Chapter 1: there is nothing i've got when i die that i'll keep
“Because she needs me; she needs me more than I need untainted hands” - Oyinkan Braithwaite
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 first missile— she’d taken the full force of it square in the chest. It had meant business; powerful and Kryptonite-laced and enough to leave her teetering right on the brink of a solar flare. But she’d pushed her limits anyway, had shot off immediately, aching body cracking through the sound barrier and she’d almost— she’d almost—
But she hadn’t. She’d been too late. The second rocket had flashed through the sky in front of her just out of reach, barrelling toward its intended target. She’d been close, so close. Close enough for the roar of the engines to be deafening. Close enough to see the faces of the passengers through the windows. Close enough for the impact, the detonation, to knock her clean out of the sky.
The plane explodes. It’s quick, so quick. The passengers on board don’t even have time to scream.
Kara does, though. She screams as she falls. Not for herself, but for all those who couldn’t. The world rushes past, a grey-white blur as she plummets from the heavens. She has nothing left, now. She is utterly spent. Powerless. Prostrate and paralysed as she plunges back down to the planet below.
The ground is rushing up to meet her, fast. Too fast. Too fast for her to survive the inevitable impact with any kind of Luciferian grace. Hope drains. Her faith fades.
For one single, breathless moment, the world stands still. And then Kara is gone.
The water of the bay is cold. Shockingly cold against her fragile, human skin. Death is cold, Kara remembers. Maybe that’s what this is.
She’s floating, she thinks. Bobbing in the choppy swells. There’s a pressure at her hip, something hard biting into the tender flesh between her ribcage and pelvis. Fuselage, she realises. She’s landed half-atop a shattered fragment of the plane’s wing.
Her head, drifting free, dips beneath a wave. She doesn’t even have the energy to cough as saltwater invades her airways, burning the back of her throat.
She floats, untethered. She drowns, slowly.
The elegiac irony of her final resting place does not escape her. That Supergirl should bite the dust here, amidst fire and smoke and a burning plane in this very same patch of ocean in which she’d safely landed Flight 237 bound for Geneva six years ago, in which she’d first embraced her powers and all that they would come to mean— the full circle of her journey is neat, she supposes. Poetic.
Her body is slipping. Sinking. Another wave breaks over her mouth and nose. She chokes, quietly.
It doesn’t feel poetic. Not here, at the end.
It just feels cold.
An age passes, an eon.
And then there is warmth. Sun lamps, maybe. Or perhaps she’s finally made it home.
Kara winces. Drags a hand – she still has hands, then, still has a body that works – up to cover her face. To block out the light drilling holes through her skull. Everything, everything aches.
So. She’s alive. No departure would hurt this much.
“Kara?” Dread-filled, a little desperate. A warm pressure wrapped around her fingers increases, squeezing tight. Alex.
“Yeah.” Her voice is hoarse, cracking. It takes three attempts to get the sound out. Kara takes a deep breath, summons every last ounce of her determination, and forces her eyes open.
They’re all there, pale and worried in the dim light of the Tower’s med bay. Alex at her bedside, Kelly standing sentinel at her back. Brainy, hands wringing together anxiously. Nia’s head on his shoulder. J’onn, stoic and solemn, M’gann tucked into his side.
Her gaze flicks to her sister, an unspoken question.
“You blew out your powers,” Alex whispers. “Bad. Like, really bad. Worse than you’ve ever been.” A small, broken sound follows the words out of her throat. Kelly lays a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and her sister swallows hard. “Kara, you almost—”
Kara slackens, caving boneless against the gurney. She knows. She knows what she almost.
New pressures at her knee, her wrist, her shoulder, drawing her focus. They’ve gathered in close, her family, reaching out to touch. To reassure. Kara blinks up at them, fighting the way the light from the sun lamps seems to pound behind her eyes like a jackhammer. They’re all— they’re not all there.
“Lena,” she croaks, body tensing as she forces her screaming muscles to cooperate. She fights to push herself upright, fights against the hands trying to hold her down. “Where’s Lena?”
“Kara, you need to rest—”
“Alex.” It’s almost a growl. She doesn’t know if it’s the hoarseness of her throat or the emotion stuck behind her teeth that does it, but her sister freezes at the chill in her tone. “Where is she?”
“She’s next door,” Alex says quietly, appeasing. “I’ve checked her over, she’s fine. A little shaken up, but fine.”
Relief seeps into Kara’s bones like sunlight. The next thought hits her like a solar eclipse. “And the plane?”
She sees her answer in their faces. In the way they grimace, recoil. But she needs to hear it.
Alex has always tried to protect her, from everything. But there’s no protection from herself.
Though it’s a command, unequivocal, her sister defies. It’s Brainy who finally answers, choked and thick. He’s sick with it. “There were no survivors.”
She stares up past their worried faces to the dark, vaulted ceiling above. Sets her jaw. “How many?”
Silence. If Kara doesn’t get an answer she is going to start screaming and she will never be able to stop. Her voice sounds again, whip-sharp. She pretends not to see the way her family flinches from her. “How many dead?”
“Two hundred and seven.” Brainy, again. He’s the only one brave enough.
Kara’s eyes slide closed. Two hundred and seven people, dead. Because she didn’t save them. Her family try to talk to her, to comfort her, but she ignores them. Lies rigid and still, tears welling behind her eyelids that she refuses, through sheer force of will, to let escape.
Eventually they fall silent. They’re still there, still with her, she can feel them. But they don’t speak. Kelly and Nia leave. As the door opens, her human ears can just about pick up their muted greetings to someone in the next room. To Lena in the next room.
Kara keeps her eyes shut, her jaw locked, and gives herself over to oblivion.
She can’t sleep forever, though. No matter how hard she tries. Can’t escape reality indefinitely.
Alex lobbies hard for her to remain under the sun lamps until J’onn reminds her that, powerless as she is, the most they’ll be able to do for her right now is give her a sunburn.
She joins Brainy in the command centre eventually, mug of tea in hand and blanket wrapped tight round her shoulders at Alex’s insistence. Her sister would probably encase her in bubble wrap if she thought she could get away with it.
She refuses to speak until they’re left alone. Until Nia’s had her fill of hugs and Kelly has finished her gentle probing and Alex has been reluctantly dragged away by J’onn, a knowing look in his eye. Only then will she talk about it. Only then will she tell Brainy everything that had happened.
It’s not that she wants to relive it, not at all. But the need to understand how Lex Luthor had managed to pull this off overshadows her own recalcitrance, so Kara swallows the bile rising ever-higher in her throat and explains.
It had been a message, broadcast at a frequency perceptible only to Kryptonian superhearing. No warning, no tricks, nothing fancy. Just Lex’s voice, slick and assured.
There were two planes, he’d said. One leaving National City en route to Metropolis International Airport, one arriving from the same location. A Boeing 757 with a full passenger load, and a private jet with only one occupant. That occupant, he’d informed her, was Lena Luthor.
So. Two planes. Two planes, and two missiles. Both target-locked to the aircraft, both primed to fire simultaneously. No way to prevent the launch.
Two planes, two missiles. But, Lex had informed her, only one choice. Which would she save?
Ten seconds till impact, Lex had said. And that had been it. The broadcast had ended at the very same moment she’d seen two rockets launch over the horizon beyond National City. Travelling in opposite directions, travelling fast. And, when she’d focused in her vision, there they were. Two planes.
To her right, hundreds of heartbeats. To her left, only one. Ten seconds. Then nine. Then eight.
Kara’s blood had turned to ice in her veins. She’d taken a deep breath.
And then she’d gone left.
She’d like to say that she hadn’t had time to think about it. But that would be a lie.
Kara had thought. For two of her ten precious seconds, she’d thought. She’d thought about the hundreds of people aboard the plane to Metropolis. The hundreds of lives, hundreds of heartbeats, hundreds of loved ones that would be shattered by their loss. And then she’d thought about one specific life, one specific heartbeat. One specific person. One specific world shattering as a result.
Kara had thought. And she’d still gone left. She doesn’t know if that makes it better or worse.
She doesn’t tell Brainy any of this, though. She just lays out the facts, the bare pragmatic bones of Lex’s little test, then snaps her mouth shut. Clenches her jaw so hard the bones creak, a dull ache spreading up through her teeth till it reaches her temples. Oh. Headaches. She remembers those. Invulnerability is remarkably easy to take for granted.
It’s not like Brainy doesn’t know the result, anyway. Not like he doesn’t know what she’d chosen.
Brainy tells her he has everything he needs to begin tracing the technology Lex had used for his broadcast. He won’t meet her eyes. She won’t meet his either.
