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'Cause Baby You're a Haunted House

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Kara was grounded. At twenty. No leaving the house for a week, no cookies, veggie-free day privileges temporarily revoked… She'd barely convinced Eliza to spare her 'morning jog'.

Crisis mostly averted, she trudged up the stairs, intent on collapsing into a deep, deep slumber. All that lying and half-truths sure was exhausting.

"So," Alex began, occupying precious space on her single-sized bed. Of course Alex would take it upon herself to be some secret final boss.

"Can you chew me out tomorrow? I'm tired." Kara threw her weight onto the mattress; her gambit paid off. Alex scrambled out of the way as if her life depended on it, definitely displeased but Kara could easily tune her out once she's settled in comfortably enough.

"I'm not about to. I think mom did a good enough job with that." Embellished with delicate sympathy, her words were enough to convince Kara to open one eye just a crack. Like she used to with Will.

"I just want to know what happened." Alex said, resting her chin against the mattress.

"Nothing," she lied. Nope, Alex saw through that. Burying her face into her pillow, she grumbled, "Fine, something happened but everything's fine now."

The first truth she'd told all day. It felt liberating as if one simple act could absolve her of all guilt. But a hypothetical it remained; Alex pushed further, sighting a breakthrough where Kara once saw light at the end of the tunnel. Now, it's just a simple cave-in. All around Kara, trapping her within. The more vigorously Alex mined for answers, the greater the assault. Until finally, she let the rocks take her with them.

"It's Lena, isn't it? The one you ran to." Alex gave her a knowing look. Closeness lay in intuition, in just knowing. Joy, deception, anguish, and the like laid bare before the other. Kara just never anticipated it biting her in the butt.

"Yes," she muttered, out of resignation more than anything.

"She's here in Midvale?" Alex hummed. Alarm bells rang: suspicion detected. She believed she was onto something and Kara just needed to figure out her angle.

"For a bit." An answer just dismissive enough that Alex couldn’t glean much from it.

"Why?" Why indeed. She quickly realised what she'd done. How most regrettably, Kara had set foot on the beginnings of a slippery slope and now, it's just a long way down.

"Because we had some stuff to hash out. Better to do it in person." Kara shifted, burying her face straight into her pillow in a position that would've asphyxiated the average human. Convenient too for not having to look Alex in the eye.

"All the way here?" There was a rough edge to it, a slip of annoyance Alex failed to curb.

"It was important, okay? Please stop asking." Kara snapped.

And that was that. Wordlessly, Alex slipped over to her half of the room and prepared for bed. Kara watched as she uncapped some foul-smelling cream and smeared it over her face — a recent addition to her nighttime routine and resisted the urge to call her out on it.

"I'm sorry." She whispered into the darkness. Silence.

Kara bagged up some extra cookies and left them on the kitchen counter early the next morning before she scurried out the front door. A peace offering driven more by guilt than its rational counterpart, she could only hope Alex was receptive.

She knocked — once against solid wood and a second against thin air. The door had swung open and there Lena floated, brimming with ill-contained elation.

"I almost thought you weren't coming." Was what Lena blurted in lieu of a greeting. Kara couldn't blame her. Everything happened so quickly; she was still suffering from whiplash if she's honest.

Mainly, it was the shift in the atmosphere. Not literally — among the overpowering dread and desolation, Kara could almost taste the stale notes of death if she focused.

Just… Lena. Lena felt different. They felt different together. An added dimension to their relationship that Kara was still undecided about. What with all the new variables it encompassed.

Like right now. The heaviness in her chest was a swirling tempest, demanding like a whirlwind of yowling cats. But felines lacked the gift of speech and so Kara was left to steep in her confusion. All while they swatted and clawed for their mystery request.

"Of course I'd come," she rested against the nearest piece of furniture — an ornate wooden chair that survived the purge. With one arm supporting her weight on its latticed back, Kara continued. "Just need to, you know, leave a little earlier before anyone gets suspicious or I'll be locked in completely. That'll be really bad." Her arm wiggled in place but she didn't pay it much mind.

"Yes, horrible indeed. You wouldn't be here to witness the birth of the new litter — Stefan's third."

"The wha —" A creak, then a loud snap. Kara screamed all the way down, landing in a cloud of dust.

"Consider me floored," she groaned, rubbing at the new crater she'd left on Lena's property.

Lena snorted from above. Not high up, just an inch or two. Claws grazed the inner walls of her chest, scrabbling for more. The cats were pleased and oddly, Kara was too.

"For the record, that was awful." Lena quickly gathered the tattered remains of her respectability. But she remained close enough that Kara's skin tingled from the proximity. Not that it changed anything. Kara still regarded her with disbelief.

"You laughed, snorted like a little piglet." Kara cooed her rebuttal, earning a scowl in return.

"My amusement was directed at you, not with you."

Wiggling in place, she beamed. "Well, I'm happy to be your clown."

"My clown?"

"Yeah, yours." Something swelled in the cavity of her chest. Ribs expanding to accommodate it, there was no room for another breath.

"Mine?" Lena repeated, gaze bouncing from her eyes to the tip of her nose and back. Occasionally, they veered lower. Lingered before she caught herself and returned to her routine. Was something on her lips?

"Yeah," she croaked, wiping at her mouth and sitting up abruptly. And like an unwilling pair trapped in an impromptu waltz, Lena ducked back, maintaining the paltry distance between them.

She heard it again — the insistent thumping of her heart, almost unintelligible. Yet, it made its displeasure known clearly enough, clenching in protest as Lena shifted away from her.

"Well, you do look the part." The effect was instantaneous. An infectious strain of vertigo — from Lena to Kara, like they'd peered over the precipice and stumbled back to safety. But the precipice of what exactly? The answer evaded her no matter how hard she tried to grasp at it. Regardless, the nameless void still called to her, beckoned her closer and as if in a trance, she stepped forward. Continued until her foot met nothing but air.

Fall.

Her eyes stared back. In an infinite loop, Kara stared and Lena stared and they both stared and Kara feared she'd collapse. That she'd hit the bottom of this metaphorical pit.

The eyes turned on their axis. A head tilt. Kara jerked back to reality with enough awareness to react with mock offence. "Wait, hold up! What do you mean I look like one?"

"Why, you do have an interesting face, Kara," Lena put on an innocent front. "It sparks… immense joy."

"Y-you're the clown!" She protested weakly. "You're pale like clown makeup."

"Of course I am," she rolled her eyes. "I'm dead." Matter-of-factly, as if Kara had just asked her what the colour of the sky was.

It didn't feel quite so flippant to her. Not with the way her world screeched to a halt. "No, you're not." In a blur, she sprang forward, hand flattening the blade against the leather cushion beneath. "You're not." She asserted once more, though she was no longer certain of its intended audience. For Lena? Or for herself?

"I am. I have been for the past eighty years."

"You're here with me," Kara insisted, pressing down further.

"Oh." The words came in a breathy exhale. Lena reciprocated, putting a matching crease in the material on her side. "I'm here with you."

"Always?" Always was a tall order. Maybe she shouldn't have…

To her surprise, Lena simply nodded, binding herself to her childish demand. "Pinky promise."

And when she returned, whistling a cheery tune, the counter was empty. The bag was gone.

It was out of her hands. All she could do was cross her fingers as the door clicked open, her sister loudly announcing her return to Eliza and her both.

Oh, it actually worked. In quick succession, Alex was sprawled over her lap, the remote was snatched out of her grasp and her eyes were treated to the vexatious view of her tongue stuck out at her.

"You know, doggy bags don't need to have doggies on them." Alex said over her shoulder, no doubt referencing the corgi squiggled in black sharpie.

"Then why call it doggy bags?"

"The food's supposedly meant for the dogs. Or at least that’s what they say." Alex took her time switching through the channels. There was a TV guide for a reason.

Turning away, she huffed out her displeasure loud and clear.

"I mean, shouldn't you know better? You use them more often." She poked her in the ribs. It took a full second for it to click.

"Are you calling me a —"

"Nope!" The light pats she received on the head weren't the least bit convincing.

-----------

Kara was sneaky when she wanted to be. Very sneaky. So sneaky that she could duck back in and smuggle a whole Tupperware the size of War and Peace out. Which brought her to her second point — she could be incredibly clever at times with her occasionally genius plans. Okay, that's the last time she'd be self-congratulatory in a while.

Knocking on Lena's door, she announced her presence in an unprecedented fashion. "Delivery for one Lena Luthor!"

A head emerged from the door. "Chocolate cake? I'm touched you remembered it's my favourite —"

The Tupperware was opened in the three seconds she spoke. And another five before her lips flattened into a thin line and she ducked back inside.

Kara didn't score an invite.

"Wait, come back!" She yelled. "Help me with my vegetables!"

No answer.

"Please?"

With a grumble, Lena let her in, leading her into the dining room this time and gesturing for her to sit.

"Why do you have a veritable garden of boiled broccoli here?" Hovering over the container, she sucked in a long whiff and all the odd tasting bits with it.

"Punishment for running around at night," she said before dipping her fingers into the container and taste-testing one.

"What kind of mother assigns vegetables as punishment?" Another breath, more reminiscent of a sigh this time.

"An opportunistic one of an alien who —" Kara gagged and pointed at the offending spot. "— doesn't like them."

"They don't taste that bad." It didn't surprise Kara one bit. Lena had long outed herself as a vegetable apologist. Although it seemed no one could defend boiled greens.

"Kryptonian taste buds make them taste like soap" she explained, crossing her arms like a petulant child. "Unfortunately, I still need them. Fibres and all."

"How do you know what soap tastes like?" Kara should've known. Of course Lena would latch onto her description, drifting ever so slightly out of her seat and over to hers. And of course she'd end up telling the riveting tale of Alex's novelty soaps and how she bit into the doughnut-that-wasn't. How she scrubbed at her tongue for hours afterwards trying to wash the taste out. Thankfully, that was the last of Alex's practical jokes.

She told it all without much fuss. Animatedly too, as if she hadn't suffered through it.

It was the least she could do for putting Lena through this. And maybe, she just enjoyed the way Lena laughed too.

The next day, she appeared on her doorstep with another container. A smaller one this time, for a small surprise.

"Delivery for Miss Luthor?" She called.

Warily, Lena peeked out at her, scrutinising the contents as best she could from the outside. "Is that —"

Peeling off the cover with a loud pop, Kara presented her gift to her. "They only had chocolate banana."

"Well, I'm definitely not complaining," Lena swooped in and caught a whiff. And with an appreciative hum, the door swung open. "Come in."

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Waiting out her ringtone was a chilling affair. 'Eliza' stared an accusation at her. Kara couldn’t bear to watch any longer, burying her face into the floor but there was no escape. It had the unintended consequence of subjecting her to its angry buzzing instead. Quit Playing Games never sounded quite as threatening before.

