Chapter 1: Chapter 1
With bated breath, Lena Luthor trained her gun on the small blue-grey disturbance in the air in the entrance hallway of her apartment. It resolved into a human sized opening.
Out of it stepped a middle aged man with a dignified bearing and distinguished looks. The portal closed behind him. His first action was to straighten his clothes. Then he saw Lena and his eyes widened. He clicked his heels together and bowed.
Either he was a very polite assassin, or he wasn’t an assassin at all. Lena lowered the gun a little.
“I greet you,” her visitor said mellifluously, paying no attention to her weapon. “I am Zor El. I seek Lena Luthor.”
“You’ve found her,” Lena said warily.
He bowed again. “I am from Krypton.”
Lena blinked. “What?!”
He held up a cellphone sized device and a hologram of the universe appeared between them. He walked through it. “We are here.” He pointed at where Lena could just about distinguish Earth’s solar system on a tiny scale. “Krypton is here.” He pointed a considerable distance away.
“But why are you here?”
“Your name was mentioned on Krypton by ... an intelligence resource,” Zor El said. “Others are investigating how this could have happened. I, on the other hand, was curious about you. So I decided to come.” He made the hologram disappear and put his device away.
Lena frowned. “I don’t understand. How and why should my name possibly be of any interest to anyone on Krypton?”
Zor El began to look self conscious. “Well, you see,” he said, “on Krypton we have something called a Matrix ...”
Lena stared at the man she had now acknowledged, at least for now, as her guest. “So Krypton’s Matrix has named me, a non-Kryptonian whose information should not be available to it, as a match for your daughter? How can that even be possible?”
“That is what we do not know,” Zor El acknowledged. He was now seated on the couch with a glass of apple tea, which he sipped decorously but with every evidence of enjoyment. “As I said, others are investigating that. It has not occurred before, even with non-Kryptonians with whom we have diplomatic relations.”
Lena had the ghost of a theory. “How often does the Matrix produce these ... lists for people?”
“Once a solar revolution,” Zor replied.
“So the last time before this one was a year ago?”
Zor clasped his hands together as he did the math. “For you, that would be almost one and half of your Earth years.”
“I see.” The theory was less ghostlike though many details still escaped her.
Zor gave her an apologetic look. “This is not my first visit to Earth, of course. I had to be able to communicate with you. So I made a first, very brief visit here to a rural place. From there I was able to observe from afar how humans generally dressed while remaining unseen myself. On my second visit, also brief, I was able to dress somewhat similarly and move among them in an urban place. I thereby obtained a trove of information resources that included this language. After that I spent time at home digesting the information while learning the language. Only after that did I plan this visit.”
He paused. “My daughter is fascinated by the idea of you, an alien, being picked for her. Obviously, coming here without introduction or warning was a risk so I decided that I would forestall her taking it by coming myself instead.” He gave her a mischievous look that did more than anything to put Lena at ease. “She was not best pleased but she is currently involved in an urgent project at work to which she is indispensable. Naturally I took advantage of that to exercise my paternal prerogative and take the risk of first contact myself.”
“Naturally,” Lena agreed faintly, still gobsmacked.
Zor cleared his throat. “You are, of course, not bound by Krypton’s laws and customs. It is the socially accepted norm for Kryptonians to choose someone named by the Matrix to be matched with, but no one thinks you should feel in any way obliged to even consider my daughter. In fact, most people on Krypton expect that you will not participate despite being named and that my daughter will choose someone else from those who were named for her.”
“I’m open to discussing it,” Lena said. There was plenty of weird going round at the moment but she did not feel threatened and she was, among other things, fatally inquisitive. At least that was how Lillian had once ominously described her adoptive daughter’s predilection for seeking knowledge wherever and whenever she could. Lena preferred to think of it as a natural impetus towards to learning. And she very much wanted to know more right now. “At the moment, I neither like nor dislike the idea. I don’t know enough to form even a provisional opinion.”
“Indeed,” Zor said. “I thought we could begin by learning more about each other. Would that be agreeable?”
“It would indeed,” Lena murmured.
They became more comfortable with each other and established an informal understanding that neither would ask for or provide information they considered relevant to the security of their respective planets.
Lena was a little worried though she hid that from Zor. If Kryptonians had the ability to portal here in an instant, what was to stop them from coming over in force? Invading Earth? Shouldn’t she tell someone? Take precautions?
On the other hand, the reason Zor had provided for coming to her was so outlandish that Lena couldn’t help feeling an invasion was unlikely. If he were paving the way for one, there were many better approaches to many other people in many other places than coming to Lena Luthor's apartment with a proposal of marriage on behalf of his daughter. She also quite liked him. Besides it was all so weird and intriguing that the urge to find out more was irresistible.
But precautions never hurt, she decided. So after Zor left with the promise to return the next evening, she took them. She didn’t tell anyone about them or about Zor but by the time he arrived for his second visit, she had a small panic button in the pocket of her tailored trousers. If she pressed it, a number of protocols would be enacted that would, among other things, alert the right people with a succinct video and audio message from her and instructions as to how to access the countermeasures she had put in place. Those countermeasures included supersonic wave emitters that would incapacitate and cause pain but not kill – one was in the apartment behind a potted plant. Satisfied with that and a small number of handheld weapons in concealment around the apartment, she took up position in her living room at the appointed time in the evening.
The portal appeared and Lena held her breath.
Zor stepped through and paused.
“I greet you, Lena. As discussed, I have brought my daughter, Kara.” He turned back to the portal as another individual emerged, a fair-haired young woman. “Kara, this is Lena, who was so hospitable to me before.”
The portal disappeared, Zor took a step to the side and Lena got a good look at her new guest.
She inhaled and stared. On his last visit, Zor had not mentioned his daughter’s name.
Kara did not just stare. She also gasped and embarked on what appeared to be a full body blush if the colour creeping up her neck was anything to go by. “Oh Rao!” she breathed. Then she seemed to remember her manners and hastily sketched a little bow similar to her father’s.
Feeling a bit more confident, and her sense of piquancy aroused, Lena inclined her head and said, “Hello.”
Kara beamed at her. “I have practiced English with my father.”
Lena smiled back. “You sound very fluent so far.”
Kara beamed harder.
Lena told herself it was stupid to be charmed but it was impossible to deny the energetic goodwill directed at her.
Zor stood to the side, looking pleased in such a paternal way that Lena also found it impossible to deny that so far, his story was checking out.
She cleared her throat. “I thought that on this occasion it would be fitting for us to dine together. Do you care to join me? Would you like your wife to be here as well?”
“Alura has been most interested to meet you,” Zor informed her. “However her duties are presently onerous. If they were not, she would have accompanied us. She is regretful that she has not yet met you.”
Kara shot him a quick amused glance. “Tell Lena the full truth, Papa: she is envious of us!” She looked back at Lena eagerly and beamed again. “I think we should eat with Lena. It is only courteous since she has gone to all the effort.”
Lena chuckled. “This way, please. I didn’t know Kryptonians called their fathers ‘papa’.”
“We do not,” Kara said. “We use a formal word. But when I was learning English, I learned that there are affectionate informal words to call one’s family members. I liked this one very much.”
“Indeed,” Zor looked affectionately at his daughter. “She has been calling me that ever since. I have grown fond of it.”
At the table, Lena explained. “This food originates from a region almost diametrically opposite our location on this planet. We call it China. This is a leafy plant we call spinach, cooked with a fragrant bulb called garlic. These are pieces of meat from a domesticated fowl ...”
She went on to explain the dining utensils. To her delight, Zor and Kara ate without inhibition, pausing only to observe and imitate her table manners. They reminded her so much more of enthusiastic tourists than diplomats, spies or soldiers. They did not even check the food for toxicity, which would have been acceptable and even expected of extra-terrestrial visitors.
“I’m surprised,” she said, “that you seem unconcerned that human food might disagree with you.”
“We studied human biology after learning your language,” Kara explained. “Nothing you can eat would be toxic to us. I for one am very glad of that because everything here is delicious.” She helped herself unabashedly to more lemon chicken.
“We have also been learning about humans through a most helpful resource,” Zor smirked.
“Youtube,” Kara supplied with a huge grin before lifting another forkful of chicken to her mouth.
Lena choked back her laughter, completely disarmed. “Really?”
Kara nodded while chewing. She swallowed and jiggled happily in her seat. “Yes! Even when we deemed the content unimportant to us, it showed us how humans conduct themselves in formal and informal settings. Sometimes the content was interesting. We obtained some understanding of human science and the state of knowledge of those who work in it and those who do not. It gave us an idea of what historical events humans today consider relevant. Also we were exposed to the common vernacular English speakers use. We usually find it comprehensible although we ourselves do not feel able to use it much.”
“Your people are certainly varied and full of energy,” Zor observed. “In comparison Kryptonians will seem to you homogenous. For you it would be as if they represented but a single subset of a single race of Earth’s humans, yet our entire civilization, all told, numbers twice as many as the population on Earth.”
And that was sensitive information right there, imparted to her seemingly without a care. Lena decided that though she could not responsibly put her worries away entirely, she could relegate them to the backburner.
“I imagine that must be true for most peoples who have achieved regular interstellar space travel,” she suggested. “The resources necessary for that would require a united population so that they could be effectively and efficiently allocated. Not to mention that it would do a species no good to be encountering new and possibly hostile species of a similar level of advancement if it were not itself able to present a uniform front.”
There was a pause, during which Kara tried a potsticker. Her eyes grew round and big as she cast Lena an awed look. “These are wonderful!”
“No dumplings on Krypton?” Lena twinkled at her.
“No. Our food is good too but it is not like this! And this is just one meal from one culture on Earth.” Kara sounded very impressed. Actually she sounded like she was eager to sample the cuisine of all Earth’s cultures one by one.
They all relaxed and enjoyed themselves as a feeling of wellbeing pervaded the room.
Towards the end of dinner, Lena decided it was time to talk about delicate matters. “I have a theory,” she began, “about why all this has happened.”
“You do?” Zor was suddenly alert.
“Just over a year ago,” Lena told them, “something very unusual and terrible happened. Are you familiar with what we on Earth call multiverse theory?”
“Oh yes,” Kara had just swallowed yet another potsticker with an expression of bliss. “Only for us it is not a theory but fact. However no one on Krypton has actively pursued this field of study for some time. We have proved that other universes exist but we cannot observe them or travel to them. Well, not yet at least.”
“Well,” Lena continued, “a little over one Earth year ago, there was a ... tremendous ruction. That is to say, parallel universes were destroyed. However enough was saved for a single universe - this one. I am not certain whether it is a whole new universe or one that already existed and became ... modified. In any case, this universe seems to be comprised of … pieces, I suppose … of different universes that merged into a composite whole with a new but consistent single history so far as most people on Earth remember it. If you are unaware of this, then I must suppose that other sentients off Earth are mostly also unaware. The reason I am aware of it is that a few individuals, of which I am one, had their memories preserved.” She took a slow breath. “I was from a universe in which Krypton was destroyed perhaps fifty Earth years ago.”
Kara and her father sat up straighter and stared at her.
At last Zor said carefully, “You had heard of Krypton even before my first visit to you?”
“Yes,” Lena said, noting tension beginning to emerge in her guests. “In my original universe, when Krypton was destroyed, a baby was sent from there to Earth. His name was Kal El.”
“My cousin!” Kara exclaimed at the same time as Zor El murmured, “Jor’s son.”
“He grew up on Earth. I suppose he must have been adopted and looked after by a human family. As I understand it, a second person was also sent from Krypton at what must have been about the same time. She ...” she eyed her guests hesitantly, “... was his cousin.”
Kara gasped. Zor was silent but he looked at Lena keenly as she went on. “She was adopted by a different human family and appears to have grown up greatly cherished.”
Her two guests looked marginally relieved.
“Zor, we have talked about how studies on Krypton informed you that Earth’s yellow sun would imbue Kryptonians with special powers here that you would not have at home. You must have experienced a little of those yourself on your first two visits here during the daytime. But those visits were brief and our first meeting was last night so you have not yet experienced those powers at their fullest. Living on Earth, Kal El grew used to them. In adulthood, he used them to do as much good as he could. He became known all over the world because he could fly, rescued people from accidents or natural disasters and publicly fought many foes who intended harm to him and to the rest of the Earth. The public called him Superman. His cousin began to do the same, only much later. Years later.”
Thinking about it, Lena frowned. “It confuses me. This sequence implies that she is quite a bit younger than he, but that cannot be. If he was sent away from Krypton as a baby and she is much younger, she could not have been born yet. But no one would send a baby like Kal El away alone unless disaster was imminent. So she must have sent away from Krypton at about the same time, very shortly before Krypton was destroyed - when she couldn’t have existed yet.”
She shook her head. “Never mind that for now. At any rate, here on Earth the public calls her Supergirl. She lives here in National City. When she is not presenting as Supergirl, she presents as human. I moved to this city myself five years ago and met her shortly afterwards. We have known each other ever since.”
“Why have you not mentioned this before?” Zor wanted to know. Kara appeared to still be processing, a troubled furrow on her brow.
“I thought you must already have known of at least one of them through your research on Earth. In this universe, Superman is ... well, I don’t actually know if he’s around on this Earth. But Supergirl is and she is known to be Kryptonian. There have been pictures in the media of her, some with me in the same picture.” She wanted to shudder at the memory of the cringeworthy advertisement featuring Lex, Supergirl and herself. “I was surprised last night when you did not refer to her at all but then I realized that your business with me did not involve her. I assumed then that you would have contacted her privately if you had business with her, just as you contacted me privately, and that it would be presumptuous to think that I was entitled to ask about it,” Lena explained. “For the same reason, I have not mentioned you to her yet. I thought that if you had been in contact with her about Kryptonian matters, for example, it was not for me to pry.”
There was also the fact that Lena had never been told what name Kara Danvers had been born with, not her first name or her family name. Until this Kara had stepped through the portal, Lena had had no idea that she would be meeting a doppelganger.
“I was issued my Matrix list a little over one Earth month ago. Then Papa obtained information resources from here and we spent most of our spare time after work learning English,” Kara said. “Only when we had an adequate grasp of it could we progress to learning about human biology, polite social behaviour in your culture and about you specifically. After we had read what we thought was an informative summary of your life and gained from it an impression that aliens were not a foreign or evil concept to you, Papa paid you his first visit last night. In retrospect, perhaps we should have conducted more in-depth research before approaching you, but ...” she gave her father an apologetic and slightly embarrassed look, “I was impatient. So when he came yesterday, it was perhaps earlier than he would have liked.”
“No harm done,” Lena said, wanting to smooth the moment over so the conversation wouldn’t get stuck. “You have time now.”
She inhaled slowly and steeled herself. “I don’t know what that summary you came across told you, but you should know that, notwithstanding the impression he gave the public in this universe, my brother was a xenophobe for most of his adult life. More importantly, he was a megalomaniac. The Kryptonians, with their powers on Earth, had the capacity to stop him in his quest for supreme power. Anticipating that one or both of them would try, he was willing and prepared to take extreme measures against them. On my original Earth, he tried to kill Superman and to destroy Supergirl’s reputation and credibility. In this universe, he also tried to ensure that she could not stop him and was prepared to defeat, even kill, her, if she tried. My mother is not very different.”
Zor looked down. “I gather your brother is now dead. We offer our condolences.”
“Thank you, but the good brother from my childhood was gone long ago,” Lena said hollowly. “And now my mother is securely incarcerated as well, so at least the dangers they posed are gone.”
Lillian had been convicted as a proven accomplice of Lex’s. Her prison outside Central City had been specially secured by S.T.A.R labs and her sentence had included psychological testing on a regular basis, which meant that J’onn made a trip out there once a month to check that Lillian wasn’t up to anything ingeniously nefarious.
There was a little pause while Lena gathered herself. “Anyway, I told you all that because my brother’s long history of warring against Superman and then Supergirl does not exist here. There will be no mention of it in the information you retrieved, Zor. There would be no way for you to know this history if one of the few of us who remember it did not tell you.”
Zor hesitated. “Then clearly, you believe it is significant enough for us to know. Why?”
Lena tightened her lips. “Full and frank disclosure, I suppose. It was important to everyone else before. After my mother died when I was four, the Luthors took me in. I spent my formative years in that environment. I am not my brother but the fact that he was the man he was is integral to the person I am today. Opinions may differ as to how it is integral, however.”
“You do not display any signs of either xenophobia or megalomania,” Kara observed, her head tilted inquisitively.
“Neither did my brother, to most people,” Lena said darkly. “And I have power. Any summary of me would have revealed that.”
“I believe my daughter is correct,” Zor nodded approvingly at said daughter. “We have conversed for several hours in total. In all that time, you have not attempted to impress us with your power. You seem relaxed with us.”
“Well, thank you,” Lena muttered.
Zor and Kara smiled aggressively at her. Under the combined weight of that, Lena gave way and smiled wryly herself. “Anyway ... now that I know you were not aware there were Kryptonians on Earth until now, I venture to suggest that Supergirl would be gratified if you made yourselves known to her, and to Superman if he still exists - she will know. Even if you and Krypton are not the actual family and planet connected to them, in their place I would want very much to know you and to visit your Krypton.”
Zor and Kara looked at each other. Kara murmured, “If our Krypton were to have been destroyed, we would have utilized our portals, like the one we used to come here. Many more would have been saved. So even in that event, my history and Kal’s would have been different from that of the Kara and Kal that live here now. We are different individuals.”
Yes,” Lena agreed. “It was impossible at first not to compare you with the Kara I know. But the set of your faces, your carriage and the way you speak are all so different that within a very few minutes I stopped making that comparison. It’s like meeting the twin of a friend who grew up separated from her sibling. You may look alike but there is no mistaking you.”
There was a short reflective pause.
“Perhaps you should discuss this further before you do anything,” Lena proposed. “And I should be grateful if you would inform me beforehand whatever you do. It’s just so that I shall be prepared. I imagine that if you do meet them you will have to explain why you came here in the first place. You can hardly avoid mentioning me. And I should also point out that I do not feel it is right for me to continue concealing your existence from Supergirl. If you intend to introduce yourselves soon as ... as some form of blood family, then I will hold off so as not to spoil what I hope will be a pleasing surprise, but it doesn’t feel right to keep this from her for long.”
“We will tell her. For now, we shall discuss how best to do so and you will know our decision before we act,” Zor nodded firmly. “You make fair points. You have also given me much to think about. I suppose that if our memories have been rewritten, some of our original population, maybe even whole colonies off world, could be missing but we would not know that.” He gave a quick smirk. “And now I have a possible answer to how your name came to be known to the Matrix on Krypton, which is more than those investigating the phenomenon have despite all their efforts.”
“Actually, I don’t know about that.” Lena steepled her hands and tapped her fingertips together as she thought. “The melding of many universes into one explains why there are two Karas and possibly two Kals. It does not explain how information about me is known to the Kryptonian Matrix.”
“It is a good start,” Zor said, “which is better than we had before. Now investigations may be more directed and productive. Maybe information was mixed up somehow in the melding. Given the complexity of even a single universe, it would be marvelous if such anomalies did not occur. If we investigated in greater detail we might find more such anomalies. Some may never be found because they have occurred in the vast reaches of the universe which contain no sentient life.”
Kara was staring at Lena. “So you and the Kara living here are friends? Are you already a pairing?” If her tone was a little defensive and accusing, Lena could understand why.
“No, we are not. If we were, I would already have told your father.” When Kara relaxed minutely, Lena went on, “We were friends. However shortly before the destruction and melding of universes, we had a serious quarrel. For almost a year we barely interacted in any way that was friendly. More recently we have ... reconciled enough to work together when necessary. But we are not by any means what we once were. I am greatly relieved that we are able to work together again but ... there has not been much occasion for socializing.”
She turned to face Kara more fully. “I am in no way confused between you. I do not regard you as a substitute for her. I do not believe that getting to know you better will illuminate something about her to me. I would not use you in such a way.”
Kara exhaled, her relief evident. “I apologise for suggesting that you would.”
“It was a natural reaction in the circumstances.” Lena waved it off.
“She understood your concerns without having to be explicitly told and she addressed them directly,” Zor told his daughter. “Did I not say she was most acute?” He looked smug.
Kara sighed at Lena. “You see how it is for me?”
Lena found herself able to chuckle now. It seemed be a truth universally (literally) acknowledged that being subjected to ‘I told you so’s by family members was extremely trying everywhere.
Zor stood. “I wish to discuss these matters with Alura. Kara, your contribution will be valued and necessary. However it need not be rendered immediately. If you and Lena wish to converse further, I shall take my leave first.”
Kara looked at Lena hopefully.
“Certainly I would be happy to talk more with Kara,” Lena said. “But wait a second, please, Zor. I bought a cake for you to bring home. Seeing as Alura was unable to come tonight, perhaps she would like a taste of Earth.”
“That is very kind,” Zor smiled.
Once her father had departed, Kara asked straight out. “What was your disagreement with my counterpart about?”
Lena looked down. The thought of having her past sins revealed was unpleasant. But Krypton had science and tech that could be of immense benefit to Earth. The responsible thing to do was to foster this connection with the Els and see if any of those benefits could be had. Even if nothing resulted between her and this Kara, there was no downside to them eventually parting as friends. And hey, the way her life was going, having friendly relations with aliens who had a portal to a planet far, far away might be just what she needed at some point! (The destruction of the DEO by Rama Khan included the destruction of the transmat portal there. In theory Lena could build another. In fact she still had Lex’s portal watch. But Earth didn’t have some of the materials needed to build a whole new portal, and without safe coordinates, she couldn’t use the watch to portal all the way to Krypton.)
In order to foster the connection, Lena couldn’t be shifty. The best way to convince the Els that she was on the up and up was to actually be on the up and up. They might despise her after hearing the story, but maybe they would give her a chance to prove she was now safely on the path of good again. Whereas if she now insisted on keeping the details of the rift between her and Kara Danvers/Supergirl hidden from the Els, it would be inconsistent with the behaviour of someone acceding to this Kara getting to know her better. It would definitely be suspicious. Besides, the Els were going to meet Supergirl. And Supergirl showed every disposition to confide in everyone other than Lena. These people were her family from another universe. What was the bet that at some point she would tell them anyway?
“I think,” she answered at last, “that it would come better from her. There is much to the story that is to my discredit. I don’t wish you to think of me as having a tendency to downplay my wrongs. Also there is much that she knows which I do not. You may tell her that I consent to her telling you everything and I will confirm that consent to her directly if she asks. I will be available to provide clarification from my perspective and would be glad of the opportunity to do so. If you ask and she refuses to tell you, then I will.”
“Very well,” Kara agreed and then dismissed the subject until such time as she could address it productively. “Will you tell me what you enjoy doing when you are not working?”
“Well ... how about we tell each other about our favourite festivals and celebrations and describe them?” The troubling matter put aside for the moment, Lena’s eyes began to sparkle at the prospect of new knowledge.
Three days later, Zor came back to confirm her that his family did wish to approach Supergirl and Superman, if he existed, and to discuss the arrangements with Lena. This time, he brought his wife, Alura, as well as Kara.
It was a little strange to have these new acquaintances appear in her hallway with no warning except pre-arrangement, but since it was unwise for them to arrive anywhere else where they might be seen by chance, there was really no safer option. Lena contented herself with setting up motion detectors that would send an alarm to her phone; so far, they hadn’t detected anyone portalling through in her absence.
Alura held herself with greater authority than her husband and daughter, but Lena had been told she was a ‘judicator’ which she took to be something along the lines of a lawyer or a judge, so it was not especially surprising. However in private, she seemed to unbend quickly and soon they were all conversing animatedly. Apparently Alura had been much impressed by the cake despite Kara having eaten much of it the moment she got home. Lena entertained herself with the frivolous notion that perhaps the way to win Kryptonians over was through their stomachs.
There was talk of bringing Lena to Krypton for a visit. That was a bigger undertaking than the Els coming to visit Lena discreetly and informally. For Krypton, Lena’s visit would be the planet’s first contact with a native of Earth – one who might even become resident on Krypton. Yet Earth as a whole did not know that Krypton and its civilization still existed. Given that even the preliminary question of to whom Kryptonians should introduce themselves, who could speak for Earth, already admitted of no wholly satisfactory answer, Krypton’s foreign policy did not at this time include establishing formal relations of any kind with Earth.
Revealing the existence of Krypton to Earth publicly would entail explaining the destruction and melding of universes to the public on both planets. For now, the existence of Earth was still unknown to most Kryptonians because Matrix lists were private. But in order to use the portal, the Els had had to inform the proper authorities, which meant that Lena’s existence and the existence of Earth were now known to the Kryptonian Council but no one else. If Lena and Kara did decide to be bonded, then that would obviously become public knowledge on Krypton but the public could be told the absolute truth that there was still no clear answer as to why the Matrix had information on an alien in the first place. So far the Kryptonians who had been told about the destruction of the multiverse had not displayed any adverse effects. It was a good indication that the rest of the Kryptonians wouldn’t either but the Council just saw no point in taking the risk of telling the general population about a done deal that no one could do anything about. Only if it became known that their Kara Zor-El had a doppelganger on Earth would questions arise and the Els and the Council had already decided that if the Supers went to Krypton, they would be required to do so in disguise until more was known and different policy decisions might be made.
Meanwhile, nearly everyone on Earth thought that Krypton was gone and that Supergirl was the last remnant of its civilization. If they learned about the mere fact that Krypton existed, they would either have to be told the truth about the destruction of the multiverse or a lie that the planet had been saved after Supergirl had been sent away as a child. And that was a lie that would be insupportable if the Kara who lived on Krypton was seen on Earth and connected to Supergirl or Kara Danvers by their likeness to one another. Just because a few Kryptonians so far seemed unaffected by being told the truth didn’t mean humans would be. Lena, the Els and the Kryptonian Council had no idea whether that would activate memory centres in human brains and cause mental instability and chaos or if it would result in the kind of social or political unrest the Council feared might result if the Kryptonian public were told the truth.
For her part, Lena was not only afraid that Earth’s more gung-ho elements would needlessly initiate hostility between the two planets, but still had invasion as a concern at the back of her mind. So far the Kryptonians did not appear to have the inclination for it, but the fact they would all have immense physical powers here must surely be attractive. Earth might lack the natural resources that Kryptonians wanted, but they could portal here, do heavy physical work easily and quickly and then portal the resulting construction back to Krypton. They could come and take over Earth and live here, using the portals to obtain from elsewhere natural resources they needed that were absent from Earth. Feeling herself to be in a position of fearsome responsibility, she wasn’t about to dismantle her countermeasures.
And so she was glad that Supergirl would now be apprised of the existence of Krypton because that meant that Alex Danvers and J’onn, at least, would share in the news. Supergirl might feel conflicted in the event of hostilities between the two civilizations, but Alex and J’onn could be counted on to be dead set against Krypton taking over Earth.
Zor assured her that the reluctance of Krypton to deal formally with Earth was nothing to do with Kryptonians being snobs about Earth’s level of advancement even though it could look that way. It was really about Krypton having enough to deal with as far as foreign relations went.
Kara filled in the blanks. “Like the Krypton in your original universe, our Krypton, too, was in grave danger. Unlike them, we diverted resources to deal with that seventy to eighty Earth years ago, and we were successful. However those resources had to be diverted from somewhere. It became noticeable to some other species and they began to wonder if it was a sign of weakness. They thought it an opportune time to put pressure on Krypton for concessions: in trade, in travel through our space, in the occupation of land and space, in inter-species relations. Usually people do not apply pressure unless they can do something about it when the pressure is resisted so the fact that they asked was an early warning to us. We re-directed the resources previously employed in saving Krypton back to defence and diplomacy so as to maintain peace. It is common knowledge; in fact I learned all this recent history as a standard part of our education syllabus. Our diplomatic and security services give priority to the species who have the capacity to pose a real and present threat to us or to be effective allies, whereas Earth does not know of us, cannot get to us without our help and is not unified.”
But if Kryptonians had powers on Earth, Earth would be more defensible than Krypton if it became their home, Lena thought.
Kara was looking at her steadily. “You are worried,” she said softly.
“Surely it’s understandable,” Lena replied defensively. “You would all be so physically powerful here. It is a sensible concern. At the end of the day, this is my home and these are my people. I cannot but fear for them and feel responsible for them.”
Kara shook her head. “Physical powers are not everything. You have not taken account of the fact that we have much infrastructure, old and new, on Krypton. These include planetary defences and defensive facilities in space and on the ground. All of that infrastructure cannot simply be duplicated where gravitational, seismic and magnetic forces and natural resources are different. Earth does not have the internal volcanic forces that power our city domes, for example.”
Lena was still uneasy. As she understood it, the domes were used for defence and for life support and environmental control because much of Krypton in its natural state could not support Kryptonian civilization with its present population level and state of advancement. The use of seismic forces and geothermal energy for the domes stabilised the planet and enabled the civilization to survive and thrive. But they would not need city domes on most of Earth. They could eat the produce and drink the water. Taking over Earth as some sort of satrapy or worse, slave world, was feasible for them.
Alura noted that she was still troubled. “Lena, Earth cannot even be a colony for us. A trading partner, yes, but not a colony. Rao is not here.”
“Our sun. Our deity. Coming here distances us from him. Voluntarily moving here to live would imply we value the powers we would have here more than we value him. It would be disrespectful, no, disdainful of the gifts with which he has provided us on Krypton. It would be sacrilegious. All our colonies are within sight of Rao. No Kryptonian would consider willingly living anywhere else unless moved involuntarily, as Supergirl was, or by absolute necessity.”
“What about Daxam?” Lena asked nervously.
Kara cocked her head. “There is a planet in our system we named Daxam. How do you know of it?”
“Daxamites tried to invade the Earth of my previous universe.”
“Our Daxam is a Kryptonian colony. It is not a separate civilization and is ruled by the Council as other colonies are.” Kara paused. “Lena, to the best of my knowledge, notwithstanding the advantages for us that you can see, Krypton does not wish to rule Earth. We are more insular than aggressive as a race. There was a short time, long before I was created, when Krypton was ruled by an aggressive leader. The result was that countless Kryptonians died. Our written history demonizes that period and a conquering mindset. At present we consider that we already have enough to deal with.
There is also the fact that Matrix named you on my list. That means that in evolutionary terms, humans are regarded by it as equal to Kryptonians, no matter the level of our respective technological advancements. Kryptonians do not revere the Matrix, of course. It is not sentient. But it was created to determined spousal matches, not slaves. It has been programmed to take account of many biological factors to advance the evolution of Kryptonians, to deal quickly and efficiently with a combination of factors more complex than a Kryptonian ever could. We know how it works, we just cannot physically duplicate its function with any speed or efficiency. This means we give a great deal of weight to the results it provides. If it has factored even a single human’s contribution as necessary to the advancement of Kryptonian civilization, we cannot treat humans as if they were a lower order of being, even if the two of us do not end up together.”
Lena was a little comforted but not entirely convinced. The Els could not know the minds of everyone on Krypton. If the only thing holding the Kryptonians back was a religious concern ... well, there were always individual outliers, weren’t there? All it would take was one Kryptonian with a different interpretation of their religion or someone less fervent in their worship of Rao. That, and access to a portal ... and if there was one thing the past and business dealings had taught Lena, it was not to underestimate the power of individual greed and lust for dominion over others.
The feeling that she could not just keep the existence of Krypton and its portals to herself was growing. But voicing these concerns now would, she decided, be unproductive. It would create a negative atmosphere where now there was none.
Adroitly she changed the subject. They talked amicably of other things before making arrangements to meet Supergirl.
Zor and Alura left and Kara stayed again. Lena asked, “Is it offensive for me to ask how old you are?”
Kara shook her head as she did the mental conversion. ““I am the equivalent of about thirty Earth years old, just a little older than you and my Kal.”
So maybe it was time to address the elephant in the room.
“Kara, I find you very likeable and interesting. Also attractive ...” Kara blushed. “... and I am intrigued by everything about you and your culture. I would very much like to continue getting to know you and Krypton better. But I cannot guarantee the outcome, especially if being joined with you means that I would have to move to Krypton. Also, humans typically spend a lot of time with someone before we would even consider a long term commitment. I don’t want to hold you back from choosing someone else on your list, someone who is more of a known quantity, who is from your own culture, with whom the chances of miscommunication and misunderstanding are far less.”
“You need not feel as if you are taking opportunities away from me,” Kara said calmly. “It is normal and acceptable for Kryptonians to socialize with all those named on their list before making a decision. The others named on my list are strangers or mere acquaintances who I do not feel a great need to know better. If you had not been named, I would have tried to meet with them all as a matter of social obligation. I may still do that. But you have been named for me. I will not hide from you that I am curious and fascinated because you are an alien and that was my chief motivation to meet you as soon as was practical. But now we have met and made a first impression on each other. I find you appealing and interesting. It is my choice to devote the bulk of my attention to you in the first instance, knowing that we might not, in the end, decide to be bound. I intend to make an honest attempt to assess our compatibility, if that is agreeable to you.”
“By the time we definitively decide that we won’t be bound, you may have lost your chance with of the others named for you,” Lena fussed. “Aren’t you afraid of being alone in later life? Don’t you want children?”
“I will not be joined with someone I do not like enough,” Kara said mulishly. “If I remain single and wish to have a child of my get, then I may approach someone on my list. It would not matter if that person were paired with another because with our genesis chambers, intimacy is not required for reproduction. As the initiator I would be principal caregiver to the child that emerges. The other contributor of genetic material will discuss with me any involvement he or she may wish to have. I may also adopt a child whose caregivers have been lost. If I long for adult company, I may search out other adults in the same position. A permanent commitment to another person is no light thing. We are right to both be careful.”
“Be aware than I am slow to trust,” Lena warned. “It can happen that people have ulterior motives for pursuing relationships of any kind here. It can happen that they value the relationship for what it can do for them, rather than finding intrinsic value in the person concerned.”
Kara tilted her head. “Lena, it is normal for us to put a value on what a potential spouse can do for us. For some, it is exclusive of cherishing the person regardless but I believe differently. Perhaps at the end of the day what that person can do for us in material terms will be irrelevant because his or her company is all that is required to complete our happiness.”
She leaned forward. “Many, like me, regard the list the Matrix generates primarily as a list of potential donors of biological material for lawfully produced children. I see no point in establishing a family unit unless there is a bond between the founding pair that makes them happier together than apart. Such a bond must always be nurtured. It is never fully formed upon inception. But the Matrix picks out for us genetically optimal individuals with whom we can reasonably hope such a bond can be nurtured. So I believe you and I can foster such a connection. The question is whether we want to. The fact that so far we seem to like each other well enough is a good start, but it is only a start.”
Lena steepled her fingers. “So it is possible that you would want genetic material from me to make a child with you whether we end up together or not.”
“Maybe ...” Kara sounded hesitant. “It must be a viable mix or the Matrix never would have named you. But perhaps all that was relevant to its protocols was that we should meet and learn about each other’s civilizations. Maybe it is not important to Krypton’s future that we stay together for life or have children. But,” she looked more positive, “I am certainly happy that we have met!”
