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The Edge (An Existential Love Story)

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            An enormous cup tapped down on Kara's desk, at her elbow. She lifted her head from her hand, only just becoming aware of Nia standing over her. Nia placed her hand on Kara's shoulder for a long moment in staying comfort. She did not say anything, just went back to her desk with her own drink that Kara assumed was a five-shot red-eye. Nia consumed more caffeine than anyone Kara had ever met in her life, and she knew why now after the two of them had incidentally outed themselves to one another at the same moment. Nia's dreams were always pushing at her consciousness, trying to reach into her everyday life and show her fragments of likely futures. Kara picked up the cup and took a drink of hot chocolate that was clearly infused with orange peel, made with cream instead of milk, and then topped with whipped cream. The gesture of solidarity and kindness set an ache throbbing in Kara's chest. She became aware of her body and how she was sitting, curling in around a tangle of stress and sadness balled up in her chest. She made herself focus entirely on enjoying the drink.

            A sweet graphic designer in his 40's named Noel, who was always friendly with Kara, approached Kara's desk. She sat herself up straighter, tried to project normalcy. She pursed her lips, trying to make her expression into a smile.

            "Hey! I hear you're finally taking a vacation day tomorrow! What'd you have planned for your 'Big Day Off?'" he said.

            Kara saw Nia watching, and Nia grimaced at his question. Kara looked away from Nia's response that was reminding her of what her own wanted to be. Kara stammered through an appropriate answer.

            "Yeah. I have some personal stuff to catch up on."

            "Mm-hm. Does this personal stuff have a name?"

            "Um," Kara did not manage an answer this time. Noel caught her tone and moved on, picking up the thread of tact he had dropped and mildly regretted.

            "'Catching up' sounds too much like work! Mimosas at brunch, at least, I hope?"

            "Yeah, maybe," Kara said and managed a little, genuine, friendly laugh.

            Noel made her a bit of a wave and moved on. A nod she made went on for too long, making her feel a bit automated like she was not entirely at the helm steering her own body today. When he was gone, Kara tried to shake it off. She looked at Nia with what must have been her real face, because Nia's eyebrows raised and her expression took on an overt sympathy. She could see how Kara was really feeling about tomorrow. Nia came, pulled over an empty chair, and sat down near Kara. She leaned in, the way Kara sometimes would with her, and reached to touch Kara's hand.

            "Kara, are you sure it's the right thing if Supergirl complies with the ACP laws?" Nia said.  

            Kara only nodded with as much severity as she could muster. Kara could not manage to speak. Nia considered Kara's face a moment, and then she went back to her desk. The decision was already made, and somehow Nia was the last person Kara expected to question the decision. The deadlines for compliance with Alien Citizen Protection Act laws had almost arrived. Supergirl had already said that tomorrow, she would go to the ARB – the Alien Registration Bureau. They would put a monitor around her wrist, a bracelet that housed a light, resilient computer chip. Supergirl was still considered a citizen, but she along with every other alien was required to be registered – same as any weapon. That's what the politicians had said: same as any weapon, same as any potential threat to public safety. Kara and everyone else not human would be monitored, brought under constant surveillance. Kara was about to lose her privilege to privacy, her right to any kind of anonymity. And her life as Kara Danvers would inevitably unravel as a result.

            Alex had already used DEO resources to fashion the appearance of a medical brace to put on Kara's wrist to conceal the bracelet, saying that carpal tunnel was common among people who type at their jobs and would pass unquestioned.   But Supergirl's location would be constantly fed to the ARB by GPS. They would know within 72 hours that Supergirl was Kara Danvers. Kara did not know enough to guess how long it would take that information to leak to dangerous people or the public. From stories from other aliens who registered sooner, she suspected it would be sooner rather than later.

            Even before that, the ARB would come to realize that the DEO must have known that Supergirl was Kara Danvers for years. As Director, Alex would go under investigation. That would be the end of the short reprieve the DEO had been experiencing of late.  Seven months ago, the DEO had been placed under Pentagon leadership, and within a few months, their main headquarters and two satellite stations were bombed by anti-alien sympathizers. Alex had been raising the alarm about new hires, and she personally saved dozens of agents during the attacks. Alex had been in an exit tunnel during the blast at headquarters and been injured. Kara was not there, and she remembered digging Alex out of the rubble as Alex grimaced in pain and coughed from the smoke she had inhaled before Kara had come and blown the tunnel clear.   Alex had decided to received treatment on site, so she could maintain command of the DEO. The DEO was at their lowest point, and the increasing hostilities between aliens and humans meant they were frequently being called in when other agencies failed to gain control of violent situations. Alex was an outspoken alien sympathizer, but she was also the only one who seemed capable of strategically opposing alien forces. And she inspired incredibly loyalty in DEO agents. The current regime relied on her as much as they resented her.

