wasn’t a lie, Kara hadn’t outright taken a life. Lena had taken that burden from her. Kara searched her face as her brow pulled low with the familiar expression of sorrow she had worn almost constantly after Lena had found her.
“But you did.”
Lena couldn’t look at her in that moment and leaned back to stare blankly ahead as she raised the bottle of scotch to her lips again. “It was necessary.”
An uneasy silence settled on their shoulders and Lena offered the bottle back. Kara took it without hesitation and took a huge gulp. “I wish this worked.” She groused.
The almost whiny complaint caught Lena off guard and she barked a laugh, rough and from her chest. It hurt her already scratchy throat from her earlier yelling and she stifled it with another pull from the bottle. The swish of the helicopter blades grew closer and in a blinding flashing of lightening, the heavens opened up in a downpour. Kara jumped with the startling crack of thunder and Lena held her hand tighter. Her grip was just about the only thing keeping Lena from sinking into the ground.
They waited on the kitchen table, Fiona patching Agent Danvers through as they swept around the house. From there on it was a mess of more armed agents, this time the trusted of the DEO, filling her house and beginning the documentation and messy clean up. When an agent came to talk to her about filing the paperwork for a quote to make repairs at the expense of the department, Lena just shook her head and said that she would facilitate the move to a new location on her own to prevent a paper trail. At one point, Superman finally showed up and swept Kara and Lena into a quick hug before rushing off to help the DEO attempt to track Lillian and her escort. When the bodies of the Cadmus agents had been removed and the ones who were still alive were stabilized and arrested, Agent Danvers finally approached them. It was the second time Lena had seen her in her full tactical gear soaked to the bone, and it was dredging up old memories of a chilly night.
Agent Danvers stopped in front of them and dripped on the floor, and Lena found herself mildly annoyed about it. It was apparently the safest thing for her inebriated brain to latch onto. But the agent just eyed the now empty bottle next to Kara’s hip with a disapproving look.
“Your property and the surrounding woods are secured. Querl Dox is still tracking Lillian from a distance in his ship to try to find out where they’re headed.”
“Will I be afforded the luxury of learning how deep she got her hooks into you?” Lena asked, wrinkling her numb nose and then rubbing at jt with her knuckles as her usual poise decided not to show up.
Agent Danvers pressed her lips together for a beat and shrugged. “Not as bad as we thought, but well placed. We’ve already started a full department overhaul.”
Lena nodded, glad that it wasn’t the complete shit-show she had expected. “Good. What do you need from me? Where’s Director J’onzz?”
“At the DEO. And, well…” Agent Danvers paused and cut her eyes towards Kara, who had decided that was the best time to rest her head on Lena’s shoulder.
“Now we collect Miss Zor-El and move her to a new secure location. Her safety here is compromised, and so is yours.”
“Why does this sound like bad news?” Lena sighed and wished for some more to drink. She had a strong feeling about where this was about to go.
“Now that the insubordinate agents have been removed, the DEO is now capable of taking Miss Zor-El into protective custody under a new name. And… Lena? She would be safer away from you until we can figure out what Cadmus is doing.”
Kara pressed in tighter and Lena felt like Alex had punched her in her sternum. She knew it was what she was going to say, and she knew it was going to happen at some point. But now ? So soon? Lena swallowed against the burn of tears for the first time that night, unable to stop herself from physically drooping. That last little ember of warmth from the closeness of her best friend and the alcohol was scooped out, leaving her feeling cold and hollow. She swallowed thickly and licked the cloying sweetness of the scotch off her lips.
Agent Danvers nodded and beckoned towards Kara. “Let’s go pack up your things so we can get going.”
For one heartbreaking moment, Lena thought Kara would tell her no. But with a gentle squeeze of her hand she slid off the table and paused.
“I will be right back.”
Lena nodded, unable to trust her voice or her ability to keep her emotions in check after a harrowing twenty-ish minutes and sluggish hour just sitting on her kitchen table. Kara gave her a lingering worried look and turned, leading Agent Danvers away. As Kara gathered her things Lena set up plans with Fiona’s assistance to clean, repair, and strip the house and property of her technology before listing it on the market. She also had her AI craft emails to her personal lawyer, her realtor, her insurance agent, her therapist, and Jess to call out sick the following three days. She also, as an afterthought, put in a request for her private physician to come to her loft in downtown National City first thing in the morning. Knowing how she felt now , Lena was sure she was going to be ordered bed rest for at least a day.
