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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.

Chapter Text

            Standing on the street with CatCo rising up behind her, Kara found herself at a strange distance from work the way she might have felt leaving the building at the start of a holiday break. She always felt so happy then – facing a generous, open space ready to be filled with friends, fun, and feasting. On the other side, the return of regular work life shaped the time and made her feel secure. Today, Kara walked out into what felt like a box closing to trap her inside. Her work life felt as if it would never return and only an emptiness was waiting on the other side of tomorrow. She listened to her own heartbeat picking up and found herself feeling something akin to the intense anxiety of her claustrophobia. She set off with sharp steps, trying to feel like she could move, to remind herself that she was still free.

            She just kept moving all evening. Walking around the city, listening to bits of laughter and conversation, catching glimpses of friendships and partnerships, tenderness and passion, intimacy and interest between people made her feel less afraid. She found a park she loved with ornate water features. The weather was just a tad too cool for anyone to be running through the public fountains. Kara sat down at their edge and tried to feel the life of the city around her, tried to picture the sprawling metropolis as one, super-organism, a hive buzzing with the energy of sustaining the life of the whole. Taking up a rich sense of the city restored some impression of boundaries, something that did not remind her of the being flung into the emptiness of space.

            Calmed, Kara faced her situation more intentionally. Tomorrow would be dangerous. And every day after. Kara did her best to picture how she could keep her friends close. That was what mattered most, what could allow her a good life no matter the circumstances. She could not help but feel that there were masses of men in politics plotting to keep her alone, to punish her for something intrinsic about herself that she could never change. She wondered, not for the first time, whether she could barter and live a life as Kara Danvers, agree to let Supergirl fade into a brilliant but short-lived, unanticipated history. Perhaps she could still live a normal life – a smaller life, but happy still. There were good people living goods lives all around the world. If she could put down her ego and let go her pressing sense of mission or maybe find some way to channel it that was less threatening to the status quo, in media or otherwise, maybe she could still have a good, full life in the end. The barter took shape in her mind and felt almost viable for a moment.

            A terrible thought struck Kara, resonating through her body like a silent hammer strike on the heavy steel of a bell. She stood up to walk. Even her steps wavered, and her breath caught. She placed her hand on a rail and stood shock still, growing lost in her thoughts. Her thought had taken the shape of a question: Would they let her adopt children? But it was not truly question. All her life, Kara had been eager to reach the age when she could adopt her own children and invite them into a loving family. The drive to pass on the love that had been given to her by her family to other young people who were living as exiles from their homes, having become strangers in the midst of a world carrying on as if everything was the same, was as strong in Kara as what other people described as the biological imperative to bear their "own" children. This world – the one they were all finding themselves in now – would never let her adopt human children. The odds that there would be similar resources for adopting alien children seemed so far-fetched that, even as desperate as she felt to envision some way to go on living fully and well even in such a restricted environment, Kara simply could not imagine it.

            I will never have children. This clear thought rang in Kara's mind. The tone was calm, unquestionable, a statement of fact. Kara sat down on the wide, concrete rim of a fountain. A distinct ache of grief pierced her chest, a sharp and strange pain that seemed to stab her from the inside out. I can't do this, Kara thought, the tone of her thoughts taking on vivid emotion once more. But it did not matter. She had to face this new reality. There was nothing else to do. This was her planet. She was not ever going to leave. Everyone she loved was here. Unless she could take all of them with her, she would never go away. And they were of this place. They belonged. Even if she could lift off and feel this earth drop away beneath her as if escaping a cell that had been closing in on her, the people she loved would be uprooted, torn away from their home.

            Kara sat, unseeing, with a piece of her life carved out of her. She hardly noticed when someone sat down next to her and nearly jumped when he said her name. She could not remember, unconsciously in that moment, whether she was in this park as herself or as Supergirl. Skyler Gaines was sitting next to her in his suit jacket, holding his messenger bag.

            "Hey, Kara," he said.

            "Hi. Skyler," Kara managed.

            Kara could not manage more than that. She could hardly pay him any attention in this moment. She barely had room in her mind to wonder when he would go away.

            "I've been thinking about what you said earlier," he said.

            Kara turned to get a better look at him. She imagined at first that he was messing with her. His face was largely unreadable, as he looked around the park.

            "Do you think aliens are really scared that terrible things are going to happen to them?"

            "Terrible things are already happening to them. Aliens have lost jobs, houses, friends. They've been harassed and assaulted. They have been murdered. People are protesting their existence on this planet every week and actively recruiting more people to join them."

            "So do you think that aliens are really people? Like, not just able to pass as people, but like fully people?"

            "I know they are. Some of the best friends of my life have been aliens. I dated an alien. There's the same mix of people across all species, as simple as that sounds – some brave, some meek, some kind, some cruel, some good, some bad."

            "Did you see the memorial across the way there?"

            "No."

            Skyler stood up and made a gesture for her to come with him. Kara got up, curious. She felt strange walking beside Skyler, and for a moment she found her body flushing with heat in anger at the idea that someone might see them walking together and imagine they were dating. She was more likely to fist-fight Skyler Gaines in the open street than she was to date him. Kara clocked her own thought as a bit of an extreme response and dismissed it.

            They came to a memorial to Agent Liberty. People had left tiny replicas of his mask, flowers, ribbons, cards. Skyler picked a card up, and Kara felt a flash of anger at his aura of ownership over the site. He read the card and passed it to Kara.

            You made the ultimate sacrifice defending us. We will never forget.

            Kara felt an odd instinct to flick the card back into the ragged pile of cheap artifacts people had left to Agent Liberty – identifying with him to glorify their own fear and hostility towards aliens. Ignoring the strange inclination, she carefully leaned down and placed the card where it had been before. Skyler stood thinking.

            "I know people – I know humans are really scared of aliens," Skyler began, clearly trying to connect with Kara's worldview. "They think something really bad is going to happen to them – some invasion or outbreak. I was thinking earlier that if aliens are really afraid that something bad is going to happen to them, then maybe that's a step towards equality. But also maybe it's also a step in the wrong direction."

            Kara found her jaw clenched. She thought about some of the aliens she knew. They did not come to earth on holiday. They came to escape disasters, wars, genocides. What they truly wanted was their homes. They wanted to survive more. So they came to earth. They lost, and they lost. And now Skyler Gaines wanted to stand at a memorial to a man who proudly embodied a will to violence towards them and talk about an equality of fear. She thought about humans like Alex, putting their lives at risk to protect aliens everyday. If this is the best you can do, Skyler, don’t bother. Kara considered the words in her mind and did not say them. Instead, she decided to argue just one point that stood out to her in what he had said.

            "When we say 'aliens', we are talking about a very large and extremely diverse group of people from incredibly different backgrounds. I get the sense that when you speak of aliens, you do not actually have real lives – real people in your mind. Maybe it's a lot to ask of anyone to know about what doesn't concern them directly, but I would say that your skepticism that aliens are fully people reflects only your inability to imagine them fully as people. That's on you, Skyler. And you're only one of so many. And aliens are the ones who will suffer for it."

            Kara stopped there. She had surprised herself calling Skyler out even to that extent. She could not help but feel like she had just said with a bit of tact and specificity, It's clear that you have no idea what you're talking about. Everyone felt entitled to an opinion about aliens these days. And aliens themselves were biased – not experts. The entire conversation, which went far beyond the two of them standing over this little shrine to what people imagined was their persecution at the hands of aliens, made Kara sick. She would not even get to participate in it soon, since she would no longer get to pass as human and appear to be a valid source of opinion on the matter.

            Skyler did not say anything at all. Kara could not care whether he was seething with hatred or quieted by realizations. She made him a kind of nod and walked away. He stood at the shrine looking down still. Kara saw him crouch down and read another card.

            Kara shook her head and tried not to think about how much Skyler Gaines had suffered in his lifetime. It wasn't worth the thought. He obviously fancied himself on some level an equalizing force in the world, helping to hand over misery to people who deserved a greater share. Kara imagined walking up to his desk at CatCo, the way he invited himself to visit hers whenever he had some quip or dig planned at her expense, and casually chucking his desk out the window. He would go shock still in terror and flee, terrified to ever come back to his workplace while she was there. Perhaps then he might catch a glimmer of the experience of the aliens Kara had seen leave their jobs in the last year for fear of sabotage and even murder. Some of those aliens who stayed had died and no doubt died in fear.

            If the game they were playing was in escalating fear, Kara felt amused by the thought of herself entering into that game. National City was happy enough to have Supergirl take on whatever enemies and crises they could not handle. Apparently, many of them had watched her over the years with a growing sense of fear that someday all the power they saw would come against them. The idea that they could stop her – that any of this demonstrative, strategic, political struggle would work against a Kryptonian determined to overthrow any human power provoked her into a sneer. People were rattling around the streets, frail and disconnected from one another. They could hardly imagine what it would take to stop her kind without herself and Kal-El fighting for them.

            I killed my own aunt to protect these people, Kara thought. And a blanket of quiet came over her thoughts, heavy and dark. This was the void. Everything that comprised the living world amounted to little more than a speck in the vast emptiness of the cosmos. At once, Kara could see how that truth would make life on this planet sacred, something to protect at all costs, and also something trivial, inconsequential, mutable in the utmost sense.

            As Kara walked the streets home, she found herself struggling with her thoughts. Every terrible thing that had ever happened took up a home in her tonight. She recalled an old Kryptonian phrase spoken around funerals to remind those who were grieving to be patient with their thoughts: "No mind can comprehend the vastness of death."   They spoke those words to honor the impossibility of reconciling logic with experiencing death as a living being. They had meant only the death of a loved one. Kara had experienced the death of her entire world. Her cousin did not remember, but Kara remembered. Even when it was nowhere in her conscious thoughts, every second she lived, Kara remembered.

Chapter Text

            When Kara opened the door to her apartment, the room that felt so spacious and inviting to her most of the time seemed small and confined. Her mind wandered over the shape of her own life – a childhood trying to please her parents, working to fit in and comply with what would be rewarded by her classmates and teachers at school, her life at CatCo, her initial capture by the DEO when she showed herself as an alien, her struggle to make herself a part of the operations there. Kara imagined her life as constrained as that of a mouse, dashing back and forth on the same paths between the handful of places she believed were safe.

            Searching to calm her thoughts, Kara's mind turned up a memory of flying with Alex when they were girls. That was as free as she had ever felt on this earth. Worried over the darkness of her own thoughts tonight, Kara got out her phone and dialed Alex. She could tell from Alex's voice that Alex had been asleep when her phone rang. She could also hear that Alex was trying to hide this.

            "Hi," Alex said.

            "I woke you up. I'm so sorry. You should be turning off your phone when you nap."

            "I do nothing but sleep these days."

            "That's hardly true. You're still healing, Alex."

            In the past weeks, Kara had become familiar with the sound of Alex troubling the spot in her jaw where she had lost two back teeth. The swelling had not gone down all the way, but she had a hairline fracture in her jaw and could not get the implants she would need just yet.  Kara found herself enraged by the thought at the same time that she found herself relieved not to be able to hear the sound over the phone.

            "Are you home?" Kara asked.

            "No. I'm sleeping at the DEO still," Alex said.

            "Have the medics still not given you the ok to leave the premises?"

            "I just want to keep an eye on things, you know."

            "You're preparing for tomorrow?"

            "So far, there's no sign that anything big has been planned. Of course, it's possible that impromptu actions could be taken on one or both sides. I have been receiving some calls from Washington about whether Supergirl will register before the deadline."

            "I told the press that I would."

            "They know that. I am fairly certain they think I'm forcing you. They were probably hoping Supergirl would be first in line, not one of the last. I've been hearing about this for months now. I'm used to it."

            "Why are they pushing you on this?"

            "Just pushing me around, making sure I know that they've only backed off because they don't know what to do with the DEO at the moment."

            "They shouldn't be allowed to question you. You should be in charge," Kara said, and her voice came out in a soft growl that caught in her own ears. Alex caught it, as well.

            "Hey," Alex said in surprise. "Are you doing alright?"

            "I'm fine." A silence told Kara Alex was not accepting this. So Kara tried to lighten the mood, so Alex would not worry. "You know I don't like missing work."

            Alex laughed a bit at her joke.

            "Don't worry about me," Kara said. I'll be in tomorrow after I'm free."

            The irony of her own statement flashed in bright mockery in Kara's mind. Alex said goodbye and hung up. Kara hung up on her end and looked about the cage that was her apartment. And for a moment, Kara could not remember why she had ever tried to live a human life and could have scoffed a laugh of mockery at herself for continuing to desire one even now. Except she could see clearly why she wanted to be with Alex. Her sister, Alex, was too good for the human race, really. She was one of those rare, exceptional ones.

            They were rare, the people you could trust, the people worth admiring. Kara found herself annoyed by the sights and sounds of the city, the masses teaming around her apartment. She closed all her blinds. That made her feel even more trapped. She sat down and held her head in her hands. Was she really going to walk out into the streets tomorrow and let someone tag her like some animal? She thought about the tracker on James's ankle, the way he talked about being a black man facing incarceration. His values were conflicted in his current situation – his pride was constantly threatened by shame. She imagined his pride growing tenfold, until it was untouchable. James ought to have taken down an entire precinct when they came to CatCo and put him in handcuffs. Instead, he held his head high and maintained his dignity. He was one of their finest, and they were dragging him through the dirt, trying to humiliate him. The thought made Kara look up, snatch a vase off her table, and throw it through her wall. She heard the glass tinkling onto the concrete far away outside and only a flicker of relief passed through her mind that no one had been standing where it fell.

            Kara's worry over herself grew. She considered calling Alex back again. Then she remembered something Lena had said once about becoming very afraid about the person she might be. Kara called Lena. When Lena answered, Kara felt a happiness so intense that it created a twinge of pain as it passed through her chest.

            "Hi!" Lena said, clearly happy she called.

            "Hello," Kara managed and already she felt lighter. "It's good to hear your voice."

            "Likewise. Are you alright?"

            "Are you working?" Kara asked, dodging Lena's question.

            "Oof. Why do you got to ask the hard questions?" Lena joked, and Kara laughed and held her smile after.

            "I will take that as a yes," Kara said.

            "I'm just tinkering with a prototype. Can you really call that work?"

            Kara heard the sound of a tap running. She imagined Lena's hands being run over one another beneath running water. She could imagine quite vividly how both of Lena's hands might feel in her own and how the water would feel rushing over both of their hands. Kara nearly shook to clear her head of the random, potent thought.

            "Are you sure you're alright?" Lena asked.

            "Yeah," Kara said more out of habit than anything.

            "You sound – I don't know – tired?" Lena said.

            "I'm taking the day off work tomorrow."

            "Oh my! Three questions. Who are you, and what have you done with Kara Danvers? Also, are you dying?"

            "I'm me. I think. And we're all dying."

            "Morbid thoughts – ok. That seems a bit out of character."

            "I am going to the doctor tomorrow for my wrist."

            Kara stammered over the lie, annoyed by her own self-consciousness. How could Lena not know she was Supergirl, Kara had to wonder? She found herself miffed with Lena that she had to keep up this ruse. It was an irrational and unfair thought, and Kara dismissed it. There really was something off kilter in her thoughts tonight. It made her very worried, but she didn't know how to talk about it.

            "Your wrist? I didn't know you were having any trouble with it. Are you in pain?"

            The question hung in Kara's mind. She lost the context for a moment. Lena asked such a humane question, and it stood out to Kara in this inhumane world.

            "I am in pain all the time these days."

            "Oh, Kara. I'm sorry. Will you get the help you need?"

            "I hope so."

            "Is everything else alright? How is Alex recovering?"

            "She's walking a lot now. I think she's moved into the DEO," Kara said, a mix of frustration and resignation in her voice.

            "I'm sure she's very on-guard. I can't say I blame her. I think I'd feel the same way. I'm sure Supergirl is keeping a close eye on her."

            "Not close enough if experience serves."

            A silence opened out between them. Rival emotions of guilt and rage rolled inside of Kara. The topic of Supergirl was never an easy one between Kara and Lena these days, and Kara wondered what Lena would make of the two of them sharing a sense of anger towards Supergirl for the first time.

            "This world is hell for both you right now in different ways," Lena said.

            Kara's mind reeled at that – Lena trying to support the bond between Kara and Supergirl. Lena herself bristled at Supergirl's presence these days whenever they crossed paths. She was irritated that Supergirl kept bending to the will of the new regime as it rose to power. Tonight, the two of them had this very much in common.

            "I don't know if Supergirl is doing the right thing," Kara said. "She's going to register with the ARB tomorrow."

            "I've heard," Lena said. "That does seem quite the blow."

            To us, Kara could almost hear Lena say. The sense of shared experience, a collective fate carried in her voice could not be mistaken. In so many ways, Lena was Kryptonian in her way of being. Kara envisioned the arrogance in Lena's proud shoulders and upturned chin when last Lena and Supergirl spoke. The lines of Lena's face were exquisite. Kara could picture them carved in granite, cast in iron, standing in halls of learning or a courtyard of a building where grand designs were created. She was picturing Krypton, and the thought made her clench her jaw in abrupt pain.

            "These are unprecedented times," Lena said. "None of us actually know what the consequences will be of taking one path over another. We're still in this fight, whatever happens in the fallout from tomorrow. There may be opportunities that open up that we did not even anticipate. We just have to see what happens and keep trying, one day after another, until we turn the tide and stand safely on shores we've secured."

            Kara sat quiet with Lena's image in her mind. The beach was of pink sand, the water tinged with gold. All her thoughts were on Krypton, and Lena was there. She wished so fiercely that she could take Lena to Krypton that she could not speak. How did you talk to someone about loss and longing when you knew they could not see an entire world that was missing?

            "When is your doctor's appointment?" Lena said.

            "What?" Kara managed after a moment of silence.

            "Tomorrow."

            Kara caught on that Lena meant the lie about her wrist. That really meant Supergirl's trip to get registered. Kara remembered the wrist brace sitting on her dresser in the other room that would hide her tracking bracelet.

            "Oh. Early."

            "Too bad you don't get to sleep in. Let me take you to lunch, at least. I'll take an extra hour, and we can go to a really good place together."

            Kara smiled at the sweetness of the gesture. Lena never took an extra hour off, and Kara knew that she did not take lunch on most days. Eve would probably think Lena had suddenly fallen in love. The idea gave Kara an unexpected sense of pride and made her smirk a bit.

            "Sounds delicious," Kara said.

            When they got off the phone, Kara sat thinking of Lena for a moment. The sound and feel of a draft caught her attention. She looked up to see the hole in the wall. Kara went over and looked out to the distant, blinking lights of the city through the empty space. She glanced back at her table. Had she really thrown a vase through her wall? She looked around her apartment and wondered with equal surprise how she had not yet torn the entire building down and left it in a pile of rubble. That made her wonder what Lena's house was like. Surely she would live someplace more open, more dignified, far more fitting that this.

            Kara physically startled as her mind made some intuitive connection that sparked and flared in an epiphany. Red kryptonite. Kara absolutely knew this feeling. It was as distinct as stepping into the atmosphere of the same world twice. She had somehow been exposed to red kryptonite. The potency was not as strong as last time, but she was absolutely certain. Kara started to call Alex again. As she did, her hand strayed to her jacket pocket – one of those worthless, little decorative pockets that could hold little more than a packet of gum. In a sudden flare of irritation, Kara put her phone down and ripped the jacket off. The patches on the elbows made her even more vexed. Red kryptonite, Kara's mind repeated. She always hated fake pockets, and she saw now there was something in one of these. She peered through at the fragment of red kryptonite almost in disbelief.

            The crystal pulsed with its own light, clearly radioactive. Her mind raced back, trying to recall when she first felt the effects. She had been standing next to Skyler in the park, and she realized that he must have slipped the crystal into her pocket. He had been the only one near her. She had been distracted, focused on her thoughts. The idea seemed uncanny . Kara dug into the pocket, growing rough with impatience and tearing it open. Her mind flared as her fingers grasped the shard. The watched as red poured down the arteries in her forearm, heading straight to her heart. She grasped the crystal, opened a window, and shot out without even bothering to change her clothes. She seared a path into the sky, straight up. A bit higher, and she could fling the crystal into the atmosphere and let it burn up.

            A vivid heat pulsed in Kara's hand like a second heartbeat. Her thoughts flared in brilliant extremes. She looked down at the high buildings that were made in attempt to tower over the people of the city in a display of wealth and power. They were miles below Kara now. The government buildings sat heavy and ornate, barricaded and guarded in ways that could have made Kara laugh. These buildings lacked the enormous doors, the vast courtyards, the gathering places that still constituted her vision of places of governance as they rightly were, the way they had been on Krypton. Those places were open, spacious, designed to allow voices and thoughts to flow together, to rise up. Kara listened now to the murmuring voices of men in power barricaded in those buildings, locked away in closed rooms, making their plans. They were like a hive of hornets, infesting what should have been an open, welcoming place at the center of all their lives, shaping their world.

            Kara stopped and hung, suspended in midair. She looked down to the pulsing crystal in her palm. It reminded her of an amulet a Kryptonian might wear on a necklace, a symbol of devotion to study or meditation. The idea was to focus and bolster ones thoughts surrounding some profound dedication. Kara huffed a bit of laughter.   Already this tiny crystal had brought out more resolve in her than she had been able to conjure in seventeen months – seventeen months of open anti-alien activism, seventeen months of escalating violence, seventeen months of watching structures of power slip into the control of people who wanted aliens removed from their workplaces, their city, their country, this world.

            After a long moment of consideration, Kara softly closed her hand around the red kryptonite crystal. She let the heat of it pour through her skin and into her entire body. And then she dove down to return home.

Chapter Text

            Kara's alarm woke her up at six o'clock. She reached out of bed and managed to slide it off without even lifting her head from the pillow. When her phone rang not long after, she merely turned over. On the fourth call that morning, Kara reached out and got her phone a second time. She crushed it in her hand, a satisfying crunch swallowing the obnoxious ring. She dropped the tangle of plastic and electronic components on the floor, turned over, and went back to sleep.

            Some time later, Brainy's voice screeched into Kara's brain and yanked her out of sleep.

            "Supergirl, can you hear me? If so, give me a sign," Brainy said at what must have been 60,000 hertz.

            Kara sprang into a set of clothes and flew into the DEO, arriving within a minute.   She shot down the hall, dodging over the ongoing construction, to find Brainy standing at a shiny, new machine leaning over a microphone. Kara came and smashed the machine with a heavy press of her hand. Brainy stared at the sparking pile a moment, then he looked up at Kara.

            "Is this the sign?" Brainy said, pointing to his busted device.

            "It's a sign alright. I assume you had a good reason for waking me up," Kara said.

            "I tried your phone several times. All your com units were offline. I figured it would be a good time to test out an emergency communications device. Apparently, this one works, but perhaps has some… unforeseen side effects. You were sleeping? It's nearly noon."

            "Have you not heard? Today is my big day off."

            "Uh, no. You'll have to explain to me what that means."

            Alex came into the control room, interrupting them. Kara watched her sister closely as she crossed the room. She was walking without crutches or a cane, so her steps were slowed. Kara listened to the sound of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons as they shifted in Alex's injured hip. Her range of motion was restricted, the scar tissue that had formed stiff and grating against the surrounding, healthy tissues. At least the broken bone was fused, although Kara could hear the faintest creak that made her grip her jaw and swallow down a rumble of rage over the attack.

            "Supergirl," Alex said with a faint smile for her sister, and then she considered Kara fully, openly looking her up and down. Kara was wearing a black dress – the only decent thing she could find in her closet the night before. When Alex got close, she asked, "You flew here in that?"

            "You don't like it?" Kara said with only a touch of a challenge in her voice.

            "I didn't say that. Since when do you fly in anything but your super suit?"

            Alex tapped the edge of Kara's glasses. Kara flinched back a little, annoyed. Alex made a grin out of one side of her mouth that made Kara involuntarily smile.  

            "My super suit was dirty. Besides, today is an historic day," Kara said.

            "You're dressed to kill," Alex said.

            "I tried thinking what I should wear. I figured dressing for a funeral would be the most fitting. Turns out, I don't own a lot of black."

            Alex was too perplexed by Kara to saying anything. She considered Brainy's broken machine, knowing it must have been Kara who smashed it. Her eyebrow went up, and she considered Kara more closely, thinking.

            "Did you need anything?" Kara asked Alex, sincere now rather than sarcastic.  

            "Just to make sure you were ok," Alex said.

            "Don't I look ok to you?"

            "You look great to be honest. You're not going to wear that to the ARB?"

            "I'll grab a suit while I'm here. I have to go now, actually. I have a lunch date."

            "You do?"

            "Why else would I be this dressed up?"

            Instead of wearing something that's good to fight in, Kara thought. Kara's voice had softened just a touch with candor. Alex got a hint of something in Kara's voice or her expression. Alex glanced around at the others. Kara knew Alex would ask her about her lunch date later, when no one else could overhear. She was always protective of Kara, even on the simplest matters.

            Kara considered for a moment just how great Alex was. Scanning this room, she questioned whether any of the others really understood, whether they were actually good enough to work with Alex. At least Alex had Brainy with his remarkable abilities, even if he had woken her up. He had accidentally made sure Kara was on time to meet Lena, so her annoyance with him faded out as quick as it had come.

            A thought crossed her mind, and Kara tapped at the crystal of red kryptonite inside her bag.   She did have one thing to do before she left the DEO. She headed off in the direction of the room where her suits were stored. At the last turn in the hallway, she veered in the opposite direction. She found the door to another storeroom locked. Her handprint would not open this one. Kara considered a moment, then she let her eyes flare and burned through the panel of the lock. No alarms sounded. The security systems were not yet fully restored. Luck or fate, Kara could not say. But she went ahead and let herself in.

 

---

            Eve raised her head as Kara strode off the L Corp elevators. Rather than piping her usual greeting, she looked Kara up and down, her eyebrows rising. Good, Kara thought, and made a little smile.  

            "Hello, Eve," Kara said.

            "Hello! That is quite the dress," Eve said.

            Kara got to Lena's door. She turned to face Eve with her back pressed to the door. She let herself smile and used a slightly conspiratory tone.

            "Let's hope so," Kara said.

            Eve made a soft, pleased, and abashed laugh, and turned away, pretending to go back to her work. Kara pushed the door open. She spun on her heel to find Lena sitting at her desk, glancing up at her with a look of concentration for the work sitting in front of her still on her face. The door closed behind Kara.

            "Kara!" Lena said, as she stood up. As she came over to Kara, she went on, "I've been trying to call you. I wasn't sure if I should be worried."

            "I broke my phone," Kara said dismissively.

            "Oh!" Lena said, assuming Kara meant by accident.

            Lena approached Kara but held back and did not come to give her a hug. She was wearing a white dress with a black midriff. Kara looked over the precise cut and the lines of Lena's body beneath the fine fabric. She looked up to find Lena still lost in considering her own black dress. A plume of heat rose across Kara's chest, and she listened for Lena's heartbeat, terribly pleased to hear Lena's pulse pick up a bit.

            "That dress looks fantastic on you," Lena said in open admiration. "What's the occasion?"

            "Well, this is my day off."

            "Ah," Lena said, obviously confused by that answer. "And here I thought that blue was your color." Kara made a faint shrug at this.

            "I'm taking the day off from blue."  

            "Well, black suits you very well," Lena said and added with feigned contrition, "In my humble opinion."

            "Good," Kara said and tilted her head a little without breaking eye contact with Lena.

            Lena made a slight grimace at what she was about to say next.

            "I'm so sorry, but I can't go to lunch," Lena got out and went on quickly, "But you are going to be excited when I tell you why. And I did make us a reservation for 12:30 at Rise. It's the absolute best restaurants in town. They have strict instructions to put the bill on my card. You should still go, and you can take anyone you want."

            "Apparently not," Kara responded with a squint, wondering now if Lena's pulse had quickened out of anxiety and facing disappointment on multiple fronts. "So what could be more important than me?"

            Lena laughed and raised her eyebrows in surprise at Kara's uncharacteristic sass.

            "Well, nothing in all actuality," Lena said with sincerity. "But! I have a meeting with David Ashland and Barbara Cohenburg in less than half an hour."

            "Wow," Kara said, her pending irritation at being brushed off gone in a flash. David Ashland was one of Lena's only real competitors in innovative technology. Barbara Cohenburg was Secretary of Defense and the most outright and single-minded supporter of alien rights remaining in the White House. She had weathered a harrying investigation after the President was found out to be an alien and never seemed more than dismissive over the entire ordeal. Apparently, Lena had some very big plans in mind.  

            "Believe me, I pressed. This was the only time that they could come in," Lena finished.   Her body language was so apologetic, Kara had to smile at her a little.

            "Well, I suppose I could move over to make room for your plans to save the world," Kara said.  

            "I'll make it up to you, I promise," Lena responded.

            "I do like the sound of that."

            Kara approached Lena's desk being blatantly nosey. She made a sharp squint that conveyed how curious she was to know what Lena was planning. But she would not deign to ask if Lena did not tell her on her own. Kara made a sidelong glance at Lena that made Lena laugh a bit. Lena put her hands down on the desk behind her. Kara caught something about the way Lena was holding her body. She casually moved in closer to Lena, pretending to look at the desk, and paying very close attention to Lena's response.

            Kara heard Lena's breath became more shallow. Kara titled her head a bit to listen. She shifted her body in closer to find out what would happen. In response, the air hitched in Lena's chest. Kara let her head turn and considered Lena openly. When their eyes met, Lena smiled a little, and her eyebrows flicked closer together. Kara knew that Lena found something unexpected in Kara's energy, something she could not place. Her focus on Kara sharpened. Kara's thoughts strayed to the red crystal shining hidden in her bag. Lena was quick, and thinking about the speed and power of Lena's mind made Kara's body flare with desire.

            At the feel, Kara stood up straight, put her bag down on Lena's desk, and moved in even closer to Lena. Kara stood so close, they might have embraced. Lena stiffened and leaned back slightly in surprise, so Kara held perfectly still. They stood suspended for a moment. Kara looked over Lena's body and let Lena read precisely her thoughts and intention. When their eyes met, Kara found Lena with her eyebrows raised and her lips parted in absolute astonishment. Kara felt herself mildly provoked by how shocked Lena was in this moment, feeling that she had bested Lena a little bit. She listened to Lena's heart pick up beating rapidly and savored the sound. This did not seem like anxiety to Kara. This seemed like something else entirely.

            As Kara shifted in even closer to Lena, barely a space remaining between their bodies, she looked at Lena's mouth. She let their eyes meet once more, making her intentions absolutely obvious. Lena had almost recovered mentally, and she clearly recognized exactly what this was. Kara waited, wondering how Lena would respond, but Kara's confidence was absolute. Lena remained shock still, even though she was no longer processing the situation. Kara leaned her face in so close to Lena's that their eyes could no longer meet.

            "Kara, what…" Lena managed, her voice faint, but she obviously could not think of how to finish the question. She certainly was not trying to ask what Kara was doing. Kara knew that Lena must be asking her what had changed.  

            "I am taking the day off from being shy," Kara explained.   Lena did not laugh at this. She remained quiet. Kara brought her lips to almost touch Lena's. Kara lingered there, quite comfortable waiting, giving Lena time to decide how she wanted to respond.

            A long moment passed, and then Lena moved to kiss Kara so faintly that Kara gave a slight, involuntary smile in response.

            "Who's shy now?" Kara said, her tease incredibly soft.

            She heard Lena make the smallest laugh. Kara kissed Lena now, still soft, but with far more confidence than Lena had kissed her moments before. Come on, Kara thought, trying to provoke Lena to find out if she would respond, wanting to bring her hands to Lena's body, but waiting. She parted her lips enough to brush the tip of her tongue over Lena's and very softly bit at Lena's bottom lip. And, finally, Lena made a soft sound that rose from deep inside her chest and truly kissed Kara.

            Kara brought her hand to the small of Lena's back at once. She pulled her in close. Lena's back softened under Kara's hand. Lena put her arms carefully over Kara's shoulders, one and then the other. Kara slid her other hand up along Lena's spine, and the feel of Lena's weight coming into her arms brought waves of heat rising up through Kara's body. She felt as if she were rolling with flames that were now wrapping around Lena's body, as well, pulling them closer together. Lena was in fact pulling Kara closer to her. Kara lifted Lena onto the desk behind her, sliding the papers on her desk back with one hand.

            The two of them made out then, forgetting everything beyond one another. Kara let her hands move up over Lena's sides and along her back. Lena's hands moved down over the sides of Kara's neck to press high on her chest over her collarbones. Every tiny sound Lena made would cause desire to rake up Kara's spine. So she became determined to get her to make more. Kara could hear the way Lena's thighs were pressing hard together, the muscles in her legs trembling. Kara brought one hand to the back of Lena's neck to tilt her head back a little. She kissed over the exposed skin of Lena's throat down to the line of her dress, as she placed a hand on Lena's knee and pressed her fingers up along the outside Lena's thigh all the way under the hem of her dress. This made Lena shudder vividly and wrap her arms tighter around Kara's shoulders.

            Kara came back up to kiss Lena, as she brought her hand away. She held Lena's knee again and slipped her hand up just a little way along the inside of Lena's thigh. In response, Lena practically collapsed into Kara's hands and brought her own hands down on the desk to try and keep herself held up, as her legs relaxed. Kara, however, easily held Lena up with one hand, keeping her in their kiss, as she moved her hand up the inside of Lena's thigh. Lena shuddered again and softly bit Kara's lip in response. Kara shifted back a little, so she could see Lena's face. The surrender and desire in Lena's expression came over Kara almost as delicious as the sound she made when Kara first touched between her legs. They kissed, as Lena gathered the front of Kara's dress in her hands and gripped tight.

            The tension flickering through Lena's body raked like heavy fingernails up along Kara's spine. Lena tried to remain quiet, and Kara took this as a provocation and intentionally made it as difficult as possible for her to succeed. Every sound that escaped Lena poured into Kara and seemed to pool as a living heat in her low stomach, her mouth, her hands. Especially when Lena let go their kiss to bury her face against Kara's neck and hold her hand over her own mouth, as her body shuddered in the most vivid ecstasy.

            Lena was still holding onto Kara, and her body was trembling softly. Kara had a mind to lay Lena back on the desk and keep on going, but she heard Eve stand up from her desk and move towards the door to Lena's office. Kara stood up straight, and her eyes met Lena's. Kara let go of Lena's body with what felt to her profound restraint and tipped her head towards the door.

            "Let me get rid of your assistant," Kara said.

            Kara walked to the door, arriving just as Eve opened it.

            "Oh," Eve said in surprise at Kara standing so near the door. "I have the report Lena wanted."

            "Thanks," Kara managed, reaching out for the little touchpad Eve held out to her, her voice only slightly tinged with a growl.

            "Ok," Eve said, a little flustered, glancing at Lena, who had stood up and was looking down at her desk, seemingly distracted. Eve left. Kara listened for her to sit down at her desk, then she turned back to Lena.

            Lena looked up at Kara, entirely flustered. Kara found the sight stunningly pleasurable on its own, but she came at once to touch her again. Lena's body was still vividly affected by Kara. Lena more or less staggered into Kara's embrace and put her arms around Kara's neck. She held onto Kara hard, and Kara listened to the sound of Lena's heart pounding in her chest. Her legs were weak, and Kara shifted to take up a good deal of her weight. Lena leaned back a little to see Kara's expression. She took Kara's face in her hands. Lena kissed her, a deep kiss, as if trying to find something between them. She kissed Kara harder, longer, as if she could not find what she wanted. The idea that any part of Lena remained unsatisfied sent irritation raking over Kara's skin.

            Kara took Lena to the couch and sat her down. She knelt down in front of Lena and kissed her, as she unzipped the back of her dress. Kara spent a solid five minutes kissing Lena's breasts, until Lena was leaning forward into her, heavy and foggy. When Lena placed a hand on Kara's face, Kara stopped at once. Lena blinked hard and shook her head. She glanced over at the open couch, as if considering lying down and pulling Kara on top of her, and then she glanced at the door to her office. She gave Kara an expression that was absolutely overwhelmed, and Kara smiled in pure satisfaction at that. She gently pulled the straps up over Lena's shoulders, then her dress.

            "You have a meeting. I forgot," Kara said with a flick of an eyebrow. She heard a caravan of cars pulling up to L Corp down on the street. Kara looked over Lena's expression and touched her mouth with her fingertips. "And I have ruined your lipstick."

            Lena laughed, and her fingers strayed to her own mouth. Kara stood up. She pulled Lena up with her and reached behind Lena to zip up her dress. Lena touched Kara's lips and turned her face away. It was incredibly pleasurable to watch Lena struggle to gain her composure.

            Kara went and took her bag from atop Lena's desk. She could hear Lena's guests being signed in down in the lobby. As a result, she somehow managed not to reach out her hand to Lena and pull them against one another.

            "See you soon," Kara said, her statement a bit of a question.

            Lena made an involuntary grin. She merely nodded, quite speechless. Kara grinned at Lena for a long moment, then she made to leave. She turned around at the door at the last minute to give Lena a little wave. Lena just stood there, composing herself, watching Kara leave.

            "Bye, Eve," Kara said as she passed her desk. Eve glanced up at her and waved.

            "Bye!" Eve said and her voice hitched.  

            Kara got into the elevator, and she realized Eve could probably see the lipstick on her own mouth. She could hear Lena in the bathroom of her office rubbing at her face with make-up remover. Lena put her hands down on the sides of the sink, took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. Her guests were just loading into an elevator car downstairs. Kara knew Lena would pull herself together and do a fantastic job at whatever it was she was planning. She leaned against the back of the elevator, recent memory flaring up in her body, carrying flashes of sight, sound, taste, feel, smell, and smiling at the thought of how incredibly sexy Lena Luthor really was and also how easily and profoundly Lena had responded to her seduction.

Chapter Text

            Kara popped into CatCo to get a com from her desk, so she could make Alex come have lunch with her. She waved off comments about her dress and how she just couldn't stay away without bothering to say anything, which solicited laughs from people who thought she was joking with her uncharacteristic dismissiveness. Nia was at her desk, and she was surprised to see Kara and considered her dress closely in a curious silence. Kara dug around in her own desk, looking for a DEO com. She sat down a moment.

            "Alex?" Kara said, and within three seconds, she heard her sister's voice.

            "Kara," Alex said in a tone of clear relief.

            "I'm going to need you to come and eat lunch with me at a place called Rise."

            Kara heard Alex repeat the name of the place to Brainy.

            "Why? What's going on?" Alex asked.

            "I need my sister to come have lunch with me. My date got – moved."

            "Are you serious? You want me to come out for a lunch date?"

            "Perfectly serious. You haven't left the DEO in over a month. And this is the one day I'm taking off."

            "Have you already been to the ARB?"

            "A government office is not going to close before four. The restaurant is ten blocks away from headquarters by the south entrance. If you don't come, I'm flying in there and carrying you out."

            Kara turned off her com. She tossed it back into her desk. She stretched her back, remembering Lena, still feeling their encounter before in her body. A voice interrupted her thoughts, and Kara realized that she had not even noticed Chad Riggs, one of Skyler's close friends, approach her desk. That reminded her that she needed to try to remember Skyler long enough to ask him who had put him up to planting red kryptonite on her. She felt certain he did not know she was Supergirl or what it would actually do.

            "Danvers," Chad said. "What are you doing here?"

            "At present, thinking about all the things I'm going to do to a beautiful woman. What are you doing, Chad? Other than wearing a yellow shirt with khakis?"

            Chad visibility startled at the first sentence. He looked down at his horrifically clashing clothes.

            "Khakis go with everything," he said.

            "Or nothing. It's a philosophical question, really. Guess which camp I'm in?"

            Chad made his way off. Kara saw Nia pursing her lips, trying not to laugh. Kara got up. Nia leaned back to talk to her before she left. Nia's eyebrows were raised. Kara gave Nia a bit of a shrug.

            "Nothing gets rid of a frat boy faster than projecting you might be a high status lesbian," Kara said to Nia.

            "I will… keep that in mind," Nia said still keeping in a smile. "I haven't seen any news about Supergirl yet today."

            "First thing's first," Kara said waving her hand dismissively.

            "I am sort of hoping she doesn't show."

            "Oh, I expect she will… when she gets around to it."

            Kara touched Nia's shoulder and made her way out. She got distracted trying to decide whether it would be more irksome to Alex if she beat her to the restaurant or got there after her. But she could not guess how fast Alex would move with her hip still hurt, and that replaced the fun of rankling her sister with a sting of genuine anger.

 

----

 

            "Kara?" Alex said into her com unit when it went quiet.

            "Her com unit is offline," Brainy confirmed.

            "So what is this place?" Alex asked.

            "Rise – National City's premiere Japanese and French fusion restaurant, said to be some of the most artistic and creative cuisine ever produced by a chef in the United States."

            "Right, Brainy, is there anything else going on? Any ties to anti-alien factions – the owner maybe or the guests? Proximity to something? Anything?"

            "Oh. No."

            "What is with Kara today?"

            "Maybe she just misses you." Brain waited, as Alex considered deeply, ignoring his last comment. "Are you going to go meet her? I can hold down the fort here. At least, I believe that's the phrase that I mean."

            "Yes," Alex said and began to march off.

            "Uh, Director Danvers," Brainy interjected, and Alex turned back. "Should you be wearing that to the artistic cuisine?" Alex glanced down at herself, remembering she was in fatigues.

            "Oh. No. Thanks, Brainy," Alex said and headed off to find a dress.

            "Happy to be of help."

----

            The restaurant was absolutely tiny, less than ten tables. Kara was waiting when Alex arrived. She watched how Alex moved as she approached. Kara got up and pulled out her sister's seat. Alex let herself down into the chair carefully. Kara gently pushed her in. She came and sat back down.

            Alex adjusted herself in her seat. Her grimace left Kara remembering the way Alex had stopped and cut a nylon strap from her damaged chest armor for herself to bite down on, before she would allow Kara to pick her up and carry her to the med bay. They had not yet found out who had blown up the DEO. Alex had leads, Kara felt sure, but she was not sharing yet. Once she knew they were more than leads, Kara would make her share. She had unfinished business with whoever had nearly killed Alex and left her in this much pain.

            "I'm not much of a chair person these days," Alex said.

            "Sorry, I didn’t think about that," Kara said.

            "It's fine. It's good for me to work on it. This place is insanely swanky. What kind of date were you planning to go on?"

            Kara considered what to say to this. Alex looked tempted to pursue Kara's clandestine meeting. For whatever reason, Alex decided to let it drop.

            "Where are the menus?" Alex said and turned to look over her shoulder.

            "This place is prix fixe. They just asked how hungry we were, and I told them to think linebackers after practice. They also asked red or white."

            Their waiter came and poured them both glasses of white wine. Kara took a drink of hers. Alex twirled the stem of her glass but did not pick it up, looking a little unhappy.

            "I got white for you," Kara encouraged her.

            "I am not supposed to drink alcohol with my pain meds," Alex said.

            Another wave of rage wafted up Kara's spine. Alex slid her glass towards Kara, and Kara took it and downed it in one drink. She put her hand to her own glass again.

            "The food will make up for it, I promise," Kara said.

            "So what's this about?"

            "What's what about?"

            "Bringing me here. Do you have a lead or something?"

            "Nope."

            "You seriously just wanted to have lunch."

            "If I just wanted to have lunch, I wouldn't need you here. I wanted to spend some time with my sister. Is that hard for you to imagine these days?"

            "We see each other everyday at the DEO."

            "Yeah. And there you're my director. Here, you're just my sister."

            "Oh, I’m still your director."

            "You like to imagine you are," Kara laughed, and she and Alex gave each other completely fake, hard looks.

            "And for the record, you are a terrible subordinate. Brainy said he got some information on that new press secretary, Dover. Apparently, the guy –"

            "Shh. Shh. Do you hear that?" Kara interrupted.

            "What?" Alex said, sharpening, ready to spring to action.

            "That," Kara said with her eyes closed. "Silence. No alarms. No news feed. No heated discussions. No desperate, strategic plans. Just a quiet room. That's the sound of peace."

            "I'm sure if you listen close enough, you'll hear the chef cussing out the kitchen staff."

            "No. I can hear the chef. She's slicing sashimi. Her two sous-chefs are sautéing mushrooms and plating up dishes. I can hear butter sizzling in a cast iron pan. A bottle of olive oil with a wax seal and a cork was just opened. Everyone is working with focus and serenity both at the same time. It's a truly beautiful sound. Do you think the world could sound like this one day, Alex?"

            To Kara's surprise, Alex did not get angry at this or make any cynical arguments. Her body language shifted. She sat unguarded now, tired even. Their first plates of food came, and Alex ate in silence. Kara could tell that Alex was doing her best to savor the meal, chewing only on one side, the deliciousness of the food allowing her to almost completely ignore the way her pain meds suppressed her appetite. She had her weight leaning to one side, using her arm to prop herself up. Alex had to make a concerted effort at the start, but then she finally relaxed.

            And for a brief time, Kara found herself entirely content. The food was absolutely beautiful. They were only two sisters enjoying one another's company. Lena had made this possible, and Kara felt as if Lena were somehow present, as well. Even such a gentle endeavor made Alex exhausted before long. Kara felt incredibly sad seeing how tired her sister was.   Alex's look grew sad, too. Near the end of their meal, Alex turned to Kara with immense sympathy that took Kara a bit by surprise.

            "Do you want me to come with you to the ARB?" Alex asked.

            "Oh, yeah. That.   You want me to go to that, huh?" Kara said.

            "I mean, of course I do not want you to go."

            "Well, maybe I should just skip it."

            "Yeah, right," Alex said with a huff of sarcastic laughter, assuming this was a joke. Something in Kara's tone, however, caught her attention. "You're not serious, are you?"

            "Do I not look serious?"

            "You are really thinking of not going?"

            "What could they really do? Send someone to tranquilize me, drag me down, and tag me?"

            "You know that would be me, if they did send someone. So, obviously not. What's with this sudden change of heart?"

            "I've just been thinking."

            "What've you been thinking? That this seems like a good time to provoke the United States government?"

            "That maybe it's time not to be so nice. Honestly, I think I've had my fill of absorbing violence without any response."

            "What response do you want to make, Kara?"

            "I haven't worked that part out yet. But the world seems set on scaring the hell out of aliens. Maybe it's time they weren't all so comfortable doing it."

            "Any attempt to scare back would play right into the hands of people making aliens out to be a threat to human life."

            "If you're being punished for it already, what's the point of not doing the crime?"

            "Kara, what is going on with you? You wait until the last minute, and now you want to what? Defy the ARB? Where was this all this last year? We've been choosing our moves every step of the way, together, and you always cautioned against escalating things, trading wrong for wrong, intensifying the violence."

            "Guilty as charged, Director Danvers," Kara said in a listless tone. Alex titled her head to the side, clearly baffled and irritated.

            "Look, don't patronize me, Kara. This is –"

            Alex stopped herself from speaking. She leaned forward and rested her hand in her hands. When she looked back up, Kara could see that her sister was on the verge of tears. Alex gathered her composure and went on.

            "This is your choice. I would never give you orders to let yourself be treated as some kind of second-class citizen. You have to decide what you want to do."

            "That's how this all works isn't it? I'm on my own, because I'm an alien. I've been singled out, and not even my family can go with me through this."

            "I am with you. I am with you, Kara! All the way."

            Kara considered Alex in silence a long moment. She could see how desperate Alex was to connect with her. Everything Alex did was to try and combat the current political regime. Alex's hand was stretched out the table towards Kara, and Kara could still see the pale blotches where Alex's knuckles had been badly skinned during the explosion and healed since. Kara felt responsible now for the fact that they had not been effective at stopping this rising regime. She should not be blaming Alex.

            "Is this about the attack on the DEO?" Alex asked Kara. Kara did not like Alex's tone. She felt the muscles along her own spine stiffen. Her chair creaked in response, the hard wood frail in comparison to Kara's body.

            "What's 'this'?" Kara challenged her sister.

            "Your anger," Alex said as if this were obviously clear.

            "My anger?" Kara's voice took a drastic turn – the rounded, disaffected edge sharpened like an exposed razor blade. Kara sat up, filled with wrath. Her eyes narrowed, as she looked hard at Alex. "Are you really going to act like anger isn't the justified response, after everything we've been through? People out there on the streets sell Supergirl stickers and t-shirts then sign petitions to legalize keeping aliens out of their apartment complexes in the hopes of getting fifty bucks off their rent. The government is more than happy for DEO agents to die in service handling their national crises involving alien activity, but as soon as you step up to speak as an expert on what kinds of threats aliens constitute, they call you a coward, betraying your country and your species. People in power are signing away the rights of children, and those so-called leaders would trample their constituents to death in a frenzied attempt to escape any real threat if they weren't trampled by those people themselves first. There is no integrity, no justice in this city. And you want to chastise me for responding with anger?"

            "No. That's not what I'm saying, Kara. You're right. You're absolutely right. There is corruption and – and injustice. But there is also hope. You – you give that to so many of us – to all of us – and, especially, to me. I need you to have hope still that we can do this and beat this thing. I'm angry, too, Kara. And you, I think maybe there has been too much pressure on you to pretend that you're not angry, too."

            "I know," Kara said, finally becoming reticent and far more calm. "You'd trade places with me if you could. You have always protected me. Maybe it's time I start protecting myself, and maybe it's time I started protecting you, as well."

            "You have. So many times. Where are you going?" Kara had stood up from their table.

            "To the ARB," Kara said.

            "Do you want me to come with you?" Alex asked her again. She reached out and took Kara's hand. Kara considered Alex, her earnestness. The fierce love she felt for her sister burned in her heart, a gentle, unshakable core amidst a seething mass of rage.

            "No. Not today," Kara said. "I love you, Alex."

            "I love you, too, Kara," Alex said.  

            Kara got her bag. She kept it in her hand rather than placing it over her shoulder. That brought a keener pitch to her resolve. She made her way out of the restaurant, leaving her sister and the short, peaceful time they had spent together. She did not even think to look back.

Chapter Text

            Kara put on her signature suit for her press appearance. She landed front of the ARB hard enough to send a thin crack through the pavement. The red kryptonite crystal was tucked away in a pocket on the left side of her chest close to her heart. Kara put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to consider the ARB. The ugly, heavy building was made with slabs of concrete and reminiscent of a jail. In a contrast that somehow simultaneously matched, a rather elegant bronze statue of Agent Liberty stood in the center of the little front lawn. The building was old and only recently taken over. The statue was new, but the toes of both boots already shone from being rubbed for good luck.

            A buzz went through an exhausted cluster of reporters outside the ARB when Supergirl arrived. Most of them had been waiting since before the building opened at 8 a.m. Kara caught a glimpse of Skyler there for CatCo, as he stood up. He had been sitting on the ground amidst a ragtag group of reporters who tried to get comfortable on the edges of the lawn as the day worn on. She made a mental note to talk to him later. He drifted out of her thoughts, as she made her way inside.

            The long hallway inside the doors led to a metal detector, and four armed officers milled about, passing the time to the end of their shift. As she strode forward, they lined up to lead her through the machine. Kara held her hands out to her sides and passed through. The four guards watched, waiting for beeps and flashing lights.

            "You all look surprised. You all know that 'girl of steel' is a metaphor, right?" Kara teased. None of them enjoyed the joke. One of them had a clipboard, and he eyed her up and down.

            "Do you have any natural defenses or armaments that cannot be removed?"

            "Yes." He looked to Kara, waiting patiently. So she went on. "My entire body." He clicked his pen to fill out the extra form.

            "Can you state your name?"

            "Supergirl."

            "Your first name and last name?"

            "Super. Girl."

            He made a barely suppressed sigh and considered Kara. He looked to his colleagues. Then he started filling out the form on his clipboard on his own. Another of the guards got the gist and waved for Kara to follow him.

            "This way, please," he said.

            He led Kara to a room. He had to wait for them to unlock the doors from the inside. The entire ordeal felt remarkably punitive. Kara felt like she was checking into a prison. A woman inside had a single tracking bracelet ready on a little, movable metal table. She stood next to a set of computer screens, ready to make sure the bracelet was online and the data feed live. The screens were facing away from an empty chair, so whoever was getting the device put on their wrist would not be able to see the feed she was reading. Kara found herself barely holding back a sneer at the sight.

            "Come sit," the woman said with a professional, dismissive, already irritated air of mundane and unquestionable authority.

            Kara came and sat with a flourish of her cape. She crossed one leg over the other and held both hands on her knee. The woman considered Kara only briefly with listless eyes.

            "Your left wrist, please."

            "Is this my new pal?" Kara asked snatched the bracelet so fast the woman did not realize it was out of her hand until she was looking at it in Kara's and glanced back at her own empty hand.

            "Please do not tamper with the device."

            "Whoops," Kara said shattering the case and opening up the components, getting a glimpse at them. "I think this one is defective."

            The woman clearly had absolutely no idea what to do in this situation. Kara handed her the shards, and the woman took them and put them in front of one of the screens. Kara watched her as she went into another, independently locked room. She came back with another, single bracelet, and Kara got up to look at the monitors. The woman rushed at her.

            "Ma'am, that is classified information. You are about to commit a federal offense."

            "I'm about to commit several dozen, actually," Kara said and pulled the main computer monitor, trailing cords, dragging other components with it, off its stand, until everything came free from the wall. She crushed the monitor, searching for the actual motherboard inside. She wadded it into a small ball.

            The door was closing, and Kara saw the woman talking to the guards outside. She went to the locked room. There were signs all over the door.

            "Clearance required. Risk of federal prosecution for unauthorized access," Kara read aloud. "Well, I have always strived to be a high achiever." Kara easily pulled the door open, popping locks, and breaking the reinforced frame. The door came off the hinges, so she tossed it aside. "What'cha hiding in here?"

            Inside were hard, heavy, plastic briefcases filled with tidy rows of bracelets. The boxes and bracelets seems far more expensive than she would have imagined. Kara considered for about four seconds how best to destroy so many tiny devices. She gave a shrug and made a spinning, sidelong dive into one of the shelves. Within a minute, Kara had shattered everything in the entire storeroom. She stood up and swept shards of plastic, metal, and silicon off her clothes.

            "Whew. That was maybe a little too fun."

            She held out two staying hands a moment. She peered through the wall to another storage room on the other side. This one held a thick metal cabinet, also filled with cases full of bracelets. Kara left the storage room planning to make her way around to get to this other one. She eyed the smashed computers and thought to look to see where the cords had connected to the walls. They were attached to a router in another room. When Kara opened the door, bullets started hitting her from down the hall. The four officers and several others had opened fire on her. She laughed.  

            Ignoring them, she went down the hall to find the other room. Kara thought to scan through the walls and check the building. A large, server room stood at the center. The signs on the doors made her think this was likely a collection point for the information being gathered. She considered making her way through the halls for half a second, then she pushed her way through walls and directly into the room instead. As she busted through the last wall, she held her arms out and leaned back.

            "Oh, yeah!" Kara said, and laughed at her own private impersonation of the Kool-Aid Man. "Ahh. Crime is fun."

            A flurry of blows quickly wrecked all the machines in the server room. With a satisfied sigh, Kara turned to make her way out of the building. She followed her own trail back and peeked into the hallway lined with guards.

            "Hi," Kara said down the hall with a little wave. A rain of bullets came down the hall in response. "Whew. They don't want to be friends. Ok. That's cool."

            A room full of physical paperwork caught her attention. Kara let her eyes flare and burned through the lot in mere moments. She stood waiting with her hands on her hips, then she blew a quick blast of freeze breath to put it out keep the building from burning down. The papers were definitely ruined. Her work was done here, Kara surmised with a severe nod accompanied by a frown of severity. She remembered the metal cabinet of bracelets and turned that way.

            Quite suddenly, her back was being peppered with tiny, high velocity rounds from an automatic rifle, and she turned to see where on earth they were coming from. A SWAT team agent was mostly concealed by a doorway. He emptied the clip of an AR-15, every round hitting Kara. She walked straight towards him. When the clip of his rifle was empty, he quickly pulled a Glock from a holster on his thigh. He shot Kara three times, each round hitting her cleanly in the face.

            Kara stopped a few feet from him. He stood there, looking her over, every ounce of him determined to stop her, and coming up short now that mastery of deadly weapons meant nothing. Kara leaned to get a look at his name badge. She raised her hands a bit at her sides.

            "Rodriguez," Kara said and tossed her hair over her shoulder. She waited, giving him every chance to react. "I'm interested to see what you're going to try next."

            He took a grenade hanging at the back of his leg. Kara dodged in at super speed. She snatched the grenade and the pistol from his hands, barely making a blur in his vision. She crushed the gun like a tin can and dropped it on the floor, and she shook the grenade in between the two of them.

            "You're going to get the brunt of that," Kara said. She pulled the pin, turned, and threw the grenade right through the wall and through the metal of the heavy cabinet filled with bracelets. She threw it just hard enough not to go through the other side of the metal cabinet and did a fist pump at her success. "Yes!" The blast sounded, and Kara turned back to the man still standing in front of her. "I don't want the press saying I killed some hero. Tossed one is fine, though."

            At that, Kara caught him by the bulletproof vest and flung him across the room behind him. He landed and rolled, trying to distribute the impact. Kara should recommended him as a DEO agent. With better weapons, he might be much more formidable. A worthy ally or opponent, she really did not really care in this moment.

            As Kara stepped out of the room, shouts came down the hallway. Kara stood a moment with her head tilted to the side, wondering why guns made people so stupid. They all knew she was bulletproof. She turned back to Rodriguez.

            "Dude, you better get behind cover," and to her surprise, he saw what she was about to do and ran, turned a desk with a thick metal top onto its side, and hid behind it

            After he got secure, Kara just walked down the hall as if this were a normal day. Bullets went everywhere. By the time Kara had reached the end of the hall, the lights above her were shattered and a showering of sparks was falling. Foam from the roof and plasterboard from the walls were crumbling into the hallway. Kara's brows were knitted in irritation, and the cacophony made her ears hurt. Her anger was more or less quelled as five men, four police officers in uniform and one SWAT team member, fell at the impact of ricocheted shots. Three were only hit in the armor, and Kara looked through and could see that the rounds had been stopped. Those were mostly winded. Two of the officers, however, were shot. One was hit in the leg, and the other in the forearm. All the others were still focused on Kara.

            With a dash of speed, Kara grabbed one wounded man in each hand and flew down the hallway, blowing open the front doors. Outside were dozens of police and SWAT team members. As Kara dropped the two men in front of an ambulance, two paramedics ran towards the wounded men as twenty-times as many people retreated back away from Kara. She allowed the police and the SWAT units to form ranks. The paramedics got the wounded men loaded into an ambulance, and it pulled away, leaving Kara standing in front of a firing squad.

            A few of the sharpshooters on the SWAT team must have been given the order to shoot. Larger, more precise rounds hit Kara, and she gave the shooters a bewildered look. A K9 unit was on the scene, and a huge German Shepherd standing beside a human coworker took this as a cue and ran at Kara. Kara watched the dog dart towards her for only a moment and feared the dog would be shot by accident.

            She yanked off her cape and had it wrapped around the dog in an instant. She picked the animal up and started walking. The dog flailed in an attempt to escape and bit her desperately on the face. Kara flinched out of worry for the dog's teeth. Kara carried the enormous dog in her arms, and all the poor creature's instincts were overridden by being rendered powerless and by the sheer bizarreness of the situation. The dog went stiff, merely peering out in sheer bewilderment. Kara looked to see where the dog was looking and came up to an officer who was obviously terribly afraid for the dog.

            "Hold this for me, would you?" Kara said.

            The officer awkwardly let go of his rifle to let it hang at his side and took the dog in his own arms. Kara maneuvered a bit to unwrap her cape from around the dog's body. Then she gave the officer a stiff pat on the shoulder in thanks. She ruffed the dogs ears, as the dog gave her one last, completely perplexed look.

            With that out of the way, Kara turned and shot at super speed about the cluster, grabbing police cars and SWAT vans. In mere seconds, she had stacked them all neatly into a pyramid. She stood with her hands on her hips, gazing up at her work. The vehicles looked pristine, like something you would see in a car commercial or maybe a derby if it were extremely well funded for whatever reason. That took away most of the cover in the open lot, and orders were being given for everyone to move to one side. They planned to open fire, and they had to make sure everyone else was off-line beforehand.

            As the group shuffled to get into ranks, Kara watched and became amused. They were a clatter of riot shields, face masks, bulletproof vests, helmets. They were weighed down with gear and weapons, and most of their steps were slow, as they kept their eyes on her, looking down the sights of their guns. Kara feigned a side to side motion. She cracked up laughing, as everyone flinched, and a few fired shots that solicited aggressive barks to cease fire from their commanding officers.

            When they were all on one side, Kara darted around to stand behind all of them. They managed to turn, and she did it again. Watching pivot a second time, Kara actually bent over with laughter.

            "The look on that guy's face," Kara said pointing.

            Just as they began to open fire on her, she shot up in an arcing line up and down to the top of the status of Agent Liberty. The shape did not allow much purchase for a grip. Kara dug her hands into the metal deep enough to try lifting it. She wanted to get the entire statue, to tear it out at the base. The metal in her hands was bending and would pull away instead. Kara stopped a moment and pursed her lips in consideration.

            A series of explosions in her face blew Kara back a bit, and she brought her cape around to block several more. The SWAT team had opened fire on her with rocket launchers. Kara had intended to carry the statue of Agent Liberty out over the open ocean and let it go. She liked the idea of watching it sink. Now, the bronze was melting, and the statue slumped into broken parts.

            "Oh, well. I guess that's good enough," Kara said and gave a profound shrug.

            At that, Kara arced up into the air and landed a few blocks away. She walked down the sidewalk heading towards a park. A handful of police officers and reporters were trying to make their way to the scene. The police called out to people on the streets, trying to keep them away from Kara. Kara made a little wave to everyone she saw, and several people grinned at her and waved back. Some tried to snap pictures. Some were accosted by the police and were visibly put out by the interruption.

            The reporters must have heard more details, because most of them kept back of their own accord, the camera crews trying to catch footage of Kara from a distance. One pair, however, saw Supergirl and ran right towards her. The reporter slowed, and the camera woman with her kept her camera low, trying to be less invasive. The reporter kept back a little bit, as she called out.

            "Supergirl, could we get your statement?" the reporter asked.

            "Sure. On what?" Kara quipped.

            "There are reports that you attacked the Alien Registration Bureau," the reporter said as a lead in. Kara gave another profound shrug.

            "I went in and cleaned things up for them a bit. You know the place was getting rather cluttered with instruments of systematic oppression and – complicit parties making barely middle class wages. I figured they could use some air."

            "We have reports that shots were fired."

            "Yeah… some people got upset and wasted a lot of ammunition on me."

            "Was anyone injured?"

            "Oh, yeah. Hopefully, they'll be alright."

            "Did you hurt anyone?"

            "Nah. I gave one guy a toss after he shot me in the face a few times. He was fine. Oh, and I think I really stressed out a dog. Bullets were going everywhere, though, ricocheting off me, and a couple people who were firing were hit."

            "So do you not take responsibility for the injuries that were caused?"

            "I went there to destroy devices. As a result, people tried to destroy me. Rather ineffectually, if I might add. If people broke themselves trying to break the girl of steel, I am afraid I don't have it in me to apologize. Obviously, they should not try."

            "And do you no longer plan to register?"

            "Why should I respect laws that don't respect me? One of my family members has always said that there are really two rival definitions of the word 'respect.' One means to see someone as an authority figure. The other means to see someone as a person. When some people say, 'I'll respect you if you respect me,' what they mean is, 'If you do not respect me as an authority, I will not respect you as a person.' That's what our current political powers are saying. That's not an exchange I'm willing to make. I will continue to respect people as people. For any form of respect beyond that, put me down as currently unavailable. Nice jacket, by the way. Looks great on you."

            At that, Kara lifted an arm and took off into flight. The reporter signaled to the camera woman to cut the feed without making any closing remarks. She was not keen on having her blushing and abashed face shown on television. The two of them, however, shared a tiny, private grin, before their focus swept back to getting their impromptu exclusive on the air as quickly as possible.

 

---

            When Alex reached the DEO, she was still trying to regain her composure. She hated that Kara was going to the ARB to register. And she hated that Kara was going alone. Her sister was right. No matter what Alex did, they were being divided by this rising political regime. Alex was human, and she would never be marked the way that Kara was. She would never have to hide the same way. As a queer woman, Alex understood, and she also knew that no matter how close she stood or much solidarity she offered, she would never share the same experience.

            "How was the art food?" Brainy asked Alex.

            "Fine," Alex said.

            "That seems disappointing."

            "How were things while I was gone?"

            "Good. Did you mention about the coms to Kara? I still don't have her on any of our usual links."

            "No. I think she could use some space."

            "Oh. Alright, then. I did manage to lock onto her heat signature."

            "You can do that?"

            "Yes, she runs about seven degrees hotter than the average human being. It's strange, though. I couldn't find her earlier. It would seem that her heat signature today is four degrees higher than normal. I don't suppose it's possible that she's running a fever? She did say that slept until nearly noon."

            "Supergirl is running hot, physically?" Alex said, and her head whipped up. Her mind was racing. She had not considered that anything was wrong with Kara that was beyond emotional. Every nerve in her body rose in alarm.

            "Yes."

            "Red kryptonite!" Alex said. "Sound a red alert! I want every agent ready to deploy! Enter emergency code 79014. It'll unlock the doors to weapons room 41C. Special grade weapons inside. Our mission is Supergirl. We're going to bring her down and bring her home to the DEO without interruption from any other defense agency. Do it now!"

            "Yes," Brainy stammered, as he quickly followed Alex's directions. Alex strode out of the room, her limp more pronounced as she moved more quickly. Agents were responding at the sound of Alex's order even before the alarm started. Brainy did everything Alex had said. He looked up just as Alex was coming back into the room. Her demeanor had changed. She looked to be in shock and terrified.

            "Room 41C has been breached. All the weapons we built to combat Supergirl under the influence of red kryptonite have been destroyed. Brainy, we've got nothing."

            "What should we do?"

            "Find Kara," Alex said. "We'll have to go with regular weapons. Damn it! How did this happen?"

            "I found her."

            "Where is she?"

            "She's at the ARB."

            "Let's go."

            "Alex, wait. I think you should see this first."

            Brainy brought news footage up onto the monitors. Alex stood and watched Supergirl fly through the doors of the ARB with two injured police officers in her hands. The reporters were being harried by officers, and the footage was chaos.

            "We're too late," Alex said.

            "Should we deploy?" Brainy asked.

            "There's nothing we can do," Alex admitted. She sat and watched. Her only hope was that Kara was still in there, still in control. And she waited, just like everyone else, to see how far her sister was going to go.

Chapter Text

            The sounds of sirens and shouts harried Kara. Alex would likely be at Kara's apartment ready to fight – verbally and quite possibly worse. So Kara left. Remote places were easy to find on this planet. Kara stood atop the fjords of Greenland and allowed the contrast of white snow on dark stones and the myriad blue of sky reflecting on water to fill her mind. She flew with her fingertips trailing along the ocean, until she found a pod of gray whales. Their lives were heavy and mysterious to her. She found a beach of black sand in Iceland and walked without hurrying, allowing the stillness to fill her mind.

            Standing in that strange and desolate landscape, Kara's imagination ranged out to consider the violent and creative forces of volcanoes and glaciers that had shaped this earth over vast amounts of time that reached far beyond human experience. The sound of stillness made Kara increasingly aware that she was here alone. Eventually, the feeling rang inside of her as loud as her ears might ring after a sound grenade exploded.

            This had been a good day, Kara decided. And she would not run from her city like someone in exile. She had wanted a moment's peace. Now that she had it, she turned back towards her city and considered her purpose. The policies that mandated alien registration were still in place and a host of other laws besides restricting alien travel, immigration, where they could work, even where their children could attend school. The people who desired and advocated those laws were still in power. That needed to change. Alex would create a complication. Kara would have to try to get Alex on her side. That would take some doing. In the meantime, Kara had an idea of where she could find an ally, one far stronger than any politician.

            When Kara touched down on Lena's balcony, Lena was standing at a monitor on the far side of her office. Kara opened the door, and Lena turned to see her. Her eyes moved over Supergirl, and she did not show even a flicker of emotion. The dress she was wearing looked so good still that Kara did not say anything as she crossed the room towards her. Lena's poise was returned, absolute. Kara could remember how utterly rattled Lena had been only hours before. She looked as if nothing in this world had ever once taken her by surprise now. It was difficult not to try and do it again, but Kara had other important matters on her mind.

            "Supergirl," Lena said in a tone that made it clear she was still deciding whether or not she was happy to see her. She turned back to her monitors, obviously occupied by some previous thought. Kara caught only a glimpse of the screen of obscure molecular structures. Lena clicked the monitor off. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

            "I sincerely doubt I have given you any yet, but give me time." One of Lena's eyebrows raised, and Kara was certain that Lena caught the innuendo in her response. She was also absolutely sure that it made Lena angry. The barest hint of emotion rose to Lena's expression. Kara explained. "You've been on my mind today."

            "I'm sure I've been a lot of people's mind's today and many in far from the dearest of terms."

            The indirect insult raked softly along Kara's spine. Instead of provoking Kara to anger, it made her smile. Just being provoked by Lena was already satisfying.

            "Well, we certainly have that in common then."

            "Yes, I saw that you changed your plan and decided to make a laughing stock of the Alien Registration Bureau today rather than registering. Aren't you worried about becoming an enemy of the state?"

            "People like us will always provoke extreme responses. The real problem lies in that the cultural climate decides the tone. You've been making a lot of enemies yourself of late. As the last free Luthor, you were expected to serve as the anti-alien movement's team captain. Instead, you keep presenting greater obstacles to their agenda. I hear you've refused to even consider government contracts until alien registration laws are revoked. I'm sure there are people picturing all that Luthor tech being sold to other countries, and they must be making plans to ensure that doesn't happen. I have been thinking about ways we might gain control of the context again."

            Lena scoffed a bit. She considered Supergirl with open skepticism. At least her annoyance made it obvious how much she cared, even if she was trying not to show it. Lena said, "And since when is there an 'us'?"

            "In my mind, there has been an 'us' since you and I first met," Kara told her. Lena could obviously see how genuine this was. Her eyebrows furrowed a bit in consideration.

            "Alright," Lena said, looking down a moment and visibly softening. Lena looked back up at Supergirl and said, far less guarded, "I'm listening."

            "I know that you've been holding back on your opposition to this new political regime. So have I. I think maybe it's time we stop."

            "You want to go to war with me?" Lena said.

            "Meaning alongside you, yes. I think we both know that we are at war already. We're just losing. I think it's time to change that. Time for us to form an alliance."

            "Over the past year, you've made it clear you consider the tactics I've suggested too aggressive to be prudent and too preemptive to be ethical. And you've made it clear the tech I've offered you isn't necessary. So what's changed?"

            "Nothing. You were right the entire time. I needed to see how far they'd go to understand your side."

            "You have not seen how far they will go yet. Try to make another move to humiliate them like the one you made today, and maybe you will see. They are invested in alien registration. I think far more than you know. They fully intend to put a bracelet on every single alien on this planet, make no mistake. They want you most of all. Soon, they'll be hunting you. There will be competitions across government agencies and careers will be made on the search to bring Supergirl in. You're the prize catch."    

            "Not if I bring the fight to them, and they don't get a chance to make their plans."

            "Put them on the defensive? Are you are really willing to do whatever you have to at this point in order to get this political regime taken out of power?"

            "Try ideas on me and see."

            "Alright. Well, if that is true, then I think we can win this. And I am all in."

            Kara stood with a slow smile moving across her face. Lena remained stoic, but her eyes were shining with focus and vision. If Kara had Lena with her, they would bring down this city. Alex would get on board with their mission, or Kara would move her out of the way. She wanted her sister with her, but more so, she wanted to win. Now, the odds were stacked heavily in her favor.

            "Tell me what you have in mind, Ms. Luthor?"

            Before Lena could speak, Brainy's voice screeched into Kara's brain again. She grabbed at her ears. He had turned down the frequency, but it was still overpowering. This time, before her anger could flare up at the sound, she heard what he trying to tell her.

            "Supergirl, Director Danvers has been arrested. If you can hear me, don't come to the DEO. The military has taken over here. I know that you've been contaminated with red kryptonite. I'm just hoping you're still yourself somehow. Alex was given orders not to wait until she had red kryptonite deterrents but to bring down Supergirl using kryptonite weapons at any cost of life. She gave us orders to destroy them instead, and they were here before we could carry her orders out.

            "They must have been seen this coming. They have the kryptonite weapons now. And they are extremely angry. Alex is on a route south. They will take the Akton Bridge out of the city. You have to follow them. We need to know where she's being held. I have no way to track her. Her biology is not unique, and I couldn't get an tracking devices on her fast enough. Please, if you get this, send me some sign."

            "Do me a favor will you?" Kara said to Lena, "Call Brainy to tell him I'm on my way and not to worry." Kara turned and headed for the door to the balcony.

            "Not to worry about what?" Lena asked and rushed after her.

            "The Pentagon has arrested Director Danvers."

            "And Brainy contacted you?"

            "Yes. Just now. High-frequency radio waves."

            "That is unquestionably bait," Lena challenged Kara.

            "I'm not letting anyone take Alex Danvers," Kara said and turned to Lena with immense ferocity.

            "Of course not," Lena said calmly. "Just hold on. Give me one minute. Trust me."

            Kara would have ignored anyone else. Lena went and opened up a panel hidden in her office wall. She opened a safe with her handprint and a long code. Kara glanced through the wall, and she could not see the safe. She could see through to the other side, so she did not think the wall was made of lead. Apparently, Lena had figured out some things, since they first met. Kara had to smirk at this. Lena came back with a red box held in her palm. She gave this to Kara and looked at her with great severity.

            "You cannot let them take her. We need her if we're going to win this," Lena said.

            "I'll die first," Kara said, taking the box, about to lift off.

            "That is not comforting," Lena said and the severe tone of her voice stopped Kara. She turned to look Lena in the face once more, before she spoke.

            "I will kill every troop they send, before I will let them take Alex Danvers."

            "That is," Lena conceded with a new confidence. She stepped back a little. Lena was standing in the open door, when Kara lifted off. Kara glanced back, before she turned her focus and located the sound of hummer tires and tank treads making their way swiftly to the edge of the city.

 

---

 

            Police cars blocked all traffic leading to the Akton Bridge. A caravan of military hummers and black, armored SUV's started across with a single tank near the front. At the center was an armored van, and Kara looked to see Alex inside. Her hands were cuffed to a wall behind her back. Alex's heart was pounding. Kara knew that Alex was not scared of was happening to her. She was sacred about what Kara was going to do. That gave Kara pause for only a moment. She touched the red crystal over her heart and gained her resolve.

            Kara waited until they were almost halfway across. She landed in the middle of the road, blocking their path. Rather than soften her landing, she let the impact shatter the asphalt and send shock-waves out a good twenty feet. She lifted only slightly to fly to the edge of the depression she had made and walked slowly towards them.

            Kara stopped in the road and waited, until the unit rolled to a stop. They formed ranks, following orders from someone Kara recognized to be General Hallbrook. She only knew him by his growing reputation. They had never met, but he was outspoken about the need for increasing defenses against alien weaponry and the increasing risk of domestic alien attacks. He stood in the open door of an SUV and took out a megaphone.

            "Stand down –"

            A tiny blast from Kara's eyes destroyed the megaphone. The General looked down, obviously angry. He climbed down and came forward, shouting now.

            "Stand down, Supergirl. This is your only warning."

            "General Hallbrook, you have Director Danvers in custody. What is the charge?"

            "That's government business, but I'll tell you plain it's the same that you'll be charged with soon enough. Director Danvers is being charged with treason."

            "Who gave that order?"

            "That's classified, and we do not answer to you."

            "I'm afraid you're wrong, General. Tonight, you do answer to me. I am done watching this country turn into a mockery of its own principles, and I am tired of every law being bent to insider agendas."

            "If you make yourself out to be a threat, you'll be treated like one."

            "Let Director Danvers go and handle whatever proceedings you have in mind publically. She has served this country too long and too well to be treated this way. It's your choice what happens next, General. Do you need to see people get hurt tonight to see reason?"

            "That's enough of your threats," the General said and called out to the squadron. "Fire!"

            Two nets sprang from the ends of heavy barrels. The metal hit Kara's skin and wrapped around her body, a few hundred pounds of weight at least. The weight began to grow heavier and the cords started to sting, burning her through the fabric of her suit. She could see that the metal was imbedded with shards of kryptonite.

            Kara looked up at the General. He had his back turned to her and was giving orders. He was so confident that they had bested her already. He did not even seem to notice yet that Kara was not struggling. He simply believed that they would win. Troops were making their way towards her, weapons pointed at her that were no doubt taken from the DEO and loaded with kryptonite ammunition. Any excuse to kill her would probably do.

            "You really thought it would be that easy?" Kara called. 'Now, I'm not only angry, I'm insulted." Her voice was nearly a growl, vivid with anger.

            Kara lifted the red box Lena had given her to the front of her chest. She pressed a series of release buttons, and the box read her fingerprints. A nanotech suit of armor opened and encased Kara's body. This suit was red with blue accents, slimmer and far more refined than the suit Lena had used to save Kara when the atmosphere was poisoned with kryptonite. Kara had stiffened with preemptive anxiety as the suit enveloped her, but the immense wave of claustrophobia she expected barely rose at all. Lena had given this suit more peripheral vision and far greater air flow. The stuffy feeling was nearly gone. Kara found it far easier to move in this suit. What's more, the kryptonite she had already absorbed from the net was filtered from Kara's system within seconds.

            Kara took the webbing of both nets in her hands and tore them apart. The task was easy now that the kryptonite the nets carried could not reach her body. She found herself incredibly impressed with Lena and distracted from her anger for several seconds.

            Several dozen weapons fired all at once. Most of the bullets that struck the suit shattered into fragments, and green shards of kryptonite were sent skittering across the dark pavement. Other rounds exploded on impact into clouds of glowing green gas. A sound caught Kara's ears, as the tankers adjusted the barrel of the tank to aim at her. The tank fired a single, massive round. Kara caught it in both hands, and it exploded. A maelstrom of kryptonite shrapnel and gas engulfed her. No doubt, she would have died outside of the suit, especially taking a direct hit this way. The feed in her vision told her that the blast combined with all the shots fired had not even partly compromised the suit.

            "Man, that woman is good at what she does," Kara said to herself in admiration of Lena.

            The firing stopped, as the air cleared.   They troops could see Kara still standing. They opened fire again, and the tank fired a second round. Kara punched this one out of the air and straight into the SUV carrying the General. This time, the explosion of gas and shrapnel took down a good two dozen troops. The General was hit, and he got to his feet. A guard formed around the General, trying to get him away. Kara did not care. She was here for Alex, and most of the troops were surrounding the armored truck.

            In a blur, Kara shot forward, put both hands in the barrel of the tank, and pulled it apart. The metal split into two, running nearly up to the end of the barrel. Kara darted from one troop to another, snatching away their weapons, and giving most of the troops a toss into the sides and tops of vehicles. Kara got all of the weapons onto the rent nets. Once she had a pile, she spun and sent these flying into the atmosphere. Kara watched a streak of red bloom in the sky like a falling star, as the weapons and the kryptonite they carried burned up.

            The troops who were still standing were backing away. They had not been given the order to retreat, but most of them were disarmed. Several climbed into a hummer that they slammed into Kara. She turned so that the flat of her shoulder took the brunt of the hit. Then she shoved the ruined vehicle back and brought a fist down on the engine block that tore free the mounts and left it sitting on the pavement. Kara glared at the troops inside a moment. They stayed where they were, giving up.

            The locks on the armored van stood open. Kara pulled open a door, and two troops were inside. They had Alex, and one held a pistol to her head. He never would have pulled that off if Alex did not have her hands cuffed behind her. Kara glared at him and stepped back a little. The man holding onto Alex began to make his way slowly towards the door. He was holding Alex wrong, and she was struggling to move along with him every time her weight went down on her injured hip.

            As they got to the door, Kara looked very closely at precisely the way he held the gun. With a sudden, tiny blast of heat vision, she nearly severed his trigger finger. Kara snatched both men, and carried them away from the van. She tossed them at the end of the bridge into the windshield of a police car, where a barricade had been set up, and went straight back to her sister.

            Alex was leaning into the wall of the van. Being hauled to her feet and across the van had obviously hurt her hip. Kara noticed an arrow in the feed before her vision that would let down the helmet. She stepped to the side of the van and blew a blast of air to carry away the fragments and dust of kryptonite littering the bridge. Kara pressed the release to let down her helmet and took a breath. The air was almost clear, and relief washed over her at being free of the helmet.

            Kara lifted up little into the air. She got her arms around Alex and carried her gently to the ground, making sure to keep the weight off her left leg. Kara stepped behind Alex and tore a pair handcuffs that were glowing bright green with potent kryptonite off Alex's wrists. Alex braced a hand on the back of the van and looked at Kara. The two sisters stared at one another in silence for a long moment.

            "Sorry I wasn't there when they came," Kara said.

            "You're not mad at me?" Alex said in surprise, turning to lean her back heavily into the van.

            "For what?" Kara asked, perplexed.

            The conversation was interrupted. Only a few troops remained on the bridge. One of them had taken out a side arm, and he managed a good shot that hit Kara in the back of the neck. The round exploded into a plume of green dust. Some fragments were forced under Kara's skin, sending out streaks of kryptonite into her body, as she landed facedown on the pavement, stunned temporarily. The suit immediately began filtering out the kryptonite, tearing the whole fragments into dust and hauling them out.

            "Ow!" Kara growled, and she turned at the sound of bodies colliding.

            Alex had rushed the man, before he could shoot Kara again. The two of them grappled on the pavement, and Alex managed to lift and slam him into the side of a hummer. She got the gun and twisted it free. She put the safety on and flung it, and the metal rattled loudly on the pavement. Kara watched the man take advantage of the moment and punch Alex in the injured hip. Alex fell back with a yell of pain and immediately curled into her hip protectively. The man leapt up and kicked her, the strike half blocked by Alex's forearm.

            In a powerful swell of what came over her as absolutely primal anger, Kara got up off the pavement, charged forward, and got the man with both hands. Her strength was coming back. Kryptonite was still being pulled from her system, even though it was also lingering in the air. With a growl of rage, Kara lifted the man into the air. She went to the edge of the bridge about to throw him off.

            "No! Stop!" Alex yelled.

            Alex arms were around Kara's neck, dragging her back. Losing her balance, Kara intentionally slammed the man into the pavement instead. Her body was hauled backwards, and she fell on top of Alex. Kara rolled off and got up. Alex was curled in pain, holding onto her leg. Kara glanced at the man, who was still now, unconscious. She turned back to see Alex drag herself forward and take up his gun that was on the ground. Alex turned onto her back, and she dragged herself up. She pointed the gun at Kara.

            "Alex, please, you have to stop moving. You're injuring your hip more. I can hear it."  

            Alex's hand strayed to her leg, grasping as if that could somehow stop the pain from traveling to her brain. Kara could see Alex's hand shaking. The hand holding the gun was more steady, but it would be easy to dart forward and snatch it. Kara found that she had absolutely no will to overpower her sister. The fight was all around them, reaching out in Kara's mind to the edges of this entire nation, growing in patches like a cancer throughout the world beyond. The idea that the fight was between them made her so sad, she could barely move.

            "Kara, you have to stop!" Alex said. "I know this doesn't make sense in the state of mind you're in, but this isn't you! None of this has been you! You've been affected by red kryptonite. I can't stop it this time. You have to try and gain some control. We just need a little time, and we can help you."

            "This is me," Kara told Alex, "And I am in control. I'll let this entire city break itself against me tonight if they are determined to make me act against my will."

            "You were going to kill that man just now. You didn't have to! That's not you!"

            "He just tried to win a fight against you by taking advantage of an injury you got while trying to protect people like him. Whatever I did in response would have been deserved."

            "Please, listen to me! Please! Come back to the DEO. Let me and Brainy get you in your right mind, then decide what you're going to do. "

            "Not tonight, Alex. All our lives, you've been the one who was ready to fight. And all our lives, I've been the sweet one, the kind one, the patient one. Well, I've run out of a will to let people step on my back making their way up. This is my turn to take up the fight. Once this city is safe for my people, aliens and human alike, again, then I will back down. Not before."

            "Stop! Whatever you are going to do, wait," Alex said.