The ringing stopped. They exchanged quick glances, peering over to confirm that the danger had passed.

Alex [10.55] : I just told mom you fell asleep on the couch

Alex [10.55] : where are you???

Saved by the suspicious sister. Kara didn't know how to feel about that.

"Convenient, isn't it? That you could reach someone no matter where they are?" Good timing too — she was still working out how she should pacify Alex.

"Yeah, until you want to disappear from them." She hovered her thumbs over the keyboard, drawing tiny circles in the air.

"Does that… apply to everyone?" The halting nature of Lena's question captured her attention. She didn't sound hurt, Kara thought. Just… probing?

Nonetheless, Kara dropped her phone into her lap. "No, definitely not! Not you at least. I'd disappear over to you anytime if I could."

"Oh, I was just wondering…" Lena trailed off, making a valiant effort to keep her gaze in the general vicinity of her face.

"Yeah?"

"Do you think we could do that too?" Lena gestured at her battered phone, voice wobbly like jello. Probably prepared to slip through the floorboards like a gelatinous blob too at the first sign of rejection. Inching her fingers over, she gripped the letter opener tight — both serving as a reassurance and an anchor for her… friend. Best friend? No, still not right. She needed to find a better word for what they had.

"Text?" She asked. Nod.

"Yeah, sure! I think I have an old phone lying around. You could have it and I'll give you my number..."

And just like that, the physical distance in their relationship was closed so easily. Kara was ashamed she didn't think of it earlier. Now if only she had some genius plan on how Kara could finally crush her in one of her infamous bear hugs…

Lena tightened her grip on her end and Kara did too; gave it an involuntary squeeze and drew her attention up to where she wanted it. A smile could be so simple yet devastating; Kara couldn’t believe she never noticed. Dimples, for instance, burrowed their way to the surface with the quiet urging from the corners of her lips. Her eyes —

Another buzz tugged her back to the present. Swiping the unlock button, her lock screen gave way to a barrage of texts.

Alex [10.58] : just got a call from mom

Alex [10.58] : she wants a picture of you

Alex [10.58] : asleep

Alex [10.58] : please come back and play sleeping beauty

Alex [10.58] : can't afford to get grounded with you

Alex [10.59] : i have plans

"Oh Rao, I have to go. I'm sorry!" She scrambled to her feet, stumbling as her device vibrated anew.

"Bye!" She waved, trotting backwards and tipping over the banister.

"Kara!"

"I'm fine! Your floor isn't. Sorry, bye!"

Sorry, indeed. Kara found herself repeating that word plenty of times that morning.

"I'm sorry!" She burst through the door to a waiting Alex, arms crossed and feet tapping out an ominous tune.

"I'm sorry!" She cried even after Alex snapped at her to 'shut up or you'll ruin the shot!'

"I'm sorry, Alex! I'm so sorry. Don't be mad!"

"I'm very sorry!"

"Sorry! I'm sorry!"

Kara poked her head out from her hiding spot. "Are you mad?"

"Getting there," Alex glowered, though Kara heard a slight slur between each syllable.

"I'm sor—"

"Closer." The warning in her voice was clear even while rubbing her eyes. Kara sunk back down into the cushions with a squeak.

"Yrros?" She tried again.

"What?" Alex shot her a look. Back into the cushion she went.

"Sorry backwards." She explained with a faceful of polyester. "Is it working?"

"How'd you even —" Throwing her hands up, she sputtered. An assortment of confused angry noises emerged in lieu of words. And then, "Nevermind. Where were you?"

"Oh, um we —" Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no —

"We?" Alex snapped to attention, latching onto her slip-up immediately like a hungry vulture. Correction: a hungry, cranky vulture intent on ripping the truth out from her cranium and would hopefully be amenable to bedtime soon. "Who were you sneaking around with?"

"I um… no one?" Beating a hasty retreat, her back soon hit the armrest. She grinned weakly, a misshapen rictus smile held up by trembling cheeks.

Even through her long-suffering sigh, Kara could spot the sharp hints of aggravation. "Please just tell me it's not Mike."

"Ew no, definitely not."

"Is it Le —"

"I-I just went to the beach!" Oh Rao. A second bad decision in the span of ten minutes; Kara was on a roll. Down a steep incline, no doubt.

Eyelids drooping, Alex gave her an expectant look.

"Because I… like the sun!" She continued, shrinking internally with the utterance of every word — each feeling like nails in a coffin of her own design.

"Okay?" She sounded unsure, reminiscent of the first time Kara offered to drive Alex around town in her Honda Civic. (There was no second.)

"And I um —" she did a quick scan of her surroundings. Alex, cushions, house plant, that potato she forgot about in the fruit bowl… "I baked like a potato and fell asleep!"

"And you didn’t get trampled over by a horde of kids?"

Kara nodded eagerly. "Yeah, lucky me I guess."

"Right, good to know I only told half a lie." There it was — the yawn she was waiting for. "But if you've been sneaking around —"

"You know Alex, you look like you could use a nap! In fact, you should do it right now!" Lifting her sister off the couch, she set her down only to drag her along like a reluctant dog on a leash. Down a well-tread path and depositing her onto her bed with a soft oomph.

A hand crept over to the nightstand, reaching. Then, scrabbling at the air a bare hair’s breadth away from the intended target. Kara swatted it away. "No, bedtime now. Your patients will appreciate it tonight."

"But it's important. Gimme!" Kara held it up just out of reach. Perks of being the taller one.

"What is? You asked someone out?" And maybe, just maybe, Kara finally understood why Alex was so obnoxious about Lena.

"No!" Alex planted both feet on her mattress and jumped at it. "Fine, maybe! So I need my phone."

The phone switched hands. Snatching it away before Kara could yank it back — which fair enough, she had a history of doing that — Alex retreated into her corner and filled the room with the furious tapping of fingernails against the screen. Then, she stopped, a grin spreading across her cheeks and soon over her own too.

"What? What is it?" Her voice oscillated in time with the laughter rumbling up from her gut.

"I'm not gonna be home on Sunday."

Somehow, Kara squealed louder, launching herself over and toppling them both onto the bed. (Eliza would later question them about the 'screaming foxes' their neighbours heard that afternoon and they'd both steer their gazes away. It ended with Alex escaping to work through the front door and Kara declaring an early bedtime, animal control still on hold.)

"So when are you asking Lena out?"

Her heart clenched and in an odd instance of reciprocity, Kara felt it in her entire being. She found herself paralysed on Alex's bed, her legs stilling, her smile fading.

"W-what?" It sounded more like a gurgle if she's being honest.

"On a date."

On a date. Where they'd hang out, hold hands, refuse to go home lest their time together would end. Empty streets, just the two of them — in her mind at least. Blazing down the sidewalk with their raucous laughter and the quiet understanding that out of the quintessential 5Ws, only the 'who' mattered. To the dismay of her high school English teacher. Slowly, the night would wind down and Kara would walk her home and Lena would blush, look away and beckon her forward. A hug? Or maybe even a kis—

While her hands had arrived empty and wanting, they came away full. A glance informed her that they were occupied with spongy foam and splintered wood; it's a wonder how the bed still stood.

Flustered, she began with those Rao-forsaken words again. "I'm sorr —"

"Nope, don't say it," Alex hopped off her bed to stake her claim on Kara's, completely insouciant of the pile of rubble she'd left behind. "Good night."

It's only fair that Kara was the one to explain to Eliza why they needed to go furniture shopping the next morning, awkwardly evading the 'why's she was inundated with.

-----------

Lena texted with the warm formality of a loved one's letter — like receiving a birthday card from Grandma (as she'd been told). It was a novel experience, being showered with various terms of endearment with each new message. She wasn’t blushing — not one bit. And certainly not hiding under the covers, wary of one nosy sister who didn't understand the concept of knocking.

Her phone buzzed for the nth time that afternoon.

1 new message from Lena <3

(But she did squeal. No one needed to know that.)

Lena <3 [15:43] : Dearest Kara, I hope this letter finds you well though you’ve assured me of that an hour ago. I'm writing regarding an update, of sorts. I'm sorry to inform you that in your absence, Sally has delivered her litter of five. They are positively adorable and if this device were more receptive to my touch, I would have sent you a picture. Alas, you just have to take my word for it until tomorrow but know that I will be eagerly awaiting your presence until then.

Sincerely,

Lena Luthor

Cute, her mind supplied. Cute little rat babies and definitely not cute Lena. Although, typing all that on an old flip phone was highly commendable and thus decidedly cute.

Kara was just going to pointedly ignore the slideshow of images her subconscious prepared, ripped straight from her dreams. Windswept hair Lena in a leather jacket was her favourite. Not that she had many about her. Just two in the past two days.

Kara [15:45] : omr so cute!!!

Kara [15:45] : can't wait

Kara [15:45] : I miss you too :)

Kara [15:45] : always

It was the closest she was willing to veer towards those new emotions. The conspicuous landmine of guilt lay adjacent to them. First stemming from her wishful thinking. Fantasies of how they could be on the outside, together, when she knew well enough that Lena couldn't leave. And then from wanting Lena at all. It'd push her into a corner. Her only friend angling for something more, the pressure of being on the receiving end — Kara couldn’t think of many greater betrayals than that.

Another buzz. How did Lena type so fast?

Lena <3 [15:50] : Kara my love,

I —

Another crack spawned on her screen. At this rate, she'd better start saving up for a new one soon.

------------

The babies were cute, she supposed. With how they curled up like squirmy pink jelly beans when she gave them a gentle rub. Sally the rat didn’t seem to mind too much; Kara couldn’t help but wonder what they could see. A floating letter opener perhaps? Or a floating, almost translucent human who walked through walls with ease. Who claimed mice were timid anyway?

Lena was leaning over now, smoothing down the silky furs on Stefan’s back with the flat edge of her blade and carefully stroking him between his ears. Her lips parted, mouthing words unknown even to Kara’s heightened senses.

Again, but something different this time. She saw it in the shapes they formed — how they stretched in emphasis and puckered as if cooing at the rodent. Lena lowered herself further, making herself comfortable a half-inch above the ground and Kara's hands stilled. The warm orange glow of the lantern flowed eagerly across the newly-exposed planes of her face, like river water gushing over a dry creek. And Kara the helpless rower could only relinquish her oars, surrendering to the whims of the running currents.

“Is something the matter?”

Kara fell backwards, to the displeased squeaks of Sally and the litter. “N-nothing!”

“You’ve been staring all day,” Lena glided over as did Kara’s gaze, glued to her every move. “Are they not enough to hold your attention?” They blinked at each other; let the insinuation that Lena, on the other hand, was enough clatter at their feet. Neither dropped their gaze to acknowledge it. And Kara sure as heck wasn't going to dispute it.

“I was just…” the words — unfortunate spelunkers in their ill-timed ascent — found themselves trapped between the walls of her windpipe. And as it constricted, they perished; their remains never to see the light of day.

