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you are my sun, my moon, and all my stars

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 i. the summer

 

Sister.

 

Alex has never had a sister before. Or a brother. It’s always just been Mom and Dad and Alex.

 

But yesterday, Mom had knelt on one knee, even though Alex is fourteen and almost as tall as her, and she’d taken one of Alex’s hand and cradled it in both of hers.

 

“Somebody’s going to come live with us. She lost her family and she needs us. I want you to treat her like a sister,” Mom had said with a pinched look on her face. Alex has never lost anybody in her life before. She's also never taken care of anybody, ever, and she doesn’t know why this is falling on her shoulders.

 

A rough, rough weight that’s hurting her collarbones and putting pressure just below her heart.

 

“I want us to treat her like family,” Dad reminds them as they wait in the living room. What they’re waiting for, Alex doesn’t know, but she can’t stop fidgeting and feeling like there’s a hand pulling at all her insides.

 

And then Kara comes, dressed in all white and with bangs falling over her eyes.

 

Alex runs upstairs.

 

She doesn’t want a sister.

 

*

 

“Eliza says your name is Alex,” is the first thing Kara says to her, in that stilted voice that sounds like she’s addressing the President of the United States. Alex wants to make fun of her for it, but Kara doesn’t know who the president is. Or that she’s living in the United States.

 

“Alexandra,” she corrects, pulling her hair into a ponytail. Kara is standing just outside her door and she’s twisting her hands together nervously. She’s looking at Alex with a pained expression, like she’s trying very hard to keep standing.  “But don’t call me that.”

 

Kara nods and steps a little closer, just shy of stepping inside Alex’s room.

 

“My name is Kara Zor-El,” she starts confidently, but her voice catches at the very last word. She says her r’s differently, like how the Spanish teacher at her school sometimes slips into her accent.

 

“Zor-El?” Alex is a little curious despite it all, and she turns from her mirror to frown at Kara.

 

“It’s my father’s name,” she whispers and her face pinches like Mom’s had when she told Alex Kara had lost an entire planet.

 

Alex doesn’t really know what to do, so she steps past Kara out into the hallway. She thinks Mom must be around the corner, but Alex doesn’t know why she didn’t just introduce them herself.

 

“Cool.” Alex shrugs. “You see that?” Alex points to her door, grabbing the handle and pulling it close to her body.

 

Kara nods and leans in to peer into Alex’s room with a curious glint in her eye.

 

Blue. Her eyes are blue like Mom’s and Alex’s are brown like Dad’s. She doesn't know how to feel about this yet.

 

“That’s my room. Nobody goes in, not even after you knock, alright?” She says it a little more forcefully than she should, but she shrugs off the guilt just like she’s swallowing the lump at the back of her throat.

 

Kara’s eyes are wide as she nods again, stepping back to let Alex slam the door shut. The sound makes her bones vibrate a little and for a moment, she pretends it's the house shaking and not her.

 

Kara flinches and shuts her eyes tightly.

 

“Kara? Where’d you go?”

 

Mom comes up the stairs panting and Alex realizes Kara went looking for her all on her own. She wonders if Mom had mentioned she had a daughter and Kara had come running up the stairs. The lump becomes bigger and she swallows roughly when Kara looks down to the ground and says nothing.

 

“Oh,” she says when she arrives at the foot of the stairs. “You’ve met Alex.”

 

Mom is frowning like Alex did something wrong already, and suddenly, all of her guilt ebbs off to make way for anger. Mom is looking at Kara and Kara’s looking at the floor, and everybody is standing too close to each other.

 

“I’m going down to the beach,” she shoulders past both of them and starts making her way downstairs when Mom yells out again.

 

“Take Kara with you!”

 

(And Alex doesn’t know it yet, but this is her most feared phrase after Kara’s come to live with them.)

 

She pretends she doesn't hear and leaves.

 

*

 

Kara has powers. She lived in a planet called Krypton before she was sent away, and now her whole family is blown up and long gone and dead.

 

Except for Superman.

 

Because Kara’s only remaining family is the superhero, Superman, and Alex, who has one aunt that lives with two cats and another uncle across the country, feels like Kara should be glad that her cousin isn’t a baby anymore.

 

Kara has family, and it’s with Superman, not with the Danvers.

 

Except she takes their last name and takes up their extra room and takes up the chair Alex used to put her feet up in the kitchen table.

 

Mom and Dad and Alex.

 

Oh, and Kara, the crash landing alien.

 

*

 

The first night, Kara breaks three glasses of water and dents the kitchen table.

 

Alex watches from her spot on the couch. She has a baseball in her hand and a glove in the other, absentmindedly throwing the ball back and forth. She had the sudden need to catch ball with Dad but he explained that Kara needed them right now. Right at this very second. 

 

So she’s watching with a scowl on her face as Kara pinches her eyes shut and bites her lip hard.

 

“What can you see?” Dad asks. He's kneeling in front of Kara with one hand at her shoulder and the other cradling her hand.

 

“Everything,” Kara whispers and Alex stops twirling the ball at the fear that catches in Kara’s throat. “Kal-El said- he said it would take time but I can see your bones and-.” Her breathing hitches and she shuts her eyes impossibly tighter.

 

“I can hear my heart beating and Alex’s and Eliza’s and- and-.“ There’s tears streaming down her face and she’s clutching Dad’s hand like a lifeline. “I thought it was normal. I thought you saw it, too?”

 

Dad and Mom share a concerned look over Kara's head and Alex throws the ball a little harder against her glove, inexplicably mad.

 

And then, several things happen at once.

 

Kara screams, one sharp shriek that raises the hairs on the back of Alex’s neck.

 

Dad grunts and tears his hand from Kara's grip, shaking it slightly with a grimace on his face.

 

Alex drops the ball without meaning to and it bounces three times on the ground. The sound rings out across the room, louder than she thought was possible.

 

Kara screams again.

 

*

 

“You need to learn to control your strength,” Mom says one night, a week after Kara’s taken over the room next to Alex’s.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kara says automatically, staring at the cracked plate in her hand. They have gone through more plates and glasses than there are days in the year and Alex doesn’t know if she’s jealous that Kara has super strength or that she gets to break things for fun.

 

(Alex doesn’t do jealous, except she’s never had anybody to be this jealous of before and she feels like she might choke and collapse from the green monster clawing at her chest.)

 

“You’ll be starting school soon,” Kara’s eyes light up, and then dim again as her X-Ray vision kicks in. Alex has gotten good at noticing when Kara's powers slip through her fingers. “We need you to be ready, Kara.”

 

Kara nods, her bangs falling over her eyes. Alex stays quiet, like she usually does when Kara’s in the room, taking up space with her white clothes and her long, long hair.

 

(Alex’s hair takes time to grow, and it’s brown and limp and won’t grow past her shoulders.)

 

“I don't want to hurt anybody,” she whispers, staring at her hands.

 

Alex snorts, the sound ripping through her nose and tongue before she can reel it in. Kara keeps doing things she doesn’t want to do, no matter how hard she tries.

 

(One broken brush, another broken bat, Kara’s guilty face as she hides the pieces behind her back.

 

“I didn't mean to, Alex!”)

 

Mom turns around from where she’s washing vegetables in the sink and Kara’s head snaps up to look at Alex with wide eyes.

 

“I would never hurt you, Alex,” Kara says seriously, a little frown between her eyes. “Never.”

 

Kara’s eyes are brimming with tears and it’s suddenly very important that Alex says the right thing, even if she hasn’t addressed Kara since that first day, even if she’s pretending she doesn’t have a new addition to her family.

 

“I know,” she says, and smiles thinly when Mom nods and turns back to the sink.

 

Kara sighs in relief and the smile she throws Alex’s way is blinding enough for Alex to turn around and kick her bedroom door close.

 

*

 

Kara mixes orange juice with milk and drinks three glasses of it before Alex says something.

 

Dad laughs when he enters the kitchen and Mom lays a hand on Kara’s shoulder. They keep touching Kara, like they need the constant reminder that she’s there and won’t float away.

 

Look at me , Alex wants to shout.

 

Instead, she dumps Kara’s glass down the drain and serves her orange juice without milk. 

 

Dad lays a hand on Alex’s shoulder and Alex feels like she can finally breathe.

 

*

 

Kara comes to live with them in the middle of summer, which means Alex is alone with Kara a lot.

 

(Alex used to spend the summers alone, sneaking out and crawling up the tree outside her room when Mom came back from the lab. -with Kara is added to everything she does now and it makes her heart clench and her legs itch with the need to run.)

 

She’s three steps behind Alex at all times, and she can’t seem to get rid of her, no matter how hard she tries.

 

And Alex does try, even if Mom says Kara shouldn’t be left alone in the street, even if Dad says Kara doesn’t have full control of her powers yet.

 

Alex doesn’t care.

 

(Alex goes to the park- with Kara.)

 

Her friends notice, because it’s hard not to notice the girl with the hair up to her waist, always wearing white and wiping the bangs from her face. (Kara refuses to cut her bangs. Alex thinks she’s hiding a third eye behind her hair.)

 

They ignore her after the third week, just as well as Alex has been ignoring that Kara’s feet sometimes leave the ground when she’s excited or scared, or how she has more broken things in her room than not.

 

She goes swimming with Alex and her friends, but she doesn’t wear a swimsuit. Instead, she lays three towels at the edge of the pool and stares at the sun until Alex has water coming out of her ears and her skin is wrinkly and soft.

 

“Are you dry enough?” Ernesto yells out to her once, and the rest of her friends laugh and splash merrily. Kara smiles and nods and doesn’t understand.

 

She never understands, and Alex has to explain that god isn’t a physical being, that nail polish isn’t edible and that the internet isn’t going to suck her into the computer.

 

Kara follows her around even when she isn’t smiling and laughing and bouncing. On those days, Alex ignores her even more and doesn’t turn around to make sure Kara is still there.

 

It’s in one of those days, where Kara’s eyes are a little red and she’s dragging her feet, that Alex turns a blind eye and takes her swimsuit out and leaves the house without turning back to see if Kara is following. She is, she always is.

 

(Alex goes shopping- with Kara.)

 

And Alex ignores the way Kara puts four towels on the ground and puts a hand over her eyes as she lays beneath the sun. She ignores the little shake of Kara’s feet that means she’s going to start flying soon.

 

She ignores it all until she can’t anymore, because Susie is pointing behind Alex’s shoulder to Kara, who’s curled up on the floor covering her ears. Her eyes are shut tight and her whole frame is shaking so hard, she’s a blur of white.

 

Alex drags herself out of the pool and her hands slip on the ledge and her knees bang against the wall as she tries not to panic. She feels everybody’s eyes on her as she effortlessly picks up Kara, knowing she’ll weight next to nothing when she’s already levitating slightly off the ground.

 

Kara starts feeling heavy in her arms after her ear falls over Alex’s heart, and by the time Alex turns a corner and spots the house, she’s breathing hard and sweating through her swimsuit. 

 

Mom’s on the phone when they get there.

 

Alex is dripping water on the hardwood floor because she forgot Kara’s four towels back at the pool and Kara is mumbling something about feeling everything all at once, -and your bones and mine and Eliza’s and your heart is beating so so so fast Alex, why why why-

 

“Where was she?” Mom asks, taking Kara from Alex’s wet arms. She’s still shaking so much and Alex doesn’t want to look any further. Doesn’t want to hear Kara cry.

 

“With me,” Alex says simply, wrapping her arms around her cold stomach. 

 

(Alex eats breakfast- with Kara.)

 

Mom sends Alex outside to dry and when the door shuts loudly, she knows Kara will hear that clearly in her head. She works on breathing deeply and making her hands stay still because Kara is listening and she’ll know that, for just a second, Alex was afraid.

 

(Alex has a family- with Kara.)