“So am I,” Lena assured her warmly.
They smiled at each other.
Clearly Kara had faith in the Matrix. Not having been brought up Kryptonian, Lena had no such faith. But now they had both given fair warning to each other. There could be little harm in going ahead and learning about each other’s cultures at least.
For the meeting, Lena booked a suite with a balcony at an out of the way but comfortable old hotel sprawled over spacious grounds surrounded by woods a little way outside National City. She had invited Supergirl to meet some people ‘she thought she (Supergirl) would be very interested to meet’ and told her that if Superman was around, she was welcome to invite him along as he was likely to find them of interest too.
Lena took the day off and the Els came over quite early on the Friday morning. This would be their first time directly exposed to the yellow sun since all previous visits had occurred at night. She figured that it would take a little time for their bodies to charge up to the point where superpowers manifested themselves. She just didn’t how much time would be required.
So as soon they arrived at her apartment, she drove them to the hotel and installed them in the suite with a robust country high tea served as lunch. There was a large ham, roast chicken and smoked trout, hard boiled quails’ eggs and egg mayonnaise, sausages, several different kinds of cheese, bread and butter, potato salad, green salad, a fruit cake, a chocolate cake and an array of cookies and fruit.
The Els had watched clips of Supergirl in action in preparation for their own powers manifesting, but Lena suspected that it was impossible to be fully prepared for the bodies they’d had under control all their lives to suddenly seem to have quite different properties. She brought ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones, and motorcycle crash helmets lined with lead paint just in case. They might look bizarre with the helmets on but in a private room who would care? The important thing was that they be able to think and talk - and the Supers would be there to help.
With apprehension the Els had allowed Lena to open doors and even fasten their seatbelts. They sat very still in the car and walked very carefully from the car park to the suite. They let Lena serve them and ate off paper plates so as not to risk a raft of broken crockery and utensils. They had to risk the mugs Lena had asked for in place of more delicate cups and glasses, and each of them behaved like the mugs were made of tissue paper. So far only two mugs had been broken and everyone had enjoyed the food. Lena was proud of them even as they started needing the ear plugs.
By design, from where she was seated Lena had a view of the approach to the hotel. She wasn’t surprised to spot Alex drive up on her bike fifteen minutes before the appointed time for Supergirl’s arrival. Her bike was tailed by a panel van. Lena couldn’t see who was driving it but she would bet good money that J’onn and Dreamer were in attendance, presumably for back up in case of evil machinations on Lena’s part.
She passed over examining the fleeting bout of annoyance that arose at the thought and maintained her unruffled front. After all, she wanted others to know so that she stopped bearing the sole responsibility for Earth’s future now that Krypton knew of its existence.
Supergirl had texted that Superman was indeed living quietly on Earth and would come but she arrived on the balcony alone. Maybe Superman was held back in reserve just in case Lena attacked his cousin, she thought, unsure whether to feel sardonic or cringe.
Supergirl’s eyes were large and incredulous as she entered. If she had been careful, she would have x-ray visioned the room and Lena’s companions first and then she would have x-ray visioned their bodies to ensure that they weren’t shapeshifters. She undoubtedly recognized them.
Everyone stood up.
Lena said to her, “I expect you recognize everyone. They’re from a different universe from the one we came from.” To the room in general, she announced, “I’ll leave you to talk.”
“Lena!” Alura said in dismay. “We did not intend you to be left out. Not after you have gone to the trouble and expense of arranging this for us.”
“Oh, I won’t be far,” Lena promised. “But perhaps there are things you should discuss without anyone else present. If you need me, I’ll be in the café downstairs.”
“You have disrupted your entire day to do this for us,” Kara protested, her dismay no less obvious than her mother’s.
Before she could deflect this, Zor interjected suavely, “And because she has gone to all this trouble, we shall be grateful and graciously accept that she has reasons to believe her plan is best. Lena, go if you wish, but know that at least three of us here would welcome you staying.”
Whoa, smooth talker, Lena thought with amusement – was this how he had won Alura over?
“It’s okay, Lena,” Supergirl called out from the balcony, where she was waving madly at a descending Superman. “Stay if you want. They’re right. This is all happening because of you.”
Lena was torn between feeling like she would be intruding and her absolute curiosity. In the end, curiosity, reinforced by the assurances of the others, won out. She stayed.
Introductions were made, brief explanations that Krypton had survived in this universe were given and everyone made themselves comfortable for an extended conversation.
It was decided that to avoid confusion, the Kara who was resident on Krypton would just be referred to as Kara, Supergirl would either be referred to by that title or as Kara Danvers in full and Superman would be called by his title or Clark so as to distinguish him from the Kal on Krypton.
He had looked in mild askance at Lena at this point, but Supergirl elbowed him. “Don’t be an ungrateful ass! It’s because of her that this is happening at all. You should be thanking her, not giving her that douchey look!”
“Sorry!” Superman held his hands up in surrender. He said to Lena, “It’s not personal, just the habit of a lifetime.”
Lena refrained from rolling her eyes. She was not particularly surprised even if she did think it a bit graceless on his part.
“What is the issue?” Kara frowned.
“We keep our human identities a closely guarded secret to protect our families, who might otherwise be targeted by vengeful enemies or taken hostage to gain our co-operation,” Supergirl quickly explained. “It becomes a habit.”
“I have a human wife,” Superman volunteered. “And Supergirl and I were brought up by humans. They are our families.”
“I see. I recall now that Lena’s brother was an enemy of both of you,” Kara noted, her eyes flicking between the Supers.
“He was, but I was not thinking of Lena in conjunction with her family just now,” Superman said, “only as someone I don’t know very well.”
“It’s fine,” Lena said heavily. “He cares for the safety of his family, Kara. Let’s move on. There's plenty to talk about.”
Kara subsided with another doubtful look at the Supers.
After that the rest of the afternoon went swimmingly. To establish their bona fides, the Els showed holoimages of Krypton and of Jor’s family, including Kal, who was happy in his position as a member of the military guild specializing in negotiations and de-escalation of conflicts. It was when the Els unthinkingly spoke briefly in Kryptonian to each other that Lena could see Supergirl's sudden and total loss of tension. She started speaking in it too and there was a short session of mutual gabbling which made Superman look uncomfortable before they reverted to English. But Supergirl's whole body language told the room that she now accepted the Els as real. And she had been the litmus test, Lena realized, not Superman. She would soon find out that this was because Supergirl had spoken nothing but Kryptonian for the first thirteen years of her life, because she remembered Krypton and Superman did not. Once she accepted that the Els were telling the truth, Superman did too.
So then the Supers relaxed and recounted their lives. Lena listened and tried not show that she was wondering if Kara Danvers had ever intended her to know any of this. If not for the Els, she might not be hearing it now. On the other hand, perhaps she shouldn’t be feeling like she had any right to know either. At any rate, her confusion regarding Supergirl’s age relative to Superman’s was cleared up when she heard about the Phantom Zone. It meant that Kara had been born much later than her counterpart because she had not been trapped in time stasis for years. What curious symmetry, Lena thought, that the two of them had ended up here now, more or less the same age.
Supergirl was emotional on the subject of the discovery and subsequent loss of Argo City, gazing principally at Alura throughout.
Kara and Lena exchanged a quick glance when Superman told them he had had a son not long ago. So much for any question about the viability of human-kryptonian hybridization.
At dinner time, the Supers flew off and came back bearing enormous quantities of pizza, burgers and potstickers. With the Els’ consent, Supergirl brought Alex Danvers from wherever she had been hanging out. She must have talked Alex's ear off first to convince her that the Els weren't a threat, and maybe put her foot down about Alex bearing arms to this meeting, because when they arrived, Alex wasn't carrying a big gun and was as relaxed and as genial as she ever got around strangers. There were more introductions and a general atmosphere of good cheer prevailed.
Over food, the conversation meandered into lighter details. The Supers described typical or funny or exciting days in their lives. Lena caught Kara sporting a tiny frown as she listened. She wasn’t sure why.
Everyone was pretty much talked out after dinner. They decided to put off any further meaningful conversation to the next afternoon. Superman flew home to share the news with his wife.
Supergirl left with Alex next, both looking sleepy and contented after so much food and, in Supergirl’s case, so much sharing.
The Els had been as still as possible all afternoon. Now they spent a little time practising the use and control of their new powers. Between their observations of the Supers and three of them discussing everything and being very tentative, they managed to do hardly any damage to the room and its furnishings. They did not dare to try anything more adventurous indoors like flying, heat vision or freeze breath but they planned to go out to the woods in the morning and try out these powers where they would not be seen.
Before everyone retired, Lena put on a wildlife documentary. Apparently, though Kryptonian wildlife might sometimes be harmless to Kryptonians, it was never cute. The Els had been enchanted by penguins and giraffes and lions and apes on youtube and they had commented on this to Lena before. It was an easy choice for wind-down material. The four of them settled down for an hour or so with David Attenborough and then everyone went to bed, the Els telling Lena to sleep in the following morning while they went out for practice.
No one expected that with the resumption of conversation with the Supers after lunch, everything would change.
The reason why the Els had come to Earth in the first place and why Lena had been in a position to broker their introduction to the Supers had been glossed over the previous day and the Supers had been so distracted that they had either let it be or forgotten that there was a question about it at all. So Zor started the second afternoon’s conversation by explaining that the Matrix naming Lena as a possible match for Kara was the reason why they had come at all. Superman was shocked. Supergirl was thunderstruck. In fact she went quite pale.
Kara couldn’t take it anymore. She had to ask. “I wish to understand the circumstances concerning the recent estrangement between you and Lena,” she said abruptly to Supergirl. “She has said that you should tell the tale.”
Supergirl glanced at Lena, looking supremely uncomfortable. Lena just gave her a subdued nod.
“She is a possible spouse for me,” Kara insisted. “She agrees that I may know, as part of full and frank disclosure. She has said that if you refuse to tell me, she will. She has, after all, every right to tell me whatever she wishes about her own history.”
Reluctantly Supergirl began to speak. She talked for half an hour.
After that, Alura asked questions with all the systematic thoroughness of someone who’d spent her entire adult life questioning witnesses and eliciting information not yet volunteered. As more and more details were related, she would repeat or re-phrase what she was told until the Els achieved a clear, accurate, thorough and chronological reconstruction of the relationship between Lena and Kara Danvers/Supergirl with a sidebar excursus on kryptonite and its effects on the Supers.
Throughout it all, Lena wretchedly awaited condemnation. She had expected not to retain the Els’ respect and good opinion but it still hurt to see their faces becoming graver with every passing minute. Between dealing with her growing dread and processing the deluge of new knowledge Supergirl was imparting of conversations and events for which Lena herself had not been present, she was glad that she wasn’t required to speak much beyond offering details Supergirl couldn’t have known. There was so much to process. Lena was realizing with each passing minute that what she knew of Supergirl/Kara Danvers had only ever been the very summit of an extremely large iceberg.
Supergirl looked miserable as she concluded, “Keeping my secret from Lena for so long was the biggest mistake of my life and my greatest regret. I knew how she had been betrayed again and again. I knew the longer I delayed the worse she would take it.”
Alex Danvers and Superman said comforting, soothing things and agreed with Supergirl that beyond a certain point, Lena had been responsible for her own actions after the disclosure of Supergirl’s identity...
In her dread, Lena had been unwilling to examine the Els’ reactions during the later part of Supergirl’s recounting of events. So she was taken utterly by surprise when Kara exploded.
“I CANNOT believe this!” she shouted wrathfully.
“W … what?” A disoriented Supergirl lost her footing in the conversation. Superman and Alex Danvers stiffened.
Lena was shocked out of her gathering depression.
Alura exercised what must be her full judicator’s bearing as she looked at her daughter. “Kara, unexplained hostility only arouses a return of hostility and then nothing constructive can be achieved. Your temper is usually mild; I have never seen you as angry as you are now. Therefore you may not know this, but if you can command yourself enough to provide Supergirl with a clear and thorough explanation of the reasons for your upset, you will find that everything will be easier to manage.”
Kara was still for a couple of seconds, then she ducked her head and gave a quick nod. She turned away and did a breathing exercise for a little while, organizing her thoughts before turning back and quietly taking a seat. Zor and Alura examined her face briefly, then Zor made a gesture for her to proceed.
“It is not our place to judge the rights and wrongs of events occurring in the past on this planet,” she said with patent self control. “However the honour and reputation of the House of El are rightly our affair. To that end I will enumerate the matters which have caused me greatest concern.”
Zor gave an approving nod.
Kara continued, her voice so level that despite being alert, Lena had no warning.
“First,” Kara directed a hard look at Supergirl, “You obtained sex and other intimacies from Lena for your friend James by deception.”
It struck Lena with the force of a thunderclap. The noises around her receded to half their volume as her thoughts began to race. She barely clocked Zor nodding magisterially, as if Kara had voiced a thought in his own mind. Alura was seated decorously but she was staring grimly at Supergirl and her hands were clasped so tightly together that her knuckles were white.
Supergirl blanched. “I ... no, I didn’t!”
Beside her, Alex also protested loudly.
Alura, used to both cross-examination and persuasive technique, took over at this point. “Can you guarantee – guarantee, Supergirl! – that if Lena had known all you could have told her that was relevant, she would have agreed to enter into a romantic relationship with this James?”
“I ... no! No, of course not, no one can guarantee what another person ...” Supergirl trailed off, glancing at Lena.
Kara pointed an accusing finger at her. “Do not look at Lena for answers. It does not matter what she would actually have done. I am questioning your intent. Did you believe a reasonable woman would find it irrelevant that the man she was considering a relationship with might always feel more loyalty to you than to her? You have said it yourself. You allowed Lena to proceed without this very relevant information, knowing she might not have consented if she knew it.”
Supergirl looked appalled as realization dawned.
Kara went on, “You could have informed her but you chose not to. And all of your friends were complicit in this because of you. Do not even let me start on this James ...,” Kara virtually snarled his name, “... who initiated the relationship knowing his loyalty to you outweighed his early affections for Lena , knowing that if the relationship progressed and his feelings grew he would be trapped between conflicting duties to you and her. You said nothing. You did not attempt to stop him. You did not attempt to discourage her – in fact you said you encouraged it. To my mind, that amounts to you disregarding her feelings and her intelligence. By doing nothing and letting it happen, you virtually gave her to him as ... what was she? A reward for his loyalty and good behaviour?” She gave a disgusted sneer.
“We wanted them both to be happy,” Alex protested. “We never thought of it the way you put it.”
“You wanted him to be happy!” Kara shot back immediately. “You were content to salve your consciences with superficial consent on Lena’s part, as if she were an animal whose intelligence did not hold sway over attraction!”
She regarded Supergirl with a narrow-eyed look of fury. “On my Krypton, where many remain celibate all their lives, such a thing would be viewed as a horrible scandal, Lena as a victim greatly wronged. It beggars belief that you did not even recognize the villainy of it!”
Lena did not observe Supergirl break down. She was fully occupied with fighting the nausea rising in her gut as she understood what the Els were saying. It had been Kara Danvers’s intent that if Lena, not knowing of her own ignorance, chose to be intimate with James, she should just be left to do that. The cynicism that allowed the entire lot of them to do that was too much for Lena to grasp. The worst thing was ... why was she considered so fit a victim for this kind of treatment?
She had gone out with him for how long? They had slept together how many times? She had in typical fashion, gone all in, believing that she and James trusted and knew each other. She had even said at much in front of all of them one game night, hadn’t she? And this had all been before Reign, before the whole synthetic kryptonite debacle, before Supergirl ever saw Lena as a real threat. In the next breath, she found herself staggering unevenly into the bathroom. Letting the door swing shut by itself with a bang, she hunched straight-armed over the sink, choking on humiliation and anger but unable to cry or throw up with the knowledge that others were around.
Back in the room, Zor shook his head at his daughter’s alarm and forestalled her panic by rising with a calming hand gesture and positioning himself outside the bathroom door. From there he could keep his eyes and ears on proceedings while being there to support Lena as soon as she felt able to emerge from isolation.
He noted that Alex Danvers was now tightlipped and downcast as she leaned against her sobbing sister. Superman, who had not previously been privy to all this detailed history, just stood there with his head down, frowning and silent.
Kara had delivered a killing first blow. There was no possibility of Supergirl gaining the upper hand after this, not when she could offer no defence nor any mitigation to this first charge.
Zor felt no satisfaction. He did not believe his wife or daughter did either. Or rather, Kara probably did feel a bit of triumph at making this first reason for her anger sufficiently understood to all despite having to say it in English, but he doubted that the combined distress in the room allowed any of his family to feel positive overall. Yet Kara was right: as soon as the story had been told, it was obvious to all the Els that serious matters of House honour had to be addressed.
It was ten minutes before the bathroom door opened. Zor immediately turned his back to the room, blocking Lena from view. She was very pale but she was composed.
Very quietly he said, “You do not have to stay if it would distress you. I will accompany you home at once if you wish.”
But Lena shook her head. “No. If I’m permitted to stay, then I want to.” Her voice was soft but decisive, with no shake in it and her eyes clear and determined so he didn't question her further.
Nodding, he led her back to others and sat beside her, looking with expectant pride at his daughter. She had mastered herself. She was speaking much as he himself would have.
Kara cast Lena a long, concerned look which was answered by a little shake of Lena’s head, a small, twisted caricature of a smile and then a ‘carry on’ jerk of the head.
Kara turned back to the others. “Secondly ...” she waited for Supergirl to look at her again, “... you were forsworn. You promised always to protect Lena. It was not forced or obligatory but you made the promise anyway. Yet when you made it, you did not provide her with the means to call on the ...” she sought for the right expression in English, “... the ... side of you that would be helpful to her if her life was in danger. Without that ability to call on you at need, every moment you were not watching over her, you were breaking your word. In that respect you failed to protect her body. You failed to protect her spirit because by continually refusing to tell her who you were, you made it possible for her to be told in a more damaging way – by someone else. You must have known that the longer you delayed the worse the effect of the disclosure would be, yet you still continued to keep the secret from her so that when the disclosure was in fact made, the damage was far greater than it ever needed to be. You cannot deny that you broke your word. And as if that were not sufficient to dishonour the name of El, you actively risked her life needlessly again and again in service of keeping your secret every time you allowed her to undertake dangerous actions to save what she thought was a human friend. You ....risked ... her ... life! The very opposite of what you swore to do, protect her! And apparently this only started after you learned that she could make kryptonite!”
Zor cast a quick glance at Lena, only to find her gazing into the middle distance with the tiniest furrow of her brow. From the quick minuscule movements of her pupils, he decided that she was just thinking very fast and very intently instead of being unusually distressed.
In fact Lena’s mind was reeling. Supergirl had risked her own life to save Lena before knowing she could make kryptonite. But after that, she had not had occasion put her own life at risk for Lena’s sake until she faced kryptonite cannons to try and talk Lena down. Supergirl would never knowingly have left Lena to die, but what Kara seemed to be suspicious about was at the very least a subliminal lessening of care, a greater recklessness with the life of a Lena who could synthesize kryptonite.
“Now look, she’s already admitted that she should have told Lena earlier ...” Alex began defensively.
“That was not the wrong! It was her secret to keep or not as she thought fit.” Kara was pink with heat as she turned to Supergirl. “The wrong was befriending her and then dragging her into associating and working with you, bringing her into greater danger without any intention of arming her with the knowledge she needed to guard against the increased danger! The wrong was continuing then to abuse the advantage your double identity gave you over her to treat her one way as one identity and a completely different way as the other! The wrong was being ungrateful and hostile and turning everyone against her when she made a dangerous substance to save you, as if she had never saved you before in other ways! The wrong was in permitting a friend to have intimate relations with her when you prevented her from being able to give fully informed consent! The wrong was being forsworn and then compounding the error by risking her life just to protect your invulnerable self when you swore to protect her always! The wrong was that she turned in her mother, killed her previous lover and finally killed her brother without once being granted full knowledge of who she made those costly sacrifices for! The wrong was calling her 'friend' when you did all these things to her!”
Put that way, it sounded like a long and terrible list. And it was all true. Even Alex looked daunted.
Zor was standing now and he pressed a hand on his daughter’s shoulder to remind her to calm herself. He took over with a measured voice. “Nearly all of these could have been prevented without revealing your identity. You could have kept your relationship as professional amicable acquaintances in both identities. Lena wanted that. You pushed for more without any intention to reciprocate once that ‘more’ was granted. When you found out she could make kryptonite, you could have thanked her instead of turning on her and inducing everyone else to do the same. You could have persuaded James that it was wrong to indulge his attraction to Lena if he could not be honest about things that would matter to a reasonable person, or failing that, expressed reservations to Lena about whether she should accede to a relationship with him. You say he was most vehement against Lena to you – you could have intimated that to Lena without compromising your secret. What these wrongs have in common is that revealing yourself would have prevented them all, so that would have been the easiest way. But that does not mean there were no other ways to have prevented most of them from occurring. And it seems to me obvious that if they had not been committed, the eventual disclosure of your identity could never have been so damaging to her. If Supergirl’s human identity had been a stranger to Lena, for example, she would have had little to complain of in the absence of all this ill-treatment.”
“Tell me this,” Kara had cooled down. “What reasonable person would believe you cared for her? You and your friends took unfair advantage of her ignorance for years. Of course she would not believe you cared, and not believing, could not forgive. She had every reason! Do you hold your honour so cheap that you considered that a verbal apology was all you needed to offer? The honour of the House of El is not so flimsy. If we have done wrong, we offer reparation as close as possible in degree to the wrong done.”
“But there wasn’t anything of real value I could have offered,” Supergirl said weakly.
“Materially no,” Alura agreed. “We understand the difference in material assets between the two of you. But you could have bound yourself over to serve her for a period as her servant or her bodyguard, for example.”
“I couldn’t!” Supergirl said. “I had a duty to the city and the world.”
“Who imposed that duty on you?” Zor asked.
There was a short silence.
“No one,” Supergirl admitted. “I wished to justify surviving my Krypton’s destruction and I wanted to show my gratitude to the people of Earth. But Lena would never have accepted such an offer anyway.”
“A temporary hiatus from a lifetime of voluntary service does not seem excessive,” Alura observed. “You could have offered on condition that you would be free to go on each occasion that you were required to save the innocent. But I was only suggesting an example. My point is that some form of substantial reparation could have been offered and it should have been offered. Whether or not it was accepted was not within your control. But it was required that a sincere offer be made as a demonstration that you understood the seriousness of what you had done.”
“Any Kryptonian who so destroyed their honour would be covered in endless shame and you ...” Kara spluttered with outrage, “ ... you were just sad because you lost a friend? You were NOT her friend if you could do these things to her! You lost nothing but her good treatment of you. No wonder she thinks that people value her for what she can do for them. You were one of those people! You lost a friend? What did Lena lose?! Rao, her adopted mother knew! And for so long! The meanest intelligence on Krypton would have known that once your enemy has revealed a weapon of such power, it must be neutralized at once. There was no wisdom in perpetuating, no, increasing its potency by delay.”
She eyed Supergirl with acute dislike. “I appreciate that, unlike me, you survived as a child a disaster the like of which I cannot imagine. Lena has made it plain that despite that terrible history, generally you act with great courage, generosity and kindness and never seek your own advantage. But in this relationship, you displayed a lack of wisdom and ... and simple decency! ... that I cannot but deplore. And you,” she swung accusingly towards Superman, “... since you agreed with her in this, then the same applies to you! She may be your elder but you had more experience and yet failed to guide her properly.”
“Look,” Alex Danvers burst out, “you’re forgetting that what Lena did was also wrong and a lot worse ...”
“No,” Kara said obdurately. “What Lena did does not touch on the honour of the House of El. It is not relevant to the subject which is before us now.”
“But doesn’t it, you know, cancel out whatever debt of honour my sister’s incurred?” Alex insisted.
Zor shook his head. “If your sister had offered just reparation for her wrongs and was refused, then perhaps, but she has not done that. Do you seriously believe Lena would have done any of what she did if she had been treated fairly? At the very latest, she should have been made privy to the secret when you invited her to join an entire group of people who all were.”
“Do you truly not understand?” Kara said angrily. “Your sister believes she lost a friend. Lena nearly lost her sanity! Does family mean so little to you that you cannot understand the strain to mind and heart it took for her to sacrifice the three people closest in connection to her? And then in the end only to find out ... " She shook her head to cast the unfinished sentence away. "Your sister drove Lena nearly mad with anger and disillusionment and she knew she would! As my father says, you may not be responsible for the full extent of what Lena did in response, but you were definitely a necessary part of the cause! What you did to her was in no way decent. Or are you telling me that on Earth it is ethical and moral to obtain sex and intimacy without full consent, to endanger the life and sanity of someone who is not only innocent but had continually helped you and others, and saved your life, that of your loved ones and many others besides?”
She crossed her arms and glared at Alex. Reminded that for once she was not in company the majority of whom would automatically take her side, Alex went quiet.
“Alex makes a valid point,” Lena inserted quietly. “Non Nocere was ... well, it was idiotic. I am one of the very few people who remember a Daxamite invasion of Earth. To deprive the inhabitants of Earth of the ability to defend themselves against a similar event was so ill-conceived that I can barely believe I didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. But so far from dismissing it, I pursued it. It was not just immoral, it could have guaranteed the fall of Earth!”
“Well, none of us thought of that particular impracticality,” Alura said contemplatively. “You did. That leads me to think that you would have thought of it before had your mind not been disordered. It speaks to me more of your loss of balance than of inherent immorality.”
“She’s not immoral!” Supergirl cried. “Other than Non Nocere, Lena’s always done the right thing no matter what it costs her. That’s why I never wanted to give up on her.”
“So long as it cost you nothing!” Alura snapped, reducing Supergirl back to silence. “When Lena was angriest at you, she did not in any way attack those of your family and friends who were more vulnerable than you. Tell me, what means did she have of seeking proportionate redress? Your justice system?” She gave a thin smile as Supergirl cringed. “Everything about the organization you worked with was shrouded in secrecy. I do not know if any part of what you did to her would be considered a crime here, but even if it were, she could not have provided evidence to others outside it beyond uncorroborated oral testimony. So although she had been greatly wronged by all of you, the world did not see Lena as a victim. There was no one to confirm her feeling that she had been wronged. None of your friends did. You were only one who would and you diminished the severity of the wrong to the point where you expected a verbal apology to suffice. Everyone, including Lena herself, agrees that she did many very wrong things. But that is the trouble. Every time she does something wrong or does something that is subverted into wrong by others, it is for the world to see. It is easy for many to condemn. But when she does good, who acknowledges it? When she is not thanked in sufficient measure for the good things she does, who acknowledges it? And when she is wronged, who acknowledges it? You have contributed more to this imbalance in private than you have tried to redress it in public."
“And what concerns us now,” Kara put in tightly, “is that whatever Lena did, she did not do it wearing the emblem of the House of El. You wear it in public view while in private you have acted in ways that bring black shame upon the House. And your cousin appears to support all of this while wearing the same crest.”
Superman looked crushed. Supergirl had passed ‘crushed’ a long way back. She looked destroyed. Only Alex Danvers was still articulate, recovered from her setback with the accusation involving James and filled with sisterly protective fury.
“That’s enough!” she shouted. “Stop this! Who do you think you are, to come here and pass judgment on her?”
“We think,” Zor said mildly, “that we are the House of El in this universe and have every right to be concerned about the honour and reputation of our House.”
“Wait,” Alex frowned. “Is my sister even of your House?”
Even Zor was beginning to sound goaded now. “We are saying nothing of the sort! Indeed, we recognize that her Krypton may have had a different honour code, if it had one at all. We came here believing we were meeting candidates for admission to our House, not people who were already members of it.”
“I am not inclined to be associated with two who claim to be Kryptonian and yet are so ignorant of some of the most foundational precepts of honour that they cannot recognize breaches thereof,” Kara asserted bluntly. “I do not approve of someone with my face coming to Krypton, where I am known, if she is prone to behaving in a way that brings me into disrepute. I do not approve of either of them wearing the House crest in full public view when they should know in their hearts that they do not deserve to feel pride while wearing it.”
“My daughter has indeed clearly stated our concerns,” Zor said. “We do not claim to be able to order or sentence or punish the two of you ...” he was looking at the Supers, “... in any way enforceable here on Earth. But we are able to say that at this time, we will not be admitting you to our House. We will not invite you to Krypton. And we do not agree to you wearing that crest. In fact,” his gaze sharpened, “if you had any fondness, any respect for the House of El of your original universe, you would not continue to parade the crest around for shallow preening and for idolatry from the public when you know you have brought shame to the name of El.”
“Does it matter,” Lena finally said into the awful silence that followed Zor’s declaration, “that I don’t require any of this?”
Alura’s face when it turned to her was unsmiling but kind. “No, Lena. We are not speaking of reparation at this moment. We are expressing our wish that there should be no misrepresentation of our House and what we stand for. Having the El crest worn by those of another House of that name from another universe would be confusing when there are such clear differences in behavioural standards between the two.”
“That isn’t what your Kara said,” Alex Danvers said tightly, jaw clenched.
Alura let her gaze sweep slowly over Alex. “Ah. You.”
Alex lifted her chin defiantly.
“You took a juvenile member of a House of El under your guidance. For that we applaud you. However once that juvenile became an adult, she continued to subordinate her decision-making to yours, something which on Krypton no adult would do.” Supergirl cringed. Alura pretended not to see. “You allowed that. You were happy about it. Perhaps you encouraged it. Maybe that is acceptable here on Earth. You have been permitted to speak for her today because plainly her own independence and judgment are compromised by her continuing dependence on you. You have not encouraged or helped her to develop them. That is your first failure of trust. But once you took that responsibility upon yourself, you then failed to discharge it. You have led her into grave error and dishonour.”
“No, don’t blame Alex!” Supergirl cried out. “This is all on me.”
“You cannot eat the fruit and then lament that it is gone,” Alura said sternly. “It was your decision as an adult to abrogate your own judgment in favour of hers. You must bear the responsibility for the consequences of that initial decision. But in accepting your dependence on her, she must accept the responsibility too. It is not the way of adults to commit wrongs and then pass the blame around hoping that it will mysteriously disappear.”
“In any event,” Zor pointed out, “no one here has forced any of you to stay. You are free to ignore us, though that will hardly increase our respect for you.”
“In that case,” Alex said in a low, furious voice, “come on, let’s go." She looked at the Supers. "We don’t have to take this sort of thing from them.”
Superman had long abandoned his usual proud posture. He was a little hunched and his expression was troubled. Over his folded arms, he shook his head. “Alex, like it or not, they are the House of El in this universe. We have incurred their displeasure for reasons they have stated clearly and which seem perfectly valid. Neither of you seems able to deny those reasons. It weighs on me. I will not leave like a coward just because they are saying things I don’t like to hear. If they don’t approve of me wearing the crest of El then I appreciate knowing why and I would like to know how I may win their approval to do so.”
Supergirl looked completely miserable. “Alex,” she pleaded, “Clark is right. They are the House of El here and now. Their opinion matters to Clark and to me.”
“It’s one-sided!” Alex hissed.
Supergirl shook her head limply. “No, Alex. They are just concerned with House honour. I can’t ignore them, I can’t! I always said Lena’s reaction was my fault. They’ve just spelled out in detail why I was wrong and it’s so much worse than I ever thought it was. They haven’t made up anything new. And I haven’t faced any real consequences for it.”
“Yes, you have!” Alex barked. “Everything Lena did ...”
“You are incorrect so stop repeating it,” Kara interrupted coldly. “Lena may have attempted something very bad, but Project Non Nocere and its associated wrongs, while they were conceived because of Supergirl, were never directed at Supergirl personally.” She turned to Supergirl. “There were three things Lena did that were directed at you personally. She deceived you until she had the opportunity to hold you with kryptonite and steal Myriad. She did not accept your apology. She absented herself from your life.”
She paused to take breath. “You forgave Alex Danvers for your being shot down with no cause at the inception of your career as Supergirl. You forgave her for killing your own blood, your Aunt Astra. You have continually accepted her having the means and ability to kill you. But you cannot forgive Lena when she had every right and justification to do two of the three things she did against you personally? Why should she have spent the time and effort to listen when there was no reason to believe you? All the evidence available to her spoke against your credibility. Before yesterday, what Lena was able to tell me about you was less than a twentieth part of all you have related over these two days. She did not even know your name when I first met her! If there were reasons to listen to you, you kept her ignorant of them. So it is hardly her fault. From her point of view, all of you attacked her collectively, with all the advantage in numbers and physical power and a secret organization behind you. Do you expect someone beaten up in the streets by a gang to go alone back to the gang and ask why they did it just because he knew them in the past?”
“Look, Lena used kryptonite against Supergirl!” Alex persisted, whittled down to this argument.
“All of you conspired to take terrible and unfair advantage of her secretly for years,” Alura reminded her coldly. “She, a human, faced Supergirl alone in Supergirl’s place of safety and strength. So who showed courage and who showed cowardice?”
“After everything you did, it seems a fairly restrained revenge to me,” Kara said bitterly. “A lesser person would have used more kryptonite or tried to injure or kill your sister while she was weakened.”
Alura cleared her throat. “Let us be clear. We understand but do not condone revenge for its own sake.” She shot her daughter a minatory glance at this. Kara wisely preserved a politic silence. “We do not approve of Lena trapping your sister in kryptonite. We are saying that compared to your multitude of sins against her, compared to how easily you were forgiven for the matters my daughter has enumerated, it seems to us too conveniently anomalous for any of you to regard as unforgivable this one event left available to you.”
She looked at Alex warningly. “So this is not one-sided. It is about fault on Supergirl’s part, which is incidentally also fault on the part of the whole group, never having been properly and thoroughly recognized and acknowledged before. This is what bears on the honour and reputation of the House of El. You are not of this House and yet presume to insert yourself into this matter as if you had the right. You do not. We have tolerated it because your sister’s mind is weaker than the mind of any adult El’s has any right to be. In our view that is because of you in the first place. Do not take undue advantage of our tolerance or overestimate it.”
Alex squared up. She had no hope of physically defeating a Kryptonian on Earth without a kryptonite weapon but that wasn't on her mind with two Supers by her side. She just couldn’t take her sister being verbally flogged so mercilessly.
Supergirl stepped in front of her. “No, please, Alex, stop.” She turned to the Els. “Please, just stop.”
Kara scoffed. “Who is threatening violence here? We will simply ignore her when her words cease to make sense. She is the one who is adopting a fighting stance. Your concern is misplaced, Supergirl.”
She had started out determined to be open-minded because Lena had told her how Supergirl, in both guises, had been supportive at a time when no one else had been, had saved Lena’s life countless times. But seeing the halting difficulty Lena had in speaking about the superhero had made Kara very suspicious indeed. It was clear that Lena had been severely affected by what had happened and Kara could not imagine how anyone good could wound another person so badly. Well, there might perhaps be just cause her imagination couldn’t conjure up. But it turned out that Lena’s mistreatment had begun and continued for a very long time without just cause. This afternoon had only served to confirm her suspicions in the worst way, and she was appalled at her counterpart.