            "Let me take you somewhere safe," Kara said, ignoring the gun and Alex's words, and coming towards her.

            "Don't you dare take me out of this city!" Kara stayed back, not willing to overpower her sister.

            "Alex, you're my sister. And I'm going to protect you whether you want me to or not. You are right, though. Why should we have to leave our city?"      

            With these words, Kara lifted an arm and rose into flight.

 

Chapter Text

            When Supergirl left the bridge, Alex sank back to lie flat on the pavement. She closed her eyes, the pain pulsing in her hip, radiating through her body. She did not even watch her sister tear into the night sky, almost certainly going to take over their city. She could not stop Kara now. No one could.

            A sound made Alex turn her head and lift the gun in her hand. Brainy had just landed on the bridge. He was watching Kara streak through the air, watching where she turned down, trying to calculate where she was landing. He turned to Alex and ran to her side.

            "I know you ordered me to stay at the DEO," Brainy said, nervous, bending down and taking Alex's outstretched hand. "I could hear what was happening over the coms. The DEO has been deployed. They're nearly here."  

            "You were right to come. Help me up."

            Brain squatted low and did his best to take up all the weight on Alex's left side, as they stood.

            "Your hip is hurt again," Brainy said.

            "Ignore that for now," Alex told him.

            A caravan of vehicles Alex recognized as DEO were coming towards them. Brainy held Alex close. He turned towards her, considering picking her up.

            "Should I get you out of here?" Brainy asked.

            "No. We stay. We may have one last chance," Alex said.

            The two of them waited in silence, as they were surrounded. The man appointed as interim Director of the DEO only hours before, Jacob Ward, was in the lead He gave the order to secure the prisoner, meaning Alex. Alex watched him consider as the DEO agents surrounded them and yet hardly any of them raised their weapons. The few who did were nervous and lowering theirs, glancing at the others and at Ward.

            "Director Ward," Alex said. "Supergirl is no longer vulnerable to kryptonite. None of the weapons you have will stop her. You have to give the order to pull back and form a plan to get the red kryptonite out of Supergirl's system. She is unstoppable now. You have to get her back in her right mind, and she will stop on her own."

            "You are no longer in charge of this operation, Ms. Danvers. Take these two into custody. Supergirl is a fugitive, and we are going to find her."

            "You won't have to find her, sir.   She has no plan of stopping."

            "What do you know, Ms. Danvers?"  

            "Supergirl knows exactly where the orders for aliens to register came from – and for the DEO to subdue her and for you to arrest me. All of that is from the same handful of politicians. Congress is in session. More than half of those people are all in the same room right now. We need to put our people in between Supergirl and the capitol building. Seeing us there will slow her down. In the meantime, we can make what we need to stop this crisis."

            "Take these two into custody," Director Ward said with impatience.

            The DEO agents all looked at one another. Alex could see her chance. She stood as tall as she could with her arm across Brainy's shoulders. She stopped talking to Ward and spoke now to the agents – all people she knew and trusted. Their loyalties were divided, but they were brave people dedicated to a mission. And they all knew her, as well, and her sister.

            "You've all been fighting with Supergirl long enough to truly know her. She has always been there when we needed her. Tonight, she needs us. We are the only ones who can stop her. This governments wants Supergirl apprehended or dead, they don't care which. You can see that now after what happened on this bridge. Attacking Supergirl is only going to get good people killed. The only way to subdue her is to bring her back to herself. She is the defense we need. I am not your Director anymore, and I cannot give you orders. But I am asking you, all of you, as people committed to defend this city to help me. I know we'll be breaking the law, but there are no laws and no protocols capable of dealing with a crisis like this one. We are the ones who know Supergirl best, and we are this city's best defense."

            Alex's words hung on the air. In only moments, Agent Vasquez came to place Alex's free arm across her shoulders. She and Brainy helped Alex to an SUV. By the time they got to the door, all except four of the DEO agents and Ward were loaded up. Alex was given a com unit and had taken the lead. They left those four and the new Director standing on the bridge. To Alex's relief, Ward did not give the order for the police to try and stop them, and when they got to the barricade at the end of the bridge, they were let through without a fight.

 

---

 

            Lena was working in a hidden laboratory down a locked hallway on the same floor as her office. Eve came to the door, taking Lena by surprise.

            "I'm sorry, Ms. Luthor, but Nia Nal is here to see you, and she is extremely distressed. I told her you weren't in the building, and she said that you were here working in a secret lab. That seemed… like something I should tell you about. Oh, gosh…"

            Nia had followed Eve down the hallway somehow. Lena stood up from her desk. Nia charged into the room.

            "Nia, what's wrong?" Lena said.

            Nia glanced at Eve, clearly afraid to speak in front of her. Eve looked to Lena, and then she left. Nia turned to Lena, looking very nearly in a panic.

            "Did you give Supergirl a red box?" Nia blurted out.

            "What?" Lena asked in astonishment.

            "Earlier today, did you give Supergirl a red box?"

            "How could you possibly know about that?"

            "I can't explain. Just tell me, please. Did she take it?"

            "Yes."

            Nia came and got Lena's arm. She made for the door in a rush. Lena followed her out of instinct.

            "Lena, we have to stop her! I can't explain. You have to come with me. Now!" Lena stopped, and Nia looked even more distressed. Lena held up her hands in a staying gesture.

            "Nia, just tell me what you know."

            "I can't, Lena. I just – I know things sometimes. I need you to trust me. I know it's insane… "

            "Nia, clearly you have powers of some kind. You know something. So tell me what you know."

            Nia bit her lip, thinking, obviously scared. Whatever she was worried about outweighed her fear of Lena knowing she had powers. She would not have come to find her otherwise.

            "Supergirl is going to take over the capitol building. Riley Shandon will be there. His men are going to blow the support beams out of half the building. They plan to make it look like Supergirl caused the collapse. Their plan is going to work, because when she realizes what he's done, Supergirl is going to kill Shandon in front of dozens of witnesses."

            Riley Shandon had recently been elected to the House of Representatives with no political background whatsoever. His entire platform was anti-alien sentiment and wild plans to make aliens property of the United States government who would serve the interest of the people as wards of the state. Behind his seeming lunacy, Lena was sure that he knew exactly what he was doing and had very specific, personal economic incentives in mind. Lena processed what Nia had said in all of an instant and shook her head.

            "Of course, he would," Lena said flatly. She glanced at Nia, who was clearly surprised that Lena accepted this so fast. Whatever Nia's powers were, this was a stroke of luck. Her dedication to Supergirl was obvious and clearly genuine.

            Lena gathered a handful of components on her desk. Within a minute, she had them fitted together. She gave the device in her hands one last, long look. Then she grabbed a jacket and threw it on, tucking the component into one of the pockets.

            "I have what we need. Let's go. Can you foresee anything else?"

            "Maybe I can get something on the way there. It's not consistent. I'll have to lay the seat back."

            "What?" Lena said turning to Nia in curiosity. At the door, she entered a code into the lock. "Never mind. Whatever you need. You can have the entire backseat to yourself if you want. And we can talk about this later or not, either way."

            "Thanks," Nia said, as they got to the elevator and waited. "I thought this conversation was going to be a lot harder." Lena titled her head, considering, watching the numbers tick as the car came up to their floor.

            "I've already had a very strange day. This isn't even the biggest surprise I've had to be honest." They got in the car, and Lena pressed the close door button several times.

            "Really? What happened?" Nia said.

            "Nothing I'd care to share."

            "That's no problem."

            The doors closed, as the two of them stood beside one another in silence.

 

---

 

            Kara touched down on the roof of a sky scraper. She paced on the rooftop, allowing the suit to regain its full power supply. Below her sat the capitol building. Every time she listened in to the machinations inside, her impatience flared. Tonight would be the end of this.

            The sound of tires screeching on pavement made Kara's skin prick. She assumed it was the troops from the bridge and found herself keen enough on having another go with them. At the edge of the roof, Kara watched as DEO agents, all people she knew and had worked with for years, ran towards the capitol building. Kara took pause, shaking her head. Alex, she thought. She pinpointed the sound of her sister's voice.

            "Don't take any unnecessary risks. If Supergirl doesn't seem to recognize you or doesn't seem to remember the rapport you had before today, assume that she will not stop if you are in the way of what she plans to do. Switch to evasive maneuvers only and lead all the people you can out with you. Remember, she is beyond fast. It's going to feel she can be in more than one place at one time."

            With her foot at the edge of the roof, Kara faltered. Alex was smart, and Kara did not want DEO agents mixed in with the people she was after. Perhaps this had already been enough for one day. Kara considered backing down just for tonight. She could wait. Then people loyal to her sister would not be standing between her and the people responsible for the anti-alien movement's rise. The thought trickled through her mind and leaked away like rain landing on glass.

            This was nothing more than an added challenge. However many agents Alex had brought with her, Kara could handle them. She could dodge and evade. She could get them all out of the way. They were nothing but a human shield, and Kara could work her will around them. Whatever weapons they had could not stop her, and if they were too stupid to know when to dodge when Alex had given them explicit orders then perhaps they deserved to get hurt. Tonight, Kara was taking back this city.

 

---

 

            At the base of the building, Alex stood looking up a fire escape. She could not climb the stairs. She glanced at Brainy, thinking he could take her up. Brainy was sitting in the front of an SUV desperately trying to sort through pieces of weapons Supergirl had smashed and parts he had thrown together to rebuild a weapon that could draw the red kryptonite out of Kara. He sat focused, fiddling with one piece and then another like he had moments to finish some nightmare jigsaw puzzle.

            "What are the odds you'll be able to get that working in the next five minutes?" Alex asked him.

            "Infinitesimal," Brainy responded without stopping.

            "You better stop and fly me up there then," Alex said resigned.

            A car pulled up near them. Several agents looked to Alex to see whether they should respond. She did not recognize the make and thought it was a private vehicle and too expensive for the press. Confusingly, Nia Nal climbed out of one side, then Lena Luthor got out, offering a clear explanation. Lena looked up at the top of the building, as both Nia and Lena strode swiftly to Alex.

            "She's still up there?" Lena asked.

            "At the moment, yes. But not for long. We don't know what she's waiting for," Alex said.

            "For the suit to charge," Lena said. "She's composed, strategizing. I don't know if that's good for us or not. Brainy can you take me up there?"

            "Of course," Brainy said.

            "Lena, no!" Alex commanded.

            "Lena, yes!" Nia interjected, obviously desperate. "Take her, Brainy!" She turned to Alex. "This is the only way to stop Supergirl. You have to trust Lena."

            "My loyalties stand divided. And I am extremely stressed. Alex, help me," Brainy said.

            Lena reached to take Alex's arm. "I can bring her down. You have to trust me, Alex. Let me go up there."

            Alex considered only a moment. Whatever was happening here, Lena was adamant. Nia was in earnest.   Alex did not have time to consider their plan. But at least, they had one. Forced to trust her intuition, Alex considered Lena closely. Her mind flashed over the possibilities that Lena might kill Kara or get herself killed. Alex's instincts, however, told her to trust Lena now.

            "Be careful," Alex said. "Brainy, take Lena to Supergirl."

            "Thank God," Brain said and held out his hands to let Lena decide how she would be lifted.

 

---

 

            Kara had sorted out the location of every DEO agent in the building. She also knew the location of every security guard and every exit. At first, she planned to block the back entrances before anything else. She changed her mind. Long benches in the halls would work fine for pinning only the main room shut. That's where she would put her focus. The suit was fully charged.

            Her weight shifted, as she positioned herself to shoot down and rip through the side of the building. A sound made Kara turn her head. Lena was walking towards Kara with remarkable calm having apparently come over the far edge of the roof. Kara turned back, ready to ignore Lena. Whatever she had to say could wait. Kara had urgent business to finish. Lena recognized that Kara was about to leave her there without a word spoken between them. She made a huff of indignation that caught Kara's ear. Still, that would not have been enough to stop her or even make her turn around.

            "Kara," Lena called up to Supergirl. "Come down."

            The sound of her own name when Lena spoke it put a sudden stop to every other thought in Kara's mind. She turned back to see Lena standing indignant and very poised on the rooftop. Alex, Kara thought in irritation. At least, she would not have to pretend with Lena anymore. If Lena was nearly as angry with her as Kara expected she would be, that would pose real problem. Kara needed her. Kara came and touched down gently on the rooftop.

            "My sister told you," Kara said.

            "I find it rather insulting that you would think I needed to be told," Lean said, and she gave Kara a highly composed look, clearly deeply offended.

            "You knew?"

            "Of course, I knew."

            The two of them stood looking at one another a long time in silence. Kara did not know precisely what to say. Lena was vividly angry. Kara recognized that she might lose any allegiance with her as Supergirl and also the intimacy she had with her as Kara Danvers both at once. And the two of them might have kissed today for the first and the last time. Kara should have told Lena before. She meant to tell her before she found out. But Lena had already known. Even before they had kissed, Lena had known. The thought gave Kara immense pause.

            "Why didn't you say anything?" Kara asked, her voice soft.  

            "Why would I?" Lena said, tossing the question back.

            "I don't suppose you would accept an apology."

            "For keeping the secret? Of course, I will. For underestimating me? No. Not a chance. You'll have to make that up to me in time. And that won't be easy."

            "I'm sorry. I am sure I can make it up to you. And I will. I will never underestimate you again."

            "Never say never. You can start by coming down from here."

            "Why? Why would you want me to stop? I have a plan."

            "Because you haven't thought this move out. A plan? You're barreling headfirst into danger just like you always do. Trust me when I say that I know things that you do not know. Take a step back and make your next move with me."

            Lena could see Kara hesitating. She did not want anymore estrangement from Lena. She did not want to back down. Her emotions were set in violent conflict. Her anger was absolute, and her entire being demanded action. Lena was dragging her down, holding her back. She did not want to break the connection that held her here on this roof. Lena understood how Kara felt.  

            "You want to take this city back don't you?" Lena said. "This way would make an open show of brute force. That will win the day, but that will not win back the will of the people of this city. This is a flurry. That would be a long game." Kara tried to listen, but glanced back at the capitol building Lena went on. "What do you really want? Do you want to make a steady climb to the top and be worshiped? Or do you want to be like those countless gods no one remembers, because they were devoured by the powers that be? Come down. Come home with me."

            Kara was torn. Her eyes moved over Lena's face. She could feel the capitol building burning in her consciousness, sitting so near. The politicians inside would hide after tonight. They were not likely to gather again this way. The desire to go after them tonight was too strong in Kara. The fight on the bridge had scorched her mind, and she could not step away from the fight. Not even to appease Lena. She just had to get Lena on her side. Kara came and reached out. Lena allowed Kara to touch her hand.

            "Let me start this here, please. Then we can end this anyway you want," Kara told Lena.

            Kara took Lena's hand gently in both of her hands. She brought Lena's hand to her lips and kissed the back of it. As she did, Lena brought her other hand up to the center of Kara's chest. A component fitted exactly and locked into the epicenter of the system that formed the foundation of the suit. To her shock, Kara felt something bombarding her skin and entering her body. A sickening feeling washed over her, as if she was being suddenly flooded with poison.

            "What is this?" Kara said in panic.

            "Those are nanites," Lena said. "They are carrying kryptonite particles. I'm sorry. I couldn't think of any other way to get them through your skin. They are also carrying a harmless isotope that will bind to the red kryptonite in your body." Lena tapped the component on Kara's chest. "So that this can use a magnetic force to pull it all out of you."

            Already, the crystal of red kryptonite in the pocket over Kara's chest was dissolving into particles and being drawn out. A red glow filled the component. Kara flushed with sudden fear of losing the red kryptonite. With a rush of resulting rage, she grabbed Lena by both sides of the open front of her jacket. She lifted Lena off the ground with a growl. Lena grabbed onto Kara's wrists. Her eyes were locked on Kara's. She gripped her jaw, unremorseful and also clearly unafraid.

            "What can I say?" Lena said without guile and without remorse. "I do enjoy my lover. " Lena titled her head and raised one eyebrow only a bit at this. "But I want my friend."

            Kara stared at Lena in desperation a moment longer. Then Kara scoffed a bit of laugh. She could not help but lower Lena to the ground and let go of her. Who was Kara fooling? Lena had bested her in the best of ways. Whatever anger she might have felt turned quickly to admiration and pure desire for Lena Luthor.

            As the isotope successfully bonded to the red kryptonite in Kara's body, the suit began to drag the substance out of her. Kara put her hands to her chest at the horrid sensation of the nanites dragging the particles through her skin. Weakened, Kara fell to her knees. She pried the component free, but the flow of red continued into the component. The component in her hand glowed white, and Kara felt the heat pour out of the component as the red kryptonite was incinerated. The change taking place in her body shocked Kara's system, and she went unconscious.

            When Kara fell forward heavily to the ground, Lena knelt down at once beside her. She quickly opened up a panel on a forearm of the suit and brought out a projection that let her enter coordinates. The helmet went up, and the suit lifted Kara and carried her away. Lena watched and had to trust that the defense system would be enough to get Kara back to where Lena had just sent her. Lena left, going down the stairs to find Alex.  


           End of Part One

Chapter Text

            Kara's eyes opened, and her mind managed to barely drag her up out of sleep. She was looking directly into a bright light, and she closed her eyes. She must be in some kind of med bay. But she could already feel that this was not the DEO. She must have been hurt in some fight, but where was she? Kara jerked her hands up, but they were free. Only her head felt strange, teaming with what felt like a thick, hot fog. She grasped for a memory that would explain. Turning her head, she saw Lena sitting at a computer screen, bent forward in total concentration. The line of Lena's back and the precise cut of her dress brought a memory floating into Kara's mind. As did the jacket lying on the desk near her.

            For half a minute, Kara lay there imagining that she had dreamed that she and Lena had sudden, passionate sex in Lena's office and that this was the reason why her mind was convinced that she knew precisely how that dress would feel under her hands. The memory was vivid and saturated, every bit as undiluted as the feeling of a dream. Kara could remember precisely how Lena's breasts would feel held in both of her hands, could feel the sensation of her own mouth moving up Lena's neck, could feel how their lips would meet. She knew the very soft sound Lena would make, and how Lena would hold onto her shoulders. As her mind woke up more, Kara recognized that this had really happened. She remembered everything else that went along with her choice to keep the red kryptonite, including the ARB and the fight on the bridge. The worst of it all in Kara's mind was what happened with Lena. A wave of devastating anxiety poured over her.

            A warning on Lena's screen told her that Kara's heart was suddenly picking up speed. Lena turned around and saw that Kara was awake. She got up to come over to her. Kara looked up at Lena in a panic, and she sat up, visibly shaken. Lena reached out carefully to hold Kara's shoulder.

            "Everyone is safe," Lena told Kara, trying to calm her down.  

            Kara was so stressed, her hands were trembling vividly as she brought them up to her face. She found herself starting to weep and failed in her attempt to get a grip on herself and say something, anything to Lena. She found herself quite physically choked with a rush of conflicting emotion. Lena's hand left Kara's shoulder.

            "Here. Let me find Alex," Lena said and went out of the room.

            Kara pulled her legs up to her chest and hid her face on her knees. Everything felt as if it were swirling, tossed up and transformed into chaos swirling around her, wanting to swallow her up. She was drowning, unmoored, no gravity to use to guide herself. The door opened, and Kara looked up to see Alex come in using a crutch on her left side. She came straight to Kara and sat down beside her. Alex wrapped her arms around Kara without saying a word, and the two of them sat in silence for a long time.

            "Your body chemistry is still reeling from all the kryptonite exposure," Alex told Kara. "You won't feel like this forever."

            "Did anybody die?"

            "No. No one died."

            "How many people were hurt?"

            Alex remained quiet for far too long. Kara looked up at her in panic. Her sister was thinking, determining how to respond.

            "The news reports are so sporadic, we really can't tell. Right now, it looks like a couple of dozen people. No one who wasn't actively attacking you. So you would have seen the worst of it."

            "What was I thinking?" Kara said looking at her own hands in disbelief, remembering her own choice to keep the red kryptonite. She could almost see the red running up her forearms to get to her heart. She had chosen this, and now, she did not know who she was. Not anymore.  

            "It was red kryptonite, Kara. We still have no idea how you got exposed. You're not responsible for this," Alex said.

            "I am. I am responsible," Kara told her sister and looked at her in earnest. Alex caught something in Kara's tone of voice. She waited a moment and held up her hand, very serious and staying.

            "Kara, for now, just take a step back. Wait until you come back to a normal state, ok? Try to wait to process what's happened, until you feel grounded."

            Kara pushed her hands into her hair and sat with her face resting on her knees once more. Alex rubbed Kara's back. She eventually let go of her and got up. Kara looked up to see her sister sat in a rolling chair and looking at the same monitor Lena had been considering before. Lena came back into the room. She looked at Kara, clearly worried at seeing Kara's distress. She went to stand beside Alex.

            "Ok," Alex said grabbing what looked like an asthma inhaler and kicking the chair over with her good leg. "Let's try this. Breathe deep and hold it for twenty seconds. Just take one spritz to start."

            The plastic device rattled in Kara's hand as she took it. She breathed in a spray that tasted a bit floral and a bit metallic. Alex went back to the screen. Lena was still standing there beside her with her arms crossed in concentration.

            "See," Lena said and traced a line on the monitor. "This is good."

            "I can't believe that actually worked," Alex said.

            Lena shared a look with Alex, then she turned to Kara, "Do you feel any different?"

            Kara looked at Lena for a moment. Now, when she considered what happened between them – the way she had seduced Lena – the idea seemed less horrible and more dysfunctional. What had she been thinking? What was she even trying to make happen? Remembering back, that was pretty clear. Kara tried not to get too lost in her thoughts and to notice instead the overall shape her thoughts and feelings were taking.  

            "Yeah, I feel somewhat better," Kara said.

            "Take one more," Alex said coming back.

            Kara followed her sister's instructions without question. She felt better and stood up. She fumbled for her glasses, but she was not wearing them. Instead she ended up touching electrodes on her temple and behind her ear.

            Lena touched Alex on the shoulder, and the two shared another knowing look. Lena came and got her jacket and a messenger bag. "I should go," Lena said, and Alex only nodded to her severely.  

            Lena stopped at the door to look at Kara and hesitated, recognizing Kara's distress and clearly thinking a moment. Kara stood straight backed with no idea what to say. Lena finally just came and hugged Kara. Kara's hands fumbled to Lena's back then her shoulders, as if she had forgotten how to hug her friend. She did not want to touch Lena too much or too little. She did not want to be a creep, and she did not want to be super awkward. She was even afraid that she might hold Lena too hard and hurt her by accident, as if she were suddenly twelve-years-old again and constantly at odds with the life around her with every choice she made. Kara stood blushing and jittery, when Lena let her go. Lena seemed about to say something to Kara, but she thought better of it, smiled a bit, and left the room. The door closed behind her.

            "Did Lena just leave to get away from me?" Kara asked, quite blatantly freaking out.

            "What?" Alex said turning back to give Kara a deeply confused look. "No. Of course not. It's nearly five in the morning. Lena needs to go to work and go about things as if they're normal. She's going to end up being questioned by authorities today for sure. Lena knows you're fine now. She's basically the entire reason you're fine."

            Kara had no idea what Lena had said to Alex. She had half a mind to blurt out that she and Lena had sex to her sister, and the idea made her feel like she could actually pass out from stress. Every question that came to her mind that might reveal what Alex knew made her panic more. Alex rolled close and took Kara by the hand. "Your heart is racing. Breathe, Kara. Slow breaths. Come on. Sit with me. I need a minute more, then we can go get something to eat." Kara sat beside her sister.

            "Is that my brain?" Kara said pointing at the monitor.

            "Yep. This is your brain," Alex huffed a bit of laugher and pointed at the screen as she changed the image. "This is your brain on drugs."

            Kara made an utterly failed attempt at a smile. Alex rubbed Kara's back. "Alex, where are we right now?"

            "Oh, yeah. Sorry. We're in some kind of terrifying Luthor lab." The dismissive tone did not match what she had said. Kara wondered if she was having trouble processing properly.

            "Do what now?"

            "Yeah. I guess Lena inherited a bunch of sinister hiding places from Lex. She kept some.   We're deep in one of them now. We're within city limits just barely."

            "Why would she keep those?"

            "I haven’t had the chance to interrogate Lena yet. She gets a reprieve, given that she saved all of us, maybe twenty-four hours. Then I will. We got so lucky. I don't know why Lena is this interested in neuroscience, but I've learned way more with her equipment than I could have learned at the DEO. We can map the way the red kryptonite affected your brain in dozens of ways. I've honestly never seen tech like this. I've never even heard of tech like this. I think Lena made some of it herself."

            Alex's excitement was not catching. Kara sat in stunned silence. She stared at images of her own brain flashing in colors like some radar of a weather front moving over a map, colorful and detached from the reality of how it was affecting those living on the real earth beneath. Alex went on after a time.  

            "Lena has connections with neuroscientists doing research I never knew existed even in theory much less in practice. And she keeps them all in the dark on what they're studying and controls the data like you would not believe. I don't think she would have brought us here if she'd had any other choice. She's – well, she's kind of terrifying. It's amazing. I am so glad she's on our side."

            "She might not be after the stunt that I pulled."

            "Oh, she knew you were Supergirl all along. Apparently, she also knew about red kryptonite. She even tried to replicate it with no information about its actual molecular structure, just the effects, and hers is really close. Not close enough to do anything to a Kryptonian, but it's still shocking that she could figure out as much as she did with so little to go on. Of course, now she could make it in her sleep. I hope you plan to stay on good terms with her."

            "I mean… I will do my best to make it up to her – all of this. I don't know."

            "I'm just kidding, Kara. It's not like she's bulletproof." Kara sat, staring at Alex. Alex glanced over at Kara and blanched a little bit. "Sorry. I shouldn't be kidding. I'm a bit strung out. I've had enough pain meds to make it taste like I'm constantly sucking on a nine-volt battery. And I could use about twelve hours of sleep at this point."  

            "Your hip –" Kara said and starting crying again when she remembered Alex being punched in the hip and then falling back onto her. She vividly remembered Alex curled around her hip protectively and her hand shaking in pain.

            "I'll live," Alex said with magnificent stoicism and placed a hand on Kara's shoulder, as she continued to click through some esoteric program on the computer screen. Kara managed to recover after a bit. "Come on. This can run on its own for a while. Let's go find something to eat. Brainy went to find the kitchen like three hours ago. I have just been hoping that he's ok."

            They stepped out into a long hallway. The building had the feel of a costly, high-tech laboratory, but it was empty of people. That gave the space an surreal and disquieting air. Kara peered into rooms at computers, strange machines, cabinets of chemicals. There were no windows, and the walls and ceiling were lined with lead. Kara felt like they were tucked away in an enormous safe box. The entire mood of this place shifted when Alex opened the door to a kitchen, and they found Brainy wearing an apron and adding a plate of stacked biscuits to a center table already piled high with beautiful breakfast foods.

            "Oh, good! Someone needs to start eating all of this to make space on the table," Brainy said.

            "Brainy, this is – this is probably good. Unless you're inviting everyone we know to join us in our secret lair," Alex said.

            "No," Brain said. "I think the point of a secret lair is for it to remain secret."

            "Ok, then you're cooking for three and not a solid dozen," Alex said.

            "Three?   Not four? Will Lena not be joining us?"

            "No. She left for work."

            "Oh. Shame, because I made five kinds of granola and two kinds of yogurt and prepared all the fresh fruit I could find. I ran what I know of Lena through an algorithm I am working on to derive people's favorite foods. I believe that this would be Lena's favorite breakfast. Does she look like a plain yogurt with fresh fruit and very fine granola kind of person to you?"

            "Without a doubt," Alex said.

            "Kara, here is what I came up with for you." Brainy quickly put together a massive plate of chocolate chip and banana pancakes with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, and a long row of strawberries all along the side. He put butter and syrup over the top.

            "You calculated this?" Kara asked a tiny bit disturbed to see her dream breakfast placed in front of her.

            "Partly. I also asked Alex," Brainy said.

            "Ah," Kara responded.

            "Alex, I have good coffee, and all the makings of a breakfast sandwich on a fresh biscuit," Brainy said.

            "Spot on," Alex said, clearly impressed.

            "Yes. I don't know what my favorite breakfast food is, but I have several cookbooks memorized and have been making all of the recipes that sounded interesting." A timer went off, and Brainy took a tray from the oven. "These are called popovers. I am eager to try these strange egg and wheat puffs."

            "Let's – maybe let's get through what's here, before you make more. Come eat with us," Alex said, softly interrupting Brainy's obsessive flow.

            "I can do that. I'll just leave the oven on. Just in case," Brainy said.

            Kara got the sense when Brainy sat down that he was overflowing with anxious energy that he was ignoring. He started eating, holding foods up to the light and inspecting them closely. He pondered deeply as he ate them.

            "I do feel happier," Brainy said after he tore apart a popover and took a huge bite.   "I was hoping this tactic might be effective on all humans. A favorite breakfast is a real pick me up, I believe. As far as I can tell, there is a direct correlation between Nia's happiness and the number of times per week we eat waffles for breakfast. I am curious if seven days a week would be too much. I could fly to her house in the mornings before work. Do you two think that offer would sound creepy?"

            Alex was taking a huge bite of a breakfast sandwich and gave Brainy an ok sign with one hand. "She'll love it."

            "Oh, good. Of course, I am a fugitive now. So we will have to decide on a façade that is not disturbing to her that I can wear on my way over. I suspect if I fly that may sabotage my cover."

            "Brainy –" Alex started to say to cut him off, but Kara interrupted her.

            "What do you mean you're a fugitive?" Kara asked.

            "Oh, yes," Brain said. "We are all three fugitives from the law now. That is, myself, former Director Danvers, and Supergirl. Kara Danvers should still be fine at the moment, provided they do not make any links between her and her sister's current whereabouts."

            Alex made a gesture to tell Brainy to drop this topic. He made a sign to say he would be silent. Kara leaned her head into her hand and forced herself to keep eating the magnificent pancakes Brainy had made. Looking over the spectacular breakfast feast, Kara tried not to think just how desperate Brainy had felt to increase the happiness among their group.   Kara let them all to eat in silence for a long while.

            "How bad is it? What's happened with the DEO?" Kara finally asked. Brainy looked to Alex.

            "We lost the DEO. From what we can tell, the agents we left will be let off the hook. Their actions on the bridge were either covered up or supported by Director Ward. So that's something," Alex said.

            "That is terrible," Kara said.

            "It was inevitable, Kara," Alex consoled her sister.

            "No, it wasn't," Kara said.

            "I see it more as a relocation," Brainy said. "We're still doing the same work from our new facilities. Instead of working for the proverbial Uncle Sam, we all work for Lena now."  

            "We do not work for Lena," Alex said and bristled.  

            "Really? Because I asked her about my salary, and she gave me a significant pay increase from what I was making at the DEO. I'm going to consolidate all the new data she has on Kara's Kryptonian physiology with a stockpile of old data first thing. At this point, I'd say she has collected forty-three times the information the DEO had after years of studying Superman and Supergirl both. Discoveries are immanent, especially discoveries about how red kryptonite disturbs your brain patterns leading to certain anti-patterns in your overall behavior," Brainy said.

            "Oh my God," Alex said to silence Brainy and put a hand over her eyes for a moment. She turned to Kara, "Look, we don't entirely know the state of things. You need to do what Lena is doing today, more or less. Go to work. Act like everything is normal. Get the lay of the land. J'onn is going to join us here later today and help us. Do you have any leads on where the red kryptonite came from?"

            "A guy named Skyler Gaines who works at CatCo planted it on me," Kara said.

            "Who's he?" Alex asked.

            "A nobody, really," Kara said.

            "Ok. See if you can get anything out of him. Assuming that you’re feeling… you know, constrained," Alex said.

            Kara gave Alex an incredibly distressed look. Alex pulled Kara over to her and kissed her hair. She rubbed Kara's shoulders and scratched the middle of her back in a swift and indirect apology. Kara got up. She could be home in only a minute and get ready.

            "You need to take a car," Alex said interrupted Kara's thoughts.

            "What? Why can't I fly?" Kara asked in alarm.

            "It's just a precaution. Please, Kara –" Alex started.

            "Ok," Kara conceded easily, not ready to know. She really did not have any fight left in her. She tried to ignore the two worried stares at her back as she went out the door of the kitchen and down the nearest hall, looking for an exit.

Chapter Text

            Kara arrived at CatCo twenty minutes late. She stepped off the elevator to a nearly empty floor. Most everyone was in a meeting in the main office, which was so crowded that everyone was standing. Nia noticed Kara through the glass wall and quickly slipped around the group. Everyone else was too focused to take much notice as Nia made her way out the doors and then across the office floor to Kara.

            "I am so glad you're here," Nia said. Nia obviously would have hugged Kara, but they were at work. So she reached out and placed a hand on Kara's shoulder instead. "I was worried you were hurt. Are you ok?"

            "Yes," Kara said, and the sound of her own voice was unconvincing even to herself and obviously to Nia, as well. Nia pursed her lips and glanced back at the crowded office.

            "They are having a meeting about Supergirl right now. James wants to hear everyone out before we choose what angles to cover. Facts are really obscured and opinions are going all over the place right now. None of the news outlets have totally settled on what story they want to tell. Nobody knows how to interpret Supergirl's actions." Kara listened to this growing increasingly nervous to the point of feeling heated and quite determined.

            "I can go in there an tell them that I am late because I got an exclusive with Supergirl. I'll tell them Supergirl denounces her actions," Kara said and moved towards the door to the office.

            "No! Wait! Kara, don't. Don't do that. Wait, please," Nia said, and the earnestness in her voice made Kara stop and focus on Nia entirely. Nia stood thinking only a moment, trying to decide quickly what to say to Kara. "I know you're going to be stressed out by everything they're saying in there, but just give it a day. If you're going to give a statement for Supergirl just wait until tomorrow, when you've had a chance to really process all the ways people are interpreting what happened." Kara's mind flashed back Alex on the bridge begging her to wait just one day. She remembered leaving her sister there on the pavement. Her hand touched her glasses nervously.

            "I will wait. I won't – I won't say anything on behalf of Supergirl," Kara said definitively.

            Nia's eyebrows furrowed a bit, as if she felt worried over how easily Kara had given in. Kara swallowed and looked down, still very much ashamed and rattled. Nia reached and took Kara's hand. She held onto Kara's hand as she led them to the door and let go only at the last minute, before they went in.

            People only noticed them enough to make room, so Kara could move towards the front, since she was the recognized, resident expert when it came to Supergirl. A photographer named Jill Stevens was talking when they came in. She projected a few images up on the display of screens.

            "This images were taken early this morning, before sunrise as you can see. This image shows easily hundreds of ARB tracking bracelets cast onto the White House lawn along with a great deal of Supergirl paraphernalia. What's harder to decipher are other artifacts like these." Here, she zoomed in on one image. "Discarded image inducers and more personal items that have been painted white and have names written on them. Activists groups have released message stating that these white objects belonged to aliens who have gone missing, been imprisoned, been deported, or are suspected to have been causalities of the anti-alien movement in past years. In this image, you can clearly see a pair of house keys, a hearing aid, a cell phone, and a child's stuffed toy. The White House staff have cleared the lawns since this was taken, and the FBI set up barricades to keep people from reaching the lawn. They've collected all of these items as evidence."

            "Evidence of crimes?" Nia asked to clarify. Jill looked reluctant to answer that question. Alice Proctor took it up.  

            "We have no confirmation of whether the FBI or the ARB plan to prosecute anyone besides Supergirl. We should steer clear of making any inflammatory conjectures. We don't want to terrify people. At the same time, we don't want to look like we're creating a blanket of silence for these agencies to hide under as they decide how to respond. So cautious speculation should be included in our coverage." James was on video chat.  

            "That's a great call. I second Alice's judgment on this," James said. Several reporters nodded their support, as well.

            "I wanted to ask," said a seasoned reporter named William, "Assuming that she does not make a statement, do we plan to publish any conjectures about what Supergirl might do next? There is plenty of evidence that the White House and the Pentagon are on high alert. Most media outlets claim that the threat Supergirl poses cannot be exaggerated."

            "That's an excellent callout, William," Alice said taking up his point. Nia lifted a hand.

            "Can I – could I say something on this?" Nia said.

            "Of course, Nia," Alice said giving her the floor.

            "From what we can tell, the attack on the ARB was a very specific, highly focused disruption of the status quo on alien registry. And there's no evidence that Supergirl injured anyone intentionally during that confrontation. What we don't know is why Supergirl fought with a covert military operation on Akton Bridge. If we want to get her statement, we should maybe focus on getting that part of the story."

            "Kara," James said, "Do you think you could get us another exclusive with Supergirl?"

            "I will try," Kara said.

            "No statement as of yet?" James said.

            "No. Nothing as of yet," Kara forced herself to say.

            "Then her latest statement will have to remain our baseline when representing Supergirl's perspective. Let's avoid too much speculation, as Alice said, except in op ed pieces. We need some more solid facts. The entire city is overflowing with opinions." When James paused, Alice was nodding and spoke up.

            "What do we have on the reported, massive failure of alien tracking bracelets?" The head of the tech department, Mike Lee answered.

            "There's no explanation for why Supergirl's attack would cause a massive failure of the data collection system. Any system of that scale has multiple redundancies built into it with physical servers in different regions of the country or even abroad to avoid something like a power outage or a hurricane causing a mass failure. From what we can tell, if the rumors prove true, that will have to be because of how the system was built. It's more likely the system is crashing for some reason that's been built into it."

            "Let's pursue that line of investigation," Alice said. "I want one reporter on it fulltime, and I want that person to pull whatever support would be useful from the rest of the team."

            "I would recommend Nia for that assignment," James said. Nia glanced around the room, seemingly surprised when no one argued. No one did. Kara touched Nia's back gently to prompt her to say something.

            "Yes," Nia said. "I can definitely do that."

            "Good," Alice said. "Nia will be point person on researching the failure of the tracking bracelets. Kara, you said that you will pursue getting an exclusive with Supergirl?"

            "Yes," Kara said and adjusted her glasses nervously.

            "I will, as well," James said to make sure no one else was assigned to this.

            "Great," Alice said. "I will take the lead on tracking how the conversation is taking shape in other news syndicates. I need a few people with me on that." A few hands went up, and Alice called out volunteers. "The rest of you, try to have a finger on the pulse of the broader conversation, but don't get bogged down. Let's get individual assignments to take shape. We have a special issue to design, finish, and release in 72 hours. Anything to add James, before we conclude this meeting?"

            "Yes. I wanted to speak on one thing. I know that we are all curious to understand the impacts of Supergirl's actions, and we all want to know what her intentions were. But I would like us to remember to also focus on the bigger picture. What Supergirl did was unquestionably an act of civil disobedience. There's a long history behind that type of political action. A lot of people were taking action in a similar spirit before and now there are even more.  

            "Let's make sure even if other media companies go for whatever gets the ratings that CatCo remains aware that we are all standing in a particular moment in history. There's a before and after to this. America has as tendency to lose our history even as its happening. Let's make sure that we stand against that in how we research and frame our stories in the coming days. I know we don't have much time, but we have experts lined up. We'll make certain you are all resourced and supported. If anyone feels particularly concerned about my leadership on this, I'd like to invite you to contact me directly. We can talk it out and make sure that you have room to voice your own concerns and do work that you're on board with. That's all for me for now."

            "James, I'll call you after we disperse and settle in here," Alice said.

            "Great. I'll be here. Thanks, Alice. Thank you, everyone," James said and hung up.

            Most people made their way for the door, while others lined up to speak more with Alice. On the way out, Kara noticed Skyler Gaines. She followed him out and to his desk. His eyebrows went up in surprise when he noticed her. Kara pushed at her glasses thinking what she should say.

            "Skyler, you put something in my pocket the other day in the park," Kara said. He merely looked at her. He did not deny this. He did not say anything at all. Kara crossed her arms, more nervous than assertive, and waited him out.

            "I don't know what you're talking about," Skyler said, so obviously lying that Kara stood a moment amazed. She looked down at Skyler's desk and remembered thinking about tossing it through the window. Kara tried to think of what to do instead to get him to talk, but nothing came to her. She ended up walking away, coming swiftly back to her desk.

            Kara spent hours at her desk in a pair of headphones watching news footage of Supergirl at the ARB. There was an abundance of footage from this scene, most of it patchy. There were only a handful of aerial shots of the fight on Akton Bridge, all were difficult to make out. Kara took off her glasses briefly and rubbed her face.

            Nia had been out most of the day. She rolled her chair over to Kara and sat very close to her. Nia spoke softly.

            "Do you see what I meant this morning?" Nia said.

            "They are calling Supergirl 'a threat to national security' and 'public enemy number one. ' Some are calling her a 'domestic terrorist..'"

            "Yes, but that's not all. Most people are still calling her a hero, not in spite of what she did but because of it. I for one think it's a good thing if, as a nation, the best of us show that they will openly revolt if our government acts against the principles it's supposed to uphold. That is a big deal."

            "This feels like a nightmare to me. Supergirl's image is being shattered. I worked so hard to build this up. I don't know if I can fix this."

            "Have you considered that maybe it's largely revealing more clearly the nightmare that was already taking place?" Kara reached under her glasses to rub her eyes and hold in tears that wanted to form. Nia waited a minute and went on. "Um, I kind of need your help on something."

            "What?" Kara said already relieved.

            "Can you go and talk to Lena Luthor? I managed to get admitted to a press conference at the ARB, and I won't be able to interview her today. I'd like to get her technical expertise on the reports we pulled together on what looks like a massive failure of ARB tracking bracelets. Aliens all over the city are receiving automated messages warning them that their bracelets are defective and telling them to come to the ARB and that tampering with their bracelets is a federal offense. Many of them say they haven't done anything to cause the failures."

            "Ok," Kara said, sounding automated.

            "Plus," Nia said. "I think you need to get out. Step away from this for a while, you know."

            "I should talk to Lena," Kara said even more stressed by that thought than she was by the currently paused chaos spewing from all the open windows on the screen in front of her.

            "Can I ask you something?" Nia said quite suddenly. Kara turned to her and waited without bothering to respond. Kara's mind prepared to explain red kryptonite, but she was not Alex and did not understand the science very well. She did not know if she could explain the experience very well either. Kara was entirely unprepared for what Nia actually asked her. "Were you, um, just messing around the other day when you said you were thinking about a girl?"

            "Um. I, uh… I was… " Kara failed to form a sentence.

            "Cause I mean like, I know you're on my side. But for a minute there, I thought you were also, like, my team. And I didn't know that about you if that is the case."

            "My sister is – my sister, Alex, is gay," Kara more or less muttered.

            "Yeah?" Nia said slowly and her brows knitted. She obviously knew this and had no idea what that had to do with what she had just asked Kara. Nia considered Kara a second more, then added. "Maybe let's – maybe I should ask you this outside of work." Nia sat back, making it clear she was finished talking. Kara sprang up.

            "I should get going on that assignment you gave me," Kara said. She pulled her blazer off the back of her chair a little too hard, and the sound of threads tearing made Nia glance at the jacket and back up at Kara. As she put the jacket on, Nia sat watching her with the utmost serenity.

            "Thank you for the help," Nia said.

            "No problem," Kara said and attempted to make an awkward push of her glasses look like an assertive gesture. Nia smiled at Kara quite tenderly. Kara headed for the nearest escape.

Chapter Text

            When the doors to the elevator at L Corp opened, Kara was looking down, so she did not notice that Eve was already watching to see who would step off. Kara noticeably startled when Eve called out her name, excited to see her. She glanced nervously at Lena's office doors, as she approached Eve's desk.

            "Hi, Eve," Kara said in a flat tone and stalled. She stood in front of Eve's desk for a few seconds. Eve sat beaming up at her.

            "Do you want me to hold Lena's calls?" Eve asked trying to guess what Kara was going to say. Kara tilted her head in confusion for one moment, and then she realized why Eve was asking this. Kara got so flustered that she cleared her throat and grasped for the strap of her bag with both hands. Watching Kara's response, Eve shook her head vaguely and her eyebrows went up in clear surprise.

            "Could you – um – would you mind letting Lena know that I am here and… see what she wants me to do?" Kara said.

            "Sure," Eve said, the word stretching out as her hand reached slowly over her desk. She was obviously perplexed, as she pressed a button and said. "Lena, Kara Danvers is here to see you. She asked if I would see –" A button clicked on the other end, and Lena's voice interrupted.

            "Send her in!" Lena said extremely assertive. Eve nodded at Kara, as if this proved she was right about something they had disagreed on. Kara could not hide a desperate look on her face, and she knew that Eve watched her hesitate for several painful seconds before going through the doors.

            Lena had stood up and was coming around her desk. Kara practically tripped into the room. The office looked the same, but it felt so different now. Kara found herself incredibly embarrassed. She might have been visiting the scene where she committed some crime.  

            "It is… is it triggering, my being here?" Kara managed to say, pressing her glasses up and grasping still at the strap of her bag. Lena had crossed the room to Kara, as Kara stammered through her sentence. Lena raised her eyebrows at Kara and smiled.

            "Oh, don't make me flirt," Lena said and waved one hand. When she came near, Lena considered Kara more closely, her eyebrows rising. She responded a second time. "You tell me. Is it?" After a moment of Kara standing awkward and stiff, Lena gestured. "Here, come on. Come in. Let's just remember how this is – normally."

            Lena led Kara to the couch. Kara sat beside Lena and tried not to remember kneeling on the floor right here in front of Lena with too much specificity. She did not really succeed and tried to stop fumbling with her glasses. Whatever Lena was thinking, she did not let on. She only considered Kara and squinted a bit at some indecipherable thought. The look on Kara's face must have been incredibly stressed, because Lena's expression turned to one of sympathy. Lena sat up and pursed her lips.

            "Kara, what happened between you and me – I want you to know that, I am fine. If that's what you're worrying about, then you can just let that go." Lena sat considering Kara to see if her words would have any effect. Kara knew she was flushed with embarrassment. She wanted to hear those words so badly, but she felt like Lena might be letting her off the hook simply to be kind.

            "You don't have to be ok. You can be upset," Kara said.

            "Yeah, I know. I am fine, though."

            Kara considered Lena for a long moment. Lena's expression was open, as if she were hoping that Kara could tell that she meant what she had said. Kara could not quite imagine how Lena was feeling anything except angry and betrayed. She felt like she could have hurt Lena in a thousand ways with what she did. Apparently, Lena wanted Kara to believe that Kara had not hurt her at all.

            "I hope that you're ok," Kara said.

            "I am. I am fine with what happened," Lena said with what seemed the utmost sincerity. Kara considered Lena's face a long time. Lena did appear to be entirely fine. Kara tried to process this for a long moment, even if her skepticism would not entirely fade away, before she went on.

            "I owe you my thanks in such a huge way for bringing me down. How in the world did you figure out about the red kryptonite?"

            "Watching Supergirl wreck the ARB on the news. That was a hard shift. I had no idea what to actually do about it at first. I got lucky when you came here. I streamed a ton of data back from the suit I gave you. That's how I figured out a way to pull the red kryptonite out of your body. I'd never had any information about actual red kryptonite before. The air in the suit was filled with particles. It's highly unstable."

            "Well, thank you for everything you did."

            Lena smiled a little at Kara. Her eyes squinted, and Kara could tell that Lena was deciding what to say next. Lena's expression became unreadable once more. "I cannot help but ask – just out of sheer, self-destructive curiosity, given that there is really no good answer for me – did you sleep with other people?"

            Kara physically blanched at that question. She felt cornered, and her heart started pounding. Lena was giving her the softest look, obviously noticing her panic. She owed Lena an answer. Kara swallowed hard, several times, before she got herself to speak.

            "No, I didn't – I didn’t do that. The thought didn’t cross my mind to be honest. I was – uh – I was pretty focused." Kara turned to Lena to see if that would suffice. Lena considered Kara, her expression almost entirely blank except she was thinking hard. She raised her chin a little bit and spoke in a neutral tone.

            "So why me?"

            Kara fought an urge to curl herself into a ball on the couch. She forced herself to sit up straight. Lena sat watching Kara struggle, having no discernable response. Kara stammered through an answer.

            "For, just, so – so many reasons. You are so smart and so strong – you have such a strong sense of self, such incredible self-possession.  You have this enormous capacity for power, even more of it than you have now. You're just – you are you, and I don't know. I really – I really don't have an excuse for what I did "

            "Did you know that I knew you were Supergirl?" Lena asked without a pause.

            "What?" Kara said, confused by her question. "No."

            "I was thinking maybe it had something to do with that."

            "How would that be related?"

            "Ah – just a power play, maybe. I guess I had this intuitive sense that nothing like that could ever happen between us while I was supposed to still think Kara Danvers and Supergirl were not the same person. So maybe you figured it out and decided to really throw me off balance."

            "You've – you've thought about that happening between us?"

            "Well, no," Lena laughed. "Not that exactly."

            "Lena, I – I'm sorry. I'm sorry that happened."

            "Yeah, I can see that," Lena said very soft. "Tell me just one more thing, and we can move on from this and get back to how things really are between us. I got the clear sense that you would have stopped if I had wanted you to. Was I right? Was that real?"

            "Yes, of course, I would have," Kara said, growing rather hot and nearly angry at even being asked this question. She tried to hide how offended she felt, as that was not fair to Lena.  

            "You weren't yourself," Lena said in a gentle tone to explain asking the question.

            "That – that's complicated. But, yes, I absolutely would have stopped."

            "Say more. Why? Why would you have stopped?" Lena nudged her.

            Kara stalled, completely abashed. She only went on, because she owed Lena an answer. The way she had been thinking yesterday she found hard to explain, but she needed to try for her friend. "That wasn't what any of that was about. What I wanted was – was you. I had to get you to – also want me. Otherwise what would it even mean? What's the point in pretending that you have something? If you weren't really there – not really with me - what would even be the point? I mean, who would enjoy that? That'd be so – so empty. " As Kara finished, Lena made the softest huff of sarcastic laughter.    

            "Plenty of people. This world is full of sadists, people who conflate taking pleasure with causing pain. And there are even more people who could care less if other people are hurt or not, so long as they experience the sensation of power. Apparently, not you, even when you're at your worst. And I'm not surprised to be honest. I just – I felt like I needed to ask you that mostly because it's important to me to defend myself even with people I trust. Once I realized you had been exposed to red kryptonite, I had to question my sense of things when you were here. I was fairly confident that I knew what was happening with you even if I couldn't understand why. I still felt safe with you, and I realized that maybe I shouldn't have. I knew something was drastically different, but I couldn't say what. But I did think – I thought you were still you."

            "I was. I – it's very hard to explain," Kara said.

            "Well, I suppose I should say that I am sorry," Lena said, "That I didn't say no to you yesterday. I got rather swept up. It's unlike me. I think I let us both down."

            "It's not your fault. This is entirely my fault. All of this is my fault."

            "It's not your fault, Kara. You were exposed to substance that –"

            "No. I found it, and I kept it."

            "You kept what? I don’t' understand."

            "Someone at CatCo planted a red kryptonite crystal on me. I recognized the effects early on, almost right away. I found it and knew what it was. At first, I was going to destroy it and tell Alex, so she would help me. I changed my mind, and I kept it.. I let it affect me."

            Lena considered Kara for a long moment in silence. One of her eyebrows remained raised, and her lips were parted. Clearly, she had never guessed this would be the case. She turned away from Kara to think more deeply and shifted back into the couch. Her arms crossed, and her eyes went sharp in concentration. Eventually, Lena uncrossed her arms, nodded a bit, and turned back to Kara.

            "I can see why," Lena said.

            "You can?"

            "Yes."

            "You're really ok with –" Kara was going to say with what happened, but what ended up coming out was, "With me?"

            "Yes. Sorry, if you're disappointed in me," Lena said with a tiny shrug.

            "How can you be saying that to me? That seems backwards."

            "I imagine you think I should be telling you that you let yourself and me down, and I should be telling you that you were reckless and put the people you love in danger. And I just can't do that. I'm sorry. I don’t see things the way you do – all black and white. I was fighting with Supergirl – fighting with you, that is – for ages over all of this. You raised hell, and I can't say I'm sorry. That was long overdue in my book. Somebody was going to have to break the stronghold this regime has over this city. I'm glad it was you, if I am honest. You did it with restraint and – well, a kind of strange light-heartedness instead of vengeful hatred. Even your anger is – there's a particular quality to it. It's hard to explain what I mean.  

            "Before, I had been feeling upset that you were made to act out of character. If you chose that, though, that's – well, that's complicated. I never want to see you hurt. I think I can accept what happened in a way I think you probably never will. People got hurt, you'll say. People were already getting hurt. You stood in the way and redistributed the damage, and now you have to feel responsible. That will cause you pain, because of who you are. Anyways, from my perspective, we are not worse off than how we were. And this may be what we needed. This may be the unexpected twist that sways the advantage to our side. You've changed the game."

            "How can you say that?" Kara said and started to weep. She took off her glasses to wipe tears away from her eyes. Kara felt like Lena was telling her everything she wanted to hear. And Kara felt like all this had to be a lie. She felt so ashamed and also felt that she should feel this ashamed and worse still. "We lost the DEO. That's – that's enormous. Alex and Brainy are in hiding. They could go to prison. A whole faction of government agencies will be hunting Supergirl and anyone associated with her. Whatever tenuous balance we were maintaining, I just – I just broke it. It's miracle that you and I are even friends now." Lena laughed very softly at this, and she gave Kara the most tender expression of sympathy. Lena sat shaking her head in silence for a moment.

            "It's a miracle that you and I ever became friends in the first place. This entire relationship defies all odds. Every force in the world would have pitted us against each other. You're losing the context of all this – that's my judgment. This government was already against you. They've had Alex in their crosshairs for ages. This was a hornet's nest, and you drove them out. Now, they have to show what they're willing to do, enforce their will in ways that will make it clear precisely who and what they are. You called them out, Kara. As I said before, you have changed the game."

            As Lena spoke, Kara could see it her way. Then her mind snapped back to the perspective she had before. Kara felt that she had ruined all their chances. Maybe Lena was right. Lena's perspective was so pessimistic, and yet she also appeared to be the optimist in this situation. The cognitive dissonance was so heavy that Kara found her mind giving up in a final wave of pure exhaustion.

            "Kara, I think I can make you immune to red kryptonite," Lena said.

            "You can?" Kara said thrown even more. Lena pursed her lips and nodded. "With a suit?"  

            "No. You. We can get into details back at the labs, but I think your body is having a kind of immune response after coming into contact with red kryptonite twice. I could make the equivalent of a vaccine if you can trust me enough to risk more exposure."

            The hope of becoming immune slammed into the terror of being affected by red kryptonite. Kara was dangerous. Somehow, she was the one thing she never wanted to be and always feared she would be, no matter how hard she tried to soften herself and fit in on this earth. Everything was just too much. Kara sat trying to push through and get her aching mind to think. This day and the day before and so, so many days before that all avalanched onto Kara. She had been forcing herself to be strong for such a long time that she had forgotten what it felt like when she was not. And Kara had hit the end of her strength. She just broke down. She just sank forward with her face in her hands.

            "I'm so tired," Kara admitted with only Lena to hear.

            "Hey," Lena said softly. She put a hand to Kara's shoulder and the other on her back. "Let this play out a bit longer. We haven't lost this yet. This has only just begun."

            "I don't know if I can do this anymore, Lena" Kara heard herself saying. She felt as if a lifetime of weariness was coming over her all at once. "I – I am just so tired."

            "Come here," Lena said, her voice only above a whisper. She pulled Kara over, and Kara let herself lay down, her head in Lena's lap. Lena held onto her shoulder. Kara was still crying, but she let her eyes close and her mind begin to clear. "Rest, Kara. You're not the only one in this fight. I promise you."

            Lena ran one hand over Kara's hair in a gentle, slow gesture of comfort. Kara stopped trying to fight, stopped trying to think. She did not consider what she should do or question what she deserved. She only allowed herself to be comforted by her friend.

Chapter Text

            When Kara left Lena's office, Lena insisted that Kara take the ride that Lena ordered her home instead of back to CatCo. Kara agreed to go to the labs to see Alex, and Lena reluctantly compromised. On the way, Kara forwarded an email Lena had sent her with a brief statement and links to technical articles explaining that it was basically impossible that Supergirl had caused a mass failure of the ARB tracking bracelets and data collection system. Kara called Nia to tell her and waited while Nia pulled up the information and skimmed through it.

            "Thanks!" Nia said. "This is just what I need! I'll grab someone in tech to explain these diagrams to me."

            "I think I need to call it a day," Kara said, feeling guilty.

            "Yes! That's a great idea. You should go home and rest. You've had one hell of a day."

            "Thanks for everything, Nia."

            "Yeah! Absolutely! Always! See you tomorrow?"

            "Yeah. See you in the morning."

            They hung up, and Kara found a text from James that said, Can I be brought into the loop on all this as soon as you are ready? I feel like I'm watching from the bench. Kara texted back and quick apology and a promise to call tomorrow. He sent back, OK. Sending you love.

            Kara leaned into the car door and closed her eyes. She tried not to listen to the sounds of sirens or disturbances rising up throughout the city. The presence of military personnel and government agents was noticeable, and even ignoring what they were saying and doing intentionally, Kara knew that most of them were there for her.

            Finding the entrance to the labs proved more challenging than she had imagined. Kara followed Lena's directions and still had to look through walls to find the right stairway. She got into an elevator that said it was defunct and had to hover a bit to keep from falling backwards when the wall behind her opened to a hallway that led to a set of far newer and more expensive elevators. There were no buttons, and Kara heard cameras buzzing faintly as they focused on her. The elevator went down on its own.

            She expected that she might find Alex already asleep. Alex was slouched into an overstuffed couch watching the news with an arm over her head and the remote still in her hand. When Kara opened the door to the room, Alex turned the television off and tossed the remote aside. Her eyes were squinting with exhaustion.

            "I don't know why I even turned that on," Alex said.

            "How long have you been watching?"

            "Ten minutes, maybe. It already felt like an entire work week."

            "I've been watching it all day. This is a nightmare." Alex pulled herself up higher in the couch, still sunk far back into the cushions. "Did you sleep yet?" Kara asked.

            "I've been asleep all day," Alex told her.   Kara was relieved by that. Alex grimaced a bit and shifted to take some more weight off her injured hip.

            "Where's Brainy?"

            "I think he's meeting Nia. He's been working on his new façade all day. He asked me like fifty questions about what Nia would like before I cut him off. He had picked out a tweed jacket, a red bowtie, and a purple scarf last I saw. I tried to talk him out of getting an English bulldog. We'll see how that went. He wanted to know where he could shop for a monocle. I told him to shop online. We texted you our new cell numbers. I'm Jane. He's Cassandra."

            "Oh. Ok. I thought that was the two of you, maybe. I guess I should have guessed that when those arrived?"

            "Did you get any leads?"

            "What do you mean?"

            "From the guy who planted the red kryptonite on you," Alex said, perplexed that she had to explain.

            "Oh, no. I got overwhelmed to be honest. I will try again tomorrow."

            "Let me know if you need a bad cop. I have a lot of bad cop pent up inside of me right now." Alex tipped her head back and sat resting. Kara collected her thoughts, biting her lip. She stayed silent for far longer than she intended.  

            "Alex, I need to talk to you," Kara said, and her voice when she finally spoke barely came out audible.  

            "Ok," Alex said. She sat up fully and gave Kara her entire focus. She was still visibly tired.

            "This wasn't like the last time."

            "Yeah. This was way different." Kara only looked at Alex, and Alex went on. "Last time, you went crazy. This time, you went… rogue." Alex huffed a bit of a laugh. She got her arm around Kara. "You were still good with me this time. More or less. That was a huge relief."

            "I love you."

            "I know. I love you, too. I didn't even question that the last time. This time it was easy. I thought it was everyone else in the world you were going to throw under the bus – or tank or hum-v." Kara gave Alex a distressed look rather than laughing.

            "What I meant," Kara explained, "Was that… last time, I didn't have a choice. And this time I did."

            "You mean you were in control the whole time?"

            "I think so. I don't know if control is the right word. Before, though, at the start of all this, I found the red kryptonite. I was planning to fling into the atmosphere and let it burn up. And then I realized how different I felt and what I would be willing to do to stop all this violence that's been slowly rolling out against – well, all of my people, really. I wanted that, Alex. I wanted to change. And I kept it. I made a terrible mistake." Alex sighed deeply and sat with her eyebrows raised.

            "Wow," Alex said. "I have to admit, I didn't see that one coming. I should have been looking out for you more."

            "Alex, no. You're the last person who should feel guilty about this."

            "I wasn't there for you. I wasn't there with you. I felt it when we were at lunch together. You were so far away from me. And I was the one who made the distance, not you. You were reaching out for me, and I couldn't even remember how to take your hand and walk with you through things. I was hell-bent on keeping control of the DEO. I knew it was a losing fight. We should have bailed months ago."

            "You're not even going to tell me what a jerk I am?" Kara said in distress. Alex laughed a bit at this.

            "Kara, you are my sister. You are the best person I have ever known. And I have to believe that even you have breaking points. I can't say I'm thrilled with how this all played out, but –" Alex let her sentence drop. She looked away and looked back at Kara. "We've been through worse before, haven’t we?"

            "I can't believe you're this accepting. I thought you were going to toss me out on the street."

            "You are heavy, and I am very tired. I don't know, Kara. I don't know what we should do anymore. I have been grasping at ideas for a while now. If you had tried some of your plans on me, who knows. You might have gotten me on board. Seriously, Kara, we're all tired. I've had some crazy plans myself. You've talked me down from some of them. Not the worst ones. I kept those in. " Alex reached to put her hand on Kara's back. "I'm glad you told me." They were quiet together for a long moment.

            "That is – uh – that's not quite all I want to tell you. Before I lose – my nerve." Alex tipped her chin a bit. She looked prepared and more curious than concerned. Kara paused for so long, she thought she might not mange to say anything. The way her voice came out made her realize she'd been holding her breath. "I slept – I slept with Lena." Kara turned to see Alex's response. She made a tiny bit of an angry glare. Kara could immediately tell that Alex did not believe her.

            "Don't joke about that stuff, Kara," Alex said with a wave of her hand, tired and annoyed at what she clearly thought was a rather weird prank.

            "I am not joking."

            "Wait… what?" Alex sat up hard and twisted her body to face Kara fully. Her hand came to her hip to brace herself. Her reaction was so dramatic, Kara got overwhelmed. She looked away in quiet desperation. She finally recoiled back into the couch, brought her knees up near her chest, and wrapped her arms around them. Alex was making an intense shake of her head. "What? When?"

            "After I left the DEO, before I met you for lunch. She was the lunch date that got moved for a meeting."

            "Oh, no," Alex said, and she sounded devastated for an instant and put her hand to her eyes. Kara stared at her sister, astonished that Alex did not immediately assume that Kara had meant when she was exposed to red kryptonite. Alex's reaction to her last statement made that clear.

            Kara turned away and sat looking down at the floor in total silence. When Alex said nothing long enough, Kara could not help but glance up at her. She was visibly blanching. Alex's eyebrows were furrowed, and she seemed dumfounded. Alex finally said something.

            "Wait – how did – she had a meeting? How did you sleep together in the middle of the day?"

            "We just – In her office – I just– " Kara stammered, trying to explain.

            "Holy shit," Alex interrupted when she got the picture. They sat staring at one another for a long moment. Alex finally went on. "Can you explain this to me? Even just… just a little bit?" Kara only opened her hand and held it out. Then she brought it to her forehead. Alex closed her eyes, trying to gain her composure. "Ok. First off, just – did you know that was going to happen?" Kara gave Alex such a desperate look that Alex took her expression for an answer. Alex held up a finger, and she stalled briefly. "Were you into Lena before you got exposed to red kryptonite?"

            Kara had to literally hang her head in response. She brought her hand to cover her eyes. Alex's hand ran across Kara's shoulders. Kara looked back up at her sister's expression. Alex's eyebrows were still raised in surprise, and she was still waiting.

            "Yeah," Kara said, her voice came out in a light rasp. She cleared her throat. Alex was staring at her. Kara did not know what else to say.

            "Ok," Alex said softly. "When did you realize this?" Alex held up a hand. "I am going to refrain from asking why you didn’t tell me." Kara worked her lips. She tried to form some words in her mind to answer Alex. Her mind seemed empty, and her voice seemed gone. Alex moved over close to her and wrapped both of her arms around one of Kara's. "Tell me," Alex said with such softness that Kara almost cried in response.

            "Um. I – I always knew," Kara managed to get out.

            "You mean since you and Lena met?" Kara turned to Alex and forced out a stiff nod. "Oh, my gosh." Alex rubbed her own face hard, took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Ok. Now, I am going to ask. Why didn't you say something to me?"

            All the fight had gone out of Kara. Her back slumped, and her body felt strangely lax like she was afraid to tense even a single muscle. She closed her eyes and eventually slumped back into the couch. Alex sat back with her, still with both of her arms wrapped around Kara's arm, and waited. They were quiet for so long, Kara glanced over at Alex's face. Alex simply looked at her, waiting patiently.

            "I – I was going to tell you, Alex. I almost did so, so many times. I thought you'd say… I had this idea in my head that you would tell me I was confused and conflating my feelings, because Lena was a Luthor and I was supposed to hate her. I thought you would say that I was being reactionary and confusing the type of love or desire that I felt towards her or something. I mean, I knew that you wouldn't say that. But I kept imagining that you would, and it stopped me for longer than it should have."

            Kara looked up at Alex, worried that Alex would be upset. Alex gave Kara an expression of incredible empathy. Kara became less self-conscious at this and wiped away tears that had formed in her eyes. Alex shook her head softly. Her surprised was still so intense.

            "What happened then, Kara? That was literally years ago now."

            "Do you remember when you came out to me, and it seemed like I wasn't happy for you at first?"

            "Yeah."

            "I am so sorry about that. I was happy for you, Alex. I just got confused. I had been trying to work myself up to telling you about Lena. I didn't know whether to tell you right then on the spot or what would be right to do. It felt selfish to say anything at all. And I thought that –"

            "Oh, my God," Alex interrupted and flinched severely. "You didn't tell me you were into a woman, because I was into a woman? Kara that's – that is so exactly something that only you would do."

            "I didn't want you to be preoccupied with me. There was never room for you to have your own struggles or to find your own happiness. You were always so focused on me. Eliza always pressured you to put me before yourself. It was time for both of us to focus on you."

            "Ok. Look. Look me in the face when I say this to you. I need you to realize that there is room enough for both of us to get whatever we need. You are not overshadowing me, and you are taking anything away from me. Kara, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. Every good thing in my life ties directly back to you. You forget that way too easily.

            "You've helped me grow and change and become the person I am. And I am proud of who I am. I am much more than I ever thought I could be. I have much more in my life than I ever imagined I would have. Kara, I couldn't live without you. I know I might have had the same crazy line of thinking over something involving you. We have to get past the stuff that our parents taught us about how we relate to each other. That was always mixed up with their own stuff, and we don't have to carry that on.

            "Can I also just say, though, that all of that was also over a year ago, Kara."

            "Yeah." Kara did not manage to add anything to this. Her eyes welled up. "I just – I just never said anything."

            "Did you think it was like too late or something?"

            "I don't know how to explain," Kara said with her voice breaking.

            "You don't need to explain that to me," Alex said soft and matter-of-fact. "I'm not straight. I get these things."

            Kara turned to Alex and saw how deeply sincere she was. Kara considered for a long moment that maybe she did not need to explain herself anymore. The immense pressure that she felt to justify everything about herself to practically everyone might not need to be satisfied. Maybe Alex simply understood when Kara could not even find a way to explain things to herself. Kara turned to look closely at Alex. Alex smiled at her very softly, put her arms around Kara, and settled in. Kara let herself lean over into her sister.

            They sat that way for so long, Kara lost track of the time. A phone beeped, and Alex pulled out a phone Kara had never seen before. She checked a message and put it back in her pocket. Alex tucked her free arm back around Kara and spoke softly.

            "Lena is coming to the labs," Alex said.

            "She messaged?" Kara asked.  

            "Mm-hm. She says she thinks she can heal my hip."

            "Really?" Kara said, and Alex nodded in response. "Do you really think she can do that?"

            "She has a lot of experimental tech."

            "She said that she thinks she can make me immune to red kryptonite," Kara said. Alex nodding knowingly at this.

            "I think she can," Alex said.

            Kara considered asking Alex more, but then she got scared about potentially seeing Lena. Alex noticed and rubbed at Kara's back already helping her to sit up. "You should get some sleep, Kara." Kara merely nodded. She stood up, wavering a little.

            At the door, Kara looked back at her sister. Alex had sunken back down into the couch. She looked up at Kara and smiled tenderly and wearily at her. Kara's entire body filled up with a tangible sense of how much her sister loved her and how much she loved her sister. She did not even need to say this aloud. She could see in Alex's expression that Alex recognized what Kara was feeling, and they simply considered one another for a long time in silent communication. Then Kara left to find her way to her apartment and her bed.

Chapter Text

            Alex found Lena in Lab X09 where Lena said she would be. Lena turned for a brief instant and gave a vague wave to greet Alex, but she was too focused on a cluster of computer monitors to break away. Alex did not mind. She was still using a crutch on her left side, and she was moving incredibly slowly. She came in and sat on a medical bench with a raised back, easing herself into the seat. Lena turned and considered Alex with her brows furrowed.

            "Did I get you the wrong pain medicine?" Lena asked, recognizing how much pain Alex was in and suddenly worrying.

            "I'm not going to take painkillers if you're going to cure me," Alex said in a teasing tone of challenge.

            Lena raised an eyebrow, smiled a very little bit, and let this go. She looked back at the monitors, interfacing with some esoteric computer program. Occasionally, she typed a handful of commands into a terminal, as well.

            "First, we need to get a clear scan of your hip. This is nanotechnology combined with lots of quantum computing, essentially a huge number of miniscule robots that can hold impossibly small programs.  The nanites can still only follow very simple imperatives in truth, but an incredible complex program can be built up from those. They move fast. They will be able to make their away way into your tissue without any assistance, but we need to first build precise models of both a beginning and a desired state to achieve."

            "Sounds painful."

            "If I program this right, it won't be painful at all." Lena kept on working for a while, facing away from Alex. Alex considered Lena's face from the side. She could barely make out that Lena was tired from their ordeal. She looked remarkably composed and concentrated.

            "So. You and Kara," Alex said and watched Lena closely, while she waited. Lena did not respond to this at first. She was too focused on the screen in front of her. Alex saw a visible affect when Lena processed what Alex had said.

            "Wow." Lena made a hard blink, clearly taken aback. "That didn't take long."

            "What's didn't take long?" Alex said.

            "Kara telling you that happened."

            "This is actually the longest Kara has ever gone keeping a secret from me."

            "Less than a day?" Lena said and turned to Alex with one eyebrow raised, already believing this to be entirely possible.

            "Ah," Alex said, seeming as if she just realized something. Lena considered Alex but could not discern anything more from her expression. Lena went back to her work.

            After a few minutes, Lena got up and brought Alex a scanner. Lena pulled the monitors over as best she could and helped as Alex scanned her own hip, both of them watching the screen and trying ideas to get a clearer, fuller picture. The scanner produced images that went far beyond ultrasound and captured clear images of all of the soft tissues in Alex's hip. A 3D image formed, as a data feed ran on another screen. They could literally see the damage: the fused bone, knots of scar tissue in tendons and muscles, inflammation. When the data feed stopped for a couple of minutes, Lena said they were good. Alex gave her the scanner, and Lena put it aside. Lena went back to typing in the program then sat back while it ran.

            "I wanted to ask you something," Alex said.

            "I already know what you're going to ask," Lena responded.

            "You do?" Alex said, one eyebrow twitching up with doubt. Lena turned to Alex. She considered Alex a moment with an entirely unreadable expression and turned back to the screens.

            "No, I did not know what was going on with Kara when we slept together," Lena said.

            "You did know what I was going to ask," Alex said, a tad impressed.

            "I'd want to know the same thing if I were you," Lena said. "I got swept up in what was happening. I couldn't tell what in the hell had changed. I would never get with anyone if I knew they were drunk or heartbroken or confused about who I was. I knew Kara was none of those things. I couldn't pinpoint anything else to put me on guard.

            "I have an ego, Alex. If someone doesn't want me in their right mind, then in my book, they don't actually want me, and I'm just not interested. I can't convince you that I'm some upstanding citizen. You already know that I'm not. But the next time you find yourself questioning whether Lena Luthor took advantage of your sister and questioning whether she's entirely trustworthy, just ask yourself if she's an arrogant bitch instead. I think you'll find some comfort."

            Alex could not help but smile at Lena's answer. The program finished running, and Lena focused on the monitors, reviewing everything with intense focus. Alex let Lena alone a while, and Lena furrowed her brows in total concentration.   Lena leaned back eventually and appeared satisfied.

            "You love my sister?" Alex asked. Lena turned to her at once. Her eyebrows furrowed. Alex could not decipher her expression in response to the question.

            "I'm surprised you need to ask me that."

            "I don't really."

            "Then why ask?"

            "To see what you will say."

            "I love Kara Danvers. That's no secret. That's a proven fact."

            Alex accepted this in silence. When Lena turned back to the screen and started entering short, final commands, Alex touched along the surgical scar on her hip. She sighed, hoping this would work.

            "Lena, are you in love with Kara?" Alex asked. Lena turned to look at Alex with her eyes wide and one eyebrow raised. She turned back to the computers and picked up a heavy glass tube with metal end caps and clicked this into place in a custom-made port.

            "That is quite the question."

            "Yes, it is."

            "Let me ask you a question then. What's your own relationship to that idea – to being in love?" Lena turned to get a look at Alex. Alex could see right away that Lena had no intention of answering first. So Alex tried to think what to say.

            "I have only been in love once. With a woman named Maggie. We were great together in so many wonderful ways. We had to split because of one way that we weren't compatible. I am still rather heartbroken over it if I'm being honest."

            "And would you have started that relationship if you have known about that one incompatibility beforehand?"

            "Probably. I probably would have assumed that we could find some way to make it work."

            "That is incredibly brave. I never invest where I can see that I'm going to fail. That's what makes me good at business and also at research and development. I know a thousands potentials to drop and a handful to drive forward. Kara and I are close in so many wonderful ways. We are also glaringly incompatible in others. I could never fall in love when I know the inevitable outcome of a relationship would be failure. I won't sacrifice a magnificent friendship just to prove that to myself.

            "Now, that's all you're getting out of me, Alex Danvers. I don't like to talk about my feelings. And I've told you more than I would all of my closest friends combined."

            "Fair enough."

            "I'm going to start the process now, if you're ready. If you feel any pain, even something slight, tell me right away. That means the data model is wrong."

            "You got it." Alex took a deep breath and leaned back into the raised table. Lena looked closer at Alex's face.

            "Are you worried?"

            "It's always nerve-wracking trying new tech. I trust the concept. The first try is bound to turn up issues."  

            "This is far from the first attempt. I've been using this system on myself for months. I ran every manner of test possible on myself afterwards. There's been no ill effects."

            "What on earth have you been using them on?" Alex said confused how Lena could use medical tech on herself, unless she was injuring herself on purpose. Lena made a halfhearted shrug that meant she had no intention of telling Alex the answer to this.

            "Are you ready?" Lena asked.

            "Ready as I'll ever be."

            Lena clicked a few times and watched. The canister opened, and a swarm of nanites rose up in a thin cloud. They went to Alex's hip.

            "Should I hold still?" Alex asked.

            "That shouldn't matter," Lena said, quite calm.

            For the next twenty minutes or so, the swarm bombarded Alex's hip. She could barely feel them, but the cloud floating above her leg slowly dissipated. Another fifteen or so minutes passed, and Alex was afraid to distract Lena. Lena watched the monitors, tracking the nanites' progress. Alex watched them rise up out of her hip just as slowly and return to the canister. The canister closed, and shortly thereafter, a window appeared on Lena's screen notifying her the program had finished running. Lena turned to Alex with one eyebrow raised.

            "Do you want to do a new scan to see? Or just feel how it is?" Lena asked.

            Alex gingerly pressed her fingers into her hip. She expected sharp barbs of pain. Instead, she found no pain at all and pressed harder. She moved the joint, and after a minute she stood up. Alex walked around the room, keeping some weight off her hip out of habit. She made five full passes before she was walking with her regular gait. She looked up at Lena in absolute delight and pure astonishment.

            "How on earth did you do this?" Alex asked.

            "Amazing isn't it?" Lena said. Alex came eagerly to Lena's side. Lena led Alex through the basics of the system she had built.

            "Lena this – this is the future of medicine," Alex said. "Why isn't the entire world talking about this?"

            "You mean, why haven't I released it yet?" Lena responded. Alex knew Lena just well enough to catch on to the fact that she had grown visibly defensive. "Well, first off, the United States government would confiscate all of this. I would be out of the loop or else co-opted into some black badge agency to continue my work. Second, I could pursue making this patented intellectual property. That means years of only the richest being able to afford to use it, unless I have enough business sense and control to make certain that it doesn't. After that, the clock is ticking on how long before any company with enough resources and talent can reproduce the same tech. Many will do it illegally right away A nanite swarm could literally take a person apart and leave no evidence they were ever there except a dusting of iron atoms impossible to identify. Tech like this would be weaponized far faster than it would ever be mass produced for the public good."

            "I didn't mean that to sound like an accusation. It's just, I don't know how you can live knowing that you're capable of doing this without using it."

            "I may have used it once or twice. It's hard to get consent with experimental tech like this. You want people to understand. This relies on elaborate data models, and I just don't have enough data on a lot of diseases and ailments to create programs that would work. Cancer treatment is the simplest and most promising application – that's removing not modifying. With the right development, this could possibly even change genetic material. All of that is for good and for ill. The cat's out of the bag once I release this."

            "If you wait, someone else might develop the same tech and patent it before you can."

            "No, they won't. No one is anywhere near this. This is Jack's legacy. He was a genius of the first caliber, and he also got very lucky. He knew it. I am responsible for his death, so this is how I can honor him by finishing his work and making sure to steward it in a way that honors his wishes. He wanted me to end his life when he realized he lost control of his will for his work and believed sacrificing himself was the only way to get that back. I remember that all too well. I can't make a mistake with this, Alex. I need more control of the market, and we need a far safer political context before this ever gets released into the world. And I need to be thirty years ahead of everyone who plans to use these designs for ill, so I can keep the upper hand when they do."

            "How have you kept from just using it for some – vigilante healing work?" Lena squinted so hard that she almost closed one eye. "Ah. You haven't, have you?"

            "Like I said, I don't want to make decisions for people. I know what they would decide in many cases, so that's complicated. Do you remember when Amadei Derros had his breakthrough and found that he could cure most forms of cancer in humans?"

            "Of course." Lena stood simply looking at Alex. "Oh, my God. He didn't, did he? That was you."

            "He practically lives in hiding now. This anti-alien regime hated what that did for the pro-alien political platform. They did everything they could to discredit him. The families he helped were harangued. Many were threatened. Some were targeted for hate crimes. I knew all of that would happen, but I had to see it for myself. What if I had been wrong? Anyways, that has given me one outlet. And I can trust that he understands all of this well enough and in context to keep the secret."

            "So what else have you been doing with these?"

            "Oh, well. Not much else."

            "I doubt that somehow," Alex said. Lena said nothing. She gave Alex a brief, composed stare with one eyebrow raised making it clear that Alex could not get anything more out of her. Alex did not try. She grinned instead. "You're a genius. You know that right?"

            "I got lucky on this one," Lena said.

            "You get lucky a lot," Alex said.

            "I have strong luck. The pendulum swings far in both directions with me. Every time I have a real breakthrough, I find myself waiting to see what will happen next. Will someone else close to me die? Or go mad like my brother? Or worse, will they get taken over by some evil they can't control, and I'll have to kill them myself? I was so relieved when I figured out that it was probably red kryptonite that brought on the change in Kara's temperament, I can hardly even begin to tell you. That was something I could fix. For a minute I thought, what if she's not her anymore?"

            "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be flippant with you."

            "It's alright. Anyways, thanks for letting me experiment on you. You'll be receiving your payment in the mail, as agreed in your contract."

            "Do I not get a salary like Brainy?" Alex said.

            "Oh, sure. Why not? Your job can be to let me patch you up when you get yourself into more fights here in the no time it will take you," Lena said, joking in return.

            "Look, my hip no longer hurts, and I haven't jump-kicked anything in a long while. Don't make it too tempting." Lena laughed at this. "I can't wait to tell Kara." Lena's smile was warm enough and tender enough that Alex wondered if this were not the entire reason that Lena had healed her hip. That made Alex smile more and realize that she did trust that Lena loved her sister. Lena had been through a lot lately, and she wasn't showing it. Alex came without warning and hugged Lena.

            "Thank you," Alex said. Lena hugged Alex back, but she seemed rather abashed when Alex stood back and held her shoulders for a moment. Lena smiled then averted her eyes. As soon as Alex let go, Lena turned to the computers and started to shut them down. She seemed a bit stiff.

            "I need to get going," Lena said. "J'onn is bringing you two everything you need?"

            "Yep. Seen any investigators yet?" Alex asked.

            "Not yet."

            "They'll be watching likely accomplices for a day or two, seeing if they can locate and grab us without having to shake anything out of anyone at all."

            "I am aware. I know how to move around this city without being seen. That sounded a lot more sinister than I anticipated."

            "I felt comforted."

            Lena left Alex then with one last smile and a wave. Alex looked around the lab for minute then strode out after her with a lasting smile on her face. She was so energized, she hoped she hoping Brainy would be back soon. She went to get some work done before bed.  

Chapter Text

            Kara's apartment felt like a haven, possibly the only safe place left in the world. She was so tired that she grabbed all the fastest things she could find to eat, snacks and oddities, and downed these standing at the counter. She went into her room, pulled off her outer clothes, and climbed into her bed. Her alarm was set for six-thirty in the morning and it was only eight-thirty at night. She felt like she could sleep for days. She had trained herself over time to ignore the sounds of the city, and even a city still awake and buzzing with vigilance watching for Supergirl drifted away from her mind.

            Strange dreams kept waking Kara. Whenever she would pull herself awake to escape her dreams, she would simply curl herself into a new position, push the lingering memory of her dream from her mind as best she could, and wait for sleep to settle on her once again. Around midnight, she finally fell into a deep sleep.

            Kara stood in the strong, red light of Krypton filtering down through a skylight in the main room of her family's home. She put her hand out to feel the light, soft and almost cool in comparison with the yellow sunlight of Earth. A peace and a tranquility poured into her along with the gentle red sun. The floor beneath her bowed and waved, and Kara nearly fell at the tremors of an earthquake. Her mind suddenly remembered the destruction of Krypton, and a panic flared up inside of her that made her feel as if she were being born anew of the intensity of a yellow sun here in this dim-lit world. Kara ran from room to room, looking for her family.

            The house was empty. Kara ran out and found herself on a beach. Her father was there with his brother. They were standing in the waves, holding Kal-El, dipping him into the water. The laughs of all three of them carried up to her. Kara came and tried to explain what was happening. Both men were uncomprehending, and Kal-El started reaching for her, upset when she did not take him. Her father tried to calm her down, clearly disappointed by her distressing behavior. Eventually, Kara knew she had to give up. She turned away from them to try to find her mother.

            She found herself in the courthouse standing in a vast open space of the public courtyards. Kara found her mother walking there, as she often would to think. Kara ran through a fountain to get to her and tried to explain what was happening. Her mother kept on agreeing with her, but Kara could not make her panic. Her mind searched desperately for someone to help her – anyone who would react to what was happening. She could do nothing of significance alone. She remembered her aunt Astra. Where was she now? Kara looked up to see the dark patch of the phantom zone sitting like a scorch mark on the sky holding Fort Rozz. Looking at her mother who was looking out over the courtyard, Kara remembered that her mother had sent Astra away to that desolate and terrible place. She was far off and out of reach, isolated and disempowered. If anything, her mother was wondering now whether she might have to send Kara there, as well. Kara ran away from her.

            Outside on the streets, Kara watched the people of Krypton pass her by without notice. Kara called to them, and two peace-keepers wearing their medals noticed her and began to make their way over to her. Kara was disturbing the peace. Her heart leapt when she recognized Mon-El standing a ways off. She ran to stand with him. Two peace-makers hesitated. He was a prince after all. They murmured their disapproval of a Daximite in their midst, and Kara reached and took his hand in open defiance. Mon-El was looking at the sky, and Kara looked to see what he was seeing – Daxam burned bright in the sky, a beautiful planet, distinct and clear. Kara spoke in a rush, desperate to tell Mon-El what was happening. His planet would be shattered by the ruins of her own. Mon-El finally turned to Kara and smiled. He placed his hands on her shoulders.

