Actions

Work Header

if the lord don't forgive me

Chapter Text

Kara is falling.

It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter how, or where, or for how long. She’s falling, and she can’t stop.

Everything hurts. The bomb had detonated in her arms and the blast was terrific, incomparable. It hit her battered body with the force of a supernova, and now Kara can feel everything and nothing at all.

Everything hurts but the pain is dulled, somehow. Blighted, numbed, like there's so much of it her body simply cannot process it all. Like her nerves, her senses, are blocking it out in an effort to protect whatever's left of her. She's not sure if she has a body anymore. She's not sure if she wants one, when it all seems to do is hurt.

She sees the Olympic coastline rushing up to meet her. The mountains, the forest-covered slopes, the jagged rocks and roiling waves. It's a beautiful place to die.

The ground, the crash, the inexorable impact, they're close now. So close. The grey snake of road blurs through her streaming vision. Maybe she'll hit the ocean again, maybe she'll get lucky.

Maybe her luck has finally run out. Maybe that's not so bad.

She’s falling.

For one single, breathless moment, the world stands still. And then Kara is gone.

 

When she returns, a heartbeat and an eternity later, she's no longer falling. She's floating.

Her body is suspended in some kind of transparent liquid. Through it, bright lights and dark shapes blur indistinguishably. Just as a sharp burning in her lungs announces its presence, just as panic begins to root through her chest at her inability to draw in air, the water drops below her face.

She sucks in a deep, ragged, grateful breath as the liquid recedes down her body, draining through some unseen outlet below her feet. She isn't floating now but standing, propped upright at a slight backward angle on legs no longer strong enough to support her.

The moment the last of the liquid disappears the clear tube encasing her body hisses along its length, cracking open vertically to expose her to the air. Kara buckles, sliding out of the stasis chamber and onto the ground before it.

The base of the chamber, the floor beneath, they're hard and smooth and white and for a moment she thinks she's back in the eurredhuhs, the warmth of the magh beneath her palms. But it's there that the similarities end, because when she blinks her eyes open and forces them higher than her own dripping limbs she sees artificial lights and 31st century technology and the sleek interior of the Legion cruiser.

And then, she sees Lena.

At first she is only a shape made of darkness, the mutable focus of Kara's blurring vision as her pupils struggle to adjust. But slowly she takes shape, rearranges before Kara's very eyes into that most cherished of forms. She becomes solid, tangible and beautiful; the lines of her face a prayer she's long memorised, her body a melody she knows by heart.

Brainy is there too, and Nia. The latter scrambles out of the room to call for the others while the former checks the stasis chamber's readings, presses gentle fingers to the heart monitor at Kara's ribcage, the AI crown on her forehead.

But these are passing realities, fleeting ephemerals at best because Lena is here, the curve of her body slotting against Kara's own like interlocking helices.

Perhaps Lena has fallen to the ground beside her, or perhaps she was already down. Either way, she's here, sprawled across the smooth floor of the cruiser beside Kara's crumpled form. Lena folds into her, one hand braced against Kara's breastbone, the other clenching into the dripping curls spilling across her shoulders.

Kara's back is propped against the base of the chamber and Lena crowds into her, hard, pushing her uncomfortably against the sharp edges. But it doesn't matter, she barely notices because Lena is here and she's facing Kara, mirroring her seated position and the hand on her shoulder slides to her neck beneath the hinge of her jaw and Lena tilts their foreheads together and presses, breaths panting warm and damp against Kara's mouth, rivulets of water from Kara's hair dripping down her fingers to soak into her sleeve.

Lena doesn't speak. Neither of them do. They just sit, hooking into one another, foreheads pressed together beneath the low hum of the artificial lights.

It's as if Lena knows that it was Kara's mind that had stopped her coming back, that had kept them apart all this time. As if she's trying to transmute herself into it, cocoon herself inside so as to never be left behind again.

Kara sits there, holding Lena holding her, and thinks of every single thing they've ever done for one another, no matter the cost. Kara sits there, hand pressing over Lena's hand pressing over her own racing heart, and she knows.

 

Alex arrives in a rush of cool air and pounding feet, chest heaving and eyes frantic. She's barely dropped down on Kara's other side when Nia reappears with Eliza and J’onn and Kelly in tow, M’gann bringing up the rear and the quiet stillness of her moment with Lena is washed away beneath the tsunami of her family's relief.

There's tears and sobs and kisses and arms so tight around her she feels like she can't breathe, and it's glorious. The burning of her lungs, the sharp press of desperate hands, they remind her that she's here. That she's still here, despite it all.

At some point, J’onn lifts her out of the pile of limbs on the floor of the Legion cruiser to transport the reunion to a more comfortable location. For a moment she wants to protest, but finds she can't. Her entire body is leaden and aching, joints throbbing and skin tender to the touch.

The bones broken by the bomb and her subsequent plummet back to Earth – almost every single one in her body, Alex informs her through gritted teeth – have been re-fused, her torn flesh knitted together by the stasis chamber, but even 31st century tech hadn't been able to heal her extensive damage entirely. Though her powers are back, her sister tells her, she's weak.

Kara doesn't argue. She finally understands what all those humans had meant when they'd complained about feeling like they'd been hit by a truck.

En route, Alex diverts them to the downstairs bathroom and helps Kara change out of her dripping clothes. She's still wearing the leggings from the Goodwill in Monterey and the realisation makes her freeze up, limbs locking in dread. Her Dartmouth sweatshirt is gone. From the charring and soot patterns on the filthy leggings, it was likely burned clean off her body.

Her tank top is gone too, and her sports bra. Only a large black tee covers her torso and she glances at her sister questioningly as she helps her lift it over her head. “You changed my shirt?”

Alex's jaw tenses, movements tightly controlled as she pulls a dry sweatshirt down over Kara's raised arms. “I had to strip you,” her sister bites out, gaze carefully averted. “For the defibrillator.”

Kara forces herself not to retch. She doesn't ask any more questions.

Once dry, J’onn deposits her on the couch in Eliza's living room as Alex arranges pillows and blankets to cushion her body. She hugs each member of her family individually. Reassures them she's okay, tells them she loves them. Doesn't mention the damp mixture of eight people's tears soaking into the collar of her clean sweatshirt.

It's evening, she realises as the setting sun glows red through the kitchen windows, six and a half days since she'd faced down Lex Luthor on a Washington clifftop. Weariness tugs at her, an exhaustion that seems to shiver in every fault line of her newly mended bones.

Somebody – Kelly, probably – must notice her tiredness because the hugs and the questions and the flurry of activity around her begins to slow. She's tucked up warm on the couch, a bowl of soup on her lap, Alex on one side of her and Eliza on the other. The others arrange themselves comfortably close by as somebody queues up The Wizard of Oz on the flatscreen TV.

They settle in to watch in the waning light, a silent acknowledgment passing between them that anything else can wait till tomorrow. Nia perches on the back of the couch behind her, braiding Kara's still-wet hair into an intricate Naltorian pattern with a cautious reverence in her fingers. J’onn and M’gann settle on the loveseat nearby, and Kara feels the tell-tale swell of calm that accompanies Martian projection envelop the room in a comforting embrace. Kelly slots in on the arm of the couch beside Alex, Brainy beside Nia. Lena curls up on the floor, leaning back against the couch beside Kara's legs, one hand wrapped tight around her bare ankle beneath the hem of her sweats.

Kara sinks into it like water, the warmth and safety her family are providing for her, not a thought spared to coming up for air. She lets her head tilt against her adoptive mother's shoulder as the bright colours and cheery songs of Oz swirl through her sleep-fogged mind. Just before darkness claims her completely, she huffs out the barest of chuckles.

Dorothy isn't wrong. There's no place like home.

 

She doesn't wake again until the following afternoon.

She's still on the living room couch, horizontal now, piled under a mountain of blankets. She cracks her gummy eyes to see Eliza at the opposite end, Kara's feet in her lap, perusing a cookbook in the late afternoon sunshine.

Her adoptive mother looks up as she shifts, breaking into a smile as she sits up with a yawn. “Morning, sunshine,” Eliza greets as she reaches out a hand to smooth down Kara's flyaway hairs, thumb tracing the indentations of the pillow on her cheek. "How are you feeling?”

Kara takes stock. "Better,” she assesses, wiggling her limbs experimentally beneath the blankets. She presses her lips together as an obscenely loud growl rumbles through the quiet room. “Hungry.”

Eliza chuckles. “I was wondering when your appetite would make its reappearance. Come on.” She slides herself out from beneath Kara's feet, holds out a hand. “I've got all your favourites.”

"Where are the others?” Kara asks hoarsely, gratefully accepting the glass of water Eliza offers as she takes a seat at the kitchen island.

“Oh, everywhere.” Eliza moves gracefully around the kitchen, pulling out pans and Tupperwares as she constructs a veritable feast. “Kelly and M’gann went to the grocery store. I believe Lena and Brainy are down on the beach. Your sister's probably still out back, chopping enough firewood to last me till I'm a hundred.”

Kara holds her breath. “How— how's she been?”

Eliza fixes her with a wry smile as she decants various delicious-smelling things into bowls. “You know Alex. How do you think?”

She grimaces. "Yeah. That's what I was worried about.”

"She was just scared for you,” Eliza says quietly. Kara doesn't miss the way her fingers tighten around the container in her hands. “We all were.”

“I'm sorry,” Kara whispers, guilt and shame and sadness welling up once more. “I'm sorry I put you through that. I'm sorry I always end up putting you through it. It's not fair to you.”

Eliza fixes her with a look that strikes the delicate balance between firm and gentle that she'd been maintaining for as long as Kara had known her. “Fair's got nothing to do with it, honey. We all worry about the people we love.” Her adoptive mother replaces the Tupperware on the counter, a corner of her mouth quirking affectionately. “And no amount of worry could ever outweigh the gift of having you as a daughter.”