 

*

 

“They’re lined with lead, sweetheart. You won’t see through anyone’s skin with these,” Alex hears Dad mumble, and she peers in to the garage to see what they’re doing. Her throat’s felt tight ever since Kara’s panic attack, and she’s been hovering around the house with nothing to do, always peering past corners and spying on Kara from afar.

 

“No more bones,” Dad chuckles, apparently answering Kara’s soft reply. Alex looks in further and sees Dad fixing the glasses on Kara’s nose, brushing her bangs aside and smiling lightly.

 

Kara throws her arms around her Dad, and they stay like that until Alex feels like she’s back at the pool, everything dulled and intensified at the same time.

 

She leaves them like that, among the odd couches and cabinets and extra chairs, hugging tightly.

 

She wonders when she started feeling so out of place in her own home.

 

*

 

Kara breaks her bed after the second month, and she cries big, fat tears as Mom strokes her hair in the middle of the night.

 

Alex hovers in the doorway-

 

always hovering, always left aside, discarded, alone

 

-while Dad inspects the broken frame and the cracked legs.

 

Kara had a nightmare, and Mom and Dad came running in their robes and their slippers, only to find Alex frantically tugging a screaming Kara back down from where she was floating above the bed.

 

And now she’s explaining how she had dreamt of orange and green and black and falling asleep in something Mom calls the Phantom Zone. Dad frowns and looks up from where he’s jiggling the bed leg.

 

Mom presses Kara’s head to her chest and Alex crosses her arms and tries not to ask what the hell a Phantom Zone is.

 

“What can we do to help, sweetheart?” Mom asks, and Kara stays quiet for a very long time. Alex blinks back the sleep from her eyes and stifles a yawn.

 

When Kara speaks, it’s so soft and muffled by Mom’s robe that Alex doesn’t catch it. And then Mom lifts her head and looks at Alex, she knows she won’t like what’s gonna happen next.

 

“Alex, sweetheart-.“

 

And that’s how Kara moves in to Alex’s room, and keeps taking and taking things from Alex.

 

*

 

Every year, before school starts after a long, perfect summer, Mom and Dad take Alex to the beach for a picnic.

 

Mom shuts her phone off and Dad packs Alex’s favorite pie in their little weaved basket. There’s sandwiches and baseball bats and sodas and the bright sun in Alex’s eyes as she relaxes with her parents.

 

She goes to bed with sun kissed skin and a smile on her face because she knows that even if everything goes wrong in the school year, at least she’ll have this one day.

 

Alex lives for the times Mom and Dad spend the entire day with her, where Mom plays with her hair and Dad compliments her throwing arm.

 

Except this year, Kara asks Mom to make pecan pie instead and suddenly, there’s no room for Alex’s favorite dessert, and they pack kites instead of baseballs and bats. 

 

Dad and Mom and Alex and Kara. The words are bitter against Alex’s tongue.

 

She has a hard time enjoying the sun and the water when Kara’s kicking up sand as she runs around them in circles, laughing merrily as the kite above her soars and soars.

 

Mom and Dad are watching with smiles on their faces and Alex wants to run into the ocean and scream until Kara stops laughing and stops ruining Alex’s one day that was supposed to be hers.

 

“Why aren’t you ever careful!” Alex bites out after Kara kicks sand into Alex’s half finished plate. The laughing stops.

 

“Alex,” Mom says, frowning and shaking her head.

 

Alex sees Dad look at Kara, she sees Mom’s disapproving gaze, sees Kara swallowing roughly and opening her mouth to apologize.

 

Alex jumps to her feet and ignores Dad calling her name.

 

-

 

Dad finds her behind a boulder, kicking sand and drawing lines with a stick.

 

He doesn’t say anything, just sits next to Alex and takes ahold of her pinky finger, holding tight. Alex feels her anger ebb away, but that only means that her eyes start to swim with tears and her throat closes up.

 

She leans her head on Dad’s strong arm and lets him stay there until she doesn’t have anything else to cry about. Alex doesn’t really know why she’s crying, she just knows that there’s been something holding tight inside her heart that she’s only now starting to pay attention to.

 

When they walk back together, Alex’s pinky still hooked to Dad’s, Alex thinks none of this would be happening if they had just asked how she felt about Kara.

 

(Angry and hurt and inexplicably jealous of the girl who can touch the stars.)

 

*

 

ii. the first school year

 

“You have many friends, Alex.”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Did you meet them at your school?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Do you think I will make friends there, too?”

 

“…”

 

“Alex?”

 

“Yeah, you’ll have friends. Lots.”

 

“You think so?”

 

“Go to sleep, Kara.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

*

 

Going back to school means no strange little alien in white clothes following Alex around.

 

It means Kara isn’t asking her about Earth and food and TV shows and the internet.

 

It means Alex has enough room to breathe and think and talk. She feels like she spent the entire summer quiet, like she’s lost her voice.

 

*

 

Kara cries at night and in between meals when she pretends to go to the bathroom.

 

She can’t tie her shoes because the texture of her laces grate on the nerves in her fingertips and she showers every three days because she swears she can hear the water rolling off her skin and pooling at her feet.

 

Alex showers every other day and doesn’t ask for help in algebra and doesn’t mention to Dad how she’s lagging behind in English.

 

Kara can fly.

 

Alex can’t.

 

It’s this thought that keeps her from showing her parents her progress report.

 

*

 

Kara is strangely obsessed with mythology.

 

Hercules, Thor, Icarus, Khepera.

 

She doesn’t know how to read English all that well, but Dad retells a new story every night at the kitchen table.

 

Kara’s eyes are wide and blue, and Mom smiles whenever Kara gasp.

 

Alex isn’t jealous.

 

She’s too old for a bed time story anyways.

 

*

 

“And the clouds, the white things up there, did you know they make water?”

 

“Rain, yeah.”

 

“And then it comes down, and the big star up there, your god-“

 

“The sun.”

 

“The sun! It evaporates the water and it comes back up again, and the clouds let the water fall! It is a bicycle!”

 

“A cycle. The water cycle.”

 

“Yes! Alex, I did not know your sun was capable of so much.”

 

“That’s great.”

 

“Am I bothering you?”

 

“…No.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

*

 

Mom starts a new research project, which means Dad cooks a lot in the afternoon and orders pizza and lets Kara have fifths and sixths.

 

Their laundry starts piling up, because the three of them don’t know when they’re supposed to put the soap in or when to put the detergent in. They’re managing.

 

Until they can’t any longer and Dad scratches the side of his beard, tells Kara and Alex to bring down all their laundry and sets to work.

 

He turns all of Kara’s white clothes to pink and blue, and the look of devastation on Kara’s face the following morning makes Alex shake her head and go back upstairs because she knows they’ll start hugging again.

 

Kara comes into Alex’s room (hers hers hers, it can’t be Kara’s too) and sheepishly twists her hands until they’re turning as pink as her clothes. Alex dumps her books in her bag and she’s moving on to braid her hair back when Kara speaks.

 

“Alex?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Can I…can I borrow a shirt?”

 

And Alex has to roll her eyes because Kara sounds so terrified.

 

“Pick whichever one,” Alex says, pointing to her side of the closet. Alex doesn’t let Kara touch that side, and she thinks that’s why Kara’s tentatively going through the hangers, as if she could tear through the shirts.

 

She probably can, Alex reminds herself, and like any other time she thinks of Kara’s powers, she scowls.

 

“Do you… do you have any white ones?”

 

And Alex doesn’t know why, but her anger bubbles up and tears through her throat and makes its way out of her mouth.

 

“Why do you always wear that stupid color?”

 

“I-I like it,” Kara stutters, and she takes a step back, her back hitting the hangers.

 

Kara likes sleeping with the light on. Alex doesn’t. Mom keeps the bathroom light on, and Alex sleeps with her arm over her eyes.

 

Whatever Kara likes, Kara gets. And maybe that’s why Alex’s anger rises so quickly.

 

“If you like it so much, just wear this!”

 

She stalks up to Kara and reaches behind her to grab the white slip Kara was wearing when she walked into her life. Kara’s blue eyes grow wide behind her glasses.

 

“Give me that!” Kara yells, and reaches to take the fabric from Alex. “I can’t wear it, it has the crest!”

 

Kara has a grip on one of the sleeves and Alex tugs, hard, until Kara’s barreling forward and past Alex, not used to being pushed when she’s not paying attention to her powers. Alex doesn’t let go of the dress, and neither does Kara.

 

And then there’s the sound of ripping and Kara’s eyes, wide with anger, and her fists tight against her body, and the dress, torn right through the crest.

 

“Oh,” Alex says numbly, and lets go of the fabric.

 

Kara looks at the torn dress in her hands, and stands up to face Alex.

 

“You- you-“ she steps forward and pushes at Alex's shoulders. For a second, Alex thinks she might go flying through her pink room, but Kara’s shove only makes her take a tiny step backwards.

 

She should have known that Kara is gentle even when she’s angry.

 

“That was the last thing I had of-.” Kara screams but cuts herself off with a hand on her mouth. Alex licks her lips nervously as Kara starts shaking. “The last of my family,” she says again and looks down at the floor where the fabric lies crumpled and ruined.

 

Why does everything Kara say make Alex’s blood boil and her ears hum?

 

“Really, cause you’re acting like we’re your family!” Alex explodes. If Kara feels like her parents are still her family, then she shouldn’t be taking over this one.

 

“I-I- yes. But Eliza and Jeremiah are- are not my parents.”  Kara says. She blinks twice and takes a deep breath, calms down as fast as she got angry. “But you- you are my sister, and sisters fight. Eliza says it is normal. So I-I forgive you.”

 

Alex scoffs and decides she likes Kara better when she’s angry.

 

“We,” Alex points between the two of them, “are not family. You said it yourself. Mom and Dad are my parents, my family, not yours. And I’m not your sister.”

 

Kara’s mouth parts open, and Alex thinks she’s going to push her again.

 

(Alex wants it to happen, she feels like she needs to fight and scream and make things right in a way that means she can finally be angry.)

 

Instead, Kara’s fist close again and she pushes her lips together in an angry pout.

 

“Fine!” She yells with her cheeks red, and turns on her heel. “I didn’t want a sister anyways!”

 

Alex follows her and when Kara crosses the door and stalks to the restroom, Alex doesn’t like that she’s had the final word.

 

“Fine!” Alex yells back and slams the door closed. Seconds later, Kara closes the restroom door hard enough that the wall shakes.

 

When Alex sits down on her bed, she’s breathing hard and her heart is beating too fast.

 

She can hear Kara crying through the wall.

 

*

 

(Khepera is the god of the morning sun.

 

Kara grows tired when the sun first disappears and moves around excitedly before six in the morning, when the sun rises and her appetite grows.

 

It’s getting really hard to think of Kara as anything but other worldly.

 

A god. Someone like Khepera.

 

Someone better.)

 

*

 

“Kara says the two of you fought.” Mom ambushes her when she’s working through her english homework.

 

“Kara’s a tattle tell.” Alex frowns and tries to hide her work. She doesn’t want Mom to know she’s having a hard time.

 

“Alex.” Mom clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth and Alex keeps looking down at the table, where she’s hiding too many red marks on white paper. “I asked you to look after her, sweetheart. Are you sure that’s what you’re doing?”

 

She’s fourteen years old. She can make Kara one meal, probably, and she doesn’t know how to wash their clothes and she doesn’t know what to do in case Kara accidentally goes flying into the air.

 

She doesn’t know how to take care of Kara, and yet Mom’s acting like it’s the only thing Alex can do.

 

“Alex,” Mom repeats after she hasn’t answered.

 

“No,” Alex mumbles begrudgingly.

 

“Try to get along with her, alright? Try and help us out.”

 

Help us. Mom and Dad and Kara.

 

Oh, and Alex, the alien babysitter.

 

“I’ll try,” she says, ruffling papers around and biting her lip.