            "Lighten up, Kara!" Mon-El said.

            The phrase rang in her ears, inappropriate and jarring. Kara could not speak. The ground shook, and this time nothing would stop the tremors. The planet would come apart beneath them all. Kara turned to watch the courthouses crumble, the powerful pillars falling like sand castles on the beach near their home.

            Then Kara turned once more, and she was in the Danvers household. Her foster mother and father were running in a panic, calling out, "Girls!" Alex ran down the stairs, the same age she was when Kara first came to earth. Meteors ripped through the house and tore everything into a mass of chaos. Burning, heavy stones hit Kara and bounced off. She looked to find her foster family, hidden in the smoke and debris. She tore through rubble. Her eyes flared, and she cut through a massive meteor billowing smoke and glowing with heat. She flung both sides apart with her bare hands. Alex was there on the floor. She was grown, wearing her DEO fatigues. Kara turned her sister over, and found her body was shattered and broken.

            The meteors could not hurt Kara. Her foster family was gone. And Kara was alone again. All of Kara's desperation transformed into a rolling mass of anger. She stood and let out a yell of absolutely primal rage. Her eyes flared and split the shattered house, opening up the building and revealing a night sky with fire still raining down on this planet, the only one she could now call her own.  

            Kara woke with a growl of rage, her eyes blazing. She realized in a flash that she had woken from a dream and blocked her heat vision with both hands. She sat staring at her open hands and could barely make out the smoke rising off of them in the dim light. Kara got out of bed and went to see the hole she had burned high in her wall where it met the ceiling.

            She staggered into her living room and into the kitchen. The mood of the dream was heavy in her mind. Kara grabbed the nearest mug from the dish drainer and got a drink of water. She filled the cup a second time and went to take another drink. It popped in her uncontrolled grasp, showering ceramic shards over her and the sink. Kara felt the same shame and concern she felt as a girl first come to earth, as she used her bare hands to gather up all the fragments and place them in the sink. She did not want her foster parents to notice.

            Kara leaned into the sink and tried to gain control of her thoughts. They were not in the house. She was grown. She had stayed with them until she was eighteen and was never sent away. And Alex was not dead. Kara remembered finding her at the DEO, coughing and grimacing. The confusion of time she encountered when dreaming lingered over her mind. Kara ran cold water and splashed it over her face several times. Then she got another glass, handling it carefully. She took this into the living room and let herself collapse softly to sit on the floor in front of her couch with her back leaning against the edge.  

            She put her hands over her face. Her eyes were still warm. Kara glanced at the cover she had placed over the hole she had smashed through the wall with the vase. She would have to fix the damage before her landlord, Mr. Russell visited. He was a friend of her father's, and he had insisted Kara take this apartment when she moved into the city and also insisted on ridiculously low rent. He was in earnest about how much he owed her father, and Kara realized only this instant that they must have been DEO agents together. All these years, Kara had been picturing them working together in a lab, and imagining that her father helped Mr. Russell get established in his career. Why had her mind never made the connection before now?

            Tonight, all of the contents of her mind seemed shaken up and piled together. This was from the red kryptonite, she felt sure. Kara worried suddenly that there was still red kryptonite in her body, coursing through her veins. She looked at her arms propped over her knees and could almost imagine a pale glow of red rising from her veins.

            Kara closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. She sat up with her back straight and her knees lowered. Her body resisted the change, but she let the emotions coursing through her like physical pain rise and flow while quelling the urge to fight against them. Kara carefully drew all her thoughts to a single point of focus, collecting each desperate, stray thread with care, being slow and patient. She focused on the words, as she spoke each prayer she could remember that held meaning to her. Afterwards, she sat meditating, holding each thought that rose into her mind as if cradling every one in her hands and then releasing the thought to a wind that would carry all of them out to sea. The sun was just beginning to rise when Kara finished her meditation. She got herself up to make ready for another day.

 

---

 

            When she left Alex, Lena went back to L Corp. The computer system there was more powerful and more protected than the ones in Lex's labs, and despite being more public, they were safer. Lena did not believe that anyone alive could break through the layers of encryption she had woven through her data stores. She had finally made time to design the system herself from the ground up after Mercy Graves targeted her system. Lena wanted to get some work done on a red kryptonite vaccine. She could not tell if Kara would want it or not, but she felt that she needed to be ready.

            Her sense of time often lapsed while she was working with enough focus. Lena had to look at the clock on her computer when Eve opened the door to her office. Eve stepped in carrying a parcel, and Lena noticed that Eve was dressed up.

            "Eve," Lena said. "What are you doing here? It's almost eight o'clock."

            "I am about to go meet a date at Lenny's. I had to swing by to grab my tablet. I'm going to CatCo first thing tomorrow morning. I forgot to bring it home."

            "Buy another one on your L Corp card and sync them up. You shouldn't have to carry that back and forth. This is a tech company."

            "I will. Thanks! I figured you would still be here working and also that you would have forgotten to eat dinner. So I grabbed you a taco salad from that fancy place up the street that you like. I think it has kale on it? Or arugula? I don't know. It's not iceberg that's for sure." Eve handed Lena a little paper bag with handles, and Lena took it with genuine amazement.

            "Oh, thanks, Eve! That's so thoughtful of you," Lena said.

            "Was I right? Did you forget to eat?" Eve asked.

            "Guilty as charged, Miss Teschmacher," Lena admitted.

            "Aha!" Eve said, as if proud she had solved a small crime.

            "Well, tell your date that chivalry isn't dead. So if this person does not treat you well, your boss will impale them with a lance," Lena said flashing a swift glare. Eve smiled and laughed a bit, quite charmed at this joke.

            "I will channel that energy if need be. Although, I don't think I will. I only date nice people these days. I kind of have Kara Danvers to thank for that." Lena furrowed her brows at this curious comment, and Eve asked, "Are you and Kara alright?"

            "Yes," Lean said surprised by the question.

            "Good." Lena gave Eve a more curious expression, and Eve hesitated for a moment and then went on. "Did you ever meet Kara's ex-boyfriend, Mike, Mon-El?"

            "Yes," Lena said a little thrown by the turn in conversation.

            "He and I dated, or whatever, right before they did."

            "I had no idea."

            "Yeah. When the two of us got together, he was already really obsessed with Kara. But like not in a good way. He would talk about how stuck up and annoying she was all the time, and I was always defending her to him.  I guess they worked together or something, which never really made sense to me, because Kara was fulltime at CatCo. I know he worked at a bar at one point. Anyways, when he left me to get with her, I was so surprised."

            "I can imagine that would be a very strange experience."

            "Yeah. I didn't think that was right. I thought that she was way too good for him. I never thought Kara would get with somebody like that. That made me question why I had been with him, if I didn't think he was good enough for Kara. I thought the best girls got the best men, and I realized that just wasn't how it worked. So I started thinking about myself differently. After that, I would ask myself whenever I was considering going out with someone whether I thought they would be good enough for Kara and based my decision off that. I've only dated really nice people since then. My love life has really improved."

            "Wow. I honestly don't know what to say. Kara always seemed really happy in that relationship."  

            "Yeah. Later on, she mentioned to me that Mike was her first real boyfriend. And I guess that made it make more sense. Maybe he got better, being with her. He did start getting my name right a hundred percent of the time after they were together a while." Lena merely looked at Eve in disbelief only becoming convinced she had understood her correctly after full taking in Eve's expression. Eve added In a bit of a rush, "Hopefully, he got better at sex."

            "Did you have bad experiences with him?" Lena said in a tone of obvious concern tinged with the threat of rage and possible plans for revenge.

            "I mean, I've had a lot worse experiences with men. He wasn't pushy, and so many people are. You know? But, he was sort of careless. I had to put up a lot argument to get him to wear a condom, and he would rip them a lot – several times the first time. He was also just really boring when it came to sex."

            "I guess some people like the simple, standard stuff," Lena said trying to be fair.

            "I had to rub my own clit," Eve said quick and with very little tone.

            "Oh. 'Boring' was the nice way of putting it. I see," Lena responded flatly and raised her eyebrows, blinking in surprise.

            "Yeah. It was like he just thought he was God's gift, you know?"

            Lena sat speechless. Eve turned towards the door, thinking of leaving, then turned back. She did not say anything for a minute.

            "Sorry. Sometimes, I don’t know what's work appropriate. And you're always really professional."

            "Well, it's not work hours. And I am very good at both interrupting and deflecting. I am surprised to learn all of this, though." Eve stood there a bit longer, not leaving, but not saying anything. She worked her mouth a couple of times. "Something else on your mind?" Lena asked.

            "Uh, well. I noticed Kara wearing lipstick in a rather unusual manner the other day, and then she was really nervous coming here today."

            "Oh, dear God!" Lena said and physically startled. She held up her hand. "I don't know how I imagined you wouldn't catch on instantly. I should have said something before. That was not what it looked like, Eve. I was not entirely responsible for that. I promise you, I didn't – I didn't just try something with Kara. I would never do that. What happened was – I mean it was – Kara was having a strange reaction to some medication, and we both got carried away." Eve furrowed her brows listening to all this. Lena's mind scrambled for something more to say. Eve shook her head a bit.

            "I mean, that's obviously a lie," Eve said in a light-hearted way, then she said more seriously, "Anyways, I actually got the sense that it was Kara who initiated whatever happened." Lena stared at Eve, astonished by her perceptiveness and far less anxious after she said this. "I like that match. I think you'd be really good for Kara." Lena could not hide her surprise or suppress a laugh. She found herself quite genuinely abashed.

            "Well, that's very flattering. Kara deserves the very best."

            "She does. I guess what I was wanting to say was that I used to have this unquestioned belief that Kara was really confident with dating and had a great dating life. It's what she deserves. But I was wrong about that. So if you're interested, and Kara gets really nervous, maybe just try to wait that out without taking it too personally. Because maybe she's just nervous, just on her own, you know?"

            "Thanks. That's something I would really need to hear if I'm honest."

            "I know you must feel weird about being a Luthor. Anyways, you'd be great for Kara. You're respectful and supportive, and you never take any shit from anyone." Lena and Eve smiled at one another.

            "Well, there are two things I can say. First, I honestly don't think that Kara and I are going to be getting together. That was just a strange thing that happened. Second, if I am somehow wrong, and we do get together, you can trust me when I say that I never have boring sex."

            Eve laughed fully at this. She still looked a bit nervous about having had this conversation with Lena, but she also seemed highly relieved. Eve stood there thinking for a moment more.

            "I will keep a lid on this. I'm good at keeping secrets," Eve said.

            "Same. Thanks for dinner, Eve. And thank you for trying to look out for me and for my friend."

            "I feel I owe Kara in a way. Did you know we were hired on at CatCo at the same time? I had applied for her position, and she had applied to mine. Cat Grant switched our positions when we got invites for final interviews. She does that, apparently. So when I started, everyone considered me this lesser version of Kara – everyone except for Kara. She was always good to me. She shut down a bully for me once even in a big group meeting right in front of everyone. People had to treat me better because of how she treated me. Kara is kind of the ideal human being in my mind. I think everybody should look out for her, given that she's always looking out for us."

            "That is something on which you and I entirely agree."

            "See you tomorrow," Eve said and started to make her way out.

            "Goodnight. I hope you have a good date," Lena said after her. Eve stopped at the door.

            "Oh, don't worry. If it doesn't go well, I'm buying, so I don't feel guilty, and then I am going home on my own with an expensive bottle of wine. Cause mama' makes the good paychecks now." Lena cracked fully up at this.  

            "Brilliant plan," Lena got out.

            Eve made a little wave, as she went out the door. Lena sat looking at her desk for a moment trying to shake off the panic she felt when she thought that Eve was confronting her about being careless with Kara and also trying to store away a lot of information that she never expected to have. She found herself feeling great about Eve's life and happy about that fact. She also found herself feeling less great about Kara's.

Chapter Text

            Before work the next morning, Kara waited on the roof of CatCo. She called James, as she watched and listened for Skyler Gaines on the street below.

            "Hey, girl," James said.

            "James," Kara said.   "Sorry to took me so long to call."

            "Don't sweat it. You've had a lot on your plate."

            "I feel like I owe you a pretty huge explanation of everything that's been going on." Kara said, as she pulled off her common outer clothes to reveal her super suit and stuffed these into her bag, juggling her phone. "I got a dose of red kryptonite the day before I went to the ARB."

            "Oh," James said in a long sound of epiphany. "Ok."

            "Yeah. It affected me somewhat differently this time. It was extreme but way less extreme. Maybe I got a lighter dose."

            "How did that happen?"

            "Skyler Gaines put it in my jacket pocket after work."

            "What!? He knows who you are?"

            "No, I don't think so. I'm about to ask him or rather Supergirl is."

            "So someone else knows who you are and used Skyler to get to you?"

            "Almost certainly."

            "Somebody who wanted you unstable. Do you know why? To discredit you? Get the government to take you out? Or to distract you from something we maybe missed?"

            "I don't know yet, but we're working on finding out."

            "Ok. I'm glad it was a lighter dose this time. Honestly, I think what you did was justified."

            "We lost the DEO."

            "Oh, no. Were they not the ones who brought you down off red k this time?"

            "No. I sabotaged the counter-measures they had prepared. Lena brought me down."

            "Of course, she did. Well, we certainly gained some things.  Not sure how this evens out to be honest."

            "People got hurt, James."

            "I used to hurt people regularly, and you never gave me a hard time."

            "I never fully supported you either."

            "Fair enough. Maybe I'll get lucky, and you'll start to see things more from my side of things now. You've never really been a rogue superhero before."

            "You think things can never go back to the way they were?"

            "No, no. I didn't say that, Kara. Don't lose hope. I know your image means a lot to you and to this city. I don't think you've lost what all you probably think you have. The narrative is still taking shape around all this, but I think Supergirl is rising up in people's minds as hero befitting the times. The people who got hurt were all trying to use unjust force against you."

            "That's not the whole story, James. I almost threw a man off a bridge and ended up slamming him into the asphalt. That was well beyond self-defense. I was enraged."

            "Woah. Sounds like you were really on the edge. I am glad you didn't kill anyone. That would be so easy for you to do even by accident, it's hard to understand how you don't sometimes, honestly."

            "Alex stopped me, or he would be dead. I can handle having enemies, James, but I don't want to be at odds with my friends again. I was about to bust into Congress and really make trouble. Nia saw that plan was going to go terribly wrong in one of her dreams, and she went to Lena for help. I got lucky, James. Lena completely tricked me. Otherwise, I don't think I would have listened to her or Nia or Alex. I was very focused. I wanted this regime out of power."

            "Yeah, I get that," James said, and the two of them were quiet a moment. "I'm still wondering how far they're going to take things with me. Oh, hey. I need to go soon, Kara. Lena just got to my place. I'm sorry to cut this short." Kara heard James open his front door, say hello to Lena, and tell her that he was talking to Kara.

            "I should to go, too. Sorry I don't have more time. Is everything ok?" Kara asked in regards to Lena showing up at James's place.

            "Yeah," James said with chuckle. "Actually, it's great. She brought what looks and smells like an extremely fancy breakfast that she's laying out now. I need to get Lena's input on a lot of decisions about tomorrow's issue. I want to make sure we're on the same page. We could do talk remotely, but she likes to stop by just to give me some company these days You know me, I have a knack for staying friends with my ex's. Ouch! Lena didn't like that. She's over here flinging scones. You know I'm strictly forbidden from referring to her as 'my ex' as part of our break-up terms from way back when. I guess that counted. I didn't realize. She prefers to always be referred to as 'the boss', I guess. Ow! Man, good aim."

            "Oh, James. I'm so sorry. You must be so lonely and cooped up. I'll come by soon."

            "I didn’t mean anything by that. You do what you've got to do, Kara. I trust you'll get here when you can. You're looking out for way more people than me."

            "Yeah," Kara said, "But you're important to me. Maybe we can all do game night at your place?" Kara started picturing ways of sneaking Alex and Brainy over to James's condo. She spotted Skyler down on the street.

            "Sounds fantastic," James said.

            "Talk to you soon."

            "Bye, Kara. Take good care of yourself."

            "You, too. Tell Lena I say hi."

            "I will."

            Supergirl dove down and landed softly on the pavement about ten feet in front of Skyler. He had been looking at his phone, and he looked up. He backed up a few steps in obvious panic. She held up her hands to show she was no threat.

            "Skyler Gaines, we need to talk," Supergirl said. Skyler turned and bolted. Supergirl shot ahead to stand in front of him on the sidewalk. He stopped so hard that he fell and scrambled to get up.

            "Help! Somebody help me! Call the police!" Skyler started yelling.

            Kara stood taken aback by the intensity of his fear. Nobody had ever reacted to her like this before. He looked as if he believed she was about to murder him right on the street. Kara hesitated with her hands on her hips for a moment. She looked around at the people watching. Some seemed confused by Skyler's panic, and others were rushing to get away. A few were actually dialing their phones, and Kara could hear 911 operators picking up. Kara almost had to shake her head. What were the police going to do? She could fling Skyler into space in mere seconds. She had never randomly hurt anyone before.

Kara considered what she should do. She needed information, and they were causing a disturbance. Supergirl had been seen, and Kara expected that a lot more than police were about to show up. In a decisive move, Kara flew over and grabbed Skyler. She carried him up and put them both down on the roof of CatCo. She tried to be careful and made sure not to hurt him. He was obviously fine, because he ran towards the roof door and found it locked, as it was still before nine o'clock.

            "Skyler," Supergirl said. "Skyler, calm down!"

            "Don't kill me," Skyler said turning and pressing his back to the door. "Whatever it is you want, I don't have it!" Kara walked closer to him, her hands up, very unthreatening.

            "I'm not going to kill you!" she said letting it show that she was blatantly offended by the suggestion. "I'm not going to hurt you at all. I'm sorry I had to carry you up here. But I have to ask you a question. You gave something to Kara Danvers, a reporter you work with here at CatCo. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

            "No."

            "A red crystal – you planted it on her. I found it. Kara Danvers and I had a meeting planned that evening. She's a reporter I trust. That red crystal she carried was meant for me. That was a weapon, synthetic kryptonite. I need to know who asked you to plant the red crystal on Kara Danvers. That is all I need." Kara expected Skyler to feign ignorance and try to protect whoever it was. Instead, he spoke in a rush.

            "I don't know the guy's name. He was a big guy. He was driving a fire truck with another guy I didn't see good."

            "Big how? Tall? Buff?"

            "Yeah, tall and lots of muscle."

            "A white guy?"

            "Yeah, yeah. Brown hair. Clean shave." There could only have been so many firemen on duty that day. That was a good lead. Skyler stood up more, reading Kara's relieved response, hoping Supergirl was appeased.

            "What did he tell you it was for?"

            "He said that Kara Danvers was going to meet Supergirl. He said it would help them figure out who she was."

            "Really? You want to know who Supergirl is?"

            "I – I don't – I –"

            "Skyler, just calm down, would you? I know you oppose alien rights politically. I'm not going to do anything to you over it. I'd have hurt a lot of people in this city already if that was my idea of how to go about things. You'd be very low on a very long list. Just say what's true. What were you hoping would happen?"

            "I just want Supergirl to be subject to the same laws as all the rest of us." Kara could not help but scoff an open laugh at this. The same laws… the phrase rang in Kara's mind, and she wondered if he actually knew he was a hypocrite. She shook her head. Skyler was not worth arguing with, and he appeared to be telling the truth. She took off without bothering to say a word more.

            Kara snatched her bag that she had hidden, arced down into an alleyway, and emerged a moment later dressed for work. She stopped and got breakfast for herself and for Nia at Noonan's, waiting out the morning line. As she waited for their order, she texted Nia, so she would not stop, as well. Nia texted back a frantic thank you that made Kara laugh. No doubt Nia was running late, overwhelmed with having such a big assignment.

            When she made her way back to CatCo on foot, Kara found a huge cluster of police cars and what she quickly surmised were DEO, CIA, and NSA vehicles parked around the building. She had not expected that level of response. She had to show her id and explain what she was doing there three times to get past the blockades and into the building. Harried, Kara dodged the line at the elevators and took the stairs. She called her sister during the twenty-eight floor climb, after listening first to make sure no one else was in the stairwell. Kara quickly gave Alex her lead.

            "CatCo is absolutely swarming with police and the unholy trinity of government agencies, all looking for Supergirl."

            "Be careful, Kara."

            "I will, but you need to be even more careful. I am sure they already have the exact same lead I just gave you."

            "Oh, yeah. J'onn and I will get to this guy first. Don't worry. Lucky for us, bureaucracy slows things down, especially with agencies fighting over who gets to take the lead."

            "Please, don't count on that, Alex. Be very cautious."

            "I will. I promise. I'll have Brainy and J'onn. We've got you and Lena on standby." Kara stopped on the stairs. A fraught silence passed between them.

            "Alex, are you sure? I could go after this guy myself."

            "Yes, Kara. Trust me. We can't take another hit. I know it. We need this. I won't let anything happen to any of us. We'll pull back if anything looks at all amiss. And J'onn should be able to tell if anyone else has spoken to him before we do."

            "Let me know when you're safe?"

            "I will. Have faith, Kara."

            "I always have faith in you."

            "Right back at you. Talk to you soon."

            "Ok. Bye for now."

            Kara gathered herself and charged up the remaining stairs. Near her floor, Kara heard people enter the stairwell above her. She realized there were feds on the roof. Kara exited the stairwell and took the elevator the last handful of floors. The office was clear of black badge agents, at least. Kara breathed a sigh of relief and came to her desk.

            Before she could sit, Kara got distracted by all the voices and energies of people around her. She had imagined that only Kyle and some of his friends might be shaken. But people all over the office were concerned or outright scared. Nia showed up late, harried and desperately reaching with both hands for the enormous cup Kara held all the way at arm's length towards her, not wanting to put an extra second more between Nia and her morning caffeine than was absolutely necessary. As Nia chugged a crazy amount of espresso, she turned back and forth to look over the office. She had to take a deep breath when she finished to catch up on air.

            "Wow. It's crazy in here," Nia said. Kara merely looked at Nia in concern. "Don't be too freaked out. I'm sure this will blow over."

            "What do people think I'm going to do?"

            "Supergirl," Nia corrected Kara.  

            "Yeah. That," Kara mumbled.

            "Don't get too distracted."

            "Why did you see something?"

            "Don't get too paranoid," Nia said with a soft smile and touched Kara's shoulder gently. "We got this. This is just everyday people-bugging-out. I've seen people in a far worse state in the mall on Black Friday," Nia said and took another drink.  

            Alice arrived and called an impromptu meeting in her office to discuss the situation. Chad murmured to one of his friends as most people followed Alice into her office.

            "Hell of a day to be late," Chad said. Kara was annoyed. Obviously, Alice would have been talking with the feds downstairs.

            "I've been speaking with the man in charge of the investigation, Agent Hayes of the FBI." Kara's skin pricked. If she was ever to be found out as an alien in her ordinary life, the DEO would very likely be the ones to find her. "Everything is under control. We aren't in any danger."

            "Is Supergirl targeting CatCo employees?" Chad asked.

            "No. Apparently, Supergirl appeared in pubic for the first time since the incident at the ARB this morning and attempted to speak to one of our entry-level staff reporters, Skyler Gaines. He was scared of her and asked people to call the police. Supergirl carried him up to the roof of CatCo, asked him some questions, and then left. There's no evidence that she meant him any harm or that she made any threats."

            "Are we assuming that carrying a man to the top of a skyscraper isn't an act of willful intimidation?" said Judy Riggs, a fair-minded, hard-hitting reporter Kara trusted. Kara could not help but gape. Nia softly held Kara's wrist to keep her steady.

            "If you're asking my personal opinion, I honestly don't see why Supergirl would target CatCo employees. We've been outspoken supporters of alien rights from the get-go. I think there's something happening that we don't know. "

            "Actually," Nia said, "I am entirely confident we don't have anything to fear from Supergirl." Everyone looked at her. Nia looked around at their expectant faces and managed to keep her nerve. "The only story that's ever been reported where Supergirl tried to intimidate someone was actually right here at CatCo, and it involved Supergirl throwing Cat Grant off a top floor and catching her at the last moment, just before she hit the pavement. So I would say that it's a stretch to say Supergirl was being aggressive in this incident. We wouldn't be able to miss that. Supergirl doesn’t really do subtle, as far as I can tell." Alice nodded at this, and Kara balked in uncertainty over whether she should feel self-conscious about this or not.

            "Agent Hayes reported that several bystanders gave accounts that it seemed like Supergirl was trying to keep from causing a disturbance on the street and that she was desperate to talk to Skyler Gaines," Alice said. "So my judgment is that we are all safe. Anyone who wants to work from home to avoid the disturbance downstairs, other press that will likely show up, or the risk of further incident should feel free to work remotely. That offer extends for the rest of the week. I plan to stay, and I can talk through any other concerns people may have."

            "What did she ask him?" Judy Riggs questioned Alice.

            "They would not disclose that information or much else," Alice said. "Believe me I tried, and you're welcome to go give them a go, as well. I got the impression they had a lead they wanted to follow up on. I don't think they were keen on talking to dozens of CatCo reporters while trying to do their routine jobs. They are certainly on their best behavior and keeping as mum as they can. Kara, you and James are our resident experts on Supergirl. What's your judgment call on this morning's events?"

            "Let's see if Supergirl makes any other public appearances," Kara said. "It could be that she did not know that Skyler or the public would be intimidated by her presence. If she remains this scarce, I'd say that's very possibly the case. I’m hoping to get an exclusive with her soon, but no luck as of yet."

            "Alright. I want to make sure everyone has what they need given the stress that's in the air this morning. We are hard pressed to get this issue together in time, and we have a very big story chosen for our feature. For those of you who do not know, we have confirmed that the ARB tracking system has experienced a massive and seemingly irretrievable failure. We want to make certain that news story is front and center, and we need to substantiate our claims on this matter.

            "The first reports of bracelets sending warning messages began a few hours before the ARB's confrontation with Supergirl. So far, the ARB is denying the failures, pointing to the incident with Supergirl at their headquarters as the entire cause. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors and an overabundance of easy misdirection. We need to get this one exactly right, folks. Supergirl isn't the only power shaping this world we all live in. Let's keep that in mind, even if the air around here is thick with worry over her."

            The group mostly dispersed and a handful lingered to speak with Alice. Kara went out with Nia, who took them straight to the breakfast Kara had brought and then forgotten. Nia got Kara to sit and eat with her and talk shop. Kara soon managed to ignore the buzz in the office and fully focus.   This was Nia's first article of this caliber. Kara let Nia lead and supported her through the entire process. They spent hours organizing all of the information Nia had gathered. Kara told Nia who to grab from the staff for different kinds of insight and judgment calls. They spent the latter part of the day with Nia writing drafts and Kara giving her feedback mainly intended to help with the difficult task of consolidating a huge amount of information into a small number of words without losing clarify. By the end of the day, they were able to send a preliminary draft out to editors and to Alice and James for approval. They had gone well past five o'clock.  

            Alex had called Kara in the middle of the day. They had found the firefighter who asked Skyler to plant the red kryptonite on Kara. J'onn managed to find out that he had been asked by another man, an agent of liberty no less. They were having a harder time tracking the next man up the chain down, as he had multiple warrants out for his arrest and had gone underground some time ago. Alex promised to call Kara when they got any leads and before they made any moves at all that involved risk. When they were about to hang up Alex stopped Kara.

            "Oh, and, Kara, I've got a surprise to show you next time I see you. You're going to love it," Alex told her.

            The idea of a happy surprise made Kara sigh. She could not conjure any real excitement, but she did feel some sense of relief. That was the best she could do for now.

            Kara dragged Nia to a bar nearby for dinner and drinks on her. The dinner they had together was the most normal thing Kara had done in ages. As soon as she finished her meal, however, she could not help but notice the sounds of sirens and shouts across the city. She was not there to look out for people anymore, and the thought weighed heavy on her mind. As Kara paid, and they waited a minute for her card, Nia began yawning. Kara had to laugh at the familiar sight, realizing that Nia had been remarkably alert all day.

            "Sorry, my dreams are really having at me these days. I guess I am worried about keeping an eye on everything," Nia said.

            "I feel you there," Kara said.

            "Are you having bad dreams?" Nia asked catching the intensity in Kara's tone of voice. Kara sighed, remembering. She did not bother to answer. "Do you think Lena got all that crazy stuff out of you? Could you still be contaminated?"

            "I was planning to go and talk to her to see if she can maybe just… make sure," Kara said.  

            "You look haunted," Nia said and stood up. "Come on. Let's get going."

            Nia hopped on her train, and Kara decided to walk to L Corp. She considered calling or texting Lena, but the odds that Lena was not still at work were slim. The building closed at six, and Kara stood looking up at Lena's balcony trying to decide what she should do, when she saw the evening security guard, Max, heading towards the door. He let Kara in with a bit of a friendly chat. Kara had been white-listed ages ago. Lena had ordered her a keycard. Kara never remembered to pick it up, because Lena never locked her balcony door.

            Eve's desk was empty. Kara realized she might startle Lena. She gave a soft knock and opened the door to her office. Lena was standing at a set of monitors along her wall with her arms crossed in front of her. She was not startled and did not look surprised either.

            "Kara, I am just reviewing the work I've done on your vaccine."  

            "Do you still think that will work?"

            "Yes. I can show you what I have."

            "Lena, I was hoping you could help me with something."

            "Yes, of course. What is it, Kara? Is something wrong?"

            "Is it possible that there's any red kryptonite still in my system?"

            "No. That's not really possible. Unless you've been exposed to more. I can check if you're feeling worried. Are you noticing something is different?"

            "I had a terrible nightmare last night. I was convinced that it was still in me. I've just been… off. I don't know how to explain."

"Tell me more. When you say 'off' what do you mean?"

            "I just feel skittish and like my emotions are running wild."

            "Do you feel like you're having emotions that are out of character for you?"

            "Not really. I feel as anxious as I did my first month of CatCo and about as awkward and embarrassed as I was back in middle school."

            "Oh, dear God. That sounds terrible. I think what you're experiencing is probably normal, and your psyche is just stirred up from the experience before. If you want, I can check to make sure."

            "Will you, please?"

            "Yes, absolutely. Give me just a moment." Lena went to her desk. She did something Kara did not quite catch, and her office door closed and locked. Kara had never seen that door close before, even when they were supposed to be on lock down. Lena came and opened up a panel in the wall that revealed a hidden door. She spent a solid minute letting herself in with various types of security codes and scans. The door opened onto a brightly lit, white hallway. Lena waved for Kara to follow her in.

Chapter Text

            "It seems you have an abundance of secret labs," Kara murmured, as she followed Lena down the bright, white hall.

            "Every tech company has private labs," Lena said.

            "Yeah," Kara conceded with noticeable hesitancy.

            Lena went through another set of locks and let them into a positively enormous room with a high ceiling. Kara came in, and Lena shut the door behind them and checked the locks. There were prototypes, parts, and computer workstations in the room and so much empty space it seemed odd to Kara.

            "Maybe not like this one," Lena joked. "Here. Come and take my chair." She pulled a rolling chair sat in front of a semi-circle of computer monitors over for Kara. Kara sat down, uncomfortable, as Lena bent forward to wake up the computer. Kara wheeled herself awkwardly a bit one way and then another, doing her absolute best not to eye Lena's body as she bent over, and more or less succeeding. Fortunately, Lena stood up. "Here. Can you take your glasses off for a minute?"

            Kara took them off, folded them, and tucked them away in a pocket. Lena placed two electrodes on Kara's temples and one at the base of her skull. She grabbed what looked like a flat, disc speaker and handed this to Kara. "Breathe on that for me."

            "Literally?"

            "Yes. Just exhale on it the sensor as if you were fogging your glasses." Kara did what Lena asked, and Lena took the odd sensor away. She thought for a moment, and then she ran a quick scan with a handheld device that cast a red light over Kara.

            "There's no trace of red kryptonite coming off you," Lena said looking at her screens. "But let me just actually see if any cognitive patterns match." This took some time, and Lena was silent while she typed and clicked and then closely considered whatever output she was getting on her screens. "I can see that you are having a lot of anxiety. I would guess that these are responses from someone with past trauma that's being triggered. This is definitively not what it's like when you're exposed to red kryptonite, though the exposure could be what's shaken you up."

            Kara sat forward and rested her elbows on her knees. She rubbed her hands over her face, deeply relieved that she did not still have red kryptonite in her body. Kara looked up to find Lena watching her closely.

            "You don't look very relieved," Lena said.

            "I made a mistake this morning," Kara said. "I needed to talk to someone, and I showed up at CatCo as Supergirl to do it. People were terrified of me, Lena."

            "How many people?"

            "Too many people."

            "Well, you know that the anti-alien movement has been trying to get their people into CatCo for months, right? They've sent so many here to L Corp, I can hardly believe they found that many with real qualifications."

            "These were people from before that. Some of them at least. People are afraid of Supergirl. I guess they really should be. I'm a ticking time bomb. I wish red kryptonite would make me weak, at least, at the same time that it does everything else that it does."

            "You should assume that whoever made the red kryptonite that was planted on you can make more." Lena looked very serious, and Kara considered for a long moment in silence.

            "Yeah," Kara conceded.

            "Let me show you something," Lena said. Kara rolled in closer. Lena clicked through images and graphics made from scans of Kara's brain. She did her best to explain to Kara what she was seeing. "When someone has a traumatic experience, their body chemistry and their cognition changes in ways you can actually see. Humans have an instinctive mind that controls fight, flight, and freeze responses – freeze being the last option when the other two aren't available. That's when people dissociate. Their mind literally shuts down partially to protect them. Think of it as internally fleeing. The frontal parts here essentially shut down. People can literally lose the ability to speak this part of the brain gets so inactive. The more primal mind goes into overdrive.

            "The mind tries to come back to a balanced state when whatever danger is passed. People have physical responses to facilitate this. They yawn, shake, cry, essentially come back into their bodies, and their brain wakes up fully. When that process gets disrupted and the experience that was sort of suspended at the time gets further suppressed, the result is what we now understand as PTSD. Folks who have unprocessed trauma have triggers where experiences they pushed into their unconscious mind out of survival instinct get remembered by the body and the mind and try to surface to be processed fully for the first time. That's what I think I'm seeing now. Your cortisol levels are high. You're stressed and on edge. Even just looking at you, you look tense and contracted. I think you're trying to come down from trauma and trying to hold your response off at the same time.

            "None of this is what red kryptonite does. Here. If you look at this scan, you can see that all of parts of the mind are highly active. You would have excellent survival instincts in this state, but I don't honestly know if you would feel afraid even in a life-threatening situation. This activity matches somewhat more with what drugs used in combat do like lorazepam to stop even the most deeply seated, most primal anxiety.

            "What's also fascinating to me is that my read on this is that there is very clearly an interaction happening between your conscious and unconscious mind, deep memory and immediate perception. I would say that in this state everything that you pushed away would no longer be repressed but presented matter-of-factly with none of the usual survival mechanisms to hold any of that back. This is an extreme cognitive state, and it's entirely unique. It's not the euphoria of drugs or the pain of most imbalanced psychological states people experience. This is just – I don't know. Almost like running your mind on rocket fuel when it's made to run on regular fuel."

            Lena turned to Kara, as if catching on that Kara might not be following. Kara sat back and rubbed her face one more time. She tried to think and sat squinting at the screens, biting her lip.

            "That all sounds right from my experience," Kara said. "Although I don't know what all of that means."

            "Here's the really interesting part," Lena said, and she crouched a bit and got some other data to come up. "This is a scan of your mind taken at the DEO just after your last brush with red kryptonite. This scan isn't very good to be honest, but you can see that your mind keeps doing a couple of unusual patterns repeatedly. The same thing happened this last time, but better scans show that there are actually a handful of these unique patterns. They also happened far more this time." Kara stared at Lena, waiting for her to go on.

            "I don't fully know how to describe what this is," Lena continued. "I would say it's unique to your physiology. The best comparison might be somewhere between developing the right antibodies to fight a virus after being exposed and developing a tolerance for certain drugs. The simplest way to say it is that your brain is figuring out how to return to balance and correct the affects of red kryptonite, and it's getting better and stronger at doing just that.

            "When you woke up, I gave you a dose of cortisone. It's just a steroid. They give it to people who are extremely ill to try and supercharge their immune systems. I don't think that would do much of anything to you usually, but these patterns picked up in frequency immediately. That's one of the reasons I feel confident that I'm right about what we're seeing here. It's a kind of immune system response."

            Kara thought for a long minute. Lena stood, eager and silent. She distracted herself with a bit of some indistinguishable mechanical device nearby to give Kara a minute to think. She tried not to look too pointedly at Kara. Kara finally spoke. "That's why you think you can make a vaccine."

            "I have made one." Lena got a little black case with a zipper, opened it, and handed it to Kara. "And there it is." Kara picked up one of the little metal cylinders inside the case. She looked up at Lena.

            "You won't be able to fool me again. I don't know. If you could render me unconscious, maybe you could try this safely," Kara said.

            "You are right to be afraid. A strong enough dose of red kryptonite could absolutely render you mad. All of your emotions would flare up in uncontrollable extremes, your brain simply would break down, same way a body would give out if given dose after dose of adrenaline. These are all extremely weak doses, and they are time-released. The point would be to give you just enough to trigger your body's immune response and build that up however slowly it takes," Lena said.

            "Yeah," Kara said, running her hand through her hair, "Or I could just surprise you and go crazy right away." Kara sat considering for a long time, remembering the people at work going home to avoid Supergirl and telling each other to be careful. She looked up at Lena. "What do you think I should do, Lena?" Lena took this very seriously and did not answer at first.

            "Someone," Lena said carefully, "Is making plans for you involving red kryptonite at this very moment. This was not the end of it. People rarely have weapons without using them when they believe they have enemies." Lena considered another moment and met eyes with Kara. "I think you should trust your body. And I think you should trust me."

            The confidence in Lena's voice and even her stance created a strong effect on Kara. Kara intentionally sat up to make her back straight and her shoulders and chest proud. She took a deep breath.

            "Alright," Kara said. "Let's do this." Lena hesitated a moment, which took Kara by surprise.

            "You're still scared," Lena said, "So let's take this slow. I'll give you half a dose, and you can see what that feels like. Fair compromise?"

            "Yes," Kara said.

            Lena came and crouched down next to Kara. Kara sat up, very nervous and turning away from continuing to see the way the top two buttons were undone on Lena's tailored shirt. Lena took one of the little metal canisters of vaccine, and she fitted this into an injection pen. She screwed a black end cap onto the other end.

            "I need your arm," Lena said.

            "Oh, right," Kara said. She took off her jacket and pulled up her sleeve. When she held her hand out, it was visibly shaking. Lena noticed. She reached to take Kara's hand. They looked at one another for a long moment, and Kara nodded. Lena placed the pen carefully over a vein in the joint of Kara arm. She pressed a button, and a slight sting made Kara curious. "How'd you make that?"

            "Low grade kryptonite. It's a crude design. It's the best I could do in short order," Lena said.

            "I'm grateful," Kara said. Lena pressed the button on the pen a second time. She shook the pen holding the canister beside her ear, then she thought better of it. She held it up to Kara.

            "How much is left?" Lena asked.

            "That's about half," Kara said looking through to see.

            "Great," Lena said. She stood and still held onto Kara's hand. Kara sat consciously focused on letting her trust in Lena keep her from panicking. "Can you feel anything?"

            Kara tried to consider her own frame of mind. A heat was coursing up her arm. Lena's hand worked at Kara's a bit. All of her focus got lost on the feel of Lena's skin and the precise shape of her hand. Kara turned their hands over to feel the tips of Lena's fingers with her own.

            "I do feel something," Kara said. She looked up at Lena. Lena kept looking at Kara waiting for her to say more, then she caught on. Lena smiled a bit and let go of Kara's hand. She went back to the work station. Kara had never seen Lena blush before, but she thought for certain Lena's cheeks were flushed.

            "Your heartbeat has really picked up," Lena said.

            "Yep," Kara quipped. Lena turned to consider her with open curiosity. She bit her lip in thought.

            "Do you feel less anxious or more?" Lena asked.

            "I don't feel anxious at all," Kara told her.

            "Alright. It's working. Let's see how that settles for a few minutes, and you can decide if you want to take the other half."

            Kara stood up and stretched her back. She could feel a heat coursing through her veins and a sharpness in her psyche that pervaded both her thoughts and feelings. She titled her head to consider Lena, but Lena looked over at her and shifted in a way Kara intuitively knew meant that Lena was nervous with Kara looking at her. So Kara turned and took a look around Lena's lab. When Lena continued to focus on her computer, Kara got impatient and wandered off.

            Various bits of experimental tech caught Kara's eye. She found what looked like a metal gauntlet and remembered the suit she had seen an L Corp lab when Mercy tried to break in and take over Lena's tech. This one looked different, incredibly slim and made of a shining green metal. Kara picked it up and found it incredibly light. She looked at the elaborate mechanisms inside. Kara could not really guess what any of the other bits of tech lying around were. They appeared to be only components parts meant for some grander design.  

            Standing near a wall, Kara noticed that the irregular rectangular pattern on the walls dipped in at the corners. She touched one of these, and it popped open the entire rectangular section that was actually a panel containing a drawer. Kara pulled this open to find a clear case holding a jointed black chain rolled into a coil. Kara opened a handful of panels, and then she finally opened one with an entire mechanical arm inside and another with a breastplate. Lena approached Kara, casually observing Kara looking at her hidden tech.

            "You're still working on Lillian's suit," Kara said.

            "It's not Lillian's suit at the moment," Lena answered in a flat tone.

            "When's the last time you saw Lillian?"

            "Two weeks ago," Lena said and a hard edge came into her voice.

            "What do you plan to do with her suit when you've finished whatever you're trying to do to it?" Lena considered Kara hard for a long moment. This talk of Lillian made Lena incredibly grave and seemingly defensive.

            "Let's stick to one experiment at a time," Lena said. "How are you feeling?"

            "Fine."  

            "Do you feel up to trying a stronger dose?"

            "Sure. Why not," Kara said with a shrug and sauntered back with Lena to where the case was sitting. Lena got the injector pen out and replaced the black end with another, then she injected Kara with a second dose of vaccine. "You want to show me where the good stuff is hidden in here?" Kara asked. Lena made a smirk with one eyebrow raised.

            "It's not in this lab," Lena said. She went to bend down and enter some commands on her computer then considered her monitors closely. Kara considered looking away this time and never quite got around to it. Lena stood up, still watching the monitors. "Do you feel any stronger effects?"

            "I’m not sure."

            "Maybe you need some kind of stimulus." Kara barely kept her mouth shut at this. She considered Lena with her lips pursed and her eyebrows raised a bit. "This dream you had last night, what was it?" The memory flooded back into Kara's mind. For a moment, the bright, white lab seemed dark to Kara's mind.

            "I dreamed about Krypton coming apart, while everyone kept acting like everything was fine. Nothing I did could get anyone to respond with any amount of reason or panic. Then I dreamed the my family on earth was killed by meteors, and I was holding Alex's broken body in my arms. All I wanted was to die along with them, but the meteors just bounced off of me," Kara looked up at Lena with her eyes burning at the memory. Despite her poise, Lena appeared genuinely surprised.

            "Have you had dreams like that before?"

            "When I first came to earth, I used to have these recurring nightmares about the Danvers family being killed in earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, car crashes – any kind of disaster. This reminded me of those, except this was much more vivid and intense. Alex used to hear me screaming in the middle of the night, and she would come into my room and get in bed with me. When our parents realized that was happening, they moved us into the same room. Alex never even complained. That was one of the first ways that I figured out that my sister loved me." Lean listened to this story, quiet and stern. She stood a long moment thinking afterwards.

            Lena glanced at the computer screens and grew absorbed in whatever they were telling her. She thought hard with her eyebrows furrowed. Lena got out her phone and started pressing buttons.

            "Do me a favor," Lena said. "I'm going to set a timer on a five minute cycle. I want you to try to spend five minutes really fighting the effects of the red kryptonite, and then spend five minutes really letting it go all out, and repeat that pattern. That will give me a ton of new data. Can you try that for me?"

            "Anything for you, Lena."

            "Haha," Lena said with great sarcasm. Kara meant a flirtation more than a tease, but the mood of her dream was still on her. She could feel the weight of Alex's body in her arms and against her chest, her sister's body completely limp and defenseless in her open hands. She could remember the feel of the heat from her own eyes in her hands, as well. She looked at them, half expecting a red glow to be rising from her skin. Lena pressed a button. "Start out not resisting."

            "Sure thing," Kara said, still very much distracted.

            "Do you want to smash something?" Lena offered, taking Kara by surprise.

            "What do you mean?"

            "I mean that quite literally. Do you want to let off some steam?"

            "I would. Yes," Kara said, intending her statement to be rather suggestive. She did not quite pull this off, distracted as she was.

            Lena led them out of a lab to an elevator. She used a key to open up the panel of buttons to reveal a keypad behind it. Lena entered a code and scanned her thumbprint on a little pad. Kara eased herself back into a wall and watched all of this. She shook her head, wondering if Lena had an entire hidden city woven into this one. The elevator started going down.

            When Lena backed up and stood looking up at the floor numbers above the door, Kara considered the entirety of her. Lena's mind appeared to be running at a breakneck speed. Whatever she was thinking, she seemed almost to forget Kara was in the elevator with her. The precise line of Lena's neck caught Kara's attention. Kara remembered how Lena's throat felt under her hand with less vividness and specificity than she would have hoped. She wished she had paid closer attention to all the details when they were together, then her regret shifted. One time was not enough to truly remember.

            As Lena's thoughts shifted, she looked down. The numbers dropped as they passed floor after floor. When she glanced at Kara, the thoughts in Kara's mind must have been conveyed by her expression or her posture. Lena turned away at once, and Kara saw Lena's jaw grip. She kept her eyes fixed ahead. Kara listened and heard Lena's heartbeat picking up speed. One of Lena's hands made a fist, and Kara got the sense that Lena was considering getting really angry. That would have been enough to keep Kara from saying a word or otherwise provoking Lena for the entire trip down past the lowest floor, where the number changed to X. The timer also went off, however, and Kara got a terrible strain trying to reign in her thoughts and recall how she normally would be thinking.

            The elevator opened, and they walked through an underground tunnel to a space that felt like a basement and a warehouse at once. There were huge electronic and mechanical components piled in the cavernous space. Kara looked through the walls to see they were in fact in a sub-basement well below ground.

            "Welcome to my own, private wing of L Corp's scrap yards," Lena said. "Above us is a basement and above that a warehouse. It's empty at this time of day. Behind that door is a ramp leading up to the surface. This entire place is soundproofed, and those monitors will tell you in no uncertain terms if you make a sound that can be detected outside. These are load-bearing support beams, as are those along the walls. You can break anything you want in here, and as long as you don't blow out support beams and bring the warehouse down on top of you, no one will be the wiser."

            "What is some of this stuff?" Kara asked, picking up a panel the size of a driveway and letting everything piled on top slide off to one side away from where they were standing.

            "Alien tech. Most of it is for space travel."

            "Isn't this stuff valuable?"

            "Not anymore. I've taken all the good bits out of all of this. This is what's left to be melted down. Should be some alloys in here that'll give even you a challenge if you're using your bare hands." Lena propped her phone with the timer on the hull of some small, dismantled ship. "Have fun."

            Lena turned with a wave over her shoulder and walked to the door and left without looking back. Kara huffed the audacity of Lena's exit, very much aware that Lena was irritated about Kara checking her out the elevator and enjoying Lena getting back at her vicariously. Kara crumbled the metal in her hands, balling it into a tight, enormous wad, then she gave this a toss. The exertion proved just enough to be a little satisfying, and Kara thought maybe Lena was right.

            She dug through piles looking for something harder, pulling complex mechanisms and bending massive pieces that looked especially solid. She finally found an engine block and did not budge when she gave it a swift, tempered punch. The timer went off on Lena's phone, and Kara tried to let the influence of the red kryptonite wash over her. Kara barely remembered her glasses tucked away in a pocket. She took off her jacket, put it aside, and rolled up her sleeves.

            Kara arced a punch downwards so as not to send the engine flying across the floor. A dent formed but nothing else. She lifted herself a few feet off the floor and let loose an increasingly devastating round of punches. The exertion made an uncharacteristic heat rise in her body. Instead of finding the unfamiliar sensation uncomfortable, Kara found it strangely exhilarating and satisfying in some deep way. She ripped pieces off the engine, growling as the alloy tested her grip strength. The stubbornness of the material made an irrational anger ball in Kara's chest that felt like it expanded until her chest ached profoundly.

            As it happened, Kara did not notice when the mentality of her dream rose into her consciousness. She only made the connection when a flurry of enraged blows brought out a cry somewhere between a growl of fury and a scream of anguish – the precise sound she had been making when she had woken up in the night. Kara's eyes flared, and she cut through the engine block as she pounded the material into a tangled mess. When she had finally lost her breath and decimated the engine block, Kara stood back and realized she had shattered the concrete floor sending cracks out almost to the walls. For whatever reason, the damage she had accidentally caused did not make her feel ashamed. She picked up random bits of anything near and threw them into others, catching her breath, and continuing to wear herself out at the same time.

            Finally, Kara stood still. She blinked, trying to regain some focus in her mind. The timer on Lena's phone went off. Kara had forgotten all about that and could not guess how many cycles she had missed. Her ears were ringing from the dreadful noise she had made. She grasped for some semblance of control now, focusing on quieting her mind. The deep breaths she was taking became even only with the most intense focus, and she tried to let her mind empty. The only thing left that would not go away was pain. Kara's chest ached as if she were grieving, as if someone had died. She could not tell what thought this was attached to – if it was her parents, or her sister, or someone else besides. That was too much for Kara's mind to gather, and she grimaced and pressed her wrist to her forehead with her fist closed.

            Kara went and got her jacket and Lena's phone. She made her way to the elevator. Inside, Kara pressed the button to get back to Lena's office out of habit without having to think. She pressed her forehead to the wall, breathing deeply still. Who was the person who had died Kara wondered? An idea crossed her mind that maybe it was Supergirl the way she had existed before a few days ago. Then the thought arose that she might be grieving over the person she would have been, the life she had lost those years ago when she was sent away from the catastrophic hemorrhaging of a dying planet.

            Typically, when thoughts like this crossed Kara's mind, she would think about everything she had on earth: her foster family, her sister, her friends, her new sense of mission, the sheer beauty of this planet. Now, she only turned to press her back against the wall and closed her eyes, overcome with pain. Kara sank down to the floor and sat with her knees bent and her head against her arms. The elevator door opened, and Kara dragged herself up and stepped out unevenly.

            Lena's office was empty, and the door to the lab was closed. Kara began to reach for her phone to call Lena, then the timer went off on Lena's phone. Kara realized that she was holding Lena's phone in her hand and could not call her. She could not remember which cycle she was supposed to be on, and she had ruined Lena's plan anyways by losing track before. Kara turned the timer off with the slider that was pushed to the lock screen. Her mind hurt, and the sound had become too much for her.

            A deep exhaustion settled on Kara, and she found herself with very little energy left to push her thoughts in one direction or another at will. Kara went to Lena's couch, sat down, and put her jacket and Lena's phone on the table in front of her. Surely, Lena would come to find her at some point soon. Kara laid down on the couch facing the back and curled forward a bit. She tucked her arm under her head, closed her eyes, and let her mind fade out of consciousness as much as she could.

Chapter Text

            When Kara woke up on the couch in Lena's office, she had no idea what time it was. She sat herself up heavily. Lena was at her desk, and she came over and sat softly beside Kara. Kara was leaning forward with her elbows propped on her knees and her face in her hands. Lena's hand came to hold the back of Kara's neck.

            "Are you alright?" Lena asked.

            The feel of Lena's hand on her skin made a vivid sensation run all the way down Kara's spine. A rising embarrassment made Kara painfully conscious that the red kryptonite had gone out of her system.

            "Yeah," Kara said in a tone so unconvincing she did not believe it herself. "I'm sorry, I – I messed up." Kara tried to get a handle on her overblown sense of embarrassment.

            "What?" Lena asked her, very soft.

            "The timer, I lost track."

            "Oh. I know," Lena said tenderly and then spoke more matter-of-fact. "I could see when it happened. I got exactly what I needed, more than I had hoped. Here." Lena got up and went to her desk. She brought back a tablet, sat back down, and spent a long moment unlocking it. The back of Kara's neck still felt cool from Lena's hand and her skin was still dancing vividly. "Look at this. When you resist, the patterns I was talking about before run rapidly. And then there's a consequence, a spring back. The longer you fight to keep things in check, the stronger a surge of activity flares up. You can see here how once there's a long span of time with everything spiking, then those patterns pick up slowly and steadily bring everything into balance. The effects of that shot should have lasted around four hours. You burned the effects out in less than two hours. The red kryptonite was still in your body, but your cognitive patterns had returned to a steady state. It seemed to help that you went to sleep. I would have thought the opposite would be true."

            "So the vaccine is working?"

            "Yes. It's definitely working. Was it worth what it took? How do you feel?" Kara got her glasses out of her jacket pocket and put them on. She took a deep breath and turned to look at Lena. Kara nodded with her jacket still in her hand.

            "I am fine now. Thank you, Lena." Lena merely smiled at this. "I should go. I've kept you here so late. You should get home."

            "Are you going home?" Lena said with a tiny bit of challenge.

            "Yeah. I need to try and sleep. Last night was not exactly restful."

            "Good. I thought I was going to have to try to strong arm you, which is never easy. There's a ride waiting for you downstairs."

            "How'd you know when I would wake up?"

            "I didn't," Lena said, which meant the car had been waiting for who knew how long.

            "That's going to cost you a fortune."

            "Hardly," Lena said and scoffed a bit of a laugh.

            "Oh, gosh, Lena. I just remembered. I shattered the concrete floor downstairs." Lena was quite openly amused at Kara's worried tone.

            "Still not a fortune. You talk as if I am not part of the economic elite. You know what that vaccine cost? And you know what a minuscule percentage that is of what this company is worth? Go and get some rest."

            A bit self-conscious remembering how she had flirted with Lena before, Kara reached for Lena's hand. Lena took Kara's hand without any hesitation. Kara held on a moment and squeezed Lena's hand with a great deal of warmth. The two of them shared a tender look.

            "Thank you for helping me," Kara said.

            "Of course," Lena assured Kara.

 

---

 

            Kara got to CatCo the next morning feeling far better than she had in the days before. Nia noticed Kara's relief right away. She sorted through various coffee cups on her desk to find one that was for Kara and offered it up to her.

            "Thanks," Kara said.  

            "Did Lena help you out?" Nia asked.

            "She did," Kara said offhandedly, already looking at mock ups that were posted of the upcoming issue. Kara found Nia looking exceedingly pleased. Kara had to wonder what Nia was thinking and figured Nia must have been more worried about her than she had thought.  

            "Any responses to your draft yet?" Kara said.

            "Oh, yeah," Nia said, clearly indicating that there were several.

            "Great! We should go over those together first, if that's cool with you."

            "Let's get this bread."

            "What?"

            "Oh. Nothing."

            "Did you eat breakfast yet?"

            "Um, no, but let's – let's just take a look at these and then get something."

            "Great," Kara said and took a seat beside Nia.

            The kept up a good pace all morning with everyone scrabbling to finish and polish content for the special issue. Nia finally started nodding and ran down for more coffees. Kara was so absorbed that she not notice two government agents that arrived, until they were already in Alice's office. When she listened, they said they needed to speak with Kara Danvers and would not disclose anything more, even though Alice pressed hard and made it very uncomfortable for them to be at CatCo. Kara listened closely to the sounds within several blocks of the buildings and judged from the fact that there were only two of them with no live communications devices running that they were only here to question Kara Danvers about her sister. For whatever reason, Kara found herself feeling more irritated than anxious.

            "Miss Danvers?" one of the agents asked as they approached Kara. Kara merely looked up at them in silence. "I am Agent Briggs with the CIA, and this is Agent Roberts. We need to speak with you."

            "Well?" Kara said, as if giving them permission to go on.

            "Somewhere private," Agent Briggs said politely, so she was playing good cop. That meant that Roberts would be playing bad cop. Kara sighed, got up, and led the way. Nia got off the elevators with her arms full of cups and saw Kara with the agents. Her demeanor immediately changed, and she ran over.

            "Hey!" Nia barked with enough authority that Kara herself stopped walking and both agents did, as well. "What's going on here?"

            "Who are you?" Agent Roberts asked.

            "I am Nia Nal. I work here as a reporter. Where are you taking Miss Danvers and what reason do you have?" Nia looked aloof as Agent Roberts wrote her name down on a notepad in a blatant act of counter-intimidation.

            "This is a routine visit, Miss Nal," Agent Briggs said and offered Nia her badge to inspect. "We just need to ask Miss Danvers a few questions."

            "Then you can ask them here," Nia said, giving the badge back.

            "It's best if we speak to her in private," Briggs said.

            "I don't believe that you have the authority to insist. You may be CIA, but you're still restricted to –" Nia started in on them.

            "Nia," Kara interrupted Nia softly. "It's ok. This is about my sister. I need to hear what these people have to tell me."  

            Nia had a hard time taking her eyes away from staring down the two agents. She considered Kara closely. Kara gave Nia a reassuring look, and Nia nodded and went to her desk, looking back over her shoulder and bristling enough to rival a German Shepherd protecting a freshly kicked baby buggy. Kara took the two agents to an empty, small conference room. A round table with chairs sat inside, and Kara let the agents go in front of her. They sat and Kara came and leaned against the wall opposite them.

            "So are you going to tell me?" Kara said.

            "Tell you what, Miss Danvers?" Agent Briggs asked.

            "Where my sister is," Kara said making it clear that she was already irritated.  

            "We were hoping you could help us with that question," Agent Briggs said.

            "Are you saying that you have lost my sister?" Kara asked with a bit of heat.

            "Do you know what your sister does for work, Miss Danvers?" Agent Briggs asked.

            "She's director of a covert branch of the CIA that specializes in alien threats," Kara said.

            "That's the textbook answer that she was authorized to give you. In truth, her agency does much more than handle alien threats," Briggs said.

            "Please, don't tell me anymore than I need to know," Kara said.

            "The United States government is not in the habit of losing its assets," Agent Roberts chimed in. "Your sister has gone AWOL."

            "Funny you should say that to me of all people, Agent Roberts, given that the United States government to this day has my foster father marked as MIA, which is a polite way of saying that they lost him. From where I am standing, it does look like you are having quite a time keeping track of your agents. That's two for two from my family."

            "How do you know that Jeremiah Danvers was a government agent?" Roberts asked in a tone meant to threaten Kara.

            "I am an investigative journalist, Agent Roberts. It is my job to find the truth even when other people are trying to keep it buried," Kara said.

            "Are you aware that your sister worked closely with Supergirl?" Agent Briggs asked.

            "Yes. She got me an exclusive interview with Supergirl more than once," Kara said.

            "When was the last time you heard from your sister? And when was the last time you heard from Supergirl?" Agent Briggs asked.

            "Do you suspect that Supergirl has taken my sister?" Kara said and stood up straight-backed and seeming worried.

            "No. No one is implying that," Agent Briggs said.

            "No. That's not what we're saying," Agent Roberts added, and Kara knew that she had them both nervous. Questioning a journalist must have had them wary at the start, and Kara found herself playing to their fears intentionally. Apparently, she was tired of political games and of people trying to make her scared.

            Kara quickly rattled off accounts of her lunch at Rise with Alex and the last time she has officially questioned Supergirl. That was nothing useful. The two agents considered one another in silent communication deciding whether they should go ahead and leave.  

            "What can you tell me?" Kara asked, doing a bit of less aggressive offense. "It's not like my sister to fall out of touch this way."

            "We believe your sister is fine and that she left active duty of her own free will. We have reason to believe that Supergirl instigated your sister's departure. We don't know much else," Briggs said.

            "Except that Supergirl tore up the ARB and a military party on Akton Bridge. Are you sure she was not targeting the DEO, as well? Maybe some internal struggle?" Kara asked.    

            "We can't disclose anything else. You understand. This is a matter of national security," Agent Briggs said, and the two agents started to get up to leave. Briggs reached to shake Kara's hand, and Kara shook her hand as friendly as she could manage. Roberts gripped Kara's hand too tight, and she had to force herself to match his strength only and not to overdo it just to see him cringe.

            When Kara got out of the meeting, she found a missed call from Alex on her phone. She listened for the agents to go before calling her back. Nia came over as Kara got back to her desk. She was eyeing Kara up and down trying to read her mood.

            "They're on their way out," Kara said.

            "Really? That quick?" Nia asked.

            "Yeah. I did my best to scare them off," Kara said.

            "What did you say to them?" Nia asked a bit amazed.

            "Oh, just kept them on their toes and brandished the vague threat of my being a reporter over their heads throughout the entire exchange.   They want to flash badges and act like they can black bag us all at the drop of a hat, I might as well make them feel like they may find their middle school indiscretions plastered on a front page someplace. They're trained to use everything a person says to coerce them into cooperating, and I figured I could beat them at that game."

            "Wow. I'm impressed."  

            "Thanks," Kara said genuinely.

            "You're usually so nice," Nia said.

            "Maybe not so nice today," Kara responded. The two women shared a smile. Nia went back to her desk.   Kara called Alex, and she picked up right away.

            "We've got some leads," Alex said. "We need to go investigate a few locations, former hideouts of agents of liberty. I wanted to check to see what you want to do," Alex said.

            "I'm coming with you," Kara asserted at once.

            "Good. Cause we could use your help," Alex said.

            Kara told Nia that she had to go first and checked to make certain Nia wasn't nervous. They were in good shape on Nia's article. Then Kara ducked into Alice's office.

            "Alice, I have some leads I'd like to follow up on. I know it's not a good time to be doing field work –" Kara said, and Alice interrupted her with a wave of her hand.

            "Go for it. I trust your instincts," Alice said. Kara stood there a moment longer in surprise. Alice turned back to her. "Do you need to take someone with you?"

            "No. I'm good. Thank you."

            "Stay safe."

            "I will."

            In the forty-five minutes it took Kara to get to the labs, she texted Alex several times to make certain the others would stay put until she got there. She made her way inside and found Alex, Brainy, and J'onn standing in a large, open lab they had converted into a makeshift central command.

            When Alex saw Kara, she immediately broke out into a run straight at Kara. Kara stood with her mouth agape, watching her sister run at full tilt. Alex made a flying jump kick and hit Kara in the center of the chest, launching herself up and backwards and landing on her feet. Kara saw the hit coming a mile away, and so the impact did not knock her back even an inch.

            "Woah!" Kara yelled.

            Alex came to get Kara into a hug. Kara snatched Alex up and actually rose up a few feet into the air, spinning the two of them. They were both laughing when they landed. Kara found herself staring down at Alex's hip in disbelief. Alex was grinning and a bit emotional still. At the sight of this, Kara had to wipe tears away from her own eyes. She looked up to find J'onn laughing and grinning. Brainy was watching and shook his head.

            "Thank God, she did not do that to me," Brainy said.

            "Lena?" Kara asked Alex in amazement.

            "Yep!" Alex said. "Maybe I should have told you right away, but I wanted you to see it."

            "No, this is perfect! I don't know if I would have understood or even believed you if I did," Kara said.

            "I hope we get to fight someone today," Alex said with an eager clap.

            "Alex," J'onn chided.

            "What?" Alex said, entirely unapologetic.

 

---

            A couple hours later, they were all standing outside a ragged building that had once been a cargo storage space near the docks on the far northern edge of the city. Brainy was wearing the disguise he had outfitted for meeting up with Nia and had on a rich tweed coat and other rather distracting items including purple pants. He would have looked quite conspicuous, except that somehow the entire get up distracted entirely from his actual features. Alex was wearing her "urban camouflage" with a puffy vest to change her shape. A large blue van Brainy had procured labeled Sunny's dry cleaning was parked nearby.

            They had already found a handful of hide outs deserted. Kara had to break into most of them, and she dodged and destroyed a good handful of leftover booby traps. This one looked promising, as a few of the high-up dirtied windows had recently been wiped clean, as if someone had been keeping a lookout from inside the building. A chain with a combination lock held closed a door. The chain was rusted, but the lock looked new. Kara had been about to pop it off, but Alex stopped her.

            "Can you listen for the tumblers instead?" Alex asked. So Kara turned her head and listened close. She opened the lock, and they let themselves inside.

            "Let me go first," Alex said.

            "No," Kara said. "I am bullet proof. I go first. You go second." Alex looked annoyed even through a pair of oversized sunglasses. "If there's no gunfire, I'll let you handle things."

            "I guess that's fair," Alex conceded.

            Inside, they found a trail where dust had been unsettled. They followed this to an old utility closed and found plenty of evidence that an agent of liberty had been living inside. A torn garbage bag held food tins and wrappers, and a decent pallet was on the floor. The only things well kept were rows of weapons, mostly tactical like telescoping batons, combat knives, and extra magazines for a pistol that was not there, already full of hollow-point rounds. A five-gallon bucket around the corner had been converted into a makeshift shower. A coat and a little pile of clothes were nearby. There was almost nothing else: no electronics, no books, nothing personal. He had been climbing some rickety scaffolding to look out the windows, and Kara had to wonder if he was just desperate to see the ocean and people rather than keeping a look out.

            "He's been living like this for months," J'onn said.

            "Anything beats prison, I guess," Alex said.

            "This is a prison," J'onn said, and no one could argue.

            "We should get going and cover our tracks, so we don’t spook him," Alex said. Brainy went into overdrive making everything precisely as it had been when they arrived. They let him go for a good while, as Brainy took the idea of "leave no trace" to such an extreme that Alex finally limited him to what was within a reasonable likelihood of human perception. Then they finally got to leave.

            Alex took a deep breath, looking out to sea.

            "It's nice to see the world again," Alex said. "Even if it really pisses me off these days."

            "A glimpse of that man's life has me thinking about how often we confine ourselves beyond even what's being imposed on us externally," J'onn said. Kara turned to look at him, overwhelmed by his sudden philosophical statement. Brainy folded his hands behind his back and looked up, considering deeply. Alex turned to J'onn with her head cocked, her sunglasses reflecting his face. J'onn glanced at everyone, then he explained himself. "I was just thinking, why don't we go north a ways before we head back? See if we can find a little beach town and just remember the feel of our own freedom?"

            "That's a great idea!" Kara said.

            They ended up eating a feast of fried seafood, waffle fries, and glass bottles of soda with striped straws they bought from a roadside shack near a little beach that was a bit too crowded for them. The teenager working there hardly seemed to notice them except to compliment Brainy's style. They drove a bit and found a place where the coast was mostly rocky and no one was in sight. While they ate, Brainy and Alex sat at the edge of the open door of the van while Kara and J'onn sat up on top, and they all looked out towards the sea.

            Afterwards, they hopped from rock to rock to get to the edge of the seawater. They rocks there were littered with barnacles, urchins, and small sea creatures. Alex was not in the least annoyed to be the only one who could not fly, and she leapt from rock to rock in full joy. At one point, Alex hauled herself up onto a huge rock where Kara was standing and got her arms around Kara.

            "It's so peaceful," Kara said.

            "Yeah, it is," Alex said. "We should do this more often."

            "It's hard to get away," Kara said.

            "Yeah, but we're pretty strong," Alex said. Alex leaned her head on Kara's shoulder, and Kara tipped her head over to rest on hers. The pressures of the city behind them were weighing on Kara, but she let the peace of this place wash over her and tried to be in the moment. Kara carefully sat down at the edge of the massive rock. She patted the rock beside her.

            "Let's not rush back," Kara said. Alex used Kara's shoulder for security and sit down beside her. They watched Brainy pull creatures from the water and describe them with great animation to J'onn who seemed more deeply amused by Brainy's enthusiasm than he was curious about what he had found.

            "We should retire up here," Alex said, and Kara laughed.

            "Since when have you ever planned to retire?" Kara said.

            "Being a fugitive from the law has given me great insight and cosmic wisdom." Alex said with mock severity, and Kara laughed. "I may be addicted to work, but I not crazy enough to believe I can do this forever."

            "Maybe when we get back to our normal amount of negative attention from the authorities, we can push each other into making time for other things besides work and other forms of work."

            "I mean, at least I am not too broken to have sex with anyone at this point."

            "Oh goodness, Alex. Is that how you were feeling?"

            ""Pretty much. Although, I don't think I could bring myself to ask, 'What are your thoughts about federal crime?' on a first date, and that seems mandatory at the moment."

            "We'll get your life back, Alex. I promise."

            "I know we will. I'm just worried whether I'll do the right things with it, if I'm honest. I feel like I wasted so much time, Kara, and now the world has gone crazy. What if there's never time again?"

            "You've never wasted time, Alex. You've done amazing things with your life."

            "There's too much to fight now. Everyday can be a fight. I know the life that I have will never be enough. I used to think I'd have this whole, other life outside of work with a partner and children. What is that? How does that fit with this? Don't get me wrong, I love what we all have together. I just, I have this vision of this life that I am never going to have. And I don't know what to do with that."

            "I know what you mean," Kara admitted. Alex huffed a bit of a laugh. She looked over at Kara with an expression of great empathy.

            "You're supposed to be the optimistic one."

            "Well, I am off duty at the present time."

            "Take all the time off you need. Just know that when you clock back in, I might have a backlog of concerns about the future of so-called democracy and all of human life needing your response." They were quiet, poised halfway between joking and severity.

            "Let's try to remember to make sure to just live sometimes. Find a little corner of peace and curl up in it. Bring our friends," Kara said. She took Alex's hand.

            "Sounds wonderful."

            The two sisters sat in silence together for a long time. Alex pointed to a bird out on the horizon. Kara squinted to see better.

            "That's a puffin," Alex said.

            "How can you tell from this far away?"

            "By the way it constantly flaps its wings." Once she was watching, the bird's rapid wing movements made Kara smile and nearly laugh.

            "Where's that one going in such a hurry?"

            "Home for sure, all that urgency. Must be an island out there somewhere." Alex's tone changed and became softer, as she said, "Kara, you didn’t tell Lena that you've always been into her." Kara got incredibly nervous in all of a second.

            "Why? Did you tell her?" Kara asked.

            "No," Alex said a tad self-defensive. "I caught on. Why did you not tell her, though?"

            "I'm not going to tell her that. What is Lena supposed to do with that information?"

            "Maybe Lena is the only person in the world who wouldn't want to be in love with their best friend. I doubt that somehow. But she should probably know that there's something there. You already know that she likes you at least to some significant extent, after what happened."  

            "I bet finding out that her best friend has an entire asshole stowed away in the back of her psyche that can be pulled like a rabbit out of a hat by anyone holding a bit of red kryptonite did not help Lena want to try us being together to see how it would be. Plus, she knows I've been lying to her our entire relationship. That's hardly a great launching off point for a romance, especially given her particular family history."

            "Most of us are an entire asshole in everyday life, and we still get to date sometimes. Also, she knew your secret for a long time, and she chose to get close with you anyways. I think Lena can deal. And it's not magic, it's science. From what I can tell, Lena loves a science experiment more than almost anything. Possibly even as much as she loves you."

            "Don't joke, Alex."

            "That was only a half-joke, if you were listening, thank you very much. I take your love life seriously. I honestly feel nervous giving you advice."

            "What do you mean? Why? You think there's nothing I can do to make it not a mess?"

            "Oh, no. Kara. I meant that I don't want to tell you what you should want or what you should do. I'm worried you're too quick to listen on that particular front. All I am trying to say is that I have started to think that if we wait until its the right time and until we are entirely the people we want to be before we believe that we are deserving enough to try for the love lives that we want, that time may never arrive. Maybe we have to take the rare chances we find right in the midst of things."

            "Have you given any serious thought to how reliant we all are on Lena right now?"

            "More than I'd care to admit. Do you trust Lena fully?"

            "Yes, I trust Lena. With my life, with your life, with my baby's life, if I had one. That doesn't mean I want to add more pressure to the current situation. Lena deserves respect."

            "What's disrespectful about telling Lena that you are into her?"

            "The way that it came out. Look, I don't want to be a coward, Alex. I just –"

            "No, no! Kara, I'm not saying that. You're the bravest person I've ever known."

            "I just don't want to be selfish. I never want to be the kind of person who just takes whatever I want."

            "Yeah. I get that. And that must be harder for you. Cause you could take a hell of a lot if you were determined. Possibly control of this entire world. But if you want Lena to like you, and then she does, are you going to take that as evidence that you overstepped and made something happen? Cause that sounds just like something a woman who loves women would do." Kara took a deep breath and let it out.

            "I don't know what I'm going to do," Kara admitted with a great deal of vulnerability.

            "Well," Alex said, placing her arms around Kara's shoulders once more and keeping them there, "Regardless of what you decide to do, I am with you."

            "I know you are," Kara said, "And I think you're right."

            "You'll tell her?" Alex said unable to hide her excitement.

            "No," Kara said. "I think we should retire up here. How about next year?"

            "We don't have the cash for that," Alex said with a huff of a laugh.

            "I know where they keep some."

            "Don't temp me."

Chapter Text

            When they made their reluctant and inevitable return to the city, Kara put in a few hours at CatCo and then headed for L Corp. Lena had called to ask Kara if she wanted to do another round of red kryptonite vaccine that evening. Kara asked if Lena thought she should take another one so soon, Lena said she did not think it wise to wait without knowing when Kara might get a dose of red kryptonite from someone else. That was a good point, and Kara promised to head over as early as she could.

            When Kara arrived at the building, she called up and Lena did not answer her phone. Kara listened to the sounds from Lena's office floor. Kara surmised immediately that the two men in Lena's office with her were CIA. By the way they asserted their authority, they were a lot higher up than the two agents who had come to speak with Kara earlier that day.

            "You can understand how that makes you an accomplice," one of the agents said.

            "I had two choices, Agent Malone. I could give Supergirl the suit when she asked and know exactly how to stop her, or I could let her take it and possibly leave me in a state where I was either too injured or simply too dead to do anything about it. Which do you think was right for me to choose?"

            "If you were robbed, then you should have reported it."

            "I did report it right away. I called the local police. Turns out, they were very busy, and they didn't even return my calls, as they said they would."

            "Do we have record of any such report?" Malone asked the agent with him. He spent a long couple of minutes typing on a tablet. He nodded.

            "Miss Luthor, Supergirl still has the suit you made, and that makes her far more dangerous," Malone said.

            "As I said, the device I handed over to DEO Director Danvers ruined the power source in the suit I gave to Supergirl. She would have to come back here and get it replaced in order to use it to block out kryptonite again. I can guarantee you that right now, Supergirl does not have the tech to take on kryptonite weapons."

            "She never would have if it hadn't been for you."

            "Supergirl would be dead if it weren't for me, Agent Malone. When I made the first prototype of that suit, Supergirl was this city's greatest defense. The first time she used it, I was considered a government asset and the hero of the day. Now, I may very well be charged as a criminal. I've always done what I had to do, and that's that. The game changes constantly. To play, you have to use the cards you have in your hand at the time."

            "This is not a game, Miss Luthor. This is a matter of life and death," Malone said.

            "Oh, I know that. I have attempts made on my life on a regular basis. It's still a game to me, Agent Malone. Everything is a game to me, and the masterminds are the only ones who get to stay at the table. Now, if you have any more questions, you can speak to my lawyers or else take me into custody. I've told you everything I have, and if you want anything more, I'm going to have to disappoint you."

            "Have a nice day, Miss Luthor," Malone said, obviously miffed.

            "Good luck with your case," Lena said.

            Kara came to the door, and Max let her in. He warned Kara that Lena might have a meeting upstairs and seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Kara thanked him. She got into her elevator and headed up just as the two agents were taking the other car down. Lena looked up and appeared quite jaded when Kara knocked on her office door and came inside. She brightened when she realized it was Kara.

            "Oh, Kara," Lena said. Kara crossed the room at once and got Lena into an enormous hug. Lena was a bit stiff at the very first, and then she wrapped her arms around Kara and held her back. "Oh, my! What's this for?" Kara stood back and kept holding onto Lena's arms.

            "Thank you so much for healing Alex's hip," Kara said. Lena's expression softened, and she stood grinning at the full sight of Kara's expression. Kara had to wipe tears from her eyes for a second time over the matter. "I'm sorry to be such a mess every time I see you these days. I'm just – I am so happy."

            "I can see that. You look even happier than your sister was. "

            "She is just less soft than me. She wouldn't want you to see her crying," Kara said only a tad joking.  

            "She threatened to jump kick me, if I remember correctly."

            "Wow. That basically means she loves you."

            Kara let Lena go and tried to recover from her rush of emotions.

            "I heard those feds. Malone seemed pretty high up. You think they're going to try to press any charges against you?"

            "Oh, gosh. I'm sorry you overheard all those lies. I had to make it out like Supergirl and I were fully at odds. They would be all over me, otherwise."

            "That's alright. I trust your judgment. We should all stay synced up, though, in case someone gets nabbed. We all want to be saying the same things."

            "Good plan. I can come back to the labs with you later. Although, I don’t know how long this will take. It took you two hours to level out after a four-hour dose last time, and this one will be stronger and also designed to last four-hours. So I don't know whether you'll be faster or slower this time. We'll just have to see."

            "Should we make a bet?"

            "What would we bet?" Lena said with a laugh at the idea.

            "I don't know. What do I have that you would want? You're the rich one," Kara said and stood smiling. Lena eyed Kara for several seconds with one eyebrow raised and said nothing. She gestured for the hidden door.

            "You ready?" Lena said.

            "Sure," Kara said. Lena let them in, and Kara followed her down the hallway. "I know what I would want if I won a bet. I'd want to see where the good stuff is hidden in these labs."

            "Oh, yeah?"

            "Yes. Passing through a secret lab is basically the pinnacle of having your curiosity peaked."

            "You don't have to win a bet. I'll show you whatever you want to see."

            "Yeah?" Kara said, astounded at this.

            "It's only fair. When I called you out as being Supergirl, I forced you to show your hand. I never meant to do that. The least I can do is show you part of mine when you ask."

            "What do you want from me if you win the bet?"

            "Stop that," Lena chided light-heartedly.

            "What?" Kara said.

            "You're baiting me, and I'm not going to take the bait," Lena said.

            "Not even a little bit? There's got to be something you want," Kara teased her.

            "Whatever you're trying to get out of me, you're not getting it," Lena said with great authority.

            "Fair. I think you might have made a mistake when you gave me that dose yesterday. I'm trouble today," Kara joked.

            "Maybe we're chipping away at your inhibitions accidentally. I don't know what I'm going to do with you when you've had all of these," Lena said.

            "I'm sure you'll think of something," Kara said, before she could even think not to say it.

            "So do you want your tour before or after?" Lena asked.

            "Show me one thing first. Then the rest after. I'll need a distraction. And your basement scrap yard and I are not on good terms."

            "I've probably got plenty to keep you entertained, provided you don't lose your temper."

            "I think it would take a lot for me to lose my temper with you."

            "Well. You asked if I was still developing Lillian's suit. The answer is, yes, I am. Lillian is in possession of all of the information on Kryptonian physiology that Lex was able to gather over the years. And he was able to gather a lot of it. Clark let him for a long while.

            "We know that Lillian has and will continue to put scientists to work using that knowledge to develop weapons that would work against you. The US government is doing the same thing. The DEO did it for years, and so did CADMUS. I don't believe that work has ever stopped – just changed hands. I figure it's simple. Anything that I can make, someone else can think of and make eventually. If I get ahead, then I can develop the countermeasures. It's the only way I can see to stay ahead of the game."

            "So what you're saying is that you could make weapons designed to work against me, and then I could learn to fight them," Kara said.

            "Well, I hadn't actually thought of that, but yes. I was just thinking of designing counter-technologies."

            "Fighting is all about training. Alex taught me that. You should try some of this stuff on me and see how well it works," Kara said.

            "That is too dangerous of a way to test," Lena argued.

            "Oh, come on! What's the worst that can happen? You're not going to kill me. Try something simple."

            Lena considered for a long time in silence. Kara waited, looking at Lena with great eagerness. Kara followed then as Lena went over to a panel in the wall. Lena opened this and then a case and took out the breastplate of a suit. She put this on and did something that made it activate and lock itself into place. Then she put a mechanical sleeve and glove over her right arm. The suit attached to the arm, seemingly on its own. Lena worked her hand checking something.

            "Can you block a punch?" Lena said.

            "Nah! Just hit me," Kara said.

            "What?" Lena said, incredulous.

            "Come on. Try it. Let's see what it does."

            "This is not the most controlled –"

            "Oh! Come on!" Kara said. Lena paused, then she drew back a fist, and the suit made a sharp whirring noise. She punched Kara in center of the chest, and the impact sent Kara slamming into the wall across the room, where she broke into a panel. Lena visibly recoiled.

            "Oh, God! Kara, I'm sorry. I don't think you can pull a punch in this. I didn't design it for that type of thing."

            "Wow!" Kara said pulling herself out of the wall and then jumping up and down on her toes in excitement. "This is going to be so great! Try to hit me again! I'll try and block this time."

            "No, that's – that's enough," Lena said and started taking the suit off. "This is too dangerous. I knew you could handle that punch, but the suit itself had to be designed in such a way as to prevent the person inside from being shattered by the impact. I'd need to put on a full suit to really be certain nothing would get broken."

            "Oh, geeze. I wasn't thinking about you getting hurt. You're right. That's enough," Kara said, checking her enthusiasm.

            "That counts as at least one thing," Lena said, "So let's get you that second dose of vaccine."

            Kara followed Lena to her work station. Lena placed electrodes on Kara's temples and at the base of her skull, and Kara took her glasses off and put them on the table next to the keyboard. Kara sat down and rolled up her sleeve. Lena knelt in front of Kara. For a second, Kara thought Lena was reaching to take her hand. Her eyebrows went up in pure surprise, but Lena was reaching to check Kara's pulse,. She focused while she made the injected and then counted. Lena shook her head a bit, looking up at Kara.

            "Are you nervous?" Lena asked.

            "Not this time," Kara said honestly with a shake of her head.

            "I don't understand why it makes your heart rate spike at first."

            "It, uh…. it doesn't do that," Kara practically mumbled trying to touch her glasses before remembering she had taken them off already. Whatever Lena took from this, her face was unreadable. She stood up and went to consider her monitors.

            A heat swept through Kara this time, and once again she stretched into it. There was a delicious sensation that came with the feel of the red kryptonite, as if the heat of fire were rolling across every nerve ending throughout her body. A great swell of energy rose within her. She stood up and looked around.

            "Do you have anything less dangerous for you that you could try out on me? Frankly, I'd love to fight something right now." Lena considered, watching the monitors.

            "That could be interesting," Lena said. She held up a finger, as she thought of something, and Kara got preemptively keen and followed her closely.

            They went to a small panel low in the wall. Lena opened it up and took out little glass cylinders. They were glowing green, and Kara suspected they were green kryptonite. But Kara did not feel any of the effects. This close, she should have been falling over.

            "Is that kryptonite?" Kara asked.

            "Yes. It has to be kept in vacuum tubes now. There are still nanites in the atmosphere that consume kryptonite particles. So solid kryptonite is highly corrosive now. Anyone who had any who wasn't keep a close eye on their stores has lost it for sure. It's made it much more expensive to store and fiddly to weaponize, which pleases me to no end. I'm sure the military was very put out. The DEO never had a problem, because their stores were already sealed this way to keep their supply from making you sick every time you came on site." Lena picked out a tube that was barely glowing. "Here. This one ought to be weak enough for us to play around with some."

            From another panel, Lena took what looked like a little camera and loaded the cartridge into it. She very carefully pressed a set of buttons, and a short, green laser beam shot out and hit the far wall leaving a gray scorch mark. She went and mounted the laser on a little work station table and stood beside it.  

            "What's it do?" Kara asked.

            "Shoots kryptonite laser beams," Lena said as if it were obvious. "Nice and weak ones at the moment. I am rather curious to see how well this aims."

            "Turn it on," Kara said with the utmost confidence.

            "Alright," Lena said. She touched some control, and the laser immediately pointed and began shooting at Kara. Even without much notice, Kara dodged one laser beam after another, easily. The laser was not nearly fast enough to keep up with the speed of her movements.

