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run the red out

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The first red flag is the accent.

She puts it down to tiredness, initially. Exhaustion running marrow-deep, a physical and mental weariness born of too many life-altering events in a row with no time in between to catch her breath. After the week, month, year Kara’s had, anyone would be a little loopy.

The past 24 hours have seen the death of Lex Luthor and her own exoneration from charges of domestic terrorism. They’ve seen Argo saved from annihilation by satellite cannon, seen thousands of aliens released from a death sentence as disposable batteries. Kara has— she’s been busy. She’s had a lot on her mind.

So it’s easy enough not to dwell on uncomfortable things. She doesn’t have the energy to dwell. Groans loudly enough to wake the dead when the insistent ringing of her Supergirl phone tugs her rudely from the snatched hour of sleep she’d snuck in after the chaos of Lex’s demise. She answers tiredly, free hand scrubbing roughly over her still closed eyes. “Alex?”

But it sounds wrong, even to her own ears. The syllables are too short, almost clipped; the stress on both too even. The a sound is light, breathier than her usual rolling diction and the second syllable lacks its typical roundedness; too open, too low.

Kara says her sister’s name as if it’s unfamiliar, as if it’s not the third most frequent word in her vocabulary after pot stickers and oops. She says it as if she’s utterly unversed in the English language and is sounding out the word as she goes.

She says it, worryingly, not dissimilarly to the way she used to pronounce her sister’s name when she first landed on Earth. When the rounded vowels and harsh pauses of Kryptonian still stung in her throat and stuck behind her teeth. When giving them up in favour of the flattened drawl of North American English felt like losing everything all over again.

It’s weird and jarring enough to make Alex pause for almost an entire half-second before she launches into a description of the latest disaster to hit National City, but Kara is too tired and too overwhelmed to worry much about it in this moment.

She just slips into her suit and then out of her window into the chill of the night air, and the urgent immediacy of a rogue acid-spewing superslug rampaging through the business district is enough to banish all thoughts of phonetic variation clean from Kara’s mind.

 

After that, it’s the nightmares.

Once home again, sluiced clean of slug acid and dropping with tiredness as she crawls back into bed, she dreams of Lex.

That in itself isn’t unusual. Given their history, given the sheer number of attempts on her life she’s withstood at his hands, the elder Luthor’s deranged grin has long been a feature of Kara’s nightmares.

She dreams of him now, of his face as he lines up the killing blow. Of his body suspended above Shelley Island by her grasp, his life in her hands like the god she never wanted to be. “Let me save you,” she screams, desperate to keep his blood off her already dripping hands.

“I’d rather die,” Lex smiles, and then he does.

The Lexosuit doesn’t save him. Kara doesn’t save him. She dreams of his eyes as he falls, as he dies.

Hatred and anger bubble up in her throat, dipped in a familiar cloying guilt as they choke her airways but it’s even more than that now, somehow.

It’s rage and fear and disbelief and betrayal and a sadness so profound it aches in her sternum, and Kara wakes with tears tracking over her temples and soaking into her hair.

She hates Lex, fears and despises the man in near equal measure and yet in this moment she is grieving him. If in this very second she were given the opportunity to bring him back from the dead, she cannot honestly say what she’d choose.

The incognizable logic behind her own emotional state in this moment terrifies her more than the nightmare itself and Kara vaults out of bed, trembling. Bolts out her window and doesn’t stop flying until the ground turns to snow beneath her. Punches a few thousand tons of solid ice into submission until she feels like she can breathe again.

 

She tries not to sleep after that. But after the nightmares come the waking memories, the daylight confusion, and that might even be worse.

The limited benefits of avoiding her night terrors are quickly matched by the drawbacks of exhaustion, and it’s not like she has time to sit back and take things slow. Balancing being a Catco reporter against being Supergirl has never exactly been easy, but the days after the release of Kara’s exposé on Lex ratchet the crazy up to entirely new levels.

Between the attention her article is getting worldwide, the job offers she’s fielding from every major newspaper in the country, and the grudgingly respectful microscope Snapper now has her under, it’s near impossible for her to sneak a nap at her desk. Or to sneak away unnoticed on Supergirl business, which is proving to be an even bigger problem.

She tries to catch James’ attention, tries to shoot him her most meaningful I need to get out of here look but he’s distant and withdrawn, still reeling from the trauma of the past few weeks.

She can’t really blame him. Kara herself is distracted at work; jumpy and unfocused with a constant thrum of anxiety in the pit of her stomach, an ever-present sense of impending doom. She can’t concentrate, attention bouncing haphazardly between the article she’s supposed to be writing and every other sight, sound, and smell in a five mile radius.

This skittishness is exhausting, so when she sees a head of sleek dark hair across the bullpen and the frantic pace of the world seems to still for just a moment, she grasps the wave of feeling with both hands. It’s the heady pull of guaranteed relief, the promise of pause, and Kara’s pushing back from her desk before her conscious mind has given the instruction. Lena and the oasis of calm she represents, the halcyon eye of Kara’s storm, is almost within reach when her comms crackle to life in her ear and Kara is jogging to the bathroom and shooting out of the window almost before she has time to register her disappointment.

The crisis of the hour is a young boy who’d fallen over a cliff on a misty hike a little way up the coast. She finds him trapped on a high ledge, trembling through sobs.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she says as gently as she can, wary of his tears. Wary of the mistrust her suit may still evoke after her body double’s stunt at the White House. “I’m Supergirl. I’m going to get you out of here. Can you tell me your name?”

The little blonde boy’s eyes are wide as dinner plates, his knuckles white where he grips at the rough stoneface. “Myles,” he whispers after a moment, sniffling.

“Hey, Myles,” she says with as reassuring a smile as she can muster, tuning out the frantic calls and thundering heartbeats of the boy’s parents thirty feet above to focus solely on him. “How about I fly you back up to your mom and dad?”

The child gives a wobbly nod and Kara reaches out. “I’m gonna need you to let go of the rock and hang onto me instead, okay buddy? I promise I won’t let you fall.”

It takes a few minutes of coaxing but eventually the young boy releases his death-grip on the cliff face and latches onto Kara like a koala, four limbs wrapped around her tight as his tiny muscles can manage. She feels his racing heart, fast as a hummingbird’s. Feels the way he clutches at her with the unshakeable faith that she will stand between him and any danger.

Something jolts through her like a firebolt and she tightens her own grip on the child as a deep protectiveness courses through her veins, floating them both carefully up to the clifftop.

She’s barely touched down when the boy’s parents surge forward. They all but rip him from Kara’s grasp to press relieved kisses to his head and Kara burns hot, too hot for a moment and all she wants to do is snatch him back.

She wants to hold him. To shield him with her own body. To drink tea and share chocolate and play soccer and strip the flesh from the bones of any who try to hurt him.

Her fists clench and her throat burns cold and she feels the tell-tale glow of impending laser vision behind her eyes as she stares at the people who have taken him from her. His eyes, his sweet innocent eyes stare up at her from under his dark curls and Kara is ready to start snapping bones because it isn’t fair, Mikhail is just a child—

The boy’s father throws himself at her and she’s so close, she’s so close to letting go. But then she registers the muffled gasps of his sobs, the thanks he whispers into her shoulder like a prayer. Her eyes cool and she looks again at the boy, at Myles, at his blonde hair and pale skin and everything else that’s not, that’s not—

Kara’s heart is racing in her chest like a runaway locomotive. She barely manages to untangle herself from the grateful family and shoot off to a deserted stretch off clifftop before she’s bent double and retching, emptying the contents of her stomach into the nearest bush.

She wipes her mouth with the back of one trembling hand. Her skin feels clammy which is, frankly, a new and unwelcome development, physiologically speaking. But that’s the least of her problems right now because she’d almost just burnt up two people, two innocent parents of an innocent boy. Almost just incinerated them on the spot, and for what? For the memory of a child she’d never met, a child whose name she’d once seen in a journal.

A child who means nothing to her. A child who, in that moment, had felt like he meant everything.

Shuddering, she forces herself upright. Whatever’s been going on with her lately stops now. Sure, she’s been avoiding sleep to evade the incessant nightmares, but clearly that’s not working out. Clearly, it’s just prompting a new kind of hallucination.

Well, no more. She needs to get a grip on herself before anything like this has the chance to happen again. Before anyone else can get hurt.

 

Kelly would probably call it PTSD.

Admittedly, Kara hasn’t had the smoothest month. Discovering the existence of a clone of herself in the clutches of her vilest enemy, only to have that clone sacrifice herself to save Kara’s life, presumably qualifies as a traumatic event from which one might experience some ongoing repercussions.

But the thing is, Kara just doesn’t have time to be traumatised. She doesn’t have time to be distressed or confused, to be mistaking one child she’s never met for another child she’s never met and almost doing something unthinkable in the process. This world needs a hero, needs a Super, and she’s the only one left.

She’s just going to have to get over it.

Maybe she can mention it to Kelly at game night later on, though. Just to see if she has any advice, any trauma quick-fixes in her psychologist’s arsenal. Even as she thinks it, Kara knows it’s ridiculous. She knows that the things Kelly would ask for in order to begin the process of her healing, Kara isn’t prepared to give.

So she knows she won’t mention it. She’s the Girl of Steel. She brought down Lex Luthor almost singlehandedly. If she can handle that, she can certainly handle this. Whatever it is.

At least she’ll see Alex tonight too. Her sister’s presence has always been a balm on Kara’s soul, with no need for questions or confessions between them. And now that she has Alex back, all of her, including the part that knows she’s Supergirl— that simple fact relieves a weight that’s been collapsing Kara’s spine for months. Now she can finally stand tall again.

Back at her desk and dodging yet more calls from yet more rival news outlets, she feels a sudden rush of gratitude for her sister that sparks tears at the corners of her vision. Abruptly and with overwhelming certainty, she is acutely aware of just how lucky she was to have had the Danvers to guide her when she first landed on Earth. Of how very differently things might have turned out if she hadn’t. Of how good her Alex is, when not all of them are.

The torrent of emotion is unforeseen and a little overwhelming. But at least this time it doesn’t involve the urge to inflict grievous bodily harm on any nearby humans, so Kara lets it slide. With the week she’s having, tearing up at her desk for no discernible reason seems pretty par for the course.

She resolves to give Alex an extra big hug at game night, and goes back to work.

 

After the memories come the urges.

Game night feels like the first hint of normalcy she’s experienced in months. Between Nia’s incomprehensible pop culture references and Brainy’s card counting and Alex’s complaining, it’s more than enough to tug a genuine smile onto her lips. More than enough to help her forget that not three days earlier, she’d been Public Enemy Number One with Lex Luthor the puppet master of the entire US government. Kara shudders. Takes a healthy swig of Maldorian rum to wash away the aftertaste.

She’s feeling warm and safe and happy and only a little bit like she wants to cry because of it. Alex is practically glowing as she wraps her in a tight hug, lovestruck and blushing as she sneaks secret glances at Kelly across the room and Kara is definitely storing up blackmail material for the next time her sister gets too big for her boots. Things are good. Things are finally almost normal.

And then Lena arrives and Kara lets out a breath she didn’t even realise she’d been holding. Green eyes meet hers as Lena takes her seat across the coffee table and without warning, Kara ignites.

A white hot flash shoots through her entire body. Her blood is practically buzzing in her veins, her muscles blazing. If this is yet another consequence of chronic overtiredness, it’s news to Kara. She clenches her hands hard around the arms of her chair so she can’t bodily throw herself at the other woman. Winces at the sure sound of splintering wood.

Kara’s heart is pounding in her throat as she tries to get herself back under control. This is by no means the first time her own body’s reactions have come as a shock in the past couple of days, but it’s certainly the most intense. She feels inexplicably like she’s burning alive, and the only thing that can soothe her is Lena.

She makes it through small talk and half a game of Uno, her white-knuckled grip on her chair never easing an inch. If the others notice her strangled voice and burning cheeks or the tenuous handle Kara’s currently maintaining on her own impulse control, they have the good grace not to comment.

What in Rao’s name is happening to her? Kara’s no stranger to overexertion, though even in her extensive experience it’s never usually accompanied by the desire to invade someone else’s personal space quite this recklessly. Every time she so much as glances in Lena’s direction she’s overcome with the urge to close the five feet of distance between them as fast as Kryptonianly possible.

She digs her nails tighter into the splintering wood of her chair. Tries valiantly, and ultimately in vain, to ignore the way her body wants to react to every minute fluctuation in Lena’s mere existence like some kind of jacked up symbiosis.

It’s like the polar opposite of what she feels when her body is exposed to Kryptonite. Instead of needing to get as far from the source as possible, she feels she might die if she doesn’t get closer.

Kara’s heart is thudding so hard in her ears that she doesn’t even hear the offer of a drinks refill. Barely notices Alex and Brainy’s heated argument about the legality of using a skip and a draw-four in the same turn. In fact, she doesn’t register anything at all, until Lena is standing and brushing past her en route to the wine table, the faint scent of her perfume lingering like a siren song.

Kara’s up and following her before she realises she’s made the decision. All higher brain function has ceased in the wake of the overwhelming need to be close to the other woman. If she doesn’t touch Lena now, she might not survive.

Lena glances up expectantly at her approach, fingers stilling against the bottle of ridiculously expensive merlot. Her expression shifts to concern as she takes in what Kara’s sure must be the crazed glint in her own eyes. She opens her mouth in question, but Kara beats her to it.

“Didn’t get a chance to properly say hi before,” she manages only a little frantically, and holds out her arms in invitation.

Lena appraises her for a long moment, seemingly unconvinced of Kara’s sanity. Kara doesn’t blame her. But after a boundless eternity lasting about two and a half seconds she finally, blessedly, steps forward.

The sensation that bursts through her at the first touch of Lena’s skin on hers is like nothing Kara has ever experienced. It’s the warmth and comfort and home that she’s always felt in the other woman’s embrace but it’s also brighter than that, jagged and electric. It’s a hot flash that lasts only a moment but feels like an infinity; an infinity of yearning, of longing, of wondering, and now she knows. At last she has the resolution, the answer, right here in her arms.

This sudden feeling of light in the darkness, of a hand reaching out as she drowns— it’s addictive. She’s chasing the high before her conscious mind can register it, smoothing her hands down Lena’s sides, sliding beneath the hem of her shirt to stroke over hot, soft skin. Lena’s breathing hitches in her chest but it barely even registers as Kara tugs the other woman tighter against her. Presses her face, nose, lips to the cradle of Lena’s neck and shoulder to breathe her in.

The feeling only gets stronger the closer Kara presses, the more of Lena she can reach. Her burning body cools, soothed by a peace running bone-deep. She buries her face in Lena’s loose hair, nosing up the column of her throat and behind her ear where the warm untempered essence of her is strongest.

Lena shivers, hands tightening against the fabric of Kara’s shirt. Kara’s just about to press her mouth to the pounding epicentre of Lena’s pulse to see if it feels as sweet as it sounds when someone clears their throat behind her, loud and deliberate.

She freezes, lips parted a half-inch above Lena’s skin. Blinks back into some semblance of self-awareness and releases the other woman from her embrace with a nervous cough, cheeks practically glowing under the force of her flush.

She turns to find every pair of eyes in the room locked incredulously onto her face. Nia smirks at her conspiratorially as Alex drops her head into her hands.

Blushing furiously, Kara attempts to divert attention away from her own inappropriate behaviour by reaching out to refill Lena’s drink. Misjudges substantially and shatters both bottle and glass in her nervous grip, dousing herself and Lena in a litre of red wine.

Game night eventually resumes once both of them are decked out in the spare DEO-issue sweatsuits J’onn had lying around. No one mentions Kara’s little performance beyond the exasperated looks her sister keeps sending her way. Lena smiles kindly at the end of her stumbling apology, even lays a consoling hand on her arm that has Kara lighting up like a livewire all over again.

She makes it to the end of the evening by the skin of her teeth and bolts as soon as J’onn lets out his first pointed yawn. Throws a harried goodbye over her shoulder and tries desperately not to listen to whatever comments her friends were too polite to say to her face.

Back in the relative safety of her apartment, Kara sinks onto the couch and slaps herself resoundingly on the forehead. So much for getting over the weirdness she’s been feeling lately.

If whatever the hell that was tonight is what she gets for going too many days with too little rest, then she’s just going to have to sleep for a week.

 

Naturally, she doesn’t sleep at all.

Instead, she spends a frustrated six hours replaying the evening in her mind on a loop. She relives the spark of Lena’s skin against her own over and over, imagines the warm base smell of her beneath her shampoo and expensive perfume. Basks in it, revels in it, then realises what she’s doing and tries desperately to pretend that she isn’t.

It’s not Kara’s best night. Morning dawns bright and cold to find her twisted furiously in a mess of sheets and blankets, scratchy-eyed and irritated.

The day doesn’t improve much from there. She stops a bank heist downtown, only to have her ass handed to her in no uncertain terms by Snapper for missing a newsroom meeting when she gets back. Has barely finished grovelling when a tour bus crashes through the barrier and plummets off a bridge twenty minutes north of the city and she has to shoot off again.

She’s trying in vain to disguise the scent of petrol still clinging to her hair as Snapper chews her out again on her return and Kara claims exploding diarrhoea before she realises what she’s said, grimacing. That, at least, prompts her boss to give her a wide berth.

She’s finally sitting down to work on her latest article when a rogue Snorlax she’s been tangling with for weeks chooses his moment to break into a luxury car dealership downtown. Kara growls, leaves her muffin basket irritatingly uneaten on her desk and all but throws herself out of the bathroom window.

The Snorlax seems disinclined to go down without a fight. He’s using every dirty trick in the book and somewhere between the venomous slime he’s spread all over the floor and his use of the terrified salesmen as human shields, Kara loses her patience.

The Snorlax tosses a receptionist aside like a ragdoll, making a beeline for a hideous yellow Tesla, and Kara seizes her opportunity. A gust of freeze breath knocks him off course and when he rips off a car door to launch at her like a missile, she laser visions it into oblivion right there in his claws.

Her target shrieks, slithering backwards and away from the smouldering remains and this is her chance to nab him but Kara is frozen, staring at the deformed hunk of metal. Something’s wrong; the residue isn’t glowing the familiar icy blue she’s used to associating with her laser vision. It’s purple.

Brow furrowed, she shoots another experimental burst at the dismembered car. The Snorlax howls again, cowering, but Kara barely notices because sure enough, the glowing edges of her vision are not the usual cyan but a faint pulsing lilac.

What in Rao’s name? She fists a hand in the Snorlax’s collar to fly them both back to the DEO, pouting. Purple laser vision? That’s— unexpected. Not to mention inconvenient. Kara’s not really in the market for a colour scheme overhaul. Primary colours are kind of her whole thing.

She’s still mulling over this latest development, and maybe pining just a little after her abandoned muffin basket back at Catco, by the time the Snorlax has been processed and taken down to holding. A pair of snapping fingers millimetres from her nose makes her jump.

“Earth to Kara,” Alex says, watching her carefully. “You okay?”

Kara blinks. Maybe she should tell Alex, tell her about the laser vision and the nightmares and the funky memories that have taken up residence inside her skull. Maybe her sister will know what’s going on. Will know what to do about it.

Kara sighs. Maybe her sister will make her spend the rest of the day under the sun lamps as she runs test after test, more than likely involving Kryptonite needles in places no sun, red or yellow, has ever shone. Maybe she’ll ask about her embarrassing malfunction at game night. Maybe she’ll grill her on not just her physical symptoms but – Kara shudders – on her feelings.

That settles it. “Fine,” she answers, shooting for a smile and hoping she makes it. “Gotta get back to work. Snapper doesn’t need any more excuses to fire me today.”

By the time Alex thinks to glance at the clock and sees it’s already well after five pm, Kara is gone.

 

After the laser vision comes the inexplicable multilingualism.

She decides to take the long way home. The long way, a malleable term at the best of times, ends up consisting of two dozen laps of the city’s perimeter and a quick trip up into the stratosphere, not stopping until her lungs start to protest the thinning air. Hovering high high high above the city, she sucks in a deep breath.

She’s always loved the silence, the stillness up here. The quiet isn’t oppressive, not like the stifling loneliness of the Phantom Zone. It’s just peaceful. And with a split second of focus she can zone into anywhere in the city, can hear the new-borns crying in the maternity wing of the children’s hospital or the sit coms blaring in the retirement homes. Can hear the waves lapping at the sea wall in the bay, the wind whipping through the leaves in the park, the shoots pushing up through the soil and the buds unfurling on the branches.

Up here above the hazy layer of cloud and pollution the air is clean and cold. It burns a little in her lungs, sterilising. Purifying. The sun is all-encompassing at this height, streaming unimpeded across her body and making her cells sing.

She reaches a hand out in front of her to examine it, backlit against the sun’s glow. It’s mesmerising, the way the light and shadow play across her bones and tendons as she tilts her wrist back and forth, curling and uncurling her fingers. It’s beautiful, she thinks. Красивый.

Kara drops twenty feet in the air involuntarily, blinking through shock. What the hell? What language was that? It certainly wasn’t Kryptonian, or English or Spanish or any of the other romance languages she’d taken in school.

The high, closed vowels, the guttural r— it had sounded more Slavic than anything. Russian, most likely. But Kara doesn’t speak any of those languages, wouldn’t have a clue about anything more complicated than asking for perogies at the Polish bakery.

This is a step too far now. Memories she can’t quite recall experiencing, mysterious déjà vu— those, she might be able to explain away. But translating her own thoughts into a language she’s certain she’s never learned? Something decidedly hinky is going on in her brain, and it’s starting to freak her out.

She twists her fingers together in front of her, considering. Who does she know that might be able to help with the inexplicable things taking place in her mind? Or, at the very least, won’t strap her to a sun bed and stick her with a Kryptonite needle for bringing it up?

Kara takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders, and shoots back down to Earth.

 

She finds J’onn in his office. Accepts the hot cocoa he offers, takes a seat on the worn leather couch at his invitation. Takes a deep breath, and blurts it all out. The weird accent, the memories that aren’t quite hers, her sudden inexplicable knowledge of Russian, of all things.

She leaves out the part about wanting to throw herself at Lena the second she’d laid eyes on her. J’onn had witnessed that particular trainwreck first hand, after all. Kara’s cheeks are already burning; she’s not sure there’s a need to relive that specific event in any more detail.

J’onn is watching her closely. He hasn’t laughed yet, or looked at her like she’s finally lost it completely. That’s something. “And when did you first notice all of this?”

Kara bites her lip, thinking. “Maybe three days ago?”

“Hmmm.” He glances at her out of the corner of his eye. “Russian, you said?”

Kara nods. J’onn’s brow furrows, his expression thoughtful. “When you beat Lex Luthor at Shelley Island, how did you do it?”

“I almost didn’t,” Kara sighs. “He would have killed me if Red Daughter hadn’t—”

Her eyes widen. “No.” She stares at J’onn, who’s watching her carefully. “Do you think that’s what it is?”

J’onn shrugs. “You said that when she died, you felt that you’d absorbed her powers. That that was what made you strong enough to defeat Lex.” He meets her gaze dead on. “It makes sense that her abilities weren’t the only thing you assimilated.”

Kara pushes up from the couch hard, standing to pace around the room. “You mean I got all of her? That she’s here, in me, right now?”

Rao, it does make sense. Not just her sudden baffling knowledge of Russian but all the other stuff too. Half-memories of events she’d never lived. Mixed emotions towards Lex. The sudden intensity of her feelings toward Alex—

“Can you remember?” J’onn asks, pulling her momentarily from her spiral. “If you try, if you consciously look, can you access her memories?”

Kara stares at him for a moment, her breaths coming in shallow gasps. She closes her eyes and it’s as if she’s been bobbing peacefully in a calm ocean staring happily back at the shore when all of a sudden an enormous, merciless wave crashes over her from behind, dragging her under.

She sees men, lots of them, armed to the teeth. She’s afraid of them but they take her in, give her a thick coat to keep her warm. They’re speaking all the while in a language she can’t understand and when she opens her mouth to tell them so, only one word comes out. Alex.

She sees her room, her ever-growing pile of books, the joy of the worlds she found within them. She sees Lex – Alex – and the elation of his visits, feels his hand on her cheek as the first non-clinical physical contact of her life.

She sees afternoon tea with Mikhail and learning to play soccer, learning to temper her strength and be gentle with this fragile, lovely little boy. She sees the screaming, incandescent agony of Kryptonite exposure and the lonely oppressive dark of her containment chamber.

She sees America in all its filth and all its perverse glory. Sees herself in a dark wig, her own apartment through the eyes of a stranger. Sees Alex in her leather jacket and feels the overwhelming desire to be accepted, supported. Sees Lena across the L-Corp lobby and feels the overwhelming desire to be loved.

Feels the sharp sting of betrayal, the cracking foundation of everything she’d believed to be true from the inside of an energy extraction pod. Sees her clone – herself – in a blue and red suit, lifeless on the ground, feels the nauseating regret of what she’s just done.

Hears the battle of Super and Luthor from across the city and sees her chance, her one shot at redemption. Feels proud, feels home even through the burning shrieking pain of sacrifice as she lies in her own arms and dies.

J’onn’s hand lands on her shoulder and Kara jerks backwards hard enough to crack his solid oak table. She’s on the ground and trembling, knees pulled to her chest and she can’t breathe, she physically cannot force her lungs to expand and Red Daughter is dying and she’s dying and—

She feels the air around her shift and cool, a balm-like lull washing over her. J’onn. He’s projecting, trying to temper her maelstrom of emotions with his own mind. It’s enough to loosen the noose around Kara’s windpipe and she sucks in a ragged breath, shuddering.

J’onn’s fingers pry open her clenched fists. “You’re okay,” he murmurs quietly. “You’re in my office. You’re safe. You’re safe, Kara.”

She finally manages to open her eyes at that and she sees that he’s right. She’s in J’onn’s office, not dying in an abandoned factory. J’onn still has hold of her hands. “Tell me five things you can see,” he prompts gently, ignoring the way she shakes her head when her throat constricts. “Come on.”

She manages it shakily, the details of her surroundings bleeding back in around the edges of the white-hot terror still gripping at her heart. “Good,” J’onn says approvingly. “Now tell me four things you can hear.”

They move through all five senses until Kara’s heartrate has slowed to a less frenetic pace and she’s able to unclench her own hands from around J’onn’s, who rubs at his skin with a wince and a smile.

He nudges her back onto the couch and brews two mugs of tea. Kara sips it quietly and tries to come to terms with the existence of another person inside her head.

“So I’m not just me anymore?” she asks after a long silence, staring unseeing at the coffee table. “I’m two people now?”

“I don’t think that’s—” J’onn starts but Kara’s already bulldozing over him, the panic in her chest ratcheting up again to critical levels.

“How can I trust myself?” she asks, not waiting for an answer. “How will I ever know what’s me and what’s her? I’m not— I’m not myself anymore, there’s another person in my head and I can’t—”

Kara,” J’onn says forcefully and her mouth snaps shut. “You need to calm down.”

She really does. She forces herself to take ten deep, shuddering breaths. Clenches and unclenches her fingers against her thighs, rolling her tense shoulders.

“Now,” J’onn says once he’s satisfied that Kara has momentarily hopped off the express train to Crazy Town. “I wouldn’t think of it like that. Remember, Red Daughter was you. The only difference between you was the year you lived apart, and you have those memories now. You know everything she saw, everything she did. Everything she felt.”

Kara stares at him wide-eyed. J’onn rests a comforting hand on her knee. “Think of it like the time you were exposed to Red Kryptonite,” he says, and she can’t restrain her shudder.

J’onn’s fingers squeeze reassuringly. “That was you, a part of you, too. You remember everything that happened, everything you did, but it wasn’t really you. You can carry those memories, that knowledge, without losing yourself in it. You still know who you are.”

Kara forces herself to take another deep breath, releases it in a huff. Thank Rao for J’onn and his level head. “I guess that makes sense,” she says at last.

J’onn smiles and pats the back of her hand. “There’s room for Red Daughter in your mind, Kara. You’re still you. And perhaps you should see it as an honour, a way to thank her for her sacrifice.”

Kara tilts her head to gaze up at him questioningly and he squeezes her hand with a gentle smile, a sad smile. “Through you, maybe she can have the chance to live on.”

 

It’s— well. It’s a lot to take in.

Having someone else’s memories crammed inside her skull, their likes and dislikes and loves and fears, is exhausting. And she still doesn’t even know how to relate to the other woman. Hasn’t figured out the position she holds – used to hold – in the topographical map of Kara’s life.

Is Red Daughter the ocean eroding Kara’s cliff? Are they twin peaks? Parallel rivers? Two tributaries converging toward the same destination?

It’s a little too weird, to think of Red Daughter as her clone but— not. How they can be the exact same person and yet wholly different is a trip too far for Kara’s decidedly fragile mind, so she goes searching for other more palatable descriptions.

Sisters, maybe. That’s how Lex had explained it to Red Daughter herself, how he’d glossed over the unconventional truth of her existence. But maybe, beneath the emotional manipulation inherent to the label, he wasn’t so far from the truth. Two people born of the same DNA, distinguished from one another by the circumstances in which they’d grown, by the love they’d found and clung to and the atrocities they’d been forced to survive.

She tries out the label in her mind. Sisters. She’d had a sister. Another sister, a biological twin.

It’s certainly unusual. She’d barely known Red Daughter. Had spent maybe a cumulative hour in her company, ever, and half of that was taken up with trying to kill one another. And yet Red Daughter is a part of her the way Alex is a part of her; rooted deep and pulling on her soul.

What was it Alex had said? Having a sister is like having a piece of your heart out there in the world, just walking around.

And now that piece, yet another piece of Kara’s bloodied, broken heart, is dead.

 

At least the mood swings make a little more sense now.

They make sense, but remain exhausting to weather. Everything feels sharpened, heightened; guilt blurs into despair which sharpens into fury almost faster than she can track it.

Her reactions aren’t proportionate to her external stimuli, she knows. The sight of her blue ceramic mug on the draining board shouldn’t have her tearing up on the couch, and a commercial for Chocos cookies shouldn’t make her want to put her fist through a wall. Yet here she is, plastering over a sizeable hole in her kitchen backsplash anyway.

A car backfires with the force of a gunshot outside her apartment and Kara almost launches herself clean through the ceiling in fright, heart pounding and hands shaking. It takes a solid twenty minutes for her pulse to return to normal, a heady and completely uncalled for cocktail of terror and adrenaline coursing through her veins.

There seem to be triggers, certain sights and sounds and situations that flip the switch in Kara’s rational mind and allow base instinct to take over. But the instinct isn’t hers, it’s new and unfamiliar and she doesn’t know its peculiarities yet, isn’t versed in avoiding the pitfalls and tripwires that detonate her composure like a flash grenade.

It’s tiring. It’s frightening. Kara feels like she’s walking on eggshells around her own mind; approaching her own nervous system with lowered voice and flattened palms so as not to spook it.

The fear and the sadness and the guilt are awful, but worst of all has to be the anger.

Incandescent fury bursts forth at the slightest provocation, coupled not just with the usual struggle to restrain it, but with the active desire to lose control. Each time, as rage builds and epinephrine floods her muscles Kara becomes acutely aware of her powers, her own strength. Not only can she see with perfect clarity the damage she could inflict on this fragile world, but increasingly she struggles to remember why she shouldn’t. Why she mustn’t.

Why does she have these powers, if not to use them? She intercepts a guy outside the grocery store trying to manhandle a struggling woman into a car, and almost snaps his wrist. Rips the woman from his grasp and pushes her behind her, wraps a fist in the man’s collar and seriously considers throwing him into space. Just letting him fly until he hits a satellite or the moon, whichever comes first.

Sure, her human identity would go up in flames right here in this Walgreen’s parking lot, but at least he’d never be able to make another woman feel afraid.

The most terrifying part of these bouts of anger is how easy, how right it feels to just— be herself. To be Kara Zor-El, Kryptonian. To not hold anything back. Red Daughter’s presence in her mind has stripped back the layers of meticulously-crafted control she’s spent the past decade and a half cultivating, leaving her raw and exposed.

She, after all, had been praised, applauded for her abilities. She’d been encouraged to be strong, swift, brutal, while Kara had always been taught to hide.

Maybe that’s what makes these losses of control so appealing. Maybe some part of Kara, usually kept under lock and key, wants to rebel against the confines constantly hemming her in. Wants not just to nudge up against the restrictions imposed by the need for secrecy, but to break through completely.

To finally, if only briefly, be free.

 

It’s fine. She tells herself it’s fine. She has a handle on things, she does.

Until she almost loses it in front of Lena, and suddenly her own platitudes sound a whole lot less convincing.

They’re just out for coffee. Lena had been downtown at an investor meeting and Kara had taken an early lunchbreak to meet her at a bougie new espresso bar in the business district that the younger woman had been talking about trying for weeks.

Everything’s fine. Everything’s good. It’s warm and cosy in the coffee shop. Lena complains about her misogynistic investors as they queue. Kara offers to dig up some journalistic dirt and get them fired. Lena elbows her lightly in the ribs, smiling even as she refuses.

Kara’s drink appears first, and she’s over at the counter dumping twenty packets of sugar into the bitter-smelling concoction to make it semi-potable when she hears Lena’s heartrate triple behind her.

Drink immediately forgotten, Kara whirls to see a huge lumbering slab of a man looming over Lena, one finger jabbing roughly into the lapel of her maroon pea coat.

“You’ve got nerve showing your face in this city, Luthor.” He spits her name as if it’s toxic. Lena recoils as if he’s right.

“Wasn’t enough for you and your brother to almost destroy the world once, huh? Taking over the government to run this country into the ground didn’t satisfy you?” the thug continues, and a muscle in Lena’s jaw flickers. He steps closer, dwarfing her frame completely. “This planet would be better off without the lot of you.”

With a snarl he pulls back, rears up to his full height, and spits in Lena’s face.

Time seems to stand still for a moment. The entire shop is deathly silent, a collective breath held in collective lungs as tension thickens the air. Lena wipes the saliva from her cheek with her napkin without a word, her expression impenetrable. The man takes another step towards her, meaty hand outstretched, but Kara gets there before he can.

“If you touch her, I will end you,” she all but growls and her slacks and cardigan belong to a mild-mannered reporter but her tone cloaks the barely-restrained wrath of the Girl of Steel. The man’s hand collides solidly with Kara’s shoulder and he winces.

Outraged, he squares up. He’s a good half foot taller than her and she can see the pulse thudding in his thick neck, the sweat beading on his upper lip. “You can’t threaten me!”

Lena’s heartbeat flutters like a hummingbird’s at her back, anxious and afraid, and Kara feels a warm rush of strength flood her muscles. Red Daughter’s words echo through her mind unbidden. Protect your people, as I protected mine.

Lena is her people, her person. Kara smiles at the man, slow and predatory. “Try me.”

Her voice is low, soft; the tempting flicker of flame from a lit fuse. Momentary calm belying the explosion primed to rip the world in two. The room is deadly silent save for the high, thin creak of metal as Kara’s spoon buckles and warps in her fist.

The man’s mouth opens and closes like a fish. Kara arches one eyebrow. “Go on,” she says again, an unequivocal challenge. “Try me.”

The man splutters, his face puce. He glares at Lena hard over Kara’s shoulder and Kara feels the looming burn of imminent laser vision announce its presence behind her retinas.

“You need to keep your guard dog on a tighter leash,” he spits at Lena and Kara is a split-second away from throwing her secret identity to the wind and launching the sentient turd into space when she feels a soft hand on her back.

Her breath whooshes out of her at the contact, and with one last contemptuous glare at the beast of a man she allows Lena to lead her out onto the sidewalk without argument.

Once they’re a safe distance from prying eyes in coffee shop windows, Lena whirls on her with an accusing stare. “What was that? What the hell were you thinking?”

Kara pouts. “I could have taken him.”

Oddly enough, Lena doesn’t argue, though the meathead had been easily three times the size of Catco reporter Kara Danvers. She just levels Kara with a firm, meaningful look. “And then what?”

Kara gets the distinct impression that they’re having two conversations simultaneously in this moment: one about the coffee shop incident and one about— something else. Lena’s gaze is laden with some undefined significance, almost as if she’s baiting Kara, daring her to call her on her true meaning.

But what that meaning is, Kara can’t decipher. The anger has dissipated as quickly as it had arrived, the reality of what she’d almost just done crashing back in. She sighs, breaking their stare to shuffle her feet. “I just— I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

Lena barks out a laugh at that; a harsh, bitter sound. “I’ve been hurt far worse than that and lived to tell the tale,” she mutters and Kara’s heart twists at the resignation in her tone.

“Lena, I didn’t—”

“I just don’t think you should be so reckless,” the younger woman interrupts firmly, her stare heavy. “Who knows what could have happened.”

Again, Kara can’t help but feel that she’s missing something here. That there’s a double entendre to Lena’s words that’s going straight over her head. But the bright thrust of her temper has left her drained and she doesn’t have the energy to parse out hidden meanings right now. “You’re right,” she acknowledges quietly. “Sorry. Let’s get out of here.”

The first thing on her to-do list for when she gets home, she thinks as she leads Lena away, is some goddamn anger management.

 

Gradually, inexorably, resentment builds like sulphur in her chest.

Kara hadn’t asked for this. She hadn’t asked to be split by the Harun-El, hadn’t asked to be re-fused again into someone whole yet wholly different. Reconstituted from her original parts but more than the sum of them now; restored but forever changed.

She hadn’t asked for Red Daughter and the year of life she lived to be forced back into the too-small confines of her head. Hadn’t asked for the stripping back of her control, the meticulous dismantling of each internal defence and fortification she’d dedicated her life on Earth to building.

In fact, she’s furious.

Furious at herself for touching the Harun-El in the first place, for starting the whole thing off. Furious at Lex for taking a copy of herself and manipulating her, turning her into a weapon poised to destroy everything Kara holds dear.

Furious at Red Daughter for her unsolicited appearance in Kara’s mind. For reshaping her tastes, her preferences, her responses and coping strategies. For how unwieldy and untamed her presence feels; primal and uninhibited and wild. For embodying the very combination of factors that could cause the delicate equilibrium of Kara’s half-human, half-Kryptonian existence to come crashing down around her.

Red Daughter is a threat, not just to Kara’s sanity and the safety of any humans in her general vicinity whenever she loses her temper, but to Kara’s very life. To the survival of Kara Danvers as a human-passing Catco reporter. To the endurance of Supergirl as a dependable, trustworthy figure of alien collaboration who can be relied upon only to help, not go on a rampage of terror and destruction because she can’t control her own instincts.

Any sympathy Kara once felt for her sister-clone-body-double evaporates with each new loss of her control, with every impulse she barely resists and atrocity she almost commits.

She resents Red Daughter for existing, and she resents her even more for dying. Which maybe, probably, isn’t fair, given that her Kaznian clone had been both brought into and taken out of this world as a direct result of Kara’s own actions.

But who the hell cares about fair when Kara’s entire existence feels like it’s been turned upside down and there’s no one left alive for her to blame.

Who the hell cares about fair when the only person she can truly blame is herself?

 

It’s eleven am on a nondescript Saturday morning and Kara has just eaten her way through three boxes of frozen waffles when she gets the sudden and absolutely overwhelming urge to lie down in some snow.

For one long, incredulous moment she just stares unblinking at the coffee table. Well, she thinks tiredly. This might as well happen.

The morning had already brought her to tears at the sight of an old Berenstain Bears episode on television, and sent her into a brief but extremely intense fury spiral when she ran out of milk that resulted in the rage-smashing of three of her seven favourite mugs, so. What does the addition of yet another inexplicable emotion to the mix really matter.

She just sighs, resigned, and pushes herself tiredly out the window.

She flies first to Northern Canada. Touches down in the middle of the Arctic wilderness and kneels, pressing her palms to the snow in the hope that the baffling craving for some crunchy frozen water will be satisfied and she can go home to resume her Modern Family re-watch.

But it’s not right. The landscape is too stark, too barren, and the snow smells wrong, somehow. Too pure, too alkaline, and Kara has no idea when she developed the ability to tell snow types apart by scent alone, but here she is. All she does know is that this particular snow is wrong, and she’s going to have to keep looking.

She tries Greenland next, but the snow is too mineral-rich from the subterranean hot springs nearby. Touches down briefly in Norway only to push off again almost immediately, the salty smell of the coastal ice an insult to her nostrils.

She’s hovering high above Svalbard when it dawns on her, sudden and sure, where she needs to go. With a huff she shoots off, cursing herself for not figuring it out sooner. She could have watched another episode in the time she’s spent jetting around the globe. Or eaten another three boxes of waffles.

 

She touches down in Kaznia.

Some part of her – she flatly refuses to think too hard about which part – knows exactly where to go and the second her boots touch earth, she knows she’s made it. The snow crunches just right underfoot, the scent of conifers washing over her as the boreal forest rises up like an old friend, welcoming her home. The craving that had propelled her here is sated almost instantly but Kara’s curiosity is piqued, now. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take a look around.

She walks first through the taiga, trailing her fingers over the delicate bark of the silver birch trees. The quiet, the stillness, it seeps inside her, quelling the interminable battle raging in Kara’s chest between who she was, and who she was.

Her feet know where she’s going even though her mind can’t chart a course and she soon arrives at a clearing; a gap in the trees filled with charred planks and broken glass. Fury rips through her like a wildfire at the knowledge of what this place is, of what happened here. She drops to her knees in the burnt ruins of Mikhail’s home and screams until her throat is raw.

She had done this, too. She had loved, and she had lost, just as Kara had.