Kara swallows down the lump in her throat, blinking back the hot sting of tears. “I'm still sorry,” she whispers, clenching her fingers in her long sleeves. “I love you.”

Eliza smiles. “I love you too, Kara. I always will.”

The gentle hum of the gas stove fills the warm kitchen, faint strains of bird song filtering in through the cracked window. Eliza moves deftly, sliding bowls of soup and plates of lasagne in front of her, slicing bread and chopping fruit and plating up brownies as Kara tucks into the spread.

Eliza chuckles as one by one the plates are cleared, Kara humming enthusiastically as she devours dish after dish. “That's my girl.”

They sit companionably at the breakfast bar, Eliza sipping a cup of tea while Kara polishes off the contents of the fridge. Once she's all but licked the last plate clean she moves to gather up the mountain of dishes but Eliza stops her, pressing her gently back onto her stool.

“I'll do it, sweetheart,” she hums. “You're still recovering. Make the most of it.”

She winks as she begins loading the dishwasher. Through the window behind her Kara catches a glimpse of Alex, pushing another wheelbarrow of split logs into the woodshed. Her earbuds are tucked in her ears and she's frowning, movements jerky and frustrated as she carts the heavy load inside.

Kara sighs. “I need to talk to her.”

Eliza follows her line of sight and smiles sympathetically. “Be patient with her, sweetie. She's had an awful lot to deal with lately.” Her adoptive mother abandons the dishes, circling the island to wrap an arm around Kara's shoulders from behind. “But remember, no matter what else she's feeling, the most important thing to her – to all of us – is that you're safe. Other things may get in the way of that, but they'll never overpower it.”

Kara nods shakily, hand coming up to cover the fingers rubbing her shoulder. Eliza strokes her hair, leans in close and presses three quick kisses to the side of her head. Kara leans into the touch, nudges into the bubble of warm acceptance this woman has always provided for as long as she possibly can.

“I'm glad we're here,” she murmurs as Eliza gives her one last squeeze before letting go, moving back to the open dishwasher. “I mean, in Midvale, with you. We've always been safe here. It seems like a good place to— to recover.”

“It was Lena's idea to land the Legion cruiser here,” Eliza hums thoughtfully as she roots beneath the sink for a dishwasher tablet. “Or so I've heard. She wanted to bring you home.”

Kara's heart pounds thickly in her chest. Eliza straightens, the machine beeping as she programmes it. “Of course, that could be a front,” she winks over her shoulder. If she notices Kara's flaming cheeks or unsteady breathing, she doesn't mention it. “I've half a mind to suspect it was your sister and her craving for my pecan pie that really brought you here.”

Kara blinks rapidly, struggling to breathe. Even the mention of Lena's name is enough to kick her heart into overdrive. A cloud of conflicting emotions swirls in her gut, relief mixing with guilt and trepidation and about a billion other things as she considers having to face Lena again, to address the – literal – gaping wounds of their recent history and find a way to move forward.

“You'll get through this, all of you,” Eliza says from across the kitchen, picking up on Kara's inner turmoil as shrewdly as she always has. "Remember, Kara, the most important thing is that you still have them, and they still have you. For as long as that's true, everything else is collateral.”

She nods a little unsteadily, and her adoptive mother smiles.

“And while I still have you, I have someone who can fly up there and replace the lightbulb over the sink,” Eliza says conspiratorially, and Kara feels some of the unbearable tightness in her chest begin to slacken the tiniest bit. “It's been out for days, and I can't reach.”

 

She doesn't tell Eliza that she knows it won't be that easy. That the discordant layers of resentment and worry and fear and love crowding between her and everyone she holds dear will take more than a simple hug to unpick.

She doesn't tell her that she can't fly, either. That the second she pushes off the ground towards the light fitting on the ceiling a bolt of pure fear shocks through her body and suddenly she's falling again, hit by a missile, hit by a bomb, struck from the heavens and crashing to the earth. She just lands heavily as she blinks the memories from her eyes, mouth dry and heart pounding, and fetches the stepladder, changing the lightbulb with both feet fixed firmly to the ground when Eliza isn't looking.

There's a lot she's not telling the people around her, and a lot they're not telling her, if the tension spreading slickly between them at the dinner table is anything to go by.

They all eat together, and on the surface everything seems fine. Kelly and M’gann return from the grocery store with tales of weird cashiers and quirky customers. J’onn asks Eliza about Midvale, about the town and the people and the life she's led here. Everyone compliments the food. Brainy informs them that Eliza's gnocchi are in the ninety ninth percentile for deliciousness.

But everything is not fine. Nia's face is pale, and her hands tremble as she reaches for the salad. Lena is quiet, barely speaking a word to anyone. Her gaze keeps flicking to Kara from across the table, skittering away the second their eyes meet. And Alex is speaking to everyone but Kara, throwing back the scotch as she keeps up a steady stream of conversation so raucous it can't be anything but a front, a defiance bordering on acerbity in her quick words and sharp tongue.

She's glad when the meal is over, emotionally drained and physically flagging once more. She manages to take a much-needed shower as the others clear the table, is rifling through the drawers in her childhood bedroom to find something to wear when she realises both her and Alex's twin beds appear slept-in.

She straightens, brow furrowing at the mental math as she tries to figure out where everyone's been sleeping. She still hasn't managed it when the bedroom door swings open.

Lena stops short in the doorway. Alex promptly runs into her back with a surprised huff, prodding at the younger woman's shoulder with a frown. But Lena is frozen, lips slightly parted, eyes darting back and forth between Kara and the rumpled sheets on her bed like a deer in the headlights.

“Right, of course,” Lena whispers, almost to herself, finally allowing Alex to nudge her out of the way so she can flop down onto her own bed. She twists her pale fingers together, biting at her lip. “I'll— I'll sleep on the couch.”

Kara stares, a little slack-jawed, heart turning somersaults in her chest at the realisation that Lena has been sleeping in her bed all this time.

“I'll just get my—” Lena mutters under her breath as she collects the glasses and phone charger lying on Kara's bedside table as quickly as she can. Kara snaps out of her daze at the sudden proximity, fingers twitching across the space between them.

“No,” she says a little too loudly. “No, don't worry, you stay here. I'll—”

“No, really,” Lena interrupts. “You should be in your own bed, you need the rest—”

“Honestly, it's fine,” Kara gabbles, cheeks flushing. “I'll, I'll take the guest room—”

“J’onn and M’gann are in there,” Alex says from her bed, inspecting her fingernails with a bored expression.

She exhales heavily through her nose. "The pull-out, then.”

“Nuh uh.” Alex clicks her tongue. “Kelly and Nia.”

Her sister seems to be enjoying this. Kara grinds her teeth. “On the Legion cruiser, then.”

“Brainy,” Alex chirps with far too much satisfaction for Kara's taste. “He does all sorts of weird tinkering in there at night. I wouldn't recommend it.”

Kara presses her lips together, hard. “Fine. Then I'll take the couch.”

“Absolutely not,” Lena rebuffs, tugging absently at the phone charger in her hands. “Your body is still healing; you need a proper bed. No,” she says firmly when Kara opens her mouth to argue. “No discussion. You're staying right here.”

She's already at the door before Kara can think of a response. A quick, half-strangled goodnight is tossed over her shoulder, and then she's gone.

Kara sighs, sinking down onto her childhood bed and narrowly resisting the urge to bury her nose deep in the pillow Lena's been sleeping on for the past six nights. “You were no help,” she huffs in Alex's direction, pouting.

Her sister's tone is cold. “Yeah, you're right. Because really, sleeping arrangements are the most pressing issue we've faced around here lately.”

Kara winces. She knows that edge in Alex's voice. Her sister is about two whiskeys past the summit of the slippery slope toward mean-drunk, sliding a little further down with every passing second.

She finishes getting ready for bed in silence, tucking her feet beneath her on the mattress and tugging the geometric comforter she'd picked out in high school over her legs. "How come you and Lena have been sharing a room?” she asks into the tense silence between them, hoping a change of topic might veer them away from more dangerous territory. “Why's Kelly in with Nia and not you?”

Alex's head rolls toward her on her pillow. Her eyes are a little fogged from the booze, but the sting in them is still razor sharp. “I kept waking her,” she says, every word harshly enunciated. “She needed to sleep, and Nia didn't want to be alone. So Luthor and I decided to bunk up. No risk of waking each other, since neither of us have slept at all.”

Kara swallows. The silence settles thickly around them, noxious and suffocating. Alex's gaze is fixed on the ceiling. The hard line of her jaw could cut diamond.

She takes a deep breath. Steels herself. “You're mad at me.”

Alex says nothing. Alex's silence says everything.

Kara cringes. “Because I— because I didn't come to you?” she asks cautiously. They may not be blood, but Alex is her big sister in every way that's ever mattered. Her disappointment, her displeasure, have always hit Kara right where it hurts. She twists her fingers in her lap, watching Alex nervously. “Because I stayed with Lena?”

“Are you kidding?” Her sister's eyes are hard as she sits up, mouth tugging in quiet fury. “Of course not, Kara. Of course not. You saved her. And you saved us, with that phone call. Without your warning we would never have defused the bomb in time.”

Kara can feel the crinkle in her own brow deepening. She wishes more than anything that Alex would reach across the aching chasm between their beds and smooth it away with her thumb. That she would bridge the gap that seems to have opened up between them.

“Then, what—”

“I'm mad at you because you left us, Kara!” The words explode out of Alex with the force of a cracking dam, her fists clenching tight against her childhood comforter. “You left me.”

Kara blinks, stunned. “I, I didn't—”

“You did.” The harsh bite of Alex's voice is bordering on hysterical. Kara knows this tone, knows all the rage and bluster are only a front for the fact that her sister is biting back tears.