            After about twenty shots, however, a beam hit Kara stinging and smarting. Then another hit and another. Four of the next six rounds hit Kara, and Lena turned the laser gun off. Kara stood looking the little dime-sized holes burned in her clothes and rubbing at her skin underneath.

            "What happened?" Kara asked.

            "It calculated your trajectory. There are subtle patterns to your movements, and if factored them out and made multiple shots where you were likely to dodge to next. I guess it works well enough. I am not entirely impressed."

            "Try me again."

            "I didn't mean with you. I mean with the gun."

            "Come on."

            "You're serious?"

            "Yes. I know how it works now. I can dodge it. Just give me a couple minutes to try." Lena reluctantly turned the laser gun back on.

            Kara focused and made the most random patterns she could. About thirty bursts of the laser gun fired, and only two hit her both glancing blows. Lena turned it off again, smiling.

            "Well, that worked," Lena said, obviously impressed.

            "What else you got for me?" Kara asked. Lena sighed, as if put to the task. She went and brought out a round, black disk about two feet across.

            "This is –"

            "Don't tell me. Just try me. I'd never know in a real fight."

            "Ok," Lena said, activated the disk, and tossed it spinning towards Kara's feet. Kara jumped it and slammed into something. She found herself pinned inside an invisible force field with the disk beneath her feet. Kara tried to raise her arms, but the sides were slightly too narrow. She pushed as hard as she could with her elbows. She could not raise her arm or pull back to make a punch, but she could pull her head back. She tried to shatter the invisible barrier with a super-speed flurry of headbutts. At the terrible sound that made, Lena looked up.

            "Did you just headbutt that?" Lena asked, a tad horrified.

            "Like a hundred times! What is this made of?"

            "It's made from – " Kara interrupted Lena by letting her eyes flare up and trying to burn through the invisible barrier. "Don't use your heat vision in there! The air circulation is terrible!"

            "It is stuffy. I hate this."

            "I can turn it off," Lena said staring towards Kara.

            "No! You let me try to get out of here fair and square." Kara struggled more for a while and eventually made a growl of frustration. "Alright. Give me one hint."

            "The mechanism that creates the force field is going to be far more vulnerable than the force field itself."

            Kara focused on the device under her feet generating the force field. She tried to kick at it, but it was surrounded by the force field itself and protected. After a split second of thought, Kara lifted herself, the force field, and the device into the air and dropped. When that did nothing, she rose up again and propelled downward, and the device broke enough that Kara felt that a portion of the force field dropped. Kara found enough room and stepped out.

            "Nice," Lena affirmed. She came and picked up the disk, assessing the damage. She put the busted machine aside on a work table, considering it closely.

            "You're not giving me much of a run for my money here," Kara said. Lena looked up at Kara with one eyebrow raised, quite obviously provoked.   Kara smiled at getting exactly what she wanted in this moment. Lena considered how to respond, and then she went and opened up another panel.

            This one Kara had seen before. Lena opened a case and took out a black, metal chain. She considered.

            "This might actually be too much kryptonite," Lena said.

            "Too much for what?"

            "Not to hurt you."

            "I never said you weren't allowed to hurt me."

            "Kara, I –"

            "Try. If I scream and fall down, then it's too much kryptonite."

            "Fine," Lena agreed with a shake of her head. She did something, and the chain itself whipped into life. Lena made a twist with her arm, and the chain shot out, wrapped itself around Kara's chest, pinned her arms to her sides, and locked to itself. The pressure on Kara's chest was enormous.

            "Geeze," Kara said, her knees almost buckling. A stinging pain as if the chain were burning through her clothes and into her skin made Kara lose focus for a moment.

            "I think it's too much," Lena said and started to look down, no doubt to release Kara.

            "Let me try," Kara said. She tried to break the chain, using a good deal of force. Nothing happened.

            "Go ahead. Try your best to get out of that, so I can unchain you," Lena said, intentionally provoking Kara. Kara looked up in annoyance to find Lena looking at her and smiling, very arrogant.

            "Try my best?" Kara said. Lena merely flicked an eyebrow up at Kara. Kara considered for a moment. "Alright," Kara said, and then she got down on both knees and looked up at Lena. "Please untie me."

            The effect on Lena was more drastic than Kara thought. Lena burst into a laugh, clearly abashed. She turned away from Kara and would not look at her face."That's cheating," Lena said almost breathless, and she reached to undo the chain. Kara stood up to stop her.

            "Wait," Kara said softly. "Let me try to break free." She grimaced, as she tried with all of her strength to break the chain once more. She felt it was actually growing heavier by the minute. Kara's breath picked up, as she kept on struggling, and she began to feel trapped. Her mind raced for what to try next.

            "It's suppressing your strength," Lena said.

            "Obviously," Kara growled and let her eyes flare up.

            "That won't work," Lena told her, but Kara tried to sear through the chain and eventually gave up. Kara stood stubbornly looking at the chain. Lena waited a long moment for Kara to give up.

            Instead, Kara started to struggle with renewed fury, pulling from whatever reserves of strength her calm had allowed her to maintain. She quickly lost her temper and fought the chain so with such urgency, using every once of strength she could gather, that she ended up on the ground rolling as if fighting with a living beast. Lena had to let go of the chain almost at once. "Kara! Kara! Wait! Calm down!"

            Lena's voice carried such weight and authority that Kara stopped. This would have been only for a moment, as the rage inside of Kara was about to break out into another frenzy of intense fighting. Lena stepped over to Kara quickly and crouched down. Kara thought Lena was going to undo the chain and struggled away from her a bit. Lena glared at Kara in astonishment, then she pointed at the chain.

            "Look at the links. That is the weak point. The metal will not melt, unless you kept burning at a single point for hours. Freezing makes metals contract. If you want to get into the joints, freeze them first. That should open up a bit of space and allow you to heat the weaker metals woven into the alloy."

            As soon as Lena finished speaking, Kara blasted cold air on the chain. Lena stood up and got back. Once the cold was so intense that Kara's own body could not stand anymore, Kara pulled hard at the chain and hit it at the same time with a blast of heat vision. The chain popped in two. As she staggered to her feet, Kara held her chest, catching her breath. Lena was smiling a bit, but she looked nervous. Kara listened to Lena's heart beating hard.

            "That was great," Kara got out. Lena burst into a laugh, still recovering. Lena shook her head, obviously unwilling to try anything more. Kara had to concede to that, as her chest still ached from the kryptonite chain. She realized she had crushed a work table without even noticing. Whatever had been on it was ruined. Kara eyed the broken chain lying on the ground, and Lena gathered the pieces and got them back into the case. The kryptonite went out of the air, and Kara stood up breathing more easily within moments.

            Lena led them back to the work station where she was monitoring Kara's response to the red kryptonite vaccine. Kara stood trying to act demure, while Lena considered the many screens and checked a few things. Kara watched Lena's face closely, while Lena was thinking hard. Lena turned to see Kara watching her eventually and looked closely at Kara, curious.

            "What?" Lena said unable to figure out what Kara was thinking.

            "I was just… noticing how beautiful you look." Kara said with great honesty. Lena's jaw tensed, and she looked back at the screens at once. That was the reaction Kara expected, but not the one she had hoped to see. So Kara said, "You're angry about last time?"

            "No," Lena said. "I'm not angry about last time. I would be angry about a second time." Lena glanced over at her, incredibly poised. "Because you're not exactly Kara, are you?"

            "Of course, I am," Kara said, a little heat coming into her voice.

            "No, you're not," Lena responded. Her eyes locked on Kara's and her tone left no room for discussion, as if Kara could not possibly change Lena's mind. "You are more of a shadow cast by her consciousness. I have many flaws in my character, but self-deception is not among those. So don't try to seduce me." Lena turned away, obviously disinterested in Kara's response.

            Kara stood considering that for a long moment. The defensiveness in Lena's posture made Kara check herself. She carefully gathered what she ought to say into her mind. After a long silence, Kara finally spoke in a tone carefully controlled and meant to keep Lena from losing her temper.

            "I should have taken more care with you the last time," Kara said. "I can see that now. I won't make the same mistake again." Lena turned to only glance at Kara. Whatever she was thinking, she kept well hidden in a perfectly stoic gaze. Lena entered some commands into her computer, as if Kara had not even disrupted her focus. Kara's voice was incredibly soft, when she finally said more. She was not trying to get any response this time. "You do look incredibly beautiful. With your mind so intensely focused as it is now. Your body subtly conveying how every part of you is on guard, a poise so practiced as to appear almost effortless. Everything revealing how strong you really are. I cannot help but notice."

            When Kara had said this, she walked away to give Lena some space. Whatever Lena's reaction to this was, Kara let her have it in private. She did not even nose around the lab. Lena was on edge, and Kara did not like that she was the cause.   She walked around considering the room and what was left on display. Eventually, Kara sat down on the floor with her back to the wall and tried to meditate. With her thoughts made intentionally clear, Kara could feel the pulsing red flaring in her mind, coursing through her with every beat of her heart. A time that could have been ten minutes or two hours passed in silence. The flaring heat in Kara's mind ebbed slowly. When Lena came to find Kara and tell her that it looked like the effects of the red kryptonite had burnt out, Kara stood up already knowing this even before Lena said a word.

Chapter Text

            The next day, CatCo was buzzing with energy. They were in the last crunch before releasing their big issue. Kara went from project to project, making certain that everyone had enough moral support and eyes going over their content to feel confident. They worked through lunch, and when dinner rolled around, Nia insisted on running down to pick up Thai food and clear her mind. Kara glanced through mock-ups of the next day's issue that were filling in quickly with drafts of content. She considering Nia's article, trying to get a bit of distance and jotting down a couple of last minute notes for Nia to consider. They were in good shape, and Kara felt exceedingly proud of Nia. Kara moved through the other contents quickly, and she almost missed an article that was buried in the last few pages of the magazine, but the title caught her notice: Luthor Dies In Prison.

            With the Luthor dynasty consolidated and in the hands of CEO tech wizard Lena Luthor, the young people of National City now associate the name Luthor with a staunch and strategically bold pro-alien political stance. The rest of us, however, still remember a time when the Luthor name was synonymous with violent opposition to alien inclusion and empowerment. Yesterday, Lillian Luthor died while serving a prison sentence for crimes committed in pursuit of alien exclusion, experimentation, deportation, and, by some accounts, even genocide.

            Ironically, Luthor, who was in good health at the age of 59, died rather suddenly in a crisis that might never have arisen in a world more humane to aliens. Luthor contracted ebola, after the deadly virus was introduced to the highly secure prison facility by an alien inmate who had been reporting extreme pain and other strange symptoms for over five days. His complaints were dismissed as medically unsubstantiated, presumably attempts to receive sympathy and greater privileges after a recent transfer to the facility.

            The prison warden, Aaron Griggs, spoke in defense of the prison's medical staff, arguing that the symptoms of ebola were not documented for the inmate's species and so a proper diagnoses could not be made until other prisoners showed more classic signs of the virus. Griggs commended his staff, as only seven casualties were incurred with the virus being fully contained within 24 hours of discovery. Luthor was one of five prisoners who perished in the outbreak, along with two guards, Peter Rosling and Michael Fortineau.

            The article felt as if it were staring at Kara, waiting for her to respond. She could hardly process the news. She got out her phone and tried to text Lena, considering what to type. Kara finally called Lena.

            "Lena," Kara said. "I just came across some bad news about Lillian Luthor. Have you already heard? Did the prison contact you?"

            "Yes. This morning," Lena said, and Kara could not read a single ounce of emotion in Lena's tone. That made her uncertain what to say next.

            "Do you need help with planning?" Kara said.

            "What do you mean?" Lena said with a bit more energy in her voice.

            "A funeral or a memorial or something?"

            "Ah," Lena said, her tone flat once more. "No. Lillian has people who will handle all of that."

            "Will you go?"

            "Yes. I'll go." The tone made it sound like Lena considered this a challenge. Kara squinted, very much aware that something was off.  

            "Do you want me to go with you?" Kara offered, and she could swear she heard Lena huff the faintest bit of a laugh.

            "Sure," Lena said. Kara was taken aback by her response. "Thanks for checking in on me," Lena said softer. "I should get back to things here."

            Lena hung up. Kara blinked hard looking at her phone, as if it could help her decipher what to make of that exchange. When Nia came back, Kara showed her the article. Nia looked overwhelmed.

            "You going to talk to Lena?" Nia asked, not really a question.

            "I tried. She doesn't seem very responsive."

            "Yeah. Maybe she needs some space. Or maybe you should check on her. I don't know. I don't know her all that well."

            They finished out the work day with worry over Lena hovering heavy and dim in the back of Kara's mind. After another late day, Kara believed that they were all set with nothing more to do for the big release. She stepped out of the building, still indecisive, and made her way towards CatCo. She called Alex.

            "Hey," Alex said.

            "How is it going? Any updates?"

            "I am on a stakeout waiting for this guy. It's boring. The ocean is beautiful, though."

            "Alone?"

            "Yeah, but I'm not out. I'm watching from the labs."

            "Oh, ok. Alex, CatCo is reporting that Lillian Luthor died in prison."

            "That's crazy. How?"

            "Some ebola outbreak involving an alien."

            "What?"

            "Yeah. I talked to Lena for only a second. I can't tell how Lena is taking the news."

            "She must be totally freaked out right now."

            "You think I should stop and see her?"

            "I mean, you know her way better than me. I would guess, yeah. That has to be a lot, and we're already up to our necks these days."

            "Yeah. I think I just want to see her for a minute and make sure she's actually ok. She acted fine earlier, but it felt off to me."

            "Definitely trust your instincts."

            They made small talk after that, as Kara tried to keep Alex company during her walk. When she got to L Corp, Kara got off the phone, got let in, and went up.

            Kara entered Lena's office without knocking. Lena was standing at the windows staring out over the city. She did not hear Kara come in, and Kara backed up and knocked softly on the door. Lena turned, slightly alarmed.

            "Hey. Sorry," Kara said.

            "Oh, Kara. I was just thinking," Lena said. She seemed somber. She turned back to the window, having trouble letting go of her thoughts. After half a minute, she turned around and asked, "Do you want to do a third dose of vaccine?" Lena looked at Kara, seemingly all business. Kara blinked and tried to think what to say.

            "What were you thinking about?" Kara asked, simply.

            "I was thinking about the alien. The one who brought ebola into Lillian's prison." Kara found herself worried about whether Lena was having vengeful thoughts. She wanted to be sensitive and not go on the defensive. Lena went on, "They'll put that person in solitary indefinitely and justify it as medical quarantine. It's just… it's so deeply inhumane." Lena rubbed a hand across her brow.   "Let's talk about something else, can we?"

            "I want to talk about what's happening," Kara said, and Lena blinked slowly and looked down at her desk, before she looked back up at Kara, incredibly self-composed. Lena said nothing, so Kara went on. "Your foster mother has passed away unexpectedly. You must be having a thousand, complicated feelings. It feels wrong to just… act as if nothing has happened." Kara got the sense that Lena was trying to keep her composure from how still Lena's face was.

            "Kara, I know you must think my response is off," Lena said, "So you should know that I do not believe for one second that Lillian Luthor is dead." Kara nearly started, taken aback completely by this. "I've been expecting something like this to happen for a long time. I'd honestly rather just not talk about it. Give some time. We'll see if I'm right." Kara considered, as Lena looked down at some work on her desk, growing distracted.

            "Lena, are you sure that you're not avoiding processing what's happened?" Kara asked, worried. The look Lena gave her was so sharp that Kara became quiet. When she finally answered, Lena spoke with great composure.  

            "Oh, I am processing. I know that you do not mean to insult my intelligence, when you say that," Lena said and held up her hand a little to keep Kara from saying she had not meant this. "You are wanting a response from me that I won't be able to give you. Let's leave this alone for now, Kara. It will work itself out overtime, regardless. Either I am right, and we'll be having a very different conversation about Lillian Luthor soon, or I am wrong. In that case, we have all the time in the world."

            "Lena, please, don't push me away. I mean, do it, if that's what you need to do. But try not to out of instinct," Kara said with great feeling. Lena was visibly taken aback.

            "What do you want to hear from me, Kara?" Lena said, looking deeply sad for the first time.

            "How do you feel?"

            "I feel terrified, mostly."

            "If Lillian really is alive, and she comes after you, we can handle her. We've done it before."

            "No, you cannot. And, no, you have not," Lena said looking Kara directly in the face and holding her gaze for the first time.

            "What do you mean?" Kara asked, very much hoping to get to Lena some way. Lena took a deep breath, and she spoke in a slow in a tone of forced patience, obviously trying to be a good friend to Kara in this moment.

            "I mean simply that you are wrong. You've been played in the past. All of you have. Every piece of tech you have seen Lillian produce has been a decoy. Every plot she used against you has been a ruse. All of it was meant to get you to underestimate her. She got put into prison in order be taken entirely from your minds, and it worked. Meanwhile, she learned more and more about you, your life, the way things worked around you. None of you are prepared to face Lillian. I recognized that a long time ago."

            "If that's true, why did you not say anything to me?"

            "Perhaps it was to avoid having you look at me the way you are looking at me now. I don't have any tangible evidence to convince you. I cannot justify how I know what I know. This – all of this – over the past few years has a precise shape distinct to Lillian's mind. This is Lillian's game. The way she strategizes, the way she moves all the pieces into alignment and leverages her advantage, I know all those things rather intimately. I see those patterns clear as fingerprints on everything she orchestrates. If I try to explain that to someone else, they will think I am traumatized and being paranoid or worse that I am simply going mad like Lex."

            "Lena, I would never think that."

            "You're beginning to think it right now," Lena challenged Kara without showing much feeling. She swallowed and looked away, and Kara could tell there was a great deal of emotion held just under the surface. Lena shook hear head and went on a bit softer. "And what else should you think? I can't prove any of this to you. Soon enough, I will not have to convince you. I will come to you for help when my request is justified in obvious ways. Right now, the only thing I want is for us to leave this alone. Please, let's not get into a fight, Kara. I need to think."

            At the mention of a fight, Kara found herself genuinely astonished. She could not even begin to imagine why that would happen. She could tell that Lena meant to blow her off after this. The idea of Lillian orchestrating all these events felt impossibly far-fetched to Kara. But Lena was clearly in earnest. Kara felt torn.

            "What do you think is going to happen?" Kara said, and she meant between herself and Lena that would cause a fight. Lena misunderstood Kara's question.

            "I don't know what exactly to expect. We got lucky when the red kryptonite did not go as she planned. That may be to our advantage."

            "You believe that Lillian was the one who had red kryptonite planted on me?"

            "I have no doubt."

            "We can investigate and get proof if that's the case."

            "Go ahead. I do not need anymore proof than what I already have."

            "What do you have?" Kara asked and watched Lena consider not answering her and decide that she might as well.

            "Do you know what happens if you can take a pawn and move it all the way across the board in chess? That pawn gets promoted and swapped out with a queen. Lillian is the only person I have ever seen play all the way down to a nearly empty board and use that as a core strategy, not an accidental discovery late in the game. Your little intern or whatever he is over at CatCo who tucked red kryptonite into your pocket, that was a classic Lillian maneuver. She wanted you to tear into this city and clear out some of the clutter currently in the way of her gaining power. That way, she could fill the gap and take you out and rise to a hero and a savior in the process with the government newly indebted to her."

            "If she had that much control over the situation, why wouldn't she kill me?" Kara asked. Lena gave Kara a challenging look. Before she went on, she visibly composed herself.

            "If Lillian wanted you dead, you would be dead. She wants more than that. She wants to use you for her own means – your image, your powers, even your core physiology. The scientific knowledge she could mine from you would be invaluable, and there are only two specimens of your kind, as far as we know. Lillian has a truly incredible sense of ownership. That is why she will never kill me. Because believes that I belong to her. She will never cease to believe that she can find a way to get me back and have me as the daughter that she wants. That's the way she imagines this world ought to be. It's a conviction as strong as a religion and as unshakable as any other core ethic.

            "The mindset of elites, that's not something you would understand. I do understand it.   I also happen to abhor it. Lillian got to me a bit too late, I suppose. The imprint of a working class, single mother's ethics never could get scrubbed out of my consciousness, no matter how hard Lillian tried."

            "Lena, is this why you are improving Lillian's suit? Are you planning to fight her yourself?"

            "Yes, to oversimplify the matter. I am. That callously designed, pathetic suit that Lillian showed up to fight you in was more of a mockery than anything. That was a challenge meant for me. She tossed that in my lap on purpose, a cast off from some disappointment of a scientist she most certainly disposed of beforehand. I know what Lillian can get scientists to do. She may not be the greatest innovator herself, but she is a mastermind. She knows truly good tech when she sees it, and she recognizes even the most undiscovered potential in great scientists from a mile away. She has a real gift when it comes to that. Lillian gathers those people to herself, and gets power over them, then she pushes them and moulds them and gets them to create what was not even imaginable before. The work done on that suit would never satisfy Lillian.

            "I should tell you, Kara, I am especially worried about who Lillian has working for her now. She obviously found someone who could make red kryptonite. I couldn't do that myself. That is a bad sign in regards to how powerful and resourced they are. You should know that is possible to make a form of synthetic kryptonite that is stable even with the nanites still in the environment. To the naked eye, it becomes indistinguishable from iron. I've succeeded at making it once myself, and I destroyed everything including the design. But if I can do it, then someone else can do it. Whatever Lillian brings out when she is ready for her endgame will likely catch us all off our guards."

            "I will take this all very seriously," Kara said.

            "Good," Lena said, not even bothering to veil her skepticism.

            "Lena, why would Lillian come out of prison now?" Kara asked. Lena took a deep breath and gave Kara a disappointed look. She answered even though Kara could tell that she did not see the point.

            "That was part of a bigger plan. It would have taken a long time to create this ebola cover."

            "You believe the outbreak is fake?"

            "No, it will be real. Everything in the report will be true, except that Lillian also died. That's just how she works, Kara." They stared at one another in silence for a moment. Kara could see that Lena knew that Kara was having a hard time believing her. Lena looked away, distracted a bit. She made the lightest scoff and shook her head. "The contagious alien was brought in the same day you were exposed to red kryptonite. That was the same day I released nanites to short-circuit the tracking bracelets and encrypt all the data in the ARB alien tracking system. Lillian will love that – both of us making moves on the same day. That kind of thing makes her believe we're still close."

            "Lena, you took down the ARB tracking system?" Kara said completely astounded.   Lena looked at Kara as if she had to have already known this.

            "Of course, I did. Did you think I would let them find out who you are? They had back-ups of that data spread across the globe. I needed some time to reach out and ensure I had the entire system, before I could make a move. And I needed someone high up in government on my side as insurance, and someone in tech to corroborate what I was saying. Those bracelets gathered a lot more than location data, believe me."

            "I mean, I – yes. Obviously, I did think that. Was that the meeting you had that day with David Ashland and Barbara Cohenburg?" Lena merely nodded. "How did you take down an entire system without anyone figuring out it was you?" Lena smiled at Kara involuntarily bemused.

            "You've seen Jack's tech. Data storage is just flipping a multitude of tiny switches, on and off. It was easy, Kara."

            "Why did you encrypt the data instead of wiping it out?"

            "So the ARB would think that they had done it by accident and believe they can recover it. They'll waste time and money on that instead of immediately focusing on getting a new data stream."

            "What if they figure out how to decrypt the data?"

            "They can't do that. Not without the keys. That is not mathematically possible. Well – maybe in a post-quantum society. But they don't have that kind of technology or time. They'll decide it's worthless and destroy it. You would not have approved, or I would have told you."

            "Seems like there's a lot of things you didn't tell me. I wish you had been more open with me," Kara told Lena with great feeling. Her mind was being blown, and she felt thrown. She pushed her hands through her hair and stood frowning and disconcerted. Lena remained quite poised.

            "Same," Lena responded. If Kara had not known her better, the intense heat hidden in Lena's tone would have come across as her being cold. "Why should I tell you all of my secrets and give you the freedom to influence my choices? When our entire relationship is founded on a lie that you would have sustained to this day had I not been forced to reveal to you that I had long ago figured it out for myself."

            Lena continued to give Kara a hard look. Kara knew then what Lena had meant about the two of them getting into a fight. They were poised on the edge of one now. Kara was angry at Lena for keeping secrets from her, and she really had no right to be. They were on the same side of a massive struggle, and yet their tactics differed enough to put them potentially at odds with one another. Lena took Kara off guard once more, when she added, "I understand why you did not trust me. Try to do the same for me. That is one area where I have learned that it is not best to give beyond reciprocity. That always ends badly."

            "I do trust you," Kara said, and Lena looked confused by the genuineness of Kara's tone. "We can investigate this. If you're right, we can expose Lillian." Lena was already shaking her head before Kara finished speaking.

            "You don't have the capacity to outmaneuver Lillian Luthor," Lena said rather slowly and with great severity. "The only reason I have any idea of what's going on is that I am entirely intimate with this particular kind of human evil. I understand it in a way that runs contrary to your very nature. That's lucky in a way. I'm the wildcard in this particular struggle for power. I am also on my own for that reason, not of one side and not truly of the other."

            "Lena, have you even considered that Lillian might really be gone? The first stage of grief is usually denial." Lena laughed, and her breath grew shaky. Kara thought that Lena might actually break down and cry. "Lena, I know you cared about Lillian. You visited her in prison regularly." Lena's anger finally broke the surface, and she lost her calm.

            "You would think that. You would, Kara. You imagine it was affection and sheer, mindless dedication that made me go and visit Lillian. In truth, I had to force myself every single time. I had to keep an eye on her, Kara. I needed to gauge her confidence and make certain she was still there. All the rest of you took your focus off Lillian long ago. I have not stopped thinking about her for one day. I know that I am right, and I don't have to justify that knowing to you or to anyone. You would quicker believe that it was love for the person who raised me that took me into that prison than you would believe that it was what it actually was." Lena lost control of the filter she usually kept on what she would say. Kara saw this happen. As Lena went on, she was not even able to look at Kara.

            "That woman's hatred shaped my entire childhood. She hand-crafted the stuff of my nightmares. She once locked me in a lab with a corpse overnight when I was eight-years-old and then convinced me I should be embarrassed that I was scared, because a real scientist would never have such an irrational response. She said that to make me too ashamed to tell Lionel and Lex, and it worked. She selected every wretched boarding school I ever attended.   That woman, she –" Whatever she was about to say next, Lena stopped. She finally got a grip on her words. She glanced at Kara only briefly.  

            Lena went hauntingly still and quiet. Kara watched, taking in more information about Lena than she knew what to do with in a single moment. Whatever was really happening, Lena did not doubt her own mind for an instant despite Kara pushing her. She would shut Kara out and go back to her own private thoughts. Kara knew she should take this entirely seriously. Every instinct in Kara's body told her that if she was this confident, Lena must be right. She also knew for absolute certain that she was losing Lena, as Lena went silent and entirely stoic, turning away from her.

            Kara came to Lena in a few confident strides. This took Lena by surprise, and her body went stiff in what was nearly a startle response. Kara put her arms around Lena and pulled her into a hug. Lena stood rigid at first and guarded, still ready to fight. The sudden embrace disarmed her, however. Her hands came to Kara shoulders tentatively, and Lena softened even though Kara could feel Lena's instincts were terribly conflicted in this moment. Kara held Lena close and a bit hard for a long time, and then she stood back and held onto both of Lena's arms.

            "Just give me a minute to catch up with you," Kara said to her softly.

            The look on Lena's face made it clear to Kara that Lena could already see that Kara believed her. Lena obviously had not foreseen that as even one of a multitude of potential outcomes of their conversation. If the situation had not been so dreadfully serious, Kara might have enjoyed the rare chance to see Lena with her mind boggled. Instead, she held Lena near and hoped that they could somehow figure out where to go from where they were now.

Chapter Text

            When Kara left Lena's office, she found herself barely able to quell the urge to fly to the hidden labs at the edge of the city. She called a ride and waited on the sidewalk, already composing what she would say to Alex, Brainy, and J'onn. She needed them on her side, and she had nothing beyond Lena's instinct and her own instinct regarding Lena's to offer in order to convince them. They would need more evidence and soon. Kara was determined to find some. Her own mind was entirely made up. She wished she could ask Lena to come with her and talk to everyone else, but Kara already knew that Lena would not trust that they would listen. She still seemed in disbelief when had Kara left that Kara could possibly be convinced by nothing except for Lena's word.  

            Kara did not manage to relax enough to lean back into the seat the entire ride. She got distracted listening to the sounds of the city passing by, catching bits of radio-wave conversations about Supergirl and a patch of chatter about "fugitives" that could have meant Alex and Brainy, though she never got confirmation either way. Kara found Alex looking bored enough to feel halfway dead, draped in a chair and looking in the general direction of screens showing a feed from night vision and infrared cameras pointing at the potential hideout of the man who had brought the red kryptonite to plant on Kara. The ocean was barely a glimmer in the background. Alex sat up heavily and opened her eyes wide, when Kara arrived.

            "Alex," Kara said. "Are Brainy and J'onn here?"

            "Yeah. Brainy is crunching data for Lena. J'onn is off meditating someplace," Alex answered, and then she got a better look at Kara. "What's wrong? What's happened?"

            "Let me get the others, then I'll explain. Basically, Lena thinks that Lillian Luthor is not dead and that we need to prepare for something big."

            "What?" Alex said on instinct, not expecting a response, as Kara went out of the lab to get the others. Kara returned quickly with Brainy and J'onn following. Alex stood up, and they all circled, prepared for the worst.

            "I need all of your help," Kara said, "And I don't know how to ask for it exactly." Everyone in the circle looked genuinely surprised to hear Kara say that. "CatCo is reporting that Lillian Luthor has died. I've been to see Lena, and I got her to admit that she thinks this is a cover to get Lillian out of prison. She also thinks Lillian had the red kryptonite planted on me, and she intended to stop me herself, after I had cleared out a nice piece of the existing powers and made a place for her to step into. She thinks that Lillian has been orchestrating events and strategically backing the rise of this anti-alien regime this entire time. Lena sees Lillian coming out of prison as an escalation, and she's preparing for the worst." Kara waited for everyone to process this much.

            "I don't mean to be condescending," J'onn said, "But I can't exactly conceive of how Lillian Luthor could hold so much influence on the outside world from inside a prison. Lena's read on things seems rather singular in focus."

            "I know," Kara said. "If Lena is right, then Lillian intentionally set us up to see all of this as way beyond Lillian's capabilities." Kara thought and shook her head. "This is real. This is happening." Kara and Alex looked at one another. "I know it. I could tell." Kara could tell that the intensity of her own instincts was making Alex believe her. Then Alex seemed to grow perplexed.  

            "Where's Lena? Why isn’t she here telling us all of this?" Alex said.

            "Because she doesn't think any of you will believe her. She doesn't think anyone will believe her. She only told me, because I basically dragged all this out of her. And even then, she didn't think I would believe a word. She said I would assume that she was traumatized and paranoid or else going insane like her brother," Kara said.

            "I mean, those are some of my thoughts, yes, but I also have others," Alex said. "At least that offers some explanation for the existence of this facility, and I doubt this is the only one. I really had no idea that this second run in with red kryptonite would lead us down a rabbit hole into the secret life of Lena Luthor. I have a feeling we haven't hit the bottom yet."

            "This does all seem rather improbable," Brainy said, "But, then so is Lena Luthor being wrong. She has been correct on 100% of the assessments and predictions she has made that I know of so far, including some of her technological assumptions that will not become widely accepted for one hundred to three hundred years from now, at least in my timeline." Brainy stopped, and then added. "She also gives great dating advice." Kara gave Brainy an open look of amazement, wondering when on earth he had gone to Lena for dating advice and what Lena would possibly have said to him.

            "What if Lena is right about all of this?" Alex said. "Would Lillian's plan have changed? Or would she still plan to hit you with another dose of red kryptonite and kill you?"

            "That would be harder now. Lena has been giving me a red kryptonite vaccine."

            "Has that been making any changes to your state of mind?" J'onn asked, visibly concerned. Kara tried not to take this personally. She had very nearly killed J'onn the first time she was exposed to red kryptonite, and he had made a great sacrifice in revealing himself to the world to bring her down. Kara considered how to answer his question.

            "I'm in my right mind now, and I was when Lena told me this," Kara asserted. Alex and Kara considered one another, and the silent fact that Kara was not exactly objective passed between the two of them unspoken.

            "I don’t like the idea of your psyche being compromised while things are as dangerous as they are," J'onn admitted.

            "Neither do I," Kara said. "That is the only reason I've been taking the vaccine. Look, from what I can tell, Lena is planning to deal with this on her own. She never had any intentions of telling any of us. She's been redesigning Lillian's suit to try and stop her."

            "The kryptonite suit?" J'onn asked.

            "Yes," Kara said.

            "How do you know that?" J'onn asked.

            "I've seen it," Kara said. That made J'onn grow very grave. He considered deeply.

            "I'm finding it hard to fit all these pieces together," J'onn said. "If Lena is making a suit to stop Lillian, why would it be kryptonite? Those weapons are only effective against kryptonians. I think we need to consider the possibility that Lena is working with Lillian and if she is, what kind of position we are in." Kara's neck and shoulders went lax, and she made a deep sigh. Before she could gather herself enough to say anything, Alex scoffed a sarcastic laugh.

            "J'onn, if Lena Luthor is evil, after all this time, I am taking my sister, and are immediately retiring somewhere off-planet. And Lena can just have this place," Alex said. "The two of you would both be invited to join us."

            "Thank you. That's very considerate," Brainy said.

            "Alex, we need to take this serious," J'onn said.

            "Oh, I am serious," Alex said. "We cannot be divided. There are just too few of us against too great of an opposition. Lena thinks that Lillian is the mastermind behind all of this. Fine. I will accept that the same as I would one my own hunches. I say, we dig into this – hard. The red kryptonite is still our biggest lead, so we keep going on that front. If Lena is right, the trail will lead us to Lillian, so let's see. We can turn up other corners, as well. We find some evidence. And either Lena gets to see that she can finally let this go, or we go into this, all of us, together."   Kara was nodding.

            "This seems the prudent to me," Brainy said.

            "I trust all of you," J'onn said. "Whatever you decide to do, I'm with you. And maybe Lena is right. She would be the closest to the situation, and the one most likely to fit all the pieces together. But there are things that don't add up. Let's keep that in mind."

            "J'onn, ask Lena to meet with you," Alex said. He nodded, accepting Alex's suggestion without argument. Kara was surprised. J'onn was incredible reluctant to access anyone's mind, and his psychic powers were increasing. He had become more reclusive for a time, as a result, until he could master his growing abilities and avoid learning what people did not want him to know.

            Kara did not like the idea of J'onn spying on Lena's mind, but she trusted him too much to worry. Whether or not Lena would agree to let him see her thoughts was beyond Kara's ability to guess. She knew she would trust Lena's reasons if she said no. That might make more tension in the group, but they would have to wait and see. They were held together loosely for now, but they were together. Kara felt stronger knowing this, as she left soon after to head home.

 

---

 

            The special release of CatCo magazine dropped early in the morning the next day. The office was active, tracking public response and even more so watching for how other media networks would respond to their coverage of the ARB tracking system failure. The response was already overwhelming, and Kara felt a little guilty, when she went into Alice's office first thing to ask to go and do field work.

            "Alice, I have a big lead. I need to go and investigate what happened at Lillian Luthor's prison that caused her alleged death," Kara said. Alice knew how big a name Kara had just dropped, and the use of the word "alleged" was not lost on her.

            "Did you talk to James yet?" Alice asked.

            "No. I can call him right away," Kara said.

            "Alright. Make sure that he is in the loop on this first thing. And make sure that at least a few people, including one of us here, know where you are at all times. I want to know when you are off for the day. Otherwise, I will assume you're still out there," Alice said. Kara nodded severely. A goodbye would have sounded ominous, so Kara just left.

            Kara called James as soon as she got out of the building. She was not certain how much to tell him. After only a moment of thought, she spilled everything. If Lena really was going crazy, all of Kara's friends would know. But Lena was not going crazy, and this was the best chance any of them had. James was very quiet as he listened. Kara gave him a moment to think, fully expecting him to question Lena.

            "You should let me send someone else to the prison," James said.

            "You don't believe this is real?" Kara said.

            "No! Just the opposite, in fact. I may be a slow learner, but I have definitely learned to take Lena seriously. This is probably real, and in that case, Lillian has people working for her at the prison. Lena still owns CatCo, and Lillian knows that you two are friends. If you go there to investigate, Lillian could assume that Lena is suspicious and sent you there to investigate," James said. Kara stopped mid-step to consider.

            "If you send someone else from CatCo, Lillian could make the same assumptions. She might even assume that Lena kept me off the case to make it less obvious or to protect me. James, if this is dangerous, then I am the person who should be in danger," Kara said.

            "Yeah," James conceded.

            "I'll do my best to make it look like I turned up nothing and went away convinced there was nothing to report," Kara promised.

            "Ok. You're not the best liar, though, Kara," James said.

            "Hey! Excuse me? I have lived a double life, since I was twelve," Kara said.

            "Be careful, Kara," James said, unable to laugh or let Kara lighten the mood.

            "I will. I promise," Kara said.

            "Ok. Keep me updated," James said.

 

---

 

            Kara sat in an unlocked room waiting at a metal table. The prison had tried to refuse her admittance, and Kara strong-armed past the gate guards. She made her way to the offices with a handful of absolutely panicked guards in tow. Someone higher up must have caught on that they were about to get into a media crisis, and she went to get the warden. Kara got lucky, because the warden assumed she was investigating the outbreak and felt defensive of his staff. They would not let Kara into the building beyond from the front offices, but he offered her all the paperwork they had on the incident and interviews with anyone on staff who would consent to speak with a reporter. From his tone, Kara could tell that meant exactly no one. He brought a stack of boxes that filled the table, and Kara started sorting.

            The cameras monitoring the room stopped Kara from going through the materials at super-speed. When three hours had passed, the warden came back to make sure Kara was alright. He offered her some lunch, and Kara declined, so he left her alone once more. After another two hours, Kara had gone through everything once and managed to piece together a single lead. The containment of the outbreak was well documented. The bodies of the deceased were contagious and considered hazardous waste. The prison could not use their normal services to process and release bodies of prisoners, and they had the bodies of the two guards to handle, as well, which made the matter even more sensitive. They had hired an outside company, and there was plenty of paperwork to track the handing off of responsibility.

            Once she exited the prison gates, Kara did as Alice asked. She called Alex and gave her all the information on the company for Brainy to research. He turned up a few connections of higher ups in the company who worked for Luthor Corp some years before. That could have been a coincidence given how large Luthor Corp had been, but it was something.

            Kara called Nia to tell her where she was going next. The office was loud, and Nia said that their new issue was stirring up no end of trouble. Anti-alien groups were outraged at the incompetency of the government, and pro-alien groups were outraged that the government was asking even more of aliens who had bent over backwards to accommodate outrageous laws and regulations. A lot of reporters were already out covering rising protests at the ARB building, city hall, and a handful of public parks. That made Kara wish she could be in two places at once as a reporter and any place at all as Supergirl. She kept her focus and headed for one of the addresses Brainy had given her.

            The company gave Kara the run around for hours. She was bounced from one location to another, as nobody wanted responsibility for dealing with a reporter. Several times, she would have been given the brush off completely, but Kara made a lot of challenges and threats of bad news coverage on her way out. Once she left, she listened to see what people would discuss. Whoever they were afraid would find out about Kara and whoever they called preemptively to make their positions secure became Kara's next stops. Kara was buying a gyro from a cart and listening to the talk after shaking up an office on the twenty-third floor of a building, when she finally heard someone mention one of the men Brainy had listed as a former Luthor Corp employee. Kara felt conflicted by what James had said earlier. She might be getting very close to Lillian at this point. If there was ever a time to stop playing by the rules as a reporter, this was the time. Kara updated her close circle as to where she was heading next.

            The address took her to a strange part of town full of rundown old factory and warehouse buildings. The newer complex stood out, and there was smoke rising from handful of smokestacks. The guards at a locked gate denied Kara entrance, and she listened to a series of calls that eventually landed in the office of the man she had been hoping to see. Kara looked through the walls and listened in. It was already late in the work day. She waited until he finally left for the day. While she waited, Kara listened for all the electronic buzz and located all the security cameras. She grabbed some pebbles of asphalt, and took the time and care to knock the security cameras a little off their set lines of sight without disabling them. As soon as he left, Kara shot up to his office window and let herself into his office.

            After a long search with half an ear to the activity near the office, Kara finally let herself into a locked safe by listening for the tumblers and took out some highly sensitive paperwork. She found the paperwork on the recent deal with the prison near the top. The facility was written down where the bodies had supposedly been incinerated. Kara quickly took photos of the paperwork with her phone trying not to capture anything of the room beyond, even the surface material of the table. She dodged out the window and looked for the facility.

            The office there was small and crowded by three second shift workers. Kara had to wait for a new shipment to arrive and bring them all out to meet it, before she could go inside. Kara found their paperwork, and she finally got her first hit. In the main office, seven bodies were reported. Down here, only six bodies were reported as having been processed. There was a special request involving collection of the ashes, and Lillian Luthor's name was in a list of seven names. That was as good as she was going to get. Kara snapped pictures and put everything back in its place. On her way down, Kara got pinned between a handful of security guards. She had to tear open a fence to let herself out instead of flying over it. She stopped and carefully heated the metal and squeezed it back together to seal up the tear. Only a close look would show that anything had happened, and Kara left the scene without anyone noticing.  

---

            While Kara was chasing down leads, Alex finally saw someone go into the facility they were watching. A man and let himself in with a key to the lock. Brainy had just left to go meet Nia, and Alex called J'onn on her way out. He met her near the docks. Alex got J'onn to wait in case the guy ran out. She set her gun to a low enough setting to only stun someone. The door was locked from the inside. Alex knocked and kept back. She waited several long minutes, and then she heard the door being unlocked as quietly as possible.

            The door whipped open, and a hand holding a pistol darted out and started firing shots. Alex grabbed the man's arm with both hands, dropping her gun. She shifted to get into the doorway and kicked him in the knee. He was strong and scared, but he was not a particularly well trained fighter. He managed to hold onto the pistol, until Alex knocked them to the ground, twisted her body around his arm, and nearly broke his arm. When the gun dropped from his hand, she let go and kicked him away. She grabbed his gun, dropped the clip, and got rid of the bullet in the chamber. She tossed the pistol. He was standing, terrified and at the ready.

            "I just need to talk to you," Alex said. "I'm not here to bring you in."

            "You're DEO," the man said, certain Alex was lying.

            "Yeah. I was," Alex said.

            He did not know what to do with that, and he could not trust Alex. He bolted for the door, swinging a punch at her just to keep her back. Alex dodged and ran after him. She got her arms around him at the doorway, and they struggled to the ground and grappled once more. Alex finally got him into a choke hold. When he was nearly passed out, she let him go. She got up and helped him sit up against the wall, checking his throat. He was breathing fine and shaking the stars from his eyes.

            "Listen," Alex said. "Someone gave you a red crystal recently, a little thing meant for someone else. You were a middle man. I just need to know who gave you the crystal."

            He knew what she was talking about, Alex could see. He looked too scared to talk. Alex had to think. Was she going to beat this guy up to get information out of him? She couldn't actually bring him in. She considered tying him up and threatening to take him to the police. That might work.

            The man sprang at Alex, and she barely managed to keep her feet. He stood up, and they fought standing. He was a better fighter now that he was prepared, but Alex handled him easily, using his own weight against him. When she had elbowed him hard in the eye and probably cracked his ribs with a body shot she landed with her knee, he staggered back. Alex dropped down and took his feet out from under him. He landed hard on his back, and it knocked the wind out of him.

            Alex went and got her gun, then she found a piece of rope. The man had just gotten his breath back, and Alex got him turned over and tied his hands behind his back. She forced him to his feet and led him outside. J'onn was still standing where she had left him. He had known even from a distance that Alex had the jump on this guy, and she smiled at him. He nodded merely.

            "You have two choices," Alex said. "Either you tell us what we want to know, or we drop you in front of the nearest police station." The man said nothing. Alex shoved him into the side of their van. He did not look scared now. He looked defiant. Alex thought maybe he was a real zealot and would consider himself a martyr to his cause. "Ok. I guess now we need to deliver on that threat. Want to help me tie this guy's feet and get him gagged?"

            "You can let him go," J'onn said. Alex looked over at J'onn. "We have what we need." Alex quickly untied the guy and dodged away with her gun still held on him to make sure he didn't go at her again. He ran away as fast as he could, still not trusting either of them. Alex turned to J'onn.

            "You read his mind?" Alex said.

            "Not really," J'onn said. "Some psychic responses are so strong, I cannot help but pick them up these days. When that man saw me, he was relieved. He was convinced that I was the one who gave him the red kryptonite crystal. That means Hank Henshaw."

            "Cyborg Superman," Alex said, and J'onn nodded.

            "Which leads us straight to Lillian Luthor," J'onn said.

            "Lena is right," Alex said, and J'onn merely nodded. "Let's go. Those gunshots may have sent cops our way."

 

---

 

            When Kara was far enough way from the site to stop sneaking, she pulled out her phone. Alex had already called her some minutes before, and Kara called her back. Alex answered immediately.

            "Kara, Lena is right," Alex said.

            "I know," Kara said. "There were only six bodies from the prison that were incinerated, but ashes were collected for seven."

            "We grabbed the guy who gave your bro at CatCo the red kryptonite. It was given to him by Cyborg Superman."

            "What do we do now?"

            "Let's meet at the labs. Can you get Lena to come with you? We need to know what she knows."

            "Yes. I'll go and get Lena. We'll meet you all there. Get Brainy."

            "He's with Nia."

            "Well, get Nia, as well, if she wants to come. We can call James."

            "Full family meeting. See you soon."

Chapter Text

            Kara ran as fast as she could without being noticed as anything other than human and in a dreadful hurry. She had to stop when she reached downtown. A protest march filled the streets, and police lined the sides. Kara managed to make her way through. On the other side were even more cops, some on horseback. Kara looked around, and she realized that rival protests were meeting. There was a chance of fighting and rioting.

            Kara stood torn about what she should do, uncertain if Supergirl could help de-escalate this situation or if her presence would put it over the top. Then she realized what a Supergirl appearance would do to the police presence, and she left the scene. She got back her focus. Kara needed to find Lena. As she started to run more, cops were noticing her, so Kara slowed down some. Within five blocks, she found place where police were arresting anti-alien protestors. The protestors were tearing up a business spray-painted with a red "A". Kara forced herself to keep going.

            Kara pulled out her phone and tried to call Lena. Lena did not answer. When she got to the L Corp building, Kara looked up to see if she could see Lena in her office. Lena was not there, and Kara could not remember a time when Lena had gone home this early. Eve was not at her desk, and two men were standing at the elevators, keeping guard. It was possible that Lena had hired more security, but Kara's heart started pounding. She knew that she could not see into Lena's hidden labs, so she could be up there. She could not hear anything, but Kara suspected the labs would be soundproofed, as well. Kara came to the doors and was distracted enough that she was about to force one open.

            A security guard Kara had never seen before came towards the doors. Kara stood back and considered him. He did not work at L Corp. If he had been hired as back-up to the usual security team, he would not be alone. He sent a message on his radio, "Possible intruder." Kara thought that incredibly ironic of him. "Report back when it's handled," a voice responded. He opened the door to Kara.

            "Hi," Kara said, as friendly as she could make her voice. "I am looking for L Corp. I was hoping to get a statement from their CEO, Lena Luthor, on the ARB tracking system meltdown."

            "You're at the right place, but the building is closed after six o'clock."

            "Oh, gosh, is it after six?" Kara said and pretended to look at the clock on her phone.  

            "It's after," he said in a friendly tone, as if they were buddies. Kara quelled the urge to knock him out with a punch. She was afraid she might actually break his neck, and she also knew someone was expecting him to check in. Kara kept calm.

            "What time does the building open?" Kara asked.

            "Eight a.m.," he said, which was wrong. It was actually 7 a.m., which annoyed Kara so much for some irrational reason, it threatened her cover. Kara did her best to feign gratitude.

            "Thanks a lot! I'll come back then," Kara said.

            Kara went around the side of the building. She listened, as he reported, "Situation resolved." Kara looked up at Lena's balcony. She considered flying up. She did not know how to get into Lena's hidden labs. If she was fast enough, she could get through both sets of doors and take out the two men guarding the elevators. She did not know what she would do then, wait or tear open the doors to the lab or try to tear through a wall. She needed an element of surprise if she could get it, but she could not see how to do it.

            Kara's phone was buzzing, and she took it out to see Nia was calling her. Kara silenced her phone. She scanned the building. Her phone rang again, and it was Nia a second time. Nia always texted and never called. Kara got scared and answered.    

            "Nia, I can't talk –" Kara started, and Nia's frantic voice interrupted her.

            "Kara! Thank God! Kara, listen! Listen to me! Don't go after Lillian Luthor! Whatever happens, do not chase after her!" Kara thought that Nia was weeping.

            "Nia, what's happened? Are you ok? Did you dream something?"

            "Yes!" Nia yelled. "I just woke up! Kara, I saw Lillian Luthor. She's alive. She flew out a window. I don't know how. It was like she had powers or something. You went after her, as Supergirl. The two of you fought. I didn't see what all happened, Kara. But, I saw you – Kara, I saw you die! I am sure of what I saw. There was something wrong with your eyes."

            Nia was weeping, Kara was certain now. Kara stood on the sidewalk completely overwhelmed.

            "Where were we?" Kara asked. "Did it look like labs?"

            "No," Nia told her. "Some old factory. Don't go after her, Kara!"

            "I won't. Nia, I won't go after her. Everything will be alright."

            A terrible silence followed, and Kara knew that Nia was not comforted. Kara looked up at the building, knowing that Lena was inside her labs with Lillian. The fight Nia had seen did not take place in the labs, so Kara still had a chance.

            "Nia, I have to go. Lena is in trouble. I promise you, I will not chase after Lillian Luthor. I will not die."

            "Kara, please! Please don't!" Nia said.

            "I won't. I'll call you back. Don't be scared."

            As Kara hung up, she realized that her hands were shaking. She called Alex. Kara told Alex as fast as she could what was happening. She even told her about Nia's dream.

            "Woah!" Alex yelled, almost outraged. "Do not go up there!"

            "I asked, Alex, and Nia said it wasn't in a lab. It was some old factory. I know about her dream now, so the odds of that happening aren't the same. Ask Brainy."

            "I can't lose you!" Alex said.

            "We can't lose Lena either! Alex, trust me. Nia warned me. This is our chance."

            "You wait for reinforcements!"

            "I can't. I'll be careful. I promise," Kara hung up her phone, knowing that Alex would be here as soon as she possibly could. She waited a moment, and Alex did not call her back. Kara needed to get the jump on the guys near the elevators. She scanned the building looking for another way in and unexpectedly found Eve locked in a basement closet. Eve's heart was pounding, and she was terrified. Kara looked hard to figure out where Eve was and realized that she could not see the sub-basement. That gave her an idea.

            She darted to the L Corp warehouse nearby and broke in. Kara found a ramp and tore her way through. She knew that alarms were silently going off. Kara went through the scrap room with the shattered floor. She wrenched open the elevators doors and went up one floor. Before she opened the door to the closet where Eve was tied up, Kara remembered herself and changed into her super suit. She popped the locks on the door easily.

            "Eve," Supergirl said, as pulled Eve out and cut the ropes around Eve's wrists with her heat vision. "I need you to tell me how to get into Lena's secret labs – the ones in her office."

            "You can't," Eve said. "Unless, she has put you in the system. You have three unique pass codes, and then you scan your handprint."

            "I'll have to break in. Let me get you out of here first."

            "No! Take me up with you! I'll let you in," Eve said. Kara considered. Eve was wearing a very nice, rather heavy pair of boots. Kara got an idea.

            "Alright," Kara said. "Can I borrow your boots?"

            Eve hesitated for only half a second, obviously wondering if she had heard right, then she pulled off her boots. They went to the open elevator shaft. Kara put her arm around Eve and carried them silently up. Kara considered how to get through the closed doors. Eve held up a hand for Kara to wait and pointed to a place beside the doors. Kara floated them closer, and Eve carefully worked a mechanism. The doors opened, and Kara hit each of the two guards with one of Eve's boots so fast, they could not make a sound. They were both out cold on the floor.

            Kara carried them well inside and put Eve down. She gathered both boots and handed them to Eve. Eve had gone at once and grabbed both fallen radios from the ground. Eve eyed the two men on the floor, as she pulled on her boots. Eve led the way into Lena's office. She went at once and got the door to the labs opened. Kara grabbed a crystal bottle of bourbon and used it to block the door and hold it open for her. She led Eve out onto the balcony. Kara took Eve and set her down in the alley beside the building.

            "Thank you," Kara said.

            "I'll go around the corner to the bar, Mitchell's, and have a drink up on the second floor. You can find me there, in case you need me to open the door again," Eve said.

            "Good idea. Thanks."

            "And, Supergirl," Eve added and put her hand on Kara's arm, stopping Kara as she was about to take off, "I won't call the police." Kara realized that Eve knew the police would be after her more than anyone else. "You'll protect Lena?"

            "With my life!" Kara said. Eve nodded and stepped back. Kara shot into the office. She stepped into the hallway. She could not see through the walls, but she listened and heard Lena's voice from a lab far off, at the end of this hall and then down another around the corner. Kara stepped as silently as she could, following the sound.

            "You're lying," Lena was saying.

            "You know I'm not." Kara recognized Lillian Luthor's voice. Her jaw clenched in anger.

            "This is exactly the kind of thing you would say to me to toy with my mind."

            "She's the one who has been playing with you. I have always been honest with you."

            "That is a hell of a thing for you to say to me."

            "Lena, you've been played for a fool and not by me. You know it. It was only your blind devotion to your friend that allowed you to miss it before." Lena did not answer, and Kara got the sense that whatever argument they were having, Lillian was winning.

            With her hearing focused on the Luthors and unable to see through the walls, Kara stumbled into four guards. One of them caught sight of her, so she was forced to emerge and take them all down quickly. One managed to fire a shot from a gun that sent out an orb that looked as if it were some kind of electrical pulse. This hit the wall and dissipated without leaving a mark, which reminded Kara of Alex's gun and made her nervous. She was not sure what a shot like that would do to her.

            "Come on in, Miss Danvers," Lillian Luthor's voice called.

            That made Kara's jaw tighten in anger. She stepped into the room, ready to dodge a shot if it were fired. Lena and Lillian were alone in the room. This was a lab Kara had never seen before A full suit of armor lay on a table in the center of the room. Kara understood then that the other rooms held prototypes and components. This room was where Lena assembled the final result. The walls were lined with flat screens displaying schematics and documents regarding the suit.

            Lena was standing with her arms crossed. Kara knew her well enough to know that Lena's fear spiked when Kara arrived. That gave Kara pause, as she would have expected the opposite. Lillian had a gun like the ones the guards had been carrying pointed at Lena, instead of Kara, which kept Kara in check. Kara calculated whether she could get between Lena and the gun in such a small space with the table and the suit in between them. She listened to Lena's heartbeat pounding and noticed Lena glance at a jacket she must have taken off earlier that was lying on the table beside the suit.

            "Kara, you shouldn't be here," Lena said, and Kara knew there was more in what Lena said than she could decipher.

            "Why not? Let's all air our secrets, shall we?" Lillian said. "Kara, why don’t you start by telling Lena the truth? And Lena, maybe we can give Miss Danvers a demonstration of all the good work you've been doing that you've kept locked away in these labs."

            "Don't you dare try to hurt her," Lena said to Lillian.  

            "You're still on her side? I will never understand why you let your loyalties make you weak, when you could be stronger than anyone alive. What do you expect to happens with the weapons you make, Lena? What are they for if not to use?" Lillian said.

            At that, Lillian shot Lena without warning. Kara darted across the room, knocking the table out of the way. She caught Lena before she even hit the ground and blocked any following shots with her back. Lillian did not fire again. Kara let Lena down and felt her pulse. She was unconscious, but her pulse was strong. Kara looked up at Lillian in astonishment as much as anger.

            Lillian tossed something at Kara. Kara blocked it with her hand, but it exploded on impact into an enormous cloud of bright red dust that enveloped Kara. Kara turned away and actually fell down at the intensity of the effect, as a massive dose of red kryptonite sank through her skin and got into her eyes and her lungs. Kara had always thought that the phrase "seeing red" was just an expression, but with her eyes clenched tight shut, and her body over Lena's, Kara felt her mind itself flare up in a brilliant, bright red. Every cell pulsed with the change, rising like the swell of some terrible phoenix's wings.

            As the air cleared, Kara heard Lillian doing something, no doubt with the suit Kara had knocked to the ground. Kara looked at Lena's face and touched her once, then Kara turned to Lillian. Lillian had pulled on the breastplate of Lena's suit. She activated the suit somehow, and the other parts came to wrap around her limbs and lock into place. Kara stood up, every cell in her body fully alight with rage.

            "I think you will regret making that choice," Kara said, her voice a satisfied growl, full of threat. Lillian took an involuntary step back and considered Kara. She did not look afraid so much as perplexed.

            "That should have been enough red kryptonite to tear your mind apart," Lillian said.

            "You underestimated me. Might have been enough to get me to tear you apart, though," Kara said.

            As abruptly as Lillian had shot Lena, Kara flew across the room and slammed full force into Lillian. The force of the impact should have been enough to all but kill her. They tore through two walls and tumbled onto the floor of Lena's office and rolled apart. The helmet had gone up on the suit from slats collapsed into a collar in some defensive response. Lillian got up and smashed through the windows, flying into the night sky.

            Stepping out onto the balcony, Kara watched Lillian rise up into the air. She considered Lena lying in the other room. A flicker of thought brought Nia's panicked voice back to Kara's mind. There was not a single ounce of will within Kara to let this fight go, and she shot into the sky chasing after Lillian at full tilt.

Chapter Text

            Kara knew she had the advantage of having heard Nia's premonition, and she intended to leverage every advantage and win this fight. As Kara caught up with Lillian, short, bright green laser beams started firing back at Kara. Kara darted in a predictable pattern as if she were dodging, until a laser beam grazed her shoulder. The pain swept through her entire body. The kryptonite was strong enough to probably take Kara out of the air if she took a direct shot. That did not matter, as Kara went directly off pattern and took the moment as the lasers shot everywhere the system calculated Kara should be and not where she was to land a steady shot of heat vision that destroyed the laser gun. The body of the suit, however, seemed impervious.

            To Kara's astonishment, Lillian dropped down out of the air. Kara followed her. She landed in midst of a public square full of people. Kara landed some feet away from her. They charged one another and a fought hand-to-hand. Even though Lillian was not the most skilled fighter, the suit compensated in many ways. Kara had to try several times before she landed a direct hit. The suit tolerated the impact, and Lillian flew back and into the air only a few feet before the suit stopped her. She shot down into Kara, and they tumbled across the ground shattering pavement beneath them and smacking into a lamp post that fell over. They got up, blocking one another's blows.

            When Lillian finally hit Kara just inside the left shoulder, kryptonite spikes came out of the glove at the last instant and drove into Kara's skin. Kara grabbed Lillian's arm in the suit and growled in pain. She used the agility of her own unhindered flight combined with a maneuver Alex had taught her to keep control of Lillian's arm, twist her body around, and fling Lillian full force across the square and into a stone monument. The statue shattered and collapsed onto Lillian. The tips of the spikes had broken off, and the kryptonite was searing in Kara's body and weakening her rapidly. She dug into the open wounds with her fingers and pulled the pieces out, yelling through teeth gritted. Kara dropped the pieces on the ground one by one.

            She left them where they fell, walking slowly enough for her wounds to close up and her strength to recover. Lillian used this time to dig herself out and recover fully, as well. When Kara got closer enough, Lillian sent a disk flying through the air towards Kara. A force field trapped her. Without a moment's hesitation, Kara flew as hard as she could towards Lillian and shattered the component generating the force field against Lillian's suit. The force sent Lillian skittering across the square, and she dug her fingers into the pavement to stop herself and managed to stand.

            As Kara charged towards Lillian, she snatched a chunk of pavement from a huge planter box. She threw pieces of this at Lillian, and they smashed against her suit. Lillian crouched and grabbed some of the shattered chunks. Instead of throwing these at Kara, Lillian intentionally let loose wild shots in Kara's general direction that would look like misses that hit buildings around the square. She managed to hit a traffic light that began to drop.

            Kara darted to catch the traffic light, dragging it into a parking lot, smashing empty cars. A few cars in the intersection still wrecked, and Kara pulled cars apart and pried off the doors. Everyone inside was alive. Kara turned away at once and looked for Lillian. Kara caught sight of her flying away and shot into the air.

            Lillian noticed Kara coming in fast behind her. She swooped down and shattered through support beams holding up a pedestrian bridge. Kara halted and caught the bridge. She looked through to see the people trapped on the bridge, and she tore it away from the rest of the supports and put it down on an empty sidewalk. No one appeared to be especially hurt, and they could figure out their own way down. Kara shot off after Lillian again.

            They reached the city building, which was surrounded by protestors. Lillian landed in the midst of this. People cleared a spot for her, backing away in panic. As Kara came to land, and people cleared her another spot. They were standing in the thick of a crowd. Kara finally understood exactly what Lillian was trying to do. She had imagined Kara would go mad and become wild and dangerous, and she still expected Kara to lose her calm and injure people or at the very least fail to protect them from their fight. Kara waited, allowing Lillian to make her move.

            A chain shot out, and Kara blocked it with her left arm. The chain wrapped around her forearm and wrist and locked tight. The kryptonite seared into her skin, and Kara gave a yell of pain and grimaced. Rather than freeze the chain and break its hold, Kara tolerated the pain. She rose into the air. The chain was attached to Lillian's suit, and she could not let go. So Kara took off, dragging Lillian away from the crowd, so she could find someplace to tear into her.

            Lillian struggled, and eventually she dragged herself up the chain and took a swing at Kara with the kryptonite spikes on her glove. They fought in the air and smashed into a building. Kara got herself up, and at once froze the chain around her wrist making certain the blast hit Lillian, as well. Kara tore at the chain and used her heat vision at the same time, and it snapped. Kara had to break the chain in two more places to pull the length wrapped around her arm away. She threw the pieces at Lillian full force. One made contact, and the others tore through the wall. Lillian staggered back and righted herself.

            Now that she was looking up, Kara recognized that they were in an old, abandoned factory building on an upper floor. Nia's warning rose in her mind. Kara stood waiting for Lillian to make a move. She was no doubt getting desperate. Lillian raised both hands, and a cloud of kryptonite gas swept towards Kara. Kara barely managed to take a deep enough breath and drive the full wall of poisonous gas back towards Lillian and out a set of broken windows.

            At that, Lillian hesitated. She was out of tricks or else feigning that she was. Once Lillian believed that Kara had bested the suit, she would run. Lillian did just that, and Kara caught her by the foot and threw her back into the building. She pinned Lillian to the ground and slammed her fists into the suit. They fell through several floors as the force of the blows destabilized the floorboards beneath the two of them.

            The suit finally faltered, the glowing green lights went out The helmet went down, revealing Lillian's face. Kara got Lillian with both hands holding the collar of the breastplate and lifted her off the ground with a growl of pure rage. Her eyes blazed, as she pinned Lillian to a wall and held her there. Kara gritted her teeth and stalled.  

            "I yield," Lillian said and added with obscene confidence, "You won't hurt me."

            "After everything you have done?" Kara said.

            Kara could not tell whether it was reserve or the intensity of her own rage that held her back. She pulled at collar of the breastplate, warping it, planning to rip the suit off Lillian with her bare hands. She did not know what she would do after that. The conflict in Kara's mind felt as if it might tear Kara into two. A sound made Kara turn. Brainy was carrying Alex, and they landed on the floor nearby. Kara stopped and went still. She stepped in close to Lillian's face with her eyes still flared.

            "You were lucky," Kara growled at Lillian. Kara got a hand at the back of Lillian's neck and managed to rip the breastplate of the suit apart. She tossed both halves across the floor away from Lillian, and then she threw Lillian hard to the floor. She was not about to injure someone who was completely at her mercy in front of her sister, and so the side of Kara that demanded restraint won out. The suit was ruined, and Lillian was helpless. Kara stood trying to calm herself, ready to fight anyone and everyone in this world. She listened to the madness of sirens and helicopters outside. None of them were on them yet.

            Every government agency and the entire police force would be responding by now. Kara realized she needed to protect Alex and Brainy first and foremost. Alex came and grabbed Kara by the shoulder. Kara placed her hand gently on Alex's elbow, afraid that her own adrenaline would make her hurt Alex by accident. Alex punched Kara in the chest, pulling the punch just enough not to hurt her own wrist.

            "You scared the hell out of me," Alex said.

            "I'll have to make that up to you," Kara said. Alex shook her head. She turned to Brainy.

            "Can you find us an exit route?" Alex said.

            "I'm on it," Brainy said and went out the open window lifting up into the air, trying to find them a clear pathway out of the area.

            The sound of Lillian struggling to her feet made Kara turn and bristle. She was hoping Lillian would come at her again. The remaining segments of the suit seemed hard to manage without the power source, and Lillian only struggled to sit up and pulled the front piece off of one of the legs of the suit, struggling to get out of it.  

            "What's our next move?" Kara said.

            "We have to make sure they apprehend Lillian and not us," Alex said.

            "Let me fight, while you two make an escape," Kara said.

            "That is the opposite of why we came," Alex said. "We came to get you out of here. I don't suppose you have another set of clothes hidden under that one."

            "This is the hidden set of clothes," Kara said, and Alex nodded.

            The distinct sound of the hammer on a revolver being pulled back and rotating the chamber made Kara whip around to see Lillian holding a pistol. Kara shifted to block Alex, already enraged at Lillian's attempt to kill her sister. Lillian fired a shot, and Kara felt the bullet go into her chest. She looked down in confusion. A patch of blood started to spread over the symbol on her chest. The impact had knocked Kara back a foot into Alex. Alex's arms were around Kara's shoulders.

            "Kara?" Alex said confused. Lillian fired two more shots, and both of these hit Kara and tore into her body. "Oh, my God! Kara!"

            On instinct, Alex let go and dodged around Kara and charged full force into Lillian. Lillian fired two more shots at the last moment. One shot missed, but the other shot hit the bulletproof vest Alex was wearing, nearly taking her off her feet. Alex kept her forward momentum somehow and drove into Lillian at the waist. Even though the wind was knocked out of her, Alex got the gun away from Lillian and tossed it across the room, where it skittered across the floor. Alex nearly blacked out, still unable to breath.

            Lillian stood up. She retrieved the breastplate of the suit and activated it. The pieces latched into place. She had only been feigning that it had been ruined before. She calmly went and retrieved her pistol. Alex finally got a breath with a loud gasp. She staggered to her feet. Lillian came to stand over Kara. Kara was on the floor face down, and Lillian used the tip of her boot to turn Kara over. Both of them watched as Kara coughed up blood and lay struggling to stay alive on the floor. Lillian pointed the pistol at Kara's face.

            "Stop!" Alex said, struggling forward, but too far away to get to Lillian in time. "I'll give you anything you want!"

            "Who do you think you are, Alex Danvers? I will just take whatever I want. It doesn't matter whether you want to give it to me or not," Lillian said and raised the gun to point it at Alex. Alex was about to dodge, but there was nowhere to hide. Lillian only had one shot left. She would likely miss or fail to take Alex down completely. Even so, Alex knew that she could not fight Lillian in a super suit. She planned to go for her own pistol, but she already knew it wouldn't stop Lillian or save Kara either one. Alex knew she would fail, but she would still try. She would try to survive Lillian, so she could get to Kara.    

            At that moment, someone crashed through the window in a dark blur and slammed full force into Lillian. Both bodies went through the windows and out into the night. The gun rattled across the ground. Alex rushed to Kara. She stuffed Kara's cloak into the bullet holes in her chest and pressed down as hard as she could, trying to stop the bleeding. Kara's eyes were open, and Alex watched as Kara's eyes filled with a horrible dark gray. Kara lay staring up at the ceiling, seeing nothing, her eyes like dark mirrors reflecting only the worst horrors of this world.

            "Kara! Kara! Stay with me!" Alex said. Alex pulled the cloak away and felt the bullet holes. One bullet had hit a rib, and Alex could feel the lead just under Kara's skin. Alex pulled a knife from her boot. She carefully worked the bullet out and considered it. The bullet was a dark gray like lead, but it shone with a strange luminescence that matched the color that had flooded Kara's eyes. This was some kind of kryptonite that Alex had never seen before.

            Alex went for another bullet. This one was in deeper, but Kara's skin was weakened enough from kryptonite exposure that Alex managed to cut into her. She pried out a second bullet and threw them both across the room to get them away from Kara. The last one was in deepest, and blood rushed out as Alex tried to find the lead. She found only shards and guessed that the bullet had gone in and shattered against one of Kara's ribs in the back. Alex worked one of the fragments out, doing more damage than she ever would have dared without knowing that the shards themselves were hurting Kara more than the open wounds. Kara's face was turning a color Alex could only describe as gray, pale and not blue with cold, but gray with the coming of death.

            Someone flew into the smashed windows the way Lillian and whomever had slammed into her had gone out. In an instant, Alex dropped the bloody knife and pulled her gun. Alex turned and aimed, braced to find Lillian returned, not knowing what she could do if she did. It was someone else standing there, wearing another suit that Alex had never seen before. This one was far finer, thin and beautifully shaped, black and shining from an orb just beneath the throat that looked like a tiny moon shining brilliant and barely mottled with dark. The helmet went down, and Alex saw Lena staring down at Kara in absolute panic. She rushed towards Alex and Kara and knelt down.

            "Here," Lena said and opened up a panel on her suit. She took out a red box and placed this on Kara's chest. A suit opened out and enveloped Kara's body. Lena opened up a panel on the arm of the suit and entered some commands.

            "The bullets are some kind of kryptonite. I got two out. One shattered, and I can't get it out," Alex said.

            "I can see it. She's full of red kryptonite, as well. I think that's helping keep her alive. This synthetic kryptonite doesn’t match the molecular structure of the one I made. I can't get the nanites to target this substance. They don't know what it is. We have to get her back to the lab right now and we need a piece of this new kryptonite."

            "Here!" Alex said and ran to get Lillian's gun. She opened the chamber and dropped the one remaining bullet into her own hand. "This is it!"

            "Ok," Lena said and entered more commands. The helmet went up on the suit, and it lifted Kara and flew out the window, carrying her away. Lena put her arms around Alex. She put up her helmet.

            "Try to hide your face in case someone sees us," Lena said.

            They flew at a terrible speed that made Alex's stomach turn and her heart race. When Lena let Alex go, Alex nearly fell over, and Lena braced her quickly. They were at the hidden labs on the roof of the building. Lena led them rapidly down a set of stairs and through dark hallways, her suit lighting the way.

            "We'll be incredibly lucky if no one follows us here," Lena said, meaning the authorities.

            When they entered the labs, the suit holding Kara was stretched out on a table. Lena pressed some buttons to put the helmet down and open a holographic display. Alex could tell at once from looking at her face that Kara was dead. For the first time in her life, Alex went cold and could not even move.

            "She's flat-lined," Lena said, and she made a fist and pressed it to the center of Kara's chest against the suit. Lena shocked Kara so hard her chest lifted a foot off the table. She waited a moment and did it once more. The display showed a heart beat pick up. "Ok," Lena said and deactivated Kara's suit. "We have to load the molecular structure of that bullet into the system."

            Lena left Kara and came to a computer. Alex brought her the bullet.   Lena loaded this into a closed case and turned on a scan. A sound made Lena turn and raise her arm, ready to shoot someone. Brainy staggered in through the door, his arms full of something.

            "Alex, Nia told me I had to get these," Brainy said. "I had almost found us a way out. I hope I did right." Alex marched over to Brainy. He held a clutter of solar grenades in his arms. Alex snatched one. They came to the table where Kara was lying. Alex pulled a pin.

            "Everyone duck, close your eyes, and cover them," Alex said. She put the grenade on Kara's chest. They all ducked down, and Lena put the helmet up on her suit. The grenade went off, lighting up the room.

            They stood up. Some color had come back into Kara's face, but her eyes were still shining with eerie dark pools of slate gray. The wounds closed up a little while they watched. Brainy handed Alex another grenade.

            "Let me go and work. Don't worry about me. Set them off. I'm protected," Lena said, tapping her helmet, which both projected and distorted her voice. She went to the computer. Alex did as Lena said, and she and Brainy repeated the process. They used all five grenades Brainy had brought. Finally, the wounds on Kara's chest were gone, but her eyes were the same. Alex felt her pulse, and it was no longer slow and faint. It was pounding hard.

            "I think that's good," Alex said aloud. "Where did you get those?"

            "I broke into the nearest DEO facility," Brainy said.

            "Oh, Brainy. That is so dangerous," Alex said.

            "We need to expect company," Lena said, without losing her focus. Lena stood up, and she locked a canister into place. This opened, and a cloud of nanites rose into the air. They came and started to move into Kara's mouth and nose, getting in through her lungs. A sound made everyone startle, prepared to fight.

            "Alex!" J'onn called.

            "J'onn!" Alex called back and went to find him in the hall. J'onn came inside.

            "There are helicopters all round. They know that Supergirl is in this area," J'onn said. At the sight of Kara, he went shock still. "I'll go out as Supergirl and lead them away from here. But you all have to move as soon as you can." J'onn shape-shifted into Supergirl at once.

            "Wait, and let me come with you," Lena said. "We can stage a fight and draw them away from the city altogether."

            "Let me go," Brainy said.

            "They'll recognize you," Lena said.

            "Give me your suit. I'm sure I can learn how to use it quickly," Brainy said.

            "It's encrypted with my DNA," Lena told him. "You climb into this suit, and it will lock you inside, totally helpless." Lena thought hard for only a moment. "You don't need me here." Lena stood up, looking at Kara, obviously terribly shaken. "Come and take my place."

            Brainy came and sat down at Lena's computer. She ran him through the program quickly. J'onn came and place his hand on Kara's forehead. He went quiet for a long moment, while Alex watched, stiff with fear.

            "She is far away," J'onn said. "Let me call her back." J'onn placed both hands on Kara's temples. He closed his eyes and went still. Alex stood, feeling like the only useless person in the room. She came and took Kara's hand in both of her own.

            After a minute, Lena stood up. She waited quietly for J'onn. J'onn stood up at last.

            "I don't know if she can hear me to be honest," J'onn said and looked up at Alex. "I have only recently begun to be able to even discern the shape of kryptonian minds. Stay with her, Alex."

            "I'm not going anywhere," Alex said.

            At that, Lena led their way out. She and J'onn went to create a diversion. Alex was torn whether to let go of Kara to come and see the program. As if reading her mind, Brainy spoke aloud.

            "The nanites are working to remove the kryptonite from Kara's system. They are currently at 4% completion," Brainy said. Alex looked at Kara's face, haunted by the strange and dark luminescence in Kara's eyes.

            "Come on, Kara," Alex said. "Stay with us. We need you so much."

            "They're at 7% percent now," Brainy said.

            Alex kept on talking to Kara, while Brainy announced the slow progress being made inside her body. Kara was still, lying on the table. Her eyes were shining, not empty, but reflecting a dark world.

Chapter Text

            "The nanites are at 100%. The bullet fragments are out along with any residue," Brainy told Alex.

            Alex stood up right away. Kara's eyes were closed, and Alex got a light. The horrible, shining gray was gone from Kara's eyes. Seeing the clear white and familiar, bright blue of her sister's eyes made Alex's chest ache with profound relief. Kara's pupils responded to the light. Her heart rate had slowed some. She was still unconscious, and Alex did not know why.

            "We need to figure out why she's still out," Alex said.

            "She still has a lot of red kryptonite in her body," Brainy said.

            "Can you get that out?" Alex asked.

            "Yes. I think it's safe now. I wish Lena were here," Brainy said.

            "You wish Lena were here for what?" Lena's voice said. She and J'onn were just returning. They looked exhausted. Lena wore her normal clothes, but Alex saw a pendant hanging around her neck inside her shirt that she recognized as a softened version of the glowing white orb below the throat of her nanite suit. Lena came over to Brainy, glancing at Kara on her way. She looked at all the statistics.

            "She didn't wake up?" Lena asked Alex.

            "No," Alex said. "Could be red kryptonite."

            "We should be safe to get that out now," Lena said. "If we don't, she might wake up and go after Lillian again." Lena activated a new cloud of nanites. She placed electrodes on Kara's temple and the base of her skull. She considered the feed she was getting. "These cognitive patterns look like she's handled the red kryptonite on her own. Let's get it out in case there's something else going on that we can't see. She needs the sun, and we need to get out of here. We have a few more hours until sunrise here. One of us could take her east."  

            "None of us would make it. Every drone and aircraft this country owns will be out after Supergirl, especially if she's already hurt," J'onn said. "Keeping low and close to the city is our best defense."

            "How about some more misdirection?" Lena said.

            "Supergirl sightings all over the city?" J'onn said.

            "Can you do that without taking too many risks?" Lena said.

            "I'll wipe someone's memory if I have to in order to save Kara," J'onn said.

            "I can create a lot of false sightings and noise just using digital," Brainy said.

            "Then that's our plan. We have to work from somewhere else. There could already be police at the L Corp labs. I have another facility west of the city no one knows about," Lena said.

            In twenty minutes, they had managed to load up three L Corp vans. They loaded Kara into a fourth one. Alex drove this one. She did not like how conspicuous they were. Lena did not seem worried. She sat and generated false orders that would explain their activity if anyone noticed. In the garage just before they left, Lena entered a lot of codes into a panel. Everything locked down.

            "In hour, the labs will be incinerated," Lena said.

            "Won't that draw more notice than just leaving it here?" Alex asked.

            "The fire will be contained. No one will notice," Lena told her.

            Alex had to trust Lena on this, as they all set out. They came to the edge of the city where the desert started and found the new facility. They drove in large open hangar that once held airplanes. After they unloaded everything beginning with Kara, Alex and Lena ran every test they could think up on Kara. All they could see was that her body temperature was low, and Lena said there was less energy coming off her cells than normal. J'onn tried once more to get a feel for Kara's psyche, pushing at his new abilities to try and access a kryptonian mind for the first time. He could only say she was far away.

            "I should go, so you can be ready at sunrise," J'onn said. Brainy holed himself up in a room full computers. Alex and Lena stayed with Kara, unable to think of anything more that would be useful to try.

            Alex finally sat down and put her head in her hands. Lena came and placed a hand on Alex's shoulder.

            "Are you scared?" Lena asked, though it was not really a question.

"I'm terrified. I've never seen her under this long. And I've never seen anything affect her that I couldn’t diagnose or identify."

            "Have faith in Kara," Lena said. "Her body fought off three types of kryptonite at once. I wouldn't expect her recovery to be fast during the night. We need the sun. That's where Kara's strength comes from. At least, the part that doesn’t come from her bond with you."

            When sunrise finally drew near, Lena connected herself and Alex with comm links. She put one on Kara, then Lena activated her suit. She picked Kara up easily. She carried her onto a cargo elevator, and Alex came with them to the roof. Alex would go down and be their lookout for drones, aircrafts, and any other forces sent their way. Lena put Kara down carefully, and they sat and waited in silence with Kara held in both of their arms.

            Enough sunlight finally came to reach across the sky.

            "I'm going up," Lena said, and Alex nodded.

            Lena put up her helmet. Lena got Kara in her arms once more, and she rose up into the sky, until she reached the very edge of the atmosphere. Lena hovered there with Kara in her arms, letting the increasing sunlight pour over her. As the minutes passed, Lena struggled with her own sense of fear. She watched Kara's face closely, the sunlight spilling over her. At last, Kara's brows furrowed. She opened her eyes, as if struggling to come out of a deep sleep. Lena very nearly cried in relief.

            Kara seemed confused or overwhelmed. Lena let them drop slowly, until the air was thick enough to put her helmet back. Kara looked at Lena's face and blinked in bewilderment and possibly in pain. She went to get up, and Lena let her. Kara hovered, unstable, in the air. She turned to look at that sun for a long time, and then she looked back at Lena.

            "Alex," Lena said. "She's awake."

            "Kara?" Alex said over the comms.

            "Alex?" Kara answered.  

            "Oh, thank God," Alex said and broke at once into weeping, and Kara listened to her for a long moment.

            "Where's Lillian?" Kara asked Lena.

            "I had to let her go," Lena said.

            "You set a trap for Lillian," Kara said, "You knew she would come for that suit. You knew you had one that could beat it."

            "Yes," Lena said. "I should never have told you as much as I did. I should have known that you would get caught in the middle."  

            "You warned me about the red kryptonite. You warned me I couldn't beat Lillian. You knew," Kara said.

            Lena looked filled with remorse. Kara hung in the air, burdened and exhausted. The conversation was cut off by Alex on the comms.

            "You've got incoming!" Alex said.

            At once, Lena produced the red box that held Kara's suit. She threw it to Kara, who caught it easily. Kara activated the suit and let the helmet down. A thin swarm of unmanned drones zoomed in on them. At once, Lena shot blasts of electricity that sent a few of them free-falling to the desert sand far below. They were both surrounded within moments. Kara took up the fight, taking drones out of the air with her heat vision and her fists, as they released glowing green kryptonite in every form from lasers to gases to shards of crystals. Fighting together, Kara and Lena tore through the lot within minutes. They hovered in the air, expecting more, but Brainy and J'onn interference must have been working. The world was silent.

            Lena dropped down and went to retrieve some of the units that had fallen whole. She focused on scanning these and prying out tracking devices. She gathered these into a force field generated by a tiny component and sent this flying back to her labs. Kara landed nearby on the sand. The symbol on her chest was ruined by a blood stain. She was still recognizable as Supergirl, and they needed to get out of the open. Lena led the way, and they flew back to the labs.

            The moment they got inside, Alex rushed to Kara. They embraced for a long time. Lena noticed that Kara did not smile. She seemed rather severe. She asked at once what their current situation was. They gave her the best update they could. J'onn and Brainy were still at work. They had developed a system where J'onn would pop up as Supergirl, and then Brainy would confuse the drones sent to stop him. J'onn would take as many of these out as he could, and then he would dive down into the city and shape shift. As the response on the ground moved, they would go to another location. They needed to keep going to keep the real appearance of Supergirl from standing out. Kara offered to go out and fight, and every other person involved demanded that she stay right where she was. Kara did not even try to fight them on this.

            Out in the sunlight on the roof, Kara kept a lookout. The labs had no real place to sleep, and Alex came up to find Kara. She lay down and rested next to her. Eventually, Kara got weary from looking out at the empty sky and the empty desert. She lay down next to Alex, and Alex moved over to put her head on Kara's shoulder. Kara remembered her bloody suit, and she pulled her cloak over her chest to go beneath Alex's arm. Alex held Kara tight.

            "Are you ok?" Alex asked.

            "I honestly don't know anymore," Kara said.

            "That's fair," Alex answered. After a while, Alex pulled the edge of Kara's cloak over her face to hide her from the sun. Kara lay letting the full sunlight sink into her. Both of them fell asleep that way, even with the hard floor under them and the full sun streaming down. They were woken when Lena came up and realized they had been asleep.

            "Oh, sorry," Lena said softly.

            "It's ok," Kara said.

            "Yeah," Alex said, and her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and sat up with her arms braced on the ground behind her, squinting into the sun.

            "Brainy and J'onn called it quits. Looks like J'onn is in the clear. He stayed downtown just to feel things out a while longer. I need to go in to work," Lena said.

            "I have to call Alice," Kara said, suddenly remembering.

            "I talked to James and Alice," Lena said. "You're out for the day doing field work that requires travel."

            "What am I doing?" Kara asked, sitting herself up heavily.

            "You're going home, and you're either going to sleep or order takeout.  If you do anything else, then as your friend, I swear I will fire you instantly," Lena said.  

            "What about everyone else?" Kara said, and her voice actually rasped with exhaustion.

            "They're doing the same. Alex will have to stay here and lay low. I'll get another place set up quick. If nothing goes wrong, you can be there by tonight and sleep in a real bed," Lena said.

            "Come on," Alex said touching Kara's shoulder. "You should go home and rest. We have to hide your suit somehow, even if you have to ride in the back of the van in your underwear."

            "What am I supposed to do with the two of you ganging up on me?" Kara complained half-heartedly.

            "Go home and go to sleep," Alex said simply.  