When she can scream no more, when the tear tracks are beginning to freeze solid on her skin and the rising sun is just starting to peek over the horizon, she stands. Shoots off, frozen tears streaming from her cheeks in the wind; a trail of falling ice crystals charting her path.

The army base is deserted. Abandoned. She walks its silent halls, runs her fingertips over the peeling paint and cracking concrete. Sees the hospital bed. Sees the containment chamber. Sees the training room. Turns away with a shudder.

On autopilot, her feet bring her to her room. It’s a burn-out shell, both from the base’s self-destruction and her own laser vision, but the iron bed frame still stands. The walls are scorched, the photos that once adorned them seared into oblivion. In the corner, a pile of ash. She blinks and in its place she can see them all; their brightly-coloured covers and dog-eared pages. Nietzsche. Marx. The Great Gatsby. Her only companions in the solitude of this lonely cell.

With the ghost of alarm bells still echoing through her head Kara turns. Pushes off the ball mounts of her feet and flies home. Curls up on her couch beneath her red knitted blanket with her own well-loved copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most iconic novel, and reads until the tears dripping from her eyes and splashing hot onto the pages obscure the words completely.

 

Slowly, it feels easier to handle.

After Kaznia, after the equal parts peace and anguish she had found there, a new type of tolerance takes root in Kara’s mind. It morphs not just into sympathy but empathy; after all, the scars born of Red Daughter’s suffering brand Kara now, too.

Slowly, and with great effort, she comes to make peace with the woman inside her head. To notice her, distinguish her, and most importantly to accept her.

Red Daughter’s memories are different from her own. Not just because she hasn’t lived them but in their very quality, their innate essence. It’s as if she views them through some sort of filter, not of colour but of emotion.

Red Daughter saw the world with childlike wonder and self-righteous vengeance and her perspective bleeds through like ink on wet paper, colouring every memory Kara stumbles across.

As she watches training missions in the Kaznian wilderness play out behind her eyelids she realises why this emotional vantage point, so different now from her own, is nevertheless so familiar. Red Daughter experienced the world the way thirteen-year-old Kara Zor-El had, in every superlative shade of emotional intensity.

Dropped on Earth without warning, whether in a Kaznian forest or the California coast, she – they – hadn’t known how to react. Everything was new and bright and inexplicable. The beauty of this planet, intensified by the naivety of awed innocence, was overwhelming. There was such joy to be found, such marvels, yet in an instant everything could evaporate into fear and danger. Things would move fast, too fast to comprehend, riddled with indecipherable contextual clues for which they’d been given no guidebook, no dictionary.

And when the emotional pendulum swung back the other way, the fascination would disintegrate into the gaping maw of fury and injustice that pulses semi-dormant in Kara’s chest to this day.

Red Daughter felt it constantly. She hadn’t been given the time to learn to assuage it, Kara realises. Her life had been ended before she could grow into her maturity. And so everything was felt in extremes, in excess, and beneath it all lay the driving knowledge that something precious, something irretrievable had been ripped from her grasp. The persistent itch at the base of her skull that told her the cosmic balance had tipped away from her somehow; that she would always be left wanting.

No wonder she had been taken in so completely by Lex’s rhetoric of revenge. Even Kara herself, with her decade and a half of experience on Earth, with her years of support and nurturing by the Danvers, struggles to reconcile gratitude for her many blessings with the astronomical losses she’s been dealt. Struggles at times to remain in the light.

She imagines herself at thirteen, wide-eyed and devastated. Imagines the wreckage of her pod being lifted from her body to reveal not her cousin, but the elder Luthor’s shrewd smile.

She wouldn’t have stood a chance. Red Daughter never stood a chance.

Kara presses a trembling hand over her eyes, dislodging tears she hadn’t realised had gathered. She sees them all, then, these pieces of herself. Red Daughter, Bizarro, Supergirl under the influence of red Kryptonite. Herself on Krypton with her family, herself in the Phantom Zone alone. Herself as a child, desperate for love and acceptance and belonging; herself as an adult, seeking still. All the people she’s been, could have been, might never be. None of them her and yet all of them her.

She holds them in her heart tenderly, carefully. Wraps them in the delicate care the universe had never afforded her, and wonders if it will ever truly get easier.

 

Things settle, a little.

She still hasn’t told anyone but J’onn – who was immediately sworn to secrecy – about the true aftermath of Red Daughter’s sacrifice, or the existence of another’s essence inside her mind.

She just— she doesn’t want her friends to look at her and see her. Being Kara, just Kara and no one else, has long been a precious commodity in the double-life of National City’s caped crusader. She’s in no hurry to give it up with the few people around whom she can lay down her disguises.

But things are settling, she’s getting a handle on this new phase of her life, so maybe she won’t ever have to. She still has hot bursts of guilt and sadness and fury, but she lets them wash over her now like a gentle tide rather than facing the tsunami head on and demanding it change its course.

Giving up the battle seems to have been key; not fighting the emotions, not fighting Red Daughter’s very presence, has allowed her mind to calm immeasurably. Has allowed her, paradoxically, to regain some of her control.

But there are still a few tell-tale signs that she hasn’t yet mastered. Like the purple laser vision. Like the way she sometimes accidentally slips into Russian without realising it.

Like, for example, the fact that she can’t stop touching Lena.

She wants it, needs it like an insistent itch beneath her skin, addiction scratching through her veins. And whatever Kara does, however close she gets to the other woman, it never seems to be enough. The thirst in her marrow is never quenched.

Lena is supple and pliant and accepting. She never instigates the contact between them, never deepens it, but she never pulls away either. It worries Kara, at first. Consent and concern for Lena’s comfort is possibly the only combination of factors potent enough to overpower her own desperate urges. So when Lena’s heartrate skyrockets as Kara draws her closer on the couch during movie night, she forces herself to disentangle their bodies.

“I’m sorry,” she starts, tugging at her earlobe as her cheeks flush. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

Lena certainly looks uncomfortable, eyes averted and jaw tight, but she shakes her head. And instead of pulling away and breaking their bodies apart completely, she leans back in.

But Kara’s still not confident. “No, Lena, I want you to be comfortable—”

“I’m fine.”

“But I don’t want to cross any boundaries without your consent, and sometimes when I—”

“I said I’m fine,” Lena almost snaps, face hidden from scrutiny where it presses into the fabric of Kara’s NCU sweatshirt. “Whatever is fine. I consent. To whatever you want.”

Kara’s own heartrate takes off like a rocket launcher at those words, thudding hard enough in her throat that even Lena’s human senses must be able to hear it. Something still isn’t sitting right about the whole situation but Lena seems to tire of Kara’s hesitancy, wrapping her own arms tight across her back and tugging Kara closer for the first time.

Increasingly powerless against her own desires the more of Lena’s body is pressed against her, Kara gives up trying to outreason the situation. Lena’s a grown woman, she knows her own mind, and it’s not for Kara to second guess her meaning. If she wasn’t comfortable she would have said so.

She tightens her own hold on Lena, sliding one hand up to cup the nape of her neck reverently beneath the waves of her loose hair. Lena seems to sag against her, releasing the tiniest sigh not even audible to human ears.

Neither one of them pays the slightest shred of attention to the movie that plays on the TV screen for the next two hours, but neither one of them seems to mind.

 

She still tries not to sleep.

Even with the understanding that Lex Luthor’s near-constant residence in her nightmares is a product of Red Daughter’s memories rather than her own, she’s still terrified. Still patrols late into the night so as to avoid returning to the oppressive dark of her lonely apartment. Still snatches cat-naps at the office and the DEO and anywhere else that’s heavily populated so that when she inevitably jolts awake, ashen and sticky with sweat, she’s not entirely alone.

The dreams vary. Sometimes they’re pure horror from start to finish; missiles and isolation pods and bombed-out wreckage. Sometimes, the threat is less concrete, more psychological. In nightmare after nightmare Kara stands in a barren field, snow blanketing the frozen ground. In front of her, lined up like a firing squad, is her family. Alex, Eliza, J’onn. Nia and Brainy and Kelly. James, Winn. Lena. And Red Daughter, too, holding tight to Lena’s hand.

Dread turns her limbs to concrete and there’s death in the air, she can smell it. It’s heart-wrenching, it’s agony, trying to understand why her family would turn on her like this. Why they’re lined up to carry out her execution.

But at the last moment there’s the hot bite of a Kryptonite dagger between her shoulder blades, Lex’s slick voice in her ear. He has his hooks in her so deep that Kara, a marionette on Kryptonite-laced strings, can do nothing but tremble as her eyes begin to glow purple at the edges. As her own laser vision cuts down every single person she holds dear, one by harrowing one.

It’s a firing squad, yes, but Kara’s not the target. She’s the one-woman fusillade.

They scream as they die, her loved ones. They scream as she kills them. They cry and they beg and they ask her why and she can’t answer, can’t stop, can’t do anything but slaughter.

So. She still tries not to sleep. But tonight, post-rowdy game night, snug and warm in her bed with Lena curled up at her side after one too many glasses of wine, the tug of unconsciousness feels increasingly hard to resist.

She’s lying on her side, staring at Lena’s back, her dark curls fanning out across the pillow between them. Lena’s ribs expand and contract rhythmically, her breathing deep and even in sleep. The entire bedroom smells like her; the floral blush of her expensive perfume, the bright tang of lab explosions mingling with the smoky richness of her hair, her scalp, the nape of her neck beneath the freshness of her shampoo. It makes Kara’s stomach clench. It makes her mouth water.

She’s been very restrained all night; barely touched Lena during the games, didn’t let herself linger in their greeting hug the way she so desperately wanted. She’s even left a respectable amount of distance between them in bed, contenting herself with lying just close enough to feel the heat of Lena’s skin across the mattress, tracing the contours of her body with her eyes rather than her hands.

But then Lena rolls over, nudging closer, nose crinkling as her fingers seek the reassurance of body heat and Kara’s self-control snaps like a wishbone.

She reaches out, sliding her arms around Lena’s ribcage to pull the younger woman against her chest. Rolls onto her back so Lena is draped over her like a blanket, arms and hands and senses full of soft comforting warmth. Lena’s breathing is still steady and slow, apparently undisturbed by the way Kara has wrapped them up together like two halves of the same whole, and Kara feels her throat tighten as she realises that she could sleep, like this. For the first time since Lex, for the first time in weeks she wants to give into the pull of slumber because right now she’s so snug, so safe, that nothing can hurt her. Not even her own mind.

Lex has no power over her here. Which is ironic, she thinks, considering that there are few individuals in the world over whom Lex Luthor held more power than the two people in this bed. Three, if she’s counting Red Daughter.

Because Kara’s sister-clone was by no means the first to suffer at Lex’s hand. His skilful deceit, his artful manipulation, his mastery of operant conditioning could only have come from decades of dedicated study, and what better captive audience to practice upon than his own sister?

A fresh wave of understanding, of empathy and kinship with the woman in her arms sweeps over Kara like a tide. She thinks back to the brief glimpses of her childhood that Lena had shared over the years, to the pain it caused her to read through her brother’s journals in his prison cell. Lex had tried to mould Lena to his image of perfection the same way he had Red Daughter and, when he couldn’t, he’d set about trying to destroy them.

Lena had survived him. Red Daughter hadn’t been so lucky.

Kara’s arms tighten unconsciously around Lena’s shoulders, her waist. She tilts her head to nose against Lena’s hair as a potent cocktail of fury and protectiveness courses through her veins. Lena sniffles against the hollow of her throat and Kara presses a reassuring kiss to her forehead as she tries to convince her clenched muscles to lose their tension.

Lena sighs, and Kara can’t resist pressing her lips to soft skin again. And again and again, nudging in closer to lay kiss after kiss to her hairline, her temple, her brow, peppering her face with the gentlest of caresses. Lena is precious, and delicate beneath her armour. She should never be treated with anything but the utmost care.

If Lex Luthor weren’t already dead, Kara might try to kill him for what he’s done. She was too late to save Red Daughter, too late to save Lena from the traumatic abuse of her childhood, but she’ll be damned if she ever lets anything like that happen to her again.

This must be why, she realises. This must be the reason for the sudden intensity of her feelings for Lena since Red Daughter’s demise, for her insatiable need to be close to the other woman. Red Daughter’s presence in her mind has opened the floodgates on her empathy for Lena’s struggle, has given her first-hand insight into the damage her family inflicted.

This is why she wants to be around Lena all the time. To make sure she can never be hurt like that again.

 

Kara feels like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time.

It’s as if she’s suddenly gained the ability to perceive a new wavelength of light. As if she’s been facing the cave wall all this time, and only now has she turned to see the objects themselves rather than the shadows they cast.

She’s seeing Lena in an entirely new light. Not that she’s a new person, per se— it’s not that she’s changed. It’s more like a spotlight has suddenly illuminated above the pedestal Kara’s placed her on, throwing her into sharp new focus. The finer details, the smallest intricacies of her have become visible, where before there had been only vague hints and allusions.

Every one of Kara’s senses, every single atom of her is so finely attuned to Lena now that nothing feels hidden. The good, the bad, the twisted and the achingly beautiful; she can’t possibly miss it.

Like never before, she sees how Lena is suffering. She sees her pain, all of it, and she wants to soothe it. To take it away, to carry it for her, even if only for a moment.

This connection to Lena, this affinity born of mutual understanding that Red Daughter’s assimilation has brought her, tugs perpetually on her soul. It’s incessant, and she’s not the only one who’s noticed.

“You’ve, um. You’ve been around a lot,” Lena murmurs over takeout one night, voice measured and careful. Kara pauses mid-bite, sweet and sour sauce dripping from her chopsticks to splatter the table.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Lena hastens to add. “But I know work’s been crazy for you. Don’t you have more important things to be doing than hanging out with me every night?”

Kara swallows, licking a stray drop of sauce from her fingers. Thinks guiltily of the trail of destruction wreaked by Lex and Red Daughter, of all the ways the city’s still reeling. Thinks of what she could, should be doing to help. Thinks of how much she’d rather be here instead.

“I guess, after everything with your brother,” she manages at last, stomach clenching when Lena winces at the reminder, “I just want to make sure you’re okay. That we’re both okay. I suppose the whole thing made me… reshuffle my priorities a little.”

It’s as honest as she’ll let herself be, for now.

Thankfully, Lena seems to accept the half-baked explanation. They go back to eating, trading work anecdotes and cracking light-hearted jokes but Kara’s eyes are still drawn to the perpetual crease between Lena’s eyebrows, the ever-tense set of her shoulders.

Ever since the death of her brother Lena has been carrying a weight she refuses to share. Refuses to even acknowledge, let alone talk about. The loss of a sibling will do that to a person, Kara supposes, even as guilt tightens like a band around her lungs at the knowledge of her own role in Lex’s demise.

Kara wants to soothe her pain. Wants to eliminate it, eradicate it entirely. Wants to convince Lena to lower the walls she’s erected around her guarded heart, to shower her with affection and understanding and the steadfast belief that Kara won’t ever hurt her.

She wants it, so badly she can almost taste the promise on her tongue. But it turns bitter and acrid with the knowledge that such a vow would be duplicitous, doomed, for as long as Lena remains ignorant of her true identity.

The need to tell Lena the truth about Supergirl, about all of it, has played at the back of Kara’s mind ever since she’d watched the young woman turn against her own mother to save the lives of every alien in National City. If she had to put a date on it, had to choose the moment Lena became a permanent and essential fixture in her life, the night of Lillian Luthor’s failed Medusa plot might be it.

Not only had Lena saved countless lives in a way Kara could not; not only had she proven once and for all that the rancor of the Luthor family tree had not permeated to her core, but she’d inspired Kara that night.

She knows now that she’d needed to see it. Had needed the example Lena was on the brink of setting for her. After Astra and Non, after learning of the awful things her parents did in the name of righteousness, Kara had needed someone to restore her faith in the idea that it was possible to rise above family. To do better than the people who made her. If Lena could survive the poison of the Luthors and emerge brave and beautiful and good then maybe, maybe, Kara was not condemned by the sins of her forebears, either.

She owes the person, the hero she’s become, in no small part to Lena. And now more than ever, she owes her the truth.

But first, she has to figure out how to tell her.

 

It becomes a permanent fixture on Kara’s to-do list. One of those items that weighs constantly on her mind but that she never quite gets round to, recycling it over and over as the guilt stacks up as inexorably as each day that passes.

Wake up. Brush teeth. Save city. Tell Lena.

Wake up. Help Alex. Finish article. Tell Lena.

Wake up. Take out trash. Put out fire. Tell Lena.

The words halo around Kara’s skull on a loop, never far from her focus. Tell Lena, tell Lena, tell Lena.

Yet the days go by and Lena remains decidedly un-told. If Kara thought the prospect of revealing her identity was scary before, it pales in comparison to the terror that leaves her gasping now when she considers the very real possibility that she might lose Lena because of it.

Now, laden by the compounded weight of Red Daughter’s feelings crushing atop her own, it seems unthinkable. Kara cannot go a day without Lena. She literally cannot be without her. On the days they don’t have plans or Lena is too busy to meet, Kara makes sure her flight path takes her directly over L-Corp or Lena’s apartment as frequently as possible. She’ll perch on the building’s roof, legs dangling out into empty space, and listen to the comforting thump of Lena’s heart below her until she feels like she can breathe again.

The sound is so familiar to her now that if she concentrates hard, she can pick out Lena’s heartbeat amongst thousands of strangers from the other end of the city. She starts checking in habitually, almost obsessively, the way one may repeatedly check a wristwatch. Measuring her days, her life, against the grounding tempo of Lena’s pulse.

She’s in the elevator on the way up to Lena’s office, takeout in hand and civilian identity firmly in place, and she’s so single-minded in her fixation on the rhythmic thudding of Lena’s heart that the proximity of the sound doesn’t even register until the door slides open and Lena herself steps in.

“Kara!” she smiles, surprised. “What are you doing here? I thought we were meeting after work?”

“I, um. I—” she stammers, unable to recall the workings of the English language in this moment, and the scene is suddenly so familiar that it knocks the remaining breath from her lungs.

She’s thinking of the last time she’d been in an elevator with Lena— well, not her, not Kara. Almost Kara. Part of Kara.

She recalls Red Daughter’s memory of the encounter as if it were truly her own; thinks of the need that had propelled her to make the trip to L-Corp, the relief she’d felt at seeing Lena at last. At being close enough to reach out and touch her, if only she’d been brave enough.

Why had Red Daughter been so drawn to Lena? What implacable force had driven her to seek out a woman she’d never met?

“I, I brought you lunch,” Kara manages at last, conscious of the awkward silence anticipating her response, cheeks burning beneath the weight of Lena’s curious gaze. “I wanted to make sure you ate.”

Lena smiles and Kara’s eyes catch on the slight indent at the bridge of her nose; the remnants of a morning spent in the lab behind safety goggles. She’s overcome suddenly with the urge to reach out and smooth it, soothe it, perhaps it kiss it away, and—

Oh. Oh.

So, this feeling in her chest is—

All along it had really been—

She can see it clearly now: Red Daughter’s presence in her mind hasn’t intensified her feelings for Lena because of their analogous suffering at Lex’s hands. It’s not empathy or kinship tugging them together now. It’s— Rao. It’s love.

It all makes sense at last. Red Daughter’s obsession with Lena, the way she was drawn to her like a moth to a flame— Kara’s seen it before. She’s done it before. It’s— it’s her.

Red Daughter hadn’t felt anything for Lena that Kara herself hadn’t felt tenfold. Her clone, her blank-slate copy had woken up in the Kaznian wilderness without so much as a memory but still with the tingle of longing at the base of her skull. She’d felt the pull, the draw, and she’d followed it to its source. First Alex, and family and belonging and home. And then Lena; acceptance and beauty and love.

Rao. How could she have ever been so blind? Everything she’s done for Lena, everything she wants to do— how could she have ever believed the intensity of her feelings for the other woman were a symptom of anything but love?

And it’s not the best friend, I-like-getting-brunch-with-you-every-other-weekend kind of love she’d occasionally given voice to over the years. It’s bigger than that, deeper and brighter and all-consuming. It’s the ordinance of a destiny willingly chosen, the unshakeable conviction of how right she feels when she’s at the zenith of Lena’s orbit.

It’s I don’t want to be in this world without you.

 

The realisation that she may, in fact, be in love with her best friend does, oddly enough, end up occupying the majority of Kara’s brain for the rest of the day. In fact, she’s pretty sure she can safely wager that it’s the most mind-blowing, life-altering information she’ll absorb today.

But it seems the universe has other ideas, when her phone lights up that evening with James’ contact photo on proud display.

She drops the four packets of chips she’d been about to carry over to Lena’s couch back on the kitchen counter, freeing up a hand to answer the call. “James,” she greets, trapping the phone between her shoulder and ear and gesturing apologetically to Lena, who pauses their queued up Netflix selection. “What’s up?”

“Oh my God, Kara, you got it!” James half-yells down the line, made louder still by Kryptonian superhearing, and the agitation in his tone has Kara reaching unconsciously for her glasses before she registers that his energy is positive, not panicked.

“What?” she frowns, grateful that for once she’s not receiving a frantic phone call because yet another of her loved ones is in peril. Grateful that she won’t have to shoot off and cut short her evening plans with Lena. “James, what are you talking about?”

“The Pulitzers!” James yells, and Kara has to hold the phone away from her ear at his volume. “Your exposé on Lex! Catco submitted it for the Investigative Reporting prize and you got it! Kara, you won.”

Kara blinks, trying to shape the words into some semblance of meaning in her mind. “I… won?”

“You won!” James reiterates as across the room, Lena quirks a questioning brow. “You, Kara Danvers, are a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. Congratulations!”

“Oh my God,” Kara murmurs, eyes wide and mind blank. She says goodbye to James on autopilot, dropping her phone unceremoniously onto the counter and bracing her hands against the marble in shock. A moment later Lena is beside her, a hand landing warm on Kara’s arm.

“Are you alright?” she murmurs, green eyes wide with concern.

“I— yeah,” Kara manages at length, still reeling. “That was James. I, um. I think I won a Pulitzer?”

Lena’s mouth drops open. “For your piece on Lex?”

Kara nods, a little unsteadily.

“That’s— Kara, that’s— wow,” Lena whispers and the haze of shock that has kept Kara rooted to the spot thus far evaporates, pure elation flooding her veins. She wraps her arms around Lena’s waist, spinning the two of them round the kitchen and only barely managing to keep both feet on the ground when the excitement in her bones has her floating on air.

Lena chuckles, breathless and dizzy, when Kara finally sets her back on her feet. “I’m not surprised,” she whispers against her neck, shaking her head, her eyelashes fluttering against Kara’s throat. “It seems you were born to do incredible things. To far outshine the rest of us.”

Kara swallows hard, throat tight and world still spinning a little too fast, a little too bright.

“Well, I couldn’t have done it without you,” she hushes out against Lena’s hair, with a reverence badly-hidden and a love that burns on her tongue.

She’s not just talking about the article.

 

Gradually the excitement softens, tempered by wine and the Maldovian ale Lena produces with a celebratory flourish. It mellows into something gentler, smoother; something that wraps around Kara like a mother’s arms, a lover’s embrace. Tender and certain.

They’re slanted close on the couch now, Lena’s thighs draped over Kara’s lap, her body tucked into Kara’s side. Kara takes advantage of the way Lena’s head has nestled into the crook of her neck, tilts her face to nose into her hair and breathe her in.

She uses the arm wrapped around Lena’s shoulders to card her fingers through dark curls, watching the way the golden light picks out strands of shining amber. The setting sun streaming in through Lena’s floor-to-ceiling windows makes her hair look like spun silk, her skin glowing ethereal alabaster. Everything about her is warm and soft and perfect, from the way the sleeves of her worn-soft sweatshirt envelop her hands entirely to the way her socked toes curl every time she chuckles at the old Gilmore Girls rerun playing quietly on the TV.

Kara’s not paying attention to the show at all. The entire inmate population of Fort Rozz could parade through the living room doing the cancan in this moment and Kara thinks she still wouldn’t be able to tear her eyes away from the woman burrowed into her side.

Lena is already pressed against the length of her but Kara wants her closer still. Wants to be saturated, satiated by nothing but her.

Her right hand, resting atop Lena’s bent thighs beneath their shared blanket, abruptly feels almost criminally underutilised. She spreads her fingers, flexing them a little against the sheer material of Lena’s yoga pants, stroking lightly. Holds her breath suddenly because, hey, maybe friends aren’t supposed to casually massage each other’s inner thighs. She’s pretty sure Alex might have mentioned something to that effect once.

But Lena doesn’t push her off or pull away. In fact, she barely reacts, gaze still fixed on the screen. The only sign she’s noticed at all is a slight tightening of her fingers where they’re fisted into the bottom of Kara’s hoodie. And maybe her heartrate picks up a little, but it’s possible that’s just Kara’s own.

Everything is quiet and still for a few moments, settling. Adjusting. And then Lena lets out a tiny little sigh as she shifts and presses her legs together, effectively trapping Kara’s hand between them. It’s light, the barest hint of pressure; less of a squeeze and more of an acquiescence. An encouragement.

It spurs Kara in her gentle exploration and she tightens her other arm around Lena’s shoulders, bending at the elbow to bury her fingers in thick dark hair. One hand scratches lightly over Lena’s scalp, teasing at the nape of her neck while the other continues its investigation of her thighs. They’re soft and full and strong beneath her rubbing, stroking fingers and Kara wants to stay here forever. She wants to learn every inch of Lena’s body. Wants to map a course through that which is as yet uncharted. Wants to claim it as her own.

The room is so warm, so still, and a part of Kara has long believed her god had forsaken her the day her planet shook itself apart but somehow this still feels like reverie. Like rapture.

This day, this moment, is perfect. Lex is gone; the world is safe. Her journalistic career is scaling heights she’d never dared hope for. And for the first time, Red Daughter’s presence feels not like an intrusion in her mind but more like looking in a mirror. Like the knowledge that where she is, what she’s doing right now, is exactly what the both of them had always dreamed of.

A soft breath sighs out of her. Every one of her senses is overwhelmed by the woman in her arms.

Lena’s grip on her hoodie tightens as Kara’s wandering hand on her thigh slides even higher into soft warmth, fingers splayed and squeezing greedily. The knuckle of Lena’s pinkie finger drags over the skin of Kara’s waist and she can’t restrain a shiver, can’t hold back the swooping of her stomach as the amorphous pull between them builds and builds until she’s not sure how much more she can take.

She lifts her cheek from where it’s resting against the crown of Lena’s head, pulling back just enough that they’re face to face. Lena gazes up at her wide-eyed, her soft exhales tickling Kara’s lips. The air between them is charged and heavy as Lena’s eyes drop to her mouth with devastating inevitability.

She feels both weightless and bound, lighter than air yet subjugated to the ordinance of fate as she leans in closer and closer. Every single molecule of Kara’s body is singing out that this is good, this is right, it was always destined to come to this as her gaze drops to Lena’s lips, but—

But she can’t. She can’t. Not like this.

She can’t cross this line, can’t offer up this vulnerability and demand it in return when the image she’s presented of herself thus far is only half complete. She can’t, she won’t make any more memories, have any more firsts with Lena while her dishonesty still sits heavy and accusing between them.

When, if they take this step, Kara wants to do it with every part of herself laid bare. No secrets, no lies, no more barriers between them. She wants all of Lena; Lena deserves all of her.

At the last second Kara tilts her head, evading the press of lips she so desperately craves in favour of resting their foreheads together for a brief moment as she summons her courage.

She can feel Lena’s confusion, feel the questions building in her throat but Kara is already pushing up and away, trying not to shiver at the loss of heat as their bodies separate. She leaves Lena on the couch, brow furrowed and mouth open, to pace the length of the room, one hand tugging rough through her Catco ponytail.

This is it, then. She’s going to do it. She’s going to tell her.

“Lena, I—”

Rao. Considering the astronomical bandwidth this exact conversation has occupied in her mind over the past weeks (months, years), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Kara to have figured out her speech by now. And yet she doesn’t even know where to begin.

“Kara.” Lena’s voice is unsure, questioning with the barest undertone of warning. “What’s going on?”

“I— fuck.” Green eyes widen at the profanity, but Kara’s too deep into her panic spiral to notice. “Lena, there’s something I have to tell you. Something I should have told you so long ago.”

Lena is silent, tugging her sleeves back over her hands as she watches Kara with wide eyes. Kara takes a deep, calming breath that doesn’t calm her at all.

“Okay,” she starts, stalling more for her own benefit than Lena’s. “Okay. Lena. You’re my best friend. You’re so— you’re so important to me. And I want—”

One of Kara’s hands gestures vaguely in the direction of the couch where Lena is still curled, as if her flailing fingers can encompass everything that just almost transpired there. Her other hand reaches up to tug self-consciously at her ear as her cheeks burn crimson. “There’s so much that I— for so long I’ve thought about, with you, because I think that I— but I just, I can’t. Not because I don’t want to! Because, oh, believe me— but, but I can’t.

“Kara,” Lena interrupts, voice pulled taught like overworked metal. “Pick a sentence and finish it.”

“Right. Yeah, yes. Right. Sorry.” God, she couldn’t make much more of a mess out of this if she actively tried. Crossing the room, she takes a seat next to Lena once again, careful not to touch her. Sucks in what may very well be the deepest breath of her life to date.

“What I’m trying to say is, I want this. Us. And I hope— I hope that even after you’ve heard this, you will too. But first, first I have to be honest with you. I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long.”

Kara twists her fingers together tight enough in her lap that her knuckles scream in protest. “You told me once that Supergirl may have saved you, but Kara Danvers was your hero. But—”

Here goes nothing. Here goes everything.

“Kara Danvers saved you that day. And if she’s your hero, then so is Supergirl because— because they’re both me. Lena, I’m—” Two more words. Two more words that sit like Kryptonite boulders in her throat.

She slips the elastic from her hair, tugs the glasses from her face.

“I’m Supergirl.”

The room is deathly silent save for the thundering beat of Lena’s heart, the harsh pulls of her shallow breathing. As Kara watches, the impenetrable mask of her expression hardens. All trace of confusion drains as her furrowed brow smooths, a muscle in her jaw flickering. Her chin raises a firm half-inch, eyes half-lidded and cold.

Kara’s own heart is thudding so hard against her ribcage that she feels it tremble throughout her whole body. Her entire world has stopped spinning, waiting with bated breath to see how this will play out. To see whether regular orbit can resume, or if the ensuing supernova will knock it forever off its axis.

When Lena finally speaks, it’s not the explosion Kara expects. None of the shock, none of the tears or the screams or the furious disbelief. Her voice, when it comes, can only be described as resigned.

“I know.” 

Chapter Text

The world stops, and it doesn’t start spinning again.

“What?”

Lena’s voice is tired. “I know.”

“But— how—”

“I guess you took too long to tell me.” Lena has uncurled herself now, back ramrod straight, hands pressed together in her lap. Her gaze is cool and accusing.

“But how did you— when did you—”

Lena’s voice barely trembles. “I put two bullets in my brother’s chest and he repaid me by pulling out the knife you slid into my back.”

“What?” This can’t be happening. This can’t be real. “Lena, I killed Lex.”

Lena bites out a humourless laugh. “You might have started the job. But once again, you couldn’t follow through. Couldn’t step up and do what needed to be done.”

“So you—?”

“Yes,” Lena snaps. “I killed him. I was waiting for him when he portalled out of Shelley Island. I shot my own brother in cold blood. I watched the life drain out of him. And I did it to protect you. You, and Supergirl.” Her mouth twists into a grim smile. “Talk about two birds with one stone.”

Kara gapes. “Oh my God. Oh my God, Lena. I am so sorry—”

“Save it,” Lena almost snarls. “Your apologies are worthless.”

It feels like the sky is falling. Kara’s entire reality is collapsing around her ears as the rug is pulled from under her and she suddenly finds there’s nothing beneath it. Nothing but a void of endless dark.

“So… so, you’ve known for weeks.” She can’t take it in. “You’ve been lying to me for weeks.”

Lena scoffs. “I don’t think you want to start a conversation about long-term deception, Supergirl.”

“Why didn’t you— why didn’t you come to me when you found out?”

One eyebrow quirks in scorn. “Oh, I wouldn’t have wanted to deprive you of that eloquent speech you just gave me.”

“Lena.” Oh God. Amidst the myriad ways this conversation had played out in Kara’s head, Lena already knowing had never even crossed her mind. She’d braced herself for the possibility that her reveal would go badly, of course. At least, tried to, as far as she could. But no amount of preparation could have equipped her for the way her heart feels like it’s been slashed open like a knife to a waterskin, its contents spilling out at Lena’s feet.

The hard cut of Lena’s ivory jaw looks lethal. It looks like a challenge. Like Lena is defying her, daring her to prove she’s willing to cut herself and bleed for this.

“Lena. I am so sorry.” How inadequate the words feel compared to the gravity of her mistake. “I should have told you from the beginning, but I convinced myself I was keeping you safe. I wanted to protect you but I— I think I was also trying to protect myself. It’s selfish, I know that, but I was— I was scared, terrified of losing you. And the longer I waited, the worse it got, until—”

“Are you done?” Lena interrupts sharply. “I thought I told you to save it. Your words mean nothing to me anymore.”

“But if I can just explain—”

“I said I don’t want to hear it,” Lena cuts in, enunciating each word with piercing precision. “Don’t you understand what you’ve done? There’s nothing you could say that would fix it.”

Kara thinks she might be hyperventilating, if that’s even a physiological possibility for a Kryptonian.

This can’t be it. This can’t be the end. The strands of Lena’s life and her own had been drawing together for so long; surely, surely the threads can’t be cut before they at last intertwine.

“Then what do you— what do you want me to do?” she stammers. Anything, she thinks her eyes are saying, her entire expression screaming. I’ll do anything.

“I want you to leave me alone.” Lena delivers the words like the death sentence they are. “I want nothing more to do with you.”

“But—”

This shouldn’t be coming as such a shock, she realises. After years upon years of painstakingly laying the tinder, of pouring the gasoline, only a fool is surprised when everything explodes at once.

But— she can’t accept it. She won’t accept it. “But— but you’re still here. You’ve pretended to still be my friend all this time. Why not leave me? Or— or get back at me somehow, reveal my identity to the world?” Even giving voice to the mere possibility makes bile rise in her throat. “Why stay?”

Lena’s face is a mask of cold indifference. “So you would know how it feels to be lied to. To be betrayed. To show someone the softest parts of yourself only for them to dig in their nails and rip you apart. Simply put?” The ice in Lena’s eyes sends a shiver down the length of Kara’s spine. “I thought you needed a taste of your own medicine.”

Kara shakes her head, as if that will clear the confusion clouding her mind. “But you’ve been so— all this time we’ve been—” She swallows hard. “You were, you were going to let me kiss you—”

Lena’s lips are pressed together into a hard thin line but at Kara’s words, a corner of her mouth twitches. The crack in her composure, the flicker of something behind her impenetrable façade lasts only a fraction of a second before the shutters slam down completely. “Get out.”

Her words unleash something primal in Kara, leaving her wild. Panicked and desperate, gasping an eleventh hour entreaty to the hangman. A plea from the gallows despite the noose already tight around her neck. “Lena, please. I can fix this. You have to let me fix this, fix us—”

“There is no us, Kara. There never was. You’ve made it perfectly clear that not even one second of our relationship was real. That I’ve never been worth your trust.” Lena stands from the couch, forcing Kara toward the balcony door without physical touch, without ever coming near her at all. The look in her eyes wrests Kara backward as surely as if she’d shoved her.

“I won’t say it again,” Lena grits out once Kara’s shoulders hit the cool glass. “Get out. Don’t ever come back.”

Kara’s pulse is thundering so hard in her ears that it sounds like the splintering of earth at the end of the world. She can barely see through the tears pooling in her eyes, can’t breathe at all past the barbed wire wrapped around her throat. She stumbles backwards out onto the balcony, the cool night air stinging her flushed cheeks.

Darkness had fallen at some point during the destruction of the past thirty minutes. Kara can barely bring herself to notice. She watches, trembling, as Lena slams the door in her face. Hears the deliberate click of the lock. Watches Lena tap through her tablet until the blinds begin to descend, shielding her from view.

Kara knows she could see right through them, knows Lena knows that too. But that’s not the point. She won’t. Won’t use her x ray vision or superhearing. Won’t snap the fancy electronic lock clean off the doorframe, won’t smash through the windows and force her presence on Lena any more than she already has. This feels like a test, and she isn’t prepared to fail.

She just stands there a final long moment, trying to remember how to move. How to live. How to breathe. The tears in her eyes break free and she’s blinded, numb and agonised and silent and screaming all at once.

Perhaps it’s irrational, perhaps hyperbolic, but she doesn’t think anything has ever hurt more than this.

She hears Lex’s voice echo in her head, words she never heard him say. Her heart makes her weaker than Kryptonite ever could.

The light in Lena’s apartment goes out, and Kara cries and cries.

 

She all but falls through Alex’s window, crash-landing on the hardwood living room floor with a sob. The tears are coming so thick and so fast that a soft descent, that any kind of damage control at all, feels impossible. It was all she could do to make it here before she fell apart completely.

“What the— Kara?” Alex gasps, frozen mid-lunge toward her gun with wide, panicked eyes.

Kelly stands too, both of their hearts racing and Kara vaguely registers the candles on the dining table, the smell of roasting meat, but she’s in no state to excuse herself or make any kind of apology.

“What the hell happened? Are you hurt?” Alex asks urgently as she drops to her knees beside her, lifting the hem of Kara’s NCU sweatshirt to check for injuries. “Did you fly here dressed like this? What’s going on?”

“She knew,” Kara gasps, thick and wet and strangled. “I— I finally told her but she already knew. Alex, she hates me.”

Her sister’s hands still their frantic scouring of her body, pausing for a moment before wrapping around Kara’s shoulders to lift her torso from the ground, crushing their bodies together. 

“Lena?” she asks quietly and at Kara’s defeated nod Alex’s arms tighten around her, chin hooking over Kara’s shoulder as she rocks them gently back and forth.

She’s vaguely, peripherally aware of Alex murmuring quiet words to Kelly. Of being gently encouraged off the floor and onto the couch, of a cool washcloth being pressed to her flushed cheeks.

Everything feels like a dream— no, a nightmare, one from which she has no hope of ever waking. She lets herself be tucked under a soft blanket, head pillowed on Alex’s lap. Presses her face tight into her sister’s plaid-covered stomach as gentle hands stroke through her hair, as soothing words are whispered in her ear. Ignores the uncomfortable feeling of damp flannel against her cheeks as her tears soak through Alex’s shirt and the pillow beneath her. Cries and cries until she finally, blessedly, drops into unconsciousness.

 

Lena won’t see her.

She makes that fact inescapably clear; ignoring texts and calls, declining interview requests, going out of her way to avoid crossing paths. Kara, torn in two by the intention to respect Lena’s boundaries warring with the all-consuming need to see her, hold her, talk to her, feels a little like she’s losing her mind.

In public, Lena is the same high-flying CEO as ever. But unofficially she takes a step back from Catco, reinstating James as Director of Operations and acting CEO in her stead while she holes up at L-Corp, aloof and unreachable. Kara never dares to try her all-access pass to Lena’s office. She’s not sure if she truly believes it’s been revoked, or if she’s just too afraid to find out.

Kara’s days pass in a blur of guilt, regret, and desperation. She’s even less focused at work, unable to enjoy the waves of praise her Pulitzer win has earned her. She’s too distracted by thoughts of Lena. Where she is, how she’s doing. Whether she has anyone looking out for her.

Lena had blocked Alex, too. And Kelly, Nia, Brainy. After much begging and pleading and the prolonged implementation of Kara’s best puppy dog eyes, her sister had reluctantly agreed to reach out to Lena on her behalf, only to be resoundingly shut down.

I’d ask why you’re so intent on harassing me, but I don’t suppose it would do me much good, comes Lena’s solitary text after Alex’s eighth attempt to call her goes straight to voicemail. You’ve made it perfectly clear that I can’t trust a single word that comes out of your mouth.

Kara stares down at her sister’s phone screen, scanning the message over and over until her eyes blur. She doesn’t even notice she’s crying until Alex tugs her phone out of the path of her falling tears, wrapping her up in a sympathetic hug.

Even with her sister’s arms tight round her body, Alex’s leather and motorcycle grease scent all-encompassing, Kara can’t help but feel like she’s weightless. Unmoored. Like she could float right up through the stratosphere the second she stops paying attention.

Gravity, always more of a friendly suggestion than a physical imperative for a Kryptonian, seems to have forsaken her completely now. With the ties that bound her to Lena undone by her own hand Kara is unshackled, cast loose and drifting.

Aimless and helpless and utterly alone.

 

Slowly, methodically, everything starts to go to shit.

The tentative truce she’d struck with Red Daughter’s presence inside her mind buckles beneath the weight of her pain, and whatever modicum of control she’d managed to claw back over the course of the past few weeks slips smoothly from her grasp once again.

She’s left feeling reckless, brash and half-wild. Running on pure emotion, latching onto any outlet for the misery overflowing in her chest. Grasping for any distraction, anything she can actually do to detract from the knowledge that one of the most important relationships in her life is crumbling into dust before her very eyes and there doesn’t seem to be a thing she can do to stop it.

She’d felt like this, too. After Mikhail’s death, desolate and devastated and doomed by the knowledge that nothing she did would bring him back, would fix what had been so thoroughly destroyed, Red Daughter had simply let go. Abandoned any modicum of restraint, divested herself of forward-planning and tempered rationality in favour of simply being. Doing. Feeling. Hoping against hope that she would eventually stumble upon the solution to her agony; caring little for the havoc she wreaked in the process.