“You almost died stopping that missile, and you almost died again with that car bomb. You're so ready to put yourself in danger, Kara. Too ready. And then your body was healing but your mind didn't want to come back and I just—” Alex sucks in a shuddering breath, cheeks flushed and eyes burning. “I know you're suffering. I know you're going through something unimaginable, and I know I should be sympathetic to that and patient with you as you come to terms with it but— but I can't come to terms with it!”

The fact that tears have begun to brim in her eyes only seems to make her sister more furious. She's gripping her comforter so hard it's only one small tug away from ripping apart in her hands. “You just— you seem like you're ready to leave. To leave me. And you seem like you're alright with that and I cannot fucking handle—”

Alex chokes off, biting down hard on her lip. “So, yeah. Maybe it makes me a terrible person, a terrible sister, but I'm mad at you,” she bites out, quiet and deadly as a sniper. “I'm mad at you because I don't ever want to lose you, but— but you don't seem to want to hold on.”

 

The silence that strangles the room in the wake of Alex's heated words is so complete it feels utterly impenetrable.

Kara doesn't think she's ever felt further from her sister than she does in this moment. Not when she'd first landed on Earth, not when she'd embarrassed Alex in front of their entire high school, not after Kenny or Maggie or Jeremiah or any of the others who could have come between them.

She feels like she can't breathe. “Alex—”

But her sister is already pushing to her feet, shouldering her way out of the sash window onto the roof above the front porch the way they used to when they were teenagers. “I need some air.”

Kara sits there on her narrow twin bed, in this room that hasn't changed since she was thirteen. In this house that has spent close to two decades teaching her that homes can be permanent, sometimes. In this house where she'd found the people who'd taught her what home really means.

She sits there, winded and alone, aching for everyone and everything she's ever loved. Aching for the strength to tell them so.

It doesn't materialise. She follows her sister out the window anyway.

Alex is sitting hunched over her bent knees, gazing out at the garden, the woods and the ocean beyond. In the darkness her silhouette is rigid and austere. Her short hair sticks out at odd angles at the back of her head. She's been tugging at it, the way Eliza always scolds her not to.

Kara takes a deep breath. She doesn't approach her. “I'm scared.”

There's no indication her sister has heard her beyond a slight tightening of her shoulders. She tries again, voice quiet beneath the blush of the moon. “Alex, I'm so scared.”

Still, her sister doesn't speak. But the arms wrapped tight around her shins slacken, legs falling open until she's sitting cross-legged on the rough shingles. Her arms rest loosely in her lap, their tension draining, and Alex's face turns towards her the tiniest fraction. Kara takes in the set of her sister's jaw, the angles of her profile, and accepts the softening of her posture for the invitation it is.

She crosses lightly over the roof and drops down beside Alex, not touching, but not far either. Fiddles anxiously with her fingers in her lap, picking at the loose corner of a shingle.

At her elbow, Alex sighs. “What are you scared of?” she asks after a long moment and she's Alex, she's her big sister again, and Kara wants to cry.

“I'm scared I'm going to die,” she whispers, the sharp clean honesty of the admission shivering through her like the strike of a tuning fork. “I'm scared I won't ever fully recover. That I've pushed it too far this time, and my body will fail me. That I'll be in pain forever.”

Alex says nothing. Her right hand comes to rest on the roof beside Kara's left.

“I'm scared of using my powers,” Kara continues, the proximity buoying her. “I'm scared of flying. God, Alex, I'm so terrified of flying. All I can think about is— is falling. Hitting the ground.” She gulps down a panicked breath, hardly able to give voice to the terror compressing her lungs. "What if I can never fly again?”

In the inky moonlight, the edge of Alex's hand nudges against her own.

“I'm scared of who I am now,” she breathes, an exhale in the night air. If she can't hear the words, maybe they can't hurt her. “I'm scared that I'm a bad person. That everything I've ever worked for means nothing anymore.”

She gnaws hard at her bottom lip, not stopping even when the coppery tang of blood fills her mouth. “I don't want to leave you,” she whispers, and it's the truth, because she would never lie to her sister about something like this. “I promise you, I want to hold on. I want my life, Alex. I just—” Here it is, then. The oozing epicentre of her anguish. “I'm scared I don't deserve it.”

Quiet blankets them, no sound beyond the rustle of wind through the trees, the faintest hint of water lapping at the distant shore. Alex inhales deeply and Kara matches the action, knowing the two of them are thinking the same thing in this moment. That there's nowhere else they could be doing this. That this is the only place in which they can crack open their hearts and trust that their contents will be kept safe.

“Do you think every person on Earth gets what they deserve?” Alex asks some indeterminate time later, gaze still fixed on the blackness.

Kara pauses her anxious fiddling, one fingernail slotting between the rough edge of a shingle and the wooden panelling beneath. Her sister angles her head, meeting her eyes for the first time since she'd sat down. “Who gives it to them, Kara? Is there some cosmic judge wandering around the planet, taking things from people who don't deserve them and handing them over to those who do?”

She doesn't answer. She doesn't have to. Alex sighs as she runs her fingers through her hair again, leaving it tousled and unkempt. Kara reaches up for her, smooths the errant hairs back to their rightful position.

“So, you don't think you deserve the life you have. Or, what. To live at all?” Alex swallows roughly. Kara knows it costs her, to speak those words. To simply inhabit a reality in which those words could be true. But her sister shoulders through her own pain anyway, for Kara's sake, the same way she always has.

“I can't tell you whether you're right or wrong. No one can. Not even, I'd imagine, your god. Not unless He's been whispering in your ear recently and you've just neglected to mention it?”

Alex arches a questioning brow at her, and she shakes her head.

Her sister nods decisively. “Right. The only person making a judgment on— on your worth here is you, Kara. So, if you feel that you've been given more than you deserve— maybe it's my own selfishness talking, but my advice would be: don't give up on it. Don't give it up.”

Alex's inhale is deep and shuddering. She's breathing heavily, as if this conversation is as taxing physically as it is emotionally. “Work at it,” her sister says, rough and gravelly with barely concealed emotion. “Work until you feel like you've earned it. You can't change what's in the past. All you can do is decide every day that you're going to put a little more good out into the world than you did yesterday. I don't know much about living a life that's deserving,” Alex sighs, voice cracking just a little. "But that sounds like a life you could be proud of.”

Kara sits quietly, absorbing the weight of Alex's words. Her sister has always tried – and usually managed – to soothe her pain but Kara is reluctant now, she realises, to let herself off the hook. The burden on her conscience is too great.

Nevertheless, Alex's words strike a chord within her, bringing some new and uncomfortable questions to the surface. Who, exactly, is passing judgment on whether she truly deserves to keep living? And while they're deciding, what will she do? Might there, in fact, be some way to atone for the mistakes of her life that doesn't involve giving it up entirely?

Because she doesn't want to, she realises with a sudden shocking clarity that had eluded her in the prison of the eurredhuhs. Sitting on the porch roof of her childhood home beside her brash, brave, beautiful sister, Kara is struck by the overwhelming certainty that she wants her life. It's the most obvious, most profound realisation she's ever had.

She reaches out, threads a hand through the crook of Alex's elbow and curls her fingers around her sister's bicep. “I love you,” she whispers into the darkness. “I don't want to leave you. Thank you for never leaving me.”

Alex's hand comes up to cover her own, squeezing tight. “Never,” she murmurs around a shuddering sigh, pressing a kiss to the crown of Kara's head. “You and me, no matter what. Forever.”

 

They stay on the roof a long time. The fall air is still warm with the echo of summer, the lights of Midvale glittering off the ocean. They'd always been able to talk out here, she and Alex. She doesn't want to stop quite yet.

She tells her sister about the days she'd spent on the run, about facing Lex, about her time trapped in the prison of her own mind. She answers Alex's questions, holds nothing back, and feels the crushing guilt collapsing her spine begin to ease just the tiniest bit. A burden shared, or however the Earth saying goes.

Though a part of her is desperate to know, she doesn't dare ask about Lex. He may be the scum of the Earth, the bane of her existence, but she isn't sure she's ready to hear that she's responsible for the loss of yet another life. Not yet.

And not just any life. Despite everything, he is – was? – Lena's brother. Lena, who has no other family. Lena, who'd already had to mourn him once. Lena, who – despite her track record – Kara would rather die than hurt.

She's not sure she's ready to face the consequences of their battle right now. Not while she still feels so overwrought, raw as an exposed nerve. So she tries to steer the conversation away from its grand architect. Her sister, however, will not be so easily diverted.

"That man,” Alex growls, fingers twitching against her thigh. Kara wonders which weapon she's imagining bashing him with. "That vile, sadistic, festering turd of a man. I cannot believe he actually— he really made you choose between us?”

Kara nods, fighting a shiver at the memory. Lex's little test had been the most difficult decision of her life and a thought strikes her suddenly, sobering as a lightning strike.

“Alex, I don't want you to think I didn't—”

She sighs. Scoots closer to her sister, lays her head on her shoulder. At least she won't have to meet her eyes as they do this. “When he made me choose between you, I thought about coming to you,” she says around a heavy exhale. “I almost did, I— you're the two most important people in my life. I need you to know that. If I had to make the choice again right now, I still don't know which I'd pick. That's the truth.”

Alex's cheek rests against the crown of her head. Kara soaks in the warmth of her, uses it to bolster her resolve to speak these words. Her sister deserves the truth, if she can give nothing else. “But Lex had Lena. He had her by the throat and I was looking at her and I just— I couldn't leave her, Alex. I couldn't. The thought of flying away and leaving her there with him, of losing her, I—”

Alex's hand falls to her knee, squeezing tight. “You love her.”

Kara sighs, pressing her face to her sister's shoulder. “I love her.”

