Lena would always be inextricably linked to summer in Kara’s mind despite her alabaster skin, ebony hair and preference for warm fires and thick tomes that implied her to be Winter’s child more than any other.
She was six when she met Lena, the dark haired girl with unruly curls stood prim and proper in the castle drawing room, hands clasped tight behind her straight back as if she was afraid to touch anything or take up too much space. Kara, on the other hand, dashed into the drawing room - jumping over a stool - before coming to a stumbling halt in front of the newcomer. Kara’s golden hair shining with sweat, and plastered to her forehead, knees bare and grass stained, and her smile wide and tooth-gapped (her front tooth missing after a run-in with a wall whilst chasing Alex around the labyrinthine castle corridors).
It was an awkward first encounter, not just because they were children yet to learn the various social cues and expectations but because their demeanours were so fundamentally at odds with one another.
Lena went to bow, Kara went for a hug…
Lena introduced herself formally - voice tight and the words rehearsed - listing off her family's full set of titles and deeds.
Kara, meanwhile, grinned and simply said, “My name’s Kara! Do you want to play?”
Lena was staying with them for the summer - her family, of the Luthor Duchy in a neighbouring kingdom, were touring for the season, showing off their eldest son to the various courts with the obvious intent of laying the foundations for future marriage alliances. Lena had been left behind - her family were big believers in children being neither seen nor heard.
Kara was the daughter of King Zor-El and Queen Alura - their kingdom was tiny, practically half the size of the Luthor duchy, but was situated in a strategically strong position in the valley of a mountain range that served as a border between four sizeable kingdoms. Argo survived despite its small size thanks to politically positioning itself as a neutral territory between the four kingdoms vying for supremacy, regularly serving as a negotiator and safe-haven - their familial ties to Krypton (the most military strong of their four neighbors) via Kara’s cousin also helped.
Kara was too young to understand the political positioning of her country and why the Luthors would deem it a suitable, and overall harmless, place to deposit their child for a number of foreseeable summers - all she knew was that she had a new friend to play with.
Lena wasn’t like Kara’s other friends that lived in the castle or it’s nearby town.
She wasn’t confident and hotheaded like Alex - who was as prone to start a fight as she was to finish one.
She wasn’t a chatterbox like, the only just out of toddlerhood, Nia.
She wasn’t prone to ponderous thinking and drawn-out lectures like the studious Brainy either.
Lena spoke rarely - her words chosen extremely carefully for one so young - and whenever she did speak it was polite inquiries, not sharp questions or endlessly long monologues that covered everything and nothing. Lena preferred reading under a tree whilst Kara and the other children sprinted around the castle grounds, pushing and shoving and giggling and hugging.
Kara’s fascination with the new girl grew over the first few weeks, her keen interest noticeable to everyone but her. She would regularly stop whatever game she was playing to see if she could entice Lena to join, would position herself and everyone else at the dining table to ensure she had the seat right next to Lena.
There was something sad and heavy about the young girl that Kara found herself desperate to fix. She wanted to make the girl smile; wanted her to be happy because a single laugh or flash of a smile seemed to light up Kara’s whole day.
“What are you doing?” Kara asked, scuffing the toe of her leather shoes into the dried cracked earth as she shyly eyed the raven haired girl.
Lena was sat under the largest oak tree in the castle’s grounds which was rapidly becoming her go to spot to spend the day, the shade cast by the leaves preventing her skin from turning a permanent shade of red whilst still giving her the fresh air that Argo was so known for.
“Reading.” Lena replied, not even bothering to look up from the heavy book she had retrieved from Zor-El’s library - her second favourite place other than the oak tree.
“Oh…” Kara said, biting her lip, desperate to keep the conversation going. “What are you reading?”
“Entomology of the Northern Mountain Pass.”
Kara blinked rapidly, the words swirling freely around her mind with nothing to anchor them to. “Oh yeah… that’s a great book.” Kara coughed, trying to inflect some confidence into her tone. “One of my favourites.”
Lena looked up, green eyes dark and assessing as she arched her eyebrow in a manner that could only have been copied from someone far older (maybe her mother or father), “What’s entomology mean?”
Kara’s heart sank low and heavy in her chest as she swallowed thickly, “Ummm… Entrances?”
Lena pursed her lips, “Close.”
“Really?” Kara responded, perking up at the answer.
“Oh…” Kara’s shoulders drooped down immediately, all the hope and confidence disappearing out of her. “I’ll leave you to it then.” She sighed, already turning to shuffle defeatedly away.
“It’s about insects in this region.”
Kara halted her retreat at the statement that had been thrown tentatively out into the space between them. “You’re reading about bugs?”
“Mmhmm.” Lena hummed, tilting her head to the side, green eyes locked on Kara.
“Why?” Kara inquired, brow furrowing as she slowly closed the distance between them, coming to stand only a foot away from the other girl.
“It’s interesting and could be useful.” Lena answered thoughtfully, “Do you want me to tell you about it?”
Kara’s blue eyes brightened with excitement at finally being able to spend time with the girl she hoped would be her friend. “Would you?”
“Of course.” Lena assured, shifting to one side to make space for Kara to lean against the tree next to her. Kara instantly dropped down into the available spot, bouncing up and down in place as Lena laid the book over both their laps so that Kara could see the illustrations she had been examining. “Did you know that Argo is home to three very rare poisonous ladybugs?”
“What? No!” Kara squealed in delight as Lena pointed out all the various pictures.
Kara brought Lena bugs after that, she spent hours hunting through the fields to find different ones to show off and tried to confidently identify them as the more unique species that Lena had shown her in her book. Lena corrected her the first couple of times - trying to explain that they were just common ants or spiders - but Lena learnt that Kara liked the show, knew from the get go that they were common creatures but enjoyed how the theatrics of something rare made Lena laugh.
It became a thing between them.
Lena sat against the old oak tree in the castle gardens reading some useful scholastic text far beyond her years whilst Kara laid splayed out in front of her in the grass, fingers making flower crowns as she questioned Lena about everything she read.
By the end of the summer, Lena felt more at home in the castle - Zor-El had opened his own personal library upto the little girl and would spend the majority of dinners conversing with her on what they had learned that day. Lena still didn’t play with the other kids but she had warmed up to Brainy and Nia, indulging their jabbering nonsensical conversations. Lena conversed with them so easily that it made Kara’s childish heart burn with an envy that was only soothed when Lena linked their hands together and then forgot to unlink them despite hours passing. Lena was stiff and shy around Alex, who was intimidating and overprotective of her younger wards around strangers, but who by the end of the summer was just as caring of Lena as she was with the others.
Lena left on the last day of summer and Kara remembered hugging her so tightly that Zor-El had been forced to gently pry them apart when his requests fell on deaf ears. She cried for a week, missing her newest and bestest friend terribly. But time passed and Kara was young - the loss fading with the months, lost in snowball fights, her first proper lessons and visits from her cousin who always indulged her with treats snuck to her before dinner.
Then, before Kara knew it, it was summer again.
And Lena was back.
Kara’s childhood summers couldn’t have been more idyllic. Days were spent whiled away under the oak tree, head resting on Lena’s thigh as the other young girl’s voice filled the air teaching Kara lessons she would never have actively sought out on her own but wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
Hot days were spent at the river that winds around the foothills that the castle was perched on. Alex and Kara racing back and forth, Nia desperate to keep up and follow in their wake whilst Brainy and Lena floated happily in the shallower edges, enjoying the still coolness.
Alex would spend long hours practicing with the bow her father had left her before he passed away; Kara and the others taking it in turns to retrieve the wayward arrows that, as the summers passed, more and more hit the target until Alex would spend two weeks away attending a kingdom-wide archery tournament where she competed against experts and prodigies alike. Kara missed her oldest and dearest friend during those two weeks but Lena happily stepped up to fill the gap, keeping Kara occupied and distracted by indulging in activities she wouldn’t normally, like stealthy raids on the castle kitchens (though the chef was more than aware of their antics if the pre-prepared snacks on the countertop were anything to go by) and long drawn out games of hide and seek that Kara always won due to home-field advantage.
Evenings and nights were no less special - the children staying up late to watch the sunset from the castle’s tallest tower or playing silly games around the bonfire that J’onn (the master-at-arms) had built for them. Lena and Kara had their own special rituals as well. Once everyone else had slipped off to their beds (or more likely dragged by unamused parents), Lena and Kara would stargaze under their oak tree, often falling asleep and staying out all night. Though, they always woke up to find themselves wrapped in blankets that Kara knew were from her parents’ bed and a couple of guards stationed protectively nearby - visible in the growing light of day. If they didn’t fall asleep under their oak tree, they could often be found asleep in large blanket forts they had built within each other's rooms.
Kara, as the years went by, found herself having to take on additional lessons in the summer to ensure she was suitably prepared for her role and future as part of the monarchy. Whilst she pouted about the lost sunshine and how she missed out on additional time with Lena, Kara never complained. Her parents had taught her the importance of duty and she wanted to make them proud. So she studied and learnt how to defend herself - her fighting preference for hand-to-hand combat over weapons, liking the rough and tumble nature of it all and how it placed such a focus on agility and quick-thinking.
It was during these lessons that Lena began to interact more regularly with the King and Queen on a personal level and not just as authoritative hosts that were the parents of her best friend. Lena and Zor-El would spend hours discussing literature and history, the King adoring the young girl’s curious and thoughtful mind - Kara had come back from many lessons to find them on their third cup of tea in the King’s library with twenty or so books stacked around them.
Kara was nine when Lena began to really interact with Alura and see in her a mentor or guide that she had been lacking for her entire life thus far. Kara, after her lesson on basic economics had finished, had attempted to seek out Lena as was now her custom but had been surprised to discover that she wasn’t in her two usual locations (the library or under the oak tree).
Kara did nearly a full search of the castle and had been in the process of racing to her mother’s chamber in no small amount of distress at the possibility that her best friend was missing to find Lena and her mother sat opposite each other, staring down at a white and black chequered board with little figures strangely positioned across it.
Kara approached tentatively, her heart steadying back to a normal rate upon seeing that Lena was safe and sound; concerned about disturbing the intense atmosphere of concentration. She stood near Lena not wanting to get in the way only for Lena to reach out for her hand and tug her closer despite not looking away from the board or reacting to Kara’s sudden appearance in any way.
“What’s that?” Kara whispered, kneeling down next to Lena’s chair, eye-level with the odd board that her mother and her best friend found so captivating.
“Chess.” Lena murmured, having never denied Kara’s curiosity since the day the young blonde princess had joined her under the oak tree to ask about bugs. “It’s a game my brother taught me.”
“You’re actually playing a game?!” Kara exclaimed in delight, earning an amused chuckle from her mother who was pretending not to watch the children’s interaction.
“It’s useful.” Lena replied defensively, reaching out to make a determined move that had Alura shaking her head.
“Not everything has to be useful, Lena…” Kara whined, nudging her shoulder affectionately against Lena’s side.
“If you say so.” Lena hummed unconvinced.
Kara watched the rest of the game. She hadn’t worked out all the rules but she could see that Lena lost quite dramatically by how many more pieces Alura still had compared to Lena’s paltry few.
Alura congratulated Lena sincerely on her efforts though it was clear from the young girl’s furrowed brow and jutted out jaw that she was disappointed in her performance. Kara immediately wanted to soothe her best friend but Alura’s promise of a rematch tomorrow seemed to settle Lena far more than praise ever could.
“Can you teach me?” Kara asked shyly, as they made their way outside with the intent of finding their group of friends to spend the hours until dinner with.
Lena didn’t bother clarifying what Kara was referring to, she merely smiled and nodded once, “Of course.”
It was always as easy as that with Lena.
Kara’s summer always ended the same way: with tears and an ache in her chest that didn’t ease for a number of weeks into Autumn, and only after repeated reassurances from her parents that Lena would return next year did her spirits finally lift to something resembling her normal self.
Saying goodbye to Lena was far harder than saying goodbye to Alex when she went to her archery contests - the knowledge that she would be back in two weeks compared to nine long months. The farewells simultaneously grew harder - her fondness for Lena increasing with every summer - and eased as a way for them to stay in touch became possible.
“Can I…” Kara had stuttered, wringing her fingers together helplessly, “Can I write to you?”
At eight, Kara was finally confident enough in her writing ability to accept her parents' offer to pay for the delivery of any communication she wished to send to Lena.
“I would really like that.” Lena beamed, which softened her next words and the tight hug they shared in the castle foyer as was becoming routine before Lena departed. “See you next summer, Kara.”
They wrote to each other regularly.
Short notes sharing anecdotes and sweet words would flit between their two residences frequently to fill the gap until their longer letters, that came once a month, and which contained deeper stories, rambling thoughts and continued ongoing discussions that they had started over the summer.
The letters marked their growth as well as their height, their language growing more articulate and verbose, their handwriting more elegant and sweeping.
Kara adored the days she would receive a letter from Lena, as soon as one arrived whatever she had been working on or involved in was immediately put to one side until she had consumed every word. She carried the letter around with her for the first couple of days after it’s initial arrival so that - whenever the fancy took her - she could take it out and re-read it at her leisure. She kept all the letters in a wooden chest under her bed, tied together with bright ribbons that Nia’s seamstress mother had gifted her whenever there was some left over. Kara would spend many a night picking out her favorite notes and letters when sleep struggled to come for her - the words lovingly penned by her best friend enough to provide Kara that sense of security she always felt when she fell asleep under the oak tree with Lena by her side.
Lena’s reticence to join in on physical activities vanished the summer when Kara was 12. Kara and Alex, occasionally joined by Nia, had started their sword training in earnest, though it was apparent that the sword was not their strong suit. Alex was far more comfortable with a bow and Kara preferred her bare fists and grapples in any sort of fight.
Lena had arrived that summer having gained some height bringing her on par with Kara; much to the princess’ chagrin for some unknown reason. The two of them were as inseparable as ever, Kara sticking to Lena’s side like glue and tugging her here, there and everywhere as required. It was their preference to not be parted that meant Lena was there to watch Kara and Alex’s lesson.
Kara had expected the youngest Luthor to occupy herself with the latest book she had freed from Zor-El’s library, like she tended to do whenever Kara was participating in an activity that didn’t hold her interest. It was, therefore, surprising when Kara snuck a glance to check on her best friend halfway through the lesson to find Lena watching her with total focus. The intensity of Lena’s gaze spurred Kara to work harder, to put more energy and concentration into her movements, desperately wanting her best friend to be impressed.
Her effort paid off as J’onn approached her at the end of the lesson to praise her - something that was rare and hard to achieve.
Kara’s chest puffed up with pride as she approached her best friend, hoping (for some strange reason) to be gifted a compliment. The hope was swiftly dashed and replaced with shock and confusion.
“I want to learn.” Lena declared without hesitation once Kara was close enough.
“You want to- what?” Kara panted, still trying to recover the excessive energy she had expended.
“I want to learn to use a sword.” Lena clarified.
Lena pursed her lips, green eyes darkening and aging with something heavy, “It’s a useful skill to have.”
“Oh…” Kara replied, unsure how to respond to that.
“Would J’onn be willing to train me too?” Lena inquired, brushing easily past Kara’s rather dumb silence.
“Uh… yeah, I think so.” Kara answered, running her hands through her hair only to grimace at the sweaty mess her locks had twisted into.
Lena nodded once, getting off her perch on the training yard’s balustrade, and heading determinedly towards the sword master. “Kara?” Lena murmured, halting suddenly, once she was in line with the blonde.
“Yeah?” Kara prompted, tilting her head curiously to the side.
“You did really good today.” Lena complimented softly, gaze dropping shyly to the ground as she murmured, “I… I was really impressed.”
“T-t-thanks.” Kara stammered, cheeks blazing scarlet.
Lena began training the very next day. Kara hadn’t known what to expect - a part of her had figured that Lena would get bored and frustrated, walking away from it as it didn’t fit with her more laconic, mind-oriented skill set. Alex, Brainy and Nia were convinced Lena ‘you couldn’t pay me to run’ Luthor would quit after little over an hour.
They were wrong.
Lena struggled, that was without a doubt, her muscles and stamina not upto the physical labour the training required. Yet that didn’t stop her. Lena approached learning to wield a sword like she did everything. With slow and deliberate perseverance - chipping away at it until she understood it from every angle and could confidently call herself a master.
She approached chess, science and fighting all in the same terrifying way - cold and logical.
Lena practiced her sword skills every chance she got, from the second the sun rose to the moment it set. She would practise her footwork between chess moves, would hold up the practice blade she had been given as she read (strengthening her muscles), would watch Kara and Alex’s lessons like a hawk - learning from their mistakes and taking note of any useful skills they had picked up.
Lena practiced like there was going to be a test at the end of it all.
Lena put hundreds of hours into it over that summer (and the summers that would follow) but for the life of her Kara couldn’t tell if Lena even actually enjoyed it.
It was something Kara could not understand. It ate away at her endlessly until one night, whilst she was walking back with Lena from the training yard, that she eventually asked the question that had been plaguing her.
“Do you ever just do something because it’s fun? And not because it might be useful at some point?”
Lena stopped then, turning to regard Kara with a critical gaze and a thoughtful expression that Kara knew all too well. It was the expression Lena wore when playing chess and she realised that she was thinking eight moves ahead when her opponent was only thinking three. It was an expression Lena wore that meant the game was officially over - the outcome already decided.
It made Kara falter for a second to see it directed her way in that moment, made her heart do a strange quickstep that she didn’t understand.
“Yes.” Lena replied simply, offering no further explanation before turning back and walking away, leaving Kara confused about what crucial piece of information she was so obviously missing.
“It’s been nearly five years and I swear I’m not getting any better.” Kara pouted, huffing out a disgruntled breath as she knocked over her king, accepting her third defeat of the day.
“Yes, you are.” Lena refuted, her long delicate fingers gently reaching out to start packing away her treasured chess pieces - an already beloved gift that Alura had given Lena for her thirteenth birthday last year.
Kara crossed her arms and slumped down in her wooden chair, glaring at her best friend. Kara hated to admit it but she felt increasingly envious of the dark-haired girl as the years passed.
(At least that was how she identified the swirl of intense emotion in the pit of her stomach whenever her thoughts drifted to her best friend).
She was jealous of how Lena’s once wild and unruly curly hair had straightened out into lustrous dark locks.
She was jealous of the breadth of Lena’s intelligence - there was no subject that Lena didn’t have at least a decent amount of knowledge to converse confidently about.
She was jealous of Lena’s smile that ticked up on one side more than the other.
She was jealous of Lena’s dedication.
She was jealous of Lena’s kindness and seemingly unfaltering patience.
She was jealous of Lena’s everything.
It made being around Lena a strangely sweet torture that Kara would pick for herself over anything else.
“You’re thinking more critically and I find you far more challenging than I once did.” Lena murmured, her words soft and earnest which made Kara’s breath falter for a flash of a second before she latched onto the swirl of envy that she refused to let go of.
“But do you find me an actual challenge ?” Kara huffed, shaking her head to dispel the perfusion to her cheeks.
Lena’s mouth twitched into a familiar smirk as she got quickly to her feet, “How about we do something else?” Lena offered jovially, tugging Kara up before swiftly striding out of the room. “Alex might have actually achieved that trickshot by now.”
Kara frowned heavily at that, nose scrunching up in frustration,“I see through your distraction tactics!”
“If you say so!” Lena’s laugh reverberated down the corridors from which she had disappeared.
“Goddamnit!” Alex yelped, jumping practically a foot into the air out of her chair. “You should wear a bell.”
Alex laid a hand over her chest, attempting to soothe her own heart beat back to a normal rate. Kara waited impatiently for Alex to seem suitably recovered before muttering a rather half-hearted apology.
“Sorry, I figured you were just writing to Lena.” Kara shrugged, dropping into the empty chair next to Alex’s desk.
“Well, I’m not.” Alex harrumphed, stuffing the paper that she had been writing on into an envelope - out of sight.
Kara pursed her lips, taken aback by Alex’s secretiveness. The two of them didn’t have any secrets - at least as far as Kara was aware - the two of them had grown up together, and were siblings in all but name and blood. Alex’s mother Eliza was the King’s personal chief steward, having left her healing career after impressing the King and Queen with her knowledge and ideas of how to help the kingdom beyond improved medicinal salves.
“Okay.” Kara said gently, reaching out to squeeze Alex’s forearm in genuine apology this time. “I’ll leave you to it.” Kara assured, never wanting to make Alex uncomfortable and damage their relationship - one she treasured more than any other.
“Wait.” Alex requested, grabbing Kara’s hand to prevent her from leaving. Kara stayed absolutely still, giving Alex all the time in the world to build up to whatever it was that was weighing so heavy on her. “I… uh… met her at that annual archery competition.” Alex confessed and Kara could feel the older girl’s hand shaking in hers.
“You don’t have to-”
“I think I’m in love with her.” Alex rushed out in a single breath.
Kara blinked in surprise at the revelation, before pushing her own feelings aside to lean forward and pull her true-sister into her arms for a tight hug. “Do you want to tell me about her?”
“More than anything.” Alex exhaled shakily.
“What made you fall in love with Mum?”
Zor-El lifted his head from the report he was reading, blinking slowly behind his round glasses at his young daughter who had slipped into the chair opposite him. “What do you mean?