Zor cut in. “Indeed there will be no violence here at our instigation. But Supergirl, it troubles me greatly that you continue to support your sister’s behaviour with no regard for how it reflects on you to do so - you who are still wearing the crest of the House of El.”
“Alex ...” Supergirl shook her head urgently, her eyes pleading with Alex to retire from the fray.
Kara swept her eyes over Alex’s posture sardonically. “Your instinct is to protect your younger sister from immediate threat. We would honour that but for the fact that you do so without seeming concerned that your actions and decisions, the things you encourage her to do both by herself and to support you, bring her dishonour or later danger. Perhaps that does not matter to you but I assure you - it matters to us.”
Having made that cutting observation, Kara then, in a calculated move, simply ... dismissed Alex.
She turned away and spoke to the Supers. “I have one further thing to say, or rather ask, if you care to hear it.”
Wearily Superman nodded. Supergirl was unable to do anything but look at Kara with greater dread.
“The two of you have created lifestyles that make no sense to me,” Kara said not too unkindly. “It begins with your choice of human work that requires you to answer for your time and presence to others. Why choose that? It means you have to lie when you cannot account for your time and presence while you are off saving people. Few people like to lie. It is stressful to the mind and spirit. Yet all along you have had the ability to make precious gems from simple carbon.” Superman had explained the day before how he had made the gem for Lois’s engagement ring. “Why do you not use that to make sufficient wealth to relieve yourselves of the need to answer to others for your time?”
“We couldn’t possibly use our powers to unfair advantage,” Superman said virtuously, standing straighter.
Kara furrowed her brow. “Where does the benefit lie if, in refraining from taking such a small advantage that hurts no one, you gratuitously create more and more occasions to lie and also gratuitously increase danger to your families? You do not have to abuse the advantage. What you need most is privacy, not luxury. The homes you purchase or build can be modest so long as they enable you to come and go by any means, including flying, without being seen. You can write your articles independently of any employer and sell them: you are guaranteed buyers because no one else has access to what you know. You could, instead of writing news, establish a private construction business which would do well because you can build faster and better than others, erecting cover sheets so no one can see you work. You can operate farms which would be discreet for you and also give you quiet time which would be soothing.
In fact if you did almost anything for work but be employed by others who must keep track of you, your lives would be incomparably less stressful and dangerous to your loved ones. You would still be able to have human friends and meet them socially. You would still be able to keep in touch with real life on this planet. You would be earning money for your daily needs fairly. You might then have time and space for restful reflection on matters that are important as opposed to matters that are simply urgent. You do not have to live with unnecessary stress, frustration and danger to you and your loved ones. Your choice does not have any practical advantages I can see. I cannot understand why you would adhere to it when it appears to be the worst possible choice you could make.”
Superman swallowed, unconsciously slumping again.
“I ... just never thought of it like that,” he confessed.
Supergirl shook her head in mute helpless agreement.
“If you had done more thinking earlier and made wiser choices, perhaps none of this would have happened,” Kara suggested. “Kara Danvers, in establishing an independent lifestyle with her cousin as an example, might have broken free of her dependence on her sister. She might have made many different decisions, done many things differently.”
There was a very long silence.
Lena was feeling many things that she could not reconcile. She had engineered the meeting of the Kryptonians in the expectation that it would result only in happiness all round, but it had instead devolved into this embarrassment of acrimony. Once again, her well-intentioned plans seemed to have been subverted into something awful. She was dreading being blamed for it. She also felt like an idiot, a rare and deeply disagreeable experience. And yet ... there was something in her heart that was stopping her from feeling too negative. She felt selfish in being glad that someone had spoken on her behalf, put the past into a perspective that made almost too much painful sense.
She had been unable to forgive Kara Danvers/Supergirl. Before today, her rationalization had been that the big lie made everything else a lie. A natural conclusion, perhaps, but now she recognised that it was a logical fallacy. The big lie didn’t necessarily make everything else a lie. Her inability to forgive had been because she had felt very, very badly wronged. She just hadn’t correctly identified how she had been wronged. But Kara had now outlined those wrongs with a specificity and a correctness that no one could deny. Lena had been very badly treated. Someone other than herself, several objective someones, had acknowledged that. The Els had not consulted together privately this afternoon. They had each arrived independently at the same conclusions. That acknowledgement came uniformly from three separate intelligent, moral individuals who on grounds of similarity and blood alone had more reason to be biased in Supergirl’s favour than Lena’s. That was the feeling in her chest. Validation.
So her gut had been right in its prompting not to forgive easily. Her brain had simply failed to provide the right reasons for the depth of her resentment. The painful part was accepting that Kara Danvers and her friends had picked her as a victim who had deserved to be treated that way. Why? What was it about Lena that made it seem okay to them to do that? And that led to the obvious conclusion. If Kara Danvers could let her be with James for so long, sleep with him and trust him over and over and over again without knowing everything a reasonable person would have wanted to know, if Kara Danvers had been willing to put Lena’s life at risk to keep her secret, then even if she had truly cared for Lena at some point, she had never cared enough to let it stop her from doing those things. That was horrifying. It was, in fact, much worse than what Lena had previously identified as pissing her off the most: the two-faced manipulation of her concerning the synthesizing of kryptonite and the confusion and resulting inability to reconcile her friend and the superhero as one person after so long and so many things she had been through with Kara Danvers in one persona or the other.
The last time Lena had received unadulterated validation was the awarding of her final PhD. The thought of Kara Danvers’s early articles about her had now taken on a bittersweet flavor and a cold wash came with the memory of Rhea.
It was natural to want validation. But to need it – that made you vulnerable, that made you prey. It was time to grow up another stage. Lena must take her emotional comforts sparingly. Even this one.
“Do you believe that your primary decision to do good deeds is a licence for you to commit any number of wrongs that you may then just brush off as being necessary consequences of that first decision?” Kara was trying to explain herself another way to the reluctant Supers.
“No, of course not!” Superman said.
“Well, then how much wrong is too much wrong? For example, when does the lying and deceit amount to so much wrong that it ceases to be justified by your decision to help others?” Kara looked at the Supers intently.
Superman shifted uncomfortably. “I suppose ... it’s a judgment call. It depends on the circumstances.”
“But you agree with the concept that at some point the amount of deceit you might perpetrate would not be justified?”
“I ... suppose so.”
“That is the point,” Zor took over. “We understand that you must be cautious about your human identities. But it is still a deceit you choose to practice on others because you choose to do voluntary service. You seem to have forgotten that deceit is not a right and good thing to practise in itself or perhaps you have come to believe that deceit is never wrong when practised by you alone. That is incorrect. The deceit is simply justifiable as a lesser evil than sitting idle and letting others suffer when you can prevent that. But as you pile deceit upon deceit, at some point the scales of justice balance out. And when you take the shield of necessary deceit intended to protect yourself and your loved ones, and use it as a sword instead to attack or spy on or manipulate or harm others who are not your declared enemies, the necessary deceit turns into you being underhanded, which also counterbalances the good you do. That is what happened in this case.”
He shook his head. “The way you live makes it difficult for you to decide which lies are necessary and which are not. When you are put under pressure and become confused or panicked you naturally choose the safest path for yourselves, which is almost invariably more lies. Then you draw closer to crossing the line into dishonour and causing harm that may outweigh the good you do.”
The Supers said nothing. They looked completely defeated.
“This is why my daughter is confused at your choice of lifestyle,” Zor finished. “It presents so many occasions for multiple lies to be told to the same people day after day at your places of work. We do not understand why you would not wish to make your own lives simpler and safer.”
Again the Supers did not reply. Lena understood the Els but she also understood why the Supers might be resistant. It was an attack on the way they had lived all their adult lives.
She caught Supergirl’s surreptitious flitting glances at each of the Els, a myriad of emotions passing across that expressive face. In all honesty, Lena couldn’t say what her feelings towards Supergirl were in that moment. She’d need plenty of processing time for that. But Lena would have given much to meet and talk to her resurrected birth mother as an adult. What must it be like for Kara Danvers, having lost her birth mother twice, to look on this facsimile of her parents, to look on her double, and be told to her face with no room for misinterpretation that she was being found wanting? So wanting that her birthright, membership of the House of El, was being denied her in this universe?
And to make things worse, here was Kara Zor-El, resident of Krypton, showing her what she might have been if her Krypton had been preserved. Kara’s parents had, with perfect confidence and only a little guidance, let her speak for the House of El. And Kara had done so fluently, seeing things from her more objective outsider’s perspective that Lena, embroiled in the whole affair as she had been, had been unable to, explaining the views of this universe’s House of El in a language foreign to her yet with a clarity given to few native speakers of English. It had been a remarkable display of maturity, mental abilities and confidence.
Supergirl had not chosen her fate. She had not been sent to Earth by her choice. She had not chosen to have extraordinary powers or to have to deal with the survivor guilt and terror of loss Lena had only learned about yesterday. She had not asked to have to deal with the ultimate grief of finding and then losing Argo City. And maybe Kara Danvers had immersed herself so well in human culture that by now she functioned mentally more like a human than a Kryptonian. Lena did not yet know whether understanding all this would ultimately balance out the outrage simmering somewhere in the deeper recesses of her mind. But she did know what she would feel if she met her birth mother today only to be told that she was an utter disappointment. So through the morass of unclear feelings, there was one emotion she could say with certainty she felt for Supergirl: pity.
Unlike Lena, the Supers were not at all used to having opprobrium heaped on their heads. Who had ever called them to account in any meaningful way? In their previous universe, the press had been mostly biased in their favour and nearly always insufficiently informed. Now all of a sudden this conversation with the Els must feel like a lifetime’s worth of accounts was being thrown at them with no warning. And perhaps the Els’ rational approach made it all the worse because there was no gainsaying the perfect sense they were making with every word they uttered.
Into the silence she said, “I think I’ve had enough for one day. I think we all have.” And hoped that Alex Danvers would not open her mouth and put a damned spanner in the works.
Alura looked searchingly at the tired lines of Lena’s face and seemed to deliberate before nodding. “Perhaps you are correct.”
“They are still wearing the crest,” Kara pointed out.
“I believe,” Alura said, “that Lena is warning us that if we press on, we risk causing exactly the kind of distress we accuse Supergirl of having caused her.” She gave her daughter a meaningful look.
Kara subsided, suitably quenched for the moment.
Lena cleared her throat. “If they are both seen in public on their way home with their crests torn off, it will incite questions that cannot be answered truthfully without bringing the continuing existence of Krypton to the knowledge of Earth. At least do not disapprove of them continuing to wear it for their journey home today. Give them an opportunity to decide what to do, an opportunity to create different garments and an acceptable explanation for the public. You said your intention was only to prevent a misrepresentation of what the House of El stood for. It was not to cause them public humiliation.”
Zor nodded. “Just so. Very well. It shall be as Lena says. I expect that you, Clark, will wish to meet Jor and his wife and their Kal. We can discuss that at another time. We will contact you through Lena.” It was a subtle dig that enjoined Superman to be nice to Lena if he wanted that to happen.
“Can I ... can I just ask you one question?” Supergirl asked meekly. “Only because it’s preyed on my mind for years.”
Zor nodded again.
“Did you make the Medusa virus in your universe?”
“I did. Why has this question in particular troubled you so?”
“I didn’t know until Lillian Luthor stole it from the Fortress of Solitude and adapted it to kill all alien life on Earth that my own father had made it.”
Zor waited expectantly.
“I don't ... really understand how you could do that.”
Well, Kara thought, feeling her temper rise again, her counterpart’s ability to anger her was evidently not yet at the end. And weren’t those really juvenile hero names, she thought. She shamelessly enjoyed a private moment of petty spitefulness at the thought.
“I fail,” Zor said austerely, “to see the reason for your incomprehension.”
“It would have killed all non-Kryptonians who were exposed to it!”
“Yes, that was precisely the intent. And plainly you object to that. Yet you are still not explaining why.”
Kara could see that her mother’s hackles were also up.
“All non-Kryptonians,” Supergirl repeated. “What about those were innocent of any wrongdoing?”
“Ah,” Alura said. “She has not understood its purpose, my husband, and without that understanding, condemns you for it.”
Supergirl flushed. She had tried not to sound accusing but the way she used her language did not mask her intent to accuse. Well, thought Kara, she had to accept the consequences.
“It was intended as a last line of defence against the invasion of Krypton by hostiles,” Zor's sharp tone bit down on the words. “In that scenario, there would be no innocent non-Kryptonians amongst the invaders. In the event of its deployment, all refugees and other non-hostile aliens resident on Krypton would first have been moved to long term quarters safe from exposure, or even off Krypton, until such time as Medusa was denatured afterwards. Would you rather Krypton be destroyed and its people killed and enslaved, their children and their children’s children condemned to slavery? Because Medusa would have been deployed only if there was no other outcome. Invaders may sensibly be expected to have accepted the risk of death. As a force, their moving spirit would be rapacity. We would hardly be forcing them to invade us and threaten us with annihilation. Medusa may be draconian, but it is only to be used when there is unquestionable justification. And while it might have been capable of being used to perpetrate a genocide, recollect that invaders seldom form the entire representation of their species.”
Kara made a mental note to ensure that Lena would be safe from Medusa if she came to live on Krypton. She looked at her father, cut her eyes at Lena for an instant, then gazed back at him. He gave her the tiniest of nods in acknowledgement.
“Thank you for explaining,” Supergirl muttered. “It makes me feel better about my own father.”
Kara huffed. “Did you not say that when you had no alternative, you dispersed lead to send Daxamites away when they invaded your previous Earth? The lead did not distinguish between good Daxamites and bad, did it? You had to send your Daxamite friend away because of it. Medusa is intended to be deployed in precisely similar circumstances. Why does it trouble you morally when your dispersal of lead against the Daxamites does not? The regret you expressed was to do with losing your Daxamite friend. You had no moral qualms about it.”
Once again, realization dawned on Supergirl’s face and Kara was now getting really sick of seeing that expression on that face. She couldn’t even be bothered to say witheringly that someone who had been proven to have no grasp of some of the most basic tenets of honour had a lot of presumption questioning her father’s morals.
“When Alex Danvers used kryptonite to kill a Kryptonian of your blood, you forgave her,” she grated. “Yet when Lena made kryptonite to save a Kryptonian - you! - you turned on her?” She shook her head. “You had the hypocrisy to say that she never appreciated the danger of knowing who you were, that you were protecting her from that danger. There was no such danger. The danger came from associating and working with you. You conveniently forgot that Lena had no way of associating or working with Supergirl unless Supergirl sought her out. You put her in that danger and call it protection not to tell her of it? And at the end of it you were still underhanded enough to use language to minimize everything you did and manipulate Lena into believing that the bulk of the wrongdoing between you was hers.
Your inconsistency and your contradictory behaviour and values are a disgrace. You are so used to being regarded as a hero that it has made you unwilling to accept that you can do wrong. You forget that public adulation applies only to the acts they see you perform. It is not blanket validation for everything you do out of their view. You forget or perhaps you never knew that heroism is measured according to one’s abilities. Your powers enable you to do more but that does not make you more of a hero than any human who risks himself to save others. It does not make you more of a hero than the ordinary people of Earth and Krypton who work every day of their lives without respite to make sure their children have enough to eat. You present yourself to the world with that crest on your chest claiming to be a moral being. But today I have learned so much that has been immoral about your decisions and actions that I am ashamed to wear your face!”
She turned on her heel in disgust. She just wanted her counterpart somewhere else, away from her. Now.
“If that is all,” Alura said coolly, “then I believe we have detained you long enough for this day.”
She stood. So did Zor and Kara. The sense of dismissal of the unworthy was so blatant that Superman and Supergirl were wholly intimidated.
Lena remained as she was, stonefaced and not looking at anyone. Alex remained blessedly silent. If there was anyone on Earth capable of understanding Zor’s point of view in regard to Medusa, it was her. The DEO would have stopped at nothing to protect Earth from an invasion and Alex had been all too glad when her sister had activated the lead dispersal mechanism at the time of the Daxamite invasion.
The Supers gave quick ducks of their heads in farewell. Alex stood beside them, unmoving and impassive.
Supergirl turned to Lena but was unable to meet her eyes. She quavered, “Thank you for setting this up, Lena, and for speaking up for us despite ... despite everything. I know you intended this meeting for the best. It is not your fault the truth is what it is. It’s mine.”
She shamed Superman enough that he added his muttered thanks to hers. A numb Lena barely managed to nod in acknowledgement. Then, with Supergirl carrying Alex, they shot off from the balcony.
With mounting dread as to her own fate, Lena silently drove the Els home to her apartment.
I thought that once in a while, readers might like NOT to have to do the mental gymnastics necessary to contort a lousy canon into a fanfic trope. Besides, if we acknowledge canon, then it's there to throw stink bombs at.
Before being too ready to say this chapter was harsh, bear in mind that the whole reason canon is so unsatisfactory to so many of us is precisely because the Els' view of canon events is legitimate and ethical.
“You are tired,” Alura observed, as she cast her eyes over Lena’s face. “We wished to spend more time with you but perhaps you would prefer to rest.”
Alura was right. Lena felt positively haggard and was sure she looked it too. But it was weighing on her mind after what she had heard today that the Els must have a terrible opinion of her too. It was better to face the music once and for all than continue living in dread. “I have enough endurance left in me to discuss my own misdeeds with you. You’ve heard it all now. I can’t imagine you want anything to do me, let alone have me associated with your House.”
During the last visit Zor had learned to make coffee. On this occasion, taking pride in the freedom of Lena’s kitchen which had been granted him, he had deputized himself for the task. As he waited for the coffee to brew, he remarked, “I do not believe we have ever said that Kryptonians are perfect or that Els are. We are not free from error, both petty and grave.”
“I don’t think any El has attempted to render Kryptonians unable to defend themselves from invaders,” Lena said pointedly. “In fact you did quite the opposite.”
Alura shook her head. “Lena, we do not dismiss what you did, nor will we forget that you have the potential to take such drastic measures. But in the course of my work I have seen that everyone, if they or what they hold dear to them is threatened or destroyed, has the capacity to do terrible things. You see what you did as an inappropriate response. Well, so it was inappropriate, but so are many responses to fear.”
Lena blinked slowly.
“We were very strict with Supergirl because what she did to you was done without cause and without provocation. It enrages us to see innocents being victimized. You, however, were in a different case when you embarked on your Project Non Nocere. You had been very seriously provoked and Supergirl was not an innocent as far as you were concerned. For that reason we have considerably more sympathy for you.”
Alura paused before spinning out her theory. “I think that you felt alone and vulnerable and threatened. Those you had thought of as friends for years had not only turned out not to be friends, but had actively caused you harm. You might not have identified the harm clearly but I believe you felt harmed. They had no reason to do that to you before so there was nothing stopping them from trying to do it again. Therefore your instincts told you that you were in continuing danger from them, though the danger was in the main not physical in nature. Those instincts told you that you had to protect yourself. What you intended with Non Nocere was on wider scale than just yourself because your intellect was sufficient to attempt it. It was some form of terribly misguided, frightened generosity: you intended to protect not only yourself but others. So, yes, you were compromised enough that you could not see that those you sought to protect would instead be your victims. But I do not at all accept that you did it out of anything other than a perceived need for self-defence. And in the end it was you yourself who called a halt to your project, no one else.”
Lena shifted uncomfortably, totally unused to the experience of having someone defend her to herself. “There was also Eve Teschmacher. In our original universe I effectively killed, or at the very least enslaved, her by taking over her body with my artificial intelligence.”
Zor bore a tray full of mugs into the living room and all of them helped themselves.
“Yes, in my opinion that was the worst thing you did,” Alura said frankly. “Having said that, she had proved to be a major threat and one so dedicated to your brother that she could not be neutralized by persuasion. Her effectiveness had to be disabled in some way. You captured her after your brother had revealed Supergirl’s identity. Your period of fear and sense of complete isolation had begun. From your perspective, at that time you were surrounded by nothing but enemies. You could not afford to leave her free to harm others so her capture was necessary. With your brother’s ability to gain allies, you could not risk turning her over to law enforcement. You could not trust those who you had thought of as friends – indeed you feared them. You saw no viable choice but to keep her yourself. Of course, ideally you should simply have held her in a secure facility but you did not see yourself as having that option because there was no one else available to you to guard her and see to her upkeep while you dealt with the other dangers you perceived. Moreover she too had provoked you by betraying you and you felt vengeful. So I understand why you made your artificial intelligence take over her. It was no less wrong. In fact I find it terrifyingly pragmatic of you. But it is understandable in the circumstances.”
She stopped for a few seconds but it was clear she wasn’t finished. “Perhaps ... perhaps the erasure of that deed with the destruction of that universe is the way that Rao, or as you might say, fate or destiny, has of granting you this one clemency, that you should not be required to answer for this because of all that you undeservedly suffered without redress and all the good you did in earlier in your life. I gather that this universe's Eve has ended up well and with her mother?"
Lena nodded in confirmation.
"Then perhaps the regret you carry forward even in this new universe is meant to be sufficient penance and to stay your hand in future when your need for extreme action feels most exigent.”
Lena absorbed this. The self-loathing in her heart did not immediately disappear but its worst pain ebbed. ‘Villain’ had echoed insidiously in the hidden corners of her mind since Supergirl had used it to her, but the echoes faded as Alura’s words soothed them into a warning murmur of ‘potential villain’. Lena despised the thought that she had been frightened but there was an uncomfortable truth to it. The Els were not feeding her platitudinous crap by assuring her that she was innocent because she most certainly had not been, and she could never have accepted such false comfort. They were telling her that she had done these awful things because she had been terrified. It was not palatable but perhaps that was part of what made it so credible, and being credible made it acceptable. The other part of what made it credible was that in light of how the Els characterized what had been done to Lena, Alura’s reasoning made perfect emotional sense.
Kara wore a small, unreadable smile. “Your only actual revenge against Supergirl was to trap her in a kryptonite cage, was it not? Lena, I believe that for a long time you thought yourself betrayed. Supergirl used that word with special emphasis when retelling the story earlier. On Krypton we use the term ‘betrayal’ for occasions when loyalty is owed and disloyalty is given instead. In your case, it can loosely be said that what Supergirl and her friends did to you was a betrayal of the spirit of friendship: that is true. But it is my belief that what was truly hurtful, truly damaging, was that they had perpetrated a multitude of very serious impositions on you in various forms.”
Lena nodded. “Yes, I feel stupid for not having seen it before because now that seems so obvious. If Supergirl’s alter ego had turned out to be a stranger and they had done nothing else but conceal it from me, at worst I would have thought it ungracious of her to withhold her other identity considering everything I’d done for her. I might have been hurt but I wouldn’t have been angry or vengeful. Merely keeping her secret in that case would not in itself have amounted to action against me.”
“But because you thought of yourself as betrayed rather than violated, imposed on or used and manipulated, your revenge was also to betray Supergirl’s trust when she brought you to what was a safe place for her.” Kara cocked her head as a thought struck her. “Why was there a kryptonite cage there at all if it was supposed to be safe for her and Clark?”
Lena shrugged. “The fact that it could be infused with kryptonite must, I suppose, be intended for whenever one or other of them was compromised and needed to be restrained temporarily by the other. Or maybe they thought other Kryptonians with ill intent might appear. But the cage alone? That was just for intruders in general. I was trapped in it when I first entered because Superman had programmed the defences to be activated by the detection of Luthor DNA. He meant it principally for my brother but of course, I’m a Luthor too.”
“Lena, stop being troubled by comparing yourself with your brother. If you had been a xenophobe, you would have ascribed everything Kara Danvers and her friends did to you to the fact she is not human. Non Nocere would then have protected humans from aliens. You did not do that. You did not think ‘Kara Danvers is horrible because she is not human’. You thought Kara Danvers and her friends were just horrible to you, which in fact they were. Non Nocere was intended to protect everyone from horrible people, whether the horrible people were humans or aliens. It was wrong but it was not xenophobic.”
Lena gave Kara a wry look. “I don’t think being a Luthor is about being xenophobic. Xenophobia is an inborn evolutionary instinct we tame with civilization. Many people are born with it and then get it educated out of them. It isn’t particular to Luthors, though of course the Luthor household was not the place to have that educated out of you, so thank goodness for boarding school and college. No, the particular thing about the Luthor temperament is that we act in extreme ways when we feel negative emotions strongly. It just so happened that in Lex’s case, those negative emotions were his fear and envy of the Supers, aggravated by his uncorrected xenophobia. I think in that respect, in being extreme, Non Nocere was very Luthor in style for all that it wasn’t xenophobic. So if you’re trying to say it didn’t reflect a similarity in me to my brother, I’d have to disagree.”
Alura smiled at Kara, “My daughter, in whom I have so much pride, I tend to agree with Lena here. However,” she turned to Lena, “as I said, the solution is simple. When you are very angry, it must become a cue for you to reduce by several degrees the severity of the measures you intend to take.”
Kara grinned suddenly. “You see, this is support, Lena. When you do wrong, we do not condone, diminish, abet or enable it. We disagree. We ensure you know why we disagree. But we try to understand and we support you. Because this is friendship for Kryptonians. It is not like that of Kara Danvers’s friends, who enabled, abetted and encouraged her in wrongdoing towards you.” She was unable to forbear a small sniff that endeared her to Lena more than she would ever know.
Lena bit her lip. “Can I just ask ... if I had been a member of your House at the time, and the whole was put before you to decide a result that would be most honourable, what would your decision be?”
For the first time, the Els went into a little huddle. In the meantime, Lena decided that tonight’s dinner should be Greek and used her phone to put in a large order for delivery. Her exhaustion had dissipated with the lifting of dread.
When they emerged again, Zor said, “We would require each of you to do a substantial service for the other, partly as an apology and reparation and partly to demonstrate goodwill for the future. But the nature of the service would depend on whether you are able to tolerate each other’s presence. If her presence causes you to feel threatened or even panicked, or if your presence causes her to be so overcome with guilt that it impedes her functioning, then the services must be remote. Perhaps in her case, a service to your enterprise. And in your case ...” he paused. “A moment, you have given her an anti-Kryptonite suit recently?”
“Yeeeesss ... but remember that the cost of it is not that substantial to me ...” Lena began.
“Perhaps, but the knowledge and skill and time involved in creating it was substantial. It is lifesaving equipment for her that no one else could have made. Has she ever given you a similar gift, that is to say, something substantial out of her efforts and of commensurate value to you? Do not include the times she has saved you – those are balanced out by the times you have saved her. Something else.”
“The watch. Activating it summons her immediately and I have used it.”
“But was this anti-kryptonite suit not the first, but the second or third one you have given her?” Kara frowned.
“Third. Well, the second was more of a shield ...”
“Yes, I remember now. Well, then, we would consider your service already rendered,” Zor said finally.
“It would be fair, Lena,” Alura assured her. “You may be rich but that does not mean you must always be the one giving her material things and then have such gifts discounted. If there was an imbalance before, it must be taken into account so that, upon Supergirl rendering her service, all will be level between you. It would then cease to be a matter of House honour and how you proceed into the future would be up to the two of you alone to decide.”
“I see. Thank you. Not only for this hypothetical but for your many individual kindnesses to me today, for helping me to see more clearly, I will never be able to thank you enough,” Lena gave the Els a heartfelt smile.
“They reflected nothing more than our true thoughts and feelings,” Zor had a most avuncular affect. “We came to you without warning in circumstances that invited distrust, yet you have been scrupulous in every kind attention to us despite the fact you were brought up to be wary of those alien to Earth.”
“Indeed,” Kara said to her parents. “If she can behave so well even by our standards, I do not believe your strictures about Kara Danvers having a different honour code apply.”
“They still apply.” Alura was mildly amused by her daughter trying it on. “Lena’s conduct to us is greatly to her credit but it is not to Kara Danvers’s discredit that someone else behaves exceptionally well. You are not quite a legal thinker, my daughter,” she finished fondly.
“Possibly the physical resemblance between her and Kara Danvers makes her less sympathetic,” Lena said with a curious tilt of her head, finding herself now capable of a mild tease. “Odd. One would have thought it would have the opposite effect.”
“Not after I heard how disgracefully she behaved toward you. Then I am afraid I took it personally because she has my face. It is too early in our acquaintance for me to be biased in your favour but I admit that I am now very biased against her.”
“Kara, I think perhaps you do not entirely appreciate how much your counterpart may have suffered from the sudden and total loss of everything and everyone she knew when she was only a child,” Lena pointed out gently. “One does not ever fully recover from so sudden and severe a trauma. Humans have suffered smaller losses and never been the same; some of them turn very bad indeed.”
She looked at all the Els. “You said you consider her weak of mind and maybe, if you only consider what passed between her and me, it can seem that way. But if you give full weight to everything she has suffered, it is a miracle of strength that she is not only sane but generally good and kind and brave. I ... was an exception for her.”
Zor nodded slowly. After a while, Alura did the same. “Justly said,” she opined. “We were sympathetic yesterday when she recounted her story. Today I believe that in our outrage we may not have attributed her retardation in maturity to her past tragedies. I accept now that her sister was not the prime cause but she did exacerbate it. Nevertheless a long enough time has passed that those past tragedies do not excuse her many, long and continuous mistreatments of you. She cannot both stay in a state of arrested development forever and put herself forward to be viewed as an adult. If she does wish to be treated as an adult, she must take the bad with the good: she must hold herself accountable for her wrongs. The House of El cannot have an adult member going around behaving the way she did towards you and be always cleaning up after her or making excuses for her.”
“I honestly don't believe you need to worry about that. I was only an exception because unlike other people, I am capable of the very thing she feared,” Lena replied. “That potential was in me all along. Though it was her actions that made me actualize the potential, it was not entirely unrealistic of her to feel that fear. And as you have pointed out, people in fear can do terrible things. After the Fortress of Solitude, she must have feared me even more because I demonstrated a willingness to use kryptonite against her...”
She broke off when Kara shook her head.
“Cowering and hiding are not the only acceptable responses to being gravely wounded,” Kara said. “And no sane person without a wish for death would voluntarily expose themselves to the risk of being gravely wounded again. Yet these were the unrealistic limits of the responses from you she would have found acceptable, whereas fighting back seems to me well within the spectrum of normal responses - it is just that the way you fought back in this instance was not reasonable or right. It is unconscionable to tell a victim that the only legitimate way forward for her is to return to her abuser and lay herself open for further victimization otherwise she is a villain. When, even worse, that kind of message comes from the abuser, it is so blatantly self-serving that it is no wonder you were resistant. You had to be made to feel safe before you could even contemplate taking another risk. How could she make you feel safe when she failed to acknowledge the full extent of her wrongs towards you and failed to assure you that she was improved in wisdom? You were so hurt that her mere verbal apology felt grossly insufficient to your instincts, so you could not believe she was sincere. Naturally you could not feel safe! So I still strongly condemn what she did to you and even more strongly condemn her unwillingness to accept full culpability for it. But,” she added grudgingly, “I will try to remember that in the race towards decency, she started out greatly handicapped and has overcome much in arriving ahead of the average.”
“Very much ahead of the average. Despite those handicaps, she has rescued and assisted countless Earth residents for no reward, while holding down full time employment,” Lena reminded. “She has faced great danger to herself repeatedly. There is honour, courage and endurance in that. It is her sense of justice that allowed her to give me a chance, to believe in me, when no one else would. Those articles she wrote about me don’t exist on this Earth. You won’t have found them or the articles by the rest of the press that doubted me. You can’t have appreciated how much she was swimming against the tide to write the objective truth at that time, when she was new and yet to establish herself in her career. Those articles might have set her back considerably.”
“I will allow that,” Kara said. “But then she was only behaving the way people should behave. As a corollary to what my mother has just pointed out to me, the fact that other people’s behaviour was worse than it should have been does not make hers better than it should have been. It does not elevate her conduct beyond what it was: decency and truth telling. It was not a display of special favour for you.”
“It still required a great deal of courage. That was a great risk she took and it worked out to my benefit.”
“Yes, you are not an ungrateful person,” Alura gazed at Lena thoughtfully. “Despite everything, you still display loyalty to her.”
“No, I’m trying to be fair,” Lena corrected, “and the best way to do that is to advocate for her. In both guises, Supergirl has done more for me than anyone else except my birth mother and my brother in our early lives. She has defended me and tried to protect me to the point of risking her own life. At this moment, I don’t know what I feel for her.” She shrugged helplessly. “I wasn’t even able to talk directly to her today. It’s probably fortunate that before this, the most acute effects of resentment had already burnt themselves out in me with the blow to my pride that came with discovering how misconceived Non Nocere was. But as you’ve said, the past can sometimes pay dividends into the future. If I am not to pay for what I did to Eve, then I don’t feel that I can ignore what Supergirl's done for me.”
“You are right to be grateful,” Zor said. “But my daughter’s point is that you might have less to be grateful for than you believe. Saving the lives of innocents such as you and writing the truth are things Supergirl ought to have done in any case, whether she cared for you or not. We can approve of her generosity and bravery and integrity in doing those things. But special affection for you is not an inevitable accompaniment to these instances of proper conduct.”
Kara looked at her earnestly. “Lena, we are not trying to turn you against Supergirl. We wish to think well of her. We were happy in the anticipation of welcoming her to our House. It is a great disappointment to us that we cannot and it would bring us joy if she can redeem herself. We are trying to make clear to you our understanding of where you stand with her because you are confused about it.
I accept that she once believed in you enough, cared for you enough to save your life by opposing her sister's and friends' opinions and endangering herself. Maybe that is still true - I am not certain because once she knew you can synthesize kryptonite she was less careful with your life, and now you have even used kryptonite against her. But you can oppose someone's opinion, as she did on that occasion, without risking your relationship with him or her. When your life is not at stake, she does not put your wellbeing ahead of her other relationships. Here I am taking into account what you have asked me to: I am taking into account the fact that after all she has suffered, she is very sensitive to loss. She did not think to dissuade James from pursuing you. You say she is an excellent reporter so she has facility with language, enough to be persuasive. So I am not convinced that she has made the effort to convince her sister to think fairly about you instead of just behaving with civility. If she had, Alex Danvers would long since have become habituated to it. Instead there was a wealth of repressed resentment and signs of an automatic tendency to put the blame on you coming out of her earlier when she kept trying to turn attention to your misdeeds and off her sister’s and her own.
Supergirl's actions and inaction are the evidence of what she really feels. Her actions and inaction over years gave Alex and her friends the message that they could treat you worse than anyone should be treated and not even apologise for it. I must conclude that though she is as willing to risk her life for you as she would be for anyone else, she is less ready to risk her other relationships for your sake. When she can please everyone, she will. But when she cannot please everyone, she chooses them, not you. It is her right to value others more than you; we do not begrudge her that. We begrudge her trying to imply otherwise just to induce you to repair your relationship with her. That should only be done on a true basis, otherwise it will only break down again.”