They sit quietly a moment, gazing up at the waning moon. Alex's voice is gentle, warm and welcoming as the soft glow of the lights across the bay. “How long have you known?”

Kara considers. It's a question she's given a lot of thought to, of late. “My mind's known since the day I broke into a federal facility for her without her even needing to ask. Since the day I realised there's basically nothing I wouldn't do, if she asked. But my heart?” Her lips quirk against the worn-soft fabric of Alex's ratty old academy sweatshirt. “I think my heart's known since the day I met her.”

Alex nods, her cheek rubbing against Kara's hair. “Have you told her?”

She thinks back to the missile, to the bomb, to the utter absence of hesitation she'd felt when it was Lena's life on the line. “Not in so many words, no.”

Her sister hums. “Are you going to?”

Kara sighs. “I guess. It's not like I've done a great job of hiding it, recently. Honestly, I’m shocked she hasn't figured it out on her own.”

Alex leans back until their gazes meet, her expression wry. “Uh huh,” she says dryly. “You'd really be surprised how blind people can be to the things that are right under their noses.”

Kara narrows her eyes. “What's that supposed to mean? What are you getting at?”

But Alex only laughs, light and more unburdened than she's been since Kara had first woken up in the Tower's med bay. “Oh, nothing,” she chuckles, tilting their heads together once more. “You'll get there. Eventually.”

Kara pouts at her sister's cryptic words, but opts to let it go.

“I'm happy for you,” Alex hums a minute later, and she snuggles deeper into her sister's side. Alex's hand comes to rest on her knee again, solidarity in its most fundamental form.

“And for the record,” she whispers, short hairs tickling Kara's cheek. “If I'd been in your shoes and it had been a plane full of people or Kelly, I probably would have made the same call. That doesn't make you a monster, Kara.” Her hand squeezes tight, reassuring. “It makes you a girl in love.”

Eyes burning, throat tightening, she presses her face into the safe darkness of her sister's shoulder. Alex's hand squeezes her knee once more, then lets go.

“Alright, enough soppy soppy for one night,” Alex says gruffly, clearing her throat. “Come on. Time for bed.”

They clamber back through the window and crawl into bed on opposite sides of the room, and it's the most right anything has felt in a long time. Kara presses her face deep into the pillow that smells like Lena's shampoo and for the first time since it happened, she doesn't see two hundred and seven innocent faces behind her eyelids.

She just falls asleep, without seeing anything at all.

 

The next morning brings with it a lightness in Kara's chest that has her feeling a little like she's floating on air.

Not literally, of course. She still can't fathom the thought of flying, of pushing off the ground into empty space, of the great vacant nothingness between her and the inevitable crash. But, strictly metaphorically, she's floating.

She and Alex come down for breakfast together. Her sister hip checks her into the counter, rushing past to grab for the last cinnamon bun on the table and Kara yelps, bounding after her and wrestling it determinedly from her grasp.

That's how Eliza finds them, sticky-fingered and panting, locked in a heated battle for the deformed pastry. Her face breaks into a smile so wide it must almost be painful and she wraps her arms around them both, ignoring their huffs of protest.

“My girls,” Eliza hums, her face burrowed snugly between both of theirs. “My strong, brave, beautiful girls.” She presses a kiss to each of their temples and then, with the magic touch only a mother possesses, produces another cinnamon bun from thin air. Kara grabs at it immediately, beaming at Alex who is left pouting over the now squished and misshapen original.

“Mom!” Alex squawks indignantly. Eliza smooths a hand over her mussed hair, lips pressed together to hold back a chuckle. Over her shoulder, Kara sticks her tongue out in victory.

Alex glares, eyeing up the bun in Kara's grasp. Eliza gives them each one last smile as she turns to start the coffee machine “I knew you'd be alright.”

The floaty feeling stays in Kara's chest all through breakfast. She eats pancakes and chats with her friends and her joints hurt less than they had the day before and Kara feels like she can do anything, maybe.

It lasts all through her morning learning the precise physics equation required to perfectly skip stones on the beach with Brainy. Through her chat with Kelly on the swing seat in the back garden as she takes in the young therapist's advice on dealing with some of the trauma she's suffered, as she jots down the name of a counsellor Kelly recommends back in the city.

It lasts through lunch and right through desert, fighting Alex over the last slice of pecan pie. It lasts through a quiet hour with Nia, side by side on the narrow piano stool as they clumsily pick out the notes of Bach's Prelude in C Major at opposite ends of the keys.

In fact, it lasts all the way until the evening, when Eliza has recruited J’onn and Brainy to help her cook dinner while the others busy themselves laying a fire in the living room and setting the table.

Kara, finding herself at a loose end, decides to do her bit by engaging in her favourite of all the household chores, and makes her way to the laundry room.

When she gets there, though, she finds the tiny windowless room already occupied.

“Oh,” Lena squeaks at her entrance, frozen halfway through sorting the whites from the colours. “I'll, um. I'll come back later.”

She drops the clothes in her arms and makes to leave, but Kara's body blocks her escape in the narrow space. "Hey, um, I actually wanted to talk to you,” she works up the courage to say, the floaty feeling in her chest buoying her confidence. “I haven't really seen you since, uh. You know.” She swallows, soldiers on. “How are you— how are you doing?”

Lena's eyes are fixed on the floor, socked feet shuffling against the floorboards. “I'm fine.”

Kara dips her head, trying to meet her eyes. “Yeah?” Lena doesn't give her an inch, and Kara's brow furrows. “Because it kind of, um. It feels like you're avoiding me.”

Still, the other woman won't look at her.

“Lena,” she says as gently as she possibly can. “What's going on? Is there— do we have a problem? I feel like, like maybe we need to talk.”

Green eyes flash to hers at last, crackling with a sudden explosive energy. “I don't know, Kara. Do we have a problem?” Lena asks sharply, straightening her spine. “What would you like to talk about? How you don't want to be alive anymore? How you spent six days in a stasis chamber, half dead, and seemingly determined to stay that way? How you basically committed suicide while I watched?”

Kara blinks rapidly, mouth dropping open. "What? I never—”

“No?” Lena's tone is hard. Lethal. “What else do you call wrapping yourself around a detonating bomb?”

“I don't— I don't want to die.” The words are small and shattered, but they're honest.

Lena stares at her, eyes squinting, as though if she only looks hard enough, she'll be able to see the truth. "I know,” she says after a moment. “I believe you. But you think you deserve to die, and when it comes to holding a bomb in your hands and not letting go, the motivation doesn't really matter as much as the end result.”

Kara shakes her head. “I wasn't trying to, I didn't think—” She shudders at the barrage of memories, heart pounding. “I just knew— I had to get it away from you.”

“You could have thrown that car!” Lena all but yells, voice reaching fever pitch. “You could have thrown it into the sea, or into space, or into those uninhabited fucking mountains for it to blow up a couple of trees. But no.” Lena's fists are clenched, her shoulders trembling. “You had to hold onto it. You had to let it blow you up instead. You had to have known what would happen, Kara. You knew, and you did it anyway.”

The floaty feeling in her chest has dissipated into ether. A crushing weight replaces it, dense and oppressive.

“And that was after you'd spent God knows how long ignoring me, scaring me half to death with your silence and your stoic suffering,” Lena bites out, the lines of her face pulled taught in anguish. “After you all but told me you didn't want to live anymore. And then you just— ran! You left me, and you ran, and I had no idea where you were. What you might do.”

Kara can't breathe. Invisible hands tighten around her windpipe and she's in the air again, free falling, bracing for the inevitable bone crush. “I— I was trying to protect you,” she gasps, airless and strangled. “I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

Lena's jaw trembles, a muscle in her cheek flickering. “Do you have any idea how painful it is to watch someone you love suffer and not be able to do anything about it?” she asks, low and deadly as a lit fuse. Her bottom lip quivers. “Do you know how much that hurts?”

Silently, privately, Kara thinks that she does, actually. She thinks she's feeling it right now.

“Lena, I—”

She bites hard at the inside of her cheek, hopes the sharp point of pain will be enough to distract her from the tears welling in her eyes. Enough to let her get these words out.

“I'm sorry,” she gasps. “I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I put you through that. I'm sorry I put you in danger in the first place. But I was just— I was doing what had to be done. Lex needed to be stopped—”

“I could have stopped him!” Lena interrupts hotly. “We could have stopped him! We could have thought of something, something else, together. You didn’t have to—”

Her voice is deafening in the small room, the sudden silence of her choked off gasp even more so. Absently, Kara wonders if the others are listening from the other end of the house. If they haven't been interrupted thus far because no one else can hear the words screamed between them or maybe, because they can.

“What?” she asks shakily into the razor-sharp silence. “Didn't have to what? Save you? Please.”

Lena sucks in a deep breath as she visibly tries to steady herself. When she speaks again, her voice is rigid with meticulous control, an artificial softness tempering the barbs.

“I know you’ve spent most of your life believing you were the last of your people,” Lena says tightly, quieter now. The words knock the air from Kara's lungs and she gapes at her, winded.

“I can’t even begin to fathom what that’s felt like. What it must do to a person,” Lena continues, throat working. “And I know my brother sent you to the Phantom Zone alone. I know his little test was aimed only at you. But Kara, you’re not on your own anymore. Not— not unless you want to be.”

Kara swallows hard. Her throat is so dry it doesn't make a shred of difference. She presses her lips together hard, forcing herself not to stagger beneath the weight of Lena's words.

“It's not— I don't want to be alone,” she croaks, and it's the truth. “But I, I'm Supergirl. I can't just— that's what it means, Lena, to wear that cape. It means making the worst decisions, and making them alone. Shouldering the burden so others don't have to. That's what a hero does.”