The light above the elevator illuminates, climbing steadily. Alex is back. “I’m going to go,” Kara whispers roughly, gaze fixed on the floor. “You’ll— you’ll tell her?”
In her peripheral vision she sees Brainy nod. As the door to the med bay closes behind her she hears Brainy begin to relay the situation to Alex and J’onn. For once, Kara’s grateful for her temporary absence of superhearing. Grateful that two inches of glass and steel are enough to block out the sound of her gravest sin being uncovered all over again.
She crosses back to her gurney and swings herself onto it cross-legged, tucking the blanket tight round her shins. Reaches over to pluck an abandoned tablet from the bench, pulling up a fresh search.
The plane’s explosion is all over the news. Eight hours have passed, eight hours during which she was out cold after Alex or J’onn or somebody plucked her lifeless body out of the bay, and inquiries are already well underway. There’s talk of a terrorist attack, a military malfunction, a targeted hit. There are articles and interviews and statements and theories. There are condolences. There are prayers. Kara’s eyes catch on a list of the plane’s passengers and stick.
That’s how Alex finds her twenty minutes later. Hunched over, dry-eyed and trembling, pouring through the names of the dead.
She must have read the list ten times already. She tries to commit each name to memory as it scores itself onto her soul. Each one the slice of a dagger, till no part of her is left untainted. Right now, she’s as good as human. If those wounds were literal, if they were real, she’d be dead.
Two hundred and seven cuts. She wouldn’t survive that. Maybe it’s what she deserves.
Alex’s approach is hesitant, her voice even more so. “How are you feeling?”
Kara doesn’t dignify the question with a response. Keeps her eyes fixed on the tablet in her lap. Scrolls up to the top of the list. Starts all over again.
Alex crosses to her side. When she sees what Kara’s reading she reaches out, tongue clicking. “Kara, don’t look at that. Here, give me—”
“Don’t touch me.” Her voice is cold. Frigid as the grave. How apt. Beneath the layer of ice encasing her heart Kara feels something hot and ugly rear its head, tameless and savage. It’s a good thing she doesn’t have her powers right now, she thinks bitterly. Her sister’s body is so breakable.
“Kara.” Alex’s voice is filled with tears. What does she have to cry about, Kara wonders. What atrocities has she committed today? How many lives has she taken?
Her sister swallows wetly. “Please. Please. I don’t—”
“Kara, Alex.” It’s Nia, propping the med bay door open with her hip as she gestures wildly. “You guys need to see this.”
Kara pushes up from the bed, forcing her aching body to take one step after another. She doesn’t wait to see if her sister is following.
It’s Lex. Live on national television, in the primetime slot on the six o’clock news.
He’s talking about the plane’s explosion. About the senseless loss, the unfathomable devastation. About the money Luthor Corp is pledging to the investigation, to supporting the families of the victims, as if their CEO wasn’t the grand architect of the whole catastrophe.
That hot, primal feeling claws its way between Kara’s ribs again and Rao, if she had her powers, this room would be dust. Vaporised by her laser vision and pummelled into nothing by her fists. Anything to release some of this unbearable pressure building around her windpipe.
They show footage of the explosion, grainy and half-focused. Alex, Brainy, and Nia look away from the screen. Kara doesn’t. Can’t.
She watches the moment it happens all over again. Watches the tiny caped figure shoot after the flash of the rocket just too little, too late.
“Our resident superhero tried valiantly to prevent the disaster,” Lex says, his voice oozing like treacle over the footage. “A tragedy, truly, that she didn’t get there in time.”
Kara clenches her fists so hard her fingernails break the skin of her palms. The feeling of blood on her hands is foreign to her. At least, in the literal sense. Metaphorically, she’s been acclimating to the sensation for the better part of eight hours now.
The broadcast cuts back to Lex’s interview in the studio. Calm, composed, and appropriately contrite, he stares directly into the camera as he speaks. “One has to wonder,” he continues, sagacious to the hilt, “what could have kept her. What could possibly have been more important than this.”
Every last atom of oxygen squeezes itself from Kara’s lungs. She breathes harshly through her nose, fighting the urge to vomit all over the monitor.
“Well, I imagine she’s a very busy woman,” the newscaster manages a little awkwardly, uneasy but trying valiantly to cover it. “It was so sudden, after all. She can’t be everywhere at once.”
“Of course, of course not,” Lex agrees, congenial and charming, the picture of conciliatory understanding. “Though, one can’t help but ponder…” His brow furrows, expression creasing in a facsimile of genuine concern. “What else might she miss? Who else might she fail to save?”
The coverage cuts back to a press conference with the chairman of the airline, but Kara barely hears it. She can’t hear anything at all over the drumming of blood in her ears; the taunting reminder that she’s still here, still breathing, when so many are not.
“He’s going to do it again.”
Every pair of eyes in the room snaps to her face. “What?” Alex gasps, brow furrowing.
“That last part. It’s a warning.” She sucks in a breath so deep it hurts. Still, there’s not enough oxygen in the room. “Meant for me. He’s going to do something like this again.”
Nia’s face crumples. Brainy slams one closed fist down on the desk, rattling the entire structure. J’onn scrubs a rough hand over his eyes. “But why? Why is he doing this?”
“He already sent you to the Phantom Zone!” Alex grits out, half-wild. “What more does he want?”
Kara’s mouth twists in a pained imitation of a smile. “He wants me gone.”
Alex looks close to tears, shaking her head furiously. “But, why would— this isn’t—”
“He banked on me choosing her,” Kara snaps, heated in her heartbreak that she has to be the one to spell this out. As if living with the reality isn’t punishment enough. “He’s going to keep banking on it, and more people are going to die. And eventually the city will turn against Supergirl, since she keeps failing to protect them. Maybe he’ll reveal to the world that I chose one life over hundreds. And then he’ll chase me out once and for all.”
Another thought occurs suddenly, and Kara feels her entire body seize up in terror. “Or maybe he’s banking on me eventually failing with— with her.” Bile again, acrid and choking. “Because if I didn’t manage to save— if she—”
The crippling hopelessness of the situation hits her then, utterly paralysing. “I can’t win. I can’t beat this,” she gasps as barbed wire constricts around her lungs, biting, tearing. “Either way, I lose.”
The room falls silent as each one of them absorbs what Kara had realised the second she’d seen Lex’s face on the news. That this is checkmate. That he’s got her, fully and completely, and he knows it.
Alex recovers first. Kara watches as the trained agent take over her sister’s expression, practical and calculating. “You have to get out of the city,” she says firmly, all trace of emotion gone. Gone, or shoved so far down it may never see the light of day again. Alex sets her jaw. “Both of you. Right now. Before you or anyone else can get hurt. If you’re not here, he can’t bait you.” She sucks in a heavy breath. She won’t meet Kara’s eyes. “And if Lena’s not here—”
Kara swallows hard. She knows where this is going. “He can’t use her as bait.”
Her sister’s eyes meet hers at last. There’s a lot there that she doesn’t in this moment want to unpack, but one emotion elbows its way to the forefront. Understanding.
Kara nods once, sharply. “Okay. Where is she?”
J’onn finds them a car. Kara doesn’t know how. She doesn’t ask.
It’s old but well-maintained, bog-standard and inconspicuous. Just what they need. “Lex will be watching for you,” Alex says as the others mill around the Tower, gathering anything and everything that might be useful. Kelly’s gone next door to talk to Lena. What she’s saying, Kara doesn’t want to ponder.
“As soon as he realises you’re gone he’ll try to track you.” Alex brings her attention back sharply. “He’ll be watching the skies. No flying, okay?” Her sister pins her with a no-arguments stare. “Even when your powers come back. Not for anything less than an emergency.”
“Is this a good idea?” Kara asks quietly. It’s as vulnerable as she’ll let herself be, for now. Any more emotion and the dam will crack completely. She’ll drown. “He won’t give up just because he can’t bait me publicly. He’ll keep trying to destroy me, destroy Supergirl.” She swallows hard. The words feel like stones in her throat. “What if he tells the press about— about the choice I made?”
“Nobody knows about his ultimatum but us,” Alex says firmly. “The missile meant for Lena didn’t make the news. To reveal your choice, he’d have to reveal that he set the whole thing up. He won’t.”
Kara lets out a shuddering breath, unconvinced. “I shouldn’t leave. I have to be here, to protect—”
“We’ve got it,” Alex interrupts, jaw set in rigid determination. “Between the rest of us, we’ve got the city. You just worry about you. You and Lena. This is as much for her safety as yours. Lex clearly has no qualms about targeting her.” Alex raises an eyebrow. “Unless you’d rather we sent her off on her own.”