"Oh," Lena stumbled, treating them both to a brief pause before she tripped over her words once more. "A-are you jealous?"

"What? No, why would I be —"

"Don't worry, you're handsome too." They whisked by, a passable imitation of the cold drafts they often experienced in that gloomy cellar. And Kara's cheeks heated up, warding off the imaginary chill shaking her entire being. There was no doubt she enjoyed it — the feeling occupying the cavity of her chest reminiscent of that one time she truly soared, only bogged down by a growing realisation. The fear of discovery trailing closely behind.

Lena turned away, eyes sweeping through the curls of dust in the distance and Kara watched. Watched as her lips parted with every shaky breath, watched teeth closed around delicate skin ever so slightly before disappearing from view.

Something cold tapped at her palm, insistent. Raised ridges of metal swirling in elegant loops — Kara wrapped her fingers around it in an almost Pavlovian response.

"Kara! Look, it's getting away!" Lena tugged her along to where the little one wiggled along at an alarming pace.

Kara gave chase. And with Lena giggling on the sidelines, she couldn't help but wonder whose side she was on. With an odd feeling that it wasn't hers. She was ready to bury herself in a deep, dark hole on her fifth failed attempt that left her clutching at cottony dust. One sneeze later, it rained down upon them like soot-stained snow. Kara scowled with renewed conviction and bent over once more, trampling after the escapee. Once she got her hands on it, she'd —

All was forgiven when it grew tired, opting instead to curl up against her palm.

"Awww you're so cute!" Finger ghosting circles on its belly, the baby rodent squirmed and squealed. And Kara might just have squealed back.

Lena approached, her attention focused on the four-legged jellybean in her grasp. But Kara sensed it wandering. Up, up, up until the skin of her own cheeks tingled as well.

"Don't worry, you're cute too." Kara echoed Lena's words from before. She ducked away and the ruckus in her mind grew. Did Lena also… Kara couldn’t bear to continue humouring her wishful thinking.

"I-I was just about to say that you're its hero too."

Oh, Lena remembered. Kara dutifully took her turn to hide her reddening face. The game of Duck, Duck, Goose persisted the whole morning; just missing the exhilarating chase.

--------------

"That's a really big smile you've got there."

Kara froze. And then she jumped, launching herself away from Alex and curling herself protectively around the incriminating evidence. Even scuttling under her sheets for good measure. Alex had a funny way of getting her hands on things Kara didn't want her to.

"Is it who I think it is?" Alex perched herself on the edge of her bed, blocking her only means of escape.

"Who do you think it is?" Cataloguing the subtleties littered across her expression summoned a churning deep within her gut. Something was off with Alex — a product of an unknown affliction Kara had the urge to laser vision away.

"Starts with an 'L'. Ring any bells?" Her smile never quite reached her eyes. The ruse stretched weakly over her cheeks and subsided as quickly as it came.

"Well, yeah." She admitted, deciding to throw Alex a tiny breadcrumb.

Pretense finally dropped, Alex whispered her next words into the air. "You really like her."

"What’s not to like?" It wasn’t exactly an answer but she believed her sister got the idea. Kara didn't think she'd be able to stop herself if she elaborated anyway.

"You know, I just want you to be happy." Patting her on the arm, the weak smile returned, clinging onto life by a single worn thread. Okay, this was getting weird.

"Not at the expense of others."

"Who said it had to be?" Alex nodded sagely at her vague rebuttal. And if it weren't for the general unease in the air, Kara would've surely torn it to shreds.

"I think it is."

With little resistance, her assertion was allowed to slide by. Simply fading into the background and smothered by Alex's hum.

"Is something wrong?" It felt like her attempt bounced right off a brick wall; Alex made a noncommittal noise and slinked away.

The list of odd behaviours only grew. And when night bled into day, Kara nearly startled at the unexpected presence in Alex's own bed.

"Get up!" Hauling her off her new mattress completely, Kara shook her in mid-air and only managed to rouse a string of murmurs rather than its host. She knew they shouldn't have gone with memory foam.

She tried again. "Alex, you're late!" Much more effective. Her sister jerked awake and toppled them both onto the hard floor.

"I'm not, I took the day off." She grumbled, rubbing at the beginnings of a bruise at her temple. "Do you think I have a concussion?"

"You what?"

Kara ran a highlighter through that event before stuffing the piece of paper into her drawer.

Then came the general disinterest in all things right up her alley. Kara found herself sorely missing her competition for the newest batch of brownies and she was sure their women's soccer team shared that sentiment. The couch was woefully empty that match night. So much so that Kara felt compelled to squeeze herself into a corner, notebook in hand, to scribble down a running commentary of the game. Just in case Alex changed her mind.

She didn't. Didn't exude much excitement besides a weak 'yay' when Kara informed her that their team had won. Another number on the list then.

And on the third day, Alex was waiting to ambush her by the front door.

"Mind if I join you today?" She asked, shoes tied and towel draped over her shoulder — Kara didn't see a reason to reject her. Except for Lena. She'd been planning to pick her mind about this conundrum but now that she'd been presented with a golden ticket into Alex's instead…

Pushing aside the yawning disappointment within, Kara motioned for Alex to follow along. "Since when were you into running?"

"I'm not but with all the running around I've been doing, I thought I'd give it a shot." Alex was surprisingly in shape for someone with little life outside the hospital, easily keeping pace with her. "Besides, you seem to enjoy it."

"Y-yeah I love it. Exercise yay!" Kara picked up the pace before Alex could examine the unconvincing grin she wore. The rapid thudding of footsteps behind informed her of her success.

"Hey, slow down!" It's the exasperation — she knew what Alex meant but years of conditioning dictated that she did the exact opposite. Almost like a challenge to her. Kara clapped her hands over her ears and sped down the sidewalk.

"Kara!" Ten paces away.

"Get back here!" Fifteen.

"Kara Danvers!" A good twenty-four away. She was breezing past a familiar house now and when Old Frank called out to her in greeting, a sense of déjà vu overtook her.

"Are you sure you don't want some lemonade? We're expecting guests so Debbie made extra today."

She cast a glance at the charging bull behind her. Seventeen steps and counting.

"It's fine, thank you!" She yelled back, inching forward with every word. Twelve steps.

"Oh, there they are. It's not often we have new neighbours here in Midvale." Old Frank pointed at a couple across the street, locking up behind themselves and waving back at them.

Under the sweltering summer heat, the human (and alien) mind denatures. One could know for a fact that the world around them was as dry as the dustiest of deserts and yet, the eyes would disagree. Glistening with smooth waves of distortion — it's almost as if they were underwater, cloaked in a molten embrace. Kara squinted.

"Hey, gape at someone your age!" Alex's hand came down swiftly against her arm and Kara nearly forgot her performative yelp. A niggling sense of familiarity held her gaze in place. There was something about his hair; the palpable tension weaved within all its slicked-back glory, dying to return to its natural state. Kara slid her glasses down this time. Oh Rao.

The odds of meeting one's doppelganger was one in a trillion. Unfortunately, no one had calculated that of meeting the spitting image of the ghost they'd just sent to the afterlife. Kara assumed it'd be much more unlikely than that.

But he was right there. Standing right before her, hand in hand with his wife and giving her a concerned look. Fortunately — the one thing in her favour thus far — Alex hauled her away (and she had enough sense left to let her).

"What was that?" She hissed once out of earshot. They turned, watching Debbie usher the couple inside before helping Old Frank through the door.

"I-I think I saw him before," Kara stumbled through her explanation but from Alex's cocked head, she evidently wasn't satisfied. Eyes darting from side to side, she pointedly avoided Alex's scrutinous gaze. And then, she saw it. In the kitchen, Not-Nick's hair rebelled against the gel, bouncing as he nodded at the older couple. She wasn’t imagining things.

"And his hair looks weird." She added, nudging her glasses back in place before she caught a glimpse of something she'd rather not see.

Looking only slightly contrite, Alex leaned in and whispered. "It really does."

Their jog devolved into a fit of stumbling giggles, with Kara helping Alex along when she tipped over as if she had a little too much to drink. The arrangement was far from sustainable; they'd both acknowledged that much. But while Kara's solution was to slow down, Alex's was a piggyback. There was little argument to be had. Kara simply relented.

Eagerly making herself comfortable on her back, she thrust a finger forward, pointing at the endless horizon. "Take me to the beach!"

"Why?" Kara craned her neck at her sister the way she hated, her back bore the brunt of the involuntary shivers it elicited. ("No one should be able to turn their head that far back!" Alex had screeched. What else could Kara do but give her an encore?)

The flat plane of Alex's palm shoved at her cheek, forcing her head back into a less uncanny angle. Her voice, on the other hand, lacked the intensity she'd directed at Kara mere moments ago. "Well, you went there, didn't you?"

"Uh wha —" Her previous lie almost slipped her mind. "I mean, I love the beach." The house on the hill by the beach to be accurate, but Alex didn't need to know that. Speak of the devil — Kara marched them past a familiar trail, leading up an intimately familiar hill she was loath to leave behind.

"Ow! What?"

Finger still hovering over her forehead, Alex said, "Keep your eyes ahead of you."

Kara couldn’t listen. Or wouldn't. She wasn’t sure if it was an act of wilful defiance or if deep down, Lena had already crawled her way into the bedrock of her hierarchy of needs. Kara redoubled her pace just in case. Let Alex slide off her back at their destination and watched as she got knocked over by a small army of children like a flimsy bowling pin. The next thing she knew, her phone had slithered out of her pocket and her fingers were typing and oh Rao, she sent them.

Kara [9:32] : Look outside

Kara [9:32] : At the beach

Kara [9:32] : You might see something you like ;)

There was a certain thrill in that — laying out bait in the form of subtle flirtations for the slightest bit of reciprocation. It's all the mind needed to fuel the imagination, to keep the torch burning. Kara shouldn't be doing that; should be doing the exact opposite and be the best friend she could be with no veiled intentions whatsoever. Dang it, why wasn't there an option to delete her own texts?

No buzz, no answer. Kara peered over at the window overlooking Midvale's only wonder. Empty. Had she been figured out? Scared Lena off maybe?

She didn't have time to stew in her distressed disappointment. Sprawling onto the sand beside her, Alex announced her return with a loud groan. "The kids from just now are fine. One's just a little bruised from headbutting my elbow."

"But you fell over," Kara pointed out, counting the grains of sand that had already lodged themselves into her sister's hair. One thousand two hundred and fifty-seven. And she hadn't even gotten to her clothes yet.

"Yeah, but I know I'm fine." It was the sort of argument that only made sense in time. When the mental gymnastics was done and the mind had twisted itself in so many knots that the easiest solution would be to simply agree. Kara bobbed her head, like an inflatable beach ball floating in the shallow waters she overlooked (a terrifying prospect — why did she think that? Now, she had more than sharks to look out for.)