“You know what thing did Mum do to make you fall in love with her?” Kara pressed, fiddling with her gold belt buckle, unable to fully meet her father’s eyes. “Alex said she fell in love when Maggie beat her in that archery competition.” Kara explained carefully, “And I was just wondering what moment made you fall in love with Mum…”
“Why is this so important to you, little one?” Zor-El inquired gently, moving to the seat next to Kara so that he could place a supportive hand on her shoulder.
“It’s not!” Kara denied far too enthusiastically to be genuine, shrugging off Zor-El’s hand and crossing her arms defensively over her chest. “I’m just curious…”
Zor-El said nothing, eyeing his daughter critically for a long moment which was time enough for Kara to feel embarrassed of her response. Zor-El raised his eyebrows at her as if to say, Do you want to try that again?
“Okay, okay…” Kara murmured weakly, lips pinching together into a tight frown. “What if… what if there’s never a moment… for me?” Kara asked, revealing the tight ball of anxiety that had followed Alex’s confession. “What if I don’t do the exact right thing that makes someone love me?”
“Oh, Kara.” Her father soothed, reaching out an arm to wrap the young girl into a tight hug which Kara didn’t push away this time - needing her father’s comfort and love. “You do not need to worry about that.” Zor-El reassured, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
“You say that but-”
“There was no moment with your mother.” Zor-El confessed; immediately Kara froze, her eyes going wide with shock and heartbreak.
“You don’t love Mum?” Kara squeaked, shoving her father away and jumping to her feet.
“Of course, I do.” Zor-El laughed in amusement at her reaction, waving a hand for her to re-join him. “Sit down and listen closely.”
Kara pursed her lips but did as she was told.
“I didn’t fall in love with your mother in a moment. I fell in love with her over time and all at once and I’m still falling in love with her now.” Zor-El explained, his eyes sparkling with affection and joy like they tended to whenever he spoke of his wife or daughter. “I fell in love with your mother’s kindness, her confidence, the way she holds my hand, the way she laughs at my bad jokes, the way she supports me, the way she loves and nurtures you. I fell in love with your mother over thousands of tiny insignificant moments that added up all together to form something beautiful and wondrous. There was still a moment though -” Zor-El added thoughtfully, stroking his chin as he remembered whatever memory was calling out to him, “it’s not the moment I fell in love with your mother, it was the moment I realised that I was in love with her. The Oh moment as I like to call it.”
“The Oh moment?” Kara repeated rather skeptically.
“The Oh moment.” Zor-El declared with a definitive nod of his head.
“What’s the difference between falling in love in a moment and realising?” Kara asked, eyes scrunched up in thought.
“Absolutely everything and nothing.”
“I don’t understand.” Kara whined.
“You will, when you experience it for yourself.” Zor-El promised, reaching out to tuck a lock of Kara’s blonde hair behind her ear. “Come and talk to me then.”
“What if it doesn't happen?” Kara questioned, returning to the root of her anxiety. “What if there is no Oh moment for me?”
“Then your life will be just as filled with love and happiness from your friends and family.” Zor-El assured sincerely. “It won’t be any less, I promise but…” Zor-El’s twinkled with secret mischief, “saying that, I’m pretty sure there is an Oh moment coming your way.”
Kara raised an eyebrow at that, “How can you be sure of that?”
“Let’s just call it parent’s intuition.” Zor-El winked and tapped the side of his nose knowingly before he wrapped an arm around Kara’s shoulders. “Come on, your mother will be looking for us - you know how she hates to be late.”
Alex was the one to find her, curled up in the footwell of the carriage, shaking and sobbing. Alex lifted her out with gentle hands and a strength that Kara didn’t know the older girl possessed - she lifted her like she weighed everything and nothing all at once, showing no physical strain in her body whilst her face visibly aged whenever Kara glanced at her through teary eyes.
They had been visiting friends a few towns away, honouring a long term mayor that was relinquishing the role after decades of dedicated service. Her parents were like that: loyal, kind and thoughtful. Kara wouldn’t have been surprised if they knew the names of all of their citizens - it often felt like that, whenever they ventured out of the castle her parents could get waylaid for hours conversing with any subject that wished to speak to them.
The King and Queen in return were adored and spoken of fondly in nearly every single house throughout the land.
It was why they travelled confidently with such a small security force - only a couple of knights for short day trips within their own borders.
They had been on their way back, later than planned but not later than expected, twilight casting its dark cloak over the lands, making the hills taller, the roads twistier and the passersby more sinister. Kara huddled down in the carriage, safely ensconced between her parents, half-asleep after the long day and already drafting her next letter to Lena in her head.
The attack happened in the blink of an eye and yet lasted forever - at least that would be how Kara would remember it, years later when her mind replayed the violent chaos on endless repeat, the adrenaline at the time searing the images into her memory in perfect detail. The knights had been taken out by crossbow bolts, allowing the ragtag bandit group to surge forward to take the carriage.
Bandits, that roamed from nation to nation thieving until they were chased across the border, were looking for a quick payday. A nice carriage that looked well travelled - they assumed they were stealing from a well off merchant or a noble out to see the world. They were hoping to find a single scared passenger with luggage and a hefty coin purse. They didn’t recognise the symbol on the carriage or on the knights’ shield as the House of El emblem that marked the royal family. They didn’t even really know that they were in Argo, having lost all sense of geography after being chased by a military force only the day prior.
They yanked open the carriage doors expecting a quick slaughter and an even faster getaway.
Instead they got Kara’s parents, who had trained from young ages to fight and would throw themselves in front of any weapon that may harm their daughter.
She didn’t even get to say goodbye to them.
The doors opened, her parents jumped out, shoving back the attackers and then… Kara’s mother, sword drawn and staring down five men on her side, glanced back just the once and smiled softly and resigned.
It was a goodbye in the most simplest of ways.
Kara had been static the entire time - fear and panic rendering her muscles stiffer than steel and her mind unable to even consider action - but she tried to stagger to her feet then.
Her mother saw the action, and darted faster than Kara thought humanly possible to slap the carriage horses into sudden motion. Kara was knocked off her feet, head catching the edge of the carriage seat - she could feel a trickle of blood running down her forehead before she slipped unconscious.
When she awoke, she had no real evidence but she knew.
She knew, to the very marrow of her bones and everything that clung to them, that her parents were dead. It was a knowledge that had her lungs ripping open, unable to hold a breath for longer than a second, with the grief that was trying to destroy her from the inside out.
The grief wasn’t the worst of it, though.
Grief was the gaping open wound that was hemorrhaging blood. It was the poisonous blade, however, that twisted ever deeper in her gut that would destroy her in the long run. The blade whispered failure and coward and you’re fault and worthless and on and on…
Her parents’ funeral was a grand event that they would have detested.
Kara strangely enough appreciated the lead up to it more than the actual event itself. The days before Argo was invaded by overly weepy lords and ladies, ambitious dukes and duchesses and conciliatory Kings and Queens from afar, was filled with more genuine mourning from the people that had actually lived under her parents’ rule. Subjects from across the land made their pilgrimage to the castle to lay flowers - Kara forced herself, even though she spent most of the night crying, to go out and be among them. To share their grief and hear their words of honest adoration for their beloved rulers.
The funeral, on the other hand, involved Kara hearing insincere and hollow sentiments thrown her way to garner favour.
Alex and Eliza stuck to her side throughout. Alex, her stalwart companion provided support by looming darkly to ward off the more blatantly manipulative dignitaries. Eliza, meanwhile, whispered who the various dignitaries were into Kara’s ear as they approached and smoothly interrupted the conversation when it was obvious Kara needed a minute for herself.
The soft supplication came during one of those precious moments that Kara was meant to have to herself. Kara was temporarily surprised that Alex had allowed anyone to approach her during her minute of reprieve until she turned to see who exactly it was.
Seeing Lena outside of summer should have been a gift and whilst it was a much needed comfort, Kara couldn’t help but wish it was summer already.
Their usual summer where Lena would spend hours discussing literature and new scientific discoveries with Zor-El and playing chess endlessly with Alura.
Lena was dressed in a plain black dress, lacking all the adornments of the other attendees - she was the first person that Kara had seen outside of those from her own country who looked truly in mourning. Lena had always looked older beyond her years, but this was the first time that Kara truly felt they were of the same maturity.
“Don’t-... Don’t call me that. Not you.” Kara begged quietly, eyes stinging with tears not just at the loss of her parents but at the loss of her own identity. No longer the rambunctious princess everyone fondly referred to as Kara, now a Queen at fifteen expected to live up to her parents monumental legacy.
“Kara.” Lena said instantly, stepping forward to wrap Kara into a tight hug as if Kara’s request to keep her name was all the permission she needed to treat her like she always did.
The hug drew the eye of many of the attendees and caused a wave of whispers to spread but Kara didn’t care, and once she allowed herself to fully sink into Lena’s arms, she barely even noticed that there was anyone else in the room.
“I’m here for you. Always.” Lena whispered into her ear, not bothering with empty apologies and weak offers of support.
“Promise?” Kara asked, not caring how shy and childish her voice sounded.
“With everything I am and will ever be.” Lena affirmed, squeezing Kara tighter to her.
“I miss them. So much.” Kara sobbed, burying her face into Lena’s shoulder to hide her tears from everyone else.
“Me too.” Lena replied, and Kara could feel the other girl’s own tears landing on her shoulder.
“You’re still coming for summer, right?” Kara confirmed once they pulled apart.
Lena pursed her lips at the question, glancing over her shoulder at a glowering red-headed woman, fully dressed up in the accoutrements of the House of Luthor. When Lena turned back to Kara, there was a dark and determined resolve in her eyes that hadn’t been there a moment ago.“Yes.”
“Good.” Kara breathed gratefully.
Lena stayed by her side for the rest of the funeral, holding her hand between supplicants and sharing sweet anecdotes about Kara’s parents, even managing to pull forth a laugh at one point that had Eliza and Alex letting out a heavy sigh of relief.
Being Queen was easier than Kara had feared it would be.
Her parents had trained her well from a young age. Had tailored her lessons to her future occupation and not what was typically expected of noble children. They taught her economics, strategy, diplomacy, combat, the laws of Argo, the trading agreements they had in place and their history with other nations. Other heirs to Lordships or Duchys might know poetry and ancient forgotten languages that would impress and charm at the various balls and formal events but they would be lost when it came to ensuring the people in their care were fed, safe and warm in the harshest of winters.
Kara also had the benefit of not being alone, her parents were big believers in finding the best person for the job, not the person that would best appease an ally - some dimwitted noble that liked the title and not the work. Eliza, who took Kara under her wing, practically becoming her adoptive mother, gave her guidance and support without seeking to overbear or take control. J’onn, likewise, took point on military actions, explaining how the fighting force under her command operated and talking her through the finer details of being a commander.
Alex was by her side constantly now, serving as her right hand and somewhat bodyguard.
Lena was there in spirit, her letters providing Kara companionship and guidance when she needed it most.
Brainy was now under the mentorship of the kingdom’s purser and would join her table of advisors in a few short years if the rapid progress of his learning was to be believed.
Nia, initially, showed little interest in joining the country’s administration, her artistic skills were starting to gain notice and she had received a couple of commissions for portraits among the nobility. Kara, keen to keep her friend around, offered her a special role in charge of art and culture to ensure that her country, whilst it continued to advance its scientific knowledge, didn’t lose sight of the importance of art.
Actual Queen work was easier than Kara had anticipated - it was everything else that was hard.
Being in the castle without her parents was hard - the library far too quiet without her father turning pages and dinner far too lonely without her mother asking her about her day.
Being called Your Majesty by the people in the castle that had helped raise her was hard.
Being an adult before her time was hard, no longer able to while away the evening hours swimming in the river or laughing with her friends.
At least there was still summer to look forward to and everything - everyone - who came with it.
“Lena.” Kara sighed in relief upon seeing her best friend waiting for her in the drawing room. She had been stuck in a strategy meeting when Alex had come to whisper in her ear that Lena had arrived. The meeting had dragged from the moment she was made aware, the second hand on the grandfather clock moving at half the rate to normal. She knew Lena would wait, would still be there when she finally made her escape, but her chest still squeezed with nerves until she laid eyes on her best friend.
“Kara.” Lena greeted, hands smoothing down her immaculate blue dress that was without a single crease. Lena was dressed up, far more than she usually was when she visited: her dress of fine cloth with intricate beading work and her hair curled carefully over one shoulder.
If Kara didn’t know any better, she would think Lena was trying to impress someone. Her impeccable attire made Kara slightly self-conscious of her own garb.
She was dressed like the ruler of Argo now. Her brown threadbare trousers that used to require constant patching and washing to remove the mud stains had been replaced with bright blue breeches and matching blue tunic. She was now wearing her father’s heavy cape around her shoulders and his golden belt from which hung a sun tapestry that marked her as Argo’s ruler unlike the more typical crown in other kingdoms. She felt uncomfortable in the get-up but that was less to do with the fit - Nia’s mother, the castle seamstress had done incredible work - and more to do with the responsibilities that came with it.
“How do I look?” Kara asked, suddenly shy and awkward in Lena’s presence in a way she’d never felt before. “Like a Queen?”
Lena looked her up and down with an assessing gaze, Kara barely resisted the urge to shift from foot to foot under her stare, before she met Kara’s eyes and smiled softly.
“You’ve always looked like a Queen to me.” Lena declared proudly.
Kara blushed, chuckling lightly as she squinted over at her best friend, “Even when I brought you bugs?”
“Especially then.” Lena promised, clasping her hands behind her back and moving slowly closer to her. Kara barely resisted the urge to gulp as Lena came to a stop less than a foot away and said the exact last thing Kara ever expected to hear from her. “Do you want to play?”
Kara’s eyes bugged out at the question, “Seriously?”
“Hmm…” Lena hummed, tilting her head playfully to the side, “with that cape and those jewels weighing you down, I finally have an advantage…”
Kara scoffed utterly unconvinced, “Yeah, right as if-”
“Tag, you’re it!” Lena shouted whilst simultaneously shoving Kara’s shoulder and darting for the exit.
“Hey!” Kara squawked once her brain had rebooted from the sudden shock and her dropped jaw had finally snapped back into place. “That’s not- I wasn’t ready!” Kara complained, already giving chase after her best friend and feeling, for the first time since her parents had died, that she was just Kara again.
“Prince Mon-El is coming to stay for a couple of weeks.” Alex announced into a warm lull in conversation following the clearing of plates. It was just Alex, Kara and Lena that night - Brainy and Nia choosing to spend the evening with each other, a recent development that had the three of them exchanging knowing glances whenever it came up in conversation.
“Really?” Kara asked, perking up immediately at the news, utterly unaware of how Lena’s brow furrowed at her reaction.
“Prince Mon-El?” Lena coughed, gently requesting further information.
For some reason, the second Kara looked over at Lena, the sudden excitement she was experiencing about the Prince felt… weird.
“Yeah, he… uh… he’s nice.” Kara stuttered, thinking back to the few interactions they had shared at a number of formal events over the last couple of years. The Prince was sweet with a good sense of humour and the ability to make anyone feel like they had his full attention when they were speaking. Kara had even danced with him at the last ball, her hands sweaty but the young man kind enough not to comment.
“Nice?” Lena repeated, pursing her lips into a thin line as she carefully considered her next words, green eyes dark and closed off in a way Kara had never seen them before. “And handsome?”
Kara flushed a bright, almost fluorescent red, as images of Mon-El smiling charmingly at her from across the ballroom filled her mind looking dashing in his red uniform. “I guess so…” Kara chuckled nervously, trying too hard to seem casual, “I mean it's all subjective, right?”
Lena’s expression turned even stonier at that; something painful twinged in Kara’s stomach whilst her heart began to grow heavier than the cape clasped around her shoulders.
“You find him handsome, though?” Lena questioned softly.
“I… umm… uhh…” Kara stammered unable to meet Lena’s eyes as the pain in her gut shifted to her heart in a flash.
“I just forgot,” Lena announced, her chair scraping loudly against the floor causing Alex and Kara to wince at the sharp and intrusive sound, “that I need to pick out a new book for bed. I’ll see you all tomorrow.” Lena bowed her head gracefully and in a trained formal manner that reminded Kara of a six year old girl that had tried to shake her hand. “Goodnight.”
With that final declaration, Lena swept elegantly out of the dining hall seemingly deaf to Kara calling out after her in confusion.
“Goodnight.” Kara muttered sadly, the pain in her chest not lessening even a little for some unknown reason. She stared at the doorway her best friend had made her hasty retreat through before taking a deep breath, forcing on her most jovial expression and turning to face Alex. “That was weird, right?” Kara laughed, rubbing the back of her neck awkwardly.
Alex looked the epitome of unimpressed and merely rolled her eyes as she muttered a defeated,“You’re an idiot.”
Kara’s brow furrowed, “Huh?”
Prince Mon-El was as sweet and charming as Kara remembered him to be. He matched her in energy levels and their interests overlapped in a way that Kara had never experienced with anyone else. His fighting style was similar to hers and they spent most mornings over his two week visit showing off their different techniques before Kara attended to her Queenly duties. Similarly, their appetites were huge and Kara enjoyed having someone else who piled their plate as high as her own. Mon-El spent the day touring or responding to his own correspondence whilst Kara carried out her duties; happy to keep himself occupied which Kara appreciated. On occasion, he would attend her meetings and offer insight that he had garnered from touring the other kingdoms over the last couple of months.
His knowledge was useful but Kara struggled to adapt his suggestions to her own style of ruling which made it difficult to translate into a workable solution.
In the evening, they would go for long walks, catching up and discussing the various things going on in their lives.
Kara enjoyed Mon-El’s company and was certain that she had made a friend for life by the time it came for him to depart. It had taken only a day for Kara’s minor musings of a potential relationship to be quashed as Mon-El gushed about a Countess Imra Ardeen that he had fallen for and was desperately trying to woo. Kara helped him strategise, giving him tips for his letters, finding that everything she had learned from her correspondence with Lena over the years provided a wealth of good advice.
Even if Mon-El hadn’t been taken with another woman, Kara doubted that by the end of the two weeks that her crush wouldn’t have extinguished itself just the same. Mon-El’s gentle ribbing and supportive care made him feel like some long lost sibling rather than the future love of her life.
When she imagined kissing him, the pain in her heart that had started when Lena had stormed out of the dining hall returned forcibly and her stomach rebelled against thoughts of intimate touch with the young Prince.
Prince Mon-El left after breakfast, the two of them sharing a hug and Kara wishing Mon-El good luck with his girl, only to be mildly taken aback when he returned the sentiment with a wink. Kara shook off the perplexing response rapidly, her feet in motion the second the door had swung shut behind him, eager to seek out the best friend that she had been missing dreadfully.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you much lately.” Kara whispered into the stillness of the library that would always be her father’s. She only ever ventured into the large room, filled with towering bookshelves and ceiling high windows when Lena was visiting. The room brought back too many memories of her father curled over a hefty tome, glasses balanced on his nose. Lena was the only thing that tempered that sharp nostalgia, so mixed up in Kara’s history with the library in her own way that she provided different memories to fall back on that made it impossible for her father’s ghost to claim ownership.
“We’ve been busy.” Lena hummed, not bothering to look up from the parchment she was writing on with her standard quill.
“Well-” Kara began, acutely aware that Lena had been busy over the last two weeks - not Kara. Kara had her standard work and was spending time with Mon-El but she had still been around, still available.
It was Lena that had disappeared from the castle and, by extension, Kara’s life without warning.
Lena had taken to hiding herself away in the library or disappearing for long stretches of the day with Nia and Brainy, venturing into the various nearby villages to provide her knowledge of engineering and physics to aid construction work being undertaken. Her skills and thoughtful guidance had made her incredibly popular and Lena had accepted any request for assistance that had been sent her way over the last two weeks. Kara hadn’t seen Lena for breakfast, lunch or dinner which they typically shared and when she went to Lena’s room at night to ask if they could have a sleepover as they tended to do every couple of nights, she was disappointed to find Lena unresponsive to the gentle knocking on her bedroom door. (Kara liked to think that Lena, exhausted from all the work she had taken on, had fallen into a deep sleep earlier than usual).
“We’re no longer children, Kara.” Lena murmured, quiet and accusing.
“I know that.” Kara replied sharply, hands curling into fists at her sides as she flashbacked to the night her parents stepped in front of blades for her. “I know that better than most, Lena.” Kara reminded, words harsher than she intended - but she felt the remark was unfair and she had just spent two weeks missing her best friend who seemingly out of nowhere wanted nothing to do with her… and that hurt . It hurt in a far worse way than every farewell they had shared at the end of summer.
Lena froze, slowly putting her quill down and looking up at Kara with wide, deeply apologetic green eyes. “I’m sorry. That was-” Lena shook her head, rubbing her forehead to try and wipe away the stress that marked it, “I’m so sorry.” Lena repeated.
Kara nodded once in understanding and acceptance, letting out a shaky breath before strolling over to sit next to Lena. “It’s okay.” Kara soothed when Lena continued to hang her head in shame.
“No, it’s not.” Lena replied with a self-loathing chuckle that prompted Kara to immediately reach out for Lena’s hand and entangle their fingers.
Kara had missed being able to do that over the last few weeks. Had missed feeling the comforting weight of Lena’s hand in her own and her cool skin pressed against her nearly always heated palm.