With all of those emails quickly dictated and sent, Lena eased herself off the table and shuffled over to her fridge. It wouldn’t be worth trying to save the food inside, and threw the door open to find something to help her sober up a little. While the numbness of the alcohol had helped temporarily dull the mess in her head, and the clawing urge to continue to follow it had her by the back of the neck, she needed to replace the energy the adrenaline and fear from the fight had drained her of. A DEO agent had brought in a battery powered construction light for the room and Lena pointed it at her fridge so she could see. She peeled off her gloves and started pulling out containers of leftovers and fruits and drinks, leaving the lower carb vegetables and other raw ingredients. She had just pulled out a small soft cooler she rarely used when Kara came back down the stairs, still in her suit but her shawl most likely tucked into the black duffle bag in her grip.
“What is this?” Kara asked as she slid back into Lena’s space like it was any normal night during meal time. It was comforting to feel her so close again.
“If you aren’t hungry now, you will be soon.” Lena explained, and started to load most of the food into the soft cooler, leaving out her leftover lo mein and a bottle of water for herself. “Go grab yourself some silverware and napkins, and anything out of the pantry. I know we still have some of those choco cookies you like.”
It would be reasonable to let the DEO feed Kara from now on, but she felt compelled to take care of her one last time. Kara hesitated for a moment but set her duffle bag on the table and did as Lena suggested, getting herself some silverware and snacks to pack away as well. Lena tucked in bottles of water where she could and tetris'd everything neatly together. Once everything was in, she zipped it up with quick tugs.
“Keep the cooler, it will probably come in handy later.” Lena murmured and slid it next to Kara’s duffle.
“Querl Dox is on his way. Two minutes and then we lift off out front. Don’t make me have to come back in here. Please.” Agent Danvers told them quietly, and then walked out of the house and back into the rain.
They didn’t say anything for a long moment.
The rain beat down on the world around them as the whine of the helicopter's rotors started up again. Thunder rumbled through the house, making everything shake. Lena remembered that first fateful night again and how miserable and cold she had been. Now she was hot and tired and worse than miserable.
“Change comes with the rain.” She croaked, annoyed with the coincidence. She licked her dry lips and shored up her resolve.
Lena turned towards Kara and held out her hand to shake. “I’ll see you soon, Kara Zor-El.”
Kara took one look at Lena’s outstretched hand, then her drawn face, and pushed her hand aside to engulf her in a full body hug. Lena melted into her immediately and held her close, ignoring the smell of sweat and plasticky body suit armor. It was awkward in the suits, but it felt really nice and Lena wished that she didn't have to let go. Before it lasted too long, Lena patted her back and carefully extricated herself. Tears were rolling down Kara’s cheeks and Lena reached up to thumb them away. Her skin was warm and smooth.
“I’ll see you soon.” She repeated, wiping another tear away with the pad of her thumb.
“When is soon?” Kara asked her, her mouth twisting painfully for a split second.
“When Agent Danvers says it’s safe enough.”
Kara nodded but her expression told Lena that was the wrong answer. But she couldn’t give her the answer they both wanted. She breathed in deeply and backed out of Lena’s space, furiously scrubbing at her face with her hands and then picking up her duffle bag and Lena’s cooler. She looked directly at her and spoke in a deep reverent tone in her heavy-consonants from her home long gone.
“ May Rao guide you and keep you safe, may you walk in his light with humility and love. You kept me safe and sheltered me in my time of need, and I will never forget your kindness. By Rao’s will, I will see you again, Lena Luthor. My friend, my companion. ”
Lena’s tears were a lump in her throat and all she could do was nod.
Kara set her shoulders, gave her one more kind look of affection, and walked out the door.
Lena listened to her footsteps disappear into the rain, the shouts at the helicopter, and then the rotors speeding up until the blades were a roar and carried them up into the night sky. She listened to them fly away until the only thing she could hear was the rain and the radios of the DEO agents in her home. It still wasn’t the right time to let herself cry, so Lena forced herself to eat the cold chinese food and drink the entire bottle of water.
She was on autopilot for the next two hours as she gathered up the important things that her bug out coding hadn’t fried, some of her clothing, any paperwork she needed, and loaded them into one of the black sleek cars she kept in the garage. Thankfully it had been undamaged and she was feeling decent enough to drive after eating and giving herself some time. Before she left, she went down to the hangar to Kara’s pod and carefully boxed up all of the components she had been fiddling with, securely enclosed them inside the cockpit. There was still some open panelling exposing the guts of the ship, so she recruited two agents to help her tie a heavy plastic blue tarp over it before allowing them to open the roof bay doors and hook it up. The sonic hum of the braniac ship hovering above them was something she was still getting used to even years later.
Kara’s pod was lifted up and into Querl’s ship to be taken to the DEO, and then Lena was free to go. Before she left she poked around in the liquor cabinet one last time, finding and rescuing a few more bottles and some sentimental items from there and around the house. Once that was all in the sleek car with a chance to come back after everything was cleaned, Lena climbed in with her weapons and helmet on the passenger seat, and peeled out of the garage and into the rain.