 

“That’s my girl,” Mom says, and she stands up from the table and drops a kiss to Alex’s bent head.

 

Warmth spreads all over Alex’s chest.

 

My girl.

 

*

 

“Alex? Are you awake?”

 

“…”

 

“It’s just...”

 

“...”

 

“...I miss my mom. And my dad. I miss them every single time I wake up. But when I’m here, when I’m with you- and your parents- I feel a little better. Like I can keep walking.”

 

“…”

 

“Anyways, I-I lied. Earlier, when I said I didn’t want a sister? I do want you, and I’m sorry that I want your parents too.”

 

“…”

 

“Goodnight, Alex.”

 

*

 

Kara only talks about Krypton in her sleep, when she’s curled up in a ball and she lets herself think of her parents.

 

Alex lays awake, listening, but never touches Kara.

 

That night though, Kara whimpers and cries and Alex can see her body slowly levitate off the mattress. The bathroom light is illuminating the hardwood floor in their room, and Alex can see Kara’s crumpled sheet falling over the bed, spilling into the wood.

 

She takes two deep breaths and slips out of her bed so silently she thinks even Kara wouldn’t hear her.

 

Picking up the sheets and moving on her tip toes, Alex stops directly in front of Kara’s bed and bites her lip. Will this work? (Does she want to do this?)

 

And then Kara whimpers again and Alex snaps into action, heart thudding in her ears.

 

She slips into Kara’s cold bed and counts to ten before she slowly reaches up to where Kara’s floating in a tight, scared ball. She hooks a finger over Kara’s pajamas and tugs gently, so, so gently in case Kara wakes.

 

When she finally hits the mattress, hair fanning out and hitting Alex in the face, Alex makes sure she’s not touching her body and scoots as far as she can in the small bed. Kara continues sleeping, but her whimpers quiet down. Her crying stops after Alex’s heartbeats returns to normal.

 

When morning comes, Alex slips back into her own bed before Kara wakes.

 

*

 

Kara eats her eggs with ketchup and likes to munch on ice while Mom and Dad cook dinner. She doesn’t like green peas and eats cheese with everything and before she came to Earth, she didn’t know what sugar tasted like.

 

If Kara didn’t have any alien powers, she would have a lot of pimples by now.

 

At least that’s what Alex thinks.

 

*

 

Krypton is 2,000 light years away from Earth.

 

One light year is approximately six trillion miles, which means Krypton is twelve trillion miles away from Earth.

 

Which means Kara’s home and parents and friends and teachers and favorite places to walk in are twelve trillion miles away from Earth.

 

Alex doesn’t really know what all of these numbers mean, she just knows that she’s been home with Mom and Dad ever since she was born and that Kara, who won’t hug anybody without permission and won’t take off her glasses when she showers, still calls Alex’s house the ‘Danvers’ place.’

 

Alex doesn’t know much these days but she does know this: Kara isn’t leaving any time soon.

 

*

 

Alex fails English.

 

Kara comes home with her first report card, all C’s, and Mom bakes her a cake and Dad lifts her on his shoulder and runs around the house while Kara laughs and Alex stares and stares.

 

She shoves her report card under her bed. Nobody asks.

 

*

 

Kara’s nightmares grow worse.

 

Or maybe they’ve always been this bad. Maybe Alex never had any reason to stay up after Kara’s fallen asleep, or she’s never realized that Kara murmurs things in another language when she’s not busy trying to fit in.

 

“Uska kir…”

 

She does’t understand the language and Mom and Dad say she shouldn’t ask because it might upset Kara.

 

Alex thinks Kara is dying to share Krypton with anybody that will listen.

 

She sees it in the way Kara’s eyes light up when she sees something on this Earth that reminds her of her land, in the way she turns around excitedly and looks for someone to share it with only to realize that nobody here understands what she’s trying to say.

 

Alex sees this, but never asks.

 

*

 

Mom and Dad sometimes fight about stupid stuff in the middle of the night. Alex knows it’s stupid because the next morning, Dad’s hand rests on Mom’s hip as she flips the eggs and she smiles like the sun’s behind her eyes.

 

The fighting doesn’t wake Alex, but a certain girl with alien ears shakes Alex awake anyway.

 

“They’re fighting again,” Kara whispers. Alex has a hard time not punching Kara in the shoulder as her bleary eyes take in the time. 1:36 a.m.

 

“Again?”

 

“They fought last Friday. And yesterday.” Kara’s twisting her white camisole between her hands and her bare feet are shuffling beside Alex’s bed.

 

“Adults fight. It’s dumb. Go to sleep, Kara,” Alex rolls over and faces the wall, hoping Kara will get the hint and crawl back to her own bed.

 

There’s a very long pause where Alex actually thinks she’s fallen asleep, but a small hiccup jars her mind awake again.

 

“Kara,” she groans and flips to face the ceiling dramatically. “I swear to Go-.“

 

“They’re fighting about me,” she whispers again. Alex’s hands curl into fists and she closes her eyes tightly before she breathes through her nose.

 

“No, they’re not.”

 

“I heard them. They’re not talking now, but I heard them, Alex.”

 

“What did they say?” Alex asks because she knows Kara will not tell her unless she expresses interest. It’s annoying.

 

“That I- that I shouldn’t have gone to school so soon,” her voice lowers and Alex finally opens her eyes. Kara looks so small standing in the middle of the room, with her shoulders hunched to her ears and her cheeks wet with tears.

 

Alex sighs and sits up.

 

The covers pool around her waist and she stares at the shivering girl in her white camisole. Behind her, Kara’s covers are on the floor and the pillow is thrown a few feet from the bed.

 

Kara’s been turning and tossing again and Alex resigns herself to another sleepless night because of her.

 

“They don’t think I’m careful enough,” Kara continues when Alex simply stares.

 

“You do need to be more careful,” she says this bitterly but draws her knees to her chest and gives Kara room to sit. Kara hesitates, like she always does when she’s offered something she wants, but sits gingerly at the very edge of the mattress.

 

“I am trying.”

 

“So try harder,” Alex shrugs and rests her head against the wall.

 

Not a lot of people talk to Kara at school.

 

Very few people know her name, but everybody knows who she is: the girl the Danvers’ fostered, the girl who keeps staring at the sky and is bad in every class but gym.

 

Kara stays silent after that and Alex feels her muscles relax, feels her mind drift until it’s almost blank and quiet.

 

“Alex,” Kara whispers. Alex opens her eyes to see Kara gripping the mattress, her shoulders up to her ears now. “Do you think- do you think if I can’t control my- my…”

 

Dad and Mom have no problem whispering the word ‘powers’ at the dinner table, but the word gets stuck awkwardly in Kara’s throat, making her look like she’s swallowing something sharp.

 

“Your powers?” Alex fills in tiredly, sitting up straighter to shake the sleep off her eyes.

 

“Yes. That.” Kara’s chin falls against her chest. “Do you think they could- would send me away?”

 

“Who? My parents?”

 

It's late.

 

Alex is tired.

 

She’s also cranky, because humans get cranky when they don’t sleep or eat or when Kara doesn’t know when to stop being so- everything.

 

“Yes,” she says again, voice small. “O-or anybody. Whoever they’re scared of.”

 

So Kara's noticed, too. Mom and Dad are just as bad at lying as Kara is.

 

“No, Kara.” Alex doesn’t look her in the eye. She doesn’t want to see the palpable fear or the way she keeps gripping the mattress hard enough to dent. “Nobody is sending you away.”

 

Okay,” Kara exhales quickly, like she’s been waiting to say that word since the beginning, but doesn’t truly believe it. 

 

Kara leans forward, ready to stand and Alex opens her mouth to stop her, to say something more comforting like ‘it’s illegal to send your adopted child to the streets in the U.S.’ but Kara decides to push off the bed in that second.

 

Alex’s mouth snaps closed when the bed shakes and the mattress dips as Kara pushes a little too forcefully. She feels the beginnings of a laugh tickle its way up her throat and she has the sudden urge to let a hysterically giggle escape her as she hears something snap.

 

Maybe it’s the late hour, or the fact that this is the third bed Kara’s broken in less than a month, or the way Kara’s eyes are open wide and her hand comes up to cover her mouth- or maybe it’s because Alex is jostled off the bed and lands roughly on Kara’s cold feet- but a huffed laugh escapes her mouth.

 

Kara looks down at her, a terrified expression on her face that makes her eyes look unbelievably  big- and Alex’s small huff turns to a snort.

 

Kara stands still, her hands still clasped tightly over her mouth. Alex can see how her eyes are watering slightly from the lack of blinking.

 

“Oh my god,” Kara whimpers through her hands and Alex laughs harder because the phrase sounds so weird coming from her.

 

She puts the emphasis on the ‘oh’ and and pronounces her ‘d’s’ like a sharp t and it’s not funny, it really, really isn’t but Kara’s eyes are so wide and her hands are still holding on to her mouth like she’s about to eat them.

 

Alex is breathless with hysteria and Kara looks absolutely terrified.

 

“You broke the bed,” Alex whispers, clutching her sides and looking up at Kara with half closed eyes. “Again.”

 

“I’m sorry?” Kara says, dropping her hands from her face and revealing the confused twist of her mouth.

 

Alex snorts through her nose painfully and shakes her head. The floor is beginning to feel hard against her back and she thinks maybe her parents can hear her laughing but Kara’s lips are lifting in a hesitant smile and her eyes are dancing with confused happiness.

 

“Oh, my god,” Alex says breathlessly, hooking a hand over Kara’s ankle to help her sit up.

 

“Oh, my god,” Kara repeats and she bounces with excitement when Alex wipes a finger underneath her eye. “I broke the bed.”

 

“Mom’s gonna be so mad,” Alex giggles and she hears Kara’s twinkling laugh echo hers.

 

“Really mad,” Kara agrees, nodding vigorously and extending her hand to help Alex up.

 

She stands and drops Kara’s cold hand. Suddenly, all of her hysteria leaves her and she’s left standing awkwardly next to Kara, who’s looking at her with crinkled eyes like they’ve just shared an inside joke.

 

“Come on,” Alex says, turning away from bright eyes and picking up the sheets Kara threw off the bed. “Let’s go to sleep before Mom finds out.”

 

Kara giggles again. It’s a sound Alex has heard maybe once in the three months Kara’s been staying with them, and she can’t decide if it’s annoying or not.

 

“We are going to have to buy a new bed.”

 

“Well, we can’t buy a new alien,” Alex says, slipping into Kara’s bed and scooting back until her shoulders hit the wall.

 

Alex realizes the words might hit her the wrong way, but when she looks over to Kara as she settles over the pillows, she only sees a small smile on her face.

 

“Right,” Kara nods happily and relaxes. “You can’t buy another alien,” she adds, closing her eyes and shuffling around until she’s comfortable.

 

You’re not sending me away, Alex translates and what little lightness remained from when she fell off the bed completely leaves her.

 

She doesn’t sleep that night.

 

*

 

Kara keeps smiling over breakfast.

 

She eats three stacks of pancakes and hums happily when Alex slides her own plate across the table and tells her to finish it.

 

“I was thinking Kara’s never been to the movie theater,” Dad says casually, taking a sip from his mug.

 

And Kara looks at Alex then, because although Kara’s from another planet, she knows when an adult is feeling guilty about something.

 

“She’s never tried popcorn either,” Mom adds and Alex’s mouth twitches with the need to smile at her parents transparency.

 

“What’s popcorn?” Kara asks innocently, and it sounds like every other time she’s asked about something she doesn’t understand, but Alex sees the way she’s swinging her leg underneath her table and how she’s biting the inside of her cheek.

 

“You’ll love it, Kara.” Dad puts his mug down and nods sagely. “It’s Alex’s favorite snack.”

 

And maybe Kara doesn’t know what a movie theater is or what popcorn is either, but she agrees to go simply because she knows Alex wants to.