A muscle in Kara’s cheek flickers. Alex has got her; they both know it. There’s no way Kara would allow that. Not while she’s still breathing.
“Good,” Alex says approvingly at her lack of argument, nudging a small black duffel into Kara’s hands with the nonchalance of someone who’s had a grab-bag ready to go at a moment’s notice for years. When she cracks the zipper, banknotes flutter in the breeze from the open door.
“Nothing traceable,” Alex instructs robotically, everything about her tightly controlled. “Only cash. Only payphones, and only if necessary. If— when we neutralise Lex, I’ll press the watch three times. That’ll mean it’s safe. For anything else, don’t come.” She fixes Kara with a stare so penetrating it’s no wonder every criminal she’s ever interrogated has cracked beneath it. “Do you hear me? Until I tell you it’s safe, you stay away. No matter what.”
The reality of the situation is beginning to set in and Kara nods tightly, biting hard at the inside of her cheek. “I hear you.”
“Good.” Alex lets out a sigh of relief that sounds like it’s just a few short seconds from morphing into a sob. She catches it before it has the chance. “Keep a low profile, keep each other safe. I’ll see you soon, yeah?”
It’s all Kara can do to nod before her sister tugs her roughly into her arms. “I love you, Kara,” she whispers, a little strangled. “Always. No matter what. Remember that.”
Alex’s arms are squeezing almost hard enough to bruise. Maybe for once they will, Kara thinks. She hopes they do. Tears are welling, thick and heavy. She will not let them fall. “I love you,” she manages in return because while Kara may no longer recognise herself when looks in the mirror, that much is still true. That much will always be true.
Alex sniffles once, then pulls away. Kara misses her presence immediately, viscerally, like a severed limb. She supposes she’s going to have to get used to it.
The first time she sees Lena – the first time she actually lays eyes on her since the coffee they’d shared at Noonan’s five days ago – is when she slides into the driver’s seat beside her.
Lena doesn’t speak as they peel away from the curb, the last glimpse of their friends fading to nothing in the rear-view mirror. She doesn’t speak as she navigates their car, laden with all manner of supplies from the Tower, through the bustling traffic of the downtown district. She doesn’t speak until she’s merged onto the highway heading north, and National City is falling away behind them.
Kara doesn’t, either. What could she possibly say?
She knows that Lena knows what happened. What Kara did. Alex had told her, back at the Tower, back before they were trapped in a car together and could avoid one another to their hearts’ content.
It’s no surprise Lena doesn’t want to talk to her, can barely even look at her. In this moment, Kara can’t stand herself either.
They’ve been driving for an hour already before the silence is at last broken. “Are you alright?” Lena asks quietly, white-knuckling the wheel. “Your powers—”
“They’ll come back in a few days,” Kara murmurs, clamping down on the hopefully that tries to follow the words out of her throat. “I’m fine.”
Another long minute of silence before she manages to work up the nerve, twisting her fingers together in her lap. “Are you alright? I mean, the missile, your plane—”
“You took that missile,” Lena says tightly, eyes locked on the road ahead. “It never got anywhere near me. I’m fine.”
Silence again. Kara watches Camarillo blur into Ventura on either side of the interstate, clouds and cars and concrete all tinted the same drab shade of overcast grey.
“Do you know where we’re going?” she asks as Lena weaves through the traffic on Route 101, the churning waters of the Pacific coming into view as they leave yet another nameless town behind.
Lena sighs, and Kara notices then how tired she looks. How pale. “No. But my brother won’t stop. My only plan is to keep driving.” She pauses, head tilting slightly. She won’t look Kara in the eye. “Do you know where we’re going?”
Kara sinks a little deeper into her seat. Her eyes slide closed. “As far from National City as we can get.”
“You’re getting tired.”
It’s been so long since the terse silence between them was broken that Lena actually jumps at the sound of her voice, jerking the wheel sharply. Thankfully the road around them is deserted.
Outside the confines of the car the grey evening has rolled into grey night, only a narrow swathe of road illuminated by their headlights. The hours have passed almost entirely without conversation, but not without observation. Kara hasn't been ignoring Lena. In fact, most of her senses are trained on the woman to her left. She's noticed Lena's increasingly weary sighs, the way she trades off hands on the steering wheel to give one arm a break, rolling her tight shoulders. She's noticed the way Lena's breathing has deepened, the way her reflexes are a half-second slower than they'd been three hours earlier.
Kara's watched, in silence, and noticed it all. Lena always has been the most captivating thing in her orbit.
Lena takes a deep breath as she recovers, flexing her fingers on the steering wheel. “We could find somewhere to stop?” she asks hesitantly, eyes fixed on the road as she avoids Kara's gaze.
But Kara hums in dissent. “Why don’t I drive for a while,” she says quietly. Pauses before adding, “I don’t think we’ve gone far enough yet.”
Lena doesn’t argue. She doesn’t say anything at all. Just pulls over at the next unoccupied patch of roadside dirt and switches seats, curling up against the passenger window. She's asleep in minutes, breathing slow and even, hands tucked inside the long sleeves of her sweater.
Kara drives and keeps driving. Heedless of the dark, heedless of the distance, she manoeuvres them ever further from home with each passing minute. Midnight passes, then one AM, then two. Eventually, her aching joints and blurring vision win out against her stubbornness and she pulls into the back corner of a long layby somewhere in the middle of Big Sur before she can accidentally drive them both of a cliff. Kara is reminded, viscerally and unavoidably as she cracks her neck and stretches her tired fingers, of just how uncomfortable it is to be human.
Lena doesn't stir as Kara pulls the handbrake, double-checks the locks and tugs the keys from the ignition. She holds her breath as she fiddles with the lever on the passenger seat, carefully reclining it so Lena can curl up more comfortably and draping a blanket over her huddled form. Sends a quiet thank you to Rao that the younger woman doesn't wake, that she doesn't have to try and fail to look her in the eye again today. Tomorrow's a new day, after all. Maybe she'll be strong enough then.
Kara reclines her own seat with a muffled groan, tugging the hood of her sweatshirt over her head and burrowing deeper into the soft fabric. The solar flare, the lack of powers – hell, the missile that had hit her less than twenty-four hours ago – it's all catching up to her now. Her body is leaden and sore, bruised limbs protesting the discomfort of the driver's seat but she doesn't care, exhausted down to her very marrow. With the sound of Lena's gentle breathing in her ears and the faintest hint of her lingering perfume on her tongue, Kara closes her eyes and lets the darkness take her.
She dreams of two hundred and seven empty chairs. Of empty homes and empty beds and the people that, until yesterday, had inhabited them. She wakes, sweat-soaked and trembling, to a litany of the dead and the sound of gentle snoring from the passenger seat.
The rising sun streams in through the car windows. Kara groans. Her head pounds, her joints ache. There's a smudge of dried drool on her cheek. Still no powers, then. Perfect.
Lena stirs at the disturbance, cracking open one eye through the nest of her hair. “Where are we?” she rasps, sleep-thick and croaking.
Kara yawns, stretching, straightening her reclined chair as she smacks around on the dash for the map she'd thrown there last night. “Slates,” she mutters after a moment's consultation, husky in the early morning light. “Hot springs. Maybe... three hours from San Francisco?” Man, she really should have paid more attention during the orienteering portions of those outdoor pursuits weekends Eliza used to force her and Alex on every summer.
Lena sighs, working her fingers slowly through her tangled hair. “I need coffee.”
Kara nods. “And we need gas.” She glances down at herself, still kitted out in the standard issue DEO sweatsuit J’onn keeps stocked for emergencies, the one Alex must have put her in while she was unconscious yesterday. “And less conspicuous clothes, maybe.”
Lena yawns, wiggling her socked feet into her shoes and opening the car door. Kara watches through the window as she stretches beside the car, then leans in to root through the back seat for one of the water bottles someone had thought to provide them with. She finds a tube of toothpaste in one of the supply bags but no toothbrush, settling for rubbing the paste over her teeth with her index finger and spitting the remnants out into the dirt.
Lena rinses her mouth, spits again, then cups her hand, using the bottled water to crudely wash her face. Droplets trickle down her wrists and neck, glittering in the bright sunlight. Her tangled curls twist in the breeze. She's still wearing a suit, navy and pinstriped and more wrinkles than not at this point. The same suit she must have been wearing at her conference in Metropolis, a day and a lifetime ago.
Kara's stomach twists, guilt crawling up the back of her throat. Lena should be waking in her luxury penthouse right now, making herself some disgustingly healthy smoothie and heading off to work at the foundation she'd created in her name, making the world a better place in whatever way she can.