It’s an attractive position, Kara can admit. Why should she continue to strive for goodness and light, in the face of so much failure? Why should she continue to give pieces of herself to a cold and unfeeling universe that only ever seems to take?

Unfortunately for her newfound coping mechanism, Alex doesn’t seem to be on board. In fact, she unceremoniously benches Kara from a fight after she drops a particularly vicious White Martian into the middle of the bay and plunges half a mile underwater after him, not resurfacing until her quarry is unconscious and she’s nearly there herself.

“I will Kryptonite-strap you to this bed,” her sister all but growls, eyebrows contorting into the deep crinkle that means serious business as she presses Kara firmly down under the sun lamps. “You’re not to go out in the field again until you’ve got your head on straight. That’s an order.”

No amount of pouting is having any success in weakening the hard set of Alex’s jaw, and Kara whines in protest.

“I’m serious. You’re too careless right now. I know how cut up you are over this thing with Lena,” Alex says, voice softening as Kara rolls her head away from her sister’s sympathetic eyes, clenching her jaw and blinking back tears. “But that’s no excuse to almost kill a target when you could have easily subdued him another way. And it’s no excuse to almost get yourself killed in the process.”

Kara’s fingers clench into tight fists of their own accord and she winces at the snapping wire of the heartrate monitor attached to her wrist. Alex sighs, reaching into a nearby drawer and replacing the ruined tech with the practiced ease of having done the same motion a thousand times.

“I know you feel like you’ve lost her,” she murmurs, reaching out to tuck an errant curl behind Kara’s ear and sighing heavily when she flinches away. “But it’s not over yet. Maybe she just needs time.”

Kara says nothing, stoutly ignoring the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes to pool on the sun bed beneath her.

Alex sighs again. “What you can’t do,” she says quietly, resting a warm hand on Kara’s arm for just a moment before pulling away, “is lose yourself in the meantime.”

 

She still goes to Lena’s apartment. Still flies over L-Corp, still tracks Lena’s bulletproof SUV as it crawls through the busy streets of National City.

At first, she hovers high, high above. Shoots twenty miles straight up from Lena’s building and just hangs out in the stratosphere, undetectable to the human eye.

But she already feels the distance between herself and Lena like a chasm yawning in her chest, so such a stark physical manifestation of their separation doesn’t do great things for her mental state.

Slowly, as the days pass and Lena still won’t see her, she drops lower. Begins hovering closer and closer to L-Corp, to Lena’s apartment building, until finally she’s drifting mere feet from the roof.

It’s better, being closer. She can cast the net of her superhearing, her x-ray vision; can cinch it in toward her specific target with much more precision, much less distraction. And she feels closer, too. On the days Lena’s windows are open or her balcony door stands ajar, Kara fancies she can hear the podcast Lena’s listening to as she cooks dinner, can detect the faintest hint of her perfume on the breeze.

But, as the only prominent figure in the city who possesses the power of flight, Kara isn’t exactly inconspicuous. And news of her hovering above the same two buildings for hours on end, at any time of the day or night, could attract the kind of attention neither she nor Lena need right now.

So. It takes a week but at last, as the sun rises over National City and she hears Lena thank her driver for the ride and enter the lobby a hundred stories below her, Kara works up the courage to touch down ever so lightly on the roof of L-Corp.

She sits on the edge of the building, legs swinging out over empty space, watching the rising sun set the glass-sided skyscrapers of the business district on fire. The golden rays wash over her face and she basks in the warmth, the comfort of their embrace. Allows her eyes to slip closed, allows her mind to drift to happier times.

Lena loves the early morning. At first, Kara had thought it was just her insatiable drive and work ethic that had her alarm ringing at five am, that saw Lena striding into L-Corp before most of her employees had even gotten out of bed.

But over time, she’d seen the way Lena would linger at her wall of windows to watch the sun rise over the city, the way her eyes would sparkle, lower lip caught between her teeth.

“New dawns, new days,” she’d joked once, voice hushed and earnest in that liminal quiet before the hustle of the city started up anew. “They’re almost— magical, to me. I know it sounds silly, but,” she’d blushed, lips pursing as she tugged on her fingers, “I suppose new beginnings are sort of my thing.”

Kara’s so wrapped up in memory, so desperately clinging to the image of Lena smiling, really smiling at her, that she barely even registers the sound of a door opening at her back.

Lena comes to a stop a few feet behind her. “It’s still trespassing even if you access my building from above, you know.”

Lena,” Kara gasps, turning so sharply she almost dislodges herself from her perch entirely. She stares at Lena wide-eyed, drinks in her physical presence after the week of silence between them the way a man in the desert falls upon a fresh spring. “How— how did you know I was up here?”

“You tripped the security system.” Lena gestures at the ground beneath Kara’s legs. “Pressure sensors.”

“You have pressure sensors on the roof of your skyscraper?” Even as she asks, she knows it’s a stupid question. Being a hundred stories high is no protection from a flying war suit. Or a Kryptonian.

Her stomach twists miserably as she thinks back to the hundreds of times she’s landed on this rooftop without detection. The security system must be a recent addition, as recent as the past week. The thought has Kara’s heart migrating up into her throat, sitting like a boulder on her windpipe.

Lena quirks an eyebrow, her eyes cold. “You’d be surprised how many people in this town have an aversion to coming in through the front door.” She glances pointedly at Kara’s current position. “Or have trouble following basic instructions.”

Kara gulps. “Lena, I’m sorry, I—”

But Lena just shakes her head. “Please, Supergirl. Don’t you think you’ve done enough? I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I just want you to leave me alone.”

Kara feels like her heart is breaking. She’s felt that way consistently now for days, so either it’s all in her head or she has an incredibly large heart with an incredibly great capacity for pain. “I— I can’t.”

Lena scoffs. “Of course you—”

“Lena, I can’t. I can’t stay away from you.”

“Why the fuck not?” Her words are sharp but her tone is subdued.

Kara takes a deep breath. “Do you remember Red Daughter?” Lena says nothing, her expression carved from stone. Kara forges on. “When she died, when she sacrificed herself to save me I kind of— absorbed her? She became a part of me. Again. That’s how I was able to beat Lex. Because I had her powers too.”

Lena is silent.

“But it wasn’t just her powers I absorbed. It was her memories, too. Her thoughts, her emotions. It was her, all of her. I still— I feel her. All the time.”

She takes a deep, steadying breath. Maybe, if Lena understands— if Kara can make her understand, maybe this can all be over. Maybe they can move forward together instead of apart.

“She wanted – needed – to be around you, Lena. And that’s in me now. That’s how I feel. I can’t fight it.” She swallows hard. “I know that’s not what you want. I’m sorry.”

Lena scoffs. “Seriously? You’re telling me you’re here because of someone else’s emotions, someone else’s desires? God, even after everything, you still won’t take ownership, won’t make the decision yourself. Take some fucking responsibility, Kara.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Kara tugs a rough hand through her hair. “Where do you think Red Daughter got it from, Lena? Where did she come from?”

Lena is staring at her with cold, hard eyes.

Kara pushes to her feet, careful not to close any distance between them. Stays balanced on the edge of the rooftop, cape whipping out over nothing in the fresh morning breeze. “She came from me. She was me. A blank-slate copy. She lived, she had her own experiences but anything deeper than that, anything more fundamental— that was me.”

It feels fitting, to be having this conversation at the edge of a precipice. One wrong move, one wrong word and she’ll be tumbling over the edge alone.

“Think about it, Lena,” she implores. “Why would Red Daughter feel a connection to you? She only met you once.”

Lena’s eyes narrow. “I never met her.”

“You did. In the elevators at L-Corp when I was supposed to be on vacation. Eve interrupted you.”

Green eyes widen, blinking fast. “You mean that wasn’t— that was—”

Kara nods. “That was her. She went against Lex’s orders, she risked a lot to come and see you. Why?”

Lena’s mouth opens and closes, the lapels of her blazer fluttering in the breeze. “I don’t—”

Here goes everything, Kara thinks. Honesty. As much of it as she can give, to make up for all the years when she hadn’t. “Because she was drawn to you, Lena. Unstoppably. Just like I have been from the moment we met.”

Lena is blinking at her like a fish out of water.

“Red Daughter had the core parts of me but none of my memories. She didn’t know you. You weren’t friends. Yet when she first woke up, an amnesiac who didn’t even speak English— there were certain things, certain people, that called to her.”

Saying it aloud now, laying out the sequence of events this plainly— Kara can’t believe it had taken her so long to connect these dots herself. “Alex. And— and you.”

Still, Lena is silent. Kara steels herself, ready to hammer the final nail home. “She didn’t remember anything. She didn’t even know your name. But— but she was me. So of course she needed you.”

It looks, it almost looks like there’s moisture sparkling in Lena’s green eyes. But it might just be a trick of the early morning light.

That’s what I have now,” Kara finishes, praying for her to understand. “I have her desire to be near you, piled on top of my desire to be near you. But I’m not blaming her for this because her desires came from mine, they are mine. I’m just trying to explain to you that I don’t think I could fight them if I tried.” She sucks in a deep breath. “I know I don’t want to.”

It’s deathly silent for a long, aching moment. The city is just starting to wake below their feet, ambient noise beginning to filter up between the skyscrapers but the quiet, the bubble of tension on their rooftop perseveres.

Lena is just staring at her, lips slightly parted, skin glowing in the ever-strengthening sunlight. Her arms are folded tightly across her chest and one finger taps against her bicep rapidly, the only sign of agitation in her otherwise rigid form.

She hasn’t turned Kara away yet, hasn’t shoved her clean off this rooftop, and hope flares tiny and treacherous in Kara’s chest. Maybe Lena’s heard her. Maybe she—

“Try harder.”

Lena’s voice is cold, her eyes colder. That spark of hope sours like spoilt milk, curdling in her lungs.

She can feel her own face crumple. “Lena—”

“No.” The shut-down is resounding. “It was a pretty speech. It changes nothing. Leave me alone.”

Please,” Kara begs. “If I can explain, if I can make you understand—”

No,” Lena snaps. “I will never understand the choices you’ve made. And even if I wanted to, how do I know you’re not lying about this as well?”

Kara shakes her head. “I’m not, I would never—”

“Oh, but you would,” Lena says, bitterness lacing the words. “You already have. So spare us both the drama, and get the hell of my property.”

 

Without Lena, everything is wrong.

Her work week feels empty without an interview scheduled in at L-Corp. Her apartment feels empty without Lena’s heels kicked off by her front door, Lena’s perfume on her throw pillows, Lena’s tea steeping on the kitchen counter. Her bed feels empty without Lena’s gentle breathing, the press of her warm body and a mouthful of her bed-hair.

The world feels grey, leached of colour and light and purpose. Things that should excite her only irritate her; things that should bring joy make her want to cry.

The night of the Pulitzer awards she lets Alex talk her into an elegant dress, lets her sister style her hair and fix her makeup. She stands in the great gilded hall, pot stickers turning to ash in her mouth, and listens to speaker after speaker commend the qualities of honesty and integrity, the relentless pursuit of the truth. Listens to them apply those same words to her, to her article, and has to fight down the urge to vomit into the nearest pot plant.

It’s wrong, all of it. It should be one of the happiest nights of her life. She should be all but bouncing off the walls, elated at the recognition of her hard work, at the realisation of her professional dream, yet in this moment she’d rather be anywhere else.

She feels like an imposter, a fraud. How can she accept an award for an unwavering dedication to the truth in her work when her personal life is unravelling beneath the weight of all her lies? If the people in this room knew the truth about her, knew the deceptions and falsehoods of which she was capable, she has no doubt they’d waste little time selecting a different recipient tonight.

But they don’t know, they won’t ever know, because no one’s there to tell them. Because on this, the most important night of Kara’s entire career, when her friends and family have gathered around her to celebrate her greatest journalistic achievement, someone’s missing.

Lena’s missing, and what’s the point of any of this if she’s not here to share it?

 

Kara drifts.

She drifts through Supergirl saves, through meetings at the DEO, through articles and assignments and increasingly concerned glances from her loved ones when they think she isn’t looking.

She runs through her life on autopilot. The vast majority of her brain at any given moment is utterly consumed with problem solving, with conflict resolution, with trying to parse out some way to mend things between her and her – ex? – best friend.

She’d lied to Lena in order to keep her and now she’d lost her anyway, had lost yet another person she loved. And coming so soon on the heels of the loss of Red Daughter, on the compounded weight of all the losses she’d suffered being stuffed back inside Kara’s head, it feels unbearable. It feels like more than she can take.

So she fixates on it constantly. Worries the issue in her mind until the edges fray; gnaws on it like a starving dog with a bone. Dedicates most of her mental capacity to finding a solution to her heartbreak, which doesn’t leave a whole lot left over to handle the happenings of her day to day life.

That’s how she comes to doze through a newsroom meeting, zoning out of Snapper’s barking commands as her eyes lose focus, mind rifling through possible apology and explanation speeches she might give, if Lena were to ever agree to see her again.

She’s somewhere else entirely, mind wandering everywhere but Catco’s bullpen, until something pulls her attention so sharply she snaps the pen in her hand clean in two.

“We’ve been hearing whispers from tech insiders that they’re working on something big over at L-Corp,” Snapper is saying, and Kara focuses in on her boss so suddenly and so hard that she almost x-ray visions clean through the poor man, lead-lined glasses be damned.

“As usual, Luthor is being very tight-lipped, but if my sources are right – and they usually are – then this is a scoop we’re going to want to be ahead of.” Snapper raises an eyebrow, scanning the assignment board with a disinterested air. “Who wants to see if there’s any fire in the middle of all this smoke?”

A junior reporter in the front row wiggles his fingers tentatively but Kara is already volunteering, shooting her arm so hard into the air that she levitates a little from her seat. “I’ll take it.”

“Danvers,” Snapper frowns. “As much as it fills me with equal parts pride and irritation to admit, you have a Pulitzer now. You don’t have to cover the technology beat on an unconfirmed lead.”

“I want it,” Kara almost yells, vaguely registering the strange looks from her colleagues and managing to temper her volume a little. “I don’t mind. I’ll take it.”

“Alright then,” Snapper drawls after a long moment, seeming thoroughly unconvinced. “Suit yourself. The story’s yours. Come back with more than whatever L-Corp are planning on putting out in their next press release, Ponytail. Remind me why they gave you that medal.”

Palms sweating, pulse thundering in her ears, Kara nods. “Yes sir.”

 

She calls L-Corp’s press department to set up the meeting.

Doesn’t call Jess directly. Doesn’t leave her name, only her affiliation with Catco. Doesn’t argue, doesn’t push when the secretary on the other end of the line tells her L-Corp’s CEO is far too busy for an interview and that she can talk to some mid-level executive in R&D instead. Doesn’t do anything to rock the boat, anything that might alert Lena to the fact that she’s coming.

She changes her outfit seven times the morning of the meeting. Brushes her teeth so hard the bristles splay, and adds buy new toothbrush to her mental to-do list. Checks her appearance, checks her breath, checks her hair in the mirror almost obsessively, and still arrives at L-Corp forty minutes early.

She meets with the honcho from R&D, who’s just as vague and non-committal about his ongoing projects as she expects. Lena runs a tight ship, after all. L-Corp didn’t become the nation’s most innovative and successful tech company on a whim.

She jots down his generic answers to her generic questions and the whole thing is starting to feel like a massive waste of time when she thinks to bring up the rumours Snapper had heard about something big in the works in L-Corp’s labs. The executive’s eyes brighten and he leans in conspiratorially, voice hushed and excited.

“I can’t say much about the project, for obvious reasons,” he says, eyes darting furtively over Kara’s shoulder to scan the room. “But I can tell you that it’s big. Once the prototype goes commercial, the market won’t know what hit it.”

Kara’s eyebrows raise. “So this new project is the main focus of your R&D department at the moment?”

The man chuckles, taking a sip of his coffee. “No, actually. Only a very small team is assigned to it. Most of the work’s being done by the big boss.” And his gaze flicks skyward, chin jutting toward the ceiling.

Kara’s heart skips a beat. “You mean Ms Luthor? It’s a personal project of hers?”

“Started out that way, yeah,” the man mumbles, taking an enthusiastic bite of the apricot Danish Kara had brought for him from the French bakery across from her apartment. She’d learned long ago that sources tended to be much more loose-lipped when their mouths were full of high-quality bribes.

“Now that the first prototype’s almost ready she’s brought in a few others, but she still spends most days working on it in the lab alone,” he continues, sprinkling pastry crumbs all over his collar.

Kara pulls out her most charming smile, fluttering her eyelashes innocently. “And you can’t give me so much as a hint as to what the project is?” she asks sweetly, tilting her head to one side and biting her lip. “Just to give me something to look forward to? If it’s as big a development as you say, I’m sure our readers will be just as excited about it as you are.”

“I really shouldn’t…” the man drawls, smiling, and Kara nudges the bag containing three more Danishes across the table towards him. He shakes his head at her playfully, eyes narrowing as he accepts the treats.

“You’re a menace, Ms Danvers,” he says as he reaches for another pastry. “Alright. I’ll just say this. Once this product hits the shelves, there’ll be no hiding from the truth.”

 

Kara braces her hands on either side of the sink in a deserted L-Corp bathroom, willing her heart to slow its frantic pounding.

Lena’s working on something, some project to do with truth. With honesty. There’s no way, after the weeks they’ve had, that that’s a coincidence. Kara’s stomach twists anxiously as her mind spins out, thoughts spiralling and somersaulting as she tries to envisage what Lena could have possibly created.

The image of Lena, alone and devastated by the unravelling of Kara’s web of lies, turning to science to help her find a way to take away her suffering is almost too painful to bear.

Kara cannot, she will not leave, she decides, until she’s seen Lena. Until she’s talked to her, apologised to her. Explained that the fault in this situation sits squarely on her own shoulders; that any actions taken to rectify their current mess should be Kara’s, not hers.

Hands trembling, she splashes water onto her clammy cheeks. Takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders, and heads out the door.

 

She remembers the location of Lena’s private lab well.

Manages to make it there undetected by any familiar faces and without, she hopes, drawing any unwanted attention to herself. She is, after all, professionally crafty.

The heavy door to the lab is closed but not locked, and Kara sends a silent prayer of thanks to Rao that she won’t be snapping off any handles today. With a quick glance up and down the hallway to make sure she’s not being observed, she pushes open the door and slips quietly inside.

Lena’s back is to her, hunched over a workbench, curly hair pulled up into a haphazard bun above the stark white of her lab coat. “Jess, do you think you can push my afternoon meetings?” she calls at the sound of the door closing, eyes never leaving the circuit board in her hands. “I’m so close, if only I could get the damn thing to stop melting.”

Kara uses the momentary pause before Lena registers her presence to take in the room. The workbenches are strewn with soldering irons and pieces of plastic casing, the enormous dry-erase board in the corner covered with hastily-scrawled notes. Amongst the myriad equations and revisions Kara’s eyes snag on two words. Truth Inducer.

Kara’s stomach drops. At her bench Lena pauses, pliers frozen in mid-air. She turns suddenly, back ramrod straight and eyes cold. “You’re not Jess.”

Kara swallows. Lena’s face is pale and drawn, dark bruise-like shadows beneath her eyes. Her lips are chapped and raw from too much anxious nibbling, and from the wrinkles of her blouse beneath her lab coat she’d guess the young woman hasn’t been home in a while.

God, Kara wants to hug her. “Lena—”

“I’d ask how you got in, but I don’t imagine it matters much,” Lena says icily. “So. What are you doing here?”

“I was, uh, in the building for an interview,” Kara mumbles, preoccupied by the notes and workings on the whiteboard. Lena follows her line of sight and frowns, moving to block the board from view.

“I heard about your project and, um. I wanted to see you,” she continues, and Lena’s eyes narrow.

“Who the hell told you—”

“I won’t print it, don’t worry,” Kara interrupts, moving to the nearest workbench to examine the materials spread across it. “Lena, a truth inducer? A device that forces people into honesty? That’s what you’re working on?”

“Spare me the sanctimonious speech,” Lena snaps. “For one thing, it’s none of your business. And for another, my device will revolutionise work in innumerable sectors, from healthcare to criminal justice. I understand why you personally would have an aversion to complete, unavoidable honesty,” she all but spits, and Kara winces. Lena raises her chin. “But this isn’t about you. This is about the millions of people this project will help.”

Kara’s shaking her head, a thick feeling of dread taking up residence in the pit of her stomach. She takes a step closer and Lena backs away, keeping a workbench between them.

Kara swallows hard. “I understand why you’re doing this, Lena.” And she does, intimately. The knowledge of the kind of measures her own betrayal has pushed Lena to take makes her sick to her stomach. She soldiers on. “I know your intentions are pure. But this isn’t the way to help people. You could end up doing more harm than good.”

The dark-haired woman arches one scathing brow. “I don’t believe I asked for your opinion.”

Kara sighs. “Lena, please. Think about what will happen if you make the Truth Inducer widely available.”

Lena whirls on her, eyes blazing. “Oh, I have thought about it, Supergirl. Criminals can be convicted on watertight confessions. The falsely accused can be cleared. People will be able to find out whether their spouses are cheating. They’ll know when they’re being lied to. When they’re being betrayed.

Lena’s voice shatters on the last word. Something hot and painful in Kara’s chest does too.

She swallows hard around the lump in her throat. “I, I get that you want to protect people—”

I’m not protecting them,” Lena interrupts coldly. “I’m giving them the tools to protect themselves. I’m doing what I wish someone had done for me.”

Kara winces. Forges on anyway. “But Lena, in the wrong circumstances, in the wrong hands, this device could be so dangerous—”

“No. Really?” Lena’s eyes widen in faux sincerity, tone dripping with sarcasm. “Like whose hands, Supergirl? The government’s? The DEO’s? Please.” Green eyes narrow. “It was the baby Truth Seeker your sister keeps around for her own ends that inspired me to do this in the first place.”

Kara blinks. “I— that’s not—”

“Or is a Truth Seeker the same as Kryptonite in your eyes? The same as Harun-El?” Lena’s lip curls. “Forbidden, unless you’re in control of it. Deplorable, unless it gets you what you want.”

“It’s not like that—”

“Sure it’s not. It’s never been about the tool itself with you, Kara. It’s about the person using it, and whether you’ve already decided they’re a good guy or a villain. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.” Lena lets out a laugh that sends shivers down Kara’s spine. “You’ve made it perfectly clear that I’ve never been worth your trust. No reason for that to change now.”

Tears are pricking at the corners of her vision. “No, Lena, no—”

“Your hypocrisy is staggering, Kara. You’ve no right to be lecturing anyone on morality.”

Kara bites down hard on the inside of her cheek, the bright metallic tang of blood blooming almost instantaneously. She tries to focus on that, that small point of pain to distract from the agony swelling in her chest.

“Maybe you’re right,” she croaks, voice hoarse. “You’re probably right.”

That seems to knock the wind from Lena’s sails. She deflates the tiniest bit, blinking. The acquiescence is clearly a shock to her. That only makes Kara’s chest tighten further.

“Maybe, maybe I am a hypocrite,” Kara whispers. Her throat constricts painfully. “I have no right to preach to you. That’s not what I’m trying to do.” She takes a tentative step closer. Lena takes another quick step backwards. Kara sighs. “I want to help you. I don’t want this to end badly for you.”

Lena scoffs. “Don’t pretend that you ever cared for me.”

Kara ignores the barb. “If your device is sold commercially, people could get hurt. Telling the truth isn’t always the best option.”

“Why am I not surprised that that’s your position?”

Again, Kara ignores her. “Think of the kid who lies about flunking a test to avoid getting a beating from his father. Think of the teen who stays closeted because it’s not safe for them to come out. The woman taking secret steps to leave her abusive partner. The parents hiding their money troubles so their children won’t worry.” Kara steps forward again, willing her to understand. “Sometimes, lying is necessary. Sometimes the lie protects, where the truth would only injure.”

Lena scoffs again, but it’s weaker this time. “Of course you would believe that.”

“I do believe it,” Kara says earnestly. “Lying isn’t always born of maliciousness.” She takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders. “Sometimes it comes from a place of lo—”

“Don’t you dare,” Lena spits, hands clenching around the pliers still in her grip. “Don’t you dare say that to me.”

“It’s true, Lena,” Kara says softly. “I only ever wanted to protect you.”

“Bullshit,” Lena snaps. “Was lying to me all these years good experience for all the ways you’re still lying to yourself? I have to say, your practice seems to be paying off.”

Kara blinks. “I’m not lying. Telling someone my identity puts them in danger—”

“I have been in danger because of you since the beginning,” Lena says hotly, each word carefully enunciated in her fury. “Do you understand that? How protected was I when I followed you into that dream valley to face down Kryptonian witches and worldkillers? How protected was I from accusations of poisoning children with the device I made for Supergirl to save the world? Or from my mother and Henshaw when I didn’t kill every alien on Earth with Medusa? When I sided with you over them?”

At some point during the onslaught of memories accompanying Lena’s words, Kara’s mouth had fallen open. She isn’t sure how to tug it closed again.

Lena rolls her eyes at her silence. “Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to do it. But you’ve always been comfortable accepting my help, seeking my help, as Kara and as Supergirl. No matter the danger it put me in. So don’t insult me by pretending that my protection was top of your agenda.”

When Kara doesn’t answer, Lena shakes her head. “I’ve been publicly aligned with Supergirl for years. Whatever danger was going to come of that partnership has already happened, and worse. You were happy to let me take risks for you, without taking any yourself.”

Kara thinks of flying in broad daylight in her civilian clothes, Lena’s poisoned body convulsing in her arms. Thinks of shooting toward a ticking Kryptonite timebomb rather than away, to pull Lena from its path. Of considering, for one hot terrible moment genuinely considering dropping barrels of toxic chemicals into National City’s water supply in order to avoid dropping Lena. “That’s not true.”

“No? What burden have you shouldered from all this, exactly?” Lena doesn’t wait for an answer. “I faced down every danger associated with your identity without even knowing your name. I trusted you, both sides of you, and all you did was prove once and for all how much of a fool that makes me.”

Kara feels like a fish out of water. “I never meant—”

“Do you think I give a damn about what you meant?” Lena says, her anger laced now with tiredness, a desolate futility. “Over and over again you called on me. You leaned on me. You just couldn’t do me the courtesy of being honest about whose life I was putting mine on the line for.”

Kara’s gasping for air. There doesn’t seem to be any left in the room. Her vision blurs around the tears pooling in her eyes. “Lena—”

“Do you think I wouldn’t have done it?” Lena asks, voice soft and shattered. “Do you truly believe I would have been less inclined to help if I’d known that Supergirl was really Kara? Was really you?”

Kara sags against the bench in front of her, unsure suddenly if her muscles are capable of keeping her upright. She blinks and two tears break free, tracking hot down her cheeks. Her vision is still swimming, but it almost looks like Lena’s eyes are wet too.

“I trusted you with every part of me,” Lena whispers. “What did I ever do to make you think you couldn’t do the same?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” Kara’s voice is thick, her throat clogged. Her entire body is suffocating, throbbing with anguish. Is this what it feels like to fall apart? “I do trust you. I always have.”

Lena’s eyes meet hers across the workbench. They’re burning, shining with anger and disbelief and above all, with pain. At Kara’s words she shakes her head. A muscle in her jaw twitches.

“Stop fucking lying, Kara. To me and to yourself.” Lena’s eyes are hard as she turns away. “And get the hell out of my lab.”

 

She doesn’t print it.

Of course she doesn’t. She goes home, opens her laptop, and stares at a blank document until her eyes blur. Think about every possible ramification of a commercially-available Truth Inducer. Thinks of how the consequences of such a device could fall back on Lena.

Thinks about the hell Snapper’s going to give her for coming back from L-Corp emptyhanded. Thinks about how little it matters, in comparison.

She’s still sitting there motionless when the sound of a key turning in the lock makes her blink for the first time in hours.

“Why are you skulking around in the dark?” Alex asks, flicking on the lights and oh, night has fallen. When did that happen?

“How long have you been sitting there?” her sister asks, depositing a stack of pizza boxes on the counter and coming to peer over Kara’s shoulder. Her eyes fall on the empty document, the blinking cursor, and she whistles through her teeth. “Article’s going well, huh?”

“I can’t write it,” Kara mutters, voice rough and cracking from underuse. She pushes back from the table, rolling her tight shoulders and sighing as her joints pop and release.

“Write what?” Alex asks around a mouthful of pizza. “What’s the assignment?”

Kara presses her lips together. “Uh. Lena.”

Her sister’s eyebrows shoot up so high they’re almost lost in her hairline. She carries the stack of pizza boxes over to the couch and pats the cushion next to her, expression warm and concerned and supportive, and so Kara tells her. Tells her about her trip to L-Corp, about Lena’s latest project. Leaves out a few of the more choice details of their fight, though. Isn’t ready to hear the words spoken aloud again quite yet.

When she’s done, Alex licks the pizza grease from her fingers with a pensive expression. “She can’t sell something like that commercially. The problems it could cause—”

“I know,” Kara sighs. “But she won’t listen to me. And— really, why should she? She called me a hypocrite, and you know what? She’s right. We use the baby Truth Seeker whenever we need it.”

Alex frowns. “That’s different.”

“Is it?” Kara asks, running a hand through her hair. “Lena is angry and hurt and she lashed out at me today but she wasn’t wrong. We are hypocritical, Alex. We can’t condemn others and applaud ourselves for the same action.”

Alex shakes her head. “So you think everyone in the world should be able to force honesty from others whenever they feel like it?”

“Of course not. I’m as against the Truth Inducer going commercial as you are. But I can’t look Lena in the eye and tell her her device is a bad idea if I’m prepared to use it when it suits me.”

She sighs, tugging a throw pillow into her lap to fiddle anxiously with a corner. “Supergirl is supposed to be about hope. Justice and goodness and truth. But her identity, my identity, is secret. The entire thing is built on a lie.

“A necessary lie.”

Kara shakes her head. Her fidgeting fingers accidentally tear a hole clean through the pillowcase she’s worrying and she replaces it on the couch beside her guiltily. “I don’t know. Maybe. But the things Lena said today— you know, she and Supergirl couldn’t see eye to eye for a year after Lena made Kryptonite. And I thought I was right in my anger, I thought I was justified. But we used Kryptonite to defeat Reign, Alex. We wouldn’t have subdued her without it. Hell, the DEO training rooms are fitted with Kryptonite emitters!”

Alex’s jaw is tight. “It’s not the same. We do those things to help, to protect people—”

“That’s exactly what Lena said about the Truth Inducer,” Kara says quietly, and her sister’s mouth shuts with an audible click.

Kara reaches out an elbow, nudging Alex in the ribs. “I’m not saying I have all the answers here,” she says with a sigh. “But Lena— she made me think. How many more double standards is Supergirl built upon? What other hypocrisies is Kara Danvers guilty of? Until I can figure that out, I don’t think I’m in any position to pass some lofty judgment on what she’s doing.” She smiles sadly. “I’m in a glass house, Alex. I’ve gotta be careful with my stones.”

Her sister softens, elbow nudging back. “So, you’re not going to break the story about the Truth Inducer?”

“No,” Kara exhales tiredly, reaching out for another pizza. “I’m going to try and make sure there’s no story to break.”

 

That task proves to be easier said than done.

In addition to avoiding her personally, it seems Lena has now had her unofficially blacklisted from L-Corp. Her interview and meeting requests are denied, and one apologetic receptionist eventually tells her she’s wasting her time by continuing to ask.

L-Corp puts out a press release scheduling a conference in ten days’ time, concomitant with a product launch it claims will revolutionise sectors across the board. There’s no doubt in Kara’s mind as to what the new product is and she doubles down on her efforts to contact Lena, to no avail.

Kara’s left feeling helpless and anxious and filled with dread, marking each day’s passing the way one may watch a doomsday clock— with overwhelming fear and the complete inability to look away.

She relieves some of the tension building in her muscles by flying a few laps of the planet during her lunch breaks and heading to the DEO after Catco most days, punching a few tonnes of solid metal into oblivion. Alex side-eyes her from the gallery but Kara ignores her sister’s pointed looks, her not-so-subtle inquiries into Kara’s mental wellbeing.

J’onn tries, too. Tries cornering her in corridors, sitting her down with his calming aura on full blast and his best supportive-dad-smile plastered to his face. Tries to convince her to open up, to talk, to perhaps disclose the reasons behind her compulsive need to pick a fight with slabs of solid steel in her downtime.

But Kara’s not in the mood to talk about it. She’s not in the mood to get into the helplessness she feels as Lena continues to stonewall her, the conflict that rages between her head and her heart as one side of her clings firm to her respect for Lena’s boundaries while the other – who speaks, coincidentally, with a Russian accent – tells her to throw caution to the wind and crash into Lena’s living room. To not take no for an answer, to not let something so precious slip away without knowing she’d done everything she possibly could to win her back.

It’s exhausting, mediating the two. It’s exhausting to continue reaching out to Lena while getting nothing back. It’s exhausting to live with her own guilt, her own shame, her own love. A love that’s so big and so bright that it burns, overflows within the too-small confines of her chest.

But she has nowhere to put it. No one to take it. And at any given moment, she feels a hair’s breadth away from imploding under the pressure of it all.

So no, she doesn’t want to talk about it. The only person she really wants to see has made it abundantly clear that the feeling is not mutual, so.

Why, she wonders, can her family not leave her to beat up blocks of iron in peace?

 

Alex is not pleased with the lack of progress.

The idea of a Truth Inducer being commercially available scares her, not least because it could mean that at Supergirl’s very next press conference, someone could slap a device on her arm and ask her to disclose her true identity live on national television. But, since Lena isn’t doing anything illegal, or anything alien, she has no jurisdiction in the matter. Which means Kara bears the brunt of her sister’s worry-come-frustrations.

She huffs and grumbles incessantly from the other end of the couch as Kara tries to concentrate on meeting tonight’s article deadline, losing her train of thought every time her sister releases another pointed sigh. When Alex starts clicking her tongue in disapproval, Kara’s fists clench on her keyboard.

“I know you’re frustrated, but I’m trying to work.”

Alex frowns. “This is more important than your article deadline.”

Kara chuckles mirthlessly. “Try explaining that to Snapper Carr.”

Her sister ignores her, pushing up on her knees to peer at Kara overtop of her laptop screen. “You need to talk to Lena. Stop her rolling out this device.”

Kara sighs, slamming her laptop closed. “I told you. She’s had me blacklisted from the building.”

“So sneak in.”

Kara huffs. “No!”

“Why?” her sister asks innocently. “It’s not like it would be hard. Don’t you still have your access pass?”

“Alex,” Kara sighs. “Lena’s made it very clear I’m not welcome around her. I need to respect that.”

“Kara.” Her sister mimics her inflection, pinning her with a beseeching gaze. “I get that, I do. But this is about something bigger than your fight. We have to get our priorities straight here.”

Something hot and sharp flares in Kara’s chest. “She’s my priority.”

Alex narrows her eyes. “Look. I know you want to protect her. But Lena’s press conference is less than a week away, and once her Truth Inducer goes commercial there’s no turning back. So whatever’s gone on between you, this takes precedence. I know it’s not ideal, but you’ve got to stop her. You have to.”

Kara shakes her head. “Don’t you think I’ve been trying? She won’t listen to me.”

“Make her listen.”

“She won’t see me.”

Alex sighs heavily. “Kara, you can see through walls. With your strength, you can break into anything. I know it’s not ideal,” she says again when Kara’s eyes snap incredulously to her face, mouth falling open. “But you can stop this happening. You can do what needs to be done.”

Kara gapes. “Alex, I will not use my powers for—”

“I’m not saying hurt her!” Alex cuts in. “Of course not. Make sure Lena isn’t around beforehand, even. Just sneak into her lab and, I don’t know. Give that prototype a quick blast of laser vision. Crush a couple of key components. Burn up a few crucial pieces of research.”

Kara feels sick to her stomach, her head spinning. “How can you ask me to—”

Someone has to stop this project going ahead,” Alex forges on, oblivious. Kara’s head feels fuzzy suddenly, like it’s been stuffed with cotton wool. Her sister’s voice is hazy around the ringing in her ears. “And with your powers, your abilities—”

“I’m not a weapon!”

Alex falls silent, eyes wide as dinner plates as the echo of Kara’s scream trembles through the air between them. Kara’s fists are clenched so hard that her nails have broken the skin, sticky-sweet brands of blood marring her palms as her entire body trembles.

“I’m a person,” she gasps, unsure if the pressure in her throat is from the torrent of words now escaping it or if she’s about to vomit in her sister’s lap. “I’m not some tool kitted out with superpowers that can be used whenever it suits you. I’m not a weapon, I’m not, I don’t want to be—”

She chokes off in a sob but no tears come. She’s left dry-heaving, dry-eyed and unravelling. “She was a weapon. They tried to turn her into— but what about us? Underneath the powers, what about us?”

She crumples, body folding in half as she slides to the ground. Forehead pressed to her bent knees, she wills her body to stop convulsing. Wills her lungs to draw in oxygen.

A moment later Alex drops to the floor beside her. There’s a long pause, a deliberate moment of hesitation before her sister’s hand lands gently on the back of her neck.

“Kara,” Alex whispers, broken. “I didn’t— I’m, I’m sorry.”

Kara shudders, and the tears come at last. She sobs, open-mouthed and gasping against the fabric of her jeans, snotty and wet and disgusting and she can’t stop it, can’t tame it, can’t do anything but cry.

“Who’s she?” Alex whispers, hand cupped warm and reassuring around the nape of Kara’s neck. “Kara, who’s us?”

So between hiccups, between whimpers, Kara tells her. Tells her about Red Daughter and the sacrifice that had saved Kara’s life. Tells her about the true cost of that re-assimilation, about the weeks she’s spent with another person living inside her mind. Tells her about Red Daughter’s life, the first-hand knowledge of how she’d been moulded, manipulated, used.

Tells her how the treatment of her sister-clone had dragged one of Kara’s ugliest fears out screaming into the sunlight. How Red Daughter had been the epitome of everything Kara was terrified of becoming: a vessel for the schemes and desires of others. A hollowed-out shell, exploited for her abilities with no regard for the soul beneath.

“I know that’s not what you were trying to do,” she hiccups, at last unclenching her fists so the cuts on her palms can begin to heal in the moonlight. “I know this isn’t the same as what Lex did to her. But I will not use my powers to cross boundaries that humans couldn’t, not for anything less than an emergency. Not unless there’s no other option. I won’t do it with this. I— I won’t do it with Lena.”

She inhales shakily, dragging the sleeve of her sweatshirt across her damp face. “And I won’t use my powers under orders from someone else. Not from you, not from anyone. I— I can’t become a conduit, Alex, I can’t. I’ll lose myself completely.”

It’s silent for a very long time. Kara sits, curled tight in a ball, afraid to raise her head to meet her sister’s gaze. Afraid of her reaction. But feeling lighter, too; released from the weight of the secret she’d been harbouring, buoyed by the assertion of her own agency on a topic that terrifies her to her core. She has no idea how Alex will react to her outburst but even if it’s bad, she can’t bring herself to regret saying it.

Her sister’s hand moves from its perch on her neck and Kara at last gathers the courage to lift her head from her knees and meet her eyes. Alex is staring at her, eyes roving her face as though searching it for something she recognises, and Kara’s stomach twists anxiously.

“Okay,” Alex says at last, quiet and small. “I understand. At least, I think I do. I didn’t realise you felt that way. It wasn’t my intention to, to use you but— I can see that I kind of was. I shouldn’t have asked you to do that, Kara. I’m sorry.”

Kara’s lips tremble, a fresh round of tears making their presence known and she collapses into her sister’s side, sagging into the arm Alex wraps around her shoulders.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Alex asks softly, fingers twisting in Kara’s hair to scratch lightly over her scalp the same way Eliza used to, the same way she had when they were younger and Kara’s night terrors would keep the both of them up all night, every night. “Why didn’t you tell me about Red Daughter?”

Kara sighs, melting into the comfort as quickly as she always had. “Everything changed so fast,” she muffles out against Alex’s shirt. “With Lex and Supergirl, and Red Daughter in my head, and telling Lena and her leaving—”

She gulps out a sob and Alex tightens her grip on her shoulders, grounding her. Calming her. “I didn’t want things with you to change, too,” she manages. “I didn’t want you to treat me differently. I didn’t want you to look at me and see her.”

“You’re my sister,” Alex hums above her, and another round of tears breaks free. “You always will be. You grow and you change, Kara. Everyone does. But you will always be my sister, and I will always love you.”

Kara reaches out blindly, hand grasping Alex’s knee as the nearest point of contact and holding on as tight as delicate human bodies could withstand. “I love you, too. Always. I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you.”

That seems to be a common refrain between Kara and her loved ones, recently. She vows to render it unnecessary from now on. She vows, in this moment, that she will do better.

“Have you told Lena?” Alex asks after a long moment of quiet. “About Red Daughter?”

Kara nods against her shoulder, and Alex sighs. “How did she take it?”

Kara swallows hard. “She, um. She didn’t.” Her grip tightens around Alex’s knee. “She told me she can’t believe anything I say to her. She can’t trust me. That’s why she created the Truth Inducer, Alex. Because of how much I hurt her.”

“So you’re desperate to fix it,” Alex surmises, and Kara winces. “Because you feel responsible. But— the way you’ve been over the past few weeks, how much this fight has hurt you… it’s not just guilt, is it?”