 

Alex wonders if this is what being a big sister feels like, and then quickly shakes her head to rid herself of the thought.

 

*

 

“We have a theater in Krypton,” Kara whispers conspiratorially in Alex’s ear as they enter the dark building. “But not popcorn. What is it?”

 

Alex rolls her eyes and feels a small jolt of affection at Kara’s playfulness, even if she doesn’t really like how she’s suddenly feeling warm towards the strange little alien.

 

“You know how we have birds?”

 

Kara’s eyes light up and she nearly trips with excitement. Kara’s oddly obsessed with the small creatures.

 

“Popcorn’s the eggs they lay, and we put them in a microwave until they start popping,” Alex continues after Kara’s stopped nodding.

 

Kara really does trip this time, and her hand shoots out to grab Alex’s arm to keep from falling. She grabs on too tightly, like she always does, and Alex sighs as Kara retracts her fingers sheepishly.

 

“And you eat them? You eat- baby birds?”

 

Mom and Dad have refused to explain to Kara where the scrambled eggs she eats every morning actually come from, but Alex thinks Kara would eat them even more heartily if she knew.

 

“Yup,” Alex says and she steps beside her parents at the concession stand and leaves behind a gaping Kara.

 

“-medium popcorn, please.” Alex hears Dad order. She thinks maybe she can get a hotdog thrown into the order if she makes Kara ask.

 

Kara steps forward and tugs urgently on Dad’s shirt until he turns around.

 

“Large,” she asks sheepishly, her eyes wide behind her bangs and her cheeks flushed red. Alex rolls her eyes until Mom gives her an odd look and she goes to the other side of the theater so they won’t see how she’s biting her lip to keep from laughing.

 

She gets four straws and stacks napkins on her palm, and waits for Mom and Dad and Kara to meet her.

 

Except then she sees a man step forward and fill the popcorn machine again and Alex’s heart starts thudding before she even realizes why she should be worried. The man closes the glass door and Alex takes a step forward, her eyes on Kara as the girl bounces excitedly behind the counter.

 

The first pop echoes across the busy theater and Alex sees the exact moment Kara’s defenses fall all around her and her heightened senses take over.

 

Mom and Dad jump when Kara’s suddenly not there, and they look around frantically with a wild edge to their synchronized movements.

 

It’s not the first time Kara’s moved quickly enough not to be seen.

 

But Alex had kept her eyes on her this time, had seen as she gripped the counter and a chunk had broken off easily as soon as Kara took a step back.

 

“Kara,” Mom hisses worriedly and her eyes meet Alex’s across the room. Alex’s feet start moving the second she sees the fear and worry in Mom’s eyes.

 

The popping continues.

 

She ignores Dad as he moves towards the restroom and goes straight to the table at the very front of the room, where a couple of pamphlets and movie posters are scattered over a red table cloth.

 

“Kara?” Alex drops to her knees and lets the straws and napkins scatter over the floor. “Hey, it’s okay.”

 

It really, really isn’t, Alex thinks, because when she lifts the table cloth, Kara is huddled underneath the table with her hands covering her ears.

 

Alex suddenly remembers the pool incident, where Kara’s senses had attacked her all at once and Alex carried her through the sun.

 

She whimpers once and Alex looks behind her where Mom and Dad are moving across the room. Biting her lip, she crawls under the table and lets the table cloth fall over them.

 

“Hey, hey,” Alex murmurs and hovers her hands over Kara’s shaking form.

 

She places a hand on her shoulder and quickly retreats it as Kara’s entire form tenses and jerks.

 

“Okay, so not that,” Alex murmurs to herself and then angles herself so Kara can see her if she lifts her head. There’s not much room under the table but Alex doesn’t think about how uncomfortable she is when she kneels in front of Kara and keeps her hands facing up on her knees.

 

“I’m not gonna touch you,” Alex whispers are low as she can, knowing Kara will hear her. “I’m just- I’m gonna wait it out with you, okay?”

 

Kara doesn’t react but she Alex nods and says “Okay,” for the both of them.

 

The seconds tick by and Alex’s neck starts to hurt from hunching over, but she stays as still as she humanly can. She breathes through her nose and makes sure she doesn’t startle Kara.

 

Outside from under the table, the popping stops.

 

Kara’s hands don’t fall from her ears, but she does shift and straighten out her shoulders a little. Alex doesn’t dare to speak.

 

Kara breathes in deeply through her nose and opens her eyes slowly.

 

It hasn’t passed, or dimmed, or stopped raging a storm in Kara’s mind because her eyes are wild and wide. Alex’s hand twitches and she finds that she desperately wants Mom to show up.

 

She holds Kara’s blank stare and represses the shiver that runs down her back.

 

Mom and Dad are outside and there’s no room for anybody else under the table which means-

 

It’s just Alex and Kara.

 

Alex get the distinct feeling that Kara is waiting for something to happen, for something to set her off again and her murmured words from last night ring in Alex’s ears.

 

Do you think they would send me away?

 

“They’re not really birds,” Alex blurts out, palms still facing upwards on her knees. “The popcorn- I think they’re seeds. Not babies.”

 

She doesn’t know if the words register in Kara’s mind, but she keeps talking in hopes of seeing her eyes come back to the soft blue they usually are, before she does anything rash like run out the door with her alien speed and tell the entire world Alex Danvers’ sister is different.

 

“It’s like, it’s corn. They’re seeds and when they’re exposed to heat they kinda open up from the inside out and explode a little and then you eat them with butter.”

 

Alex works on keeping her heart beating slowly because it’s the first thing Kara focuses on when she’s feeling everything at once. Kara’s glasses are lost somewhere behind her bangs and her knees are drawn up to her chest.

 

“Corn came from Mexico, you know. I think. You’ll learn about it in school. But um, we don’t eat birds. I promise.”

 

She keeps whispering and watches as Kara slowly unravels from the tight ball she’s curled up into.

 

She feels like she’s somehow failing english class all over again and her heart speeds up at the thought of it. Mom’s going to be so pissed and Dad is going to shake his head when he finds them under the table.

 

Alex has never felt more incompetent.

 

“We can go to the zoo, and you can see some birds other than seagulls and pigeons. Actually, that’s how they kill the pigeons in big cities, they feed them corn. Or rice.”

 

Alex cringes and snaps her mouth shut. Kara doesn’t seem like she’s listening, but this- this is important.

 

This is what Mom meant when she said Kara was going to need their help.

 

So Alex takes a great deep breath and holds her heartbeat steady and scoots forward until Kara’s looking at her with her stormy eyes.

 

“It’s okay,” she whispers when Kara shakes her head. “And even if you’re not okay, that’s fine, too.”

 

The tablecloth around them makes Kara look like she’s glowing red. She looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, with her wide, wide eyes and parted mouth and red skin.

 

And yet, she’s never looked more human.

 

“It’s okay,” Alex repeats. She keeps her hands upturned on her knees and when Kara shudders and her eyes blink twice, she reaches a shaking hand and clasps it around Alex’s.

 

“You’re okay,” Alex murmurs and the two of them stay underneath the table until Kara’s heartbeat matches Alex’s.

 

I can hear your heart and Eliza’s and Jeremiah’s and it’s beating so so fast Alex why why why-

 

Alex wraps an arm around Kara’s shoulder and lets the girl’s ear rest over Alex’s heart.

 

And that’s how Mom and Dad find them.

 

Mom and Dad and Alex and Kara.

 

 

ii. the second school year

 

 

Kara starts high school.

 

Alex cuts her hair up to her shoulders because Samantha said that if she cuts off the split ends and cuts it every three months, her hair will grow.

 

Kara cuts her hair because she’s Kara and doesn’t know when to stop being so- everything.

 

Mom and Kara come home late in the afternoon and Alex rolls her eyes when she sees Kara’s hair cropped up to her shoulders. Her bangs are still a problem and she looks like she’s drowning in hair and glasses and bright smiles.

 

She tucks her hair behind her ear and smile shyly at Alex.

 

Dad clears his throat.

 

Mom’s mouth tightens around the corners.

 

And Alex says,

 

“It looks good, Kara.”

 

She surprises herself by reaching forward and tugging the ends of Kara’s hair. When Kara smiles widely and stands a little straighter, Alex rolls her eyes again.

 

And Alex thinks they might be sister’s after all, if sister’s are supposed to be this annoying.

 

*

 

 

“Who’s Barney?”

 

“A dinosaur.”

 

“What’s a dinosaur?”

 

“It- it’s an animal. Or was. It’s like, extinct.”

 

“Like birds.”

 

“Yeah, except they were all murdered.”

 

“What?”

 

“Yeah. By an asteroid.”

 

“…”

 

“There’s a movie on it. Wanna watch it?”

 

“Everybody dies?”

 

“Everybody.”

 

“No, thank you.”

 

 

*

 

 

They find out about Kara’s laser vision when a cockroach skitters over the kitchen floor and Kara yelps in fear.

 

Her glasses glow blue and the skin around her eyes looks like its cracking and the cockroach is incinerated in less than a second.

 

“Wow,” Kara breathes out, fingers wrapped tightly over the spoon she’s bending.

 

“Oh, my god,” Alex frowns, looking at the charred piece of wood where the cockroach once stood. “You killed it.”

 

Kara’s eyes water slightly and she blinks three times.

 

Mom stands from the table and goes to the sink as if nothing’s happened, except her shoulders are hunched and she’s wrapping a hand over her mouth like she’s trying not to scream.

 

(And later, when Alex is Kara’s only nearby family, she will understand why Mom was always on edge, why she was always worried that Kara would slip up and show herself to the world.

 

And much, much later, she will understand that this was the moment Kara knew she had a family, because not one of them flinched. No one was scared.)

 

“I didn’t mean to,” Kara whispers, and she’s still blinking like she’s afraid her laser vision will kick in on it’s own.

 

“Well, I guess we bought all that pesticide for nothing, huh, Liza?”

 

It’s such a bad joke.

 

It’s such a horrible, awful, Dad joke to make, but Mom’s shoulders sag a little and Kara’s lips twitch and Alex begins to think what else laser vision is good for.

 

(And that’s how Alex and Kara accidentally burn down the neighbor’s tree.)

 

 

*

 

“Alex?”

 

She tries to wipe her wet cheeks as quietly as she can, but her sister is an alien with alien ears and alien eyes and she could probably hear her crying from down the street.

 

Alex’s very human ears only heard Kara as she closed their bedroom door behind her.

 

“It’s fine,” Alex says shakily. “I’m- it’s fine.”

 

Mom and Dad found the report card. And the teacher’s note. And the detention slip.

 

Last year, nobody asked when Alex barely passed English.

 

This year, there were shouts and slamming doors and Mom frowning and shaking her head until Alex started to cry.

 

Alex tells herself she does’t care, but then she remembers that before Kara came to live with them, she hadn’t failed at anything.

 

She was the star daughter, star athlete, star girl.

 

And then Kara literally fell from the stars, with her alien powers that come from the brightest star in their planetary system, and outshone Alex in every possible way.

 

Kara’s not even that good at English.

 

“What are they fighting about?” Kara asks gently and brings a hand up to fix her glasses. “They wouldn’t tell me.”

 

Kara’s back from her after school club, some fancy high school art club that lets them paint through their stupid feelings. She has a streak of paint on her new jeans and her hands are smudged with blue.

 

“Nothing,” Alex growls, and tries to move past Kara to cry peacefully in the restroom.

 

Kara moves in front of her in one fluid motion.

 

“I-I…” She stumbles over her words and it only serves to make Alex angrier. Instead of shoving past her (Alex has tried that once, and Kara hadn't even budged) she waits impatiently and runs the back of her hand under her nose.

 

“I failed a class,” Alex says because Kara’s still opening and closing her mouth like she’s looking for words that won’t anger Alex.

