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if the lord don't forgive me

Chapter Text

The fabric of the dress is soft against her skin. The light is gentle, golden. Beneath her knees and palms, the white stone holds the echo of warmth.

Kara finishes her prayer of the faith, lips moving soundlessly over the well-worn words. She pauses a moment – deference, reverence – then opens her eyes.

The eurredhuhs, the temple of Rao and the other deities and demigods, is deserted. She'd come early, sneaking out of bed before the sun had even broken the red horizon, to take advantage of the quiet.

Sunrise is her favourite time in the temple. The pantheon – a rounded obelisk of solid magh, a white marble-like stone mined on Krypton's eastern shores – has slits cut horizontally around its circumference at varying heights, allowing the sun's light to stream through as it rises and falls in the sky, throwing ever-tighter patterns of spiralling sunbeams across the smooth floor.

Right now, kneeling as she is before the altar of the gods, the rising sun is perfectly positioned to stream unimpeded through the lowest slit. It washes over her face, blinding, purifying.

Kara inhales slowly, exhales slower still. Rao has her in His grasp. He will not let her fall.

 

She stays in the eurredhuhs for a long time.

Her father had first brought her to the temple to meditate when she was thirteen, teaching her the ancient Kryptonian mantra that would strengthen her mind in the months preceding her initiation into the Science Guild. She thinks now, as she had then, of  the greatness and enlightenment to which she has always aspired. Prays to Rao that He might look upon her with kindness, might make her endeavours His own and bring them to fruition. That He might light her path in the darkness.

“Though we go forth alone, our souls unite us under Rao's gladsome rays.” The murmured words fall from her lips, honeyed and warming. “We are never lost, never afraid, for we shrink not under the sun of righteousness.”

Her shins are flat against the smooth stone, dress pooling around her thighs like water. Her loose fists are crossed, an x against her chest. Through them she can feel her own heartbeat, steady and sure. Through them she can feel Rao's divinity, lighting her veins. “Rao binds us to those we love. He gives us strength when we have none. And in the darkest places, he guides us.”

The mantra is comforting. It's enduring, eternal. Never-changing. Come what may, it lives on. There are not many things in her life for which that is true.

She inhales deeply, re-centres. Her voice is quiet, barely a whisper. These words have no need of an audience. They are between her and her god. “For Rao sees all, feels all, his love eternal. Rao protects us, that we might protect others.”

She takes a breath, feels the words run her through with the immaculacy of truth. “And we shall rise, a fire in his hearth. Burning, and free.”

A quiet power hums within her, a strength born of the certainty of guidance, of protection. In the solemn quiet she feels Him, and she knows. She is not alone.

 

“Those words are beautiful.”

The voice startles her. Her head whips round, eyes flying open. Brainy is standing in the rounded archway, watching her. Coluan and uninhibited, he steeples his green fingers together before him. The life projectors on his chest blink once in greeting.

“Brainy,” she gasps, twisting on her knees to gape at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I think perhaps the more prudent question,” Brainy hums as he examines the room, trailing his fingertips over the smooth white stone, “is what you are doing here, Kara Zor-El.”

She blinks. “What do you mean? I've come here to—”

But Brainy doesn't even seem to be listening. “Interesting that we're not in your loft this time around,” he remarks, turning to squat before her in the blink of an eye. He tilts his head and squints at her, appraising. “Is that no longer the place you feel safest? Or is safety not what you're craving?”

“Brainy, what are you talking about?” she asks. “This time around of what?”

“Your mind palace,” the Coluan says calmly, as if it should be obvious. “I've never heard of locations changing. But, then again, the trauma you suffered was catastrophic. Changes to the place in which your subconscious feels most comfortable are to be expected—”

"My subconscious?” she parrots, confusion tugging. “Brainy, we're in the temple. What has my subconscious got to do with— hang on, how did you even get in here? How, where did—”

Brainy straightens suddenly, rubbing a finger over his chin. “Confusion,” he mutters, as if to himself. “More than last time. Could be a sign of brain damage.” His gaze refocuses on her, acutely intense. “Have you seen anything strange in here? Mildew, lichen, cracks in the stone? Rats? Or, I suppose, the Kryptonian equivalent? They could be a sign of neurological deficits, the simulacra would—”

Brainy,” she interrupts firmly. “What the hell are you talking about? And how are you— how are you on Krypton? How are you here?”