Her phone buzzed in the confines of her pocket and she almost ripped it out in her haste.

Lena <3 [9:57] : Dearest Kara,

If I may be so bold, perhaps you should turn around. You might just see something you like.

With Love,

Lena

Head whipping around, Kara paid no mind to Alex's yelp as she searched for the right window. There, on the second floor where the study was. Lena stood huddling in one corner with only half her visage visible to the naked eye — a face growing redder by the second. Kara beamed up at her, sending a vigorous wave along with it.

"Careful with that!" Beside her, Alex reminded her of her scowling presence, swatting at her ponytail. "Feels like I got hit in the face by a jump rope."

"Oh, Alex I am so —" Kara forced the grin off her face. "Sorry."

"Not that word again," she buried her head in her hands. The exasperated sigh came naturally at this point.

But Kara had other priorities — an opening was what she saw in place of any sympathy for her sister. Kara really should pay more attention to what Alex was saying but regrettably, she'd recently come under the strict control of a one-track mind. The same mind that possessed her to twist around for just another glimpse.

"What are you doing?" Oh Rao. Lena ducked behind an adjacent wall as if Alex had the ability to spot her.

"I'm… stretching?" Twisting her torso in the opposite direction, arching her arms and grunting — all just to sell the (poorly put together) act.

Alex merely rolled her eyes, electing to stare out at the horizon over witnessing Kara's antics. Yet another opportunity — Kara swivelled back to Lena only to find her gone.

Kara [10:02] : where'd you go :(

Kara [10:02] : come back i miss you

Kara [10:02] : a lot

They'd uttered it to each other over a hundred times, but this time it snagged a tripwire, triggering a cascade of alarms that she was being exceedingly weird. (Fueled by her guilty conscience, no doubt.) Not friend-weird either, but I-have-a-secret-crush-on-you weird. Her fingers battled against the crack-ridden keyboard to fix it.

Kara [10:03] : i mean, you miss me

Yep, that's what friends said to each other. Just a pinch of self-aggrandising to smooth things over. That's when Kara made her first mistake. Reading it the first time raised a few red flags and the second, even more. Her gaze slipped over that one simple assertion over and over, the tension compounded each time like a wound-up rubber band. Then came her second mistake.

Kara [10:03] : i mean, if you do

Kara [10:04] : it's fine if you don't

Kara [10:04] : though i hope you do

Kara [10:04] : i mean, it'd be great if you did

Kara [10:05] : though you just saw me like a day ago

A third was avoided when Kara shoved her phone back into her pocket where it couldn't hurt her or her relationships. Though she did spare a fleeting glance at the open window — empty, as it had been since Alex caught her.

"I got dumped."

Kara snapped to attention, threatening to summon a mini-sandstorm with the celerity of her motions. Her arms found their target and with one insistent tug, Alex sprawled into her lap.

"What happened? Is that why you've been… you know, acting funny?"

Alex merely shrugged in response, shoulders rolling the days-old burden off — she'd never seemed lighter.

"But I'm ready to get back up on my feet." Alex patted her arm and… snickered? Kara soon understood why. "And I'm very ready to read that list you've been sneakily working on."

What else could Kara do but to acquiesce? And bear the familiar burden of her lighthearted teasing, her eyes rolling along with them. But the revelation did raise new questions — or rather, one in particular.

"Do you regret it?" Kara ventured, not knowing which outcome to hope for.

"No," Alex paused to collect her thoughts. "It was a good one week. And we're still friends."

"Oh." Kara latched onto those words with frightening immediacy. Could they? She couldn’t help but wonder. Once lines were crossed, they couldn't be uncrossed; their perceptions of each other were bound to be irreversibly changed.

What they had was good. Great, even. There's no need to reinvent the wheel, as they said. And to take this away from Lena too…

Kara was endlessly thankful that Alex was in her arms and didn't have eyes at the back of her head; her expressions would've surely betrayed her inner turmoil by now.

Something compelled her to take one more glance and like a spineless jellyfish, she did. Twisting ever so subtly away from Alex so she wouldn't take notice, her gaze made its slow ascent.

There, in that same window, Lena waved back almost bashfully.

"It is a nice house."

And in that very moment, it felt like the ocean was transfused directly into her bloodstream. "Y-yeah, a shame it's mostly uninhabited."

"Mostly?"

Kara gnawed on her bottom lip. "Must have a lot of rats."

"Must have." Alex echoed, squinting into the distance.

---------------

The reckoning came when they returned home. Door clicking shut, Alex lowered herself onto her bed and motioned for Kara to do the same. It was done — the stage was set for whatever epic confrontation they were helplessly hurtling towards.

She wasted no time, cutting straight to the chase. "Who were you waving at?" With her knees half-bent and her back hunched over, Kara froze at the most inopportune time, looking like an unsuspecting cryptid ambushed by the bright video lights of a sensationalist documentary.

"I-I told you, I was just stretching." A commendable parry but Alex only continued her offensive.

"Right, stretching your wrists." The biting sarcasm splattered past her defences. Kara winced, making no move to continue her claim. A quick glance revealed that Alex felt the same, muttering an apology and undertaking the deepest sigh Kara had ever witnessed.

"Look, I know you don't want to discuss Lena and I've been trying to respect that but I have so many questions and they're all highly concerning." Alex's feet shifted, making an awful scraping noise before she stilled them, planting them flat against the floor. (Though Kara could still catch her toes wiggling towards her.) It was clear Alex hated the distance between them and so did she. But she was inclined to agree that for this particular… discussion, physical separation was for the best.

"I'm worried about you, Kara."

It must've been her eyes. The open vulnerability glistening in plain sight. Kara found herself hesitantly willing to let Alex take a peek into the double life she'd been leading all summer long. But just a peek and only a peek. She was sure the whole truth wouldn't be appreciated.

"You can ask." She said, her voice surprisingly steady.

Grimly, Alex nodded. "Okay so firstly, why was she in the Luthor House?"

"She's just…" Meeting Alex's piercing gaze proved to be a huge mistake. Kara was jolted out of whatever lie she had in store. "We meet there."

"Okay." Running her hands through her hair, Alex readied her next question. "Why the Luthor House specifically?"

"We need to." Kara said simply. Which it wasn't. Not even close. It was just so easy to forget how little Alex knew until she was witnessing her furrowed brows of confusion. Her sister looked away.

"It's fine if you're…" the next few words visibly pained Alex to cough out. "Boning. But maybe an old, dusty house isn't the best place to… do it."

"W-what?" Oh Rao, Alex thought they were… That was an image she didn't need in her head today and yet it had supplanted all rational thought like an entitled parasite.

"I mean, who knows what's on those floors and those furnishings. Even if you're fine, I don't think Lena's —"

"We're not… boning. Not even close! I mean, we don't even touch." Burning. Everything was burning feverishly hot. In her cheeks and a blazing trail down her front.

"That doesn't sound… Why not?"

"Be-because we can't." A familiar raised eyebrow; Kara rushed to add, "She's… sensitive to touch." And non-corporeal.

"Oh, that's… thoughtful of you." Alex drummed her fingers against her thighs. "But my point remains. You don't need to sequester yourselves in there. Take her around town or something."

She wanted to. So badly. It'd be her third wish if she ever chanced upon a genie lamp. First Krypton, then Jeremiah and finally, Lena's freedom from that place. The freedom to go wherever she pleased. And if she were willing, perhaps they could experience the world together. As friends, or if she dared to dream, something more — Kara promised she wouldn't be picky.

"I could." She concurred, a mere hypothetical untethered from reality itself. And filling the space in between was her anguish at the impossibility of it all. To even have something more.

Kara really shouldn't. Shouldn't desire more than she had — and she had plenty already. A loving family, Lena, a future ahead of her. Life had shown her kindness twice, once on each planet and that's much more than most would ever receive.

"Kara?" Alex knelt before her, prying her hands away and putting the clandestine shame on full display.

"I can't." Came her one-sided confession, hoping for some relief. On the contrary, the confusion it elicited piled onto her like a megaton block instead.

"Why not?" A storm was brewing in plain sight; Alex's face darkened. "Is she ashamed of you? Is that it?"

Kara shook her head vigorously before her sister could reach for her metaphorical pitchfork.

"Then, why not?"

"I-I…"

"Are you… ashamed of her?"

That hit a nerve. Like a marionette on a string brought to life, Kara sprang upright. "No! Absolutely not."

"What then? Is she some kind of celebrity? A wanted criminal? A —"

The guesses grew wilder by the second. She almost lost it when Alex insinuated that she was a tree-hugger, but mostly? She wanted to scream, to just grow herself a new spine and —

"Oh no, is she a rat? Is that why you were talking about rats? Kara —"

"Lena's a ghost!"

She'd done it. Stunned Alex right into silence, her slackened jaw caught in weak spasms as it struggled under its own weight. Kara nudged it back into place lest any errant flies got any ideas.

"But you've been texting someone." She pointed out after a long bout of silence.

And deep down, Kara knew they'd passed the point of no return. The churning in her gut agreed as she pressed on. "Yeah, Lena."

Alex blinked owlishly at her, eyes wide even when Kara whipped open their chat for her perusal.

The blank canvas of her face was splashed with concern, confusion, staring hard at Kara as if she'd had a concussion. "Have you been texting yourself?"

"What? No! I don't even talk like that. I just gave Lena my old flip phone. We've been texting." Kara pushed her screen closer, desperate now. As if that would somehow bring her point across. What more did Alex need?

"Wait." Deep breaths, slow counting — Kara followed along with Alex's calming technique. "So you're telling me that…"

Kara nodded.

Slow and steady somehow conveyed her vexation far more effectively than any high decibel of screaming could. "You left a phone with your number on it in an abandoned house. Where anyone could get their hands on it."

Oh. With the knowledge that Lena was its only occupant, Kara hadn't quite thought of it that way.

Another deep breath, almost how Kara imagined a fire-breathing dragon would. "And you had a one-sided conversation with said phone all about your day where — I repeat — anyone could see it."

"Only Lena had her hands on it!" Kara protested upon deaf ears.

"Ghosts don't have their hands on anything, Kara! They don't even exist!" Knuckles turning white around her knees, Alex pleaded for her to listen.

Both never quite reached their intended addressee. Like inhabiting parallel dimensions, the fabric of reality would hold resolute; would prove impregnable no matter how hard they struggled.

"They do! Look! Who do you think I was talking to?"

"You're not talking to anyone!" Alex reached out and snatched her phone over. Their chat log whizzed past in one multicoloured swirl. What was she supposed to see? "It's just you, Kara. No replies, whatsoever."

"What?" Wresting the flimsy slab of metal towards her, Kara scrolled for herself. It was all there, up until the part Kara made a fool of herself digitally. Irreversibly. "No… it's all there? I… I don't know why…"

Mercifully, her sister swooped in, cutting short her bumbling mess of words.