Lena squares her jaw, chin lifting. “I don't buy that,” she says bluntly, eyebrows raised in defiance. “No man is an island. You have never, ever been Supergirl completely on your own. There is strength in teamwork, Kara. Power in collaboration. You know that. What are the Superfriends, if not proof?”

“But the bottom line is that I am Supergirl!” she parries, desperate for Lena to get it. Desperate for this to be over. “I can do things that you can't, and I feel responsibilities that you don't! Helping people, protecting people, it's why I'm here. It's why I was sent to this planet.”

"That's a cop out.”

Kara's mouth opens indignantly, but Lena beats her to it. “Sorry, but it is. It's an admirable goal, to help people. It's one I share. But it's not your purpose, Kara. You're not a tool designed to make this world a better place. You're not a goddamn shield, you're a living breathing person. And you have no more responsibility to this planet than anyone else that calls it home.”

Kara gapes, thinking of Brainy's words in the eurredhuhs, thinking of Kal and the burden they share, thinking of Eliza and Jeremiah, of her parents, of everything.

"No one decides your fate, no one determines your purpose but you,” Lena says, quieter now. Her chest heaves in the dim light, her cheeks flushed. “And protecting people, it's an admirable one. But it doesn't have to come at the cost of everything you are.”

“Supergirl has to be virtuous,” Kara says, struggling to match Lena's quiet tone. The pressure building inside her ribcage is almost unbearable. It will not be contained for long. “A hero has to set an example. Be noble. Be good. And— and I wasn't.”

She swallows hard. “I love this planet so much but, with those missiles, I failed it. What I did, the people who died— my decision had a cost, and I had to pay it. There— there had to be justice.”

Silence falls between them for a long, tense moment. At Lena's hip, the dryer hums. She doesn't seem to notice. When she speaks again, her voice is colder than Kara has ever heard it.

“Let me tell you something, Kara,” Lena says softly. The chill in her tone sparks goosebumps over every inch of Kara's flesh.

Lena's eyes are emerald brands, blazing in the low light. “Hearing your bones crack as you hit the concrete right in front of me, watching the light drain out of your eyes, feeling your blood drying under my fingernails— that wasn't justice. It wasn't virtuous or noble. That—” Lena is trembling so hard her teeth are rattling. “That is not love.”

Before her waking eyes, Kara watches Krypton explode. Feels her mother's arms around her, hears her voice in her ear. You will do extraordinary things. She stares, wide-eyed, at the last glimpse of her parents’ faces through the window of her pod before her home disappears forever.

Her voice is hoarse and small. “What greater love is there than sacrifice?”

Silence again, but this time it’s not born of a brief reprieve, of restraint. Rather, it seems she's finally rendered the other woman speechless.

“I cannot believe you.” Lena is gaping at her, jaw working soundlessly as she stares at Kara like she's never seen her before. She looks, for lack of a better word, furious. “What greater love? What greater— living, Kara! There's your greater love! Living, and telling your loved ones every day how much they mean to you. Spending a lifetime with them. Not— not forcing them to mourn you.”

Lena's voice cracks concomitantly with something hot and painful in the very centre of Kara's chest. Her voice is tremulous but determined, teardrops striking steel. “You think sacrifice is the best we can do for one another?” she asks, a flinty challenge. “What greater love is there than living, Kara, so the people you love get to love you back?”

They stare at each other a long moment, chests heaving. A pipe ticks quietly above their heads. The dryer finishes its cycle with a cheerful tinkle.

“If you can't understand that,” Lena whispers, and there are tears in her eyes now, bright and shining, “then I don't know if I can do this.”

And Kara doesn't even get the chance to ask what this is, because in the next breath Lena is gone.

 

Lena doesn't join them for dinner.

By the time Kara makes it back to the kitchen she's already disappeared, having muttered something about a walk to Nia and vanished into the night.

Kara ignores the pointed looks from everyone else, Eliza's inquisitive raised eyebrows and Alex's unsubtle kicks under the table. She keeps her gaze on her plate, not eating anything at all. It takes every iota of her self restraint not to run after Lena, track her through the darkness and make sure she's okay.

She contents herself with listening out for her heartbeat, her breathing, just to make sure she's safe. Regrets it almost instantly when her superhearing picks up her ragged gasps, the harrowing sound of her wet sobs as Lena cries like the world is ending, and her life along with it.

She manages to withstand it for less than a minute before she's leaning over to Kelly beside her, trembling hands grasping so hard at the edge of the table that the wood begins to splinter.

“Will you go?” she gasps against Kelly's ear, desperation palpable. “Will you go after her, please? She needs someone and it— it shouldn’t be me.”

Kelly, wonderful Kelly, doesn't ask any questions. She just excuses herself quietly, sliding into her jacket and heading out into the night. Kara listens until she hears them meet, two rapid heartbeats steadying in the other's company, and then she fixes her entire attention on her plate and keeps it there for the duration of the meal.

Eliza tries valiantly to get her to talk, but Kara excuses herself early and crawls into bed. Lena's words, their fight, it all whirls around the inside of her skull like a hurricane, impossible to quiet and inconceivable to withstand.

When Alex comes upstairs she fumbles noisily in the dark bedroom, tripping over to Kara's bed and whispering her name in the blackness. But she can't repeat it now, can't face the thought of reliving the horror of it all tonight so Kara keeps her eyes shut, her breathing steady, and feigns sleep until her sister gives up.

 

Four days pass in much the same vein.

Kara half expects Lena to just leave. To pack up her stuff, call a car, and run. To shut down, retreat, close herself off entirely the way she's done so many times before.

But she doesn't. She stays.

Lena had come back with Kelly that night and ever since, she's avoided Kara like the plague. She still sleeps on the couch in the living room, still helps Eliza with the dishes and chats with J’onn and M’gann at mealtimes and drinks tea with Nia on the swing seat under the cypress tree. She still goes to the store with Kelly, talks tech with Brainy inside the cloaked Legion cruiser, even joins Alex on the front porch for an evening glass of scotch.

But she will not talk to Kara. Tries hard not to make eye contact with her, be alone in a room with her, even acknowledge her, if she can help it.

It's clear, it's blindingly obvious that beneath Lena's cold exterior rages a maelstrom of pain. That doesn't make her avoidance, her rejection, sting any less.

Though she doesn't think that Lena has told anyone else about the words whispered and screamed between them, the others know. At least, they seem to, skirting the two of them like they're a primed explosion and shooting pointed looks in Kara’s direction. Kelly's sympathetic smiles have increased exponentially, as have Nia's penetrating stares and Alex's unsubtle fix it claps on the shoulder.

Even Eliza puts down her coffee with a sigh after Lena leaves the kitchen Kara has just entered, beckoning her over and stroking a hand over her hair. “You know we're all here for you,” she hums as Kara's eyes slip closed, comforted by the familiar motion. "For whatever you need. But remember, honey, you're not the only one who's suffering.”

Kara knows that. She knows it, but knowing and believing are two separate things and the cloak of her own pain, her own trauma, is so thick and so weighted that getting out from under it, even shouldering it at all, has seemed impossible.

That is, until she wakes early one morning before dawn has even broken the horizon to the strangled sounds of sobbing. She sits up in her narrow bed, squinting over at Alex through the darkness, but her sister is still sleeping soundly, gentle snores escaping her every so often.

She pads out of the bedroom in bare feet, stopping beside every closed door to listen for crying. But the first floor is quiet, every heartbeat slow and smooth.

She moves through the silent house as the faintest dregs of blue-grey light begin to leach through the windows, listening. And then, at the door to the living room, she hears it again.

Inside, Lena is curled into the couch beneath a thick quilt, features contorted in anguish. Her hands fist against the comforter, tears leaking from beneath her closed eyelids as she mewls softly into her pillow. The sight of her rips clean through Kara's heart. You're not the only one who's suffering.

"Lena,” she whispers, unsure if she should reach out and touch her. “Lena, hey. Wake up.”

Lena jolts back into consciousness with a start, wide-eyed and panting. Her eyes are hazy with fear, damp cheek buried in her tear-stained pillow as she cowers deeper into the cushions.

“You're okay, it's okay,” Kara soothes, crouching so their eyes are level. “You're safe. It was just a dream.”

“You, you were falling,” Lena gasps shakily, gaze unfocused as though she can still see it before her waking eyes. “Kara, you're always falling.”

Kara's brow furrows as she struggles to swallow down the lump in her throat. “Oh,” she breathes, dizzy and a little lightheaded. “Oh, Lena.”

Something tight and desperate twists Lena's features for a moment before her expression smooths and she rolls decisively onto her side, holding an edge of the quilt open in invitation. Kara, shivering in her sleep shorts in the cool dawn light, wastes no time in accepting.

She crawls into the blanket nest that smells of warm skin and the fine hairs at the nape of Lena's neck, pulling the quilt snug around the two of them and pressing in close. She wraps her arms tight around Lena, slipping one beneath her ribcage to hold her fully to her chest. Her temple tilts against a smooth jaw as Lena’s arms settle around her in return, gripping tight at her hip, the back of her neck beneath the messy waves of her hair.

Kara sinks into it, into her. It feels like breaking the surface after eons underwater. Like releasing a breath she barely knew she'd been holding. She hums against Lena's collar, burrowing closer still. “Mmm, I've missed you.”

For a second she worries it's too much too soon but Lena's fingers only tighten their grip, playing with her tangled curls. “I've missed you too,” she breathes, and a little of that floaty feeling returns to Kara's chest. “I miss you every second I'm not with you.”

The quiet words wash over her like a balm as Lena's breath tickles her eyelashes. Kara snuggles closer, feeling the anxious thrum of her heartbeat slow within her chest, and wonders if maybe Lena needs this moment of simple, uncomplicated connection just as much as she does.

She blinks her drowsy eyes open, skimming her knuckles up Lena's side. “Are you okay?”