“Things are changing.” Lena whispered, the coldness of those three words so stark that it sent a shiver down Kara’s spine.
“How so?” Kara inquired, squeezing their hands tighter together as if that would stop whatever darkness was brewing out of sight. “Lena, what’s going on?”
Kara could visibly see Lena gathering her resolve, could see the tension in her muscles, the tightness in her jaw and the inevitability in her green eyes.
“This is going to be my last summer here.” Lena announced, shattering Kara’s heart into a thousand impossible pieces.
“What?! Why?!” Kara demanded, tugging on Lena’s hand so that her best friend would turn to properly face her. “Have I done something wrong?” Kara whispered brokenly.
“No!” Lena refuted instantly and vehemently, her head snapping round as the distanced facade she was wearing only a moment ago cracked apart to reveal just how distraught she was. Lena’s green eyes were teary and pained in a way that made Kara ache far worse than her own sense of loss. “You’ve done nothing wrong.” Lena declared, words clear despite how her voice broke with emotion. “My family are…” Lena shook her head miserably, her gaze dropping away again, “next summer I am to be presented. I am to start touring with my family, joining them at court.”
“Why now?” Kara questioned.
“Because…” Lena sighed, shifting in her seat so that she could lean her head onto Kara’s shoulder, “we’re no longer children.”
Their farewell on the last day of summer reminded Kara of their very first one when she was six years old and believed that she would never see her newest friend again. This one was worse. They would have letters and memories but the future was up in the air - a question mark where there once was a full stop.
“Summer will always be my favourite time of year.” Lena whispered, dwindling streams of sunlight - the last of the season - filling the small space between them. Their hands were clasped tightly together, their foreheads mere inches from resting against one another.
Kara shook her head sadly, not bothering to fight back the tears that Lena was somehow managing to suppress.
“Whatever season I get to spend with you is mine.” Kara confessed.
Lena hugged her then, tight and secure, fingertips digging into Kara’s back as if to bury them into her skin and keep them connected forever - Kara wouldn’t have complained.
Her father wasn’t there to pry them apart this time, nor was there anyone else; Alex, Eliza and the others had given them privacy, having said their own goodbyes to Lena the night before. It was Kara that had to pull away even as the action ripped her heart in two. It was Kara that wiped away the single tear that had managed to escape Lena’s constant composure with the pad of her thumb and pressed a kiss to Lena’s forehead.
“Goodbye, Kara.” Lena murmured, no promise of next summer this time.
Summer was no longer the same.
Kara no longer spent it under the oak tree, head resting on Lena’s lap or in the library playing chess, she spent summer in long meetings or visiting her subjects and allies. The years ticked by without much awareness on Kara’s part. The seasons and years bleeding together into a seamless constant.
Things did change, obviously, but they merely made the routine more apparent in their own way.
The cape she wore settled more comfortably on her shoulders as she began to gain renown amongst the other kingdoms for being able to bring swift ends to conflicts with stirring words of hope and thoughtful solutions.
Alex and Maggie fizzled out; their ambitions and desires not aligning enough to make their love last.
Brainy and Nia grew closer, their friendship deepening and shifting into something new.
Kara was approached by a few suitors with offers of courtship but her heart felt no stirring within it so she sent them away politely yet firmly - she remembered her father’s words but her optimism dwindled as she doubted if love was something she was truly deserving of (the poisonous blade of guilt that had entered her system the day her parents died continuing to seep its toxicity into her body unknown to herself and others).
Eliza expressed an interest in returning to healing and took on an assistant to mentor with the aim of taking over her role as steward. Kelly was level-headed, kind and absolutely dedicated to helping others, she was the perfect replacement to take over Eliza’s role and rose to the opportunity gifted to her with fervour - garnering the interest of Alex, who became immediately smitten.
Kara continued to write to Lena but the replies came less often, the youngest Luthor unable to respond whilst traveling. The length of their letters, however, increased to make up for the infrequency. Kara now took to carrying Lena’s most recent letter with her at all times until the next one arrived, at which point the previous one was tucked lovingly away in the box under her bed.
It had been four years. Four summers that hadn’t felt like summer at all when things truly changed.
Kara was twenty-one years old, worn out from a long day discussing financial minutiae with Brainy and looking forward to stealing a quick nap in the drawing room before dinner with her friends. She pushed open the door to the drawing room and came to a sudden stop upon finding the room to be already occupied.
The woman inside turned at the sound of the door clicking open, giving Kara a full unimpeded view of her guest.
She was taller than Kara remembered her being, but not as tall as Kara was now. Her raven locks were longer, only curling at the edges now compared to the wild curls from years ago. Her green eyes were bright with intelligence and twinkling with affection and no small amount of mischief, which was something that hadn’t changed despite the passage of time. She was dressed in red, which contrasted with her pale complexion and subtly brought attention to the smooth expanse of skin above her bodice that had Kara swallowing thickly and her cheeks turning scarlet.
“My name’s Lena.” Her beautiful best friend greeted before effectively breaking whatever gear was still somewhat turning in Kara’s brain by winking coyly and asking in a deep and playful voice, “Do you want to play?”
And Kara, who hadn’t realised how much she had missed her best friend over the last four years, who hadn’t realised how stunningly attractive Lena was, who hadn’t realised that she had turned away every suitor as none of them had the exact right shade of green eyes, who hadn’t realised until this very moment that she was irrevocably, undeniably in love with Lena Luthor… had only one single thought...
“Kara?” Lena prompted, her brow furrowing with confusion and growing concern.
Kara’s jaw flapped up and down whilst her heart sang out in her chest as every moment and feeling ever linked to her best friend clicked magnificently into place. “L-Lena?” Kara stammered out, her brain still rebooting itself with an entirely new world perspective.
“The one and only.” Lena smirked, though her forest green eyes flashed to something vulnerable and shy as she asked, “You haven’t forgotten me, have you?”
“No! Never!” Kara denied, shaking her head so aggressively she felt slightly dizzy.
“Good.” Lena sighed, the relief in that one word only obvious due to how long Kara had known Lena. “Is it okay that I’m here?” Lena checked, “Alex said you would like the surprise.”
“I… um… I love the surprise.” Kara said sincerely, barely resisting the urge to wince over the unnecessary emphasis she had placed on the depth of her sentiment.
“Yeah. Yes.” Kara assured, shifting closer to Lena as if pulled by some invisible thread that she now realised had been tugging her inextricably closer with every passing year. Kara, though, needed to know so as to prevent the hope bubbling in her stomach from skyrocketing, began to inquire, “How long are you-”
“For the summer.” Lena beamed, green eyes twinkling with delight.
“The whole summer?” Kara repeated, unable to believe her good fortune.
Four years without Lena was too much. Four years without summer was too much.
But now that she had Lena back, it was like no time had passed at all. She was still the same excitable six year old that just wanted everyday to be filled with the dark-haired girl with far too intelligent green eyes.
Kara’s six year old self emerged in that instant: bounding over to her best friend, hand instinctively reaching out to interlace with Lena’s long, pale fingers, bouncing up and down on her toes and wanting the summer to truly kickstart. “Do you want a tour?” Kara questioned eagerly, “Food? Have they set up your room? Is there something I can get you?”
Lena laughed bright and brilliant, illuminating the dark places that had gathered unknowingly inside Kara over the last four years. “Has the castle changed significantly in the last four years?”
“Not particularly.” Kara shrugged, her nose scrunching up with thought.
“Then no to the tour.” Lena replied, counting off her answers on the fingers of her free hand. “I had something to eat on the journey so I can wait until dinner. My usual room has been prepared and my luggage deposited. And a hug.”
“A hug?” Kara gulped, heart thrumming in her chest at just the thought of having Lena in her arms.
“Mmhmm.” Lena hummed.
More tentatively than she had ever done before, Kara wrapped an arm around Lena’s waist pulling their bodies together, simultaneously unwilling to release her hold on Lena’s hand which she merely squeezed tighter. Lena wrapped her own arm around Kara’s neck, burying her face into Kara’s shoulder.
For at least a minute, Kara just breathed Lena in, appreciating the warm sun on her back and the reassuring weight of Lena in her arms - it was a simple, yet infinitely precious, treasure that Kara promised herself she would never take for granted again.
“I really missed you.” Lena whispered softly, her words merely adding to the perfect moment they had created for themselves.
“I really missed you, too.” Kara responded, and it wasn’t until she said the words aloud that she realised just how painfully true they were. Realised that the past four years, and waiting in the months between summers throughout her younger years, had worn her down. Exhausted from trying to hold her heart together so that the cracks that ran through it due to Lena’s absence weren’t visible.
“Come on, Lena, you have to have some stories. Some wild hi-jinks.” Nia pleaded, pouting heavily at the raven-haired woman across from her.
The group of old friends had finished dinner and were in the process of catching up on all the stories, jokes and conversations that they had been deprived of over the last few years.
Lena smirked over her glass of red wine. “A lady doesn’t kiss and tell.”
“Oooh.” Nia gasped, her chair squeaking as she shuffled forward, the whole table’s attention shifting to focus on Lena, meaning that no one saw how Kara paled, suddenly sick to the stomach, a minor tremor in her hand that prompted her to finish her drink quickly and abandon the now empty glass on the table.
“Scandalous.” Brainy cheered, clapping his hands excitedly, prompting Lena and Alex to raise an eyebrow at the usually dour young man. “What?” Brainy shrugged bashfully, “Nia tells me the castle gossip all the time… I’m kind of addicted.”
“It is a genuine problem.” Nia confessed, reaching out to squeeze Brainy’s hand.
“Lena, please…” Alex whined, brown eyes wide and begging, “I’m getting over a rough break-up, let me live vicariously through you.”
“Alright,” Lena relented, green eyes twinkling with mischief, “what do you know of Andrea Rojas?”
Alex’s jaw dropped in disbelief, “Enough to be seriously jealous! What happened?”
Lena chuckled darkly, “Cinderella wasn’t the only one to have fun at midnight-”
Kara’s fists turned white knuckled in her lap as she was plagued with images of someone else kissing her best friend; Kara abruptly and unsteadily surged to her feet.
“I’m going to get us some more drinks.” Kara announced, unable to meet anyone’s eyes as she staggered away from the table as fast as her shaky legs would carry her.
“I think the castle staff-” Nia began to call out helpfully after her.
“I’m already up.” Kara shouted back, letting the dining hall door slam shut behind her.
Kara leaned against the kitchen counter, breathing deeply and trying to control the overwhelming jealousy she was experiencing. She wasn’t used to jealousy. Wasn’t used to any emotion this intense when she really thought about it.
It was overwhelming.
Yet also extraordinary.
One day of being in love and Kara never wanted to go back despite the way her heart was currently tying itself in knots to prevent it from tearing in half as she was presented with the very real possibility that someone else had already earned Lena’s love for themselves.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had realised.”
Kara’s head jerked up to find Alex, lingering in the doorway, brown eyes soft and deeply sympathetic.
“Realised what?” Kara laughed, feigning ignorance.
Alex shook her head, moving into the room to lean next to Kara before declaring, “That you’ve been in love with Lena since you were six years old.”
“I-... pfft… what?” Kara shook head vehemently, unable to believe that she had been ignorant that long. That she had missed out on all this feeling for far longer than she wished to believe. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“Kara. Don’t lie to me.” Alex reprimanded, frowning sternly, “I know you too well for it to work.”
Kara’s jaw opened and closed without permission as she struggled to find a suitable response. Eventually, she deflated accepting the truth of it all and murmuring weakly, “You knew?”
Alex smiled sadly at her, “We all did.”
“ We? ” Kara squeaked.
Alex nodded as she listed all those that had known Kara’s heart better than she did herself. “Me, Nia, Brainy, Eliza, J’onn…” Alex hesitated, side-eyeing Kara for a long moment before adding quietly, “your parents.”
Kara exhaled heavily at that, “They knew?”
“Yeah.” Alex said, watching Kara closely as she began to pace the floor space in front of her.
“And they…” Kara swallowed thickly, a familiar ache in her heart and twist in her gut that accompanied thoughts of her parents, “Were they okay with it?”
“Beyond okay.” Alex reassured, stepping instantly forward to pull Kara into a tight hug, whispering into Kara’s ear, “They loved Lena.”
Kara didn’t doubt that. Not for even a second.
They had cherished Lena like she was their own.
It was then that Kara remembered the very last conversation she had with her father - the way his eyes had twinkled knowingly and how he had smiled so excitedly for her future. A future she now knew she wanted to share with Lena, just like her parents had known years before her.
Kara’s growing hope, though, was quashed as her mind filled with images of Lena with Andrea and of the thousand missed opportunities that spanned their time together.
“Lena doesn’t love me.” Kara mumbled, the words acid on her tongue, as she leaned away from her adoptive sister.
“Yes, she does.” Alex scoffed so forcefully that Kara’s eyebrows shot up, blue eyes wide and taken aback. “She looks at you like you’re the sun, and has done since you brought her an ant and told her it was a rare crimson beetle. It didn’t look like a beetle nor was it red.”
Kara rolled her eyes at that, waving a dismissive hand, “She’s been out and seen the world. Kissed Andrea whatever-her-name is.” Kara kicked her toe against the kitchen floor, jaw clenched tightly as she muttered bitterly, “Probably loves her.”
“Kara,” Alex said sharply, crossing her arms, “the last time she was here, she had to watch you flirt with Mon-El for two weeks.”
“But I didn’t-” Kara started to protest.
“Exactly.” Alex pointed out before Kara had a chance to defend herself, clapping the Queen on the shoulder encouragingly, “So let it go.”
“Come on,” Alex sighed, “any longer and Lena will come looking for you.”
Kara snorted at that, shaking her head, “No, she won’-”
It was then that the kitchen door swung open; Kara immediately stopped talking, both her and Alex glancing over at the newcomer.
There in the doorway was Lena, hands behind her back and gaze fixed more or less solely on Kara.
“Hey, there you both are.” Lena breathed, the relief palpable in the gentle smile she directed at Kara, “I was starting to worry.”
And just like that hope settled in Kara’s chest, taking root and only requiring the nourishing summer sunlight to truly bloom.
Lena being back in the castle brought a fresh air and lightness to her home that Kara hadn’t even realised she’d been so deprived of until she had been gifted it back. The dark corridors no longer seemed so gloomy and the grounds no longer empty and barren. Kara spent the morning walking the grounds with Lena after an early breakfast so that they would have some time together before Kara was called back to fulfill her daily duties.
Before they parted, though, the Queen would always go out of her way to ensure Lena had everything she may require for the day; whatever she intended to put her time and energy towards. Whether that was preparing the best steed she owned if Lena wished to venture down to the nearby towns to reacquaint herself with old friends. Or providing her with the finest scrolls and tools the castle could supply when she had a particular invention in mind that she wished to design. Or ensuring the kitchen staff were primed to deliver her drinks under the cool shade of the oak tree when Lena wished to while away the day with a book.
They were tiny acts of service that required little effort from Kara, who wished she could do so much more - could complete great acts of valor and devotion to prove her love to save the need for words. It wasn’t necessary, though, because Lena would blush and flutter her eyelids at the Queen in genuine gratitude for her small, regular acts of affection as if they were the grand displays Kara wished them to be.
They would share lunch together, wherever Lena had set-up shop for the day, often joined by a random mix of Alex, Brainy, Nia or Kelly, the latter of which had become firm friends with Lena after an evening spent discussing the finer points of trade law into the early hours of the morning. A conversation that had sent both Alex and Kara asleep long before their usual bedtime.
On the occasional afternoon, when Kara could spare the time away from work, they would wander down to the river where, in a shift of roles from their younger selves, it was Lena enticing Kara to take a dip into the cool water with her. They would strip down to their underthings, Kara’s hands shakier than they had ever been in her entire life as she tugged off her cape, shirt and breeches, eyes resolutely focused away from her best friend until she was one hundred percent certain that Lena was in the water. Being close to Lena on those afternoons was Kara’s favourite way to pass time. Watching the ethereal beauty of the other woman as she floated just below the surface of the shimmering water, dark hair slicked back and green eyes shining brighter than the sun reflected on the surface of the water.
Kara had never ached for something more in her life.
Evenings were spent in quiet company with each other. Most of the time they would curl up together under their oak tree, catching up about their respective days with their hands entwined. On particularly hard days that had exhausted the Queen beyond normal, Lena would pat her thighs and encourage Kara to rest her head on her lap so that the raven-haired woman could run her long, pale fingers tenderly through Kara’s golden locks. It was a pleasure that more than made up for the fatigue of the day.
“I loved playing chess with the Queen.” Lena sighed, expression melancholy and longing for a past that would never come again.
Lena had asked if she could see Queen Alura’s old rooms; she had so many fond memories of her time being mentored by Kara’s mother that she wished to revisit them. Kara didn’t have it in her to deny the request, though it was obvious when they stepped into the Queen’s office that no one - other than staffers to clean - had been inside since the Queen’s death.
Kara had forced herself to take over her Father’s office, her need to step up and rule necessitating it.
Her mother’s office, though, had remained untouched.
Thinking of her mother brought back memories of the night her parents died, of her mother smiling a goodbye, of Kara not being fast enough, not being good enough, not being enough…
The poisonous blade in her gut twisting deeper and deeper with each recollection.
Re-entering her mother’s space with Lena at her side tempered the blade’s toxicity and halted the spreading of its poisonous barbs. Seeing how Lena so gently ran her fingers over the letters that Kara’s mother had been halfway through writing, how Lena smiled warmly at the portraits of Alura’s parents on the wall as if saying hello to an old friend, how Lena wistfully reset the chess board to the exacting standards that Alura always kept it in - ready to play a game at a moment’s notice.
“But you always lost.” Kara remarked thoughtfully, memories of her parent’s death being replaced by countless afternoons spent with a pouting Lena determined to work out all her missteps from her last game with Alura.
“I want it noted that I got close a couple of times.” Lena replied, pursing her lips haughtily and flicking her hair over her shoulder pulling forth a laugh from the Queen.
Kara tried not to think about the last time this room had heard any sounds of joy.
“If you say so.” Kara teased with an amused shake of her head.
Lena exhaled slowly, eyes going distant as she placed the final pawn into the correct position on the board. “She was so patient, and thoughtful.” Lena murmured, “It never felt like losing with her.”
Kara walked towards her best friend and away from the doorway she had practically been lingering in, her discomfort with this room outweighed by the need to soothe Lena’s grief. “She told me once that a couple more years and you would have beaten her.”
Lena smiled at that, small and proud before nodding once to herself, “I’m glad I didn’t.”
Kara’s brow furrowed in surprise at that, there had been a good number of summers where that was pretty much Lena’s only goal. “Why?”
Lena shrugged, hands moving to stroke the back of the wooden chair that Alura always occupied when they played, “It means I will always have something to work towards, I will always have something to learn. Everytime I play, I see her teaching me now, whispering suggestions in my ear.”
Kara pursed her lips, considering this train of thought and how in this small way Kara’s mother was still alive. She was there everytime Lena played a game, her strategies and careful consideration passed down to Lena as a tangible link that ensured she had never truly left.
It was this thought, this desire to open that link up for the both of them and bring Alura back, just for a little while, that had Kara offering, “Do you want to play?”
Lena blinked rapidly out of her reverie, turning to raise a curious eyebrow at the Queen, “But you always lose.”
Kara winced at that, her stubborn thirteen year old self used to sulk for at least an hour following a loss at Lena’s hand, not realising that she had been so upset because she thought it meant that she wasn’t as good as Lena which would mean she wasn’t good enough for Lena. Kara hadn’t actually minded losing to Lena, had enjoyed playing with Lena far more than she cared about winning but supercharged emotions that she hadn’t fully comprehended at the time had overlaid it.
Kara didn’t bother trying to explain all that, instead she simply and earnestly said, “It doesn’t feel like losing with you.”
“Nia, this is fantastic.” Lena complimented sincerely, holding up one of Nia’s most recent portraits depicting a merchant’s young family - the mother had commissioned Nia to paint it to commemorate the recent birth of their youngest child and it was an exquisite piece. Nia had mastered adding so much character to her works that you almost felt like you’d met the subject of the painting in person just from a glance.
Kara had granted Nia a studio room in one of the castle's many towers so that she could work freely and simultaneously bring renown to the kingdom. Many notable persons would trek to Kara’s castle to request a portrait, which had the benefit of giving the Queen numerous opportunities to build new alliances or shore up old ones.
“Thank you,” Nia replied shyly, flushing an embarrassed red - she’d always admired Lena from a young age and looked up to her like an older sister - the genuine praise Lena was doling out for her various works scattered around her studio meant the world to the young painter. “I mean it's still a work in progress and I’m still learning-”
“Nia, it is incredible.” Lena insisted, carefully putting the artwork back so that she could pull Nia into a tight hug.
“I tell her that after every painting and she’s still not convinced.” Kara murmured with a fond shake of her head, once the two women’s hug ended.
“Then we’ll both have to tell her even more.” Lena declared, raising her eyebrows in challenge at the Queen who merely chuckled warmly in response. Lena returned to her explorations, studying each of Nia’s works intently, allowing Kara to shuffle stealthily over to her young friend to make the request that had been weighing on her since she realised that her mind could never conjure the exact right shade of green for Lena’s eyes.