She shouldn't be here, hungry and tired and sleeping in laybys on the run with someone who once called themself a hero but now, surely, is anything but. With a sinner, a murderer, a killer drenched in the blood of two hundred and seven innocent people.
This is all her fault. Kara's hands start to tremble. She clenches them into fists.
Lena climbs back into the passenger seat, passing over a fresh bottle of water. Kara takes it gratefully, empties it in one long pull. She uses the distraction to centre herself, find a semblance of clarity. Whatever had brought them to this point, they're here now. Maybe she'd screwed up everything else, but she can still do this. She can still keep Lena safe.
She throws the empty bottle into the back seat, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “Good to go?” she asks quietly. From the corner of her eye, she sees Lena nod.
“Alright then,” Kara murmurs, and starts to drive.
They stop in Monterey, first for gas and objectively bad coffee and then at a drugstore where Lena, arguably the less recognisable of the two, speed-buys a basketful of toiletries and a couple of garish baseball caps. Climbing back into the car, she hands Kara a bright orange monstrosity that declares Fish Fear Me in gaudy cobalt font beneath a crude cartoon drawing of a cod on a hook.
Kara, realising that her human glasses were one of the many things forgotten in the chaos of their getaway, tucks her hair up inside the hat without complaint and gratefully accepts the dark aviators Lena thrusts her way.
They're driving through the poorer suburbs at the edge of town when Kara spies the sign for a Goodwill and freewheels it into the parking lot. She slips out of her DEO-monogrammed jacket into a black fleece Alex had stuffed into the trunk of the car and follows Lena, sporting gold-rimmed aviators and a pink and yellow No Bad Days in Monterey cap, into the store.
It doesn't take long to find an armful of comfortable, inconspicuous clothing in roughly their sizes. Kara deposits their haul onto the desk of a bored-looking clerk, who yawns in response. If he's bothered by their indoor sunglasses or Lena's beach-to-boardroom ensemble, he doesn't comment.
Kara taps her foot anxiously as he scans their items at a glacial pace, eager to get out and into the open again where the chances of anyone recognising them are slim to none. Her gaze skims the keyrings and bubblegum-scented lip gloss on display beside the till before landing on the muted TV on the opposite wall.
Her breath catches. The morning news is showing footage of the plane crash, interspersed with photos of the victims. Each one sears itself onto the canvas of her mind, context for the previously faceless figures of her nightmares. There are old women up there, and successful looking businessmen. Two teenagers with huge rucksacks and fanny packs, their smiles innocent and infectious. There are photos of couples, there are photos of families. Two dark-haired, brown-eyed toddlers beam up from their parents' arms, and Kara snaps the pen she hadn't realised she'd been fiddling with clean in two.
Lena tugs the broken halves out of her hands, laying them sheepishly atop the pile of things they've yet to pay for. She nudges Kara backwards and takes her place at the counter, but it barely even registers. The coverage has moved on to a spate of apartment fires in National City, a marooned oil tanker in the bay, a small explosion at a petrochemical compound on the city's outskirts. Yet more injuries. Yet more deaths.
The TV is muted, and Kara's heart is hammering so hard in her ears that she probably wouldn't be able to hear it anyway. But that doesn't stop her reading the banner that scrolls accusingly across the bottom of the screen, bold and unavoidable.
Where is Supergirl? the morning news asks. Kara swallows down the bile rising in her throat, narrowly avoiding emptying the contents of her stomach across the cashier's lap.
Lena throws a wad of cash down on the desk, scoops up their purchases, and tugs her out of the store.
Outside, shivering and sweating in the sudden blinding sun, tongue heavy and heart breaking, she stops. Lena appraises her a moment, shaking her head. “Give me the keys,” she prompts gently.
Kara complies without complaint. In fact, she doesn't say anything at all. Just lets Lena nudge her into the passenger seat, lets her head fall against the cool window as her eyes slip closed, and wonders how she's ever supposed to be able to live with herself.
They drive straight through San Francisco and out the other side, hugging the coast as they head north up Highway 1. They'd changed in the deserted Goodwill parking lot and Kara takes the opportunity to curl up more comfortably in her newly acquired grey leggings and Dartmouth sweatshirt, resting her temple against the doorframe.
Lena drives, nibbling delicately at one of the energy bars they'd picked up at the gas station and sipping periodically at her lukewarm coffee with a wrinkled nose. Kara doesn't eat. Doesn't drink, doesn't speak. Can't. Can't do anything but replay the faces of the victims in her mind, matching them against the list of names she repeats silently over and over, a supplication, a prayer.
Lena tries to broach the weighted silence as they pass the turn-off to Santa Rosa and cruise through Bodega Bay, the craggy rocks and crashing surf glittering under the clear blue sky. “Are you alright?” she asks as she reaches again for her coffee, one hand braced steady on the wheel. “Don't you want to eat something?”
Kara says nothing. Just chews harder at the inside of her cheek, eyes fixed on the asphalt disappearing in the rearview mirror.
“You know it wasn't your fault,” Lena whispers, knuckles white on the wheel as she replaces her cup in the holder. “Those people, their deaths— they're not on you.”
Something hot and ugly and unbearable rears up inside her, all-consuming. “No?” she bites out, voice so sharp Lena flinches from the sound. “Who else could have stopped that missile but didn't? Hmm?”
Silence. She lets Lena fill it.
Unsurprisingly, she can't.
They continue up the coast without another word, stopping only to use a musty roadside outhouse and switch seats a little before midday. Lena crunches her way through a bag of mini carrots, half a cherry pop tart and a gas station pickle for lunch. Her offers to share go unaccepted.
They curve away from the coast and pass through state parks and conservation reserves, the redwoods growing taller on either side of the highway. Sometime during the early afternoon Lena twists to root through one of the many bags littering the backseat, coming back with a handful of second-hand cassettes Kara hadn't even noticed her buying.
Their beat-up car is old enough to still have a tape player and after a moment of fiddling, Lena figures out the controls and a few smoky bars of Tom Waits fill the car. The afternoon passes in a haze of Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac and Norah Jones and though she'd never admit it aloud, it's nice. The music, the stark beauty of the NorCal coast, the mindless concentration required to drive, it all conspires to lull her away from her darkest thoughts to a place of blissful blankness.
When she realises what she's doing, how her body and surroundings are colluding to ease her pain, she hates herself even more. She needs to feel that pain. She deserves it.
They stop again at Patrick's Point as the golden shadows of evening grow longer, getting out to use the restroom and stretch their cramped limbs. Lena buys a couple of hotdogs from a food truck in the car park above Agate Beach, loading them with toppings and thrusting one into Kara's hands without asking permission.
They eat them quietly, leaning side by side against the railing at the top of the steps leading down to the sand, watching the surfers and sunbathers soaking up the last rays of the day. Lena looks pale despite the soft golden light surrounding them, tired and worried as she licks mustard from her fingertips.
Kara's heart thuds hard in her throat. None of this should have happened to Lena. None of this should have happened at all. What is Supergirl, if not the preventor of these tragedies? Who is she, if not a hero?
They climb back into the car once they run out of excuses not to, Lena weaving them down the coastal highway as the sun sets crimson coral peach over the Pacific horizon.
They cross into Oregon as twilight descends and Lena hits pause on Simon & Garfunkel's twelfth ballad of the evening to glance over at the passenger seat. “I don't know about you,” she says, flexing her tired fingers, “but I don't much fancy another night in this car.”
She wants to protest, but then she thinks about her aching muscles, Lena's weary sighs, how long it's been since either of them have showered, so she doesn't.
They find a run-down motel on the outskirts of the harbour town of Brookings without too much trouble. Lena walks into the reception with a wad of cash in her sweatshirt pocket, walks out again with a key.
The room is basic, sparse but clean. Kara dumps the plastic bag of their toiletries and an armful of second-hand clothes on the desk and collapses onto the lone double bed with a groan. Lena's already poking around the bathroom, testing taps and prodding at shower curtains.
“If you manage not to inhale too deeply, it's not half bad,” comes her eventual assessment before she sticks her head through the door, fingers pinched delicately over her nostrils, to grab at the discarded carrier bag. “God, I don't think I've ever been this desperate for a shower in my life.”
Kara doesn't move while Lena showers. She just lays there, listening to the sounds of running water and staring at the peeling paint on the ceiling, and lets the horror of it all consume her once more.