            "You should keep your nano-suit nearby, Kara" Lena said. "Lillian knows where you live. She won't try anything public, and I don't think she will out you as Supergirl. I think she'll lay low and regroup, until she has a real plan in place. But you should be ready for some crazy move from the government in case they get a lead somehow, and I could always be wrong."

            As she stood up, Kara got a look at her suit again. She hesitated a moment, and then she just pulled off her cape followed by the upper half of her suit. Alex got Kara by the shoulder and blatantly looked at the blood stains on Kara's skin, checking to see if there were any injuries or scars remaining. Kara let her. There weren't any marks. Lena looked away. She glanced over once and immediately went down the staircase. Alex went down next, and Kara followed her folding the suit around the bullet holes and the blood stains and hiding these in her fist. Kara tried to tell herself that a bra wasn't really any different than a bathing suit, which almost worked, except that Kara would never actually wear a bikini top to the beach. They found Brainy in their makeshift communications room staring at a handful of monitors. He turned to them and considered Kara for only a second.

            "Your suit is ruined," Brainy said as if he had just remembered the facts of the situation. He came and reached out for the shirt of Kara's suit, looking at the garment and not at Kara. "I think I can repair that." Brainy unzipped his jacket and handed it to Kara without saying a word or even looking up at her. He had on a plain, white t-shirt underneath. They traded, and he took her suit and laid it out, considering the damage. Kara put on the jacket and zipped it up.

            "Thanks, Brainy," Kara said. She pulled off her boots and her skirt. Kara stood barefoot in a pair of dark tights. The jacket hung just low enough that it could have been hiding an extremely short skirt. She looked up at Alex and shrugged. "That's as good as we're going to get."

            "You'll look like you're just getting in from the club. Not a club you'd actually go to, but – " Alex said with a shrug and a nod.

            "I'll take you," Lena said pointing the way and suddenly willing to look at Kara once more. Kara and Alex hugged and held on for a long time. Kara came put her hand on Brainy's shoulder. He placed his hand over hers. She left the rest of her suit with the ruined shirt, touching her cloak and considering the ruined emblem. She could see the three bullet holes and cuts from the kryptonite shards that had ripped into her body, and the idea of the others having to see her badly wounded troubled her deeply.

            The ride through the city was a strange one. Everything was loud with the chatter J'onn had stirred up. Lena kept spotting drones high up. Kara leaned over into the window, trying to ignore the sounds. Lena drove the L Corp van in focused silence. Kara could only tell that Lena was tired, because she seemed especially focused and cautious with her driving. They reached Kara's apartment. Lena managed to parallel park the van in one try, and she immediately sagged in the seat and squeezed the back of her own neck, obviously fighting her exhaustion. She blinked once hard and looked more or less fine.

            "Looks clear," Lena said, considering the building. They got out, and Lena led their way, partly blocking anyone from being able to see Kara. They got to the door without meeting anyone along the way.

            Kara only remembered at the last moment that she did not have her keys. Normally, she would have gone out and flown up to her window. Today, she popped her locks and looked up at Lena. They both stepped inside. Kara went and got a pair of pajama pants. She found Lena getting a drink of water at the sink.

            "When are you going to sleep?" Kara asked.

            "Tonight," Lena said. "I'm used to sleepless nights."

            "I hope there are only fun reasons for that," Kara said, attempting a joke. Lena tried to smile and almost succeeded. Kara could tell that Lena had to go. They came to each other and embraced in silence. They held on for a long time. Lena looked grave when they let go.

            "I'm sorry, Kara," Lena said with great remorse.

            "So am I," Kara responded and could not think of what to say next. Lena was silent, as well. She seemed terribly worried. "We'll be alright," Kara said, offering a vague comfort.

            Lena made a flicker of a smile at this. She still looked deeply troubled. She let go of Kara and left, pulling the broken door closed, even though it would never stay.

Chapter Text

            The quiet of Kara's apartment felt more ominous than peaceful. After a few minutes, she went and got into the shower. She turned on only the hot water and scrubbed dried blood off her skin. After that, she just stood there letting the water flow over her body, becoming acutely aware that she was alive. When all the hot water was long gone, she climbed out. Kara got fully dressed, as if she were at the beginning of a new day. The world outside her apartment seemed loud and hostile. She knew that she could not go to sleep, despite how exhausted she felt. She considered going into work at CatCo, but everyone expected her to rest and recover. Their fight with Lillian wasn't over. In fact, it was only just beginning. She could not help but think that Lena would have already ended it were it not for her. Kara went and curled up on her couch. The stillness in her apartment felt overwhelming. There was nowhere to go and nothing she could really do now.

            Eventually, Kara moved down to her floor. She settled herself and tried to meditate. Her mind would quiet quickly, but Kara found only emptiness inside of herself today. The feeling brought no comfort at all. She pulled her knees up and hid her face on her arms. Kara stayed that way for a long time. Suddenly, she knew that J'onn was coming. She lifted her head and realized that it was not a sound that let her know. She simply knew he was coming. She got up and put on water for tea. When she heard J'onn's footsteps on the stairs, she came to her door.

            When he saw Kara, J'onn smiled fully, obviously comforted to see her alive, awake, and standing. He placed his hand on Kara's shoulder. She put her hand over his, and then she took his hand to draw him inside. She let go and went to get cups down.

            "I somehow knew you were coming just now," Kara said. J'onn considered her with an eyebrow raised. He realized what she meant and looked rather pleased.

            "You must have a sense of the connection I made with your psyche. I got a feel for your mind, when you were unconscious and injured. I could still feel you, even after I left. I felt it when you woke up. I also knew you were here, alone. What I didn't understand was why you are still suffering," J'onn said.

            "I'm fine," Kara said, and J'onn only looked at her. Kara found herself about to cry and rubbed her face with both hands. She turned to pour their tea water to gather herself a moment and turned the burner off.

            "Tell me what's happening," J'onn said. "I can feel it, but I can't see it."

            "J'onn, I messed up," Kara said and turned around.

            "It's inevitable that you will make mistakes. For people in dire circumstances, the consequences of their actions become dire. That blows the severity of our mistakes out of proportion," J'onn said.

            "No," Kara said. "I am dangerous, J'onn. What happened last night with Lillian, I was working against my own friends. That's the second time in a handful of days. You all risked so much and worked so hard to save me. I went into the building knowing Lillian was there and in my right mind. I should have waited for backup. Then I chased after Lillian, after she hit me with red kryptonite. No matter what state of mind I'm in, I am still dangerous. I was naïve and worried, and then I was rash and enraged. I'm reckless and… not as good as I need to be. The trick Lillian pulled, I never saw coming. I won't be smart enough to outmaneuver Lillian."

            "Lillian will have to be smarter than all of us combined, and that includes Lena. None of us should try going after her on our own. We need each other to win this."

            "Maybe Lena would be better off on her own," Kara said, and she very nearly cried. J'onn came and put his hand on Kara's shoulder once more. She could not think what else to say or why her heart felt so broken.

            "Kara, you know that is not true. No one is better off alone. You have had a lot of inner demons to face lately," J'onn said.

            "It's like everything I've tried to keep locked away keeps getting dragged out and strewn all over in front of the entire world. I'm used to fighting, J'onn. I know how to live in the midst of fighting. But I never expected them to be able to bring the fight inside my own mind. That's just so intimate, and I'm taking damage in a way no one can see and that I don't know how to heal. I don't know how do this."  

            "Maybe I can be of some help."

            "I tried meditating. It's helped before, but today I just feel so empty."

            "Do you mind trying again and letting me see what I can feel happening inside your mind?"

            Kara nodded in earnest. They went and sat down on her rug facing one another. Kara's knees were almost touching J'onn's. Kara focused and closed her eyes. The feel of the room around her changed in Kara's mind, and then she realized that it was J'onn's presence she was feeling, as if his psyche were simply so vast that it wrapped around her own and created a safe, enclosed space within the room. Kara let her mind quiet, and the empty feeling rose inside her once more. Eventually, J'onn spoke.

            "Your psyche does feel injured to me. It's like you've been fighting, until everything is battered down. I think I can feel where you need to go."      

            "Where?"

            "Someplace deep in your psyche still feels full of intense activity. I imagine you repressed something out of survival instinct. It's far outside of conscious thought now. I believe you will find what you need there."

            "Will you come with me?"

            "I don't know if I will have the ability take on much of a presence in your psyche. The innermost parts of the mind are not a place I can access with anyone, not unless I am very intimate with a person and they draw me in willingly. I've only begun to be able to access a kryptonian mind. I do think I will be able guide you to the place you need to go. I have visited deep recesses of my own mind this way before. I found both terrible and beautiful things there, memories of my family, and so much that I believed I had forgotten. I locked those parts of myself away to try to protect myself. The cost was greater than I understood at the time."

            Kara considered what she might find, and her heart ached already. The dream she had of the death of Krypton and her foster family came into her thoughts. Her trust in J'onn allowed her to keep her nerve.

            "Take me wherever you think I need to go," Kara said.

            As Kara closed her eyes once more and her mind quieted, she found herself enveloped by a sense of place. The world was dark, but instead of cold and empty, this world felt comforting and alive with warmth and potential. Someone was with her, and Kara recognized J'onn in a manner far beyond sight. He started to lead, and Kara followed him. They journeyed towards a horizon that appeared gray in the distance. Eventually, they came to a river. There was light in this place. The light was cool and strange, as indirect as twilight or dawn, and yet without any clear source. Beyond the river was a vast landscape of gray and empty hills.

            Kara turned to J'onn, and he gestured across the river. Kara rose up and floated across and looked back at J'onn. He stood on the other side, waiting for her.  

            Kara walked through a world that was silent and still, until she saw a silhouette on the horizon. As she got closer, Kara thought at first that it was her mother. Then she grew worried that it was her aunt Astra. Whoever the person was saw Kara and set out towards her, as well.

            When they were close enough, Kara recognized the figure. Supergirl strode confidently towards her. She approached a mirror image of herself. For the first time, Kara would get to meet Supergirl, emblem blazing on her chest. Her suit was not torn or stained. The idea of meeting herself in her own mind perplexed Kara, but she kept on.

            When they drew close, Kara grew sharp and wary. There was something amiss with this version of Supergirl. Kara did not trust her. The two of them considered one another in silence, and suddenly Kara knew who she was seeing. This was the person she had become under the influence of red kryptonite. She was standing in front of her shadow self. Kara flushed with anger and a strange kind of shame. Kara felt as if this person were masquerading as herself. She wished that she had her super suit instead of her regular clothes on, so at least they could both present with equal authority. They read one another easily, and they were both irritated to meet this way.    

            "It's you," Kara said, her eyes falling to the ground. Kara went silent, overcome. "I didn't expect to find you here."

            "Who were you hoping to find?" Supergirl said. "Your mom and dad? Maybe your big sister? You are always looking for somebody to tell you what to do. Your baby cousin? Or that bitch you used to work under?"

            "Leave Miss Grant out of this," Kara said, and her head whipped up in irritation.

            "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know that one was off limits," Supergirl said, holding up her hands in mock contrition. "I forgot that you have a tendency towards hero worship. Which is ironic really, given that every six-year-old girl in the country has a lunchbox or a t-shirt bearing your symbol. That way mommy and daddy can imagine she will somehow grow up and magically overcome a society that would have her slitting her wrists by thirteen."

            "Stop," Kara said.

            "I guess you probably don't want to be reminded that you would do absolutely nothing to change the systems that shape this world. You probably don't want to remember that I was the one who was willing to raise hell. You would have bowed down in full submission to an authoritarian state promoting a hate campaign just to mask a platform based on simple monetary greed."

            "You nearly got everyone I loved killed in a matter of days. The DEO was taken over. Alex and Brainy had to go into hiding."

            "Everyone except you understands what I did, and I got interrupted. You were the one who held onto that crystal. You were the one who called me out to save the day. You needed a hero who was willing to do what you would not do."

            "I made a mistake. You're rash and self-focused. I made a promise to Nia and to Alex. You broke both of those as if they meant nothing."  

            "You did not let me finish what I started, or they would be grateful now. You are the one who almost got Alex and yourself killed. That was not me."

            "I never would have gone after Lillian."  

            "And I never would have let her go!"

            "You are not me!" the two of yelled at one another in synchronicity.

            "You really would have killed Lillian?" Kara said.

            "There are plenty of ways to stop someone without killing them," Supergirl said.

            "She's still Lena's mother," Kara said.

            A punch hit Kara's jaw and sent her rolling across the ground. Her vision was blurred for a moment, and she shook her head. Her glasses were gone, no doubt shattered. Kara picked herself up off the ground, working her jaw to feel that it was not broken. She looked up incredulously at Supergirl, who was standing with her hands on her hips looking down at Kara rather casually, a perfect, mirror image of herself.    

            "You sucker punched me!" Kara said.

            "Guess that makes you a sucker. You deserve to be taken for a fool for talking like a fool about Lillian Luthor. You heard what Lena said. Don't even pretend you've forgotten. Do you think there aren't a thousand stories like the ones she let spill that she keeps hidden just beneath the surface?"

            "I can't help Lena by hurting Lillian," Kara said.  

            "You can help Lena by stopping Lillian, whatever it takes, instead of holding back like you always do. Why do you think Lena kept you out of this? She would have invited me in."

            "Lena kept me out of this, because she doesn’t trust people. If anything, you've done your best to make that worse."  

            "I love Lena!" Supergirl said in challenge.

            "So do I!" Kara challenged back.

            "Well, there's something we can agree on then. Do you really think Lena would want you when she could have me? Why do you think she was so quick to give you more doses of red kryptonite? She's looking for me, whether you want to admit it to yourself or not. Why wouldn't she be after the first time? When's the last time you pinned someone to a wall? Actually, when's the last you time you even looked at a woman a second time just for the enjoyment of it?"

            "Shut up. You got with Lena on borrowed trust. She revoked that trust as soon as she figured out what had happened."  

            "Waste not, want not. But that's not your style is it? You're all about want. You pine. You're a piner. Lena is only doing her best to respect your consent, which is so confused, it's honestly painful to witness. I enjoyed my life and my powers and my body more in one day than you do in a year."

            "You are dangerous," Kara said.

            "You're damn right, I am," Supergirl said. With that, Supergirl sprang at Kara. This time Kara was ready, and she dodged and used a quick grapple to send Supergirl slamming into the hillside.

            Fully expecting Supergirl to take time to recover or the very least make some harsh comment, Kara barely got her guard up in time to block as Supergirl came at her at once and crashed into her full force. Despite blocking with both of her arms, Kara was sent tumbling across the ground and slammed into the hillside herself. She coughed and pushed herself up, as Supergirl walked slowly towards her.

            When she got up, Kara saw that her shirt was badly ripped. She hated finding no super suit underneath her top layer of clothing. She wore only a common, ribbed A shirt, the way she would have long ago, before she came out as Supergirl. Kara felt almost naked without her suit and her insignia, even though it did practically nothing to make her less vulnerable physically. She tore the ruined outer shirt off, and the shirt underneath had faired better with only small tear on the stomach that held together well enough. Kara got her fists up, and the two of them squared off in a fair fight.

            They fought hand-to-hand, blocking one another's blows and trying out various combinations on one another. As both of them tried to use holds to get leverage in the fight, they grappled to the ground, twisting over each another. Every time one of them tried to get up, they were dropped by the other. None of the holds took fully, as they were equally good at breaking one another's leverage.

            "You can't win this," Supergirl growled. "I am as fast as you and as strong as you, and I have far more resolve."

            "Has anyone ever told you you're an arrogant jerk?" Kara said.

            Kara let Supergirl think what to say for a split second, and then she landed a sharp body shot. Even as she took the hit, Supergirl used the opening to punch Kara in the face. Even the quick, glancing blow that hit her in the cheek and knocked Kara nearly to the ground.  

            Supergirl stood up fully, and Kara flew off the ground directly into her, smashing her into the hillside. Supergirl's eyes flared up, and Kara met a sudden blast of heat vision with her own. They were so close to one another, still grappling one another by the arms, that the heat was immense and became painful almost at once. Both of them yelled in determination to win out, until at last, at the same moment, they had to let go and turn away from one another.

            Even though they were both stunned briefly, the two of them rushed at one another and fought on. They fought until they were both bruised and bloodied, moving from the air to standing to the ground several times. At last, Supergirl tried as hard as she could to break Kara's arm with a maneuver she learned from Alex, and Kara got out of it only by nearly dislocating her own shoulder to get into position and kicking Supergirl hard in the face, barely in time. They were both hurt badly enough to keep back, considering one another warily.

            "I will not let you put my friends at risk," Kara said still with full determination, even though she held her arm and leaned heavily to one side.

            "I will not allow you to let them take this world away from me!" Supergirl yelled in response with her voice full of rage, as she wiped at blood streaming down from a cut over her eye.

            "This is not your world," Kara said.

            "No. It never was, and it never will be. But this is the only one I have now. If there's no place for me here, no place for the people I love, then this is the end. I'd rather meet it head-on than cower and wait for it close in on me. I will not live in fear. You will not keep me locked in some small, dark place. I see what you refuse to see. They will never stop. They will take everything away from you. I will not let that happen to me again," Supergirl said.

            Kara watched Supergirl's hands shaking, as she tried to wipe blood out of her eye and prepare to continue the fight. As Supergirl charged her, Kara stood her ground. Kara caught one of Supergirl's fists, and the blocked a hold she tried to initiate with her other arm. They grappled, constraining one another and fell to their knees.

            Supergirl growled through gritted teeth and tried to overpower Kara. Kara gripped her teeth in response, finding her full resolve in the recognition and the empathy she now felt burning in her chest with a bright, familiar heat. She held Supergirl back, and they were in a deadlock.

            "You are me," Kara said.

            "I am the strongest force on this earth," Supergirl said to deny this.

            "I know I am. But I can still break. Same as everyone and everything else in existence," Kara said.

            "I will not stand by and watch you fail!" Supergirl said, and the panic she fought to keep inside was revealed in her voice.  

            "Kara, stop! Stop fighting me," Kara said. "You don't have to be afraid of me. I am not going to let anyone I love die in this fight. I am going to make this city safe for aliens. And I am going to try my best to get the girl. And you are going to help me. I will not be afraid of you anymore. You are me. You are me."

            As she spoke, Kara eased off the strength of her hold, only a little at a time, afraid to let her guard down too fast and take a hit. Supergirl matched this change, however, and eased back. Their arms slowly lowered, and finally they let go. They looked at one another, kneeling before each other on the ground. Every expression matched now, as if Kara peered into a strange mirror. As Kara raised her hand, Supergirl raised her hand. And both of their hands were bloodied and shaking as they touched.

            Kara let the tension ease out of her body and her exhaustion surface in its place. She leaned forward, until their foreheads touched. She placed her hand on the back Supergirl's neck and felt as she did the same. They held onto one another in silence for a long time. The stillness around the two of them settled into Kara, and she felt the woman before her become her. She could feel that she was still herself, as well. They were one. Kara was still on the ground, and there was nothing save the empty landscape beyond. She felt far stronger than she had in the days before, perhaps at anytime before in her life.

            After she considered the stillness around her fully, Kara stood up. She turned back to the river, and she could barely make out the line of J'onn's silhouette on the other side. Kara set out towards him with a steady stride. Her body no longer hurt from the fight, and she walked at a normal pace only to have a moment to herself, moving in meditation and focus in the stillness of her own mind.

            On her way, Kara realized someone else was there with her, on this side of the river. Kara stopped abruptly, nearly putting up her hands, preparing for another fight. They never rose, as she found herself looking up at two women, and both of them were Lena Luthor. Kara looked from one to the other, certain they were both somehow truly Lena. One was stiff and guarded, perhaps angry, Kara could not tell. The other stood unguarded, tender and open to Kara. Kara was too surprised to say anything, and then both women spoke at once.

            "I am not afraid of you," Lena said. Kara heard both voices speak at once and found herself without any confusion between the two distinct messages. One was a statement of equality, a challenge even. The other was a promise, an invitation. Kara knew it was an invitation to come with her to bed. Kara stood speechless. She gathered herself to take a step towards Lena. Both figures faded away.

            When Lena had gone, Kara made her way back to the river. J'onn was waiting for her on the other side. He led her back. Kara opened her eyes and returned to the world outside herself. She was still sitting on the floor of her apartment. J'onn was in front of her, and he opened his eyes and considered her closely.

            "You feel different," J'onn said.

            "Better or worse?" Kara asked. J'onn smiled, and Kara smiled back.

            "You feel whole, integrated.   Like something healed that was broken before," J'onn said. Kara reached over to place her hands on both of J'onn's hands.

            "Thank you for guiding me to where I needed to go," Kara said. Kara stood up.

            "Did you find some part of yourself that was missing there?" J'onn asked. Kara reached down and brought J'onn to his feet.

            "Missing, until conspicuously present", Kara said. J'onn smiled at this and looked perplexed. "Could you see what was happening?"

            "No. But I wouldn't expect anyone else to be that deep in your inner landscape. I knew it had to be some part of you."

            "I saw Lena there."

            "You saw Lena Luthor? Do it feel like it was really her? Or just an image of her in your own mind?"

            "I felt certain it was her. It was only for a moment." J'onn blinked in surprise. He looked pleased.

            "I wouldn't have thought that was possible. You two must have a very strong connection."

            A knock came on Kara's door. She saw Nia Nal in her hall.

            "Nia, come in!" Kara called.

            Nia pushed open the broken door. Kara crossed the room to her, as Nia came in tentatively, carrying bags of food. She must have left CatCo for lunch, picked up take out, and brought it to Kara's. Nia put the bags down on Kara's counter, and then she got a good look at Kara.

            "Brainy said you were ok, but I thought you might be freaked out still or maybe just lonely. And, honestly, I needed to see you to get that image out of my head," Nia said.

            "You're not the only one," J'onn said.

            Nia looked eager and still nervous. She came and practically threw her arms around Kara's neck. Nia hugged Kara close. Kara hugged Nia back, smiling, until she felt how hard Nia held onto her and then she laughed.

            "It's ok. I'm ok now," Kara said. She added very softly and with full faith in herself. "I promise."

Chapter Text

            Alex sat on a stool in the empty, expensive space of what would apparently be her home for who knew how long. She had followed an extremely long and specific set of directions from Lena to arrive at this apartment and let herself in through several layers of security. When someone knocked on the door, Alex got out her gun. She had received a text from Lena not long before saying that she was about to drop by. A set of monitors along the sides of the doors showed empty hallways and Lena standing at the door with two large bags. Alex got the locks undone and opened the door.

            "Hi," Lena said.

            "Hey," Alex said and moved to let Lena come inside.

            "I brought you some clothes, towels, soap, other stuff you might want," Lena said, shifting the bags around.

            "That's kind. Come in. It's good to see someone, honestly," Alex said and waved Lena inside. Lena stepped in as if this were not her own house she was entering. She lingered just inside, waiting for Alex to lead the way.

            "Have you been alone all day?" Lena asked.

            "No. Brainy was with me, and then J'onn stopped by this place earlier. It just feels weird being alone. I feel amped still."

            "I'm sure we're all on edge. Have you slept?"

            "Not really. You?"

            "I just left work. I'm going to go home and do some stress drinking. Then maybe I will get to sleep."

            "My plan exactly. I asked J'onn to bring me this." Alex went and brandished a rather fine bottle of bourbon. "I haven't had a drink since the DEO was bombed. Want to join me?"

            "Sure," Lena said. Alex got two glasses down. She poured them both a heavy drink. Lena climbed onto a stool and looked down into her glass. Alex found it hard to tell that Lena was exhausted. She seemed more pensive or like she was hiding some vague sadness. "Thanks for the drink," Lena said, and Alex huffed a bit of a laugh.

            "You've been housing me, even though I'm a fugitive. I think I owe you more than a drink," Alex said.

            "I'm surprised now your adrenaline has worn off that you didn't take a swing at me, if I'm honest," Lena said.

            "What? Why?"

            "I nearly got your sister killed."

            "How is that? By my estimation, it was me who almost got Kara killed."

            "What on earth are you talking about?"

            "I was there when Lillian shot Kara. I could have hit Lillian with a low enough blast to knock her out. I could have restrained her. I could have stopped Kara from getting between me and the gun. I could have blocked Kara myself. I had my vest on. I was so fixated on the authorities and getting us the hell out of there, I wasn't even looking at Lillian as a real threat. I guess I just got used to us winning. This being on the other side of the law business is something I don't know how to do. Sirens used to mean backup was coming, not another layer of threat. My focus got scattered, and I made a classic mistake."

            "Kara would never have been there if I hadn’t told her about Lillian in the first place. It's not your fault they had a confrontation. I set a trap for Lillian, and I baited Kara into it, as well. I'm more than aware of what Lillian is capable of. I am the only one who was. I should have kept Kara out of this." As Lena took a drink, stoic and silent, Alex considered her closely.

            "So is that what you're taking away from this?" Alex asked and looked worried. "That's not good." Alex put down her glass. Lena considered Alex closely, a bit thrown. Alex composed her thoughts for a moment. "Lena, you do know that Kara is never going to stop trying to be close to you, right?" Lena raised an eyebrow and looked a little overwhelmed by this sudden statement. "If you've decided that what went wrong was that you and Kara got too close, that will be heartbreaking for Kara. She recovers from near-death experiences surprisingly fast. Believe me. That will take a whole lot longer to heal."

            "I don't know how to see it any other way," Lena told Alex with great honesty. She took a drink. Alex got the sense that Lena wasn't going to say anything else. For the first time, Alex got an intuitive sense of how much work Kara had done to get as close to Lena as she was. Alex huffed a laugh.

            "Wow," Alex said. "You and I are more similar than I thought. You're a loner." Lena merely nodded at this. "I've always been a loner. Except that I am also Kara's sister. You cannot be a loner with Kara." Lena scoffed and seemed to understand this sentiment. "Has it even occurred to you that you should have told Kara more rather than less?" Lena's eyebrows went up, and Alex could see that the answer was no. Alex waited for Lena to respond anyways.

            "Not really," Lena said. Alex nodded. They sat together in silence, taking sips of bourbon for a long time.

            "You know Kara loves you? And I'm sure you're going to say that Kara loves everybody. Which is true, but it's different with you. With you, it's personal," Alex said. Lena considered Alex in silence, as Alex gave Lena an unflinching look. "Maybe she's in love with you. I can't speak for Kara, but I think that she is. If she is, I know exactly what she'll do. She'll try to earn it. That's what Kara does.

            "You know Kara has always believed that she owes something to this world. From her perspective, she came here as a refuge and an orphan. She believes that her finding a place here was this generous gift that was given to her. Even when we were girls, she would tell me how she owed so much to this world. She would say it with such passion and such conviction. And I never understood that, as a teenager, because I knew – I knew that this world owed me. Kara was ten times better on her worst day than I was on my best. I thought her idea was just crazy.  

            "Over the years, I've come to see things from Kara's perspective. I grew up and became less lost in myself, and I started recognizing what all I had been given. I think that if you have what you need in order to survive, once you're past that threshold then you do owe something. I find it hard to articulate in exactly what way. People often talk about owing something to their religion or their nation or their children. I think it's even bigger and harder to name – what we owe. We get to live and so we in turn ought to be giving life, and not in some mindless biological imperative, but in truth and in spirit. I'm learning everyday how to do that better.

            "One thing I never changed my mind about, though, is that Kara, she's the gift. One that this world never deserved. She sees all of this potential and all of this beauty in the world. Just the same way she saw my potential and believed in me. She thought so well of me, way before I deserved it. I am so much stronger and so much more for having Kara in my life. I didn't do anything to deserve Kara as a sister. She just arrived one day. I was not fit for the job at first. Then I recognized what I had and what she believed about me, and I changed into something more – more myself and also just more. It is an honor to be Kara's sister. I have to believe in Kara's vision, because I believe in her.

            "Kara loves you, Lena Luthor. She sees something in you. When you first showed up, she recognized this beautiful potential in you, right away. And the rest of us were still fixated on your family name and trying to warn her off. She was so disappointed in the rest of us for not seeing what was there. Any argument was going to result in her becoming distant from us, not from you. I could tell right away. What she sees is real.

            "At the end of the day, I think you cannot question whether you deserve Kara's love. You just have to recognize that you already have it. Then you have to decide what you're going to do in response. I live everyday knowing I would be broken for the rest of my life if I lost Kara. Believe me when I say, I am just as scared as you are. I don't want you to break my sister's heart by drawing away from her in response to what happened. She deserves better. Even if we live to be old, life is short, and our reasonable life expectancies are probably a third of what's average."

            "Alex, I –" Lena started. She grew overwhelmed and put a hand over her eyes. Alex thought that Lena probably would have cried if she had been alone, but she gripped her jaw and sat stoic and reserved. "I am a Luthor. Lillian Luthor raised me, and I cannot shed her influence. Some of us simply were not put on this earth to love. We aren't suited to the task. We have other uses."

            "Bullshit," Alex said with the softest, lighthearted scoff. "Maybe that is how the Luthor family treated you. But that's a lie. Of course, you are, Lena." They were silent. Lena could not look at Alex. Alex saw that Lena's hands were shaking when she took a drink. Lena finally spoke.

            "I don't know what to say to you," Lena managed.

            "Well, you get to make your own choices. I'm not trying to put any expectations on you. But you have something that I'm not sure anyone else has ever had before – with Kara. I want to make sure that you recognize that."

            "I promise you that I will never take Kara for granted," Lena said and looked at Alex.

            "Good, because most of this world does," Alex said with a cynical bit of a laugh, and she shook her head and became grave. Lena nodded in silent agreement. They both grew lost in thought considering the world that surrounded them. A silent solidarity existed between the two of them, as they slowly finished their drinks together.

---

 

            When the L Corp elevators opened, Kara found herself surprised to find Eve at her desk. Kara's workday at CatCo was filled with meetings. They had to make decisions about their next issue. Kara left late, and she texted Lena on her way out to ask if she could stop by. Lena had texted back a yes right away. Kara went to pick up food, already knowing that Lena would not have eaten dinner. It was nearly seven when she arrived.  

            "Eve!" Kara said. "What are you doing working this late?"

            "Hi, Kara! I got a bit behind earlier this week," Eve said.

            "Yeah. I heard a little about that. Supergirl told me that you were incredibly brave. I told her I wasn't surprised to hear that."

            "Oh! Well! I – that's… " Eve blushed vividly and could not finish her thought. Kara smiled at her . Kara decided to come around Eve's desk and give her a big hug. Eve hugged Kara back and calmed down a little bit. She sat back down. "You look great by the way!" Eve said, just before Kara went into Lena's office. Kara touched her glasses and made both a shrug and a smirk.

            "Well, as long as you can tell I tried," Kara joked. Eve made a grin so big that Kara was a bit surprised. Apparently, Eve liked the idea of Kara and Lena together. That made an unanticipated burst of happiness appear in Kara's stomach.

            Lena was on her couch with her head resting heavily on one hand staring at a tablet in the other. She looked up at Kara and appeared both focused and also somewhat bleary. Kara wondered if Lena had ever slept after their ordeal.

            "Kara," Lena said, her tone revealing that she was happy to see her. She cleared her throat when her voice came out rough. She sat up and put the tablet on the table in front of her. "Your sister said you tend to spring back from these things, and you look fine. Very fine, actually." Kara made a half smile at that.

            "I hope you're hungry," Kara said.

            "Mmm, well, I should be anyways." Kara brandished the bag, and Lena gasped. "Are there nachos?"

            "There are so many nachos," Kara affirmed. She came and sat beside Lena and got out their food. Lena rubbed her face, as if she were trying to wake up more. Kara masterfully assembled two serious piles of nachos, and they sat back on the couch and ate. The office looked perfect. No one would guess the windows and wall had been wrecked. "I can't believe you got that wall replaced so fast."

            "I didn't. It's a hologram.," Lena said.

            "Really?" Kara asked.

            "No," Lena said with a bit of a laugh. "Not really. I had eager contractors who worked overnight."

            "Oh," Kara said and laughed a bit herself. Lena was smiling, pleased her fib had worked. Kara lingered over the silence. "I suppose I should still apologize for smashing through your wall, even though that seems small compared with wrecking your plan."

            "I don't blame you for that," Lena said.

            "Who do you blame then?" Kara asked. Lena paused for slightly too long. She made a shrug.

            "Lillian," Lena said.

            "Somehow, you just said 'Lillian', and yet I heard you say that you blame yourself. I mean, my hearing is really good." Lena glanced over at Kara. She did not laugh at the joke and did not deny Kara's read on her. "I've actually been thinking a lot about what you said." Lena tilted her head in curiosity, obviously not yet knowing what Kara meant by this. "When I woke up in the air with you. You said you should never have told me as much as you did."

            "I've been thinking a lot about that, as well. Maybe I should not have said that," Lena said. Kara held in a laugh.

            "So you're just, uh, layering it on?" Kara teased, and Lena laughed openly.

            "No, that came out wrong."

            "I wanted to ask you just out in the open. Do you think you have a better chance of stopping Lillian alone than you would with me and the rest of us backing you?"

            "That was never a possibility in my mind. So I don't know how to answer that."

            "Can you not think of any way to use us that you don't have covered on your own?"

            "I don't like the idea of using you at all. You shouldn't like it either. You trust me too much, Kara."

            "I mean, it's true. I would trust you to do just about anything with me. As recent events have no doubt demonstrated." Kara said the last part with a flippant gesture towards Lena's desk. Kara did not expect Lena to laugh at this, but Lena did, even though she held it in. Lena raised her eyebrows for a moment.

            "I don't know if I could live with myself if I got any of you killed or badly hurt."

            "That wouldn't be on you. The way we do things, everyone makes the plan. Everyone makes their own decisions."

            "You make that sound rather simple. I can't see it that way. I would be driving the plan. Besides, I am responsible for the Luthor family. Maybe you don't see it that way, but I do. The last couple of days, I've been looking back on all the times I considered whether I should kill Lillian while she was still in prison. If I had, so many people would have been kept safe. Instead, I came up with this elaborate plan to catch her in a net by her own doing and send her back to prison. As if that would ever stop her. I am responsible, but I am not taking responsibility. It feels wrong to me to take an out and hand that off to the rest of you."

            "Lena, nobody – and I mean nobody – would ever expect you to kill your own stepmother. Who would even think you could do that?"

            "Well, not you, apparently. I know I could." The way Lena said this and held her body gave Kara the distinct impression that it was worthless to argue.

            "Ok. Let's say you could," Kara said. "You'd have to carry that with you for the rest of your life. That's a huge sacrifice. Why should that be your responsibility?"

            "Because I know so much better than anyone else what she's capable of."

            "Seems to me that is because you were possibly the most intimate victim of her violence. So you should be the last one held responsible for bringing justice when it comes to Lillian Luthor."

            "Maybe, you're right. That doesn't change anything. I am responsible, because she and I are alike. If I can stop her, then I should, and that's that."

            Kara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She sat shaking her head. Lena was talking as if her ideas were reasonable, and to Kara they made no sense at all. She found it hard to bridge the gap between the two of them.

            "There's not much room in this for me, is there?" Kara said aloud, trying to intuit what was happening between the two of them now. "You've got it all tangled together into this tight knot. Nobody else fits in there." Lena made an expression of genuine remorse. Kara thought for a long time how best to respond. "Have you considered that it may have always been Lillian's plan for you to keep you isolated? That maybe that is not your strongest state of being but your weakest?" Lena scoffed and grimaced.

            "That has always been her plan. It's the same now. Once I figured out you were Supergirl, I was certain she would figure it out, as well. I anticipated what she would do. I think she was waiting for me to find out and for our relationship to break, and she got impatient and tried to tell me herself, here in the labs. She was overly confident about how I would respond and that I would feel betrayed and made to seem stupid."

            "You know that I never meant to betray you or make you feel stupid."

            "Yes. I know that. I trust your intentions."

            "Why do I get the sense that, while you do trust my intentions, you don't have faith in my competency when pitted against Lillian?"

            "That's –" Lena got too stressed by how this was framed to go on.

            "To be honest, I've been questioning that, as well."

            "Lillian's plan did not nearly kill you. Mine did. I set you up, Kara. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Looking back now, I should have seen exactly how that was all going to play out. I just lost sight of you in the intensity of everything that's been happening lately. I let my emotions get the best of me, and you got the worst of it. That's a pretty classic dynamic when it comes to me."

            "That last part sounds like bullshit to me to be completely honest. Maybe I should stop trying to get you to feel different about these things. Let's be reasonable. Lillian has had the jump on me since day one, it would seem. I can own that, but I am pissed off. You know that I am going to go after Lillian Luthor. I know that you are going to go after Lillian Luthor. Why should we not work together? How could we possibly stand less of a chance together than we will apart? And are we willing to own the chance we would be taking that our strategies would conflict in potentially self-defeating ways?"

            "I think there's a more salient question. Do you really want to be a part of my plans to take down Lillian? You and I have very different ways of doing things."  

            "I want Lillian and the anti-alien regime out of power. Lena, I also want you to want an alliance with me. Clearly, you don't. To whatever extent you've been tangled up with me and my people recently, you never planned to keep it that way. I wanted that, and I went overly boldly in that direction thinking you were by my side or else would be soon. That's on me and not you. I'm asking you explicitly now to do this with me."

            "Kara, you're asking me to do something I don't know how to do."

            "The way I see it, I already have a lot to lose in this fight. By a lot, I mean basically everything,. You seem to believe there's more risk in working with other people than on your own."

            "Well, that may not be a rational thought," Lena confessed. Kara looked at her, hopeful.

            "So will you try?" Kara asked, not even trying to hide the eagerness in her voice.

            "I will try, but I think I will likely fail."

            "You have no vision of us winning this fight?"

            "No."

            "Well, I wrecked the one you had been building before. Why don't you start by letting me help form a new one?"

            "Ok," Lena said. She lingered a moment, and then picked up her tablet. "I can show you everyone currently in power who I know is linked to Lillian and also who I think is just working parallel to Lillian. I can also show you all the evidence I have on those people of activities ranging from tax fraud to illegal buy outs to sex scandals to rather heinous crimes. People in government tend to side with whatever they believe will maintain the status quo and keep things stable, even when they're wrong. That's the pitch that works for them. So I think a complex, subtle collapse by dismantling the power of these individuals through various avenues has the best chance of winning small but effective alliances."

            "If you're going to show me all of this, I think we might as well get Alex, Brainy, and J'onn together," Kara said, and she half expected Lena to withdraw. Instead, Lena went silent, and then she nodded and looked directly at Kara.

            "Alright. Let's do this," Lena said.

            Kara could not help but grin.

Chapter Text

            They gathered at yet another of Lena's secret labs. This one was small, the tech was some of the finest any of them had ever seen, and the space was alarmingly close to downtown. Brainy made a quick inventory of everything, rattling off what they could do with tech this advanced. Alex was torn between her interest in what he was saying and wondering just how many of these hiding places Lena actually had. Kara was quiet, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed. Lena was bringing up James on a remote call using some minimal, encrypted channel she had built herself.

            "Ok. Lena, how many hidden lairs did you inherit?" Alex asked.

            "Oh, you've seen them all," Lena said flatly, making it clear that she was never going to give Alex an answer to this.

            "That's fair," Alex grumbled.  

            "And I didn't inherit this one. I built this one. I needed someplace to manufacture nanites," Lena said.

            "I can't believe you brought us here in that case," Alex said.

            "That's actually not the biggest thing I'm about to share," Lena said. "Hey, James."

            "Hey," James said. Everyone came into view to make a hello to James, as well. J'onn arrived, and Lena looked rather suspicious of him. He noticed at once.

            "I'm not going to read your mind, Miss Luthor," J'onn said.

            "How do you know that's what I'm thinking?" Lena asked.

            "It's written rather plainly on your face," J'onn said.

            "Actually, if you could do me a favor and try, that'd be helpful," Lena said.

            "You designed some defense against psychics?" J'onn said.

            "Does it work?" Lena asked him with a shrug. J'onn considered for a long moment. His eyes became distant, and then he grabbed his temple and grimaced.

            "Yes," J'onn practically growled, "Though even the most advanced technological shield can still be taken away from you or broken."

            "Not unless you plan to rip it out of my body," Lena said.

            "I didn't mean by me, Miss Luthor," J'onn said.

            "Neither did I. If you think Lillian is above using aliens or meta-humans to her advantage, you misunderstand her hatred of aliens and how exactly it works. You were the only chance I'd have to test this. So thank you for that," Lena said.

            "You're welcome," J'onn said, still squinting a bit.

            "Nia is here," Brainy said and whisked out of the room. Nia came in with Brainy following him. She looked positively thrilled to be in a secret lab.

            "I can't believe you all invited me to this," Nia said.

            "You might want to reserve judgment on whether you're pleased about that, until you find out what a mess we're actually bringing you into," Lena said.

            They all got in a half circle around a main monitor. Lena projected her laptop screen and checked to make sure James could see. Lena led them all through profiles of important people in the city: businessmen, politicians, lawyers, doctors and pastors even. Some of them were already known by everyone in the city as advocates of anti-alien policy, but what Lena knew about these went well beyond common knowledge. She knew where their wealth had come from, when and how they were recruited, and what they hoped to gain. There were not a handful as everyone expected but dozens. Many were not known to have ties to the anti-alien movement at all. A silent awareness that they had been out of their league for a long time passed between Kara, Alex, and J'onn. Nia looked both surprised and stoic at the same time. Brainy looked intensely focused. Kara only realized he was nervous, when Nia took a look at him and reached out and held his hand.

"The politicians who were voted in on an anti-alien platform will be the hardest to remove, because the worst of their actions will be understood as them upholding the will of their constituents. They'll use the bias of ordinary people as a smoke screen for underlying agendas mostly economic policies. So when we come for them, we need to do so in a way that shows without question how they have violated those people's trust. It cannot be an interpretation, it has to be obvious.

            "I can prove that the ARB's tracking system was collecting not only location data but an enormous amount of information including very high-tech genetic profiles. That's horrifying, but more importantly, that is expensive. We can show how tax dollars were moved around and deals were made with foreign companies to manufacture the tech, store and study the data, and benefit from the information gathered. I am the one who took down the ARB's tracking system, and I rolled the keys. So I can decrypt a subset of the data for them to use as evidence, providing that data is found in the ARB's possession by a government investigation beforehand."

            Lena looked over at Kara in silent acknowledgement that she had not told Kara all the details about this when they had talked about it before. Kara was unfazed. She nodded vaguely.  

            "That level of data collection on alien biology would bring all of this under the DEO's jurisdiction," Alex said.

            "My thoughts exactly," J'onn said, "But how would we get anyone reasonable back in charge of the DEO?"

            "What's the instinct to go for black ops instead of a public take down?" Lena asked.

            "That's going to create a public crisis," Alex said.

            "Exactly," Lena said. "Everything else except this, we handle through other channels. This will look like an isolated case, and the government itself will be able to purge this thread of corruption. As long as they have enough backing from the public, people won't hesitate to make careers out of this. I don't believe we need the DEO.

            "I know you all are used to having a government agency behind you. That legitimizes your actions in a way that can't be replaced. At the end of the day, the way I see it, the DEO is only a large budget. Who decides what to do with those resources and what's considered their mission changes over time. A decade ago, they would have black bagged Kara and never let her see the light day again. The only way J'onn ended up in power was to pretend to be someone he was not, and I am sure that he made a lot of compromises to pass as Hank Henshaw over the years for the sake of changing the culture over time."

            "She's not wrong," J'onn admitted.

            "I'm with Lena on this one, we go public," James said.

            "So am I," Nia said.

            "Alright, so this is all offense. This is some of what we might do, and we don't have a lot of time to all agree. Whatever seems the most direct sounds best to me. On the defensive side, what will be Lillian's next move?" Alex said.

            "That's the bigger question," Lena said. Everyone was quiet. Lena realized they were all looking at her and waiting, and she cleared her throat. "I don't honestly know. I do have my guesses. Lillian's plan has been disrupted. That doesn't mean it's been stopped. She meant by this time to have Supergirl out of the way and myself very confused about allegiances. Most importantly, she meant to have the government in her debt and her name restored as a public defender unjustly imprisoned when she was really a prophet of the coming woes in this country. She will try to find another way to get those same things. Supergirl is not off the hook with the government. The table is still set for Lillian. If Lillian can provoke another fight in public or compromise Supergirl, she will. She will probably also come for me first."

            "You're the biggest threat," Kara said.

            "Yes, in Lillian's mind, I am. She also has a terrible desire to own the best tech, and she knows I have something she does not. She doesn't realize what it is yet, but she caught a glimpse. That will tempt her to take some risks. It's mostly likely she'll just be watching, hoping for an opportunity, regrouping and getting her next moves in place," Lena said.

            "So we start with a security review and make sure you're safe," Alex said.

            "I'm not going to submit to that," Lena said.

            "This isn't a police or military action," Alex said with a contrite huff of a laugh, trying to address the way Lena's guard flared up. Lena forced herself to relax.  

            "I don't need a security review. If I could survive Lex this long, I can survive Lillian," Lena said. "Lillian could also try something sudden and unexpected, if she thinks we're all still reeling from the fight before. If she does, I think she will try to apprehend me at the 3B Gala tomorrow night."

            "What is that?" Alex asked.

            "It stands for Big Brave Beautiful Tech. The name was so bad, they abbreviated it years ago," James said.

            "Basically, it's a place for leaders in private tech and other big wigs in National City to rub elbows and make deals. They show off private designs and try to intimidate one another and form partnerships or plan acquisitions. I received my first invite this year," Lena said.

            "Because L Corp is big enough now," Alex said.

            "Well, yes. That and I have intentionally made it look like we're suffering as a company in order to bait Lillian and anyone else into making a move. That's as far as I should probably get into the business side of things. Lillian will have numerous allies already attending, and it's guaranteed to be limited to private security with no police or government presence. The people in attendance are very paranoid, and the government would love to snatch a lot of the tech that will be presented," Lena said.

            "This sounds like a proverbial 'hornets nest,'" Brainy said.

            "It is," Lena said.

            "Why not skip out on this one?" Nia asked.

            "I have a business to represent," Lena said with a shrug.

            "Can you send someone else to represent L Corp?" J'onn asked.

            "It's not that kind of invite," James said.

            "Do you get a plus one?" Alex asked.

            "Yes," Lena said.

            "Who are you taking?" Alex asked.

            "I didn't plan to use it. I planned to go alone. Makes everyone more scared of me," Lena said. Every laughed a bit at that, even Brainy.

            "Can you bring your own security?" Kara asked.

            "Only two people," Lena said.

            "Ok. I have an idea. Why don't we give Lillian exactly what she doesn't expect to see?" Alex said. Alex was looking at Lena, and Lena shook her head not knowing what Alex meant. "Is there any reason to think that Lillian could tell that you already knew that Kara was Supergirl?"

            "No," Lena said.

            "Great. So, she thinks the two of you, however well you are handling it, are having a rough time," Alex said. Kara raised an eyebrow and stood up from the wall.

            "So we make an open show of solidarity," Kara said.

            "Yes. Exactly. Then she either gets mad and goes in when she shouldn't, or she gets intimidated and backs off," Alex said.

            "Giving Lillian something she doesn’t understand is probably the best tactic we have regardless of how she responds. Mind games are her specialty, and she's used to dominating that arena," J'onn agreed.

            "There's no press allowed," Lena said.

            "Not as representatives of the press," Kara said. "Cat Grant got herself invited to that event every year by someone different every year. She was always let in."

            "They'll probably make you sign something and sue you all to hell if you print anything," James said.

            "You think we can be as intimidating as Cat Grant?" Lena said.

            "The two of us? Absolutely," Kara said.

            "You definitely can," Nia said.

            "I also have an idea for your security team," Alex said. They were quiet, waiting to see if Lena would agree. Lena nodded and gave Alex a half smile.

            "Alright. Keep talking," Lena said.

 

---

 

            Kara met Lena on the sidewalk in front of the gala. Lena was already waiting, standing under an awning. The air felt like rain and thick clouds had been on the horizon when the sun went down. Lena was holding her coat and wearing a vivid, red dress with elegant lines that made her look even more powerful than anything Kara had ever seen her wear. Kara touched her glasses, bolstered herself, and came up to Lena. Lena must have been lost in thought, because she flinched a little when Kara approached.

            "Hi!" Kara said, as she took off her coat. Lena seemed to forget to say hello. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and considered Kara's dress.  

            "You're wearing black. I had figured on blue," Lena said.

            "Do I look ok?" Kara asked. Lena gave Kara a bemused expression instead of answering. Kara smiled at her, as if she were contrite.

            "Should I be worried?" Lena said in a tone of great candor. After a second, Kara got the joke. She looked down, and then looked back up again.

            "I promise to get your explicit verbal content if I try to seduce you a second time," Kara said. Lena still looked hesitant, so Kara added. "Someplace private."

            "I guess that's as much insurance as I'm going to get," Lena said. They were both wearing comms. Alex's voice spoke.

            "Kara, are you close?" Alex asked.

            "I just got here," Kara said.

            "Everything is clear inside," Alex said.

            Kara considered Lena and hesitated for only half a second. She offered Lena her arm. Lena took it, and they made their way to the doors. An enormous, dour security guard stood in front of a group of several others. He checked their IDs and fed information into a system.

            "We don't allow members of the press," he said.

            "I'm not here as a representative of the press," Kara said, totally deadpan and eyed him hard.

            "This is my date," Lena said. He considered the two of them.

            "I'll have to ask you to sign an agreement. There will be a lot proprietary technology inside," he said.

            "Confidentiality is my middle name," Kara chimed. The guard stood feigning patience, while Kara read through an agreement on a touchpad he handed her. As she signed and gave it back to him, Alex approached.

            "Everything looks secure, Miss Luthor," Alex said. She and the head guard gave one another sharp looks. He turned to Lena.

            "Is this your head of security?" he asked.

            "Indeed," Lena said.

            Nia Nal came around the corner. She was dressed in floral print dress, and she was positively chipper.

            "Hi!" Kara and Nia said to one another, as if they had not spent all day together at work, both in the precise way that one might greet a puppy.

            "And this is your… other security guard?" he said.

            "Indeed," Lena said once more with a slight smirk. They all started to make their way inside. The guard stood with his hands held together in front of him. Kara dodged back.

            "She's tougher than she looks," Kara said. She gave him a little pat on the back that landed with a loud pop. He made a barely audible grunt and straightened his shoulders, as Kara bounced away.

Chapter Text

            They made an incredibly conspicuous presence walking in as four women all together. Everyone other cluster of four standing in the large, domed room had only one woman. Lena had to admit that showing up alone would be one statement, but showing up with this particular choice of date and security was an even better one.

            "Welcome to the hornet's nest," Lena said.

            "This seems heinous," Kara said.

            "Feels like home to me," Lena said, "So, yes."

            "Luckily, we are here with friends, not looking to make new ones," Nia said.

            "I for one am looking to make new enemies," Alex said.

            "You're going to have a great night," Lena said.

            "I definitely recognize that guy," Nia said. Nia meant from her dreams. She was looking at a man in a very nice suit. Kara did not recognize him.

            "Let's move over that way," Alex said, "And make sure you get a good look at everyone."

            "Do you mind being my wingwoman," Lena said to Kara, "While I talk to a number of people who aren't likely to even address you?"

            "Well, we could all use a stiff dose of humility," Kara said. They split up. Alex and Nia got a pair of drinks and sat at a tall table along one wall, people watching. Lena led the way, and they talked to several friends of the Luthor family and some colleagues of Lena's from MIT. About every fourth person would actually introduce his date, or they would both introduce themselves to Kara. When they parted from one group, Kara spoke to Lena through a grin.

            "How do you live like this?" Kara said.

            "Normally, I have arrived half drunk and gone straight to the bar," Lena said.

            "That makes sense," Kara conceded.

            Finally, a series of presentations started. Lena easily found a place near the front, and Kara stood at her side. The presentations were kept tiny, only three minutes each and only ten of them. Kara imagined that she was likely unduly impressed. When they were finished and done clapping, Lena turned to Kara.

            "Were you impressed with any of that?" Kara asked. Lena made a subtle, prolonged shrug.

            "Some of it was interesting," Lena said. Kara laughed. "People are doing good work."

            They were all led to clear a space, and the music was turned up. Kara listened in on conversations around the room. The storm outside picked up creating a wall of sound that blanketed the room. That made it only easier for Kara to decipher specific voices and sounds.

            "It's really coming down out there," Kara told Lena. Kara had never really listened to this kind of chatter before, people dishing out compliments and laughter and none of it seeming genuine. Kara turned to Lena with her brows furrowed. "Ok. Who is this guy over there in the gray suit? He's going to come and ask you to dance, and he keeps referring to me as 'arms'," Kara said. Lena laughed.

            "That is Matt Brockhurst. He is CEO of one of L Corps' main competitors," Lena said, "And apparently, he's impressed by your arms. But who isn't?" Kara made half a smile. In short order, the man came over and asked Lena to dance. Kara gave him a hard look and only a stiff, partial nod when he asked her if he could "borrow Miss Luthor" from her. Kara listened in as they danced. She found herself irritated by how easily he took Lena's hand and brought his other hand to her back.  

            "I must say that's a beautiful dress," Brockhurst said.

            "Spare me, Matt. What do you really want to talk about?" Lena said.

            "Always business with you."

            "Guilty as charged."

            "I hear L Corp is struggling since you decided to suspend all government contracts."

            "Mm."

            "I wanted to say that's very principled of you."

            "Somehow you say 'principled' and yet what I hear is 'stupid.' Though, I do have exceptional hearing." Kara laughed, as the joke was clearly meant for her.

            "Would you consider partnering with MegaTech?"

            "On what exactly?"

            "Well, that would be up to you. You're the woman with all the ideas."

            "If I had all the ideas, you wouldn't be seeing L Corp stocks drop."

            "I imagine that's because you're hesitant to use the ideas you have. You're waiting for safe ones."

            "I am hesitant to be complicit in mass murder."

            "I mean, I watch the news, as well, but that's a rather dramatic interpretation don't you think?"

            "You are currently dancing with a woman who was raised in household where planning a global alien genocide was common dinner fare. So, it feels commonplace enough to me."

            "The Luthors were exceptional in the grandiosity of their designs. As I said, I have been watching the news. I saw a pair of suits recently pitted against the strength of Supergirl. I must say, the style and elegance they displayed made me think of you. I notice you're not doing a demo this year, even though you were invited."

            "Well, once again, Matt, if I had tech like that up my sleeve, do you really think I could wait long to play that particular card?"

            "I think you're capable of anything."

            "Except seeing through flattery, apparently. You're a good businessman. Maybe you should talk to me like I am one, too."

            "As you said, L Corp stocks are dropping. I hope you don't let your ideals limit your potential."

            "What an incredibly strange wish for someone, especially someone with my last name."

            The song was ending, and Kara got the vibe that Brockhurst meant to dance with Lena for a second song. This was her chance to cut in. Kara crossed the floor to the center of the room without a hitch of self-consciousness. She looked at Brockhurst instead of Lena.

            "Mind if I cut in?" Kara said and gave him a hard look. He gave Lena's hand to Kara. Kara let her go, as she watched him walk off. "He thinks he knows you."

            "He sure does," Lena said. Another song started, and Lena smiled. "Do you really want to dance, or should we bail?"

            "I would like to dance with you, but I didn't quite think this all the way through. I don't really know how to lead," Kara confessed and nervously touched her glasses. "I suppose you could stand on my feet." Lena laughed a little.

            "I can lead."  

            "Yeah?"

            "Yeah." Lena took Kara's hand and held it to the side, and she stepped in to put her hand underneath Kara's arm to rest on her back. Kara put her arm over Lena's shoulder and fully giggled. Lena laughed in response, watching Kara's expression.

            Kara focused on their bodies, trying to synchronize with Lena. She found it easy to follow, simple to pick up the subtle cues Lena was sending. "Oh, I see. You're actually good at this."

            "Are you surprised?" Lena said in false challenge.

            "I'm impressed," Kara said to placate her.

            "So are you only doing this to rescue me, Supergirl?" Lena asked.

            "Nope. I just can't stand by and watch you dance with men like that one without trying to get you for myself," Kara said.

            "Well, if makes you feel any better, this time next year I'll own Matt Brockhurst's business."

            "What?" Kara looked closely at Lena to see if she was joking. Lena merely shrugged.

            "He's about to release a new product. I'm planning a simultaneous release of a similar one with a better design that's half the cost. He's overly confident and over invested in a single product. Classic egotistical mistake. He's used to success," Lena said. Kara must have looked shocked. "Don't worry about Matt.   He'll probably get a hundred million dollars in the buy out and retire to Florida. It's his influence in tech advancement and his share of the market I plan to take away."

            "I wasn't worrying about him," Kara admitted. "So are you doing this to bait Lillian?" Kara turned Lena's joke about Kara rescuing her around on her, and they both smiled.

            "That may be an extra bonus," Lena said, "But, you can trust that I am doing this for the intrinsic rewards."

            "Dancing with you in front of all these people feels rather defiant," Kara said.

            "Are you embarrassed?" Lena teased.

            "I'm thrilled," Kara said. Lena went quiet. She seemed to grow lost in their dance. Kara shifted her hand in Lena's, and Lena moved her hand in response and gripped her jaw. She kept her eyes down for a long time, which made Kara terribly curious to know what Lena was thinking.

            "I'm not entirely sure I feel comfortable doing this in public with you," Lena joked, and Kara laughed softly.

            "Does this count as seduction?" Kara said.

            "Maybe," Lena said. "This is bringing back memories."

            "How do you feel about that?" Kara said. Kara was nervous and tried to touch her glasses with Lena's hand in her own, so it did not quite work. Lena smiled at that, as if it were the most charming gesture in the world. Lena fully considered Kara.

            "Better than you do, I'm sure. I know you still feel bad about what happened between us. I don't. The truth is that I trust you more now. Even at your worst, you have no interest in overpowering me. You still respect me. That means a great deal to me."

            "That's hardly treating you the way you deserve." Kara's seriousness contrasted with Lena's lightheartedness. Lena turned away and seemed to be thinking and amused. Finally, she looked up at Kara with her eyes squinted.

            "Is that what you're typically like sexually?" Lena asked Kara candidly, not expecting her to answer. Kara laughed a bit and closed her eyes.

            "No," Kara said. Then she grew a bit awkward and shy but went on. "I'm actually quite passive when it comes to sex."

            "Now that I do not believe," Lena said with a grin. Lena shook her head. They grew quiet and focused on their dance. Kara looked closely at Lena before she spoke.

            "Before that happened, I was always terrified to have sex with a human," Kara admitted to Lena.

            "What?" Lena was deeply taken by surprise.

            "What if I hurt the person?" Kara said with gravity.

            "Why would that ever happen, though?"

            "I mean, isn't sex all about letting go and losing control?"

            "I guess that sounds familiar, but in all honesty, no. Not to me. To me, sex is practically the opposite of letting go. It's taking hold of something you want, making choices, not handing yourself over to something outside of your control. I don't think you're dangerous in bed, Kara. Not in any bad way."

            "Thank you for saying so. Still, I wasn't careful with you either. If I could take that back, I would. I almost wish you were angry with me."

            "I don't think you did anything wrong," Lena told her.

            "Yeah, but you still could have been hurt," Kara said. Lena struggled to smile at this, and Kara got the sense that Lena had been hurt in some way that she did not want to show. The song was ending, and they started to let go of one another.

            "Well," Lena spoke very softly in indirect admittance of having been hurt in some way she had kept secret, "Dance with me just one more dance, and that will be more than enough to tip the scales." Kara smiled and reached out to take Lena's hand again. "Do you want try leading this time?"

            "I can try," Kara said.

            Across the room, Nia sat next to Alex, holding a glass of champagne. They were both watching Lena and Kara.

            "Oh," Nia said. "I ship this."

            "Yeah. Me, too. Don't tell them yet. I want them both on best behavior for the time being," Alex said and took a sip from her glass.

            The thunder outside became loud enough to be heard in the room by everyone, and some people made their way to windows to look out. Rather than hold Lena's hand out to the side, Kara brought their hands in close to rest against her own chest. As the next song started, Kara moved in the same steps Lena had led them in before. Lena followed her fluidly, as if they had been dancing together for a long time.

            "See?" Lena said when Kara looked comfortable and pleased.

            "It's easy with you," Kara said. Her voice came very soft. Kara forgot about the room full of people around them. She listened to the rain falling in sheets outside and kept her focus on Lena. Lena glanced down at Kara's lips and looked away. "Are you sure you're not upset about what happened between us and just overly worried about me?" Kara asked Lena now that they were very close. Lena considered in silence for a long time before she spoke.

            "Kara, I cannot help but wish that – you wanted me when you were just you. It's impossible not to wish it. You will just have to forgive me for that. I know it would never work between us."

            "Lena, if I –" Kara said with a grimace, "If I had been honest with myself and with you, then, the desire that I felt for you could not have come rushing out in the way it did. I regret that you know that part of me – the part of me that wants you without feeling ashamed. And now you have to know the rest of me." Lena considered Kara's face very closely for a long time. "I have always wanted you. Every since you and I first met."

            "I mean, I thought there was something between us back then. I didn't think I was too subtle in putting things out there. I thought we understood one another. It seemed clear to me that you wanted us to be close but you wanted to date someone else."

            "You didn't misunderstand," Kara said, shaking her head softly.

            "When I made that alien detection device, was that what made your mind up?" Lena asked.

            "No. I saw how fast you changed your thinking and started working to protect aliens and make amends. No, Lena, I – it's hard to explain." Lena's expression made Kara gather her thoughts and try. "When I first came to this planet, everything about me was wrong. I would go to school, and the answers I gave to questions were so strange, everyone would stare. I got in trouble more than once, because teachers thought I was making jokes. The other students, the teachers, they couldn't understand why I didn't know all these things that were supposed to be obvious. Students would line up or raise their hands or buy milk or form cliques on the playground. I didn't understand any of that stuff. Everyday, I was absolutely filled with dread about how often my strangeness would show, even though I tried so hard to follow everyone else's lead and intuit how I was supposed to behave.

            "When I first got to earth, the way I related to other girls was all wrong. The way that I related to boys was all wrong, too. I caught on right away that this was quite possibly the worst thing about me in the eyes of other kids. I started to look for who I was supposed to like and in what way. In my own private heart, nothing ever changed. I always knew how I really felt about people. That stayed hidden almost all the time. What little defiance I pulled off had to be covered up as something impersonal. I've only ever felt like I could be with people, after other people expected it of me.

            "I'm done with all of that now. For years, I worked to fit in. When I revealed myself as an alien, I tried to be exactly the kind of alien everyone would approve of, just like my cousin. That failed, and I am being hunted now. I'm done, Lena." Kara's voice had grown hard, and it softened fully. "So, tell me, why do you think it would never work between us?"

            "Kara, you are full of light and optimism. I am not like that, and I never will be. The darkest parts of human experience make perfect sense to me. I see every bit of potential for the absolute worst things inside myself. You'd try to change me and save me. I would grow impatient and try to stop you being naïve. We can't try to change what's that deeply a part of who we are without hurting each other and ending up with regrets."

            "That all makes perfect sense to me," Kara affirmed. "I don't think that will happen. Not these days. What I want has changed, and what I want for you and myself now is exactly the same. I want to be able to look at this world and see it for what it is. I want to be able to embrace that there is misery and cruelty and apathy and hatred. And I want to see all of that and the injustices of the past and present day without turning away.

            "All of that suffering, I want to recognize and respect. And I want to let that knowing make me even more humane. I want to look at this world in all its darkness and pain and still see the enormous potential that's there. I want to feel horror and rage and know that my ability to respond in that way to injustice means that I know intuitively what justice would be if it existed as a reality. And I want to use all of my strength and all of my will to hold onto a vision of that world - the one that could and should be – and bring it into being. I think you can help me. And I think I can help you."

            Lena was so moved by this that both of her hands came to hold Kara's face. Kara closed her eyes and brought her hands to Lena's wrists. Kara moved forward a little to rest their foreheads together. They were so close, they might have kissed. The movements of their dance were slight and subtle.

            "I also want to take you to bed," Kara said very softly, and Lena laughed. "But that's optional," Kara added with a smile and the tiniest shrug.

            At that moment, the power in the building went out. They were standing in pitch darkness, as sounds of astonishment or annoyance moved through the crowd. Alex's voice came over their comms.

            "Let's hope that's just the weather," Alex said.

            Kara turned and let her mouth brush over Lena's palm. Lena moved Kara's face, and Kara felt Lena's breath on her lips in the darkness. Backup lights kicked on with a faint, bluish light. Kara raised her head, and she looked at Lena. She fully considered kissing Lena right there in the middle of the room, then she remembered what she had said outside. Kara sighed and stood back a little, and Lena smiled knowing exactly why held Kara back. Security guards were directing them all out into the atrium, which was better lit by the backup system.

            Lena spotted Alex and Nia. She touched Kara's arm, and they all went out a set of side doors to stand under an awning rather than crowding together with the rest of the group. Alex called Brainy, hoping he could find out what had happened. Kara felt almost painfully aware of Lena standing beside her. Her body ached for the two of them to touch once more.

            "Brainy says it's a good old fashioned power outage caused by downed lines. The system tried rerouting and blew a major breaker when it got overloaded. This is pretty big, about a quarter of the city," Alex said.

            "That could take hours to repair," Lena said.

            "We're off the hook, it looks like. I'll get our coats. You three stay here and keep close," Alex said.

            "I'll order us a ride," Nia said.

            Kara turned to Lena. They looked at one another for a long moment in silence. Kara shifted in close to Lena.

            "Do you want to get out of here together?" Kara said.

            "Yes. I live close to here. Come to my place," Lena said.

            Alex showed up and handed out coats.

            "Ride is just around the corner and coming now," Nia said.

            "I think we're going to go for a walk," Kara said. Alex did not catch on for a second. Then she almost started.

            "Oh, you two aren't coming with us. Of course not," Alex said.

            Nia missed this, and their ride showed up. She looked back at Kara and Lena. Kara smiled a bit, and Nia caught on. She grinned and waved, then climbed into the car.

            Kara turned to Lena. They put on their coats and looked up as a flash of lightning lit up the sky. Kara reached for Lena's hand. They stepped out into the downpour. Kara had to laugh. They would be soaked in minutes. The sidewalks were empty save the bombardment of rain. Lena held hard to Kara's hand, as they walked briskly, and then the two of them started to run together.

Chapter Text

            Even though she carefully matched her own running speed to Lena's, when they finally slowed to a stop, Kara found that her heart was pounding as if she had never run so hard in her life. They were at the back entrance to a mall that comprised the bottom floors of a massive sky scraper. To Kara's astonishment, Lena swiped a keycard and then entered a key code, and a back door let them in. Once they were inside, Lena took Kara's hand again. She led them down a hallway lined by closets and offices for the building maintenance and security crews.

            They crossed over a wide, empty hall of closed and shuttered storefronts to another narrow hallway, and at the far end Lena let them through another door, led them down another private hallway, and unlocked an elevator with her keycard. They climbed inside, and Lena pressed an odd pattern of buttons for various floors. All the button lights went out, and the elevator started to go up. The elevator was not particularly expensive or new and rose fairly slowly. There were over forty floors, and Kara wondered how far up they were going up.

            Lena turned to Kara, as she tucked the keycard into her coat pocket. Kara could see the muscles in Lena's jaw tensing. When Lena reached out with both hands and got Kara by the lapels of her coat, Kara grinned. She stepped in close as Lena pulled. Kara noticed that her glasses were speckled with rain and stopped to whip them off. She folded them and put them into her coat pocket with one hand, as she got the other hand around Lena. She unintentionally reached into Lena's open coat and touched the fabric of her dress over her low back. They looked at one another for a prolonged moment, and Kara tipped her head down a bit to make it easy for them to kiss. Their mouths came close and lingered.  

            Kara closed her eyes, her body growing heavy already at the mere implication of their coming kiss. She pulled Lena's body in close to her own. The first kiss they shared felt infinitely tender and made Kara vividly aware of they way they always treated one another when the other one felt especially vulnerable. Even their first handful of kisses comprised more of a series of caresses between them than Kara would have imagined possible, given they were so filled with passion for one another. Lena's hands pressed to Kara's chest and moved up to the sides of her neck.

            When Lena softly opened her mouth against Kara's, Kara let her own lips part. The way Lena's tongue brushed over her own made an energy rise up Kara's spine like at the end of a shiver that then danced tingling on the backs of her arms as if lightning were close by. They kissed now with a passionate and lingering kiss. And Kara could feel with an undeniable sense how satisfied Lena was by this kiss. At once, Kara remembered Lena kissing her after Kara pushed her onto her desk and made a kind of urgent, challenging love to her. She had known then that Lena wanted something she could not find with Kara, and she knew now that Lena had this even already. This was what Lena had wanted – all of Kara, all of their connection, together with the passion they had long felt for one another, joined with their fully mindful and embodied consent. A heat spread through Kara's chest, and she felt almost overcome with love for Lena and what they had together. Lena's hands pulled at Kara to bring her into even deeper kisses.

            After a long time, Kara realized that she could feel Lena's body shaking in her arms. For a minute, Kara merely pulled Lena in close to her own body, imagining that she was cold from being soaked by the rain. Her intuitive sense of Lena told her that this was something else. She made herself break away from their kissing to consider Lena's expression. Lena's eyes were heavy, and her lips still slightly parted. Kara brushed her hand over Lena's face and considered her, getting a sense of what was happening.

            "Are you scared?" Kara asked.

            "I guess I am," Lena said with a huff of a laugh, and she looked away. Kara stood up straight, holding Lena close, lifting her up a little. She studied Lena.

            "I'll be gentle. I promise," Kara said. Lena let out a burst of obviously bemused laughter. She raised her eyebrows and looked Kara in the face, smiling.

            "Not of your body," Lena laughed. She grew serious and visibly scared then and looked at Kara's face closely, then she explained. "No one knows where I live." Kara was so surprised by this she was quiet for a moment.

            "We can go to my place instead," Kara offered.

            "No," Lena said at once, looking at Kara. "I want this." Kara could see vividly in Lena's expression how true this was. Lena turned away for a moment and got her arms around Kara's neck. She asked softly, "Can you hear my heart?" Kara listened to the sound of Lena's heart beating rapidly with mingled fear and desire. Kara nodded, and she took Lena's hand and brought it up to press to the side of her own neck and find her pulse.

            "Can you feel mine?" Kara asked. Kara's heart was still beating hard, even though her body and her hands felt steadied with focus and intent. Kara witnessed the way Lena's expression softened as she felt Kara's heart beating, and her hand slipped down to press against Kara's chest over her heart. "I can hear when your heart beats harder," Kara said and let her fingers run down the beautiful line of Lena's neck alongside water droplets falling from her hair. "I can hear when your body trembles," Kara said and tipped her head down a bit to kiss the side of Lena's neck in a long chain of kisses that made Lena's head sink to the side and her breath rush out.  "I can hear when you press your thighs together," Kara said and let a hand run up Lena's spine, as she kissed Lena once more.

            The effect on Lena was so dramatic that she sucked in a breath and broke away from their kiss. Kara let her go, and her hand came to rest low on her own stomach. The desire in her body was burning vividly like a delicate fire sheltered by the curves of her hips. Lena settled her back against the wall, and Kara stepped in close very softly. Lena dragged her down into a kiss, and their restraint slipped. They kissed hard. Kara felt her leg between Lena's and lifted her knee. They were kissing so passionately, and Kara only remembered where they actually were when the elevator doors opened.

            As Kara let her leg down and stepped back, Lena dropped a few inches. Kara had not even realized she had lifted Lena off the floor. Lena snatched Kara's hand and led their way out. They were in an open space, and Kara could not decipher what was in this part of the building. Just across the way was the opening of a sky bridge, and Lena led them straight across to another building. They were high up, possibly the top floor. They got into another elevator, and Lena opened up the panel of this one the way she had on the elevator at L Corp. She entered a lot of codes and scanned her handprint, then she turned to Kara.

            "Here, I need to scan your handprint. Can you think of three codes of twelve to fifteen letters and numbers that would be hard for someone else to know?" Lena asked. Kara thought of how she would capture the dates of her parents' birthdays and her own on the kryptonian calendar in some reasonable way with English letters.

            "Sure," Kara said. Lena entered a number of codes, and Kara scanned her hand and entered each code twice to ensure a match. The screen flashed green and presented the word, "Admitted." They had only gone up a few floors when the door opened. Lena led them down a dim, empty hall. Kara glanced through the walls. They were on a floor of highly secured, small laboratories. Down a narrow hall, she could no longer see through the walls. Lena stopped at another panel halfway down the hall and asked Kara to do the same thing again. Kara looked a little perplexed.

            "The screen before was just misdirection. You have to do it three times, or you won't actually be added to the system," Lena said. Kara did as Lena asked quickly, and Lena led them to the end of the hallway and let them in a door. They both stepped just inside, and Lena turned and shut the door.

            Lena used a panel just inside the door to turn up the lights. Kara got a first glimpse of where Lena lived. They were in a condo of some fashion. Somehow the domestic space still held an aura of the laboratories that made up the remainder of the floor. The ceilings were high, and the far wall was almost entirely windows. There must have been an overhang, because the windows were dry.   The rain cloaked the city in a haze that made the shining lights of the city look bleary and seemingly smudged. They were standing in an open kitchen with a fridge, sink, and stove along the wall and an island with a single high stool. The floor was of gray tile, and the countertops and table were dark marble. Beyond was a living room that held only an enormous bookcase installed in the wall, a couch with a low table and neatly stacked items that made it clear this was used as a workspace, and behind this was a table against the window with a single chair and a chess set.

            A set of stairs over the bookcase led to what must have been an open loft meant to be used as the main bedroom. Kara could not see through the walls inside either, but there was a wide doorway that hinted at more rooms. The emptiness of the space struck Kara as both minimalism and at the same time incredibly expensive. She could not quite say why. To Kara's mind, this felt as much like a workspace as Lena's office. There were none of the signs of this being a home to Kara's mind. The space held no pictures, no ornaments, no pillows, no blankets, no candles, no curtains, no trinkets, no knick-knacks, no television, no sound system. There was no warmth added to this space, just clean, cool order. However fine the materials, this space was designed for utility and not comfort. Kara felt drawn to the bookcase, since this was the most personal part of the entire place. She did not have long to consider, before Lena got her to come and scan her hand and enter her codes a third time.

            With that done, Lena peeled off her soaked coat and let it drop to the floor. Kara did the same. Then they both took off their shoes. They were looking at one another, both very much aware of the tension between them and the quiet and solitude of the space that surrounded them. Kara considered Lena's dress. The fabric was soaked and clinging to her body. Kara raised her hands a little and moved softly towards Lena.

            "Can I take this off you?" Kara asked.

            In answer, Lena turned around. Kara stepped in close enough to let her body settle against Lena's. She slid both hands around to press low on Lena's stomach between her hips, and Lena let out a deep rush of breath and her hands came to Kara's. Lena turned over her shoulder, twisting at the waist to kiss Kara once with her hand at the back of Kara's head. When Lena turned back around, Kara unzipped her dress. She kissed across Lena's exposed shoulders and took the dress down slowly. This revealed a tattoo in the center of Lena's back between her shoulder blades. Kara titled back to see better. The artwork was a black ink design, the symbol of a tree. The shape was so elegant, Kara let both hands run over it in a kind of awe. The curve and pattern matched the shape of Lena's body, and the image evoked a sense of eternity, of circling back. Droplets of water were rolling down Lena's skin.

            For a moment, Kara's chest ached, and she was filled with a sense of urgency and not exactly certain what she should do. Kara put her arms around Lena and held her, as she kissed from the back of Lena's neck all the way down along her spine. Lena's head sank forward and then back, and Kara felt Lena's body sway, as if her legs were being made weak. Kara knelt down to kiss over the curve at the small of Lena's back, as she held Lena by the hips. Lena turned around to step out of the dress and put a hand to Kara's shoulder. Kara carefully worked the dress over Lena's hips and let her hands run up along Lena's thighs. Lena's legs shook at this, and Kara kept her steady. She got Kara's face in her hands and dropped down to kiss Kara, and Kara dragged Lena into her lap.

            As Lena got her arms around Kara's neck and put her legs around Kara's waist, Kara brought her arms around to fully embrace Lena. Kara kissed Lena with slow, deep, passionate kisses. The sense of Lena's body filled Kara's consciousness, until she could hardly remember where they even were. The desire in Lena's body felt vivid and clear in Kara's hands, and she stood up and carried Lena to the counter. She was about to shift back and get Lena's clothes off, and Kara realized she was essentially following the same pattern of what they had done in Lena's office. That made her check herself and stop to consider.

            Lena noticed the change in Kara immediately. She brought one hand to tip Kara's chin up and considered her expression. Kara tried to look at Lena and kept glancing away. Kara reached for her glasses that weren't there, realizing this at the last moment. Lena caught her hand, before she could lower it.

            "You got nervous," Lena openly acknowledged in the softest tone. As she studied Kara's face, Kara thought and finally managed to hold Lena's gaze.  

            "I don’t want this to be too much like last time. I feel like I'm just following the pattern of what I know you will like," Kara tried to explain. Lena looked surprised. She smiled only a tiny bit.

            "There are lots of things I would like. We can make this completely unlike the last time," Lena said, so matter-of-fact that Kara had to smile a little. She looked down and bit her lip, more conscious of her own anxiety.  

            "How?" Kara asked Lena candidly.  

            "Well," Lena said and got her arms around Kara's neck to draw them closer.   "Last time was rather fast. We'll let this time be slow." With this, Lena stopped and kissed Kara with one single, slow, and vibrantly passionate kiss that made Kara forget to breath. "Last time you were very much in the lead. This time, you can let me lead, as well." Lena's hands tipped Kara's face up, and Lena kissed her one more time. "Last time, I didn't truly look at you. This time, I won't miss my chance." Lena shifted forward to get down, and Kara lifted her and let her down softly.

            Lena stepped in close as she kissed Kara, and she reached around and unzipped her dress rather seamlessly. Kara's back straightened and her jaw gripped, as she felt Lena's hands touch her naked back. Lena drew the dress down off her arms, and she stopped to look at Kara's exposed body. She touched her collarbones and let her hand run down the middle of Kara's chest to barely trace the line down the middle of Kara's stomach. Lena looked back up at Kara's face.

            "Is this too much light?" Lena asked. Kara shook her head and made a soft smile. Lena made a smirk in response.

            "Hell no," Kara said in a light and eager tone. Lena's hands lingered on Kara's dress, so Kara helped her take it the rest of the way off. At that, Lena looked down over the length of Kara's legs. Her eyebrows went up, and she bit her lip. Kara had to make a smirk, as Lena fully stalled. Her expression was vividly overwhelmed. Lena finally looked up at Kara and became a little abashed.

            "I feel like my mind is already overloaded," Lena said, and Kara laughed at her. She figured she would be the one to say something nerdy. The fact that it was Lena could not have been more charming. "That is not good. There's so much still to come." Lena's tone sounded as if she were about to go into an important business meeting, and Lena looked genuinely overwhelmed. Kara found this terrible amusing.

            For whatever reason, Kara realized, she had been imagining that she would feel alone during this encounter. She always felt alone when it came to matters regarding sex. In this instant, Kara could not have felt any less alone. She felt like she was really with Lena, and they were both precisely the same people they always were together. Her delight filled her with a thrill of playful energy.

            "What's not good about this?" Kara said in a rowdy tone, as she suddenly dropped down, put her arms around Lena's waist, and lifted her up. Lena laughed and shifted to settle into Kara's arms. Kara just stood there grinning with her face titled up to look at Lena. "So where are we going?" Kara asked lightly.

            "Mmm… couch," Lena decided, then she leaned down to kiss Kara. Kara moved softly to avoid disrupting their kissing. When her leg bumped against the couch, she stopped. After a bit longer, she carefully let Lena down. They were still kissing, and Lena had not fully realized they were at the couch. When she did, she got Kara by the shoulders and urged her to sit down.

            Kara dropped onto the couch cushions. Lena climbed into her lap, her thighs squeezing Kara's hips. Kara's back straightened and her jaw gripped. She tried to keep some semblance of calm. Lena saw her chance and smiled, as she took the lead. She got both of Kara's hands, worked her fingers between Kara's as they kissed, and gripped tight. Before long, Kara sank back into the couch, extremely glad that Lena had taken the lead. Because unlike Kara, Lena was apparently quite comfortable, and so Lena was extremely patient. She held Kara's face and kissed her for so long that Kara found herself intensely aware of everything that was happening between them. When kissing someone, Kara always expected things to either go wrong or transition into sex quickly. They were kissing so much, Kara had no idea what to expect anymore, and Lena kissed her with such elegant and fiercely passionate kisses that Kara eventually felt that the way Lena was kissing her, this was already sex.

            When Lena slid the straps of Kara's bra over her shoulders, Kara tilted forward to let her take it off. Lena easily got the clasp with one hand, tossed it aside, and went right back to kissing Kara. The air was cool on Kara's wet skin, but it was Lena's hands running over her body and finding the precise shape of her breasts that made her skin prick and brought her to the edge of a shiver. Kara kept her mouth against Lena's even as she had to draw in soft gasps of breath through her mouth, and she felt the corners of Lena's mouth turn up in a smile when she did.

            After a long time, Kara sank back and gave a deep sigh. Lena took the chance to look at her, running her hands down over Kara's body and biting her lip.   Lena seemed totally absorbed and less overwhelmed. So Kara touched Lena's knees and let her hands run up over her thighs and up her sides. She got lost in the experience for a moment, and then realized that Lena was looking at her face with her eyebrows raised in curiosity and a half smile on her lips. Kara realized she had an open, astonished expression on her face.

            "I can't believe I'm allowed to do this," Kara explained shaking her head. "Wow." She turned her face down a moment. "I know that probably sounds pretty juvenile."

            "No," Lena murmured in response. "I think I know exactly how you feel."

            As she considered Lena, Kara shifted in close and slid her hands up her back. She unclasped Lena's bra and took it off. Lena's skin felt delicate from being wet, so Kara dipped her head down to kiss Lena's breasts. The response was unlike what she expected, Lena's entire body tensed right away. Her breasts became heavy in Kara's hands, and before long Kara felt Lena's hands trembling as they turned Kara's face up to stop her. Apparently, Lena's breasts were far more sensitive this early in an encounter, she could hardly take this. This gave Kara a number of ideas.

            "Do you want to come to my bed?" Lena asked with her voice heavy and nearly breathless.

            "Yes," Kara said at once, and she thought Lena could hear in her voice how the meaning held in the word vibrated with the eagerness burning in every cell of her being. Lena climbed off Kara's lap and stood looking down at her. Kara popped up, and Lena took Kara's hand and led her up the stairs to her loft bed.

Chapter Text

            Kara awoke to the gently seeking light of a cloudy morning. At once, she became aware of the energy of the night before still singing up from deep within her body clear through her skin in a silvery and joyful sensation. She was lying on her stomach with her arms wrapped around a thick pillow and her face buried in the middle. She raised up some and turned over to find Lena curled onto her side, one shoulder out from beneath the sheet, messy hair splayed across a pillow, obviously still deeply asleep.  Kara savored a prolonged stretch of her entire body, keeping in place so as not to wake up Lena. She let her eyes close and lay just remembering the night before, in absolutely no rush to leave this bed, which despite only having two, standard pillows, white sheets, and a not impressively thick comforter with a pale blue duvet might have actually managed to become her favorite bed in this world last night.

            In the stillness, Kara's mind drifted through memories from the night before. She went over them slowly and with intent focus. Kara wanted to remember. She wanted to never forget. She held onto each especially vivid moment letting her mind fill with it entirely, the feelings being called into her body still vibrant and resonating through her entire being.

            Kara remembered how on their way up the stairs with Lena holding onto her hand, Lena had asked Kara a question, her voice both soft and eager.

            "Tell some of what you like," Lena asked. Kara missed a beat in processing what Lena meant, and then she genuinely considered making something up. Instead, she quickly made herself answer honestly.

            "I don't really know that," Kara said. Lena turned to Kara looking a bit perplexed and curious. Then she accepted that answer. They were standing beside Lena's bed, and Lena stepped close to Kara.

            "Well, I do love a process of discovery," Lena said with great sincerity. Kara became a little abashed, not with embarrassment but at her own, sheer eagerness. Lena recognized this, and she bit her lip.