“Hey Nia,” Kara whispered, “could you… um… maybe do a portrait of Lena?”
Nia’s jaw dropped for half a beat before snapping shut, “Really?”
“Yeah…” Kara breathed, unable to stop herself from smiling gently at the sight of Lena crouching down to admire the picture of a little boy grinning mischievously up at her from the canvas.
When Kara managed to draw her gaze away from her best friend it was to find Nia’s eyes bright with excitement and a poorly restrained beaming grin that made it apparent that Kara had been caught - her feelings as obvious as the nose on her face.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Kara grumbled half-heartedly, crossing her arms over her chest to try and dull the pain that came with her next admission. “When she leaves, I don’t… I don’t have anything.”
Nia’s smile faltered at that, sympathetic understanding lining her face as she nodded once before stating, “I’ll do it.”
“You want to- what?” Lena exclaimed, eyebrows drawn tight together in perplexion.
“Do your portrait.” Nia repeated, putting on her most endearing smile which no one - especially Lena - could ever say no to.
Lena pursed her lips, considering the request, “Why?”
Nia shrugged nonchalantly, “I’ve never had to paint someone with your pale complexion, it would be a good learning exercise for me.”
Kara envied her ability to pull off such an easy lie, the last time she had tried to lie to Lena, her face had turned purple and she had sweated through her shirt - and that was just over a card game where bluffing was necessary to win.
“Brainy and Alex have both let me do theirs for practice.” Nia added helpfully, as Lena appeared to remain hesitant.
That little tidbit of information only made Lena’s gaze hone in all the more sharply, as she glanced between the young girl and the Queen, “What about Kara?”
Nia snorted at the suggestion, “No one can get Kara to sit still for that long.”
Kara opened her mouth to refute this claim before images of her pacing in meetings or jiggling her leg when she had been writing a report for too long stole into her mind. Kara wisely kept the denial to herself, knowing it would prompt a long list of examples from the young artist who would then, most likely, call in the rest of the castle to add their own examples.
“Hmm…” Lena tapped her chin thoughtfully, a smirk steadily growing on her lips as she studied Kara (the Queen barely resisted the urge to gulp). “I can.” Lena declared confidently after a moment.
The confidence was well founded. The only person who had ever gotten Kara to remain willingly in one place was Lena but that was purely because Kara’s favourite place to be in the whole world was by Lena’s side - no further incentive was required.
“Yeah, well you’re the exception.” Kara stammered, ducking her head to hide the ruby sheen to her cheeks.
“I’ll do it,” Lena agreed, turning back to Nia, who started to clap her hands together excitedly until Lena cleared her throat and raised her index finger to show she had one condition, “if Kara does it too.”
“Deal.” Nia accepted instantly, reaching out to shake Lena’s hand on it.
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Kara squeaked.
Nia turned to look at her with an arched eyebrow, that showed how much time she had spent with Lena recently, and a particularly unimpressed frown, “Do you want a say in this?”
Kara opened her mouth, ready to say ‘yes, yes I do’ before she really thought through the deal that had just fallen like a gift from God into her lap. A portrait with Lena. More time with Lena that would culminate in an image of the two of them together for the rest of time. Something to tie her to Lena in a beautifully permanent way that Lena had asked for. It couldn’t really be better than that.
“Uh… well… not really.” Kara coughed out.
Nia rolled her eyes, clearly able to see the exact train of thought running through the Queen’s mind, before clapping her hands together excitedly, “Perfect. How does tomorrow work?”
The day of the portrait Kara made sure her clothes were the finest they could be: her boots were shined until the red leather gleamed and her cape was pressed to ensure it hung perfectly from her shoulders. She spent hours staring into the mirror, indecisive about her hair. Should it be up or down? It was Alex that made the decision for her, thumping her heartily on the back and telling her to stop stressing about it before whispering in her ear that Lena preferred her hair down.
Lena was already in Nia’s art tower, and looking so breathtakingly beautiful that when Kara stepped into the room and saw her, she felt like she had been winded. Her legs were shaking beneath her and her mind was empty of all thoughts apart from those related solely to her best friend.
Lena was in a gorgeous, long red dress with gold accents on the wrists and collar, which had a split up the side that granted a tantalising peek at long legs and black boots. Her raven hair was down and slightly wavy today which enabled the morning light to create a shimmer across the surface.
Lena beamed at Kara as she entered, breaking the Queen’s trance-like state enough for her to approach with the two gifts she had brought with her. The first was a gold tiara that matched the accenting of Lena’s dress, it had been Kara’s from a few years ago. Lena was hesitant to accept it, even though it tied her appearance together rather nicely, as the kingdom she was from saw crowns and tiaras as signs of royalty unlike Argo’s preference for the cape. Kara had been saved from insisting on that particular item by Nia, who encouraged it from an artistic perspective, employing the sweet smile Lena could never refuse to her advantage.
It was the second gift that Kara cared for the most and the one which Lena would least readily accept. Her mother’s necklace was a simple thing - a single crystal that her mother had found when she was a child and that her father had personally put a gold band attached to a chain around it so that Alura could wear it whenever she wished. She could have tried to argue that the golden chain matched Lena’s outfit and that was why she was offering it.
It would have been a lie.
So Kara didn’t bother, she just held out the necklace with trembling fingers and pleading blue eyes. Lena’s hand had reached out instinctively for it before stopping, hesitating for a long moment as she considered everything linked to the necklace that she had grown up seeing around Alura’s neck.
A single whispered ‘ please ’ from Kara was all it took for Lena to nod once, turn around and lift her hair up so that Kara could carefully clasp the gold chain around her neck. Kara’s unsteadiness made the task difficult but she wouldn’t hand it over to anyone else. Occasionally, her fingers would brush Lena’s neck and she would watch in no small amount of awe as a wake of goosebumps appeared and an almost imperceptible shiver ran down the other woman’s spine.
Once properly attired, Nia arranged their placements for the portrait. Lena was given a chair, grabbed from Kara’s office the day before whilst Kara was allowed to stand, giving her the option to stretch her legs every now again without causing too much disruption to Nia’s work. Kara placed her hand on the back of Lena’s chair, fingers sometimes combing soothingly through Lena’s dark locks as the process unfurled, both of them needing that point of connection whilst they couldn’t meet each other’s eyes.
It took the better part of two days of them sitting and then another two days or so for Nia to finalise her creation. By the time it was ready, Kara’s patience had more or less run dry and she had been on the precipice of seeking out the artist to get a sneak peek ahead of schedule when Nia had come to get them from their usual evening spot under the oak tree.
“Wow. Nia, this is…” Kara breathed, unable to find any descriptor worthy enough of what Nia had created.
“My best work?” Nia supplied, eyes twinkling with pride at the masterpiece before them. “I know.” Kara patted her young friend on the back in congratulations at which point they both realised that Lena had yet to say a single word.
Lena was standing directly in front of the picture, her face devoid of all expression as she stared unblinkingly at the image before her.
“What do you think Lena?” Nia prompted, her tone suddenly apprehensive.
“Umm…” Lena startled at the question and licked her lips as she carefully crafted her response. “Breathtaking.” Lena finally exhaled in honest reverence.
Kara gently nudged Nia’s side to get her attention before dismissing her with a kindly, “Thank you, Nia.”
“You’re welcome.” Nia winked, reaching out to quickly squeeze Kara’s forearm and whisper encouragingly, “The rest is up to you now.”
Kara swallowed thickly, gathering her courage to step up behind Lena so that she could peer over the other woman’s shoulder at the picture and place a gentle hand on Lena’s hip to warn her of her presence. Lena breathed sharply at the sudden closeness but made no move to limit it, instead, Lena glanced over her shoulder at Kara, green eyes dark and welcoming as she placed her own hand atop of Kara’s on her hip squeezing it and pressing it tighter against her.
“Is it okay?” Kara asked quietly, breath against Lena’s cheek, the question about the portrait but also subtly about everything else that was happening between them.
“It…” Lena bit her lip, gaze sweeping back to the image leant against the wall, “looks like your parents' portrait. Like we’re… we’re…”
“We’re?” Kara prompted gently, hand on Lena’s hip squeezing lightly… encouragingly .
Lena inhaled at the light touch, licking her lips as a pink blush warmed her cheeks. “Married.” Lena breathed into the room, the single word surrounding them in a cloud crackling with potential electricity.
“Oh…” Kara whispered, shifting infinitesimally closer to the other woman to try and alleviate the ache in her that kept murmuring closer, closer, closer and that would never be satisfied until Kara had wrapped herself around everything that was Lena Luthor and embedded her permanently into her skin and bones.
Lena swallowed thickly, eyelids fluttering closed as she leaned into Kara’s warmth and support, if Lena turned her head an inch, their noses would brush and their breaths would intermingle.
Every fibre of Kara’s being wished and begged for Lena to turn her head, to bridge that last slither of distance between them.
“Yeah…” Lena agreed softly - to what Kara couldn’t even begin to guess, but she could hope regardless.
Kara’s thumb traced small circles on Lena’s hipbone hoping to leave some indelible mark that bound them together more than just the image before them.
“I… um…” Lena hummed, eyes blinking slowly open, as if waking from a daze or a particularly desirous dream. Kara knew as Lena’s green eyes regained their sharpness that the beautiful moment they had created was over. It was with no small amount of regret and fear of another missed chance that Kara ceased her thumb’s movement and leaned back, shifting them effortlessly into a more ‘friend’ level of closeness that eased the sting when Lena stepped fully away from her and said, “I have a training lesson with J’onn… I should…”
Kara nodded in understanding, letting Lena know everything was okay with a soft smile. Lena sighed gratefully, making to leave before turning back once more to stare at the portrait - green eyes just as mesmerised.
“It really is beautiful.” Lena remarked sincerely.
“It is.” Kara agreed wholeheartedly.
“I knew I would find you here.” Kara grinned as she approached her best friend that was sitting under the castle oak tree, staring forlornly off into the distance, no book or sword in hand to occupy her mind away from whatever tumultuous thoughts were so obviously running through it.
“You always know where to find me.” Lena chuckled, squinting up through the last sunny rays of the day at the Queen.
“I spent a lot of time looking.” Kara reminded her, evoking images of their six year old selves that had chased each other’s shadows unknowingly for the majority of their first summer together.
Lena tilted her head to the side, her smile soft and expression tender as she studied Kara. “Sit with me.” Lena requested, patting the green spot next to her - the grass having finally been able to reclaim the area under the tree after being free of the two girls that had pressed down on it. “Please.”
Kara acquiesced instantly, unable and unwilling to deny Lena anything ever again. The second she was seated, her back against the oak tree’s trunk, Lena had shuffled closer and Kara hadn’t hesitated to wrap her arms around her best friend and place a quick kiss to her forehead.
“Is everything okay?” She checked once Lena was suitably ensconced in Kara’s embrace.
“I’m sitting here with you, your arms around me and I…” Lena replied, words carefully selected but unable to hide the minor crack in her tone that belied heavy emotions. “I’ve never been happier.” Lena admitted earnestly.
Kara’s heart began to sing so bright and brilliant at the revelation that the blonde wouldn’t have been surprised if Lena could hear it.
“But,” Lena exhaled shakily, burying her face into Kara’s supportive shoulder, “at the same time, I’ve never missed you more.”
Kara squeezed Lena tighter to her at that, palm pressed wide and firm against Lena’s back whilst her other hand moved to brush through Lena’s long dark hair. “How can you miss me when I’m right here?”
“Because I know that summer ends.” Lena whispered, her words more stark than the deadened autumn leaves falling from the oak tree and colder than the first winter frost. “It always ends.”
Kara swallowed thickly, her eyes stinging with tears at the inevitable loss and separation that would undoubtedly be the worst one yet. “There’s always another summer.” Kara replied, though the statement felt hollow and lacking.
“Not always.” Lena breathed, both of them ignoring the tears that were now falling from their eyes.
The next morning, Kara was up early, eager for another day with Lena. They were making progress towards something new that they had probably been working towards for years without realising. There was a town fair set to happen the day after next and she intended to ask Lena if they could go together, her first open attempt at courtship that she was hoping would push them across that final line into something more.
It was as she was coming down the stairs that she was waylaid by Henry, one of the castle’s soldiers.
“Queen Kara, you have a visitor.” Henry informed her with a bow.
Kara raised an eyebrow at that, not expecting any visitors especially this early but she requested Henry to lead the way with a thank you.
Henry pulled open the doors to the drawing room, “Your majesty, this is-”
“Duchess Lillian Luthor, your majesty.” The guest revealed, cutting in over Henry’s introduction with seamless ease.
The Duchess was a towering figure not just in height but in demeanour as well. She was dressed in the red and black of house Luthor, her features were sharp but her eyes were even sharper. Her smile exuded coldness and insincerity.
All Kara could think was how on Earth did Lena - sweet Lena - come from such a person?
“Duchess, it is an honour.” Kara greeted, nodding her head in welcome, not wanting to make a bad impression.
She had met Lillian in passing before but it was fleeting glimpses in neutral territory - the church for her parents’ funeral and her cousin’s wedding a few years back - this was a proper introduction that would set the tone for their interactions and considering Kara’s heart’s desire was to be united with Lena, she wanted it to go well.
“Thank you.” The Duchess accepted graciously, though Kara noted how Lillian failed to bow in her presence as was custom with any royalty. “I hope my daughter hasn’t been too much of a burden. She insisted on coming here, I tried to tell her that her coming for summer here was an agreement her father made with your parents.”
“No, Lena is…” Kara rushed to reassure, not wanting Lillian to think for even a second that Kara wasn’t delighted with Lena’s presence. “I mean, Lady Lena,” Kara corrected with a quick cough, “is always welcome here whenever she wishes. She’s never been a burden. Never.”
The Duchess pursed her lips so tightly that they were barely visible. “I see.”
Kara cleared her throat and clasped her hands behind her back to ensure she didn’t wring them nervously in front of her. She was on the edge of broaching a new topic when the drawing room door opened and in glided Lena, eyes immediately settling on Kara.
“Kara, where did you-” Lena’s inquiry died the instant she recognised the other person in the room. “Mother.” Lena murmured, her face paling and her impeccable posture snapping even straighter than normal.
“Lena.” Lillian returned; Kara’s jaw clenched upon hearing how little affection there was in the Duchess’ tone towards her own daughter.
“What are you…” Lena began to ask before catching herself and restarting with a far more respectful and formal tone that you would use to speak to your patron but not your own family. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”
Lillian’s dark eyes sparkled with life for the first time since Kara had made her acquaintance. “I have come to tell you the good news.”
Kara watched as Lena seemed to shrink in on herself, a grey pallor taking over her complexion. “Good news?” Lena repeated, the dread palpable in those two words.
Lillian smiled shark-like and gleeful, “King Morgan Edge has proposed a marriage alliance. You are to be wed.”
Lena was exactly where Kara expected her to be, pacing frantically under the oak tree, eyes red-rimmed as she bitterly fought to hold back her tears of anger and disappointment.
“Lena?” Kara kept her tone gentle and light as she approached her best friend with gradual steps, not wanting to perturb her anymore than she already was.
“Don’t!” Lena snapped furiously, whirling round on Kara with a fierce snarl, “Don’t tell me everything is going to be okay. Don’t bring your eternal optimism to this… this hellish situation.” Lena demanded, banging her fist so hard against her own palm that Kara couldn’t stop herself from striding forward to take Lena’s hand in both of her own in order to tenderly rub the reddening skin with her thumbs.
Lena breathed out heavily, her entire body going still at Kara’s first touch.
Kara ducked her head, wanting to provide comfort but not sure how, she cleared her throat, “It might not be-”
“I knew I was never going to get to marry for love.” Lena interrupted, her voice so hollow and empty that Kara instantly longed for the tempestuous rage of the moment before. Because this… this was Lena defeated .
“I knew that. I’ve known that since I was six years old.” Lena chuckled darkly. “I just didn’t think I would have to marry someone I hate .” The way Lena’s lips curled around the word emphasised it far more than a scream ever could. “I hate him, Kara. He is cruel and petty and he will make it his life’s mission to break me.”
The emptiness to Lena’s voice made it clear that this outcome was an indisputable truth that could not be overcome.
Kara felt sick, she was clinging tightly to Lena’s hand now, pulling it close to her chest as if to bind themselves together and prevent this horrific future from occurring.
“Don’t, don’t-” Lena soothed, shuffling closer to press their foreheads against each other.
“I… I...” Kara croaked.
“I know. I know.”
Kara paced up and down the corridor, trying to get a tight grip on the tempest of emotions she was currently experiencing. Fear, anger, sorrow, loss, hope and a thousand others all centred around one woman. Kara had held Lena close for most of the day, eventually Lena had requested to be left alone, clearly wanting to work through her own thoughts and feelings - a request Kara respected.
Kara had then gone to see Alex, trusting that her oldest and dearest friend would have some words of advice.
She did and they were far more blunt than anything Kara could have anticipated. Alex told her to go to the Duchess and make a counter-offer - her own marriage proposal for Lena. Kara had been struck dumb by the suggestion even as her heart roared in her chest to make it so that instant. Whispers in her head reminded her of policy, diplomacy, tact, alliances and critical relationships whilst the blade in her gut growled not good enough and unworthy rendering the screams of her heart little more than whimpers.
Alex had placed her hands on Kara’s shoulders then to ground her and pull her away from her terrible introspection reminding her that this was for Lena’s benefit above all else, that Lena would be happier here than she would be in a kingdom she had little love for with a man that she loathed. That had convinced Kara and silenced the counter-arguments stewing within, she could keep Lena safe and make her happy even if her feelings were never returned.
Decision made, Kara sought out the Duchess, finding her set-up in her own suite of rooms - Kara paced outside the Duchess’ rooms until she had expended a decent amount of her nervous energy.
With a polite knock, Kara was granted entry. The Duchess was standing next to the fireplace, inspecting the mantle for dust with an index finger which succeeded at finding trace amounts and produced a displeased frown on the older woman’s face.
“Duchess Luthor.” Kara greeted, for the second time that day.
“Your Majesty.” Lillian replied, barely bothering to spare her a glance.
Kara took the disinterest in her stride, hoping to bridge the gap between them with a friendly tone, “Please, call me Kara.”
Lillian arched an eyebrow at that, “Very well.”
Kara frowned ever so slightly at the lack of a return offer, “I… uh…” Kara stammered, nerves returning as she tried to broach the topic that meant so much to her, “I wanted to talk to you about Lena.”
“I’m dreadfully sorry for her behaviour earlier - I thought she knew better than to throw a tantrum.” Lillian apologised curtly.
Kara highly doubted that anyone could consider Lena’s reaction to the news of her upcoming marriage as anything close to a tantrum. Upon hearing it, Lena had politely excused herself and walked as elegantly as always out of the room - to a mere passerby, you would think she had just been given a rather dull update on the weather. It was only because Kara knew Lena so well, knew her better than she knew herself that she could see how distraught Lena truly was.
“Please forgive me that I have not taught her better.” Lillian humbly bowed her head as if to shoulder the blame for some great atrocity.
“No! Lena is… fine. Good. Well, she’s not but that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Kara rambled before forcing herself to stop and think through what she really wanted to say. “I was wondering if you had formally accepted King Edge’s marriage proposal?”
Lillian paused, gaze narrowing and nostrils flaring at the question, “Not as of yet but-”
“Then there’s still time.” Kara breathed in relief, stepping forward with her head held high and drawing on all the authority and respectability that came with being Queen of Argo. “I… I would like to offer my own marriage proposal for Lena.”
“ You? ”
Kara pretended not to hear the harshness of the Duchess’ tone, intent on making her case. A case which any loving mother would be swayed by.
“I know Argo isn’t as wealthy as Edge’s Kingdom nor do we have as large a military. But Argo is highly regarded among diplomatic circles and we have a lot of soft power and influence. But more than that… I think I can make Lena happy.” Kara explained, blue eyes glowing with sincerity and love. “She’s been here nearly every summer since she was six, she loves Argo and the people here love her in return. Lena is very dear to me… and whilst she may never return my feelings of adoration, I can promise that I will never force them upon her, and would never place expectations on her. She’s one of my dearest friends and I would do my utmost to ensure she lived a happy life.”
Kara blinked once, twice, thrice… not quite certain that she had heard that correctly, “No?”
“No.” Lillian repeated simply, looking down her nose at Kara.
Kara had just offered her heart and everything she was on a plate and Lillian had dismissed it without even a moment’s consideration. Like it was a piece of rotting meat that she wouldn’t even feed to her dogs.
“But-” Kara began, brow furrowed with confusion more than dismay - more fearful that she had failed to explain herself.
“My daughter will not marry a small Queen of a piece of land barely larger than my thumb on a map.” Lillian sneered and it was in that moment that the blade buried in Kara’s gut increased its toxicity to match the vitriol that the Duchess was throwing at her with a disregard that implied she was barely worth the effort to cut down. “She will not be shackled to your crumbling fortune and lackluster name. And even if Argo was more powerful, even if you were Queen with some bite to you that made you even worth a passing consideration… let me assure you of one thing… Lena will never love you .”
Kara’s heart cracked in her chest, splintering into thousands of pieces as every fear she had ever had was presented to her as the truth.