God. She doesn’t know if she should be grateful or terrified that her sister knows her this well. Remembering her freshly-made vow, Kara takes a deep breath. “No. It’s more than guilt. It’s so much more. Red Daughter— she loved Lena, Alex. She loved her because I loved her. I love her.”

It’s the first time she’s saying the words, admitting the truth point-blank outside the confines of her own head. It knocks the breath from her lungs to hear it, and Alex’s arm tightens sympathetically around her shoulders.

“Well, shit.”

 

The day before the scheduled launch of the Truth Inducer, Lena disappears.

Kara’s spent a fruitless five days trying in vain to contact her, to see her, doing everything short of busting Lena’s balcony door down in her efforts. And now, with less than twenty-four hours to go before L-Corp is scheduled to unveil the device to the entire world, before every individual with a credit card will gain the ability to force honesty from those around them no matter the cost, Lena is missing.

She’s not at home. She’s not at her gym or yoga studio, her favourite coffee shop on Beacon or the second-hand bookshop she frequents on 5th. She’s not at L-Corp; her driver has been given the day off, and when Kara listens in to the northwest corner of the building’s top floor she hears Jess informing someone on the other end of the phone that Ms Luthor will be out of the office for the rest of the day.

Panic spikes her heartrate into overdrive. Her first thought is kidnapping, another attempted assassination, but. Jess wouldn’t have been so cavalier if Lena’s absence was unplanned.

Clearly, Lena’s chosen to leave. So: where would she go?

Kara flies first to Metropolis, hovering high above the city until she can pick out Sam’s heartbeat inside L-Corp North-East, but the young woman is alone in her office. Then she tries the Luthor mansion, only to find it deserted.

She circles the country slowly, cruising through the stratosphere as she listens out desperately for the precious timbre of Lena’s heartbeat. Widens her search to Mexico, Canada, lapping the continent again and again till at last her straining ears pick out the melodic thud she so desperately craves.

She drops lower over the Canadian Rockies, hovering high over the peaks as she tries to figure out where she is. Pulls her phone out of her boot and flicks open her maps, ignoring the nine texts from Alex asking where she is and what she’s doing.

She squints down at her phone screen as the GPS hones in on her location. Mount Norquay? There’s something familiar about the name, but Kara can’t quite place where she knows it from.

She drops lower, x-ray visioning through the rockface to make out the bunker carved into the heart of the mountain, the solitary figure inside. She drops lower still, wondering how she might get to Lena without having to smash her way through a couple thousand tons of rock and snow, when an electronic whirring pulls her attention.

Her eyes widen. From the snow-blanketed mountainside a row of cannons appear, glowing blue and brightening with every passing second and Kara thinks, yep, that’s it. Mount Norquay. The location of one of Lex Luthor’s infamous secret bunkers.

Kal had warned her about this. About how every single one of Lex’s strongholds was fitted with automatic anti-Kryptonian defences, programmed to attack the second a Super entered the surrounding airspace. It might have been nice to be able to remember that particular tidbit of information before a row of canons had armed themselves directly at her, but whatever.

She needs to fly. She needs to move. But shock and disbelief have rendered her immobile, rooted to the spot— or at least, to the specific patch of air in which she’s hovering, and she watches wide-eyed as the canons’ blue glow morphs into bright white, primed and ready to fire.

Kara gasps, wide-eyed and frozen, and braces herself for the inevitable impact.

The impact doesn’t come.

She watches, over the course of seconds that feel like hours, as the canons wind up for an assault. It’ll be bad, she knows. No one on Earth had been more proficient at exploiting Kryptonian weakness than Lex Luthor. This is going to hurt, in more ways than one.

And then, at the very last moment, the mountainside goes dark. The canons disengage, whirring as they retreat into the rockface. They turn off, and they don’t turn on again.

Kara sags in relief. Lena knows she’s here, then. She knows, and she’d overridden her brother’s defences. She hadn’t used the canons, hadn’t told Kara with a short sharp blast to the face to take a hike back to National City.

Kara wagers the gesture is as close as she’s going to get to Lena rolling out the welcome wagon, and she decides to take the opportunity for what it is. Not quite a truce, perhaps, but neither an outright attack.

She drops lower, scanning the snow until her vision detects a manhole cover halfway up the slope hiding an access corridor beneath. With a deep, fortifying breath she lands carefully on the mountainside and makes her way inside.

 

She finds Lena in a lab.

Hewn into the very rock, the cavernous space is echoing and cold, overflowing with advanced technology and scientific equipment. Lena is leaning back against a workbench, watching the door Kara’s just walked through. At her side lies a small circular device; a shiny silver plastic and metal disc with a flashing blue light at its centre.

Kara’s eyes catch on it and stick, and Lena laughs humourlessly. “Of course. I should have known that that’s why you’re here. Come to destroy the Truth Inducer, have you? DEO’s orders?”

Kara swallows hard. “No. I’m here alone, on my own behalf. I— I just want to talk to you, Lena.”

“What exactly do we have left to talk about?”

Kara shakes her head, taking a tentative step forward. “We have so much to talk about, but— but you’re right. I do want to start with the Truth Inducer. Lena, in your heart you can’t believe it’s a good idea. Taking away people’s agency, their choice— that’s not helping them. You’ve lied before, when you’ve had to.”

Lena’s features are tight, pulled taught by suffering. “I have. I was raised by some of the best liars in the world. And I watched the lies they told tear my family apart, almost tear this planet apart in the process.”

“I know.” Kara swallows tightly. “I know the damage they’ve done. Believe me, I know the pain lies can cause. But this— this isn’t the solution, Lena. It’s not.”

“Stop me, then.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What?”

Lena folds her arms across her chest, gaze cold and calculating. “You could take control of this device in the blink of an eye. You could overpower me. You could snap me in half.”

Kara just stares at her, open-mouthed blinking through shock. How could she even think—

“Go on, do it,” Lena challenges, one eyebrow arched. “Stop me.”

Lena,” she gasps, struggling to draw in air. “I would never do that. I would never hurt you.”

Lena laughs, high and chilled. “Oh, I think we both know that’s not true.”

Kara stares at her, incredulous. Unable to believe this is real, that it’s happening. Unable to marry the woman before her with the Lena she knows; the Lena who would sacrifice herself a hundred times over to keep others safe. The Lena who strove to do good, to be good, above all else. The Lena who would hold her so tightly in their hugs that if she’d been human she surely would have bruised. The Lena who latched onto Kara’s vows like a lifebelt in a stormy sea and whispered promise? against Kara’s cheek like the wrong answer could shatter her beyond repair.

The thought that all this is because of her, that Kara herself has pushed Lena to this point, is too much to bear. Their eyes meet across the draughty lab and Kara wishes more than anything in the world in this moment that she could turn back time. That she could go back, do it better, do it right.

Lena is callous and cold but as Kara watches there’s a moment, just a moment, where the corner of her mouth trembles. Where the air between them shivers and a muscle in her cheek flickers and it’s almost as if all of the fury, the effort it’s taking to be this rough with Kara, is costing Lena as much as it’s costing her.

She wonders how much of this is real, and how much of it is a cry for— something. Help, perhaps. Comfort. Or maybe just recognition. Maybe, beneath all the bluster and the anger and the attempts to push her away, Lena’s really just begging for a little understanding. A little acknowledgment.

Because see me isn’t a command, Kara knows. It’s a plea. A prayer. An entreaty on the lips of the desperate and drowning.

Kara thinks she can see Lena, now. Can see her clearly, honestly, for perhaps the first time.

She finds she doesn’t ever want to look away.

 

She knows she has to be careful.

She’s done so much damage to this woman; caused so much pain, unwittingly or otherwise. She has to be delicate now. Has to help Lena, protect her, the way she should have from the start.

“Lena,” she says quietly. “If you wanted me to listen, I am. I’ve heard you. Please let me help you, please. We can find another way.” She presses her lips together hard. “You don’t have to do this.”

Lena’s mask of cold indifference is still firmly in place. “What I do or don’t do is no longer any concern of yours.”

“Of course it is,” Kara replies calmly, trying her level best not to rise to the bait. “I care about you.”

“Oh, you do,” Lena mimics, voice dripping with faux sincerity. “Silly me. I must have missed the memo.”

“Lena, I will do whatever I can to make this right with you. I will listen to whatever you want to say, do whatever you want me to do.” She takes another step forward, willing the other woman to understand her sincerity. “But I don’t want to see you hurt by this. I don’t think a Truth Inducer will give you what you want.”

“What I want, I can’t ever have,” Lena hisses, eyes flaring fire-bright for a moment. “You made sure of that. So walk away, Kara. If this device is to be my self-destruction, you don’t have to stick around to see it.”

Bingo, Kara thinks. There’s the proof she’s been waiting for. Just as she’d suspected, as she’d hardly dared to hope, Lena’s heart isn’t in the Truth Inducer. Much like Kara body-slamming a White Martian half a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, Lena too has thrown herself headfirst into anything that might numb the ache in her chest, no matter how dangerous the distraction might prove.

She can do this. Lena, her Lena, is still there. Kara can, she will reach her.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“This isn’t on you, okay?” Lena snaps. “I’m not your responsibility anymore. So fly back to your friends and tell them all my evil schemes, and then tomorrow you can set the DEO on me like the villain they’ve always thought I was, and walk away with your conscience clean.”

Kara shakes her head. She sees Lena’s anger for what it is, now: a front for unimaginable pain. “I’m not going to do that.”

“Why not?” Lena grits, half-desperate. “I’m a Luthor, after all. No matter what I did I was never going to earn your trust. I was never going to be good enough for you. So why shouldn’t I embrace my destiny? Self-fulfilling prophecy, and all that.” She swallows hard, jaw clenching. “Walk away, Kara. Forget about me.”

Kara feels like she’s been cut open. “Lena, I could never— You’re more important to me than that.” She takes a deep breath. “You’re more important to me than anything.”

“Bullshit.”

“It’s not bullshit. It’s true.”

Lena laughs, loud and cruel. “If it is true, that’s fucking worse! Don’t you see how that’s worse? Why would I ever want you near me after what you’ve done?”

Kara can feel her composure beginning to slip. “But you did! You did want me near you. We both know it.” She approaches Lena and for the first time, the other woman doesn’t back away.

“You told me I was lying to myself,” Kara says, more sharply than she intends. “Well, I think you are too. You know I’ve never seen you as a Luthor. You’re no more an extension of your family to me than I’m an extension of my cousin to you.” Her hands ball into fists. “And there were a million ways to hurt me, to get back at me, without staying with me. Without pretending we were still friends. Without letting us get closer and closer, without almost letting me kiss you—”

Lena’s jaw tightens. “Shut up.”

“No.” Kara couldn’t stop if she tried. Not when the ice of her unaffected façade has finally melted away and Lena, raw unguarded Lena has finally appeared. She’s not going to stop pushing now. “You wanted me around, you wanted to keep me. Why?”

Lena’s eyes narrow, her voice rising. “Because I wanted you to hurt the way I hurt. Because I wanted to break you the way you broke me!”

Kara stiffens. “But that – this, pretending we were still friends, lying, then pushing me away – it’s not the same as what I did to you. I never pretended—”

“Oh, I think it’s exactly the same, actually,” Lena spits. “For years you made me think you were different, special. You made me think I was special, special to you. You made me believe I could have you, really have you, and then you ripped it all away.”

Lena’s fists are clenched, her entire body trembling with emotion. “So I wanted you to feel that. I wanted you to have that hope, to believe that we could be something. That I was right there with you, wanting what you wanted, only to find out that it was all a fucking lie.”

Lena’s practically screaming now, voice high and cracking as it echoes out across the lab, bouncing off the stone walls.

Kara can’t breathe. She tries anyway, tears pooling in her eyes as she reaches across the infinite void between them. This is her hubris, her downfall. To have believed she was strong enough to shoulder Lena’s pain. To face her own sins head on without drowning under the weight of them. “Lena, please. I understand—”

Lena laughs, high and hysterical and broken. “No, you don’t. You don’t understand. Even now, you don’t get it. What will it take for you to see what’s happening here?”

Kara reaches out again, desperate, and Lena wrenches herself backwards, jolting violently out of reach of Kara’s grasping fingers. “If I couldn’t have you, you can’t fucking have me!”

For one long, aching, terrible moment, time stands still. They’re frozen, both of them; a tableau of perfect agony. Lena’s face is red and tear-streaked, eyes wide and bruised and disbelieving, almost. Like she can’t accept that she’d allowed those words to slip past her lips.

The moment feels cosmic in significance and almost illusory in execution; inside Kara’s mind the shards of them float backwards suddenly, not shattering but reforming into an image so clear she can’t believe she’s been missing it all this time.

The moment bursts, then, and with it the silence of epiphany. She can hear again Lena’s harsh breaths, her gulping sobs, her thundering heart, and Kara does the only thing she can. She darts forward, closing the distance between them, and crushes Lena to her chest.

The smaller woman struggles against the iron enclosure of her arms, face flushed and fists flailing but Kara won’t let her get far. “You’ve got me,” she murmurs over Lena’s angry sobs, her stubborn attempts to break free. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Lena fights harder for a moment, twisting furiously in her grip, fists raining down on Kara’s chest and shoulders as ineffectually as the flutter of butterfly wings against stone. Kara tightens her hold, just enough to secure without immobilising. Keeping Lena within the circle of her arms but restraining her no further.

“I’m not leaving you,” she whispers even as the smaller woman whimpers, even as she shakes her head and screws her eyes shut and argues with all the fire left in her wilting body.

Kara’s eyes slide closed as Lena sags at last, defeated. She presses her words against a crown of dark hair as if the physical contact will convey the truth of them more clearly. “You have me, Lena, I swear. You have me.”

“I don’t,” Lena sobs, slumping against Kara’s chest as the last dregs of her fury drain away, replaced only by an aching sadness. “I never did. It was all a lie.”

“It wasn’t,” Kara murmurs, soft and soothing. “I lied to you, yes. But we were never a lie. You know that. You do,” she insists gently even as Lena shakes her head, fists pushing weakly against Kara’s chest again. “You know it was real. That’s how you knew your plan would work. That’s how you knew you could hurt me by doing this.”

“How can it be real?” the dark-haired woman whimpers, choked and broken. “How could you care about me and still do that to me? How could you want me and then rip me apart?”

And Kara— she doesn’t have an answer for that. Not one that will count, not one capable of more than the most superficial of platitudes. She’s been asking herself the same question for years.

“I don’t know,” she whispers because if she can give nothing else in this moment, she can give Lena honesty. “I just know how I feel. I know that I never, ever intended to hurt you, even though I failed miserably. And I know that I did, I do care about you, Lena. So much. So much.”

“I don’t know if I even want to believe that anymore,” Lena whispers against the fabric of Kara’s suit, voice soft and fractured. “I don’t know if that makes it worse.”

Something splinters in Kara’s chest at the resignation in her tone and honestly, she hadn’t realised there was enough of her heart left to keep breaking, but here they are.

“How can I trust you?” Lena whispers, nails digging into the material over Kara’s clavicle, scratching, gouging. “How can I ever believe that I matter to you? That I matter enough to not— to not do this to me all over again? To not leave me like this?”

“I don’t know,” Kara manages, pushing the words out like they’ve been dipped in Kryptonite. “I don’t know how I can prove to you—”

“You can’t,” Lena cries, more of a sob than a word. “There’s nothing you can say that I can trust completely. That’s why I—”

She lifts her head, watery gaze falling upon the prototype Truth Inducer lying abandoned on the workbench. “That’s why I made that fucking thing,” she gulps, heaving in great hiccupping breaths. “I don’t want to sell it, I don’t care about—”

Her head snaps back so they’re face to face. With Lena in her arms like this Kara can see every detail of her face, every eyelash and freckle and scar. Can see the minute flecks of gold in her green eyes. Can see the tears pool until they overflow, sliding down her pale cheeks.

“I need to believe that you’re not lying to me,” she whispers. “That you won’t, you can’t do it again. I need to know.”

Kara’s eyes slip closed, her face crumpling. “I won’t lie to you again. I won’t. I don’t ever want to hurt you, Lena. This is killing me. I— I care about you, you have to believe—”

“I do believe it. That’s why it hurts so much,” Lena gasps and God, Kara had been dead set on trying to convince her, couldn’t stand the thought that Lena didn’t know how she felt, but somehow this is worse.

“I know you care about me,” Lena says, strained and broken. “You care about me so much that even your amnesiac clone felt it. Like it’s written into your fucking DNA or something. And you still broke my heart.”

Lena’s face crumbles. “Don’t you think it would be easier for me if it had all been a lie?” she mumbles into Kara’s shoulder, tears hot on her skin. “If our whole relationship was one elaborate scam, a ploy to prove I’m just another Luthor at my core?  Don’t you think that would hurt less than this?”

Kara’s entire body is rigid with pain. She doesn’t think she could unlock her arms from around Lena’s body if she tried. And doesn’t that seem apt, she thinks idly. The two of them lockstep, unable to stop hurting one another, yet equally unable to let go.

Lena’s face presses to Kara’s neck, arms snaking around her ribcage. Her fingernails dig tight into invulnerable flesh as her tears continue to pour, pooling in the dip of Kara’s clavicle.

“But you couldn’t even let me have that,” Lena whimpers, breath hot on Kara’s throat. “You had to ruin it by being earnest and honest and— and you. You won’t even fucking leave me.”

Her arms tighten around Kara’s back, hard enough to bruise had she not been bulletproof and Kara wishes suddenly that she weren’t. She wishes she could feel this, scar from this. Let Lena leave a mark on her forever.

“You won’t leave me, and I can’t seem to let go,” Lena whispers, beaten and broken. “So we’re stuck with each other. But I don’t know how I’m ever supposed to trust you again.”

Chapter Text

She flies Lena home.

The young woman is so exhausted that she doesn’t even put up a fight, just nods weakly and lets herself be swept up fully into Kara’s arms. She gathers Lena’s belongings, slips the prototype Truth Inducer into Lena’s bag and hands it to her without a word as she makes her way out of the lab.

Lena is watching her carefully. “I came all the way out here so I wouldn’t be disturbed,” she murmurs, her tone resigned but with the barest undertone of amusement. It almost, almost sounds like fond irritation, but Kara stops that particular hope in its tracks before it can devastate her any further.

Lena huffs out a tiny chuckle. “I should have known you’d find me anyway.” It’s quiet for a moment, and then— “How did you find me?”

Kara focuses on the heavy door she’s pulling open; on the narrow access corridor she’s manoeuvring them through without jostling her precious cargo. “Followed your heartbeat.”

Lena’s head is tucked beneath her chin so Kara can’t in this moment see her face, but she can picture the way Lena’s eyebrows shoot up clear as day. “You— you know my heartbeat?”

It’s only the lack of direct eye contact, the fact that she can’t see the emotions playing out across Lena’s face, that makes her brave enough to tell the truth. “Better than my own.”

The ride is quiet and cold. Kara unsnaps her cape and wraps it around Lena, tucking her head against her shoulder and doing her best to shield her from the snowy night air.

She lands on Lena’s balcony, setting the young woman carefully on her feet. Lena hands back her cape and Kara almost shivers at the residual heat clinging to the heavy fabric; only narrowly resists the urge to bury her face in it and inhale for any trace of her scent. This is the first day she’s been able to touch Lena since she’d revealed her secret and everything had gone to shit, and letting her go again feels like one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

It’s silent for a long, awkward moment. Kara shuffles her feet, scuffing one heel lightly over the balcony tiles. “So, um. You’re okay?” she asks hesitantly, raising her eyes to Lena’s to find them fixed on her, expression unreadable. “I should, I should probably go. Unless—”

“I think that’s best,” Lena interrupts, and it’s the gentlest her voice has sounded in weeks. “I just— I’m tired.”

“Of course.” Kara swallows hard. The moment feels fragile, friable; in both their chests well oceans of pain poised at any moment to swallow them whole, held back only by the flimsiest of walls they’ve had to construct just to be able to stay standing. The patches over the cracks in both their defences, both their hearts, are weaker than ever tonight. She needs to leave before they come loose again.

“Alright then,” she murmurs into the wind-swept quiet. “I’ll—”

I’ll see you, is what she’d been about to say. But she cuts herself off, unsure suddenly of the truth of the statement. Ever since her outburst at Mount Norquay Lena’s demeanour has been impenetrable, indecipherable, every facet of her carefully controlled. Kara has no idea where they stand now. If she will be able to see Lena again.

“Alright,” she tries again. “Night, Lena.”

She’s already in the air, already high above Lena’s apartment building when she hears the whispered reply.

“Goodnight, Kara.”

 

Kara sleeps longer than she has in weeks.

The emotional outpouring of the previous day had sapped what little reserve of strength she’d been clinging to, and the sun is already high in the sky by the time she finally cracks one eye open.

Her head feels stuffy, throat dry and eyes stinging. There’s a hollow ache behind her forehead, the lingering embrace of her emotional hangover and she winces at the scratch of her tear-stiffened pillowcase against her skin.

At length, she drags herself out of bed. Forces herself into the shower, shovels down a box or two of cereal with marked disinterest. Convinces herself, finally, to check her phone.

She’s bracing herself for news of the Truth Inducer’s launch. She’d already had Snapper assign someone else to cover the press conference, confident in her own inability to stand in the crowd and watch Lena’s speech calmly and quietly. But instead of the explosion of headlines, the barrage of texts from Alex and J’onn and Brainy freaking out at the DEO, there’s just one solitary news alert waiting in her notifications.

She clicks on it, brow furrowing as she reads the single-line item tucked away at the bottom of the homepage. Had she not had a personalised alert set for any mention of Lena, she wouldn’t even have seen it. L-Corp cancels product launch; company to move in new direction.

Kara doesn’t even realise she’s been holding her breath until it all whistles out of her at once. She’s still staring at the headline, chewing on her lip, when her phone vibrates with a single text.

Lena [10.03am]: I’m at home.

Kara almost drops her phone in shock. Lena’s name hasn’t lit up her screen in weeks. Ever since the revelation of her identity their text conversation had consisted of roughly seventy messages on Kara’s part, all going unanswered.

She blinks, shaking her head to snap herself out of the fog clouding her mind. Well. It’s by no means an enthusiastic invitation but, knowing how effective Lena’s stonewall tactics are when she sets her mind to it, she knows there’s no way the young woman would have sent this message if she didn’t intend for Kara to act on it.

With a potent mixture of anxiety, anticipation, and the tiniest thrill of hope churning in her stomach, she shoots out the window.

 

She lands quietly on Lena’s balcony.

She doesn’t dare cross the threshold, no longer assured that her presence is welcome in a place that once upon a time was starting to feel like home. It doesn’t matter, though; Lena is waiting for her. Leaning against the open doorframe, mug of tea clasped between both hands, she barely reacts to Kara’s arrival.

She’s dressed casually, by her standards at least. Tight black tailored slacks and a charcoal knit turtleneck, hair down but straightened out of its natural curls. Makeup on, but only a light gloss instead of lipstick. Flats, not heels. So. She’s not planning on going into the office even though it’s a weekday, but this ensemble is still a suit of armour.

Kara wonders when she’d become a presence Lena had to defend herself against. She wonders if Lena would mind if she shot off for a moment to go and vomit the acrid weight of that realisation out of her body in private.

Lena doesn’t say anything at all. She just stands and stares, one hip propped against the doorframe, left index finger drumming rhythmically against the ceramic rim of her mug.

Kara clears her throat. “You, um. You cancelled the launch.” No sense beating around the bush, she supposes. Might as well get straight down to it.

Lena’s face remains impassive. “I did.”

Kara bites her lip. “Why?”

One eyebrow arches smoothly. “Why do you want to know? Has Snapper sent you here for an exclusive?”

Kara winces. It seems that any progress she’d hoped they’d made while wrapped up in each other’s arms in a draughty mountain lab, progress on things like honesty and care and not questioning the other’s intentions, has evaporated as surely as the early morning dew.

She sighs. “Of course not. You know me, Lena. You have to know I would never do that.” She takes a hesitant step closer, supplicating. “I, I wish you could trust—”

How can I trust you?”

It seems that this was precisely the wrong thing for Kara to have said because Lena’s icy demeanour cracks like a glacier carving into the ocean: suddenly and all at once.

Lena’s hands tighten around her mug, knuckles turning white. She straightens, shoulders back and chin raised in accusation as the floodgates open.

“I wouldn’t even know which part of you to trust!” Lena snaps. “Which side of you am I supposed to know, exactly? On the same day Supergirl condemned me for making Kryptonite, Kara Danvers came with me to eat ice cream and watch Disney movies with Ruby. Supergirl told me she couldn’t trust me, but Kara supported me. She was there for me. You sided with me, when I was fighting with you. Can’t you see how fucked up that is?”

Kara blinks. Well, sure she can, now. With hindsight, with it all laid out at her feet. At the time, all she’d known was that Lena was hurting, and she’d wanted to soothe her however she could. The knowledge that she was also the cause of that hurt was not lost on her, but neither did it outweigh the imperative to make Lena smile again.

Neither did it outweigh the craving in her chest to see Lena smile again. To experience the beauty of her laughter and the easy comfort of her company in some capacity, in any capacity, when every one of her interactions with Supergirl was fraught with pain and betrayal.

Lena’s voice pulls her from her musings. “I have no idea which side of you is real. If any of them are,” she says bitterly. “Tell me, please explain to me exactly how I’m supposed to trust you.”

Kara swallows, chewing on the inside of her cheek. She hardly knows where to begin.

“I made so many mistakes with you, Lena, I know that,” she starts. She’d known it at the time too, known it even as she was making them. But the beauty of her double-life, the bounty of her deception was that the consequences, for the most part, hadn’t been immediate. She’d skated by in relative peace for years, the Sword of Damocles fashioned by her own hand never more than a hair’s breadth from falling.

How to even begin unpicking the tapestry of their relationship after all this time? Is it even possible to disentangle the threads of her dishonesty without the entire thing unravelling beneath her fingers?

Kara doesn’t know. But she knows she has to try. “I made a mistake in lying to you but also, also in the discrepancies in how I treated you. In how hard I was on you for the Kryptonite, the Harun-El. I took it all so personally, and—”

“Oh, I know you did,” Lena says incredulously. “I understand why you did, now! Because to you, your best friend was creating a stash of kills-Kryptonians without telling you. I’d have been mad too!”

Kara’s brow furrows, mouth opening, but Lena’s not done. “But that wasn’t what I was doing. I was creating a substance that would save the life of one of my closest, dearest friends. And if it was dangerous to someone I had a passing acquaintanceship with, to an occasional partner? Well.” Lena smiles grimly. “I didn’t like it, but in a choice between Sam and Supergirl? You have to know who would win.”

Lena’s mouth twists darkly. “Of course, I didn’t know it was really a choice between Sam and you.”

Kara doesn’t dare ask who would come out on top of that contest. She’s not sure either of them are ready for the answer and what good would it do, anyway? They’ve already got more than enough pain to be getting on with.

“You’re an expert at presenting whichever part of yourself the situation calls for,” Lena says, but there’s no heat to the accusation. Just a simple statement of fact. “And at compartmentalising too, I’d wager. But at the end of the day, you’re only one person. And whatever one side of you feels will bleed through to the other eventually.”

Kara blinks. In all honesty, it’s not an issue that had come up much, before Lena. The essential people in her life had always known both sides of her, and everyone else simply wasn’t important enough to worry too much over. No one had ever forced the two sides of Kara’s public persona into opposition with each other quite so viciously, no one had ever thrown so much of her very identity into question, before Lena.

“I knew two separate people, had two different relationships,” Lena says pointedly. “But you…”

As cliché as it sounds, Kara feels the exact moment the lightbulb illuminates above her head. “I couldn’t separate Kara’s Lena from Supergirl’s Lena,” she realises. “I was dressed as Supergirl but reacting as Kara.”

Lena clicks her tongue, nodding.

“Oh God,” Kara mutters absently, pacing the length of the balcony as waves of posthumous realisation crash over her. “I was angry with you for not considering me. For not placing as much importance on me as I placed on you. On your opinions, your thoughts, feelings… But, but it wasn’t me you were seeing.”

Lena stays quiet, allowing Kara to ride out her epiphanies without interruption, her expression schooled into the practiced calm of someone who’s own revelations have had time to settle.

“Unconsciously, emotionally, I expected you to act the same with both of us, because both of us were really just me,” she mutters, more to herself than anything. Fuck, is this the kind of insight she’d get from going to therapy? Maybe she should give that some more thought. “I came to you as two different people but expected you to treat me as one.”

It’s a lot to try to reconcile. Never before had Kara managed to step outside of her own paradigmatic view of the world quite this clearly. To see her own situation dispassionately, pragmatically; to find the logic within it that her own emotion-clouded vantage point usually overlooked.

“You were—” She swallows thickly, eyes unfocused, as the final piece of the puzzle slots into place. “Even then, you were already becoming the centre of my world. And I was angry, I was hurt that Supergirl— that I wasn’t yours.”

Lena’s jaw clenches, a muscle in her cheek flickering. Her voice, when she finally speaks, is very, very quiet.

“You were. You were. I just didn’t know that she was you.”

Lena’s definitive use of the past tense doesn’t escape Kara’s notice. It shouldn’t sting, but it does.

“I’m, I’m sorry,” she stammers. “I understand— I can see how messed up it is, that you thought I was two different people. I, I know that can’t be easy. But—”

She can feel panic rising as the crushing weight of these realisations, the astronomical importance of this moment, this conversation, threatens to overwhelm her entirely. Pressure is building in her chest, the way it had when her sister had asked her to break into L-Corp to destroy the Truth Inducer. The way it had in Red Daughter’s chest any time anyone had so much as mentioned Mikhail’s name. She doesn’t know how long she has before she detonates beneath it.

“But you said you understand it now,” she gasps, half-wild in her rising hysteria. “So you know— you know that it was all me, really. Like you said, whatever I felt would bleed through to both sides eventually. And both sides of me have always, always cared about you.”

“Oh no,” Lena snaps. “Don’t you do that. Don’t you try and pretend that it doesn’t matter that you lied. Both sides of you have always cared about me?” she mimics hotly, voice rising, echoing off the wall of glass at her back. “Gee, I sure wish I’d known that when Supergirl yelled at me across the DEO lobby, told me that she couldn’t trust me, that we weren’t even on the same side. I wish I’d known it when Kara Danvers went MIA while my brother was on the rampage, and then when I told her it hurt me that she hadn’t been around, she decided to fix the problem by leaving again.”

Lena all but drops the mug onto a low coffee table at her side. She looks to be a few short seconds away from crushing it in her grip otherwise, no superstrength necessary.

“And I sure wish I’d known it when Supergirl reduced me to nothing more than my last name. What was it you said when I asked about your identity? Oh yeah,” Lena hisses, eyes narrowed and burning brighter than a supernova, than a dying planet’s detonation. Kara would know. “That’s not a great question for a Luthor to ask someone in my family.”

The words come out so smoothly, so without hesitation, that Kara can’t help but assume they’re a permanent fixture in Lena’s mind. That they’ve been seared there; reproduced and replayed over and over to torment her in the dead of night. Branded into her memory, immortalised forever the way only the most painful of insults are.

In this moment, viscerally and with complete certainty, Kara hates herself.

“I’ll say it again, Supergirl.” Lena spits the name like it leaves a bad taste in her mouth and Kara can’t help but think back to the very beginning, when Lena had looked at her like she’d hung the moon and stars. When that same name rolled from her lips like worship, adulation, awe. How far the mighty have fallen in Lena’s eyes, she realises, with Kara herself – every iteration of her, Super and not – as the once-holy Lucifer cast down from on high.

“I have no idea which side of you is real,” Lena snarls, and Kara hears clearly the anguish behind the anger. “I have no idea which parts of you I can trust. And until you have something helpful to offer in figuring out that little riddle, I’m not sure we have anything more to say to one other. So, you can go.”

Heart breaking, ribs shattering, and if only to stop herself burning up or burning down the building under the cracking pressure roiling inside, Kara does.

 

She flies round the world.

She flies round the world eight times, to be specific. Pushes herself harder, faster with every circuit of the globe. Cracks through the sound barrier with an ear-splitting boom that echoes through the skies above National City and doesn’t slow down until the tears pooling in her eyes make it too hard to watch out for any planes that might inadvertently cross her path.

But there’s still too much inside her, too much emotion and energy and agony and she still feels like she might crack in half from the strain of it all, hasn’t managed to tire herself out at all. She shoots straight up into the stratosphere next; keeps flying until her lungs are burning and then some, then doubles over in a quick tuck-and-roll that morphs into a swan dive as she plummets back down to earth headfirst.

She strikes the surface of the Pacific Ocean so hard and so fast that the surface tension of the water feels like concrete against her skin, but she doesn’t care. She dives down, down, down, until everything is pitch black and pressing in around her and she wonders if the water pressure can press the pain out of her, somehow. If it can press out everything inside her; her strength and her power and the lies she uses to cloak them.

Can it rid her of the deceit tightening around her windpipe? Can it crush her uncrushable body until she’s not Super anymore? Until every one of her abilities that might be coveted by others is gone, and there’s nothing left from which to mould a weapon. Until she cannot, physically cannot hurt anyone again.

If she swims deep enough, if the mass compressing her body on all sides becomes great enough, will all the shame and sorrow and guilt and regret inside her be forced out at last? Might she finally be free of it? Might any risk associated with such a move even be worth it, for a shot at such relief?

Her head pounds. She feels the water pressing in around her. Kara wants to scream. Pauses. Considers. Opens her mouth and does just that. The desperate stream of bubbles she releases isn’t as cathartic as she’d hoped. Saltwater floods her throat and Kara sighs, as much as one can sigh while half a mile underwater. Pushes herself tiredly in the direction she vaguely identifies as up.

Breaking the surface isn’t as much of a relief as it probably should be. She should maybe, possibly, be a little more worried about how tempting it was to just stay down there. She spits, salty brine trickling down her chin and ew, was that a shrimp? Did she swallow a live fucking shrimp?

Either way, that’s the least of her problems right now. She pushes tiredly out of the rolling waves, salt crystallising on her skin in the wind as she shoots off in the direction of the nearest coastline. Lands on a deserted stretch of rocky clifftop. NorCal, perhaps, or maybe she’s even made it to Oregon. Lays flat out, seawater pooling on the dusty stone beneath her and finally, finally, lets herself cry.

It’s destructive, probably, what she’s doing; the methods she’s choosing to employ in an attempt to distract from the suffering swelling in her chest. Kelly would certainly not approve.

But what’s the alternative? This? Laying here, prostrate and aching, while a light rain mists down from a flat grey sky. Laying here with no remedy, no solution, no distraction from the way Lena’s words echo round her mind on an interminable loop.

There has to, there has to be something she can do. Some way to fix this, to get through to Lena, to snap them out of the cycle of anger and accusations and inadequate platitudes.

Lena doesn’t know what’s real. Lena doesn’t know what she can trust. Her words echo through Kara’s mind, deafening. I need to believe that you’re not lying to me. That you won’t, you can’t do it again. I need to know.

Again, the metaphorical lightbulb illuminates above Kara’s head.

She sits up, rubbing away the salt crystallising on her eyelashes. Is it from seawater, or tears? Does it matter? Still feeling distinctly like she’s been split open, but with at least the beginnings of an actual actionable plan forming in her mind, she pushes back into the air.

 

She leaves wet footprints on Lena’s balcony.

Kara barely hesitates at the door, this time. It’s still open, after all, so it’s not like she’s breaking and entering. Whether Lena had left this entrance ajar because of the early afternoon breeze or for some other, much more hope-filled and dangerous reason, Kara can’t say.

All she knows is that Lena’s green eyes go wide as saucers when Kara marches into her living room. “What— are you— you’re, you’re dripping,” she manages at last, and if Kara didn’t know better she’d say it was concern lacing her tone. Cursing the treacherous longing that still crawls, beaten and bruised, from the darkest corner of her fragile heart, Kara wishes to god she would learn to know better.

“Sorry,” she mutters but truthfully, Lena’s flooring is the last thing on her mind right now. “Where, where’s the—”

She scans the room, eyes narrowed, until the object of her search announces its presence on Lena’s kitchen counter. Too quick to be intercepted by a human she darts over to the island, snatching up the small disk, ignoring Lena’s gasp of protest.

The Truth Inducer attaches to the bare skin of her inner elbow beneath her rolled-up sleeve with a quiet hiss, a faint blue light illuminating the crook of Kara’s arm.

“You can’t trust me,” she says at last, turning to where Lena has risen from the couch to stand dumbly in the middle of the room, mouth hanging open. “I understand why. But maybe, maybe you’ll trust this. Your technology doesn’t make mistakes, after all.”

“Kara.” Lena’s voice is strangled. “That device was a mistake. You— you don’t have to do this.”

“I know,” she counters immediately. “I want to.”

She takes a step forward. Lena doesn’t move away, but the desolate look in her eyes warns against coming any closer. “You don’t know what’s real. What’s me, and what’s just a mask. So,” Kara says firmly. “I want to tell you.”

A strange sense of calm had swept over her the second Lena’s device had affixed itself to her skin. Her voice is steadier than it’s been in weeks, her words measured and lacking any of their characteristic fumbling hesitation. The net result, she supposes, of not needing to decide whether or not to be truthful. Of there only being one possible option.

“I want you to know,” she begins, with the serenity of one resigned to their fate, “that I am more sorry for hurting you than I have ever been for anything in my life.”

Lena’s teeth are digging hard into the plush of her bottom lip. “This, this isn’t right, you can’t just—”

“I want you to know,” Kara continues, needing these words to be said at least once without doubt cast on their authenticity, “that while I had my reasons for keeping my identity from you, none of them are worth the hurt it’s caused you. Or the pain it’s caused me to hurt you.”

Lena’s eyes are hard, but with an edge of desperation to them that makes Kara think her harsh demeanour in this moment is born more from a need for self-preservation than any real anger. “Kara, please. Stop.”

Kara shakes her head. She’d lasso the moon if Lena asked her to, but she can’t not say this. “Not until you’ve heard me, Lena. You don’t trust my intentions. You can’t trust my feelings for you. Obviously, I haven’t been clear enough before, so let me be clear now.” She sucks in a breath so deep it’s almost painful. “I love you.”

Lena’s breathing hitches in her chest even as her eyes narrow. “I— I don’t want to hear it.”

“Well, I need to say it.” Blue eyes meet green, both refusing to back down. “I’m in love with you, Lena. I’ve loved you for years. And I know that we’ve hurt each other, broken each other. I know that we’re a mess. But I love you. With every single part of me. With everything I’ve got left.”

Lena isn’t breathing, even as her heart thuds out a panicked bassline in her chest.

Kara will not look away from her. “Lying to you, withholding my truth— it shattered us once already. I’m not going to make that mistake again. I’m sure I’ll make others,” she says, a self-deprecating twist to her lips. “But I won’t hide from you, Lena. I won’t hide anything.”

A tiny, broken noise rises in Lena’s throat. A deep crinkle has formed between her eyebrows, her throat working. “You, you can’t just— this doesn’t negate—”

“I know,” Kara says quickly. “I know. I’m not trying to brush over everything I’ve done. But it, it breaks my heart to know it took so little to convince you I didn’t care for you at all. You were so quick to doubt our entire relationship, so easily persuaded that I didn’t— that I never—”

Kara’s voice cracks. She swallows hard around the lump in her throat. “And that’s on me. I obviously never made it clear to you how much you mean to me, before. Never told you enough that you might just be the most important—” She clears her throat, cheeks burning. “So I need you to know now, without a doubt: I love you. You mean the world to me, Lena.”

Lena’s eyes are sparkling in the low grey light, glittering and pained. “This isn’t fair,” she whispers brokenly. “How can I— after everything, I can’t just—”

“You don’t have to,” Kara hastens to reassure. “I’m telling you this because I need you to know. Not because I have any kind of agenda, not for— not for hope of reciprocation. Just for you to know.”

She clenches her fists, nails digging hard into bulletproof skin. “You don’t have to say anything. You can tell me to leave and never come back if you like. But for as long as you want me around, I’m going to keep telling you. I’ll tell you until you believe it. Until you can trust it.”

Two tears break free from green eyes, tracking diamond paths over pale cheeks. Even from across the room Kara can see that Lena is trembling. She aches to close the distance between them, but keeps herself rooted to the spot.

“And if you never want me,” she forces out, despite the way the words stick and burn in her throat. “If you never want to see me again, or you never want me the way— the way I want you, that’s fine. Really. I don’t ever want to pressure you. I just thought you should know that, well— I’m done.”

She hadn’t planned to say this but the second the words leave her lips, it feels right. Wholly and unequivocally. “I’m done fighting how I feel. I’m done looking for something I won’t ever find with anyone but you. And I’m done wasting time not telling you the truth. As far as I’m concerned, I could love you every day for the rest of my life and it still wouldn’t be enough.”

Lena is sucking in tiny shuddering breaths, tears flowing freely over her cheeks as she bites hard at her bottom lip. Kara waits a moment, gives her a chance to respond. She doesn’t.

“Okay,” Kara says a little shakily, worrying at the inside of her cheek with her teeth. “Well. I’ll, um. I’ll give you some space. Just wanted to, y’know, tell you all of— um.” She reaches a hand up to tug at her ear, suddenly painfully self-conscious of the way her soul lays bared between them.

She swallows roughly. “Well, like I said, you have me, Lena. I’m yours. If you ever want that. And if not, at least— at least you’ll know.”

Still, Lena is silent. Still, tears stream unimpeded down her face.

With her heart in her throat – at least, whatever’s left of her heart; whatever she hasn’t just handed to Lena on a silver platter to do with as she pleases – Kara reaches down. Tugs the Truth Inducer from her skin with a faint hiss, lays it carefully back on the marble countertop.