Lena looked around at the grave faces of the Els. Clearly Kara’s parents agreed with her. It did seem like a balanced and judicious analysis and conclusion, one that seemed all too easy to adopt as truth. It was also all too easy to glom onto the Els as she had tended to do in the past when people were nice to her with no apparent agenda. But Lena remembered: she must take her emotional comforts sparingly. Maybe like Rhea, like Kara Danvers, the Els also had an agenda she didn’t know about beyond the obvious. Why should they want her anyway? Kara had other names on her list, Kryptonian names: people who had been brought up Kryptonian, who would be easier to deal with...
So no, she really liked the Els but there would be no glomming. Like it or not, at some point, she would have to talk to Supergirl directly. She would have to do so prepared to look beyond the pleading sincerity in that well known face. Because Supergirl might have fooled herself. She might believe her feelings were stronger, truer, than they actually were. And so without intending deceit, she could still convey a misleading impression.
She tried to think of anything more she could say on the superhero’s behalf but nothing else came to mind. She’d received a ton of new information over the last two days. Unlike the Els, she had come to it with an existing perspective of past events that had to be re-ordered, with knowledge of them that had to be re-thought. She hadn’t had time to do that because these two days had been largely filled with receiving the information. As Kara had said, Lena was ignorant of what she herself could say in the superhero’s defence because she had been kept out of so much. That thought was so depressing that she was becoming less and less inclined to make the effort to parse through all that new information.
“Now,” Zor said thoughtfully, “we shall discuss Superman with Jor and his family. Other than that, we can only wait and see what Supergirl and Superman will do in response to this day. We shall pray to Rao to guide their steps and hope they find a way to us. "
The doorbell rang.
Lena jumped up. “Let’s eat,” she smiled. And if that smile was a little broken, no one commented. They talked about other, lighter things over dinner.
The atmosphere in Kara Danvers’s apartment was considerably less genial than in Lena’s. Superman had offered to stay and talk but his cousin had moodily shaken her head so he took off to go home.
Alex went to get dinner. She came back with laden arms to find her sister, now pajama-clad, still brooding on the couch.
But it was when her sister displayed absolutely no appetite that Alex’s concern ratcheted up into alarm.
“Come on, Kara,” she urged. “Talk to me.”
Her sister groaned impatiently. “I have just had people with my birth parents’ faces and my own tell me I am unworthy of admission to the House of El in this universe, that I don’t deserve to wear the crest. They have accused me of having done things to Lena so horrible that I don’t even dare ask for forgiveness. The best I can hope for is that she’ll recover. And I have no defence! I did do those things and I needed other people to tell me how wrong it was! They consider me weak of mind, inconsistent and unable to be independent and again, I have no defence! How do you think I feel, Alex?”
“Kara, they are NOT your actual parents! They are almost strangers. Don’t let them get you down like that.”
She got an incredulous look. “Are you serious right now? Don’t you get that whether or not they are my parents, they were right in every respect? We don’t get to discount them just because we don’t like what they say!”
She paused for a long moment, staring at Alex. Then a look of dread and dawning comprehension came over her face. “You’re finding it so easy to disregard what we did to Lena, aren’t you? You don’t even really think we did anything wrong to her ...”
Alex huffed. “No, I get that she has a right to be angry. But ...”
“Oh, is that all?” Kara’s voice took on a furious mocking tone for a moment. Then she shook her head. “You say that but I don’t think you mean it,” Kara was beginning to see all too clearly what she had refused to see before. “Not the way I mean it. You discount 90% of the weight of anything said in her favour, however valid, and play up anything that can be said in mine. Can’t you see that I’ve just been properly called out for avoiding guilt and buying into that crap myself? Do you seriously think that there’s no such thing as ‘wrong’ when it comes to protecting me?!”
The look on Kara’s face was giving Alex pause. It was the look of one seeing an unwelcome truth at last. It was a look that told Alex that she had to institute damage control very quickly.
“Look, Kara, I can only do my best ...”
Again she was interrupted. “No. You are not doing your best. I’ve seen your best and it’s awesome. Compared to that, you’ve barely tried with Lena. You’re barely trying now. Are you ... were you just humouring me about her all along? Placating me? No, scratch that. Even if Lena were a horrible person, it does not justify what we did!”
Alex went silent, not knowing anymore what to say.
Kara went to stand at the window. She was stung by the comparison she had made between the other Kara and herself. That Kara’s confidence was not impaired by receiving guidance or even correction from her parents when others were present. That Kara was not coddled by her parents. This Zor and Alura did not flinch from letting their daughter experience immediate discomfort if they thought that she would be the better for it. Yet they were proud of her, expected that she could handle difficult situations. They let her speak for the House of El.
Goaded by the excoriating criticism she had received and by the self-condemnation she was now abundantly feeling, Kara's mind, instead of wallowing as it had previously been wont to do, was working furiously in a way it never had before. Maybe today was exactly what she had needed all along. It had been exquisitely horrible, but without this rude jolt of complete and utter shame delivered by people who spoke with consistent rationality, people her heart told her were healthy authority figures for her, people she wanted to accept and approve of her, would she ever have felt the urgent need to make significant changes? She now had living examples of what she could be. She now had a clear illustration of what it meant for family to guide and support without coddling: the way the elder Els related to their daughter stood in stark contrast to the way Alex treated Kara.
But then, Alex had had no guidance either, had she? Jeremiah had been taken from them too soon. Eliza ... well, wasn’t Eliza precisely the reason Alex’s kneejerk reaction to any threat she perceived to Kara was to wrap Kara up in cotton wool and kick said perceived threat in the ass without even taking breath to see if her perception was correct?
And Kara herself ... had never protested to Eliza, had she? She hadn’t because she had liked feeling protected. She had only ever tried to get Eliza and Alex to get along smoothly without ever addressing Eliza’s attitude to Alex. Similarly, she had only ever tried to get Alex to treat Lena politely without ever addressing her inner attitude to Lena. Because she hadn’t wanted to risk losing Eliza in the first instance or Alex in the second, not on top of everything and everyone else she had lost.
She thought of Lena playing chess. Necessary sacrifices, risks. That was what chess was about. You identified the goal you wanted above all to achieve and then you decided whether this or that risk you came across was worth incurring in pursuit of that goal. Sometimes it wasn’t, but sometimes it was.
Kara Danvers desperately, desperately wanted to be better. She wanted to be capable enough not to need her human sister to pull her ass out of the fire so often that she felt dependent on her. She wanted to be thought of as an adult. Now that Alex’s brand of protection had been explicitly accused of being stifling and counterproductive, she could see the truth of it. Now she wanted only guidance that did not lead her further and further into error and if Alex could not find that path, then Kara wanted only her love and support. She wanted to be more like her counterpart. Her counterpart who was apparently courting Lena with the approval of the Matrix and the Kryptonian Council.
“I can hear you grinding your teeth from here,” Alex ventured tentatively.
Kara turned back to her.
“Alex, I really appreciate you being here for me. But I need to think and process. Can we talk more tomorrow? Or do you have Sunday plans with Kelly?”
Alex’s face showed her relief that Kara wasn’t being hostile anymore. “Not for the whole day.” She heaved herself upright. “It was either gonna be brunch or dinner. When are you gonna be ready to talk?”
“Morning’s fine,” Kara said briefly. “That way you get the rest of the day open-ended. That sound good?”
“Yup. G’night then,” Alex engulfed her in a hug. “I know you’re feeling bad. Just ... don’t do anything about it until we talk again, huh? Sleep always helps, y’know?”
“Yeah,” Kara said. “Don’t worry. I’m just gonna think. And sleep. I won’t do anything else.”
Alex came back with donuts in the morning. They both ate ravenously.
“Okay. I see you’ve got that serious bite-the-bullet kinda look.” Alex wiped her mouth, then drank her coffee.
“Three things,” Kara said. “Well, there’s two things I want from you. The third thing ... actually let’s talk about that first. You and I, we need to talk to Eliza about the way she is with you about me. She needs to stop that. We don’t need her to be perfect but she must at least acknowledge that that was wrong. Telling her that is gonna come better from me than from you. But she also needs to agree and she needs to do that with you there to hear it. So we both have to be there.”
Alex inhaled thoughtfully. “I ... would appreciate that. But I don’t think we should show up just for that and then disappear again. It’s bound to come across ... I dunno ... ungrateful or something. It’ll get her back up and god knows what she’ll think after we’re gone. Better to do it when we’re planning to see her anyway, and then we just find a way to make sure we get her early, an hour or so before the scheduled time. Like show up early in Midvale or tell her to come an hour before the actual time we need her here for whatever get-together’s being planned. Then we'll be around afterwards to show her we appreciate her anyway. It can wait till then.”
“Okay,” Kara said. “Now the other two things. The first thing is this. I need to you write some lists.” She slid a blank sheet of paper and a pen in front of Alex.
“Yes. List number one. All the good things Lena’s done. Right from the time she saved you from John Corben. Everything.”
Alex put down the pen. “Why the hell ...?”
“What’s the matter?” Kara looked at her sister like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. “It costs you nothing to do this short exercise so what are you afraid of?”
It worked. Rather than admit that she didn’t even have enough fairness in her to acknowledge actual facts and therefore didn’t want to be confronted by them, Alex picked up the pen. She made a show of being disgruntled about wasting her time, but she wrote the list. Kara had to prompt her with a few items she had either forgotten or had never known about, but at last the sheet was full.
“Second list.” Kara slid a second sheet of blank paper forward. “The heading is all the things you know for a fact Lena did wrong before she found out who I was.”
“Before ...” Alex’s brow crinkled. “How’s that fair?”
“Just write the damned heading, Alex!”
Kara never swore. Alex closed her mouth. She wrote the heading, then she stared at the sheet.
Well?” Kara demanded. “Fill it in.”
Silently, Alex pushed the sheet away.
“Third list,” another blank sheet went in front of Alex. “All the bad things we did to her before she found out who I was. I don’t care if in your mind we had a reason for it. If you wouldn’t have wanted the same thing done to you, it goes on the list.”
Alex didn’t try to protest this time. She started to write.
When she finished, Kara set all three sheets side by side in front of her. “Look. Read.”
Alex looked down. She didn’t say anything.
“Later you will type these up and save them somewhere and send a copy to J’onn. First thing every morning and last thing every night, you’re gonna read all these lists in order aloud to me. And I want J’onn to do it too.”
“Kara ...” Alex sighed. “I’m not eight. You know you can’t force another person to feel whatever you want them to feel, right?”
“It’s three minutes twice a day. That’s not a lot to ask and it’s ... not ...negotiable,” Kara said implacably.
“Or what?” Alex crossed her arms.
“As you say, I can’t force you to feel what I think you should feel. I don’t intend to. If you refuse to do this or if you do it and still don’t feel bad after enough repetitions, I will simply never work with you and J’onn again unless there is an extinction-level threat I can’t handle without you. Given that Clark and Barry and his crew are around, there won’t be many of those. Alex, I can’t, I won’t, work with people who are fundamentally unjust. I also refuse to associate closely with them. So in addition, sister nights stop. Visiting each other without warning stops. We return each other’s spare keys. Right now.”
“You don’t mean that!” Alex was stricken.
Kara looked steadily into the middle distance with a remote thousand-yard stare Alex hadn’t seen since Kara’s earliest days with the Danvers. It was the look of someone dealing with trauma. In Kara’s case what caused her trauma was loss. Except this time, she was anticipating it. This was real. And frightening.
“Okay. I’ll do it.” Alex felt like she was tripping over herself in her hurry to cave in.
Kara came back from wherever she had gone to. “Thank you. Third thing. You and I have to have no direct contact for two months.”
“Kelly and J’onn can make sure we each know the other is okay,” Kara said. “We need to know who we are as independent people. You deserve better than to see yourself only as an adjunct to me forever. I deserve better than to be a mewling child in need of comfort and protection from my big sister all the time. When the two months are up, we start working out how we fit together outside of work. We don’t work together again until we get that sorted out.”
Alex sat back and grimaced. “I hate this.”
“So long as you’ll do it, you can hate it as much as you want. If you don’t do it honestly, if you keep covertly fixating on me, the two months will be extended – in fact they’ll only start from the time I’m sure you are doing it honestly. Kelly will know if you are. What’s the bet that, with her profession, she’ll be motivated to snitch on you to me if it means a better mental outlook for you in future?”
Alex still hated the idea but it was clear that her sister meant only good things for her and wasn't punishing her. “Okay, okay! When do we start?”
“As soon as we tell J’onn and Kelly. Nia too, just to keep her in the loop. Reading the lists is the only exception to the no contact rule. But it’s not an opportunity for us to talk to each other. Not even ‘how are you’s. I listen, I leave or hang up. That’s it. We’ll talk to Eliza when the two months are up.”
Alex gave her sister a long look. “So ... I’m guessing that you regard yesterday as not a completely bad thing.”
“Unpleasant and uncomfortable don’t mean bad, Alex. You need to learn that too. There are some things from which you shouldn’t try to protect me. My superpowers are physical, not mental or emotional. I'm not perfect and you shouldn't expect me to be. Sometimes I benefit from the discomfort of someone calling me out, not the easy comfort of being supported in everything, even doing wrong.”
“OR ...” Alex said a bit more loudly,”... does this have anything to do the whole Matrix thing?”
Kara looked away.
“Because ... well, the way you and Lena carried on ...” Alex shrugged, “... it just seems like you were both really invested in each other. It was like both your hearts were broken.”
Kara clenched her jaw. “Except that once again you’re conveniently forgetting the proper characterization of what we did! Lena felt that level of hurt and anger because what we did to her was ... it was terrible, Alex! And even if her brain originally didn’t see it the way the other Kara saw it, somewhere inside she knew that what we’d done to her was really, really awful. So please don’t give me anymore crap dismissing what we did.”
“I’m not being dismissive ...”
“The fact that you can even think Lena shouldn’t be so angry, that there’s got to be some other reason for it, says you are.”
Alex raised her hands in surrender. “Whoa, okay! I guess we know who we’ll be having lunch with,” Alex fished out her phone. “I’ll call Kelly and J’onn. You call Nia?”
Lunch at Alex’s was a disaster.
Kelly gasped when first let into the fact that Kara was Supergirl. Her fascination, however, soon faded as the full story unfolded.
Nia burst into tears when she heard how the Els had described what the Superfriends had done. J’onn looked even more serious than he usually did. Alex crossed her arms and compressed her lips. Kelly looked grim.
Kara explained about the lists. Alex rolled her eyes and sighed. J’onn stared at Kara disbelievingly. Kelly looked grimmer.
Kara went on to tell them about the proposed two months of no contact between Alex and her. When she explained the part of the plan that involved J’onn and Kelly keeping each of the sisters informed about each other’s well being, Kelly held up her hand.
“No,” she said darkly. “I don’t want to be involved.”
Alex was dismayed. The others all looked surprised.
Kelly was adamant. “When I say that, I mean that I don’t want to be your go-between. And I don’t want that because I don’t want to be involved with you anymore, Alex.”
J’onn, Nia and Kara were flabbergasted and horrified that this was happening in front of them.
Alex’s mouth dropped open and she stared at Kelly in open panic. “Kelly, I’m sorry! I couldn’t tell you before ...”
“This isn’t about that! This is not me being mad about not being trusted with your sister’s alternate career. This is also not me being unsupportive about you making a mistake. It’s a lot more than that. I knew a lot of your work was classified, that it could be unappetizing. I could accept that. It wasn’t all that different with the military. But this? This was not WORK! Do you even understand? This was you instigating and assisting in the mistreatment of a young woman who, once invited into your social circle, made herself vulnerable to all of you! The fact you could do that to someone who was innocent and helpless to guard herself in the ignorance you imposed on her is ...” Kelly shook her head, “... it reminds me of kids ganging up to torture helpless animals, kids who then grow up to be monsters. Their victims, the ones who survive? They’re the people I treat, Alex!” Alex swallowed convulsively. “But you were even worse than that, weren’t you? Because when your victim reacted badly to her mistreatment, you put your gun to her head and called her a villain?!” Kelly’s voice cracked with the intensity of her rage. “You call that a mistake? It was NOT a mistake. It’s a fundamental and serious flaw in character that enables you without a twinge to bully a victim who was only reacting to you ganging up on her to make her YOUR victim, all of it for no valid reason!"
No one could speak. Nia was quietly sobbing. Kara was on the verge of doing the same, only she had had the benefit of letting her tears out the afternoon before and again during the night and had slightly better control of herself. Alex was absolutely white now.
Kelly wasn’t finished. “Nia I can understand. She was late to the group, young, new to the city and had to deal with hostility all her young life. It makes sense that she was susceptible to peer pressure from the first group of people that had ever accepted her as she was, a group that included her superhero mentor who had trusted her with her own identity. Plus maybe she’s not so cynical and jaded because she can obviously see it was wrong. Kara too, since she’s the one thinking of steps to address it. When I’m not so furious with you, I will talk to you again. But Alex, you and J’onn? Neither of you looks all that sorry. And you know who else denies the very victimhood they helped create or supported the creation of? Holocaust deniers!"
Alex couldn’t decide whether to throw up or have an aneurysm. First gang members or serial killers, now this? J’onn was stiff with shock, his eyes wide at hearing himself, the Paragon of Honour (!), victim of one near genocide, likened to the perpetrators of another.
“You two are obviously not that bad yet, but congratulations! You fall into the same category. You have all the hallmarks required to develop into monsters beyond what any aliens’ morphology could make them. You pulled me into this, Alex, and because I wasn't told the full truth, I was supportive of you. You made me an unwitting participant. If I had been told everything, I would never have agreed. It goes against everything I base my life, my profession on. i feel sick just thinking about it and I will not forgive you for that. I’m done with you two and I’m about to have immediate words with my brother!”
She grabbed her things and stormed off, atypically letting the door slam shut behind her.
Even as Kara’s stomach roiled, she contradictorily thought that, yes, that was exactly what a decent, normal person would do. Kelly was one of the most levelheaded, soft-spoken people ever – her reaction spoke of genuine and complete outrage. And perhaps she was that furious because, more than anyone other than Kara, Kelly knew that Alex had thought she was ready to have children. Kara hoped, she really hoped, that this personal cost would finally shock Alex out of her resistance. If it did, it was worth the nausea and self-loathing.
The rest of the meal was very subdued. Everyone had lost what remained of their appetites.
J’onn stared at the printed out lists that a teary Alex put in front of him, his face falling even further.
“There is no need for this,” he said quietly. “I appreciate in full the gravity of what I allowed to happen, what I assisted in.”
“Well, you see,” Kara was almost apologetic but not quite, “I can’t accept that right now. From you or Alex. You’ve both just had a shock from Kelly. If Alex changed her tune right now, it could very well be about regretting losing Kelly, not because she really thinks what we did was horribly wrong. Kelly said some things that I know you must be very sensitive about. You could just be reacting too. So I can’t know at this time how true your remorse is and I can’t afford to take the risk of working with you both when I’m not sure. So for now, we’ll continue as planned until such time as I do feel sure.”
Reluctantly J’onn acquiesced. Then he and Nia agreed to be the go-betweens for the Danvers sisters for the duration of their no-contact period.
Operation Redemption was a go.
“I will eat his heart in the marketplace!” Kara howled.
Zor jumped and nearly fell off his seat.
Alura emerged from her study, shaking her head. “Is Kara reading Earth poetry again?”
“I do not believe she ever stopped once she started,” Zor said wryly.
“They are wonderfully passionate, you must admit,” Kara put down her reading tablet. “I have been thinking that Kryptonians could do with an infusion of such ... energy and enthusiasm.”
“Does Earth poetry always have such barbarous content?” Alura craned her neck to peer at Kara’s tablet.
“It is a play, although some have it as poetry.” Kara looked perplexed. Then her expression cleared. “I will ask Lena. Her explanations are not confusing. But no, of course not, their poetry is as varied as their thought.”
“You like her.” Alura began to prepare the last meal of the day.
Kara nodded vigorously. “We have seen her at what she probably thinks of as her worst, ashamed, awaiting condemnation. Yet she did not ask for quarter. She does not attempt to diminish her wrongs. She does not ask for anyone to protect her. I admire her greatly for that.”
“She argued for the one who wronged her, not for herself,” Zor noted, setting the table.
“Tactically unwise ...” Alura said dryly. Her daughter gave her a wounded look. “... but I agree that there was nobility in her wish to be fair.”
“She has been too much alone for too long,” Kara said. “That is why she does not ask for help.” She took a full platter from her mother’s hands and went to the heat inducer. With a red sun, Krypton was on average cooler than Earth at every equivalent latitude. Kryptonians had adapted to it so they were comfortable in cooler temperatures than the average human. But their blood still ran warm, and the city domes had long obviated the necessity for further evolution to conform to the natural environment. They had a few well-loved cold dishes but by and large, meals were served hot except in cases of military necessity.
“We may not have known each other long enough for deeper feelings to appear, but it disturbs me to leave her alone on Earth, knowing that she has no one to rely on in personal matters. You see how she doubts that she is good when we know it was only in reaction to profound mistreatment that she departed from the path of good for a time.”
“Prior to the disclosure of Supergirl’s identity to her, she did nothing but right,” Zor objected. “I do not think you have to fear that she will always have a tendency towards self-doubt.”
“My counterpart made her lose confidence in herself,” Kara grumbled. “That is almost worse than the mistreatment. Once an obstacle has been conquered the first time, it becomes easier and easier to overcome subsequently. Now that Lena has experienced departing from the path of good, she fears that it will be too easy for her to do so again. This is why she doubts herself. And she has no one to reinforce her confidence. Only Kara Danvers did once, but then her actions sent the opposite message and pushed Lena to do the very things that now make her doubt herself.”
“There is a limit to what words can do, powerful as they may be,” her father said. “If we continue to show Lena that we consider her worthy of friendship, I believe that is all that will be necessary. Sometimes a light touch is best. Reassurances from anyone else can only ever be moral support. Lena’s confidence will only truly re-assert itself when she herself acts true and continues to do so by her own decisions. Sensing that others repose trust in her to do that will be of more value than any number of words which are too easy to say.”
Kara absorbed this in satisfied silence. Eventually she said reluctantly, “I suppose much the same applies to my counterpart.”
“Only if she wishes to try,” Zor replied. “Such willingness is not for us to force in anyone. This is why we wait now, to see whether she is willing. Perhaps her support group will persuade her to ignore us because our views were unpleasant to hear and we are not her true blood family. Her loyalty is to them. She is used to being in concord with them. The immediate comfort of their support is something she likes or even needs. I have noticed that much of the popular culture in which she has been brought up expresses a preference for desires to be fulfilled without delay, even if delay would bring deeper satisfaction. Lena seems to have been insulated from that to some degree because she is by nature strategic: she aims for the final victory even if that entails delay. But your counterpart is a different person. I would not blame her if she prefers what she has always known. ”
They sat down to eat.
“You mean that in that case we should accept her as she is and not dislike her for it, even though we will not admit her to our House.” Kara chewed thoughtfully.
“You are half right. We must accept people as they are. What is required for her admission to the House of El is that her judgment be dependable. So long as it is, we do not have to inquire into how she arrives at her decisions.”
Zor was careful about educating his daughter, just as he knew Jor was careful about educating Kal. At the moment, Jor was head of the House of El but this was a House that had always been led by a light hand. All the adult Els were independent and could make decisions on behalf of the House, even important decisions, because they trusted in each other’s judgment. They trusted that in cases of difficulty, they would be consulted. If adult Els could not be trusted, then the leader of the House would have to exercise closer supervision over its members, make more decisions on behalf of the House. It was not a burden to be wished on any House leader and it could lead to tyranny on the leader’s part and restiveness on the part of the others.
If Jor died, then leadership would pass to Zor and then upon his death, to Kara as the eldest of her generation of El blood. But Kal and both Kara and Kal’s spouses would be just as responsible for upholding the honour of the House. They would all have to advise each other and be able to make good decisions independently. Right now Zor was teaching Kara the difference between a light hand and overbearing leadership.
“I have been thinking,” Alura said. “Lena made a case that Kara Danvers generally makes sound decisions, that Lena was an exception for her. But the inconsistency between her attitude to Medusa and the lead dispersal required to deter the Daxamite invasion shows that Lena was not such an exception as she might think.”
“Yes, I am aware,” Zor nodded. “But it makes no difference to the fact that we must still wait for Kara Danvers to respond. We can but hope.”
As it happened, Lena did have an explanation about the poetry. English was hardly a special interest of hers but she had had a very expensive education.
“Technically, much of what Shakespeare wrote in his plays can be classified as poetry in that it conforms to an old established form with some rhyme or half-rhyme and a regular meter, a rhythm that can be felt and heard when the words are spoken aloud. But he didn’t write his plays to be read as poetry. He wrote them to be spoken aloud as dramas presented on stage by live players. He meant them to catch and hold the attention of the audience. Well,” she opened her hands, half-laughing, “everyone would go to sleep in minutes if the actors said their lines in a monotonous di-dah di-dah di-dah di-dah di-DAH rhythm for any length of time! But writing important speeches as poetry served two purposes. First it made it easier for the actors to memorise their lines. Secondly, spoken aloud by a skilled actor with a trained voice, who pauses not at the end of each line but at the end of each sentence carrying a single idea, complex ideas can be conveyed even to audiences without much formal education. The rhythm and rhyme, made subtle and used well by a good actor, lend the words power so that they become striking and memorable to the audience.”
“Ah ...” Alura sounded enlightened.
Lena started typing. “Here is Dame Harriet Walter giving, one immediately after another, two completely different readings of the same scene.”
The Els gathered round the monitor like inquisitive ducklings. It was so cute that Lena felt a sudden pang of combined affection and worry. She had grown fond of all three of them. If the pattern of her life ran true, the other shoe would drop at some point. Yet the Els were irresistible to her because circumstances and her own character had not allowed her have a normal healthy broad spectrum of friendships. Sometimes she even wondered why she should keep trying to pass herself off as socially well adjusted. Was this going to be Rhea all over again?
Gazing at the Els and holding on to hope, she hit play.
All of them were silent as one of Earth’s living treasures played Lady Macbeth twice.
When Lena ended the playback, Zor marveled, “I am not good with art in general but this extract you have shown us made the high level of training and work behind a performance comprehensible even to me. I found it most absorbing.”
“There was a different form of passion with each reading,” Kara noted. “And yet both readings were completely convincing.”
“I am so glad,” Alura said dryly, “that the average witness has not had training in this technique.”
“It’s called Shakespearean verse speaking,” Lena informed her. “Would you like to see more?”
All the Els nodded in unison. So cute.
“Then make yourselves comfortable. This is a long one.” Lena cued up on her TV screen a film by one of her all-time favourites, Dame Fiona Shaw. (It was of course pure and utter coincidence and completely irrelevant to Lena’s favouritism that this actress was dark-haired and very Irish, as her natural speaking voice revealed.) “This is a documentary showing how young actors train in the art. It’s based on a play called As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s comedies. During his time, the actors were all men, even those who played women’s roles. Today it is different, of course.”
The Els watched with almost preternatural concentration every minute of the one-and-a-half hour show. After it ended there was respectful silence for a minute.
“I am amazed,” Kara said in a hushed voice.
“Are there dramas like that on Krypton?” Lena asked.
The Els looked at each other.
“No,” Kara said. “Most of the holos are didactic in nature. They can be very interesting but it is not the same. They are meant to teach. The public expression of emotion is in general ... muted.”
“But what about music? Or pictorial art? How are they possible if emotions are muted?”
“Oh, they are not muted at home!” Alura chuckled. “In public we have debates or discuss new advances or policies. Logic and rationality are valued for such purposes. Things like music are for private consumption and would not be considered for presentation to a large audience in a public setting. An individual would obtain a holo-crystal of it to play at home. The average Kryptonian would be embarrassed to display his reaction in public.”
That sounded simultaneously pretty uptight and yet wholly understandable to Lena, who usually had to present a decorous front to the world. “Clearly you appreciate the arts of Earth. Would other Kryptonians?”
“Oh yes!” Kara cried eagerly at the same time as Alura and Zor gave skeptical hums. She looked at her parents indignantly. “We can put performances on crystals for private consumption. We do not have to view the performances in large public groups just because the Earthers do.”
“Language,” Zor reminded her.
“If there is sufficient attraction and interest, they will learn. It is not difficult; it wants only time. We can provide language crystals too. Kryptonians may never admit it aloud, but it is my opinion that privately they hunger for the energy that passion imparts. They hunger to express themselves in ways that in public they now cannot. These performances will give them an outlet, examples of emotional extremes in which they will be caught up. In public they may say such performances are ‘primitive’ but I believe that there will actually be a vast market for them.”
“Do you intend to turn to business then, and give up your current work?” Alura asked archly.
“Lena is the businesswoman. She even has experience with media,” she looked at her potential spouse hopefully. “Can you advise us?”
“Where does Krypton stand on private enterprise?” Lena asked. “I have the impression that money exists, yet it is somehow not terribly important. I need to understand the basis on which the economy is founded.”
“Homes and land are controlled and allocated by the government,” Kara told her. “All adults are given shelter. A food producer may get more land than, say, a scientist, depending on whether it is required for the food he produces. The status of our House gave my parents the particular home we live in but they would have received a home regardless of status. I too was entitled to a home of my own when I reached adulthood but I reserved my choice because my parents and I are happy living all together. After I am bound, I and my spouse may wish to take up the choice of a new home of our own. But adults also receive money for their work. Our family works for the sovereign government, but many artisans and labourers, for example, do private work. Some do it exclusively. Merchants, for example, technically fall within the labourers’ guild. Working for the government pays well but so can private work. Still, however wealthy you become, you can never buy land. Money is spent on other things.”
“Well,” Lena said, “if you want to establish a business in Earth arts on Krypton, that assumes that Kryptonians in general would know about Earth and at least be curious about it to begin with. At the moment, you’ve told me that no one there other than the Council does. Then someone has to operate it. You need people to do inventory, accounts and deal with legal matters. You need to have recordings from Earth transferred to crystals. You need to let people know what is available in stock to attract them and you need to provide translations until there is sufficient interest for buyers to learn Earth languages. Do you have people in mind who would want to do all this?”
The Els looked suddenly overwhelmed. Lena suppressed a smile. None of them had ever been involved in business. They hadn’t really appreciated the multiplicity of skills and the courage required to do it. But this relatively light discussion masked issues of real importance: to what extent should Earth and Krypton know about each other? If Earth wanted a formal relationship with Krypton, what could it offer?
Lena opened the door. Kara Danvers hovered in the passageway.
Lena would never admit it but her first instinct was to curl into a ball and pull a protective shell around her. Instead, she clenched her stomach muscles and folded her arms in a self-protective gesture recognizable to behavioural analysts all over the world. Before the Els, Lena used to think it was more of a confident, defiant stance but she was beginning to know better. You can pack your fear and wariness into any number of little boxes so they do not affect your daily deeds, but they will out in any number of tiny ways. And sometimes big ways, as Lena herself had proven.
On her side, Kara was managing to give the impression that she was cowering and ready to flee.
The two of them looked like a couple of complete screw-ups, Lena thought.
“Lena, can we talk? If you ... have the time?” Kara was so timid that Lena could barely hear her.
“Do you need something?”
“NO! No, I just want to talk ...” Kara hesitated, then straightened a little. “I want to apologize properly and maybe see what I can do to make up for the past.”
Lena wished for more time but Kara had mustered the courage to come and face her. It was just Lena’s bad luck that it was a little sooner than she might have liked. Because now that she was here, Lena thought it would be unfair to turn her away. This conversation had to happen sometime and already more than a week had passed since that tempestuous Saturday afternoon in the hotel. As she let her in, she noted Kara’s entire downtrodden air and reminded herself that no matter how unhappy Lena herself felt, this Kara was labouring under the weight of disapproval from people she must have hoped would embrace her to their hearts. When in doubt, go with being kind.
On the couch, Kara shifted restlessly. “Lena, I need to start by telling you what you mean to me. Ever since I came to Earth, the Danvers have protected the Kryptonian, hidden the Kryptonian. School was ... difficult ... because I had to learn to control my powers and hide them while I was still learning. I made one friend and ... well, he died soon afterwards ...” Kara paused for a moment’s sad remembrance. “When I became Supergirl, working with the DEO meant half my life was taken up with people for whom only the Kryptonian mattered. To them, Kara Danvers didn’t matter. Alex loves all of me like a true sister but on a day to day basis she’s also preoccupied with protecting me because I’m Kryptonian. Winn started out as Kara Danvers’s friend but then he joined the DEO too. Everyone who knew both Kara Danvers and Supergirl always put the Kryptonian at the top of their priorities. The public certainly did – most of them barely registered the existence of Kara Danvers from her byline.
You gave Kara Danvers an airing. You gave her dignity. You showed me how a young woman, a contemporary, could be great and fearless in her greatness, even without superpowers. My relationship with you was something that Kara Danvers had for her very own, a truly private life that I didn’t share with anyone. I had no other friend like you because you didn’t know I was Kryptonian.”
She gazed at Lena, an appeal in her eyes. “Can you understand why I was selfish?”
Lena could see that it must have been new - and nice. She was glad to have given Kara that experience for a little while. She would never have expected Kara to reveal such an important thing as her other identity too readily anyway. But after the first year or so ... no, Lena was not all that sympathetic. Kara had had a great many people who made the Kryptonian the centre of their world. Sure, that was only half of her, but Lena had never had that in any sphere of her life. Nor did many other people. Yet they made do and went on. So while Lena was glad for Kara’s sake that Supergirl had had support, she was sorry as hell for her own that Kara hadn’t been able to be satisfied with that. She would have been happier for Kara Danvers, reporter, to have more support if it wasn’t for the way she had gone about getting it from Lena.
She bit back her first response. Remember to be kind. Remember to be kind.
Aloud she said, “By that reasoning, so long as you want support exclusively for the part of your life that is separate from your activities as Supergirl, you have to deceive the people from whom you get that support. You’d still have to do it now.”
Kara nodded sadly.
“If you had just told me the truth once you trusted me, if you had told me it was how I related to the human part of your life that mattered to you the most, and then showed that to be true by keeping me and your Supergirl activities separate, I would have been happy to continue enjoying lunch and movies and spending holidays with you indefinitely. I would have been happy being friends with Kara Danvers and having a publicly amicable relationship with Supergirl. I was already fully occupied with L-Corp. I wouldn’t have had the time or the inclination to insert myself into the superheroing side of your life on my own initiative. Remember my black body field generator? I didn’t try to use that, or turning my mother over to the police, to get an in with Supergirl and the people she worked with, did I? I was never inclined to have anything to do with secret government organizations with uncertain remits and the power to act extra-judicially, although I admit that once I was working with the DEO I tried to get the most out of it – I don’t claim to be free of self-interest at all. But don’t you see, Kara? You’re not going to get support for your human side without deceiving people unless you tell the people who already know you’re Supergirl that that’s you want and put faith in them to come through for you. How else would they know? They’re not mind readers.”
And if she had gone with that very obvious solution, James, Winn, Nia and Alex might well have come through for her and Kara might never have felt the need to keep Lena around for that. And then none of the things that upset Lena so much need ever have happened. Remember to be kind. Lena refrained from voicing the thought.