Lena emerges in a cloud of rose-scented steam, threadbare towel clutched tight beneath her armpits. She pauses midway through her appraisal of their pile of clothes to stare at Kara, brow creasing. Kara ignores her, blanks out the weight of Lena's pointed gaze, keeps her eyes on the dusty light fixture above the bed.
She misses Alex. She misses her sister and her friends and her apartment, her comfy bed and regularly dusted light fixtures. She hates that she can't have them, that's she so far from them now because of Lex. She hates that she no longer deserves them anyway.
Lena sighs, and retreats back into the bathroom. She reappears in a red flannel and a pair of dark skinny jeans that are a little too long, treading on the hems as she pads over to the net curtained window. “I'll go get us some food, yeah?” she says, gazing out across the car park to the array of neon signs beyond. “Do you want to stay here and shower?”
Kara pushes herself wearily to sitting, hair crinkling unpleasantly against her neck. Salt, she realises. She hasn't showered since her dip in the waters of National City's bay. She could really, really do with a shower. But.
“You shouldn't go alone,” she croaks, voice cracking from disuse. “It might not be safe.”
Lena tuts, gathering up her wet curls and pulling the brim of her Monterey cap down low over her eyes. “I'm only going across the road,” she says, extracting a few bills from the duffel full of cash. “I'll be fine.”
“You might not be,” she snaps, yet more misplaced irritation bubbling to the surface. “And if you weren't, I wouldn't be able to hear you.”
The reminder of her current powerlessness shuts Lena up for a moment, her jaw snapping closed. Kara can't keep her safe, not like this, and the knowledge is a Kryptonite dagger in her ribcage.
But Lena recovers quickly. “I'll only be gone twenty minutes,” she soothes. “We're so far from home. Lex has no way of knowing where we are. We need to eat, Kara. And you need to shower, and then we need to sleep.” Green eyes meet blue in the dim lamplight, unswerving. “Twenty minutes, tops.”
Kara sighs, tugging a hand through her salt-crusted curls. She knows when she's been beat. “Twenty minutes,” she repeats as sternly as she can manage. “If you're not back I'm coming after you, powers or no.” She hadn't fought so hard, sacrificed so much to keep Lena safe only to have her jumped in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.
“Twenty minutes,” Lena agrees and for the first time in days there's the hint of a smile on her lips. “Promise.”
Nineteen minutes and forty-nine seconds later, Kara is freshly showered and decked out in a pair of men's sweats and a California International Marathon t-shirt, twitching unsurreptitiously through the net curtains.
She gnaws absently at a hangnail on her thumb, foot tapping out the seconds double time until the motel door swings open and Lena appears. Kara lets out the breath she's been holding for exactly twenty minutes, and double locks the door behind her.
Lena's returned with a veritable feast; boxed salad, bagels and cream cheese, enough burgers and fries to feed a small nation and a twenty-four tray of donuts. They eat quietly, cross-legged on the bedspread, and Kara realises belatedly how hungry she's been. Being powerless takes a lot of energy.
Lena reaches for the TV remote, glances at Kara, then changes her mind. The meal continues without accompaniment, the silence broken only by the wet sounds of chewing and an occasional request to pass the ketchup.
Once their arsenal of wrappers and serviettes has been cleared away, faces washed and teeth brushed, Kara checks the lock one final time and crawls into bed on the side closest to the door. Lena, emerging from the bathroom, hesitates for one barely noticeable second before drawing back the covers and sliding in beside her.
They lay there in silence as the mattress settles beneath them, watching the passing headlights play across the ceiling. Lena's breathing is deep and even. Kara can feel the heat of her beneath the sheets.
“Lex won't find us,” Lena whispers into the darkness. Her voice is brittle, scepticism wrapped in dogged determination. Who she's trying to convince, Kara couldn't say. “He won't find us here.”
“No,” Kara agrees, because Lena's probably right. “But what will he do while we're gone?”
At her elbow, Lena sucks in a breath so sharp it sounds almost painful. Kara buries her face into the flimsy pillow, and turns away.
“Do you think we should keep heading north?”
Lena's head is bent over the map spread across her knees, the ends of her dark curls trailing across the paper. They'd gotten an early start, checking out of the motel before the sun had even broken the horizon, and had passed a silent morning and half the afternoon blazing up the Oregon coastline. Kara sucks in a lungful of air, holds it for ten seconds, then releases it in a silent stream. “Whatever.”
Silence envelops them for another thirty miles or so. On either side of the empty highway, Oregon blurs into Washington with no noticeable difference.
“Do you want to stop for food?” Lena ventures over the muted hum of the radio as they weave through Longview's noon traffic, merging east onto Highway 4 to leave yet another indistinguishable town behind. “Are you hungry?”
“No. And no,” Kara bites out, drumming her fingers against the wheel. Passing though built-up areas sets her teeth on edge. Too many watching faces, too many possible casualties. She'll be happier once they're on the open road again, with no one else around to get hurt. “Are you?” she remembers to ask, a minute too late, glancing at the passenger seat out of the corner of her eye.
Lena sighs, curling further into herself, and when she shakes her head it seems like an answer to more than just Kara's question.
They follow the Columbia River out to the sea, skirting nature reserves and wave-carved bays in silence. Out here, without so much as the sight of another car for miles, Kara's beginning to feel like she can breathe again.
“Are you tired?” Lena asks three hours later as they round yet another headland, the misty grey light throwing the car's interior into a shadowy haze. “Want to swap?”
She hears Lena sigh, but Kara doesn't apologise for her short tone. Doesn't even take her eyes off the road. It's just, it's so inane. They're on the run. Two hundred and seven people are dead, because of her. What does it matter if she's a little tired? Surely she deserves that, and worse? Surely, physical discomfort is a small price to pay for the sins on her conscience?
“Well, when will you want to swap?” Lena tries again, irritation beginning to bleed into her tone. “Will it be soon, or should I try and sleep?”
Kara bites at the inside of her cheek to stop herself biting out something she'll only regret. Lena doesn't deserve her frustration, her fury, she knows. But Kara doesn't have the capacity to temper herself right now. She's barely hanging on as it is.
“I don't know, Lena,” she gets out, tight and clipped, knuckles white around the steering wheel.
Silence again, the calm before the storm, and then— “That's it. Pull over.”
Kara blinks, finally glancing at the woman in the passenger seat. “What? Why?”
“I'm serious. Pull over right now.” Lena's jaw is set, her shoulders rigid. Kara does as she says, manoeuvring them into a dusty layby overlooking a steep cliff. She kills the engine and resists the urge to throw her hands in the air, twisting toward the passenger seat.
“What? What is it? We need to keep going, we shouldn't—”
“No, not until we've sorted a few things,” Lena says adamantly, swivelling fully to face her. “I'm not driving another mile like— like this.”
Kara stares down at Lena's gesturing hands blankly. “Like what?”
Lena sighs, reaching up to run her fingers through her loose curls. Her long hair is mussed and a little wild, flattened on one side from where she'd napped with her head against the passenger window early that morning. She looks tired and dishevelled and achingly sad, and Kara's belligerence gets stuck in her throat.
“Look, Kara. I get it, okay? I know you'd rather be anywhere but here,” Lena starts, resignation pulling at her features. “I know— I know you'd rather be with anyone else.”
Kara's brow furrows, her mouth opening, but Lena doesn't give her the chance to voice her confusion.
“But we are here, together, and there's nothing we can do about it. So we don't have to spend time together, you know, I can try and stay out of your way,” Lena spreads her arms as wide as possible in the narrow car, expression rueful, “as much as I can, but sometimes we are going to have to talk – what to eat, where to sleep, that sort of thing – so I would appreciate it—”
She sucks in a deep breath as the torrent of words pauses momentarily, releases it with a shudder. “I would appreciate it,” she begins again, quieter, “if you could at least be civil with me, for that. And then we can get right back to ignoring each other.”
The silence that follows the end of Lena's speech is heavy. Suffocating.
Kara opens and closes her mouth once, twice, three times. “Lena, I—” Where to even begin? “I'm, I'm not ignoring you.”
Lena's raised eyebrow voices her incredulity for her and Kara ducks her head, cowed.
“Okay, I am, but it's not because of you. It's just—” She sucks in a fortifying breath. It doesn't help at all. “Just, ever since—”
“Kara, I told you, I get it,” Lena cuts in, bringing a hand up to cover her closed eyes. “It's fine. I know you regret what you did. I don't need to hear you say it.”
Kara blinks, lost. “What?”
Lena cracks one eye to stare at her flatly from between her fingers. “Oh, great. I'll say it instead, shall I?” She sighs so heavily Kara's own shoulders slump in sympathy as Lena continues. “I know you regret saving my jet over the passenger plane. I know you wish you'd saved two hundred and seven lives instead of just one.”