“Okay,” Kara says again, quieter this time. “I’ll go.” And, finally, she does.

 

She doesn’t hear from Lena for two days.

It hurts, but not like before. Lena’s silence, her absence; it still leaves her feeling hollowed-out and cold. But the frantic, manic energy that had driven her relentless pursuit of the younger woman over the past weeks has dissipated, replaced now with a wave of calm resignation.

Since she’d used the Truth Inducer, since she’d pushed the last hidden piece of her heart out into the light between them, she can’t help but feel that she’s submitted. She’s surrendered. Lena holds all her cards at last; the next gambit is up to her. Whether she’ll choose to show her own hand or flip the table and walk out the door never to return, Kara can’t say.

All she knows is that if Lena does go, now— if she does cut herself completely out of Kara’s life, does untether their destinies once and for all, at least she’ll go with the knowledge that she is loved. That she has never been hated, never mistrusted. Only ever adored.

No longer compelled by the frenzied need to track down Lena’s whereabouts at any given moment of the day, Kara – for the first time in a long time – turns her attention to other things.

Finding herself for once in her life craving quiet rather than a constant stream of input and chatter and stimulation, she uses her Saturday morning to fly upstate. Touches down in Sequoia National Park amongst a grove of giant redwoods, pausing for a moment to drink in the silence.

It’s an early morning in the off-season and raining to boot, so the usually popular park is quiet. Only a few hardcore hikers pass her as she wanders amongst the giant trunks and though there are a few quirked brows and inquisitive looks, they all seem too damp and determined to waste much energy wondering what the Girl of Steel is doing trekking through the trees.

And what trees they are. At three hundred feet tall and thirty feet wide, the giant sequoias radiate the kind of unshakeable serenity that Kara, as the strongest being on the planet, usually finds in short supply. Like the immensity of the Pacific Ocean that had so drawn her to Midvale and then to National City, like the snow-covered Kaznian mountains standing tall enough to pierce the sky, the sheer size of these trees makes them feel indestructible.

They’re not, of course. With a bit of concerted effort Kara knows she could uproot one, swing it like a baseball bat and take out a couple more. But compared to the world she usually inhabits, the world Red Daughter had inhabited – everything brittle and breakable: glass, metal, concrete, people – these trees feel sturdy. Steadfast and sure.

She rests a palm against the rough bark then leans her whole bodyweight against it, cheek moulding to the striated wood. Some of these trees are over three thousand years old, she recalls suddenly. She and Lena had watched a documentary about them, once upon a time.

These trees have stood through so much. Through innovation and industrialisation and invasion and insurrection. These trees have been alive longer than her planet has been dead and the thought is a comfort to her, somehow. When she’d been on Krypton with her family, still happy and healthy and whole, these trees were here. And now, when everything she once knew is gone, they’re here still.

She spreads her arms, fingertips stretched to the max around the incredible girth of the tree and still barely making an indent in its circumference. With her body pressed tight to the trunk in a mutilated attempt at a hug, Kara laughs.

Here they are, this tree and her. The giant sequoia; the biggest, tallest, oldest living thing on the planet; and her, the strongest. Superlatives, the pair of them— mortal incarnations of the world’s extremes. Both bearing witness to more in their lifetimes than most could even fathom. Both still standing despite it all.

She inhales deeply, breathing in the damp, the earthy quiet. It reminds her of the taiga, the silver birch trees standing sentinel over the Kaznian wilderness. It reminds her of the power rooting through this planet, power she and these trees have figured out how to harness.

It reminds her that power doesn’t always mean force and destruction. It reminds her that being the most of anything doesn’t mean inevitably becoming a weapon. Sometimes it means calm. Sometimes it means patience. Sometimes it means endurance. Sometimes, it takes power just to stay standing.

Kara takes a deep breath, takes a step back, and stands.

 

Her phone rings late on Sunday night.

She answers at the first vibration. Sure, it might have been nice to pretend that she wasn’t quite this eager, hadn’t spent her entire weekend waiting for this very call, but who would she be fooling?

“Lena?”

“Kara.” The voice on the other end of the line is surprised, almost. Like Lena had expected to have longer to ready herself for this interaction. Like she’d been counting on a couple extra seconds of prep time.

“Hi,” Kara swallows, closing her eyes and soaking up the precious sound of Lena’s voice. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Lena answers, and there’s enough solemnity behind the words that Kara thinks they’re probably true, thinks it’s probably taken a lot for Lena to reach this point. “How are you?”

It does sting, how stilted their interactions have become. But at least this is an interaction, she supposes. She smiles into the phone cradled to her ear, small and sad. “Better now.”

“Yes,” Lena says, and Kara hears the deep breath she sucks in before continuing. “I’m— sorry, that it’s taken me this long to reach out. You were open and honest with me, and I left you hanging.”

“It’s o—” Kara starts reflexively, but Lena cuts her off.

“You don’t have to excuse my behaviour just because I’m angry at you, you know,” she says quietly, and Kara’s mouth clicks shut. Lena inhales heavily.

“Kara, I called because I want to tell you that I appreciate the gesture you made by using the Truth Inducer. I— I appreciate everything you told me. I’m, I’m not sure I’m ready to respond yet, but—” Kara hears her swallow thickly. “I heard you.”

Kara’s own throat is tight suddenly, clogged with the terrifying aftertaste of the words she’d spoken, the confessions she’d made. Her voice cracks when she tries to respond. “Good. Okay. Good.”

It’s quiet for a long moment. Kara listens to the steady cadence of Lena’s breathing down the line. Closes her eyes and imagines that she’s here, beside her in bed. Close enough to reach out and touch.

“So,” she gets up the courage to whisper after a full minute of silence between them. “What now?”

She hears the sound of shifting fabric, the creak of leather, and imagines Lena straightening in her seat. They’re getting to the crux of it now, she knows. She braces herself.

“I— I think I need some time.”

Kara sucks in a sharp breath, and Lena’s voice softens. “So much has happened between us and I need— I need time, and space to process it. Properly. Healthily,” she says with a wry chuckle, and Kara wants to bottle the sound and save it for her loneliest nights. “I know it’s not my strongest suit. But I’m trading in Truth Inducers for therapy, so we’ll see how it goes.”

“Okay,” Kara croaks, throat still closed over. The thought that shooting her own brother in the chest wasn’t painful enough to push Lena to seek therapy, but that Kara’s betrayal was, weighs on her mind like a Kryptonite ball and chain. “What, what can I do? What do you need from me?”

Lena sucks in another deep breath. Her words are rehearsed, her tone measured and polite and it hurts to think she has to put up her walls around Kara, now. Has to put on her mask when Kara has finally, finally removed her own. “I’m asking you to respect my boundaries. To give me that space, that time, for now at least. I don’t— I don’t want to do any more damage to you, Kara.”

Maybe it’s the pain, the self-flagellation in Lena’s tone, or maybe it’s the explicit acknowledgment that Lena still cares enough to not actively desire her suffering, but Kara feels tears prickle at the corners of her eyes.

“So I’m asking you to wait. Until I’m strong enough to do this. Until I’m in control enough to address this safely. Properly. And if you agree—” Lena’s voice turns hesitant, anxious. “In return, I promise I will reach out. No more stonewalling. I will contact you. I’m just asking you to wait until I’m ready.”

“Okay,” Kara manages at last, swallowing down the lump that’s taken up residence in her throat. “I can do that, of course I can. Whatever you need.”

Lena lets out a long breath that sounds like relief. “Thank you.”

How Lena still doesn’t understand that Kara would do pretty much anything for her, would say yes to anything she asked, she doesn’t know. But that seems like a conversation for another time.

She takes a deep breath, and as her diaphragm expands she feels the tiniest kernel of hope burrow into the warm dark space behind her sternum. “So. You’ll call?”

For the first time in weeks, Lena’s voice has a smile to it. “I’ll call.”

 

Lena isn’t ready that week, or the one following.

Not that Kara really expects her to be. She knows these things can’t be rushed. Knows that the magnitude of the deception Lena has to work through, the pain she’s suffering at Kara’s own hand, has no easy remedy. She just, she misses her, is all.

But things are, they are better than before. Not quite so hopeless. And it’s a weight off her shoulders now, knowing that the only thing she can and should be doing to improve their relationship is to keep to the promise she’s made. To respect Lena’s space, and wait until she’s ready.

With this mantra at the forefront of her mind, she turns her freed-up attention back on herself. Invests more time and energy in her job, her family, her friendships. Cleans her apartment top to bottom. Helps J’onn crack a detective case, helps Nia pitch her first big solo story idea to Snapper and takes her out for celebratory drinks when he grumpily gives it the green light.

She still feels the need to punch a few tons of solid steel into submission from time to time, if only to expel some of the restless energy in her muscles, but surely that’s only to be expected. And it’s a far safer coping mechanism than a lot of the ones she’s been employing lately. If beating up the occasional hunk of metal is what she needs to do to be able to get through another week without the woman she loves, she’s not going to worry too much about it.

After all, it’s an exercise in self-restraint, to wait for Lena. But then, so is 90% of Kara’s existence, so. What’s a little more?

 

Kara reads a lot.

Increasingly, she finds herself shunning her usual television preferences in favour of picking up a book. She devours them, superspeeding through words and pages so quickly that she makes it to the end of her bookshelf within a week.

Hungry for more, she quickly becomes a regular at the quirky bookstore three blocks over, with its diminutive and opinionated Italian owner and her one-eyed black cat, Soffi. She blasts through dramas, historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, scoffing quietly to herself at all the science human authors get disastrously wrong. She reads non-fiction, biographies, poetry and chick lit— really, anything she can get her hands on. The only section she avoids is political theory. Making it through Gramsci and Machiavelli once is more than enough for one lifetime, even if that lifetime wasn’t technically hers.

Perusing one afternoon on her way home from work, scratching absentmindedly behind Soffi’s ears while the cat purrs so hard she almost vibrates clean off the counter, Kara’s eyes snag on a Russian language textbook on the bottom shelf of the store’s international section. She buys it before she can think too hard about it and settles down to get started that very evening, downloading the app complete with listening exercises and setting out her notebook and pen like she’s back in junior high.

No sooner has she hit play on the first audio file; no sooner has she skimmed through the textbook’s first chapter when it’s like the floodgates open in her mind. Suddenly she’s thinking in Russian, speaking in Russian, her accent flawless as the words roll off her tongue with ease.

It’s not like she’s absorbed the entire content of the language course in the past thirty seconds. It’s more like hearing Russian spoken, seeing it written on the page before her, is the key with which that part of her mind – Red Daughter’s mind – unlocks. She can recall it all suddenly: phonology and morphology, synthetic-inflectional structure, the Cyrillic alphabet.

She aches for it, suddenly; aches to hear and speak it the way she had with Kryptonian when she’d first arrived on Earth. Aches for the continuity, the familiarity of it; familiarity that shouldn’t be hers but somehow is now anyway.

That’s how she comes to find herself flying to Kaznia when she should be writing her newest article on interspecies solidarity within National City’s LGBTQ scene. That’s how she comes to find herself touching down in the small town of Alykel, the closest settlement to the burnt-out ruins of Mikhail’s home, just as the sun is beginning to peek pale and watery over the winter horizon.

She fishes her glasses out of her boot, lets her suit dematerialise in a back alley, then wanders the streets as the town begins to wake. Hearing Russian spoken on every corner – children shouting to one another in greeting, friends chatting on their walk to work, drivers yelling – it warms her heart. It calms her.

She feels closer to Red Daughter here than anywhere, though she’d no more been Kaznian than Kara herself is American. Here, she feels none of the anger and frustration she’s used to associating with her sister-clone in her day to day life back in National City. Here, Red Daughter isn’t an intrusion, a new and unwelcome addition to be squeezed into the too-small confines of Kara’s already established life. Here, she belongs. Here, she can just be.

And here, Kara begins to feel not resentment toward her but sadness. She watches the children throwing snowballs, the teenage girls giggling in shop doorways, and she thinks about the life Red Daughter might have had here if she hadn’t been scooped up by the military. If she hadn’t been scooped up by Lex.

If Kara hadn’t found her, if no one had found her, she probably would have wandered into this town eventually. Maybe a stranger on the street would have helped her. Maybe a kindly shopkeeper would have given her food and warm clothes. Maybe she would have been taken in by a local family, just like Kara herself had. Maybe she could have been loved. Maybe she could have lived.

It’s a waste, such an astronomical waste, and Kara lifts her chin to blink back tears that have gathered before they can freeze to her cheeks in the Arctic temperatures. That’s what she sees when she comes to this country. All the waste.

The wasted time and effort and military resources that left Kaznia crippled, yet another pawn in Lex Luthor’s twisted games. The waste of Red Daughter’s life, of her potential. Not just as a weapon more powerful than any but Kara herself, but as a person. As herself, as Kara’s sister, as everything she might have one day become had the chance not been ripped from her far too soon.

And still, ever-burning in the back of her throat like insoluble acid, is the wasted life of Mikhail. A boy, a child slaughtered as a pawn between players infinitely more powerful than himself. Red Daughter had saved him the night his home was attacked by brigands only to place him, unwittingly, right in Lex’s firing line.

She’d known it, too. After the revelation of Lex’s betrayal and manipulation, after witnessing the ugliness of his true intentions, Red Daughter had pieced it together. Who had really been responsible for Mikhail’s death, and who had put the little boy in such a vulnerable situation in the first place.

It, he, had been her last thought, Kara realises. At the end, lying in Kara’s arms, mere seconds from death, her mind had been consumed by only one thing. мне жаль. I’m sorry.

At the time, Kara had thought the apology had been to her. Now, she’s not so sure.

Without conscious thought, her feet bring her to a stop in front of a dilapidated concrete building. Squat and ugly, the paint is peeling badly, some of the window frames almost rotted away. She glances at the faded sign above the door. детский дом. Orphanage.

Mikhail had had friends at this orphanage. He’d told Red Daughter about them; how they’d play soccer together, or hide and seek in the forest. How they’d toss sticks into the creek in the middle of summer and watch them race downstream, betting on whose would get there fastest.

He’d told her how many of the children there didn’t have shoes that fit, how their winter boots had holes worn clean through the soles. He’d told her how often his friends had gone hungry.

Kara takes a deep breath, wipes away the last of her tears, and knocks on the door.

 

She starts to visit the orphanage every week.

She brings clothes, blankets, and money to buy more. She brings food, toys, toiletries, baby supplies. She starts to fix the place up, repairing crumbling plaster and peeling paint. She pays in cash, with dollars she’d converted to rubles in a bureau de change back in National City, for the building to get new double-glazing, better insulation, an upgraded boiler.

The orphanage director is wary at first, and understandably so. He asks for background checks, identification, reassurance. But he’s so understaffed, so underfunded, that a rich white American donor willing to put in desperately-needed maintenance work on a volunteer basis ends up being too good an opportunity to pass up.

He doesn’t ask where she goes for the rest of the week when she’s not in Alykel every Saturday morning. He doesn’t mention how quickly she works, or how easily she lifts planks and doors and furniture.

Once, while she’s hefting a roll of insulation past the open door to his office, the news station on his television is playing a clip of Supergirl defeating Lex Luthor at Shelley Island. It’s so surprising, seeing her own face splashed across his screen like that, that she smacks straight into the doorframe, only narrowly avoiding taking a chunk out of the wall.

The director, Viktor, glances up from his files at the disturbance. His eyes fall on the news clip, then flit to her face, and back again. Kara’s cheeks are burning hotter than a supernova under the weight of his scrutiny and she watches in real time as his eyes widen in suspicion, in realisation. But a moment later his face relaxes. He taps his pen twice against the side of his nose, and smiles.

She doesn’t interact much with the children. It’s not appropriate, she doesn’t want them to get attached and anyway, it’s too painful. Seeing them all – the boys especially, the ones who are old enough to run around – is just a reminder of what she, they, have lost.

But they’ve become accustomed to her presence now and they crowd her when she arrives with arms full of packages, eager to see what she’s brought for them this week. And somehow, it’s enough. Being there, doing something to help – close enough to make a difference, to feel that echo of connection without getting so close that she could hurt anyone again – it’s enough.

She never forgets Mikhail’s face. She still sees it in her nightmares. But the memories of his screams, of the burnt-out remains of his home, are joined now by memories of children smiling and laughing, of gasps of delight at the sight of new teddy bears and clothes to keep them warm in the snow.

It doesn’t stop the blows of guilt and regret and despair striking her like a thunderbolt in the blink of an eye. But it softens them, just a little. If her life, her existence as the aggregate of so many parts of herself, boils down to a pile of good things and bad things she’s inflicted on her surroundings, then being here with these children and helping them however she can is at least a step toward encouraging the former to overshadow the latter.

With the way her life has been going lately, a step in the right direction might just be the best she can hope for.

 

It’s three weeks and four days before Lena calls.

Kara’s just about to take an absolutely obscene bite of pizza, grease already poised to drip all over her sweats, when her phone rings. Her eyes land on Lena’s name and Kara all but hurls her slice back into the box, ignoring Alex’s noise of shock and grabbing her phone before vaulting out of the window. Whatever Lena’s got to say to her is likely not going to be easy, and she’d rather hear it in private. She’d rather be alone with Lena, ideally, but if she can’t have that she can at least do this.

She settles on the roof of Alex’s building, ignoring the grumbling about the interruption of sister night two floors below, and wipes her fingers hastily. It’s a cool clear night and she stares up at the waning moon as she answers the call, imagining – as cliché as it sounds – that Lena might just be looking up at the very same view right now.

“Hello?”

“Hi.”

Lena’s voice, even just that one syllable, is so beautiful she could cry. Kara closes her eyes for a moment, feels something unclench inside her that’s been twinging for almost a month.

“You called,” she breathes, reverent and a little awed.

Lena chuckles softly, and Kara wants to kiss her. “Well, I did promise.”

“How, how are you?” she asks hesitantly, unsure where the new lines in the sand between them have been drawn. Unsure of what now constitutes appropriate interest; at what point she’ll begin to overstep.

“I’m— better,” Lena says after a moment’s hesitation. “A little, at least.” Another pause, bordering on awkward before she returns the courtesy. “And you?”

Again, the formality stings. But not as much as the hostility of the past, so she’ll take it. “I’m okay,” she says, because it’s the only answer she feels comfortable sharing that’s true. “I, um. I miss you.”

The words hang heavy, suspended in the static between them. Lena sucks in an unsteady breath before she speaks again. “Thank you for waiting. For— for me to be ready.”

“Of course.” She sinks her teeth into the meat of her cheek to distract from the bite, the wound the lack of reciprocation leaves. “So… you’re ready, now?”

“I’ve had… a lot to work through,” Lena begins haltingly. “It’s a process. And a part of that process is trying to come to terms with— there’s a lot I still don’t understand,” she says, voice tremulous and soft in the wind-tossed night. “I was wondering if you’d be willing to meet with me. So— so we can talk.”

“Of course I will, Lena, I’d—” I’d love to see you, she just barely bites back. Sucks in a harsh breath through her nose, reconsiders. “Wherever, whenever. Whatever you need.”

Lena lets out a breath it sounds like she’d been holding in for a while. “How about coffee?”

Absently, Kara wonders what she’s done to deserve this. She’s not sure she believes in the notion of karma, the idea of some great cosmic balance. If it does exist, it always seems to tip away from her, somehow.

But maybe, maybe all the suffering and the loss and each and every person the great uncaring universe has ripped away from her are being recognised at last. Maybe that’s why she’s being given this, this most precious of second chances.

Kara’s eyes slide closed. The fingers of her right hand wrap tight around her own thumb and she can almost imagine, beneath the warmth and the pressure, that it’s Lena holding her hand.

“Yeah,” she breathes, and relief is too flimsy a word to encompass the feeling swelling in her chest right now. “I could do coffee.”

 

Lena’s invitation comes with conditions.

They agree to meet in a public place, on neutral ground; a coffee shop on Chestnut Kara’s familiar with for its privacy and discretion. They agree to meet the following Sunday, so as not to clash with either of their work schedules. And they agree, most crucially of all, to honesty. Full and complete. Without it, they’ll be doomed before they even begin.

Kara passes the days leading up to coffee with Lena vibrating at a frequency only detectable to dogs. Her frantic, manic energy earns her multiple disgruntled encounters with her co-workers, and several irritated shoves from Alex when her restlessly bouncing leg upends her sister’s beer bottle all over the coffee table.

She puts her hyperactivity to good use at the orphanage on Saturday morning, at least. Shovels all the snow from the paths and walkways and then does the whole rest of the street and the sidewalks too, just because. She’s tempted to just heat vision it all away, but purple lasers against white snow aren’t exactly inconspicuous.

She stays longer than she usually would, fixing a leak in the roof and chopping an endless supply of wood for the building’s many fireplaces until Viktor points out that they’ve run out of storage space and gently asks her to stop. She’s trying to tire herself out, she realises, so that she can fly back across multiple time zones and crawl into bed and sleep until Sunday morning and Lena.

But it doesn’t work, of course. The blessing and curse of her powers is that it takes an exorbitant amount of activity to truly wear her out, and apparently chopping a small forest’s worth of firewood just doesn’t quite cut it.

She flies home at last, sleeps only half as long as she’d have liked, and fidgets her way restlessly through the next twelve hours until she can begin getting ready for her meeting with Lena three hours early.

After two showers and eight outfit changes, after trying and failing to force herself to focus on her current book, an old rerun on the TV, anything, she finally shows up at the agreed-upon café twenty minutes early.

She’s shifting nervously from foot to foot, staring unseeing at the menu board, when a voice at her elbow makes her jump. She whirls to see Lena, face pale above her red knitted scarf. Her fingers twist together nervously as she stares up at her, wide-eyed.

“You’re early.”

 

Kara almost bites her tongue in half. She says the first thing that comes to mind.

“So are you.”

Lena’s face softens, an unspoken understanding shining in her eyes. They queue quietly, collecting their coffees and settling down in a quiet corner booth away from the hustle of the main café.

“It’s good to see you,” she can’t stop herself from saying. Because it is, truly. Even though Lena looks tired, looks sad. Even though she has her hands folded primly in her lap like she’s under the microscope at one of Lillian’s cotillion lessons. The sight of her still makes Kara’s heart flip over in her chest.

“You, too,” Lena murmurs quietly, and Kara thinks she might even mean it.

They take a sip of their drinks in perfect synchronicity and when Kara chuckles at their coordination, Lena smiles.

“So,” the dark-haired woman says at length, fingers looped around her mug but loosely, no longer clenching. “Like I said to you on the phone, I’ve— I’ve been going to therapy. Trying to work through everything. And, well. My therapist suggested that instead of making assumptions about things I don’t understand, perhaps it would be healthier—” a corner of her mouth lifts at the word, and Kara feels her own lips tug upward in response, “—if I just talked to you about them instead.”

Kara nods, but doesn’t speak. It seems that Lena has rehearsed this, and she doesn’t want to interrupt. Doesn’t want to do anything to ruin this tentative truce.

“So, if you’re amenable, that’s what I’d like to do,” Lena says quietly, biting her lip. “To meet, perhaps once or twice a week, and talk. To tell you how I feel. To be able to ask you questions, and have you answer honestly. And—”

At last she leans forward, regal demeanour disintegrating as she rests her hands on the table between them, a gesture of supplication. “Not just me. You, too. This, us, it’s a two-way street. I’m sure you also have things you’d like to say, like to ask me. I know—” She swallows hard. “I know you’re not the only one in the wrong here, Kara. I know I’m not the only one who’s been hurt.”

Kara’s throat tightens as her face scrunches, trying hard not to give in to the hot prickle of tears. Still, Lena watches her with wide, hopeful eyes. Still, her hands lie on the table between them. Not yet bridging the distance, but nevertheless beginning to reach out.

“So,” Lena says quietly after a long moment, anxious and expectant. “What do you think?”

Kara swallows hard. Feels that kernel of hope behind her sternum put out its first tentative shoot.

“Yeah,” she whispers, voice only a little unsteady. “I think I’d like that.”

 

They agree on a schedule.

Wednesday evenings after work, and Sunday mornings. Neutral locations, unless one of them can’t get away from the office. And never for too long; never too much in one go. Baby steps. Careful steps. But steps nonetheless.

By the end of their conversation Kara feels lighter than she has in months. They have a plan, a proposed solution; one that grants her time with Lena while requiring nothing from her but the honesty she should have been employing from the start.

When they’ve both drained the dregs of their cups and have risen from their seats, she walks Lena to the door and pauses beside her on the empty sidewalk. “Thank you,” she murmurs quietly and it takes every iota of her self-restraint not to reach out, to touch Lena somehow. “For this, all of it. For giving me another chance. For— for trying again.”

A corner of Lena’s mouth quirks up, just a little. “Well you know, I think I told you once. New beginnings are sort of my thing.”

Kara smiles, a real smile, one that warms her from the inside out. Lena doesn’t return it, not fully, but in her eyes is a lightness Kara had legitimately feared she might never see again.

“So,” the younger woman hums. “I’ll see you on Wednesday?”

“Wednesday,” Kara agrees as Lena nods, scanning the street for her town car. “Get home safe,” she says quietly just as Lena’s beginning to turn away. “I love you.”

Green eyes snap back to her face whip-fast, Lena’s features drawn tight in unmitigated shock.

Kara shrugs, nibbling nervously at her lower lip. “It wasn’t a one-time, Truth-Inducer-induced-only deal, you know. I told you I would keep telling you,” she says at Lena’s stunned silence. “Until you can believe it.”

For a long moment they just stare at each other. Kara forces herself not to fidget, not to look away, not to do anything that might detract from the sincerity of her statement.

Lena leaves without another word.

 

When Kara tells Alex about her and Lena’s agreement, her sister hugs her so hard that she almost, almost feels it.

“I’m so glad, I’m so glad,” Alex murmurs against her shoulder. “I hate seeing you hurt, Kara. I hate that you’re both suffering. I hope, God I hope you find your way back to each other.”

Kara slips her own arms around her sister’s shoulders, squeezes back as tight as she dares. “Me too.”

The ache that’s hollowed out inside her ribs ever since she and Lena had fallen apart feels smaller, now. Just a fraction less ravenous, a smidge less likely to devour everything inside her in its desperation. She floats through the beginning of her work week on autopilot, calmer than she’s been in a long time. Manages to refocus some of her attention on her role at Catco. Remembers again why she loves being a reporter. Why she’s good at it, too.

Wednesday evening rolls around and Kara slings her messenger bag over her shoulder, opting to walk the fifteen blocks to the Lebanese coffee place at which they’d agreed to meet. She runs into Lena just outside the entrance, holds the door open for her as they go in and gets a genuine smile in response.

Settled on one of the low couches along the back wall, she takes an appreciative sip of her cardamom mint tea. They move through a little small talk, light jokes and generic anecdotes about their weeks but the point of this meeting is not lost on either of them, looming omnipresent in the background.

“So,” Lena says at last, one finger hooked daintily through the handle of her espresso mug. “Is there anything you’d like to say to me, today? Anything you’d like to ask?”

“Um,” Kara fudges, as if there hasn’t been a barrage of questions poised on the very tip of her tongue for the past three days. Lena looks at her like she knows exactly what she’s thinking, one eyebrow quirked in gentle amusement, so Kara gives up the act.

“Yes, actually.” She sucks in a deep breath, takes another calming sip of tea. “Why did you cancel the launch of the Truth Inducer? Why— why don’t you want it anymore?”

Lena’s quiet for a moment, considering her answer without launching straight into defence or a counter-attack, and Kara appreciates it more than she can say.

“The Truth Inducer was a mistake,” she says slowly, eyes on the table. “I see that now. I saw it on the day of the launch. That’s why I cancelled it. But it— it did take me a while, to reach that point.”

She chuckles, mouth twisting into a self-deprecating smile. “I’m a scientist. And more than that, I’m a Luthor. I’m pragmatic to a fault.” Her fingertips drum lightly against the mug in her hands. “I was hurt, I was so hurt, and I wanted to stop it ever happening again. I felt I had to neutralise the thing that hurt me. Lies.”

Kara’s stomach twists at the pain still evident in Lena’s tone, in her words, but she bites her tongue. After all, part of this agreement is not only talking, but listening.

“Lying is— it’s a trigger for me, I suppose,” Lena says with a tiny chuckle. “My biggest trigger. Every time someone I love has lied to me, they’ve broken my heart. Lillian and Lionel lied about my birth, my true family, and I grew up unwanted and alone. Lex lied to me. He told me that we wanted the same things, that we would always be on the same side, and I woke up ziptied to a chair after he’d turned the sun red.”

She sucks in a shuddering breath. “Eve Tessmacher lied to my face every day, and then she pulled a gun on me and almost helped my brother destroy the world.”

Kara’s chest tightens at the impending, inevitable progression of Lena’s story. She knows the next name on the list of people to break Lena’s heart will be her own.

Lena shakes her head, clearing her throat. “When the emotions became too much, I retreated into science,” she says, avoiding Kara’s gaze. “But pragmatism combined with my tunnel vision— well. You saw what happened.” Her eyes lift to Kara’s at last. “I wasn’t exactly at my most rational.”

“You were hurt, I understand that,” Kara says quietly. “But— what changed? What made you decide you didn’t need a Truth Inducer anymore?”

Lena’s lips press together hard. “It’s not that I no longer needed one. A part of me, the most insecure part, would still like that guarantee. But I suppose I came to look at the situation another way, beyond the microcosm of my own pain.” She sucks in a deep breath. “We have free will, all of us. We have the capacity to lie, and we have the right to decide to lie. And— you were right. There are times when lying is necessary. To categorically take away that choice, that option, would not have been an improvement.”

Her eyes raise to meet Kara’s again. “The idea of being lied to still terrifies me,” she admits. “But I realised something else, too. I can decide to lie to you whenever I want, and you to me. But we also have to deal with the consequences of that decision.”

Lena’s gaze is unwavering and sure. “For the most part, the consequences of lying to the people closest to me will not outweigh the benefits. That’s what will keep me honest. Not a piece of technology.”

Lena stares at her, and Kara can’t shake the feeling that she’s being seen, really seen, body and soul. Lena’s voice is calm, resigned. “All I can do is hope that those around me feel the same way.”

 

They don’t talk in the interceding days.

But on Sunday morning Lena calls to arrange their meeting, and she sounds lighter than she has in a long time. Since the weather’s improving and Lena has been stuck inside all week, she suggests a walk along the sea wall. Kara agrees, promising to meet an hour later and ending the conversation the same way she had at the café a week previous, the same way she’d said goodbye at the Lebanese coffee house. “Bye, Lena. Love you.”

Lena doesn’t say it back. But, Kara realises with honest to god sincerity and no small amount of surprise, it doesn’t matter. Because after four years of tiptoeing around the well of emotions in her chest, she knows how she feels. She’s confident in her love for Lena. All that matters, all that is under her control now is to make sure Lena can one day be confident in it, too.

They meet, aptly enough, in front of the enormous Supergirl statue Lena had unveiled at the waterfront two years previously. Kara arrives to find Lena staring up at the carved figure, expression unreadable.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you,” she says as she comes to a stop beside her, elbows just brushing through the barriers of their winter coats. “When I think now of how much would have been easier if you’d known, of how much we might have helped each other, I feel like such a fool.”

Lena doesn’t respond aloud. She nudges her elbow against Kara’s once, a deliberate acknowledgment, and turns to begin their walk.

The morning is dry but overcast, the thick cloud reflecting moodily in the roiling waters of the bay. They talk about Lex’s death, about how Lena had discovered the truth under the worst possible circumstances. They talk about Kara’s decision to finally come clean. They talk about the countless other times over the years that she’d almost, almost told the truth. They talk about why, in the end, she never did.

They’ve walked for miles, out of the central downtown district and along the sea wall to Mason Park, the waves lapping the rocky coastline below their feet. They pause at a food truck parked next to a playground and Kara buys them both hot chocolates to warm Lena’s numbing fingers.

Drinks in hand and side by side as they stare out at the churning waters of the Pacific, Kara has to admit she feels lighter. Despite the heavy topic of conversation, despite the focus on her own falsehoods and deceptions, it feels good to finally, finally be honest. But there’s one specific lie that hasn’t yet been addressed, and she finds she’s unable to let it go.

“Why did you pretend, after you found out?” she asks quietly, keeping her gaze fixed on the ocean even as she feels Lena’s gaze snap to her face. “Why did you keep acting like everything was fine? Like we were still— friends?”

Her voice catches on the last word, snagging on the memory of Lena’s thighs draped across hers on the couch, of Lena’s lips mere inches from her own and closing the distance with every heartbeat. From the flush that crawls into Lena’s pale cheeks, she knows she’s not alone in her reminiscence.

Lena is silent a long time before she answers, fingernails picking absently at a loose corner of the label on her disposable coffee cup.

“When my brother told me the truth about you, I was devastated,” she says at last, voice quiet and sombre as the gathering clouds. “I think I was also in shock. It felt like the entire world had flipped upside down, and I was left reeling.” She huffs out a chuckle, tearing a piece of the label from her cup and shredding it between her fingers. “The truth is that I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. I just kept pretending that nothing had changed. And it worked for me, in more ways than one.”

Kara stays quiet, listening. Watches an otter bob along in the waves for a moment before diving, one quick flick of its tail visible before it disappears completely.

“My vindictive side wanted revenge; I can admit that.” Lena whispers. “A part of me wanted to make you hurt the way your hurt me. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.”

Kara nods. Blinks as she feels a single raindrop land cold on her forehead. Lena doesn’t even flinch, her eyes far away, lost in something far more pressing than a light drizzle.

“A part of me wanted to see how far you would go,” she continues. “How long you would keep up the lies. If there was any line you wouldn’t cross. And I got my answer.” Lena smiles, then; part sad, part wistful. “You wouldn’t kiss me.”

Kara feels the tips of her ears heat up even as the rain gets heavier, but Lena’s not done yet.

“But you were right, when you said I was lying to myself as well,” she says, fingers twisting so hard at the label on her cup that half of it rips off in one smooth movement. “I was so angry, so hurt by you, but I didn’t want to leave you. I didn’t want to cut you off, cut you out of my life.”

Kara’s not even breathing now. There’s no sound other than Lena’s quiet words, the gentle lap of the waves, the steady patter of rain.

The pain in Lena’s gaze is immeasurable, her voice a little choked when she speaks again. “And I didn’t want to hurt you. Not deeply. I lashed out in anger but I would never want to destroy you, Kara. I would never reveal your identity to the world. I too have some lines I wouldn’t cross.”

Kara can see the damage she had done all those weeks ago, by suggesting that Lena would even consider such a retaliation. You really think I would stoop to that level? her green eyes seem to ask. Not for the first time today, Kara’s stomach churns thick with regret.

Lena turns her attention back to the ocean. It seems to be easier for both of them, somehow, to not maintain eye contact as they unpick their scars this way. To be seen without being seen.

“I wanted to be done with you,” Lena whispers. “My rational mind knew that would be safer. I wanted to be able to leave you behind, but I couldn’t.” Again, her mouth twists into a pained facsimile of a smile. “I suppose I was more devoted to you than I’d ever intended to be.”

The words linger in the air between them, soaking into Kara’s skin like the rain now beating steadily down on both their heads.

“Do you think we could leave it there for today?” Lena asks suddenly, voice quiet as she turns to meet Kara’s gaze at last. “I’m not— I’m not sure I can handle much more right now.”

Her hair is damp and dripping, one soaked strand sticking to her cheek. Kara aches to reach out, to tuck it behind her ear. To cup Lena’s face in her hands and pull her into her. To never, not ever let go.

She doesn’t move. “Of course,” she says with a smile she tugs from her deepest emotional reserves. “Thank you, Lena. For being honest with me.”

Lena’s mouth quirks. The smile is small, but this time it’s real. “Likewise.”

Those words have become a ritual at the end of their meetings. An acknowledgment, explicit and genuine, of the effort they’re both making here.

Lena pulls out her phone to call a car. Kara waits with her until it arrives, side by side in the downpour. Lena refuses the coat she offers, the suggestion of being flown home. She seems content to wait, though she returns the offer of a ride when her driver finally appears, gesturing questioningly at the open car door.

Kara shakes her head. “Thanks, but I think I’ll fly home.” Her eyes widen as she realises what she’s said, clocks the presence of Lena’s driver mere feet away. “On— on a bus.”

Lena’s eyes widen and Kara cringes as she puts the pieces together, as she rolls headfirst into yet another uncomfortable example of her best friend’s years-long deception. But then, incredibly, she laughs.

“Oh, Kara,” she chuckles, a hand pressed to her chest as she gasps for air. “Kara, Kara. I’ll see you on Wednesday?”

“Wednesday,” she agrees, relief sighing out of her at the unexpected reaction. “Text me when you get home. I love you.”

As Lena’s car pulls away and Kara shoots into the air she’s filled with it, all the love inside her close to overflowing. God, she loves Lena. She really, really does.

 

They keep up with their meetings.

Between Catco and Supergirl saves and her Saturdays at the orphanage, they become a permanent fixture in Kara’s life.

Twice a week, every week, they meet and they talk. They talk about lies and betrayals, and how deeply they’ve both been hurt in the past. They talk about the DEO, and what it means to partner with it. They talk about how it’s treated Lena. They talk about how it treats the aliens brought through its doors. Kara goes home that night and has a long hard think about her own future.

They talk about Krypton, about what it means to be Super. About the burden of the cape round Kara’s shoulders. They talk about the Luthors, about family and legacy and destruction and hope.

They talk about Red Daughter, sometimes. About her life with Lex, her death. Her legacy, living and vibrant in Kara’s mind. She tells Lena about Red Daughter’s memories, or some of them at least. Speaks to her in flawless Russian and watches Lena’s eyes widen.

“I wish I could have known her,” Lena says once, swirling her straw through the monstruous green concoction she’d been so excited to order at the smoothie bar.

Kara’s throat tightens and she feels her for a moment, strong and vital and undeniable. Two minds ache with the same hope inside her head; two hearts break concomitantly inside her chest.

“I wish she could have known you, too.”

They go to restaurants and coffee shops, bookstores and museums. They take walks in the park and along the edge of the ocean. Once, when Lena only has a short break between unavoidable conference calls and can’t get away from the office, Kara goes to L-Corp.

It feels odd to be back. She feels a little like a stranger, a first-timer, despite the building’s familiarity. But Jess waves her in with a knowing smile and without so much as buzzing Lena’s intercom to let her know, and Kara feels warm all over.

Lena’s already on the couch when she enters and Kara takes a seat opposite, resisting the urge to sit on her hands so she can’t fidget nervously. But Lena’s already got tea laid out for the two of them and on the low glass table stands a beautiful hand-carved chess set. Lena quirks a brow that’s almost teasing. “Do you know how to play?”

She loses, but not by much. Lena calls checkmate and Kara scans the board quickly, then knocks over her own king with a little huff of acquiescence. When she raises her head she finds Lena staring at her intently. “What?” she chuckles a little warily, cheeks heating beneath the scrutiny.

Lena jumps, blinking fast and shaking her head as if emerging from a dream. “Nothing,” she says, utterly unconvincing. At Kara’s pointed look, she shrugs. “I just— you play like him,” she murmurs softly. “The speed, the strategy, the gambits. You play like Lex. I can tell he taught you.”

Kara’s jaw tightens, a muscle in her cheek twitching. They both know Lex Luthor had never taught her a damn thing.

The way Lena tilts her head almost looks like an apology. “Well,” she says, clearing her throat as she moves to reset the board. “If you keep practicing, you might just beat me one day.”

Kara chuckles, inclining her own head in silent agreement to let the moment slide. “I’m not so sure about that.”

 

She has to cancel their meeting, once, at the very last minute.

A massive apartment fire one Wednesday evening needs Supergirl’s immediate assistance and she barely has time to shoot Lena a text before she’s shooting through the smoke, fighting through the flames.

Anxiety consumes her throughout the whole rescue, throughout every extraction of the terrified building residents, every check-in with the EMTs to make sure everyone’s doing okay. These meetings are important, crucial, in the tentative re-building of their relationship; she doesn’t want Lena to think that she isn’t taking it seriously. Supergirl had already come between them once, after all. She’s terrified by the prospect that it could happen again.

She calls Lena as soon as she’s able, wiping soot from her brow even as sirens continue to blare in the background. A barrage of apologies are tumbling from her tongue almost before Lena’s even accepted the call, the torrent of Kara’s words coming so thick and so fast that it’s almost thirty seconds before she can even get a word in.

“Kara, Kara,” she interrupts at last. “It’s okay. Of course, I understand. You do whatever you need to do. Kombucha can wait.”

Kara lets out a sigh so deep and so strong that she accidentally blows over a garbage can halfway down the block. “Oh, thank Rao. Because I didn’t want you to think that I’d forgotten, or that our plans didn’t matter to me or— it’s just that the fire was spreading so quickly and I didn’t have time to—”

Kara,” Lena says firmly, and her jaw clicks shut. “You don’t have to make excuses, or explain yourself to me. And you don’t have to feel guilty for doing your job. I would never ask you to prioritise me over it. I would never ask you to stop being who you are,” she says quietly. “No one should ever make you feel that way.”

Kara hangs up after they rearrange their kombucha date and flies home feeling more accomplished, more understood, than she has in a very long time.

 

Six weeks in, Lena voices a request.

“Could we go somewhere different on Wednesday?” she asks at their Sunday meeting. “Somewhere— private?”

Kara sucks her bottom lip into her mouth in nervous anticipation. So. For whatever she has planned, whatever she wants to say, Lena doesn’t want an audience. Kara swallows. “Sure. Where did you have in mind?”