Brainy stares at her a long moment. The look he levels upon her is one Kara recognises, one she's seen a thousand times. Confusion and disbelief tumbling together in a vast ocean of unadulterated dread, all wrapped in a wafer-thin veneer of calm.

“Kara,” Brainy says slowly, as though weighing each word as it passes his lips, evaluating whether she's strong enough to hear it. “I'm not on Krypton. Neither of us are. Krypton died. And, Kara—”

Brainy swallows hard, lips pressing together so tight they disappear entirely. “So did you.”

 

It comes back to her slowly, and then all at once.

The planes and the missiles, the getaway and the driving, running and running until she could run no more. Lex's smug grin. Lena's green eyes. The car and the bomb and the explosion. Flying. Falling.

“So... I'm dead?” she asks when she feels she's capable of voicing it, an eternity or two later. Her hands tremble. She clenches them into fists, tucks them beneath her crossed legs.

“Well, no. Not anymore.” Brainy is back to examining the temple's structure, tracing the pads of his fingers along the seam where the wall meets the floor. “We resuscitated you. Alex did, to be precise. But you're still very close to it. On death's door, I believe is the human expression. Circling the drai—”

“Got it, thanks,” Kara interrupts as nausea fists its way into her throat. She focuses on breathing in and out steadily through her nose, willing down the bile blistering the back of her tongue.

She'd died. She'd died, and she'd very nearly stayed dead. She could die again – quite easily, by the sounds of things – and that would be that.

How would they mourn her? Would they know the prayers, the Kryptonian funeral rites that would grant her soul safe passage from this world to the next?

She had said them herself, countless times. Back home in Argo City, at the wakes of elderly relatives. Alone in her pod, repeating the litany for her mother, her father, for every one of her friends and loved ones and teachers whose annihilation she had watched from afar as Krypton cracked apart behind her. Hovering in the darkness above National City, she'd said those words, one hand braced against the smooth shell of the pod that would carry the body of her aunt back to the stars.

She had often wondered what would happen, when her own time came. Would Kal know the words? Was he old enough, Kryptonian enough, to remember? Would he know to speak the invocation that would bear her soul home to peaceful shores, or would she be condemned to an eternity of aimless wandering amongst unfamiliar stars?

Would she be caught forever in limbo, neither truly here nor there? Neither one nor the other, just as she had been on Earth. Would that be her punishment, the final retribution for her failure to fulfil the purpose her parents had assigned her?

She had been sent to Earth to keep Kal safe. To keep him Kryptonian. She was supposed to give him a home and because she had not, she would never find hers either. Justice, she supposes. Poetic irony.

You have been the sun of our lives, Kara thinks. The words have always been comforting, a balm to her sorrow. A pity she cannot now speak them over her own body. Ease her own passing.

Our prayers will be the sun that lights your way on the journey home. She had wanted to teach these rites to Alex, one day. And then, to Lena. To the people she trusts to bear her forth, her companions on the last and longest journey she will ever make.

She had thought she'd have more time.

We will remember you in every dawn, Kara thinks as the sun creeps higher, casting new shadows on the stone. And await the night we join you in the sky.

Tears prick behind her closed eyelids. Rao's will be done.

She has never felt so alone.

 

A long time passes before she feels robust enough to ask what had happened.

Brainy is blessedly quiet, waiting patiently until she’s choked back the emotion swelling behind her teeth and regained some semblance of composure. He stays quiet as he lays out the series of events that had brought them to this point, soft and so gentle she almost cannot believe it's really him.