 

Kara doesn't know that it takes very little for her anger to rise up.

 

“English?”

 

Yes,” Alex growls again and gives up on moving out of the room. She flops down on her bed and shuts her eyes tight so she won’t start crying again.

 

Kara stays quiet and Alex wishes she would just leave, walk out the door and keep walking until she fell off Earth and flew into space.

 

(These thoughts linger. They’re desperate and mean and Alex doesn’t know how to stop them when she’s feeling like this.)

 

But Kara stays.

 

She walks forward and nudges Alex’s shoulders and smiles thinly when Alex opens her eyes.

 

“Come on,” she says and Alex frowns. “Come on,” Kara repeats and takes Alex’s hand in her own.

 

(Her hands are soft and Alex will never, ever get over how it felt to hold Kara’s hand the very first time. Strong and soft, and completely incapable of hurting Alex.

 

“I would never hurt you, Alex. Ever.”)

 

“Kara, no,” Alex says when she’s placed in front of the window.

 

Alex turns a blind eye to a lot things.

 

Kara using her jeans, Kara breaking her lamp, Kara flying in the middle of the night.

 

“I won’t drop you,” Kara says and climbs out the window.

 

“Kara…” Alex hesitates, sees Kara hover in the air and then follows.

 

“You won’t drop me?” Alex asks as she takes Kara’s hand in hers. It feels soft and small against Alex’s fingers.

 

“Never,” Kara smiles and lifts Alex with her.

 

(It feels just like Alex thought it would: exhilarating and terrifying and exactly right.)

 

 

*

 

They’re getting away with it.

 

They flew over Minnesota and over the lake and over the buildings. Kara never once faltered. And they’re getting away with it as they walk back inside the house in the middle of the night.

 

Alex doesn’t know why they don’t go out flying more often.

 

And then she sees Mom frowning and Dad shaking his head. Alex feels guilt and anger, and when the doorbell rings, Alex feels fear.

 

She sees her own fear reflected back in Mom’s eyes and the way Dad’s face twists with determination.

 

“Upstairs, now.”

 

 

*

 

 

Alex locks them inside the bathroom and turns on every faucet there is. The sound of the water hitting the curtain fills the room and Kara picks at the skin around her nails.

 

“What do you think they’re saying?” Kara asks. Alex can barely hear her over the water.

 

“I don’t know,” she shrugs and pretends she isn’t scared. Kara slides down the bathroom door and brings her knees up to her chest. “Probably nothing important, Kara.”

 

Alex knows Kara isn’t listening if only because Kara looks really annoyed at the fact that she can’t. She doesn’t know how to fully censor everything out, so Alex brought her to the restroom once the she heard the front door open.

 

“Nobody saw us,” Kara says begrudgingly and rests her head against the door.

 

“Maybe,” Alex agrees and taps her finger against her thigh. “But we can’t do that anymore.”

 

“Why not?”

 

And Kara doesn’t understand that this isn’t some mythology that Dad’s retelling, where the goddess with the lovely powers is seen as good.

 

Kara doesn’t understand and it falls on Alex to explain.

 

“Because people might not understand.”

 

“But Kal-El is here. On this Earth. And people see him as a hero.”

 

Alex doesn’t have an answer to that.

 

*

 

Dad starts a new job.

 

It pays better and they see him less, but he’s happy.

 

At least that’s what Mom says, but Mom’s never been all that great at lying.

 

*

 

Zetyaro, fanffo, loraxo, amzet.

 

“You’re making words up.”

 

“I’m not!”

 

Fanffo doesn’t even sound real.”

 

“Spandex didn’t sound like a real word but I believed you.”

 

“Fine. Fanfoo?”

 

“Fanf-fo.”

 

“Weird.”

 

*

 

Mom is downstairs baking pecan pie and Dad is still on his way from work.

 

Which means there’s nobody to fix the light that’s flickering high on Alex’s and Kara’s ceiling.

 

It’s getting annoying having to read with the light going off and on and that’s why Alex doesn’t say anything when Kara lifts off the ground and curls her body around the fan as she twists the light bulb tight.

 

“I think I want to be an astronaut,” Kara mumbles as she checks the other lightbulbs. “I’d be great at that no gravity thing.”

 

“Yeah, right,” Alex scoffs. “‘Astronaut Danvers, why aren’t you floating like the rest of us? Are you made out of lead?’”

 

Kara giggles and throws Alex a half hearted glare.

 

“Eliza says I can be whatever I want.” Kara sticks her tongue out.

 

“Yeah, but what if your mission is to find aliens? On Mars?”

 

Kara’s hands fall away from the lightbulb and she laughs so hard she falls out of the air and into the solid floor, squealing the whole way down.

 

The entire house shakes with her weight and Alex’s laugh comes from deep within her belly, rips through her throat and rings as loudly as Kara’s breathless laughter.

 

When Kara lifts her head up from the floor to look at Alex, it makes her stomach burn and her eyes tear up.

 

“What is going on here?” Mom is suddenly there, standing in their doorway with her hand wrapped tightly around the doorknob.

 

Maybe if Alex’s eyes weren’t blurry with tears and her cheeks weren’t hurting, she would have noticed how Mom glanced at the closed curtains, how she looked terrified and how she was breathing hard like she came up the stairs running.

 

She’s too busy laughing along with Kara to notice any of these things though, so she clutches her stomach and tilts forward until her face is pressed against the comforter, her laugh coming in random bursts.

 

“Alex-,” Kara starts breathlessly and then falls into a fit of giggles. She’s sprawled out on the floor with her hair in her mouth and her knees drawn up like she’s tried to get up several times but failed.

 

“Were you flying again?” Mom’s accusatory tone makes Alex take a deep breath and lift her head.

 

“No,” Alex is quick to respond, but even as Mom frowns down at Kara, Alex can’t quite tamper down her smile.

 

“Kara?”

 

“I wasn’t!” Kara squeals and shakes her head with a big fat grin on her face.

 

Alex looks at Kara and Kara looks at Mom and then Kara’s shoulders begin to shake again and it’s starts all over.

 

They laugh and laugh and Mom leaves, looking upset and angry.

 

(And Alex won’t understand Mom’s fear and anger until later, much, much later when she has a broken watch and shrunken family. )

 

*

 

Dad is home from work. His plaid shirt smells like hospital and when he took his shoes off at the door, sand went everywhere.

 

Kara had brought in the broom like she does every time Dad opens the door. She smiled shyly when Dad kissed the top of her head and wrapped an arm around her waist to pick her off the floor.

 

(Dad and Mom like to hug. And give kisses and hold hands. Alex finds it annoying sometimes, but she sees Kara cling to the affection like she can’t breathe without it.)

 

Mom greeted him with a kiss on the lips as Alex pretended to gag and Kara’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled tight lipped.

 

He stopped in front of Alex and cupped the back of her head as he hugged her tightly until Alex started squirming.

 

(Mom and Dad’s movements are laced with fear these days, and Alex has never once seen them relax against each other like they usually do. They gravitate and circle each other, but their movements are scared and rushed.

 

Something is coming.)

 

Dad doesn’t have time to catch ball or watch Alex hit a tree with a stick, but he has time to sit in front of the TV for a couple of minutes and hum silently as Kara and Alex work on homework.

 

“What is that?”

 

Alex lifts her head from where she’s doing Kara’s physics homework and looks questioningly at Kara. She’s supposed to be doing Alex’s English homework, but she’s staring at the television with a terrified look on her face.

 

“Dancing?” Mom answers with a strange tilt to her voice like she doesn’t quite understand why Kara’s asking.

 

“But why are they so close? And- and not facing each other?”

 

Alex wrinkles her nose and she hears Dad chuckle from where he’s sitting next to Mom on the couch.

 

“People dance like that here, Kara.”

 

“Do you dance like that?”

 

This time, it’s Mom who chuckles lowly. Dad sputters while he shakes his head no, and he reaches forward to take the remote from Kara’s hands.

 

“You’ll dance like that one day,” Alex teases and looks down at the centrifugal equation she’s easily applying to avoid looking at Kara’s distraught eyes.

 

“No, I won’t! That’s…that’s dirty.”

 

Dad chuckles again and changes channels to a more kid friendly show, one where Kara won’t be exposed to club dancing and grinding.

 

“Everybody has to dance like that at least once. It’s a rule,” Dad jokes around, nudging Alex on the shoulder and making her snort through her nose.

 

“That’s not true,” Kara whispers and looks at Mom for confirmation.

 

“That’s not true,” Mom agrees and throws a pointed look at Alex and Dad.

 

Mom shakes her head and Kara glares at Dad. Alex feels something funny wrapping around her heart. It makes her feel warm and bright at the same time, so she smiles widely at Kara and throws a couch pillow at her head.

 

“Such a baby,” she teases.

 

You’re a baby,” Kara throws back and wipes the bangs from her face as she gives Alex a wide smile of her own.

 

 

iii. stasis

 

 

“Do you have to go?”

 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. But it’ll only be for a little while.”

 

“What are you going there for, again?”

 

“Nice try.”

 

“I can keep a secret!”

 

“I know you can. I just don’t want you to have to.”

 

“You’ll call?”

 

“Every night.”

 

“Okay. Leave. Go away. Whatever.”

 

“Alex, listen…”

 

“Take care of Kara, I know.”

 

“That’s my girl. I love you, Alex.”

 

“Love you, too.”

 

*

 

And then it's Mom and Alex and Kara.

 

And then it’s the world moving under Alex’s feet and Kara standing with her stripped socks and Mom falling against the couch.

 

It’s the suited man gripping the cup of tea Mom offered and Kara’s feet twitching with the need to fly away.

 

It’s Krypton exploding without a sound and Dad leaving without saying a real goodbye and Alex carrying two dead families on her shoulders.

 

Mom and Alex and Kara.

 

And Dad’s watch, broken and stopped at 5:37.

 

*

 

Kara’s face is white with fear as Mom explains where they’re putting Dad’s empty casket.

 

In the ground.

 

“We don’t come from the sun, Kara,” Mom’s head shake and Kara’s feet twitch. “We come from the ground. It’s where it all starts, where the food is grown, where the people live.”

 

Kara nods once and twists her hands together like she’s about to cry. Mom reaches out to hug her and cups her hand behind her head when she starts sobbing.

 

Mom holds her and rocks her and whispers things in her ear. Alex stands alone with her arms wrapped around her torso and for some reason, she tries to remember where she last put her baseball.

 

*

 

There’s a funeral and Kara cries and Mom stays silent and Alex looses her voice.

 

And vision and scent and touch she looses and looses and looses and she doesn’t think doesn’t breathe or move.

 

She feels her blood pump through her veins and hears her heartbeat in her ears and feels the rough plaster of the walls and Kara’s shirt, wet underneath her eyes and feels every single damn thing that means she’s alive.

 

Dad is dead.

 

Mom and Kara and Alex.

 

Dad is dead.

 

*

 

(When Alex can’t sleep and Kara starts levitating off the bed like she did when she just started living with them, Alex has awful thoughts.

 

She wishes she could trade Kara for Dad and keep her family intact.

 

And then Kara snorts in her sleep and Alex’s eyes water with tears and her heart feels heavy with guilt.)

 

 

*

 

This is what Alex knows.

 

One. She is failing English again.

 

Two. Kara cries in her sleep.

 

Three. The watch is still broken.

 

(She knows a fourth thing, but she will only admit it once, in the middle of the day when Kara is in another classroom and Alex takes a bathroom break.

 

She wishes Kara never took her flying, wishes Dad never got a new job, wishes Kara was just normal so Alex wouldn’t worry about every single step her sister takes.

 

So maybe that’s more than one thing.)

 

*

 

The last time Alex punched someone, Dad had placed a tub of ice cream on the table and sent Mom to the other room.

 

Alex had pressed her bruised hand to the cool tub and watched as Dad scooped up chocolate ice cream and hummed happily.