"I-I'm sorry I don't know how to make this sound nice but are you sure she's… not just…" Trailing off, Alex opted to tap against her skull instead.

"Of course not!" Kara's hands balled into fists. "Lena's real! This must be some weird ghost rule. Like how you couldn't see Will 'cause you don't believe in them."

"Will?"

"Yeah, he… lived here." She said, her face contorting in kind with the quiet implication behind her words.

"I see," Alex pinched at her nose bridge, her features squeezing together as if she'd just bitten into a fresh lemon; Kara didn't like that look. "Look, I can… introduce you to some of my friends if you'd like —"

Kara recoiled. "Excuse me?"

"You need to spend less time with Lena."

"And what's wrong with spending time with her?" Abruptly, she stood, sending Alex sprawling out of her way. All that pent up energy needed to be expended somehow and she'd rather not blast a hole in her sister.

"You just need to spend more time connected to the real world." Alex scrambled to her feet, unsteady like a roly-poly doll. Nearly teetering past the point of no return where only Kara could save her.

"I'm plenty connected!"

"You're not! You spend all day talking to… to this construct in your head. And visiting her in her supposed home." Alex yelled from her side of the room. And at that moment, it was as if something broke. With a resounding snap, Kara felt every grievance big or small being dredged up from her swirling whirlpool of emotions.

"So what?" She hissed, a hint of challenge sizzled between them.

Through gritted teeth, Alex met it head-on, refusing to be cowed. "It's all in your head, Kara! It's not healthy." As if she were some voice of reason, as if Kara were some child who couldn't differentiate the real world from fantasy.

"I'm the happiest I've ever been, Alex. Even if you think Lena isn't real, can't you just leave it?"

"I'm worried, Kara! That eventually, you'd spend more time there than in real life; even prefer it to real life. That you won't be able to tell the difference between the two and —" Kara had heard enough.

"That I'm isolated and unstable? Is that it? That my life is so miserable I can't even bear to live it." She needed to get out of here. She needed to get out of here. The door was just across the room. One step, then two and soon three. A few more…

And then, an unexpected snag in her plan — Alex pressed herself flush against the door, blocking her escape. "I don't know what's going on in your life! You just packed up and left early. And you wouldn't even come back to visit for a whole year. Just excuse after excuse after excuse."

Kara snagged the doorknob and twisted.

The door slammed back against the frame — Alex fancied herself as its guardian now, standing sentinel over the only exit.

"Don't try to run from this." Quieter this time. She gave her a peculiar look; Kara couldn’t help but feel fragile under its scrutiny.

"Would you believe me if I said I was being haunted? That that's the reason why I ran away and wouldn't come back?"

Alex sputtered at her admission, eyes bulging so dramatically that if she didn't know better, she would've assumed she'd choked. "Kara…" she began. From her very inflection, how she uttered her name, Kara already knew how it would end.

"I think we're at an impasse." Matching her muted tone, she took a step back.

"No, we're not."

Wordlessly, Kara turned and unlatched the window. Sliding it open, she dropped down into the backyard and made quick work of the wooden fence.

Freedom, dizzying freedom. At last, she could finally breathe.

What came after felt like aimless wandering. Every street looked identical when one didn't have the mind to sift out the tiny details. Ten houses down each row, two storeys with a small lawn. Soon, she stood before a pair of rusted gates, snapping her out of her reverie. She should’ve known better because she found herself at Lena's door the second time that day.

"Kara?" She didn't need to wait long; Lena swept through the double doors as soon as her feet touched the concrete of her porch. From the concern in her eyes, Kara knew the wetness on her cheeks wasn't a mere illusion. Like she knew Lena wasn't.

In one stuttered motion, she wiped the incriminating streaks off her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I keep having my breakdowns at your door."

"No, Kara. Just… come in." The softness was enticing, and perhaps entrancing; Kara leaned forward to bury herself in it. Or at least close enough that the familiar tingle made itself known. Solid gold stroked her hair, the decorative loops affording just enough friction that Kara squeezed her eyes shut at the sensation. It pressed against her crown, bestowing a gentle guidance Kara needed so desperately. She was tired of justifying herself, tired of even the mere unassuming act of thinking.

Lena ushered her forward and Kara followed.

----------------

"And she just implied that I have a screw loose or something." The more Kara relayed of their catastrophic confrontation, the further she sunk into herself. This was a nightmare. Why did things have to come to this?

"Kara, you're not and I'm sure your sister doesn't believe that either." The pressure of the letter opener held steady on her back; Kara sagged forward just a little more.

They'd been at this for an hour by her most conservative estimate. Another thought — just how far did Lena's patience run?

"How'd you know that?" She mumbled, bordering on unintelligible.

Close by, her ears picked up an airy exhale. "From how you talk about her. It sounds like you care deeply about each other."

"Not enough to believe me." Kara had just enough self-awareness left to register how petty she sounded.

An actual sigh this time. Kara timed her breaths to align with Lena's perfectly, taking her cues from the subtle huffing and puffing against the baby hairs of her sideburns. It had the surprising effect of subduing the raging tempest within and for the first time in the past hour, the throbbing in her chest subsided.

"My very existence bends the laws of reason. It's not your fault, Kara and I don't blame her either." The comforting pressure against her upper back intensified.

"She wouldn't even listen to me. I-I thought she would." But as Lena had pointed out, her situation was rather… unique, requiring a large dose of blind faith to wash it all down. Would she have done the same? If Alex revealed she'd been jilted and immediately followed up with 'by a mermaid', would she have accepted it with no qualms whatsoever? As much as she'd like to think that she'd wade into the ocean and give that… that slimy fish-woman a piece of her mind, it wasn't exactly rooted in reality.

A hypocrite — that's what she felt like. Kara embraced the derision like she embraced hermithood, burrowing into the bony ridges of her knees and refusing to surface.

"Kara, it's okay." Rubbing circles over where her muscles seized.

Kara gave in and let herself slump into a boneless heap under Lena's ministrations. Gold letter openers had no business feeling so good. And Lena… Lena was so good; too good. It'd never be enough — Kara could never hope to fully reciprocate.

Even in the safe sanctuary Lena afforded, the world still craved balance and this was its counter. An unobtrusive thought in plain sight for her to encounter — she didn't deserve her. Not with her selfish wants and desires, not with how the thought of dropping it all in Lena's lap seemed less unthinkable day by day. Her determination was wavering and she didn't like keeping secrets. This entire endeavour was destined for failure the very moment it began. And then what? Lena would know, would have to shoulder the burden of knowing when it was really hers and hers alone. And in an admittedly egocentric fashion, Kara feared she'd lose Lena because of it.

A sob tore itself out of her throat and though she rushed to muffle it, the damage was already done.

"Kara? What's wrong?" Lena plastered herself to her side, stroking her back and hushing her so gently. She's wrong. Little did Lena know that she's the real problem here.

"You're too good to me. I don't deserve you." She croaked out while she was still capable of speech.

"What do you mean, Kara?" And then, the floodgates opened. No point in delaying the inevitable.

"I-I… I've been thinking. About us. I want more — not that you aren't enough! You're… you're everything." Kara's gaze locked onto hers, her hands blindly searching for the smooth blade of the letter opener.

"Oh, I…" she trailed off, drifting closer in lieu of actual words.

"And I keep thinking about us. With our lives intertwined in the city or something when I know you can’t leave and I'm so sorry —"

Lena stilled, eyes fluttering open. One half-hearted gnaw on her lip, two breaths and three false starts — Kara sat through it all, feeling like a living ice block in the second-longest wait of her unnaturally long life. Her legs grew uncharacteristically numb beneath her until finally, Lena spoke. "Me too."

What? Kara toppled over, sprawling unceremoniously onto the floor. "I thought you didn’t like it? Thinking about what you can't have, that is."

Lena ducked her head away and Kara had to crush a runaway thought about how she had no bad angles. "I suppose you've been a bad influence on me."

"I'm so sorry —"

"In a good way." Lena cut her off before she could complete her apology — one admittedly based on assumptions coloured by her own self-loathing. "I'm happier when I do."

"Oh, I'm glad." It was her turn to be at a loss for words.

"I… imagined us living together."

"Oh?" Kara shuffled forward.

"In a cozy apartment with just enough room for the two of us." Lena mirrored her actions until they were knee-to-knee.

The thrumming in her ears drowned out all other thoughts; Kara could focus single-mindedly on the details of Lena's inner world. A guest room, a study, a fully-stocked kitchen. And most importantly (according to Lena), a comfortable master bedroom. But something just didn't add up with that configuration.

"Don't tell me I got the couch." Kara gasped in mock offence. Really, the couch was good too. Nice and sunny.

"No, of course not!"

Counting with the aid of her fingers again, Kara only came up with a host of question marks and no answers.

"You'd be with me." Her cheeks pinkened at that, in stark contrast with her natural ivory pallor. "We'll share."

"Oh, like daily sleepovers?" That'd be fun. Except for one particular fact that Lena was missing. Kara looked away. "But I float sometimes." Cool metal found its place in her hand once more and Kara warmed at the touch.

"I'll manage." Lena let out a small endearing laugh, a playful glint in her eye hinting that she knew more than she let on. It was silly — attempting to make fantasy adhere to reality when the point of it was to achieve detachment. But Kara couldn’t deny the effect it had. As if they were just two best friends planning on moving in together. As if life were that simple when it had long ceased to be the moment Krypton rumbled.

Then, her smile faded. Snapping her attention to the door, she whispered. "Someone's here."

The front door creaked open. Footsteps next in quick succession. Light-footed ones, as if they were accustomed to making as little noise as possible.

"Kara? Are you here?" The voice called out. There's no question about who it was downstairs now.

"I'm up here." She called back in a quivering voice. Was she ready for this? She hadn't thought of what to say yet. Sensing her inner turmoil, Lena gave her end an encouraging squeeze.

"I thought I'd find you here." Alex hovered just outside the door. Her gaze dipped, resting on where her hand gripped the blade for a long moment. "I assume that's Lena beside you?"

"Yeah," Kara nodded. Relief eagerly flooded her systems — it seemed Alex came in peace.

Scruffing her shoes against the floorboards, Alex mustered up a weak smile. "Well… hi Lena."

Lena offered her a small wave in return, glancing over at Kara to relay her message.

"Um she says hi too." Lena pointed at the armchair by the fireplace. "And to take a seat."

And so, Alex did; the springs squeaking under her weight where there usually was none. She cleared her throat. "So, I… owe you an apology. I shouldn't have said any of that… regardless."

"I'm sorry I yelled at you," Kara muttered, averting her gaze.

"Right." Clasping her hands together, Alex began. "I have a proposal but you have to promise not to freak out. Just… let me finish, okay?"

"Yeah, okay."