The bomb had exploded, high above the Olympic Peninsula on a misty morning in Washington state.

Kara had been holding it. She had fallen. And then she had hit the ground.

Lena had been curled over her broken body in the middle of the highway when Brainy and the others had arrived, he tells her. Face pressed to Kara's chest, mauve sweatpants soaked through with Kara's blood, and screaming. Screaming as though it were her own bones that were shattered, her own skin torn to shreds, her own soul dug out of her by the claws of death.

This is how Brainy describes it, and he is not a man prone to flowery language, so it must have been bad. Goosebumps shiver across the expanse of Kara's skin despite the sunny warmth of the room.

J’onn had flown her body to the Legion ship, where it had taken Alex thirty-five minutes and seven attempts to resuscitate her. Then she had been installed in a 31st century stasis pod, where she still remains, comatose and – hopefully – healing. When she had not regained consciousness Brainy had used a crown to connect his AI core to her brainwaves, allowing him to appear in the temple within the prison of her mind.

Kara sits, hunched against the wall of the eurredhuhs with her knees drawn to her chest, trembling so hard her teeth click together rhythmically. “Alex,” she manages to whisper at last, entire body wracked with convulsions. “Lena.”

Brainy's eyes lose focus, staring into the middle distance. Whatever he is seeing, it is not in this room. “Your sister is in the back garden,” he says after a moment, pupils darting as though taking in the invisible scene before him. “Chopping firewood. Or, at least, swinging an axe around violently. A strategy for tension relief, I presume. An outlet for her worry.”

“Garden?” Kara croaks. Her voice is barely intelligible, thick with unprocessed horror, but Brainy understands.

“In Midvale,” he says calmly. “We are at your adoptive mother's home. The Legion cruiser is parked on her front lawn.”

“Eliza,” Kara breathes, relief and dread swirling in equal measure.

“She is baking,” Brainy reports, gaze still roving over things she cannot see. “A rather lovely woman. She visits you often. Tremendously hospitable. She has been keeping the lot of us very well fed.”

An nth metal band constricts around Kara's lungs, suffocating. She can barely force the word through her clogged airways. “Lena?”

“She is— right next to you,” Brainy says after a moment's consultation. Kara's heart kicks into top gear, slamming through her body.

“She is on the floor of the ship, beside your stasis chamber,” Brainy says. His voice softens when Kara's hands reach out of their own accord, fisting into the fabric of his suit. She clutches tight, nails digging. Brainy doesn't so much as flinch.

“She is asleep,” he reports gently. “That's good. She's barely slept since we found you.”

Kara's fingers tighten further. Soon the fabric will tear. “How long?”

“Six days,” her friend murmurs, and another piece of Kara dies.

“J’onn and M’gann are praying,” Brainy continues to tell her as she trembles, unable to release her grip on his shirt. "They're praying for you. Kelly is helping Eliza in the kitchen. Nia is here beside me.” His hand flexes against his thigh, as though interlacing with another. “She is telling me about all the articles the two of you have worked on together. I believe it helps her to process all this.”

Kara can only stare at him, abject in her agony. Brainy lifts a hand as he blinks his way back to her, lays it over her clenching fist. “We are all here, Kara,” he whispers, and she hears the words he doesn't say.

We are all waiting for you.

“How, how do I get out of here?” she gasps, desperation flooding her veins. “How do I come back?”

Brainy watches her with a strained mixture of empathy and pity. “It's the same as last time,” he tells her quietly. “Your body is damaged, but healing. Physically, you are well enough to return. But only you can decide to wake up.”

The hand over hers squeezes. “If you haven't, you may not truly want to.”

 

This time, she doesn't bother arguing with his assessment.

She remembers enough of the time she'd spent trapped in a facsimile of her loft to know that Brainy is telling the truth. To know that denial will get her nowhere.

Nevertheless, she's confused. “But this— this isn't the same as last time.”

Brainy nods. He's seated on the floor beside her, backs pressed against the warm stone. Rao's light streams through the notches in the walls, edging ever closer to the zenith.