“I guess you have a point,” Kara admitted. “But in my mind, you were special because there were so many things I felt we had in common. We were both adopted. You fought the world intellectually, trying to do good. I fought powerful attackers and accidents and natural disasters physically, trying to do good. We both wanted to make our own way in the world and not just be identified with our families.”
“I didn’t know any of that,” Lena pointed out. “All I knew I shared with Kara Danvers was the fact that we were adopted and our experiences in that respect were so different. Fighting the world – that was an analogy I applied to a different person, a superhero whose example I wanted to follow, someone who was at best an acquaintance. Alex was in a completely different line of work from you and I didn’t know you were related to either Clark Kent, the reporter you once tagged along with, or Superman ... so making one’s own way in the world apart from family - I didn’t know we had that in common either. Besides,” her brow crinkled, “you followed Superman’s footsteps into superheroing, you followed Clark Kent’s footsteps into journalism. Even if I had known the truth, it would have looked to me like you were doing quite the opposite of trying to distinguish yourself from your family, and with good reason: unlike my family, yours was actually good.”
“I know,” Kara nodded earnestly. “That’s why I said it was in my mind. The reason you’ve never known just how special you were to me is that you didn’t know about all the parallels between us. You couldn’t have known how much of an example you were, what an inspiration. But you were, Lena, you were!”
There was a passionate plea in Kara’s voice and eyes that was impressive and it was sort of flattering. On the other hand it was also mere assertion. Lena didn’t know what to say to that and settled on conditional belief.
Kara swallowed, took a breath. “Our relationship was so important to me that I hugged it to myself – hugged it so hard that in the end I broke it. I took the easy way. I was lazy. I was content so long as everyone I valued could be together and get along. I didn’t look deeper or think deeper. And I let the others eventually infect me with their unreasonable paranoia about you. ‘Selfishness’ and ‘thoughtlessness’ and ‘laziness’ sound so ... so venial in the abstract, don’t they? But the effects of my selfishness and thoughtlessness and laziness on you were so much worse, so much more awful than I ever thought they were. I know you’ve heard me say this a thousand times but this time, I really understand what I did. And I am sorry, Lena, more sorry than I can ever express, and I know that doesn’t come close to covering it.”
Lena closed her eyes for a second as she remembered what she wanted to ask this Kara about. “All right. When Reign nearly killed Supergirl, James told me you had the flu. Out of kindness and friendship and for no other reason, I went to visit you. Were you actually recovering from that attack instead of having the flu?”
“I was in a coma at the DEO. That was J’onn,” Kara supplied.
Lena stiffened. “I ... see. “Her face grew marble-like in its stillness. “And I proceeded to confide in my good friend Kara Danvers some very private thoughts about James.”
Kara hung her head.
“Let’s suppose a very private conversation you and Alex might have had, oh I don’t know, say, about Alex coming out, was bugged and that conversation was transmitted to the entire DEO. And her school friends. And your mother. People she wasn’t ready to confide in and people she would never in million years have confided in. How do you think that would have made her feel?”
Kara bit her lip and screwed her eyes shut.
“I would,” Lena said with deadly incisiveness, “never in a million years have confided in J’onn.”
Kara visibly flinched. There was a heavy silence.
“If I had known the truth, I would have visited you in your hospital room at the DEO, supported you. I would have felt you deserved anything I could give to help you get better. Instead I got J’onn. And come to think of it, it was then ... he was the one who, while pretending to be you, finally overcame the last of my resistance to James. Did he tell you about it afterwards?”
Slowly Kara nodded.
“Bet you laughed.” Lena wanted to roll her eyes.
An ice-cold vise gripped Lena’s heart. Any semblance of even sardonic humour fled. Her intention to be kind went out the window. “You did. You really laughed.”
Kara buried her face in her hands and shuddered.
“Huh. Well that was me comprehensively screwed by the lot of you again and being laughed at for the privilege. You. Laughed,” she seethed. “To think I was right about that all along. Until now, I only thought that was my imagination working overtime, being melodramatic, exaggerating.”
The atmosphere became something that made Kara’s stomach curdle.
Lena felt sick. This had not been Kara reacting in a panic. This had been Kara laughing at someone she called a friend in serious mockery for something Kara had created – her ignorance. It showed a Valley Girl meanness of soul that was the last thing of which Lena had ever wanted to think her capable.
When it was just the two of them, Supergirl/Kara was very convincing about how important Lena was to her, so convincing that maybe Kara believed it herself in the moment. But when her other relationships began to rub up, her relationship with Lena would always be the one that eroded from the friction - and Kara would hide the erosion from Lena, who would go on being a good, giving friend not knowing of it. In this instance, there couldn’t have been anything at stake. It would have been a conversation had at leisure and Kara’s private reaction of cool unkindness didn’t have the excuse of in-the-moment thoughtlessness or panic. It had been a sly stab in the back Lena had never known about till now. And if J’onn had told Kara, Lena would bet Alex knew about it too. Maybe the others did as well. How many other trespasses and outrages had there been that Lena still didn’t know about, that Kara might never tell her, that Kara had somehow dismissed and forgotten because there had been so many?
“Lena, I’m so, so sorry. I know it’s not enough...,” Kara's voice was despairing.
“You maybe are sorry, but not sorry enough to have confessed and apologized on your own even after you told me who you were. And no one else has ever apologized to me once, for anything. So what sort of assurance do I have that it won’t happen again? That it isn’t happening still, with something else I’ve been kept ignorant about? How do I know this isn’t just damage control?” She thought of the other Kara saying she had to feel safe before she could take another risk. Well, she was feeling very far from safe right now. ”Tell me, would you ever have told your best friend Lena Luthor half of what you told the Els you’d just met?”
Kara had no good answer. She’d never had a plan to do tell Lena, so how would it make things better for either of them that Kara had wanted to in some woolly, ephemeral future? Stacked up against the available evidence, saying it out loud without anything to back it up would just be pathetic and literally incredible. The relevant fact to Lena here would simply be that Kara hadn’t wanted it enough to do a damned thing about it for years. And that was the whole problem, wasn’t it? Even if Kara had wanted to tell Lena, she hadn’t wanted it enough; even if Kara had cared for Lena, she had not cared enough.
“Do you know,” she said quietly, “that in my whole life here, I’ve only ever voluntarily told Winn and Nia who I was? Then it was you and only just last week, Kelly. Everyone else who knows, other than the Danvers, either worked it out themselves or were told by someone else or ... well, I was forced to tell them. It wasn’t wholly within my control and it should have been. It should have been!” Her voice rose without her volition.
Lena thought about this quietly, watching Kara’s very real indignation. It didn’t escape her notice that Kara hadn’t answered her question. “I’m sorry to hear that, Kara. Truly. You’re right, it should be under your control. But I think it’s been made clear that not telling me for so long was never the only problem for me or even the biggest. If you had done all that you did to me in order to protect the identity of a Supergirl who was someone else, a complete stranger, I wouldn’t have been confused. I would have known exactly what I was angry about, and it wouldn’t have been her identity. So I can understand you wanting to keep your identity to yourself. I don’t know if I can ever understand or forgive all the rest. With time, I suppose the resentment will eventually die down but not if the presence of you and your friends keeps rubbing it raw.”
There was a miserable silence.
“Have you ever set up any actual villain to be treated the way you treated me?” Lena wondered aloud.
Kara screwed up her face in anguish and shuddered.
“You say I was important, but you only deigned to treat me as a good person and a person worthy of friendship when, and only when, I was completely defenseless and vulnerable to you. Once I wasn’t, I was a villain unless I did what you wanted. Well, where has being vulnerable to you got me except fucked in every possible way? So no, that’s not happening anymore. I have no incentive to deal with you on anything other than an equal footing. You don’t get to enslave me for being able to synthesize kryptonite by telling me I’m only a good person if I do what you want. If you can’t deal with that, then you’ll have to kill me because I’ve stopped buying the line that I’m only not a villain if I’m all spread out and ready to be your victim, relying only on your mercy to not get screwed, because your mercy is not to be relied on, is it? Christ, you caused the loss of my privacy and then laughed at it! And then you lot happily went on to let me go out with James. Before you knew I could synthesize kryptonite! I wasn’t even dangerous to you in your eyes then.”
“Lena, please!” Kara cried, “I can’t ... I can’t ...”
Lena rubbed her temple wearily. “I don’t know what you want from me, Kara. I refuse to abjure self-protectiveness anymore when it comes to you because it’s now been proven over and over again that I can’t afford to. I can’t call you a friend when I’m questioning all the time if it going to come back to bite me later. So I have no idea how to move forward.”
Kara hiccupped. “I’ll prove myself to you. I know that will take time. But you’ll have equal footing. Are you ... are you still willing to work with us? I mean, you don’t have to ... I don’t blame you if you don’t want to.”
“I doubt that I’ll enjoy being around you and your friends,” Lena said dully. “Even thinking about James and remembering what it felt like to shoot Lex ... it makes me want to throw up and hide or take a whip to all your faces. But I have always wanted to do good, even when I was horribly wrong about what ‘good’ was. So yes, I will grit my teeth and face down all the people who collectively humiliated me and help you regardless if it becomes necessary.”
“I swear to you that you will not regret it,” Kara said seriously.
“I already regret it,” Lena hissed. “The moment I see your friends I will remember all this again! I will feel their passive hostility and victoriousness that they’ve scored so many times on me and I will regret it more – I’ll just do what I have to do despite that and try not to puke on the lot of you.”
“Nia feels none of that and she is very, very sorry,” Kara pleaded. “She’s too in awe of you and too ashamed to approach you directly and apologise. She ... she’s very young. She had just lost her mother when she came to the city. Her sister was mad at her. And you know Nia’s transgender. She’s had to face a lot in her life. So when she came here and we were the first to accept her wholeheartedly, she went in with me blindly because I was sort of a mentor with the abnormal powers thing, and then at Catco. She didn’t know the whole history between you and me. She got peer-pressured into everything and didn’t realise how bad it was. But she does now and she feels awful.”
Lena said nothing. It would do her no good to brood enviously on Nia being accepted wholeheartedly at once while Lena herself never had been despite everything she had done. It was hardly Nia’s fault. It was that consideration that made her eventually sigh and nod grudgingly.
“Kelly dumped Alex last Sunday, the moment we told her how the Els had described what we’d done. She yelled at us and then she went and yelled at James, almost disowned him. We only told her then, by the way, that I’m Supergirl.”
Lena nodded again. Kelly had sent her a succinct text: Just dumped Alex. Can we talk in private? This distancing of herself from the others had got her into Lena’s apartment, where she had assured Lena that she had never been part of the conspiracy, had only just been told everything and was outraged to have been roped into it. Without once mentioning her own profession, for which Lena had been immensely grateful, Kelly had nevertheless managed to convey that if Supergirl or any of her associates were triggers, Lena should acknowledge that to herself at least so she would not be unprepared if she ever had to deal with them. They might never be best friends, but Lena had no issues with Kelly at all.
“I’m going to talk to James in Metropolis,” Kara went on. “I didn’t want to do that before talking to you. And I was afraid I would take my guilt and shame out on him. He’ll have his own portion but he shouldn’t bear mine.”
“You can say what you like to him,” Lena said. “I’ll just be glad never to hear about him again.” She stopped. “Wait a minute. After we were all dumped into this new universe, how was the selection made as to who retained their memories?”
Kara was confused at the change in subject. “I ... um ... thought it was just those of us involved in preserving what we could of ... of everything. But then there was you ...”
“I was apparently one of Lex’s conditions for working with you, together with the way this Earth’s history reflected him as a good person and a success,” Lena waved that aside. “But were all the others involved?”
Kara blinked hard. “No, only J’onn ... “
“So why do Alex and Kelly and James and Nia all seem to remember?”
Kara thumped back into the couch cushions and blew out a long breath as her crinkle appeared. “You’re right. It makes no sense. But I don’t have an answer.”
They puzzled over it a little while longer but it became obvious they couldn’t get any further on the basis of what they both knew.
“I can ask the others who were involved if their closest friends and family also remember the past the same way they do,” Kara offered. “That may give us answers.”
Leaving an anomaly unexplained felt to a scientific mind as irritating as a grain of sand you couldn’t dislodge from inside your swimsuit, but that was hardly Kara’s fault. “Hm. All right, let’s leave that aside for now unless it becomes significant.”
“Okay ... so anyway, that’s Nia and Kelly. Alex and J’onn are getting special treatment,” Kara said.
Lena didn’t react.
Kara explained about the lists.
Lena remained unimpressed.
“They will either prove themselves to have the better natures I believe they have and acknowledge the injustice set down in black and white on those lists and the shame and guilt will fully pile on, or they will prove themselves the budding monsters Kelly accused them of being,” Kara told her, “in which case I will refuse to have anything to do with them anymore, so even if you and I have to work together, you won’t have to see them. Alex has actually cracked because of Kelly and now that she’s cracked, she’s just about ready to admit it. But don’t concern yourself with her or J’onn. They’re very clear that I have a zero-tolerance policy on them from now on about being just and fair to everyone. They also know that I don’t want them to so much as look at you unless and until I’m sure that they’re right in their heads and not just acting to appease either of us. And even after that they're still gonna be on very thin ice. If they put one foot wrong with you, just once, I'm literally gonna throw them out.”
She took another breath. “Will it be acceptable if they apologise and I make some sort of reparation?”
Lena considered. Despite her forebodings and resistance, she was very reluctantly beginning to accept that Kara was truly doing the best she could. The other Kara’s diagnosis had probably been correct so far it pertained to the past, but this Kara was now even putting her relationships with Alex and J’onn on the line to try and do the right thing. It made a difference.
“I will accept the apologies if I believe them to be sincere,” she said at last. “So they’re not to try unless they can be. As for reparation ... look, I feel that I’ve blown my chances. I could have bought up every Chinese and Japanese restaurant and cancelled potstickers from their menus ...”
Kara’s eyes bugged out in horror.
Once upon a time, Lena might have laughed.
“... but nooo, I had to go all Luthor and trap you in kryptonite and steal your property and embark on a grand scheme involving people’s minds.” She grimaced in mingled shame, regret and disgust with herself. “While we’re on the subject, I apologise for the kryptonite cage and for stealing Myriad from you.”
“Thank you,” Kara said. “Only ... um ...” she hesitated.
“Oh, of course,” Lena remembered, “the Els. The crest. You think it might not be enough for them.”
Kara nodded. But then, almost immediately she shook her head and contradicted herself. “No, wait. It doesn’t matter that much. I’ve been here since I was thirteen. Not being able to go to Krypton is a blow but I can live a good life without that. I wouldn’t even know about it if not for you. What I can’t do is go to Rao’s light at the end of my days irretrievably unclean. If you and I can agree to put the past behind us, if I can help you to find a place of peace within you, if there’s anything more that I can do for you, that will be good enough for me. I won’t ask you to burden yourself by thinking of something to satisfy the Els that might require you to see more of me than you want.”
Lena blinked. Kara was prepared to sacrifice a connection with this universe’s Els, with Krypton, with Rao? It wouldn’t really do Lena that much good, but it would cost Kara so much that it said more about her sincerity than any number of scones brought from Ireland. Lena’s mind boggled, but her gut, informed by years of business dealing, told her that having Kara actually make that sacrifice would be several bridges too far and in the wrong direction. No, Kara had to do something that benefited Lena specifically. That was what reparation meant. That was how the hurt of a person wronged could be soothed. That would be properly directed and proportionate and not cruel.
“Let’s not be hasty,” she said. “We’ll think of something you can do for me. In the meantime, are we agreed that if it is necessary for us to work together in future, we will do so without hostility?”
Kara eagerly thrust her hand out. Lena took it and they solemnly shook.
“Okay,” Lena said. “Does that ... is that something that satisfies your purpose in coming here today? Because I’m not sure I can promise more at this time. I won’t be hostile but I’m also not feeling inclined to go out of my way for any of you or take any risks with you.”
Kara bit her lip in chagrin as her pained heart sank. She had done so much damage that Lena was now too afraid to do more than not be hostile. All that making up for the past would do, whatever form that took, was to tell Lena that Kara was truly sorry and understood what she had done wrong. It would address the hurts of the past but it wouldn’t tell Lena that Kara could be relied on in future. whereas now that Lena was back on balance, the past was proof that she was reliable because unlike Kara, Lena had never been an inconsistent twit. She had never been mean the way Kara had been when J’onn had told her about Lena’s confidences. And J’onn hadn’t even respected those confidences, had he? Alex knew about them and had told Kara that he had announced out loud at the DEO what Lena had confided in him, making her unfair game for the others’ derision. And Kara had enabled all of that to happen. So far from telling J’onn he had been wrong, she had laughed at Lena.
She felt like she could die from shame.
It was a fact. Kara was not a trustworthy friend. Keeping her secret had already caused more harm than good by that time but Kara hadn’t recognized that and it had been the beginning of everything bad she would do to Lena.
Only time and consistently decent actions from now on would make Kara a reliable person. And only then could Kara legitimately hope for Lena to even begin thinking of her as a true friend. It was a long, long road to rehabilitate herself in Lena’s eyes. But Kara herself had made this bed. She had to lie in it. Swallowing, she gave Lena an earnest look. “Whatever you do feel comfortable offering, I will be grateful and happy to receive whenever you offer it.”
Feeling churlish and yet unable to quell her need for self-protection immediately (or possibly ever), Lena said reservedly, “Thank you.” She paused and then tried to give Kara her due. “You’ve been brave and generous, coming here today and saying all this, offering not to please the Els if that would make it easier for me.”
Kara gave her a look. “As long as you’re not sitting there thinking you don’t really deserve it, I’m pretty happy with ‘brave and generous’.”
Lena looked away.
“It’s the habit of a lifetime,” Lena defended. “I’m getting better. The Els have helped.”
Kara looked momentarily wrong-footed, then defeated. “I guess … they’ve been good to you?”
“Yes, they have,” Lena said, not equivocating. But she knew that her relationship with Kara really shouldn’t have anything to do with Kara’s relationship with the House of El. From somewhere, she dredged up her own store of generosity and added, “They want to be good to you too, Kara. I don’t think you have as far to go with them as you might think.”
Kara shook her head. “No, I get it. I just have to not be a twit. But since you’ve never been a twit, you probably don’t know how hard it is to stop being one.”
“I don’t think denigrating yourself is going to be helpful,” Lena said mildly. “It’s not as if you’re incapable of making good decisions.”
“No, but I have to be able to do it reliably,” Kara sighed. “Actions are just the symptoms of what goes on in here.” She knocked on her temple like it was a door. “Changing inside is what’s hard. But I’m working on it as my top priority.” She paused, opened her mouth, then shut it again.
Kara shook her head. “It’s none of my business and presumptuous to ask. About the Matrix stuff.”
Lena’s expression didn’t change.
“But is it wrong to ask if something of that nature ever occurred to you ... with me?”
Lena gave her a level look. “I don’t see how that matters. Even if it had, it couldn’t have survived under the tide of everything that’s happened. You gave me to James like an object, Kara! You let him use me like a toy that had the added benefits of money and power and technology and belief in him that I used in his favour! Do you even remember the lengths I went to for him? For a whole ... goddamned ... year!” She took a couple of seconds to wrest control of herself back as Kara’s face crumpled again. Yeah, the whole subject of James was a trigger, all right. She had to force herself to put it aside. “Look, what matters is that your counterpart and her family came to me and laid everything out first before asking my consent to forward their agenda.” She let Kara absorb the fact that their behaviour had been the polar opposite of hers. “So far it seems to be the truth. It’s early days yet. I’ve only just started to think of her and her parents as friends. I will deal fairly with her and I won’t lead her on. That isn’t my way.”
Kara took her courage in both hands. “Then I want you to know that if it had occurred to you, it would never have ben one-sided. I was lazy and self-centred and thoughtless and confused when it came to you. I was fearful when I shouldn’t have been because I was, as I said, infected by the protectiveness of the others. I was terrible and in so many ways, never deserved to call myself your friend. But whatever I did, I swear that it never came from a place of malice. I never wanted you harmed, quite the opposite, and yet I did so much harm and that ... that just kills me, because in my own stupid, careless, idiot way, I ... well, I virtually idolized you, Lena.”
Lena stared at her and had to work to keep her mouth from slackening. Not true! She disregarded your feelings, imposed on you or let you be imposed on in so many ways. She risked your life! Who the hell cares for someone and still feels able to do those things to them?!
“I just ... was too young, too complacent, too stressed and too idiotic to even be a good friend. The other Kara was right about my lifestyle. It pulled me every which way until I had no time for ... for anything, including sitting still and thinking important things through. It is my fate to see that only now, when I have so much work to do just to qualify as a good friend.”
Kara hesitated, then firmed her jaw. “I made a complete mess of growing up and you paid the price. I gave you an apple a day and sucked up, as if I’d been a child who could do no better for her idol. I should have been an adult and given you adult things, like real support instead of board games. I should have devoted more attention to you. I should have borne your interests in mind all the time instead of thinking I was a good enough friend just because I saved your life. For someone with my powers and invulnerability, saving your life usually involves about as much effort or danger for me as you giving me a lift to work in the morning would cost you. It was far from everything a friend should do. My powers gave me a cheap advantage when it came to saving your life and I just enhanced the value of it in my own mind because I wanted to think I was a good friend. I should have been there for you in all the ways I wasn’t. And Lena, I can’t go on like that, not just for your sake but for my own, and for the sake of everyone I will ever interact with. So I’m making changes. In time, I hope that will show. You are completely right not to trust me now, but I’m not going to be an idiot forever.”
“Stop calling yourself names,” Lena said sharply. With one hand, she squeezed the fingers of the other in agitation.
Kara’s pained smile was full of regret. “I’m glad you brought the Els here. They gave me a very serious kick in the butt that I sorely needed. They gave me the gift of clarity. It’s not your fault or theirs that what I’m now able to see is so ... unlikeable. Between them and Kelly and now you, it’s been brutal but that’s only because the truth of what I did or let happen to you was brutal. But I’m doing what I’m doing so I can like myself again, not to punish myself. I think my counterpart was right. My life will be easier and I will like myself better once the changes are in place.”
She got up to leave and Lena followed. At the door, she turned. “There’s just one more thing. If the Els are visiting Earth regularly ...” she shuffled her feet self-consciously, “they probably need to finetune control over their powers. Clark and I may not be popular with them, but well ... if they want it, the only two Kryptonians living on Earth will help.”
“I’ll tell them,” Lena said. Then despite knowing how it might sound coming from a Luthor, she added, “But you and the others should not neglect the risk of rogue Kryptonians invading Earth through their portals. I don’t think it’s likely but I also don’t think we can afford not to take precautions. We may have to discuss that further.”
“Oh!” Kara said. “Yes, I really hate thinking about it but we haven’t overlooked that. I have other friends with special abilities who used to live on different Earths. Now we’re all together on this Earth and I’ve told them about Krypton ...”
Lena gritted her teeth in silence. Friends in the then multiverse and Lena had known nothing about either those friends or the multiverse; more people who’d known Kara’s identity before she had, ... god, how low had she been on her supposed best friend’s priority list? She should have devoted to more attention to Lena? Where the hell would all that attention have come from with all these calls on her time Lena had never known existed? This Kara was still saying things that sounded better than reality allowed. There were still only 24 hours in a day. With all these people in her life, at best Lena could only ever be one of friend of many to her. That was fine. Lena didn’t need to be top of anyone’s list of priorities and it was absurd to begrudge Kara her other friends. But Lena didn’t want to be told she was more important than she really was - and yet that was exactly what Kara had just tried to do, wasn’t it?
“... Between us all, and that includes S.T.A.R labs, we have the capacity to counter such a threat, if it should ever become real. Let us take that concern off your shoulders, Lena. You have burdens enough already. And if you’ve taken some precautions, because I know you well enough to believe you might have, and if those precautions involve kryptonite, that’s okay with me.”
Oh, thank you soooo much for your generosity to me while I try to save the Earth! Unable to say anything for fear that it would be vicious, Lena compressed her lips, nodded and saw a very subdued Kara out.
She wandered to the balcony and stood looking out at National City. She was now alone again but despite the almost unbearable sadness in that thought, she could not repine. Between them, Lex and Lillian had made it almost inevitable anyway with the way they had reared her. She had always been essentially alone, even after moving to National City, when she’d thought she wasn’t. She’d been bitten somany times by Supergirl & co. and very, very badly too. If she were shy now and other people blamed her for it as if they thought she had no right to self-protection, they could go chew gravel.
Guarding herself was better than worrying constantly about the thoughtless disregard of an unrealistic superpowered ditz and her fanatic support base and wondering whether, after acknowledging one wrong, they would simply go ahead and commit another. She was willing to wait and see if they could be better, if Kara could be better as she had promised she was trying to be – it wasn’t like Lena had any choice but to do that anyway if they were going to maintain a line of communication. But she wasn’t going to risk herself in the meantime.
Bloody but unbowed, her moral compass back to pointing true, Lena Luthor was still the master of her fate, still the captain of her soul, and she would always do her best to be a force for good. If she had do it alone, so be it. She gazed at the sea of human life before her. There were people depending on her and on Luthercorp for their livelihoods, for their health, for their lifestyles, for the wellbeing of their children. Lena had no intention of letting them down.
On her next visit from Krypton, Kara Zor-El told Lena that the Kryptonian idea of getting to know a potential spouse better was to basically to get together to talk a lot, as they had been doing. In this she had reckoned without a Luthor who was aghast at the idea that anyone might think she had no game. Court as Kryptonians did? HELL, no!
There was nothing serious between them at this point, but Lena could at least show Kara how things were done on Earth. Who knew what might develop from that? Maybe nothing, maybe something. And it was nice to have company of an evening. If nothing else, they’d at least have a good time and Kara would have new experiences to enjoy.
Krypton had a longer day and even longer year than Earth. Seven pm in National City on Earth did not always coincide with a convenient time on Krypton for one of the Els to come over. There were days when Lena came home to a note or a little gift and no visiting El. At first it was a little strange for Lena to give other people the run of her home, but she found from her motion detectors that the Els quickly left if they came through and found her not there. They were not intrusive and they did not take advantage of the liberty granted. She came to rather like being pleasantly surprised by whatever awaited her when she got home. It also meant she brought work home instead of staying late in the office and she began to adjust to this routine and to having a regular dinner time. They had brought her a Kryptonian calendar clock so they could more easily make plans and she could know when it was likely one or more of them would be by.
So she was prepared for the following visit. She gleefully brandished a brown wig in front of a puzzled Kara, who was then told she was about to taken out for a ‘date’, only she had to put the wig on first so that she would not risk being mistaken for either Kara Danvers or Supergirl.
Kara submitted like a lamb to being cosseted and fed in quietly comfortable and luxurious surroundings and being taken to absorbing performances of music in bars with soothingly low lighting or entrancing musical theatre or stage productions. It didn’t take long for them to be comfortable together in public. Kara just followed Lena’s lead when it came to things like manners and proper behaviour in environments that were new to her. When Lena saw that Kara was adapting without great difficulty, she relaxed too.
At first it was just like it always had been. Lena explained things that might be new to Kara, for example that they could talk quietly in a dimly lit bar while someone was playing the piano but not in a theatre when the lights were down. Kara told Lena about the closest Kryptonian equivalent to whatever experience they were currently sharing. It gave Kara, as a stranger to Earth, confidence that they were behaving just as they did in Lena’s apartment. She had this familiar thing to hold onto amidst the newness of everything else she was experiencing.
Since she usually came over only at night, she didn’t have to contend with full superpowers. She could bend a fork but not by accident – it required conscious effort, just not a lot of it. So it wasn't too hard for her to get used to being out and about on Earth. Once she could stop stressing about presenting herself as a human who knew what she was doing, Kara began insensibly to appreciate the semi-privacy of these 'dates'. She and Lena might be sharing a show with many people but their conversation, whether it was about reactions to the show or observations of other people or how they felt about one thing or another, was only for each other. The fact that they were in public meant that in order to keep their conversation just between them, they leaned closer together, spoke more confidentially. This was very enjoyable. Lena always smelled wonderful, she was always lovely to look at, and she carried herself with dignity and decorum. It made Kara proud to be by her side as her chosen companion.
She also took very good care of Kara. She paid attention, explaining anything Kara didn’t understand before Kara had time to become insecure or uneasy. Her voice was low pitched and easy to listen to, with a husky timbre that made Kara’s skin feel sensitive in a delicious way.
The personal nature of their conversation was enhanced by being immediately comparable with the way they interacted with everyone else around them. Lena smiled differently to waiters and people in neighbouring seats than she did to Kara, for example. That created a kind of intimacy that was different from being alone in Lena’s apartment. It felt to Kara like the two of them were in a spotlight of closeness, while everyone else was in the penumbra. It made her feel special in a way she had never experienced before.
And then Lena began to be playful in a way that was definitely NOT reminiscent of children. She didn't do anything that was improper by Kryptonian standards. In fact she had, at various times, enquired as to what was and wasn’t acceptable and adhered strictly to the answers she was given. Observing other humans made it clear that Kryptonians were far more restrictive about their conduct in public but Lena seemed to have no trouble with that. And yet ... it was amazing to Kara how exciting Lena could make the cock of an eyebrow, a meaningful gaze, a nibble of the lower lip, a lean in to almost scandalous nearness. The pleasure of interacting like this made Kara submit without a murmur to being complimented and appreciated and generally made to feel like she was an excellent person whose company was all that was required to make Lena’s night complete, all of which brought her even more pleasure.
She could see the contrivance in that she knew Lena did not always go out in the evening; indeed they still spent time just talking in the apartment, or teaching each other games and stories from their respective cultures. Yet it was all strangely and hugely enjoyable and now even the time spent in Lena’s apartment doing ordinary things was quietly exciting.
She would wander dreamily back through the portal at the end of such evenings. When she got home, she would answer Zor and Alura’s teasing questions with woolly absentmindedness, all the while sporting a foolishly drunken smile. This absurd state would last well into the next day until dissipated by the prospect of her next visit.
Before every visit, she became nervous for no reason. Objectively she knew Lena already thought well of her and really enjoyed her company if the unforced smiles and laughter were any true indication. Yet she worried all the time that Lena might find something in her to dislike. Including her looks, which had never troubled Kara before.
The simple truth was that she wanted very much for Lena to like her enough. Losing Lena’s affection was ceasing to be an acceptable loss. And because Kara now had something to lose, it made her nervous. This was hard for a person like her. She was not naturally ingratiating. In fact, she found it embarrassing to witness the shamelessness of anyone else being blatantly ingratiating. So it was difficult to feel that she now wanted to do whatever she could to please Lena, even though the voice of good sense told her that Lena should know Kara as she was, otherwise her affection would be founded on a false basis.
It was dreadful to feel so shallow. And yet it was also ... well ... really exhilarating and freeing. Kryptonians had convictions. They could debate tirelessly about what was right and wrong, what was better or worse. In that respect they were dogged. But things like joy, sorrow, love and hate? In public Kryptonians came across as if their capacity to feel was somehow stunted compared to humans’. But that was not inherently the case. Kara knew it was not because she felt like she was waking from a state of half-slumber. She felt energised, attentive, vital and every conscious moment was memorable.
It was ridiculous.
It was wonderful.
Kara’s certainty about her own desires mounted. She knew that on Earth, ‘dates’ often did not result in anything permanent. She knew she and Lena were getting along very well. She did not know if they were getting along well enough, or getting along long enough, for Lena to be convinced that they could successfully be paired for life. She wanted to know, but she also knew it could not be rushed. Besides the whole process was addictive.
Kryptonians gave priority to genetic advancement above all else in reproduction. It was only lawful to have children through the genesis chambers and it was only possible to use those if you were a donor pair on each other’s Matrix lists, otherwise the genesis chambers would not operate. As a necessary corollary, birth control was a standard medical procedure for both sexes when they reached puberty. (It was technically reversible but no one ever actually had it reversed unless for medical reasons, the reversal became necessary for an individual’s health or survival.) Kryptonians therefore had not had the danger of accidental pregnancy on their minds for generations. So although they were very staid in public, sex to them was just a private matter in the same way that the sleeping posture you preferred was private. You didn’t talk about it in public but there was no stigma or special frisson attached to it. If you liked it, you had it. If you didn’t, you didn’t. The idea that someone was more virtuous because he or she didn’t have sex would have been bizarre to them. There were as many Kryptonians with active sex lives as there were who eschewed sex altogether and it was common for youths to experiment together out of curiosity and thereby discover what they liked and what they didn’t.
On Krypton as on Earth, people might be married with children while experiencing their greatest sexual passion and/or adult love outside the marriage. But on Krypton the genesis chambers meant that there was no social fiction to be maintained about it. If having children with someone did not mean you had been intimate with them at any point, then no one assumed that love and desire were part of any marriage bond. One could provisionally assume a child was loved by his parents, but no Kryptonian would assume that his parents loved each other.
It was part of the societal consciousness that no one could realistically be all things to one other person forever. This was inevitable once one acknowledged that the clear, clean goal of genetic advancement was incompatible with the the vagaries of emotions and personal chemistry. There was a clear distinction between love and sexual desire. It was even written into Kryptonian history as an entirely acceptable fact that A was bound to B but loved C and often shared a bed with D. A typical Kryptonian who read that would immediately know that A owed a different kind of loyalty to each of B, C and D who would all have their own web of relationships. To that typical Kryptonian reader, it would be normal. What mattered ethically was honesty and truth to all concerned. What made it work most of the time was kindness and sensitivity.
This could get complex and it was by no means perfect. Kryptonians could lie and conceal the whole truth just like humans could. The difference lay in that humans liked things neat and tidy and simple, and male-centric inheritance laws had created societal expectations like sexual faithfulness of spouses, so the social fictions (ie. hypocrisies and lies) became necessary when messy emotions could not conform to the neatness and tidiness and simplicity of those societal expectations. Kryptonians, on the other hand, were quite willing to deal with the concept of complex personal relationships and differing forms of loyalty but these could get really confusing sometimes.
Kara was a scientist at heart and brought up thoroughly Kryptonian. Of course she had experimented sexually with friends. Why ever not when there was no danger involved? She had experienced some physical pleasure. She had experienced the comfort of falling asleep and waking in the same bed as someone else she liked. All of that was nice but not so nice that it took precedence over work and social engagements and everything else in her life.
So nothing had prepared her for the effect Lena had on her without so much as touching her. Now she began to understand more completely why the relationship between her parents and between Jor and Lara was so different from friendship between adults. Lena became a subject of unending interest for her. She even got distracted at work! Instead of listening to her colleagues, she would prefer to dwell on the curve of Lena’s eyebrow or the colour of her eyes or the way she would anticipate when Kara was hungry or might want a quiet night, or how considerate and sweet she could be, or how she did not dither but was appealingly decisive, or how funny she could be sometimes ...
Kara loved Lena’s understated but unyielding dignity. She would have guarded it with her life. The very thought of how her counterpart had compromised it over and over again made her gnash her teeth and she had to forcibly put it from her mind or she would be furious at her counterpart all over again, this time for reasons that had nothing to do with House honour, reasons that were much more personal.