They end up on a deserted stretch of beach south of Monterey, the sun already low in the sky by the time Kara settles Lena gently onto the sand. She’d flown them there at Lena’s suggestion, and if she’d gone just that little bit slower than normal in order to keep Lena cradled to her chest just that little bit longer, well. At least neither of them mention it.

She makes herself comfortable in the sand beside Lena, sitting cross-legged as they stare out together at the crashing waves. “So, I know we’ve talked a lot about— your secret,” Lena says after a moment, gaze fixed on the golden horizon. “But there’s something I still have to ask. Something I still don’t understand.”

Lena turns her head to face her, cheek resting atop her arms propped on her bent knees. “Why did you feel you couldn’t tell me who you were?”

Kara’s heart takes off like a rocket launcher, pounding so hard she can feel it in her throat. She stares at Lena, beseeching, and the younger woman’s face crumples slightly, pulled taught by the obvious anguish this topic still causes her.

“Everyone knew, Kara. Everyone,” Lena whispers, her pain palpable. “Why couldn’t you tell me?”

Kara sucks in a great, shuddering breath. She owes Lena this, she knows. No matter how much it hurts.

She can’t meet her gaze, can’t keep staring into those wide green eyes as they do this. She tilts her head back toward the ocean, pressing her clenched fists hard into the sand between her crossed legs. “I’ve only ever really told three people, until you.”

Lena is silent, listening, head pillowed on her folded arms.

Kara swallows past the lump in her throat. “Alex and the Danvers, J’onn, James. Even Brainy. They all just— know. They’ve always known. I never had the choice of whether or not to share it with them.”

A tiny smile tugs at her lips. “The first person I ever told was Winn. I was—” She sighs, shaking her head. “It was the day after I embraced my powers for the first time. Everyone who knew was so against me going public with Supergirl and I just, I was so excited. I wanted someone to be excited with me. And, I really needed help. Not to mention, I needed a suit. So I told Winn.”

Still, Lena is silent. Kara clicks her teeth together, shaking her head at the memory. “I told Lucy because it was the only way to save Alex and J’onn.”

She gazes unseeing at the setting sun, remembering.

“And I told Nia. Because she was struggling so much with becoming Dreamer, with feeling like she was losing people to her powers, and I needed her to know that she wasn’t alone.” She grinds her fists down, feeling the sand shift and mould around her skin. “She needed help becoming a hero, just like I did. I wanted to become the mentor I wish I could have had.”

She chances a glance at Lena at last, only to be met with a wide, rapt stare. Kara sighs again, shaking her head. “What I’m trying to say is, I’ve hardly ever actually made the decision to share my identity with another person. I, um. I’m not very good at it.” She chuckles, but there’s no humour to the sound. “I haven’t had a lot of practice.”

Lena is silent a moment, assimilating. Absorbing. She turns her face a little further into the protective cradle of her arms but her eyes never leave Kara’s.

“But if you could tell them, why couldn’t you tell me?”

Her voice is quiet but the question is devastating. Kara spreads her fingers wide, feeling the fine grains of sand trickle over them as she tries to formulate some sort of response.

“You said you wanted someone to be excited with you,” Lena says into the silence when it becomes apparent Kara doesn’t have an answer. “You said you wanted to help someone who was struggling. Well, what about me?” She lifts her head a little, aching in her sincerity. “Kara, I think it’s incredible that you’re Supergirl. I think you’re incredible. And you and Nia aren’t the only ones who know a thing or two about harbouring secrets that could turn the world against you.”

Still, Kara finds herself with a tongue distinctly too big for her mouth, with a complete inability to formulate a coherent sentence. Lena lifts her head to stare out at the waves, arms wrapping tight around her own shins.

“Don’t you think I’ve struggled, Kara?” she says quietly. “Don’t you think knowing that my best friend, who has a penchant for ending up in some very sticky situations, who I’ve spent countless hours worried sick over…” Lena shakes her head, as if to rid herself off the memories. “Don’t you think that knowing that she was really an invulnerable alien might have eased my struggling, just a little?”

“Actually, no,” Kara says before her conscious mind has decided on it, speech faculties miraculously returned. “I mean, yes, of course,” she amends at Lena’s incredulous expression, hastening to explain herself. “With Mercy Graves, and the shooting at Catco, and Kaznia, of course it would have.”

Now it’s her turn to twist towards Lena, to convey the sincerity of her words however she can. “But the worry you felt for Kara Danvers—” She shakes her head. “Supergirl gets herself into sticky situations ten times more often than Kara Danvers ever has. Knowing that every time you saw a news bulletin of Supergirl getting her ass kicked in a fight, that was really me— that wouldn’t have helped you, Lena. I know. I’ve watched what it does to Alex, and it doesn’t help.” She swallows hard around the guilt ever-present just below the surface. “Believe me.”

Again, Lena is silent. Her expression is pensive as she contemplates Kara’s words.

“Keeping my identity from you protected you from that, Lena,” she soldiers on. “From the time Reign almost killed me. From Agent Liberty seeding the air with Kryptonite. From how close your brother came to wiping me out at Shelley Island.”

Lena shudders involuntarily, wincing at the memories and Kara feels in her very core that in this, if nothing else, she’d done the right thing.

“I know my secret hurt you, and you’re right that it didn’t protect you from the dangers of being associated with Supergirl. But it protected you from worrying over her, the way you’ve worried over me. I don’t stand by a lot of my reasons, a lot of the choices I’ve made, but I stand by that.”

Lena doesn’t agree, but neither does she argue. It’s a lot to take in, Kara supposes. Just because worrying about the toll her Super scrapes take on her loved ones is a constant fixture in her own mind, that doesn’t mean that it’s something many other people ever have to consider.

There’s still more she wants to say, she realises, as she watches the fading golden light play over the planes and shadows of Lena’s face. She clears her throat, and green eyes snap toward her wordlessly.

“But more than all that— Lena,” she starts, only a little shakily. “With the people I’ve told, it… it changes us. With Nia I was no longer just a colleague or a friend. I became a mentor, a role model.” She sighs, tugging a hand through her hair. “I love Nia, and I’m happy to do it. But I can’t ever relax around her now. I can’t ever just be.”

She closes her eyes, remembering. “And then with Winn, right from the day I told him my identity I could never be just Kara, his best friend. It was a relief, to be honest with him, but it complicated our relationship too. He and James hid Guardian from me because I was Supergirl. And he never looked at me the same way again.”

She blinks her eyes open again, staring out at the majesty of the ocean. Here they are, at the crux of it all at last.

“There’s a look people get, once they know,” she says quietly. “This kind of… awe. An air of expectation. And they try to hide it, but I can see it. I know that they look at me and see a Super. I can never be just Kara again.”

She can’t bring herself to glance at Lena. She isn’t sure exactly what she expects to find in the younger woman’s eyes. She’s fairly sure she isn’t ready for it, whatever it may be.

“And it’s so— sometimes I feel like I don’t even know who I am.” She ploughs ahead, because this is what she’d promised. Honesty. Explanations. Truth. “Supergirl isn’t all of who I am, but neither is Kara Danvers. And Kara Zor-El is gone. All I have left, all I come back to is Kara. Just Kara.”

The sun is just beginning to dip below the horizon. Kara digs her teeth hard into her bottom lip, staring up at the rose gold sky. “Lena, with you, that’s all I had to be.” Her words are barely a whisper now. “Without the cape, without the history, without me having to try. Kara, just Kara, was enough for you.”

Her voice cracks. “I was enough for you.”

It’s silent a long, long time. They sit side by side, eyes fixed on the point at which daylight is steadily leaching from the world.

At length Lena swallows hard, her throat working. “Do I have it?”

Kara shakes her head. “Have what?”

“The look,” Lena says quietly. “The look people get, once they know.”

Kara stops. Pauses. Tears her eyes from the ocean and takes a moment to look at Lena, really look at her. Searches her face, her expression, while Lena lets her, open and unguarded.

Her breath sighs out of her. “No.”

Lena blinks, surprised. “No?”

Kara chuckles sadly. “No. There’s no air of expectation. I think I’ve probably done too good a job of burning all your expectations of me to the ground.”

Lena’s face contorts. Her brow furrows, lips pursing in consideration. There’s so much emotion in her expression but Kara finds she can’t decipher it, can’t parse through the conflicting layers to get to the truth beneath. Even like this, an unfathomable enigma in the weakened light of a dying sun, she’s easily the most beautiful thing Kara’s ever seen.

“No,” Lena says quietly after a long, long moment, teeth digging hard into the plush of her lower lip. “No, I don’t think that’s why.”

 

Slowly, surely, Lena coalesces back into every facet of Kara’s life.

After almost two months of their biweekly meetings, they begin doing other activities together too. The begin doing things for fun, simply because they enjoy one another’s company, rather than because of some new trauma they need to unpick.

They go out for brunch dates, return slowly but surely to their tradition of frequent movie nights. They visit the zoo, the aquarium, or drive up the coast for a clifftop picnic. It’s easier to talk now, about things that aren’t so heavy, so make-or-break for their entire relationship. They chat about documentaries they’re watching (Lena) and cute dogs they see in the park (Kara), catch one another up on a couple months’ worth of reality TV binges and respective workplace gossip.

Lena comes back to Catco, too. She still leaves the running of the operation mostly to James but she splits her week between her businesses now, which leaves her free for a coffee or an early lunch break more often than not. It’s during one of these, seated on the balcony terrace in the early spring sunshine, that Kara invites Lena back to game night.

Lena stiffens instantly, and Kara winces. Because yes, things might be easier, but they’re still not totally safe. Still not yet back to pre-reveal normal.

“I think,” Lena says carefully, and this is another new development between them. Delicately picked words and measured responses because their shared history is a minefield liable to explode with one misstep. But they’ve also promised each other honesty, so. Avoidance is no longer an option.

“I think,” Lena tries again, fiddling with the corner of her serviette, “that there are some conversations I need to have before I can agree to come back to game night.” She raises her eyes to Kara’s beseechingly, another new gesture they’ve both taken to employing to say I’m being as honest as I can.

“Okay,” Kara answers, drawing out the syllables a little. “Conversations with whom?”

That’s how she comes to drop Lena at Alex’s apartment two nights later. Lena gives her a tight, anxious smile as she presses the intercom, promising to text Kara when she’s done as she’s buzzed inside.

Said text doesn’t arrive until almost four hours later, by which time Kara has almost worn a groove into her living room floorboards from all her anxious pacing. She shoots back to Alex’s apartment, unlocking the door to a veritable wall of alcohol fumes that have even her alien eyes watering.

Alex’s face is pink, her eyes puffy, and there are faint mascara tracks down Lena’s cheeks. A bottle of scotch sits empty on the coffee table, another well on its way. Two glasses stand sentinel beside it, the rim of one stained lipstick-red.

But both women are dry-eyed by the time Kara enters, sitting calmly together on the couch. Alex has one bent leg propped up on the cushions, her head lolling back, and Lena has kicked off her heels to tuck her feet beneath her. The tight ball of worry in Kara’s chest loosens a little at these obvious signs of relaxation, of comfort and familiarity around one another once again and as she meets Lena’s eyes, the dark-haired woman gives her a lopsided smile. At her side, Alex shoots a wonky thumbs-up.

“Time to go,” Lena says as she pushes unsteadily to her feet, usually perfect diction loosened by the liquor blazing through her bloodstream “See you around, Danvers. You owe me a bottle of scotch.”

Alex’s head lolls to the side so her eyes can meet Lena’s, one hand snapping out to snag messily around the young Luthor’s wrist. “As many as you want, yeah? Anything I can do,” she slurs, and Lena smiles.

Alex squeezes her wrist once more before letting go. “See you at game night, Luthor.”

And to Kara’s infinite joy, as Lena stumbles her way closer and allows Kara to wrap an arm around her waist to steady her, leaning heavy and warm into her side, she glances back over her shoulder at Alex on their way out the door, and nods.

 

Things are better, definitely. Things are finally almost normal again. And then L-Corp is broken into.

The time between Kara receiving the call and her boots touching down on Lena’s office balcony is less than three seconds. Lena’s there, deep in conversation with her head of security as she taps through CCTV footage on her tablet. But the man’s eyes go wide as dinner plates at Kara’s arrival, and his sudden speechlessness prompts Lena to glance up.

“Supergirl,” she says, and there’s a tiny quirk to her lips imperceptible to any who don’t know her as Kara does. “Thank you for coming.”

“Of course,” Kara replies, remembering to inject that extra ounce of authoritative reassurance into her voice for the security guard’s benefit as she stacks her hands on her hips. “Do you know what was taken?”

Lena’s brow furrows, mouth twisting. “The thieves took certain chemical components that were locked in my private vault. Kryptonian elements,” she says with a pointed raise of her eyebrows, and Kara’s heart sinks.

Lena hands the tablet off to her head of security with instructions to get their best tech team on recovering the erased footage immediately. As the man leaves, she crosses to Kara who softens instantly, hands sliding from her hips to reach for Lena instead.

“Kryptonite?” she asks, dread creeping up the back of her throat.

Lena’s hands slip into her own. “No, thank God. But— Kara, it’s Harun-El. They took basically everything they need to make it. Even some of the early experimental serums I created, the ones that ended up being fatal. If they’re not careful, they’ll end up dead.”

“Or with uncontrollable powers,” Kara murmurs, squeezing the fingers interlaced with her own. “Do you know who did it?”

Lena shakes her head. “They scrubbed the cameras. But my guess would be ex-Children of Liberty. The inner circle, the hardcore goons, who won’t care about Ben Lockwood’s demise. Who else would even have knowledge of Harun-El?” she asks, shaking her head. “There’s no doubt this was a targeted attack. Who else would even have known where to look?”

Kara sighs, thumbs rubbing absentmindedly over the backs of Lena’s knuckles. “We’ll track them down. There must be a way. I just hope we find them before they do something really stupid.” She shakes her head, re-focusing her attention. “More importantly, are you okay?”

Lena smiles tiredly, swaying a half-step closer so their entwined hands are caught between both their abdomens. “I’m fine. I wasn’t here when it happened. I got the call while I was at spin class.”

“Oh, so a lucky escape then,” Kara winks, nudging her hips forward just a touch so their joined hands press snugly against Lena’s stomach. It’s goofy, she knows, but when it tugs a light giggle from Lena, clear and bright as windchimes on a summer’s day, she doesn’t regret it at all.

“I’m going to be here at least half the night trying to recover that CCTV footage,” Lena sighs, sagging into the warm point of contact between their bodies ever so slightly. “But do you think maybe, when I’m done, you could fly me home?” She asks the question shyly, gazing up at Kara through her lashes, and Kara feels her stomach do a frontflip, three backflips, and a perfect triple axel.

“Like you even have to ask,” Kara says with a smile, and Lena relaxes instantly. “Oh!” she remembers suddenly, reaching down to fish into the small compartment in her boot. “I have something for you. I’ve been meaning to give it to you for weeks.”

With delicate, reverent fingers she gently slides the black leather watch onto Lena’s wrist, fastening it for her. The pads of her fingers rest over Lena’s pulse point for just a moment and she fights down a shiver at how hard it’s thrumming.

She clears her throat as her cheeks flush, flipping open the watch face to reveal her family’s crest. “If you press this, I will come,” she murmurs quietly. “Always. No matter what. If you ever need me, all you have to do is call.”

She lifts her eyes at last to meet Lena’s, only to find them burning hot with something she can’t yet find the words for.

Lena swallows thickly. “Thank you,” she whispers, and pulls her hands out of Kara’s completely.

Kara does her best not to miss the warmth. Her best, on this front at least, doesn’t end up being good enough. “Alright. See you later then, boss,” she says with a mock salute, but Lena doesn’t laugh this time. Kara swallows, turning towards the door. “Love you,” she murmurs over her shoulder a split-second before she launches herself into the air.

Lena doesn’t say another word.

 

Lena comes back to the DEO.

She works with Alex, Brainy, Nia, even J’onn; everyone singularly focused on tracking down the missing Harun-El. It’s not the smoothest of partnerships, not without its significant hiccups at times, but Kara knows as well as the rest of them that the imperative to track down the Kryptonian elements before they can be used is more important than the group’s lingering internal tensions.

With their combined genius, Lena and Brainy manage to engineer a tracker set to scan for the specific chemical properties of Harun-El within a hundred mile radius in under three hours. It’s not long after that that the tracker pings and Kara, with Nia and J’onn in tow, shoots off to recover the stolen property.

The showdown goes about as well as could be expected. It is ex-Children of Liberty; she sees their masks scattered around the abandoned warehouse they’re using at their base. Why is it always a draughty old warehouse, she wonders? Why can’t she ever crash through the ceiling of a nice, warm, well-lit condo to apprehend the bad guys?

One of them has clearly already taken one of Lena’s early serums and he’s not looking so hot, writhing and convulsing on the gurney he’s strapped to. Kara handles him, stabbing him in the thigh with the drug Lena had engineered to counter the Harun-El, while J’onn and Dreamer round up the others.

Between them, they gather up every Kryptonian element, serum vial, and anything else that looks a little too alien for these guys to be messing around with, and fly the whole lot back to the DEO.

By the time she’s herded them into holding cells and deposited the unlucky guinea pig in the med bay, Alex informs her that Lena is gone. “She said something about being up all night and needing to crash,” her sister shrugs, taking a swig of cold coffee and cracking her neck as she heads down to interrogation. “You could always go check on her if you’re worried.”

Kara pouts. “Who says I’m worried?”

Alex smirks, thumb reaching out to paw at Kara’s brow. “Crinkle.”

Kara bats her hand away, huffing even as she promises to bring extra pot stickers for sister night later. She gathers up everything that had been stolen from L-Corp, and shoots back into the air.

 

“I come bearing gifts,” she calls as she lands on Lena’s apartment balcony, nudging the door standing slightly ajar.

Lena glances her way from the kitchen, motioning her inside with a tilt of her head. “We got it all,” Kara reports, depositing the chemicals onto Lena’s kitchen counter. “One of the guys had already taken some serum, but I jabbed him with your anti-powers thingy in time. He’s under obs in the med bay.”

“I’m glad,” Lena says, rounding the island to examine the vials and bottles. “This stuff should never have been in my vault in the first place. It’s too dangerous to keep around, now that we know what it’s capable of. I wanted to destroy it, but I don’t know how to do it safely.”

Kara frowns. “Me neither. I can have a look at the Fortress’ database, maybe,” she says as inspiration strikes. “There might be some information on there.”

“Great, thanks,” Lena says casually, turning back to the kitchen. “Let me know what you find.”

Kara frowns, nose crinkling. “Hey, Lena?”

The young woman turns back to face her with a sigh. She’s very pale and she certainly looks tired, but there’s a discomfort rooting through the lines of her face that has nothing to do with a lack of sleep.

“Are we okay?” Kara asks hesitantly, unsure what’s brought about this recent change in Lena, knowing only that it doesn’t sit well with her. “I mean, we’re better, right?”

Lena stares at her across the marble counter, expression unreadable. “Yes, Kara. We’re better.”

Kara bites her lip. “Okay, good. So, we’re good? We’re normal?”

Lena’s eyes flutter shut for a moment, fingertips pinching at the bridge of her nose. “What’s normal?”

Kara blinks. “What?”

“We’ve never had a normal,” Lena sighs. “There’s only the time when I didn’t know you were lying to me, and the time when I did. What part of our history is your benchmark for normal, exactly?”

Kara’s mouth opens and closes dumbly. “I— has something happened?” she asks, taking a step closer. “Have I done something wrong?”

All the air in Lena’s body seems to shudder out of her in one fluid motion, her body folding in on itself. “Forget about it,” she says quietly. “We’re fine. I’m just— I’m tired, that’s all.”

She glances pointedly at Kara, who for once in her life manages to take the hint. “Okay,” she acquiesces, only half-convinced but unwilling in this moment to push the matter any further. “I’ll let you get some rest. Brunch tomorrow, maybe?”

Lena nods, sagging against the countertop, and Kara tries to fight down the growing unease in the pit of her stomach. “Okay, I’ll see you later then. Love you.”

She’s so used to receiving no response, to that being the end of their conversations, that she’s already pulling the door open when she hears a soft voice behind her.

“I know.”

She turns, blinking slow. “What?”

“I know,” Lena says again. “I know you do. You don’t— you don’t have to keep saying it.”

Kara shakes her head, trying to catch up. “But, but I want you to understand— Lena, what can I do to make you believe—”

“Kara. I do believe you.” Lena’s voice is soft, almost appeasing.

Kara stops breathing. “You… believe me?”

“I do. I just—” She sighs so sadly, so wistfully, that the hope flaring tiny and fragile in Kara’s chest snuffs out again instantly. “I just don’t know if it matters. I don’t know if it makes any difference.”

Kara feels like the entire world has suddenly flipped on its axis. Up is down, black is white. Right is wrong and wrong is— also wrong. Everything, everything is wrong.

“But,” she starts weakly, willing down the bile rising in her throat. “If you know how I feel, then—”

“Kara,” Lena says gently, so gently all of a sudden, like she’s worried Kara will split apart. Because, Kara realises, she knows exactly how thoroughly her next words will break her. “I know you love me. I love you, too. I just— I don’t know that it means anything.”

“What?” Kara gasps. She’s heaving in air; ugly, hiccupping gulps but it doesn’t matter, she still can’t breathe. She’d dreamed of hearing Lena say those words, but not like this. Never like this. “Of course it— Lena, it means everything.”

Lena shakes her head as she crosses the room toward her, a small smile, a sad smile playing at her lips. “No, it doesn’t,” she whispers and the look in her eyes is half stricken, half pitying. “Love isn’t a cure. It isn’t a magic remedy for all the damage we’ve done to each other.”

She reaches out a hand and Kara can’t help it; she flinches, hard, backwards and away. She just, she can’t feel Lena right now. Can’t be soothed by her touch as her words rip them apart.

Lena sighs, a deep crease forming between her eyebrows. She bites her lip, teeth working over the tender flesh. Her green eyes are so beautiful and so, so sad.

“I love you, and you love me, and we still managed to almost destroy each other,” she whispers, and tears she hadn’t even realised had gathered spill hot down Kara’s cheeks. “What are we doing here, Kara? What are we working towards?”

Kara finds she can’t draw in air, can’t form her mouth around intelligible words. When she finally manages to speak, it’s little more than a croak. “What do you mean?” she asks, tasting salt as her own tears hit her lips. “Lena, it’s— it’s us.”

Lena takes another step closer and Kara’s rooted to the spot, immobilised by pain and sadness and confusion and she prays to a god long forsaken that Lena doesn’t try touch her again because she doesn’t think she’ll be able to withstand it.

“Yes, it’s us,” Lena whispers, voice broken and small. “You, and me, and all the love we have for each other, and all the pain it’s never stopped us inflicting. We’ve fallen apart once already despite the best of intentions. I’m not sure I’d survive it again.”

She takes another step closer until they’re mere inches apart, separated only by the thinnest buffer yet seemingly severed from one another more thoroughly now than ever before.

“So I’m asking again, what are we working towards?” Lena breathes. At this proximity she has to tilt her chin up to meet Kara’s eyeline. Kara feels like she’s in freefall, the past weeks and months of healing they’d painstakingly put in crumbling into ash at her fingertips.

Lena’s eyes are wet and wounded, glistening with unshed tears. “I don’t want to hurt you again, Kara. I don’t want to be hurt again. We’ve already razed each other to the ground once,” she sighs, reaching out to lay her palm feather-light against the crest emblazoned on Kara’s chest, directly over her shattering heart. She blinks up at Kara, and two tears at last break free. “What’s to stop it happening again the second time around?”

Chapter Text

Kara stumbles backwards, reeling in more ways than one.

“How can you, how can you say that?” she gasps as her shoulders hit the cool glass wall. “God, Lena. If love doesn’t matter, what does? What the hell is left?”

“I’m not saying it doesn’t matter,” Lena says, frustration leaching into her tone as she reaches up to tug a rough hand through her hair. “But it’s not some cure-all, some magic bullet! We can’t just say, oh, I love you, you love me, we’ll be fine. Love doesn’t guarantee us a happily ever after.”

Kara’s entire body is trembling hard enough that her joints rattle faintly against the window behind her. Adrenaline is flooding her bloodstream, throat tight and hot and this feeling in her stomach, this thick churning feeling— it’s panic, pure and unbridled, and she couldn’t temper it down if she tried.

“So, what? You’re saying we shouldn’t even try?” Kara asks more hotly than she intends. She watches her words land, watches the sting they inflict but she can’t help herself, can’t reign it in. “That there are no guarantees in life so we might as well give up now? Cut our losses?”

Lena’s face contorts. “No, that’s not what I—”

But Kara barely hears her. “What is this for you? The path of least resistance? The safer bet?” She shakes her head. “After everything we’ve been through, all the work we’ve put in, how can you just—”

“Kara, I’m scared!”

Lena’s voice rises suddenly, loud in the empty room. It snaps Kara out of her spiral for a moment, just long enough for her to look at Lena and realise that she’s barely holding back fresh tears. As she watches, Lena’s teeth dig into her bottom lip so hard that blood blooms bright on the tender flesh.

“I’m so fucking scared,” Lena whispers into the stunned silence between them, tiny and terrified. “You love me, I know that. You say you’ve loved me for years. So you loved me even as you lied to me every day.”

That thick, churning feeling is back, but Lena’s not finished yet.

“And I love you,” Lena gasps, her body folding in on itself as if trying to protect the battered heart thudding quick and terror-stricken in her chest. “I love you so much I can’t breathe, sometimes. I love you more than I knew it was possible to love someone. You’re— you’re like the sun to me, Kara. Like oxygen. I don’t know how to be without you anymore. And I still hurt you,” she whimpers, arms wrapping tight around her own torso like she might be able to hold herself together.

“Every time you say goodbye you also say you love me, like it means everything will be okay. Like it will protect us from pain. But it won’t.”

Lena crumples then, knees giving out at last. Only the sight of her body on a collision course with the hard marble tiles is enough to snap Kara out of her trance and she darts forward, scooping Lena into her arms and cushioning the impact with her own limbs. They end up kneeling together on the living room floor, Lena half on top of her as she clutches at the sheer material of Kara’s suit with trembling hands.

“Every single person I’ve ever loved has either betrayed me or died,” Lena sobs, breathless and agonised. “Or betrayed me and died.”

She looks up at last, green eyes meeting blue. “You’ve already betrayed me,” she whispers but it’s not accusatory, only afraid. “What’s next?”

“Lena,” she whispers, breath sighing out of her as their foreheads tilt together, eyes sliding closed. “Are you… are you scared that I’m going to die?”

“Of course I am,” Lena says immediately. “I’m terrified every day that something will happen to you. Every single time you walk out that door. That would just be the cherry on top of my lifelong streak of shitty, shitty luck.”

She shakes her head again, pulling back a little from the contact only to drop her face heavy into the cradle of Kara’s neck and shoulder. Kara wraps her arms fully around the trembling woman, one hand splayed warm and reassuring between her shoulder blades while the other traces the divots of her pelvis at the base of her spine. “Lena. You’re not going to, I don’t know, jinx us, by allowing yourself to love me. The world doesn’t work like that.”

“You don’t know that,” Lena mumbles petulantly into the meat of her shoulder. “But anyway, it’s not just that. We— we need to be on the same page. We need to be sure about what we’re doing. This thing between us, it’s too big and too important to just fall into blindly.” She lifts her head, sniffling. “What if everything explodes again? What’s changed since the last time we went to shit, really? Have we changed enough to guard against it?”

Kara frowns even as she fits her hands to the smooth curves of Lena’s hips, thumbs stroking over the slight jut of her hipbones. “Things are different now,” she says quietly, but the words don’t come out as convincingly as she’d hoped. Hearing Lena’s fears aloud is beginning to tug at thoughts, uncomfortable thoughts, buried deep within her own psyche. Thoughts that she usually shoves down and secures with an iron will, buried beneath the overwhelming imperative to get to Lena, wherever she is. To have her. To hold her.

“Things are different now,” she tries again, a little stronger this time. “We’ve made progress, lots of it. Fear doesn’t have to hold us back.”

Lena stares at her wide-eyed, one palm falling again to settle over the red and gold crest above Kara’s breastbone. Her voice is very, very small. “Aren’t you scared?”

“Yes,” Kara says, because it’s true. There’s a terror that tugs at her heart sometimes, when she thinks about Lena. When she thinks about the possibility of a life without her. “But— but only when we’re apart. Lena, we love each other, we have each other now. When we’re together we can—”

“No, see,” Lena pulls back, shaking her head. “You’re doing it again.”

“What?” Kara blinks. “Doing what?”

Lena sighs heavily. “Kara, your persistence. The fact that you lied to me for years just to keep me in your life. The way you’ve pursued me ever since I found out.” She shakes her head minutely, her jaw twitching. “You will not let me go.

Kara sits back too, sinking down onto her heels. “What?” she repeats inelegantly. “Why would I let you go? I don’t want you to go.”

Lena smiles then, even through her tears. “Exactly,” she whispers. “I’m afraid of being hurt again. But Kara, you’re afraid of being left.

 

Whatever else Kara had planned to accomplish with her day disintegrates quickly and quietly in the wake of Lena’s words.

For a long time she’s frozen, unmoving. Kneeling uncomfortably on Lena’s tiled floor in the middle of her apartment while Lena sits quietly, watching her.

Eventually, after what feels like a small eternity she remembers how to blink, manages to shake herself out of her daze. “That’s—”

She clears her throat, voice cracking. “That isn’t even— that’s not what’s going on here.”

Lena’s eyes are so green, so soft and earnest and gentle that it almost hurts to look at them. “Isn’t it?”

Kara scoffs, to hide the way her hands have begun to tremble. “You think I would say all of this to you, confess my love with a Truth Inducer attached to my arm, just because of— what? A fear of abandonment?”

She hopes Lena doesn’t notice the way her voice wavers on the final word. Lena’s gaze is tender, and all too knowing for Kara’s taste. “Not just because of that, no,” the younger woman acknowledges quietly. “But can you honestly tell me it doesn’t factor in at all?”

“Pfft, that’s not—” Kara stars, something hot and thick beginning to congeal in her airways. “This isn’t just some, some—” she clenches her fists hard, casting around for the word, “defence response, or whatever. I love you.”

She says it like a challenge. Lena doesn’t rise to it. “I know,” she murmurs instead. “That’s why you’re so afraid to lose me.”

Kara ignores her, not feeling particularly inclined in this moment to dig into the root cause of the ropes of slippery, shameful panic coiling through her gut. “You asked what we’re working towards, where this is going,” she says instead, a heavy-handed attempt to divert the conversation away from this particular patch of thorns. The look in Lena’s eyes tells her she’s well aware of the deflective manoeuvre Kara’s trying to pull off, but she chooses to ignore that too.

“Well, I told you when I was wearing the Truth Inducer,” she continues, pushing every last ounce of earnestness trembling through her body out into her voice. “I’m not looking for anything else. Like, ever. I’ve already found you.”

Lena’s eyes slip closed at her words, teeth sinking into her lip again. A fresh drop of blood wells on the marred flesh and Kara hisses quietly through her teeth, reaches out. She runs her thumb gently over the swell of Lena’s bottom lip, wiping away the smear of crimson with a touch so reverent it almost hurts.

She bites down hard on the inside of her cheek, cradling Lena’s chin in her palm for the briefest of moments. “But I’m getting the impression that maybe you don’t feel the same.”

Lena’s eyes snap open, face tilting forward slightly when Kara withdraws her hand as if chasing the heat of her skin.

“I love you, I do,” she says softly and there’s a power, a quiet certainty to the words that has goosebumps erupting over Kara’s skin. “So much that it scares me. But for most of our relationship I only knew a part of you, Kara.” Lena’s eyes soften. “I think, to some extent, I was in love with the idea of you. The partial image you presented to me.”

Kara blinks. To feel that she’s shared her heart and soul with this woman, more than she has with anyone else in her life, only for Lena to claim not to really know her at all, is extraordinarily painful. She grits her teeth. “But— Lena. You know me. You do. No one else— no one else sees me like you do.”

“I know,” Lena says, reassuring, and the hundred billion blades slicing Kara open from the inside out ease their cleaving slightly. “I know. And I think, I think I’m starting to know you now, all of you. And everything I learn makes me want to know more. But I can’t roll the dice, I can’t take this step on the idea of you, Kara. It has to be real. We have to be sure.”

Kara doesn’t even realise she’s twisting her fingers together anxiously in her lap until Lena reaches out, lays her own hands over them to still the movement. “We have to be sure,” she says again. “That means you, too. I need you to see me, Kara, for all that I am. Not for who you wish I was, not for the person you’ve built up in your head.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Lena smiles sadly. “I know how you’ve defended me over the years, how you’ve supported me. Lena Luthor, nothing like her family,” she says, inflection mimicking Kara’s own before dropping back to her natural timbre. “Your faith has been almost unwavering, Kara. Was that wise? Do you stand by it?”

Kara’s mouth opens, a barrage of reflexive rebuttals on the tip of her tongue but Lena squeezes her hands, effectively silencing her.

“No, you don’t have to say anything right now. Just think about it. I need you to think about whether I’m what you want,” Lena says with the quiet resignation of a defendant awaiting the final ruling. “I need you to think about whether you truly know me well enough to make that decision right now.”

Lena pulls back, the fingers of her right hand moving to trace over the contours of the object beneath her left sleeve. “You put this watch on my wrist like— like a promise. You’re trusting me with it, with your secret. You’re trusting me to protect it. Protect you.”

“Lena,” Kara breathes, staring down at her still-clenched fists. “You’ve been protecting me for years.”

But Lena shakes her head. “Kara, you’re trusting me with everything and I just— I don’t know if I deserve it.” Her voice cracks. “I don’t know if I’m good enough for you.”

Kara gapes, head snapping up. “Of course you—”

“No, stop,” Lena interrupts. “I’m serious. I don’t know if I’m right for you. I don’t know if I can be what you need.”

You’re what I—”

“Will you stop with the grand declarations long enough to actually hear what I’m saying?” Lena asks but the question isn’t accusatory, only pleading. She inhales shakily. “You put this watch on my wrist and you said always. But can you promise me that, really? Are we ready for that?”

She blinks, and her eyes fill once more with tears. “Seeing you again, coming back to the DEO, all of our pain, all of our work— it hurts, Kara. It hurts, and it’s hard, and it’s filling me with the kind of hope that I won’t survive losing again.”

Lena straightens a little, squaring her shoulders. “So this has to be real. I don’t want us to fall together out of fear of the alternative. I want us to walk into this with our eyes open. To be able to say always, and mean it.” She sucks in a deep, shuddering breath. “Because if I’m in this now, I’m in it. For life.”

She blinks up at Kara, gaze overflowing with equal parts worry and wonder. “So we have to be sure.”

 

Even hours later, tucked up on Alex’s couch for a better-late-than-never sister night, she’s still reeling.

She’d left Lena with the mutual promise to think about everything that had been said, really think about it (Lena’s emphasis, not hers), and then check back in with each other in a couple of days.

She runs through a play by play of the afternoon’s entire emotional maelstrom for her sister over eight cartons of Ben & Jerry’s and even after a second recap, she still feels a little lost.

But Alex’s expression is thoughtful as she sifts around in her carton for the little chocolate fish like an archaeologist on the dig of a lifetime, and instead of the backup she thought she was going to get from her sister it seems Alex is actually on Lena’s side.

“Would it really be so bad to make sure you’re on the same page before you start this thing?” Alex asks, caramel sauce smeared across her chin as she returns to her Phish Food hunt. “Y’know, Maggie and I ended because we didn’t feel the same about having kids. Because we very definitely weren’t on the same page. And that must have been, like, meant to be or something,” she says, smiling and shaking her head when Kara lays a sympathetic hand on her knee. “Because I couldn’t be happier now with Kelly. But if we’re talking about things that are meant to be— Kara.” Alex abandons her spoon for a moment to lay her hand over Kara’s, squeezing lightly. “You and Lena…”

Kara swallows hard around her mouthful of fudge brownie. “I know.”

“And I get why she’s hesitant, why she’s scared,” Alex continues, swearing softly as she attempts to drive her spoon into a hunk of frozen-solid marshmallow. “She’s been hurt before, real bad.” Her gaze flicks up to Kara for a moment. “You both have.”

“Yeah, that’s the other thing,” Kara mumbles around an astronomical spoonful, her tone incredulous but confident that in this, at least, she’ll have her sister’s agreement. “She said I’m afraid of being abandoned.”

But instead of the indignant solidarity she expects, Alex’s gaze only softens, bridging the space between them and landing like a soft hand curved to Kara’s cheek. “Aren’t you?”

Okay, Kara thinks. What the fuck, Alex.

Because, yes. Obviously she’s afraid of being abandoned. Solitude, isolation, desertion; these are the fears that have plagued the darkest recesses of her mind since time immemorial. But Kara happens to think that she’s been doing a relatively good job of hiding these irremediable terrors, these most profound of anxieties, for a good long while now.

So for not just one, but the two most important people in her life to admit to being able to see right through her carefully-constructed defences in the space of just a few hours— it’s not sitting well with her. Alex and Lena could have at least pretended that they weren’t quite so intimately familiar with the aching anxieties Kara works so hard to cover up every day. For the sake of her dignity, if nothing else.

Alex reaches out one socked foot to prod at her thigh. “Don’t pout. We’ve all got our own shit.”

Kara continues to pout and her sister leans over, plucking the ice cream carton from her protesting hands to switch their flavours. “I’m not judging you for your baggage, Kara,” she says quietly. “And neither is Lena. But by the sounds of it, she laid all her own trauma and anxieties out on the table for you today. She’s clearly making an effort to be honest, to own her fears.”

She nudges Kara’s thigh again until she reluctantly raises her gaze to meet her sister’s. Alex’s expression is pointed, but gentle. “I think she’s probably just hoping that you’ll do the same.”

 

Kelly finds them two hours later, chocolate-smudged and snot-nosed as they sob into matching throw pillows to the end credits of Up.

Kara sits up, wiping her face with one cuffed sleeve and taking the gentle hint to vacate the premises. Kelly joins her in Alex’s kitchen as Kara’s depositing their spoons in the sink, moving comfortably around the space as she brews herself a cup of tea.

“Hey,” Kara says quietly before she can lose her nerve, glancing over her shoulder to make sure her sister is still absorbed in the kitten video she’s watching on her phone. “Can I ask you something?”

Kelly puts down her mug and, with that gentle unflinching calm she’s come to expect from James’ sister, gives Kara her full attention. “Of course.”

“I don’t, um. I don’t know how much Alex has told you about what’s been, ah, going on with me lately,” she starts haltingly. It’s probably a redundant question, given the way she’d literally crashed into Alex and Kelly’s date night two months earlier, but whatever. The quiet understanding in Kelly’s eyes gives her answer for her and Kara nods roughly.

“Right. So. If I, if I wanted to, you know, talk to someone, about everything that’s happened— like, discreetly,” she says pointedly, and Kelly nods. Kara swallows. “How might I, how might I go about doing that?”

Kelly smiles, and it feels like a warm hug. She reaches out a hand, lays it softly over Kara’s tightly folded forearms for a moment. “Oh, Kara. I’ve been hoping you’d ask.”

 

That’s how Kara ends up in Dr Elias Levenson’s office two days later.

Kelly had informed her that the good doctor was the best of the best, specialising in psychological support for non-human refugees and immigrants on Earth. He’d been President Marsdin’s personal therapist before her resignation and as such, was well-versed in the need for discretion surrounding high-profile aliens. He’d amiably signed the slew of NDAs Alex had sent her off with that morning, and seemed utterly unphased by her decision to introduce herself only as Kara, no last name.

Kara, after a sleepless night of extensive consideration, had opted to fly to Levenson’s office and change in a back alley, slipping inside wearing a nondescript black sweatsuit with her hair down and loose and no glasses on her face. Even without the skirt and cape, she knows Levenson will clock her as National City’s resident Kryptonian in seconds, but that doesn’t mean he needs to know her civilian identity too.

He seems nice enough, tall and clean-shaven in a tailored navy suit, jacket draped across the back of his leather armchair. His smile is warm, his handshake firm – by human standards, at least – and he’d come very highly recommended by Kelly, and Kara has no reason to doubt her professional judgment.

Nevertheless, she twists her fingers anxiously as they settle into their respective seats, slipping her hands quickly under her thighs to still them when she notices her own nervous tell. She regards Levenson with a critical eye as the silence between them grows. It’s not that she doesn’t trust Kelly’s recommendation, it’s just— how can this man, this human, with his casually unbuttoned collar and shiny brown Oxfords, be equipped to deal with her intergalactic baggage?

Her reservations must show on her face because Levenson quirks an eyebrow amiably, gaze falling on the groove Kara hadn’t even realised she’d been carving into the solid oak floorboards with her restlessly scuffing feet. She blushes hard, covering the indent with one boot as she clears her throat awkwardly, an apology poised on the tip of her tongue.

But Levenson beats her to it. “Don’t worry about it,” he says with a small smile. “I can imagine you’re apprehensive. I imagine you’re thinking that this office is no match for the strongest being on the planet. I imagine you’re thinking, how will this man ever understand what it’s like to be me?”

Kara gapes.

Now I imagine you’re wondering if I’ve fitted you with a mind-reading device somehow, and how quickly you’ll be able to shoot out of this office if you need to,” Levenson smiles and Kara’s heart thuds hard in her chest. She’s a split-second away from carrying out that exact escape plan when Levenson holds up a hand.