“You're right, it is not the same,” the Coluan agrees. “But neither is it different. There are two possibilities for your current residence within your own mind,” he informs her at her cynical look. "Both then and now. Either you are searching for something here, within your subconscious—” He spreads his arms, encompassing the temple's interior. “Or you are running from something there, in the real world.” He hikes a thumb over his shoulder, towards the arched exit. “Perhaps it is both. Regardless, though your goals are different from when Reign punched you into a coma, the process remains the same.”

Kara narrows her eyes. “But I have nothing to run from out there. Lex is gone. I defeated him.”

“Yes,” Brainy agrees, folding his hands in his lap. “But he is not your only foe.”

“Pfft,” Kara scoffs, to cover the way her stomach has begun to churn. “Leviathan is gone. The Crisis has ended. All the other stuff, the Children of Liberty, the Worldkillers, Cadmus— who knows if they even happened on this new Earth! I have no reason to run.”

“Kara,” Brainy says calmly. “You can always run from yourself.”

She elects to ignore him, pushing up to pace the width of the temple. “And I'm not searching for anything in here, either. What is there to find? What could I possibly discover that I don't already know?”

Brainy watches her from the floor, face impassive. “Last time, you were searching for Kara Danvers.”

Kara shakes her head, jaw clenching. “This is nothing like that,” she bites out. “I haven't lost myself. I know who I am.”

The Coluan does not contradict her. He rises in one fluid motion, moving to stand in the centre of the room, body dappled with lightrays. He watches her as she paces around him, unblinking.

“You are not seeking identity,” he says and Kara nods, vindicated. But Brainy isn't finished.

“I believe you are seeking forgiveness,” he says calmly and Kara's lower body freezes up, feet stopping so suddenly that her own momentum almost inverts her.

Still Brainy watches her, unperturbed. “That's why your mind has chosen to bring you here, to the temple of your god.” His unflappable composure irritates her. It's easier to focus on that than the spike of fear in her gut.

Brainy's gaze is knowing. “You want guidance. You want absolution.”

Kara's body seizes, her heart icing over. Two hundred and seven innocent faces blur before her glassy eyes. Her voice, when she finally speaks, is a hoarse whisper. “How could I not?”

“Kara,” Brainy says and for the first time he reaches out, stilling her trembling fingers. “I do not pretend to be an authority on religion. Godhood is an area of understanding my intellect has never conquered. But I do know that your god, however and wherever He appears, will not be found in here.”

She stares at him wide-eyed, throat working, and Brainy's features soften. "This temple is nothing more than a corner of your mind,” he reminds her gently. “There’s no one in here but you. You're seeking forgiveness, I'm sure, but perhaps it is not divine. Perhaps you seek it from yourself.”

Kara shakes her head without hesitation, her voice flint. “I can never forgive myself.”

“You feel responsible for the deaths of the passengers on that plane.”

Bile rises again, acrid and choking. “I am responsible.”

“Why did you do it?” Brainy raises his eyebrows when she doesn't respond, nudging her hands with his own. “Why did you make that choice?”

She doesn't say it. She won't. The whys and wherefores don't matter. All that matters is the result. All that matters is those people, those families to whom they'll never come home.

“You did it to save the life of a loved one, didn't you?” Brainy prods. “You did it to save Lena.”

She does not tell him he is right. She does not have to. They both know, have known, from the second she'd admitted the truth of it to him all the way back in the Tower.

Her eyes slide closed.

“Is that not worthy of empathy, Kara? Of compassion and understanding?” the Coluan asks softly, nudging her hands again. “Is that not worthy of forgiveness?”

Kara's eyes snap open, gaze hard. “I can never forgive myself.”

Brainy blinks slowly. “You cannot hope to receive externally that which you refuse to accept internally.”

A muscle in Kara's jaw twitches. She pulls her hands from his. “You're a shit therapist.”