It takes the other woman a long time to respond. "That's what I dream of,” she breathes at last, barely audible even with the addition of superhearing. “Every night. You, and that bomb, and your body hitting the ground.”

Kara tightens her grip instinctively, and Lena shudders. “That's what I see now. That's all I can see.”

Her eyes slide closed. She doesn't tell Lena it's alright. She doesn't tell her not to worry, that it's not real, that it won't ever happen again. She doesn't lie to her.

“I see their faces,” Kara whispers at length, opting to match Lena's admission with one of her own. “In my nightmares. I see them. All the people I didn't save.”

Lena swallows, her throat working against Kara's cheek. “Kara, that wasn't—”

“It was my fault,” she interrupts, soft yet firm. Beyond the bay windows, the first birds begin to sing. “I know that my choice saved you, and I would make it again a billion times over. But that means that I have to live with it, Lena. I have to live with the memory of the people I killed.”

“You didn’t kill anyone.”

Kara's already shaking her head before the words are even articulated. Lena pulls back, dislodging Kara's head from her collarbone so that they're face to face on the narrow pillow.

“No, listen to me,” she instructs, staunch and irrefusable. One hand snakes free of the blankets, fitting itself to Kara's cheek so their eyes have no choice but to meet. “Listen. You didn't kill anyone. My brother killed two hundred and seven people with a missile that he built, and he primed, and he fired. You, Kara Zor-El, did not kill anyone.”

Kara's tongue feels too big for her mouth suddenly, her eyes hot. “But I— I could have saved them.” She tries to roll her head away, but Lena's fingers against her cheekbone forbid it. “I didn't save them.”

Lena considers her for a moment, lips pursed, brow furrowing. “Would you hate me for that?”

She blinks. “What?”

“Say there was a disaster.” Lena's other hand comes up to join the first, cupping Kara's jaw. The movement dislodges her fingers and they skate over the planes of Lena's abdomen, scrabbling for purchase against her stomach, her hips. Lena's eyes are so bright she cannot look away.

“If I tried as hard as I could, if I did everything in my power, and I still failed to prevent it, if people still died—” Lena's breaths are shaky, but her words are sure. “Would you hate me?”

“Of course not.” Like so much about this woman, it requires no conscious thought at all. “Lena, I could never—”

“Alright then,” Lena interrupts. Her thumbs skate the arch of Kara's cheekbones, and her eyelashes flutter. “So, do yourself the same courtesy.”

Her brow furrows. Lena's thumb smooths across the crinkle, stroking it away. “But, I can't—”

“Kara,” Lena breathes and she swears she hears it in her lips, feels the exhale pass from Lena's mouth to her own. Green eyes are pleading. “You're so good at forgiving. Can't you forgive yourself?”

It's too much suddenly, Lena's gentle words and her gentle touch and the gentle look in her eyes that threatens to break her down not with violence, but with a violent tenderness. Kara tugs her face free of her hands, burrowing back into the dark safety of warm blankets and warmer skin, feeling hot and exposed and conflicted.

Lena lets her. Lets her press her cheek above the steady thump of her heart, lets her practically hyperventilate her pain and her rage and her shame out against her skin in shuddering gulps and gasps. Lets her stay in the protective cocoon of her embrace until her heart is no longer beating out of her mouth and her lungs have remembered the purpose for which they were designed.

“It wasn't your fault, Kara,” Lena hums over and over, stroking her hair. “You didn't kill anyone. Do you understand me? You didn't kill anyone.”

By the time she manages to open her eyes again the room around them is warmer, kissed rose gold by the first blush of sunrise. Lena's fingers are still carding through her hair. The skin of her clavicle beneath Kara's cheek is soft, damp and sticking from tears and sobs and panted breaths.

Kara presses her lips against it, because she wants to. “I killed your brother.”

Lena's fingers still against the nape of her neck. “Who told you that?”

She says nothing. Just waits, as the heating ticks to life beneath the floorboards and a garbage truck moves down the street and the whole world lightens by degrees. Waits for Lena to scream, or cry, or kick her out of bed. Waits for it all to come crashing down again.

"Lex isn't dead,” Lena whispers at last. Her hand on Kara's hair begins moving again, scratching lightly through the tangled curls. Her voice is quiet but buoyant somehow, affirming and accepting all at once. “He's injured, and likely permanently incapacitated, and buried in the deepest darkest prison cell on the planet for the rest of his miserable life. And you know what else he is?”

Kara shakes her head mutely, unable to comprehend what she's being told. Above and around her, Lena's voice softens alongside her reverent touch.

“No longer our problem,” she whispers, soft and careful like the words are a gift, a promise. Like they're a freedom Kara hadn't realised she was craving, a permission she hadn't even known she'd been denied.

Her breath stutters out of her in one long surge, and the arms around her tighten, and Kara buries her face in Lena's neck and cries, and cries, and cries.

 

Things between them are different, after that. There's a lot still left unaddressed and unsaid, a lot of issues still crowding the silent spaces between them. But Lena is no longer avoiding her. They talk now, tentatively. Sit together in the garden, or walk on the beach, or learn to make a pie crust under Eliza's patient instruction.

It feels good. It feels like healing, and not just with Lena.

Kara is getting stronger every day. Her body is no longer tender to the touch, her bones and joints strengthening. After her morning shower, she appraises herself in the fogged up mirror. Her skin is still smooth, unmarred as the day she'd arrived on this planet, and it unnerves her a little.

She should be scarred. Should be a patchwork of burns and wounds and contusions. Her body is a battlefield that's left no visible trace and it feels unjust, somehow. Like she's gotten off too easily once again.

That familiar sickness rises within her, the bilious urge to make herself pay, to suffer to the same extent that she's inflicted suffering on others. But she forces herself to breathe deeply through her nose, to meet her own eyes through the rose-scented steam.

“You didn't kill anyone,” she whispers to the face in the mirror, bracing her trembling hands against the cool porcelain of the sink. “You didn't kill anyone.”

She repeats the words over and over until it's no longer Lena's voice she hears in her ears, but her own. Until her own voice becomes enough. Until she can start to believe it.

It becomes a ritual. She starts each day with that mantra, those words whispered to her own reflection, saturating herself with the message until there's no escape. And whenever the burning desire for self-flagellation starts to scratch hot beneath her skin, she thinks back to her sister's words.

You don’t deserve this, the blackest corner of her mind hisses when she's enjoying a pastry on the sun-drenched porch, when she's washing trashy TV with Nia or helping Alex stack wood in the garden.

Then I will try to, Kara whispers back with a conviction that's growing stronger every day. I will earn it.

And she does. She tries. She does all the odd jobs around the house that have been stacking up on Eliza over the years. She talks to each one of her friends, her family, listens to their worry and their pain and reassures them that she understands, that she wants to be there for them the way they've been there for her. She walks the elderly neighbour's dog when it rains and the old lady doesn't want to go outside, sweeps the falling leaves off the driveways of the entire street, volunteers to bag pack at Midvale's grocery store and picks up litter from the beach.

She listens and she helps and she heals and she tries every day to put a little more good out into the world than she had the day before, and somewhere along the way she remembers what she'd always known but recently forgotten: that goodness comes in all shapes and sizes. That she can save a plane, or save a spider in the bathtub, and both of them are worth something.

She doesn't do any superheroing. J’onn and M’gann and Nia fly back and forth to National City if and when individual crises crop up, and so far nothing has arisen that hasn't been easily dealt with.

For this, Kara is immeasurably grateful. She still cannot face the thought of flying, and the idea that a disaster might occur that requires her and only her terrifies her to her core.

But the days pass, and no such disaster materialises. The one time they come close –  with a plane whose engines have blown out a hundred miles from the city – Kal shoots over from Metropolis in a matter of seconds and guides the aircraft safely back onto the runway with no trouble at all.

There is, it's beginning to seem, no calamity that is the responsibility of Kara and Kara alone. It's a difficult pill to swallow, at first, but once the message cracks open in her chest and truly takes hold, the relief she feels is so acute she could cry.

It's not that she can't help, can't be Supergirl or protect her city or be the hero her parents fashioned her to become. It's just that she doesn't have to be. At least, not all the time.

It's just that she can also be Kara, without the world splitting apart at the seams. It's just that she can also be Kara, and that can be enough.

 

Their ten days in Midvale become two weeks, then three.

They seem happy here, her family. Eliza never seems to tire of the company, and there's no rush to head home. Kara is filled with gratitude by the knowledge that these people would drop everything, would go anywhere, for her. Filled with warm certainty that she'd do the same for them.

It doesn't stop her wondering, though.

“Don't you need to get back to the city?” she asks Lena one evening as they re-string fairy lights around the beams and railings of the porch. Their fuse had blown, and Lena had tinkered with it at the kitchen counter for all of two minutes before declaring them fixed. She accepts the string of lights Lena holds out to her, twining them around the roof joist and down the support beam the way Eliza likes it. “What about the Foundation? Don't you have important stuff to be doing?”

Lena threads the string gently through her fingers so it doesn't tangle, feeding it up to her as they move along the porch. Her face is dappled with shadow as she gazes up at Kara, the glow of the lights reflecting in her eyes. “Kara, do you honestly think there's anything more important to me than this?”

From the top rung of the stepladder, Kara's mouth snaps shut. Their gazes lock for a moment in the soft golden light. She watches Lena watching her and she knows, she knows, she knows.

With a smile that's more a blossoming warmth in her chest than it is a physical movement of her lips, she carries on winding.

“If there's one thing I've learned in the past two years,” Lena says quietly as they reach the opposite corner, holding the bundle of lights higher so Kara can attach the end to the nail hidden in the eaves, “it's that the achievements of my life are nothing compared to the people in it.”

Kara thinks back over the past six years of her life on Earth, the triumphs and failures, the highs and the lows. "Yeah,” she hums, attaching the last of the lights and stepping back to survey their handiwork. “I think you might be right.”