Kara's stomach bottoms out, her mouth hanging open. How could Lena ever think—
Lena kneads her knuckles over her closed eyelids. Her voice is very, very quiet. “Sometimes I wish you had, too.”
Something about the tremor in Lena's tone, the way her words splinter and shatter as they hit the air, is enough to snap Kara out of her daze. “Lena, no. No. I don't regret saving you. Not for one second.”
When Lena's hands drop Kara sees the pink flush to her pale skin, the tears glazing her eyes. “How could you not?”
“God, Lena.” Kara's entire body is trembling. The contents of her stomach feels like it's milliseconds away from making a close acquaintance of the car's worn leather interior. She shakes her head, still trying to make sense of it. “How can you think—”
“How can I not ?” Lena asks, a sudden fire in her tone and in her stare. “You haven't been able to look me in the eye for three days. It's not hard to decipher the reason.”
“I do not regret saving you.” Kara balls her shaking hands into fists. She'd thought that through her silence, she'd been protecting Lena from the worst of herself. Yet somehow, in Kara's absence, Lena had landed upon a conclusion more terrible even than the atrocity of the truth.
She has nothing left to lose now by telling her, she supposes. If only so that she never has to hear Lena doubt her own constancy in Kara's life again.
She stills her restless hands in her lap, angling to meet Lena's gaze head on.
“If I had to make the decision again, I'd choose you. If I had a year to consider the implications, I'd choose you. I'd choose you over two hundred and seven people, over five hundred, over a thousand. Don't you get it?” She forces herself to keep meeting the eyes locked wordlessly onto her own. “You're not the problem! I am. Because I'd choose you, Lena, no matter the cost.” Her voice cracks beneath the weight of the truth, eyes wet and stinging. “How can I be Supergirl and feel that way? What kind of monster does that make me?”
Lena is staring at her, wide-eyed and shell-shocked. The weight of Kara's confession sits like a noose around her neck. "How can I live with myself?” she whispers as her head falls forward, unable to meet the intensity of Lena's gaze. Who she's asking, she couldn't say.
The car's silence is oppressive. Kara balls her hands into fists, runs her tongue over her dry lips. “I don't wish you had died instead of them, Lena,” she manages, hoarse and cracking. Here it is, then. The last piece of honesty she can offer. “I wish— I wish I had.”
Lena's sharp gasp fills her ears as Kara's hand finds the door handle, toppling her out of the car. She doesn't wait for a response. She doesn't wait for anything at all. Kara pushes herself up out of the roadside dust, takes a single deep breath, and runs.
Running as a human is hard.
It's slow and unsteady and painfully ineffectual. Kara stumbles through bracken and over logs, fighting through the treeline on the far side of the highway. The ground climbs steeply away from the road and Kara pushes harder, following the woody crags of the Olympic peninsula higher and higher.
She's red-faced and panting, sweat beading at her hairline, Dartmouth sweatshirt sticking uncomfortably to her back, but she doesn't stop. To stop, to pause the pain and discomfort wracking her human body from the exertion, would be to free her mind up to the conversation she'd just fled from. And— well. Even running up a mountain with no powers isn't as painful as that.
Through a break in the trees, the snow-capped peak of Mount Olympus splits the sky. She makes a beeline for it, tripping over roots and sliding in the mossy damp of the forest. She doesn't stop.
She's high above sea level when she's finally forced to accept that she must either rest or risk vomiting that morning's pop tarts all over her only pair of trainers. She pushes through the trees to a rocky outcrop that shadows the surrounding forest, slipping a little in the patchy snow at its base.
The westward side of the jutting rock is clear, worn smooth by the wind and rain blowing in from the Pacific, and she sinks down against it with a heaving chest and streaming eyes. She can see the whole peninsula from here; Mount Olympus at her back, the wave-cut coast bordering the forest on three sides and to the north, not so far at all, the islands and shores of Canada.
The urge to keep running, to set her sights on the northern horizon and run until she finally escapes or her body gives out, whichever comes first, is almost overwhelming. But now that she's stopped, exhaustion is leaching through her muscles, anesthetising what's left of her strength. The wind whips at her hair, her sweat-damp skin, and she shivers inside the thin material of her sweatshirt.
She could die up here, she realises. It would probably serve her right.
She doesn't know how long she's been there, hunched against the frigid stone. In fact, she's barely conscious of her surroundings at all. Kara is lost in the endless expanse of her mind, drowning in the depths of her grief and self-loathing.
What she'd said to Lena had been the truth, however melodramatic it may have sounded. She would happily, gladly, trade her own life for the two hundred and seven innocent people who had died on the plane she had failed to save. To erase that list of names, to send those smiling faces, the businessmen and the teenagers and the old couples and the children, the children, back home to those who loved them— she would give anything on Earth to make that possible.
Anything but Lena.
Grimly, she realises Lex Luthor must know her better than she'd like to admit. He hadn't given her the opportunity to sacrifice herself for that plane. He must have known that would have made the choice too easy.
She doesn't know what she's supposed to do now. Beyond the immediacy of their fugitive status, beyond the need to stop Lex and keep Lena safe, what is left for her to do? Her parents had sent her to this planet to protect her cousin and when she'd been denied that purpose, she'd diverted her sense of responsibility to the people of this world instead, the ones who had welcomed her with open arms.
The people of National City love Supergirl. Or at least, they love what she represents. They rely on her, they look to her, they trust her. And now, she's failed them.
God, they had called her. Coville and his Cult of Rao, but others too. The papers, the news anchors, the starry-eyed children she'd met on the street. And for a while, she had tried. This world had made her almost omnipotent; she could be omnibenevolent in return. She could watch over its people, right its wrongs, keep it safe from any who meant it harm.
She could, until she couldn't.
Because a god, she knows, should love all their children equally. Be it Rao or the gods of any earthly religion, they all put their duties above all else. Kara had been putting others ahead of herself for years. The self-sacrifice inherent to deification was a walk in the park.
But then there had come people. Not all of them, not many. Just a handful of very particular people, Alex and Eliza and J’onn and the others, and suddenly the girl who had lost everything realised she wasn't prepared to lose any more.
And then had come Lena, and her bright beautiful bruising grip on Kara's heart. And then had come Lex's test, and the two halves of Kara's soul had been forced into opposition like never before.
What is she, now? Model or murderer? Champion or criminal? Hero or human?
How can she claim to love this world so much, while there are people for whom she would burn it? How can she put her duty and responsibility above all else, yet hold a handful of individuals higher still?
She shivers as biting winds whip across the mountains, freezing rain misting against her closed eyes. Her limbs are leaden and aching and she curls further in on herself, tries to disappear entirely.
How can she live with the choice she had made to keep Lena alive? How could she ever have hoped to survive the alternative?
Kara rests her forehead against the chill of the stone and, for the first time in years, she prays to Rao. She prays for His wisdom, His understanding, His guidance. She prays for His forgiveness.
In her heart, she does not believe she deserves it.
Time passes, and it doesn't. Kara shivers and shudders and sobs into the night. No one answers her cries. No one is listening.
At some point, a sound cuts through the haze she's fallen into. A high-pitched, insistent beeping. It's incessant, irritating, and for the first time in untold millennia Kara opens her eyes.
A deer and her fawn pick their way delicately along the treeline below her. The mother lifts her head, velvet nose sniffing the air. She catches wind of Kara and freezes a moment, assessing. A heartbeat later they continue their leisurely amble, evidently unconcerned by her presence.
The deer don't seem bothered at all by the relentless beeping. In fact, they don't even seem to hear it. Kara's brow furrows. That would mean—
She makes an experimental fist, swings it at the rock at her feet. Basalt splinters easily, crumbling into dust. So. Her powers are back. And if her powers are back, then that sound that only she can hear must be—
She's up and running before the thought is fully formed. No longer the unwieldy, inefficient jog of a human, she blurs through the trees at close to superspeed. That beeping is the sound of the signal watches worn by the people who count on her to keep them safe. Each one sounds slightly different, allowing Kara to tell them apart from a distance, and this one isn't Alex all the way back home in National City. It isn't James in Calvintown or Eliza in Midvale.
This one, this one is Lena.
The Olympic rainforest blazes past in a fog of green and brown and grey. She's not back to full strength yet, still not fully recovered. That doesn't stop her pushing the outer boundaries of her limits with everything she's got, throwing herself into huge soaring leaps as she half-runs, half-flies, half-falls down the mountainside.