"Okay, I had a quick chat with mom and I gave her the abridged version…” Alex laid it out with methodical precision. First, an offer to visit a discrete therapist. For everything she'd gone through and not specifically 'the ghost thing' as Alex had clarified when Kara looked visibly upset. Her sister still wasn’t fully convinced but it was a start, a compromise.

Next, her one condition — the flip phone had to go.

"Someone could get to it," Alex insisted and when Kara moved to protest, she continued. "Summer break ends in three weeks and I'm not charging that thing for you."

She turned to Lena. "It's fine," she said and those words were echoed back at her sister however begrudgingly.

They shook on it and that was that. Alex collected the open flip phone laying on the table, snapping it shut and slipping it into the confines of her pocket. Neither spoke save for Kara's short goodbye to Lena (or thin air in Alex's eyes). Not until they were released out into the rolling waves of the summer heat.

And it was as if her sister's strong front had melted away under the overbearing sun. "Kara, I really want to believe you. It's just that…"

Through the blinding frustration of it all, Kara simply nodded. "Yeah, I get it. It's hard, but I kinda wish you could." The admission was a leap of faith. She felt fragile, irrationally so; even her Kryptonian constitution couldn't persuade her that she wouldn't land in a broken tangle of limbs.

A faint smile liberated her from her free fall.

Alex threw an arm over her shoulder. On tiptoes, she noted, leaning heavily against her sturdy frame for support. "There's something else I wanted to ask actually."

"Yeah?"

"I'm meeting some friends for drinks next week. Do you wanna come too?" Her steps halted and Kara stumbled back to accommodate it. "You know, to eat everyone's sides —"

Well, Alex had her at free sides; Kara nodded eagerly.

Things were starting to look up for her. No more secrets, no more lies — just free and easy like the amorphous clouds floating high above. All except one.

Kara cast a furtive glance over at her sister — one she easily caught. Their footsteps petered out once more.

"Kara?"

"Well, what if I told you… I'mactuallyinlovewithLena."

Crash. At long last, the remaining gate joined its partner on the driveway. All it took was the whistled urging from an unexpected gust of wind, severing its last tenuous ties to the post.

"Oh," Alex muttered half-heartedly, attention focused on the aftermath before them. Her face was the picture of stoic neutrality when she could finally scrounge a coherent response. "Good for you then."

"But I don't think she reciprocates."

"Oh." They'd need an 'oh' jar at this rate, right beside Alex's swear jars on the mantle above the fireplace. A wild gale whisked by, sending a shower of leaves down upon them before the air went deathly still again.

First a hand on her back, steady with unspoken urgency. Then the noticeable uptick pounding away in Alex's chest. It took the sudden brisk pace for Kara to finally realise — this place was getting to her.

----------------

Sometimes Lena confused her. With that look on her face that Kara could only describe as having a fishbone stuck down her throat.

It's just… she had the habit of not finishing what she started. Words, specifically — at times she'd trail off and others, she'd silence herself before she even began.

These occurrences only grew in frequency in the days that followed. It was difficult to wrap her head around — the seamless interaction modern technology afforded had been taken away and these moments they had together became all the more precious. And now, the looming deadline Alex had reminded her of. She'd been so caught up with Will and Lena that it'd slipped her mind. A little over two weeks and she'd be gone; she'd leave Lena here as alone as she had been before everything. Before Kara stumbled through her doors and into her life.

She ducked away again. What Lena had on her mind must've been important and it killed her inside not knowing what it was — yet another worry on her list, though their Venn diagrams didn't diverge much.

Kara was still hiding from Lena, putting on that beguiling smile and hiding that glaringly obvious torch behind her back. The weight had partially lifted from her shoulders when she confessed these… feelings to her sister but the other half clung to her consciousness, determined to remind her of her duplicity every step of the way. Exhaustion took hold, working its way down to her bones. She was so tired — of lying, of maintaining this front. But she had to. And so, she continued with the charade, as if she wasn't in love with —

"Pardon me?" Lena stared up at her with those inscrutable wide eyes.

"Love," she repeated, afraid for a split second that she wouldn't be able to fly herself out of this sinkhole. "H-have you ever been in love?"

It was meant as a mindless question, a meaningless redirection. Instead, Kara found herself leaning forward eagerly, as if ready to propose her candidature. The armrests squeaked for mercy with how hard she gripped them.

"I…" Lena hesitated. Clearly she hadn't anticipated such a question. Please don't think too hard, please don't connect the dots, Kara's internal monologue chanted feverishly. "I'm here, aren't I?" She said in jest, but it sounded more like a sobering reminder that wounds don't heal completely. They scab over and occasionally, they bled.

"Something happened between the two of you," Kara stated the obvious and consequently, withered a little inside. She just needed the harsh clarity of her own voice to ground her before her thoughts could spill over like a sudden overgrowth of weeds; the embarrassment was a necessary evil.

"When between a rock and a hard place, one might just end up prioritising themselves." Lena exhaled deeply, lips curving in a wry smile. "Understandable given our circumstances but the accusations weren't necessary."

Kara had an awful knack for dredging up memories best forgotten from within but now, she realised it extended to others too. "I'm sorry you had to go through that. And for bringing it up."

"It's fine. It's been so long — a literal lifetime ago. It doesn't bother me much anymore." Lena shrugged and Kara… wasn't fully inclined to believe her. At least, that's the official explanation for her next question — tumbling right out in what couldn’t even be disguised as platonic concern.

"But could you… love again?" As the seconds ticked by, it dawned on her that she was being selfish, that she should’ve dropped it when she could.

Lena did it again. The look reappeared with a vengeance. Her lips fell open but all Kara could pick up was a strangled noise. She moved to apologise once more.

"Yes." Her gaze hunted down her own, paradoxically wavering yet resolute. "I think I could."

"Oh," Kara muttered, staring blankly back. "That's good."

Lena took a deep breath — a signal of her intention to continue. And then, nothing. Two steps forward, one step back. Settling back down into the awkward silence, Kara finally broke.

"So, I watched this nature documentary yesterday and they were talking about giraffes. And the entire time I was just so freaked out! I mean, are they even real?" It's a marvel how quickly they could bounce back, almost as if they were on the same wavelength, connected on some deeper level, part of a unified whole.

Almost.

To actually possess such a connection was… unthinkable.

--------------

The next day, Lena pointed out the presence of wine beneath their feet, tucked away under dust and cobwebs littering the cellar.

"Oh, I don't really like wine. Or alcohol, really. They taste funny."

"Could you help me retrieve one?"

And she did, but not before giving every little baby she chanced upon a good belly rub. Picking up a bottle with a tongue twister on its label at Lena's behest and scouring the musty cabinets for the rusty corkscrew, Kara twisted it open with a loud pop. It wasn't like Lena could contract tetanus anyway.

In hindsight, she should’ve rationed it out somehow. Or simply taken it away earlier because now Lena had the equivalent of a whole bottle sloshing around in her belly and she was definitely somewhere between tipsy and full-out drunk.

Kara shivered as icy metal kissed her skin, eyes narrowing in a familiar feline manner — she'd seen it enough times through her screen. What did the slow blink mean again in cat language? Right, affection.

"You know…" Kara's eyes snapped to hers in rapt attention. "Ever since I first laid eyes on you, I've always found it terribly difficult to look away."

Lena paused, let her words sink in with the letter opener anchoring her in place. Satisfied, she continued with such reverence that Kara wasn't entirely certain she hadn't ascended the mortal realm. "You're just so stunning. Almost god-like."

"Oh… thank you." Kara swallowed but the lump in her throat refused to subside.

"And I didn't want to at first but you just wormed your way into my heart." Closer — Lena was all she could see in her field of vision.

"Well, I can be very convincing." A nervous laugh tore its way out of her throat. It was all highly puzzling — Lena was building up to something. Was it what she'd been struggling to get out all this time?

"You have such a big heart, you're funny in your own awful way —" the jibe was barely a blip on her radar. Kara understood Lena's mortification when she wrote her obituary painfully well now. "— and you're so strong. You inspire me, Kara and you taught me that this life is still worth living."

"You deserve to be happy." The assurance flowed freely, almost on instinct. Kara placed a hand against the blade, sandwiching it between her palm and her cheek.

"Kara, I…" she swore she could feel it — the ghost of Lena's breath breaking against the tip of her nose. Again and again, heavier each time. "I…" Her head lolled to the side, a careless motion enough to shatter all the momentum they'd built up. Squeezing her eyes shut, Lena drew away in an unsteady fashion and Kara missed the proximity already. But above it all, she needed to know.

"I can't — not now, not like this." What? Why not? It was Kara's turn to reach out for Lena. For an explanation of some sort or just… something. Anything she could possibly hold onto.

"Not like what?" She asked in the barest of whispers.

"Like this," Lena gestured vaguely at herself. Kara took in the flushed cheeks, the slight wobble where she hovered in mid-air. Like what? Call her blind but she wasn't seeing it.

"It would be better if I do it sober." Lena supplied, cued by her blank look no doubt. She was still coherent; no problem there.

Kara just had to ask. "But it's a good thing right?"

"I… hope so." There was that look of helpless vulnerability that Kara couldn’t wrap her head around. As if Lena had extricated her still-beating heart from her chest and offered it up to her to do as she pleased. The imagery felt apt; Kara couldn’t find any other way to describe it much less put a name to it.

Until fifteen hours and sixteen minutes later. Tossing and turning until her limbs and her covers formed an intricate tangle, she replayed their conversation from start to finish again and again. It almost seemed like a futile endeavour but in a single watershed moment, everything fell into place.

Kara shot out of her bed to the squeaky protests of her bed frame, landing heavily on both feet. Oh. Oh Rao.

"Kara?" A voice grumbled from the other side. She heard the scratch of fabric against skin but only barely. She needed to get to Lena. Oh Rao, she was trying to —

Her fingers could only graze the doorknob before a hand shot out, capturing her wrist in its firm grasp. "Where are you going?"

"I-I need to see Lena. I finally get it now. What she was getting at and I can't believe I didn't! I just l —" With no regard for coherency (or Alex's groggy brain cells), Kara rambled on. Her own internal monologue ran parallel to the veritable storm she was conjuring with the rapid flapping of her lips. Why didn't she realise it sooner? It was so glaringly obvious. Oh Rao was that what she meant by sharing a bed —

"Kara!" Alex snapped her out of it. Quite literally — the sharp echoes still lingered in the space between them. "What did you get?"

"I think Lena likes me too." And just like that, the adrenaline wore off, deserted her when she needed it most. The weight of the situation bore down on her — all the possible ways it could go wrong.

"Oh," her grip loosened but Kara made no move towards her original target. Instead, her back collided with the door and with a deep sigh, she puddled onto the floor.