In this way, by the end of eight dates with Lena and six weeks after the confrontation in the hotel, Kara’s universe had changed.
For compassionate reasons, Jor and his family had decided to meet Clark. Of course there had been a thorough briefing in a couple of full family conferences first. (It had taken this long to do that because all seven adults’ busy schedules had to mesh more than once and Astra was currently posted on Daxam and had to attend holographically from there.)
Kal, with the heat of youth, was more like Kara in attitude. They were less inclined than the older generation to be lenient with those who wore their faces. As parents of their own Kara, Zor and Alura could not help but wish for Kara Danvers to redeem herself so that they could treat her like some sort of longlost cousin (or even twin) of their daughter. Jor and Lara sympathized with them. The only person in the older generation to be of Kara and Kal’s minds was Astra, but she would still be on Daxam and could not come.
First Kara and her parents brought Jor, Lara and Kal to meet Lena on a weekend morning in National City. This went well despite the limited English the newcomers had since Kara and her parents had talked Lena up to Jor and his family and talked them up to Lena. Everyone took time to get used to the powers they could feel building up that sunny morning. Kara, Zor and Alura, now more used to it, helped the newcomers, using a squeeze-ball-and-pressure-meter apparatus they had brought with them to show what sort of pressure should be applied to things like door handles. They also brought a crateful of disposable objects to practise on, not wishing Lena to bear the expense of damage inflicted during practice. Unused to friends not taking her wealth for granted, Lena was appreciative of this consideration. She spectated, vastly entertained, with a vacuum cleaner handy to suck up the rubble from mistakes.
When everyone could at least walk and sit and handle things without damage, Lena doled out old shirts and trousers she had collected from Luthor Manor, clothes that had belonged to Lionel, Lillian and Lex. With a certain amount of morbid satisfaction, she told the Els that all this clothing was disposable so they did not need to worry if they spoiled any of it. Kara put on her brown wig and it was decided that Kal could go without a disguise since Clark would have his spectacles on and Superman had not been seen in public on this Earth yet. Lena summoned two drivers and two cars and the Kryptonians were taken to a quiet suburban park where Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Kara Danvers, all dressed casually, waited with an abundant picnic by pre-arrangement. Lena chose not to go on this occasion and stayed home to take a couple of international conference calls. Little Jonathan had been left with Ma Kent.
Everyone was a bit stilted as introductions were made. The shadow of El disapproval still hung heavy over the Supers and now they were meeting Jor, the head of the House. Clark had not been directly involved in the principal matters that the Els found offensive but they regarded him as having been irresponsible towards Kara Danvers. It also troubled them that he had not seen anything wrong with what she did before they had explained it and therefore would have been a poor guide on proper behaviour even if he had made himself available to her to consult with all her life. But it was agreed that that was not what this meeting was about.
A fine day and the sharing of good food have a magical effect on people’s moods. Cute and gorgeous dogs on leashes paraded past in the near distance and enchanted everyone. Birds chirped and hopped or flew about, which enchanted the Kryptonian residents still more. The Supers earned points for charm with each breed of dog or species of bird they could identify and provide facts about. (Yes, the ability to impart knowledge constituted an important part of charm for Kryptonians.) So after a while, everyone warmed up and got a bit more comfortable. It was clear that Clark was genuinely moved to meet his counterpart and family. Even touchy Kara and Kal’s civility became less forced.
“I’ve decided to make the Kent farm operational again,” Clark said shyly. “I’ve had to do some research on modern farming though, so I’m still a reporter at present, but I think by next year I’ll be ready to move. Ma and Lois really like each other so we’re all very happy at the prospect of living together under one roof. After that I’ll be able to appear as Superman again in public. Or ... well ... for the first time on this Earth. But I’ve got to think of Lois and Jon now, so I can’t do things the same way I did on our previous Earth. I like being independent, but I’ll make sure I have back up from Supergirl or our friends.”
With Zor’s assistance, he went on talking quietly with Jor, who knew little about the practical and financial aspects of farming but plenty about bio-engineering and the Kryptonian equivalent of hydroponics. Lois and Lara, both dynamic women in their own right, conversed amicably about the roles of women in their respective societies while Alura translated and added her own contributions. Lois was envious to learn that Kryptonians had not discriminated between the sexes since way back before the genesis chambers, when most men had been squeamish about childbirth and it was therefore obvious that women were not lacking in courage and strength. There was no work or activity or place on Krypton that was exclusively reserved for any one sex. Kara overheard that Lois had ‘whaled on’ Clark when he’d related everything to her and was very sympathetic to Lena since they both had well-known anti-alien family members. Kal switched his attention from one conversation to another and seemed absorbed by both.
Kara considered this a satisfactory state of affairs. “I understand that you and Lena have made peace.” She eyed her counterpart. “You tendered a proper apology at least?”
“I did. I also offered reparation but Lena can’t make herself feel good about receiving more from me after everything she did. That's still an open subject. And the others are ready to apologise. We just want to do it right and we haven’t yet decided what that should look like.”
Kara nodded pensively. “Lena wishes for validation above all, if nothing else so that attempts on her life by people with ill-founded grudges can be averted.” She frowned. “In that respect I believe she confuses this universe with the one you both originated from. I must remember to speak to her about that. In this universe, especially now that her mother is put away and her brother is gone, I believe there are no regular assassination attempts on her?”
Supergirl nodded. “You have no idea what a relief it is.”
“I suppose thinking that way is a long term habit for her that is taking its own time to fade ... Even so, her wish for validation is real. And I believe you would agree she deserves it.”
Supergirl’s nod was enthusiastic this time. “After everything, she’s still trying to make life better for everyone. All the work that LutherCorp does now is ... it’s becoming what L-Corp became under her lead before the multiverse was destroyed. Clean water, wind and geothermal power, earthquake-proof building materials, designs for houses that enable occupants to survive floods ... LutherCorp is responsible for all that. She doesn’t just throw money at problems, you know. She knows that it gets spent on bribes so that a lot is lost along the way. So Doctors Without Borders gets medical equipment and pharmaceutical supplies directly, Save the Children gets vacuum-packed milk powder and vitamins and clean water technology and books delivered right to where they’re needed ...”
She had to explain what these charities were and use her phone to retrieve pictures of their activities before her counterpart fully understood, at which point Kara blew out a breath. “Lena does all this? I see that she works a lot but I did not know the full extent of what she does.”
Supergirl nodded again. “Well, I mean, not personally. No one individual would have the time. But the people in the charitable division of Luthercorp who do it are working under her direction, her policies and she takes the time to make sure they get it right. So yeah, she definitely deserves validation.”
“Except that if it rings false, she will discount it.” Kara thought some more. “Is there a colleague you trust to be fair and objective who is not one of your group of friends?”
“Yes,” Supergirl said immediately. “Several.”
“Then you might work to obtain one of them an assignment to write about her, with you as an assistant or guide to the information gathering they must do. Well, not directly about her. That would be too obvious. Perhaps an indepth look at her company and the work it is doing. The idea would be to subtly work into the article a clear dissociation of her from her family. You would know how this should be done in print better than I. Do you understand? If you do this in an obvious way and under your own name only, it would look to her like ... like ...”
“Blatant sucking up,” Supergirl offered helpfully. “Trying to buy forgiveness.”
“Ah. Yes. Indeed. The mere fact that it is not you who is named as the writer will show that you have worked to convince at least one other person outside your group to give her a fair chance. That would be an ethical, proper way to show confidence that what she is doing is impressive. This other reporter’s objectivity will stop the article from being unprincipled ‘sucking up’. If she is given credit, it will be because she has earned it from an impartial outsider. Do you see? The aim is to show your confidence in her, not to praise her directly when you might be thought to have ulterior motives.”
“Oooohh ... yeah, I see. And since Alex’s time is now much more under her own control, she can help behind the scenes with collating the information – or ... No! Maybe she could help distribute LutherCorp donations to Doctors Without Borders for a while as a volunteer.” Supergirl was excited. “That way she can experience first hand the good things that Lena does for other people. I think Alex has gotten a bit insular in her outlook since she abandoned her medical career. The volunteer work would help widen her view beyond our little sphere, help her get a more universal hands-on perspective that Lena’s responsible for thinking about a lot more than just our little group. It would show her that doing what we want isn’t always the only, or even the best, way for someone else to do good. That could also be a more substantial form of apology, couldn’t it? Because it would create a new understanding in Alex instead of just making her behave better ... You know, you have really good ideas. Fair publicity is not something Lena can buy. Or ... well, I suppose she could but that would make it meaningless.”
Kara looked away. “In truth I am sometimes better at coming up with ideas than at implementing them. I am only a scientist. Sometimes I can be ...” she hesitated.
“You have your head in the clouds?” Supergirl suggested. “You’re more theoretical than practical?”
It was Kara’s turn to nod. “Yes, that, especially if the idea is not within my field of expertise. My mother is more practical. So is Lena. I am more like my father in this respect ... except of course with time he has accumulated wider fields of expertise than I have as yet.”
A pause ensued.
Then Supergirl said, “I’m thinking of a house in the outer suburbs, somewhere almost rural, with enough land to build an apartment on the grounds for Eliza, my adoptive mother. She, Alex and I can see each other more often and we can consult with her more easily on issues of alien biology and medical treatment. At present, Alex and I are taking time to be apart so she can discover who she is when she’s not protecting me. Then ... well, it is not the personal aspect that needs a lot of work between us. I expect we’ll have sister nights and come and go as usual. But we need to figure out how she fits with the superheroing. I didn’t like James being a vigilante and I don’t like the thought of Alex doing it any better. The distance has actually been good for me. I’ve become more careful and strategic in my approach to a fight since she’s not been there to back me up.”
“You have no field support?” Kara frowned.
“I have other friends who have special powers. They back me up and because they have their own lives, they leave after the fight. They don’t encroach on my private life. We just get together socially now and then because, well, we’re friends.”
“That is ...” Kara shook her head. “I congratulate you. Sincerely. I feared that you would continue only to placate and defuse tension without taking a more corrective stance towards Alex and the others.”
Supergirl winced at this accurate description of what she’d done before.
“Your plans sound thoughtful and promising,” Kara continued. “They show advancement that surprises me very pleasantly. I admit that I did not expect it quickly or even at all. I will eat a bird and be glad of it.” She grimaced at the lurid expression. She grimaced harder when a blackbird attracted her attention as it took off from a branch overhead.
“Eat crow,” Supergirl corrected with a more relaxed smile. “But you need not. You were right in every respect. Clark and I needed to be shaken out of our complacency and out of the trap of the unforgiving lifestyles we had created for ourselves. You opened the way for me to think outside the box. It wasn’t my favourite life experience, but it might just be one of my most valuable ones. So thank you.”
“The virtue of an outsider’s perspective,” Kara demurred. “What remains to be seen is your ability to execute these plans and your consistency in judgment over time. Do you consider it acceptable for us to give you an Earth year after you have set up your new home and lifestyle so that you have a fair opportunity to settle into them?”
“Sorry, a year for what, exactly?”
“Consistency cannot be assessed except over time,” Kara pointed out.
“Oh ... so if I’m doing well at the end of one year after I move into my new house, I get to wear the crest again with your approval?”
“I have not been clear,” Kara said. “I mean that that year will be a sufficient period over which we can assess whether your judgment is dependable. If it is, we will admit you to the House of El and invite you to Krypton. The crest is ...” she shook her head. “However much we may come to like and approve of you, the crest is an august emblem on Krypton. We will never be happy to see it sold for money. When you wear it, it encourages people on Earth to trade in it. However we have never been able to stop you from wearing it. You stopped voluntarily to conform to our wishes. If you choose to wear it again, we can only disagree with your decision to do so and we always will. But it is not meant as punishment.”
Kara raised her eyebrows.
“I mean, I can understand. You want it to be respected, not commodified. Clark and I just always thought it had value as a symbol of hope.”
“If all goes well and you are able to come to Krypton, you will be wearing it there. It is not as if you would have no right. We just do not wish it to be cheapened. It is a matter of pride. Besides, are you not already the most important symbol of hope? When people on Earth see the crest, they think of you anyway.”
“Right. So it doesn't add much and its value here is not that great. And I get that it needs to be respected on Krypton. So we’ll do without it. I’m really okay with that. I’ll talk to Clark. He’ll be okay with it too. He doesn’t have a history of wearing it on this Earth." In place of the crest, Supergirl's suit these days bore the polygonal plate that contained the anti-kryptonite suit Lena had made, in a matching colour to her cape. Explaining to the press that it was an important practical feature that aided her had forestalled further questions about the disappearance of the purely cosmetic crest. "And a year is fine. I thought it would be a lot longer, honestly.”
“Thank you. The year is really more of an estimate. We might feel sure of you sooner than that, or later, depending on events, but it is not fair to give you the impression that you have to wait indefinitely for us to change our minds.”
There was another short silence.
Supergirl was again the one to break it. “Clark and I went to talk to James together, but we found him already softened up because his sister really tore a strip out of him after she heard about everything. In a way, that was worse for him than anything we could have done. But still, both Supers coming down on him really finished the job.”
She paused. “Clark was actually really angry. He originally only asked James to come to National City to be a friend to me, help me out if I needed it. He never asked him to do more. The whole thing with Lena? That wasn’t something Clark would ever have advocated. I know he supported me that day in the hotel, but left to himself, Clark would only ever have left Lena alone after she was cleared of any involvement in the sabotage of the Venture. He only supported me as a kneejerk reaction ...”
Kara’s lips pursed because undiscriminating support for her counterpart was the whole problem, wasn’t it?
“... but if you hadn’t been there to nip it in the bud, who knows how far he would have taken it? He either really doesn’t know or won’t admit it. The important thing is you were there so he didn’t get carried away and now we both know how wrong we were.”
Kara’s face smoothed out.
She bit into an apple. Supergirl dug into ice-cream from a carton that had come out of a cooler.
“I suppose,” Supergirl ventured, “it’s too early to ask if we could ever be friends?”
Kara pondered. “One can never have too many friends,” she said at last. “In principle it is not difficult to agree that we may work on it. Only I am fallible and selfish and I have my own insecurities.” She squared her shoulders and inhaled. “I wish for Lena. I wish her to choose me as a spouse and come to live on Krypton with me. I do not wish her to be confused on her path towards making that decision. If you and I become friends, she may worry that my loyalties have changed. She is all too apt to think that you are winning me away from her. And some would say you have a prior claim to her friendship. Maybe more than friendship.” She gave Supergirl a keen look.
“Look, Lena isn’t property!” Supergirl cried indignantly. “Prior claim nothing! If you do your job properly, that is, to communicate with her, she won’t be confused. Anyway, of all people, Lena is the least likely to be easily confused, especially now she seems to have regained her balance.”
Kara gave her the most irritatingly superior look. “That is a very acceptable answer.”
“Wait, this was a test?!”
“Of course. You have held Lena cheap before. If you thought I would not test you at least once on that, you are a great booby.”
“Okay! First, no one has said ‘great booby’ for like three hundred years ... how did you even learn that expression?!”
“You understood it and it was very pleasurable to say,” Kara sniffed. “Next.”
“You can be so annoying!”
“If you rid yourself of the notion that people appear in your life for the express purpose of pleasing you, you will not feel so continually thwarted,” Kara advised.
They eyed each other, both on the verge of smiling but neither quite willing to admit it.
Across the picnic blanket, Zor and Alura looked at each other with half-hidden smiles of pleased surprise. This was more progress than they had expected. Kara had not relished the idea of training with either of the Supers, but she had agreed to do it because it would at least make her more effective in protecting herself and Lena when she visited Earth. Besides, it was a fair and unintrusive way to keep track of the Supers to see if they redeemed themselves. Now it was looking as if the training would be less torturous for the two younger women than anyone had anticipated.
FINALLY the Els had been granted formal permission to bring Lena to Krypton. (Bureaucracy, like ‘I told you so’s, is sadly universal.) Formal meetings with council members had been approved. The councillors were interested to meet her because the story of how she had saved the inhabitants of Argo City in her original universe had been disseminated to them.
The general consensus of the Matrix scientists was that someone in that Argo City, probably the Alura of that universe, must have kept a log that included a detailed journal entry of this event. Lena had touched the case she had personally given to that Alura and probably some of its contents, like the containers inside holding the Harun El. That case would have ended up in a lab in that Argo City and somewhere along the way, the traces of Lena’s genetic material left from that contact must have been registered and analysed, possibly unintentionally. During the whole multiverse crisis, data points from that analysis and the journal entry must somehow have been mixed up with the data this Krypton fed to its Matrix. This hypothesis couldn’t be proven to be either right or wrong but it was the most credible because there was no other way that the Matrix could have data on Lena’s genetics and data to connect her to the saving of what remained of Kryptonian civilization in that universe. Those were what would be relevant to its protocols. It was a credible explanation and they had no way to know the truth, so everyone including Lena sensibly decided to stop stressing about it.
In fact it took some time after the permit was granted before Lena was ready to take advantage of that permit. She was still holding down a more than full time job, from which she was, at best, able to carve out forty five minutes a day to learn basic Kryptonian. (She had started that at the time she decided to take Kara on dates.) And she wanted to give meaningful gifts.
Kara had been insistent that it would be ideal to present the councillors with crystals containing two movies despite knowing the time and work that would entail on her own part. It had taken Lena a bit of thought to decide which movies. Eschewing science fiction since she didn’t yet know what would be ridiculous to Kryptonians, she eventually chose Amadeus and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The first she had watched during music appreciation classes at school and the second, ironically, had been introduced to her by Kara Danvers during the untainted early days of what had then been a true and unalloyed friendship.
She chose them because both could give Kryptonians an excellent taste of Earth music as well as drama, both were riveting portrayals of human weakness and strength, both had underlying spirituality that she figured Kryptonians could relate to and because they also had an undertone of morality that would go over easily with that very proper culture. (When she and Kara watched movies in her apartment, Kara would ask for replays of lines like ‘when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner’ or ‘love … it may easily turn to hate … and it is easier to hate where you have once loved than to remain indifferent’. It wasn’t difficult to guess that Kryptonians might like their entertainment to include matters of principle and points of wisdom along the way.) The final deciding factor had been that these movies being old, she could buy rights for a very limited distribution of them for a flat fee that did not include royalties: she wouldn’t be able to produce documentation for royalty payments.
Then she and Kara got down to the laborious business of writing subtitles, with Lena providing Kara the idiomatic meaning of what was being said when she needed it, and Kara doing the actual translation between languages. She would read back her first attempt and they would discuss the best final rendition to settle on. (For example, translating ‘God’ as ‘Rao equivalent’ might be technically correct in a literal sense but they agreed that it made things flow better to type ‘God (Rao equivalent)’ the first time it occurred, and then just ‘God’ for the rest of the movie whenever it cropped up again.) This was what really accounted most for the time lapse between the granting of the visiting permit and Lena being ready to go. Kara then transcribed the agreed final translation and hired an appropriate technician to insert the subtitles. She had to take a day off work for that because the technician knew no English and Lena, at the time, too little Kryptonian, so it fell to her to make sure the subtitles were properly timed. The result was that when Lena finally did come to Krypton, she was met with a sufficient number of crystals to give to the councillors who had scheduled meetings with her plus a few to spare.
As they had previously discussed, both of them took a few days off from work. Lena stepped through the portal to Krypton with Kara late on a Friday afternoon. She was very excited but she wasn’t nervous yet because all that was planned for the evening was dinner with Jor and his family. Besides, Kara had prepared her exhaustively, right down to images of and little stories about the councillors she would meet. She had seen a multitude of holo-images of Krypton, had the monuments and activities featured in them explained to her, and had more personal memories connected to less exalted locales related to her by one or other of the Els. She also had the distinct impression that any available Els planned to cluster around her like anxious sheepdogs to ensure her safety and emotional comfort. It was very sweet, though she thought it unnecessary.
Astra, finally home on furlough, was able to come to dinner too. Kryptonians are curious by nature. The existence of Kara and Kal’s doppelgangers fascinated the Council mightily, as did Lena, a new alien from a planet they had in general no experience with. Astra was excited to meet her first Earther, one who might become a member of her extended family.
It turned into a very convivial evening. Away from Earth and the burdens of her name, Lena relaxed and let her more social self out to play. Kal, having met Clark and Kara Danvers and talked to his own cousin, had decided that there was one important thing he must do for Lena. The first time they had met, he had been preoccupied with being on a strange new world and trying to manage physical powers he had never had before. This time, from the moment he arrived, he was assiduous in recommending himself to Lena with every courtesy and consideration, driving home the point that he had no wariness or prejudice against her and was as different an individual from Clark as Kara was from her counterpart. With Kara interpreting when he got into difficulties, he told her stories of treaties and dangerous situations he had negotiated. Lena was rapt with fascination as she held Kara’s hand. (By then they had reached a serious enough understanding that it was acceptable for them to do this in public on Krypton ie. serious dating by Earth standards). He told her about his Matrix list and who he was on the point of choosing, a woman his parents liked very much too and promised to introduce her to Lena. Kara could see him becoming a bit of a pet of Lena’s by the time dinner was over. She was so touched by his intelligent sensitivity that she had to steal away for a moment to recover and swear to herself to get him the BEST present she could for his next name-day. Perhaps an Earth dog trained to military standards that could be company for him even when he had to travel for work and leave his family behind ... or maybe a family dog to keep his future wife company when he was away … Lena would know how to get one or at least, who to consult about it on Earth.
In later days, this stray thought would result in Lena taking up as many retired racing greyhounds as she could find, as well as a few ex-military or police dogs that were safe with children, as gifts for favoured Kryptonians. They were well-behaved, affectionate company and the thought they were being saved from an early death was gratifying to their new owners. They became astonishingly popular. Kryptonians had not generally kept animal companions through most of their recorded history, probably because of the unprepossessing nature of their own wildlife. So their response to these dogs and the odd housecat was enthusiastic. Indeed the clamour for them became so great that most of Earth’s shelter animals could have been taken up. If not for the fear of concerned shelter operators wanting to follow up and ensure their animals went to good homes by inspecting said homes, and the varied and unpredictable temperaments of shelter animals, Lena might have been tempted to meet the demand. As it was, much of it would perforce remain unsatisfied.
The following day, Lena was escorted on a tour of this universe’s Argo City, in the course of which she met and charmed one councillor after another. As the day wore on and word spread that she was not only beautiful and had lovely manners, but was also delightful company despite the necessity of having Kara as an interpreter for more complex conversations, more than one councillor who had been left out of the original arrangements for lack of time ‘accidentally’ horned in on a fellow councillor’s time with her. In the end, the councillors threw up their hands and hastily organized an ad hoc buffet style evening meal for a large-scale meet and greet. Lena was untiring because she was made to feel welcome and was the object of so much kindly interest.
When they got home after the buffet dinner, they used the spare movie crystals to make copies for the rest of councillors who had yet to receive a set, to be sent to them the following day.
The second day was taken up by a flight over the environs and hinterland of Argo City. Lena was not especially interested in Krypton’s defences at this time, partly because it would have been unnecessarily worrying to everyone and partly because there was too much else of greater interest to her. She went over agricultural installations and food production facilities, water production and purification edifices and schools of lower and higher learning. She saw mountains and plains and streams and lakes. (Unlike many other Kryptonian cities, Argo City was situated in an environment with a relatively mild climate. Its dome was mainly for defence though it could be re-calibrated to provide life support and environmental control in case of need. As such there was some scope for the city to spread outward rather than upward if residents were willing to risk living outside the protection of the dome.) She learned about their anti-pollution mechanisms. She watched artisans at work and got to question labourers, with Kara’s help, about their methods and technology. In short, she found enough to feed her natural curiosity for years.
The third day involved a higher level flight over all of Krypton so she could see its geology and different ecologies and climate patterns. In the late afternoon there was a tour of Argo City’s premier medical establishment. There Lena gave a lecture on Harun El, this time with Zor as interpreter, to a very attentive audience that included Krypton’s foremost medical practitioners and senior science guild members who were involved with power generation. In subsequent days, Krypton being Krypton, holo-recordings of it would be in high demand as scientists and medical practitioners told each other that, notwithstanding the lecturer’s youth, it was compulsory viewing if they wished to stay abreast of developments in that area of science.
With all the immersion, it was easier for Lena to start on intermediate Kryptonian. She and Kara spent the evening hours in one of their rooms, either improving Lena’s Kryptonian or talking quietly in English. Occasionally Kara would demonstrate a few Klurkor movements that could safely be adopted in case of need by someone who had not had years of training in it, while Lena taught her to use a stick like it was a blade with its edge on instead of like a tennis racket or a fly swat the way many untrained people on Earth did.
Lena found the slightly longer days tiring but then resting time was also correspondingly longer. As a workaholic, her life had never been scheduled according to her natural biorhythms. She decided that if she had to, she could work with the longer days. Vitamin supplements, especially Vitamin D, would be necessary but she could build up her endurance and adjust the frequency and nutritional content of her meals. If humans could live in space for long periods, she theorized that it must be possible for her biorhythms to make the small adjustment to Krypton’s day/night cycles. This sort of thing was actually Kara’s area of expertise and from experience with alien residents on Krypton, she was absolutely certain that Lena was right about that.
By the fourth day, Kara was also absolutely certain that if Lena came to live on Krypton, a happy and fulfilling future awaited her. She was guaranteed admission to the science guild based on that one lecture alone. For a human, compared to some of what Kara had seen on Youtube, Lena’s manners were amazingly similar to typical Kryptonian public conduct. Maybe she didn’t belong on Earth. She even had that faint air of arrogance and self-confidence common to Kryptonians in the science and military guilds. It was not Kara’s favourite aspect of Krypton or of Lena or, indeed, of herself but at least Lena wasn’t completely complacent. She made a mental note to ensure that they thoroughly discussed the possible range of moral and other consequences of any major projects either of them decided to undertake so that they might each become habituated to doing that on their own if they had to.
But were all these positive things enough for Lena to give up the whole of her present life, her company and business, her wealth, her status? To venture into the unknown with only the Els for support? Did she harbour lingering doubts about the Els’ support?
All too soon, the visit was over and Lena’s work commitments called to her. But by this time permission had been given for her to visit as often she as liked so long as the Council was given reasonable notice ahead of time.
Lena went home with the very clear impression that the last thing Krypton wanted was to invade Earth. Kryptonians liked their ordered society. They liked being able to predict within a wide spectrum what kind of work they would do as adults. They liked living in their city domes where everything they needed could be obtained. And they all spent time daily facing their sun and praying to Rao. Like Germans of the present day on Earth, Kryptonians were being educated into an aversion towards military aggression because of the past. On Earth she left her countermeasures in place in case of the outliers she’d thought of before but though she left that pot on the stove, she turned the backburner of worry off.
“You know, I don’t like the idea of being the cause of continuing friction between you and the other Kara,” Lena ventured one evening at home.
“You are not,” Kara told her. “Presently Kal and I are taking turns to come and train with Superman and Supergirl in order to keep in contact with them until we feel certain we can depend on them to act as honourably as possible to everyone.” They portalled into Kara Danvers’s or Clark Kent’s apartments for this so they wouldn’t always interrupt Lena’s day. “I see that you are now able to speak of her without hesitation or discomfort. You must be content with how things are between the two of you. We of the House of El are content as well for the past to be laid to rest.”
This was true. Lena had been so busy with preparations to visit Krypton and afterwards with everything she had seen there on top of her normal business activities that Supergirl had not been at the forefront of her mind for weeks. Time, distraction and benign company had had the effect of allowing raw wounds to scab over. It was now about a month after Lena’s first visit to Krypton.
Two weeks ago an article had been published by Catco about Luthercorp’s current contributions to the world, which had been soothing. Kara Danvers had not written it though she and Nia had been given credit for ‘research assistance’, whatever that meant. Somehow the fact that someone else had written it had been soothing to Lena. Mindful not to insult the journalist by implying that he was doing anything other than telling the truth, she had sent him a note thanking him for bringing to the notice of the world the efforts of the Luthercorp employees he had interviewed. She had then sent texts to Kara Danvers and Nia Nal to the same effect. These messages carried a grateful overtone without any connotation that the three of them were doing anything other their jobs. The thought that the article had not been written for her made it feel more satisfying. She was doing good and objective people could see it.
All of this had allowed resentment to give way to a peaceful neutrality.
Yesterday Supergirl had deposited an actual handwritten letter on Lena’s balcony at home, which was what had sparked this whole conversation. It described how she had just left Catco and was now working freelance. She said that she was now more relaxed and happy and was making progress in leaving her past bad decision-making behind her. She set out her new home address, where Eliza would be moving into a neat little detached granny flat that ‘Kara and her cousin’ had built in the yard. “One day,” the letter finished, “if I ever deserve to see you here enjoying my hospitality, I would be so happy.” Lena had read it with a faint but genuine smile. She didn’t feel able to grant that wish yet, but she did think that eventually she would. She wasn’t about to go on a visit now and risk her body language betraying her by revealing that she was forcing herself to seem relaxed when she really wasn’t. At least it was in her to be glad for Supergirl that she was getting her life into a state she liked.
After a pause, this Kara added, “Are you aware that in their spare time, Alex and J’onn have both been spending at least four hours a week doing volunteer work with your people who supply Doctors Without Borders?”
“Not until now,” Lena said with surprise.
“Supergirl told me this during our last training session,” Kara revealed. “Afterwards we went for a meal with them. The two of them mainly do paperwork ensuring that the right consignments go to the right people and check consignments before they are loaded. Supergirl wished them to broaden their outlook on what doing good meant for people other than themselves but she did not tell them this because she thought it was important that they should realize this on their own. So she only insisted that they volunteer. Apparently her first few weeks doing paperwork inspired Alex with the urge to see firsthand the aid being rendered. She had not travelled overseas before and was eager to experience a different culture. Finally last month she was able to ride out with one of the transports to help with the delivery and setting up of medical equipment. Having helped Luthercorp translate its efforts into results on the ground, she returned home filled with a different sense of purpose. Now she thinks she has the right background to provide a nurturing environment for a former child soldier. She wishes to obtain an endorsement from a mental health professional that she would be an acceptable parent by the standards of the state and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.”
“That’s astounding!” Lena was enormously impressed.
Kara nodded. “In addition, she is fully aware that in order to care for a child, especially one with unusual needs, she must set aside her aspirations towards regular vigilantism. Supergirl is relieved by this. She is also gratified that her scheme has worked. Since starting the volunteer work, Alex has slowly undergone a fundamental change in her attitude generally and to you in particular. J’onn, for his part, is very ashamed because he considers that with his great age, he was supposed to have the experience and corresponding wisdom not to have treated you with any flavour of the way he resented being treated by others in the past. He enjoys the friendships he has cultivated with the staff of the charitable division and speaks favourably of you to them. Supergirl wished you to know all this and may well write to inform you herself but she consented to my telling you. I admit that I am being won over despite my initial reservations. With their new perspective, I believe their regret for the past is genuine. Their recent actions and the future actions they contemplate are more than mere assertions.”
“Thank you for telling me,” Lena said. “I’m glad you’re getting on better with them.”
Kara looked contemplative. “Now that I can see their better natures, I begin to understand why the group was so attractive to you before. You were so used to feeling isolated and they must have seemed to treat you so well by contrast with the rest of the world as you knew it.”
“Do you really think their attitude to me has changed?” Lena’s voice was small.
“I do. But you have to assess that for yourself if you are to be completely convinced. And you cannot do that until you are ready to interact with them. I am not telling you this to put pressure on you to act before you are ready. I am only saying that when you are ready, I believe you will not need to feel nervous about it.”
Lena nodded. “Okay, thanks. That’s really good to know.”
A short companionable silence ensued.
“Of course,” Kara remarked, “Kara Danvers misses you badly. It is painful for her because now she knows she deserves your reluctance to risk yourself with her and that you cannot help it. You have mentioned that you are still doubting yourself for being unforgiving, but in my opinion you are wary, not unforgiving. You are also being decisive and honest. That is better than an insincere reconciliation that tugs her in one direction and then gives way, tugging her in another. Now she appreciates your true worth and regrets that she did not value you more.” She paused. “However, I also think that it has been good for her to have the true nature and extent of her wrongs out in the open and to have to work to make herself better. Her heart is lighter for not having the burden of unacknowledged and unexpiated guilt. Though she is sad about you, she feels clean and she can feel proud of herself when she makes progress. She is noticeably steadier than before.”
Lena hummed softly as she considered that. She had always been spiky. She wanted people to fear getting on her bad side so that she wouldn’t have petty enemies milling about when she’d already had real and very dangerous enemies to contend with, just from her family, position and status. As a child, she had had a lot of sympathy for young Ender Wiggin. She’d totally understood, even before she got to the explanation in the book, why he had defended himself against Bonzo Madrid so viciously: he hadn’t intended to kill; he had just wanted not to have to fight Bonzo or anyone else ever again and he knew no one would help him. That was pretty much Lena’s approach. The no-holds-barred part came from Luthor rearing, the ‘do it only in self-defence’ and ‘expect no help’ parts were purely hers.
So forgiveness had been an intellectual ideal but never really relevant in reality. Besides no one had ever apologized to her before Andrea Rojas and Kara Danvers. She'd definitely had difficulty with it at first. But she had figured it out. She hadn’t had any desire to punish Supergirl for a long time; she just wasn’t going to stop protecting herself. Being able to recover was not at all the same thing as forgetting what these people were capable of. After all, she didn't expect anyone to forget what she had been capable of.
“And of course, she is eaten up with envy that I may openly pursue you ...” Kara noted lightly.
Lena jolted out of her train of thought and went a bit pink.
“... although she has learned enough good sense not to say so openly to me since she has only herself to blame. I try not to dwell on you in conversation with her because I do not wish to cause her pain, but sometimes it is unavoidable.” She paused before confessing, “I also try not to be smug but on occasion I cannot help it.”
It took a few seconds for Lena to gather her wits and come up with a response. She nudged Kara, “Not very nice, Zor-El. To whatever extent you may be right, I don’t want to rub it in her face.”
Kara winced at yet another offputting English idiom and hid her face in Lena’s shoulder, groaning.
By now Lena was fully cognizant of the Kryptonian attitude toward sex. But she and Kara had decided that whether they could live together for life involved other factors more important than sex. If they indulged before finding out that the other factors were not present, then parting ways would be much more wrenching. So despite the building mutual attraction, they were holding off on anything beyond PG13 physical affection. Lena was quite content with that. She had gone too far way too quickly with James. It was good to experience the opposite now. She was learning too. No glomming, no rushing into a relationship, she was just safely plodding forwards step by step. Why, Lena Luthor, could you possibly be getting closer to 'well-adjusted'? Anyway there were many, many other things to appreciate about Kara and Lena was more than happy to appreciate them at her leisure.
She chuckled and rubbed Kara’s arm soothingly. “Sorry if that expression was a bit gross for you. But you know what I mean. I owe her a lot. More than I can repay. I’ll always be grateful to her and I don’t want to be unkind. But I’m not going hide you. We’re going to keep on going out together here on Earth. We haven’t crossed paths with her on any of our dates, but if one day she sees us, then she sees us. Just please ... don’t gloat, okay?”