It's unfair and undeserved and borderline cruel, but she says it anyway. Brainy straightens, swallowing hard as he takes a deep breath. Dark eyes blink closed for a long moment.

“Okay,” he says when they open again, and his voice is harder than it had been a moment ago. "In that case, you tell me. Who do you think will absolve you?”

Kara blinks rapidly, flustered. “I, I mean, Rao—”

“Rao is not here,” Brainy says, toeing the line of acerbity. “And even if He were, what could He tell you that would make any difference? The conflict is within you, Kara. Nowhere else. You are fighting the dissonance between who you want to be, and who you are.”

"How do you know who I want to be?” Kara snaps, defensive and ugly. She's on the back foot and Brainy knows it, pressing his advantage.

“I know more than you give me credit for,” he parries. “You want to be Supergirl. An infallible role model. A paragon of virtue, a beacon of hope.” The words strike her like stones. She flinches as each one finds its mark.

Brainy does not relent. “You want to be the hero National City craves. You want to be the protector you invoke in the prayers to your god. You want to be the saviour your parents instructed you to be.”

She wants to tell him not to speak of her parents, but finds she can't. Not when he's telling the truth.

“You want to be Supergirl,” Brainy repeats, loud and firm in the echoing temple. “And you are. But you are also Kara. Daughter, sister, colleague, friend. You are Kara, and you don't want to lose her. So in your heart, that's what you truly seek.”

Brainy's stare never wavers as he hones in for the kill. “You want someone to tell you that you can be Kara, and that it's okay. You want permission to be more than just Supergirl.”

Kara stares at him. It's a lot to try to process. It's painful.

“But— I love being Supergirl,” she whispers, prior defiance draining. “I— I need it.”

It's the truth, a truth she's always believed. The hard lines of Brainy's shoulders slacken at her suddenly quiet tone, the stern angles of his face softening. “Why do you need it?”

Kara swallows hard. Shoots for honesty past the trepidation pounding through her veins.

“Since I embraced my powers, Supergirl is the one thing I can count on,” she whispers, digging her nails hard into the skin of her palms. “I can help people, I can make a difference. I can feel strong, even when Kara is weak.”

“But they're both you,” Brainy points out softly. “If Supergirl is strong, then you are strong, so Kara is strong.”

She shakes her head. No one, not even Kal, has ever truly understood what a lifetime of two identities means. “No,” she mutters. “No, they're not the same. Supergirl— she can do things that Kara can't.”

Brainy's lips purse. “Like?”

"Like help people,” Kara huffs. This should be obvious. It is obvious. “Keep them safe. Protect them.”

The Coluan is watching her closely. “Why do you need to protect them?”

“Because I can!” This brash prickliness is not a good look on her, probably. Kara forces herself to moderate her tone. “I have these powers, these advantages, I— I have to use them for good. I have to make it all mean something.”

Brainy tilts his head. “Make what mean something?”

Fine, Kara supposes. They might as well do this. It's not like she's got anywhere else to be.

“My entire world died.” She lays her palm flat on the pale stone of the wall at her back, feeling its warmth. “I survived. There has to be a reason for that. Maybe all that pain, the destruction and the suffering can mean something, if—”

“If?” Brainy prompts.

Her eyes slide closed, exhaling long and low. “If I can stop it happening here too.”

Brainy squats on his heels, tipping backwards until he's sitting on the floor once more, his legs crossed. He regards her curiously. “So, you help Earth. You help the humans here.”

“Not just humans.” Defensiveness is second nature to her now, after so many years. “Many species call this planet their home.”

Brainy nods, unperturbed. “Then, for lack of a more inclusive term, you help people?”

Kara sighs. “I try to.”

“Why can't they help themselves?”

She glances up sharply. “Excuse me?”

But the Coluan remains impassive. His tone is neutral, interest free from judgment. “My ancestors were conquerors, Kara. Collectors of worlds.” He smiles sadly. “We, like you, had abilities that far exceeded those of the planets we landed upon. But we used them to dominate. To subjugate and overthrow.” Brainy folds his fingers in his lap. “That is my legacy. I wasn't what you'd call a natural born hero, so I'm trying to understand the mindset.”