She has to get to Lena. Above her the sky bleeds, deep indigo giving way to pale mauve, and she realises she's been gone all night. She's left Lena alone all night.
She follows the sound of the watch like a creature possessed, the ceaseless beep a homing beacon in the semi-darkness. It's so close now, so loud, and she crashes through the treeline to find their car right where she'd left it, tucked into the corner of a clifftop layby south of Ruby Beach.
Her heart stops. Lena stands there, pale and wary in the pre-dawn mist.
She's not alone.
Decked out in a glowing green Lexosuit, helmet retracted to reveal his rapacious grin, he stands smug and assured on the far side of the barrier separating the highway from the beach beneath. Fifty feet below, surf crashes against the grey sand, spray shrouding the arches and sea stacks in briny fog.
“Kara, don't,” Lena gasps. “Get out of here.”
She freezes. Lex has his sister by the throat, the delicate alabaster of her neck snagged in the crook of his mechanical elbow. Kara's eyes fall to her captured wrist, to the red-strapped watch that lives upon it. The face is flipped open. Lex's gloved thumb presses down on the button.
“How did you find us?” Kara whispers, dread turning her limbs to blocks of ice. Lex has already tugged Lena across the safety barrier, perching the two of them on the very edge of the crumbling cliff. One small step backwards and they'd both be falling.
Kara gulps. Lex has a suit that will save him. Lena doesn't.
“My darling little sis was trying to call you,” Lex answers conversationally, waving Lena's cell phone in his free hand. A single flick of his wrist and it disappears over his shoulder, landing somewhere on the sand below. “And you know how easy GPS signals are to track. A rookie mistake, I must say. Especially for a Luthor.”
“Kara, I'm sorry,” Lena whispers, and she has to fight the urge to vomit. This is all her fault. Lena had only used her phone in the first place because Kara had disappeared. Guilt unlatches its jaw, preparing to swallow her whole.
Lex leers. “Naturally, I assumed it was a trap at first.” He tightens his grip, jostling Lena almost playfully. She winces as the sharp lines of his suit snag her skin, but says nothing.
“So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived to find dear Lena all alone,” Lex crows, his enjoyment of the situation inescapable. “Especially after you'd been so very keen on protecting her wellbeing back in the city. Thank goodness for your little signal here.” He lifts his finger from the button at last and Lena closes her free hand around the watch, cradling it protectively to her chest. Lex's slick smile only widens. “I wouldn't have wanted you to miss out on our little party.”
Kara forces herself not to tremble. Not to sink to the ground and sob. “What do you want, Lex?”
“Now, don't be obtuse,” Lex tuts. “It's unbecoming for someone of your stature. The Maiden of Might, isn't that what they call you? The Girl of Steel, the Paragon of Hope, the Last Daughter of Krypton. How obliquely pretentious.”
Kara zones out a little as Lex soliloquizes, her entire awareness zeroed in on Lena. She takes in her thundering heart, her clenched jaw, her wide, panicked eyes. Go, Lena mouths at her from beneath the chin of her brother's helmet. Run.
Kara wants to cry. If a death toll of two hundred and seven innocent people hasn't taught Lena that she would never, ever leave her, Kara doesn't know what will.
“I'm here to present you with a choice,” she zones in in time to hear Lex say, his grip on Lena's throat tightening. “Since you so enjoyed the last one, I felt the exercise might bear repeating.”
Kara's lungs empty, every last atom of oxygen wrung from her body as fear threads its icy tendrils through her flesh. Not again, please. She won't survive it again.
“I realised I made things a little too simple, last time.” Lex's voice is calm, collected, as though they're discussing the weather and not the deaths of hundreds. “One person you knew, or many people you didn't. The choice was too easy, but don't worry. This time the playing field will be level, I assure you.”
Lex's friendly veneer drops like the flick of a switch. His eyes turn cold and hard, features expressionless. “Last time, I sent you two missiles. This time, two bombs. One of them will kill Lena. The other, who knows?” Lex shrugs one metal-plated shoulder. “It's positioned right under your little superhero headquarters, so it'll knock out your friends for sure. Your sister, too. She works there, doesn't she?”
Kara's vision whites out at the edges, heart pounding.
“And National City is such a small town, really,” Lex continues in a neutral tone, his face flat. “A bomb that size right in the middle of the downtown district? There's bound to be collateral.”
Kara fights a shiver. His glee, at least, had made him seem human. Crazed, psychotic, but human. But total apathy in the face of untold deaths? That terrifies her to her core.
Lex smiles, but behind his eyes there's nothing at all. “Your choice, Supergirl. Her,” he tightens his grip on Lena's throat and her face pales, fingers scrabbling at the impenetrable metal, “or them. If you crack the sound barrier, you'll have just enough time to make it to them before that bomb explodes.”
He lifts a finger, hovering over the bulky watch at his wrist, and time seems to stand still for a moment. Kara feels every cell in her body thrumming with adrenaline, feels the harsh tugs of her breath in her lungs. She sees the scene as if observing it from high, high above; her own hunched figure, barely Super again, facing down a madman and his hostage on a mist-shrouded clifftop.
She sees Lena. Sees every dark eyelash fluttering against her pale cheeks, each individual shard of agony in her green eyes. She's wearing a worn black North Face fleece that Kara thinks used to belong to Alex and a pair of mauve sweatpants they'd found at Goodwill. They're almost the same shade as the lightening sky behind her. Her pale feet stick out beneath them and oh, she isn't wearing shoes. She isn't even wearing socks, bare toes curling into the sandy mud beneath her, and it's that out of everything that shatters Kara's sternum, sends her heart spilling out onto the concrete below.
Lena is standing there, pale and defiant and trembling and she isn't wearing shoes. Her face is unwashed, dark hair unkempt like her brother had tugged her straight out of the car with no warning, and what's left of Kara splits open at the seams.
Time unfreezes with a jolt. Lex's fingertip lands on the screen of his watch, triggering the countdown. “You'll have enough time if you leave right now,” Lex clarifies with a saccharine quirk of his brow. He tightens his grip once more, and Lena gasps. “Of course, that does mean you'll have to leave dear Lena here with me.”
Kara is frozen.
She knows she can't be, mustn't be. Knows that whichever way she plays this, whichever path she chooses, every second will count. Each heartbeat that slides by could be the difference between making it and not. Between rescue and failure. Salvation and damnation.
And yet, she's frozen. Rooted to the spot, paralysed by fear and disbelief and indecision.
Luckily for her, Lena's not.
“You bastard, ” she screams, ducking and twisting in her brother's iron grip to land a solid punch to his unprotected jaw. “You can't do this again. You will not fucking do this again!”
Lex growls, grappling with his sister but Lena is lightning quick, bare feet twisting in sandy sludge as she feints and dodges, aiming blow after blow at his head. The sounds of exertion, the grunts and groans of their fight snap Kara out of her trance and she launches herself forwards, propelled into action at last.
She shoots towards the tussling figures but doesn't stop to intervene, sailing clean over both Luthors’ heads to scan the beach below. Her vision zeroes in on Lena's discarded cell phone and she's on it in a second, punching in Alex's number with trembling fingers.
Heart in her throat, she scans the area for the bomb Lex must have concealed nearby. The bomb meant to take out Lena.
Her sister answers on the second ring. “I thought I told you nothing traceable—”
“Alex,” she all but screams, pushing off from the beach again. “There's a bomb in the Tower, Lex's. You don't have long, you have to—”
“On it,” Alex cuts in, no trace of her worried sister left in the sudden professionalism of her tone. “We'll handle it. Are you okay?”
“Lena,” she gasps as the woman in question hits the ground, her temple the recent acquaintance of Lex's iron fist. “Fuck. Okay. Alex. When you've disabled the bomb, use your watch, okay? Just once, so I know you're safe.”
When, not if. Kara doesn't dare give voice to the alternative. Cannot even consider it.
“I will,” Alex agrees, voice tinny as Kara drops the cell onto the beach again. Whatever else her sister might have said is lost as she rockets toward the siblings still locked in battle on the clifftop.
She crashes straight into Lex from behind, knocking him off of Lena's prone body and catapulting the two of them across the asphalt. They tumble over and over, locked together as blows rain down from all sides. Kara is close enough to smell the sweat on Lex's brow, the acrid stench of his breath. She sees the icy detachment in his eyes, the determination in the hard set of his jaw. And she sees, in a freezeframe of perfect clarity, Lena's thumb ring. The thin silver band, the one she never takes off, is jammed tight into the joint at the neck of the Lexosuit, preventing the helmet from closing.
Her fist makes satisfying contact with Lex's unprotected cheekbone and despite herself, Kara grins.