Kara popped back up. “Does that mean I have something about which to gloat, then?”
Lena smiled at her bright eyes. “I think you know you do.”
Their gazes held. “That is a very good word, ‘gloat’,” Kara murmured. “We do not have an equivalent in Kryptonian. We would call it expressing unseemly pride in victory to the defeated.”
Lena laughed, thinking about ‘schadenfreude’. “Oh, we have that problem between Earth languages too.” Unthinkingly she leaned her face into Kara’s neck, still giggling.
Lena pulled away at once. “Sorry! I forgot for a moment ...”
“No, no!” Kara stared at her with eyes filled with awe. “That was ... wonderful!”
“Was it now?” Lena’s mischief surfaced. “I think after everything you’ve done for me, you deserve to be rewarded with ‘wonderful’.”
Kara smiled down at her lap, a little shy all of a sudden. “It has been very ... interesting ... since we met, hasn’t it?”
“It certainly has.” Playfully Lena tried it again, a little longer, a little more provocatively this time. Kara gasped with pleasure again.
“... and that ...” Lena raised her head, smiling, “... is a nuzzle.”
“An excellent word,” Kara decided dopily. “May I attempt it?”
“Oh ...” Lena smirked, “... be my guest.”
After spending some time pondering what Kara had told her, Lena’s next step was to invite the journalist who had written the article on Luthercorp, William Dey, Nia and Kara Danvers to the annual dinner given to thank Luthercorp's charitable division for its work. Alex and J’onn were already invited as adjuncts to the division. It was normal to have some press coverage there, especially international press coverage, geared towards attracting more volunteer efforts. Dey had contacts in Britain and Europe so it made sense that the little team who had worked on the article should all be invited even though Kara was now a freelance writer. The other Kara did not attend for fear that despite the wig, close proximity to Kara Danvers would cause the remarkable similarity in their facial features to be noticed. Lena also thought it was right to do this on her own.
Kara Danvers introduced William and Lena to each other at the dinner. Lena’s first task was to ensure that her press agenda for the night was clear. It didn’t compromise any of them professionally since no part of any article publicising the charities concerned and their need for help had to mention her at all. She did her spiel to the three reporters and left it at that.
When the volunteers were recognized by name, Alex went pink under the attention but she also looked very pleased. She and J’onn looked less burdened than they had done in the past. It was too public a venue for personal matters to be aired but Lena made a point of going to their table for a while to chat with the office staff, while including them in the eye contact she made with everyone there.
William left with the main wave of departing attendees and then those who remained re-arranged themselves, gravitating to separate tables with their own friends. Lena stopped by each table to thank the people for attending and for their hard work. She left the table Kara and her friends had moved to for last. As she neared, she could them all coming to alertness. For once, the looks on Alex and J’onn’s faces while they watched her approach were a combination of hopeful and relieved. They didn’t seem to be taking her granted this time, at least. Bolstered by that and by what the other Kara had said, she was able to look friendly as she drew to a halt.
“I hope you all enjoyed the evening,” was her opening.
“This kind of thing isn’t normally my scene but it turned out to be great,” Alex offered, showing she understood Lena’s cues that tonight was to be limited to non-controversial resumption of contact. “Come on, take a load off. “ She pushed a chair out. “Seeing you walk around in those heels all night is giving me sympathetic cramps in my lower legs!”
Alex’s relaxed geniality made it seem quite natural despite their long separation for Lena to sit down in their midst and do a bit of light catching up for twenty minutes, hear exactly what specific projects Alex and J’onn had been working on in the charitable division, Nia warbling on about how things were at Catco with ill-disguised relief that they were actually talking again and Kara telling her about her new house and the dog she hoped to get now that Eliza was around more or less all the time so it wouldn’t be left on its own too much. She didn't feel on edge because the slightly anxious light in both Alex and J'onn's eyes stopped her from worrying that any moment there might be an about-turn in the mood to sudden hostility. She decided that the time was right to invite them to dinner at a private room she would book in a hotel or restaurant the next weekend.
At the private dinner, Lena got her sincere apologies from Nia, Alex and J’onn. Everyone shook hands. Lena was not in a space for hugs. This dinner was meant to pave the way for direct contact. It was not a conclusion where everyone became best friends and lived happily after together. As things were, Lena was really content being on the periphery of the group, close enough to keep in touch directly, but not enough that she might be taken for granted and imposed on again. If they opened up and volunteered more personal overtures, well, she would reconsider on an individual basis. But it was a weight off her mind that they had all reached this halfway point together. If they advanced no further in closeness, she could live with this.
No one asked how things were between her and the other Kara. It was just as well because Lena would have shut them down. Maybe they sensed that she wouldn't welcome any of them taking any liberties. Maybe they didn't want to upset their Kara. Either way, she was glad no one was tactless enough to mention it.
On Lena’s second visit to Krypton, she met Kara’s friends. By now she had learned enough Kryptonian now to understand most conversations going on around her and to conduct quite advanced conversations on her own. So after all of them had got over their wonder that she was an alien, she was able to set them all at their ease. The fact that she wasn't purple with six tentacles gave her a running start and she made the most of it. With Luthor training behind her, making conversation with strangers wasn't difficult.
During her first visit she had seen more of Zor and Alura’s contemporaries than Kara’s. The older generation accorded the older Els a great deal of deference. In contrast, when Kara was among her friends, she was just one of the crowd and seemed to be comfortable like that.
Lena liked that too, but she was not a neophyte. That was not going to be the end of it.
The Kryptonian elders might present an attractively collegiate impression to a stranger but Lena, whose very expensive education had included grumbling her fourteen year old self all the way through all six volumes of Gibbon, expected that under the urbanity there had to be cliques of support and rivalry, backbiting and a fight for political survival and advancement. This wasn’t Star Trek. Any sentient being that didn’t have self-interest as a first priority was usually heading straight for a Darwin award. It was basic rule of survival. You had to take care of yourself before you could take care of anyone else.
She had been present for enough family talk to be aware that it was a matter of political necessity that the House of El should have at least one representative, usually the House leader, on the Council. It gave them a platform from which to fight for the House’s interests and for causes they wanted to support and it gave them a finger on the pulse of Krypton’s policy towards pretty much everything. At the moment both Jor and Zor were on the Council, but sooner or later it would fall to Kara and Kal to earn and keep their own places on the Council of their day.
She could see Kal sliding into it with relative ease, considering that his professional life involved navigating a hierarchy and doing a lot of negotiating. Kara, though, was a scientist at heart. Fighting for ascendancy was not part of her natural make up. She was conscious of the need for it - you couldn’t grow up in her position and not be. But if she had the taste for it, the signs would be visible when she was among her friends. Instead Kara seemed to like being just one among equals, to participate in conversations, not lead them. She didn't put herself forward to be noticed but preferred to turn the conversation so that it was about anyone else but herself.
In an ideal universe, if it had been up to Lena, Kara should be allowed to lead whatever life she wanted. But all of us live in a universe that’s bigger than we are. It wasn't up to Lena. Kara had responsibilities to her House. She couldn’t run away from them. If she let the power and status of the House of El decay under her leadership, her children and Kal’s children would lead harder lives. And if Lena agreed to bond with Kara, she would be buying into all of that, whereas if she stayed on Earth and got tired of her own responsibilities, she had the option of quitting and living in comfortable obscurity.
The second time she met Kara’s friends – it was one of their name-days - Lena had memorized Kara’s career history for a painless little social experiment. (As a guest, she had access to any information available to the public. Kara, like every member of every guild, had a record of her less sensitive professional activities listed on a public information page.) She also made sure she remembered what guild each of Kara’s friends was in. That was a basic question in Kryptonian social interaction, as basic as what family a stranger came from.
She listened as the friends got caught up on the well being of each other’s families and interesting things they had all seen or heard in the last few days. When they began discussing a new educational facility for very young children, she saw an opening.
“Kara, didn’t you once work on supplements for children of that age? Something for nutritional deficiencies ... I didn’t quite understand that,” Lena said mendaciously so that expanding on it wouldn’t make Kara feel like she was boasting.
And expand Kara did, coming out of her shell to explain it with enthusiasm.
One of her friends looked at her with new awe. “Kara, my little cousin had that syndrome! She was so small at the time and we were so very worried. But she is now almost as tall as I and bounds around with limitless energy. I did not know that it is to you that we owe thanks!”
Well! That was a bit of a bonus. Lena leaned back and let the group gabble on excitedly.
A little later, another opportunity came up for Lena to incite Kara to give more details of another piece of old work: improved nutrients for hydroponic solutions used to cultivate an important protein source. It was, of course, pure coincidence that two of the people present were food producers in the labour guild.
By the time they all parted ways that night, she could see the change in energy in the group as people made more of Kara while saying their goodbyes. Kara had brightened and unfurled under the increasing attention through the evening as she heard the concrete results of her work reflected in benefits her friends had enjoyed. She might be too modest to seek praise but everyone deserved a little validation and Lena was sensitive about that. Besides, Kara had done so much for her. It felt good to do something for her in return. And if a tiny taste of social importance that was well justified made the prospect of a future career in politics less unappetizing for her, well then, so much the better.
Lena also had a covert plan though it wasn’t anything nefarious. She wanted to snoop around for the underbelly of Krypton, just to see if it existed.
The reason for this was her discomfort with the caste system. The social history of Krypton she’d read had referred to a time in the past when there had been ‘rankless’, ie. people who did not belong to any guild and no privileges or at best were classified by default as part of the labourers’ guild, which at the time had the lowest status and the fewest privileges. It was bit like an admixture of the classical Roman empire complete with senate, patricians and plebeians and Indian society where occupation and status were inextricably linked. On Earth, the word ‘caste’ had class connotations - it meant mistreatment of underclasses who were confined to the worst work and lived in ghettoes of filth and want and hunger and sickness. L-Corp and then Luthercorp had been active in helping people in such circumstances. So she was looking for ghettoes on Krypton.
Two things had made her relax somewhat. The basic homes she had seen being built on her last visit were comfortable and well appointed by first world standards on Earth, and Kara's friends in the labour guild weren't treated differently from the others. So there appeared to be social equality and even the least well off in Argo City weren’t living in squalor. On today’s Krypton, the caste system seemed to be more a classification of adult occupations for management purposes than an establishment for discriminatory treatment of the underprivileged.
Still, Lena wanted to make sure. She wanted to see the bad as well as the good.
Admittedly she wasn’t all that great at snooping. For her it meant swanning about in Kryptonian clothes and talking to the humbler class of merchants and to manual labourers while staying away from places where she might be recognized from her first visit.
The Els had calmed down considerably. Lena had persuaded even Kara to go back to work at least some of the day and that she could manage very well all by herself. Armed only with her ever-improving Kryptonian, a little communication device on her wrist, a taser in her pocket and some Kryptonian currency Kara had left for her ‘just in case’, she sallied forth on foot. Feeling very much like a backpacker without a backpack, she explored metropolitan Argo City above and below ground, looking for out of the way places, seedy establishments, or places where the less well off congregated. But the worst she saw were a few victualling places in the below-ground levels that were grubbier than others, or spaces where dodgy looking mechanical parts were laid on tables for interested customers to pick through. Argo City definitely had those who were less well off but no one looked desperate or like they were starving.
It was surprising because on Earth every large city that looked spanking clean had its dark squalid parts. But it was also NOT surprising because science fiction produced by humans would inevitably reproduce the human experience in some way, including the existence of an underbelly to any place, however fine it appeared to be at first glance: it was all too possible that reality might be different from the human experience. Or maybe there was an underbelly on Krypton that was just too well hidden for a tourist to find when she wasn’t actually looking for trouble.
Fourteen months after Zor had first stepped through the portal into Lena’s apartment, Lena’s Kryptonian was fluent and she had been to Krypton several times, taking a Monday or a Friday off for a long weekend there. The time difference and their respective work schedules meant that for days at a time, lunch or dinner time in National City would coincide with the dead of night in Argo City or the morning or afternoon of Kara’s working day. Kara might come through for lunch for a few days, then another few days would go by before they could meet up for several evenings in a row. So it was a bit of a drawn out dating process but neither of them regretted it.
Every alternate day, Lena would leave a note sitting atop a little basket of fruit or pastries or a box of fruit tea or a small animal or bird rendered in wood or stone or glass and come home to find it replaced by a Kryptonian flower or other small gift in return.
Using the portal, Lena devoted what little free time she had to take Kara on short excursions. They went to the Parque Nacional de Monfragüe to see avian raptors, whale watching in New Zealand and Patagonia, the Nazca lines, tulip farms in Holland and fruit farms in Asia (mangoes and pomelos and custard apples were all very well but Lena still ended up slightly regretting this trip because Kara, it turned out, developed an unfortunate taste for durians). It was a hassle arranging this because of time zones on Earth as well as the difference between Krypton and Earth. She also had to set things up to be discreet and private so Lena Luthor did not appear in National City live on the news at noon and then in, say, Malaysia a couple of hours later. But when it all worked out, it was well worth it. They enjoyed themselves tremendously. Kara’s training had paid off and she had little difficulty passing herself off as human these days.
One trip was a three-day private safari in East Africa and Lena invited the other Els. Only Alura, Lara, Kal and his intended bondmate, Thara (who was also an old friend of Kara’s and who was in the military with him), were able to go but they still had a fine time riding in Land Rovers and occasionally walking in the bush with a ranger guide. They even camped in the bush. Alura chose to sleep on the roof of a Land Rover and got the thrill of her life when she woke to find a giraffe subjecting her a benign inspection from on high. According to Kara, she could talk of little else for days after that.
The next time the other Els were invited, it was for a private boat trip on the Amazon. Zor loved the pink dolphins while the others, for no reason Lena could fathom or sympathize with, couldn’t get enough of the black caimans. All the ‘but Lena, they are all knobbly, and see their little feet!’ whines from Kara cut no ice with her – in solidarity with each other, she and Zor played checkers and dominoes together while the others crooned their inexplicable delight over these reptiles. If there were little accidents with slightly mismanaged superpowers, the well paid boat crew were from Lena’s personal security force: they replaced broken crockery and repaired warped gunwales without turning a hair. The guide was the brother of one of Andrea Rojas’s employees and had skin in the game of keeping his silence besides having been paid very well to do so. (She and Lena weren’t best friends of the hair-braiding variety anymore, but post-Leviathan, with her father safe, Andrea had reached an awkward but overall amicable understanding with Lena that so long as their interests did not clash, they would keep each other’s weirder secrets and try not to compete in business. If Lena asked for a guide that would keep his mouth shut, she could trust Andrea’s recommendation. At the end of the day, if the guide talked, he would talk only to Andrea and Lena had no problem with Andrea knowing that she had alien friends so long as Andrea didn’t hear about Krypton.)
The Els seemed to be in no hurry. No one was putting any pressure on Lena to make up her mind. In fact they seemed to enjoy their Earth outings very much like the mini-vacations they were. If anything, Lena was imposing pressure on herself, very aware of how unfair it was to be monopolizing Kara’s attention when she had other names on her Matrix list.
Then Alura told her one late afternoon on Krypton that in fact, Kara had dutifully met several other people on her list and basically given up on them as anything more than friends after one meeting.
“This is why you must not rush, Lena. You must be sure or it will be a disservice to both of you. Kara wishes for no one else. You are not keeping her from anything.”
“I feel like I am being unfair because she seems sure and I'm still not,” Lena confessed. Everyone knew she thought Kara was a wonderful girlfriend. It was just the permanence of the bond and moving to Krypton that were making her hesitate.
Alura considered that. “Kara has been brought up to consider only those on her list as feasible choices. On Earth you feel you have a limitless field of choice. Of course it is harder for you to be sure. And on Earth divorce is normal nearly everywhere whereas on Krypton it is only regarded as acceptable for those whose spouses commit the highest level of serious crime or any crimes involving violence. So you have to feel even more certain than you would with another human. All of us understand this.”
“Is it ... making Kara look bad to others that I am taking so long?” Lena whispered.
Alura looked surprised. “No. Some marriages made solely for political reasons are concluded very quickly after the lists are issued. But Kara is not alone in her preference for bonding with someone who is not simply a name on her list. Some Kryptonians take much longer to be bonded.”
“Okay,” Lena said, relieved.
“Zor was the second person on my list that I met,” Alura confided with a gleam in her eye. “And I was his fourth. He is older than I, you see, so he received his list before I did. Thus he took several solar revolutions after getting his list to become bonded. You are by no means exceptional even by our standards.”
“Will you tell me what it was you particularly liked about him?” Lena had caught the confidential, gossipy mood.
“He was calm.”
Lena blinked. “In my experience most Kryptonians are.”
“No, I do not mean in manner because you are correct: Kryptonians as a rule have no fondness for disorder. But he is calm in mind and spirit. It is the source of his great ability to focus. By contrast my mind tends to be excitable. The law has been a good choice for me because of the mental discipline it imposes. But Zor calms my mind without forcing it.”
Oh, well. Lena supposed that with time, she would understand that better.
“He’s also quite the suave one, isn’t he?” she teased.
Alura tried not entirely successfully to suppress a smirk, “He is ...”, and then she gave Lena a very slow blink.
Lena began to giggle.
Kara walked in from work to find them both in high good humour.
“What is funny?”
“Nothing,” Alura said quickly, and turned up her nose in exaggerated stand-offishness.
Lena grinned and gave Kara a gentle poke on the arm. “How was your day at work?”
Kara narrowed her eyes. “You are both being deliberately provoking,” she diagnosed. “You wish me to think you were talking about me in secret.”
“And what if we were?” Lena batted her eyelashes innocently.
Kara lifted her chin. “Then I must suppose that you both only had the most complimentary things to say because I am a paragon of virtue.”
Lena and Alura laughed outright.
Kara pursed her lips as she observed their hilarity. She was at a disadvantage here. Time to change tactics. “I wish to purchase sweet cakes from Juka Ern-ve. One of my colleagues has his name-day tomorrow and I would like to present him with some. Lena, do you wish to accompany me? We will pass the gardens with the old variegated lichen growths that you like. Jeju, do you wish for any cakes?”
Alura shook her head, smiling at her canny daughter. “No, thank you, Kara.”
“We shall be punctual for evening meal,” Kara said in farewell as she ushered Lena out the door.
Lena nudged her before too long. “We were actually talking about how your parents paired up. You must know neither your mother nor I would ever speak poorly of you behind your back.”
Kara smiled in satisfaction that her change in tactics had worked. “Yes. It was never important. You were clearly only being lighthearted.”
She waited a few moments. “I have been detecting a pattern.”
“Hmm?” Lena was entertained by the sight of a man wrangling a small child away from her little group of playmates. The child was definitely reluctant to leave and her father finally had to carry her away under his arm. An Earth child would probably have screamed in indignation. Being Kryptonian, this child just grumbled audibly but quietly, kicking her legs weakly in resigned protest. As he walked away, Lena detected a smile of exasperated amusement beginning to form on the father’s face. “A pattern of what?”
“I am finding that my friends are relating to me differently from how they did before.”
“Really? Is it a good difference or a bad difference?” Lena’s frown of mingled innocence and concern was, she thought, quite convincing.
“A very good difference,” Kara said a tad sternly, “and I believe the change began after they met you.”
“Perhaps they like me because I am a paragon,” Lena said thoughtfully, “and therefore they hold you in higher esteem.” She examined her fingernails complacently.
Kara groaned. “I am not fooled by your pretence, Lena. I believe you deliberately engineered it.”
“I have no idea what you mean.”
“I wish to thank you,” Kara said as if Lena had not just attempted to deflect her again. “I do not yet completely understand what you did or how, but I am certain that the credit is yours.”
“Exactly! As I said, it must be reflected glory from my magnificence.” Lena tilted her head and patted her hair in a preening way.
“Rao, you are impossible!” Kara was grinning.
“So ... which cakes do you intend to get?”
Kara shook an admonitory finger at her but took the hint to let it go for the moment. There was more than one way to peel this fruit. She made a plan to menace Lena with tickles when they were in private. It was not a terribly aggressive plan because Lena had introduced 'nibbling' to her. Just on ears and throat right now but Kara was a scientist and a logician: she could extrapolate from this like anything! The equation 'nibbling + nuzzling = hitherto unimaginable pleasure' made her really quite weak. But she was confident that tickling or not, Lena would eventually tell all, probably in her own sweet time. “My colleague likes the same ones you do. You said to you they taste like a combination of cranberry and almonds?” ...
Rao, what a woman the Matrix had chosen for her! She must remember to offer an oil-light in the spirit of thanks to its inventors and maintainers at the next Joy In Work Festival.
Lena and Kara were ‘practising snuggling’. This was such an excellent pursuit, Kara thought blearily. The red of Krypton’s setting sun bathed the room in a warm glow.
Beside her, Lena did a fully body stretch, sighing contentedly, before rolling up onto her elbows. Undeterred by the slightly increased distance, Kara simply turned her head and mouthed happily at the nearest part of Lena she could reach, her left arm.
“I think it’s time for me to talk to Kryptonian Immigration.”
Kara rotated her eyeball up hopefully. Lena was looking down at her with a soft expression few people ever got to see.
Things between them progressed like this, one steady step at a time. But this was most significant. There were some issues that were between Krypton and Lena alone, that only she could deal with. If Lena was ready to take this on now, it meant that everything else was just a matter of time.
With a rustle of clothing, Kara lifted herself onto one elbow. “You are certain?”
Lena gave her a cautious smile. “Yes. I just don’t think it is wise for us to treat this as final before everything else is in place. There are things that can still go wrong.”
Kara nodded slowly. “My father will arrange the conference. Do you wish me to be there?”
“There’s no need. You won’t be allowed in.” Lena leaned in to press her lips gently against Kara’s cheek. “If anything goes wrong, we can get the recording of the conference and mount a challenge. But I’m not too worried.”
The meeting was scheduled for a day when Kara was due to attend a training session on Earth with Supergirl. It was a Wednesday in National City and for once, time was more or less synchronous between there and Argo City. Kara had to go bright and early to have time for her powers to build up before training began. The original plan was for her and Supergirl to have lunch together after training but with the results of this meeting to worry about, Kara would be cancelling the lunch and returning directly to Argo City after training. She hadn’t wanted to go at all, but Lena had persuaded her to. So she hung out at Lena’s apartment, feeling her powers build up and then it was time for Lena to cross over to Krypton for her meeting and time for Kara to go to training. The two of them closed together in an embrace of hope and nervousness before Kara watched Lena walk through the portal.
Kryptonians do not kiss on the mouth except as a prelude to sex or as an integral part of it. Lena had blinked a bit on being told that but hadn’t objected. Between nibbling and nuzzling, they covered a lot of ground anyway and Lena always seemed sufficiently delighted with that.
But this thing with immigration was the last matter that was outside their control. If Lena sorted it out, there would be nothing holding them back anymore because everything else was just logistical. Their bonding would only be a matter of time.
Kara was going to be distracted at training today.
Lena seated herself in a large, stark room in the middle of Argo City.
Greetings were exchanged and introductions made, then Lena said to the panel arrayed before her, “I have been told that in order to be a citizen of Krypton, I must owe my allegiance to Krypton. That is understandable. However I am not a refugee. I have not been mistreated by the regime from which I come. I am simply making the decision that I have a new loyalty to Kara Zor-El. That decision is purely personal, not political.”
She waited for the panel to absorb this. “You are all experienced people. You must know that people do not reject all their old allegiances simply because a new person has come to be important to them.”
“We do understand this,” the head of the panel, Ruva Arl-nor, said. She had a hawk-like face but her expression was neutral. “You are saying that your allegiances will be divided.”
“Yes,” Lena answered simply. “I am content with owing primary allegiance to Krypton. But I will not relinquish my care for Earth. That means two things. First, if Krypton ever plans to something that would have a detrimental effect on Earth, it is not something I can imagine agreeing with.”
“We have no such plans,” Ruva pointed out.
“I realize that you do not intend hostilities,” Lena assured her. “But you may do something in your space program that could have repercussions all the way to Earth, for example. In that event I would protest.” As a long time Star Trek fan, she was thinking of the equivalent of environmental damage in space that might, for example, make space travel impossible. That was just an example, but the principle that something done far away from Earth might result in debris travelling to Earth or climate change on Earth was valid.
Ruva looked at the other panel members, who all had identical surprised expressions. “We had not thought of that,” she admitted. “But it seems reasonable that you would object. Krypton’s policy is not to harm others unless they attack us. Such a protest would not seem unnatural to us. Once an alien becomes a Kryptonian citizen, that alien has the same rights as the rest of us. Citizenship cannot be revoked in the absence of treasonous activity or attempted treasonous activity. So long as you confine yourself to activities that are not treasonous, it will not be lawful for us to revoke your citizenship just because you voice your opposition in one matter or another.”
“Very well, thank you.” Lena wondered idly when lawful protest became sedition in the eyes of Kryptonian law, but that would depend on the circumstances. It was unreasonable to expect an immigration panel to give her guarantees about a future that might never happen.
“What is the second thing?”
“I have been assured that there will be few restrictions on me visiting Earth.”
“That is correct,” one of the other panel members said. “As you say, we are experienced people. We understand that sometimes you will long for what you have always known. We do not wish to visit unnecessary hardship on you. In addition we understand that you are a prominent personage on Earth. For you to disappear entirely would prompt an investigation, a hunt, that may reveal our existence.”
“Thank you. Then I wish to know whether it would be open to me, on the occasional visit to Earth, to promote an advance in Earth science based on what I learn here.” Lena let the tension show in her face, saw them take note of it.
The panel members conferred.
At length, Ruva faced front again. “It is not the policy of Krypton to uplift other species with science and technology that they have not earned through their own abilities. We dare not. We have come close to disaster ourselves so we know that advancement does not always promise wisdom. Advancement without the knowledge to support it is even more dangerous.”
“I was not speaking of importing tremendous advances in their entirety,” Lena explained. “That will not be possible in any case because Kryptonian science and mathematics are fundamentally different from Earth sciences and mathematics...” She had already begun to absorb the Kryptonian basics and knew she needed an intensive adjustment period before she could start productive work with the science guild. But scientific method was the same and Lena was quintessentially a scientist. She was confident that she could do it and the Kryptonians had certainly not voiced any doubts on their part that she could.
“... It is not a simple matter of mere vocabulary. Concepts, principles, the whole approach, are completely different. So I do not intend to import an uplift. What I wish to do is to introduce small developments that would not be unnaturally out of step with the latest developments in human science. After all, I would be called upon to defend them. So it would only be sensible to promote small advances that would be believable and self-explanatory to those learned in that field. In that way, I would not have people on Earth searching for me to provide an explanation.”
She paused. “Would it content you if I were first to obtain consent from at least one member each of the science and military guilds before introducing any such advance on Earth?”
Ruva didn’t even have to consult the others. Heads were already nodding. She smiled. “Thank you. Yes, that would content us. Are there any other issues?”
“No,” Lena replied. “How will this be documented?”
Ruva nodded at one of the panel members who was industriously pecking away at a small panel on the tabletop in front of him. “We are adding a clause to this effect now. As soon as you have reviewed it and agree, it will go on the permanent record that as of this day, Krypton grants you citizenship which will take effect without further ceremony immediately upon the completion of your bonding with Kara Zor-El.”
Before long, Lena was able to read all this on the screen in front of her. “Yes, this is acceptable.”
Ruva smirked. “Well, language is clearly not a problem.” There was a rustle of humour from the rest of the panel.
Lena smiled. “I wish to thank you for your flexibility and the allowances you have made for me. I realize that there is no precedent. Other aliens have become Kryptonian citizens but not through bonding with a Kryptonian. You have devoted special thought to my case and I am grateful.”
Of course, Krypton didn’t want someone with Kara’s status and talent to have to move to Earth and away from Rao. So they had an interest in making whatever reasonable accommodation could be made so that Lena felt able to move to Krypton. But they had already agreed that such a move would not be a complete severance from Earth for her, so the fact they were willing to let her share with Earth what she could was generous. Or maybe they had thought from her expression that this was a deal breaker for her – since Lena intended no harm to come to either Earth or Krypton, she felt no urge to enlighten them otherwise.
She submitted to the biometric scans that would record her consent to the citizenship document, had copies sent to Kara, Jor, Zor and Alura’s personal accounts and accepted an actual hard copy on the plant-fibre parchment that was still used, if rarely, on Krypton. Everyone bowed in acknowledgement of her thanks.
The meeting was over.
Kara was waiting fretfully outside. Lena waved the parchment under her nose. Kara almost snatched it in her hurry to read it.
“This is good!” she said rapidly.
“What’s wrong?” Lena had expected rather more fulsome pleasure.
“There is trouble on Earth.”
Kara explained on the way back to her home. Her training session had been interrupted early because Superman had called Supergirl to tell her that an unidentified spacecraft had appeared in the air over Metropolis. The two women had flown there at once. (Kara trained in her brown wig and black sweats with a tank top underneath so that no one would casually confuse her with Supergirl.)
Upon their arrival, Superman, on his maiden outing on this Earth, had tried a cautious approach to the spacecraft but had been knocked back by a powerful directed wave that did little damage but left him dazed for a while. Military aircraft and missiles were being prepared but everyone was waiting to see what the spacecraft would do next. The possibility that it had no malicious intent still existed since Superman might have been perceived as a threat. But there was visible weaponry on the craft that looked powerful although no one yet knew what it could do.
Hearing this, Lena was ready to go back to Earth.
“Are you willing to wait a little?” Kara asked anxiously. She held up a cellphone. “Supergirl lent this to me so I could ask Kal and Astra if they could identify it.”
Lena nodded silently, biting her lip worriedly. She turned on her cell phone and found Sam Arias’s number. The Sam of this universe had no traumatic memories of Reign but she was otherwise much the same reliable, responsible and eminently trustworthy Sam Lena had known before and they still had the same history of knowing each other before Lena had moved to National City. Right now, Sam was head of finance in Luthercorp Metropolis. She didn’t have much to do with operations or research on a day to day basis but she could be trusted to follow Lena’s instructions to the letter.
“Astra knows of them,” Kara reported a while later. “She says they are pirates. Krypton has not dealt with them before but a species we are in contact with has. That species inhabits a part of space much closer to Earth than Krypton. According to Astra, they sent us pictures of these craft to warn us that they are predatory. The crew could be anyone but they will not have scruples. Astra believes they must want something from Earth and since Earth is not able to pursue them once they leave, they will have no compunction about doing damage to get it. Kal is retrieving what knowledge we have on them, including the craft’s offensive and defensive capabilities, and Astra is going through official channels to get him permission to leave his current duties so that he can join us to travel to Earth. We need only be a little patient. Do not worry, Lena. When I left, J’onn had already been alerted and was on his way, bringing Dreamer and Alex Danvers. Supergirl contacted her friend, the Flash, before giving her phone to me.”
Lena worried anyway.
The three of them came out of the portal into Clark’s apartment and Kara called him. He was there in a trice to let them out so they didn’t have to break any locks. On the way to meeting the others on the rooftop of the Metropolis branch of Luthercorp, Lena called Sam and started talking. By the time they got there, Lena had also called the other division heads in the building and basically told them to do whatever Sam asked them to do.
The spaceship was huge to Lena’s eyes. To a fan of Earth science fiction it looked about three times the size of what she had imagined the Defiant of Star Trek Deep Space Nine might have been, and was an ominous combination of dark purple and gray, with no visible lights. Lena spent a minute gaping at it before the voice on the phone in her ear recalled her attention.
“What’s she doing?” Alex Danvers parked herself next to Kara, nodding at Lena. Supergirl, Superman and the Flash were huddled around Kal as he briefed them on what the Kryptonians knew.
“She is requisitioning communicators for all of us from Luthercorp security.” With the loss of the DEO, the central processing hub for their in-ear communicators was gone. Supergirl hadn’t found them necessary while working mainly with the Flash and his other friends because between the Flash and herself they could always get up close to one another to talk and her superhearing could catch anything said to her from a distance. “I believe she is also giving instructions for the conversion of arc lamps into yellow sun lamps in case any Kryptonians are injured.”
“Okay. So, are you gonna fight too?”
Kara hummed in thought. “Unlike Kal, I have never been trained for tactical maneuvers. I can only defend myself and those with me. If that is sufficient to make me helpful, then I will place myself under Supergirl’s direction. We have agreed that she has the most experience dealing with abnormal threats on this Earth so while she will consult with the others, we will leave the final decisions to her. If she decides that my inexperience will be more hindrance than help, I will assist Lena or with damage control and rescue efforts.”
Alex eyed her curiously. “You’re very calm for someone who hasn’t done anything like this before.”
“Panic would not be helpful to anyone in this situation,” Kara said. “Please secure a hood for Kal. There has been no time to disguise him and Clark will soon have to remove his glasses and change back into being Superman. They will look too alike.”
“One of them should grow a mustache,” Alex muttered, but before Kara had time to reply that Kryptonians did not grow facial hair, she had already disappeared on her errand. She was quick about it, too, and returned in less half an hour with a balaclava from an army surplus store.
Supergirl was feeling the heat. Everyone had decided that she should call the shots. Unlike the people she tried to save everyday, these were people she was going to send into danger. It was a different kind of responsibility altogether. She was not fooled, though. Kal and Kara had ceded her leadership because it was common sense: she had the most familiarity with home ground and the kinds of things they might have to do with their powers. It didn’t mean they would suddenly be convinced by one single triumph, however glorious, that she could be depended on to make sensible decisions all the time. After all, she had been doing things like this with success over the years during which she had also been doing all she had done to Lena. It was a great thing that they were willing to put their lives in her hands but it was also great pressure.
Lena had just distributed communicators to them all from a bag that a Luthercorp security officer had brought up when a bright blue beam of light shone out from the spacecraft. The end of the beam coalesced into an indeterminate hooded figure. From it came a loud, halting mechanical voice that said with no preamble, “We require one ton of erythrite and one ton of plutonium to be delivered to us. If you fail to comply, we will initiate destructive measures. You have one hour.” There was a five second pause then the message was repeated.
Supergirl clenched her teeth as she glared at the figure. Why don’t you go boil your head?
Lena huffed. “That’s an impossible demand in the time given, even if we were inclined to comply with it. We need to communicate with that vessel, otherwise we can’t even buy time.” She presumed the crew of the ship had used the time before announcing their demand to put together enough English to know what to ask for and how to phrase it. It had been clumsy but it had been effective and it had been impressively quick.
Supergirl was still holding her communicator. In her ear was an earbud attached to the phone Kara had given back to her. She had just briefed the President with the news that these were space pirates, who might possibly have as yet unseen support.
On her left Alex had her phone on a news channel, holding it so both of them could see the screen. A somewhat messy evacuation was clogging the roads out of the city.
“The President agrees with you,” Supergirl said wryly to Lena. “No negotiating with terrorists when we’re held to ransom, all that jazz, but we still need to communicate. They have a fighter jet in the air trying all frequencies. Any ideas?”