Kara considers this. “So, what are you asking?”

Brainy looks pleased by her willingness to engage. “Humans on Earth have tools,” he notes, and she nods. “They have technology. Perhaps they couldn't equal your yellow sun powers, but they could rival them, at least in some respects. So, why can't they help themselves?”

“They can.” She thinks of Alex's combat skills, of Lena's intelligence. Of Eliza in a lab and Kelly in an office and Winn at a computer and James behind a helmet. She thinks of every human she loves, shoulder to shoulder as they stare down an evil they can never hope to beat with their chins held high.

“But?”

A corner of Kara's mouth quirks up despite itself. She needs to stop being so surprised when a twelfth level intellect displays uncanny levels of intuition. “They can, but— often they don't.”

“Why not?”

“I don't know!” Kara huffs. God knows no one had ever accused her of being an authority on humanity. “Because they don't always— look at the big picture. Pure altruism is hard. They’re motivated by other things.”

“Like what?”

It's hard to tell where Brainy's earnestness ends and his long-established knack for irritating her begins. Kara sucks in a deep breath, lets it out in a huff. “Money, sometimes. Greed. But from what I've seen, mainly— love. Care. Devotion. A desire to prevent pain, in themselves and others.”

Brainy's life projectors blink once, as if in agreement. “People are selfish, then?”

“Maybe,” Kara allows. “Sometimes. But how can they not be? Community is everything to humanity. They'd be lost without it. Is it selfish for them to love others? Is it selfish for them to stop at nothing to protect them?”

“Do you think it is?”

“No.” It's barely even a question. The answer flows through her like sunlight, the knowledge a golden balm in her veins. “Love, real love, is the most unselfish thing there is.”

“You don't resent them for it, then?” Brainy asks. It's genuine, curious, the inquiry of an observer trying to puzzle out the intricacies of what they've observed. “These people who close their eyes to the bigger picture because they're too busy loving those around them?”

“No,” Kara whispers, no hesitation required. “I love them for it.”

 

It's quiet a long time, after that.

Kara is silent, kneeling before the altar of the gods as she considers all that Brainy has told her. The Coluan, however, is restless, exploring the confines of the small temple with agitated interest.

He examines the slits carved into the rock, pressing his face to them in an attempt to catch a glimpse of what lies beyond. He charts the shadows across the floor as the sun peaks and begins once more to fall, spiralling fractals of light across the stone. He trails his fingers over the Kryptonian words etched into the wall, reading the names of the deities and demigods inscribed there.

Kara ignores him as best she can, reciting the meditation mantra in her head to calm her mind. Focus, centre, clarity— these assets seem now to elude her, right when she needs them most.

At length Brainy looks up, fingertips still pressed to the etching of Rao's name, bigger and bolder than all the rest. He clears his throat. “Are you a god, Kara?”

Her head snaps up. “What?”

Brainy gazes at her evenly, fingers still tracing the shape of the glyphs. “Are you a god?”

“No.” She feels winded somehow, like she's human again and running up a mountain far bigger than herself. “No, I— I've never wanted to be.”

Brainy doesn't even blink. He turns to gaze at the wall of names again, head cocked, eyes appraising. “Are you a shield?”

Kara presses her lips together. “Brainy—”

“I'm not trying to be obtuse,” he cuts in, turning to face her once more. “This situation, your position, is one I have never before encountered. I'm trying to gather all relevant information.”

Reluctantly, she nods at him to continue. “So,” Brainy repeats. “Are you a shield? An object of protection?”

Kara's brow furrows. “Of course I'm not an object, I—”

He turns to face her fully, life projectors glowing brighter than the waning sun. “A weapon, then?”

"No,” she gasps, horrified. “Never.”

Brainy's face is impassive. “So, what are you?”