Being stuck in her own mind had its downsides. In this case, it was her dampened senses; Alex poked at her forehead unimpeded. "You have that catastrophic thinking face on."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm happy she does. Ecstatic, thrilled and all the big words I really can't remember right now." Like an armadillo when threatened, Kara curled into herself.

"But?" Alex prompted, tugging the humanoid egg-shape into her arms.

"What if it… breaks our relationship." The tight space within the Kara-ball only served to amplify the quiver in her voice. "I mean, summer's ending and I've read about long-distance relationships and wow are the odds against them."

Humming, Alex patted her back. It grew absentminded, slowing as she withdrew into her mind, deep in thought.

"How'd you… know?"

"She um got herself drunk and started telling me how great I am… I guess that's an almost-confession?" Kara resurfaced from her hiding spot — if one could consider it that. Eyes peeking past her knees, she caught Alex's disbelieving look.

"Yeah, that's definitely one."

"Yeah," Kara concurred. "So what should I do?"

"You know I can't tell you that." Alex chided and Kara shrunk into herself once more. There was just so much to consider; everything was just so overwhelming and she just wished that someone would point her in the right direction. To tell her to throw caution into the wind and be happy.

"But you want to?"

"I…" The dissidents dwelling in her head kicked up a fuss at that but deep down, she knew the answer. "Yes. So much."

"Then I think you should stop projecting your fears onto others."

"What?" Unravelling herself from her mess of limbs, she regarded Alex.

"I would… think that Lena knows what she's getting herself into. Whatever it could mean for your relationship." She explained, an inexplicable glint flashing across her eyes. A warning signal as she soon learnt; the measured tone Alex had adopted cracked under her amusement.

"Though, I don't think she expected it to sail right over your head."

"Not funny." She muttered under her breath. "But… thanks for that. Even though you don't believe in her."

A pat on her back prompted the end of that conversation.

"Go to sleep, Kara." And with that, Alex strode back over to her bed, collapsing onto it, dead to the world. Kara tuned in to her heartbeat just in case.

Things didn't quite work out for her like they did with Alex — she lay sleepless on her own. Thinking, planning; she had a big day tomorrow.

-------------

"Lena," she smiled, fiddling with her hands behind her back.

"Kara, come in." How she ducked away was routine at this point. At least the frequent full-body flushes made sense now.

They found themselves in the sitting room, by the windows where it all began. And would hopefully begin all over again.

"About yesterday," she began, ending just as abruptly.

Kara ran her fingers down the smooth metal, over the sharp tip and returned to cradle it against her palm. Nodding, she urged Lena to continue.

"I… I overheard what you said that day. To Alex."

"Oh," Kara introduced a hint of apology to the corner of her lips. Oops.

"And I had to correct some… misconceptions." A ragged breath ended its arduous journey then, expelled from her lungs in forceful tremors.

"I don't know why I'm so anxious, honestly." Nervous laughter echoed through the bare room, courtesy of Kara's demolition efforts. "Kara I…"

One final deep breath. "I love you."

Childlike glee spilled forth — in her chest and past her lips. Words had forsaken her. The speech that she'd planned, her own declaration of love dissipated unceremoniously in a cloud of smoke.

There was only one thing left on her mind and it didn't quite involve words.

"Kara?" Lena gave her a questioning look as she pressed the flat of the blade against her lips.

"Can I show you?"

She nodded; watched wide-eyed as Kara drew in closer until Lena's breath intermingled with hers.

A pause; a slight pit-stop just to inform Lena, "I heard it's better with your eyes closed."

She listened without a word of protest.

It shouldn't feel this good. Not with how her lips were working against cold, hard metal. Not with how Lena's lips were only a vague suggestion — soft behind the unyielding material. Kara leaned in just a little more, pushing harder against Lena…

And then, they were falling, landing in a heap of giggles where the rays of dazzling sunlight ended.

"Oops sorry," she swooped in for a peck. "Love you too."

She was so beautiful like this. Curtained by her own golden locks, Lena was all she had eyes for, all she could see. When her gaze fell upon the crinkle in her eye, the lively reds of her cheeks, her upturned lips, a thought sprung forth — I did this. She made Lena happy and Kara was happy and Lena was glowing and —

Lena was glowing.

Like random constellations of distant stars, the specks blinked at her before descending into nothingness. Lena's form grew weak, almost transparent, yielding easily to the forceful summer glare.

"Lena…"

She realised what was happening too. Frantic glances down at her disappearing parts and back up at Kara; Lena settled on the latter, mouthing desperate pleas against her front.

"Lena, no!" She cried. As if she had a choice; as if Lena could hope to defy the unbending will of the universe.

"I-I don't want to. Please don't…" Her gaze affixed over her shoulder; Kara couldn’t bring herself to tear her own off Lena. But committing it all to memory wasn't enough — not when Lena wouldn't be here. As with all things, it was bound to corrupt. One day she'd forget the exact shade of green held in those eyes, misconstrue the alluring arrangement of freckles down her neck and her front. And as time weathered those features down into blurry nothingness, eventually Kara would forget entirely. Plagued by the barest suggestion of memories and the frustration of grasping at thin air. The very same thin air Lena was about to become.

She set this off. She caused it. If only she didn't…

"I'm sorry," her voice cracked under the weight of everything. It felt like she'd already gone under. Lungs burning — she was drowning. "I'm so sorry, Lena. I shouldn't have… I shouldn't have…" Kara couldn’t continue down that train of thought; the last of her energy reserves spent on mustering up those words and choking them out one by one.

Her arms gave out, her head dropped onto Lena's shoulder. She didn't hiss at the contact.

It was gone.

"I don't regret it… I-I wanted it too" Lena's laboured breathing huffed and puffed by her ear. "But I'm sorry… I can't stay. I want to but —"

"Not your fault. It's not your fault, Lena." It was all she could manage before descending into mindless babbling before Lena hushed her with her penultimate breath.

"Just know that you've made me so happy in a myriad of ways." With her letter opener, she guided Kara off the floor. She hovered above her so their eyes or whatever's left of Lena's could meet. "Kara, I —"

And then, she was gone. The letter opener clattered beneath her, catching the glare of the sun's rays and twinkling the same way Lena's eyes would. When she harboured her mischievous schemes, when she was seconds away from unleashing her playful quips —

Kara jerked away.

Dustlight fluttered past the windows, shimmering in the earnest backdrop of bright daylight. It was almost ethereal… like how Lena sparkled under the —

"Damn it!" The floorboards splintered beneath her clenched fists.

"Shit!" She tried again. Nothing changed. The world still turned; the tides still ebbed and flowed. In the distance, the birds sang their happy little tunes, children raced and tumbled in their yards. Life around her went on as if nothing had happened.

But something did happen — a terrible, terrible thing. And Kara couldn't wash away the bitter aftertaste of injustice left in her mouth.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Her strength left her as soon as those words passed her lips. Falling now — her forehead took the brunt of it, her glasses contributing an ominous clack.

Alex lied; it wasn't cathartic in the slightest.

And finally, at last, Kara let herself sob.

-------------

Kara doesn't remember how she got home that day, but she found herself in her bed, staring up at the ceiling, almost catatonic. Because of everything or maybe in spite of everything — it's all too confusing.

She shifted to the side, reaching under her pillow for the comforting presence of that letter opener. It put her in the perfect position to witness the outside world too. For the first time in a long, long while.

With the sun on its last rays and the sky a purplish bruise, Kara acknowledged the passing of day and the inevitable transit to night. She didn't like it; it was too dark and gloomy and… empty. Whatever sense of profound loss she harboured in her chest would only be amplified by it.

Distantly, she heard the telltale snapping of locks and the jingle of keys. Eliza was putting her shoes away, her bag finding its usual place on the counter. Calling out to Kara then tutting at the lack of response, tottering around the kitchen in a flurry of clanging pots and a glass casserole pan — it was all brimming with life. And consequently, a reminder of its corollary. A word beginning with 'D' and rhyming with… well, breath.

"Dinner's ready," she'd called the first time. By the third, Eliza had poked her head into her room. Her expectant gaze fell upon her empty desk, face screwing together in confusion when she found Kara reposed in the corner instead.

"Is everything okay?" Eliza hovered over the edge of her mattress.

"Yeah, just… tired." It wasn’t convincing in the slightest.

She stared hard at her before sighing and in the gentlest of voices, said once again. "Well, dinner's ready." A hand carded through her hair. One simple motion and yet it was enough for her mind to threaten to come undone.

"Just give me a minute." Kara pushed herself up on her elbows and Eliza nodded in return. Retreating from the room to give Kara the space she desired.

She might have taken two, or ten. She wasn't sure anymore. Her mind had grown numb to the quiet passage of time. But eventually, Kara ventured out. Ate quickly, smiled slightly, conversed softly — Kara put up her best facade. All so she could collapse back onto her bed, face down this time.

The ticking of her wall clock in the background grew excruciating — the batteries cascaded onto her table. Sounds of celebration drifted in from next door — her pillow was pulled over her head. Quit Playing Games blared from the bedside table and —

Kara stopped herself from tossing her phone out just in time. And when the titular chorus came around, she chanced a look at the number displayed. Well, it wasn't in her contacts. A quick jab at the 'reject call' button granted her the silence she craved.

Until it rang again, buzzing angrily against the wooden laminate. She caved and answered. This better be important.

"You're sick." The tinny quality of the voice did little to soften the blow.

"W-what?" She recognised it — Laura Willis whom she'd sent Will's blanket back to. The same genial, easy-going woman who had entertained a stranger in the middle of a busy grading session now sounded like she'd cough up her entire life savings just for a chance to throttle her.

"The empty box?" She prompted.

"The what?" It wasn’t empty. On the contrary, it was stuffed to the brim and she had to tape it down and all around with duct tape.

For a brief moment, there was nothing but heavy breathing from the other end. "You promised me an old quilt of my brother's and you sent me an empty box. And don't even start with any of your excuses. The packaging was intact." She bit out so viciously that Kara had to wince away from the speaker.

"I… didn't."

"Sure, you didn’t." Kara's cheeks burned from the caustic retort.

"I swear I didn't. I-I —" There was no other explanation other than the truth — it was giving her a serious sense of déjà vu and not a pleasant one at that. Time was ticking, as the incessant taps of fingernails against solid wood reminded her. Kara swallowed and continued. "I met Will's ghost. He had it out for me at first, trying to scare me at every corner but —"

"I'm sorry, I'm going to have to stop you —"

"No! Just… listen. Please." The line grew silent. "Eventually we started talking and he told me about you, his family… " Kara didn't quite know where she was going with this. Just improvise. "Oh, like how your dad used to sneak him out for ice cream at night. Vanilla ice cream."

"I've heard that story plenty of times." She sounded chagrined now. Right, okay, something else then. She glanced out into her backyard.

"And your dog! The one you wanted to name Waffles but he thought it was stupid."

"No, he didn't."