 

It's a kind of stalemate.

Kara knows she loves Lena. She's fairly certain Lena loves her. And yet, neither of them have said anything. And yet, something between them remains strained, some invisible barrier as yet unconquered.

She thinks perhaps it's a lingering symptom of the lies they'd spent so long telling one another, and so vows to push for openness and honesty at each and every opportunity.

She and Lena are walking on the beach below the house, bare toes sinking in the damp sand. They wade ankle-deep into the surf beneath the blaze of the afternoon sun, watching the water rush around their feet. She splashes Lena, who shrieks, and splashes right back.

They walk for what feels like hours, and simultaneously no time at all. Lena asks about the time she'd spent unconscious in the stasis chamber, about what it had been like to see Brainy inside her own mind. Kara can see her scientist's brain whirring, salivating at the thought of that 31st century technology. And so she tells her.

She tells her what she'd seen, and what she'd had to do, and how it had felt. Tells her about the temple of Rao, her search for something beyond herself. About the singular pain of knowing Lena was out there, of talking to her through Brainy, yet being unable to reach her. About the paradoxical exasperation of being locked inside a puzzle her own mind had designed, unable to parse out the solution.

She tells her everything, answers every query Lena can think of as well as she can, and it feels like maybe the gap between them is closing the tiniest bit. And then Lena glances up shyly from under her lashes as her feet scuff through the sand and she asks what the worst part had been.

Kara falls silent then, thinking. “Well, um. Knowing you've actually, like, died, it's— well.” She swallows, feeling the ghost of the terror that had gripped her skate its icy fingernails down her spinal cord. “It's a hell of a drug.”

Lena nods, and Kara pauses in the shallow surf to stare out at the horizon.

“You know, when Brainy told me I'd died, all I could think about was how no one would say the Kryptonian funeral rites over my body,” she says softly. Being able to share every part of herself with Lena, of holding nothing back, is such a delicious development in their relationship that she can seldom resist. She presses her tongue against the hard ridge of her teeth, blinking hard. “I never got around to teaching Alex or anyone, before. No one— no one would know them.”

Lena falls into place beside her, gazing at the westward sky. “I know them.”

Kara's head snaps round so fast her neck cracks. “What?” she gasps. “You do? How?”

“I contacted a friend of mine,” Lena says softly, the words almost lost amongst the rushing waves. "The head of the Department of Extraterrestrial Studies at Harvard. He's something of an expert in Kryptonian history and culture. I had him teach me.”

Kara gapes at her, struggling to assimilate the information. “When?”

Lena's eyes are still fixed on the horizon. “The day we tracked Reign to the Dark Valley. The day you and I went with Alex to Juru.”

"The day— Lena, that was four years ago! You didn't even know then, you didn't—” Kara shakes her head, astounded. Her words are caught on the Pacific breeze, tumbling over one another in the air around them. “You and Supergirl— you and I, we were fighting then! Things were so, so bad between us, and you're telling me you still—”

Lena nods. The late afternoon sunlight hits her like a caress, picking out strands of copper and chestnut in the waves of her dark hair.

Kara gapes. “Why?”

Lena sighs, tugging a hand through her curls. She tilts, and burning green eyes meet blue. “Because we were fighting, and you'd been so angry with me, so cold, and then Reign grabbed me by the throat and she was choking me and you said, take me. You said, take me instead.”

Kara blinks. The memory takes a moment to come back to her because it is, frankly, unremarkable. Not because she makes a habit of visiting Kryptonian dream valleys, but because she would make a decision like that in a heartbeat, no conscious thought required. Mitigating Lena's suffering however she can has always come as easily, as naturally, as fundamentally to her as breathing.

She shakes her head a little. “Lena—”

“I realised two things that day,” Lena continues, not giving her room to jump in. “First, that in the course of you and I working together, it was likely that we might get hurt, even killed. My will is up to date, I've left instructions for my funeral, my affairs are in order. And I wondered—”

She sucks in a shuddering breath and Kara wants more than anything to reach out, to hold. She doesn't move.

“I wondered,” Lena continues, “if the same was true for you. I wondered if anyone knew what Supergirl would want, if the worst were to happen. Remember, I didn't know you had a family. I didn't know if you had anyone.”

It shouldn't sting, after all this time, to be reminded of her deception. It still does. She wonders if the same is true for Lena.

“So, I looked into it,” Lena says quietly. “I reached out to my friend at Harvard, asked him about the typical customs at Kryptonian funerals. He told me about the rites, and I memorised them. So that I could— that someone could give you what you needed, if you were no longer able to ask.”

Lena's feet shift in the gentle surf, pale skin dotted with goosebumps. She looks down at the water swirling between them, mouth opening, but at the last second she forces her gaze back up to meet Kara's. It's as if she needs to look her in the eye as she says this. As if it's that important.

“Once I learned about the rites, understood your beliefs about death— Kara, how could I not?”

There's something in Lena's gaze that's shattered, cracked wide and gaping. It doesn't look like a wound, Kara realises. It looks like an entrance. An invitation.

"How could I let your soul wander lost amongst the stars?” Lena whispers. “How could I not help to guide you home?”

Kara's throat has closed over, body hot and trembling beneath the weight of what Lena has told her. To be understood, provided for, cared for like that— it knocks the breath from her lungs.

She watches Lena watching her, both of them quiet and a little uneasy beneath the sudden solemnity of the moment. At length, she gathers enough oxygen to speak again, choked and small. “You— you said you realised two things that day. What was the second?”

“I realised that I wanted to,” Lena whispers, barely more than an exhale. “I wanted to help you, to know you, to be able to perform those rites for you if, God forbid, I ever had to.” Lena's hands are trembling, and Kara knows she's thinking of the bomb, the detonation, the dead weight of her body hitting the asphalt.

“We were fighting, and things were awful, and I was too proud and too stubborn and you were a hypocritical ass, and I still wanted to.” Lena's teeth work against the tender flesh of her bottom lip, bleaching it white. “That's what I realised that day. That despite all of it, you offered your own life to save mine. That despite all of it, I felt the same. That, more than anything, I wanted to be what you needed. What—” Lena's voice cracks, green eyes sparkling with tears. “What you wanted.”

Kara's breath catches. Waves swirl around their bare feet, the setting sun glittering off the refracted surf. Her voice is hoarse and gravelly, rough as the sand between her toes. “I've never wanted anything the way I want you.”

Lena smiles then; a teary, trembling, desperately happy thing, and Kara feels herself crack open at the beauty of this woman, at the astronomical force of her love for her.

She reaches out, twining her fingers through Lena's. “Really?” she asks softly, hardly brave enough to voice it. “You've truly felt like that all this time? For— for four years?”

“Longer.” There's not one iota of hesitation in Lena's tone, and every nerve-ending in Kara's body lights up like a livewire. Here they are, she thinks. Here they are, at last.

Lena swallows thickly. “You have been the sun of our lives,” she recites, the first line of the funeral rites rolling honey-sweet from her tongue in lightly accented Kryptonian. She gasps, and Lena reaches for her other hand, interlacing their fingers and squeezing tight. “Kara. You are the sun of my life. You have been since the day I met you.”

The last defences encasing her heart crack open and Kara feels like she's floating. No, flying. She doesn't feel afraid.

She follows their joined hands to where she's always wanted to be. She takes a step closer to Lena. She leans in.

At the last moment Lena tilts, evading the gentle press of mouths in favour of the soft touch of her forehead against Kara's. She blinks rapidly, surprised, but Lena's eyes remain closed.

“I—”

Lena's exhale hits her lips. Her body is burning for this woman, mouth watering and heart hammering.

“Kara, I—” She seems to be struggling for words. Kara hums questioningly, giving her room to collect her thoughts. Squeezes the fingers still in hers, a gentle encouragement.

“I'm scared,” Lena breathes at last, her throat working. “I'm so scared and I don't know, I can't— I think I'm, I'm trying to protect myself.”

Kara releases the hands in hers in favour of reaching for Lena's hips, pulling their torsos flush. She frames Lena's pelvis in her hands, cradling her body, trying to imbue the gentle touch with all the love overflowing in her heart. “Protect yourself from what?”

“From you,” Lena breathes like the shattering of crystal, like the crack of a heart splitting open. “From you, if it's only ever going to hurt.”

Kara keeps her hands on steady on Lena's hips. Doesn't allow herself to buckle at the words the way she wants to. "What— what do you mean?”

Lena sighs deep in her chest. “What is it that Cassandra says to Aeneas?” she asks quietly, fingers clutching at the material of Kara's shirt over her stomach. “I cannot love a hero. I do not want to see you being transformed into a statue.”

Kara's stomach drops, her heart pounding in her chest, in her throat, in her fingertips. She wonders if Lena can feel it where they're pressed together.

Lena pulls back then, meeting her eyes head on. “You're a hero, Kara, and I love you,” she whispers and the words hit her like a freight train, Lena's fingers tightening at her waist. “I love your selflessness, your integrity, your kindness. I love you with everything I am. But I can't—”

She exhales heavily, bottom lip trembling. Kara wants to kiss it. Kara wants to cry.

“If you can't, if you won't live for yourself—” Lena chokes off, voice strangled. Kara squeezes her hips with trembling fingers.

“If sacrifice is all you see in your future, I don't— I don't know if I'm strong enough for that,” Lena whispers. “I'm sorry. I know it's selfish. But I don't know how to have you like this and then lose you. I don't know how to survive it.”

Kara lets out a shaky breath, lets Lena's words, her fears, wash over her. Holds herself back, gives them the consideration they deserve instead of wrapping Lena in her arms the way she so desperately craves and telling her it will all be okay.