“Not yet,” Lena shook her head. “Don’t know enough about their tech.”
“Oh, wait. The President’s calling for a strike from the Air Force.”
“But what about ...” Lena watched with the others as a line of white comtrails began streaking in towards the spacecraft. “... the UHF wave? And those jets had better not be carrying nuclear missiles.”
“No, but the ones they are carrying can still do a lot of damage if they hit the city.” Supergirl turned to the others. “Kara, Flash, watch the missiles. If the ship has countermeasures that deflect any of them towards the city, I need you to do your best to bring them to an uninhabited part of the land. Flash can create a vortex that will stop a missile’s momentum and Kara can direct their fall. Don’t send them out to sea or we might get tidal waves. Kal, unlike Kara, you’re not yet fully powered so for the time being, your priority is damage control and rescue.”
The jets split to form a wide circle around the spacecraft.
“Clark!” Supergirl turned to him urgently. “It’s you and me who attack that ship. We hit it when it’s firing at the missiles, damage the weapons and propulsion as best we can at superspeed. Then we can worry about talking to them.”
“The wave ...” Clark reminded.
“I know, but the best chance we have of getting in close to do damage is when they’re distracted with the missiles. I’m not seeing a better opportunity, are you? J’onn, I need you to keep watch on Clark and me. We have to hope they can’t hit us when we’re going at superspeed in erratic directions, but if one of us gets hit we may need you to catch us.”
A new beam of white light shot out from the ship and hit the Daily Planet building. As the top began to disintegrate and fall, Kal whooshed off, running. He re-appeared there high in the air and began to lightly push-punch against the leaning momentum of the falling structure. Lena had never seen that done before. She’d seen the Supers holding up falling structures to give people inside time to evacuate. But Kal had arrived from Krypton a bare hour ago. He might not have heat vision or freeze breath or full strength yet and whatever he was doing seemed to working to at least delay the collapse of the building.
“I can hear the strike command,” Clark said. He was already in his crestless Superman suit, complete with anti-kryptonite shield on his chest. (He had made peace with Lena very quickly after Lois had given him a shelling.)
“Remember the anti-kryptonite shield protects you from certain types of radiation. It may help,” Lena told the Supers. “If it doesn’t affect your effectiveness, there’s no harm deploying it.”
“Okay, thanks! Clark, let’s go, they’re about to hit their firing buttons!”
The Supers were off in a whoosh, Supergirl having given her phone to Alex.
The rest watched as missiles emerged from the jets. They converged on the ship for a second or two but then they veered off course.
“Here we go!” the Flash cried out and he was off. Kara disappeared after him.
Lena was on the phone to the labs below her but she was only waiting to hear the results of the scans being carried from there. She couldn’t see what was happening at the ship itself but she could hear thumps and crumps and the ship began to look a lot less pristine. The Supers must be working very, very fast.
Whitish vortices were forming under one falling missile after another. They slowed and one by one, began to fall more slowly in a different direction, away from the city. Since she didn’t have to push against their original momentum, Kara must be finding it not too difficult to re-direct them. There were too many, though, for even the Flash to have time to create a vortex under every one. As she watched, J’onn appeared and hugged a stray missile, pushing it with all his might. In the next second, Kara was next to him lending her strength. They managed to send it and a couple of others safely away and then Kara flew to replace Kal at the Daily Planet building.
J’onn towed Kal up and up, presumably hoping that the closer to the sun they got, the less atmosphere there was in the way of the sunlight, the faster Kal would charge up.
“Miss Luthor, we have detected an EM wave all around the ship!” The voice of one of her lab guys yammered excitedly in her ear. “It’s not directed, it just seems to surround the whole vessel. Maybe it’s a shield!”
Oh, blessings on Star Trek fans! “Have someone identify the frequency but the first priority is to find its source,” Lena rapped out. “Quick as you can, please!”
There was a bit of a kerfuffle coming through the phone as people in the lab re-arranged themselves, another pause, then, “Miss Luthor, it seems to be coming from the underside, right in the middle!”
“Thank you, good work!” Lena hung up and hit her communicator. “Supergirl, Superman, something in the middle of the underside of the ship is emitting an EM wave that surrounds the ship. Could be defensive. Could be blocking communications. Hell, for all I know, it could be holding the ship together. Whatever it’s meant to be doing, they want it to be there, which seems to me a good enough reason to get rid of it. We want them to listen to us. Hit that and they might.”
“Gotcha,” Supergirl’s voice was so garbled and made high by the speed at which she was travelling that Lena could barely make it out.
The Daily Planet building was crooked but steady now. Kara had melted some of the building materials to make it hold for the moment. The Flash, finished with his vortices, was helping with the evacuation of the building and Lena could just make out Kara doing the same.
There was a change in air. A trail of dust sprinkled down from the underside of the spacecraft. Lena realized that there had been a near undetectable hum emanating from it all this while, which had just stopped.
The ship began to list. J’onn and Kal re-appeared. J’onn was flying fast but he didn’t have superspeed and was promptly hit by the same directed wave that had first hit Clark a couple of hours ago.
Kal was not hit because he was going at superspeed with erratic changes in direction Lena could barely follow. As J’onn reeled away, Kara was there to catch him at a lower altitude and she lowered both of them to the ground. Buildings blocked Lena’s view of them but she imagined Kara fussing to make sure J’onn was okay.
There was a ‘crump’ sound and one part of the ship’s hull that had an odd protrusion on it suddenly caved in. “I have destroyed the wave cannon,” Kal’s voice announced over the communicator.
Relieved, Lena phoned Sam with instructions to get LutherCorp security to make the lobby of the building a temporary triage facility and go out on the streets to redirect any injured to it.
The ship was looking much the worse for wear now. Its weapon platforms were warped and the weapon barrels Lena could see were twisted in a U-shape so their ends pointed back on themselves. The hull was pocked with indentations from super punches. But it wasn’t completely disabled yet. One or two white beams of light were still shooting out of the far side, not at the city, thank goodness, but in an apparent attempt to shoot the three Kryptonians zipping round it.
She could hear Alex jabbering in a high voice by her side but before she could tune her brain to listen to what she was saying, the watching jets fired again. The ones on the side Lena could see sent their missiles into the hull of the ship. There was an ominous rumbling from the ship. Parts of it flared up as missiles struck.
“Get out of there!” Lena shouted into the comms. “It’s going to explode!”
And in the next second the ship disintegrated. Lena waved her hand in Alex’s face to get her attention, grabbed her by the elbow and hauled her off the roof to avoid any falling debris, although the bright whiteness of the explosion indicated that debris larger than dust particles was unlikely.
Alex shoved Supergirl’s phone in her pocket, muttering something about imbeciles, and tapped urgently at her communicator. Lena was doing the same but less than a minute later, Superman and Kal came clattering through the door into the stairwell.
“We’re fine,” Superman said quickly. “Supergirl's staying up there for a while to keep watch in case the ship had backup. How’s everyone else?”
“J’onn sounds a bit dizzy but he’s whole. Kara’s bringing him to the lobby downstairs.”
“That many missiles at once was overkill,” Superman grunted. “The ship’s just powder in the air now.”
“Well, they tried to attack this country and made demands without allowing negotiations,” Lena shrugged. “I can understand why the Air Force wanted to make sure they weren’t a threat any longer, although I wish they had just let you disable it. Did you get any warning at all that they were going to fire again?”
“Yes,” Superman said, “Alex was on the phone with the President and heard her give the order over her protests. She told us before they fired.”
That must have been while Lena had been talking to Sam.
By the time they reached an elevator, Superman was back in civilian garb and Kal had removed his balaclava. Emerging into the lobby, they found controlled chaos as paramedics rushed from one patient to another. It didn’t look terrible though. Most of the injured were sitting up and talking.
Kara and J’onn were sitting beside an obnoxiously large potted plant. It wasn’t long before Barry Allen joined them, also in civilian clothes. When J’onn felt steady again, they all trooped to Clark’s apartment, picking up several boxes of drinks and bags of ice on the way.
Supergirl joined them a while later and Lois Lane came in at dinner time. Well, it was her dinner time. The Kryptonians and the Flash had disposed of a large stack of pizzas by then so for them it was second-dinner time. All of them had used up a tremendous amount of energy. “I think all of you did very well,” Lois complimented them as she took a seat beside Clark on the couch.
“Supergirl directed our efforts effectively,” Kara demurred.
“Thanks, but I’d rather not ever have to do it again.” Slumped on Clark’s other side, Kara Danvers sighed. “Don’t get me wrong. It means so, so much that all of you trusted me to lead but now I’ve done it, it’s just not the kind of responsibility I want.”
“Things like this don’t happen very much,” Lena offered. She and Kara were side by side on dining chairs carried into the lounge area. “And it looks like you both trained Kal and Kara very well. You should be proud of that.”
Kara Danvers smiled at her pensively. Even after the private reconciliation dinner, she had noticed that when Lena looked at her, her eyes would skitter away immediately for several seconds before they returned to train on her properly. She could only imagine that when Lena saw her, an image of James or a dying Lex on Earth-38 superimposed itself over her own face and had to be forced away. It was like the ocular equivalent of a flinch, a traumatic reaction that she herself had caused in someone she had had the gall to call her best friend. She knew that Lena couldn’t help it. But each time it happened, she felt a resurgence of the old guilt. She had beaten herself up about it every time.
But Kelly had advised her that wallowing too much in guilt was no good for her either. And seeing Lena’s involuntary reactions would keep reminding her of it. So she understood why a certain amount of distance between them was good for them both, why there could be no going back to lunches and coffees every day for a long time, if ever. There were just some things you couldn’t expect victims to forget. Some of them quite legitimately wanted never to see the people who had mistreated them ever again, not because of ongoing rancour but just because they didn’t want the reminders. So Kara Danvers counted herself lucky that Lena remained willing just to be in her life at all.
Choking regret had gradually become a bearable gentle melancholy that now seemed to be an inextricable part of her. It slowed her down in a good way. It made her stop and reflect when she began to feel the onset of the sort of panic that made her do rash things. It made her set aside time for the meditation that art provided. It kept her sane, made her steady. It made her try harder to put herself in another person’s shoes. And on raucous game nights she could put it aside for a little while, safe in the knowledge that it would be back when the tumult and the shouting died and the captains and the kings departed. Because Kara Danvers wanted to have and to keep a humble and a contrite heart and she did not want to forget.
But now Lena was smiling at her and the ocular twitch had not happened. A sense of peace stole over Kara Danvers. There would always be a wistful regret, a shade of guilt and apology, whenever she interacted with Lena. But Lena was a friend again and Kara Danvers decided that she was fortunate after all.
Lena wanted to appoint Sam Arias as CEO of LuthorCorp in her place so she immediately began grooming her for the job instead of dumping it on her as she had done on their previous Earth. She hired Sam a couple of executive assistants and included them in the training programme.
The world would be told at first that Lena was on sabbatical. In time, when people grew confident that LuthorCorp could continue perfectly well without a Luthor present, there would be an unobtrusive announcement that she would not return to an executive role but had formally retired to pursue personal interests.
Lena didn’t want to divest herself of all her assets: some of them she had inherited, but some of them she had earned. She would continue to be a substantial shareholder of Luthercorp. An occasional appearance at shareholders’ meetings would go a long way towards allaying suspicions about her giving up a relatively high profile career and she could avoid many such meetings if she voted by proxy. She also took on the title of consultant to Luthercorp’s R&D so she would have a role that enabled her to introduce the improvements to science and tech she had discussed with Kryptonian immigration.
Lena told Sam in confidence about Krypton and arranged a periodic mail pick up in the spare room of Sam's house in Metropolis, timed always to be on weekdays when Sam’s daughter, Ruby, could be expected to be away at school or out with friends. Lena would use Sam’s executive assistant as proxy for most shareholder meetings, depositing the necessary documents in good time at the mail drop to be discreetly hand delivered by Sam.
She kept her apartment in National City as a standard portal destination and made Sam signatory to an account with the funds to pay a housekeeping service to maintain it.
Finally her ducks were in a row.
“Lena, what is this?”
Mystified, Kara looked over the new and strange machine Lena had lugged through the portal to Krypton.
“Let’s get it to your home and I’ll tell you.” Lena’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. There was a feverish excited determination in her Kara had not seen before. She began to be excited too.
Once they got to the El house, Zor and Alura too stared at the new equipment dumped unceremoniously on the floor.
For once, Lena was nervous. “I need to talk to Kara in private. Then I’ll explain this. If that is all right with all of you.”
“We can talk in my room,” Kara herself was twitching now too. She dragged Lena and her wheelie suitcase off before her parents could say anything.
In Kara’s room, Lena took her hand. “Kara, everything’s in place. I’m ready to be bound with you,” she said plainly.
Kara gasped. Tears formed. “I am so happy,” she cried. “It is all I have wanted for so long now!”
“I’m sorry I made you wait,” Lena said wretchedly. The Els already felt like family and she realized how much time and mental energy she must have unconsciously invested in them to make her feel that one and half years was enough, and more than enough, to be certain. But certain she was. She just felt a little bad to have taken so much longer than Kara had to be certain, no matter what Alura had said.
“No, no, I do not care about that,” Kara wept. “I am so happy!”
It was ridiculous.
It was wonderful.
“I thought ... we have not ... we have not been as intimate physically as I know you are used to. I thought you would wish to wait until after you knew with certainty that I would not be unsatisfactory ...”
After the spaceship incident, Kara hadn’t dared to try anything in bed with Lena on Earth while she had superpowers. Lena had had to stay on Earth to get Luthercorp Metropolis back on an even keel after the excitement of the day and to train Sam and put everything in place for her move to Krypton. So since then, Kara had gone for regular visits and her quota of nibbling + nuzzling + snuggling, but Lena hadn’t had time to come back to Krypton until now.
“I have no doubt at all that you will be satisfactory. In fact,” Lena gave her most devilish smirk, “I think you will be as wonderful at that as you are in other ways.”
She liked the fact that Kara, though as private an individual as Lena was herself, was not squeamish about discussing sex like an adult. It made things so much easier. She had been able to feel the tide of attraction between them strengthening with each new thing, bad or good, they learned about each other. What others might have termed weaknesses in each of them only inspired protectiveness in the other, not dislike. For Lena, discovering someone else’s weaknesses gave rise to indulgent toleration at best, or more often the preservation of distance or increased distrust. So the fact it was different with Kara was to her a pretty unmistakeable indication that this was right for her, Kara was right for her: Kara, with her quirks and her humour and her generous, sweet temper; Kara who, starting with no more than a mere prediction from the Matrix that she and a total stranger, an alien, might have a successful union, had defended her fiercely and dedicated a seemingly endless fount of understanding, patience and kindness to her. Another Kryptonian might have been daunted, might have ignored the alien name on his/her list, or put no more than token effort into meeting Lena. Kara was uprightness personified without being a tedious prig. To Lena, who still doubted her own moral compass sometimes, this was reassuring.
The smirk left her face almost as soon as it appeared. She had to be earnest now. “You are all that I could want in a lifelong partner.” She reached out and took hold of Kara’s upper arms. “In the bizarre and unlikely event that we do not find each other totally satisfactory in the bedroom, well, here’s the thing: I will still be happier with you than alone or with anyone else. That to me, counts for everything.”
And that was true. Neither of them was ruled by her animal appetites. Kara was just making allowance for the weight humans seemed to attribute to sex in their spousal relationships. But this was Krypton and she was Kryptonian. So long as they loved each other more than anyone else and their chief priority remained each other, Kara would be happy.
It was, Lena had decided, a very sane approach, not that she was anticipating needing to test it. There was more than enough attraction between them for her to be sure they would be able to give each other pleasure. Once attraction was there, it normally only required a bit of consideration and generosity to be a good lover. They regularly drove each other slightly crazy during their ‘nibbling + nuzzling’ sessions: if those already made them happier than any full-on sex either had ever had, well ... Lena was as certain as she could be that they would be taking to bedsports together with a hey nonny, nonny and a cha cha cha!
Kara melted into her arms and full of relief and joy, they stayed in a full-body embrace for an uncounted time.
Eventually Lena became aware that Kara was ‘practising nuzzling’. She nosed back against Kara’s hair and then her ear. She nibbled at it. Kara emitted a tiny, gorgeous sound of happy arousal that inspired Lena to try a lick, then a tentative suck. Kara groaned and pressed closer, her hands moving restlessly and more boldly than ever before.
Oh, yeah. Sex was not going to be problem. Lena could feel her own breath coming harder and faster, her heartrate rising.
But she remembered they couldn’t indulge right now. If they actually kissed, there would be no end to it for hours and they would probably do end up doing delightfully unholy things in bed until the next morning. “Your parents,” she murmured.
Very reluctantly, very slowly, Kara peeled herself away. “I believe you are correct that this will not be difficult,” she croaked solemnly, very pink and shy. She was experiencing a strong urge to spend days exploring Lena and having Lena explore her. Kryptonian women had more erogenous patches inside them than human women did. She was almost overcome with an insane need she had never felt before for Lena to conduct a very detailed and thorough tactile inspection indeed – and that could happen tonight!!! The thought made her cling on to Lena to maintain her balance.
Lena chuckled softly, not knowing Kara’s exact train of thought but quite accurately guessing the general direction in which it was heading and sympathizing deeply. “Ready to go and tell them? We should freshen up first.” Kryptonians did not use make up so Lena never came to Krypton with it. But they definitely had to tidy their clothing and wash their faces.
“Oh! There is one more thing ...” Kara was finally steady enough on her feet to duck away.
Zor and Alura knew the instant the two younger women re-appeared before them with excited smiles. If those hadn’t clued them in, the matching bracelets they were holding in their hands would have.
“You are to be bonded!” Alura exclaimed, clasping her hands together joyfully.
“Yes! Lena accepts and she is ready.” Kara could barely keep still.
Zor looked at Lena with very bright eyes. “Do you like the bracelets? We made the pair for Kara when she emerged from the genesis chamber but we do not wish you both to feel you have no choice in them.”
“They’re lovely,” Lena assured him. They were too. Nth metal bands the colour of platinum, they each carried a slightly different pattern of tiny gems surrounding the sigil of the House of El. They weren’t showy but they were distinctive. “I will be honoured when the time comes to wear mine. I want to thank both of you for having been so kind and welcoming to me.”
“None of it was forced,” Alura told her. “We truly enjoy your company and are happy that we may anticipate more of it.”
“And see what Lena has given me in earnest of our bonding!” Kara held out her hand to show her parents a ring with an inset pale blue jewel the exact shade of her eyes. In the light, it seemed to glow, almost to breathe. Alura took the hand and admired it as Zor hung over her shoulder to stare at it, mesmerized by its faceted gleaming. They said nothing but they didn’t have to: the looks on their faces were enough to satisfy Lena of their approval.
Finally Zor shook himself out of his trance and stepped back. He smiled at Lena. “Our felicitations are as much for us as for both of you.”
He really was a smooth talker, Lena thought, suppressing a hysterical giggle.
Then Zor coughed. “But now I am eaten up with curiosity about this.” He gestured at the machine Lena had brought.
“Oh, yes. It’s a generator for yellow sun radiation,” Lena explained. “I thought I should do something for Krypton if I’m to live here. It’s meant to bathe a room in radiation that duplicates the spectrum Earth receives. It’s adjustable so I can get some Earth sunlight if I want but at a stronger intensity, a Kryptonian would after half a morning’s exposure experience the full range of powers and can expect to maintain them outside the room for perhaps a third of that time, depending on exertion. Without an actual yellow sun to replenish the energy constantly, gaining the powers passively will always take a lot longer than actively using them up. I thought that the military could train a corps of soldiers in the tactical deployment of such powers for the limited periods that they will have them.”
The Els stared at her in awe. Lena had been so concerned about Krypton invading Earth in the beginning that the last thing they expected was for her to provide Krypton with something that would increase their military potential.
“We should consult with Astra in private first,” Zor found his voice at last. “But provisionally, I think you should make the gift in a ceremony before the whole Council after you and Kara are bonded, not before. Astra will be able to suggest ideas for tactical use that you can incorporate into your gift-giving speech to the Council.”
“I should explain,” Lena said apologetically, “that there is a built-in limitation. The radiation is real and the powers will be real but there is a tiny part of the Earth spectrum missing and a little something added. It’s not harmful to any of you, but it means that if a Kryptonian charges himself up with this and portals to anywhere with a yellow sun, like Earth, he’ll find that he won’t arrive charged up. This machine will give Kryptonians short-term powers to enable them to defend an environment without a yellow sun. If they want to be aggressors in a yellow sun environment, they will have to go uncharged and slowly build up their powers like you do when you visit Earth.”
Zor waved that off. “That is an understandable precaution for an Earther. I am very content with it as it is. As will the Council be. It is not like anything we already have. The invulnerability alone that it can confer will be an inestimable advantage to our soldiers.”
He turned a benevolent gaze on her. “It was not necessary for you to do this, but the fact that you did will bring even the most reluctant doubter to see that you are a boon to us. It also protects you. I assume that you have made it as difficult as you can to reverse engineer?”
Lena gave him a slow, sly smile. He was right. In addition, there were a couple of minerals on Earth that were not found on Krypton and they were an essential part of the generator mechanism.
Zor gave a bark of laughter.
“Actually,” Lena said, “I can also make yellow sun grenades for specific missions if they should be necessary. I just haven’t done it yet, and I won’t unless the individual soldiers designated for such a mission swear on their honour not to use them on Earth, even if they are given orders to the contrary.”
“Definitely the science guild,” Alura shook her head. “The military might want you but that is not your mindset. I advise you not to accept any offer they might make to you.”
“Never fear,” Lena chuckled. “I have very little tolerance for following orders.”
Then she hesitated. “Can I just ask for one thing? It’s not a condition, just a request.”
The Els nodded vigorously like a team of Noddys.
“Can you try your very best to see that Kara Danvers gets the opportunity to visit Krypton? I don’t want you to be anything but true to yourselves, mind. I just ...” she paused, trying to find a way to express herself without guilting the Els.
“I understand,” Kara said. “She knows we visit you but she does not yet know that you have been here. She may suspect it but she does not ask because, I believe, she fears the answer will bring her pain. For that reason neither you nor I have volunteered the knowledge of your visits to her. She will know, however, if you come to live on Krypton. For you to do that while she is forever denied would be cruel. You are not cruel and neither are we. I promised to re-assess the situation with her an Earth year after she moved to her new home. That year is not yet up but as you know, Kal and I have been going to train with her and Clark on Earth regularly.”
Supergirl was a much more peaceful and confident person these days. She enjoyed her nice little house with Eliza nearby. The house had a back porch that no one could see from the front or from any of the neighbouring properties, spaced out as they were in an unfashionable but decent suburb. Her freelance career was going strong and Clark, true to his prediction, was starting his new careers as both farmer and Superman while Lois wrote her articles in an office in the farmhouse and submitted her work by email, attending staff meetings mostly by video-conference. With Lex and Lillian Luthor no longer in the picture, the Supers and their alien and meta-human friends were dealing capably with anything requiring superhero intervention on Earth.
So Kara was entirely truthful when she said, “We believe now that our reputations will be safe if they visit. I will discuss this with Kal. If he agrees, we will not wait the full year before representing to the full family in council that they should be invited to Krypton. When they come, we can discuss their admission to the House.”
“Thank you.” Lena was relieved.
“The family council will include you,” Kara pointed out, “in anticipation of our bonding. When we are bonded you will automatically join our House officially because you have no House on Krypton.” She blinked as the thought occurred to her. “Of all things, we have omitted to discuss that with you. Will it be a difficulty?”
“No,” Lena said. “I will be glad to have the protection of a House and the sense of belonging it imparts.”
“Then you will be known as Lena Luthor of the House of El,” Kara murmured dreamily, gazing into the middle distance as she envisaged the phrase.
“Really? I keep my surname?”
“There is no precedent for humans,” Alura explained as Kara was still off in la-la land. “In fact there is no convention for women who are bonded to women. The woman from the lesser House joins the House of greater status but often, instead of changing her name, she keeps it, only changing the House insignia attached to it on formal documents. It is a matter of personal preference.”
“If I may be so bold,” Zor inserted, “I like the name Luthor. It is not a name encountered on Krypton. Here it will be unique and you have already distinguished it. I should be proud to have it associated with the name of El. I would prefer not to see it lost. But it is your decision. We will support whichever choice you make.”
“Then Lena Luthor of the House of El it is,” Lena smiled.
“I like, no, I love the sound of it,” Kara said happily, coming out of dreamland. She beamed as she rested the side of her head against Lena’s. And Lena? ... She loved the sound of it too.
When Lena left Earth permanently for Krypton, she was able to feel that her personal accounts on Earth had been squared away and that there would be no bitterness in her if she ever had to return to Earth to live for some reason.
Krypton had no tradition of a bride being ‘given away’. They would have considered it barbaric. So Lena’s anticipation of her bonding was unmarred by the feeling that she would be missing out on an essential rite of passage.
Kara Danvers attended the bonding ceremony of Lena Luthor and Kara Zor-El on Krypton, weeping silently with an equal mix of regret and joy. It was cathartic for her. She was here on her second visit to Krypton and able to see sights she had missed for so long, feel the atmosphere nowhere on Earth had ever been able to duplicate and be NORMAL and without responsibility. She got closure and the knowledge that she had not done so much harm as to prevent Lena from ever being happy again.
She had by then been admitted to the House of El and had elected that her formal name there be Kara Zor-El Danvers of the House of El. Jor and Zor had told her and Clark that if they wished to live on Krypton, the Els would find a way to make it happen. It was a fairly open-ended offer, Jor said. At the moment it was unconditional. But they should be aware that if they delayed their decision too long, they would be taking the risk that circumstances beyond anyone’s control might make it impossible for the offer to remain open. Also, coming to reside on Krypton meant exactly that. It would be a commitment. They would have to work on Krypton. So while they would have access to Earth with relatively few restrictions, there could be no commuting to Earth for a daily fix of superheroing.
Clark was allowed to bring Lois to Krypton to visit. Lois and Lena quite liked each other, but unlike Lena, Lois found it would not be easy for her to adapt. Her work did not translate so smoothly as Lena’s to working on Krypton. The press was not an industry of its own there. Each guild and each city had a number of public information officers who were responsible for the release of news. They argued a lot amongst themselves before deciding on the final release of anything controversial. But no one took the view that the public was entitled to know everything. Matters like public hysteria and safety and privacy were taken into consideration. It was far from a perfect system, but even Lois had to admit that Earth’s was just as imperfect. And the whole reason Krypton was still around was that at the critical time, the public information officers of the science guild had insisted as one that the public should know about the danger to Krypton. Faced with that impending disclosure, the Council had not delayed in re-directing the resources necessary to save Krypton so that the public information release would be able to include reference to those measures to stave off panic. On Earth, Lois knew, the public information officers might well have been quietly disposed off. The thought had never even occurred to the Kryptonian Council and public information officers were as well respected as anyone. So Krypton had its own checks and balances. But it didn’t have roving reporters who could report on anything they liked. All adults had to belong to a guild and there wasn’t one she felt she slotted into easily.
Clark too found himself unable to fit into Kryptonian society and didn’t think he would ever find the language natural. He was too human in sensibility and too Earth-centric to make the adaptation comfortably. So he and Lois and their son stayed on Earth but via Lena’s mail pick-up, the Els were invited to Jonathan’s birthday celebrations and other family events of note and they always sent at least one representative, usually Lena, Zor or Alura because they were the most fluent in English: Kara and Kal were too likely to confuse Jonathan. So no one was likely to forget that Jonathan Kent was a scion of the House of El. He would be told about Krypton when he was old enough and responsible enough for his parents to feel he could be trusted with the knowledge.
Kara Danvers had different concerns entirely. She would have had no trouble assimilating. Krypton could offer her an ordinary life without the responsibility of being a superhero. It might be easier for her to find a lover there. But her Matrix list would match her counterpart’s. If she wanted to be bonded with a life partner with whom she could lawfully have children, she would have to choose from whoever was still single on that list. On Earth, her choices were limited differently, by her powers and the necessity of having a secret identity, but she was otherwise free to marry and have children. (If her partner turned out to be female, she could petition for a special exception to be made for her to use the genesis chambers on Krypton. Whether permission would be granted would be circumstantial but no one was saying a hard no at present.)
To work on Krypton, she would have to catch up on a lot of Kryptonian science. On Earth she was comfortable with her work-life balance. Freelance journalism was interesting and other fields of endeavour were open to her if she ever got tired of writing the news. She was used to her powers and superheroing. She had Eliza and Alex and the prospect of a new nephew from Africa. She had Nia, J’onn, Clark and Barry and her other friends. So in the end, after much soulsearching, she chose to stay on Earth. If the pain of seeing Lena with her counterpart around all the time on Krypton played any part in her decision, she never spoke of it and not even Alex dared to ask. She was happy with her family and friends on Earth, happy with game nights and karaoke and sister nights and happier with herself than she had ever been now that her life was less charged and stressful. She had a full life with plenty of affection in it that she was fully grateful for. She was becoming equipped with the independence, maturity and wisdom to make better choices if she wanted a romantic partner. Whether or not all of that was worth the regrets ... well, that’s a purely subjective personal decision, isn’t it?
The Supers continued to wear crestless suits as superheroes on Earth but they wore the crest on Krypton. They both came to feel that the crestless suits were a salutary reminder that they were fallible and should not fall back into smug complacency about their moral superiority over anyone else. Now they knew that the Krypton of this universe was there, the loss of their own home world no longer weighed on them with the same heaviness as before. With people around to whom they felt accountable but who weren’t on their backs every day, they had a sense of security that they would never be totally unchecked while still feeling independent. They bore themselves less like the tragic heroes of their own romantic imaginings and more aptly like the less dramatic but no less real everyday heroes who peopled both worlds.
Lena joined the science guild and loved the work. She did not often work with Kara as they had different specializations but it was probably just as well that they were not surfeited with each other’s company. Within her first few years she would improve the safety and efficiency of the space elevator that brought Kryptonians up to their space docks and to the nearest moon and refine the power generation capability of Harun El to power the city domes as a supplementary failsafe to their main power generation mode. Her yellow sun generator and grenades helped the Kryptonian military defend an outpost when it was attacked by another species. Eventually she would be the first alien to be principal advisor to a Council member when Kara took her seat on the Council.
They moved into a home adjacent to Kara’s parents. Lena briefly checked in on her mail drop in Sam’s house once every few days. Wigs were an easy and effective disguise when, once every Earth month or so, Kara and Lena portalled over to Metropolis or National City for a few hours to buy food or download movies, music, news or publicized debates that interested one or both of them. She went to visit with Sam and Ruby (who knew her as eccentric aunt Lena with a penchant for reclusiveness who lived somewhere on Earth) and had the occasional coffee with Kelly and Andrea. She and Kara also sometimes accepted invitations from Kara Danvers, delivered to Sam for deposit at Lena’s mail pick up point, for meals or birthday or festival get-togethers. Lena always felt a little unsure if it caused Kara Danvers pain to see her, but she thought it would be more hurtful if she stayed away altogether, so they accepted on average one out every two invitations and invited her and Clark’s little family to Krypton several times each Kryptonian year. Only them though. It was too sensitive politically to invite non-Kryptonians from Earth (Lois excepted as Clark’s wife) and honestly, Lena was glad the choice was out of her hands because she didn’t want to have to say she didn’t wish to invite any of the others. She was at peace with them but seeing them occasionally on Earth for a few short amicable hours here and there was good enough for her. A small cadre of Earth enthusiasts developed and revolved around her on Krypton and even learned English so they could enjoy the downloads Kara and Lena brought back. (The movies presented to the councillors on Lena's first visit had been a great success and the councillors had lent them to friends or invited them over for the experience. The cadre had begun from there.)
Eventually Kara Danvers was able to go to Kelly and tell her that Alex had been through more than a year of counselling and was still going regularly, fulfilled state requirements to foster a child, was still doing a couple of hours of volunteer work a week with one charity or another, not necessarily Luthorcorp ones, and was willing to jump through any other hoops necessary for Kelly to feel like she could at least meet her for a coffee so they could achieve a less acrimonious closure. Kelly sighed but went for that coffee. She would be glad of her own forbearance because Alex with her head on straight and without the DEO was decidedly good company.
The action suit J’onn had given Alex rarely saw use because the charity work showed Alex so many other ways to do good. She was improving as a private investigator and though she wore the forearm attachment all the time, only touched the button to deploy the suit when the work became dangerous. She did not go out looking for trouble like a vigilante with itchy feet because, besides the fact she was preparing to adopt a child, her sister had told her that if she got into trouble that way, Supergirl would pull her out and then never speak to her again because if her ego meant more to her than her family, then perhaps she shouldn’t have family. It was tough love but it was effective because it carried the message that Alex was good enough without the action hero part of her previous life. It would take time and one failed relationship with another woman before Kelly stopped being wary but Alex fought for her and didn’t give up. They would marry six years after Kelly had stormed out of Alex’s apartment and Alex would get to foster her former child soldier.
After some (okay, a lot of) begging and pleading from Kara, Lena brought over a couple of pups, a Groenendael she named Finn and a sable-and-white rough collie Kara named Riva. Both dogs not very patiently endured the necessary quarantine and medical procedures to ensure they were safe immigrants to Krypton. Like Lena, they needed Vitamin D supplements but otherwise maintained good health. When they had a choice, they tended to seek Lena out. This caused a bit of moaning from Kara and her parents but Lena figured that the dogs had some part of their hindbrain telling them that she was somehow more ‘like’ them than the Kryptonians were. It wasn’t necessarily that great a benefit anyway since Finn for some reason liked to lie with his stomach on her head, which made her leery of reclining on the ground or letting him up on the furniture, and Riva was sometimes a literal gasbag at night and had to be banished to the balcony.
Lena took her brother’s teleportation watch with her to Krypton so there remained no way for anyone on Earth to initiate communications with Krypton other than her mail pick-up until she devised a signal beacon using the same principles as the portal - materials unobtainable on Earth were not required if no matter was transported on the carrier signal. She gave the alarm button to Supergirl and the receiver to her own wife.
At the close of this narrative, the continuing existence of Krypton continues to be unknown to the wider population of Earth.
Lena was right. She and Kara never had the least trouble in the bedroom.
THE REAL AND ABSOLUTE END
The early promise of Supercorp was so lovely that there’s been a bit of frog-in-the-pot syndrome going on with Supercorp shippers. As Kara did more and more bad things to Lena, some held on, and still continue to hold on, to the promise because the concept is so great. And that’s fine – whatever you need to make your world happier, you know? But there’s also room for the many, many frogs who jumped out of the heating pot at various earlier stages when they felt that Kara had done enough wrong to Lena that a Supercorp ending would be an injustice, because they felt that the accumulated evidence of canon events led inexorably to the conclusion that Kara Danvers simply never cared enough and wasn’t a nice enough person, because one or even a few ‘mistakes’ stopped being stretchable enough to be a sufficient justification/excuse. Here’s to all you fellow frogs, both in the pot and out.