“You could never make her happy.” Lillian revealed, her lips turning down at the edge as if she was pitying Kara for so much as thinking otherwise. “She’s put up with your cheery smile and sweet stupidity as she knows how to put on a facade better than even I can. If she ever had to spend any longer than a summer with you, she would run for the hills. She will never love you and she will never marry you.” Lillain promised, smiling cruelly at her, fully aware that her words had found their mark on the most vulnerable part of Kara’s soul. The Duchess wiped her dust-marked finger on the back of a nearby armchair before gesturing to the door, effectively dismissing Kara like she was nothing more than a speck of dust that she had stumbled upon. “Farewell, your majesty.”
Kara blinked back the tears as she sat heavily on the edge of her bed, feeling so small after having been ripped to shreds by someone who could have granted Kara joy beyond measure with a simple yes. She glanced forlornly over at Nia’s portrait of her and Lena that she had brought into her room until she could identify a suitable place to hang it. The picture already seemed like it was from a time long ago or some alternate universe that Kara would never get to experience for herself.
Kara’s spiralling thoughts were interrupted by a timid knock on her bedroom door; Kara considered ignoring it, assuming it to be Alex intent on finding out how it had gone with the Duchess, until she recognised Lena’s voice calling out her name, “Kara?”
Kara wiped aggressively at her eyes trying to remove the evidence of her distress before staggering to her feet and opening the door, “Lena?”
Lena stood in the doorway, already dressed for bed in a long white night-gown that had Kara’s entire being throb with the desire to reach out for her.
“Can I… Can I come in?” Lena requested, wringing her hands nervously in front of her, unable to meet Kara’s eye.
“Of course.” Kara acquiesced, unable to deny what might be the last time they get to spend together if Lillian’s plan to leave tomorrow was to be believed.
Lena wandered inside, more timid than she had ever been in Kara’s space; the Queen instinctively wanted to follow after her, pull her into her arms and soothe her discomfort but Kara feared if she did that she might never let Lena go again. Lena paused in front of the portrait resting against the wall, her green eyes absorbing every detail, before she turned back to face Kara, head held high even as her breathing quickened with nervousness.
“I…” Lena began, her voice soft and shy, “I know I have no right to say this to you and I want you to know that if… if you don’t… if it’s not the same for you then…”
“Lena?” Kara prompted, her heart increasing in tempo at the affection in Lena’s green eyes.
Lena inhaled deeply, hesitating for just a beat as she met Kara’s eyes with her own before confessing, “I wish it was you. I wish I was marrying you.”
Kara didn’t consider her next action, she just acted.
She was striding across the space between them, hands reaching out to cup Lena’s beautiful face and before Kara had even registered what it was she was doing, she had connected their lips.
Kissing Lena was the single greatest moment of Kara’s life. Feeling Lena grab her hip to pull them closer with one hand, whilst her other threaded through Kara’s hair, entangling them together even more. Hearing Lena whimper and whisper an almost inaudible please and more whenever Kara’s tongue brushed fleetingly against the seam of her lips.
Kara wasn’t sure how much time passed, how much time she spent in this single magnificent experience that she wouldn’t trade for any other. She remembered thinking it would never be enough, that any end would be too soon regardless, when her bedroom door was flung open with a bang.
Kara and Lena flew apart from each other, both rounding to face the unwelcome intruder.
“What is this?!” The Duchess demanded furiously as she stalked into the room towards Lena.
“Mother, I-” Lena began to explain, not that it was necessary, her swollen lips, finger-messy hair and slightly askew night-gown confessed a litany of sins without words.
“GET OUT, RIGHT NOW!” The Duchess bellowed, grabbing Lena’s arm and yanking her brutally towards the door. “You’re coming with me.”
“Duchess, please-” Kara beseeched, her brain finally kicking back into gear as she attempted to follow after the mother and daughter.
“She is an engaged woman, your majesty.” Lillian seethed, whirling around to unleash her rage on the Queen, careless of how it pulled Lena this way and that. “Your actions reek of dishonour, your parents would be so ashamed of you.”
Kara recoiled as if slapped at the accusation giving Lillian more than enough time to make her escape, slamming the bedroom door behind herself.
It took Kara less than five minutes to recover and gather her iron will, storming through the castle and shoving open the door to the Duchess’ rooms with as much warning as she and Lena had been given. The Duchess was on her own having clearly returned Lena to her own room for the night, and was in the process of packing up her belongings into a large trunk.
“Duchess-” Kara began, practically growling out the title.
“Your majesty, let’s not waste our breaths.” Lillian interrupted, slamming her trunk lid shut with an echoing clang before sneering at the Queen. “My daughter and I leave at first light, and believe me when I say we will never return here.”
Kara gritted her teeth, all attempts at civility forgotten the moment she saw Lillian dig her nails into Lena’s forearm and pull her unwillingly away. “With all due respect Duchess, which is none. No.”
“No?” Lillian repeated in disbelief, truly taken by surprise at the definitiveness of Kara’s tone.
“Lena wants to be here.” Kara asserted, clasping her hands behind her back and standing tall, feeling her parents’ strength flow through her. “She doesn’t want to marry King Edge. And she can stay here as long as she wishes. You have no say in who comes or goes in this castle or kingdom. As long as I live, Lena will have a home here that I can assure you.”
The Duchess’ face twisted with incandescent rage, and if Kara didn’t know any better she would say the other woman grew in height, “How dare you-”
“I am a Queen and you are in my castle.” Kara declared, refusing to curtail to Lillian’s ire ever again. “I will dare as much as I like.”
“I knew sending Lena here every summer was a mistake.” Lillian spat, “Every year I was forced to watch as you dug your disgusting claws into her and twisted her to your will until I barely recognised my own daughter. You think I didn’t know that this might happen?” Lillian cackled, waving her arms at the space between them as if Kara and Lena’s budding relationship was laid out before her. “That I and King Edge didn’t make preparations for such a ridiculous scenario?”
Lillian smiled malevolently and Kara suddenly felt a trickle of fear rundown her spine.
The shadows in the room seemed longer and the fire blazing in the corner seemed to crackle violently. There was something in the air, like sulphur and acrid smoke which made Kara’s lungs burn and eyes water. Something unnatural was filling the empty spaces in the room and it was emanating from the Duchess.
Kara blinked rapidly to dispel the flickers and tendrils of green light that were radiating from Lillian’s bony fingers.
“We were actually kind of hoping that this would occur,” Lillian confessed, eyes twinkling with fiery delight, “your diplomatic red tape has interfered with my and King Edge’s ambitions for much too long.”
“What are you-” Kara coughed, the green light that she thought she was imagining starting to gain permanence, the tendrils reaching out with twisted limbs to wrap around her body, keeping her in place.
Lillian’s eyes blazed, and green smoke escaped her mouth as she unleashed her malicious curse. “A twisted beast you will become as your loved ones lose their lives. Day after day, night after night, your kingdom will freeze. An eternal winter until you prove yourself worthy of an impossible love.”
Kara barely registered the incantation, her skin burning and corroding away where the green magic wrapped around her. Her blood felt like acid in her veins as the green smoke swirled in a vortex.
“I- What have you done?!” Kara screamed desperately, her bones cracking and snapping as they were rendered apart.
Lillian beamed, bright and cruel as she grabbed her trunk and strode past the Queen trapped in her tortuous prison of green. “I’ve given you exactly what you deserve.” The Duchess murmured exultantly.
Kara could only collapse onto the floor, screaming and thrashing as her body was remade into something beyond her recognition. The green smoke billowed and slowly spread out around the room. She blacked out intermittently, she felt her shirt tear unable to contain the re-grown bones and hardened skin. The tips of her toes split open as claws pushed their way through, cutting through her red boots. Her fingers bent this way and that, her joints spread and re-formed. Her new hardened grey-toned skin buzzed uncomfortably as matted golden-brown fur pushed through, covering her entire body.
Kara didn’t know how much time passed as the green smoke focused its attention on remaking her into something horrific and unrecognisable.
It was near its end, the fur just reaching its full length when the door was shoved open revealing a wide-eyed Lena shouting her name, “KARA! Where are-”
Kara’s bleary eyes could barely stay open but that didn’t mean she couldn’t see how Lena’s expression contorted to one of terror at the sight of Kara’s beastly form.
“L-... ugh!” Kara tried to make her unnatural jaw work, tried to form Lena’s name, but she had too many teeth and a too large tongue. All she could do was growl and grunt incomprehensibly.
“Oh my god! Monster!” Lena shouted, staggering back away from Kara’s crumpled form.
“Lena, we must go now!” Lillian said, appearing suddenly at Lena’s side, her gaze, when it met Kara’s, the epitome of triumphant. “That beast killed the Queen!” Lillian asserted, tugging Lena away from the door and out of the path of steadily moving green smoke.
“What- No…”, Lena resisted her mother’s attempts to drag her away, green eyes broken, confused and outraged.
Kara tried to crawl towards her, to chase after her, to say ‘no, I’m right here, it’s me’. But she was empty of everything, the transformation consuming what energy she had.
“NOW!” Lillian commanded, prompting two guards that had accompanied the Duchess to appear out of nowhere, seizing Lena firmly and lifting her up to carry her away.
“L... e… Lena…”, Kara could only watch helplessly as Lena disappeared out of sight, the green smoke chasing after them before she slid into unconsciousness.
Kara felt something hard and hefty prod her shoulder repeatedly, drawing her back into her aching, unfamiliar body.
“Ugh…” Kara groaned, attempting to lift her head only for it to drop back down to the wooden floor with a resounding clunk.
“Shit! It’s awake.” Shuffling sounds and nervous tittering followed the declaration. However, when Kara finally managed to open her eyes and blink through the blurriness that came with a dazed and fitful sleep, she found no one nearby.
She did quickly realise that the room had changed considerably from what it had last looked like before she’d slipped into unconsciousness. It was as if the room had been turned into a storage area or dumping ground for random objects by how many odd pieces of furniture had been placed haphazardly around her prone body.
“Shh… nobody move.” Someone, who sounded a lot like Alex, whispered.
Kara quirked her head to the side in an attempt to better hone her twitching ears to wherever her adoptive sister’s voice had come from… It almost sounded like it was coming from the golden candelabra that was positioned on the floor a few feet away.
“Argh… A… Al… Alex…” Kara called out trying to make her mouth fit around the desired name.
The candelabra suddenly jerked back in response.
Kara, equally, flinched in shock, her claws ( claws!, Kara’s mind exclaimed fleetingly) dug into the wooden boards as she tried to scramble away, accidentally flinging herself into a suit of armour that collapsed under her weight.
“Watch it! I have no idea how to put myself back together again!” A tinny voice that sounded a lot like Brainy called from the helmet that was now rolling across the floor.
“Brainy!” Kara squeaked in shock, though it came out as more of a thunderous rumble, as she scurried over to a nearby wall, pressing her back to it as she watched the array of objects in the room shift and move, and whisper and murmur to each other.
She must be drugged or concussed or… something else that would explain this unbelievable situation she was currently in.
“How do you know our names?” The candelabra demanded in Alex’s voice as it charged forward (though hopped would be a more accurate descriptor) with its unlit candle holders held aloft like fists ready for a brawl.
“Alex is that… is that really you?” Kara asked, leaning forward to better inspect the golden object, noticing how shading on the central candle holder seemed to cast features onto the item’s surface that reminded Kara of her oldest friend’s face (who was currently glowering at her).
“I’m asking the questions here, Beast!” The candelabra - no, Alex, Kara corrected - bellowed, the wicks of her three candle holders sparking to life momentarily. “Where’s the Queen?! You’re wearing her cape! So, where is she? Where’s Kara?”
Kara’s eyes widened at the questions whilst her heart simultaneously sunk at the lack of recognition, at the moniker of Beast, at the looks of fear on all of their faces that matched Lena’s face earlier.
Lena! Kara stopped breathing, her lungs tightening with fear and heartbreak as her brain was overwhelmed with images of Lena being dragged away, of her crying at the thought of being forced into a marriage she hated and of her saying she wished it was Kara. She needed help and Kara needed to move now !
Kara attempted to lift herself up but her muscles failed her, bringing her back to Earth with a thud.
“Stay right where you are!” Alex ordered, her candles blazing to life with an intimidating blue flame.
“Lena‘s in danger! I need to go after her!” Kara roared.
The flames lost their intensity in an instant, the right holder even fizzling out completely. “Kara? Is that you?” Alex murmured slowly, golden shadowy features turning to resemble something of disbelief and steady recognition.
“Yes!” Kara replied, still not used to her vocal chords and how to reduce her volume.
“Kara, you’re okay!” An easel tucked into the corner of the room blurted out joyfully. “I mean not exactly okay but… you’re not dead which is better than what we thought a moment ago.”
“Nia?” Kara muttered, eyes wide as the easel shuffled closer.
“Kara, what happened?” Alex questioned, returning Kara’s attention to their current situation.
“I don’t-...” Kara began before being hit with memories of toxic green gas emanating from-, “The Duchess, she did this… she…” Kara’s body trembled, her muscles tensing as she remembered the pain inflicted on her.
“Kara, it’s okay. You’re okay.” Alex soothed, and Kara glanced down to find the candelabra wrapping its two candle holders around her calf, the closest thing to a hug that Alex could provide at the time. Just the small attempt at affection and comfort was enough to momentarily ground her despite the absurdity of the situation they were all in.
“I need…” Kara rumbled, her heavy breathing reducing back to something more normal.
“What do you need?” Alex asked immediately, ready to jump into service at a moment's notice.
“Lena.” Kara breathed. “The Duchess took her and did this to me - to us -” Kara corrected, “so that I wouldn’t be able to stop her.”
“Then we need to go after her right now.” Alex determined, hopping fiercely towards the door without hesitation.
“What about-” Kara began, staggering uneasily to her feet, feeling extremely top-heavy with her now expansive ribcage.
“Lena’s in immediate danger, she’s the priority.” J’onn’s voice called out from somewhere nearby.
“J’onn?” Kara prompted, watching as a round wooden shield rolled into the room followed by a high backed wooden chair and desk.
“Present and accounted for.” J’onn - the shield - announced as he fell flat to the ground with a rattle that seemed almost like a bow.
“And you two are?” Kara inquired looking curiously over at the two newest pieces of furniture.
“Oh, it’s me, sweetie.” Eliza, the chair, answered. “We’ll be alright for a while if you go after Lena.”
“I saw the Duchess’ carriage only an hour ago, leaving via the castle gate.” Kelly, the desk, supplied as helpful as always. “I was on my way back home from-” Kelly cut off abruptly and if Kara didn’t know any better she would say she saw the candelabra and desk exchange a look.
“Thanks, Kelly.” Kara said gratefully.
“We can catch them if we ride our fastest horses.” Alex announced, her hopping having only just taken her to the doorway in all this stretch of time and conversation.
“Uhh… Alex…” Kara called out hesitantly.
“What?” Alex shouted back, finally huffing and puffing across the doorway.
“I don’t think horses are going to work for either of us.”
The candelabra stopped and Kara could practically see the realisation hit the small figure from how her golden metal seemed to harden. “Well, shit…”
“We’re not going to catch them!” Kara shouted over the cold, frosty winds as her feet dug into the snow propelling her forward.
As soon as Kara and Alex stepped out of the castle it became apparent that whatever dark magic that the Duchess had unleashed was not even remotely limited to Kara, her friends or the castle itself. Before Kara slipped unconscious during her transformation they had been in the last week of summer, the days still long and warm, the leaves of the trees only just starting to curl and brown on the edges as autumn encroached.
Only a handful of hours later, Kara and Alex found themselves in the middle of the bleakest winter imaginable. Thick snow covered the land and laid heavy on every surface and all trees were bared, leaving only stark branches.
They had set off on foot, Kara too large for the horses to carry even if she managed to approach them without her visage whipping them into a terrified frenzy. Kara kept Alex’s form clutched tight to her chest, though she had grabbed a bag to place Alex in if the need arose. Kara felt the cold somewhat but it was like she was wearing a thick cloak and heavy duty boots that mitigated what would have been frost-bite inducing after a mere hour.
Kara’s long, muscular legs were able to stride through the snow far faster than a sprinting human but nowhere near fast enough to keep up with a horse-drawn carriage moving at full speed.
“Maybe you should run all fours?” Alex suggested weakly, the cold making her metal limbs stiff and difficult to move.
“Like a-” Kara began, flinching at the prospect of calling herself a Beast - fearing it and any actions that forced that moniker would make it permanent in some way.
“Yes.” Alex interrupted, saving Kara from the dreaded word. “It might be our best chance to get to Lena in time.” Alex said softly, pained at having to bring attention to Kara’s transformation.
Kara huffed out a breath, a cloud of smoke erupting from her mouth like Dragon’s breath. “Okay.” Kara accepted without hesitation - if this was what she needed to do to get to Lena she would do it. She would do anything for Lena. “You’ll have to go in the bag.” Kara apologised.
Kara tucked the candelabra into the bag slung across her back as carefully and securely as she could, fearful of losing Alex in the journey. Once confident Alex wouldn’t be flung out, Kara dropped to all fours. It was awkward and initially unnatural. She tried to move forward but couldn’t quite get the rhythm right, trying to get four parts of her moving in time rather than just two.
“I can’t-” Kara grunted, the snow starting to bite into her flesh through her fur as she failed to keep herself active enough to weather the cold. She kept pressing on, pushing her tired, aching body forward into the unending darkness in her desperation to get to Lena.
She repeated Lena’s name endlessly to herself under her breath, her name giving Kara the motivation to keep moving even though everything was screaming for her to stop, to give up, to prove Lillian right that she wasn’t good enough… that she was never good enough. Her mind clung to thoughts of Lena, of falling asleep with her head in Lena’s lap, of playing chess in comfortable silence, of talking through problems and reminiscing about their childhood… the memories keeping her warmer than a roaring fire.
It was with a start that Kara realised she had fallen into a comfortable pace, arms and legs moving in easy synchronisation which had her practically flying across the ground in dizzying leaps that would have outpaced the fastest horse she owned. Hope began to rise in Kara’s chest as Alex cheered her on from her back urging her faster and faster…
They crested a hill near the edge of the kingdom that gave an unimpeded view of an expansive plateau before them, the edge of which marked her kingdom’s border. Near the edge, less than a handful of miles away, was a speeding carriage that could only belong to the Duchess - though that wasn’t the most interesting thing Kara could see.
Chasing after the carriage was the green smoke, rolling out on the edge of a circle that was clearly exploding out from Kara’s castle. In the green smoke’s wake was the now familiar snow and frost of Winter, however the land yet to be touched by the curse’s expansion was still green rolling hills complete with the blooming flowers of Summer.
The Duchess was trying to escape her own curse that was chasing after her.
Kara allowed herself a moment to catch her breath, confident now that she would catch the Duchess soon, and well before she could get back to her own residence.
“How are we doing?” Alex asked, her voice muffled by the bag.
“I can see them! We’re going to catch them!” Kara cheered.
“Great! Please feel free to use me to set the Duchess on fire…” Alex offered, practically gleeful at the thought, “Though, not before she tells how to reverse this.”
“Good point.” Kara grumbled, though her self-control would wane if she saw so much as a minor bruise marring Lena’s skin.
“Come on, let’s go get your girl.” Alex encouraged.
This time, Kara didn’t mind dropping down to all fours, grateful that this form allowed her to get Lena back all the sooner.
She sprinted down the hill, charging after the carriage and green smoke. She was halfway across the plain when the carriage reached the plateau’s edge and began its journey down from the mountains that Argo was situated in, taking it out of Kara’s sight for the time being. Kara shoved down the pang of loss, pushing off even harder, each of her limbs propelling her across even greater distances with every bounding leap. The green smoke was just reaching the edge of the plain and was on the precipice of rolling down into the neighbouring kingdom when…
Kara startled, the movement causing her to lose her rhythm and tumble into a deep pile of snow.
“Everything okay?” Alex called out with clear concern.
“Uh…” Kara panted, dread pooling in the pit of her stomach as the green smoke seemed to rise up into the sky forming an unmoving barrier at the border. “I think we might have a problem.”
Kara took Alex out from the bag, showing her the green barrier before them and telling her about what she had seen earlier. Alex’s lack of questions and heavy silence did little to provide Kara the reassurance she desperately needed. They approached the barrier that was thick and opaque, preventing any view of the kingdom on the other side. Kara tentatively reached out a clawed hand - paw , her traitorous mind supplied - and pressed it onto the magic border. It was solid without an inch of give.
Kara pressed harder against it.
Still no progress.
She placed Alex on the ground and pushed with both hands against it, straining her muscles and digging the claws of her feet into the frozen ground to gain better leverage.
“Kara.” Alex said softly, trying to soothe the Queen’s building frustration and despair.
Kara pulled back a fist and punched the barrier with all her might.
Nothing except an aching set of knuckles.
“Kara, stop.” Alex requested.
Kara punched the barrier again, with one fist then the other. She punched until her knuckles cracked and her claws dug deep into her palms.
“KARA, PLEASE!” Alex begged.
Kara didn’t stop, she barely even heard Alex over her own screams and roars, calling out for Lena and everything she had lost.
They returned to the castle around midday - the Winter sun barely managing to push through the snow-heavy clouds. Kara was quiet despite Alex’s repeated attempts to pull her into conversation, to give her hope that they would break the curse and get Lena back before she knew it. Kara’s paws (she hated saying that) ached with how they beat against that impenetrable barrier.