            Alex had also lied all this time and claimed that the DEO did not know Supergirl's human identity. No one had yet imagined that Supergirl was the DEO Director's sister. It would make waves as big as the President being discovered as an alien among the government organizations high-level enough to know about the DEO. Kara hoped that at the worst Alex would be removed from service rather than indicted and put into federal prison. Kara had not decided yet what she would do if they tried to take Alex away. Probably snatch her and put her down in Switzerland or one of the seven countries offering amnesty to aliens who would sympathize with Alex's actions. But Alex had already made it clear that she would be furious if Kara went up against the U.S. government in any direct way. Alex still believed they could gain command of the situation. Kara had to believe, as well.

            J'onn would be called into an investigation, as well, since he had been director when both Alex Danvers and Supergirl had both joined. If he went in to try and help Alex, he was very much at risk of being discovered as an alien himself. Kara did not know what to wish for J'onn. Kara did not even know what would happen to her mother. She also did not know what would happen to the friends she had confided in over the years.  Winn had worked for the DEO, and she hoped that might offer him some protection. They might not find out that he knew about Kara or helped before being under orders, but she did not know if she could trust that. She was not so certain about James, especially given that he was still wading through a thicket of charges and already placed under house arrest.

            Lena would be safe, at least. But Kara suspected that Lena would be devastated when she found out that Kara had been lying to her their entire relationship. The tenuous alliance Lena still had with Supergirl, tinged with mistrust and rivalry, would break. The close and trusting friendship she had with Kara would shatter. Kara was determined to tell Lena herself, before she found out some other way. After tomorrow, the clock would be ticking. She still could not picture what that conversation would look like. Conjuring the thought left her picturing Lena's face blank – closed off forever.   It was as if she thought that Lena would not even deign to cry or to even yell at someone who betrayed her on such a fundamental level. Kara hoped that the past between the two of them would inform how Lena responded, but Lillian's words still haunted her.   Kara supposed it was worth it now, her inevitable estrangement from Lena, in exchange for knowing that she would be safe. If she knew nothing about Kara being Supergirl, then she could not be found out. As an accomplice. Kara lingered over this distinct thought. It was the first time in her life she had thought of herself as a criminal.

            Kara rubbed her hands over her face, under her glasses. Nia was still looking over at her and noticed her reaction. Nia stood up and gestured for Kara to stand.

            "Come on. Let's get some air," Nia said.

            They went out onto the balcony. The sounds of the city washed over Kara, her focus dissipating into the swirling mass of sound, picking up and dropping thread after thread. Kara found herself swept up on the buzzing distress of the city – people hurrying, arguing, pleading. She forgot her own distress for a prolonged moment, and when her consciousness settled back into her present situation, it felt like being thrown out of the air to strike the ground in a silent, unseen blow. Kara bent her back, took the rail in her hands, careful not to bend the light metal as she leaned down.

            "I'm sure you’ve thought this out," Nia said, and her voice was tentative, as she was taking extreme care with Kara. "But I think that something bad is going to happen in this world if Supergirl complies with these horrible laws."

            Kara lifted her head and looked over at Nia. Nia stood nervous and tentative and also with great strength shining out of her very being. She looked uncomfortable like she was putting herself to a task she did not want to take up out of a sense of moral obligation.

            "You've seen something?" Kara asked.

            "I've seen some… potential outcomes. I am afraid of what will happen."

            "I can't openly defy the law. You know that."

            "Maybe you should."

            "Nia, that would set off a war. Things are bad enough between humans and aliens as it is. I have to do everything I can to keep the peace."

            "I get that you don't want things to erupt into outright violence. But I am not sure that what's already happening can't be considered acts of violence and on a huge, systemic scale. Wrapping a hate campaign in a thin veil of political rhetoric and policy doesn't make it anything other than what it is."

            "Supergirl has been called a 'weapon of mass destruction' more times than she has been called a 'hero' in major news outlets this past month. The ARB is terrified that Supergirl won't comply with their laws."

            "You have waited until the last minute."

            "Yes," Kara said. She meant to go on. Nothing came out.

            "So you must have doubts," Nia said.