The drive into National City wasn’t a terrible one, but Lena was tired and the rain wasn’t making things any easier. The digital clock was telling her it was almost 3am again and she sped up once she made it off of the back roads and onto the highway. Carefully making sure she adhered to the speed limit, not wanting to draw the attention of a state trooper or police officer, Lena carefully navigated her way into the city. There were barely any cars on the road and she passed one late night express bus, but made it safely into her private garage of her building.
Knowing that she would regret leaving the items in her car later, she spent the extra energy loading everything onto the stopped personal elevator, and then shoving it into her foyer once she got up there. As a second thought, she moved it all just inside her front door as a precaution. It could all be dealt with later, but at least now she didn’t have to make an extra trip. Next was a scalding hot shower that steamed up her mirror. Lena deliberately left the exhaust fan off so she didn’t have to look at herself. She already knew she was going to have nightmares that night, she didn’t need a visual reminder in her own eyes about it.
Against her better judgement after finally brushing her teeth and layering herself in comfortable clothes against the chilly air conditioner, Lena dug one of the rescued bottles out of the stack of stuff by the door, and set herself up in a nest on the chic white couch in her living room.
Lena drank until she sank into nothingness.
Lena’s personal physician had shown up a little before six in the morning, barely an hour after Lena had showered, and didn’t scold her too harshly when she let herself in and found her slumped in the corner of the couch cradling a bottle of scotch. Lena barely remembered the meeting, but her doctor wrote her a note on the back of an envelope for her informing her that she was just bruised and to try to rest with a request to call her if the pain in her shoulder got worse. There was also a small note telling her that she may have said some sensitive things regarding a friend, and that she would be getting in touch with Lena’s lawyer to make sure she was helping to protect this other individual, and herself for even knowing about her. It was embarrassing, and Lena texted her an apology with a roaring headache later that evening after sleeping most of the day away.
She ended up taking those full three days to rest, and in some sense to mourn her temporarily suspended friendship, before returning to L-Corp later that week. Jess had been sending her updates and her department heads had held down the fort during her brief absence. It felt strange to be completely alone again. She missed having someone to cook with and to talk to, and almost embarrassingly missed having the comfort of someone sleeping next to her. When Lena did go back to L-Corp she started working ungodly hours again to try to minimize being alone, even if it was just the fact that she knew building security and the janitorial services were the only other people up on the top floor. There was still too much to catch up on before she could allow herself the luxury of spending times down in the basement labs, but she went down during the day when she could.
The nightmares did return, and she quickly made an appointment with her therapist before she worked herself into a numb and frazzled mess. There were some things she couldn’t talk about while her lawyer handled the nastier legal side of things in conjunction with the DEO, but it was without a doubt a case of extreme self defense. Right now she needed to make sure that she remained functional at a more reasonable level. Functional was a more realistic goal.
Another little habit that Lena started getting into the practice of was slipping the earpiece in that she had worn that fateful night, hoping that Kara still had its partner. She checked it when she got up in the morning, when she forced herself to stop and eat something in the middle of the day, when she finally got home for the evening, and right before she went to bed. All she wanted was a confirmation that her friend was safe, but the only answer she got was static. Even Agent Danvers was giving her empty answers. She lost a little hope when Querl Dox visited her at L-Corp one evening three weeks after that night to return the stray earpiece, informing her that they had cleaned and checked over it for any damage.
Lena almost threw it off her balcony.
It had been a few long weeks since the partner to her earpiece had been returned.
Lena had put them away in her lab at L-corp, out of sight and properly logged into her inventory. Just another pair of communication tools. She started balancing her hours out again, making sure that she actually went home at the reasonable hour of nine o’clock. In fact, she had decided to go home a whole two hours early to make herself dinner instead of ordering out again. Lena had discovered she missed cooking, but once she started preparing her ingredients she lost the motivation and ordered a pizza. It just wasn’t the same without Kara.
She had just started setting up her home workbench when her phone dinged that the proximity alarm had been set off.
It was the last thing Lena wanted to deal with that night.
There was a very small list of people who were allowed access to her home, and no one had informed her that they would be showing up that evening. Her heart leapt into her throat as her body kicked into overdrive, ready to fight to protect herself in a split second. It was a terrible thing that it was so easy for her to do that now. Lena knelt and quickly keyed in to the small safe under her desk, hidden by the metal cabinet full of small pieces of sorted hardware. She stood back up with a petite handgun in her grip, sliding the ammunition into place. Lena could already feel the creeping cold of fear heavy in the pit of her stomach and the heat of panic prickling across her skin.
There was a knock from her balcony door.
From… her balcony ?
Five hundred feet up from the streets of National City?