 

“You’re not mad?”

 

“Furious,” he dipped the spoon again and shoved a good chunk into his mouth.

 

“I’m sorry,” Alex had said, but she wasn’t sorry at all. The boy deserved it and even if Mom’s face had been red and angry as she told them what happened in the playground, Alex knew it had been worth it.

 

With Mom gone, Dad had sat next to Alex and told her why her hand had bruised and how long it would take until it stopped hurting.

 

“You shouldn’t have done it,” he had said, but he handed Alex a spoon and popped the lid of a second tub of ice cream. “But since you did it anyways, I’m gonna tell you I’m glad.”

 

Alex had frowned and her seven year old mind tried to process the contradiction Dad just told her.

 

“What?”

 

“You stuck to what you believed in.”

 

“I believed he’s a big jerk who kept kicking dirt in Anissa’s skirt.”

 

“Right,” Dad had chuckled and ran a hand over Alex’s dirty hair. “But you did what you thought was right at the moment.”

 

“Nobody was doing anything! And Anissa was crying!” Alex had wailed pitifully, thinking he was about to start getting mad at her, too.

 

“I know, sweetheart. And I’m glad you did something when nobody else would. I hope you keep doing that,” he had said, and then he capped the ice cream and gave Alex a tiny smile she would remember the next time she punched another big fat jerk.

 

“He deserved it,” Alex says, frowning down at Mom as she shuts the freezer door and slams an ice pack on the counter.

 

“I’m sure he did,” Mom surprises Alex and Kara. “But you shouldn’t have punched him.”

 

“If I hadn’t, Kara would have,” Alex throws back, squirming under Mom’s piercing stare.

 

Kara looks down at Alex’s words, like she should be ashamed of her anger, but Alex keeps her gaze leveled at Mom.

 

“What did he say?” Mom sighs and sticks out her palm for Alex to show her her hand.

 

“Nothing,” Kara murmurs and adjusts her glasses over her nose.

 

Alex doesn’t know what he said either, but she had seen as Kara’s fists curled slightly at her sides and her mouth had set in a firm line. Alex had never seen that look on her sister’s face, and her feet had moved across the lunchroom without any more prompting.

 

“It wasn’t nothing, Kara,” Mom starts, squinting down at Alex’s hand, “if your sister broke his nose.”

 

Alex smiles widely, she can’t help it, and Kara’s lips twitch even as her eyes remain cloudy with guilt.

 

“Well, it doesn’t matter now because Alex took care of it,” Kara amends, and her smile grows when Mom rolls her eyes and sighs exaggeratedly.

 

Mom shakes her head as she brushes a thumb against Alex’s knuckles. Alex knows that if Dad were here, Mom would have thrown an exasperated look at him right at this very second and he would have sighed and given Alex a half assed stern look.

 

But Dad’s not here so Mom keeps her eyes on Alex’s hand. She’s mad, Alex can tell, but she doesn’t say a thing to Kara.

 

(Alex thinks it’s because Kara is just starting to wear clothes that aren’t white (or Alex’s) and she’s finally starting to wear her bangs to the side. Or maybe it’s that Mom always, always practices her words and sentences before she speaks to Kara.)

 

“No dessert for you,” Mom says after a tense second, and she keeps her voice light and playful. Kara giggles and goes up the stairs to wash her hands, but Alex stays behind.

 

“Thank you,” Mom whispers once the bathroom door is closed, and leans in close to give Alex a kiss on her forehead.

 

Alex closes her eyes and breathes in the scent of Mom’s lab and her faint perfume. There’s no tub of ice cream and there was a lot less screaming than last time, but Alex feels herself smiling anyways.

 

“No problem,” Alex whispers, and the weary smile Mom gives her makes her feel like her hand isn’t throbbing with pain.

 

 

*

 

It’s their first Thanksgiving without Dad and Mom burns the turkey.

 

Kara drops the mashed potatoes on her foot and the glass shatters all over the ground.

 

Alex finds empty bottles of wine stashed under the sink and sighs loudly enough for Kara to come over and shut the door, hiding the bottles from sight.

 

They order pizza and watch Pretty Woman with Mom sitting between Alex and Kara, and they tip the delivery man enough money for another pizza because Mom looks like she’s going to crack open if something right doesn’t happen tonight.

 

Alex falls asleep with her head on Mom’s shoulder and the next morning, she wakes up in the exact same position she fell asleep in.

 

Mom never moved, and Alex slept well for the first time since Dad left.

 

*

 

“But, Eliza-“

 

“I said no, Kara. No.”

 

It’s the first big fight Mom and Kara have gotten into.

 

Alex probably shouldn’t be so happy about it.

 

“It’s not fair!”

 

Alex didn’t know Kara’s voice could rise that high.

 

“You’re not careful enough, sweetheart! And we can’t be there to make sure-“

 

“I am careful! I’m super careful! I’m always careful, all of the time!”

 

Kara sounds close to tears. Alex sighs and sits up in bed, knowing Kara will come running up the stairs crying and murmuring in Krypton.

 

Sure enough, Kara’s slamming their bedroom door with enough force for the hinges to complain loudly after a couple of minutes.

 

“It’s just not fair!” She cries and flops down on her bed hard enough to move the frame out of place.

 

“She said no?”

 

“She said hell no!” Comes the muffled reply.

 

“I’m sorry, Kara,” Alex says, even as she’s trying to dampen down her amusement.

 

“I’m careful, right? I’m- nobody’s every suspected anything.” Kara lifts her head to look at Alex with tear stained cheeks.

 

Alex thinks of the broken doorknobs, of the sleepovers Kara’s never been allowed to go on, of the broken plates and beds and windows.

 

“You’re careful,” Alex nods. “But not all of the time.”

 

Kara huffs and hides her face in her pillow.

 

“What’s so special about this year’s tryouts anyways?” Alex jumps up from her bed and nudges Kara to make room for her on her bed.

 

Kara mumbles something and doesn’t move, so Alex sits on top of her feet and waits patiently.

 

Which means she pinches Kara’s calf and says, “What?”

 

“I said,” Kara turns around and Alex sees her cheeks painted red. “Daisy got into the team this year.

 

“So you want to swim with Daisy.” Alex tries not to laugh.

 

“No! I want…I want to swim. That’s it.”

 

Daisy is Kara’s new lab partner. Alex is not entirely sure what the situation is there.

 

“Eliza won’t even let me go to try outs.” Kara looks down at her hands. “Jeremiah would have let me.”

 

Alex stops smiling lightly and breathes through her nose.

 

There’s a lot of things Dad would do if he were here, like help Alex with her homework and tell her which colleges to apply for and explain to her why Kara keeps breaking things.

 

Dad’s not here, though, and Mom is jumpy and thin and doesn’t like it when Kara’s out of the house too often.

 

“Yeah, he would have,” Alex replies and then moves to lay next to Kara.

 

Alex’s hand finds Kara’s seconds later, and they spend the next hour laying in bed, waiting for Mom to call them down for dinner.

 

*

 

Mom buys Kara an easel and the expensive kind of paint and kisses the top of Kara’s head when she apologizes for not letting her try out.

 

But try out season is over and the apology comes too late, and Kara doesn’t understand that Mom isn’t sorry at all. Instead, she takes the brushes and the paint and smudges the entire floor with red.

 

(And later, when she visits Mom and Kara, she will see every single painting hung around the house and she’ll find more in the garage and more in her old room, and her heart will expand with pride because Mom is trying and Kara- Kara is growing. )

 

*

 

Her graduation comes too quickly and too slowly all at the same time.

 

She feels like she needs to leave the house and breathe in an air that isn’t stilted and filled with Mom’s fear and Kara’s hesitancy.

 

She leaves, because that’s what Dad would want her to do. At least that’s what Alex tells herself as Kara’s eyes fill with tears and Mom grips her tightly.

 

 

iv. college

 

“I love you.”

 

“Please don’t cry, Kara.”

 

“I’m not crying!”

 

“What’s that rolling off your cheek, then?”

 

“It’s…nothing. Shut up.”

 

“I love you, too, loser.”

 

“You’ll be safe?”

 

“I’ll be fine.”

 

“That’s not the same.”

 

“Take care of yourself, okay?”

 

“Bye, Alex.”

 

“Bye, Kara. I love you.”

 

 

*

 

College is…different.

 

Here, she’s not Alex from Minnesota, Alex the girl with the dead Dad, Alex with the alien sister, Alex with her sad Mom.

 

She’s just…Alex.

 

And she doesn’t really know what that means.

 

*

 

“Alex?”

 

She has a test in twenty minutes and she forgot to memorize the second half of the periodic table and she hasn’t showered yet, but Kara’s voice is so small and broken over the phone that she flops down on her dorm bed and breathes through her nose.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Three hollow breaths and the wrinkling of fabric. Alex knows Kara is laying on her bed and probably has her pillow over her face to keep Mom from hearing.

 

“I’m here,” Alex says when Kara keeps quiet. “I’m right here.”

 

Except she's not. She’s a couple hundred miles away and Kara’s crying into her pillow and Mom is probably downstairs wondering why she can’t connect to the internet.

 

“I don’t remember,” Kara breathes out. Alex closes her eyes and counts to ten.

 

“I don’t- I remember,” Kara angrily amends at the eleventh second. “But I think I’m starting to forget. I didn't- I didn't think that could happen.”

 

Alex feels her eyes prickle with tears- it takes so little for her to get rattled these days- and nods like she understands what Kara’s saying.

 

“What are you forgetting?” Alex knows the answer, even if she doesn’t know all that much about Krypton. She knows because sometimes she feels like Dad is slipping away as surely as the hands on his watch tick by.

 

“We used to eat this- this bread, I guess. It was Mom's favorite. And sometimes Jar-Dol would come by and give us some of his mother's haja and- and…”

 

Kara's not crying, but she’s close to it.

 

"I forgot what my mother's favorite food tasted like."

 

It’s been like this for a while.

 

Or since Kara landed, but it's gotten worse ever since Alex left because Kara's left alone at the house a lot and Mom doesn’t know how to talk to Kara all that well.

 

“I’m sorry, Kara.” Alex says because she doesn’t know what else to say when her sister is missing an entire planet and she’s just barely starting to forget the little things. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“I didn’t think that could happen,” she murmurs again and Alex smiles thinly.

 

Kara thought Krypton would stay within her chest the same way she thought the Danvers would always stay a family of four.

 

"I'm sorry,” Alex repeats and turns on her side to hug a pillow to her chest.

 

She misses her test and stays in bed instead, if only to hear Kara breathe shakily over the phone. And if Alex cries silently and misses her Dad and Mom and Kara and Minnesota, she doesn't say anything.

 

Kara doesn’t need to know.

 

*

 

Alex comes home from college to find that Kara has a boyfriend.

 

“They’re just friends,” Mom says nervously, but Kara’s smile is soft around the edges when she talks about Emanuel and his clunky glasses.

 

“He's in my AP physics class,” is all Kara says when Alex asks about him in front of Mom.

 

When the food is gone and Mom has stopped hugging her so tightly, when Mom has gone to bed and Alex is just barely getting her breathing under control, Kara shifts under the covers and says,

 

“I think he’s the one.”

 

Alex snorts loudly and rolls on her side to face Kara, ready to poke her on her ribs and make her squirm until she tells her everything there is to know about her crush.

 

She’s been waiting for this ever since Kara entered high school and went through a rushed alien growth spurt that made the school’s baseball coach greedy and Mom even more nervous than usual.

 

Alex pokes Kara on her arm, but Kara isn’t pouting softly like she does when Alex is relentless in her teasing. Instead, she’s staring at the ceiling with her mouth popped open, like she just uttered a revelation and is scared to take it back.

 

The one.