Her attention snaps back to his face and, as she watches, the doctor’s dark brown eyes suddenly glow a brilliant purple.

Kara’s mouth drops open. “You’re Phorian,” she gasps, realisation crashing into her. “You’re telepathic.”

“Only with others of my species, before you panic,” Levenson says calmly, his smile never wavering. “To be clear, I cannot read your mind. From you, I can simply pick up general impressions of very strong emotions, particularly negative ones.” Kara thinks of J’onn and his psychic abilities, and her pounding heartrate slows a little. Levenson’s smile widens. “Anything else I surmise about you comes only from my psychological training, I promise.”

Kara’s fists unclench. “Your planet was destroyed,” she murmurs. “You’re a refugee here, too.”

“Terraformed by invaders, actually,” Levenson says quietly. “But, yes. Phoria became uninhabitable for my people. So I, too, have some idea what it’s like to lose everything.”

At his words, Kara feels something tight and crushing in the very centre of her chest, something she usually keeps under lock and key for fear of overwhelming those around her, begin to unfurl. It takes her a moment to identify the feeling for what it is, but then it strikes her. Understanding.

She knows suddenly and with overwhelming certainty exactly why Kelly had recommended this particular therapist. She makes a mental note to buy her some thank-you flowers on the way home.

The doctor smiles again at the way her tense muscles relax a little as she sits back properly into her chair. “So, now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way,” he smiles, a knowing twinkle in his brown-again eyes. “Shall we have a chat?”

 

Levenson is surprisingly easy to talk to. Whether it comes from his latent telepathic abilities or just some innate affability, Kara finds herself opening up more than she’d intended to when she’d first taken a seat in this chair.

She tells him about her life. Fudges some names and identifying details but keeps her answers to his gently probing questions honest otherwise. Tells him about her family, her friends, her jobs. About how things have been recently, in the broadest of strokes, though she does gloss over the merging of her dead clone’s consciousness with her own inside her head. Somehow, that feels like more of a second appointment kind of admission.

Inevitably, she tells him about Lena. Not by name, though she imagines it wouldn’t be too hard to put the pieces together if he wanted to. Knowledge of the public Super-Luthor alliance is widespread enough in National City that she couldn’t really be talking about anyone else.

She’s just finished telling him about her own guilt over Lex’s death, about Lena’s suffering in the aftermath – in the loosest and most generic terms, of course – when Levenson straightens a little in his chair.

“We’ve been talking about this woman for quite a while,” he remarks as Kara takes a sip of water. His tone is amiable, reflective and non-accusatory, but Kara feels her hackles begin to rise anyway.

“Yes, well,” she says more huffily than she intends, setting her glass down before she can do something stupid like shatter it. “She’s— she’s very important to me. She’s partly why I’m here, actually.”

Levenson – call me Elias, she reminds herself – tilts his head inquisitively. “How so?”

Kara’s throat tightens of its own accord. “I don’t want to lose her.”

Levenson – Elias – crosses one polished Oxford over his knee. “Why would you lose her?”

Kara presses her lips together, hard. At her stony silence, Elias’ expression softens. “Have you lost many people, Kara?”

They’re back again, those slick coiling ropes of panic in her belly and she doesn’t mean to snap at him, but it happens anyway. “That’s irrelevant,” she says sharply. Elias’ face remains impassive, open and neutral, even as Kara’s palms begin to sweat.

“You’re looking at me like she looks at me,” she says before she can think better of it. “Like everything I do is driven by a fear of, I don’t know. Abandonment, or whatever. But it’s not. I’m not.”

“Okay.”

“I’m capable of making my own decisions, you know. Ones that have nothing to do with being afraid,” Kara continues, unable to stop the stream of words gushing from her lips now it’s started. “I have agency. I can do more than just react.

Elias seems unphased by her outburst. “I have no doubt.”

“I don’t want to be with her just because I’m afraid to be alone,” she says hotly. “I love her.”

Again, Elias’ features soften. “I can tell.”

“Well, I don’t know why she can’t,” Kara says in frustration, more to herself than the man across from her. “This is stupid. I know how I feel. I know what I want with her. I don’t need you to tell me that.”

Elias shrugs one shoulder. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

Kara feels too hot suddenly; flustered and cornered, like the walls are closing in around her. “Then why am I even here?”

“Only you can answer that.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be,” she says, clamping her hands around her own knees so she can’t start digging a groove into Elias’ floorboards again. “I don’t think I need this.” She presses her lips together. “No offence. I just don’t think it’s for me. I need to be talking to her, not you.”

Elias’ tone is so calm it’s almost irritating. “Maybe talking to me will help you talk to her.”

“I don’t need help talking to her!” she snaps, though she knows as she says it that it’s a bald-faced lie. If talking to Lena were easy, she wouldn’t have lied about her identity for four years. But she’s too far into this to back down now. “I don’t need relationship advice. I love her.”

The harshness of her voice seems to echo through the airy office even after she’s snapped her mouth shut. Kara can feel her cheeks flushing, embarrassed now by her outpouring. When it becomes evident that she’s finished her tirade, at least for the moment, Elias straightens in his seat.

“Okay,” he says amiably. “So, look at it this way. You come and see me a couple times. We talk. Who knows, it might even help, and I don’t just mean with your partner. And if not, I’ve been told I’m not a bad conversationalist,” he quips, and Kara feels a corner of her mouth tug upwards in response, the sudden temper that had flared in her body dissipating back into nothing.

Elias folds his hands loosely in his lap as he meets her eyes head on. “If, after a few sessions, you still feel the way you do now, great. You haven’t lost anything, and you can be sure of where you stand.”

Kara sighs, reluctantly taking the obvious bait. “And if I don’t?”

Elias only smiles, warm and sure. “That’s entirely up to you. But if you like, we can try and figure it out together.”

 

She decides to see Elias again.

In fact, she books in two sessions a week for the foreseeable future, and resolves not to let herself miss a single one. After their first meeting Kara had gone home, sat in silence on her couch for two hours without moving, punched a throw pillow so hard it had exploded on impact, and cried uncontrollably in the shower until the hot water had run out. She hadn’t been able to parse out the logic behind her own rollercoaster of emotions, hadn’t located the specific triggers, but had at least acknowledged that the net result had been significant enough that she could probably do with seeing the therapist again.

She’d also phoned Lena, listened to the call click through to voicemail with no small measure of relief, and left a bumbling message explaining that she needed time to process some things – that’s what she was doing, right? Processing? – and asking if they could hold off on their biweekly meetings for a while.

Lena had texted back her acquiescence and a single, tentative red heart, and it had taken every fibre of Kara’s being not to throw her newfound resolution of processing to the wind and call Lena immediately, fly over there, crawl into bed beside her and hold her until everything started to make sense again.

But she thinks of Elias, of the gentle understanding in his eyes and the hot spike of fear in her gut when he’d asked, have you lost a lot of people, Kara? And somehow, by the skin of her teeth, she manages to resist her strongest impulses. Manages to stick to her newfound commitment to figuring out her shit.

She moves through the next week on autopilot. Sleepwalks through Catco commitments and Supergirl saves. Re-paints the orphanage kitchen and bathrooms in a semi-present daze on Saturday morning. Visits her favourite bookshop and sits for five hours in a worn armchair with Soffi on her lap, staring unseeing at an open book as her fingers pet the purring cat without conscious thought, her mind light years away.

By the time Monday and her next appointment with Elias rolls around her stomach is tied up in knots, anxiety thrumming through her veins at the thought of what he might ask her, of what she might have to say.

But the second she sinks down in the chair opposite him that same sense of calm, of ease that had so compelled her to open up at their first meeting, washes over her once again. They move through greetings and a reminder of the things they’d discussed in the previous session and by the time Elias looks at her with knowing eyes, nudges the Kleenex box surreptitiously in her direction and asks in what may be the gentlest voice she’s ever heard, who have you lost, Kara? it feels like the most natural thing in the world to choke out, everyone.

 

She sees Elias again on Thursday and by Sunday, she thinks she might just be ready to face Lena.

Kara invites her to her apartment. Screw neutral ground, she thinks as she swipes various takeout containers off the counter and into the trash. For the conversation they need to have, the same one she’d played out eight times in her head this morning in the shower, she wants to feel comfortable. She wants to feel safe.

Lena arrives ten minutes early. She dithers outside the building and then again at the end of the hall and outside Kara’s door, repeatedly raising her arm to knock before dropping it again. Eventually Kara just pulls the door open herself, and Lena jumps.

“Fuck,” she gasps, shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot. “I mean, hi. Sorry. I forgot you could, um. Hear me. See me? Through the door.”

“Both,” Kara says, stepping back to let Lena enter with a small smile. “Hi.”

Lena moves through her apartment with hesitance, an uncomfortable formality, placing her bag carefully on one of the dining chairs and draping her coat delicately over its back. Kara bites at the inside of her cheek, trying to focus on the woman before her now and not the memories that crowd her vision. Memories of Lena draped sleepily over her couch cushions, Lena tucked up snug in her bed, Lena brushing her teeth while Kara washes her face at the bathroom sink, giggling so hard at Kara’s off-key singing that she spits toothpaste all over the mirror.

She brews them a pot of tea, sets it a little unsteadily on the coffee table in front of the couch and motions for Lena to join her. Tugs a cushion into her lap to knead at with her knuckles, leg bouncing restlessly against the floorboards.

“Do you remember that day in the elevator in Alex’s building?” she asks quickly, before she can lose her nerve. “When you told me you knew Supergirl had asked James to break into your lab.”

Out of the corner of her eyes she sees Lena nod, but Kara keeps her gaze fixed on her chipped orange teapot. Her breathing is erratic, her voice unsteady, and she swallows hard before continuing. “That was the first day I realised I was losing you. That I had lost you. You just didn’t know it yet.”

She barely hears Lena’s sharp intake of breath over the thudding of blood in her ears. “Every day since then, I’ve been watching the hourglass of the time I have left with you drain. Every day since I realised you were eventually going to leave me I’ve just been waiting for you to realise it, too.”

She chances a glance at Lena at last and finds herself fixed under a gaze so heavy, so heartbroken, that it knocks the remaining breath clean from her lungs.

“I was wrong to lie to you for so long,” she whispers, the words strangled and airless. “But I’ve lost so many people. I wanted to make the time before I lost you count. I wanted to make it last.”

She swallows and it feels like gravel is coating her throat, eroding her airways. “You were right,” she manages. “I’ve been abandoned before. I didn’t— I don’t want to be abandoned again.”

She doesn’t realise Lena has reached out until a hand lands softly, lightly on her shoulder. It’s the barest hint of pressure, the most hesitant of offerings, and Kara latches onto it like it’s the safety net standing between her and oblivion.

Maybe it is, and maybe Lena knows that, because as Kara leans into the touch with everything she has Lena’s hand slides from her shoulder to the nape of her neck. Her fingers bury themselves in the thick warm curls at the base of Kara’s skull, thumb extended to stroke lightly over the hollow beneath her ear, and Kara feels herself crack open.

She splinters beneath Lena’s touch, body folding until she’s hunched over the pillow resting on her knees, arms wrapped around it as she quakes. She’s not crying; her eyes are dry even as her breathing stutters and stalls. She feels, somehow, like tears wouldn’t help. Like the astriction of her body, the immense pressure in her soul is not something that needs to be forced out of her in screams and sobs and saline.

Instead, for the first time, she’s being taken clean apart not to release all the darkness inside her but to let the light in. She feels empty but open, baring that which she’s for so long kept hidden, with the goal not of ridding herself of it completely but of offering it up. Of not having to mould herself into the image of perfection in order to obtain approval but of presenting herself, demons and all, and asking for acceptance anyway. Not in spite, but in recognition of.

Sitting here in her living room with Lena’s skin against her own, she thinks she might finally understand what Lena had been getting at. She thinks, as she reaches up to cover Lena’s hand with her own, as she slides it around to her cheek so she can lay a gentle kiss to the centre of Lena’s palm, that this might just be the beginning of being able to walk into this thing between them with her eyes open.

To be able to say always, and mean it.

 

“I’ve been going to therapy,” she says some indeterminate time later, blinking them out of the warm comfortable silence they’d fallen into and squeezing the hand still in hers.

Lena doesn’t look surprised, but she does look pleased. “How’s it going?”

“Good. Well. Not good, but,” she amends, smiling ruefully. “You know how it is.”

Lena huffs out a chuckle. “I do. It’s a pain in the ass.”

Kara’s lips quirk. “Yeah. A necessary, expensive pain in the ass.” She keeps her gaze fixed on their joined hands, focuses on how warm and soft Lena’s skin is beneath her own. “Do you think it’ll help?” she asks quietly, wincing at the poorly-concealed hope in her own voice even as she half-dreads the answer. “Will it help us trust each other? Will it give us back that certainty? Can we be us again?”

Lena sighs, running her thumb lightly over Kara’s knuckles. “I don’t think we’re ever going to have certainty, Kara. There are no sure things. That’s what trust is.”

She smiles, only a little sadly. “I have to trust that you’re being honest with me, without any assurance that you actually are. And you have to trust that I’m here because I want to be, and that I’ll stay for as long as it’s what’s best for both of us.” She tugs lightly on their joined hands until Kara raises her eyes to meet Lena’s. “You have to trust that I won’t abandon you, without any guarantees.”

Kara must do a particularly bad job of hiding the involuntary terror that shudders bone-deep through her body at the thought, because Lena’s face softens. “I know it’s scary,” she says quietly. “I know it seems like it would be easier to just, I don’t know. Make a Truth Inducer.” There’s a quick flash of a self-deprecating smile before her face turns solemn again. “Or weave a web of only the most appealing parts of the truth in order to keep someone by your side. But at some point we have to face those fears. We have to face reality.”

Lena shifts closer on the couch cushions, pressing them together from elbow to hip to knee and tugging their joined hands into her lap. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to lay her head against Lena’s shoulder, to breathe in the smoky richness of her skin beneath the fresh scent of her expensive moisturiser.

“You can’t keep people, Kara. Believe me, I’ve tried,” Lena whispers, her cheek pressed to the crown of Kara’s head. “I know you’ve been abandoned before. I know you’re terrified of it happening again. But you can’t keep people just because you want them. If you hold on too tightly, you’ll still lose them.”

“I want to hold onto you and never let go,” she murmurs into Lena’s sweater. She’s not sure where the words come from, only that they’re primal and visceral and so real they ache in her jaw.

“I know,” Lena says shakily, and there’s something guttural in her tone that makes Kara think she’s not the only one familiar with this feeling. “But don’t keep me, Kara. Choose me. And give me the space to choose you back.”

It’s a long time before the barbed wire twisted around Kara’s windpipe loosens enough to allow for speech again. “Okay,” she whispers, and Lena’s fingers tighten around her own. “Okay. I’ll try.”

Lena shifts, and Kara feels lips press so gently to her hairline that the scar tissue of her heart feels like it splits down the centre, something new and raw and tender pushing up in its place. “Thank you,” Lena murmurs, a whisper across her skin, an osseous echo. “Thank you. So will I.”

“So,” Kara says at last, unwilling to raise her head, unwilling to leave the warmth and safety of Lena’s body cocooned around hers. “What now? What do we do next?”

It’s an incredible thing, Kara thinks, to be able to know when someone’s smiling just because of the way the air around them changes. To feel the bright thrust of their happiness even without being able to see it; to know it from the warmth and light that radiates to the outer reaches of their gravitational field, encompassing all in their orbit.

“Well,” Lena says, her voice rough with emotion, the sound of it so precious Kara feels her very cells straining to absorb it, to commit it to physical memory to be stored forever within her own genetic code.

“I think I’d like to face reality with you. I think I’d like to get to know you, Kara Zor-El.” Lena says her name like it’s holy, and Kara’s heart swells with the rapture of the sanctified. “And, even though it scares the shit out of me, I think I’d like you to know me, too.”

 

So, that’s what they do.

They get to know each other, again. Really and properly, free from their illusions, and out from under the weight of all their false pretences.

There are no more scheduled meetings, no more rules and formalities. There’s just them, she and Lena, and the conscious choice to bare everything they’ve spent most of their lives trying to hide.

They go to the movies, to the beach and to the ballet. They go to yoga, for bike rides along the sea wall and long hikes in nearby national parks. They take a cooking class together, and it’s hard to say which of the two of them is worse at it. After Kara cracks her third mixing bowl and Lena forgets to turn the oven on the teacher, despairing at the way the two of them giggle together like a pair of unruly schoolgirls, throws her hands in the air and gives up on them.

They go to the Luthor mansion. Lena walks her through the dusty, shrouded halls; shows Kara her childhood bedroom. It’s a stern, austere room, bearing little sign that Lena – or indeed, anyone – had ever inhabited it. Lena runs a hand over the wrought-iron bedframe sadly, expression heavy with the weight of the past. She shows Kara the gouges in the white-painted doorframe inside her walk-in closet, the progression of marks showing Lena’s height as she grew. She tells Kara how she’d carved these marks herself, a ruler balanced on top of her head as she reached up blindly with a pencil to note the spot, because she’d seen parents do the same with their children on television.

She tells Kara how no one had ever been there to do it for her; how Lillian had sneered at the idea and reprimanded Lena for wanting to deface the expensive décor. Kara’s chest tightens, heart lurching against barriers designed to contain it, and she doesn’t even need to think twice.

She lifts a pencil from the writing set on the desk. Walks Lena backwards with gentle hands on her hips until her shoulder blades hit the doorframe, ignoring her questioning glances and the tiny gasp she releases at the contact. Keeps one hand warm on Lena’s waist as the other lifts the pencil to rest against a crown of dark hair, gouging her mark into the wood that had been more precious to Lillian than her daughter’s fragile heart.

She spins Lena in her arms, tugging the smaller woman back against her with a hand splayed wide and tender over her stomach and she can feel the way Lena’s heart is pounding, hear her heavy swallow. She marks Lena’s height carefully, zealously, scoring proof into this cold unfeeling building that it had, despite itself, born witness to something so radiant and vital and loving within its walls.

Lena watches her, transfixed by the motion of Kara’s hand as she scratches the date into the paint. When it’s finished she reaches up, traces her fingertips over the grooves with something like wonder in her touch. “No one’s ever wanted to keep a record of me,” she whispers, barely audible. “My whole childhood was spent trying to take up as little space as possible. To not exist, unless it was convenient.”

Kara says nothing, confident that if she were to open her mouth in this moment nothing of substance would come out. The only thing she can fathom doing right now is sobbing, or pressing her lips to Lena’s, and neither of those are particularly appropriate. So she just holds Lena that little bit tighter, nudging just up to the limit of human-tolerable pressure, and shows her through the press of their bodies if nothing else that she is not alone.

But the next night, when Lena comes over for Thai food and an indulgent evening on the couch in front of reruns of The Bachelor, Kara cuts off her complaints about the lab tech she’d had to fire that morning by tugging her into her bedroom and pressing her back against the door to the en suite.

“Kara, what on Earth—” Lena starts as her back hits the frame but she falls silent as her gaze drops to the pencil already poised in Kara’s hand.

“You don’t have to do this,” she says quietly as Kara marks her height, adorns it with Lena’s name and the date and a tiny carved heart a few inches below the haphazard self-measurement she’d attempted earlier that afternoon.

Kara smiles, determined not to let the gravity of the moment overtake the light-hearted evening she’d planned for the two of them. “I know,” she says gently, looping her fingers round Lena’s wrist to tug her lightly back toward the couch. “I want to. I want a record of you.”

And later, when they’re tucked up together on the couch, when they’re snug and warm and full and Lena laughs so hard she dribbles sweet chilli sauce all over her own jeans, Kara knows with unflinching certainty that her doorframe isn’t the only thing Lena’s been scored indelibly onto.

 

That’s just one of the many things she learns about Lena over the next few weeks.

It’s just one, but it’s a big one. Impermanence, she comes to realise, is a huge sore spot for Lena. After her birth mother died and she’d been shipped off to the Luthors, every trace of her life before them had slowly and surely vanished. Throughout her time with Lillian and Lionel there was rarely a physical acknowledgment of Lena’s existence; no photos of her adorned the walls of the Luthor mansion, no shrine was erected in honour of her many achievements the way several were for Lex. Never did one of Lena’s drawings or report cards grace the fridge, never were her toys or books allowed to remain out in full view. Aside from the family portraits the Luthors sat for religiously every year at their Christmas charity gala, barely any photos from Lena’s youth exist at all.

And she realises too that when everything between the two of them had fallen apart, there’d been no physical evidence to affirm to Lena that the four years she’d spent building a home and a family in National City had ever existed at all. Without photos and mementos and reminders of her loved ones – without her loved ones themselves – what proof did Lena have that she’d mattered to Kara, to all of them? That she’d be missed?

Kara can see the way this transience, this lack of physical affirmations of her significance to those around her, has scarred into Lena the belief that she is expendable, unimportant. She can see, now, the way Lena’s eyes wander to the mark on Kara’s bathroom doorframe each and every time she visits, taking in the set of matching carvings with an air of dazzled disbelief. She can see it, and it breaks her heart.

And so, she sets about quietly trying to rectify it.

Kara does anything and everything she can think of to demonstrate to Lena her own permanence in Kara’s life. Because, she realises, while Kara may fear abandonment, Lena fears rejection. Fears being neglected, disregarded; to be surrounded by people yet deemed unworthy of their attention.

So Kara decides to make explicit that which she’d felt implicitly for years. She decides to make Lena the centre of her world. And more than that, she vows to make sure Lena knows it.

She fishes out the Polaroid camera Alex had given her last Christmas, invests in a few packs of film, and starts snapping. Photos of she and Lena hand in hand at the ice rink, of Lena tucked into the couch between Alex and Nia at game night, of Lena and Brainy arguing over the best brand of electron microscope in the lab. Photos of Lena laughing over a game of pool at Joe’s bar, or sound asleep with her head on Kelly’s shoulder at movie night, or in matching green face paint with the whole gang for St. Patrick’s Day. Photos of Lena with her friends, her family, so she can never again doubt how much they love her. How much they need her.

Increasingly, she starts snapping photos of Lena on her own, too. Candids, mostly; Lena deep in thought at her desk with her pen lid between her teeth, Lena in her favourite bookstore with Soffi in her lap, Lena staring up at the giant trees in wonder when Kara takes her to Sequoia National Park one weekend.

She gives some of the photos to Lena, the ones she sees the young woman gaze most wistfully at when they’re done developing. The rest, she strings up on her bedroom wall with pegs and twine and fairy lights. Before too long they start to overflow and Kara expands her gallery into the living room, too.

The first time Lena sees them, she flushes to the very tips of her ears. But it’s not embarrassment colouring her cheeks, Kara soon realises. It’s happiness, and she pulls out her Polaroid and snaps a photo then and there.

She does other things, too. Buys Lena a toothbrush and keeps it permanently beside her own on the bathroom counter for their frequent-again sleepovers. Tacks up photos of the two of them in pride of place on her fridge, alongside press cuttings of Lena’s greatest achievements. Buys Lena a pair of fluffy koala slippers for her ever-cold feet and keeps them on her shoe rack beside the front door. Stocks Lena’s favourite tea in her kitchen, Lena’s expensive shampoo in her shower, Lena’s preferred scented candles on her living room coffee table.

Her apartment becomes something of a shrine to Lena, to their relationship, and the thought only makes her love her home more. Alex teases her gently for it, complains in good humour that Lena gets all her favourite things supplied for her while Alex still has to bring her own beer at game night. But the gentle ribbing is accompanied by a smile so warm and so knowing that all she can do is pull Alex into a hug and try to fight back the tears as her sister whispers good job, kid into her hair.

 

In turn, Lena notices things about her.

She notices the way Kara tenses up at the old Star Wars rerun playing in the background one Saturday afternoon and quickly changes the channel. Pulls up Wall-E instead and winds herself around Kara, pressing her down into the couch cushions with warmth and weight and reassurance as they giggle-turn-sob-turn-giggle their way through the film. She never points out the obvious; never brings up the fact that a movie about the protagonist’s home planet exploding into nothing is enough to tip Kara over the edge. She just stays, quiet and calm and close, and they never mention Star Wars again.

She notices the way Kara hugs her extra tight whenever they’ve been apart for longer than a day; the way her fingers twist almost desperately into Lena’s shirt whenever she returns from a business trip.

In response, she takes to texting Kara. Short messages, usually; sometimes silly, sometimes sweet. She checks in, updates Kara on where she is and how she’s doing. If she’s stuck in the lab or an out-of-town meeting keeps her away for longer, she calls Kara every night as she’s getting ready for bed. They chat about their days, about colleagues and deadlines and what they had for lunch, and as she listens to Lena’s soft breathing down the line, to the quiet rustling and clanking of whatever she’s working on, Kara feels the tight ball of anxiety in her stomach begin to unravel.

Lena does all of this without asking, without questioning or pointing it out. And Kara appreciates it more than she could ever hope to articulate aloud; that with every call and text and snapchat Lena is telling her without ever saying the words, I haven’t left you. I’m coming back.

And she notices that Kara always sleeps with her windows open, blinds and curtains thrown wide. She doesn’t mention it, but Kara sees the way Lena’s eyes linger on the open plan layout of her apartment, on the bathroom door that always stands ajar.

The next time she stays over at Lena’s apartment the young woman doesn’t close the blinds. She just cracks a window, leaves her bedroom and en suite doors open, and climbs into bed beside her. So moved by the gesture that her heart has migrated right up into her throat, Kara tells her about the interminable years she’d spent in the Phantom Zone as a child. About the tight, dark, airless nothing stretching on forever, infinite and unrelenting. Lena just listens, holds her and presses a tender kiss to her temple, and tells her she hopes she’ll never have to feel trapped again.

This honesty, these fears and anxieties they’ve shared with each other, have had the opposite effect to the one Kara had so feared. Instead of repulsing Lena, of scaring her away, it seems instead that she’s handed Lena a roadmap of her vulnerabilities, which the other woman intends to set about methodically soothing one by one.

When Kara mentions offhandedly the orb she used to use to study astronomy on Krypton – an intricate device that, once opened, would project an interactive holographic map of the cosmos – Lena rents out the entire National City Planetarium and asks Kara to teach her everything she knows about the stars.

They sit together in the empty auditorium, the tapestry of space weaving together above their heads, and Kara tells her. She tells her about how different the night sky had looked on Krypton, about the myths behind the constellations visible in her part of the universe. She tells her about the various planets she’d visited with her parents, about space travel and anti-gravity and the way the air on every world smelled ever so subtly different.

She tells her about her obsession with astronomy after landing on Earth; the way she’d had to learn to identify new patterns in the heavens, to call stars and planets by their English names rather than using her native tongue. She tells her about how she’d memorised the exact position Krypton used to hold in the sky. About how even now, all these years later, that one empty spot is always the first place she looks in the darkness.

She tells her everything, and with Lena’s hand in hers beneath a star-speckled velvet sky, Kara Zor-El doesn’t feel quite so alone.

 

Perhaps it’s an inappropriate analogy for a Kryptonian gifted with the power of flight, but Kara is beginning to feel lighter than air.

She still sees Elias twice a week. She doesn’t keep anything back from him now, tells him about Krypton and her life there, her double life here. Her triple life, once Red Daughter’s existence had been assimilated back into her head. She tells him about the struggle, the exhaustion of walling off parts of herself. She tells him about the constant effort it takes to hold onto who she is.

Elias says to her once, in that calm, non-judgmental way he has, that she seems to have spent most of her life closed off from those around her. Kara thinks of Alex’s warm embrace when she’d told her about Red Daughter, thinks of Lena’s hand in hers under the endless night sky, and she’s smiling when she whispers not so much anymore.

Without the weight of all her secrets, all her enforced solitude, she feels like she can breathe again. Feels a little like she’s floating through life. Sometimes literally floats through her life quite without realising it, prompting her sister to grab her wrist and tug her roughly back down to Earth in public before anyone can notice, muttering something about premature greying under her breath.

But this lightness, it doesn’t come from a sudden absence of struggles, an absence of problems. Her life has not suddenly become uncomplicated and easy. She still grapples with the empty chasm Red Daughter’s death has hollowed out inside her chest. Still has to contend with the immense anger inside her, the outrage over all she’s lost that feels insurmountable some days.

She worries herself sick over Alex when her sister takes on an angry Hellgrammite who proves to be just that little bit too strong for her, when he leaves her in a crumpled heap on the ground and then concussed in a hospital bed for the next two days. She ties herself up in knots when L-Corp becomes the target of yet another ruthless smear campaign, working herself into the ground to try and clear Lena’s name. She frets over Nia’s hot-headedness, her personal involvement in cases they work together. She despairs over Brainy’s compartmentalisation, the way his withdrawal is driving a wedge into his relationships. Her life has by no stretch of the imagination suddenly become easy.

But now, she has Elias to talk to. She has exercises to work on and new thought patterns to try to wire into her brain. She has strategies and coping mechanisms and more than that, she has an understanding of herself, her problems, and her reflexive reactions to them that she’d always felt herself lacking.

It’s a learning curve, and far from a smooth one.

She misses a crucial article deadline because of a deadly gas leak at a nearby power plant and Snapper puts her on probation for two weeks, downgrading her to assignments on new traffic calming measures and a spate of fires at the county dump.

But more than that, in clearing the gas by using her own lungs as an air filtration system in order to save the humans suffocating inside, Kara had blown out her powers. Solar flaring always leaves her on-edge and irritable, frustrated at being sidelined from the action and cloaking the vulnerability she’s so unused to feeling by lashing out at those around her.

She and Lena fight. It isn’t pretty. Lena accuses her of recklessness when Kara wants to intercede in an armed robbery taking place at a jewellery store downtown sans powers, cites a latent god complex as the explanation underlying Kara’s inability to let the NCPD handle it on their own. Kara snaps into self-righteous Super mode without thinking twice, hands on hips and a classic heroism isn’t about powers, Lena, you can’t stop me being who I am speech spilling from her lips almost on autopilot.

They yell. They shout and they argue and they trade accusations and insults that would never normally be voiced, and certainly not like this. Lena’s eyes are filled with tears even as she hurls her last barb across the apartment towards her and she’s slamming out of Kara’s front door before Kara can realise she’s crying, too.

She doesn’t even need to think about it. She follows Lena – at a frustratingly human pace – corners her at the end of the corridor and scoops her up (she may not have super strength right now, but she’s no slouch). She presses Lena back against the wall, the young woman’s feet hovering a few inches above the ground as she buries her face in Lena’s neck and whispers apologies into her skin.

They stay like that a long time, until Lena’s pounding heart begins to slow and Kara’s human arms are getting sore from holding her up. She sets her back on her feet, takes her hand to tug her back into her apartment and wraps them up together on the couch, as closely intertwined as she can manage.

She and Lena can fight, that’s fine. But they can’t leave. They can’t walk away, not without talking. Not without trying.

So, they try.

“I know you believe that everything is good and kind, and that’s still one of the things I love most about you,” Lena says quietly, cheek pressed to Kara’s, hands fisted tight in the front of her sweater.

Kara sighs. She knows this script. “But? That’s not the real world, right?”

Lena traces her index finger thoughtfully along the plane of Kara’s forearm where it’s draped over her stomach. “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it is. Maybe you’re helping me to see that it might be.” Her voice is cautious, awed, and she wraps her fingers in Kara’s sleeve as she contemplates her next words, anchoring them together.

“I’m just hardwired to believe that it’s not, so taking the chance feels risky,” she whispers, hand warm through the soft fabric. “And if I’m taking a risk on anything, I don’t want it to be you. I don’t doubt your abilities, Kara, with or without powers. And I never want to stop you being who you are.”

Kara opens her mouth, ready to apologise for the low blow she’d dealt that she hadn’t even truly meant, but Lena stops her with a squeeze of her wrist. “I’m just scared,” she breathes, and Kara knows the bravery it takes to say those words aloud. “What if you get hurt? What if their bullets reach you before your de-escalation tricks reach them?” Her voice is small, anxious and afraid. “What if I lose you?”

And so, Kara stays. Because, Lena is right. The NCPD have it covered and the robbery is stalled within the hour, all the merchandise recovered with no casualties. And because Kara does need to work on relinquishing the burden she feels, the personal responsibility to right every single wrong in this city singlehanded.

But mainly, she stays because Lena is scared. She stays because even though this city, this planet needs her, Lena needs her too. She stays because, if she’s honest with herself, there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.

And she stays because even though helping people the way she does, being Supergirl, is an intrinsic and inextricable part of who she is, she’s coming to realise that Lena is, too.

 

When Viktor calls to inform her that the orphanage’s roof has begun leaking under the weight of the spring snow melt, Kara decides it’s time to tell Lena.

She takes her to the Museum of Modern Art on Friday evening, and as they walk the lofty halls and admire the newest instalments she tells her about Mikhail. Everything about him, from the way Red Daughter had first saved him to the hole he’d left in both their hearts when he’d died. Hand in hand in the quiet of the Annie Leibovitz exhibition, she tells her about the orphanage. About the months she’s spent working there, the problems they’ve been having. And then, with sweaty palms and trembling voice, she asks Lena if she’d like to come with her to visit the next day.

Lena’s eyes are shining in the low mood lighting, her hands clasped tight tight tight around Kara’s own when she murmurs I’d be honoured, love.

That’s how she ends up flying Lena to Kaznia early the next morning. Lena, and her enormous supply box that almost weighs more than she does.

She spends twenty minutes balanced on a rickety old ladder in the corner of one of the dormitories, investigating the water dripping through the ceiling and patching the leak with a temporary cover. Kara stands behind her like a sentinel, handing up tools and flashlights as instructed, arms tensed and ready to snap out and snag her around the waist at the slightest wobble.

Satisfied in her appraisal, Lena climbs down and puts in a call to one of L-Corp’s warehouses. She arranges for a new polymer underlay for the roof to be delivered the next day, an L-Corp specialty that’s lightweight, waterproof, and an excellent insulator against the cold Russian winters. She also organises a team to install it, and to re-surface the roof while they’re here.

When Kara leaves for a moment to go to the bathroom, she returns to find Lena already sketching out designs for a solar-powered roof heating system that would melt the snow before it could gather and collect the water for household use, eyes narrowed and lips pursed as she scribbles feverishly on a scrap of paper from her bag.

As is becoming increasingly common, Kara has to fight down the urge to press her lips to Lena’s right then and there in the middle of a Russian orphanage, cold and windswept and still damp from meltwater. She settles for pressing a kiss to Lena’s cheek, and packing up her supplies for her as they make their way downstairs.

Lena meets the children. They tug on the trailing belt of her winter coat, reach out stubby fingers to touch her silky hair. They’re enamoured by her, all of them, following her around as they stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Kara knows the feeling.

She meets the other staff, and Viktor too. Over mugs of steaming black tea Kara blushes while Viktor regales Lena with tales of the work she’s done around the orphanage, and of the many and varied items she’s broken in the process. Still breathless with laughter after telling the story of Kara putting her fist through the wall and her foot clean through the staircase after slipping on an unfortunately-placed toy race car, Viktor turns to Lena.

“She’s very special, your girl,” he says, his strong accent rolling the words into something thick and warm and welcoming.

The smile Lena gives her then is so bright and so beautiful that Kara finds she has to look away, lest she start crying right here in the middle of Viktor’s office.

“Yes,” Lena says quietly, achingly earnest. “Yes, she is.”

Later that evening, back home in her apartment and stuffed full of Malaysian takeout, she and Lena settle down at opposite ends of the couch and pull out their laptops. Lena ploughs through her endless email inbox while Kara gets cracking on the article she’s writing on food insecurity in National City and she’s so absorbed in her research, so warm and comfortable with Lena’s socked feet tucked snug underneath her bent shins, that she jumps when Lena lets out a loud huff of exasperation.

She looks up questioningly and Lena sighs, then brightens. “Hey, you speak Russian now, right?”

Kara nods, closing her own computer and sliding it onto the coffee table before taking the laptop offered to her. “What does this say,” Lena hums, crawling across the cushions towards her and collapsing into Kara’s side as she points at a wall of text on the screen.

Kara scans the words quickly, relaying their meaning without conscious thought. Her brow furrows as Lena mutters her thanks, tugging her laptop back to continue inputting her details.

“Why are you setting up a Russian bank account?” Kara asks as Lena’s fingers fly over the keys. “What’s going on?”

“No reason,” Lena says guiltily, looking for all the world like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. At Kara’s pointed eyebrow raise she sighs. “I’m setting up a new credit card for Viktor. A company account, so he can pay for any maintenance work or supplies the orphanage needs himself.”

“Pay for it himself?” Kara asks suspiciously, and Lena blushes. “Lena, who’s footing that credit card bill?”

Lena’s flush deepens, and Kara falls that little bit more in love. “It’s not like I can’t afford it,” Lena mutters, embarrassed, ducking her head so her hair obscures her face as she confirms her account setup.

Kara doesn’t say anything more. She just wraps an arm around Lena’s shoulders and presses a kiss to her temple, her cheekbone, her jaw. “You’re amazing,” she hums and Lena only blushes harder, batting her away even as she burrows deeper into Kara’s side. Eventually they abandon their work in favour of a documentary on octopuses, curled up beneath a shared blanket under the soft glow of Kara’s fairy lights.

Lena’s oversized glasses are slipping down her nose as she cuddles impossibly closer, eyelids drooping with tiredness even as she marvels at the breathtaking South African scenery on their screen and Kara thinks to herself, suddenly and with resounding certainty, I’m going to marry this woman.

She knows it, just like she knows that the sky is blue and that Earth is home and that kale is gross but still worth eating if it will bring a smile to Lena’s face. She knows it like she knows her own name, like she knows her own place in this world. Like she knows that that place is wherever Lena is.

 

She’s halfway through flying Lena home from work a week later when Alex uses her signal watch.

Kara doesn’t think twice. Doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t waste time dropping Lena off. She just rockets to the DEO as fast as she thinks Lena’s human body can withstand, depositing her unceremoniously on top of Brainy’s desk chair – with Brainy still in it – on her way down to the holding cells.

She arrives to find Alex on the ground inside an open cell, one of the ex-Children of Liberty kneeling on her chest as he wraps his meaty hands around her throat and snarls down at her with pitch black eyes. Kara knocks him into the wall like a ragdoll without a second’s thought, lifting Alex with one arm to drag her out of the cell and sealing the door behind them with the other before the goon can catch enough of his breath to wind up for another attempt.

Alex is gasping for air, tears streaming from her eyes as agents flood the corridor around them.

“Don’t take your eyes off him,” Kara snarls at the closest black-clad figure, jutting her chin in the direction of the maniacal man now pounding on the door of his cell as she sweeps her sister fully into her arms and rushes her to the med bay.

Lena and Brainy meet them there and Kara feels a soft warm hand slip into hers as the medic on call assesses Alex, checking her blood pressure and oxygen saturation and fetching cold compresses for the dark bruises already blooming at her throat.

It’s only the knowledge that she’ll crush the delicate bones of Lena’s hand to a pulp if she’s not careful that forces Kara to consciously relax her tense muscles, focusing on the steady rise and fall of Lena’s chest against her arm in order to regulate her own frantic breathing.

It’s not long before the medic – Rocio, Kara remembers from previous incidents – straightens. “Director Danvers is going to be fine,” she says calmly and Kara sags into Lena’s side, trembling. “The strangulation was brief enough that there’s no sign of permanent damage. With the bruising and swelling she should take it easy for a couple days, but there are no lasting injuries.”

Kara releases a sigh of relief so long and so deep that Alex’s hair ruffles in the breeze, darting forward to envelop her sister gently in her arms. “Thank God,” she breathes, adrenaline washing over her like a tidal wave. “What the hell happened?”

“I thought he was having a fit,” Alex manages, still a little breathless, one hand holding an ice pack against her inflamed skin. “Choking or something. So I opened the cell door, and then he jumped me.” Her eyes flick to Lena. “There’s still Harun-El in his system.”

Lena nods sharply, throat working. “The compound I gave you to counteract the serum was designed for the final product, not the early experimental prototype he injected himself with. Brainy and I will get to work on another antidote right away,” she says and at her shoulder, Brainy nods.

Lena looks like she’s about to leave but at the last second she turns back, stepping closer quickly to squeeze Alex’s hand. “I’m so sorry,” she says quietly. “I thought the compound had worked. I thought we’d neutralised the Harun-El in his system permanently.”

“Not your fault,” Alex says hoarsely, flipping her hand palm-up to squeeze back. “You didn’t ask him to steal it from you in the first place. Hey,” she says sternly, pulling Lena back when she tries to turn away. “Listen to me, Luthor. Not your fault.”

She punctuates each word with a deliberate squeeze of her fingers and this time, Lena almost looks like she believes her. She nods, squeezing back, and follows Brainy down to the lab.

Kara hops up on the gurney beside her sister, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and holding the cold compress gently to her skin as Alex sags a little against her.

“Hey, thanks,” Alex mutters against her shoulder. “For coming when I called.”

Kara tuts if only to hide the way her throat tightens, heart pounding at the thought of what could have happened if she’d been just a minute or two later. “Don’t be stupid,” she chokes out gruffly, tilting her head to press a kiss to the crown of Alex’s head. “Always. Always.

 

Lena and Brainy crack the formula of the specific compound needed to neutralise the unstable Harun-El in the goon’s system within the hour. Sedated, restrained, and heavily guarded, he’s injected with the new serum and sent back to a maximum security cell for close observation.

She helps Alex – who’s already feeling fully recovered, if the way she keeps batting off Kara’s assistance is anything to go by – into the conference room where they’re joined by Brainy and Lena, Nia and J’onn.