            Lena was tender with Kara and kissed her, as she slipped off the last of their clothes. Then Lena pulled down the covers and got into her bed, and she turned to pull Kara in after her. They wrapped their arms around one another and lay on their sides, both letting their hands run over one another's bodies, their legs tangled together on the still cool sheets. Kara remembered how encompassing this felt, how she could feel not just Lena's body but all of her presence, how they seemed somehow to be drawing one another out, and they both felt vast, as if their connection reached out beyond the two of them to someplace beyond understanding. Kara kissed Lena and touched her, trying to communicate through these what she could never express in words, and she felt absolutely certain that Lena understood everything Kara was wanting to say.

            At some point they must have shifted so that Lena was on top of Kara. Kara remembered her back arching so hard that it lifted her shoulders up off the bed and gripping her jaw, after Lena had moved all over her body with her hands and her mouth and focused on her breasts. Kara remembered how Lena asked through a kiss if she could touch Kara, and Kara nodded at once and felt Lena's hand slip between her legs. The depth of Lena's intuitive sense of Kara proved uncanny, as she picked up even the subtlest signs and rapidly discerned precisely the ways to touch Kara to bring out intense pleasure and desire enough to meet this and keep the sensations rising to such a pitch that Kara had a moment where she genuinely wondered if she might go mad from this. Just then, Lena moved to kiss Kara and press both hands into Kara's and down into the pillow beneath Kara's head.

            Before last night, Kara had thought that sex was more or less simple and really only one thing – a movement through a handful of acts that led to a particular outcome. That was certainly not what sex was like with Lena. There was no predictable pattern, no trajectory, no drive to get anywhere out of urgency or anxiety either one. Lena would bring Kara to the most intense pitch of pleasure and then kiss her for so long that they would find themselves relaxed and embracing again.

            At some point, Kara could tell that Lena was holding some particular thought in her mind. Lena eventually forced herself to stop and sit up, still with her hand touching Kara's stomach. She glanced over to a chest of drawers tucked into the corner of the loft and the only furniture besides a little bedside table with a lamp and a stack of books. She turned back to Kara, obviously growing distracted by the sight of her body at first. Then she swallowed hard and looked Kara in the face.

            "Let me tell you some of the things we could do," Lena said, "And we can decide what to try." At that, Kara sat up fully with Lena on instinct.

            "Yes," Kara said so assertively that she actually gripped her jaw afterwards.

            Lena made a smirk and raised one eyebrow. Lena told Kara she had "sex stuff" in a drawer, and Kara moved immediately to the edge of the bed to go and get them. Lena came in close behind her, taking this chance to kiss Kara's back. Kara got fully distracted for a long moment, and then she turned so they could kiss. Finally, Kara got her focus back. She stopped kissing Lena, turned her back to her, and pulled Lena close to embrace her from behind once more. Kara got her hands under Lena's thighs just behind her knees and carefully stood up with Lena on her back. Lena hid her face on Kara's shoulder and laughed at this. Kara carried Lena over to the drawers and pulled one out that contained only blankets. Lena lifted her face and pointed to the top one, and Kara pulled it open.

            "So many," Kara said. "You must have a lot of sex."

            "Mm, not really. I'm just a nerd about sex. Like everything else I like," Lena said and kissed Kara's shoulder.

            They settled in, as Lena pointed to toys and told Kara options of what they could do. Kara went from being excited about trying a vibrator for the first time to trying to understand how six toys for penetration could all somehow be distinctly different from one another to be fully overwhelmed deciding who should do what to whom first and in what order. Lena stopped after about a dozen specific suggestions.

            "Let's do them all," Kara said. She pulled out the drawer with a bit of urgency and went back to the bed. She put the drawer down at the edge and climbed back into the middle. She let Lena down and turned to bring Lena into her lap.

            And they did. Kara had been partway joking and assumed they could not possibly do all of those things together in one night. They, in fact, could. Up until last night, Kara had spent her entirely life feeling painfully awkward about sex. Last night, she simply forgot. She was too fully focused on what they were doing. After nearly a decade of trying to learn how to fit in well enough to be considered normal when it came to sex, Kara quickly realized she hadn't really gotten the chance to learn anything about sex at all. She basically started over. Kara had always been a super fast learner, and she thought now that she had more or less caught up in that one night.

            Since Lena was offering her the lead, Kara could not help but take the chance to focus on Lena. She did her best to make this last. Their acute sense of one another went both ways, and Kara found she could read Lena's body easily and with great precision. Lena was so open and generous, and she was comfortable guiding Kara to what she wanted and letting Kara witness her response. Every time Lena tensed with pleasure or made a sound, a corresponding sensation of pleasure rose in Kara's body. When Lena finally came to her first orgasm, Kara was gently pulling Lena's hips and pressing into her with the softest toy Lena had, which Kara had picked to help make sure she didn't hurt Lena, with one hand in the small of Lena's back helping to hold her up and draw her forward and the other hand between her legs. Kara watched closely as Lena's body responded to her touch, and when Lena shifted forward and they wrapped their arms around one another once more, Kara found that both of them were shaking.

            "Ok," Lena said, still catching her breath. "Give me like twenty minutes, and I can go again."

            Kara shifted back a look of such astonished delight on her face that Lena laughed. She climbed out of Kara's lap and pushed her back into the bed to fall on top of her. Lena kissed Kara once and then shifted back.

            "Did you think this was almost over?" Lena teased. Kara had to make a shrug. "Well, you get to decide."

            "If you let me decide, we'll be doing this all night," Kara said.

            "Lucky it's Friday then," Lena said and stretched herself out against Kara, her body still trembling and her focus shifting to an intense study of Kara that made Kara's jaw tighten in anticipation.

            That proved very true. They had arrived at Lena's place at what must have been well before ten, and Kara guessed that they had stayed awake until probably three in the morning. She was not entirely sure what time they went to sleep. Time went strange when they were in bed together. They would be kissing or move from one thing to the next, and Kara could not say whether it was for ten minutes or an hour. She was simply too absorbed in every moment.

            As the night went on, Kara gained more distance from a worry at the back of her mind that she would make a mistake and hurt Lena by accident. She thought half of this was Lena noticing subtle signs of hesitation in the ways Kara held her body or her expression and helping keep them away from anything that made Kara too nervous. The most intense moment of fear Kara experienced only happened, because she was so overcome with the intense pleasure of what Lena was doing to her that she realized she could not hold another thought in her mind and that filled her with a sudden sense of panic. Lena had her mouth between Kara's legs, a hand on her stomach, the other touching one of her breasts. Kara struggled between the intensity of the pleasure burning cool in her body and a will to hold onto some self-consciousness and restraint. The tone of her response must have changed. Lena stopped suddenly, obviously feeling that it was becoming too much, and came up to make out with Kara with a thigh pressed between Kara's legs, until the feeling of fear faded out entirely.

            By the time Kara found herself reaching the same intensity of pleasure once more, she was no longer afraid. The profound surrender Kara experienced did not make her feel disconnected from Lena or dangerous. She forgot that she was even strong. Instead, she found herself carried on something between the two of them that Lena sustained and Kara embraced. After Kara's orgasm made her cry out in a way she had never done in bed before, Kara found herself breathing hard with the tension and energy still vivid in her body. Lena moved her hands over Kara's stomach. She seemed to be studying Kara rather closely.

            "I think you would come again if I keep going," Lena said. Kara brought her hands to hold her head, trying to consider this possibility. "Do want me to try?" Lena was waiting patiently for Kara to decide.

            "Sure," Kara managed to say, expecting that it would be way too much.

            Not only was Lena right, but the second orgasm that moved up through Kara's body only minutes later was far more intense than the one before. Her back arched and held her shoulders off the bed the entire time. And after that, there was another, and another. Lena kept going, until Kara was not certain she would ever stop, and she was not sure whether she would ever stop responding. Every height of pleasure held a different tone than the one before. Remembering how this all felt moved Kara profoundly. An experience of sex so intense and beautiful made Kara more aware of her own capacity for pleasure – a counterpoint to becoming acutely aware of her own capacity for pain that she had never imagined existed. Both of these extremes of experience gave Kara new insights that allowed her to become more humane.

            Kara's eyes welled up with tears, as she remembered and listened to the drowsy city. Most people were trying to get coffee – at street carts, cafes, diners, or in their kitchens. From snippets of conversation, most people were either trying to protect themselves or to make a connection. Only a handful of people would be having transformative, beautiful experiences in this same moment, and today, Kara was one of those lucky ones. She wanted beautiful things for every person alive in this world. She wanted moments like this one was for her to happen for everyone.   She could feel her heart aching as if it were trying to expand to embrace everything being offered to her by life. She wanted her experience to become common.

            Kara found that she truly could not decide what experience she loved more between receiving pleasure and giving pleasure in bed.   Last night, when Kara was focusing on Lena once more, Lena had suddenly asked Kara, "Do you want me to show you the best position for me?"

            "Yes!" Kara said at once, ready and eager to follow Lena's lead. Lena got Kara to move behind her with both of them on their knees. When Kara pressed into Lena from behind, even at once, Lena made a sound and almost bent forward. Kara wrapped her arms around Lena to hold her up, and Lena reached back to hold Kara's hips. Every press sent a shock of pleasure through Lena's body, and in this position, Kara could easily hold Lena's breasts and reach between her legs. Kara was tireless, and she took up more and more of Lena's weight, as Lena grew heavy and let Kara bring her to a shuddering, immense climax. The aftershocks that moved through Lena's body lasted for minutes, and Kara held her tight with her eyes closed and her mouth touching Lena's shoulder. Lena finally turned to kiss Kara, and their mouths remained open and tender against one another's.

            The two of them had kissed for a long time after that. Both of them were exhausted, but they were too excited about being together to fall asleep for a long time. They kissed, slower and softer, embracing one another, until they finally drifted to sleep, still holding one another close. Kara turned to look at Lena now, determined to let Lena sleep. She closed her eyes and relaxed, even though her own body was filled with energy.

            The sound of very soft footpads on the loft stairs caught Kara's ear. She turned just as a small, black cat leapt onto the bed. The cat saw Kara and froze. They stared at one another for a moment, and Kara looked away to try not to spook her into running. The cat held still for a long time, and then she found Lena's hand and rubbed against her arm. Lena woke up after a minute, still heavily with sleep. She turned over, and the cat moved to the edge of the bed, ready to run, then she came to be petted as Lena raised one hand.

            "You hungry, 'Ark'm?" Lena said, her voice hoarse. She rubbed the cat's ears briefly. The cat jumped down and went to the staircase, looking back expectantly. Apparently, she was used to being fed quickly and fully anticipated that Lena would follow her.

            Kara moved softly over to Lena. Lena was so tired, she did not even open her eyes. She turned towards Kara, her mind obviously fading back into sleep. The only sign she was awake was that her hands came to rest on Kara as Kara settled in beside her and the corner of her mouth turned up in a tiny smile.

            "I'll go feed her," Kara said.

            "She might run. I can't believe she got up here with you here," Lena said.

            "Let me try. I'll go find us some breakfast, as well. You can stay asleep a while. We didn't get to sleep very long." Lena managed only to make a small sound. After a minute, she spoke.

            "Maybe I should," Lena said.

            Kara smiled at this and kissed Lena's shoulder softly. Lena only made a sound. Kara climbed out of bed as softly as she could. The cat ran down the stairs ahead of her. Kara nosed around the kitchen looking for cat food. She did not even turn up any human food. All the cabinets were empty. The narrow fridge was empty, too. She found only a fresh bag of coffee beans. A recycling bin held neatly washed and stacked paper cafe cups and takeout containers, and that was the only evidence that anyone ever ate anything in this place.

            Finally, Kara peeked into the freezer. There were two small bags of frozen portions of extremely fancy, raw cat food. The cat appeared, staring up at Kara, the moment the crinkle of the bags was heard. Kara got the cat's dish and washed it and blew it dry with a stiff puff of air. The portions were small, so she got out two, and she zapped them quickly with heat vision to defrost them and checked that they were not too hot with her finger. The cat trotted away swiftly as Kara went to put the dish down, then came to the dish at once and began to eat as if she were starving.   Kara went to the sink and washed her hands, hearing the soft sounds of purring coming from across the room.

She went to the bathroom. Lena's bathroom was perhaps the most flagrant display of wealth Kara had ever seen within Lena's life. The room was huge, fully tiled with rich ceramic, and the shower simply gigantic with two glass walls. Kara washed her face at the sink. Lena had hung their dresses and coats on towel racks. They were still a little damp, so Kara peered into the first of two doorways to rooms on either side of the bathroom. The first she tried was definitely the right one to find some clothes she could borrow. The entire room was essentially a closet, and Kara went in to search out something she could throw on.

 

---

 

            Probably an hour later, Lena woke up. Kara heard her sit up in the bed and got very excited. She was sitting on the edge of the counter in Lena's kitchen eating donuts, waiting patiently. Kara had found some casual clothes tucked among Lena's multitude of expensive outfits. Some of Lena's clothes had dry cleaning tags, and Kara took one of these and a plastic covering and bundled their dresses and coats into this. She found the place down the street and dropped off their clothes. Then Kara popped into a store and bought herself a toothbrush. She found a café she knew Lena liked from the stacks of cups in her recycling bin. On her way back, she saw a donut shop and picked up a dozen of the best ones. Kara had already eaten a breakfast sandwich and several donuts.

            Lena bee-lined to her bathroom, then she went in and quickly got some clothes. She came out pulling on a sweatshirt and then rubbing at her tired eyes. She took one squinted look at Kara, who sat bouncing her legs and downing a custard-filled, chocolate frosted donut with obvious vigor.

            "Oh, God," Lena said in a scratchy voice, "You're a morning person." She looked entirely overwhelmed. "I am not," she added flatly.

            "You need some caffeine!" Kara said. Lena went to her coffee grinder. Kara reached behind her and got a cafe drink.

            "I already got you something," Kara said. Lena turned, looking a bit desperate. Kara took the top off and zapped the drink.

            "Not too hot," Lena said just in time. Kara handed Lena the warm cup, and immediately understood why Lena didn't want her drink heated too much. Lena chugged two thirds without stopping. She closed her eyes and stretched her neck side to side, then stood looking bleary eyed. She paused for a blank moment as if waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Lena eyed the cup closely. She looked hard at Kara.

            "How'd you know what I always get?" Lena asked.  

            "The cups in your bin have order marks. It wasn't that hard to figure out what they meant," Kara said.

            "I've invited an investigative journalist into my house," Lena said, feigning that she was horrified by this sudden realization.  

            "I used to work at Noonan's," Kara said with a shrug.

            "I see. This is a classed competency. Soon you will find that I am useless at most things," Lena said.

            "I can think of plenty of uses for you," Kara promised and smiled with her lips pressed together. Lena's eyes softened, when she looked at Kara's eager, smiling face. Kara finished her donut and moved over to invite Lena to come closer. Lena stepped in at once, and as soon as Kara finished her bite, they kissed one another. Kara worked her fingers up along the muscles that ran along Lena's spine.

            "You need some sugar," Kara encouraged her, and Lena laughed. She shifted back to look at Kara's face. Lena made a sharp and concentrated expression.

            "Who eats sugar for breakfast?" Lena said in disbelief.

            "Uh, most of America?" Kara argued, and Lena only made a sound of consideration. Kara pulled Lena in closer, and they kissed more. The kisses picked up intensity almost right away, and Lena made another sound of consideration.

            "I see. You're a morning sex person, as well," Lena said, very soft.

            "Mm-hm," Kara responded with a faint nod. She hopped down off the counter, pulled Lena close, and picked her up. Lena was so tired still that she did not even go stiff at this. She simply relaxed into Kara's arms at once.

            "Can we start in the shower?" Lena asked.

            "Absolutely," Kara answered and softly headed that way.

 

Chapter Text

            Kara found herself too energized to sit down, as Lena tucked herself into one corner of the couch with an afternoon cup of coffee. They had gone from the shower back to Lena's bed, and they finally left the house when Kara's stomach began to growl audibly. They went to a deli a few blocks away and ate sandwiches. Kara found herself self-conscious, wondering if people could tell they were together. They had gone out to eat together so many times, Kara knew it had to be her own internalized homophobia making her wonder if somehow people could tell right away that they were lovers. This reminded her of the first days after she came out as Supergirl, when she was certain someone would look at her and simply know that she was an alien after over a decade of meticulously learning how to blend in.

            By the time they left the café, Kara got used to the idea and the feeling changed. She found herself rather proud and excited to be recognized as being with Lena. When she let her hand brush Lena's, Lena had taken Kara's hand seemingly without self-consciousness. Kara walked down the street beaming. They took an elaborate route to hide the way to Lena's apartment, such that Kara actually got confused at one point. Then they were on a sky bridge, and Kara recognized the building as Lena's. Now, Kara was watching Lena with her legs folded up and a cup of steaming coffee in her hand. Kara was smiling, and Lena smiled back when she noticed. Kara turned to Lena's bookshelf.

            "What are you thinking?" Lena said with a laugh, catching that Kara felt abashed and tried to hide it. Kara turned back and made an emphatic shrug. She swallowed hard.

            "I am just feeling overwhelmed by your hotness," Kara said. Lena laughed at this and shook her head. "Walking down the street with you is kind of wild. Not that I'll tell anyone about us getting together, if you don't want me to, and not that I'm assuming this will automatically be an ongoing thing."

            "You can tell anyone you want, anytime you want," Lena said, quite deadpan, "And I certainly hope this is an ongoing thing. If one of us should be wanting to hide this, I'd imagine it would be you." Kara found herself hurt, imagining that Lena meant she was the more repressed one, but Lena said, "Being a Luthor doesn't exactly make me the kind of girl you bring home." Kara turned to Lena in surprise, and then she burst into laughter.

            "That is so funny to me," Kara said. Lena was looking at her in confusion and smiling along with her. "On Krypton, you would be like the ultimate trophy partner to bring home. Like, you know how here parents would want their daughter to bring home like a handsome, polite, millionaire doctor? You'd basically be the equivalent. You have literally made multiple major advancements in the sciences at a young age. They don't really care much about gender. Krypton had its own biases."

            "Coming from a family of criminals wouldn't do me in?"

            "If those criminals were all brilliant scientists, you'd be surprised."

            "I have no idea how to picture that," Lena said.

            "It's true," Kara said. "It still seems really obvious to me. I used to be so surprised that you would pay any attention to me at all. Like, Supergirl sure, that made sense. But me? An awkward nerd who had never really done anything for society?"

            "For the record, I was shook the first time you walked into my office, as well as every time since. I want that jotted down," Lena said. Kara laughed at her joke. "Maybe you can imagine another world, but I can't. When I was younger, I was a skinny nerd who was confusingly rich and extremely detached, and then I was frighteningly rich and from a family of evil geniuses.  I haven't had the most or the most desirable romantic attention during my lifetime. "

            "I relate to that. Have you always lived this way?" Kara asked. "This place is so minimal and impeccable. It almost looks like you just moved in."

            "Well, I do move often. I don't need any distractions. I need to focus." Something in Lena' tone made Kara aware that she was speaking of Lex. There had been enough attempts on Lena's life to make it very difficult for her to find a place to let her guard down and sleep. Kara felt strange that she had never thought of this before. "This building lets me come in and out without notice. The place was already highly secure, because of the research that goes on here, and it was occupied twenty-four hours and seven days a week, so the changes in utilities aren't traceable. I've had to look hard and pull strings to find places like this one and get a space without anything on the books."

            Across the room, a square on Lena's chess board flashed a light, and a piece moved. Lena followed Kara's line of sight to see. They looked back at one another.

            "What is that?" Kara asked. Lena took a sip of her coffee, squinting at the heat. She merely shrugged.

            "The world's most expensive game of chess," Lena said. Kara figured it was some kind of advanced computer program. That way Lena could play chess alone and have some actual competition. Kara had convinced Lena come to a game night once, even though Lena said she was not much fun at games. Lena had decimated everyone, until beating Lena became a joke and they all formed a single team to play against Lena. They tried five different games, and Lena ruined them all at every one of them. Winn was especially amazed, as he was usually the man to beat, and he tried to choose the best game and lead the group, until finally he conceded, "Yeah, I got nothing."

            Kara turned to consider Lena's bookcase. She realized that the books were organized by topic. Kara started naming the topics out loud, pulling words from various titles.

            "So we've got physics, quantum physics, more theoretical physics?" Kara turned, and Lena made a nod of concession. " Hardware. Software. Uh… other computer stuff?" Lena laughed at this. "Biology? Lots of biology. What's biomimicry?"

            "It's what it sounds like," Lena said. "Human design and production modeled on the biological world."

            "More mechanical stuff," Kara said. "Oh! Women and gender studies stuff?"

            "Gender, sexuality, culture."  

            "Oh, God. There's so much Foucault."  

            "All of Foucault, as a matter of fact. I find his ideas comforting."

            "Comforting? Aren't his idea really dark?" Kara said, and Lena did not say anything. "I had to read some of his stuff in college. The circular prison – panopticism, is it?"

            "The prison is a cultural artifact – the most tangible manifestation of an apparatus of power, a social technology really," Lena said.

            "Sounds right," Kara said, and then quoted, "There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.'"

            "Is that Foucault?" Lena asked trying to place the quote.  

            "That's a Lord Voldemort quote," Kara chastised Lena. Lena made an aloof expression.

            "Could be Foucault," Lena said.

            "Maybe I would like him more now," Kara said struggling for optimism.

            "I doubt that," Lena told her honestly. "He makes me feel like someone else sees what I see, and he gives a history to things I recognize intuitively. Plus, he would probably say that everyone seeks power in one way or another. It's complex."

            "Oh, you have poetry!" Kara said coming back up to the top of the next shelf. "I thought it would be all science and theory. Is this for bedtime reading?"

            "Biomimicry is bedtime reading," Lena challenged, and Kara only grinned. Lena got up and came to Kara's side. She ran her fingers over the books of poetry on her shelf.

            "Actually, many of these were my mother's," Lena said. From Lena's tone, Kara knew that she meant her birth mother and not Lillian Luthor. Kara felt a deep reverence, as she looked at the books more closely. "I went back to Ireland, where we lived when I was small. My mom grew up there for part of her childhood, and she went back when she had me. I didn't have anything of hers, and one of my mother's best friends had kept these. She made me take them.

            "I remembered most of these being in our house, and I remembered my mother reading them. I was too little for her to read any of these to me. She gave me the bottom bookshelves for my own books, and I thought I was very important every time I read a new book and added it to our collection. She said I was 'bringing knowledge home,' like I was some kind of breadwinner."

            "Do you know who her favorite poet was?" Kara asked. Lena shook her head.

            "Must have been someone on this shelf," Lena said.

            "Do you have a favorite poet?"

            "I do." She took a thick book off the shelf: The Collected Works of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

            "Do you have a favorite poem?" Kara asked, quite eager. Lena nodded. She took a minute to find the poem and handed the open book to Kara. Kara read the poem aloud.


          We have gone too far; we do not know how to stop; impetus
          Is all we have.  And we share it with the pushed Inert.
          We are clever,– we are as clever as monkeys; and some of us
          Have intellect, which is our danger, for we lack intelligence
          And have forgotten instinct.
          Progress– progress is the dirtiest word in the language- -who ever told us–
          And made us believe it– that to take a step forward was necessarily, was always
          A good idea?
          In this unlighted cave, one step forward
          That step can be the down-step into the Abyss.
          But we, we have no sense of direction; impetus
          Is all we have; we do not proceed, we only
          Roll down the mountain,
          Like disbalanced boulders, crushing before us many
          Delicate springing things, whose plan it was to grow.
          Clever, we are, and inventive,– but not creative;
          For, to create, one must decide– the cells must decide– what form,
          What color, what sex, how many petals, five, or more than five,
          Or less than five.
          But we, we decide nothing: the bland Opportunity
          Presents itself, and we embrace it,– we are so grateful
          When something happens which is not directly War;
          For we think– although of course, now, we very seldom
          Clearly think–
          That the other side of War is Peace.
          We have no sense; we only roll downhill.  Peace
          Is the temporary beautiful ignorance that War
          Somewhere progresses.

            Kara looked over at Lena, who stood listening to her read. Lena smiled a little bit. She looked a tad skeptical.

            "You're going to say that's a dark poem," Lena said.

            "I was going to ask you why you like it," Kara said, unable to truly argue with this. Kara closed the book and tucked it very gently back onto the shelf. Lena considered in silence. She went and sat down with her arms resting on her knees.

            "That poem makes me aware of the pressing need fully recognize the scale and also the context in which I am doing my own work of creating technological innovations. Scientists, we tend to believe that we are above or outside of context, as if we have no ideological or cultural beliefs. We believe we have access to universal truth through the scientific method. And, of course, that's not true. That's a massive oversimplification of our reality.

            "Everything is far more complex than the human mind can truly comprehend. I had a mentor during college when I was studying abroad in China, probably the smartest person I have ever known. She made me realize that Westerners have no concept of the organic. The wooden yin-yang on the bookshelf there, that was a parting gift from her. She would talk about how people fundamentally misunderstood that symbol. How we thought it was conveying the separation of dark and light, and maybe we talk about the single dot show how they each share some of the other. She said what it really meant was that our minds create the duality to try and understand the whole, but really it would be best imagined as a constantly shift, mixing, swirling, indistinguishable single whole. She compared that with how we are taught to draw atoms drawing the electrons and valence shells. In reality, an atom looks fuzzy, blurred from constant change and motion. The way it exists is confusing and mysterious once you see what's real.

            "That was incredibly helpful to me and not only in my work. What I intuitively knew about my own existence became more tolerable, understanding how all our thought models misrepresent the sheer complexity of reality and always will. We use dualities, language, theories to navigate the world, but what exists is always beyond those. Life exists perched upon a precarious ledge, always in a state of becoming and potentially becoming. As part of that, people are complex and have multiple sides.

            "That helped me find news ways to understand my family, and how I could have received genuine love at times from people who were so broken and misaligned. Whatever aspiration I felt as a younger person towards some ideal of purity changed to one of finding balance. I believe that in each of us is such a potential for evil and such a potential for good. We are not fully in control of what gets called out, what gets fed and cultivated inside of us. We are like curators merely, trying to determine what gets brought to the forefront and what gets taken back of house never to see the light of day. I started to see myself not as something fixed, something to be discovered and defined. I saw myself and other people more as these composers, desperately trying to bring so many sounds inside ourselves to some kind of order, some harmony, something beautiful and meaningful to the world.

            "Sorry," Lena said, suddenly becoming self-conscious. "I don't know if any of that makes sense to anyone else."

            "I feel like I've been waiting my entire life for you to say this much to me at once to be honest. You usually aren’t this open."

            "Habit, I guess."

            "I read this incredible essay about media theory back when I was like nineteen years old that Cat Grant wrote, where she described the breakdown between reality and media portrayals of reality. She had this really specific vision of how the media had become the arena of the greatest struggle for power in the modern world, shaping not only perception but reality as it was experienced and identity formation and all this crazy, complex stuff.

            "I still thought back then I would have to pass as human my entire life and never use any of my powers. Maybe I could tell like whoever I married, so if we kids, they wouldn't be a tremendous surprise. But I had this incredible sense all the time of how powerless and how useless I was on this earth. Whenever I saw the way the world felt about Clark, that made it worse. When I read Cat Grant's ideas, suddenly, I had this vision of myself as a person of significance in this world who could not have superpowers and yet could have all this power and make a difference.

            "From then on, I had this dream of being mentored by her. And then I actually met her. She was kind of a bizarre mix of great and inspiring and also kind of a terrible person. I didn't really know how to process that. It was something she said, I think entirely by accident trying to make some other point or maybe just get rid of me, that got me to try being Supergirl. I believed that she needed someone she could make into the hero the world needed, and I tried to keep up with who she was making me out to be, who she thought the world needed me to be. I wasn’t sure if it would ever be real, and I still don’t' think that I am as real to people or anywhere near as big as the superhero she created. It's always felt so weird and complex."

            "That makes sense."  

            "I wish things were more simple. I love those times when the world is simple. Like, when you just love someone or when you just know that something is wrong. When you are hungry, and you get fed. When you are in pain, and the pain stops. When you're lonely, and then you find a connection with someone. And anytime you recognize someone else having those experiences. Those parts of life are the best ones."

            "I wish I were more aware of those parts of life, honestly. I have a tendency to be disconnected from all of that. I feel like that's something people love about living with pets."

            "Where is your cat by the way?"

            "Oh, she's in her own, private cat palace. There's a cat walk all through these walls that runs along the window there and gets sun. She lived in an alleyway for years, and Jess had tried to catch her a lot of times. She finally trapped her, because there was construction starting on one of the buildings. She worked with this cat rescue, and she thought that 'Ark'm was too skittish to ever be adopted. She was trying to figure out what to do with her, and I said I would take her. I didn't actually see her for nearly a year. She wouldn't come out when I was here. I would just leave food out, and it would disappear. So when we moved, I made her a big, nice place to hide an feel safe, so she could stop hunkering in the back of my closet all day. Then one day, I was sitting in my workshop here, and she just walked in and looked at me. She sat and watched me all day from the doorway."

            "Is that what's in that other room?"

            "Yeah. That's where I spend most of my time."  

            "Is her name Arkham? Like Arkham Asylum?"

            "No! It's short for Dark Matter. That's her name. It's just something I started calling her. I'm really astonished that she got on the bed with you there and let you feed her. That's been a long journey with me. I feel like I read somewhere that you are good with animals, but I didn't take that seriously. I thought that was just a way of saying you were kind.."  

            "Animals are very physical. I am very physical. We had a cat when I was younger, and she taught me a lot about how I was using my body and how not to be intimidating."

            Lena liked this story, Kara could tell. She considered Kara for a long time in silence. Lena was looking at a blue, button up shirt she had picked out for Kara. This one was not yet tailored to fit Lena precisely, so it fit Kara at the shoulders.

            "That shirt looks good on you. I think that one should be yours," Lena said.

            "You sure?" Kara asked, and Lena nodded. "I don't suppose you will miss it. I've never seen anyone with so many clothes. When do you find time to do all that shopping?" Lena was taking a drink of coffee, and struggled not to spill from a laugh.  

            "You think I shop?" Lena laughed. Kara looked bemused and did not know what to say. "Do you think I cook?"

            "Not after seeing this house," Kara quipped.

            "You think I have a secret, normal life. When do you think I run the companies I own that are just beginning to get established? All I do is work. This is the longest spell I have gone without working in literally years. When I'm not stuck doing business, I am designing and making prototypes. Other than that I sleep, run on a treadmill to try to clear my mind, and occasionally see a friend."

            "I guess that's why it's sometimes so hard to see you for a while. I suppose I should go soon. We've both got a lot to get back to… these days. So how do you get clothes?"

            "I found a exceptional personal shopper, and I let her buy whatever she wants."

            "Well, she has a great sense of style."

            "It's my own sense of style, which she actually gets really well. When I was young, I had no real sense of fashion at all. To be honest, I wasn't that aware of my body. I was really in my head all the time. Then I had this brief and rather passionate love affair with an Italian fashion designer. She had this really intense, intellectual philosophy about clothing and saw controlling the way you were being perceived socially as essentially an art form. She explained fashion to me as using a lot of design patterns to create a visual illusion, and that made it click for me. Her mission in life is to completely break down perceptions of gender through clothing, and I honestly think she might be able to do it."

            "That's crazy! I've never seen you wear anything like this."

            "I have a pretty particular image these days. I keep it pretty femme as a CEO. I used to mess with gender more than this. Someday, I will get back to it. I mean to get out of the office and back in the lab as soon as possible. I can't yet, though, not if I want to see my ambitions through."

            "Was that a good relationship?"

            "Yes. It was only for a short time. I was in Italy for only a few months. She had other lovers at the time, but she really responded to something in me. Do you know what I mean? We had a real, potent connection instantly, and I was pretty young and not used to recognition or passion either one. I guess I'm still not used to that, although I expect to find it on occasion now, often turns up when and where I least expect it."

            "I'd imagine I am top of the list on that front."

            "You are indeed. I never expected to find love in life. I know that probably sounds strange. I am always astonished, every time it happens to me."

            "Actually, I totally relate to that."

            "Things don't tend to last that long with me. I am ok with that, but I think it's been distressing for other people. I work all the time. And I am not generally considered to be emotionally available. My relationship with Jack lasted the longest, and that's because us being partners always meant in work first."

            "That seems fairly similar to our current relationship."

            "Well, this is certainly not something I have done before. I am afraid of becoming too distracted by all of this. This is very – I feel very focused on you. It's very encompassing when we're together."

            "It is. I didn't want to be the first one to bring up Lillian today, but we have to stay focused. I think that we can find a way to make sure that we prioritize our shared mission first. Then I like to think that there will be time for you to roll around in bed with me if you want to do that some more."

            "There has literally never been anything on this earth that I have wanted more."

            "Good. 'Cause same. How about next Friday night at my place this time?"

            "Sure. We will see if I can manage to wait that long."

            "I draw the line at impromptu sex in either of our offices," Kara joked.

            "This is a pot-kettle situation if ever there was one, Kara Danvers. I for one have never yet seduced you in a public place. And you have done so twice by my count."

            "Life gets urgent sometimes," Kara teased.

            Lena could tell by the energy of their conversation that Kara was planning on leaving, and she stood up. They made their way slowly to the door together. Lena walked Kara all the way to the elevator, making sure she scanned her handprint and entered her codes on her way out, avoiding security measures Kara could hardly begin to guess at and did not really like to imagine.

            Kara stood beside Lena waiting for the elevator that would take her down. She turned to Lena very serious. Lena had been quiet in the hallway, and Kara suspected that her thoughts were already turning back to work and outmaneuvering Lillian.

            "Lena, I need you to do something for me," Kara said with great sincerity and got Lena's full attention. "I need you to agree not to end things between us preemptively and to actually wait for the realities to play out in our relationship. Please, don't end this over ideas that form about what might potentially happen in the future. No bailing out over ideas. Ok?"  

            Lena considered Kara very seriously. She seemed quite taken aback by the intensity of Kara's intuition about how this might go. Lena gave Kara a passionate hug. They held onto one the way they had so many times, conveying their love as best they could. When they stood back, they kept their arms around one another. Then they shared a passionate kiss that reminded them both of the time they had spent together since the night before.

            The elevator arrived, and Kara got onto it. She felt so reluctant to go that she did not want to linger any longer. She blocked the door as she scanned her handprint and entered her codes a third time, so Lena could see. She stood back then and made a last little wave at Lena, as the doors closed, that Lena returned.

Chapter Text

            When a knock came at her door, Alex came quickly, pulling out her pistol, and checked the monitors to see who was in her hall. Kara was standing at the door, and she could hear the electrical buzz of the cameras hidden in the wall. She turned and waved at Alex with her fingertips around a bag in her hand. Alex huffed a laugh and put her pistol away. She opened the door to find Kara standing there with a huge smile on her face. She was hauling a pizza, a bag of food, and a six pack of beer. Kara came in wearing a backpack.

            "What's in all the bags?" Alex said.

            "Movie night rations and sleepover gear," Kara announced.

            Alex could not help but grin. Kara loaded the food onto the kitchen table and took off her backpack, then she and Alex hugged and stayed in an embrace for a long moment. Kara made a sigh, while Alex gave her sister a good and aggressively hard squeeze. Alex stood back to get a good look at Kara's face.

            "Oh my gosh. You are so happy," Alex said softly. Kara only nodded. "Like quiet happy." Alex had long ago deduced that Kara had two levels of extreme happiness: 'talkative happy' surpassed only by the elusive 'quiet happy.' Kara nodded again. "Why aren't you at Lena's?" Alex teased her sister.

            "I spent plenty of time at Lena's, believe me."

            "Oh, I do."

            "And now I miss my sister. I need my sister time. Should I have called? Were you busy?"

            "Nope. And nope." Kara made a pleased wiggle that cracked Alex up a little. "What'd you pick for us to watch, though?" Alex said with exaggerated skepticism.

            "Nothing without fight scenes, since you weren't there to weigh in."

            "Awe. That is true love."

            They got a movie night spot set up with food, drinks, pillows, and blanket, changed into comfy clothes, and piled onto the couch. The screen was small, only a laptop, but neither of them cared. The emptiness of the space faded out with the lights turned down. The only real reminder of how strange their lives were these days was Alex's pistol left out on the coffee table where she could reach it in a moment's notice. They re-watched Wonder Woman and watched a classic film called Paper Moon that Alex liked even though it barely passed the "fight scenes" test.

            They brushed their teeth and climbed into bed before it got terrible late. Alex left the light on. She nestled in close to Kara, both of them lying on their backs.

            "Do you want to talk about you and Lena?" Alex asked, obviously curious.

            "I'm still processing," Kara admitted, a bit breathless.

            "That's fair," Alex said. "It was good, though?" Kara just turned, so Alex could look at her face. Alex could tell from Kara's expression just how good it was. She smiled, liking Lena more than ever. "I find Lena's sexuality kind of hard to imagine." Kara turned away and rubbed her face with one hand.

            "I've been struggling for years to not imagine it. I always thought that there was this huge different between like fantasies about sex and then like the realities of sex. Do you know what I mean?"

            "Like the way you idealize other stuff?"

            "Yeah. Worse though, maybe, because I've always wanted to fall in love so badly. I tried not to fantasize too much about romantic relationships, because I thought it would make it harder to find a real one and then be happy with it."

            "You never said anything about that to me."

            "Yeah."

            "Here I've spent all these years convinced you were bad at keeping secrets."

            "I know. I'm sorry."

            "Don't apologize. I should be saying I'm sorry to you."

            "What? Why?"

            "I think maybe if I had dealt with my stuff earlier on, you wouldn't have felt the need to stay so hidden. I had so much internalized homophobia."

            "Who doesn't, though? You aren’t being fair to yourself. Why should you have been able to do for me what no one did for you? You could make the same argument in reverse. I got to grow up without all this crazy gender anxiety. It's just as true that I should have been stronger for you. I think we both did good considering. I'm proud of us."

            "I am, too. I'm a little prone to regret these days."

            "One thing I have just learned for sure. I wasn't actually being overly idealistic about romantic relationships. Because being with Lena was actually better than anything I ever imagined."

            "Oh, wow."

            "So I have a lot to process now."

            "Was she, like, nice to you? Maybe that's a weird way to put it. But she was considerate, focused on you as much as herself?"

            "Lena was so sweet about sex, I get choked up just thinking about it," Kara said and actually did get choked up thinking about it. Alex laughed with joy.

            "I love that. I used to read Lena as being cold and unfeeling. I was worried it was a one-sided friendship between the two of you."

            "Yeah. That is wrong."

            "I figured that out a while ago now. She is just so guarded."

            "I don’t really know what to think anymore. I don't now what's going to happen or anything. But, Alex, I think that Lena may be the love of my life."

            "Yeah. I'm getting that impression."

            Alex got her arms around Kara and held her for a minute. They were quiet for a while, both thinking. Alex's felt she was absolutely brimming with happiness. She thought of Maggie and hoped that she was happy, as well. Alex had not seen Kara and Lena's relationship coming. She found herself reminded of how fast things could change and how full of surprises life really was, especially when it came to love. After a while, Kara spoke.

            "Do you remember when we were kids, and you used to come sleep in my bed whenever I woke up from nightmares?"

            "Oh, gosh. Yeah. I haven't thought about that in a long time. You would get so scared."  

            "You always were my hero." Alex made a gentle scoff.

            "Not even sure I deserve that title now, but I definitely didn't deserve it back then."

            "You're wrong. Superman was everyone else's hero, but he was never mine. You were the one who taught me that it wasn't just grand feats that everyone witnessed, unseen kindness could rescue someone, as well."

            "You think that I taught you that?"

            "Yes. Absolutely. You taught me how to be brave, Alex. You're still teaching me, all the time."

            "We're teaching each other then. I guess we always have been."

            "Always," Kara said, nodding. She turned to look at Alex. Kara held up her hand, and Alex placed her hand against Kara's. They lay in the quiet together looking at their two hands as they gently grasped.

 

---

 

            Late Sunday morning, Lena knocked on James's door. She was carrying a nice breakfast and trying to think how best to word what she needed to say. When James answered the door, he looked only a little surprised. He grinned.

            "Hey!" James said. Lena held up bags holding food and cups.

            "How would you feel about second breakfast?" Lena asked.

            "I feel great about all breakfasts, especially with friends!" James said and moved aside. "Thanks for coming by."

            "I… wish this were a more casual visit. I need to talk to you about a couple of things." Lena stepped into James's dining room that he had converted into an office. She stopped, looking at images hung along the walls of Lillian in the kryptonite suit and herself in her nanite suit. Obviously, he had been choosing a cover image for the next copy of Cat Co magazine.

            The photos were in chronological order, and the story they told was a strange one going only by what the images conveyed. Supergirl fought someone in a kryptonite suit. Then someone in a black suit also fought whoever was in the kryptonite suit and won, while Supergirl was nowhere to be seen. Then Supergirl reappeared and fought the person in the black suit.

            "Our mysterious new super," James said picking out a particular, close up image of the Lena in her nanite suit, hovering over the city.

            "Two new mysteries," Lena said.

            "We can make a solid case to show that the person in the kryptonite suit is Lillian Luthor. This one, though, the one who seems to be fighting against both Supers and Luthors, this one is a mystery and will be our cover story. We're good at branding superheroes. That's maybe what we do best."

            "And super villains."

            "This one isn't a villain. This one – she's a hero."

            "What're you going to call her? Mysterio?"

            "Moonshot. Nia Nal named her."

            "I guess I have to approve that name then."

            "It fits. Don't like that tech buzz words are following you from one job into another?"

            "I gave up on the idea of keeping L Corp and CatCo business separate a while ago."

            "I meant your newest job," James said very simply, obviously calling Lena out.

            Lena turned, and they looked at one another for a moment. Lean nearly blanched, suddenly facing this moment, when James knew. She had to stop and rub her hand over her eyes. She wasn't entirely surprised that James had figured her out. Her eyes were squinted, and she was braced for the fight she thought they were about to have. James reached to get the bags in Lena's hand.

            "Breakfast," James reminded her softly.

            "Oh, right," Lena said having entirely forgotten.

            James gently took their food and drinks from Lena's hand. He went and started laying everything out a little table near the windows. Lena watched James closely. He seemed calm and pensive. She was braced for a fight and hoping that she would not lose her temper or otherwise escalate things. James sat down and took a drink of the Americana she brought him, savoring the taste.

            Lena came, and they ate breakfast. The quiet made Lena nervous. Still, she was glad for some modicum of peace between them. James ate a dish of yogurt with fruit and granola, then he started in on a muffin. Lena tried to eat, and she stopped when James looked at her closely.  

            "You know, the entire time we were dating, I never knew how to interpret that look," James said.

            "What look?" Lena asked.

            "The one you're making right now."

            "Have you figured it out?"

            "Yeah. It means you're scared of me and trying not to let it show." Lena could not argue with this. She sat quiet for a moment.

            "I am sure you feel betrayed," Lena started, very calm. James laughed a soft laugh without guile.

            "Oh, I'm sure I would have a year ago. I know this still comes as a surprise to you when you witness it, but some people do learn and grow." Lena huffed a laugh at this. She took a deep breath, letting down her guard a little with James.

            "James, to be clear, I am not a superhero or interested in being portrayed as one. I won't stop L Corp from branding Moonshot if you think that's what will sell. But don't bank on new content going forward. I was only trying to stop Lillian."

            "And save Kara," James interjected, nodding.

            "Yes," Lena said. "That's all." James smiled at this. He seemed very thoughtful.

            "Yeah, I know that. Remember you always used to talk about 'philosopher kings'? Aristotle, right?" Lena nodded mostly in concession.

            "Plato."

            "The one who does not want power enough to seek it out is the only one suitable to take up power, right?"

            "That was specifically in regards to political power."

            "Yeah, but weren't political leaders people who fought at the heads of their armies back then?" Lena smiled in concession. "I been getting an awful lot of time for introspection these days. Now I understand your skepticism of my motivations as Guardian."

            "I never questioned that, James. I knew that you only ever had good intentions."

            "That's not what I mean. You knew I was too willing to give up my anonymity. You tried to shield me from my own lack of self-defense in that regard."

            "I do not believe that superheroes should have to live in secrecy."

            "You could always tell my motivations were off. I'm sure of that, because you started to make me aware of it. But I fought with you instead of being receptive. Years ago, I got this growing sense of shame about being the support, always backing someone else's heroism, my name only being known for being associated with someone else's."

            "No one with any sense would question why you would not want to make your life's work promoting the public images of white heroes." James laughed in concession to this.

            "Clark and Kara were never insiders to me, because I know them too well. But you're right about how people saw them, and I did know that. But I also stopped seeing value in what I could do overall. I learned how to use my camera to capture entire stories in images – to elevate other people into symbols, into icons. That was what I sought to master for years, and people recognized me for that skill and considered my work exceptional. They didn’t consider me exceptional. I wasn't a subject worth photographing myself, and I became painfully aware of that. When Guardian started making headlines, I was not satisfied. I was always going to make it so that my name was attached to Guardian."

            "James, this indictment won't last forever. Neither will this political climate. You'll be back in the suit again one day, I promise you."

            "Maybe so. I want to be a part of something bigger than I am. I want to serve the world well. But I don't want to let some unacknowledged mix of shame and corresponding ego send me out on my own again. Kara thought I was too willing to put myself at risk and so did you. I took that as both of you telling me that you didn't believe in me."

            "I promise you that I do."

            "I should have been asking myself all along why it was ever a question in my mind of you believing in me and not a question of both of us together believing in something bigger than myself. I know why you ended up putting on a suit yourself. I know it's to serve something bigger than yourself."

            "James, you know that I am dedicated to changing what the Luthor name represents. That is every bit as personal to me as Guardian is to you."

            "Yeah, I get that. Your reasons for opposing your family are a lot bigger than a personal vendetta, though. I respect the choice you've made. You know that I value relationships that encourage me to grow, and I am always trying to inspire people that same way. You've helped me realize something important, and I'm grateful for that. You should know that."

            Lena was quiet for a moment, grateful and still surprised at how this conversation was going.

            "James, there's something else I need to tell you."

            "What is it?" James said, obviously curious.

            "Um," Lena paused, suddenly awkward. James looked both astonished and amused by this. Lena pursed her lips. "Um, Kara and I are together."

            "Woah! When did that happen?"

            " Recently. By recently, I mean Friday."

            "Oh," James said, and he laughed. He sat smiling afterwards. Eventually he added with a hint of a shrug, "That's awesome." Lena raised her eyebrows, and she laughed a single, clearly nervous laugh.

            "That is not what I thought you were going to say." James was taken aback at this and looked worried.

            "What did you think I was going to say?"

            "I am not sure."

            "Lena, why would I not think that's great? I think you and Kara are both amazing. You know that. I think you two will be great together. It's not like I am harboring some secret belief that I'm going to get back with you or with Kara. We're all moving forward, not back."

            "I wasn't quite thinking that. I guess, I was afraid you might think I was stealing your life, you know. Taking the things that you wanted."

            "Wow. So just, putting myself at the center of my interpretation of your life. Ok. I'll try not to be offended that you were imagining me having the entitlement of a white guy. I can't make any promises on that front, though."

            "I did not mean it that way."  

            "Yeah, I know. Lena, I don't blame you for expecting the worst from people. I do know what family raised you."

            "Are you not shocked or surprised at all?"

            "It's the twenty-first century, Lena," James teased her softly.

            "I don't mean about our genders," Lena said both annoyed and enjoying the tease.

            "I mean, not really. No. You two have always shared such a connection, I guess that just lined up differently. Who knows what makes chemistry between two people and what makes it change over time. I'm sorry you were so worried about this conversation."

            "I don't want to hurt you or undermine you in any way. Your life is important. You really do mean so much to me, James."

            "Same. I love you, girl," James reached across the table for Lena's hand.

            "I love you, too, James Olsen," Lena said and took James's hand easily.

           

           

Chapter Text

            Lena showed up unexpectedly at CatCo on Monday. Kara was talking to Nia about the potential of publishing an article proving that Lillian Luthor was alive. Nia was exceptionally good at coming up with ways people might discredit facts and skew events, and Kara needed everything except optimism on this particular piece. Suddenly, there was Lena walking towards her from across the room.

            Kara dropped her thought mid-sentence and then the notebook she was holding. She collected herself, as she picked it up and Lena approached. Nia was grinning openly at the two of them. Lena paused, considered saying something, and then just nodded, pointed to Alice's office, and went on by.

            "Well, if that wasn't completely obvious, it will be soon," Kara said to Nia, still watching Lena walk in the most nondescript way she could manage.

            "Maybe we should be making that our cover story," Nia said.

            "To get Lillian Luthor aggro, so she'll make a move too soon?"

            "Bonus for the potential of that, yeah. But, no. This is very exciting for me. It's very exciting for a lot of people. Two of the greatest powers on earth teaming up against all odds, instead of rivaling each other. That's something that hasn't been seen before."

            "We've been on the same team for a while now."

            "I'm pretty sure I could gather evidential proof that you two are in love at this point. That's on another level. Either that, or I'm just a sap. But, I mean, who isn't."

            "I guess I hadn't thought about that," Kara said. She turned to Nia, who sat looking at her curiously. "If Supergirl and Lena Luthor are a thing, then Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor cannot be a thing and vice versa. We have to pick one."

            "Oh, yeah. I was mostly joking anyways. I'm pretty sure Lena would be arrested for dating Supergirl right now." The face Kara made caused Nia to cringe a little bit and say, "Sorry."

            "No, you're absolutely right. Problem solved. Lena gets a nice, boring, nerdy journalist to date, and Supergirl gets to ghost the entire city," Kara said, meaning this to be taken as a joke. Nia laughed a bit at Kara's tone but argued with her anyway.

            "Kara Danvers is definitely nice, and she may be nerdy, but she is not boring. Maybe a little intimidating."

            "Seriously?" Kara laughed.

            "Yeah. You're kind of a big deal around here, if you didn't notice. Also, now that you're with our boss – all of our boss – that's only going to make it more intense."

            "Oh, yeah. That could make things kind of weird," Kara said, considering what Nia had just said, as she glanced around the office. She had not actually noticed she had gained a high status in her workplace, if she indeed had. Perhaps she was still living in the days of being Cat Grant's designated scratching post in her own mind. This new relationship with Lena could definitely create some new power dynamics in the office. Kara thought she would have to watch out for that, and she considered whether they should keep their relationship secret. Nia made a gesture of intentional hand-waving, obviously not considering this same line of thought.

            "We'll figure it out," Nia said.

 

---

            Kara did not see Lena again until Wednesday evening. They had decided to all gather at James's apartment and settle on their plans for what to do next. Assuming that Kara and Lena making a showing in public together right after Lillian thought she dealt their relationship a brutal blow had shaken Lillian's confidence, they had a bit of time to play offense. Kara happened to get to the top of the stairs just as Lena was coming down the hallway from the elevators.

            Kara stopped and waited for Lena, uncertain what she should do. She thought Lena might play it cool and just go on to the door, but Lena seemed to forget everything except for Kara. In the privacy of the empty hall, Lena came right up and immediately put her hands to the sides of Kara's neck and kissed her with an obviously pent-up passion. Kara got her arms around Lena at once. She could barely keep from smiling and match her lips to Lena's at first, she was so happy.

            Their kissing got so intense, Kara had pulled Lena mostly up off the floor. A sound at the end of the hall finally got her attention. Kara pulled away from their kissing and let Lena down. They both heard Brainy and Nia coming. Lena looked over Kara's face, and Kara saw Lena's jaw clenching. Kara swallowed hard. They had plans for Friday, and that seemed a long way off suddenly in this moment.

            "I don't suppose I could convince you to come to my place tonight, could I?" Kara tried.

            "I'm convinced," Lena said, her expression so severe that Kara could not help but make a smirk and laugh a bit.

            Nia and Brainy arrived. Lena took Kara's hand as they went through the door, and Kara just kept smiling. James hugged them both at the same time, when they came through the door and then went back to hosting.

            The three weeks that followed were quite unexpectedly among the best of Kara's life. Lillian did not make her next move, and they had time to roll out their own plans. They started taking down Lena's list of higher ups in the anti-alien movement each individually as Lena had suggested, finding allies, distributing information, and using the media as much as possible. The shift from black ops to the public arena seemed to actually be serving them well. Kara was assigned the lead on a article exposing Lillian Luthor that was planned as the cover story for their next issue of CatCo magazine. The covert antics she got up to gathering irrefutable proof that Lillian Luthor in truth built the prison where she was incarcerated and hand-picked everyone working there in a position of power kept Kara from going crazy over not being Supergirl.

            When they weren't fighting back against the anti-alien regime together, Kara actually found a balance between spending time with her sister, keeping up with her friends, and being girlfriends with Lena. Granted, she lost a lot of sleep and a spell of unusual, endless cloudy weather wore her down even more than other people, but she had other sources of energy and heat fueling her these days. Looking out from sky rise windows, they were all suspended in an endless gray. The clouds made the city cool and quiet in some way, and Kara found that fitting. She and Lena would spend a couple of nights a week together, alternating between their two houses, and Kara felt like a blanket had been thrown over the city, giving them time to be together amidst of all the craziness. All the happy memories blurred into one, overriding sense of joy and hope mixed with a righteous anger that Kara did not worry anymore would make her less humane or a break her bonds with the people she loved.

            Kara always remembered that they were on borrowed time. Soon things would be worse than they had ever been before. The longer Lillian waited to make a move, the more calculated and resourced it would be. Whatever Lillian was planning, they would be tested and likely beyond their limits, and their newly formed bonds with Lena would likely be considered the weak point and put to a brutal test most of all. Every sign that she should be worried would have a dramatic impact on Kara. In the past, Kara would have dismissed the low points in the midst of all the goodness in her life, but now she found herself considering what those moments meant in a deeper way.

            Lena came to Kara's apartment early one Sunday morning and found Kara crying. There was a newspaper on her table with the story of three young people who were killed in a shootout between rival gangs. Five other people had been injured, most of them bystanders. Lena took this in and immediately knew what was happening.

            "We will get you back to serving the city, I promise you," Lena said.

            "Not soon enough for these. And who knows how many more there will be," Kara said.

            "You feel like this is your fault?"

            "I know I could've stopped it."

            "You don't actually know if you could have. You can't be in two places at once. You could have been somewhere else and missed this."

            "Then I would know what I had been doing instead and how to weigh it against this."

            "Where were you when this happened?"

            "Breaking into that contractor's office," Kara said. She had been off chasing a lead to help them take down Lillian.

            "I don't know how to explain to you that that is the same as if you were out on some dangerous mission with the DEO."

            "I'll never agree with you," Kara said. Lena understood and didn't try to change Kara's mind. She just came and put her hands on Kara's shoulders.

            Not long after that, they were lying in Kara's bed in the early afternoon. They had stayed up late, eaten a late breakfast, and eagerly rushed back to bed. Kara loved all the time she got to spend with Lena, but she loved having Lena at her own house most of all. That way she could ply Lena with comfortable clothes, thick blankets, all the best teas and food, and take her to bed amidst a mountain of pillow. There was something about tucking Lena in amongst an abundance of cozy things that both amused Kara and made her feel happy like she was righting some imbalance in the world.

            Lena was lying on her stomach with her arms tucked under a pillow. She was facing away from Kara, and Kara was on her side right next to Lena. The light from outside was dim, but a lamp beside the bed cast light across Lena's back. Kara traced her fingers over Lena's tattoo, noticing the pattern the texture of her skin made faintly in the ink.

            Kara noticed a faded scar amidst the ink. This must have been very old, as the skin was no longer raised and instead was the tiniest bit sunken. After a while, Kara realized there were five of these in different places. The lines were small and imperfect, like flicks from a thin paint brush. Kara could not imagine what had caused them.

            "What are your scars here from?" Kara said, tracing over a couple with the tips of her fingers. Lena made a soft rumble, as she considered. She barely moved.

            "They're from when I was a young," Lena said.

            "Do you remember how you got them?"

            "Sneaking out of boarding school," Lena answered. Kara huffed a laugh at that, perplexed.

            "Did go under a fence or something?" Kara asked, imagining how Lena would have scraped her back. Lena was slow to answer. She rolled over.

            "Yeah," Lena said. Something in Lena's tone caught Kara's attention. Lena wasn't looking at her.

            "Are you lying?" Kara asked, letting her suspicion and surprise both be obvious.

            "No," Lena said and looked over at Kara so she could see that she wasn't. Kara squinted.

            "Are you deflecting?" Kara asked pointedly, convinced that there was something more. Lena made sound, as if considering deeply. She swallowed.

            "We got caught when we were coming back in," Lena said, and the story stopped abruptly. Kara was waiting for me, then she got an idea about what this implied that she did not like. Her eyebrows furrowed.

            "Wait? What? You got in trouble. How did you get hurt?"

            "Uh," Lena let out a breath. "By being hit with a cane a lot of times. It wasn't that bad really. There were a few places where cuts opened up. I didn't think they would leave any scars, but for some reason they did."

            "I'm sorry, what?" Kara said. The horror she felt was vivid in her voice. A heat rose in her body. She was stuck on "not that bad" and tempted to get them into an passionate argument that did not make a lot of sense, and she recognized this.

            "Yeah," Lena said with a kind of deep sigh. "That's part of why I got my tattoo there. But the symbol is really about types of damage that can't be seen and the capacity for regeneration, for growth and healing. I don't know. I've never really tried to explain to anyone. It's hard to put into words."

            "You were beaten? Is that what you're saying?"

            "Yeah. Just that one time. We got away with it other times and almost did that time, too. Sneaking out was my idea. I was the one who figured out a way for us to get out. We'd done it probably a dozen times before. But that time one of the teachers was awake late at night, which was strange. She had been drinking, as well. Maybe something had happened, and she was already upset. I don't know. She got extremely angry, and I provoked her so she would punish me instead the others. It worked," Lena said, and she let out a single huff of breath as a dry laugh at that last bit.

            "And where were you sent to school, the Middle Ages?" Kara asked still angry and shocked at the story Lena was telling.

            "Oh, my," Lena said with a bit of a laugh at how upset Kara was. "Calm down, Kara. It wasn't that bad all the time."

            "How old were you when this happened?"

            "Thirteen. I snuck out with other people after that, but those two never came with me again. They were just too scared. Too traumatized, I think, really. I felt bad about that for years, until I got old enough to realize it really wasn't my fault. The punishment shouldn't have been that severe regardless. Something was just off."

            "I'll say!" Kara said, again as if they were having an argument. Lena looked at Kara, careful and calculating. She thought hard before she went on, clearly aware that Kara wanted more than Lena was giving her and unsure what to say.  

            "I think that's just what happens in an environment like that. The rules were strict, and the punishments were made to seem severe intentionally. That was their entire philosophy, really. They convinced parents they could make their children extremely obedient, and it was a private school, set apart from everything else, kind of its own weird, little world. The place was old and still holding onto that harsh boarding school mentality that used to be really commonplace. A lot of the adults there were from a generation where you could pretty much do whatever you wanted to students, and some of them just hated us as a rule. Back then, I only hated the ones who were the most cruel. Now I see how that atmosphere of threat where you didn't ever know how extreme punishments would get added to the culture they were collectively trying to create.   They all felt they benefited from it, and that's why they were all complicit in it."

            "Were you trying to avoid telling me this story?" Kara asked. Lena's expression made it quite clear that she had been and did not expect Kara to be so distressed. She tilted her head in what seemed almost a hint of a shrug.

            "I guess I didn't want to have to see that look on your face," Lena said gently.

            "What look?"

            "The one you're making now. Like you've never heard about human cruelty before and hadn't thought it possible. And I'm the one making you realize it." Kara was speechless over that for a long moment.

            "Do you think it wasn't a big deal?" Kara asked, trying to understand.

            "That depends on what you mean. Would I beat a child or send them to a place like that? Absolutely not. Do I think that there are children being treated far worse than that everyday in every country in this world? Yes," Lena said. Kara was not sure if that counted as deflecting or not, but she wanted to bring it back to the story.  

            "Did you tell anyone? Did anything happen?"

            "No. Well, another teacher was woken up and came in. She was probably the reason the other two were not punished. She said I got enough for all three of us. And she was really defensive of me after that, so that part was good, actually."

            "You didn’t tell Lex?"

            "No. He would have been on my side. I just didn't see him for several months. We used to write letters. I wouldn't put something like that in a letter."

            "What about Lionel?"

            "No. Lillian would have taken any complaint about how I was being treated as a personal attack. She chose my schools. I didn't want to make trouble. Funny, but I didn't see her making it hard for me to talk about my experiences at the schools they sent me to as a clear indication that she was choosing the worst places for me on purpose until I was twenty years old or something.   That's the thing about being filthy rich. You can always pay someone to do anything you want, including terrorizing your children."

            "So you never told anyone?"

            "Other than you just now, no."

            "That is so sad. I can't believe you were so alone back then."

            "Yeah," Lena said, clearly thinking. Kara finally caught a hint of empathy in her tone at this. Before that, Lena seemed so unaffected that Kara could feel herself getting upset at Lena's tone as much as her story.

            "Lena, I feel worried that you didn't want to have to tell me that. You don't want me to be upset now, as an adult? That doesn't compare at all to you actually experiencing that when you were young."

            "Don't take it personally, Kara," Lena said, rather soft and obviously a bit worried about how Kara reacting. "I don't like talking about things like this. Why would I want to reminiscence about being miserable as a child?"

            "This falls into an entire category of things in your experience?" Kara said, taking the conversation the exact opposite direction that Lena obviously wanted it to go. Lena raised her eyebrows and held her hand open.

            "I don't consider it my worst day of school and certainly not my worst year. Other times it was more mind-games, and I always think those are worse. You're trying to make sense of the world, and what adults pass off as normal, you always believe to be normal when you're young," Lena admitted.

            "To be clear, this face I'm making now? This look of outrage? This is not a look about you; it's for you. And this is the correct response. That should never have happened to you. I don't see how that's possible. Someone should have done something."

            "That's a very idealist view, Kara. Unfortunately for me, Supergirl was not around at the time," Lena said with a bit of a smile.

            "That never would have happened on Krypton. Kryptonians revere children. They are the future."  

            "Well, I guess we're trying to make sure our children are ruthless survivors here on earth, since that's what we imagine the future demands."

            "That's insane."

            "You're not wrong. Sorry, I – I shouldn't be talking about it in this way, maybe." Lena seemed to grow a bit confused. She turned and nestled close to Kara. Lena kissed Kara's collarbone and her neck, then she kissed her once on the mouth.

            "Are you trying to distract me?" Kara said, very soft.

            "Maybe," Lena teased. Kara moved back to look at Lena's face.

            "You can talk about it however you want, but you should talk about it."

            "I'm not a big believer in talk therapy if I'm honest."

            "I don’t mean it like that. I just mean, you should recognize that you have people who are on your side that you can tell the truth. It won't make things worse if you do, it will only make them better."

            "You think so?" Lena said. Her tone was flat, as if Lena were not really considering this idea herself and was not entirely convinced that Kara believed it either. Kara was so taken aback by this, she took a deep breath and had to think. She felt a profound conviction in her chest that made her heart ache. Kara touched Lena's face and kept her hands along Lena's jawline, as Lena considered closely how earnest Kara was.

            "Just knowing that someone is on your side," Kara said, "That someone sees what happened from your perspective, that someone cares about you in a fundamental way, makes experiences of suffering way less damaging. I'm sure of it. Being able to trust someone with the truth whatever it is and having confidence that they won't mishandle your vulnerability is, basically, the entire foundation of love in relationships."

            "Wow. I mean," Lena said, clearly overwhelmed by what Kara recognized was a bit of a speech on her own part, "I do know that you love me."

            "Well, that's good then," Kara said. She finally felt like she had to give in and let Lena lighten the mood. Kara grew serious again and said, "I don't like that you have an instinct not to tell me things." Lena was quiet and then kissed Kara, as if in an indirect apology. Kara let herself be distracted this time. The conversation faded and never came back.

            That conversation lingered in the back of Kara's mind after. She almost considered the exchange a fight, even though it had stayed so soft between the two of them. And she felt like she started it by asking Lena about her scars and not letting her brush off the question. Still, Kara felt such a strong conviction that she was right that she almost wanted to bring it up again. She didn't like the lack of feeling in Lena's voice when she told the story, and she found the tone quite haunting. Lena was so casual about human cruelty, Kara felt worried.

            Kara could never quite find a way to bring this up with the people she usually would have talked to – Alex or James or J'onn or Nia. In truth, she probably would have talked to Lena about something like this first, and that left Kara confused. Lena knew more about this than anyone she knew. Kara developed a worry that perhaps Lena had been right before, and Kara simply couldn't imagine people who were like the Luthors. She worried whether she was really up to facing people who were capable of ruthlessness and cruelty. And she also worried that Lena was somehow still alone even in the midst of the group.

Chapter Text

            For all their planning, nobody expected Lillian's next move when it came. They would not have recognized it if it were not for Lena. They were at James's when Nia got a text and gathered the others to watch a live stream on her computer. The White House announced that the government had developed a weapon that could destroy any alien adversary, even one so powerful and seemingly invincible as a Kryptonian.

            "They're bragging that they can kill Kara. That's what they're actually doing," Nia said. Nobody said anything.  

            The government called their new weapon a sun-fire laser and explained how the power of the yellow sun was strong enough to give Kryptonians their remarkable strength on earth and therefore was also strong enough to destroy one. They claimed that technological experts had discovered a way to harness the power of the sun in a safe way to create a precision weapon that could be used against both earthly and alien threats. The science behind it was all kept vague, as most of the information about the sun-fire laser was classified.

            "This government is obsessed with proving that it's more powerful than aliens," James said.

            "Especially Kara," Alex said.

            "The motivation seems pathological at this point," J'onn said.

            "Is anybody actually believing these claims, though?" James said.

            "This feels like a bluff," Alex said.

            "It's not like they could know. How would they have tested this thing?" Nia asked.

            Kara looked over at Lena, and Lena's expression made the blood flowing through Kara's heart run cold. Lena looked at Kara with an edge of fear in her expression unlike anything Kara had ever seen with Lena before. And Kara realized the weapon was real, and somehow Lena knew.

            "I don't think that this is a bluff," Lena said. Lena was clearly still processing, as well, but taking it very differently than the others. At her words, the mood in the room changed. Everyone watched with silent horror as commentators were brought on who were responding with a sense of triumph. Nia switched them to a stream from another news network, where people were responding with outrage. Nia shut the computer. The heated debate would still be going tomorrow and for a long time after that.

            "Is this technology actually possible? What do you know, Lena?" Alex asked. The worry was vivid in her expression and her tone. Lena had already gotten her coat and was making to leave. She looked so distracted and serious, no one even thought to question her.

            "I need you all to me at the nanite laboratory. Give me two hours and meet me there, and I'll explain. I need some time to think," Lena said. "James –"

            "I'll remote in," James agreed with her asking. Lena only nodded and left without saying more.

            Everyone else crowded in around Kara. Before the impact of the news could even hit Kara fully, she was already finding herself fully supported. Kara could hardly listen to what they were saying. Her hearing traveled out over the city. She heard people responding to the news with astonishment and pain. She also heard voices raised in a happiness tinged what seemed a simmering anger they carried all the time.  

            "I made this happen," Kara finally said aloud. "I should never have made a fool of the ARB." A chorus of voices tried to argue with her all at once. Everyone else stopped and let Alex speak first.

            "A weapon like this cannot be developed quickly, Kara. If this thing is real, the project was started a long time ago. You can't even get funding for something of this scale without months to years spent in contract negotiation," Alex said.

            "Maybe it was made public, because of what Kara did. But that might be a good thing. If the government kept this secret, it would only be more dangerous, wouldn't it?" Nia said.

            They spent the next hour and a half talking this through, absolutely determined to find a positive slant. Their consensus was more or less that the government must had been developing this technology for a long time. Supergirl's dissent at the ARB and their attacks on the anti-alien regime on so many fronts since then had likely created a sense of desperation that provoked this political maneuver of announcing the tech. The media was already speculating on whether Supergirl would surrender, and no one in the room was even considering the idea.

            They made their way out all together and fanned out to make their way to Lena's laboratory on multiple, covert routes, and Kara asked to walk alone. She listened to voices that came to her from all across the city along her way. The city roiled with conflict, and Kara felt as if the increasingly violent clash of opposing beliefs tore at her own heart. She was afraid of how she would feel once they heard whatever it was that Lena had to tell them.

           

---

 

            "I knew something wasn't right about this cloud covering," Lena began. "It hasn't lifted from the city or the surrounding area in twenty-three days, except at night. National City rarely gets rain this time of year." The others were standing around listening, as Lena drew up images on a the main computer screen in the makeshift ops room in the lab.  

            "This weather is not in any historical records," Brainy revealed, and Lena nodded and went on.

            "This weapon and the cloud covering go together. They are both Lillian's design. Let me see if I can explain. I've been working for a long time with Kryptonian physiology, so I have known for some while now that something like this weapon would be possible. I thought with so few people given access to research on Kryptonians, there simply wouldn't be an innovator good enough to unlock potential like this.

            "Kryptonian cells process sunlight directly. It's a unique phenomenon of Kryptonian physiology. The species evolved to absorb the dim light of their red sun with incredible efficiency, since there was so little present on Krypton relative to the sunlight earth receives. In this planet's atmosphere, those cells get bombarded with abundant solar energy and become super-charged.

            "The process is somewhat akin to photosynthesis in that it is biological and incredibly stable. The energy is released in a stable way from living and dead cells alike. But it's really more like nuclear fission in terms of the scale of the energy being unlocked.

            "If our sciences could learn from Kryptonian biology, we could develop a viable alternative to nuclear fission, which can produce an incredible amount of energy, far beyond human need, but which also produces a whole lot of other things besides like radioactive waste that we have no idea how to handle. The sun is a nuclear reaction on a scale way beyond anything we could make on earth and harnessing that is basically the only alternative to fission. Earth's ecosystem has figured out how to cycle and store solar energy in wood, coal, oil – everything we use as fuel.

            "Most technology demands energy and in the end relies on those finite energy resources. At the same time, people are convinced that technology will solve our energy crisis. Kryptonian biology actually offers such a solution. What's more, the energy released is, relatively speaking, cool. Quantum computing demands so much energy and produces so much heat that it's largely an unviable technology at present even though it's theoretically sound. Unlocking it would open up a new era of technological advancement.

            "This is not just theory. I know it for a fact. By simply figuring out how to use biomimicry to create a small, stable energy core of incredible power, I made Jack's nanotechnology viable in a way that was not possible before and built the super-suit I wore as Moonshot in mere months. I've done things that, well, that just aren't possible according to current scientific understanding.

            "The problem with this revolutionary new science is twofold. First, you could also create super-weapons. The easiest to achieve would be a ray just like the one the government claims they have. It's more or less just Kryptonian heat vision on a massive scale.   It can be far more precise than a nuclear weapon, and there's less fallout and collateral damage. By being essentially "safe" to use, it will be far more likely to be used than weapons that rely on nuclear fission.

            "Second, the entire global political economy rests on a foundation of fossil fuels. Economic elites want to burn those down to last oil deposit, the last seam of coal. Every dollar that goes through that system multiplies and ends up back in their pockets. So any new technology with this potential will essentially threaten the status quo on a scale practically nothing else could. Up until now, there has mainly been a struggle to gain control of land and ocean farming and therefore biomass production, which how you harness the energy in sunlight in quick cycles, before the fossil fuels run out.

            "The announcement of the sun-fire laser is Lillian Luthor's response to our little display of solidarity. It's counter-intimidation, a show of power, and an open threat. Lex had a wealth of research on Kryptonians that I inherited, and no doubt Lillian has access to the same. Still, I wouldn't have thought anyone but Lex or myself could create something like this. Apparently, I was wrong. She must have somehow found a scientist far better than I would have imagined she could find.

            "The cloud covering over the city has been manufactured. That technology isn't so advanced or surprising. Agricultural corporations have been controlling the weather on a small scale for long time, fighting back and forth over the rain. It's just astonishing that it's being used on this scale. The idea is to weaken Kara by limiting her exposure to sunlight and also to make alliances with other economic elites.

            "Essentially, this is a social experiment. The belief up until now has been that you simply cannot control the harvesting of sunlight or dominate that technology the way you could with a coal seam or an oil deposit that can only be accessed on specific pieces of land and only with expensive equipment and labor. This proves that it is possible. There could be a future where by controlling the weather, especially over metropolises, you can harness and sell sunlight.

            "If the public finds out that this is happening now, the government can say that it is to defend the country against Supergirl. The development of this weapon was no doubt government sanctioned and funded, and the underlying technology will be a massive energy core that could likely provide National City with energy for years without being recharged. That will be their solution, and no one will think to ask who owns it, until it becomes the status quo. This may look like government tech, but I recognize this. This is Luthor tech. It's something like what I would have made if I had entirely different intentions and the exact same mind and resources."

            "Ok," Alex said. "So how does this sun-fire laser work? If they get Kara's location, can they hit her from anywhere?"

            "They would probably use a reflector in the atmosphere, send the ray up, and then back down. I wouldn't assume any limit to the range. But I don't think a simple hit would be enough to take Kara down. Unless you were right there at the source with none of the energy dissipated, I think it would take a sustained blast to do real damage," Lena said.

            "That's what the cloud covering is for, then," Alex said. "They need to get you restrained, and then they can use this thing on you."

            "Can we just – " Kara said. Several of the others spoke at the same time.

            "This thing cannot be easy to hide," J'onn said.

            "We should consider getting Kara out of National City," James said.

            "If I had some warning, I could hack the ray and send it off course, potentially," Brainy said.

            "I think it's time for Supergirl to make a public statement," Nia said.

            They stopped and sorted out what they were all saying. Once they all got to repeat their idea, Kara spoke up again. They all heard her this time.

            "Can we just continue this conversation tomorrow?" Kara said. Everyone could hear in her voice how exhausted she was.

            "We're on defense now," Alex said. "This is going to be a hard shift. J'onn, what do you say you and I start trying to find this thing tonight?"

            "Nothing would make me happier," J'onn said.

            "I'll come with you," Brainy said.

            "I guess I should go home and sleep. Maybe I will dream something useful," Nia said.  

            "Let me call Lucy," James said. "She might be able to dig up a lead for us."

            Everybody hugged Kara on their way out. When they were gone, she sat down heavily. Lena still stood, obviously thinking.

            "Are you alright?" Lena asked Kara.

            "Sure," Kara quipped, and her voice wasn't convincing even to herself.

            "This must be rather disturbing," Lena said.

            "It is," Kara said. "When did you start using my biology in your designs?" Lena looked caught off-guard by this question.

            "Long before you and I met," Lena said.

            "That was Clark. The information on Kryptonian biology you got from Lex. That was from Clark." Lena did not say anything. "How much of mine do you have?"

            Lena's expression was confused. She opened her mouth to say something, and then she thought hard instead. She considered Kara closely.

            "Enough," Lena conceded. Kara felt suddenly very ashamed. A heat broke out across her skin.

            "You just take it?" Kara said. "You just take whatever you like?" Kara's tone was on the edge of pleading, wanting Lena to say something different than what she was saying. Kara watched Lena consider what she might say and then withdraw and become stoic. The change made a pressure grow in Kara's chest that felt almost on the edge of panic.

            "I cannot fall behind, Kara," Lena said.

            "I guess you have a business worth hundreds of billions of dollars to lead," Kara said, and Lena looked genuinely taken aback. "Is that why you encrypted the ARB data instead of erasing it? You thought it might be useful someday?" Kara caught the faintest hint of anger concealed in Lena's expression.

            "I already told you why I did that," Lena said and grew softer. "Kara, I know you hate things like this."

            "What do you mean?"

            "Things that make you feel vulnerable."

            "You think that is why I'm upset?"

            "I know there must be a myriad of reasons that you're upset."

            "How did you originally get Lex's research?"

            "He shared it with me. Years ago, when we were working together."

            "And after Lex was gone, you just kept on working and gathering more research?" Kara asked. Lena thought about this for a moment. She looked resigned.

            "Yes, of course. Kara, it would not be possible to prevent research being done on Kryptonians. You and Clark are too high profile. This is an era where data can be extracted from minutia. You couldn't stop this from happening."

            Kara stared at Lena in a kind of shock. Lena was obviously not apologetic. Kara sat imagining that Lena had be lifting samples off her for years now every chance she got… her help at the DEO… every time Kara was made physically vulnerable. She could probably use nanites to do it anytime she wanted at this point.

            "Why would you not release the information you have to the entire scientific community?" Kara asked. Lena obviously did not know how to answer this. She seemed to be checking out of their conversation.  

            "Does tonight not make that clear?"

            "I will never truly understand this society. Everything is about ownership. Who owns the wealth, who own the research, the technology. Nothing is held in common on this planet. It's just one, massive hierarchy. The bureaucracy that's supposed to be in place to make things equal just shields the people at the top from the huge number of people who aren't."

            Kara grew speechless, overcome with pain. She looked up to see Lena grimacing. Kara took a shaky breath and tried to soften the tension between the two of them. She could not think how to do this at first.

            "Lena, I just – I don't think I can understand. Why have you never told me any of this?"

            "Told you what, Kara?" Lena said with great sincerity.

            "I mean, your suit. I knew about it. I didn't know there was Kryptonian science behind it."

            "You are taking this very personally," Lena said, and Kara got fully angry at that.

            "This is personal. You do realize that, right? This is personal to me."

            "What do you want me to say, Kara?"

            "Why do you feel like you should be the one who has this knowledge – the one who decides what happens to this world? Why should you have so much power over the collective future?" Kara asked. Lena took a deep breath and let it out.

            "I don't feel like that. There is no intrinsic reason why I have access to the resources I have. It's just a matter of position – a matter of chance. I get to do the things that I do simply because no one can stop me," Lena said. Kara looked away from Lena and shook her head. "If you really consider it, Kara, that is why you have the amount of power that you have in this world, as well, because no one can stop you."

            "What if I asked you to stop?" Kara asked. She looked at Lena with her expression very open. Lena looked confused at first, then she clearly understood.

            "Would I stop using what I've learned from studying Kryptonian physiology if you were to ask that of me?"

            "Yes. That's what I'm asking you."

            "I would never stop," Lena said, shaking her head.

            The sense that she did not truly know who Lena was overtook Kara. She felt like her heart was suddenly broken. Tears were in her eyes, but she felt too stunned to cry. Kara swallowed hard several times. Kara could not accept that she had to think about what she would be willing to do to stop Lena. She felt like her entire world was falling apart.

            "I mean, Lena, I – I know you're not like the Luthors.," Kara began and could not manage to finish her thought. Lena was looking at the ground, and she looked up at Kara.

            "I am a Luthor, Kara," Lena responded. Her voice came soft and matter-of-fact.  Kara recognized then that Lena was also on the verge of crying. Lena came suddenly and puts her hands on Kara. She placed a single kiss on Kara's check with an aura of profound resignation. Lena went and got her coat and left without another word spoken between the two of them.

Chapter Text

            Lena gathered together all of her feelings of worry, fear, and anger into a single, driven point of focus and worked until late in the night on ways to potentially track down the sun-fire laser. She fell into an exhausted sleep when she finally stopped and went into L Corp early the next morning.   She got prototypes in the works with the hope of rolling them out over the coming few days.

            When she was finished, Lena recognized she should go and support CatCo. She texted James and came to his place to work on CatCo's response to the announcement rather than going into the office. She thought it only fair to give Kara some space.

            After a night's rest and some time to process the news, James was energized by his anger and eager to combat their new ordeal. He was as motivated to protect Kara as anyone, and that made him remarkably easy to get along with on a day like this one. Lena found this a relief and let him take the lead on the media front, asking her questions, pulling other people into their discussion, and organizing their plans. It was hard to find someone you could trust, and even harder to find someone competent in a crisis.

            They ended up working late. By nine o'clock they were sending a draft of CatCo's response to the sun-fire laser's release to Alice and had approved a final restructuring of the upcoming issue that would include interviews, exposes, and op-ed pieces on the topic without losing the central focus. Kara's article exposing Lillian Luthor would be the centerpiece. Lena was still considering whether she should write a technical spot on the sun-fire laser herself.

            James got them each a drink, which meant he thought they should wind down for the day. Lena spent a while asking James questions to help her decide whether providing a technical explanation of how she knew the sun-fire laser to be Luthor tech would be convincing or even comprehensible to anyone who was not technical. James thought Lena should make her article more personal if she wrote one and to explain more holistically how she could recognize her family's work, and she did not know if she could do this. Finally, they stopped, silently agreeing they had done enough work for one day.  

            "So, what's wrong?" James said softly, and he obviously meant that to be a personal question. Lena huffed a bit of a laugh.

            "What's not wrong these days, James?" Lena said. James made a pained half smile, swallowed a drink, and sat with his eyebrows furrowed. Lena's instinct to deflect was so intense, she took a long drink, meaning to rush her exit. James noticed.

            "You don't have to tell me," James said, "But is it Lillian?"

            "I certainly don't like realizing when I've underestimated her."

            "Well, I'm sure she feels the same way."

            "Turn about is fair play, I suppose," Lena joked. James chuffed a sarcastic laugh at that.

            "And what about Lillian Luthor's strategies count as fair play?" James responded. Lena smiled, enjoying that very much.

            "Equal opportunity to be exploited for everyone?" Lena offered. James could tell that was not what had really gotten to Lena. He tried again.

            "Is everything alright with you and Kara?" Instead of answering, Lena finished her drink. She turned to find James watching her with a look of surprise on his face. He became suddenly intensely worried, more than he had been all day. "You want to tell me about what happened?"

            "Maybe you should ask Kara," Lena said.

            "I will," James said matter-of-fact. "Does she need to tell me first for some reason? I don't get that." Lena took a deep breath and did not leave.

            "Kara does not like knowing that this weapon and some of my technologies are rooted in science that's derived from Kryptonians."

            "I mean, this weapon I get, but what's wrong with your technology?"

            "I don't think it's about what the technology itself is. More just that it was essentially taken from her people through a study of her and Clark."

            "Ok. She would take that personally. I get that. So she's mad at you?"    

            "Yes. Well, more a devastating sense of skepticism, fear, and betrayal at the moment. She asked me if I would stop using what I know in my designs."

            "What did you say to that?" James asked, his voice heavy with worry.

            "I said no," Lena to him flatly.  

            "Oh, damn," James said, as if he had regrets on Lena's behalf and knew that would cause a huge conflict between them.

            "What else could I say, James? I'm not going to lie to Kara. She asked me directly."

            "Maybe Kara is scared that this is too much power being unleashed in the world."

            "Maybe she's scared that her powers are being unlocked, and it's not under her control."

            "I mean, we are talking about a person who hid her powers for most of her life. So it's hardly hypocritical. I mean, I'm sure it's not hard for you to imagine how bad things could get for the world if the wrong person had Kara's powers."

            "Yes, I know. It's all quite fair," Lena conceded.

            "Did you used to work with Lex on this stuff back when he and Clark were still friends?"

            "Of course."

            "So Lex shared with you the research he got from Clark?"

            "Yes. I have it all."

            "Did you tell Kara that?"

            "How would that be relevant?"

            "Well, I mean, she could be assuming Lex poached all that data. Maybe she doesn’t know Clark gave it to him and supported his research. That's how things were back when you started, right?"

            "I've gotten plenty more research since then."

            "Where'd you get it from?"

            "Kara didn't give it to me. That's all that matters."

            "Did you get it those times she was hurt and you were trying to save her? Or did you actually poach it off her?" Lena made a sigh and did not answer James's question. James guessed the answer.  

            "I think you should talk to Kara about this."

            "What more is there to talk about?"

            "Lena, why does this happen with you?" James said. Lena swallowed hard at this question. "You love Kara, right?" Lena gave James a look of such distress at this that he placed his hand on her shoulder. "Are you really doing everything you can to get her to see this from your perspective and reconcile this between the two of you?"

            "What am I supposed to say to her, James?" Lena asked, her brows furrowing, as she grew self-defensive. "You want me to tell Kara that it wasn't just me and point to other people she trusts who did the same thing? How would that be helpful to her? Her entire country is taking a stance against her right now, and only her close people are on her side." James looked entirely overwhelmed. He leaned back and ran his hands over his head. He shook his head.

            "Are you just going to give up Kara?"

            "I would never give up on Kara," Lena said with the heat of sudden anger in her voice.

            "No, I mean, are you just giving up on your relationship with Kara? You two are in love and just figuring out how to be together. This could mess that all up. I am astonished that you would let that happen."