            "I don't think that now is a time for doubt. I think there's enough fear going around to drown all of us and make us forget who we are. I think is a time for hope. And I still have hope that the cultural climate will shift, and these policies will turn around just as fast as they took shape."

            Nia and Kara stood looking at one another. Nia became resigned. She shook her head, still defiant.

            "I don't like it, Kara," was all Nia said.

            Then Nia opened her arms to invite Kara into a hug. Kara found herself nervous to respond, afraid the hug would make her own feelings of fear and vulnerability rush to the surface. And it did, but it felt a relief when they embraced. Kara had been forcing herself all day into a sort of single-minded trance to get any work done. Without total, concentrated focus, she found herself dwelling on her own dread. Even if she felt more sensitive, at least now, Kara did not feel so alone. She missed James. She missed Winn. She even missed Cat. And missing them made her feel more herself; she found even a reminder of their presence soothing.

            Most of the workday slipped by without any further remark on the day to come. Kara's boss, Alice Proctor, a temporary Operations Lead that Lena had hired to serve under James when he was placed on house arrest and Lena refused to fire or replace him even though he could not physically come into work, looked overwhelmed when Kara reminded her that she had the day off tomorrow. So Kara tried to make sure she felt confident before the end of the day and spent most of the day in her office. Kara almost made it to the end of her workday without anyone bringing it up again.

            Kara knew when Skyler Gaines veered towards her desk that he would give her a hard time about something. He was a recent hire, a young white man with an expensive degree and enough self-confidence to blur over his absence of any talent. His primary skills were an ability to network his way into interviews with people in the anti-alien movement who were not talking to the press, most of them apparently family friends, and a capacity to publically air his hatred of various coworkers in carefully chosen commentary masquerading as work. As he strode with excessive, artificial purpose over to Kara's desk, she took a deep breath and let it out. She saw Nia bristle at his approach.

            "So, any advice for me?" Skyler asked Kara.

            He stood close to her desk, put down one hand, and leaned into it. He kept waiting, feigning that she should already know what he was talking about. Kara considered saying, Yeah. Stop being a jerk. Just because you know how to make it hard for people to call you out on it doesn’t mean that they don’t notice. But Kara would never say something like that to anyone.  

            "I am coming up blank on categories where you might consider me any kind of expert," Kara responded.

            "Well, I know you usually get all the good Supergirl assignments. Since I'll be covering her tagging tomorrow, I thought you might have some advice on how to get the best scoop."

            "Well, first thing, don't call alien registration 'tagging.' "

            "Unless, of course, you want to sound like you crawled from an anti-alien insta thread into a CatCo article," Nia interjected in a tone of absolute calm.

            Kara had to force herself not to smile or laugh. Nia only glanced over at Skyler. She kept half her focus on her laptop and typed a few words. Her posture and air, however, were on guard and telegraphed that she was not about to let Skyler give Kara a hard time.

            "It's a big moment in American history," Skyler went on. "I want to make sure I know how to slant it both ways, represent both sides. Do you think Supergirl knows how many people will be relieved to see her brought under government control?"

            "One minute and a Google search engine would inform you that Supergirl has been working for a high-level government agency for years," Nia said. "She already has a far closer relationship to the government than a mess of her location data tossed in a database somewhere for some analyst to turn into a pie chart of alien activity."

            Skyler pretended to listen. He kept on waiting for Kara to say something. She considered her words carefully.

            "I would imagine that Supergirl is more concerned with the people who are worried about historical parallels between public registration of a distinct demographic and, oh, say, revocation of citizenship, exile, and genocide. I suspect she's trying to send the message that she's with them and will share in their fate." Kara spoke in as calm a voice as she could manage. "I'm sure you'll do great at representing both sides. Just use your empathy. I'm sure you can imagine what it might be like to wonder if you were being strategically positioned for scapegoating and oppression by a rising political regime."

            Skyler stood up, pursed his lips, and shook a finger at Kara as if affirming everything she said. He sauntered off. Kara turned to share a look with Nia that conveyed the stale, heavy disappointment they both felt in Skyler as a human being. They both slowly went silently back to work.

            Nia stood to give Kara another hug at the end of the work day. Her worry made Kara focus on presenting a cheery air. Her attempt to lighten the mood backfired, and Nia frowned at her in concern. So Kara let it be and left the office without managing to cheer Nia up. On her way out, several folks called out to Kara to enjoy her day off, including through the closing doors of the elevator. As the doors closed Kara was smiling at all the friendly wishes and trying not to count in her head how many of them she knew for certain would not have had a single kind word for her if they knew that she was an alien.