"Well, he was named Ruffles in the end." Kara pointed out but her skeptical interlocutor refused to budge. "And your mom said he ran away but actually he's buried in the backyard."

"Excuse me?" She demanded. Clearly, Kara had struck a nerve.

"Yeah, um I —" saw his remains with my X-ray vision. "Dug up dog bones while doing yard work."

"I see." Laura paused and when she continued, the edges of her voice were blunted. Resignation perhaps? The end result was much less injurious and more… weary. "A few lucky guesses isn't enough."

"I know." Ghosts weren't real, she was seeing things — she'd heard it all from Alex already and even her profuse apologies refused to fully accept Kara's account as the truth. But that's because Alex was worried about her; wanted the best for her. Meanwhile, she and Laura were complete strangers… "Actually, why not?"

Kara could almost feel her blinking from the vibrations creeping through.

"It's outside the realm of reason." Her confusion was baked into the very fabric of her explanation. Rao bless her patience. Anyone else would've treated her to the end call tone by now.

"But wouldn't it be easier if you did?" She was on the precipice of something. Every line was building up to it. She could feel the anticipation down to the marrow of her bones.

"In most cases, the easy way out isn't the right way out." Was this what elementary school lessons were like? She'd always wondered.

"Easier on yourself, I mean." Giving the nape of her neck a good scratch, Kara stalled until the right words would grace her with their presence. "I-I mean, it wouldn't hurt if you did believe he was still here." Oh Rao, there was definitely a raised eyebrow on the other end. "To believe that he'd been thinking about you all this time. Which, okay, in hindsight might be more painful instead. Oh Ra— god but personally I'd like that… with the people I've lost. To think they're somewhere out there, you know."

Past the convoluted, rambling mess, it all came together. Finally, "And if given the choice, I'd choose to be happy."

Her triumphant conclusion was met with silence and Kara deflated in the interlude.

"What do you mean 'was'?" Oh, right.

"He kind of… moved on when we were on the phone. Just disappeared in a shower of magic glitter and left his quilt behind. But before that, he said he never blamed you for all the things you said." The conversation grew heavy and in the uncomfortable space in between, Kara gave in to her urge to fill the silence. "I… think they move on when they get what they truly want. And he wanted to know how you were doing."

A state of quietude befell them regardless. Kara had nothing else to add and so she sat on the edge of her bed, waiting.

"I see." She said again, her sheer loss for words apparent. Kara would never know if her words got through to her but she supposed it didn't matter.

"Goodbye, Kara." She returned the farewell and the dreaded tone played like a flatline.

Three beats — that's how long it took in the silence for her own words to truly sink in. Kara would love to choose, would give up plenty for a choice to be happy in this moment but it just felt so impossible now.

A wave of exhaustion washed over her and she yielded, letting it sweep her back onto her sheets. Then, her leaden eyelids were sealed shut. Everything was dark, peaceful; she could rest now, simply drift off at the whims and fancies of the tides. And when she was pulled under, she beheld — a conjuring of her mind's eye, just a brief escape but yet it felt so right.

It should’ve been right.

------------

Blankets were remarkably useful, as Kara learnt in the days that followed. Between Eliza laying out freshly baked goods in hopes of luring her out of her reclusion and Alex's casual (yet obvious) attempts to 'talk', Kara just needed to burrow under her covers to remain undisturbed.

Lena was gone — she'd accepted that after spending an embarrassingly long time in the abandoned Luthor House. Just calling for her, waiting for her, watching the (now fuzzy) baby rats for her. Flipping through the yellowed pages of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, reading aloud as if Lena could hear her before she felt silly and stopped. And when she left, she hefted the heavy green book along, sequestering it in the bottommost drawer in her desk — the only one with a working lock. Kara found herself back on her bed soon enough.

Day seeped into night and night back into day; her remaining days of summer vacation were slowly slipping away. She'd graduated from the anger and resentment quickly enough but it still hurt. Vaguely. A slight throbbing in her heart and right behind her temples and Kara would… rather not.

It started small on Saturday. "Come to Costco with me?" Eliza asked. Shrugging, she'd slumped into the backseat while Eliza drove and pushed their two carts along dutifully as she shopped. The outside world was much brighter than she remembered. Even with the shades she'd swapped her usual glasses for. Or maybe, she thought, it was just the naked fluorescent tubes. How long had she been cooped up in her room? Kara counted on her fingers. One, two, three, four… wait no, five.

"Kara?" The worried look graced her features again halfway across the aisle.

"Yeah, sorry. Coming." With practiced difficulty, she wheeled both full carts to the checkout. She wasn't okay. Not in the slightest. But she'll live.

Then, Sunday night rolled around. Drinks with Alex and co. How could she forget?

"You don't have to go if you're not feeling up to it."

"I'll be fine. I promised, right?"

Midvale's most popular bar was bustling. Kara could see why — the onion rings were divine. The booze was too according to her company but she wasn't exactly the best judge of that.

They were nice enough; didn't bat an eyelid at Kara's awkward fumbling and absolute inability to interact in groups. And when she was dragged up on stage from their corner booth to close off Karaoke Night, they cheered so boisterously that it spread throughout the entire room.

"I'm not that good," she muttered as she slid past Alex back into her corner.

"Uh, yeah you are!" A chorus of agreements followed, only serving to fan the flames roaring in her cheeks.

Alex leaned in close. "Yeah, you really are."

The night wound down as the staff packed away the heavy speakers and microphones. It was good, carefree fun. With no expectations, Kara could just let loose, speak her mind with no hesitation. A small fraction of what she had with Lena…

Alex excused the both of them first, citing 'sisterly ice cream time' that definitely didn't exist. But fresh air did feel good; as refreshing as it could be with the tang of salt it carried.

Her sister moved to speak but Kara beat her to it. "Can we actually get ice cream?"

And that's how they found themselves on a bench at a corner of the town square, licking at their respective cones.

"No more vanilla?" Alex nudged her with her free arm and her triple scoop wobbled in place. (Cookie dough, strawberry, chocolate — no vanilla in sight.)

"Oh, no. Not anymore. Wasn't my favourite."

"Oh, that's great," Alex cracked a smile at her. "More space for the flavours that matter."

"Yeah, like chocolate fudge brownie." She sighed, lacking her usual exuberance.

"But cookie dough." Gesturing at her single scoop, Alex wore an expectant look. Until… until most unfortunately, Kara got it.

"That was awful!" she swatted at her. Too late — her traitorous body was doubling over and laughter shot past her lips.

"You laughed!"

"At you, not with you." She quipped, completely unprepared for the wave familiarity it brought in tow. Lena had been in her position once a few weeks back and yet it felt so long ago.

"Well, I'm sorry I can't make puns like you do." Alex rolled her eyes. There were a few residual laughs before they segued into silence.

Kara knew it was coming from the moment they sat down, but watching her sister gear up for it filled her with immense dread. The question came anyway.

"Kara, I'm just gonna ask, okay?"

She nodded.

"Did something happen?" And when Kara barely flinched, Alex gained the reassurance she needed to continue. "Between you and Lena?"

"I…" Kara shifted in her seat. She wasn’t ready. The skies were just so empty today — not even a sliver of moonlight in sight. Almost like a void staring back. She'd filled the emptiness in her heart with all things Lena and now it was just gone. But she'd grown accustomed to it and —

A hand gripped her shoulder.

"Yeah, something happened." It ended at that.

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The Luthor house seemed brighter from afar, now that she'd thought about it. Relieved, even. It gave her hope that Lena truly was in a better place.

All around her, children were enjoying their last week of summer. The seagulls were having a bountiful day too from the alarmed yelps two beach chairs away. Then, there was the figure approaching her.

"You know, people usually stare out at the open sea, not away from it."

Alex always had a knack for tracking her down.

"Aren't you supposed to be —"

"Took the day off. But, less about me, more about you." She sat herself down behind her, scooting closer until they were back to back. "What are you doing anyway?"

"Crying over spilt milk before I clean up the mess." Kara rubbed at her eyes again, receiving a host of odd looks from the family nearby. They stopped abruptly. Turning ever so slightly, Kara realised why. Alex's glower was useful after all.

"You can tell me when you're ready." She knocked their heads together playfully. An attempt to lighten the mood and perhaps to loosen her lips in the process.

Kara grimaced and looked away.

"Okay, I'll start." Alex sucked in a deep breath. "It was Vicky. Vicky dumped me."

She spun around. "What, why?"

"We wanted different things in life." She shrugged, her nonchalant facade held resolutely in place. "She wanted to stay here in Midvale and I… have my eyes set somewhere else."

Reassuming their previous positions at Alex's behest, Kara sagged against her. It was nice having someone like that — someone who both literally and figuratively had your back. Every inhale, exhale felt acutely against her back, building her a new sense of security brick by brick.

She was tired of running.

"Lena's gone."

"Oh." Reaching over, Alex clasped their hands together.

"I kissed her and then… she just disappeared." She took a moment to appreciate the squeeze Alex gave her before she continued. "And I… it's just so unfair."

"Yeah, it is."

They lapsed into silence. Understandably so — how else could someone react when suddenly faced with such news? Alex leaned against Kara, letting the comforting pressure do the talking. It was enough.

"On Krypton —" she felt her sister shift at that. Oh Rao, they were in public. She shouldn't be talking about this.

"No, tell me." Alex breathed. Sometimes, it was terrifying how well she could read her. Even now with their backs turned to each other, with nothing but the cadence of her voice to go off on.

Kara took a deep breath and dropped her voice. "We believe when one passes, their essence becomes one with Rao. If you walked out into the sun, they'd be there with you, you know. Their warmth."

"Is that why you love the sun so much?"

She shrugged. "Kinda. But you know, it recharges me too."

In a flurry of sand, Alex appeared before her and her skin erupted in tiny pinpricks as if sorely missing the sun's rays. "Kara, I'm so sorry. I didn't know and I've been… poking fun at you all this time."

Kara rushed to reassure her. "It's not your fault. I didn't tell you."

"Yeah, but I didn't ask." They grimaced in unison.

Then, an invitation. "Will you tell me now?"

And she did. Much more coherently this time. Another thing to thank Lena for. Alex listened in rapt attention, gasping at her childhood antics and falling silent when Kara recounted the day her aunt and uncle were taken away. The family beside them had long been replaced by a gaggle of teens but still, Kara continued. There was just so much to say; a whole other lifetime of memories crammed into a single morning.

When they returned — Alex with infinitely more ammunition to use against her and Kara a thousand tonnes lighter, there was only one thing left taunting her.

She hadn't given it much thought since she'd realised her feelings but some things didn't just disappear.

Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her but the paper seemed droopy in disuse. Just dangling between her fingers. Crumpling it in her hands, Kara put it out of its misery. The remaining stack found itself stuffed back into their drawer, replaced by the bulky form of Kara's laptop. She opened it and took a deep breath.

Then, she wrote.