 

Alex frowns. Something in the back of her mind tells her that the words Kara just whispered aren’t human. They sound human and are spoken with a human language, but Kara says them with a weight that is entirely alien.

 

The one.

 

“How do you know?”

 

Sometimes, it's easier to attack Kara’s thought process than her actual thoughts.

 

“My mother met my father on a hill,” is all Kara says for a long moment. Alex thinks this is the beginning of a story Kara’s heard many times and from many people. She's stitched every variation there is and splayed the images out in her mind, replaying them over and over so she won’t forget them.

 

“She was seventeen and he was nineteen and they fell in love. On a hill.”

 

“Just like that?”

 

“Yes,” Kara nods. Her hair rustles the pillow cover and Alex props her head on an elbow.

 

“How old were they when they got married?”

 

“She was twenty. He was twenty-two.”

 

“Did they get married on a hill?” Alex asks, even though she knows the answer. When Kara gets like this, her answers become predictable and unsure all at the same time. When Kara talks about Krypton, she always looks scared.

 

“Yes,” Kara says again. She turns to look at Alex then, and smiles so blindingly bright that Alex’s own lips twitch. “My grandmother said the hill shined like copper. Rao was descending over the mountain and the metal around the hill was catching its light.”

 

The words sound stilted, and Alex knows Kara has memorized this line since she first heard it. This isn’t Kara speaking, this is generations and generations of Kryptonians lending her their stories.

 

Alex doesn’t know how to continue, but she nudges Kara’s shoulder with her elbows and gives her a slight smile.

 

“And Emanuel?”

 

Kara’s smile turns brighter as she looks back up at the ceiling. Her cheeks tint pink.

 

“On Krypton,” she starts and Alex’s familiar tug of annoyance resurfaces even after all these years. “You were your beloved’s and your beloved was yours.”

 

It sounds like a rough translation and Alex wonders if Kara bent over her desk and papers, trying to make the words break and come back together in English. Alex wonders if maybe Dad helped.

 

“You only had one person. For the rest of your life. One family, one crest. One partner.”

 

Something ugly twists in Alex’s stomach.


“My mother found her beloved when she was seventeen, Alex.”

 

Oh.

 

Alex’s stomach keeps twisting and Kara’s smile keeps getting bigger and bigger.

 

“Kara…”

 

“She said you would feel it, right here.” Kara’s hand comes up to hover over a place just underneath her heart. “Like the air’s been knocked out of you. Like you can’t breath.”

 

Alex wonders, like she does every time she learns something new about Krypton, if Kara is telling the only truth she knows. If things really were as Kara’s describing them, or if it’s the only thing Kara knew, living with her parents in that Judicial Tower.

 

“Like a soulmate,” Alex says, because she doesn’t have the heart to tell Kara that sometimes, one person is not enough. Sometimes love at fifteen isn’t love at thirty-five.

 

But then again, what would Alex know?

 

“Yes, a soulmate!” Kara tears her eyes from the ceiling and looks at Alex with bright, bright eyes. “You just have that one soulmate.”

 

“Sometimes you have more,” Alex mumbles and closes her eyes because she’s not brave enough to see the light dim in Kara’s smile.

 

“No,” Alex hears Kara shake her head. “There’s just one for everybody. It’s a perfect number. There’s one for every single person.”

 

And Alex hates to be the one to do this, hates to be the reason Kara quiets down, but she opens her eyes and bites the inside of her cheek and says,

“You’re right,”

 

because Kara’s eyes are starting to lose their blue and she’s alone more often than not, and maybe having one person who will never, ever leave and will always love her is just the kind of religion Kara needs right now.

 

Either way,  Alex doesn’t have the heart to tell Kara that sometimes soulmates die, like Dad, and sometimes soulmates aren’t there, like Mom.

 

Alex doesn’t want to be the one to point out that if soulmates exist, that if they were real and true, that maybe Kara’s is somewhere up in the sky, in a long gone planet.

 

*

 

Emanuel asks Jennifer to prom and Kara breaks the bathroom sink.

 

Alex feels the hollow feeling underneath her heart, right where soulmates are supposed to exist, grow wider and darker.

 

She can’t protect Kara if she’s this far away from her sister.

 

*

 

Nephthys is the goddess of the dead. She’s married to Set, the god of darkness and evil.

 

But Kara-

 

Kara is the daughter of the sun.

 

Dad is dead and Alex is far from home but Kara is there. With her dimpled smiles and naive jokes. With her foul language that only comes out when Mom isn’t listening, with her paint brush and her Kryptonian tongue.

 

Nephthys is the goddess of the dead and Dad is gone.

 

But Kara is the daughter of the sun and she is here.

 

 

*

 

Alex doesn't drink during college.

 

She knows her personality, knows she will plunge head first into any obsession that will help her deal with the anger rattling around her bones.

 

She thinks it isn’t so bad, if she’s willingly taking care of herself.

 

(The drinking will come later, and Alex will never once regret it because drinking means she’s taking care of Kara.

 

Alex doesn’t like to think about how much of her time is invested in taking care of Kara.)

 

*

 

Mom and Kara have a secret.

 

Alex can see it in the way Kara smiles at Mom and wrinkles her nose. She can see it in the way they take a deep breath when Alex asks what’s new.

 

They make her wait to the end of dinner to tell her, and she tries to act surprised that there’s news at all.

 

“I started swimming!”

 

Kara’s hand shoots out to grasp Alex’s and Alex tries her hardest not to flinch.

 

“She made the team,” Mom explains and smiles widely at Kara. There’s real pride behind her smile and warmth behind her eyes but then Mom reaches across the table to grasp Alex’s free hand too tightly.

 

She’s being tethered by the two of them and that’s how Alex finds the strength to say,

 

“That’s great, Kara!”

 

Kara squeals and squeezes her hand.

 

Across the table, Mom’s eyes betray her fear.

 

*

 

“She's going to be fine, Mom.”

 

“Do you think she’ll hate it if I go to the practices?”

 

“Yeah, don’t- please don't do that.”

 

“…”

 

“Mom?”

 

“This is exactly how I felt when you left for college, sweetheart.”

 

“Mom. It’s gonna be fine. You didn’t worry about me all that much, this will pass.”

 

“I worried about you. I-I worry about you all the time, Alex.”

 

“I'm fine. Whatever. The point is-“

 

“Kara will be fine.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And you?”

"I said I’m fine. Look, I have to go, alright?”

 

“Alright. I love you.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, bye.”

 

*

 

Alex sends Mom a torn page of the university magazine.

 

Her face looks shiny and she didn’t really pay any attention to her hair the day they took the picture but she knows Mom will frame it anyways and put it on top of the fire place.

 

The articles mentions her name, and shows Alex with goggles around her eyes and a lab coat three times her size, holding a speed gun and smiling tightly for the camera.

 

It’s her way of letting Mom know she’s declared her major, and when she gets a call three days later, she doesn’t mind the way Mom’s voice catches at the end of her sentences or how she keeps repeating Dad’s name.

 

Jeremiah’s notebooks are still here, Alex, maybe I can send them to you….

 

Jeremiah changed majors when he failed organic chemistry, sweetheart and he never…

 

She ends the call with a smile on her face and for the first time in a very long time, she feels like she can keep going.

 

*

 

Mom and Kara go to her graduation.

 

She wears Dad’s watch and smiles widely when Kara’s loud applause vibrates through the room. She shakes her head when Mom whistles through her teeth and holds up a huge banner with her name on it.

 

They go out to eat and celebrate and Alex tells herself she almost doesn’t notice the empty spot that follows Mom everywhere she goes.

 

v. doctor physicist agent danvers

 

Dad was the sober one.

 

Not that Mom’s an alcoholic, but she's not Dad-sober. She’s not- she’s not alcoholic and Dad evener drank more than a beer at those cookouts they liked to go to and Alex doesn’t know why this is so important.

 

Dad didn’t drink. Mom did. Does.

 

Mom and Dad.

 

Alex wonders if Mom felt like she lost a part of the equation when Dad died. Like when Alex can’t find the variable she's looking for and the whole problem stops working and she can’t move forward because that variable, because Dad isn't there.

 

Alex wonders is this is how Mom feels like when she’s drunk.

 

Mom and Dad. Alex thinks of Kara and that place beneath her heart where soulmates exist and suddenly, she feels like throwing up everything she drank.

 

*

Alex drinks. Again.

 

She doesn’t go to work for a week and gets arrested on the weekend and gets another job all within the same night.

 

Director Henshaw doesn’t seem like the type of person to say no to.

 

That’s what Alex tells herself as she signs a non-disclosure contract and caps the pen with flourish. That’s what she murmurs to herself as she goes in to training and bruises her knees, her elbows, her shins.

 

Kara doesn’t need to know, anyways.

 

*

 

The DEO is everything Mom and Dad would have hated.

 

Alex throws away all of the alcohol in her apartment and calls Kara over the phone to watch the Good Wife and pretends she doesn’t feel the guilt claw at her chest when Kara uses her laser vision to heat up the pizza she left over.

 

She buys wine the next night and tells herself Mom would be proud, if she ever found out.

 

*

 

“So you're a doctor now. Like Eliza?”

 

“And Dad.”

 

“What’s the name of the company, again?”

 

“Raytheon.”

 

“Sounds fancy.”

 

“It pays well, yeah.”

 

"I'm so happy for you, Alex. Jeremiah would be so proud.”

 

“…”

 

“Alex?”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, he would be. What's going on with you? How are your classes?”

 

Well…”

 

 

*

 

Kara graduates college with a double major and flying colors and an abundance of recommendation letters that land her jobs in nearly every neighborhood of National City.

 

Because Kara is moving to National City to be closer to Alex, and Alex, who is great at lying and balances two lives easily, starts to worry.

 

“You’ll call every day, you hear me?”

 

Mom is nervous.

 

Mom is terrified.

 

Mom drinks as much as Alex does, and just like Alex, she hides it very well from Kara.

 

“Sure,” Kara smiles brightly and hugs Mom with as much gentleness as her excitement will allow her. Mom has the decency not to flinch when Kara's arms tighten uncomfortably.

 

And then Kara closes the door of Alex’s car and Alex hugs her mom tighter than she has since she was fifteen and promises very quietly that she will take care of Kara.

 

And when Mom nods and looks like she doesn’t really believe they’ll be able to take care of each other, Alex does her best to ignore it.

 

*

 

“I just wanted to say hi, sweetheart.”

 

Alex still can’t believe she gets reception all the way out in the desert.

 

“Well, hi. What’s up?”

 

“Just got home. How are you?”

 

Henshaw is motioning for her to follow him and she nods quickly, ducking her head to mumble into the speaker.

 

“I’m fine, Mom.” Alex starts checking her utility belt to make sure she has all of her weapons.

 

“And Kara?”

 

“She’s fine, too. Have you called her?”

 

“Yes…” Mom hesitates.

 

“Then, there you go. Ask her yourself.”

 

“Alex-“

 

“I have to go,” Alex hangs up and nods to Henshaw when he frowns down at her phone.

 

“Ready?” He asks and turns on his heel without waiting for an answer.

 

Alex follows, like she’s been following him for months and doesn’t feel her anger ebb away until he starts explaining this week’s mission.

 

*

 

Kara lands a normal job.

 

One where she doesn't have to lift things or run too often or showcase any of her abilities. It’s human. It’s okay.

 

Alex isn't worried.

 

(Except with every day that passes and Kara grows restless with the need to help, Alex doubles her efforts at the DEO and buys more alcohol than Mom would be proud of.

 

But everything is okay.)

 

*

 

(Alex misses the days Kara would hover over her bed when she slept. She misses the cool feeling of the sheets and the comfort of knowing that Mom and Dad were downstairs, watching TV.

 

She misses the late night talks, whispering and laughing softly because they were scared Dad would come up the stairs and send Kara back to her own bed and makes them sleep.