“So,” Alex starts, fixing Kara with her best no fussing glare when her hands twitch toward the ice pack lying discarded on the table. “We need to do something about the Harun-El.”

Brainy nods. “Agreed. Though we’ve neutralised it completely in the attacker’s system, the craving for the substance doesn’t appear to have lessened at all.”

“And those Children of Liberty thugs knew to come after Lena to find it,” Alex jumps in. “There’s nothing to stop others from trying again. It’s too dangerous for you to keep it,” she directs at Lena, concern tugging at her features. Lena nods, and Alex sighs. “So the question is, what do we do with it?”

“We haven’t been able to devise a way of destroying it safely within the Earth’s atmosphere,” Brainy says, steepling his fingers together in front of his chest. “Any attempt to do so could trigger an explosion great enough to level an entire city.”

J’onn sighs. “And if we found a way to scan for its unique chemical signature, others may too. They’ll likely be able to track it to wherever we try to hide it.”

“So we can’t bury it, and we can’t blow it up,” Nia summarises succinctly. “What other options do we have?”

The room falls silent for a long moment before Lena clears her throat. “We could return it.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Lena shrugs. “Harun-El is too dangerous to stay on Earth. But on Argo, it’s a precious resource.” She glances at Kara, biting her lip. “You could take it back there.”

Kara’s chest tightens at the thought. She can feel the weight of the gazes of everyone in the room on her face, and heat begins to spread up the back of her neck.  She glances first at Alex, then at Brainy and J’onn, who all nod their approval of the plan.

Kara swallows hard. “We could take it back there,” she says quietly, ignoring J’onn’s raised eyebrow and Nia’s dramatic gasp to lock her gaze onto Lena’s. Her face is glowing hotter than a fire hydrant as Lena’s mouth opens in surprise but Kara doesn’t falter, doesn’t waver. Just meets her eyes, steady and sure. “You could come with me.”

 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Lena asks for the twelfth time in five minutes, wringing her hands anxiously over her open briefcase.

Kara had followed her down to the lab where Lena had worked with Brainy to create the Harun-El antidote, watching as the young woman collects her belongings in a fluster.

“Lena,” she smiles, legs swinging from the edge of the workbench she’s perched herself upon. “I’m sure. If you don’t want to come, that’s fine. But if you’re asking for my opinion—” She ducks her head to meet Lena’s eyes and the young woman’s fingers still their restless drumming for a moment. “I’m sure. I’d love for you to come to Argo with me.”

Lena returns to her frantic packing, bottles and vials clinking as she slides them back into the padded briefcase in front of her. “This is a big deal, right? I mean,” she mumbles quietly, teeth worrying at her bottom lip. “Argo was your home. Your— God, your mom will be there.”

“You’ve already met my mom.” Kara grins. “She liked you.”

Lena huffs. “Yes, but I didn’t know she was your mom then.”

Kara shrugs. “She still liked you.”

“Kara, please be serious,” Lena says quietly, and the anxiety in her voice has Kara slipping off the table to stand in front of her, tugging Lena’s fidgeting hands into her own.

“This is a big deal, isn’t it?” Lena asks again, eyes wide and apprehensive.

Kara sighs. “I don’t know. I suppose it is if we make it one.” She runs her thumbs over Lena’s knuckles, caressing the delicate skin on the backs of her hands. “But whether it’s a big deal, or a small deal, or a medium-sized deal…”

She trails off, distracted by her own mangled aphorism, and Lena shakes her head fondly. Kara smiles. “The point is, whatever size deal it is, it’s a deal I want to make with you. I want you to come with me, Lena. If you’d like that.”

Finally, finally, her smile is returned. Lena bobs up on her toes, winding her arms around Kara’s neck. “I’d like that very much,” she whispers against Kara’s hair, and Kara can’t stop herself lifting the smaller woman off the ground to spin them around the lab a few times, the two of them floating on air.

“Oh!” Lena says once Kara finally sets her back on her feet, keeping her hands firm on her waist to steady her against the dizziness. “I have something for you. I was saving it to do a few more adjustments, but if you’re going back to Argo you’ll want to look your best.”

She breaks free of Kara’s arms to turn to her briefcase, pulling a pair of slim black glasses out of a padded pocket. “I remembered you complaining about how your skirt is kind of impractical for flying and fighting,” she says almost shyly, crossing back to stand in front of Kara and holding the glasses out with faintly trembling hands. “And how annoying it is to have to wear your suit under your civilian clothes. So I thought, maybe I could help.”

Kara takes the proffered glasses reverently, unfolding them to slide them onto her face. “The frames are lead-lined, of course,” Lena is saying, teeth working nervously over her bottom lip. “And there’s a hidden quick release on the right hand side.” She indicates the corner of the frame and Kara’s thumb finds the tiny button. “Your suit will materialise whenever you press it, and dematerialise if you press it twice.”

Kara gapes at her. “You— you made me a suit?”

“There’s some anti-Kryptonite shielding built in, and a few other adjustments too.” Lena’s eyes are wide and worried, fingers twisting together anxiously in front of her stomach. “I’m, I’m sorry if it’s inappropriate,” she stammers, reaching up to tug a hand through her hair. “Or if I’ve overstepped. I can just take it back, don’t worry about—”

But Kara’s already pressing the button, watching in wonder as royal blue fabric encases her limbs like a second skin, her family’s crest – edged in the same fine gold as her belt and the clasps on her cape – emblazoned proudly across her chest.

Lena is still staring at her wide-eyed. “If you don’t like it I can always—”

Lena,” she gasps, darting forward to wrap the younger woman in her arms again, closer and tighter than ever. “I love it,” she breathes, overwhelmed in the best way. “I love you.”

Lena manages a smile even around her heavy swallow as Kara sets her back on her feet, spinning so she can admire her new suit from every angle.

“Lena,” she crows, elated and exultant. “You gave me pants!”  

 

Later, after she’s dropped Lena at home so she can gather up all the components of Harun-El and pack a bag, she flies to Alex’s apartment. Presses the button on her glasses and shows off her new suit to her sister, parading around the living room as Alex catcalls and wolf whistles.

When they finally drop onto bar stools at the kitchen island, they’re both flushed and giggling. But Kara sobers again at the sight of the dark blush of bruises ringing Alex’s throat, shooting over to the freezer to pull out another ice pack and depositing some pain killers and a glass of water on the counter in front of her.

Alex takes the pills stroppily, holding the ice pack to her neck with a pout to rival Kara’s best. “Stop fussing,” she mutters, shaking her head. “You’re worse than mom.”

Kara has to chuckle at that. “I don’t envy Eliza’s stress levels, having us as daughters.”

Alex snorts. “No. Poor woman.”

The apartment falls silent for a long moment, both of them sipping the tea Kara had made. But, because she knows her sister, knows what it feels like when something’s brewing beneath the surface, she’s ready for it the moment Alex clears her throat deliberately.

“So, speaking of mothers and daughters,” Alex says, her tone landing about as far from casual as it’s possible to get. “You’re taking Lena home.”

“No,” Kara says immediately, no conscious thought required. “Not home. You won’t be there.”

Alex tries to smile, even as her face crumples in that very specific way that means she’s trying to hold back tears. Kara reaches out, smooths her thumb over the crinkle that’s formed between her sister’s eyebrows, heart swelling at the way Alex nudges into the contact slightly.

“We’re coming back,” she whispers, taking an educated guess at what this is really about, chest tightening as Alex digs her teeth hard into her lower lip. “I’m coming back. This is not a goodbye.”

Alex nods roughly, her throat working as she swallows. “Besides,” Kara murmurs, reaching out to pull her sister in for a real hug, warm and all-encompassing. “I, um. I invited my mom. Here, to Earth, for the Kryptonian summer solstice in July.” She runs a hand warm up Alex’s back, ruffles her short hair. “It’s always been my favourite holiday. I was hoping that maybe you’d celebrate it with us.”

Alex’s hands tighten in the fabric of Kara’s suit as she nods shakily against her cheek. “I’d love to.”

“Well, then,” she manages thickly, soaking in the weight and press of her sister in her arms, committing it to memory in preparation for the days they’ll spend apart. “Like I said, this isn’t a goodbye, so. Kau-sha,” she says softly as they at last break apart.

At Alex’s inquisitive look Kara smiles, wide and open and real. “It’s what we used to say on Krypton,” she hums, reaching out to squeeze her sister’s hand. “It means to be continued.”

 

J’onn lends them his ship. Fixes Kara with a pointed glare and informs her in no uncertain terms that if there’s so much as a scratch on it when she returns, she’d be better off not coming back at all.

Lena hugs everyone goodbye first, then steps gratefully into the convertible as Kara holds the door open for her. She does her own round of goodbyes next, smiling and hugging her sister extra tight when Alex whispers kau-sha in her ear.

And then they’re off, J’onn’s light blue car converting into a Martian spaceship around their ears. Lena marvels at the technology, at the sight of the ozone layer burning around them as they exit Earth’s atmosphere. She’s entranced by the lack of gravity once they make it into open space, and the childlike glee on her face as she watches her pen float weightless around the cabin makes Kara feel warm from head to toe.

Once clear of Earth’s solar system they settle in for the journey, switching on the sound system – “you have a space playlist?” the young woman asks incredulously, and Kara rolls her eyes. “I’m an alien, Lena, not a monster” – and pulling out the snacks. They chat idly for a while, remarking on the stars passing by, the occasional burst of a meteor shower. Lena takes to space travel like a duck to water, just as Kara had suspected. But when the cabin falls silent and the air seems to thicken between them, she knows there’s something weighing on the other woman’s mind.

“I wanted to say thank you, Kara,” Lena starts quietly, tugging lightly on her fingers in her lap. “For inviting me to come with you. For— for trusting me with this part of you.”

“Lena,” Kara says gently, staring out at the dark ahead of them. “I think I would trust you with every part of me.”

She hears the sharp breath Lena sucks in, loud in the confined space. When no response is forthcoming, Kara interprets the reaction the only way she knows how. “I don’t mean to overwhelm you by saying that,” she murmurs, listening to the way Lena’s breathing shudders unevenly. “I know— I know trust is still a difficult topic for us. I want to be honest with you about where I’m at, but I don’t mean to put pressure on you in the process.” She swallows hard. “If you don’t feel the same, if— if you still can’t trust me, I understand. I mean, I’ll never stop working to win it back, but I understand.”

But Lena’s shaking her head. “You don’t have to do that, Kara. You don’t have to keep proving yourself to me. I think—” She sucks her bottom lip into her mouth, considering. “I think I do trust you. In a manner of speaking.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Lena sighs so heavily that Kara feels anxiety begin to roil in the pit of her stomach. Her voice is quiet, measured. “Being hurt like that again, being betrayed— that’s what I’m most afraid of. That’s where our trust broke. And I don’t think I trust that you won’t ever hurt me.” Lena purses her lips, as if weighing her words before speaking them. “But I trust that you won’t hurt you.”

Now Kara’s really lost. “What?”

Lena sighs, tugging a hand through her loose hair. “I think you were selfish, Kara.”

Her mouth drops open, ready reflexively to argue the point, but Lena holds up a hand. “No, listen. You’re Supergirl. She doesn’t get to be selfish, not ever. And Kara Danvers – Kara Zor-El – is one of the most selfless, giving people I’ve ever known.” Lena sucks in a breath, meeting her gaze levelly. “But I think you were selfish, with just one thing. I think you were selfish with me.”

Kara says nothing. Something sticky and oozing is pooling in her throat; the guilt and shame of a nerve struck with pinpoint precision, a nail hit square on the head.

“And I don’t mean that you were self-absorbed, or that you didn’t care about my needs and feelings,” Lena clarifies, though Kara already knows what she’s getting at. “I mean that your reasons for lying to me were selfish. You didn’t keep your identity from me to protect me. You did it to protect you.”

Kara flinches involuntarily at the gentle accusation and Lena’s brow furrows. She twists in her seat so they’re face to face, expression appeasing. “Kara, I’ve seen the lengths you’ve gone to to keep me in your life, by keeping me in the dark. I suppose, in a twisted kind of way, it’s almost a compliment?” The corner of her mouth tugs up into a wry smile. “You give so much to other people. You’ve never tried to take anything for yourself. But you tried to keep me.”

Still, Kara is silent. It’s unnerving to be understood, to be seen like this. No one, not even Alex, has ever cut right to the core of her so deftly.

“I’ve seen what you would do for me. To keep me safe, to keep me with you.” Lena pauses, swallows. “To get me back. And we’ve been through enough screaming and crying for me to know how much it hurt you to lie to me. To think you’d lost me.”

Lena’s face is set in gentle resignation, a firm kindness born of painful experience. “That’s what I trust. I believe you won’t do that again, not because it would destroy me, but because it would destroy you.”

“Lena, that’s—” She doesn’t really know what to say. What is there to say, in the face of the truth?

But true or not, that doesn’t mean she has to like it. “You make me sound so selfish,” she manages at length, trying and failing to cloak the hurt behind the words with a light chuckle. “So egotistical. Is that— is that really what you think of me?”

Lena smiles, only a little sadly. “I’ve always thought the best of you, Kara. Always. I think perhaps now I’m seeing you, really seeing you, for the first time.”

At the implication in her tone Kara can feel her face crumple and Lena leans forward, reaching out to brush her knuckles lightly along Kara’s jaw. “This doesn’t mean I think less of you, darling,” she murmurs and if Kara wasn’t ready to cry before, the reinstatement of the familiar endearment after months of absence is sure to do the trick.

Lena clicks her tongue fondly, the pad of her thumb swiping gently beneath Kara’s tear-filled eyes. “Kara. This isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t an ending. This is just me doing what I should have done from the start.” She takes a deep breath and Kara can’t help the way her face tilts, nudging harder into the contact of Lena’s hand curved against her cheek.

“I’m taking you down from the pedestal I’d put you on,” Lena whispers, voice soft as a lover’s caress. “Maybe now we can stand on equal ground.”

 

It’s not until much later, eons from home with nothing but empty space around them as far as the eye can see, Kara’s hand captured between Lena’s own in her lap as she traces her joints and tendons with an attention that borders on adoration, that Kara thinks to give voice to the question plaguing her mind.

“Lena?”

“Mmm?”

Lena’s fingers still their investigation of her hand and Kara whines until they resume their tender ministrations. “So, if we’re equals now,” she murmurs softly, “and I’m selfish…”

The younger woman picks up Kara’s meaning without her even needing to finish the sentence.

“God, Kara, I’m so selfish,” Lena rushes out, and the tight knot of anxiety in Kara’s stomach eases at the lack of hesitance in her tone. Maybe they are on the same page at last. Maybe they can come out of this as equals. Open, honest-to-god equals.

“I didn’t mean to make you think that I was naming flaws in you while canonizing myself,” Lena hums, fingers dancing over the sensitive skin of Kara’s inner wrist. “I’m selfish, too. Greedy. Covetous.”

Kara opens her mouth to protest, gripped by the knee-jerk reaction to forbid any disparagement of this wonderful woman, not even from Lena herself. But she’s cut off before she can even begin.

“Don’t,” Lena whispers, gentle but firm. “Don’t defend me blindly. The rose-tinted glasses are off, Kara. We have to see one another for who we really are. Only then can we choose, consciously choose— only then will we have a hope of this working.”

Kara nods, swallowing down the lump in her throat. It goes against every fibre of her being to acquiesce, but Lena’s right.

“I am selfish,” Lena murmurs softly. “I am, with you.”

Her hands tighten around Kara’s, bending and unbending her fingers absently, gently. “I wanted you. I wanted you to want me. And— I wanted you to be the person I needed you to be. It wasn’t fair of me to put those expectations on you; to punish you if they weren’t met.”

Kara stays quiet, listening. She and Lena have had more soul-baring conversations in the past month than perhaps in the entire rest of their friendship and even so, she’s not sure they’ve ever talked about something so vital as this. That they’ve ever been more honest, ever seen one another quite so clearly.

“I wanted all of you , Kara,” Lena whispers. “I was selfish, and I was greedy, and I wanted everything. I felt that you owed me honesty when in reality, you don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe anyone your identity. It’s something you should share only if and when you ever want to.”

Kara’s throat works and she twists her hand in Lena’s grip to interlace their fingers. Keeps her gaze fixed on the gentle rise and fall of Lena’s ribs as she breathes, avoiding her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispers, only a little strangled. “It means a lot, to hear you say that. But— but I disagree.”

Lena huffs out a quiet chuckle. “Why am I not surprised.”

“Not with your main point,” Kara amends, a smile tugging at her own lips. “That’s pretty solid. But it’s different, with you.” She sucks in a deep breath. “It’s always been different with you.”

Lena hums questioningly, fingertips tracing the network of veins beneath Kara’s skin. Kara tightens her grip, turning towards her in her seat. “If you’d only known Supergirl, or Kara Danvers, that would have been different. My colleagues at Catco don’t need to know about Krypton, and the aliens I arrest don’t need to know about Catco. But I—”

Just because it’s a truth she’s acknowledged, that doesn’t make it any easier to admit outside the confines of her own head. “I crossed a line once I started a relationship with you with both sides of me. That was unfair of me, and it was cruel.” She winces, squeezing Lena’s hand again. “I set you up to be devastated, and then resented you when you were.”

Lena’s breath hitches in her chest, but she doesn’t respond beyond the idle patterns she’s tracing over the back of Kara’s hand. Kara swallows. “It was selfishness, like you said. I wanted you to be open and honest with me, without having to return the favour. The moment I first asked you for something I wasn’t prepared to give was the moment I started making the biggest of my life.” She turns her eyes to Lena’s at last, finally meeting her gaze dead on. “I’m sorry, Lena.”

Lena’s breath shudders out of her, her entire body softening. “I’m sorry too, Kara. Truly.”

Her eyes are wide and earnest as she brings Kara’s hand closer to her mouth. Lena’s lips press against each one of her fingertips fervently, lovingly, and Kara forgets how to breathe.

“Do you think maybe we’re done with the apologies at last?” Lena murmurs around the tiniest, most hopeful of smiles, her exhale whispering over Kara’s hyper-sensitive skin.

Kara sucks in a breath so deep it feels almost like a reset. Like a clean slate. “I sure hope so,” she whispers around her answering smile as the console in front of her begins to flash, beeping softly. “Because we’re nearly there.”

 

Kara has always been aware of Lena’s beauty.

She’s seen her in every shape and shade of gorgeous, from her thousand dollar gala dresses to her borrowed movie night sweats. She’s seen Lena sweating through spin class, dolled up for a press conference, soft and casual over brunch or loose and unguarded in sleep. She’s watched every tint and hue of sunlight, of moonlight, of rain and of stormclouds play across the planes of Lena’s face, the softness of her hair, the curves of her body. She’s had her breath knocked clean from her lungs by Lena’s mere existence in Kara’s general vicinity more times than she can ever hope to count.

So, she’s always been aware of Lena’s beauty. But Lena on Argo is a different matter altogether.

The light is different here. That’s the first thing she notices. Everything is less blue-tinted, more golden, likely as a result of Argo’s artificial atmospheric shield, its absence of oceans.

Kara remembers Argo, remembers the subtle differences in its air, smell, environment. But evidently this is a distinction she’d overlooked on her last visit, because the flaxen edge of daylight here draws attention to details of Lena she’s never so much as considered before.

Here, the light picks out strands of shining amber in the waves of Lena’s hair, the loose waterfall cascading down her back appearing almost russet rather than the blue-black it sometimes seemed on Earth. Here, flecks of gold sparkle in the irises of Lena’s green eyes, teasing at the promise of invaluable treasures hidden in their depths. Here, Lena’s creamy skin glows warm and radiant, lustrous in the sunlight. Here on Argo Lena is, in short, more beautiful than Kara has ever seen her.

And it’s not just her physical appearance that contributes to the overall effect. It’s the way the blue of the traditional dress gifted to her upon arrival – the specific blue of Kara’s eyes, the colour of the House of El – seems almost as if it was made for her. As if the flowing lines of her dress were designed specifically to bare the perfect amount of skin, to cling to every curve and angle more precisely and exquisitely than if she’d been carved by the grace of Rao.

It’s the way Lena looks lighter, here. The bounce in her step, the buoyancy of her laughter. The way the troubles and the fears and the scars of Earth have faded, as if left behind on her home planet. It’s the way she seems free here, Kara thinks. It’s the way she seems happy.

There isn’t much in the universe that could divert Kara’s attention away from the joy and excitement of returning to her home, her people, her mother, but Lena’s almost managing it. She draws Kara’s gaze and keeps it on her, captivating in the way she stares open-mouthed at her first glimpse of a new world.

In fact, Kara’s so absorbed in Lena – in her first moments on Argo, her wide-eyed wonder as they wait together in the antechamber of Alura’s home after concealing their ship and changing into the dresses given to them by Kelex – that her mother has to say her name twice before Kara even realises she’s arrived.

But that soft voice, that warm assuaging scent of her childhood, of home, washes over her like a spell and she’s in her mother’s arms in an instant, clutching at her like she’s reliving their last goodbye on Krypton all over again. Somehow, every time she sees her mother after believing her dead for so long, it almost feels like she is.

Alura’s hands smooth down her back, over her hair, her arms warm and sure and moulded to the exact shape of Kara’s body even after all this time apart. Kara blinks back the tears that spring unfailingly to her eyes as she finally pulls away. “Mom,” she manages around the lump in her throat. “This is—”

“Lena,” Alura beams, stepping forward and sweeping the young woman into her arms. For a moment Lena is frozen, her face the picture of shock. But then she softens, melting into Alura’s embrace the way Kara herself had, her expression a wide-eyed mixture of happiness and bewilderment.

“It’s wonderful to see you again,” Alura says as she steps back, keeping hold of Lena’s hands to take her in. “It seems Argo agrees with you.”

Lena’s cheeks flush the prettiest shade of pink under the gentle appraisal. “It’s an honour to be here,” she says quietly, eyes darting to Kara over her mother’s shoulder. “Thank you for welcoming me into your home.”

“Nonsense,” Alura says kindly, squeezing Lena’s hands. “From what I hear, you’re already a part of my daughter’s family, which makes you a part of mine. This is your home too, Lena. I hope that you’ll treat it as such.”

She smiles at Lena’s flushed cheeks, chucking the young woman lightly under the chin. “Come, let’s have some tea in the garden. I want to hear about everything you girls have been up to.”

 

It’s easy, it’s so easy, to be here on Argo with Lena.

To sit around a table with her and her mother, drinking moonflower tea and talking about their lives on Earth. To tell Alura about Catco, to explain the importance of a Pulitzer prize and feel herself swell with pride when Lena tells her that Kara won one. To fill her in on L-Corp, on Lena’s most ground-breaking innovations; to watch the way two sets of eyes light up as they discuss science, technology, invention. To talk about Alex, Eliza, Brainy and Nia and Kelly and J’onn. To be able to share one part of her family with another without having to give any of them up.

They hand over the Harun-El and all its chemical components almost immediately. Technically, their purpose here has now been fulfilled, but Kara knows from the quiet fascination in Lena’s eyes as she takes in this world that their time on Argo is really only just beginning.

She shows Lena around her home. Tells her stories of her childhood, of the mischief she would get up to in these halls. She shows her her bedroom – their bedroom, at least for the duration of their stay – and the books and trinkets that had survived Krypton’s destruction. Watches Lena file each new revelation away somewhere deep inside, and loves her all the more for it.

She shows Lena her father’s lab. Tells her how Zor-El would spend hours in here tinkering away, running his ideas and theories by a seven-year-old Kara as if she were his lab partner, not his daughter. Lena’s smile is wide and amazed as she runs her fingers over the equipment, dusty from lack of use. “You’ve been holding out on me,” she accuses gently, shaking her head. “Making me explain scientific concepts to you as if you didn’t have a clue. I hope you know I’ll picking your brain a lot more from now on.”

Kara just grins in response, wrapping Lena up in her arms and hooking her chin over her shoulder as they examine her father’s bookshelf together. “I look forward to it.”

She introduces Lena to Thara and her husband, accepts their offer of dinner that evening. Any apprehension she may have had over Lena getting along well with her childhood best friend melts away within minutes of the two women meeting. What they may lack in common ground on most any topic, from culture to profession to their very species, they more than make up for in their one overlapping interest: Kara.

She, accordingly, spends most of the meal hiding her flushing cheeks behind her hands as Lena and Thara trade increasingly embarrassing stories about her, from childhood right up to the present day. But when Thara smiles that dimpled grin Kara had so cherished in their youth, and when Lena reaches out beneath the table to lace her fingers with Kara’s own, she finds she doesn’t really mind at all.

 

They fall into a rhythm. A routine, of sorts.

Every day they have breakfast and dinner with her mother and in between, she and Lena explore. Kara takes her to every old haunt she remembers in the city, and then branches out into plenty more that she doesn’t. Re-discovering Argo this way, with Lena wide-eyed and slack-jawed at her side, takes some of the pain out of her homecoming. Instead of a sickening sense of regret over the time she’d been denied here in her childhood home, she finds she’s able to focus on the singularly beautiful gift she’s been given through the mere opportunity to experience it again at all.

They visit the citadel and Argo’s many great libraries, spend hours in the various marketplaces chatting with the stall owners. She buys Lena her own orb and gives it to her that night as they’re lying together in bed, teaching Lena the combination to open it correctly and showing her how to manipulate the holographic map of the cosmos to show her what she wants to see.

She lays there, propped up on pillows with Lena’s head resting on her chest, arms wrapped tight around her ribcage, and journeys with Lena through the universe. She shows her the Milky Way, their solar system, shows her Earth from far, far above. She shows her Argo, hurtling through space. She shows Lena her birthplace; points to Daxam, to the empty space where its sister-planet Krypton once orbited. Shows her Rao, her first sun, and feels her god move within her again as Lena repeats the unfamiliar names with wonder dripping from her tongue.

They visit the arboretum many times. Lena loves the great domed structure, the variety of plant life still thriving within it. Kara loves it too, loves the peace and tranquillity she’d always been able to find there. Loves that she can share that now with Lena. Share another little piece of her heart with her.

“You told me a while back that Kara Zor-El was gone,” Lena says during one of their visits, trailing her fingers over the soft peach petals of the opal lily in front of her. “Do you still feel that?”

Kara pauses, considering, captivated by the way the muted light of the arboretum plays over Lena’s skin like starlight caressing the heavens. “No,” she manages after a long, long moment of silence. “Not here. Not— not with you.”

As the days pass, Lena becomes comfortable on Argo. Kara can see it in the easy way she interacts with Alura, in the newly-developed reflex to ask Kelex for help when she needs it. Slowly, Lena relaxes enough to feel happy spending time alone, reading in the shade of the garden or tinkering in Zor-El’s lab at Alura’s invitation.

Any time she spends apart from Lena, Kara spends with her mother. Though the three of them get along better than she ever could have dreamed, so many years of believing herself an orphan has created a craving for quality time with Alura that she never manages to sate.

They talk about Kara’s life on Earth, about Alura’s work on Argo. They talk about light, easy things, but they talk about the real stuff too. Slowly, painfully, Kara finds the strength and the opportunity to ask her mother every single question she’d spent her life without her saving up. She asks things she’s ashamed of, things that make her angry, things that make her feel weak for even wondering. She asks, and she listens to the answers she receives, and she hears Elias’ soothing voice in her mind as she works with her mother to rebuild their relationship; to forgive her for the first, the worst abandonment of Kara’s life.

It’s during one of these precious afternoons, tucked together on the couch in her mother’s study while Lena busies herself exploring Zor-El’s extensive scientific library, that her mother brings up the topic of their relationship.

“Lena seems happy here,” she says, voice soft in the late afternoon sunshine streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Kara smiles, half-absorbed in her examination of the holo-crystal she’d discovered on her mother’s desk. “She is.”

Alura’s voice is gentle, warm. “You seem happy, with her.”

Kara pauses, fingers stilling over the projection of the documents she’d been scrolling through. “I am.”

“So, the two of you are…”

Alura allows the half-question to hang in the air between them and Kara feels herself blush as if she’s thirteen again. “No,” she manages, cheeks flaming. “Well. Sort of. I don’t know. It’s— complicated.” She shakes her head at her own cliché, biting her lip. “There’s so much between us, so much history, but— I think we could be, now,” she finishes lamely. “I know I want to be.”

Alura nods in understanding despite her inarticulate bumbling, reaching out to lay a hand on Kara’s knee. “I’ve watched the two of you together,” she says with a smile. “And I think you are, too. Do you remember the old saying on Krypton?” Her mother’s voice is gentle, the Kryptonian syllables rolling from her tongue like ambrosia. “She moves as you move.”  

Kara sucks in a sharp breath at the adage, once so familiar, but one she hasn’t considered now in almost two decades.

Her mother’s hand tightens on her knee. “Lena moves as you move, Kara, and you as she. Whatever pain there was between you once, I do not think it remains strong enough to predict your future.”

Kara bites her lip hard, blinking back tears that have gathered quite without her permission. Her mother reaches out to cup her face in her hands, thumbs swiping gently beneath her damp eyes.

“My daughter,” she says softly, her touch welcome and warm as the first bright blush of springtime. “My wonderful, wonderful daughter. You know, perhaps better than any of us, how fleeting this life can be. How rarely a second chance may come around. Rao’s grace granted one for you and I and, from what you’ve told me, for you and Lena as well.”

Alura’s hands slide back into Kara’s loose hair, tilting her face down to press a kiss to her forehead. “If you find love in this life then hold onto it, my darling,” her mother whispers into her hair, thumbs stroking over her cheeks. She pulls back after a moment to reach for a small box on her desk, which she presents to Kara with a tear-filled smile. “Hold on, and don’t let go.”

 

That evening, she invites Lena for a walk.

They stroll hand in hand through the meadows and forests behind Kara’s home, trading anecdotes about their days. Lena’s excitement is palpable as she shares with Kara her most recent scientific discoveries, the ways she’s imagined applying Zor-El’s knowledge and research to the problems facing Argo, facing Earth today. But her tone turns serious as she talks of family legacy. As she asks, hesitant and unsure, if she might take what she’s learned and help Kara build upon her own.

Kara can only smile, throat so choked with emotion that it renders her incapable of speech, and kiss the back of Lena’s hand as she nods.

At length they come to a tall hill at the very limits of the city, its far side backing straight onto the bottom of Argo’s domed shield. They climb it together, no superpowers for either of them, equals in their flushed cheeks and heavy breathing when they finally make it to the top.

There’s a rocky outcrop at the summit and a smattering of plants and bushes, but Kara directs Lena’s attention back the way they had come, gazing out over the city skyline silhouetted against the dome’s illusion of a setting sun.

“I used to come up here when I was a child,” she says softly, taking a step closer to Lena so the length of their bodies presses together. “Whenever I was overwhelmed, whenever things became too much, I would come up here and look out over the city and feel like I could breathe again.”

She smiles as Lena’s hand slips into her own. “It still works,” she admits quietly, squeezing the fingers tangled with hers. “Even though I think I’ve got a whole lot more to be overwhelmed by now than I used to.”

Lena tilts her head inquisitively at the statement, and Kara smiles. “Red Daughter,” she explains, and Lena nods in understanding. “Having her in my head all the time is confusing and infuriating and exhausting, honestly. And she basically is me. But even so, trying to reconcile her memories, her life, with my own— it’s a nightmare,” she admits with a sheepish smile.

Tilting her head, she regards Lena in the blaze of the setting sun. “How do you do it?” she asks quietly, swallowing hard when green eyes blink up to meet hers. “You thought you knew two completely different people; Kara Danvers and Supergirl. How can you wrap your head around it? How on Earth can you even stand to look at me now, knowing they’re one and the same?”

“Well, for starters,” Lena smirks. “We’re not on Earth.”

Kara rolls her eyes good-naturedly, tugging lightly on the hand in hers. “Lena.”

The younger woman sighs, turning her gaze back to the impossible city laid out at their feet. “Even when I thought they were different people, I was drawn to them,” she says quietly. “Both of them. I can only imagine that was for a good reason.” She tilts her head to meet Kara’s eyes again. “I can only imagine that that reason is that they were both really you.”

Kara’s heart is pounding so hard against her ribs that she legitimately fears that it will crack clean through them. That it, like every part of her, is so unfalteringly drawn to Lena that it will stop at nothing to get to her.

She cannot believe that she’s gotten this lucky. That after all their mistakes, all the ways they’ve hurt each other, they’re both still here. Still striving, still trying, still loving.

She thinks back to their conversation in the spaceship, to the countless hours of screaming and crying and talking and healing between them. She thinks of the bond they’ve formed, in blood and sweat and tears and the commitment to come back to each other again and again and again.

It’s love between them, she’s sure of that now. But it’s not the selfless, fairytale cure-all Kara had thought she was searching for. It’s gritty and selfish and fallible and real. It’s not I could never hurt you, because they can hurt each other. They have.

Instead, it’s something closer to hurting you hurts me too much for me to ever let it happen again, and as pragmatic and unsentimental and unromantic as it sounds, Kara’s beginning to think that Lena’s right. That kind of love, she can trust. That kind of love is a bedrock upon which she’s willing to build, confident that it won’t crumble beneath the weight of all their fuck-ups.

That kind of love is I’m not sure I truly trust anyone in the world, but I trust that I need this.

That kind of love is my entire life exploded and took everyone I loved with it, and I’m never letting you go again.

That kind of love, she realises, is something she’s willing to live and die for. She hears her mother’s voice echo in her mind, her gentle encouragement. Hold on, my darling, and never let go.

Kara shakes her head, blinking back tears she hadn’t realised had gathered. To be able to show someone the very worst of herself and emerge from the crucible of their forgiveness with them still loving her—

She can’t let that go. She can’t ever, ever let Lena go. Not without her knowing that she’s scored onto the very fabric of Kara’s existence as ineffaceably as light spreads tenacious throughout the darkest reaches of the universe.

With her heart in her throat and her soul in her hands, Kara digs her fingers deep into the pocket of her white robe. Closes her fingers around the slim box her mother had given her that afternoon and pulls it out into the air between them, breathless and trembling.

“Lena,” she starts shakily, and green eyes snap to the white leather box with a gasp. She knows Lena’s been reading up on Kryptonian traditions in Alura’s library, knows she’ll recognise the significance of the box’s size, of the House of El crest embossed on its cover. And sure enough, when she opens the lid to reveal a delicate bracelet of interwoven gold strands, Lena’s eyes fill with tears.

Standing here, bathed in golden light, gazing out over a world she’d once thought she’d never see again, in front of a woman she’d once thought would never want to see her again, Kara has never felt surer of anything in her entire life.

It doesn’t matter that they’d gone about this in entirely the wrong order. It doesn’t matter that she’d told Lena she was in love with her before they’d so much as been out on a date, or that she’s plunging into this proposal before they’ve even had their first kiss.

All that matters is that they’ve made it here now, out from the shadow of their mountain of pain and standing together in the sun at last.

“Lena,” she says again, reaching up with her free hand to wipe away the tears spilling out from under dark lashes even as her own cheeks dampen with saline. “I love you. I love you more than I’m able to put into words, in any language I’ve ever learned. I love you on Earth, and I love you on Argo, and I love you in all the spaces in between. I’ll love you in any place I ever call home, because it won’t be my home unless you’re there. And I love you with every single part of me,” she finishes, voice tremulous and soft in the dying light. “Even the parts of myself that I don’t fully understand. Because the one thing they all have in common is that they all want you.”

Lena is silent, more tears streaming down her cheeks now than Kara has the capacity to wipe away. The setting sun catches on them, refracting through the droplets like a prism, shattering into something even more beautiful than its whole.

“Lena,” she says one more time, reaching into the box to retrieve the bracelet with unsteady fingers. “You told me once that I couldn’t keep you. That I had to choose you, and hope that you chose me back.” She swallows shakily. “I’m choosing you, Lena. For as long as I can. Forever.”

She holds the bracelet out between them, the delicate design glinting almost brighter than the sun by which it’s illuminated. Musters her courage just one last time. “Will you choose me?”

If Lena is surprised by the change to the typical Earth question, if she recognises that this version belongs to Kryptonian tradition instead and is just as weighted, just as binding, she doesn’t show it.

She only sighs, two more tears tracking diamond paths down her cheeks, and nods once before she throws herself into Kara’s arms.

“Yes,” she gasps against Kara’s cheek, wet and messy and desperate and beautiful. “Yes, yes, yes. I’ll marry you. I choose you, Kara. Forever. Always.”

She laughs then, they both do, breathless and disbelieving. Kara’s hands are shaking as she fastens the bracelet around Lena’s left wrist like the promise it is, just above the watch that had been its precursor. Lena’s hands are shaking as she receives it.

When their lips meet at last, it feels like Elysium. It feels like two meteors colliding, like something new and bright and beautiful forming in their wake. Kara wraps Lena up in her arms, for once not hampered by the need to be gentle, be careful. Here, as equals in strength, as equals in love and everything else, she no longer needs to hold back. Here, with Lena, she can just be.

The first press of Lena’s lips against her own is electric. The first hint of teeth scraping over the plush of her bottom lip sends shivers up the length of her spine. The first touch of Lena’s tongue sparks the beginning of a tumultuous to and fro, an exhilarating dance she’s more than happy to commit to memory for the rest of her living days.

Lena kisses her like she’s been waiting for this moment her entire life. She kisses her like she wants to consume her, to unravel her down to her barest essentials and then build her back up again together this time. To join them in a bond so integral, so fundamental, that neither one of them would ever be able to exist without it again. Kara thinks she’d quite happily let her.

When they at last break apart, gasping for air, Kara knows in the core of herself that she is undone. That she has been fundamentally changed by this, by Lena, and that whatever comes next, she’ll never be the same again.

She finds that no prospect has ever made her happier.

 

Two nights later, when their engagement party – the first of many, if Alex and Nia have any say in the matter once they get home, she’s sure – has at last wound down and the joviality of the evening has finally mellowed into silence, Lena finds her in the garden under the sempiternal glow of the stars hurtling past their tiny asteroid at the speed of light.

She’s dressed only in a light sleep shift and it flutters in the breeze when she takes a seat on the stone bench at Kara’s side. The split of the fabric that runs up the length of her thigh falls open and Kara doesn’t bother fighting the urge to reach out, to run her hand over the expanse of creamy bare skin. Because, hey, she can do that now, freely and without question, and of all the new experiences and learning curves that come from having Lena as her fiancée, Kara’s methodical and adoring exploration of every inch of her body has to be one of her favourites.

“Did I wake you, sweetheart?” she asks quietly, pivoting to straddle the narrow bench so she can tug Lena’s body snug between her thighs, hands slipping under the sheer material of her shift to stroke over the hot soft skin beneath.

Lena hums, head tilting back against Kara’s shoulder as she shakes her head. “I just missed you.” She reaches a hand up behind her to cup the back of Kara’s neck, tangling in her hair to scratch lightly over her scalp the way she’s recently discovered Kara loves. “What are you doing out here?”

“Thinking,” Kara hums, nuzzling her face into the softness of Lena’s bed-tousled curls.

“About?”

“Red Daughter,” Kara admits, and Lena’s fingers still their gentle stroking for a moment. “I’ve been wanting to do something for her,” Kara continues into the gentle quiet, fingers stroking paths of worship up and down Lena’s bare sides. “To remember her. To honour her.”

Lena nods, head tilting back further until she can press her lips to the underside of Kara’s jaw. The tender gesture gives Kara the strength she needs to form her next words.

“I want to thank her,” she whispers, hushed and reverent. “Red Daughter was the key, in more ways than one.” She sucks in a deep breath. “She saved my life. She gave me this time with you.”

They’re pressed together so tightly that she feels the way Lena swallows hard, the way her heartrate ticks upward at the reminder of how lucky they’ve truly been to find each other despite all the odds stacked against them.

“She’s the reason I realised I was in love with you,” Kara whispers against her temple and Lena spins in her arms until they’re face to face, pressing their lips together in a searing kiss that teaches Kara what it means to feel beloved.

Even after they break apart Lena doesn’t let her get far, tilting their foreheads together as her fingers play in the fine baby curls at the nape of Kara’s neck. Her whisper is low and soft and hits Kara’s lips like a wish, a prayer. “She’s the reason I couldn’t ever truly doubt it.”

Kara swallows hard, kissing her again, peppering her lips against every inch of skin she can reach. “I was thinking,” she manages at length, breathless and flushed, “of planting a Dar-Essa flower for her. Here, in the garden, under the trees.”

At Lena’s inquisitive look Kara smiles. “It’s the flower that’s growing in our bedroom,” she says softly, gathering Lena’s loose hair away from her face with one hand and tracing the line of her jaw with the other. “That one was given to me by my grandmother on my first birthday. It was supposed to grow as I grew, but things got a little messed up.”

She smiles sadly, and Lena leans in to fit their mouths together again in a kiss the feels more like home than anything else ever has.

“But if I re-plant a part of it here, maybe it can have another chance,” she whispers into the star-lit darkness once they separate. “She is me, now. So if I plant it here, for her, then maybe it will grow for both of us.”

Lena nods, smiling as she wipes away tears Kara hadn’t realised had collected on her own lashes. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

“I think she would have liked it here,” Kara whispers, wrapping her arms tight around Lena and burying her face against her neck. “In fact, I know she would have loved it. Being here in the quiet, the calm. The trees and the endless sky. Being here with you,” she whispers, and doesn’t miss the I love you Lena presses against her hair.

She inhales heavily, pulling back so they’re face to face once again. “I wish that she could be here.”

Lena smiles, reaching up to smooth her thumb across the swell of Kara’s bottom lip before chasing the path with her mouth, words muffled against Kara’s skin like the most sacred of vows.

“She is.”