They were greeted by the castle staff gathered across two floors in the foyer that held the wide staircase, not all objects were able to traverse the stairs between them, preventing easy congregation. Brainy had been somewhat put back together - his helmet was on backwards, one leg was missing and a metal gauntlet from one arm was dragging itself in a circle around his reassembled form. He was the first to ask, unable to interpret the lack of Lena as answer enough. Alex took the lead in telling the group what had happened and what they had discovered, for which Kara was grateful. She was convinced that opening her mouth would only allow more sobs to escape that she was belligerently trying to hold back.
The discussion quickly turned to breaking the curse which involved long, awkward uncertain pauses.
Magic was believed to have died out over a century ago. There were rumours and murmurs that it was still around in other kingdoms and was accepted to be extremely rare among the higher echelons but little more than folktales to those not in the upper circles. Magic was gifted to a select few and was powered by ancient artefacts hoarded by the wealthy.
Magic had never been prevalent in Argo even during its heyday, the kingdom was built on hardwork and pride in their well-earned skills. Magic was a natural gift that was powered by money, not something hard-earned - a shortcut that was disparaged by the Argo people. This lack of interest in it meant it was something that few people in Argo knew even a slither about - there were a few books about it in the castle library but they were outdated and somewhat fantastical rather than factual.
Kara wallowed for a day, nursing her own heartbreak before pushing it down so she could be what her people needed - valiantly ignoring the poisonous blade’s murmurs of blame. Her cape had never felt so heavy and uncomfortable as it did on her broad, furry shoulders.
She set Brainy to reading through what knowledge the castle library had, supported by her more immobile friends (Nia, Kelly and Eliza) whilst Kara, Alex and J’onn headed out to assess the curse’s effects on the rest of her people.
They ventured down to the nearest town, pleased to find that those that lived there were still looking like themselves - the three of them stayed out of sight, watching from a nearby copse of trees and bushes not wanting to frighten the citizens. They noticed that none of the residents seemed overly perturbed by the sudden change to winter, it was almost as if they were prepared for it and that it was just like any other day.
Kara and her companions returned to watch the next day; the people still went about their day as normal, it was after a couple of hours that Kara felt a trickle of unease as she watched the town baker trip and drop a handful of loaves into the snow… something Kara had seen him do just the other day. After this first observation, Kara felt like she was living in a constant state of deja vu; the townspeople seemed to be going through the exact same actions as they did the day before. There was an argument that could be made that it was just a well-honed routine but the curse’s power made them doubtful.
Alex offered to perform closer reconnaissance; Kara snuck the candelabra into the local tavern and placed it inconspicuously on one of the tables just before dawn. Kara retrieved her two days later and Alex confirmed their suspicions, the townsfolk were repeating the same day over and over again - the same actions and the same conversations ad infinitum. Kara’s concern was soothed slightly to find that at midnight, the town’s food stock resupplied itself, going back to the exact level it was at the start of the day - though watching loaves of bread suddenly reappear in the baker’s pantry had been rather startling.
The other interesting thing that Alex found out was the town’s memory loss regarding the castle and the Queen, references to laws and leaders trailed off, eyes fogging with confusion before they started a completely new conversation.
Kara had been forgotten and her people locked into an endlessly repeating day to keep them trapped.
Guilt swirled heavily in Kara’s stomach, her posture slouching under the weight of it. She could barely sleep or eat - Alex having to push the plate towards her every evening only for Kara to indulge in a mere morsel. Kara’s hope began to dwindle, unable to see a solution to the size and sheer power of the curse they were all under.
“So the bright green cloud of smoke transformed you into a beast,” Alex pointed a lightly burning candle holder at Kara, (she’d gotten a lot better at lighting them and preferred having a steady flame at all times, if she wasn’t too close to her wooden friends), “us into objects, made it winter, trapped the Argo populace into an endlessly repeating day and keeps us from leaving the kingdom?” Alex summarised from her spot on the not-once-human table in the library where Kara and her closest friends had gathered to talk through the curse.
“I think that pretty much sums it up.” Kara replied, sinking unnoticeably lower in her seat, the curse’s effects sounding like a litany of crimes she was to be charged with.
“Well, it could have been worse.” Nia remarked after a thoughtful pause.
Alex tried, and somewhat succeeded at, crossing her candle holders over to give the impression of aggressively crossing her arms. “How?” Alex questioned, her central candle flashing an intense blue for a fleeting moment.
Nia’s wooden support at the top of her frame shifted up and down resembling a shrug, “She could have just killed us all. You know… Abracadabra-dead.”
“Abracadabra-dead?” Alex repeated dully.
“She couldn’t kill us with magic even if she wanted to.” Brainy helpfully cut in as Alex started to lean forward to verbally eviscerate Nia’s suggestion.
“Why not?” Kara immediately prompted, grateful for the interruption.
“Because it’s not possible.” Brainy declared, moving extremely stiffly around the room.
“This is why I prefer Lena, she’s so much better at actually explaining things.” Alex whined, her flames stuttering under her annoyance.
Kara’s heart panged at the name and the wealth of memories that came with it, how many days had they spent together where Lena explained something new and exciting to Kara under their oak tree?
“Brainy,” Nia said soothingly, knowing just how to coax the purser, “what have you learnt? And please think carefully before you explain it, we can’t all keep up with your brilliant mind.”
The armour straightened up immediately at the compliment, his silver plate gleaming from helm to boot in replication of a blush.
“Okay, think of it like this… everyone is a piece of string.” Brainy began after a ponderous pause.
“What? String, really?” Alex scoffed.
“It will all make sense in the end.” Brainy assured.
“Could I not be a ribbon, at least?” Nia requested eagerly.
“Everyone is a piece of string.” Brainy repeated firmly, irritation apparent at the continued interruptions.
“Jeez, fine.” Nia murmured, sounding slightly put out.
Kara sighed, normally she would have taken control and helped the discussion flow more easily like she did at every council meeting when Alex, Brainy and Nia butted heads and teased one another pulling them off course. But Kara just couldn’t muster the energy or confidence to do that. She felt wrong and not herself; leadership had come easy to her old self but now she barely recognised that trait, feeling utterly unsuitable for command. The last time she was in charge she had provoked the very curse they were all suffering from.
So Kara sat timidly, biting her tongue and hanging her head low.
“Right.” Brainy clapped his hands, the gauntlets clanging awkwardly together, before he started from the beginning yet again. “Everyone is a piece of string, but different lengths, different material and so on and so forth. But at their fundamental level, a piece of string. Now magic, from what I’ve gathered-”
“Which isn’t a lot.” Alex muttered snidely.
“Do you want to come up here and explain it?” Brainy offered, staring the candelabra down - his suit of armour giving him a confidence he didn’t normally have.
“Uhhh…” Alex squeaked, flames sputtering in and out of life, “What I meant to say is… you’re doing a great job.”
“Magic can’t destroy or create anything new.” Brainy declared stressing this piece of information like it was the single most important fact of all time.
“Like energy?” Kara asked softly.
“Exactly.” Brainy cheered and Kara knew he would have been smiling wide and proud at her if he could.
Alex shot her a curious look that prompted Kara to duck her head shyly and murmur sadly, “Lena teaches me things.”
Kara hated how the blade in her gut autocorrected her words to the past tense in her head, flashing images of Lena married into her mind.
“But it can transform things,” Brainy continued his explanation, “shift them and warp them till they appear unrecognisable. Magic can put knots in strings and change their length, it can dye them and make them a new colour but it can’t fundamentally change - or cut, for example - the string in anyway that would make it so it was impossible for it to return to what it once was.”
“So you’re saying we’re still us?” Kelly checked from nearby; Kara had cleared floor space for Nia, Kelly and Eliza’s more bulky furniture selves prior to their meeting. “And that we can return to our old selves?”
“Exactly.” Brainy agreed, warming to his teaching role. “Magic - especially curses - have to provide a way for the knot to be unpicked. We just need to know how to unpick it. The Duchess would have to have given you a way to break the curse. Curses, commonly, have to be spoken aloud or written down.”
Even though none of her friends visibly had eyes, Kara could feel them all looking at her in that moment and she couldn’t help but shift uncomfortably under their expectant gazes.
“Did the Duchess say anything before unleashing the green smoke?” Alex inquired curiously - she had been exceedingly gentle with Kara since they failed to save Lena, knowing that Kara was dealing with additional grief on top of her transformed self.
“Uhhh… yeah…” Kara replied, brow furrowing as she tried to cast her mind back to that traumatic event.
“Well, what did she say?” Nia encouraged eagerly.
“Ummm… something beast… something loved ones lose their lives? I think… ummm.” Kara wracked her pain, trying to remember the exact words but her memory was just a flurry of green and terrible pain. “Freeze… eternal winter and… worthy of an impossible love.”
“That’s all you remember?!” Alex exclaimed.
“I was distracted!” Kara winced, hating how she was failing her friends yet again.
“Distracted?! With what?” Alex demanded, her softness vanishing as their hopes for a cure diminished.
“There was bright green smoke flying towards me and I was in a lot of pain, okay?” Kara huffed, claws digging cruelly into her palms.
There was a long, heavy silence that followed Kara’s reply, the Queen glanced up at her friends to see them all incredibly still and the shadows that made up their features dark and pitying.
“You were in pain?” Alex whispered, sounding heartbroken.
Kara squirmed uncomfortably, confused and uncertain, “Yeah, transforming was… it was torture.”
“Kara…” Alex murmured, “I didn’t…” Her oldest friend looked around at the assembled group that shuffled closer supportively, “ We didn’t know.
Kara’s mouth opened and closed listlessly as she struggled to process this information, “Didn’t it hurt when you transformed?”
“No.” Kelly answered, her tone gentle and Kara knew if she was able to, she would be wrapping an arm around her shoulders to provide some much needed comfort.
Relief mixed with loneliness rose up in Kara’s chest at odds with each other; she was grateful - beyond grateful - that her friends had been saved from what she went through but that feeling of isolation, of being turned into something used to scare children rather than something innocuous tempered her fleeting joy.
“Huh…” Brainy breathed, the squeak of his armour pre-empting his attempt to tap his chin thoughtfully.
“Huh?” Alex prompted, recognising that Kara needed some time to process and kindly diverting everyone’s attention to the purser.
“Kara was the epicentre, the focal point.” Brainy explained carefully, “The most energy - magic - was put into transforming her. Her string is super tangled, whereas ours have merely been dyed a different colour. Our transformation whilst looking the most different is actually really superficial. Our bodies have merely been hidden or have a mirage over them that makes us like we are now. Kara has been actually transformed . Kara was the focus of the curse, we are just… caught in the wake of it all.”
The blade in her gut twisted deeper than it ever had before - confirming every dark thought that Kara had had since the curse was enacted. It was meant for her and everyone else merely suffering as collateral damage.
Kara shot to her feet, her chair skidding violently out from under her, her growing rage and self-loathing producing a rumbling, bloodcurdling growl from her chest that echoed around the room.
“Kara?” Alex called out, taken-aback by Kara’s sudden palpable hatred.
“I’ll fix this, I promise.” Kara announced determinedly, she would fix her mistake, would take responsibility for all the pain she had unleashed on her loved ones.
“We know, dear.” Eliza soothed; instantly, Kara’s growl retreated under the affectionate care of the closest person she had to a mother.
“What was that last bit you remember?” Brainy questioned, “The bit about an impossible love?”
“Until you are worthy of an impossible love.” Kara repeated; the words bitter yet somehow truthful in her unfamiliar mouth.
“That’s our escape clause.” Brainy declared decisively.
“What’s it referring to? An impossible love?” Nia inquired, seeking clarification.
Kara scowled, sharp teeth gnashing in fury against each other as understanding dawned and the flicker of hope in her chest extinguished forever. “Lena… it’s referring to Lena.” Kara revealed, “The Duchess didn’t… I asked if I could marry Lena and the Duchess said… said I wasn’t good enough.”
Kara’s confession rang out into the room, more final than the swing of the Reaper’s scythe.
“We need Lena to break the curse.” Alex said slowly, unnecessarily if the bleak moods emanating from everyone else was anything to go by.
“Oh…” Nia breathed, and it was that which broke Kara.
How hopeless and despondent the young, forever cursed girl sounded. Nia had stayed at the castle because Kara had requested it, had given her rooms and locked her to this building which had now led to this. They were all under Kara’s care and she had failed them.
Truly and utterly failed them.
Her parents would be so ashamed of her, the blade’s venom declared as it circulated through her veins.
“And she’s probably already married to someone else by now…” Kara muttered dejectedly, “I think I’m done for the day.” Kara limped out of the room, head down as she reached out to untie the cape wrapped around her neck letting it fall from her shoulders and land in a messy pile in the doorway.
“Kara-” Alex called out after her, but Kara was already dead to the world, deaf to her friends’ pleas.
“Let her have some time.” Kelly suggested as Kara disappeared into the castle.
Kara had avoided mirrors, avoided her new appearance like she believed that seeing it - truly seeing it - would make it permanent and everlasting. Now, with the knowledge that the only person that could break the curse - the only person that Kara could ever love - was unreachable, Kara had no reason not to look, to stare and try to reconcile herself with her new reflection.
She was taller now, a hunking, warped figure that towered over everyone she had ever known. Her physical fitness had translated over to her monstrous self, her body packed with muscle, lithe and agile. Her ribcage was broad and her legs thin but strong. She was designed to move on all fours so standing on her two back legs made her unbalanced prompting her to lean over and bend her back unnaturally. She was covered in matted brown fur with gold highlights, it was greasy and grimy due to her treks through the snow over the last week and her general disinterest in keeping her new form clean and cared for.
Her teeth were pointed and threatening, her canines so big that they jutted out of her mouth, overhanging and digging into her lip. Her blue eyes - one of her proudest features - were now a reflective yellow, though on closer inspection, she could see blue flecks of her original colour in them - rather than please her to see some of her old self peeking through, it merely made the contrast more apparent and the loss harder.
Kara stared into the mirror for a long time, no stirring of warmth or familiarity for her reflection despite how long she examined it.
She was ugly, horrific, a monster… a Beast.
Each descriptor was reinforced with a malicious twist of the blade in her guilt.
It didn’t matter if she had saved Lena, Kara rationalised, there was no way that Lena would love this twisted version of herself enough to break the curse. No one could.
Kara smashed the mirror to pieces and stormed into her bedroom, slamming the door shut with such ferocity that the doorway splintered at the impact. She flung herself onto her bed and buried herself in the blankets, oblivious to how her grimy fur dirtied the sheets, she just wanted to hide from the world, hide from everything.
The portrait of her and Lena from only a short while ago stared at her from the corner of the room - a cruel reminder of a life she would never be blessed with.
She turned her back to it.
She didn’t fully give up hope at that point.
She’d given up hope for herself but she couldn’t stop believing that she could do something for her loved ones and the people in her care. She scoured her kingdom for any artefact or scrap of knowledge that could provide a solution. Each failure resulted in longer and longer periods of isolation - Kara barring herself in her room or journeying to the green barrier to unleash her pent up fury on the unbreakable barrier.
Alex and her friends tried to keep her going, kept saying that they knew she could fix it, would find a solution - each utterance merely drove the toxic blade deeper into Kara as she remembered every time she came up short, and failed to live up to their belief in her.
Winter raged unfalteringly on as the months started to fall away, no sign of spring or the return of summer.
It was four months when Kara reached her breaking point, her despair so heavy and potent that she did something she would never forgive herself for.
The portrait, the only image of Lena and herself she owned, had stayed in the corner of her room gathering dust. Lena’s twinkling green eyes staring reproachfully at Kara everytime she sullenly fell into her messy bed, despair and loss weighing heavy on her and depleting her of all light and energy.
She didn’t remember viciously raking her claws over the picture, but she would never forget the heartbreak and grief she experienced the moment she realised what she had done. She howled so loud and harsh the castle shook.
Alex immediately raced to find her, pushing open her bedroom door that was barely hanging on by a single hinge, and hopping to her side. She didn’t acknowledge the ripped portrait, she just tried to provide Kara comfort that merely exacerbated Kara’s feelings of worthlessness.
Kara screamed for Alex to leave her alone, to leave her to her crumbling life and broken dreams.
Alex hovered nearby, distraught at Kara’s brokenness, keeping watch until the Queen fell into a terrible sleep that had her twitching with torturous nightmares.
Kara gave up then, accepting that the curse had trapped her forever and keeping herself locked away in her room in the castle, her friends tentative around her and unsure how to give her the help she so needed.
Six months after the curse had been cast, the castle received its first visitor.
The creaking and groaning of the castle’s front doors was all the alert the castle occupants needed to know that there was an intruder. None of the objects had the physical capability to open the large wooden doors, unable to suitably grip and pull on the iron ring door handle - those that could make it down the stairs and wished to venture out into the frozen wasteland exited via the servants’ backdoor that was rigged open by a sizeable rock the Queen had placed there in the early days of the curse.
The only person that could use the front door was Kara but she hadn’t left the castle for weeks now and only ever came down the stairs when Alex managed to prod, coax or bribe her in to doing so.
Kara’s attenuated hearing meant she was on her feet at the first familiar creak and creeping out of her chambers to cross the landing to peer down from the shadows onto the ground floor.
A figure wrapped in a heavy green cloak with the hood raised to keep the worst of the chill off had slipped into the castle foyer. The figure placed their flickering lantern on the floor before turning to push the castle doors closed behind themselves to try and trap in some much needed warmth. Using the light cast by their lantern, which illuminated their surroundings, the figure proceeded to inspect the area.
It was then that Kara spotted minor movement from one of the tables by the door, immediately recognising Alex’s candelabra transformed self shuffling slightly forward on the tabletop to get a better look at the intruder.
The intruder ran a finger along the stair’s balustrades to find a layer of dust - the castle’s attendants unable to maintain their standard levels of cleanliness in their current states - and let out a beleaguered sigh of disappointment before moving to push back their hood. Raven locks tied up to keep them out of the way were revealed alongside pale skin, sharp features and a flash of green eyes. Lena was dressed in worn travel clothes, tattered and muddied with a sword clasped at her hip for easy access.
Lena , Kara’s heart whispered in awe, the Queen rendered completely immobile in her shadowy confines as she stared at what could only be an illusion, a callous trick, a-
“Lena! You’re here! Thank God!” Alex bellowed joyously, her voice reverberating around the foyer and causing Lena to whirl this way and that in an attempt to find her redheaded old friend.
“Alex?!” Lena called out desperately, a hopeful smile lighting up her face. “Where are you?”
“Right here!” Alex answered cheerfully.
Lena turned to face the direction of Alex’s voice.
“Alex? Oh-” Lena cut off suddenly as the candelabra lit up and hopped towards the edge of the table in greeting.
There was a long pause as Lena and the candelabra stared one another down.
“Ummm… Alex?” Lena said slowly.
“Yes?” Alex prompted.
Another long pause as Lena weighed up the sanity of her next remark.
“You’re a… uh… candelabra…”
“Really?” Alex replied thoughtfully, “I hadn’t noticed.”
Lena’s stiff posture eased in an instant, the familiarity of Alex’s ribbing grounding her despite the absurdity of the situation.
“Good to see sarcasm survived the curse.” Lena drawled.
“Yeah, it would have been a real tragedy if I had lost that.”
The two of them laughed and Kara’s heart ached at the sound.
Her heart ached as she was gifted with Lena’s laugh, something she never thought she would hear again. Her heart ached with the sad realisation that the castle walls had been without the sound of laughter for a couple of months now.
“I know you’re not quite yourself and everything but I really did miss you.” Lena declared earnestly once their chuckles had faded away.
“Same here.” Alex replied, just as sincere, her flames dancing on their wicks.
“What happened to everyone else?” Lena inquired, and Kara didn’t need to be able to see her face to know that there would be a furrowed brow of concern.
“Well, Brainy got to be a suit of armour - how unfair is that?” Alex explained, easily listing their companions. “Nia is an easel which kind of makes sense. Eliza's a rather sturdy chair. J’onn’s a round shield - he’s actually learned how to fight as it, which is really quite impressive. Kelly, meanwhile, is a very nice desk, if I do say so myself.”
Lena nodded as she absorbed this information before asking - her voice so timid that Kara found herself shrinking even further into the dark corner she was hiding in. “And Kara?”
“Oh,” Alex murmured, the slight pause and heaviness revealing far more about Kara’s current state than any words could, “Well, knowing her she probably has her ear pressed to a door and is listening to this entire conversation.”
Kara barely held back the childish huff and annoyed growl that threatened to escape, choosing instead to cross her arms and pout unseen in the darkness.
“Sounds about right.” Lena agreed before turning to face the emptiness of the entrance hall and calling out fondly, “Kara - are you coming out to see me anytime soon?”
Kara dug her claws into her palms, the memories of Lena flinching away, eyes wide with fear keeping her rooted in her hiding spot.
“She’s shy.” Alex muttered sadly when it became clear that Lena’s greeting would go unanswered.
Lena shook her head morosely, shoulders visibly slumping, “I know. My reaction when I first saw her probably didn’t help matters.” Lena confessed.
“You know what she’s turned into?” Alex asked with obvious surprise.
“I had my suspicions when my mother snatched me away but she confirmed them not long after we returned to the Luthor stronghold. She could never resist gloating.” Lena revealed, her tone cold and filled with loathing as she spat out the reference to her mother.