She squints, shifting uncomfortably on her knees. “What do you mean? I'm Supergirl, I—”

“No, not who,” Brainy chides. “What are you, if not a god or a shield or a weapon?”

Kara flounders. She wonders if this is another one of Brainy's convoluted attempts at kindness. This one feels particularly ham-fisted.

“I, I'm Kryptonian,” she manages at last, voice small. “A refugee on Earth. Not an object. A person.”

“Ah, a person.” Brainy nods sagaciously, steepling his fingers in front of his chest. “A person who would do anything for those she loves. By your own admission, that is one of the most selfless acts in the universe. It is a quality you admire, even love, in others.”

Brainy crouches before her once more, his heavy gaze unavoidable. “So why, Kara Zor-El, are you punishing yourself for doing what people do?”

 

She's getting sick of this. Of this tiny room and this neurological limbo and Brainy's stupid, unanswerable questions.

The stone walls of the eurredhuhs close in around her, stifling and oppressive. She pushes at the archway that should be her exit, elbows it, kicks. The smooth stone doesn't budge.

“This is ridiculous,” she snaps after her thirtieth failed attempt to escape. “I'm not dead. I don't want to be here. Why can't I just leave?”

Brainy sighs, arms folded as he leans against the opposite wall. “The only thing keeping you here—”

“Is me,” Kara snaps, giving the archway a final resounding thump for good measure. “Yeah, you said.”

“And yet, you do not seem to have heard,” Brainy sighs, pushing off from the wall to stand before her. "Remember last time—”

“Last time, last time,” Kara parrots, tugging a hand hard through her curls in irritation. “Last time, I was afraid of losing to Reign. Of losing Kara Danvers. Not anymore.” She clenches her fists, presses them to her forehead. “I am not afraid of anything so much that it could be keeping me here now.” She slumps to the ground once more, furious and momentarily defeated.

Brainy lets out a long-suffering sigh. “No. The problem here is not fear. You are not afraid to live. You don't want to live.”

Kara gapes at him, denial rising up instinctively. “Of course I do, I—”

Brainy raises his eyebrows, an unequivocal challenge. “Then, you do not believe you deserve to live. Is that it?”

Her mouth snaps shut.

Brainy paces the diameter of the temple, wringing his hands. “It's very simple, really. A self-fulfilling prophecy. If you do not truly believe in your own inherent right to exist, no matter your sins, then you will deny yourself your own existence. And then you will— oh.”

He stops short suddenly, eyes losing focus.

"Brainy?” she asks when he remains frozen, and the Coluan shakes himself out of his daze.

“Lena has just woken up,” he informs her, and Kara's heart starts thumping so hard she can only imagine it's intending to beat itself clean out of her chest. Brainy's lips purse in thought. “She is talking to me. Oh. And to you.”

Mouth dry, palms sweating, she pushes onto her knees. “What— what is she saying?”

“I have told her that I am communicating with you in real time,” Brainy relays, eyes glassy. “And she has begun to cry.”

Invisible hands tighten around Kara's windpipe, crushing. “Tell me what's happening,” she gasps, inching toward him on shaking hands and trembling knees. “Tell me what she's saying.”

“I am telling her that your pathways appear intact, that our communication betrays no visible deficits in your neurological capabilities,” Brainy reports dispassionately. “She is now crying harder.”

“Hug her,” Kara chokes from the ground, fingers twitching with need. “Hold her, Brainy, please. For me.”

Brainy releases a long breath through his nostrils. “I am... hugging her.”

“Thank you.” Kara's lips move soundlessly, body paralysed by futility. “Is she saying anything?”

The Coluan falls silent a moment, listening. “She is asking why you haven't woken up.” He sucks in a breath, gaze unblinking. “I am telling her that it is because you do not believe you deserve to live.”

“Brainy!”

The sharpness of her voice is a whip-crack through the room, loud and chilling. Brainy's eyes blink back into focus and his brow furrows, mouth opening indignantly. “What?”