Dread curdled in her belly when Superman popped into her head. Was he here to give her bad news? Good news?
Lena held the pistol down by her hip and slunk back out into the dim hallway, still keeping the safety on as a precaution. The hardwood was cold against her bare feet, noting that if it had been an unwanted guest Fiona would have informed her. It made her feel slightly better. She rounded the corner with a steadying breath-
-and gawked at the familiar worried face of Kara Zor-El through the glass door.
They stared at each other for an endless moment and for just one second, Lena thought she was dreaming. And then Kara’s bright squinty smile stretched across her face and she abandoned the firearm on her kitchen counter to run across the room, rip the door open, and collide into the very real form of her best friend.
Kara wrapped her arms around her and Lena finally felt safe for the first time in over a month.
“You’re here .” She whispered and held her tighter, curling her arms around her ribs and tucking her face into the crook of her neck.
Kara responded by squeezing her just a little closer and smushed her face into the side of Lena’s head with a happy sigh. She smelled like floral shampoo and metallic ozone. The warm summer night was quiet around them as they hugged each other fiercely, broken only by the sounds of traffic far below. Finally, Lena couldn’t stand it anymore and had to actually look at her. She had to confirm that her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her and loosened her hold, taking a half step back to reassure herself that Kara was there.
She was .
“You’re okay.” She breathed in relief.
Kara nodded and smiled again, her hair windswept and loosely curled around her broad shoulders. “Alex has been helping me.” And then her smile drooped into a frown. “She would not let me come see you.”
Lena let her hands rest politely on her trim waist and gave her a little of a firm nudge. “She’s stubborn, but it was the right thing to do.”
Kara pursed her lips together in a truly inelegant fashion. “I can be sneaky.”
Lena couldn’t help but laugh and took another moment to check her over. She was still wearing the suit that she had given her that terrible night, but the heavy chest armor had been removed and the gauntlets and greaves had been altered to be more sleek and form fitting. The neckline of her suit was now square, and a deep red cape brushed the back of her heels. As a finishing touch, the House of El crest was clear on her chest in a lighter navy with matching red and yellow piping. She looked rather noble and handsome.
“Did Querl help you with your suit?”
Kara took a quick glance down at herself, her hands still warm on Lena’s shoulders and nodded. “And Kal helped too. I have not been able to see him, but I have a phone now too so I can call or text him whenever I want.”
Before Lena could speak, Kara fumbled with a hidden pocket on the back of her hip and pulled out a sleek cellphone.
“I was hoping to exchange phone numbers, that is, if you would-”
Lena tugged the phone out of her hand and quickly unlocked it by pressing Kara’s thumb to it before she could finish whatever self-depreciating sentence was still half in her mouth. “Of course I would.”
Kara’s jaw clicked shut and Lena quickly created a new contact with her personal number and email. Once she made sure it was saved, she locked the phone and handed it back to a slightly bashful Kryptonian.
“Please don’t ever doubt our friendship, Kara. I hope we can continue to be friends for a long time.”
“Good. I do too.” Kara grinned again, and then lit up brightly as she remembered- “I am staying here, in National City! We can go to Noonan’s cafe soon.”
Lena blinked at the sudden whiplash, ecstatic that Kara would be so close but, “You haven’t gone yet?”
“You said that you would take me. I wanted to wait for you.” Kara shrugged, carefully stowing her phone away again.
Lena laughed and poked at her shoulder.
“And you said you would eat twenty stickybuns.”
Kara nodded easily. “Yes. And I still plan to do so.”
Lena was about to ask her when she would like that to be when the low wail of a siren started down by the docks. The warm moment of reunion paused between them as Kara tilted her head to listen. She gave Lena an apologetic look and hunched her shoulders in a shrug.
“I am helping Kal and Superwoman. A way to help, since I have to be careful with earth’s sciences.” She admitted.
Lena stamped down her disappointment, but the overwhelming relief that she would still have her best friend reassured her that everything would all be okay. She drew Kara in for one last quick hug, and took a solid step back.
“Don’t be a stranger, Kara Zor-El.”
Kara grinned crookedly as thunder rumbled in the distance. “You are my friend. Fate pushed us together, it would be cruel to fight it.”
Kara leaned in and pressed a kiss to the top of Lena’s forehead, her feet already starting to leave the ground.
“I’ll see you soon.”
And then she was rising into the air as a warm drizzle fell from the cloudy sky. Lena waved as she vanished into the night with a dramatic snap of her new cape. She watched the direction Kara had flown in until the rain pushed her inside, her phone already lighting up with a text from an unknown number and the emoji of a donut. Lena smiled giddy at her phone and saved the contact under simply, Kara . She returned her emoji with a single red heart.
“See you soon, Kara.”