But then Lex is activating his gauntlet, shocking her with what feels like a hundred billion volts of electricity to the kidney. Her skin burns, muscles twitching and convulsing and she can only watch, body spasming, as he heaves himself out from beneath her and turns back toward his sister.
At the press of a button the left glove of his suit begins to glow, a fireball appearing in his palm. He pulls back, winding up to launch it at where Lena still lies winded on the clifftop, and Kara screams. Her body won't move, muscles still seizing, but at the very last second she manages to aim a bolt of laser vision at her target. It clips Lex's shoulder and knocks him off balance, the fireball careening into the barrier and exploding in a twisted mass of burning metal.
Lex howls, furious, and wheels on her with a snarl. Kara manages to push herself to her knees, hitting him with a blast of freeze breath that he counters with another flash of flame from his palm.
They circle one another, lockstep, volleying bursts of laser vision and blasts from Lex's Kryptonite canon. “So, you've chosen my sister over your own,” Lex pants, aiming another round that she barely manages to duck. “I must admit, I wasn't sure which way you'd fall on this one.”
Kara only growls, primal and wild. The fear rooting through her at the thought of what may be happening back in National City, of what will happen to Brainy, Nia, J’onn, Kelly, Alex, if they don't disable the bomb in time, lights her up like a livewire. She lasers at Lex's head again, missing him by millimetres.
“Is she really that important?” Lex heaves, winded. Over his shoulder, the crumpled heap that is Lena begins to stir. Lex's face is beet red, straining with exertion. “Is Lena truly worth this?”
Kara thinks the scream she releases probably phrases her answer for her. She launches herself at Lex once more, grabbing him by the collar to propel him into the thick steel barrier at the side of the highway. The impact causes something in his suit to short-circuit, a small explosion singeing the ends of her eyelashes.
They're close now to where Lena still lies, and Lex's eyes land on her with a demented kind of glee. “Lena!” she screams, wrapping both arms beneath Lex's shoulders and planting her feet on the remains of the railing to propel them both up and over it, away from the younger woman.
“Get to the car,” she yells as they sail through the air, as Lena pushes herself shakily onto hands and knees below them. “Get out of here, go!”
She tosses Lex high into the air, winding up to clock him square in the face when he comes back down but the bastard seems to have regained some control of his suit now, using his jet thrusters to circle her as his canon winds up for another shot. His eyes are manic, his grin downright predatory. He looks far too calm for someone in the losing stages of a fight, and that more than anything gives her reason to pause.
“Are you sure the car is the best idea?” Lex asks smoothly, face breaking into a hungry smile as they circle one another in mid-air. Kara's stomach drops. She casts out the net of her senses, pivoting as she x-rays the scene until— there. A tiny bundle of wires and C4, strapped to the underside of the car.
The second of distraction costs her. Lex is on her like a rabid dog, clawing and punching with enough force to knock the breath from her lungs. He shocks her again and she wavers in the air, stunned.
Lex catches her by the hood of her sweatshirt— in all the chaos, she hadn't even had time to change into her suit. She dangles from his grasp a hundred feet above the sand, twitching helplessly. Behind and below her, she hears the sound of Lena pulling open the car door. She wants to cry out, wants to shout a warning, but the muscles of her throat are as paralysed as the rest of her.
“You put up a good fight,” Lex pants as his face twists in a sneer, Kryptonite canon glowing bright on the gauntlet aimed directly between her eyes. “But even gods can fall.”
The end is coming, Kara knows. The end in its finite entirety, composed of a detonation in National City, a car bomb in Washington state, the roar of a Kryptonite canon above the Pacific Ocean. Wind whips at their hovering bodies and just for a second, Lex's grip slips. Just for a moment, she's falling, and this will be her end.
But she knows, now. She understands.
She didn’t start falling when the Lexosuit shocked her out of the sky. She started falling back when Lex Luthor hit her with a Phantom Zone projector. Or maybe back when the Crisis ripped the multiverse apart. When the air was seeded with Kryptonite, or when Reign punched her into a coma, or when she stood in an elevator beside the woman she loves and realised she'd lost her before she'd ever held her at all.
Maybe she's been falling since she'd stood on the wing of a floating plane and declared herself more than this world had ever seen before. Or maybe since her own planet shook itself apart in her rear-view mirror.
Kara Zor-El has been falling for years. It’s no wonder she won’t survive hitting the ground.
Lex's fingers snag in her collar, and Kara's eyes slide closed.
She couldn't save them, Lena and Alex and the rest, but at least she will die with them now. At least she won't have to outlive them alone. Survival has long been too heavy a mantle to bear. It's not one she wants to shoulder ever again.
She hears the whir of the canon arming, feels the scorch of the Kryptonite's proximity through her veins. She sucks in a breath, and she believes it will be her last. In her mind, she says sorry. She thinks of love. She says goodbye.
And then, through the whistling of the wind and the heaving of her chest and the pounding in her ears, she hears another sound. A high-pitched beep, just one; the very specific pitch of the very specific watch belonging to the very specific person who has always counted on her to keep them safe.
Kara's eyes fly open. Alex. She's disarmed the bomb. They're safe. They're alive.
She's always known survival to be a lonely thing but now, she realises, perhaps it doesn't have to be.
With a strength she'd thought long squandered, Kara roars. She slithers out of her sweatshirt and drops from Lex's grip, feeling the rising sun graze her skin as it breaks over the eastward mountains.
It doesn't matter that she's nowhere near full strength. It doesn't matter that she's bloodied and bruised and more bone-weary than ever before. Alex and the others, they're alive, and at least for the moment, Lena is too. Kara's job is not over. There's still more she must do.
She flies at Lex like a banshee, wrapping all four limbs around the hard shell of his suit so he can't pull back enough to aim his gauntlet. She squeezes and rips and tears, decimating the suit around him, raining blow after blow on his unprotected head and she is not a god, but she will bring vengeance from on high for this man, this scourge on her existence.
Lex grapples and grunts but he's no match for her now, no match for the fire blazing through her veins. She rips the last piece of the suit from his body, throws the Kryptonite gauntlet as far as she can toward the horizon and then she has him by the scruff of the neck, eyes glowing hotter than the rising sun.
“You will never,” she growls, voice chilling even to her own ears, “threaten the people I love again.”
And then she tosses him into the air before her, a tennis pro winding up for the ace that will win the match, and uses every last fibre of strength in her body to smash Lex Luthor out of the sky.
He plummets, hitting the beach below with a sickening thud and skidding a little in the damp sand. He rolls to a stop face down in the surf and lays there, unmoving.
Kara spares less than half a second on his motionless form before she's propelling herself back toward the clifftop, to the car and the bomb, to Lena. Her fingers wrap around a slender wrist and she pulls, hard, no time for tempering or restraint.
Lena tumbles out of the open door, sprawling over the rough concrete, breath knocked from her lungs in a shuddering gasp. There's no time to check on her, no time for anything. Not even a goodbye.
Kara grabs at the car, one hand on the fender and the other on the chassis, and pushes off from the ground so hard the concrete splits beneath her feet. She flies straight up, as hard and as fast as her straining muscles will allow. Up, until the road is a thin grey snake beneath her, hugging the choppy coast and the rolling waves. Up, until she breaks through the haze of mist shrouding the beach and the rising sun streams across her unimpeded. Up, until she can hardly hear Lena's screams.
She doesn't have long, she's sure. The exact equation required to figure out the moment of detonation for the bomb in her arms, the speed of sound multiplied by the distance to National City then minus the time that's elapsed since Lex triggered the damn thing, is too much for her wearied mind. Nevertheless, there can't be long left.
She should throw the car, she knows. Should crouch in the air, curl in on herself and then straighten to send vehicle and bomb as high into the stratosphere as she can possibly manage. But is she high enough yet? Could she get it further from the Earth, further from Lena? Further, higher still, so the inevitable shrapnel has less chance of damaging anything precious below?
She should throw it now, probably. Now. Now. But here it still is, clasped in her arms. And maybe a part of her doesn't want to let go. Maybe that tiny, exhausted, resigned part of her had been ready, too ready, to embrace the end. Maybe it doesn't want to keep fighting.
She has to throw it now, she has to. The countdown must be up, the explosion is primed. Weak as she is, she won't bounce back. This flight is taking everything she has. Soon, there will be nothing left.
She has to throw it now, she's thinking, as the bomb cradled to her chest explodes.
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.
For one single, breathless moment, the world stands still. And then Kara is gone.
Chapter 2: lift that burden off of me
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
Chapter 3: somebody said it's unspeakable love
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.