            "I can fix almost anything – anything that's rooted in the material world and governed by scientific principles. I cannot fix people. I cannot fix emotions. I cannot fix relationships. All I can see is entropy running rampant, tearing down the rare bonds that form. That is just not my area of expertise."

            "This is what happens, though. Why does it get to where you can't see a relationship that's proven itself resilient and deeply meaningful going on into the future? How many ways can you imagine your relationship with Kara going wrong? And how many ways can see it lasting and growing stronger?" Lena got genuinely overwhelmed at these questions. She recognized that James already knew she could see a thousand ways things could go wrong and no way they could work out.

            Lena could not answer. In response, James stopped pushing. Instead, he put his arms around Lena. That got to her way worse than any degree of confrontation would have. She found her chest welling up with emotion and made a slight groan of pain. Lena sat struggling not to cry. James took a deep breath and let it out, still quiet.

            "I'm doing my best, James. I swear," Lena told him, and then she found she was crying regardless of how hard she tried to keep from it.

            "I know. I know that," James said, his tone contrite and showing a bit of remorse. "I'm not trying to make you feel bad about yourself. You're amazing. You're literally our only stronghold in the midst of this nightmare. I just don't know how to help you to have hope, Lena. I never figured that out. You're so private, it's taken me this long to even realize the way you see the world. Sometimes, I can't even imagine how you maintain so much drive and dedication, when you see everything that's wrong with this world with such unflinching clarity." Lena laughed through her tears.

            "You're making me cry. I can't break down now. We're still right in the thick of this."

            "Lena," James said.

            Lena closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She felt suddenly incredibly exhausted. She held James's arm with both hands. He kept his arms around her and didn't say anything more. Lena's heart ached. She was so good at ignoring her feeling, she had not realized how heartbroken she was even already over all of this. She couldn't remember a time when she wasn't heartbroken anymore. She felt like she had always been this way.

           

---

 

            Lena woke up grateful to have slept through the night without waking up. That was always a bit of luck, and they needed all the luck they could get. She had stayed over with James, and she could hear him moving around quietly in his kitchen. She got up in a hurry to get back to L Corp and climbed in the shower. First thing today, she would move forward on her plans to find the sun-fire laser.

            Being in James's shower felt both familiar and strange. They gave each other a lot more space, and they didn't get into fights like they used to anymore. Lena sometimes wondered why they had not simply done this in the first place, but James said once that he thought they never would have been this close if they had not tried dating first. Lena had to agree this was in all likelihood true.

            She found herself stuck dwelling on James's question from the day before. Why did this happen with her? Nothing about the fight she and Kara were having surprised Lena. People always seemed shocked when the worst things happened. Lena had only been surprised by the Luthors in the last decade or so, and they never caught her completely off her guard. She could never understand how other people just couldn’t see it and often wondered how much of it was a willed ignorance. She always saw how things would play out well before they happened. And she found herself wishing for once that she could be surprised.

            That was not quite fair, though. Lena had been surprised before in life by people being kind to one another. She never expected a real friendship with James after they broke up. The way he treated her made her feel paranoid at first. His lack of anger made her think he was bottling it up and would explode. Then she finally realized he was not harboring any hatred towards her at all. He was just sad they had broken up and moving on to what was next and that included between the two of them. Lena was astonished, and she thought, she could do that. She had never had the chance before. In truth, it was easy. A lot easier than what they had been doing before.

            Kara had surprised her, as well, especially when she believed Lena about Lillian ever before she found any proof. Real love was always surprising. Lena could not help but wonder if there was something about her that just made it not lasting. She rubbed her hands over her face under the steaming water of the shower as if trying hard to wake up from being asleep her entire life.

            James was saying that she was missing something. Her mental model of reality was off, and maybe it was.   This wasn't the first time he had said something like this, Lena felt certain. This was just more pointed and precise.  

            Lena remembered one of the very best days she ever had with James when they were together. They were working on a Saturday at his apartment, and when they were finished, James came all of a sudden and knelt down in front of her, while she was still sitting on the couch. Lena raised her eyebrows and grinned realizing this to be a provocation. James grinned, as well, and waited for Lena to kiss him, and then he put his arms round her. Rather than talking about plans and going out, they ended up having quite possibly the best sex they had ever had and that was saying something. They went from the couch to the floor and finally to James's bed.

            Afterwards, when they were both lying flat on their backs and entirely winded, Lena glanced out the windows and guessed the time. She had completely lost track of everything else. As her breath evened, Lena remembered the world beyond this. Her thoughts quickly turned serious. The very first news about the rise of anti-alien extremists had started showing up. Lena could see that forming into a dangerous movement. She was overdue to visit Lillian, and she should go today.

            "Ah, man," James said. Lena looked over at him. He made a sigh as if in defeat. "I hate how that happens."

            "What?" Lena asked.

            "When you crash," James said. Lena had to smile at this, but her eyes were sad. "I don't know how to keep you from crashing." James's voice was very soft.

            "Well, this is reality," Lena said.

            "Yeah, but what happened the last couple of hours was reality, as well. Wasn't it? What's the difference?" James asked. Lena had to think about how to answer this.

            "I don't know," Lena said. "Maybe chemicals?"

            James found something about that extremely funny. He cracked up fully, until he had to rub tears from his eyes. And Lena had to laugh, as well. James was right, though. He was the only person Lena had been with who noticed the way Lena would crash internally almost immediately after sex. That was just how she was.

            That was not true anymore, though. There was something about being with Kara that was different. The sex was so good, Lena would have thought coming down would be the hardest she had ever experienced. Except that Kara was there with her, and Lena almost thought it was like Kara would always catch her. They would still be floating, suspended in the air. She could not remember ever hitting the ground, since they had gotten together. She felt almost as if she was always in Kara's arms.

            Lena realized how hard it would be when this ended. She was not prepared. Nothing she could do would make her ready. She tried to do what James had asked and imagine that maybe it wouldn't end. Maybe it could be like Lena and James. Maybe they could go back to how they were before. Lena couldn't truly picture it. She felt like they had been avoiding anything that could come between them, and now they were so involved it all had to be faced.

            Lena cut off the shower and threw on clothes. She found James looking at his laptop at the kitchen counter, dressed in workout clothes. He was having a first breakfast and would have a second one after. Lena came over to say goodbye to James.            

            "Will you talk to Kara?" James asked. Lena hesitated. He looked worried, waiting for her answer.

            "I have a lot to think about," Lena said. She saw a quiet disappointment settle over James. He only nodded. He could tell Lena wanted space, and he was not going to push anymore than he had the night before.

            "There's breakfast," James said encouragingly and pointed at a green smoothie waiting for her on the counter.

            "Thanks," Lena said. Her tone must have been dismissive. She gathered her coat. James caught on instantly that she was going to leave without touching the breakfast he made her, and he undoubtedly knew she would rush straight to work taking the time only to change into a set of fresh clothes at her office.

            "Don't make me be Grandma James!" James chided with soft, exaggerated severity.

            Lena pulled on her coat. She opened her eyes wide at his mock severity. She backtracked to the counter, took the smoothie, and then went on to the door.    

            "That's much better," James said. Lena toasted James in the air. As she went to let herself out, she took a drink while he could still see her. He grinned and nodded at this. She softly shut the door behind her.

 

---

 

            James was always glad to clear his head through working out. He thought the matter over again as he cooked an egg scramble and ate a second breakfast standing at the windows looking out over the city. As soon as he was finished, he took out his phone. He called Alex.

            "Hey," Alex said.

            "Hey," James said. "How's the life of confinement treating you?"

            "Could be worse. How about you?"

            "Mmm… could be better?" James tried.

            "Yeah," Alex laughed.

            "You can talk now?"

            "Sure. What's up?"

            "You know about this fight Lena and Kara had?"

            "Yeah," Alex said severely.

            "Is Kara ok?"

            "I… don't know… anymore. This has all been a lot, James."

            "I know. It seems endless or bottomless, I don't know which. I thought we were keeping things together admirably."

            "Yeah, I guess the pressure is finally catching up to us."

            "Something's bothering me about this fight they had. I could barely get Lena to talk about it, but I think I know more or less what happened."

            "What's on your mind? I honestly don't know if I was helpful when I talked to Kara."

            "I think something is off. I wanted to ask you, when Lena worked with the DEO, was she given access to the data you all had on Kara?"

            "Yeah, of course."

            "Was there more she didn't get? Something she maybe hacked into?"

            "No. We were trying to save Kara's life. We gave her everything."

            "Can you take something like that back? Revoke access?"

            "Not really, no. Lena was using her own devices on the premises, so we could never be certain we reclaimed our data. We basically just added Lena to a short-profile list and essentially that makes L Corp an extension of the DEO in a limited capacity, basically a government contractor with a bunch of added red tape. In her case, it's very limited. Normally, she would have had to give us access to all their systems in return for us sharing classified information like that. She said no, and we made an exception. We needed her, and she didn't need us."

            "I would bet you money that Lena got all the research she has on Kryptonians from Lex through Clark and from the DEO, besides what she collected trying to save Kara. I think Lena is keeping that secret," James said. "What I don’t understand is why would she want to do that? It just makes her look worse to Kara." They were quiet, both thinking.

            "I think I maybe know why," Alex said.

 

---

 

            Lena was working in her office. Eve came over the com.

            "Lunch is coming in," Eve said. That was such a strange message, Lena was looking at the speaker. Alex Danvers walked into her office carrying a side bag of takeout. She sauntered across the room looking nondescript and yet somehow simultaneously dangerous.

            "Alex," Lena said. "You should not be here."

            "A Danvers laughs in the face of danger," Alex said in a tone that gave no indication she was joking. She took off a hat and a pair of sunglasses.

            "So, my sister is pissed that you have a stockpile of research on her rather rare species." Lena had no idea what to say to this. "Are you, uh, mad that Kara is mad?"

            "No," Lena mumbled, entirely perplexed by Alex in this moment.

            "Where is it? Can I see it?"

            "For what?" Lena asked confused. Alex merely stared Lena down. Lena finally just went and brought up the data. Alex waited patiently as Lena entered passwords and performed cryptic commands that brought up a display of files. She handed over the controls to Alex.

            "Mm-hm," Alex said. She pulled up a search result. "That's what I thought."

            Alex had searched for the DEO numbers of the agents who had collected samples from Kara. There were only two results.

            "You have no idea who these people are, right?" Alex said. Lena rubbed the back of her neck and looked defeated. "You've seen my DEO number what – maybe once in passing? And you wouldn’t know that I chose a number that was almost exactly like my father's, would you? I mean, who would notice something like that. You know, or that his DEO number could be rearranged into my birthday and the one we chose for Kara." Lena remained silent and could not seem to maintain eye contact with Alex.

            "So is this what you're trying to hide?" Alex said eventually. "This is why you let Kara think you stole her biology and used it in your own designs? You didn't want her to know it was her own family who took it and handed it over to the government."

            "How do you think Kara would feel learning that right now?"

            "Well, she's not totally in the dark. But I doubt she ever fully realized our dad was trading science he lifted off her for her freedom and safety or that I walked in his footsteps for so many years after. And there's no way she could have foreseen the consequences. None of us could have. I didn't think to talk to her about this. Our family is recovering from a long habit of keeping secrets."

            "Well, in your family, they're to protect one another. I find that incredible, personally. And I wouldn't do anything that would hurt Kara's relationship to her family."

            "Lena there is literally nothing you could do that would come between me and my sister. We've been through so much at this point, I know that to be true. Believe me when I say that I get where you're coming from on this. We're all trying to stop doing this same thing in the Danvers family, but old habits, they die hard. But you can't keep doing this either. You have tell Kara the truth. You can't keep secrets. Not even to try and protect us."

            "What does that even look like, Alex? I have no idea how to do what you're asking. You think the rabbit hole you went down was deep. Sometimes I still think I'm still falling further into the one the Luthor family has been digging for generations."

            "Well, I am going to go tell Kara about this one on my own. And it's not going to blow up like you're thinking. I'd say you have two, three hours before your girlfriend shows up here looking to find you. I know exactly what she'll do when she figures out there was more going on between the two of you than what she understood at the time. So just, do me a favor, and don't break all of our hearts today. I don't know if I can take it to be honest."  

            Lena could not help but laugh once at Alex's joke. They looked at one another knowing that Alex was also entirely serious. She came to Lena's office at an extreme risk to herself and to their shared mission to talk to Lena. Lena realized that Alex cared far more that Kara and Lena were fighting than Lena would even have imagined. James did, as well, and Lena had not seen anyone else.

            For the first time in her life, Lena realized there were so many people who loved her who also loved each other that she could not simply turn away and slip out of her relationships. She did not really know how she felt about this. The realization gave her a profound sense of pause.

Chapter Text

            Alex was right about Kara, of course. Kara showed up at L Corp within a couple of hours. She hesitated at the doors and texted Lena. Is it ok if I come to your office? Lena texted her back at once: Of course. Kara made her way up, already relieved at just that exchange. Kara must have looked worried, because Eve's face turned to one of concern when she got a good look at Kara.

            "Hi, Kara," Eve said.

            "Hey, Eve," Kara said, and she could hear in how voice how nervous she felt.

            "Lena is in," Eve said and pointed.

            Eve did not intend to say anything more, and they smiled at one another. Kara was feeling like the world wanted her quite literally ripped to shreds these days. It was good to meet with a bit of consideration.

            Lena stopped working the moment Kara came into her office. Lena looked terribly hesitant, and Kara swallowed hard. She didn't know what to do for a moment, and then she came despite being nervous and hugged Lena. Kara breathed a sigh of relief when Lena put her arms around Kara in return, and they held onto one another for a long time. Kara looked closely at Lena when they let go.

            "Will you tell me where you got the information you have on Kryptonian biology?" Kara said.

            "The first information I got came from Lex. He got it from Clark, years ago, when they were still friends. Then I got a lot more from the DEO. I think you know about what I have from these last weeks when you were exposed to red kryptonite. Brainy has run through everything I have, several times."

            "I should have asked you that," Kara said.

            "I would have just told you, but I felt like there was a lot on the line."

            "Alex explained to me what you were thinking. You were trying to protect me from knowing my family were the ones who took my biology and gave it to the government. James figured it out?"

            "Oh," Lena said in realization. "Yeah, I think maybe James and Alex figured it out together."

            "Did you keep that a secret because you were afraid I'd feel like my family betrayed me? Or were you wanting to see if I really trusted you?"

            "I – " Lena started and could not think what to say to this.

            "Both?" Kara offered.

            "Kara, I… of course, I wanted to say something to get you to trust me again. But there was nothing I could say without making things worse for you. You're already being directly threatened. You need to have someplace where you feel safe, some people you can trust without question. Now is absolutely not the time to take risks with those bonds."

            "And you imagine that you are just not one of those yet?"

            "I don't think it's even a question whether your relationships to your sister and your foster parents are more important than your relationship to me. That would be an extremely arrogant idea when they've been in your life so much longer and when you needed them so much more than you need anyone now."

            "Why did you think those would be at odds, though? The love I have with them and what I have now with you? Our relationship is a lot more threatened and vulnerable in comparison."

            "That's always been the case. If our relationship can't stand on it's own, I think we have to allow it to fail."

            "What? What do you mean by that?" Kara said, growing vividly upset.

            "I – I didn't mean that like it sounded," Lena said. "We have to work out our stuff between the two of us. I can't drag your other people into this."

            "This happening is my fault. I set a precedent of keeping secrets in our relationship. That made you feel like an outsider."

            "I keep secrets with everyone. This was no kind of revenge for you keeping that you were Supergirl from me, I promise you that. I was just trying to not make the situation worse."

            "Yes, but that's why you thought I didn't trust you, isn't it? This time? Because I never trusted you with the truth of who I was?"

            "Kara, your first response to finding this out was to mistrust me. We've come a long way together, but I don't think that instinctive fear is going away at this point. I will always be a Luthor. Nothing will ever change that. The truth is that most people would never be able to trust me for that reason. I can't blame them in all fairness."

            "This isn't about that for me," Kara said. Kara looked stressed and did not make eye contact with Lena. Lena did not know how she could get Kara to accept this, but she was not simply going to let herself be convinced that something she had seen to be true was not.

            "Are you sure?" Lena said. Her voice was soft, even though she was challenging Kara on this.

            "Yes. This isn't about the Luthors for me. This is about Krypton," Kara got out. Kara looked overwhelmed, and Lena could not decipher what she could have meant by this. Lena realized there must be something more that she did not know.

            "How so?" Lena asked simply. Kara became lost in thought. Lena reached and touched her arm with just the tips of her fingers. Kara's face looked overwhelmed. "Tell me. Please," Lena asked her softly.

            "My entire society believed so strongly in our science. We thought it was what set us apart and made us a great people. There was no higher calling than to become a scientist on Krypton. When I was growing up, I used to work extra hard in those parts of my studies, and it always made my parents so proud when I did well. I was given a lot of attention, even considered a bit of prodigy. That's how I always pictured myself, growing up to be a great Kryptonian scientist.

            "And then our whole planet came apart. There was something fundamentally wrong with us as a society. We essentially enacted a species-level suicide while believing we were progressing to heights no one society had ever achieved. There must have been something wrong with our science – something deep in that couldn't obviously recognized even by the most brilliant minds.

            "When I came to earth, Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers used to ask me questions all the time about Kryptonian science, and I would pretend like I did not know anything. I wanted their approval so badly. And I knew if I got it from own parents with my knowledge of the sciences, it would have been so much easier to do the same thing with the two of them. But I knew whatever they found out they would use, the same way the people of my planet did. I couldn't be the reason my new planet died."

            Kara explained all this and looked at Lena. These thoughts obviously brought Kara genuinely close to panic. Lena was so astonished by this sudden revelation, she was speechless for a long moment.

            "Does Alex know this?" Lena asked.

            "I mean, she does now. She didn't before today."

            "Oh, Kara," Lena finally managed to say. She got Kara into an embrace and held onto her hard.

            "You have to stop. You can't keep going," Kara said. Her tone was a bit desperate. When Lena let go, she found Kara starting to cry.  

            "Listen," Lena said. "Listen to me. Let's talk this through. I should have talked all of this through with you before. I'm so sorry, Kara. I thought – never mind what I thought. I didn't understand."

            "Do you understand now?" Kara asked looking at Lena with her eyes wide.

            "Yes. Of course, I understand," Lena said. Lena tried to collect her thoughts. She reached out and led Kara towards her couch. "Come here. Come on." They two of them sat down. Lena took a long time to decide what she was going to say. "I am going to try and explain some things I believe to you. And you don't have to agree, but it's important to me that you understand my perspective." Lena paused, and Kara realized she was waiting for a confirmation.

            "Okay," Kara said as if it were obvious she would do this for Lena. Lena had to put that moment aside and process later. She had thought that request might not go over well.    

            "By the time you arrived on this planet, we were already well into an energy crisis and an ecological collapse. Scientists first started talking about how humans inserting themselves into the carbon cycle could alter the climate at the turn of the century. And I don't mean this one. I mean by the late 1800's and early 1900's. We've taken no reasonable action on that knowledge for literally a century, just as if that is precisely what we want to achieve.

            "People can say that it was scientific innovation that allowed the industrial revolution, allowed mining and oil extraction, and so on, but science can also be said to have offered plenty of warnings to the dangers in what we were doing, solutions to much of the harm already done, and alternative ways to get what we need. There's nothing wrong with our science. There's something wrong with us.

            "You have to look at the context in which science is practiced, funded, and put to applied uses. I would not release information on Kryptonian physiology into this world today, because I know it would be used the same way that we use every other technology we have – for war between nation-states and capital gain without accountability to the externalized costs. Appropriate use of technology is impossible the way power works in the world now.

            "I wish knew more about Krypton and could help you piece together what happened. In all likelihood, you had such a profound a crisis of faith in Kryptonian science, because you had so much faith in it before. That's what you knew. You were young. You can't blame what you don't know.

            "I am absolutely certain that there is nothing you could bring here that could corrupt our sciences. They're already corrupted by greed and warped ideologies. There's a whole history of imperialist conquest behind the handful of dominant cultures that exist now. You cannot possibly take full responsibility for determining our fate. And I am not diminishing your importance by saying that. Believe me when I say that I know how important you are.

            "Your biology holds the greatest promise and the greatest threat to life on this planet that we have. This is a new era. Your species and countless others have added to our understanding of the material world in incredible ways. Whether your presence and the wisdom offered by a thousand cultures we haven't already undermined brings out the best or the worst in us will be up to us. That's not on you, Kara."

            "I can't let the same thing happen again," Kara said.

            "I don't believe you will. Not while you're alive on this planet," Lena said.

            "Adding our technology to the mix could make it worse," Kara said.

            "I have to sit with that reality every time I release any one of my creations," Lena said. "At the end of the day, I realize that if we just sit still and do nothing, the status quo will go on and drive us straight on to catastrophe. Tell me, how did you first decide to use your powers?"

            "It was something Cat Grant said. She thought that a superhero could inspire people, make change in the world. She needed someone iconic and symbolic."

            "We both know she knows her shit, and sometimes I think her view of this world is even more jaded than mine. The world is better, because you are in it, Kara. I think you're afraid that might not be the case. And to be honest, that makes me angry.

            "The rampant fear of aliens our society has rests on only a few myths. People fear aliens will somehow accidentally bring a plague on this earth or that they will unleash a technology of such destructive power that entire civilizations could be destroyed. That shows the remarkable depths of our hypocrisy. You remember Ben Lockwood saying that aliens might be living among us peacefully now and then subject us to genocide the same way American colonists did to indigenous peoples of this continent? Those are first class mind games. People like that are telling others to fear you for potentially being in secret what they have already proven themselves to be. I feel like in a way, you've taken on that fear. Don't let humanity put that on you."

            "I just think that it is on me. I'm the only representative of my people. With my powers, I can control them. Kryptonian science, once it's released into the world, I can't control it anymore."

            "Yeah. That is true. We don't just have to live with you. We have to live with ourselves. I think you already realize how much more dangerous that is. I remember you saying to me that we needed to change the context. That was the one day when I thought you and I really might see eye-to-eye."

            "I remember how I felt when I said that."

            "Were your thoughts then terribly different from what they are now?"

            "I just didn't feel scared of anything then."

            "Personally, I find it hard not to feel terrified all the time. That's the Millennial condition, isn't it? Life stands poised upon a precarious ledge, and we don't know which way our own lives are titling the balance. We've never seen any examples of balance in our world. We don't know how it would look or how it would feel. We don't even know if we'll recognize it if it presents itself to us. I'm curious, do you have a sense of what it would take for you to feel like you could stop using your powers?"     

            "There would need to be no one else with powers other people couldn't defend themselves against taking actions with ill intent for this world."

            "Then I guess in that way, you and I are exactly the same. Maybe that's why we became friends in the first place. I know firsthand that my family will never stop. And they can't be the only ones. I can't be caught unprepared. I have to keep up with them, create the necessary counter-powers to deal with whatever technologies of power they create. They know exactly in what direction they want to tip the scales."

            "So you won't stop, no mater what I say?"

            "I won't say no to that this time. That was spoken as if it were an absolute. This isn't an absolute. But you will have to convince me. Which means, you're going to have to talk some science," Lena teased. Kara laughed a little. "Your thinking is too black and white, I'm just certain of that. You are right, of course, my science could be flawed. I could misguess its impact or its uses. I could tip the balance in the wrong direction against my own intentions. If you are willing to share the truth of what you see in my work with me, I will take your worries and your judgments as seriously as I do my own. But without technological innovation, I am powerless in a world that I find terrifying and with good reason. I don't think I can do that. Not even to be with you."

            "Okay. I think I can do that," Kara said. She finally relaxed, and they were quiet for a minute. "I'm sorry for being so reactive before." Lena scoffed a bit at that. She shrugged.

            "Compared to what?" Lena joked. She grew more serious then. "I'm sorry I didn't know how to make peace between us. I've never learned how to do that."

            "Well, I haven't exactly been on point with that myself these days. I'm used to giving too much, and now I have to figure out how to fight with restraint."

            "I misjudged the situation. I thought I knew what was happening between us. This one is my fault, this time, I think."

            "I'll split the guilt with you fifty-fifty," Kara said, and they both smiled.

            "We'll have to split the credit for getting over this four ways with James and Alex."

            "How did James figure this out?"

            "I am honestly surprised. I didn't tell him much. I thought he would just assume the same things of me that anyone else would have in that situation."

            "I'm glad you talked to James. I went and stayed with Alex. I felt bad thinking that you were alone with what happened, even though I was mad."

            "No. I wasn't alone. I stayed over at James's," Lena said, and then she startled at the thought that she may have said exactly the wrong thing once more. "I don't mean that in a romantic way." Kara could not help herself. She burst into laughter at Lena's sudden, mild panic. Lena laughed with her.

            "I am in no way mistrusting," Kara said making light of Lena's worry. "I think it will take a while for you specifically to accept that as the truth of who I am."

            "Well, I have a lot to process. I am a bit in shock to be honest. I thought we were going to break up over this."

            "So did I!" Kara said with a great deal of distress slipping into her voice. "You don't still want to do you?"

            "I never wanted to," Lena stammered. "I just – I worry that we're asking for too much. We're so different, you and I. Our life experiences have been so opposite. I think it makes it easy to admire one another but hard to understand each other."

            "Maybe I don't take that seriously enough. I honestly feel that way all the time. I'm not even from this planet. I'm not 'compatible' with anyone."

            "No, I… I think I understand that feeling."

            "Is it – do you always find that it's this good with people you're with?"

            "I've never been this good of friends with anyone, much less any of the few people I've dated."

            "But I mean, is this what it's usually like for you with sex? I might be making a big deal out of something that's normal for other people," Kara said, and Lena saw Kara was embarrassed.

            "Oh, dear God, no," Lena said. "This is –" she started in and actually had to laugh thinking about it. "I guess I've been attributing how good it is with you to your being literally superhuman. Of course it's not this good with anyone else. Sometimes, I don't know how I'm going on with my life everyday and keeping up with anything else when I could be in bed with you instead."

            "I thought it was really good, too!" Kara said as if she had been fully taken aback by an argument to the contrary.

            "It is," Lena asserted. "I didn't – I don't know if I know how to say the right things. If you don't know that much already, I haven't been honest enough about how I feel."

            "I thought I knew before," Kara said.

            "Do you know?" Lena asked, and more vulnerability came into her voice than had shown during the entire conversation. Lena shook her head. "I'm in love with you, Kara. I don't even know how to hold all of it in my mind at once. Sometimes, I think it's too much for me, and I don't know what to do even."

            Kara reached over and brought Lena close to her. She kissed Lena, and Lena felt like it had been so long since they kissed. She was nearly overwhelmed and held onto Kara hard. When they stopped kissing and leaned back to see one another, Lena could feel herself shaking.

            "What if we can't stop fighting?" Lena asked Kara. Finally, something came out right, the way she meant it. The emotion in her voice made it clear that this was her worst fear and not some neutral judgment. Kara could see how real this fear was, and she grew bolder instead of getting scared.

            "I don't believe that will happen," Kara said with unflinching confidence.

            "It could be there is just something about the House of El and the Luthors that will always be at odds," Lena said.

            "Maybe we just get obsessed with each other and can't leave each other alone. Maybe if you and I don't figure out how to be lovers, we'll end up fighting instead," Kara said. Her joke broke through the severe mood and made Lena laugh. Lena had to recognize that her thought was no more logical than Kara's.

            When she realized there was no more argument, Kara smiled softly at Lena. And Lena felt herself slowly smile back. They considered one another now in silence. They were both still rattled, but they were still together. For today, that was more than enough.  

Chapter Text

            Kara found herself watching Lena closely in the days after, looking for signs that their fight had damaged their relationship. She had been in terrible fights with Alex in the past, and after a major blow up, they always became closer. That did not happen between Kara and Lena. They came back together with a tentativeness Kara chose to ascribe to them taking great care with one another and an urgency that Kara chose to believe spoke of the intensity of the passion they felt for one another. But Kara could not help but wonder if Lena thought they were avoiding their next fight and trying to fit in as much depth to their relationship as possible before it blew up. Sometimes, Kara could not decipher which doubts were Lena's and which were her own.

            A week and a half later, they were still searching for the sun-fire ray and had so far turned up nothing. Kara slept over at Lena's and woke up in the middle of the night to find the bed empty. Kara listened closely heard Lena's heartbeat and breathing down in her office. Lena was sitting almost perfectly still for a remarkably long time. Kara got up and went down to find her.

            When she peeked in through the open door to Lena's office, Kara first saw only Lena sitting at her desk focused on a set of screens. They showed various, pivoting angles of a model and data feeds ran down the sides of the screens. Beside these was a port holding a canister of nanites and Lena's shining pendant that powered the suit she wore as Moonshot.   At the end of the desk was a soldering iron. The desk was otherwise empty: no pictures, no coffee mugs, no places to jot notes. And yet the moment she looked into the room, Kara gained a powerful sense that this was where Lena spent most of her time in the house. Even though she was deeply focused, every fiber of her being giving off a determined energy, Lena looked more comfortable here than Kara had ever seen her including in the rest of her own house. She was more herself there than anywhere else.

            The rest of the office had entire walls of organized shelves of technical components and prototypes. A machine stood in the corner that Kara quickly assessed was probably one of the most expensive 3D printers in existence. Facing the windows was a treadmill. Kara took all this in within ten seconds of watching Lena and looking over the office. Kara did not want to startle Lena, so she spoke from outside the doorway.

            "Hey," Kara said softly. Lena did not even register her there, she was so focused. Kara had to smile at this. She tried again. "Lena." That one also did not catch Lena's attention, then it then seemed to sink in. Lena turned to Kara, and Kara got the sense that Lena only just then remembered that it was the middle of the night and Kara was over at her place. She had forgotten everything except what she was working on.

            "Hi," Lena said, her voice weak and cracked.

            "Can I come in?" Kara asked rather tentative.

            "Yes. Yes, of course," Lena said and cleared her sleepy voice. Kara came in. "Sorry. My thoughts woke me up. I had to come try something." Lena looked back at her monitors and turned back to Kara as she came to stand near Lena, obviously struggling to pull herself away. Lena looked to be a strange mix of exhausted and intensely awake. Kara crouched down a bit, as solid on her own legs as anyone else would have been on a seat. She smiled at Lena, and Lena considered Kara closely. Kara moved closer so they could kiss, but as they went on kissing, Kara could tell that Lena's thoughts were straying back to her work. Kara laughed at her.

            "Wow! You are really deep in this stuff. It's the middle of the night, you know."

            "Sorry. I didn't mean to leave you alone. Sometimes, my thoughts stay on what I was working on during the day and wake me up in the middle of the night. I thought I might have had a breakthrough."

            "On what?"

            "On a way of finding the sun-fire laser." Lena looked closely at Kara and then back at her work. Her expression turned to one of quiet desperation. She was obviously torn between the two.

            "Do you want a sounding board?" Kara asked.

            "Sure," Lena said in a voice so tentative Kara thought Lena did not know whether to take her entirely seriously on her offer. "I sent out a cloud of nanites to scour various regions at night to try and identify pools of solar radiation. I think the energy store is likely just too stable. Once the sunlight gets in, it doesn't leak out."

            "Maybe you should use other subatomic particles. That might give you a more precise anomaly to seek out," Kara said.

            "That's what I was thinking," Lena said. "I'm trying up and down quarks, but so far it's not working."

            "What are the properties of quarks? I don't know what you call subatomic particles here on earth."

            "There are two quarks, up and down, that form nucleons which produce fusion in stars. I was just trying to think through the other ten force carrying particles.."

            "Which other ten?"

            "All the other ten force-carrying particles," Lena repeated and wondered why Kara got confused. A thought caught at her mind. "In Kryptonian science, there aren't twelve?"

            "Yeah, no. There's not twelve," Kara said and could not hold in a faint huff of a laugh.

            "Less?" Lena tried, and Kara gave Lena a look. Obviously, she meant more.

Lena's eyes went glancing around the room, and she was otherwise frozen still.

            "I am going to remain entirely calm about that information," Lena said with her voice heavy with willed poise.

            "Do you have a notebook?"

            "No."

            "What?" Kara laughed, incredulous.

            "I can't encrypt a notebook," Lena explained.

            "Ok, well… hang on." Kara went and got a notebook and a pen from her bag in the living room. Ark'm was sleeping on the couch. She raised her head, very much aware of Kara, but she did not bolt. Kara heard her make the faintest purr instead and smiled in response. Kara came back to Lena quickly.

            "Here," Kara said, and she started writing out a chart with Kryptonian ciphers for the force-carrying subatomic particles she remembered and explaining their properties. Lena recognized the twelve that she knew and told Kara what they were called on earth. She listened with rapt attention to Kara as she carefully described thirteen others.  

            "I've thought about some of these," Lena said. "I've had an inkling they might exist. I wish I could see the experiments that proved these were real. I wish I had more time for just research." Lena was quiet for a long time, and when she look at Kara, Kara was stunned to realize Lena had grown incredibly emotional. Her eyes were filled with tears. "This is beautiful, Kara," Lena said. She swallowed and blinked, and Kara realized how deeply Lena loved science. She wished suddenly that she could take Lena home to Krypton with such intensity that she had to close her eyes to tolerate the feeling. "You know, the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life was when I first saw a Kryptonian cell under a microscope. All that life dancing in such brilliant design, so far beyond anything made by a conscious mind. That was the most in love I have ever felt with this universe." Lena smiled at Kara, still on the edge of crying. Kara found that she was, as well, and they simply looked at one another for a long time in silence.  

            "Does this give you any ideas?" Kara asked eventually.

            "Sure, it does," Lena said. She was still for a long time, focused on the screen in front of her. She only needed a few minutes, before she sat back and said, "Let's see if this does it."   The glass cylinder of nanites lit up and turned cloudy with a swarm. When it opened, they went over Lena's desk and back into the cylinder within a few minutes. A clear image with the location of her pendant appeared on the screen.

            "That looks promising," Kara said.

            "That's it. This will work," Lena said. She looked at Kara with a kind of wonder in her expression. Lena turned quickly and shut everything off. She then turned back to Kara and pulled her into a kiss.

            "Now, what did you come in here to get? I vaguely remember you suggesting something earlier," Lena said.

            "Oh, my!" Kara said. "It did work! I've got your full and undivided attention, have I?"

            "Except the part of my brain that already went back to sleep now that's finished. Why? Are you about to do something surprising?"

            "You never know with me. I'm an alien!" Kara said. She got her arms around Lena, and she felt a thrill of excitement in her chest. Kara snatched Lena off the chair and flew them both through the open doorway and into a perfect arc that landed on Lena's bed up in the loft. Lena was so taken by surprise, she didn't even have time to grab hold of Kara.

            "Oh my gosh!" Lena said, wrapping her arms tight around Kara, even though they were already lying in the bed. Kara was laughing fully. "You are so wild," she said, as she pulled Kara on top of her.

            "You have no idea," Kara said through her grin.  

 

---

            Kara remembered that night after with a thrill of joy. She had never felt so close to Lena, and she could not remember the last time she had the chance to embrace her Kryptonian roots. Kara had not forgotten the intense battle she had with herself when J'onn led her into the deep, psychic landscape where she had fought her own shadow self and the incredible anger that woman had felt towards her for distancing herself from her heritage. She had felt betrayed by herself. Even that slight felt sense of homecoming made Kara's heart ache with both acknowledged grief and fulfillment at once.

            In direct contrast to this, Kara kept noticing Lena becoming distant over the following week. Kara could not quite say what it was. There would be a laugh or a smile that faded too fast. Lena would turn away from looking at her or sink into her thoughts. She would hesitate a moment before she touched Kara, and there was something in the precise quality of her touch that made Kara feel like Lena was experiencing Kara as if she were not really there, as if Kara were at a distance, as if she were already gone.

            Kara did not know how to ask about what this was, and there were so many times when Lena felt right there with her, present and vivid.   They were deeply in love. And yet Kara felt as if an aura were cast over their entire relationship indicating that it was only transient. She thought that had to come from Lena. Kara was optimistic or naïve enough to think they would be together for the rest of their lives and more prone to imagine they might get killed in the fight they were in than that their relationship would somehow end. But she knew that Lena was not like her in this way or so many others she probably did not understand yet.

            Finally a night came when Lena slept over at Kara's place, and Kara woke up to find Lena awake again in the middle of the night. Lena's hand strayed to Kara's side, when Kara shifted in the bed. The touch was absent of thought. Kara remained half asleep and yet she could tell that Lena was wide awake and deeply lost in something. Kara dragged herself up out of her sleepiness for a few minutes in silence.

            "You're awake," Kara said, and she felt as much as heard Lena turn towards her briefly.

            "I'm just thinking," Lena said, obviously intending that Kara should go back to sleep.

            "What are you thinking about?" Kara asked, becoming a little more awake.

            "Science," Lena said offhandedly. Kara thought about that for a minute. She rubbed her face in her pillow and turned onto her side facing Lena.

            "No, you're not," Kara said very matter-of-fact. "If you were thinking about science, you would say something esoteric in a tone of carefully suppressed joy."  

            "You know me too well," Lena said through a quick grin.

            "You're deflecting," Kara said. Then she added softly, "You can deflect if you want."

            "I don't know how to talk about some things," Lena said with her voice becoming uncharacteristically weak.

            "Try," Kara said lightly. "I promise not to be sensitive about whatever it is."

            "Is that something you can promise?" Lena challenged her in a gentle tease. Kara could swear she had heard Lena's eyebrow raise in the dark. Kara huffed a bit of a laugh.

            "No, not really. But I promise I will do my absolute best not to get sensitive," Kara casually promised. She waited to see if Lena would say anything. For a moment, she fully expected that Lena wouldn't.

            "To be honest, I'm thinking that I don't know how to do this," Lena said.

            "What's 'this'?" Kara asked. "Preemptively, let me remind you that you are one of the greatest innovators who has ever lived. So that is unlikely a problem that will last."

            "This – being with you this way. I know I'm going to mess this up," Lena said.

            That struck Kara as so serious, she found herself suddenly vividly awake. She considered what to say to Lena. Before Kara could even think of what to say to this, Lena went on. It was as if some strange spell had come upon her here in the middle of the night, and she was suddenly open in a way she never would have been anywhere else or at any other time.

            "Sometimes, I think of things that I should say to you," Lena told her. "I spend all this time and gather all the precise words in my head. I carry them around, almost like I've awkwardly gathered them into my hands. And I look at your face and go to speak. And nothing comes out of my mouth. I know that there's something wrong with me."

            Kara felt herself blinking in astonishment, as Lena explained this. And she found herself stunned most of all by the fact that as Lena told Kara this, she began to cry. By the time she finished, Lena was weeping in earnest. Kara reached for Lena instinctively.

            "Lena," Kara said in earnest. "Come here." Lena's body shook with her sobs, and Kara pulled her shoulder to bring her close to herself. "Come here to me." She got her arms all the way around Lena and held her as close as she could. Lena gained command of her emotions quickly, but her breath shook from the intensity of her sobs before. Kara held Lena as if she were broken, as if Kara could gather her back together and keep her from coming apart.

            They way Lena hid herself against Kara's body made Kara stay quiet. Lena's arms were in between them, and she wiped tears from her face with her hands. Kara kissed Lena's shoulder and her neck with incredibly tenderness and sincerity. She felt Lena's hands fumble for her in the dark, and Kara entwined their hands and held on gently, as if Lena were suddenly materially frail. Kara kissed Lena's hands, as she tried to think of what to say.

            "You don't have to say anything to me at all," Kara told Lena. She did not know how else to convey to Lena what she meant. They were very much together in Kara's mind. They were more together than Kara ever imagined she would be with a lover or a friend. She had thought her family the only ties that would ever come to hold all of her this way. She wanted so desperately for Lena to feel that same way she did that she found herself at the absolute end of her ability to exert any influence on her world. She felt herself slip into the way she felt before she decided to become Supergirl. She had the uncanny sense with Lena that she used to feel all the time, that perhaps she was never really here, never really a part of this world.

            Lena let go of Kara's hands and reached for Kara, and Kara shifted in closer and kissed her at once. The kiss made Kara's heart pound. She felt as if Lena were trying to reach her and afraid she would not find her there. Kara kissed Lena with such earnestness and intensity that she felt Lena tremble in response. The focus and intent with which Kara made love to Lena then was unlike anything she had yet felt between the two of them. Kara remained tender the entire time, as Lena felt more vulnerable to Kara than she ever had been before. They were kissing when Kara brought Lena to an orgasm, and Lena hid her face against Kara's neck and held onto her as if she were falling and trusting Kara to keep her from crashing to the ground.  

            They lay in the dark after, still incredibly close, and kissed longer than Kara thought they had ever kissed before. After, they stayed where they were, each one with a hand touching the other's face. Lena drifted into what seemed an exhausted sleep. Kara lay awake, more serious than she had felt in a very long time. Kara tried to discern what was happening in the seemingly sudden crisis that had come over Lena. She found herself shocked by the sudden break, and yet at the same time, she felt like she knew it had always been coming. They were challenging Lena's entire way of being, and Kara had to wonder tonight whether there relationship was even truly right for Lena. The one thing Kara knew for certain was that she was losing Lena. Whatever they had formed together against all odds was beginning to snap inside of Lena. That was all it would take. And Kara knew that the truth was that she had no idea why.

Chapter Text

            After that night, Lena was so withdrawn that not even Kara's optimism could hold out. She was incredibly quiet the morning after, then Kara did not see Lena for eight days and barely got texts back from her. Lena kept just telling Kara that she needed to think. Kara figured that meant that Lena could not handle anymore feelings and could not make room for the impact a breakup would have on them in the midst of the crisis they were facing. And Kara had to agree that this was probably smart and the right thing to do, even if she hated the idea and it ran against all of her own instincts.

            Finally, Kara got a text from Lena asking to meet. Her heart only sank in response. Lena had asked them all to a meeting at James's the next day, which was Saturday. That almost certainly meant she finally got a lead on the sun-fire ray, and they would have to decide what to do with it. She then texted to ask Kara if they could meet that evening. No doubt, Lena wanted to see her alone before they all gathered together. Kara said yes, and Lena asked her to come to a park in an odd part of the city. Kara was absolutely sure that meant Lena was going to break up with her and was trying to pick a place neither of them would have to visit in the future. She didn’t want to ruin any of their usual places. At best, Kara imagined this at least meant Lena was concerned about preserving their friendship after this. She still had no idea what had happened and had to wonder if she ever would.

            Kara was so depressed, Nia asked her what was wrong twice and ignored her both times when she said nothing. Nia didn't press, but the way she kept watching Kara made Kara more aware of how much deep her sadness was even already. Kara left work early. She went to Alex's. Alex was going stir crazy, and she was always relieved when anyone came over. Kara texted her on the way and asked if she wanted anything, so she ended up arriving with a pizza. Alex eyed Kara when she came in, obviously aware something was wrong. She got more concerned when Kara didn't want any pizza.

            "Is there some news I don't know about?" Alex asked finally. Kara could tell Alex was braced and not sure she how she would handle more bad news. Kara shook her head and then her brows furrowed.

            "I think Lena is going to break up with me," Kara explained.

            "Why?" Alex asked. She seemed startled by this. A profound gravity came over her, as she considered Kara and realized how serious she was.

            "I mean, I think she never could imagine us being together long-term," Kara said.

            "Ok. But why would she break up with you now specifically? Something happened? I bet Lena would try to stop it if she foresaw something bad coming. That seems way more Lena's style than calling it quits because she can't picture you staying together the rest of your lives. Did you two fight about her using Kryptonian science again?"

            "No. Not at all. We wouldn't fight about that anymore."  

            "What happened that made you think she's going to break up with you?"

            "That's a little hard to explain. She was… overwhelmed, I think. And then she got distant. She's never been withdrawn like this before. Not with me, I mean. It's not out of character exactly. But it's different for me."

            "She's panicking?"

            "I think she panicked. She kept it inside mostly. And now I think she's more resolved. Maybe I messed things up before – by not telling her I was Supergirl for so long or by reacting so badly to the news she was using research on Kryptonians in her designs. I think she's scared of me – scared we're going to fight more. I get this feeling sometimes with Lena. It's like she doesn't want to have to see what happens next, because she imagines something really bad happening between us."

            "Shit," Alex said. "Do you know what you're going to do? Are you going to try to talk her out of it? Is it ok with you if I try to talk her out of it?"

            "I honestly doubt anyone can change Lena's mind, once she's made up her mind about something. I have to respect her consent regardless. If she wants to break up, she gets to break up without having to justify her decision to me."  

            "You say that with a lot of calm," Alex said with great skepticism.

            "Do you think we will still be able to be friends?" Kara asked Alex with an edge of desperation breaking through finally.

            "Yeah, I do. Don't you?" Alex said.

            "I don't know anymore," Kara admitted.

            "Oh, Kara," Alex said and looked so sad, Kara felt bad for telling her.

            "I feel like Lena is always slipping away from me. It's like, I have her there one moment, with me. Then she's just gone, and I can't even figure out when it happened, much less why. That's not about us being together in any particular way. That's something more. I can't hold onto her, Alex. And I don't want to let her go."  

            Kara looked at Alex with profound despair. She rubbed her face hard with her hands. She would have been weeping, but her chest ached with a passionate determination that was all tangled up with itself. She would have been willing to do anything, and she could not think of a single thing to do.

            Alex watched Kara with a look of pure empathy. She seemed not to know what to say at first. Kara hoped Alex would tell her what to do, but she knew that she wouldn't be able to figure this out for her. When it came to Lena, Kara was the one who understood her when no one else could. And now, she was at a loss.

            "I find it incredible that the two of you managed to fall in the love in the middle of all this. As far as I can see, we have never had it worse. There is an incredible amount of stress bearing down on every one us, and it's all the time. The two of you still found a way to be together. If you find that you can't be together now, maybe you can be together later. When things calm down, we will all feel entirely different."

            "Yeah," Kara said. "Yeah, that is fair. I suppose I could ask Lena to just wait and try again with me once we are in the clear.   That is, if we ever are."  

            "That seems fair. I don't think you'd be undermining her consent to ask her for that. Maybe this is all becoming too much for her. She is our only hope of stopping Lillian. It could be that she's just overwhelmed, like you said."

            Tears fell from Kara's eyes, as she nodded. Alex got her arms around Kara. She remained quiet, and they were both heavy and reticent.

            Kara let herself walk slowly to the park. She found Lena already waiting for her, standing on a bridge over a stream that ran through the middle. She was so beautiful, even from a distance. Kara could feel her heart racing with a confused combination of delight and dread, as she walked up to Lena and softly smiled at her. Lena considered Kara with her jaw clenched. Lena looked fraught with a positively existential dread. Lena came and put her arms around Kara's neck. They held onto each other, and Kara nearly cried already. Lena collected herself, obviously trying to pull together her thoughts. She turned and stood with her hands on the stone wall of the bridge. Kara turned with her and looked out. She reached over after a moment, took Lena's hand, and held it.

            "You need to talk to me?" Kara said.

            "Yes," Lena said and took in a deep breath. "I have to tell you some things, and after I do, I think you are going to break up with me." Lena turned to look at Kara at this. Kara felt the look of surprise that came across her own expression.

            "That makes sense given that I was absolutely certain you were asking me here to break up with me."

            "This – this might be the same thing, more or less," Lena said. Kara considered Lena closely, and Lena's entire body seemed weighed down by sadness. Kara felt an empathy for Lena flare in her chest. She tried to be just as considerate of her own heart. Kara could not begin to guess what Lena was about to say, but she could not help but take Lena's fear seriously. Kara gathered up her own inner strength and looked at Lena unflinchingly.

            "I'm ready to hear whatever you need to say," Kara told Lena. Lena tried to think then. She seemed to be trying to choose a starting point.

            "Alex said something to me that's been on my mind since, when I chose not to tell you how I got the research on Kryptonians, until you actually asked. She told me I had to stop keeping secrets from you. I knew even when she said it that she was right, and to be honest, that thought had never occurred to me before."

            "I mean, you have a right to privacy," Kara said. "I set a precedence of keeping secrets in our relationship. I respect you not sharing everything with me." Lena only shook her head. She looked at Kara once more.

            "Alex knows exactly the kind of love you need. And that is what you deserve, as well. I don't have that. I don't mean that I don't have it for you. I mean that I don't have it at all, not for anyone. I usually don't see things as black and white, but this time it's clear. There is a right and a wrong way to love you, Kara. The way you love, it's fully and with such openness. There's intimacy and upholding of everyone's full and free choice. You deserve the same.

            "I never expected to be this close with anyone. I wasn't prepared for how serious this would be between us. I don't see an end to this, and I've realized I'm getting you tangled up in something you would never consent to of your own free will. You've loved me the same way that you love everyone else, with all your heart and all your truth. I owe you the same in return. I will try to match that this once, even though I know it's too late. I think this will end the relationship we had together. I have to give you the freedom to decide – to live by your own sense of what's right and protect your people. So I am going to tell you the truth, even though I honestly don't want to see what comes after."

            Lena's jaw gripped, and she held a stoic expression. Kara could feel her own body held fully braced. The gravity in Lena's demeanor made everything around them seem distant and the connection between the two of them seem heavy and fraught. Kara became wholly determined to handle this interaction well, whatever that meant.

            "I have always kept even the people closest to me at a distance. I was like that with the Luthors, even when they first adopted me. I knew that they were – I could see these… these cracks… these spaces… I knew that something was not aligned between who the Luthors were and who people thought they were. Lillian and Lionel could tell this was happening, and they didn't like it. They started taking me to a therapist, someone they picked out who was supposed take me apart and make me accessible to them in ways I just wasn't. I didn't know what to say to him, and I don't think he knew what to make of me.

            "When Lex found out that this was happening, he told me something that I still consider to be one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. Lex said that there are people whose minds are different than other people's and can do things that theirs cannot. He said that those people who are made different are entitled to keep even a vast part of their minds secret and not share their thoughts unless they want, not even with anyone. Because when people see how different their minds are, they try to change them to make them match, they get scared and often in response become dangerous, they misunderstand.

            "Even very young, I knew he was right about this – about us. I knew he was talking about me and also about himself, sharing something that he had learned that he was telling me about how to survive in the world and even more so in the Luthor family. Lex is like me in a way that I have never encountered in anyone else. His mind, the way it works – like the hardwiring – we're the same in a fundamental way. We're still very different. I can't really explain, but he understood what I needed when no one else would have had the slightest idea.

            "I rarely shared more than a tiny corner of my inner world with anyone after that. I filter my thoughts and translate them always. And life got so much better, so much less dangerous. I made some things up that pacified my therapist and the Luthors so easily, it was remarkable to me. They left me alone, once they thought they had what they wanted. I've rarely made mistakes with people after.

            "I remember when I first got to college. I took a course on particle physics. We were told to turn in our notes for part of our grade. The professor thought my notes were a joke – some kind of prank. The way he was talking about them I realized that if he knew they were serious, he would have thought they were insane. Everyone had been writing things down during his lectures, and I suddenly had no idea what they had been writing. My notes were mostly models and prototype sketches – applications of what I was inferring from the principles we were learning, ideas I was trying to give some kind of tangible form. There were unfinished theories and hypotheses. I had made a mistake and given him my real thoughts.

            "I played along and acted like the notes were a joke meant for something else that I had turned them in by accident. I promised to bring him my 'real' notes. I went to a study group, so I could see what was in other people's notes.   They had just written down what he said in class. I could hardly believe that. It made me angry. I know that must seem strange. I sat down in disbelief wrote down everything I could remember from the first day of the class with backdated the entries and three or four different pens. I handed in those notes, and he gave me an A and was entirely placated. I was so disillusioned by that. I never took a class where I had to turn in notes again, and soon the entire way I was engaging with my studies changed.

            "That only happened, because I was young and in a new context, so I made an uncharacteristic mistake. I told Lex that story, and he laughed and got me to laugh about it, as well. He had notebooks very much like the ones I had that he shared. Of course, he did. Lex is my brother, and I mean that as something far more even than just biology. He was the only person who was there – the only one who understands what it was like growing up in the Luthor family. He understood me when no one else did. And I think I understand him now when no one else does.

            "What I need to tell you, Kara, is that the entire world believes that Lex Luthor is criminally insane – a sociopathic megalomaniac who was born that way and hid it for most of his life. And I do not believe that. I never will. Lex's mind collapsed on itself, and I remember seeing signs that it was happening. I didn't know what to make of the change, but there was a distinct timeline. There was a control – a time before. That meant that there had to be an experiment.

            "For years, I have mined countless data and turned up even the most secret aspects of Lex's work to figure out what happened that could have caused him to go mad. I believe now that I've found it. He destabilized his own mind through his work. The effect took place gradually and accumulated. Neither he nor anyone else knew how to diagnose it or prevent it. He was quite literally working regularly with substances no human had ever been in contact with before.

            "I saw every fear, every toxic myth the Luthors ever believed about aliens turn to a paranoia in Lex and from there to beliefs about what was actually happening in the world. All of those contents were already in his mind. I recognized them from our childhood. And those were not Lex's beliefs. Those were his worst fears. The things he rejected that were imposed upon him. They sank into him, and then they were brought to the forefront of his mind as if they were his very own thoughts. The shift was uncanny. I could hardly believe it. Now, I think I understand how that occurred, more or less. I am still trying to find a way to reverse it.

            "The entire world wants Lex Luthor gone – put away, put to death even. I want him back. They believe him to be the most dangerous man in the world, and I have to agree with that. But they believe they finally learned who he was all along, that his mask was pulled off. They think they know who he really is now. I think I know who he really is, as well, because I still remember the brother I grew up with. Those two ideas are fundamentally incompatible.  

            "I have never told another person that I have been working on finding a way to cure Lex. I have people working on it who have no idea what they are working on in truth. I know that anyone alive would think I am crazy for trying, and anyone bold or simply brazen enough would try to stop me. Even if I could convince them, they wouldn't think it worth the risk. If Lex found out what I believe, he would use that against me. He's a brilliant strategist. I think I might know better than anyone how dangerous he is. It's still worth it to me.

            "No one will ever stop me from trying to get to my brother. I will never stop trying to save him. I will never stop trying to get him back. If you try, you will not be able to stop me. Not even all of you together. I have to keep trying. There is no other choice for me. It doesn't matter what it costs."

Chapter Text

            Kara stood blinking, drawing from a deep well of strength to keep herself from a total panic. She went through, piece by piece, and thought through what Lena had to say. Kara swallowed hard. Lena stood more relaxed now, as if she had held herself to a nearly impossible task and finally done it. She looked over at Kara, obviously waiting for her to have some terrible reaction. Kara focused on her own still flaring thoughts.

            "What was it that you think made Lex go insane?" Kara said.

            "He was experimenting with substances that were unstable and essentially radioactive in ways no one had ever seen before," Lena said.

            "And you're experimenting with the same things, trying to find answers? You're recreating his research? So the same thing could happen to you?"

            "I am careful."

            "But the same thing could happen again? What happened to Lex could happen to you?"

            "It won't. I promise. I've taken precautions."

            "And if you make a mistake?"

            "I have fail safes in place."

            "What does that mean?"

            "That I will never turn out like Lex."

            "Whatever you really mean, that sounds terrifying. What's going to happen if you are simply wrong about this?"

            "If I am wrong or even if this plays out the wrong way, eventually, Lex will figure out I have these assumptions. I will play into his hands, and he will kill me. Regardless of how he started, he will spend the rest of his life the way he is now."

            "How is that acceptable?"

            "It's not. None of that is acceptable to me. I'm playing a game with time – a game against Lex and a game for Lex both at once. Believe me, I know how dangerous it is."

            Kara turned away from Lena and considered. Her chest ached with pressing anxiety. Lena was right about Kara's reaction. Every instinct in Kara believed that Lena was being deceived. This could be a trap Lex set for Lena long ago. Or it could be Lena simply refusing to accept that the one person she really believed was good in the Luthor family was deceiving her, as well. Even if Lena was right, the risks would be extreme. If she was wrong, she was making the biggest mistake of her life.

            Kara let herself picture Lena becoming mad like Lex. The two of them together would be unstoppable. They would be exactly the children their parents wanted, and the Luthor dynasty would suppress the alien population on earth. Nothing could sound more horrifying. Another line of thinking disrupted this. What Lena described with Lex was a recognition that went beyond mere logic, and she also believed that she had found scientific evidence of what happened to him during his work. Clark had loved Lex, too. Kara had spent years believing that the thing about Lex that made them love him was Lex's mastery of deceit. That had never felt right to Kara, and she had to reconsider that now.

            Kara had to really consider the likelihood that Lena was wrong and not only that but also wrong about her own brother – someone she said was like her in a way no one else in the world was. She had no such delusions about their parents or anything else in the world. Whatever she must have believed when she was a girl, Lena had given up when something offered itself that made more sense, no matter how dark it was. Maybe Lex was the one thing she believed in that she simply could not let go. That did not seem likely to Kara, but the risk that she was wrong was enormous.

            One thing was remarkably clear. There was not any room to stay with Lena and to try and change her mind. Kara had to decide. She stood there in silence at a complete loss. A thought came to her that drove out all her other thoughts. What if it were Alex?

            If Alex changed, slowly and to an extreme, if Kara lost her gradually until she was unrecognizable as her sister, Kara would never accept that Alex had never been the person Kara she was before. Even if she was entirely alone, she would search for Alex. No one could stop her – not Lena, not their friends, not her mother, no one. Kara would go to the ends of this earth. She would leave for other planets. Nothing would ever stop her from trying to save her sister. There was not a question in her mind.

            This only felt different, because Lex came from a family as terrifying as the Luthors. But in Lena's mind, the two of them had always been alone in the midst of a hostile world. To Lena, this was the same.

            "I am sorry I let us get this far in together before telling you this," Lena said softly. "I never intended to tell you at all. I honestly never imagined we would be in love this way, Kara. I didn't know how to imagine what it would actually be like. Now, you have the truth. I owe you that. I wish I had understood before." Lena obviously meant she would have stayed away from Kara. She would never have done this.

            Kara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She considered her thoughts one more time. She started nodding.

            "Ok," Kara said. She looked at Lena. Lena's expression made it clear she was confused by this response, so Kara went on. "I understand. You have to try to save Lex." Lena only looked at Kara, and Kara could tell Lena was confused. Lena gave Kara such a skeptical look that Kara found them staring at one another in some subtle standoff.

            "You will not be able to change my mind. I'm not going to compromise on this," Lena said.

            "No, you're not. I can see that. I wouldn't either. If this were Alex, no one could stop me from going all in. That I understand. You will have accept that I won't keep this a secret from Alex or any of the rest of our core group of friends. I trusted them with my secret, and they have trusted me with theirs. I won't tell them right away, but they have to know. And soon. That is the best chance we have of keeping you safe," Lena said nothing at first. She only stood there, clearly astonished.

            "I don't know if you have fully processed what I'm telling you. Maybe you should take some time to think before you decide," Lena said.

            "No, I am not confused about how I feel. If you have to do this, then I have to do this with you. That's just the way it is. To my mind anyways. I mean, that's if it is my choice. You're not going to leave me just because you've told me, are you?" Lena could not help but laugh at this and looked suddenly near to crying.

            "Why would I be the one to leave?"

            "Well, then, this is what we're doing. I can't tell you I'm not scared. I am extremely scared. Luckily, all of us are good at being brave at this point. And you haven't led us wrong before. I have faith in you." They stood there for so long in silence that Kara turned to Lena and asked, "What are you thinking?"

            "I mean, I didn’t imagine I'd get this far with you still here. If you're really not going to leave over that, then I should tell you one thing more." Kara could not imagine anything being worse than what Lena had just said, so she was not even able to feel scared. Lena found permission to go on in Kara's expression. Lena made a grimace that Kara felt herself echo in her own expression. Lena took a long time to say anything, and Kara waited.

            "When I found out that Lionel Luthor was my biological father, a lot of what I believed about my childhood was called into question. I got suspicious about things, mainly about how I had come to be adopted by the Luthors. At first, I couldn't find anything, then I hired some people who had abilities and could get information that other people could not to help me.

            "I found out that Lionel did not know I existed until I was three, and then he wanted to take me to be raised in his family. My mother knew he would, and she was prepared and used some insider information she had from working at Luthor Corp to keep him away from us. At some point, Lillian eventually found this out. She believed she had lost some of Lionel's affection in the affair and that she could gain it back if she got me for him.

            "I have sat and talked to a man who is currently serving three life sentences in a Berlin prison for the contracted murder of a German business man. He claimed in his defense that he worked for the Luthor family indirectly, although that was never proven. He described the exact location where my mother died, and he told me that a man hired him to kill her and make it look like a suicide. I showed him pictures of more than fifty men, and he picked out only this one – Samuel Benson. He worked for Lillian back then. It was an impossible pick. I have no reason to doubt what he said and every reason to believe him.

            "I think Lionel knew what happened. He probably felt guilty in some confused way and that's what stopped him from telling me he was my father when he brought me home. That way, I still belonged solely to my mother. Some kind of gesture on his part. What Lillian intended didn't work. There was always this hard edge between the two of them whenever it came to me. I'm sure Lionel didn't want my mother killed. Lillian got her revenge for his affair in a way she could pass off as some incredibly ruthless act of devotion to him, and his attention was no longer divided. He never entirely forgave her, and she hated me for it. It all makes sense looking back. I just never pieced it all together before."

            "How long have you known about this?" Kara asked Lena in a tone of vivid horror. Lena had a distinct look of shame in response.

            "Over a year now. I know I should have killed Lillian. I just can't stop empathizing with her, like some confused instinct. She got to me over the years, and I can't shake it fully."

            "Have you told anyone? The police? Or Lex?"

            "No. Why would I? The best advantage I have is that Lillian doesn't know that I know. She'd change her game once she did."

            "Lena," Kara said, vividly distressed, "Why do you think I would ever leave you over that?" Lena looked at Kara and seemed perplexed.

            "I don't know," Lena responded honestly. "I know I should have done something already. I just couldn't figure out what to do."

            "What were you supposed to do?" Kara asked in pure exasperation.

            "Stop Lillian from hurting anyone else. None of this would have happened if it weren't for me. I could have stopped all of this, and now your life is on the line as much as mine."

            "Lena," Kara managed to say. Kara had to close her eyes. She dragged Lena into a hug. Kara held onto Lena every bit as hard as she dared. After a long time, Kara talked to her without letting her go. " You still believe you are alone. You cannot take responsibility for all of this. We all need people. You have to let people in and let us help you. You have to start believing that we're really here. You have to believe we're really together."

            Kara stood back and looked at Lena. Lena seemed suddenly exhausted. Her mind was still trying to grasp Kara's reaction. She appeared to be in a kind of shock. Lena was still so overwhelmed, Kara could see that now. Kara was carrying a messenger bag, and she pulled this around and got out a book she had brought to give to Lena.

            "This is for you," Kara said handing the book over to Lena. "This is my favorite poem, and I've been wanting to give it to you. I know you've been saying that you need time to think. So take all the time you need. And if you are willing to still try us being together still, I am all in. But I need you to be all in, as well, if we're going to do this. Especially if we're going to do something as dangerous as trying to help Lex.

            "I know you plan to go on with this without me. I believe that you are stronger with us than you are alone. And I want to be with you, so badly. I realize that you're being asking to change a lot about how you think and what you believe in order to do this with me. So think, Lena. I hope that you decide that I am really here with you, and if anything is meant to be in this world, we are all meant to be with you."

            Kara said all this with great earnest while looking hard at Lena. Lena looked torn. Kara kissed Lena with one single, vividly passionate kiss. She held onto Lena, and they considered one another in silence. After a little while longer, Kara left. Lena watched her go, finding it impossible not to feel how beautiful Kara was every moment that she looked at her. Lena considered the book in her hands, a book of poems by Mary Oliver. Kara had marked a page with a ribbon, and Lena opened it up and found a poem called "Wild Geese" that she read:

 

            You do not have to be good.

            You do not have to walk on your knees

            for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

            You only have to let the soft animal of your body

            love what it loves.

            Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

            Meanwhile the world goes on.

            Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

            are moving across the landscapes,

            over the prairies and the deep trees,

            the mountains and the rivers.

            Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

            are heading home again.

            Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

            the world offers itself to your imagination,

            calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

            over and over announcing your place

            in the family of things.

           

            Lena put the book away and repeated every line over and over in her mind, until the poem took up residence inside of her. Lena found herself moved to tears, even though she had never cried in public before in her life. Today, she could not find it in herself to care, which was surprising. She stayed on the bridge thinking, trying her best to do what Kara had asked her to do.

            Kara's response had caught Lena completely off her guard. Kara was something Lena could not predict, something beyond Lena's understanding of people and the world. And Kara knew this. It made her not real to Lena in a way, and Kara could tell. Lena was no optimist, but a realist would be able to factor Kara in and imagine things Lena could not. Lena had long known she was the only one who understood Lillian well enough to stand a chance in this fight against her. Now that she and Kara were this close to one another, Lena was being given a chance to truly understand Kara. An opposite extreme was being offered to her mind. She tried to consider the possibility that maybe this was the edge that they needed to win. If Lena was the wildcard, maybe this could be a part of that. Lena faced the possibility logically for the first time that she was no longer alone.

            Something about the poem expanded to take up increasingly more space inside of Lena. The gesture of being given the gift of a beloved poem, when Kara was the only person who knew about the books of poetry Lena had inherited from her mother by way of a kindhearted friend who missed Lena's mother even decades later and so clearly prioritized Lena's loss over her own, struck a cord inside of Lena that resonated deeply. Lena knew how easily and fully Kara believed in her life before the Luthors, a life Lena could remember even still. Lillian had made her question those memories during her childhood, dismissing them as childish ideals and fantasies, until Lena was no longer certain what was real. That doubt seemed trivial when faced with Kara's faith.

            Lena could not comprehend how the person she was before the Luthors had her could possible be the same person she was now. She could not remember what she was like before she was always wary, slicing every word said and every presentation of intimacy into something she could inspect for subtle manipulations and implications of coming threats. She and Lex would try to outmaneuver their parents together, their intimacy deepened through navigating a shared threat. The images and impressions Lena still carried in her memory of her mother could evoke a profound sense of trust in Lena. That love formed the basis of her love for humanity, she was sure, a love that endured beyond all reasoning.

            There was a Lena who had existed before the Luthors. But Lena did not relate to her anymore. That girl had been wrong to feel safe. Her mother died, and the Luthors took her. It must have been easy for them. The self who could be so naïve, who could feel absolute trust in someone, who could feel such a sense of belonging, who could be so secure in this world, was not someone Lena could recognize in herself anymore. That was not someone Lena could trust.

            Lena had to consider a question now that left her utterly at a loss. What if she needed to understand what that girl had known in order to truly understand this world? When Lena recalled even the most vivid memories of life in her childhood home, they did not seem real to her. When she remembered being with Kara, moments when just the two of them were together and entirely focused on one another, that did not seem real to her either. They were as distant from her as images from some other world. This world did not belong to people who loved simple comforts and carried a endless well of kindness towards other people in their hearts.

            This world belonged to the ruthless. Lena could easily imagine a world fully dominated by the Luthors, when no one else could. She could see the signs of that life encroaching all around them and was constantly aware of what they were fighting against. Kara must have been confused that Lena could not imagine a world that was not dominated by the Luthors, the life Kara recognized as being all around them and so easily believed in. The truth was that Lena did not believe in that world. Not yet. And the realization finally dawned on her fully that this was her chance – a real and viable chance to live in that world, the one she had lost. She knew it had been real, because it had been there. A life with Kara and their friends was that world. They could make it real, if they really were strong enough together to defend what they loved.

 

---  

           At nearly nine o'clock that night, a knock came at Kara's door. She had been focused on some work and looked up and through the door to see who it was. When she did, she leapt over the back of her couch and darted to get the door. Kara barely got enough physical restraint to pry the door open without busting something. When she opened the door, Lena walked straight into her arms and held onto Kara.

            They embraced for so long, Kara forgot the door was standing open, forgot the crazy situation still bearing down on them, forgot about Lillian, forgot about Lex, forgot about the anti-alien movement. She forgot about everything else except for Lena and the way she felt in this moment. They were finally really there, both of them. No secrets were between them for the first time. Kara could feel in the way Lena held onto her that she was just as dedicated as Kara to not letting anything force them to let each other go.

--- 

            When Kara awoke in the dim light of her room early the next morning, she found Lena already awake. Lena was lying on her side with her hand on Kara's bare chest over her heart. Kara turned to Lena, and they considered one another in the stillness.

            "What are you thinking?" Kara asked Lena softly. Lena raised her eyebrows, considering.

            "I wasn’t thinking at all," Lena said.

            Kara watched as Lena's focus shifted back to her hand. She had been listening to Kara's heartbeat by feel. The remarkably strong and slow beat of Kara's heart captivated all of Lena's attention once more. Lena remained perfectly still, more at peace than Kara had ever seen her before. Kara felt herself grin in response, and Lena made a very soft smile when she saw.

Chapter Text

            The next night, they gathered at James's apartment for a full family meeting. Lena brought up a holographic display with a map of the world. Bright dots illuminated the surface, easily over a hundred. No one knew what they were looking at yet, but Brainy immediately inferred what it was.

            "Oh, my," Brainy said.

            "Yes," Lena said. " I finally found a way to locate the sun-fire ray. There are 147 of them."

            "Decoys?" Brainy said.

            "Probably all except one," Lena said. "I sent drones to investigate eight of these locations so far. All were decoys, essentially minor cores with the same composition not hitched up to anything at all. Whoever we are up against is not underestimating us, unfortunately. They knew we would eventually find a way to track down the sun-fire ray, which is pretty astonishing."

            "So how do figure out which is the big one?" Alex asked.

            "At this point it's more of a question of how long it will take us," J'onn said. "This looks like a calculated waste of our time. I'm sure we'll find it eventually, but are we really just letting ourselves stay distracted while the next move against us gets put in place?"

            "I think that's exactly what it is and Lillian is simply waiting us out at this point," Lena said. "I've trying to get a sense of how this cloud covering is affecting Kara. She's definitely not getting enough sun, and she can't fly up over the cloud covering without being spotted. The question isn't if she's still strong, it's how long can her strength hold out without access to its source. I've been able to simulate enough exertion to create a measurable loss.

            "There's no way I could have done that before this weather took its toll. It takes several days now for her full strength to come back. But if we take her up in a plane, less than an hour of full sunlight will do the same. If she were using her powers full force, I think they could be rapidly depleted. And unless she could get up high enough to get sun, she would be weakened for days. That's why we're being baited to go after so many leads instead of getting none. It's even possible we don't actually have the real one on this map. Every day that passes, Kara is losing a little more strength.."

            "So is the anti-alien movement," Nia said.

            "That's true," James confirmed. "We have taken out a lot of key leaders at this point and made all the others sweat. I think James Hawker will be out of office within the month, and after being hit with these new lawsuits, Proctor Morris will be so tangled up with legal trouble, he won't be much of a threat. We're pulling them all apart, and they are starting to sell each other out."

            "Desperate is dangerous, though," Alex said. "As long as those folks have power, they'll give it to anyone who says they can help them keep it. We might be playing into Lillian's hand."

            "I agree," Lena said.

            "This could be a good moment to start taking deals to people, see if we can get an insider to open up," James said.

            "I think it's best if we try and force a confrontation with Lillian any way we can, rather than trying to dismantle the rest of this regime. To the extent that she's already the foundation, it might crumble with her taken away. To the extent she's trying to further establish herself as the foundation, we could stop her more easily before it happens," Alex said.

            "We have important decisions to make about CatCo," Lena said. "How much offense do we play?"

            "All of it," Alex and Kara said at the same time. They looked up at one another. Lena gave them both a look that was very measured.

            "That will be a drastic escalation," Lena said.

            "What are we waiting for, though?" Nia said. "The United States government making a public release of a weapon that's for killing Kryptonians and any other alien is basically the last straw in my book."

            "The long game would be less incendiary," Brainy said.            

            "What do you think we should do?" Kara asked Lena. Everybody was suddenly listening to Lena. She took this in with a clear moment of surprise and considered.

            "I can see this both ways. We can publically release enough information to prove that Lillian Luthor is alive and orchestrated the rise of a the vast majority of the anti-alien movement and the founding of the ARB. We can show that the ARB was collecting far more data than they should have been, and we can show that they were selling it to international actors and corporate entities. Most of that data and the money involved was flowing back to Lillian's network. There's enough dirty money to make anybody angry. But what shape will their anger take? If they don't care about alien rights, they may just want the USA to get a bigger cut and believe some of it will magically trickle down to them.  

            "We can draw the lines and show a web of corruption all the world could see. But we cannot control how people respond to seeing it. They could dismiss it outright. They could simply not care. It's very possible people are scared enough that this point that they don't care who protects them. I can make a hell of a case to show that this sun-fire ray is Luthor tech based on Kryptonian biology. They once believed only the Supers could protect them from the Luthors. They might find the opposite narrative just as convincing. It depends on where the us / them lines are being drawn in people's minds these days. Of course, we could create so much social unrest that violence breaks out in the streets and the government declares martial law. This regime could clamp down if their power is threatened. I don't know if we should risk that."

            "I have faith in people," Kara said.

            "Why?" Lena said. "At this point, none of us should assume the good will of the people of this country. There's an awful lot of bad will in the mix. It's best not to be optimistic when we decide to make a move."

            "If we stir up a fight, I'm ok with that," Kara said.

            "Really?" Lena and Alex both asked at the same time.

            "Yeah, really?" Nia added.

            "Yes," Kara said. "I'm sitting around quite literally losing strength. Alex has got to be losing her mind going between an empty apartment and a hidden lab, when she ought to be at the helm of major organization. Brainy is still walking around in his… interesting persona trying to get to Nia without being apprehended. Nia is hiding her identity. J'onn is hiding his. They're both in breach of the ARB statues and subject to arrest if their alien ancestry gets discovered. James is trapped in his apartment waiting a trial that could go sideways. Lena is overdue at this point for the next murder attempt from her brother or kidnapping attempt from her stepmother. The second any one of you ends up in jail, I'm ripping the bars right off the place. And if Lillian takes Lena away from us, I swear, I'm going to pull that kryptonite suit apart with her still inside." A prolonged silence followed this.

            "Kara is not wrong," James affirmed. "We are all extremely vulnerable and waiting for more violence to come at us."

            "I would say that we should wait to until we are in a stronger place," Alex said, "But I don't see that happening. Let's go all in. Let's just do it."

            "We should make sure that none of us has any inhibitions about this," Nia said. "I am worried about causing social unrest. But I think people deserve the truth, and if they get angry in response, then I can accept having been the messenger. We can all play whatever part in keeping the peace we can after the news release. We won't be helpless witnesses of whatever comes next."

            "I'm in," James said. "There hasn't been enough direct action on our side of things for a long time. Offense is the best defense."

            "Sitting around while the noose gets tightened on aliens has done a number on me. I'll take any road I can see. I don't want to look back and wonder if I could have done more. I have more than enough regrets," J'onn said.             "

            "I'm in, too," Alex said. "I've got enough fight pent up in me to take on anybody at this point."

            "I am in, as well," Kara said. "Brainy? Lena?"

            "The odds of the anti-alien regime staying in power after this news drops is extremely small," Brainy said. "The odds of all us making it out of this without at least one of us serving significant jail time are still slim. But I don't see ways of improving those odds at present. So, I think this course of action is as good as any."

            "This will provoke Lillian," Lena said. "I've always said it was worth confronting this regime and forcing them to show what they're really willing to do. This is different. You don't want to see what Lillian Luthor is really willing to do. We'll be forcing her endgame. Things will get very bad for us. But, I know that you simply cannot make compromises with people who want absolute power over you or make peace with people who are motivated by hatred. And Lillian is both of those. If you all are really with me, then I'm willing to try this."

            "We are," so many of them said at once that Lena could not distinguish one voice from another. Lena considered everyone in silence.

            "Alright, we 'go to the mattresses,'" Brainy said.

            "Godfather?" James asked.

            "You've Got Mail," Brainy said. A collective groan went through the room.

            "Oh, Brainy," Alex said.

            "Come on, man," James muttered lightheartedly.

            "What?" Brainy said. "From what I understand, it was a very popular piece of capitalist propaganda." Nia cracked up fully at this. The serious mood in the room broke, and the conversation devolved rapidly. Kara noticed Lena smiling and laughing with the rest of them. For whatever reason, that gave Kara hope more than anything else.

           

---

 

            Six hours before the CatCo issue's release, Alex made a dangerous call. Brainy hacked into the DEO, and Alex contacted Director Ward. She and J'onn both believed the DEO should be tipped off, and the others had agreed after some debate, especially from Lena. Any unrest among pro-alien activists that involved aliens, even in large crowds, would fall under their jurisdiction. As far as they could tell, Ward had no ties to the anti-alien movement. Alex contacted Ward knowing that DEO agents were still taking their jobs seriously and hoping that he did, as well. They decided to use the main screen just in case.

            Director Ward was brought to the control room immediately, when Alex's feed began. His look was unreadable.

            "Director Ward," Alex said.

            "Miss Danvers, I hope you're turning yourself in," Ward said.

            "I'm calling in a not-so-anonymous tip."

            "As to Supergirl's whereabouts?"

            "To be frank, I would die first, Director. No, the city is about to see some trouble."

            "Is this a threat Miss Danvers?" Ward asked. Alex could not help but laugh a little at this, and she was gratified to see several DEO agents barely maintain their composure, as well. Ward obviously noticed.

            "Every line of my record will show that I care about protecting this city. I just consider Supergirl to be the heart of this city. In six hours, CatCo magazine will release the following issue." Brainy uploaded a digital copy of the entire issue to the DEO system. Headlines and images flashed. "Whether this news results in desperate attempt to maintain power or a sudden collapse that leaves a vacuum of power other opportunists want to fill, there will be a lot of disparate powers trying to disrupt and maintain their version of law and order.

            "I'm sure you understand how the political powers called into question would benefit from an outbreak of extreme disorder, as a state of emergency would shut down normal operations and allow laws to be pushed through. If the DEO provides a presence, your people could help deescalate things and also claim jurisdiction over the investigation of any violent acts suspected to have been committed by aliens, exposing fraudulent claims and separating out violent factions. If the DEO is still invested in keeping the peace, you'll have your work more than cut out for you when this news hits."

            "And what about Supergirl? What should we expect from her?" Ward asked.

            "If you still believe Supergirl is the biggest threat to this city's safety after the evidence you've just been sent, I can't do anything else for you. Good luck, Director, and to all the fine people serving under you." Alex cut off the feed.

            Brainy closed the link and did some aggressive clean up. Alex turned to Kara and J'onn. J'onn nodded to Alex. Nia was the only other one there. Lena was trapped in endless meetings with an enormous group of lawyers in preparation for the likelihood of being hit with lawsuits in responses to the issue, and James was dealing with the same for CatCo alone. They were both at the head of CatCo, and Lena was at the head of L Corp and representing the Luthor family. The others still had to determine where was best for them to be when the news dropped.

            "If they don't go, we'll go," Alex said. J'onn nodded. Brainy looked pensive.

            "I want to be out there either way," Kara said.

            "As Supergirl?" Alex asked growing visibly worried.

            "No, as a reporter. It's time to bring some hard questions to the right people. I'll have a higher profile than usual today with my name on the centerpiece exposing Lillian Luthor for faking her death. I need to be a media presence during this. If we're lucky, we'll have the DEO on our side. If not, we will need to get a handle on what actually happens. If there are riots or attacks, we need to be able to prove who's responsible."

            "You all realize that 'luck' in this situation would mean that we have an even higher chance of a run in with the DEO?" Brainy said.

            "They will likely have their hands full," J'onn said.

            "Yeah," Alex said. "Let's hope that they have priorities."

            "Hope isn't enough today. I need you all safe," Kara said.

            "We need you safe, too. If you're out there and things get bad, you can't blow your cover."

            "I don't think Supergirl has anything to offer this city tonight. My showing up could cause a riot rather than stopping one. Today, I think Kara Davers is more of a threat to the anti-alien regime."

            "Damn right!" Nia said.

            "You ready to get to work?" Kara asked Nia with a smirk.

            "Let's make sure the scales tip today. We've been nervous about our social and political standing for a long time. Time our aggressors felt real worry over theirs," Nia said.

           

---

 

            The day was crammed with heated press conferences and jockeying with journalists all trying to get their own slant to line up with answers they were getting. Kara found herself carrying an alarmingly high status, and she took advantage of every bit of this. At one point, she realized all of their friends were seeing footage of her work. She had a pile of texts from people she loved giving her praise and encouragement. Her favorite was from Alex and said, Tone it down. People are going to start suspecting you're Supergirl in disguise out there.

            As the day wore on, Kara and Nia targeted political hot spots around the city. Kara caught sight of a DEO presence, and she waited to see what they would do when things got tense. The aerial footage of the city that day started to look as if every citizen came out onto the streets in some capacity. Kara saw parents carrying their children. To her astonishment, pro-alien protestors vastly outnumbered anti-alien protestors. The streets were flooded with her family crest. It had become a backdrop for dozens of messages: PARDON SUPERGIRL. OUR BEST DEFENSE. OF, BY, FOR.   She wondered where on earth most of these people had been, when she couldn't even feel their presence only weeks before this. She was more than happy to see them now.

            Kara listened closely, and they kept an eye on the most disruptive pockets of protest around the city. They saw unarmed DEO agents escorting groups of pro-alien protestors past an armed police presence on the streets. Kara felt immense relief. Ward seemed to have listened to Alex. He was no fool.

            They monitored the streets for hours. Eventually Nia pulled them into a diner to eat something. She fell asleep with her head on the table, while they waited for their food. As their bowls of pho arrived, Nia sat up with a start. She jumped to her feet.

            "Let's go!" Nia said. Kara rushed after her, hoping she would remember to come back and pay for the soup. Nia got Brainy on coms.

            "Brainy, I need you to tell me where there's a part of the city with a bookshop called Carsons next to some stationary store with a panda for a logo," Nia said. Brainy gave them an address, Nia pulled it up, and they ran with Kara careful to match Nia's normal yet frantic pace. They found the place and hid around a corner, watching.

            "There should be a van," Nia said.

            They waited for a long minute. Nia took a deep breath and shrugged. Kara figured Nia's sense of time was not exactly specific, but her sense of place was. Within ten minutes, a dark van rolled up. Several men got out carrying duffle bags. Kara peaked through to see into them.

            "We've got bombs in downtown," Kara said into her com.

            "Hey!" Alex barked. "Do not go after them!" Kara was already strolling across the street towards the van.

            "I don't think she's going to listen to that," Nia said.

            Kara set her phone to record. She opened the side door of the van and swept her camera across the inside. She stopped on the driver's shocked face.

            "Smile!" Kara said. The man tried to jump out and get to her, and Kara leaned back, caught his door, and shut it hard enough to lodge it into place. She let him escape out the other side and got the license recorded. Kara got on coms with Alex. "How long before the DEO gets here?"

            "Less than a minute! You stay put! Don't do anything even remotely super!" Alex said.

            Kara slipped between buildings and looked through walls, watching where each of the men went. She kept mostly hidden behind a line of parked cars and watched a man start to set the timer on a bomb. She popped the rearview mirror off a car, tossed it, and knocked him clean out. She cleared her throat guiltily.

            "If super is off the table, I'll be stuck with reckless," Kara said.

            "I'm going to kill you when this is over," Alex said.

            Nia came and ducked down beside Kara. She was holding a piece of pipe. They looked at one another.

            "What's that?" Kara asked. A siren blared for a moment, only passing by. Nia slipped the pipe under the car and let it go. She looked at Kara.

            "Ugh, evidence now," Nia said. "Don’t worry, I am sure I did not kill the guy."

            "That's two down," Kara said.

            "Were you careful?" Nia asked.

            "Yeah," Kara said.

            A handful of DEO agents converged on the place they were. Kara stopped and listened closely. She sorted the threads of sound one by one.

            "How many did you see climb out of the van?" Kara asked Nia.

            "I counted five," Nia said.

            "Me, too." Kara listened for a long minute. "They have four – they have the fifth guy. They spotted the driver. I think - they only found four of the bombs. The other one has to be nearby," Kara looked up at the buildings. "I need to get higher."

            "Fire escape!" Nia said pointing to a ladder.

            Kara went and sped up the ladder as fast as she dared. She got to the rooftop and looked around the perimeter of the building. She scanned and listened, and finally she found the fifth bomb tucked into a drain pipe. She looked all around for potential witnesses before jumping straight down eight floors. Nia ran to meet her.