“Lena,” Alex began gently, wary of stirring painful memories, but unable to rein in her curiosity anymore, “how did you get here? What happened to you?”
“It’s a long and none too happy story that can wait for another time.” Lena replied, her rejection of the inquiry polite as always despite how the yawn that followed highlighted her exhaustion. “Is there a bed somewhere that wasn’t once human?”
“I’m sure we can find one.” Alex assured, tone teasing and light, accepting of Lena’s need for rest and questions to be saved for another day.
“Thank you, Alex.” Lena murmured gratefully.
“Thank you for coming.” Alex said sincerely.
Lena picked up her lantern from the floor, holding the light high and casting away the shadows that had crept into the castle as she announced, “Nothing could keep me away.”
Kara slipped back to her room and sat down heavily on the edge of her bed. Her heart was pounding in her chest like she had just run a marathon and there was a tremble to her hands that she couldn’t steady.
Lena was here. Lena had come back.
She still didn’t fully believe it.
And even if she did believe it, there was no way this was going to end well.
She was still… a beast . Horrific and monstrous.
Lena would take one look at her and wish she’d never come back. Even if Kara looked like her old self, she still wouldn’t have been good enough. Lillian’s words had dug themselves into Kara, fueling the poisonous blade that had sunk into her body the night her parents had died.
Kara would never be worthy enough to earn Lena’s love.
It was this that had Kara burrowing deeper into her ruined sheets, turning away from the door and growling threateningly to warn Alex away when she heard her best friend hopping towards her. For the first time, Alex let her be that night, undoubtedly presuming that the mere closeness of Lena’s presence would be enough to drag her out of her room.
Kara swore it wouldn’t, swore that she would never leave her room, would barricade her door to keep everyone out. There was no way - absolutely no way - that she was going to seek Lena out just to have her heart broken.
“I know you’re there, Kara.” Lena called out teasingly from where she was sitting reading a book in the corner of the library. “Are you going to come out and talk to me?”
Kara had stayed locked away in her room for nearly twelve hours. Sleep had eluded her and she had whiled away the night going over the sight of Lena in the entrance hall, trying to remember every last detail - she looked paler, thinner than she had six months ago but also stronger and hardened in a way that she hadn't been before. She glowed with the kind of strength that only came with overcoming fears and achieving something you thought impossible.
She was beautiful, radiant even, and Kara longed to catch another glimpse of her. Craved it more than she craved air.
So, when she was sure Lena would be up and about, Kara slipped out of her room and padded through the castle, following after Lena in the shadows. Just being able to exist in the same space as her was a miracle that Kara knew she didn’t deserve to be blessed with.
She listened as Lena and Alex conversed and watched as she reunited with Nia, Brainy, Eliza, J’onn and Kelly. They gave Lena the highlights: explaining the curse, what they had discovered and what they had tried to undo it. They left out the ‘escape clause’ - as Brainy had taken to referring to it - which Kara appreciated, she didn’t want Lena to feel even a tenth of the weight that was on Kara’s shoulders and didn’t want Lena to pretend to love her in the hopes of breaking the curse.
Lena had taken all the information onboard and then requested to read the source material for Brainy’s theories to corroborate their reasoning before sharing her own story and knowledge. Lena had, subsequently, set herself up in the library to flick through the thick manuscript. Brainy and Alex had stayed with her for a while but they eventually left Lena to her work.
Kara presumed Alex and Brainy’s departure was due to boredom but considering how Lena had so confidently called out to her, the Queen began to suspect that the entire interaction and setup in the library had all been planned before Kara had even ventured out of her room.
Kara’s jaw moved up and down as she considered whether she should respond or not. Lena knew she was there, but at least she was hidden behind a bookcase.
“I don’t think that’s wise.” Kara replied, flinching out how rough and grumbly her voice was in this new form.
Kara peered through the book-shelving to see Lena shrug, “I disagree but I won’t force you.”
Lena said nothing else and Kara felt antsy in the silence, she wanted to hear Lena’s voice again, even as her broken mind told her to sprint as fast as she could in the other direction.
“What are you doing here?” Kara asked sharply, the question coming out far more accusatory than she intended.
Lena paused her reading, lifting her head to glance curiously over at the bookshelf Kara was hiding behind, “Are you asking me to leave?”
“No!” Kara answered vehemently, her entire body reacting viscerally to even the concept of making Lena feel like she wasn’t wanted, that she couldn’t be here. “Never. You’re always welcome here.”
Lena’s lips twitched upwards into a soft, almost amused, smile. “Okay, then…” Lena murmured before returning her attention back to the page in front of her.
Kara cleared her throat nervously, “I thought you were…”
“I was?” Lena prompted and Kara could see her best friend’s eyebrow arch magnificently.
She was teasing her whilst also giving Kara the security that obscurity provided. She was encouraging Kara to converse with her by ensuring Kara had control over the conversation, giving her easy end-points to escape if needed.
God, Kara loved her, loved her kindness, her patience but most importantly how Lena knew her to give her exactly what she needed to feel like herself for the first time in six months.
It was thanks to the comfort and safety that Lena’s mere presence provided that Kara was able to gather the courage and say, “Getting married.”
Lena rolled her eyes so dramatically the reaction was visible through the gaps in the books, “Oh, my mother and King Edge tried but let’s just say they weren’t expecting me to know how to wield a blade.” Lena smirked with no small amount of pride, “Edge will think twice before he ever tries to lay a hand on a woman without her permission.”
It was obvious that Lena had said it to make her laugh, to impress her, to keep her light-hearted but it didn’t stop Kara from reading between the lines. From hearing the truth that set her ablaze and twisted the knife in her gut so deeply that Kara knew that it would leave a mark for the rest of her life.
“He tried to hurt you.” Kara growled so deeply that the windows and bookshelves shook. She was snarling, teeth bared and claws fully extended with the genuine desire to maim and kill.
“Yes.” Lena said softly, not even blinking at the sounds only a Beast could make. “ Tried . He was not successful in that endeavour.” Lena announced, cutting through Kara’s simmering rage like a knife and snatching away her fury to only leave her with the guilt.
“Lena, I- I’m so sorry.” Kara stammered out, crumbling to the floor as she exhaled and inhaled, attempting to reclaim her already fragile emotional control.
Lena closed the book she was reading and folded her hands in her lap, obviously battling the desire to approach Kara when she knew the Queen wasn’t ready for it. “Why are you sorry?”
“Because I wasn’t there.” Kara gasped out brokenly, “I didn’t…”
“You can’t cross the boundary, Kara.” Lena reminded her firmly, using her standard mix of logic and forthrightness to try and make Kara see the truth through the opaque fog in her mind.
“I know but I should have…”
“This isn’t your fault, none of it is.” Lena declared, her tone harsh for the first time and unaccepting of rebuttal.
Normally, Kara would have fallen silent, would have seen the truth in Lena’s words but she had spent six months stewing in her own believed failures and she had lost all sense of direction. She was responsible, she was guilty. That was her truth and she could not accept any alternative presented to her.
“The curse was because of me and everyone is suffering because of it.” Kara yelled, banging her fists against her chest to substitute for the thousands of fingers pointing accusingly at her. “My people are trapped in an eternal winter where every day is the same as the last. My friends and family have been transformed into objects and are prevented from living their lives.”
“Kara, you didn’t cast the curse!” Lena rebuked fiercely, jumping to her feet even as she gripped the edge of the table with white knuckles to ensure she stayed in one place. “This isn’t your fault. It’s the fault of those that cast it. My mother and Edge are to blame.”
Kara fell silent not because she believed Lena but because she didn’t want to argue with her. Didn’t want to disappoint her further.
“How did you get here?” Kara questioned instead.
It was one thing she truly didn’t understand and it was burning her up from the inside.
“It wasn’t easy.” Lena chuckled ruefully, tight grip on the wooden table easing somewhat even as her jaw remained clenched (obviously aware that Kara remained unconvinced). “But I’ve been told I’m rather stubborn. Edge’s and my mother’s men chased me most of the way but they didn’t follow me over the boundary.”
“How did you get through the boundary?” Kara pushed.
Lena’s eyebrow twitched and she hesitated before answering which told Kara she wasn’t going to like what Lena said next. “Anyone can cross the boundary from the other side, you just have to accept that you can’t go back across it. And anyway, most people are too scared of it to brave the crossing.”
“You’ve cursed yourself.” Kara breathed, utterly thunderstruck by this revelation.
Lena had trapped herself here, to this… to Kara…
Panic and despair instantly swept over Kara in the largest tidal wave to date.
Lena shook her head before sitting carefully back down and murmuring dejectedly, “I was already cursed, Kara. Any life without you is a curse.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying. You don’t know what I am now.” Kara rambled, already on her feet and making to rush out of the room, back to her sanctuary to hide away from yet another person she had inevitably failed.
“What are you? Because you still sound like Kara to me.” Lena called out after her just as the library door slammed shut.
Lena was wrong, there was nothing left of the Kara she had once been, the Kara she could have loved once if given a chance and a lot of luck. Now Kara was a Beast on both the inside and outside. Lena may not see it now, she may even be able to hide her disgust of Kara’s form for a while, but Kara was convinced Lena could never come to love her and that, eventually, Lena would grow to fear or hate her.
Kara couldn’t take that. Couldn’t take watching Lena’s green eyes which had always shone with affection steadily turn dark with loathing and revulsion.
It was this realisation that had Kara turning back around and storming into the library, the door banging against the stonewall and chipping out a corner of it. She drew herself up to her full intimidating height and did nothing to hide away her horrifying appearance. She strode so swiftly that her anxiety had no chance to catch-up and make her doubt herself.
She was in front of Lena, towering over her.
“Do you see now?!” Kara roared, “I’m a monster! A Beast.” Kara couldn’t stop how her mouth curled around the Beast title like it physically pained her to say it aloud.
Kara breathed heavily, her sudden rush into the library followed by her adrenaline depletion, leaving her winded and jittery as she stared down into the face of her best friend.
Lena hadn’t flinched or shifted away; she had sat comfortably and watched unreactive as Kara did her little show. Lena’s green eyes swept up and down Kara’s new form, taking it in in an almost disinterested fashion that took the wind out of Kara’s sails.
“No, you’re Kara.” Lena said simply, upon completing her inspection and clearly finding nothing out of the ordinary. “You’re my best friend,” Lena smiled softly at her, green eyes twinkling just as bright as they had during that summer where Kara was actively trying to win her heart, “who I love more than anyone else in the world.”
“How can you-” Kara exclaimed in disbelief, rearing backwards and nearly falling over her own feet in shock, “I’m horrifying!”
Lena raised an eyebrow at that, obviously not a fan of the description, “I would say fluffy more than horrifying.”
“I- I-... you…” Kara stammered, as their interaction failed to match up with the gloomy scene she had imagined it would be. Lena wasn’t shrinking away in fear, wasn’t keeping her gaze low and talking around her feelings for Kara. In fact, it was Kara that felt shy and vulnerable, it was Lena that was staring at her unfalteringly who spoke confidently and unafraid.
“Is there a sentence coming anytime soon?” Lena teased, fluttering her eyelashes flirtatiously at Kara.
Kara felt herself blush from her head to her toes, “You’re impossible.”
“That I am.” Lena smirked, lifting her chin high as she declared proudly, “I’m an impossible girl that is completely and hopelessly in love with you. I have been since I was six years old and my love for you has only grown with every summer and every letter we’ve shared.”
There was a high-pitched buzzing sound that Kara could hear. It had started the second she had heard what sounded like her best friend saying she was in love with her.
“No, that’s-” Kara murmured, jaw moving up and down without her consent as she tried to rationalise the sincerity of Lena’s declaration, the way her heart soared in her chest whilst the poisonous blade screamed doubt and deceit that was merely reinforced by how Kara’s glance down at her own hands revealed they were still hairy claws. “You’re lying!” Kara shouted, clapping her hands over her ears, trying to get that infernal buzzing sound to just stop.
“What?” Lena murmured, her green eyes dimming and her expression turning hurt at Kara’s rejection.
She was on her feet and moving closer to Kara in an instant, reaching up to wrap gentle fingers around Kara’s wrists, green eyes pleading for Kara to listen. Kara acquiesced, less because of the non-verbal request and more because she hadn't felt the comfort of human touch for months and the shock of being granted it, made her pliant.
“I have never lied to you, Kara.” Lena insisted, “Not once. Not ever. And I don’t intend to start now.”
“You can’t love me.” Kara whimpered, eyes screwed shut to hold in the burning tears.
“Well, clearly I can because I do .” Lena breathed, squeezing Kara’s wrists tenderly.
Kara shook her head bitterly, “If you truly loved me, the curse would break. I wouldn’t look like this.”
“That can’t be…” Lena jerked backwards at that revelation, her hold faltering enough that Kara could yank her arms away and cross them protectively over her chest.
“So you see? You can’t love me.” Kara whispered, taking a step back to start the painful task of putting permanent distance between them.
“But I… I do.” Lena muttered to herself, brow furrowing in confusion before she lifted her head and met Kara’s gaze with a determined one of her own. “I know I do. It’s the only thing I’m one hundred percent certain of.”
“It’s not love, it can’t be.” Kara repeated belligerently, despite a small piece of her knowing that Lena would never lie to her about this and that Lena had never looked so sure about anything in the entire time Kara had known her.
“Why are you so sure of that?” Lena asked instead, tilting her head thoughtfully to the side.
Kara sighed, “The curse-”
“Besides the curse!” Lena said exasperatedly.
Kara growled in frustration which only earned her an impervious stare from her raven-haired best friend. “I’m not worth your love, Lena! That’s why!”
Lena’s entire expression shifted to one of total incredulity, “You don’t think that you’re…”
“Of course not! It took me years to realise!” Kara explained, waving her arms around in jerky motions. “I almost lost you. I let you go every summer without a fight. I’m impulsive, bull headed and I know I’m nowhere near as smart as you. I’m-”
“Who told you that?!” Lena demanded furiously, “Tell me right now! Tell me who made you think any of those ridiculous lies are true.”
“Lena-” Kara began with a dismissive roll of her eyes.
“NO!” Lena bellowed so ferociously that Kara actually flinched. “Kara, that’s- You are none of those things. None of them. You truly think that of yourself?” Lena crossed her arms and waited for a response.
Kara only hung her head, shoulders caving forwards.
“Kara, I love you.” Lena breathed, heartbreakingly tender as she reached out to cup Kara’s face with the palm of her hand, Kara instinctively leaned into the touch without thought. “The real you that for some reason you can’t see and won’t believe in…” Lena trailed off, and when Kara finally managed to look up, it was to find Lena’s brows drawn together in deep thought, “wait… that must be it…”
“What must be it?” Kara prompted.
Lena’s eyes were wide and bright, “ You don’t believe that I love you.”
Kara opened her mouth to reply but no sound came out which only made Lena stand taller.
“Then I guess, I’m going to have to prove it to you.” Lena announced excitedly. “I’m going to make it so that there is not a shred of doubt in your mind how much I love you.”
Kara blinked once, “I… wait? What?”
“Come on. Up you get.” Lena ordered, appearing from out of nowhere to tug on Kara’s arm. She had been minding her own business - hiding, Alex had accused - in one of the lesser used rooms in the castle, erroneously believing that Lena would not be able to find her.
From the moment Lena had made her declaration to convince - or as Lena put it woo - Kara, the raven haired woman had become the absolute epitome of… charming. Every interaction with her best friend left her feeling flustered and shy, as Lena would rush ahead of her to open doors, compliment her on anything she could and just repeatedly say she loved Kara. She said it so much that Kara was starting to assume that ‘I’, ‘love’ and ‘you’ were over fifty percent of Lena’s vocabulary. When she wasn’t single-handedly proving chivalry wasn’t dead, Lena was putting all romancing princes in the land to shame, cooking up Kara’s favourite meals and trying to create as romantic an atmosphere as she possibly could in the now rather somber castle - heavily aided by the array of human-furniture keen to support the most recent endeavour to break the curse.
The last few days, and Lena, by extension, had been intense and wonderful and overwhelming and a multitude of other things that Kara didn’t know how to reconcile… hence the hiding.
“Huh? What?” Kara spluttered, still not used to how comfortable Lena was with her new form.
“Up, up, up.” Lena demanded persistently. As soon as Kara was on her feet, Lena linked their hands - Kara incredibly wary of her claws and potentially hurting the other woman - and led them through the castle to the propped open servants’ exit.
“Where are we going?” Kara asked uneasily, especially upon spotting the pile of warm layers that Lena was pulling on, having piled them up near the door in advance.
“Outside.” Lena answered simply, tugging a long blue knitted piece of fabric free from her bundle and approaching Kara with it. “Here’s a scarf.” Lena murmured, as she tenderly looped it round Kara’s neck, adjusting it until it was snug and cosy.
Kara’s brow furrowed, “I’m covered in fur.”
“So?” Lena arched an eyebrow patting the tail of the scarf that was resting against Kara’s chest, “I want you to feel taken care of.”
“I-” Kara’s heart skipped a beat and her words deserted her at the sweet display of affection.
“Oh,” Lena muttered, eyes widening as she remembered something that prompted her to turn back to her bundle and pull out a familiar red piece of material, “and put this on.”
“I’m not wearing that.” Kara’s jaw clenched and nostrils flared as she stared so fiercely at the cape that she wouldn’t have been shocked if it burst into flames.
“Why?” Lena asked lowering the cape so Kara could see her curious expression, “You’re the Queen, the cape is yours.”
Kara narrowed her gaze, her frown deepening, as she accused, “You’ve been talking to Alex.”
“Of course.” Lena shrugged, far too easy-going in Kara’s opinion, “She’s become far more talkative since becoming a candelabra,” Lena explained, leaning forward to whisper conspiratorially to the blonde, “I would almost say it suits her but she might set my clothes on fire if I do.”
Kara harrumphed loudly, unamused by Lena’s teasing.
“Do you think just because you’ve been moping, I should too?” Lena challenged.
“If you don’t want to put on the cape, that’s fine.” Lena assured, stepping closer as she gently folded the red material over her arm and stared up into Kara’s eyes. “I won’t ever force you to do something you don’t wish to. But it’s important to you,” Lena paused, daring Kara to lie and dismiss it callously, “at least hang it somewhere safe and sound until you are ready to wear it.”
Lena placed the folded cape carefully on the side, hands stroking reverently over the fabric as she did so. Kara flinched away at the sight, remembering how she had discarded it on the library floor all those months ago like it was nothing. Regret rose within her, leading her to nod once and gruffly murmur an accepting, “Fine.”
“Good.” Lena breathed, before holding out a hand for Kara to take. “Come on then.” Lena encouraged, jerking her head towards the snowy outdoors.
Kara hesitated for only a moment before sighing and taking Lena’s proffered hand. Lena led them outside and they walked comfortably around the castle grounds - Lena didn’t try to go out further than that, aware that this was as far out of Kara’s comfort zone as she was willing to go. They talked a little but Lena allowed far more silence than she had over the last few days - for some unknown reason apparently happy just to be in Kara’s company, something the Queen still couldn’t fully believe.
They were about to start their third circuit around the grounds, Lena had wandered to inspect one of the castle walls prompting Kara to inquire what was the whole point of this excursion, “So what are we-”
Kara’s question died as she felt something cold explode against the side of her face. Kara blinked rapidly in shock, looking over at Lena who was smiling smugly at her as she threw a second snowball up and down in one hand.
“Did you just throw a snowball at me?” Kara asked in total shock.
“I don’t know…” Lena said slowly, tapping her chin thoughtfully with her free hand, “did I?”
Kara huffed out an aggrieved breath and rolled her eyes, “Were you always this childish?”
“No,” Lena replied, green eyes twinkling with affection. “You just bring it out in me. Are you going to play with me or not?”
“I-” Kara started, intent on refusing when Lena’s second snowball hit her right between the eyes. “Oh, it’s on!” Kara shouted, instantly dropping down to scoop some snow into a ball as Lena took off running, laughing all the way.
Once Lena began to shiver, her nose a bright red and fingers a worrying white, Kara scooped up her best friend and carried her back inside, wrapping her up in dry blankets whilst Alex excitedly lit a fire. (Kara was marginally concerned how Alex’s pyromania would translate over to her old self when the curse broke).
Lena half-heartedly pushed back against Kara’s doting but gave in quickly when the Queen gave her a hug as they waited for the room to heat up. Dry and warmed back to a survivable temperature, Lena departed for her room intent on getting cleaned up, her hair having become knotted from tumbling around in the snow. It was as she was leaving that she turned back to Kara with an expectant eyebrow raise that Kara couldn’t comprehend. Lena shook her head in faux-aggrievement before approaching the Queen and suggesting it might do Kara well to get cleaned up too.
Kara considered the suggestion, wrinkling her nose when she glanced down at herself to see the matted mess of her fur and the dirt on her claws. Kara nodded her acceptance mutely, believing Lena’s advice to come from a place of disgust that Lena immediately identified in Kara’s suddenly morose mood. Lena cupped Kara’s face in her hands and promised that her prompt came from a place of love, that Kara should care for herself because she was worth caring for.