“Don't say that to her!” Kara admonishes with more venom than she intends, desperation clouding her harsh tone. “Don't ever say something like that to her.”

“But it's the tru—”

“No, it's not.” She drags a hand over her face, pinching at the bridge of her nose. “Tell her— tell her I want to wake up,” she bites out at Brainy's irked expression. “Tell her I'm trying. Tell her there's nothing I want more than to— to come back to her.”

It should be awkward, perhaps, or embarrassing, to speak these words that she's never been brave enough to say aloud to Brainy, of all people. To have him relay the secrets of her heart like some kind of sentient walkie-talkie.

But nothing, nothing is more important than making sure that Lena knows she hasn't given up, that she's still fighting for her. That she has Kara, will have her for as long as she wants her, and then some.

Brainy's expression is peeved but at length, he nods. “I have told her.”

Kara holds her breath. “And?”

“She seems to be struggling for words,” Brainy reports. “She is saying, and I quote, why won't she— why would she— she can't truly—” Brainy's nose wrinkles in mild disgust. “For a fifth level intellect, I would have expected Lena to be more eloquent than this.”

“Brainy!” She slaps his bicep lightly, horrified. “Shut up. Tell me what she's saying.”

“You realise that command is oxymoronic,” Brainy says primly. “I cannot possibly shut up while simultaneously telling you—”

Brainy,” she admonishes again, sharper this time. “Tell me!”

“Interestingly, that is almost exactly what Lena is saying,” Brainy says, rubbing huffily at his arm. “She keeps repeating the phrase tell her, without ever completing it.”

Kara's heart, which she probably doesn't need here anyway, stops completely. “Tell me what?”

“I have just voiced the same query,” Brainy relays, eyes glazing. “She is not answering, she's not answering, she's— ah! Oh.”

“What?” Kara gabbles. “What did she say?”

“She said, she knows.” Brainy's gaze focuses on her once more, roving her face intently. “Well, do you? Do you know?”

Kara's eyes slide closed. She thinks of red lips across an L-Corp office, green eyes across an app-strewn table at Noonan's. Thinks of six years of love and friendship and pain and betrayal. Thinks of Lena creating a Kryptonite suit to save her life, of Lena's willingness to put all of National City at risk to bring her home from the Phantom Zone, of Lena screaming into her broken body on the cracked and crumpled asphalt.

She thinks of Lena, Lena, Lena, and perhaps she does know.

"Maybe,” she whispers, eyes still closed, tiny and shattered and shimmering with longing. “I hope so.”

 

She cannot open her eyes.

The thought of Lena crying, of Alex rage-splitting logs in the backyard, of Eliza grief-baking in the kitchen, of her entire family suffering while she tries and fails to extricate herself from a cage of her own design, is crippling.

And yet, it is also freeing.

She may not know how to live for herself. She may not want to. But she can, she will live for them.

Kara sighs, shifting on the cool stone beneath her bent shins. Perhaps Brainy is right. Perhaps she is not so different from the humans she helps, protects, loves. Perhaps the forgiveness she seeks will not come from Rao, but from somewhere within herself.

She doesn't know if she can ever reconcile the two halves of her soul, be Supergirl and be Kara and be at peace with both. She doesn't know if she will ever find absolution. She doesn't know if she deserves it.

What she does know, she realises, with pounding heart and shaking hands, is that she does not want to die with all these questions unanswered. With hearts breaking for her and people waiting for her and words as yet unsaid. With all her what ifs and one days left unfulfilled, unlived.

Without ever being brave enough to take that final leap and learn whether falling is all that's meant for her, or if there's even the slightest chance that she might fly.

What she does know, is that she would like to have the opportunity to find out.

When she opens her eyes again, the eurredhuhs is empty. Brainy is gone, the last dregs of Rao's light leaching from the cool interior with every beat of her ragged heart.

Kara stands, and smooths the faint wrinkles from the fabric of her dress. Then she takes a deep breath, and steps through the archway.