It takes a long time for her to find the right words, the honest words. A long time of the two of them there, in the shallows, in the soft light of the setting sun. Lena seems to sense her struggle, her thumbs rubbing gentle circles into Kara's hipbones as she waits, as she gives her the time Kara had given her.

Eventually she feels the answer rise within her and she blinks her eyes open to find Lena gazing right back at her, eyes wide and worried and wondering.

“I— I'm not entirely sure how to live for myself,” she admits. “I'm not sure I know what it means. But I know that I'm better now than I was before. I know that I'm working on it. That I want to keep working on it.”

She pauses to swallow hard, tongue darting out to wet her dry lips. Lena is watching her with bruised, beautiful eyes, the faint shimmer of tears sparkling in the corners.

“I don't know what I'm living for, exactly. Does anyone?” she asks quietly, and Lena huffs out a watery chuckle as she shakes her head.

Kara nudges closer, pressing their hips together. “But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I want to live with you, Lena. I want you, a life with you, and I don't want to give it up.” A corner of her mouth quirks in a trembling smile. “Turns out, you're not something I'm prepared to sacrifice. Not sure if you've noticed.”

Lena laughs then, a real laugh, bright and bold and beautiful. And then she leans in, and presses her lips to Kara's.

Lena tastes like salt and sea spray and sunshine. She tastes like the saline from the tears carving paths down both their cheeks. She tastes like an eternity of waiting coming to an end, like the sweet reassurance that every decision Kara has made so far has been the right one, because it's led her right to this moment.

She tastes like flying, without the falling.

 

She realises, only once the sun has sunk below the horizon and the evening breeze is whipping the grey waves into peaks around their bare ankles, that she still hasn't actually told Lena she loves her.

It takes her that long to realise because it takes her that long to finally pull back, to slow the heat and intensity of their kisses as she gasps for air. But once she does realise, it seems like an oversight so egregious that she sets herself to righting the wrong immediately.

“I love you,” she whispers as she rests her forehead against Lena's, littering her cheek and the charming curve of her jaw with kisses. “I love you,” she murmurs as she sweeps Lena out of the now frigid water and into her arms, scooping up her shoes and carrying her up to the house. “I love you,” she breathes as she sets her down on the porch, as Lena pauses at the front door and reaches out, linking their fingers. “I love you,” she grins as they enter the house to find their entire family at the dining table, seven sets of eyes snapping immediately to their joined hands, seven mouths falling open in perfect sync.

Beneath the chorus of cheers and wolf whistles and shouts of have you finally? and about damn time, Lena's eyes meet hers. "Hey,” she whispers, soft and sweet and just for Kara. “I love you, too.”

Everything changes, and nothing changes at all.

Dinner is the same noisy, joyous affair it has been for weeks, and now Kara can hold Lena's hand under the table all through desert. Lena helps M’gann with the dishes and Kara uses her heat vision to light the fire in the hearth. They watch The Sound of Music and Alex complains the whole way through. Kelly makes them all her famous chilli hot chocolate and Nia braids Lena's hair and Brainy cries into Kara's shoulder, and it's perfect.

When the movie ends her sister unilaterally relegates a pouting Nia to sleeping on the couch, claiming the pull-out with Kelly because you could not pay me to spend a night with you two. They say goodnight, and Eliza drops a kiss to Alex's head and then Kara's the same way she always has, only now she leans over and kisses Lena's temple, too.

“Night, sweetheart,” her adoptive mother smiles, and when happy tears well in Lena's green eyes Kara reaches out and kisses them away.

Later, curled together in her narrow twin bed, Lena's head on her chest and her hair spilling across Kara's shoulders in the darkness, Kara traces airy patterns over Lena's back with her fingertips and asks the question that's been building since she first learned the feeling of Lena's mouth against her own.

“Do you really want this?” she whispers against the crown of Lena's head, and despite the evening they've just had there's still a part of her that dreads the answer. “I mean, are you okay with it? I know I'm not— easy. I know I've already caused you so much pain. I'm reckless and stubborn and a magnet for danger and honestly, I’m kind of a mess. I just— I don't want to see you get hurt again, Lena, and I'm— well. I'm not exactly a sure thing.”

She's rambling, she knows, and probably not doing herself any favours either. But Lena hasn't run screaming from the room yet, so. That’s something.

“Darling, there are no sure things,” Lena whispers, the warm hum of her voice vibrating through Kara's chest to settle deep in her bones. “And in case you haven't noticed, I'm no saint myself. What matters to me is that you want to try. You want to try, with me, and I want to try with you.”

She leans up, fumbling through the darkness to press a resounding kiss to Kara's lips that's all slickness and heat and the velvet weight of her tongue in Kara's mouth. “So, yes,” she says breathily when they at last break apart, pressing one last kiss to the underside of her jaw. “I really want this.”

Kara wants so badly to believe her, to melt into her embrace and leave all the uncertainties to the future. But she can't shake Lena's words on the beach from her mind.

“I wouldn't blame you, you know,” she breathes, biting hard at the inside of her cheek. “If you chose not to love a hero.”

Lena sighs, tracing one finger along the curve of Kara's ribs. “I could no more choose not to love you than I could choose not to breathe.”

The certainty of her tone has the breath she'd been holding whooshing out of Kara's lungs in relief. "That's beautiful,” she hums, fears suitably allayed, tightening her arms around Lena and hooking a leg over the back of her calf. “Who said that?”

Lena snorts, pressing her face against Kara's neck. “Me, you dork.” Her cold nose tickles Kara's jaw, lips pressing hot against her thrumming pulse. “Doesn't make it any less true, though.”

"Mm, so I was right,” Kara hums, wriggling a little beneath the damp flutter of Lena's mouth. “Beautiful.”

Lena chuckles. "Charmer.”

Kara grins. "Charmed.”

A comfortable silence envelops them as the world settles into the gentle hum of night. Somewhere downstairs, a pipe ticks rhythmically. Far beyond the house, waves lap quietly at the shore.

“I'm with you. You know that, right?” Lena breathes against her skin, tilting her face until their eyes meet in the soft glow of the moon above the ocean. "No matter what you've done, what you've been through. No matter how bad it gets. I'm with you, Kara. For as long as you'll have me.”

Kara swallows hard, heart full to bursting and lurching hard against barriers designed to contain it. “For as long as I live,” she whispers back, punctuating each word with a kiss. “And then some.”

 

Kara is falling.

It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter how, or where, or for how long. She’s falling. She knows she could stop. She just doesn’t want to.

Below her, the pine-studded hills and sandy coves of Midvale sparkle in the late fall sunshine. From up here, the world is a tapestry of greens and blues, lush and luxurious and brimming with life. Lena had loved it, once Kara had convinced her to actually crack open her eyes.

Safe in Kara's arms, the two of them safe in the sky, Lena had kept to her promise to overcome her fear of flying right alongside her. They'd been practicing for a few weeks now, graduating from gravity-defying jumps in the garden to hovering just high enough to terrify Alex in the upstairs bathroom, to mid-altitude adventures with J’onn there as backup in case anything went south until finally, this morning, Kara had tried her first solo flight since Washington.

Well. Almost solo.

Lena had been right there with her, arms snug around Kara's neck, voice soft and soothing in her ear. “I trust you, darling,” she'd whispered as Kara had pushed a little unsteadily off from the ground. “And I know that you'll remember how to trust yourself, when you're ready. And besides,” she'd murmured, grip tightening and eyes slipping closed, eyelashes fluttering against Kara's throat. “J’onn's a big guy. I'm sure he can catch us both if he has to.”

He hadn't had to, of course. After a stomach-churning, heart-palpitating ninety seconds Kara had opened her screwed shut eyes to find they were already hovering high above Eliza's house. There'd been no missiles, no bombs, no fear, no falling. Just her and Lena and the great wide sky, safe in one another's arms.

And just like that, Kara had remembered why she'd always loved to fly.

She'd dipped and swooped and hovered, pointing out the different mountains and deserts and parks to Lena, pushing higher and higher until National City had appeared on the hazy southern horizon. She could have stayed up there forever, hadn't wanted to come down even when Eliza had called out that lunch was ready and she'd eventually agreed to a brief sojourn on the ground.

But as soon as her plate was cleared she'd pushed back from the table, dropping a kiss to the cheeks of her mother and sister and one more on the lips of the love of her life, fluttering the magazines on the coffee table as she'd sped out the door.

And here she is now, diving and freewheeling, rising and plummeting and swooping through the sky. She shoots straight up until her lungs begin to burn in the thin air then arcs, dipping into a graceful swan dive as she plunges back toward the ground. Pulls up at the last moment to skim across the surface of the ocean, trailing one hand through the surf and showering herself in a rainbow of droplets.

She hovers over a pod of dolphins leaping in the bay, laughing at the spray they kick up around her, then tucks and propels herself upward once more. Salt drying on her face, wind rippling through her hair, Kara floats. Untethered, uninhibited, and never more viscerally alive.

Somewhere below her, Alex and Eliza are arguing about the most economical configuration of stacking the logs in the woodshed. J’onn and M’gann are brewing a batch of hot chocolate. Nia has recruited Brainy and Kelly into learning her latest Tiktok dance.

Somewhere below her, the town that raised her is humming with life and noise and laughter. In the distance, National City is waiting for Supergirl to come home. National City is doing just fine until she's ready to.

Somewhere below her, Lena is gazing up at the sky, brilliant mind already parsing through designs for extra crash protection in her next outfit upgrade, for a more aerodynamic cape, for a matching flying suit for herself the next time Kara takes her out.

Somewhere below her, Lena is waiting.

High in the sky, Kara smiles, tucking and rolling so her body bows weightless through the air, the infinite beauty of the planet below her, the endless eternity of the galaxy above.

She’s not falling. She’s flying.

For one single, breathless moment, the world stands still. And Kara is at peace.