Lena’s sincerity convinced Kara to finally take ownership of her new appearance. The furniture-staff eagerly helped her draw a bath, a couple of scullery maids had turned into buckets and found the experience of carrying hot water rather delightful, so much so that once Kara’s bath was ready, they asked if the Queen would load them up with two final loads so that they might enjoy it as well.
The bath had to be emptied and refilled at least three times until all the accumulated dirt that had settled onto her fur was washed away. Clean fur was a revolutionary experience, instantly it felt like her skin settled more easily on her bones and the reflection in the mirror wasn’t as horrifying as it had been when she last looked. Her and Alex then spent a good half-hour trying to find a suitable tool to clip her claws, which Kara found herself enjoying - it had been awhile since she had allowed herself to simply enjoy Alex’s company and she hadn’t realised how much she had missed it until they were back in each other’s orbit.
Kara, fur shiny and claws clipped, hadn’t felt so good in months and it was with a heavy stomach that she returned to her room, knowing how much of a state she had left it in and not quite mentally prepared to face the physical reminder of how far she had let herself fall.
Therefore, it was a surprise to walk into her room to find it nothing like the state it had been in for the last few months.
Her bed had been made with crisp, clean bedding, the floors and surfaces swept of all dust and the curtains drawn back to let in some much needed light. Her room had been restored to its former glory and Kara needn’t have looked far to find the kind soul responsible. Lena, who had washed hastily and dressed in a simple green gown, was standing in the middle of Kara’s room.
Kara’s heart swooped at the sight, love and appreciation swelling in her chest at her best friend’s actions that swiftly turned to unease and anxiety when Lena didn’t stir or look her way as Kara entered.
Her nervousness shifted to icy guilt when she realised that Lena was staring, blank faced, at their portrait - the portrait that Kara had taken her claws to in a fit of despair and agony.
“You ripped it.” Lena said softly, there was no accusation to her tone, though Kara wished there was, just a wistfulness that was much worse.
“I…” Kara choked out, wringing her hands together, “I was in a very dark place.” Kara hung her head in shame, “I’m sorry.”
Lena exhaled heavily and a beat of uncomfortable silence followed before she said, “I understand.”
Kara’s head jerked up; Lena still looked as crestfallen as before the apology, doing little to pave other the hurt that lied between them now. “Do you-... what can I do?” Kara pleaded.
Lena finally turned her head to smile sadly at the Queen before she walked towards the door, “I think I just want to be alone for a little while.”
Kara deflated even more at that, she wanted to fix this, to make everything right, to make Lena see her regret but she would never impose herself on Lena. “Okay.” Kara accepted, wincing as her bedroom door closed, leaving her alone in a room that no longer matched her despondency.
“I’m sorry.” Kara said solemnly, gaze lowered to the floor.
Kara lasted an hour before she couldn’t stop herself from seeking out her best friend. She found her in Kara’s mother’s old room, staring down at the chessboard as she fiddled with the white knight figure.
Lena sighed, “I understand, Kara. I forgive you.”
Kara frowned, “It still doesn’t make it okay.”
Lena remained quiet, not denying that.
“Is there anything I can do to make up for it?” Kara questioned, her attempt to scuff her toe on the floor merely leaving a scratch in the stonework.
Lena chuckled at Kara’s less than subtle attempt to hide the minor damage by putting her foot over the new scratch. “You don’t need to make up for anything.” Lena assured earnestly.
Kara shrugged helplessly, “Still…”
Lena tapped the chess piece to her lips as she considered Kara and the insistence of her request. After a couple of seconds Lena’s green eyes glinted with an idea that had her placing the white knight back in its place and shifting to fully face the board in front of her. “How about a game of chess?”
Kara perked up immediately, “I would like that.”
They whiled away the cold winter nights playing chess and the days with Lena proving the depth and sincerity of her love.
Lena grew Kara’s favourite flowers under careful conditions to survive the winter chill and presented them in a careful bundle alongside her favourite breakfast.
Lena took her ice-skating on the river they used to swim in with skates that Lena had crafted just for her.
Small notes of affection and poetry were tucked away throughout the castle for Kara to stumble upon when she least expected it.
Books that Kara would like were offered up with a fond smile.
Each act and declaration were undeniably sweet and earnest but each was followed by a bitter taste that stayed with Kara for the rest of the day. The bitterness came when the blush Lena’s actions evoked faded away and the trilling of her heart steadied back to an even rhythm as she was left to watch the way her transformed friends tried to hide their disappointment with yet another unsuccessful attempt. That was the problem, each time Lena was just her normal, wonderful self and did something that evoked that rush of love that Kara wanted so badly to believe in, it collided with the poisonous blade’s toxicity and was beaten back before the belief could take root.
Each failure only made the blade stronger. Each failure meant Kara letting down her friends and making Lena think Kara didn’t want to believe.
Each failure cut away more and more from Kara until…
“Kara, what’s wrong?” Lena questioned, dropping to her knees in front of Kara, who was hyperventilating, her chest tight and stopping air from getting in.
“It’s too much pressure.” Kara cried, wrapping her arms around her head as she rocked back and forth in the corner. Lena had set-up a blanket fort like when they were kids in the drawing room and made special cakes and treats; all their friends were there for them to spend the day happily together with and it was just... so perfect and Kara felt so unworthy of it. “You are being so kind and lovely and my friends are being so supportive.” Kara sobbed, “All so I can break this curse. And I just- I’m failing you. Failing all of you with every day that passes-”
“Kara-” Lena pleaded, reaching out to comfort her.
Kara scrambled away from the kindness she didn’t feel she deserved, looking around at Alex, Nia, Brainy and Kelly who were trying to shuffle forward to provide support as well. “You’re all trying so hard and I… can’t… I’m not… I want to break it, I want to believe.” Kara looked over at Lena with wide, desperate eyes, “I know you love me but it’s like there’s this wall that stops me from really feeling it. I’m just not worthy of it. Of any of you.” Kara whispered before sprinting out of the room and away from all of them.
Kara burrowed even further under the bedsheets when she heard her bedroom door open after the gentle knocks continued to go unanswered. The mattress dipped to one side as Lena settled on the edge.
“I've been thinking…” Lena said slowly.
Taking a deep breath, Kara pulled back the bedsheet, eyes misted with tears as she murmured, “Lena, I’m so sorry-”
“Enough of that.” Lena reprimanded as soft fingertips reached out to catch the tears that broke free from Kara’s eyes. “It’s us that should be apologising.”
“Us?” Kara repeated, leaning instinctively into Lena’s touch.
“Hey, Kara.” Alex greeted, the candelabra was on top of Kelly’s desk that was currently shuffling through the door followed by the rest of her friends and family.
“You guys have been fantastic,” Kara refuted immediately, “it’s me that’s not good enough-”
“No, Kara. You are more than enough.” Nia declared fervently which was backed up with a nod from Lena and muttered agreements from everyone else.
“We’ve been putting you under incredible pressure,” Alex explained, jumping from the desktop to the bed so that she could place a comforting (unlit) candle holder on Kara’s leg, “and we didn’t even realise it. We also never noticed how…” Alex’s golden surface lost its sheen and turned a morose yellow, “how you changed the night your parents died.”
Kara shook her head, “I had to grow up.”
“Yes,” Eliza accepted with her familiar motherly tone before she placed heavy emphasis on her next words, “ but you-”
“Blamed yourself for it.” Alex interrupted, practically vibrating with the need to help Kara understand so that they could work together like they always did. “You stopped shaking off the losses, it was weighing you down and we… we didn’t notice. And then the curse happened and we just kept adding the pressure.”
“I…” Kara began, her brow furrowing as she tried to find a way to disagree, to say that’s not what happened.
But then she remembered how the four years that followed her parents’ deaths had just swirled together into an endless stream of days. There was nothing to break them up, she kept her head down, did her work and was there for when her friends needed her. She smiled and laughed but there had been a hollowness to it all, she hadn’t really been living. Any joy was tempered with self-doubt and crippling guilt. A half-life that she hadn’t even been aware of, the blade’s poison subtle as it worked to infect her.
The curse had broken what little belief in herself she had left, had turned self-doubt into self-loathing which merely escalated with everyday she continued to feel like she wasn’t good enough for her friends and her people.
“We know you won’t believe us but that’s okay.” Alex assured gently, and even as Kara reviewed her past she still couldn’t quite accept this new version of events. “Hopefully, with time you will. No more trying to end the curse. No more pressure. Just you being enough as you are.”
“But…” Kara mumbled, looking at each of her friends desperately, “it’s ruining your lives. Ruining the lives of so many people.”
“Kara the curse is about torturing you.” Brainy explained. “Yes, your friends and loved ones got hit with it too, but the whole reason for that is just to add onto your suffering . The people are living the same day over and over. They won’t starve, they won’t suffer and if the curse breaks they will have no memory of their repeated days.”
“So, you just want to give up? I can’t do that. I can’t quit.” Kara exclaimed, straightening up and crossing her arms over her chest.
“No one is asking you to.” Lena soothed, placing a calming hand on Kara’s folded arms, easing some of the Queen’s tension immediately.
Kara pursed her lips, “Then what are you suggesting?”
Lena smiled bright and hopeful at that as she answered, “Instead of breaking the curse to make your kingdom better, why not just work to make the kingdom better? Be the Queen you’ve always been. Help your people as they are. Stop focusing on the curse and start living.”
Kara blinked at that, not expecting it in the slightest.
Stop trying to get back to what they once were and improve what they currently have? Could she do that instead?
It still felt like quitting, like walking away from the problem but there was logic in what Lena and her friends were suggesting.
“I don’t know.” Kara replied honestly.
“Think about it.” Lena encouraged, squeezing Kara’s forearm.
“Don’t you hate this?” Kara asked later that night when it was just her and Alex. Her friends were taking it in turns to give her support without overwhelming her which the Queen appreciated.
“It’s not that bad.” Alex remarked after a thoughtful pause as she hopped closer to Kara’s side and settled on the free pillow. “There are worse things that could have happened. I’m still with my family and friends.”
Kara considered this before adding quietly, “What about being with Kelly?”
Alex let out a confident chuckle that had Kara raising a curious eyebrow. “Oh, don’t you worry about that.” Alex replied, her tone the physical embodiment of a proud smirk as she leaned closer to the Queen to whisper, “Let’s just say I can still rifle through her drawers.”
“Eww…” Kara groaned, rolling her eyes as Alex continued to laugh. “Too much information!”
“You asked!” Alex shot back indignantly.
“So you’re okay with this?” Kara questioned slowly, hands fidgeting with the bed sheets as she awaited Alex’s response.
Alex didn’t reply immediately as she fully evaluated the question and everything it entailed.
“Not okay”, Alex eventually answered honestly, “but at peace with it.”
Kara nodded at this, it was better than she feared which helped soothe the tidal waves of guilt that she was battling within herself.
“Though,” Alex added, “I do wish getting around was a lot easier. It takes me an hour to hop up all the stairs to the room Kelly’s in and she can’t come down unless you carry her.”
“I could help with that.” Kara offered, perking up immediately.
Alex gave her a sympathetic look, “You can’t carry around everyone in the castle whenever they might need to get somewhere.”
“Well, no…” Kara agreed, “but Lena was telling me about this mechanical lift she had seen in one of the castles when she was touring with her family. Maybe, we could put something like that in.” Kara suggested, already hopping out of the nest she had made for herself as if to get to work immediately. “Design it so all the objects people are can interact with it. And maybe put in some ramps and better paths so that people can go outside easier.”
“That would be pretty awesome.” Alex murmured.
“Right?” Kara cheered, reaching out to pick up Alex once the candelabra had nodded her permission, “Let’s go find Lena. We can get to work right now.”
Lena was onboard immediately with Kara’s suggestion of putting in a lift for the castle workers. Lena, Brainy and Kara identified the best locations, listed out the necessary supplies and designed the most accessible control system they could. Once prepared, Kara took on most of the heavy-lifting, Lena going into towns to buy the equipment and tools they would need whilst Brainy supervised and the other objects trialled out their work as it developed. The lift was a massive success and bolstered the spirits of those who had been limited to one floor.
Once complete, Kara suggested they put in pathways in the castle grounds so that going outside was no longer as difficult which was again met with enthusiasm and the drive to work. Kara led the project to get the castle into better shape for its inhabitants; they didn’t need to eat in their new forms but they still enjoyed the smell of food so Kara strived to learn their favourite dishes or find a scent they were particularly fond of and fill the castle with it.
The castle slowly came back to life, blooming with colour and happiness that it had been so deprived of. Kara settled a little more with every passing day, feeling productive and like she was making a positive difference. The poison of the blade slowed, struggling to beat down the sudden influx of positivity.
“Everything okay?” Kara asked Lena curiously.
Lena had been sneaking surreptitious glances at her for most of the day, they were heading to the kitchen to start cooking, and Kara had finally managed to catch her eye during one of them.
Lena blushed and came to a stop, turning to face Kara directly. “Yeah, just…” Lena looked up at her through her eyelashes, making Kara’s heart skip a beat, as she reached out for the edge of the red fabric draped across Kara’s back, rubbing the cape between her fingertips. “I really like this on you.” Lena confessed earnestly.
Kara hadn’t even realised she’d put on the cape until Lena had pointed it out. When Lena had returned it to her those few weeks ago, she had done as asked and hung it up in her wardrobe safe and secure. She had then put it on this morning without really thinking; grabbing it on her way out the door as was her routine before the curse.
Kara nodded shyly, “Me too.”
Once the castle was in a better shape, Kara cast her heart and mind to her people: trapped in an ever-repeating day. It didn’t take long for her to declare her intent to help them. If they were to repeat the same day over and over again, Kara promised to make it the best day she could.
In the cover of darkness, Kara and her friends would work in the towns, making minor changes here and there to improve the going ons. Cutting back the tree roots that the baker kept falling over. Setting up fun stalls that hosted games for children to play. Replacing tattered equipment and furniture in the local schoolhouse that Kara and Lena crafted over a weekend.
Everyday was filled with a new challenge, a new way to help and Kara loved it. Loved making a difference whilst laughing with her friends, playing in the snow with Lena and curling up in front of the fire as Lena read out a book for the castle.
“They would be proud of you.” Lena said as she pondered her next move over their evening game of chess.
Kara didn’t need to ask who Lena was referring to, they were in her mother’s room, her presence with them in all the ways that mattered. “You think?”
Lena lifted her gaze from the board and met Kara’s eyes. “I know.” Lena declared, serious and sincere. “Without a shadow of a doubt.”
Kara’s brow furrowed, “How can you be so sure?”
Lena smiled soft and tender at her, “Because I’m proud of you.”
Kara rolled her eyes trying to downplay how much the words meant to her. “You have to say that.”
“Why’s that?” Lena prompted with an eyebrow raise.
“Because you love me.” Kara replied without thinking.
Silence followed the statement. Kara watched as Lena’s expression flicked through an array of emotions before settling on hopeful delight. It was the first time Kara had accepted Lena’s love, no sign of doubt or hesitation.
Lena inhaled shakily, “That I do.”
Lena’s gaze returned to the board, obviously wanting to save Kara from feeling scrutinised and pressured.
Kara believing in her love meant the world to Lena and Kara could have easily left it there. Not said anymore, but Kara felt brave and comfortable within herself (and this moment) to say that which Lena more than deserved to hear.
“I love you, too.” Kara whispered. “I realised that I never… I hadn’t said it and you should know.”
Lena’s smile brightened immediately, green eyes lighting up with affection, “I do know. Your every action breathes love.” Lena assured, “I never doubted... but it is nice to hear it.”
It had been three months since Lena returned to the castle and two months since Kara had shifted to making her kingdom better (and herself by extension) without focusing on the curse. Love couldn’t be forced, it couldn’t be hammered to suit your will. It was like her father told her all those years ago, it builds and adds and changes. It grows and blossoms.
It doesn’t stop and it doesn’t just happen.
Kara fell in love with Lena over a multitude of summers, written words, gentle touches, whispered conversations and furtive glances. It was easy. Falling for Lena was simply letting gravity do its work.
Growing to love herself? That was hard.
Like swimming against a current.
It was even harder after her parents’ death when guilt wrapped around her kicking feet like concrete.
It then felt practically impossible when the curse came and she saw nothing likeable about herself when she looked in the mirror.
However, her view of herself improved over time. It improved everytime she made Alex laugh like they were children. It improved everytime she managed to make Lena blush. It improved everytime she achieved something that made someone’s life a little better and their day a little brighter.
She didn’t mind her reflection in the mirror when Lena - guided by Nia - plaited her fur into ridiculous shapes that made everyone in the castle laugh.
She started to like herself as the cape started to fit comfortably on her shoulders again - the responsibilities it came with feeling more like gifts than burdens.
And she started to love herself when getting out of bed to start the day became an exciting prospect rather than a daunting one.
Kara would always remember the moment when she realised that she wouldn’t change a single thing about herself, that she liked - loved - who she had become.
It was late, Kara and her friends had stayed up as they reminisced about their less than successful attempts to help the villages and their many quick escapes when things had gone wrong - Kara lifting a desk Kelly, with Eliza and Alex balanced on top as she sprinted into the night was a particular favourite - to raucous laughter. Lena was dozing, cuddled up to her side under her arm whilst Alex was attempting to shoot fireballs from her candle holders to everyone’s amusement.
She was warm, happy and content. She wouldn’t change a single part of her life if it meant missing out on this moment.
The realisation settled in her and with it the blade fell away.
The night ended with cheery farewells and agreements to meet up in the morning to talk through their next projects. Lena had fallen asleep at her side so Kara carried her up the stairs as gently as she could. They had taken to sleeping in the same bed, talking into the early hours of the morning - reliving their childhood sleepovers. Kara tucked Lena into bed before hanging up her cape and going to sleep herself, already looking forward to the next day and what it might bring.
“Kara, wake up. Kara!”
Kara groaned at the exclamation, feeling so cosy and warm under the bedcovers and with her arms wrapped around Lena’s waist.
“Huh? What? Are we being invaded?” Kara yawned, lifting her head up and blinking her eyes open to see Lena staring at her wide-eyed.
“No-” Lena replied.
“Then go back to sleep.” Kara declared, snuggling back into their warm nest and pulling Lena closer to her with a happy exhale.
Lena fell silent, beginning to run the tips of her fingers up and down Kara’s forearm. Kara hummed appreciatively at the sensation, she could feel the pads of Lena’s fingertips, their softness and the nonsensical pattern they were tracing out which was odd...
Normally, Kara’s fur dulled the sensation…
It was then that Kara felt a slight chill on her back where the bed covers had dipped low.
Which again shouldn’t have been possible, Kara hadn’t felt the cold in months…
Experimentally, Kara opened one eye and lifted a hand to her face.
Five fingers with short nails wiggled before her.
Kara lurched upwards, pulling Lena with her who was beaming at her with teary eyes.
“I’m… I’m…” Kara stuttered as she looked down at her body that was free of fur and claws.
“You broke the curse.” Lena cried, reaching out to cup Kara’s face with shaky hands.
“I broke the curse?” Kara repeated, utterly dumbfounded.
“You broke the curse!” Lena cheered, springing into Kara’s lap and wrapping her into the tightest, most enthusiastic hug they’d ever shared.
Kara responded eagerly, relishing how close she could pull Lena and the way she could confidently thread her fingers through her best friend’s raven hair without fearing that her claws would catch. Lena began to place quick, appreciative kisses on Kara’s bare cheeks, finally free to do so and prompting them both to giggle giddily.
Lena pulled back, green eyes bright and cheeks flushed.
“I…” Kara began before trailing off, shocked by how much want she was suddenly hit with.
Clearly her desire that had been put on hold for nearly nine months was now abundantly apparent on her face as Lena smirked proudly and ordered, “Just kiss me already.”
Kara didn’t hesitate to dive forward, one hand in Lena’s hair and the other on her hip to keep them pressed tightly together. Their kiss was fast, fervent and desperate. Months of softness and gentle care getting thrown to one side for the passion they had been brewing for years. Kara didn’t know how it happened, but one minute they were sitting up in the bed, Lena in her lap and the next, Kara was leaning over her laid down best friend, Lena’s legs wrapped around her waist and nails digging posessively into Kara’s back.
Kara’s hand started to shift down Lena’s pale leg when-
“You broke the curse- Oh my god!”
Kara’s bedroom door burst open, allowing a flashing glimpse of Alex back to her full human self before she threw a hand over her eyes and slammed the door shut again.
“Wow, Lena, you work fast!” Alex shouted through the door.
Lena pouted, muttering sulkily, “Not fast enough, clearly.”
“Everyone’s meeting downstairs.” Alex yelled.
Kara grinned, pushing back up to her knees. “We’ll be right down. Give us five minutes.”
Below her Lena cleared her throat pointedly and raised an eyebrow at her.
Kara swallowed thickly, her heart thrumming wildy in response, “Uh… Make that ten minutes.”
Alex let out an exasperated sigh filled with affection before stomping away; Kara shook her head ruefully before leaning back down.
“Hey.” Kara greeted before pressing a quick kiss to Lena’s waiting lips.
“Hey.” Lena sighed happily.
“It’s summer again.” Kara remarked, jerking her chin to the window where bright sunlight and warmth were streaming through.
Lena reached up slowly and tucked a loose strand of golden hair behind Kara’s ear. “Oh, Kara. It’s always summer when I’m with you.”