 

Alex misses that silly little fear. Mostly, she’s just missing feeling safe.)

 

*

 

“Did you hear about the wildfires?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“A lot of people died, Alex.”

 

“Was it on the news?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“…Do you feel like eating pizza or Chinese?”

 

“…”

 

“Pizza it is.”

 

*

 

Alex is a good doctor.

 

She’s a good agent, too, which is why she’s out of the training room and into the field within less than a year. She’s behind Henshaw’s heels at every step and ignores how there’s something that seems off about the way his eyes soften when he praises Alex.

 

The point is, Alex is a good agent.

 

And the better she gets, the closer she is to being able to protect Kara from the very same people she’s working for.

 

*

 

“Kal-El came to visit me at the apartment.”

 

“Clark, Kara. You have to call him Clark.”

 

“…”

 

“What did he say, anyways?”

 

“He's got a girlfriend. And she knows about him.”

 

“What?”

 

“About Superman. She knows about his super powers and everything. He…he says he might marry her.”

 

“That’s… great, Kara.”

 

“Isn’t it?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Her name is Lois. Kal- Clark says she wants to meet us.”

 

“Us?”

 

“Will you come with me?”

 

“…Yeah. I’ll go.”

 

“I can’t wait for a Kryptonian wedding, Alex.”

 

“I have to get to work. I'll call you later, okay?”

 

*

 

Alex rises in rank. She’s in charge of utilities and people answer to her now.

 

She's important.

 

She wears black and knows how to hold a gun and starts ignoring a lot of things, like she did when Kara was twelve and she didn’t want a sister.

 

She ignores Kara's restlessness and the fear she feels whenever they bring in an alien that talks English and looks human.

 

She ignores the feeling that she's only playing pretend with a pretend gun and a toy shield, playing the hero that Kara’s always wanted to be.

 

*

 

Dad's watch stops working.

 

Alex takes it to a shop and taps her knuckles on the counter between her and the scrawny little boy that's frowning down at the only piece she has left of Dad.

 

“I don't know, man,” he blows his cheeks out and scratches the back of his ear. “This is a pretty old model.”

 

She raises her eyebrows and waits for him to finish.

 

“I mean- we don’t have a lot of these part anymore.” She lowers one eyebrow, a move that Kara finds scary and hilarious all at the same time. “I could, you could leave it here and I’ll have my boss take a look at it.”

 

She nods tiredly and stares a little longer at the worn band of the watch.

 

“How’d you break it anyway?”

 

Hank had blindsided her in the training room and she’d landed on her side roughly. His eyes had been apologetic when he pointed out that the face was cracked. She had shrugged and gently took her wrist back from where he was inspecting the broken glass.

 

“It's just a watch," she’d said, but she doesn’t think she was very convincing because he’d held her stare a little too long and his eyes had burned with something that felt a lot like guilt.

 

“Stepped on it,” Alex tells the kid now, and keeps her face straight and closed off.

 

She’s very good at lying.

 

“Bummer,” he shrugs and looks away from her. “I’ll show this to my boss. Don’t know how much we can do about it though. Might stay broken.”

 

Alex looks down to the worn leather and the cracked glass, the unmoving little hands. She thinks of the band wrapped around Dad’s wrist and how she used to think it looked too heavy.

 

“Alright,” she says too softly and leaves the shop, suddenly feeling tired.

 

Her wrist feels exposed and her mouth feels dry- she wonders if this is how Kara felt when she accidentally tore the white gown she wasn’t allowed to wear.

 

(She wonders how Kara got through it, and then remembers that Kara has yet to put Krypton behind, just like Alex keeps wearing Dad’s watch and Mom keeps his lab coat hung in the closet.

 

Apparently, the Danvers family is also very good at pretending.)

 

vi. super girl

 

“I love you.”

 

“You’re stalling.”

 

“I’m not. I’m just telling my sister that I love her all the way-“

 

“To Mithen and back and around the Earth and back. I love you, too.”

 

“And the moon and the stars and everything in between.”

 

“You’re stalling.”

 

“You’re being mean, Alex.”

 

“Go on your date. I have a plane to catch.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“And Kara?”

 

“What?”

 

“I love you.”

 

*

 

The man beside her is hyperventilating.

 

He knocked his drink over when the oxygen bags popped out from their compartments and Alex is calmly trying to get him to breathe in and out.

 

“We’re gonna die!”

 

The plane is nearing the ground with every breath the man shakily takes, and Alex doesn’t have it in her to admit that there’s a very real possibility she might not see Mom and Kara again.

 

“In and out, sir, please.”

 

Who will tell Kara it’s not okay for her to help every single person who is struggling with heavy bags?

 

Who will tell Mom that even if Kara calls her ‘Eliza’, she still loves her as much as Kara loves the sun rising and the stars shining and-

 

Alex did not understand the sentimentality of death until right at this very second, when the plane shakes dangerously.

 

In.

 

And out

 

In.

 

And someone shouts, points out the window of the airplane and says,

 

“Who’s that?”

 

Alex stops breathing the moment she sees that blue shirt.

 

Alex’s entire world stops spinning the second she recognizes Kara’s blinding smile and the clothes she helped her pick just hours before.

 

It’s Kara, without the glasses Dad made for her.

 

Kara, smiling at Alex with the sun behind her eyes and water dripping down her back.

 

Alex’s first thought is Finally, because she knew this day was going to come with as much certainty as she knows Kara’s entire family is gone. It feels like a weigh has finally lifted, feels like that time she cleaned out her childhood room and Mom donated all of her old clothes.

 

And when Kara takes a deep breath and plunges head first into the water, Alex’s second thought makes her close her eyes tightly.

 

Mom is going to be so pissed.

 

*

 

The floor is hard. And the room won’t stop spinning.

 

This is how it works:

 

Alex has a mother. And a sister. She had a father, but he’s dead now, and that means there are fewer people alive to protect Alex’s sister, who is an alien and who is stronger and braver and kinder than Alex could ever be.

 

Alex isn’t fourteen and swimming in jealousy. She’s twenty-six and drowning in fear.

 

This is how it works:

 

Alex, who has lost and lost and lost (and gained and gained), is choking on the truth. She is lying alone on her apartment floor because it was the first thing that caught her when her knees gave way. 

 

Alex is afraid and Kara is terrified.

 

And yet, Kara is the only one willing to step out. Come out. Reveal herself. She is brave, whereas Alex is only afraid.

 

This is how it works:

 

Kara pretends to be human and Alex pretends that her efforts are convincing.

 

It’s no longer working.

 

Her cheek is pressed to the floor of her apartment and she’s breathing hard through her nose in an attempt to quell the ugly feeling of falling through the sky.

 

(She thought she was going to die. The plane shook and Alex thought she was going to fall and splat and die.)

 

She is a doctor, and a physicist and an agent. She uses all of her training to compartmentalize. Put thoughts into boxes. Separate information and keep her heart calm.

 

These are the things she knows:

 

One. She could have died. (Something worse has happened to Kara.)

 

Two. Kara is alien. (She protects Alex.)

 

Three. Alex is an agent at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations. (She protects Kara.

 

Four. The Danvers family is riddled with pretenders and liars.)

 

She feels dizzy. Uprooted. And all because Kara revealed herself tonight in the most selfless, bravest, stupidest manner she could ever have. Alex is having a hard time thinking about little else as the rooms spins.

 

Her phone is lying somewhere near her head and although she doesn’t know where it is exactly, she keeps it close.

 

Kara's going to call.

 

And Alex is going to answer and tell her all of the stupid things she’s done in the past hour. She’s keeping a list.

 

Kara is probably still eating. She’s probably sitting in front of the TV, smiling at all the wonderful things she thinks they’re saying about her. Kara is probably not listening to the concern or fear, or surprise. Kara is probably-

 

-calling her, right now.

 

Alex doesn’t want to answer. She wants to go back to pretending she’s a doctor at Raytheon and that Kara is a human girl with very human veins.

 

But she picks up the phone with shaking fingers and closes her eyes as soon as she hits ‘accept.’

 

She doesn’t speak, doesn’t breathe. She waits for Kara, because Kara always gives in first and jumps too quickly and does stupid, reckless stuff like catching a plane in plain sight.

 

She hears Kara inhale and exhale, and Alex focuses on the hesitance behind every breath she takes. Her head is still spinning and the room won’t stay still, but Alex’s mind is clearing with just the sound of Kara breathing.

 

“Your heart is beating so fast,” she says at last, and Alex swallows thickly at how small her sister’s voice sounds.

 

“Kara,” Alex sighs and whatever angry words were bubbling up her throat leave her completely. This isn’t an alien who’s broken the law, this isn’t even a young girl who’s having a hard time adjusting to Earth any more.

 

This is Kara, and Kara is Alex’s sister.

 

“I thought the plane was gonna crash,” comes bubbling out of Alex’s mouth and she’s surprised that the sob that’s working its way up her throat doesn’t make her voice sound thick.

 

“I thought so, too.” Kara doesn’t have any trouble letting a sob eat up her last word, and Alex rolls to her side and wraps an arm over her stomach. “I didn’t even think, Alex, I just- I jumped. I flew.”

 

Alex stays quite for a beat, and then a wet chuckles escapes her lips. Kara sounds happy and unaffected by what’s to come while Alex is already thinking of all the little things that are going to change.

 

Kara has never been aware of how much danger she’s always in. But that’s okay, because that’s a big sister kind of job.

 

“I haven’t seen you fly in so long,” Alex says. The words she wants to say are at the tip of her tongue, burning her. Alex can’t bring herself to say them again.

 

You shouldn't have done it.

 

You should have let the plane fall.

 

You re a hero, Kara, through and through.

 

“I know you don’t want to hear it,” Kara’s voice cracks at the end. “But I-I’d forgotten how good it felt to just fly. I felt- I felt like me.”

 

Kara exhales like she’s been waiting to say those words all night. Alex knows better- Kara’s been waiting to say those words for twelve years, since she first took Alex flying and they both locked themselves in the bathroom until Mom found them asleep with the sink water running.

 

Alex opens her eyes and stares at the black ceiling and black walls and the empty apartment that she’s lived in for more than a year now. She hasn’t had time to decorate. Hasn’t had time for the truth to catch up to her.

 

But here, with Kara’s words echoing and rattling inside her chest, Alex lets herself think the words.

 

Kara is not a Danvers, not really. She’s Kara Zor-El from the planet Krypton, and although she loves the human planet Earth, she hates being human.

 

Kara is not a Danvers, not completely. But she’s Alex’s sister.

 

Suddenly, Alex is very tired of pretending.

 

So she takes a deep breath and lets the fear choke her up and lets the dread pool at her stomach and lets her eyes water and she says,

 

“How did it feel? To catch the plane, to fly again,”

 

because if Kara is done pretending, if she wants to give herself up to the world and let it eat her whole, Alex is going to be there. Alex can’t stop her, but she can protect her.

 

Misid,” Kara breathes and Alex’s nose twitches as she recalls the language.

 

Heavenly.

 

Kara continues talking but Alex’s ears are ringing and she’s clutching her phone with enough force for her palm to cramp. She’s terrified of tomorrow and what Kara’s going to do next. She’s drowning and sinking and whatever silly other thing that would have happened to her if the plane crashed into the water tonight.

 

She focuses on the excitement behind Kara’s words, however hesitant, on the tilt and lulls that make Alex think Kara's choosing her words carefully. Alex can't make out the words through the fear, but she knows this.

 

Kara is happy.

 

Whatever the world says tomorrow, whatever Kara might decide to do, Alex is going to be there. She is going to stop pretending. She is going to be brave, like Dad and Kara. She is going to be smart, like Mom.

 

This is how it’s always worked:

 

Kara is Alex’s entire world.

 

Protecting each other is the only thing they know how to do right.

 

This is how it will continue to work:

 

Alex and Kara.

 

Sisters.