            As they headed for the bomb, a voice starting calling out to them to stop. A pair of DEO agents had spotted them. They ignored them and ran into an alleyway. Kara went straight for the bomb, and Nia turned and ran back the other way.

            "I'll distract them!" Nia said.

            Kara dragged the bomb out carefully and opened the bag. She could hear Nia telling the agents that they saw a suspicious man running that way carrying a bag. She stalled them by flashing her id and playing the part of the obnoxious reporter. Kara opened up a video messenger app with Alex. Alex answered already talking angrily, and she went silent when Kara showed her the bomb.

            "You seeing this?" Kara said.

            "Yeah. Go closer on the right side," Alex said.

            "This is your call, Alex. Do I leave it?" Kara asked. Alex considered what she was seeing for a moment longer.

            "No," Alex said. "Freeze it. Then get out of there."

            "Ok," Kara said and hung up.

            Kara blasted the bomb with freeze breath. She went out to meet Nia. Together, they irritated the two agents so badly, they were basically pushed aside. Kara heard the agents find and take possession of the bomb.

            The two of them walked through the streets, slowly calming down. Kara got a call from Alex. She expected a lecture, but Alex only told her the Secretary of Defense was about to make a statement. Kara and Nia moved near to a wall and pulled up a live feed. Kara turned it all the way up and still listened so closely, her ears almost hurt.

            "I think she's on our side," Nia said. Kara's heart rose, ready to crash into the ground. Nia noticed. "Sorry, not a premonition. I just have a good feeling."

            The Secretary of Defense, Barbara Cohenburg, gave a summary of the day's allegations. She announced an investigation into the ARB and the sunfire ray. Kara could hardly listen to the rest. The relief that came over her was so intense, she actually knelt down on one knee. She stayed there with a hand over her eyes, too exhausted to cry and too moved not to cry, suspended there with her heart aching and tears in her eyes. Nia knelt down next to Kara and gave her a hard hug.

            "You did it. Kara Danvers, you are an absolute hero," Nia said.

            "We did this," Kara said in disbelief. "Lena will say it's not over yet."

            "This is the beginning of the end," Nia said, "Also, you may have noticed your girlfriend is a bit of a pessimist. Also, wise and a genius, so it's hard to know when to push back."

            Kara laughed. She sat back on the ground with her back pressed against a wall. The sounds on the streets were still loud in her mind. She repeated those words to herself over and over: the beginning of the end. They were rather poetic and had precisely the dark edge Lena would have found resonant. Kara had to smile at that.  

Chapter Text

            Even after they realized they could probably call it quits, Kara and Nia stayed on the streets for a couple hours. They had a hard time trusting that the city would make it through the night without any major incidents. The protests settled down into small, all-night vigils, with most folks going home for the night and likely to return the next day. They walked to CatCo, considering regrouping and finishing the night there. There was no way they could even get to the doors. CatCo had become an epicenter of pro-alien activity, and the number of people still gathered and visibly active even so late was simply astonishing. Nia was so happy that she convinced Kara they had played their part for the night.

            They finally managed to eat something, grabbing sandwiches at a diner that was open late. Brainy came and met up with Nia, and they went off together. Kara had promised Lena she would come to her place when she finally finished that night. She suddenly had to wonder if Lena was free even at this point. She could still be in some urgent meeting. Kara was near enough to Lena's place that she decided to just stop by. Kara found a row of shops that were open late. She bought cupcakes, and carrying them towards Lena's made her more aware that they had something to celebrate.

            Kara followed the long, winding way up to Lena's condo, stopping on the sky bridge to look out over the city. When she let herself in through the last door, she found the place empty with the lights turned on. She quickly saw that things were out of order. A sound behind her made her dodge on instinct, as she whipped off her glasses and her eyes flared. Lena was in her nanite suit with one of the gloves already charged with an electrical pulse and aimed at Kara.

            "Kara!" Lena said in clear relief and let down the glove at once.

            "I was planning to surprise you, but I realize now how bad of an idea that was," Kara said. Lena came and got her arms around Kara, as if she had been afraid Kara was already dead when she walked in her door. The vivid mood held in Lena's body made Kara's awareness flare into fight mode. Lena let Kara go.

            "We have to get out of here. Right now," Lena said and went to finish what she had been doing. She was packing a suitcase with her mother's books of poetry. The bag was already half-filled with electronics. Kara came with her and stopped to look at her chess set. The pieces were scattered across the floor, and the elegant, electronic board had been broken open and some of the components had been shattered into fragments.

            "What's happened here?" Kara asked.

            "I had to destroy anything that could be hacked and traced here," Lena said, and Kara looked to her to explain. "I made a pair of chess sets that mirror one another, so I could play Lex. Over the last two days, I beat the person on the other side of that board three times. That is not Lex. Neither of us has ever beaten the other more than two times in a row, and that's rare. That’s some common grandmaster who knows a handful of Lex's key strategies and none of the subtleties of how he thinks."

            "Lex believed he could fool you?"

            "No. He just wanted me to play long enough to get a signal. With his own equipment, he can hack this."

            "You think he escaped from prison?"

            "He has. I knew he would figure out how to eventually. Apparently, he's done it without anyone noticing and without setting off any of the warning systems I put in place." An electronic device in Lena's bag lit up with red lights and the sound of a harsh beeping. Lena took it up with visible disdain, turned it off, and tossed it back in the bag. "Now he's just messing with me." She muttered with a head shake as she went on packing, "Bad sportsmanship."

            Lena zipped up the suitcase. She put a small duffle bag with mesh sides on top that Kara realized was a cat carrier. Lena opened up a panel on the arm of her suit and sent a beam of light dancing across the walls. Kara had the uncanny experience of seeing inside the wall, as if she were using her x-ray vision with her glasses still on. She saw 'Ark'm lying on her side in a walk that ran across the top of the wall, seemingly asleep.

            "How do we get her down?" Kara asked.

            "Break through the wall. I had to drug her. She would be scared half to death otherwise."

            Kara flew to the spot and crumbled the wall away gently, even though 'Ark'm could not hear anything that was happening. Kara drew her out carefully with both of her hands. She was fully unconscious, and so soft and small that Kara's entire focus went to holding her with care and tenderness. She brought her down and put her into the cat carrier, and Lena carefully closed it and picked it up.

            Lena started to reach for the suitcase, but Kara took it. They went out without another word spoken. They loaded onto the elevator, and Lena entered a handful of codes into the hidden panel. The atmosphere in the elevator was heavy with far more than silence. Kara could see that Lena's thoughts were moving so rapidly and running so deep that she simply let Lena think and did not say a word. A pale, empty quality in Lena's expression that might have made her look cold and unfeeling to anyone else was the only sign that Lena felt any fear. But Kara could interpret that look easily. Lena was truly terrified and thinking that they might all die tonight. Kara felt her own body held poised, ready for the fight of her life. Her jaw clenched and stayed that way.

            When they climbed out of the elevator, Kara got out her phone to call Alex. They were in a basement, and she had to wait. She followed Lena without question. After a series of tunnels, they came out onto the street through an odd door. Kara called Alex, as Lena brought them to an odd doorway and let them into a garage. They loaded in a nondescript car Lena had stashed away. When they were sitting inside, Lena took a deep breath and got out her phone.

            "Tell everyone to come to the lab as quick as they can," Lena said. "I've got James." She started the engine, as she called James.

 

---

 

            Lena and Kara reached the lab first. Within minutes Lena carefully positioned herself to hide the rest of the room and made a video call. A man Kara did not recognize answered.

            "Ms. Luthor," he said.

            "Warden," Lena said. "I thought we had an understanding."

            "We do. What's this call in regards to? I am at a loss."

            "So you don't know my brother has escaped?"

            "I can assure you that is not the case. We haven't any incidences in the recent past, much less an escape attempt."

            "No. You've had a success. Whoever you have in custody now is not Lex Luthor. You need to handle the situation, or else our agreement is off."

            Kara could see that the Warden did not believe Lena was right. However, he looked extremely reluctant to even remotely push back. He carefully considered his words.

            "I will call a red alert as soon as I get off the phone and head the investigation myself. If I can assuage your concerns, surely we can reconcile."

            "When you figure out that he's gone, do not waste one, single moment in raising every alarm in this nation. If you do, consider you and I enemies going forward."

            "I will certainly – "

            Lena cut off the call. She rubbed her face with the fingertips of one hand and closed her eyes hard. She was collecting her thoughts, and Kara waited for her to say something.

            "That will take him a while. I bet a shape shifter is in Lex's place. The illusion won't be a shallow one."

            "He seemed really scared."  

            "He should be."  

            "Of you, I mean," Kara clarified.

            "He should be," Lena affirmed, and her jaw gripped. She spoke with a decisive and even tone. "I don't think that this was Lex. The quiet now, leaving the Warden in the dark, that's not his style. He likes a direct confrontation – dignity of warfare and all that. Something has changed."

            Kara did not know what to say to this. The look on Lena's face made Kara increasingly worried. As some epiphany seemed to dawn on her, she became even more grave.

            "This has been Lex all along. Lillian's scientist, the one I was worrying over. Lex made the red kryptonite that was planted on you, and the stable kryptonite that Lillian shot you with. He's behind this cloud covering, and he designed the sun-fire ray. Even he couldn't do that in a short time, but he could do it without facilities. If he had solitude and a way of communicating ideas, getting results back from experiments he designed, he could create all of those. I don't know of a single other soul who could. She must have known from the beginning."  

            Lena grew so lost in her own thoughts that Kara was not sure Lena could remember she was there listening. A monitor in the room lit up, and there came a soft sound of an alarm. Lena got up quickly, checked this, entered some commands, and then went out the door. To Kara's surprise, Lena came back into the room with Eve.

            "He's really coming?" Eve was saying.

            "Yes," Lena answered in a tone that left no room for doubt. Lena went and got 'Ark'm, still out in the cat carrier, and handed this carefully to Eve. Eve took the bag with both hands and then looked to Lena and Kara.

            "You two are leaving, too, right?" Eve said with hesitance in her voice.

            "We have to raise the alarm, then we're going," Lena said. Eve looked exceedingly skeptical. She hugged Lena, and Kara was briefly astonished by how rigid and unmoved Lena seemed to be. She had almost forgotten the version of Lena that everyone else got, and Eve was far from a stranger. "Take care of yourself. That's your first responsibility in this. You've done more than enough."

            "You two take care of each other first and foremost," Eve said. Lena smiled and nodded at her. She walked Eve out and came back.

            "We're not really leaving, are we?" Kara asked.

            "If you stay, all the others will stay," Lens said, "But if you were willing to go, we could probably convince them." Kara swallowed hard.

            "If we had a plan to lure Lex and Lillian away with us, I would try," Kara said. "I don't want to leave the city in danger, but fighting those two here is the most dangerous thing we could do."

            "How could we bait them without bringing the government down on Supergirl?"

            "They know I'm Kara Danvers, right?"

            "Lillian knows. Lex might. He might not. I don't know."

            "We can try to come up with a plan with all of us." Kara watched Lena's expression. She imagined that Lena was thinking they would not be able to come up with a plan.

            "I don't think I can do it," Lena said.

            "What?"

            "Leave Lex."

            "Lena." Kara grew positively overwhelmed. Lena had sunken back into her thoughts. When Lena suddenly recognized the depths of Kara's distress, she became more engaged. She picked up her line of thinking from before Eve came.

            "She must have known. Lillian must have known all along what I would do. When Lex first went mad, I tried convincing Lillian that something had gone wrong with him, that something had damaged him. She dismissed that with such coldness. I thought she was deceiving herself, because she wanted to believe that he had finally come to see things from her perspective. I knew she could see the changes in him, as well. She was embarrassed by his instability. She was not fooling herself. She was fooling me.

            "She knew that I would find a way to take control of where Lex was imprisoned. She knew I would find a way to get to him myself. By the time I started, she had already taken control of the context. She was keeping him in reserve, and now she thinks he's useful. He's only a rook to her. To me, he's always been the king. If Lillian can't take Supergirl down, she'll have Lex do it. And then, she will take him down. She's playing both angles."

            "You don't really think she would kill Lex, do you?"

            "Kill him? I don't know about that. I never know where her limits are. Manipulate him, intentionally make him more instable, put him back in confinement – of course, she would.   What I don't understand is why he's willing to work with her. They never got along. Maybe he spent long enough locked up, he got impatient. Maybe there's something else. Something I haven't thought of yet."

            The conversation was interrupted. Tremors shook the building. Kara thought they had been found and were under attack. Lena could not brace herself and rose off the ground using her suit. The moment the tremors stopped, Lena opened up a panel on her arm and a hologram came up. A map of the city flashed in a state of rapid change and data rolled down along the sides. Lena took all of this in before Kara could even comprehend what she was seeing.  

            "An earthquake – only a one-mile radius. That's not possible. It's a seismic weapon. The L Corp building is right at the epicenter. It's Lex."

            "How bad was it?" Kara said.

            "Bad," Lena said, and when she looked up and saw Kara's expression, she yelled, "Kara!" But Kara could not be stopped. She darted out the way they had come, removing her glasses on instinct. She had no super suit, and that did nothing to change her mind about she was going to do.  She rose up into the air and scanned the city for sights and sounds of distress. She saw an overpass slowly crumbling and shot down.

 

Chapter Text

            Kara caught the collapsing overpass and held it up. The concrete was crumbling around her. She used her freeze breath to make ice thick enough to hold it all together for a brief time, as she pivoted and struggled to keep control of unstable mass. There was nowhere to put it down that wouldn't crush other people, so Kara carried it up and flew the distance to a park in the midst of the city with a great, open lawn. She flew down slowly, scanning the site for anyone below, and sat the mass down carefully.

            She could not stop to see who was hurt. She flew up and looked around again to find construction workers on a skyscraper trying to lower ropes down to several of their coworkers who were trapped on a compromised scaffold. The platform fell, and Kara shot through the air and caught it. The force still knocked two people loose, and they fell. Kara watched knowing in that split second that she would have to watch them die to keep the others safe.

            They were both caught in mid-air by Moonshot, as Lena followed after Kara in her nanite suit. They lowered these all to the ground. Lena immediately rose back up into the air. Kara followed her. A scanner reached out and ran over the ground beneath them. She was looking for something. Lena tried several things, before Kara realized she was looking for the weapon.

            "You don't think this was the end of the attack," Kara said.

            "L Corp is like a fortress. It will take several hits like that one to compromise the building. Got it!" Lena said and tore a line through the air straight for the spot. Kara caught up with her easily, and they landed in the middle of a street. Lena gathered an enormous web of roiling energy into her hands, and she shattered a massive circle of pavement. She tossed chunks aside, digging down. Kara rushed in and cleared enormous sections of pavement. They broke their way into the sewer system underneath the street.

            They found a device long and thin enough to fit into the tunnel and yet big as a train compartment. Kara dragged it out, and the weapon went off a second time. Shock waves tore through the air. Glass shattered in the reinforced windows of skyscrapers all around them. Lena was driven into the ground and put out a spherical force field to protect herself. Kara held on with all of her strength with the impact coursing through her body. A yell of desperation escaped her, as she held on hard and rose up into the air, flying as fast as she could, trying to get the blast radius out of range of anything except empty air.

            Soon, she had risen high enough that she knew everyone else was safe, but Kara became dizzy. The line of her flight zigzagged in the air. She feared she might actually black out and let the weapon drop back to the ground, still going off. She took a risk, spun, and threw it straight up and away from her. She waited, until the weapon reached the apex and was just about to begin to fall. Then she brought out every ounce of strength in her being, drove up, and punched the seismic weapon as hard as she could.

            Kara hovered in place and watched the weapon hit the atmosphere and light up. She did not know if any of it made it all the way into space. She only knew that the weapon did not fall back to the ground. A deep ache running throughout her body started very slowly to lessen. Her ears were ringing so loudly, she felt as if her vision were somehow distorted. She reached to find blood coming from her ears. Kara took a few deep breaths, as she felt her ears heal and her hearing returned. She turned back to the ground and came down.

            Only a few blocks from L Crop, a skyscraper's foundations had been compromised. The building stood at a terrifying angle. Kara flew up and tried to find a way to right it. The glass shattered and steel beams bent. She moved back and thought for a second, then she went down and found the place where the foundation had been ruptured. Kara grasped the massive support beams that had been exposed. She pushed it up, and the building righted somewhat. But if she held it there, Kara could not get out.   Just then, Lena flew to her. She let down her helmet.

            "Hold on!" Lena called. She stood back and considered the building. "I'll find a way to stabilize this." Lena scanned the building. She started bending steel beams, arching them to meet one another, forming an oddly geometric pattern. She got Kara to help and used a sharp beam of energy along with Kara's heat vision to weld massive chunks of steel. Lena finally stepped back.

            "Let go slowly," Lena said. As Kara let go, cracks ran up the building and glass rained down. She stopped, afraid to go on. "It's alright, keep going," Lena encouraged her. Kara finally stood free, came, and looked up at the building. "That won't last forever," Lena said, "But we have time."

            "Oh, no," Kara said as looked out at the city once more. The second blast had hit weakened buildings. Lower buildings had crumbled. The streets had collapsed. Tall buildings were ragged and frightening to see. Sirens were blaring in every other part of the city, and first responders were flooding towards the area. "We have to find people who are trapped and buried."

            "Come on," Lena said. She took Kara's hand quickly, and they rose into the air. "We divide it by South Street. I'll take the streets to the east. You take the west. This area is the worst. We work outwards from here." Lena scanned the ground, and Kara listened for heartbeats. Kara had to focus. Louder sounds caught at her ears, and she pushed them aside with her mind. They were about to fly down. "Wait! The others!" Lena said.

            Kara had no phone and no coms. Lena had her suit, and she quickly made a connection. They found Alex already talking on their usual frequency.

            " – reports of major damage. We need to know where you are," Alex was saying. They could hear the sounds of the streets coming through her com, as well. She was already on site or nearly there.

            "Alex!" Kara said.

            "Kara! We are all alive and ok," Alex said.

            "I'm with Lena," Kara said. "L Corp was the epicenter. We're near there now."

            "We're on the outer perimeter, coming from the southwest. We're splitting up to cover more ground. We'll be working our way in. Was this Lex?" Alex asked.

            "Yes," Kara said. "A seismic weapon. It's been destroyed. Government agents will be all over the place! It's not safe for you and Brainy to be here or for J'onn or Nia to be seen using their powers. If James is seen as Guardian, he'll be imprisoned after tonight."

            "We know!" Alex said. "You're fooling yourself, Kara! When they realize they have a chance at Supergirl, none of us will be worth any notice. This is bad, Kara. We'll do what we can, then we all need to run. And you know we're not going without you."

            "Stay on coms. As soon as one person makes the judgment call, we all agree to run," Kara said.

            "Yes! Good! That's fair! You and Lena keep checking on one another. J'onn and I will do the same. Brainy and Nia will, as well. James sent a message to say he was being guarded by an army Lena hired and would talk or fight his way out. If anybody gets taken, call us all to come there immediately. If anything happens, sound the alarm," Alex said.

            "Ok," Kara said. As soon as they were done, Lena flew down at once and began scanning and lifting sections of heavy rubble. Kara listened again and found a place where cars had fallen into the collapsing road and been covered with chunks of asphalt.

            Kara lifted people out. A few were unconscious, and most were hurt. The ones who were alright tried to help her with the others, as she left them on the sidewalk. A woman wearing heavy black makeup and black clothes that were almost gray from clouds of dust ran up to Kara.

            "I'm a nurse. I can help," she said, "But I need some supplies, anything to stop the bleeding."

            Kara rose up into the air. She saw an x-ray machine inside a building a few blocks away and slammed through the wall. She realized she was in a vet's office. All the cages in the back were empty, and no one was there. Kara quickly snatched a mass of supplies and flew back to the nurse waiting for her on the broken edge of the collapsed street. She dropped everything and turned to decide where to go next.

            An impact hit Kara in the middle of the back. The wind went out of her, and she felt a sensation clawing up her body to tighten around her throat. She knew it was kryptonite, even before she managed to turn and see an agent in black fatigues hitting her with a kryptonite weapon that coiled around her, dragging her forward. Kara fell to her knees.

            The nurse saw what was happening. She grabbed a chunk of broken asphalt and ran at the agent, meaning to bash him with the jagged mass. He tried to turn the weapon her and lost his hold on Kara. Kara stood at once and hit him with a blast of heat vision before he could turn and hit the nurse. The nurse stopped, once he was down, and ran to Kara.

            "I'm fine! I'm fine! Help the others!" Kara managed, as she tried to get her breath. The nurse looked Kara over.

            "Here. Take this," she said. She took off her the black hoodie she was wearing. She held this out to Kara. Kara stopped, pulled it on, zipped it all the way, and threw up the hood. She realized the woman could almost certainly recognize her as Kara Danvers, if she had any idea who that was. "I'm Melissa Cohen. I work at NC General."

            Even in the insanity of the situation, that one, kind gesture made Kara smile and her eyes well. The woman was giving up her identity, so that Kara would be less scared that this unchosen person knew hers. Without waiting for a response, Melissa rushed off to help the injured people still lying on the streets.

            Kara ran to the agent she had injured to see how bad it was. He struggled to move away from her. Lena landed next to Kara. She hit the agent with a pulse of electricity, and he went unconscious. Lena scanned him.

            "He'll survive," Lena said. She opened up a panel on her suit and tossed Kara the red box containing her nanite suit. "I was trying to tell you when you flew off to wait and take this with you. When I saw you were actually catching things in mid-collapse, I lost the thought. Lex has created an opportunity, and many are going to take it."

            Kara put the suit on.  Lena flew back to her own area. Kara cleared rubble at super speed and put injured people together on less damaged streets, so they could get help more easily. A stray agent was finding her here and there, but the suit made these easy to ignore. She would simiply fly away from them. Then helicopters filled the air. Countless footage of Kara was being captured, and the entire world would know precisely where Supergirl was at this moment. She knew a larger force might come against her, even in the midst of this crisis.

            Kara moved as fast as she could to avoid more confrontation. For a long time, this seemed to work. Then Kara saw Lena dragging an armed helicopter out of the sky. Kara flew to her, and they landed at the same time. Lena tore it apart the moment she got it to the ground, and the agents inside went running. Lena was so angry, she punched the helicopter into the side of a building, and the slowly moving blade tore into the sidewalk and the stone exterior of the building before finally stopping.

            "Lena!" Kara yelled. Lena whipped around. She seemed to shed her anger in a single moment and ran to Kara's side. They regrouped, went up, and cleared out military helicopters and armed drones that were among those in the sky.

            The first wave of government response was out of the way, and they had gained some real time. They kept on for hours, as the night wore on. A series of fires began to break out. They extinguished these, before they could spread. Lena stopped to warn the others. They crimped off broken gas pipes and started to scan for hazards that could make the situation worse. Kara kept on finding more people buried.

            As Kara dug one woman out, the debris began to settle in a way she did not expect. Kara moved at a frantic pace and managed to uncover the woman. She flew her to the edge of the damage to where she could get help the fastest. Scores of ambulances were lined up, unable to drive any farther on the damaged streets. A paramedic took over care of the woman Kara brought.

            Kara saw a DEO agent she recognized, Alex Foster, talking to a police chief, who was giving orders to an entourage of officers. Agent Foster acted like he did not see Supergirl standing there at all. The chief looked at Supergirl with a kind of silent awe, as Kara quickly told her where the injured people were and gave her a summary of the damage she had seen and routes they could take to get in deeper. The chief asked a few questions about specific streets, and Kara answered as best she could. She flew up once to get a look and came back.

            "I can carry some people in. If you all load up into an ambulance, I'll carry you right to the center," Kara said.  

            "Alright," the chief said. "You should get out of here after that. This is our mess. You'll be a targeted."

            "I know," Kara said, and the moment the words left her mouth, a beam of bright heat hit her in the arm. Kara dodged a bit too late. The arm of the nanite suit was smoking. Her delayed response made her suddenly aware that she was starting to fade. Kara looked up just as Agent Foster shot an agent of some other government force. He turned back to consider Kara with a severe and unremorseful look on his face. He quickly left the scene.

            The police chief saw this and obviously understood. Her people were poised, unsure what to do. Rain began to fall on them all.

            "I need people to load up! As many as will fit in one ambulance. We're getting a lift into the thick of this," the chief called out. People responded to her voice at once. Before she went to load into the passenger seat of the ambulance, she said to Kara, "Don't look so worried. I'm sure he was wearing a vest."  

            Kara trusted her enough, she did not go to look. She was still processing the weapon. The gun shot what looked and felt almost exactly like heat vision. At the first, droplets of water hit the wound and smarted in a strange way that made Kara grimace. The suit urgently repaired itself over the wound. The burning gash in Kara's arm healed slowly underneath, as she carried the ambulance to the center of the rubble.

            She came back to see if she could carry another load in. Without the chief, people were less certain. But the chief's prior orders held sway. They started to load up another ambulance.

            Suddenly, a number of what appeared to be agents armed with the same weapons were all around them. They were after Supergirl. Kara rose into the air and stayed close enough to lead them away from the others. Then she darted down and fought as hard as she could to bring them all down. She was hit a couple of times, but the suit lessened the damage underneath.  

            Kara went to one agent she had knocked away hard enough to make her worry. She knelt down and turned him over to make certain he was not dead. He had passed out with a grenade hidden under him. Kara grabbed it, tossed it, and threw her arms out to block his body with her own.  

            The grenade was extremely high tech and targeted Kara specifically. A barrage of far-reaching beams exploded out, made from the same technology as the shots that seemed so much like heat vision. These tore gashes in the nanite suit across Kara's chest and stomach. Kara fell down fully and curled in towards her center in pain. The rain running into burns across her cheek and neck were hurting worst of all, and she tried to block this with her hand.

            Without the suit, she would have died, and even so, the blast had torn into her deep enough to leave her all but incapacitated. She waited, there on the shattered ground, breathless, while her wounds slowly closed. The suit tried to repair itself, but many of the nanites had been destroyed. Gashes were left in the material, wide open spaces. Kara finally stood up once more. Her suit seemed to be working hard, and the energy that powered it seemed to be fading.

            The air above her was thick with news helicopters and a new round of government helicopters was with them. These began shooting down at her with .50 caliber, automatic guns firing the same heat-ray rounds. The streets were already ripped apart, but debris were further shattered and flying everywhere. Kara got herself behind cover without being shot.

            Kara's mind had grown hazy. She was not certain what to do next, and the noise and immense chaos surrounding her all of a sudden overpowered her. At least one helicopter was coming around to get a shot, and she ran a few blocks and stopped, not certain what to do anymore.

            When she realized Lena had landed next to her without her noticing, Kara knew that something was wrong. Lena took down the helicopter, and a horror went through Kara at knowing everyone in the helicopter was about to die. Lena turned to Kara and could see something was wrong right away. She came to grasp Kara's arms, even as Kara swayed.

            "Kara!" Lena said. Kara sank down, and Lena sat her back on a chunk of broken stone. She illuminated a bright light and looked into Kara's face. Spots of gray were floating in Kara's eyes. Lena looked up. "It's the rain! It's laced with kryptonite! That's it for us. I have to get you out of here!"

            Lena grabbed Kara without another second of hesitation. She arced up into the air. They landed on the balcony of the L Corp building. Kara would have fallen down where they landed, but Lena got Kara's arm around her shoulders and mostly dragged her inside. She let Kara down to the floor. Kara could see that behind a peppering of dark helicopters and drones, the light of morning was beginning to brighten the sky. Lena brought up a barrier to cover the windows that blocked out the light and shut the two of them inside.

Chapter Text

            Lena called the others, as she opened up the hidden labs and carried Kara through the doors.

            "Alex," Lena said. "The rainstorm is laced with kryptonite. I had to bring Kara to L Corp. I've got her."

            "We're coming now!" Alex said.

            "I locked the building down. You remember everything you to have to do to get in now?" Lena asked.

            "Yes, I remember. Just like we planned. Don't worry about us," Alex said. "How bad is Kara?"

            "I'm fine," Kara said and wished she had not said anything. Her voice sounded worse than she thought it would and made her realize she was probably close to blacking out.  

            "Lena," Alex said, obviously afraid.

            "I've got her," Lena promised Alex. Kara could not hear any fear in Lena's voice. Lena let Kara down to sit on the floor leaning against the wall just inside the first lab. She looked closely at Kara's badly damaged nanite suit.

            "This isn't enough anymore," Lena said. Lena went away. The emptiness around Kara let her sink into her own mind. Kara was so tired.

            Kara felt her mind open out into an expansive place. She could feel her body only barely. All she knew was that she felt cold – a deep, penetrating cold that bit even inside her bones. A memory rose vividly into her mind. Her first year on earth, the Danvers family had visited the mountains. For the first time in her life, Kara woke up to a freshly fallen snow. She had never imagined such a wonder . Kara ran out in pajamas and bare feet. Alex came out to join her, and they played in the snow for hours. Alex was amazed when Kara never grew cold. The day was sunny. Alex warmed her hands on Kara's arms. The warmth of the love Kara had for Alex filled her body even now. This rivaled the cold. Kara intuitively knew she was dying.   Tears streamed from the corners of her eyes at knowing she would have to leave Alex.

            "You're not going to die," Kara heard Lena say. Kara realized that Lena had come back and was kneeling down in front of her. She could tell what Kara was thinking. She had the old suit nanite suit she had made for Kara. "Let's try this." Lena took the finer, red suit off Kara. She realized the black hoodie underneath was still wet from the rain and stripped this off. She tossed it as far away from Kara as she could in case it still had kryptonite in it. She put the older, blue suit on Kara. Lena opened up a display on the suit and watched closely for a moment. "These suits run almost entirely on energy shed from your cells. The more kryptonite makes you leak out energy, the more the suit receives. That's not enough anymore. We need another energy source."

            Lena opened up a port in the center of the chest of Kara's suit. She scanned the shape and entered some commands into a display from her own suit. The nanites from Lena's suit coalesced into a matching component with the energy core in the center. Lena fit this into place over Kara's chest, and the nanites wrapped around Kara to hold it fast. The suit she wore as Moonshot was reduced to an energy core for Kara's suit, which now drew out the kryptonite in what felt like a flood. Kara took her first deep breath in as long as she could remember that night and realized her lungs had felt weighted down from the inside.

            The relief that washed over Lena when she saw the rapid change coming over Kara's expression made her sink back. She sat on the ground and let her hands run over her own hair. Lena considered Kara's face and moved forward to kiss Kara one time. The softness of Lena's mouth against her own made Kara aware of how harsh and jarring their night had been. The kiss lingered in a way that made Kara very aware of Lena's fear for her and of her own vulnerability. She touched Lena's hands softly. Everyone she loved was more vulnerable than she was, at least physically, and Kara found herself nearly overcome with worry.

            "How long before everyone makes it here?" Kara said.

            "I don't know exactly. I don't expect long," Lena said.

            "We cannot stay in this building. The authorities will surround us and barricade us in as soon as they can. We'll be pinned down and have to fight out way out."

            "No one will get in this place without knowing precisely how. The question now is how to get us all out without having to fight. I made ways to get out of here without being seen. But I don't know if the tunnels underneath the building are still in tact."

            "You and I came in here as Supergirl and Moonshot. We can walk out of here as Lena Luthor and Kara Danvers, so long as we make absolutely certain the authorities believe those two are still inside."

            "We will have to figure out if the others have been seen entering or not.  We'll just need to whip up some strong illusions and misdirection."

            "We can do that, all of us together. Here, I can stand."  

            "Don't rush it."

            "I am better every second."  

            Lena stood up first. She was ready to brace Kara, but Kara got up with far more steadiness than Lena was expecting. They walked out into Lena's office to wait. The room felt dim without the windows, even though emergency power had kept the lights on the in the building. Kara stared at the ground and looked torn.

            "We can't really help anymore, can we?" Kara said. Lena could see Kara was heartbroken over this. She grabbed Kara's arms and held her hard.

            "We dealt with the worst already. Who knows how long it would have taken to disable the seismic weapon and even stop the attacks. The fires that broke out would have been horrible. The people who were buried would have taken hours to find and even more to unbury. With the damaged stopped and people out in the open, what's left will be far more simple to handle. I cleared a six-block section of Moore Street, so there's a path vehicles can take over halfway in. We don't even know what the others managed to do yet."

            Kara was nodding but her expression remained the same. She looked at the barricade over the windows, thinking of the world outside. Kara turned suddenly back to Lena, obviously moved with incredible feeling.

            "Thank you so much for helping me," Kara said. She drew Lena into an embrace. Lena found that a bit strange. Kara had never reacted this way when Lena helped her survive kryptonite before, and they were closer now than ever. Kara said, "I could not have done even a fraction of what we did on my own."

            Lena realized then what Kara meant. She was not thanking Lena for saving her life. She was thanking Lena for helping her to save everyone else. Lena could not hold in a huff of a laugh, then she held onto Kara as tight as she could. Kara was so beautiful, and being with her meant that Lena found herself confronted with the immense challenge of comprehending the profound beauty of this world on a regular basis now. Her heart physically ached from the love she felt. Kara obviously felt something similar. She let go only enough to take Lena's face in her hands and kiss her. Every kiss shared between them had always carried some part of their reverence for one another, but this kiss held that sense of awe and wonder in its purest form. They stood looking at one another for a moment after.

            "How romantic," a voice said from across the room.

            Kara turned to find a man standing in Lena's office and knew at once that it was Lex Luthor. Lena stepped between Kara and Lex, even though Kara was the only one of them wearing a protective suit. Kara had never seen anything except still images of Lex. The Luthor family had poured their wealth into keeping his crimes and his trials as private as possible. She was still in college and not yet working for CatCo, when Clark managed to bring Lex to justice. The press she followed had portrayed him with the same handful of images, all of them taken on the rare occasion that Lex had decided to make a media appearance in the years before, when he was known as the man of the hour, the proud son of a great nation, and one of the most important innovators of the modern world. They did not do him justice. He was far more handsome and unique in appearance in person. He had always been dressed in sharp, rich three-piece suits. Now he was dressed down, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. They were oddly perfect and made him look somehow even more rich than a suit would have. Lex was much taller than Kara had imagined, broad at the shoulders, and but somewhat thin aside from some lean muscle that matched well with his frame.

            Far more than this, though, Kara never expected him to look and feel so much like Lena. He had a different shape overall, his face was more round, and his head was shaved. He skin was the same tone, and anyone could see they were siblings, despite them having had different mothers. Lex's eyes appeared to be dark in color, but they were precisely the same shape as Lena's, and the way his gaze felt made Kara actually blink with surprise: sharp with the speed and precision of his mind, suspended between deep skepticism and good will, and uncannily similar to Lena. Even though his presence struck Kara as familiar in a way that created a strange sense of connection to this man she had never met before, Kara's body flushed with a heat of intense rage at the sight of him.

            "We are about to kick your ass, that's what," Kara said and took an immensely threatening step towards him to stand beside Lena.

            "So Kara Danvers is Supergirl. And you two are what? A Super and a Luthor standing against the world together? Our Millennial Montague and Capulet?" Lex said with a soft and gently teasing smile.

            "Condescension and a veiled threat both, wow. So you're starting us off there. And where do you think is going to go?" Lena said.

            "Forgive me for being rude, but you are not looking quite up to delivering on your threat, Ms. Danvers. Maybe your girlfriend will be more rational given the particular situation we find ourselves in," Lex said.

            "Oh, she always is. But unfortunately for you, I am quicker," Kara said.

            "I am not feeling particularly rational after this last night," Lena said.

            The tone of Lena's voice carried a calm that Kara knew to interpret as profound anger. Lex knew this, too, and Kara found it remarkable how much more Lex took pause at Lena's subtle threat than her own open ones. Lex truly respected Lena, and this surprised Kara far more than his lack of respect for herself. She saw his mind search quickly for the best way to respond.  

            "Don't you want to know how I got in?" Lex said rather softly and with a hint of a grin. He was baiting Lena. He knew how badly she would want to know. Lena was not about to take his bait and responded at once.

            "Given that I've been pulling people out of rubble all night, I don't need to ask you how," Lena said. Kara could feel that Lena had shut down the connection Lex was trying to make between them. His expression turned troubled, Kara could tell he was holding back a frown.

            "All I needed was to put a single crack in your defenses. You're the one who made that so unbelievably hard," Lex said. He meant this more as a compliment than anything else. And yet Kara could not help but bristle with renewed anger at the way he tried to redirect Lena's rage towards guilt.

            "Well, I am flawed in that way, I admit. That may have something to do with the family I grew up in. Still, morally speaking, I’m ahead of someone who doesn't care about causalities, wouldn't you say?" Lena said, her voice raking at him under her calm and poise.  

            "In all times, in all places, every war will suffer causalities," Lex said in clear self-defense and his jaw gripped. Lena considered his words, apparently taking this far differently than Kara. The fact that his logic worked on Lena even the slightest bit made Kara deeply angry.

            "That weak bit of rationalistic drivel justifies the reality of the broken bodies I held in my arms tonight in your mind?" Kara challenged on the verge of attacking Lex outright.

            "No. Justly, it would have been me instead of you, Kara Zor-El. I can look those hurt by what I have done in the face and tell them I believe it was truly worth the cost, which is more than could be said for most who hold power in this world. I want the human species to survive to the next millennium. Thinking on that scale means prioritizing the safety of the many, even though some are shed in the process of our collective evolution."

            Kara found herself actually taken aback for a brief instant. Lex seemed more interested in disarming her than goading her into a fight, and he presented himself as so well-thought and rational. But there was something deeply askew in his thoughts.

            "If you truly valued human life, you could never think that way," Kara said.

            "Perhaps if you carried the full of the advanced knowledge and dedication to scientific reasoning of your own race, you might see the world in the same way," Lex said.

            Lena actually scoffed a laugh at this. Lex clearly had a bit of regret when she did. He had gone too far. Kara stood absolutely seething and said nothing.

            "Is that what you are now Lex? The advancement of our species to a plane of pure scientific rationality?" Lena said.

            "You know me better than to believe I lack humility. Perhaps the media has finally made you forget who your own brother is," Lex said.

            "I have not forgotten anything. You tried to have me killed, Lex. I would say our sibling rapport has suffered a bit," Lena said.

            "Well, I am sorry for that. I did not take you betraying me well. I've had time to think since. I realize you only did what you believed you had to do, same as I did. You would never have done anything to harm me unless you believed you had no other choice, same as me. I took it personally, and I should have recognized that your focus on the big picture did not mean a thing about whether or not you really loved me. Do you agree with that assessment?" Lex said.

            "Oh, I do. Just because we love each other, doesn't mean we won't kill each other. We're Luthors after all, capable of what no one else is," Lena said.

            "Let's do our absolute best to try to avoid that, shall we? Seeing you two together makes me wonder.  Perhaps we all have a chance to put the past behind us. Two houses reconciled makes for a flat ending, but in real life, there is nothing sweeter than peace," Lex said.

            "There was never any 'rivalry between our two houses.' Clark was your friend, until you waged a personal war on him and all aliens," Kara said.

            "He knew my reasons long before our fight escalated. Now, Clark has gone back where he belongs. That is all I ever asked. Had we known that Argo City had existed, both of our lives would have turned out very different. You should be with your family, Kara Zor-El."

            "I am with my family," Kara said in hard challenge.

            "You do not belong here on earth. You must feel that everyday," Lex said.

            Kara did. But Lex was missing the real point. Clark only left, because he knew Kara would stay.

            "You really believe I would leave every other alien to suffer under your control?" Kara said.

            "There are other worlds they might inhabit," Lex said.

            "Who are you to decide? You're the son of an owning class family who have accumulated wealth by consuming other people's labor and wellbeing for generations now. You're the descendant of imperialists who spread disease, genocide, and enslavement across the globe. What makes you the man to save us all?" Lena said.

            "You know it will take a hard shift to move humanity off its current trajectory," Lex said.

            "Yes, it will. And that hard shift will be the cultural, technological, and material evolution we experience in direct response to the inclusion of the diversity we gained when aliens arrived on this earth – if it comes at all," Lena said.

            "Our descent into oblivion has been hastened by the instability they have added to an already dying world," Lex said.

            "Dying because of the way those who look and think and act precisely like you have steered our fate. You've chosen the wrong models for yourself. You have a terribly strange way of deciding who your enemies are and of deciding your friends, as well, apparently. You're working with Lillian, Lex? Really?" Lena said.

            "I don't need friends. I need allies. You know I don't care who I work with as long as our objectives align," Lex said.

            Kara's eyes flared, as Lillian Luthor walked in the door. She was wearing the kryptonite suit Lena had made. Only it had clearly been modified by Lex.

            "I heard my name," Lillian said with a smile that raked up Kara's spine.

            "Ah, so that was the reason why I didn't hear from you right away. Pulling that suit out of the garbage bin and brushing it up, were you?" Lena said to Lex.  

            "Don't condescend. I made improvements. I think you'll be impressed given what I've managed after starting from such a low point," Lex said.

            "By my own B work and the murder weapons you added on in a rush? Convince me," Lena said.

            "Play nice, you two," Lillian said.

            Lena considered Lillian with a hard look. She said nothing and turned back to Lex. Kara could sense an even greater tension between the two of them over Lex working with Lillian than anything else. This was personal between them. Lex kept Lena's gaze, and a great deal was communicated between Lena and Lex in the silence. Kara could hardly guess what any of it was.  

            "You were always far too critical of your own work," Lex said taking back his jab before.

            "Well, if you like that, you should see what I'm working on now. I hate to say it, but I am not one for family reunions. Let's move this along," Lena said.

            "Alright," Lillian said and raised the arm of her suit to point a weapon of some kind that raised up from the arm of her suit at Kara. Kara's eyes flared in return challenge. They stood poised in a standoff. Lena and Lex remained still, looking at one another.

            Kara reached to the energy core powering her nanite suit. She pulled it free. The nanites closed in around it. Kara handed this over to Lena, so she could put it on herself.

            "Let's kick their asses," Kara said.

            "You sure you want to risk that?" Lex said to Lena. Lena looked down at the veiled core in her hand. Kara could see Lena's hesitance.

            Just then, a round ball of roiling blue energy hit Lillian just above the collar of her suit. The shot was perfect, and she fell to the ground unconscious. Within a second, another ball of energy shot towards Lex at the same time as a constrained blast of Kara's heat vision. Both of these hit an invisible barrier around Lex and careened wildly to hit the walls of the room. Lex grabbed a device from his pocket and held it in his hand as a warning. All three of them turned to see Alex standing in the doorway with her alien gun still pointing at Lex.  

Chapter Text

            Lex turned back to Lena. Kara and Alex met eyes. They were not sure what to do. Lex held the device in his hand between two fingers and shook it side-to-side.

            "Boom, boom," Lex said and raised an eyebrow in a way that struck Kara once more with uncanny familiarity. He held the device up, still between two fingers, to give Lena a closer look. "It's a good one," he said. Their continued to look at one another.

            Alex moved into the room to get at an angle where she could cover both Lex and the door. She remained ready to shoot at the first chance that came. Kara's confidence flared up at her presence.

            "Sorry to be so late to a family get together," Alex said. A series of blasts came from just outside the office. "I was just taking care of the elevators." Lex smiled a bit, as he and Alex considered one another. Alex rethought, moved a slider on her gun, and pointed it at Lillian. "The next shot will be a fatal one."

            "Ooh. Now it's really interesting," Lex said bemused and turned back to Lena. Kara got the sense that Lex was amused by wondering whether he or Lena would be more hesitant to see Lillian die. Lena could not help but smile and blinked slowly.

            "Alright, Lex. Let's make a deal," Lena said.

            "Name terms," Lex offered without hesitating.

            "You hand over the kryptonite weapons you brought here, and I'll give you this," Lena said, and she held out the veiled energy core.  

            "And when these two try to attack me?" Lex said.

            "It won't matter. You'll have this. I designed this for defensive strategies. You were thinking offense. The defenses you have are trivial compared with this, and you know it. You can kill Kara, but then I can kill you. And I will. It doesn't have to end this way between us," Lena said.

            "A little tech share? See, we're catching up already," Lex said with a smile that seemed so good-natured, Kara felt slightly sick in response.

            "I do, of course, plan to make another one of those and come after you with everything I've got. And I won't be alone. You have to decide if this is enough for one day. I can accept a defeat, and I can recover from one," Lena said.

            Lex smiled, and his eyes softened, as he and Lena considered one another. Kara found herself truly perplexed by the obvious, deep affection Lex had for Lena.  

            "I so love seeing how much you've gained confidence over the years, Lena. I agree. Let's trade," Lex said.

            "You first," Lena said.

            Lex stepped back away from Lillian. Lena came forward, knelt down, and quickly removed kryptonite weapons from Lillian's suit. Lena tossed them to the floor behind Kara's feet. There were so many, Kara noticed Alex looking extremely worried and clearly wanting to get a shot at Lex. Alex took off her jacket and wrapped the weapons up in it. When Lena had stripped the suit, she stood up. Alex stood behind Kara with the bundle in one hand and her gun raised in the other.  

            "What do you got in your pockets there?" Lena said with a smile at one side of her mouth, and Lex smiled in return. Lex took something from a back pocket where no one could see. It looked like a plain, black handle. He and Lena stepped in close to one another. Lex traded his two devices for Lena's nanite suit hidden around the glowing energy core. Kara did not even get a hint that either of them was considering trying to go back on their deal. They traded calmly and considered what they had now.

            Lex quickly figured out how to open up the suit. He held it to his chest, and the nanite shell wrapped around his body. The energy core glowed near his heart. He left the helmet down.

            Alex remembered Lena telling Brainy that if he put on her suit, he would be locked inside. She knew the suit was encrypted with Lena's DNA and thought this entire trade was a trap Lena set for Lex. Nothing happened. He moved freely in the suit, as if it were made for him. Lex gathered Lillian and held her under the arms with one of his arms. Alex turned to Kara, and Kara could see that Alex was shocked, even though she did not know why.

            Suddenly, Lex grabbed Lena. He was quick, but so was she. He got an arm under her arm and held her across the chest with her back pinned against him. Lena instantly activated the handle Lex had given her, which opened up into a dark gray kryptonite weapon, and struck over her shoulder. The helmet on the suit went up in time to protect Lex's face from the blow. Lena closed the weapon to protect Kara from the kryptonite.

            "You're too good at what you do," Lex said.

            "Let go of Lena!" Kara demanded. Lex looked at Kara, but he spoke to Lena.            

            "You forgot to negotiate yourself in those terms. Why would anyone want the engine, when they could have the engineer?" Lex said.

            Lex was holding Lena in such a way as to block himself from attacks from Kara and Alex. Kara took one step towards Lex, and he squeezed Lena hard enough to make her grimace and make a stifled, low growl of pain. Kara stopped.

            "We're not going to let you take Lena," Alex said.

            "She is my sister," Lex said.

            "That much is clear. But she belongs with us. Let her go, or your mother dies," Alex said.

            "That won't work, Alex," Lena said.

            "That would be most unfortunate," Lex said with incredible neutrality.

            Lex dragged Lena around and opened up the barricade on the windows. As soon as daylight streamed into the room, Lex got a signal and spoke over some form of covert com system.

            "This is Lex. I am ready for you," Lex said.

            Alex strolled over, shot out a window, and threw the jacket of kryptonite weapons over the balcony. Within ten seconds, men rappelled down from the roof onto the balcony. They were carrying the same weapons with the heat vision tech Kara had been hit with before.   Alex moved back keeping one of them on point.

            Kara and Alex locked eyes. Things were only going to get worse from here, and all Lex had to do was reach the balcony and fly off with Lena.

            "I don't know if I can still fly," Kara said.

            In response to this, Alex turned back to the men on the balcony and started shooting. The glass of the windows shattered, and several men dropped. They started to fire in response. Kara turned and clapped as hard as she could. The force was just enough to drop the men and disable them for a minute, but not enough to take them off the balcony. Kara shot between Lex and the wall of windows. Lex knew she could intercept him and kept back.

            Kara snatched crystal tumblers off a tray and threw them as hard as she could, taking out six men with glasses and two with bottles. Alex dodged and ran for the only cover and shot from the doorway to the labs. She was still deadly accurate from that range, but men were still coming down. Kara's chest ached from the thunder clap and sent a warning into her mind. She and Lex considered one another.

            Lillian awoke and put a hand to the back of her head. She stood, and Lex let go of her. Kara shot her in the chest with heat vision that knocked her back into the far wall. The helmet of Lillian's suit went up, as she flew back. She hit the wall and immediately tried to shoot Kara with some weapon and realized all her offensive weapons were gone. She flew straight at Kara full force. Kara was still quicker than any of them thought. She managed to grab Lillian just as they connected and twisted hard. Lillian was sent flying out the broken windows with Kara still standing.

            "I'm out!' Alex yelled.

            The next line of men who dropped down shot at Kara instead of Alex. Kara darted out and took them hand to hand, using sharp, small burst of her own vision. She was hit with a few glancing blows and tossed a gun into the office to land near Alex. Alex dove for it and shot Lillian just as she was flying at Kara. The impact send her flying back. She was out of range, and Alex readied for another shot. Then she saw J'onn crash into Lillian.

            "Kara! Our backup just arrived! Leave these guys to us. Follow Lex!" Alex yelled.

            No more men were coming down. Kara could hear fighting on the roof. She looked back into the office, and Lex and Lena were gone. She ran back into the office, and Alex nodded towards the office doors. Kara blasted through, ripping a door off the hinges.

            There was too much chaos and sound, and Lex did not realize Kara was there. Lex appeared to have knocked Lena out, as she was slumped over his arm. The helmet was up on his suit. He opened the elevator doors. Black smoke billowed out. He stopped, and Kara realized he would not carry Lena into the smoke, as it would damage her lungs. Lex thought for only a split second, turned, and blew out the far wall. This created a draft that instantly sucked smoke down the elevator shaft, clearing it out rapidly.

            Lex saw Kara when he turned and shot a mass of electricity at her next. She dodged but was still in its range. The nanite suit she was wearing took most of the hit. Kara could sense it was badly damaged, as the nanites attempted to take shape over broken places and failed. She pulled off the suit, left it on the ground, and ran for Lex. She got him just as he was about to jump down the elevator shaft with Lena. Kara managed to grapple him with her hands around both of his arms.

            They were locked in a bizarrely still battle of strength. Kara pulled his arms open wider to make him lose his grip on Lena. Lex strained forward. Both of them recognized they were having a contest of super strength with Lena's body unprotected and caught in the middle. A slip would mean they killed her by accident. They were playing a game of chicken, seeing who would be the first to become too afraid for Lena's life to keep on. Kara barely kept her nerve, and she drew from the deepest reserves of her own strength and overpowered Lex, despite the immense power of the suit he was wearing.

            Both of them turned aside, as Lex lost his grip on Lena, to ensure she fell away from the open elevator shaft. Lex then drove back into the wall to crash into Kara. The wall gave out, and they fell back into the office. Kara kept her grasp, and they rolled across the floor. Kara was fast enough, she got both of her arms around Lex's neck. She realized she had the right angle and could break his neck. But Lena loved Lex, and Kara could not kill him. She squeezed his throat tight and tried to choke him out instead. Lex grabbed Kara's arm for a moment, then the suit he was wearing shocked her so badly that she was yelling and struggling to hold onto him. The energy never dissipated, and Kara realized she had to let go before she passed out. She released Lex, and he flew away from her at once.

            Kara turned over on the floor and tried to push herself up. The weak sunlight that filled the room made her stronger by the second, but she knew it would not be enough to keep up with Lex in Lena's magnificent suit. She had her chance, and she was not willing to kill him. Shots from one of the heat vision guns hit Lex, but the suit he wore absorbed not only the shot, as Lillian's would have, but the impact, as well. It seemed to draw in the energy and store it. Alex stopped shooting at once.

            Behind them, a helicopter fell from the roof and crashed into the balcony, ripping it off slowly, and falling to the ground. The blade cut through the room, and Kara grabbed Alex and pulled her into the open door of the labs at break-neck speed. As soon as it had passed, they went back out. Lex was gone. They ran to where Lena had been left and looked down the elevator shaft. Kara was about to jump down.

            "Wait!" Alex said and threw a hand out to stop Kara. "Let's check the stairwell first. This could be misdirection."

            Kara ran to the stairwell exit nearby and banged through the door. She looked down. Lex was flying down the center of the stairwell. Kara was about to jump straight down on top of him, when shots of heat vision came at her face. She dodged back. She heard men pouring in from different floors and into the stairwell. Lex had called for reinforcements.

            Alex had followed Kara. She took what looked like a high-tech grenade from a pocket. She set it and carefully waited. She tossed it over with precision and dodged back just in time to avoid being shot. No explosion came, but they both glanced over the edge and saw a webbing wrap around Lex and Lena, wide enough to wedge them where they were, suspended in the stairwell.  

            "This is our chance," Alex said.

            Kara jumped straight down onto Lex and Lena, grabbed the net, and dragged it onto the staircase. Men shot at Kara from every direction. The force field protected Lex and Lena, but Kara had to dodge and then drop. Lex realized the force field was free-moving and knocked it forward. He hovered with Lena in the center and managed to roll down several flights of steps. Kara leapt from one side of the stairwell to the other, disabling and disarming men. Alex was quickly coming down, shooting everyone she caught sight of along the way. They ran after Lex and Lena.

            "Let me take point. You save your strength," Alex said.

            They fought their way down more than thirty flights of stairs. At some point, they realized the troops swarming the building were not just the ones Lex had hired. There were government agents with them, as well. Kara was no longer immune to any of the weapons, and they had to be careful. Alex kept emptying guns and picking up new ones. Kara pulled the brass off 40mm grenade launcher rounds from a belt across a man's chest and threw these with enough force to take troops in bullet proof vests and helmets down from the impact. Men started blowing up sections of stairwell. Alex would throw her arms around Kara's neck, and Kara would jump over these and let her down.

            The got to the last floor that led to the lobby. They started to run out and realized there was a small army of troops waiting for them. Shots of all kinds came at them. Kara blocked Alex's body and pushed them back into the stairwell. Kara looked over at a gunshot wound in her shoulder. She reached up and gritted her teeth as she pulled out a lead that was sticking out.

            "Give me that," Alex said. She took the round her in her hand. "That's a standard round." She closely inspected Kara's shoulder. The lead had only gone in about a quarter of an inch, but the impact must have done tissue damage. "You're still semi-bullet-proof. Not that I am comforted by that at all."

            "Can we take these guys?" Kara asked.

            "I suppose we've had enough training," Alex said. "We have to. Lex came down this way."  

            "They must have let him through."  

            "What happened? Lena's suit was supposed to be encrypted for her DNA. Why was Lex able to wear Moonshot's suit?"

            "I don't know. Maybe her brother's DNA was too similar."

            "But Lena's tech? It doesn't make sense. Lena wouldn't make a mistake like that."

            "Maybe she would with Lex."  

            They heard sounds of fighting coming from the lobby, looked at one another, and dashed out. James was there as Guardian. He took out men at a rapid pace, putting the ones he was fighting in between himself and the others who had their guns pointed at him, forcing them to take him on hand-to-hand. Kara scanned for men carrying guns with the heat vision tech. James's armor could protect him from all the weapons except for those. There weren't many, and Kara targeted those, as Alex and James took down the others.

            "Come on! Come one!" James yelled and ran towards the doors.

            "Is it still raining?" Alex yelled.

            "What?" James said in confusion.

            "There's kryptonite in the rain!" Alex said.

            "No, but there are still heavy clouds," James said.

            Kara went straight out. James took off at a run. They ran after him on instinct. "This way!' James called back. They ran on a path through the broken streets. James brought them to one of his motorcycles. Kara stopped cold.

            "We can't run!" Kara said.

            "We're not running! I saw them take Lena out of here, but I saw three of them!" James said.

            "Three men? So what?" Alex said in confusion.  

            "No! Three Lenas!" James said. He realized he was so frantic, he wasn't making sense. "I don't know which one was the real one. I hit men in each group with trackers. I don't know how long before they find them and pull them off, though."

            "Which one was Lex with?" Kara asked.

            "I didn't see Lex," James said. He handed each of them a small device displaying a map with trackers flashing on the screen. "They'll be slow at first. They're on foot until they get out of the damaged area."

            "Lex must have handed Lena off," Kara said in surprise.

            "He could have put on fatigues. He can't be openly seen himself. None of us can fight him alone," Alex said.

            "We can assume the one he is with has Lena. We leave the others and all converge on whatever one he is with," Kara said.

            "Sounds right to me," James said.

            "That's the plan," Alex confirmed.

            "You need a vehicle," Kara said to Alex.  

            "You need a com," Alex said to Kara.

            "Here," James said. He brought out a com unit. Kara put it behind her ear and linked up. "Two are headed west. I'll take you that way, Alex, and we'll split up when we find something you can use."  

            "The one heading east has gotten the farthest. I'll take that one," Kara said.

            "Kara, you're hardly super anymore. This area is almost certainly still emitting kryptonite," Alex said.

            "I've still got some strength left, believe me," Kara said.

            Kara gave Alex a hard look. Alex only nodded. They had no other choice. James sped off with Alex, as Kara looked down at the map in her hand to get a sense of their current location and trajectory. At that, Kara ran.  

Chapter Text

            Kara ran as hard as she could. If there was kryptonite still being emitted from rain that had fallen the night before, Kara could not feel it. She could only feel that she was much slower than usual, so slow that she could actually see people turn quickly to try and get a better look at her as she came at them as a fast-moving blur. The area surrounding L Corp was almost all rubble and collapsed streets. Kara often felt rubble become dislodged beneath her feet, but she touched down so fast that she practically skipped across the materials she stepped on , so she never lost her footing. She ran up some of the largest rubble piles and leapt over stretches of collapsed streets, hovering more than flying and landing blocks away.

            When she got to an area crowded with authorities, Kara turned and took a running leap towards a skyscraper. She ran along the side and felt glass shatter under her steps, then she launched herself off the edge and soared through the air to land beyond the cluster of people who would have tried to stop her. The impact of her landing jarred her and sent a streak of pain up her shins. Alex was right, Kara was running out of strength. The sun was enough to give her some new energy, but not at the rate she was using it. She knew she was in a race against time.  

            Kara glanced down at the map in her hand. The group she was tracking must have gotten beyond the damaged area. Their movement drastically picked up speed, heading east. That almost certainly meant the interstate highway that cut across the city on an overpass. She was still gaining fast and could still reach them, so long as the tracker was in place. Alex's voice came over their com link.

            "Kara," Alex said. "I got one group. It's not Lena. I'm going to cut through and try to intercept James."

            "Alright!" Kara said. "Be careful. You might have been recognized at this point."

            Kara had certainly been recognized. At the edge of the damage zone, three military helicopters were hovering, trying to turn sideways so their gunners could get a shot at Kara. With the group she was running down moving so fast, Kara could not turn aside to avoid the conflict. Instead, she managed a burst of speed and leapt straight at the helicopter closest to being fully turned to the side and already starting to fire in her direction. Kara braced herself and her shoulder slammed into the body of the center helicopter just behind the open side. This sent it spiraling, and it clipped the one to her left, which corrected in a panic. The third helicopter tried to pull back but scraped along the side of one of the others. They were distracted by trying to correct and keep from crashing into one another and forced to give up on Kara.

            The impact when she hit the ground this time almost made Kara fall over. She found herself slowed significantly, but there was no time to recover or to have any regrets. She got to the overpass and jumped up to the highway. She jumped over four lanes of traffic, dodged out between cars in the other four lanes, and ran down the center line between rows of cars. The drivers did not even slow down. Kara went by too fast for them to be startled. She was gone before they could react enough to hit their brakes. James's voice came over Kara's coms.

            "Kara!" James said. "We got the second group. This one isn't Lena either!"

            "That means it's mine," Kara said.

            "We're heading to meet you. They're moving so fast now!," Alex said.

            "I'm still gaining on them!" Kara said.  

            "Save some strength for the fight when you get there! And stall if you can to give us time to get to you!" Alex said.

            Kara checked the location of the tracker and then listened to Alex. She slowed until she was still passing cars rapidly, but the people inside could see her now. Some of the cars behind her slowed down. She listened back in worry, but she didn't seem to pose enough of a threat to anyone to cause panic or collisions. A quiet wanted to open out behind her as the cars tried to drop back.

            The tracking dot and the marker of her own location on the map began to overlap. Kara looked closely, trying to decipher when they were fully overlapping. She listened ahead, hoping to catch the sound of Lena or Lex's voices. The roar of cars was intermittent and hard to drown out. She caught a bit of radio communication that sounded too severe to be truckers ahead and saw an armored truck. Kara ran in close and made certain she could be seen in the driver's rearview mirror.

            "It's her!" the driver said to his passenger.

            At that, Kara reached out and grabbed a bar that ran along one of the back doors of the truck. She pulled back, and the bar snapped off in her hand. Kara managed to throw it over her head away from traffic, but she couldn't be sure where it landed. She tried for other parts, careful now to let go if she felt any give. Finally, Kara got a grip on something solid and pulled back. The truck struggled and veered. Kara could slow it down, but she did not have the strength to stop its movement outright.

            The attempt was further exhausting her, and she had to think fast. She dug a hand into the steel door, then reached high and dug the other in, and climbed onto the top of the truck. Kara tried to look down into the compartment, but she could not see through. She could look into the cab, though, and neither of the men inside were Lex. Kara made her way forward to the cab, alert in case Lex tried anything from inside the back.

            When she was over the cab, Kara had to make a decision. Cars behind them had dropped back. Kara moved over to the driver's side. She popped the window and reached in to grab the wheel. She steered them to run along a thick concrete barrier on the right side of the road. The truck slowed a great deal. A searing pain went up Kara's forearm, and she had to let go. Blasts from a heat vision weapon came through the roof. Kara quickly rolled across the top and grabbed the edge of the passenger's side window. The glass shattered, and Kara pulled herself into the cab in one fluid movement.   She was in the lap of the man in the passenger seat, and she ripped his gun away and tossed it out the window. She elbowed him in the face hard enough to leave him unconscious. Kara pulled the emergency brake and braced herself. She waited to see if the driver could handle the situation. He had obviously been hired for his driving skills, and he kept them under control.

            The driver managed to stop the truck without a full-on wreck. They were partway across a bridge over the river. He looked in the mirrors to see if they would be rear-ended. Then his attention snapped back to Kara, and he tried to bail out the driver's side. Kara came out after him, grabbed him by the bullet proof vest, and slammed him into the side of the truck hard enough to leave him lying still on the ground. Kara knew Lex must still be inside with Lena. She moved along the side of the truck, ready for him to come out on the offensive. Kara had a sudden fear that Lex might hurt Lena if he was trapped. That would keep the others off him long enough he could escape, while they tried to save her.

            At the back, Kara tried to pry the doors open. She warped metal, but the doors held fast. She stepped back at a loss for a brief instant. Then she thought about what Alex would do. Kara went and searched the two men. She found keys, and she left pistols that looked to be made of the same heat vision tech in their belts. These would not work on Lex. Kara came back around and unlocked the doors. Kara flung a door open and ducked out of the way. Shots of heat vision came out hitting cars in the distance.

            Kara moved back to hide at the front of the truck. She heard three pairs of boots hit the ground and came around the opposite way. All three pairs sounded like normal boots and not like the nanite suit Lex was wearing. Kara listened inside the truck, but her hearing was nearly impossible for her to focus. The idea that Lex might not be with them perplexed Kara and made her strangely even more nervous.

            As the three people who had climbed out of the truck stalked and split up to come around both ends of the truck, Kara slid herself under the truck and popped up with all three of their backs to her. She grabbed one man and threw him into one on the other side of her. Kara dodged in and took a hit from the third man even as she grabbed his gun and forced it up and away from her. A burn cut into her chest and up towards her shoulder on the left side. Kara knocked the man easily twenty feet up and forty feet away, and he slammed into ground.

            Kara pressed a hand to her wound, as she came around to the open doors of the truck. When she peered in, there was no one inside except Lena tied up, gagged, and belted in against the far wall. Kara scanned instantly for bombs, but there weren't any. Kara climbed up into the back.

            Kara pushed the doors open behind her to get light and stepped forward quickly. Her eyes met Lena's, and Kara knew at once that it was not her. Kara stopped absolutely still. It wasn't her. It wasn't Lena. All three of the ones they chased were diversions. Lex must have taken Lena himself.   Kara's mind went back. He did not fly away with the skies full of traffic and surveillance. He took Lena underground just as Lena planned to do with them. And they fell for his misdirection.

            The person in the truck who looked exactly like Lena was terrified. They were no doubt a shape shifter. After only a few seconds pause, Kara came and gently took off the gag.  

            "Please let me go," the person said. Kara considered a device around their neck . She tried to determine whether it would hurt them to take it off.

            "Do you know if this is booby trapped?" Kara said.

            "I don't think so. Please, take it off. It hurts so much," they said.

            Kara broke it easily and tossed it aside. The person shed Lena's form, becoming the shape shifter they were. Their skin was a brownish red and mottled with pale freckles. Kara broke the ropes that held them, and the freed alien moved towards the doors of the truck as fast as they could.

            They climbed out and stood on the street. The shape shifter looked around and up into the sky. Emergency vehicles and helicopters were swarming and closing in fast. Kara found herself numb with her mind engulfed by a single thought. They had lost Lena, and they had no idea where she was. When the shape shifter raised their hands in the air and looked terrified of being shot down, Kara realized fully that she was absolutely surrounded by armed agents who wanted to either take her down or take her in. She would never get to Lena if they did.

            Just then, Nia's voice came over Kara's com unit.

            "Kara! Jump! Jump off the bridge into the river!" Nia said.

            Kara went to look over the side of the bridge. There wasn't enough strength left in her to fight her way out of this, and she could not fly. For Nia to know where Kara was meant she had some form of premonition. Kara could not keep searching for Lena if she was captured or killed. Without a moment's hesitation, Kara put a hand to the ledge and jumped over the side of the bridge.

 

---

 

            The fall felt strangely long, and Kara hit the water hard enough that she did not remember some segment of time after. As she became more conscious, she realized she was drowning. She remembered something Alex had taught her during her training at the DEO and looked for air bubbles rising. She swam hard and followed these to the surface. Kara broke the surface of the river. She was carried swiftly, choking and coughing up water, as she fought with the powerful current carrying her downstream.

            As she struggled against the current, Kara realized the gash in her chest and across her forearm were hurting more and more vividly. She realized the river must have received all the drainage from the area. The water had traces of kryptonite in it from the rainfall. Kara remembered to swim diagonally against the current and tried to get to shore as fast as possible.

            She barely made it. She was pulled under more easily the more worn out she became. She learned to stay calm and make sure she was looking towards the light and swimming towards the surface. Patches of turbulence in the water seemed to catch her and pull her down and spin her, but they would let go quickly. Kara tried to get a look downstream to see if she would hit any rocks or barriers. She didn't remember ever seeing any from the air before today, but she had not really been thinking about it then.

            After long enough that Kara's shoulders ached from powering through the water, she managed to draw near to the shore. The shoreline was a steep barrier of concrete, and Kara tried to find a way to get a grip and stop herself. Finally, she caught hold in a crack. She wedged her fingers inside and managed to climb up, until she grasped onto metal bars at the top. She hung there for a long time, before she pulled herself up and over. She fell onto her side and recognized she was safe from falling back into the water.

            Kara coughed and retched up water. She realized this was tinged with blood and hoped it was not from too deep inside. The sound of helicopters close enough to hear without her super-hearing made Kara struggle to her feet.

            Some people were living in ragtag encampments near the river. They were watching Kara. A man and woman were standing beside one another. They realized what was happening and ran to Kara. The man pulled off a stained overcoat covered with decorative patches and threw this over Kara's shoulders. The woman had a studded baseball cap on, and she put this on Kara. The woman put her arm around Kara's waist, and they walked as calmly as they could away from the scene. Helicopters flew overhead and did not seem to take notice of them.

            They all stopped hidden in an alleyway. At first, Kara leaned against a wall with her hands on her knees. The man and woman were saying something, and she could hardly understand what they were saying to her. Her mind throbbed with the thought that they had lost Lena. When Kara gathered herself a little more, she stood up and gave the hat and the coat back.

            "Go. You should go. Helping me is a federal crime. Don't get caught," Kara said.

            The two tried to argue with her at first. She was insistent and wandered away from them. They hesitated and then let her leave without following her. Kara looked out into a street lined by small businesses. The water had carried her to the edge of town where a lot of buildings from forty and fifty years ago were still more or less the same. She was soaking wet, and her clothes were bloody. The open wounds on her chest and arm were flaring, and the pain filled her mind. Kara spotted a car wash at the end of the road.

            She kept close to the walls of buildings and staggered her way to the car wash. No one was there, except for a bearded man in an old t-shirt and pair of broken in jeans who stood just outside an office in front of the automatic wash bay and a young teenage girl who sat inside the office watching a television screen. Kara could not come any closer without being seen, and she had to take a chance. She walked out, and the man looked up and saw her. He flinched visibly, started to move towards her, and then stopped cold. His instincts were torn.

            "Will you run that for me?" Kara asked and pointed to the automatic wash. He stood frozen. But the young woman ran out of the office.

            "That's Supergirl! That's Supergirl, Dad! We have to help her!" the girl said.

            Her dad turned to her with his eyes still wide. His daughter was in earnest, and he looked scared half to death. Perhaps in response to his daughter and perhaps for simply not knowing what else to do, he simply watched as hit daughter pressed the button to run the wash. Kara staggered into the bay.

            The jets sprayed copious water over her. Kara could instantly feel the kryptonite lifted from her skin. She stood in the hardest jets of clear water and scrubbed at the wound in her chest, until her legs nearly gave way. The cut on her forearm was not as deep and easier to wash out. That helped she could tell. After another long minute, she walked through the driers and out of the bay. She was still soaked through, but her mind felt far more clear.

            She needed to change her clothes and cover her wounds. Then she needed to get out of this area. The authorities knew more or less where she was now. Glancing around the sides of buildings and down streets, Kara could not locate anyplace that sold clothes. She found a patchwork trail behind buildings and along a stretch of parkway. She dodged out of the line of sight when she saw anyone and kept her arms crossed over her chest with the injured arm underneath. The blood was still running down, making her look worse every minute.

            Finally, Kara heard police cars bleep their sirens not a block from where she was. She hunkered down behind a building. She peered out and watched several patrol cars pass within probably ten minutes. Kara tried to think of what to do. She was afraid that Alex and James had tried to come to her rescue and been apprehended. But she told herself that Nia must have warned them off. Her com unit was lost to the river.

            The only numbers Kara knew by heart were Alex's old phone that she had not been able to use since Kara broke her out of DEO custody and her mother's.  She could break in someplace empty and look for a landline. That felt like a long shot. She did not know who her mother could contact to help her, but she thought maybe someone. It was as good as she was going to get. Kara attempted to search. Her x-ray vision flickered in and out whenever she looked through walls and made her feel disoriented. She kept a close eye on the streets.

            Before she found anyplace to break into, Kara saw a van rolling slowly down the street that said Sunny's dry cleaning. Her emotions processed that before her mind did, and she stopped and turned back the way the van was heading. As soon as she got her chance, Kara made her way out into the street, while the van was at a stop light. She knocked on the side and found Nia in the driver's seat.

            Nia jumped out and opened the side door of the van. She loaded Kara inside and got back in the driver's seat. Kara slumped into the wall of the van, all but lying down. Brainy left the passenger's seat to come into the back with Kara. Nia got a good look around to see that they had not been spotted. Nia found them a parking lot with several other work vehicles that looked untended at the moment. She trusted that enough to pull over and came into the back, as well. Kara was still hunkered against the side of the van with her eyes closed.

            "Oh my God, Kara. I am so sorry. I didn't realize you would get this hurt," Nia said.

            "It's ok. It's not that bad. A lot of it is from before I hit the water. I think there was kryptonite in the river. That's slowing the healing down," Kara said.

            "Kryptonite? I can help with that," Brainy said.

            Brainy pulled out a heavy, high tech laptop. He had one of Lena's cylinders of nanites locked into a port. He hitched them up. He entered some commands and within minutes, a soft cloud of nanites rose from the container and bombarded Kara. She could not feel them enter her body and pull out the kryptonite, but every minute that passed Kara felt more alert. She sat up fully.

            "What happened to Alex?" Kara said.

            "J'onn is getting Alex," Nia said.

            "Where was she last?" Kara said.

            "Somewhere downtown and needing to get out," Nia said.

            "What about James?" Kara said.

            "He was with Alex," Nia said.

            "We have to go help," Kara said.

            "First thing is first. There's a police barricade around this area. We have to save ourselves before we can save anyone else," Nia said. "We brought you clothes, but we need to bandage those wounds. Especially your chest. That looks bad."

            Nia dug around for anything they could use. She found a first aid kit with some sterile gauze pads. They looked trivial compared with the injuries. The roll of bandaging wouldn't wrap around Kara's chest more than twice, and that would not be enough to hold bandaging in place.

            "Here," Kara said.

            Kara reached and grabbed a roll of duct tape and handed this to Nia. Kara pulled off her ruined shirt. Brainy took off a jacket he was wearing. He pulled off his t-shirt and then put the jacket back on and zipped it all the way closed. He poured a bottle of water on the shirt. All three of them worked to scrub the visible blood off Kara's body. They got the wounds wrapped as best they could. Nia pulled out a set of clothes, and Kara took off the ruined ones and got into the dry, clean ones. Nia pulled Kara's hair back and tied it up. Kara put on the glasses Nia had brought and hung one of her CatCo id cards around her neck. She felt so unlike her usual self, she imagined she would have a hard time fooling anybody.

            "Your hair will still be wet," Nia said.

            "There have been rainstorms all over the city," Brainy said. "Here." He meticulously sprinkled Kara's shoulders then Nia's hair and shoulders with water to make it look like the two of them had been caught in a rainstorm. "If you're going to play the eager journalists, you'll have an excuse to have been out in a downpour."

            "Kara is still so pale," Nia said.

            "Put her in the front seat. Even the little sunlight getting through these clouds will help," Brainy said. Kara climbed into the front seat immediately. She leaned forward towards the windshield to try and get as much light as she could.

            "Ok. Switch us up," Nia said.

            "Let me get a good look around to make sure no one is watching," Brainy said and climbed out of the van.

            "What are we doing?" Kara asked.

            "We're going to switch this over to a CatCo News van. We were afraid they wouldn't want media in this area, but we think that's the best way to get them to push us right out," Nia said.

            "That's good thinking," Kara said. "We need to get out of here as soon as possible, find the others, and find Lena." Nia put her hand on an uninjured part of Kara's arm and held it there. Brainy climbed back in.

            "Good to go," he said and quickly geared himself up as a camera guy with a simulator that made his facial features rather bland and very unlike his own.

            Kara got a look at her ruined clothes as Brainy wrapped them into a bundle and packed them away in a storage well in the back of the van. Every round of heat vision that had hit her since yesterday had left a gash, and there were many. She understood Nia and Brainy's grave looks when they first climbed into the back of the van. The wound on her arm felt so much better now with the kryptonite out of it that she found it easy to ignore. The wound on her chest still ached, but the sharpness was gone. If these bled through, her new disguise would be ruined. She tried to move her body with great care.

            They drove on quiet streets, seeing the occasional police car roll by. When they were pulled over at random, Brainy turned on a camera. Nia and Kara blasted the officer with questions, until he became so nervous and irritated that he called in backup. Three more squad cars arrived. They all climbed out and got the officers so flustered that they practically pushed the three of them back into the van and escorted them out of the area.

            The squad cars brought them to a checkpoint. Government agents were peering into every vehicle that passed. They tried bombarding these with questions, but they were more prepared for this kind of thing. They deflected and kept calmy asserting that they needed to see ids. They considered each one carefully away from the van. An agent came back and returned their documents.

            "You two are fine with just ids," he said with a gesture to Brainy and Nia, then spoke to Kara as he said, "I'm going to have to ask you to step out for just a moment, please. We have to test anyone who comes through who fits Supergirl's general description. She was seen in pedestrian clothes in this area."

            He stepped away immediately. Kara climbed out. The agent kept his back to her. She tried a few questions, but he was very skilled.

            "I just need to quickly test your species," he said and brought out what Kara only barely recognized as the spring-loaded needle to draw a drop of blood for diabetic testing. "I'm very sorry, but it's just a quick prick of a finger. The device is sterile."

            Kara had no choice. She let the agent clean off the ring finger of her left hand with an alcohol swab. He held the pin against her skin and pressed a button. Kara did not feel anything, but when he pulled the pen away, they both watched a bead of blood form on her fingertip. He wiped this away with the alcohol swab and held out a box of tissues for Kara.

            "Thank you for your cooperation. Stay safe out there," the agent said.

            Kara took a tissue and climbed back into the van. They got onto the open highway. Nia kept looking in her mirrors and turned to Kara.

            "I can't believe that worked," Nia said.

            "Me neither," Kara said.

            "It's the other wounds. All your energy must going there," Brainy said leaning forward from the backseat. "Your body is prioritizing its healing."

            "Yeah, it is sort of tingly and hurts less and less," Kara said and gingerly pressed near the wound on her chest. Spots of blood showed on her shirt sleeve already, and she realized again how close they had been to getting caught. "Thank you for rescuing me."

            "Ok. I can tell you more now," Nia said. "Alex and James were apprehended by the DEO. J'onn went to get them back, and we came to get you. I had this – this thing – like a vision or something. It was like I was asleep, when I have dreams and know they're premonitions, except I saw all these different things flicker by really fast. This was the only way I could see to get all three of you out," Nia said.

            "Did you see how we can get Lena back?" Kara said.

            "I didn't see Lena. Not at all," Nia said.

            Kara sat silent. She had to trust Nia, even though she was scared. And she had to trust that, when the were all back together, they would find some way to rescue Lena, even though she had no idea where they could even start. Otherwise, her heart would break, and she would not be able to do anything at all.

Chapter Text

            As Alex and James rushed to get to Kara, reports of Kara's run through the city poured in. Alex was on a motorcycle they had nabbed, so they were fast and agile. After catching the first group on foot and realizing immediately their prisoner was one of their own people wearing a simulator then heading off the second group and breaking open an armored semi truck to find a captive shape shifter inside, they were sure that they had narrowed it down and were on their way to the real Lena. Both of those encounters had been witnessed and reported, however. The moment they ran into the DEO barricade, Alex realized how foolish they had been to try for a direct route to Kara. Director Ward was not an idiot, and knowing where they were and where Kara was made guessing their path a grade school problem to solve.

            "What do we do?" James asked Alex over coms.

            "We could probably fight our way through, but we'll never get to Kara in time," Alex said.

            "She'll take Lex on alone if nobody else gets to her! She's not gonna' let Lena go!" James said. Alex got on her com link.

            "J'onn? Brainy? Nia?" Alex said. Right away, Nia's voice came over the coms.

            "Brainy and J'onn went after Lillian. J'onn got wrapped in some kind of chain, and he crash landed in the city. I am on my way to the area to help get them out," Nia said.

            The DEO agents were surrounding James and Alex. Alex could not ask the others to go after Kara with J'onn down. She had to have faith they would protect one another. She only had a few more moments to decide what she and James should do.

            "How bad was the crash?" Alex asked. Brainy responded.

            "I don't think it's the crash that's going to be a problem," Brainy said. "We're attracting an awful lot of attention. Even in a changed form, J'onn will be easily recognized until we get this chain off him. I'm in the building and can see where J'onn came through a side window and went through the floor. I should find him any moment. Then we're going to have to do some quick thinking."

            "Okay," Alex said simply.

            Alex turned off the link. There were simply too many agents for one of them to serve as a diversion while the other plowed their way through. She realized their best chance was in trying to talk their way out of this. She took off her helmet, raised her hands, and climbed off the bike. James followed her lead instantly.

            The agents were wary and fanned out at both sides of them. Alex was worried, because they kept a V formation that would allow them to shoot the two of them down without hitting one another in a crossfire. Alex took a quick assessment of who was there. She recognized only about a third of the agents. Director Ward had tried to increase his authority by bulking out the ranks with new blood. These would likely not be as well trained, but their loyalties would be to the established hierarchy with none of the internal politics or history to get in the way. Direct Ward was nowhere to be seen.

            "We need to speak to Director Ward," Alex said.

            They were disarmed and had their coms removed. They were put in serious, high tech handcuffs that not even Alex would be able to get off.  They heard more senior agents who recognized Alex trying to get in touch with Ward. That made Alex realize he might be far away from the site. Alex and James both started trying to convince everyone to take them along and go and intercept Kara. They were desperately trying to essentially recruit the DEO to help rescue Lena Luthor.

            The group seemed divided. But they were under strict orders not to pursue Supergirl, and that held sway. Alex tried to find out where these orders were from, but she could not get anyone to tell her, if anyone knew. It could have been Ward trying to help Supergirl, or it could have been other agencies taking over to make the kill without any interference. When they realized they were about to be loaded into the back of an SUV, and they put up a struggle. Finally, someone brought Alex a headset and let her speak to Ward. Alex tried to explain that Lillian and Lex Luthor were in the process of kidnapping Lena Luthor.

            "We have no report that Lex Luthor has escaped from prison," Ward said.

            Alex tried to explain that they had seen Lex and been in a confrontation with him already. Director Ward wanted to ask pointed questions, and Alex swore she would answer all of them if they would just intercept Supergirl's path, since she was chasing down Lena Luthor now. Lex would be there, Alex promised him. The longer they talked, the more frantic Alex grew trying to convince him. Ward dropped the line.

            The agents got some new orders, and they loaded Alex and James into the SUV. They did not resist this time, since they thought they might be about to take off. The SUV was surrounded by agents, and they sat waiting briefly. When nothing happened, Alex fully freaked out. Too much time had passed. If Kara had caught up with the final group and then stalled, she would be hesitant to wait for long. With Alex and James off their coms, she would likely be afraid for them and rush the encounter. Alex and James began to struggle with her handcuffs. She managed to get her still cuffed hands around in front of her, nearly dislocating her shoulder in the process.

            They stopped when Director Ward and Agent Vasquez climbed into the front seats of the SUV. Alex laid into him at once, and he was mostly silent, giving her only cursory responses. The entire entourage departed at once. Then Director Ward gave the order for the others to continue on, while their vehicle broke away. Alex caught a hint of wariness in his look and realized what must be happening.

            "Oh, shit," Alex said to Director Ward. "I never thought you were an insider." Ward took off his com unit.

            "It's me, Alex," J'onn said, still looking identical to Ward. Agent Vasquez did not even twitch. Alex was shocked for only half a moment.

            "You should have gone after Kara!" Alex nearly growled in rush of panic.

            "Brainy and Nia went after Kara. Nia had a vision. She saw what would happen. Brainy is scrambling Ward's coms, but he said it won't last long," J'onn said.

            "How do we get Lena back?" Alex said.

            "We can't, as far as Nia saw. Lena is not going to be in that third entourage, and neither is Lex. They'll get Kara out after she realizes," J'onn said. A wave of despair and then of relief washed over Alex.

            "We cannot lose Lena," Alex said.

            "I know. We can't. We'll never get through this insanity without her," J'onn said.

            "Don’t count Lena out yet. She survived that family for a long time," James said.

            "This just can't happen to Kara," Alex said.

            "We'll find her, Alex. They will not kill Lena, you know that," James said.

            "You don't know that. Lex has tried how many times? And Lena wasn't with Kara before," Alex said.

            "They wouldn't have gone through all this trouble just to kill her," J'onn said.  

            "They're probably using her as bait to get to Kara," James said.

            "It's clear they want something. But we don't know what it is. And we don't know they won't kill them both once they have it," Alex said. Everyone went silent.

            "Pull over. Stop," James said. Agent Vasquez looked to J'onn. After a couple minutes of confusion among them, they did stop. "J'onn and Alex should go meet with others. I'll go back with Agent Vasquez. I'll explain all this to Director Ward."

            "James, no," Alex said.

            "Look, I've already been seen out as Guardian. There's nothing I can do to cover for that now.   I'm getting arrested at the end of this either way. Ward seemed reasonable when you were talking to him before. You just couldn't convince him in that amount of time. At the very least, the DEO can get the word out that Lex has escaped and Lena has been taken. They can help us. No one is going to do that as things stand now. The city is in chaos. Promise me you'll get Lena, and I promise I will get you back up," James said.

            Everyone could see that they would not be able to changes James's mind. He and Alex quickly established a complex set of hints of how she could know if Director Ward tried to use James, directly or indirectly, to betray them. Agent Vasquez and James climbed out. She undid James's handcuffs and gave the mechanism to J'onn through the window. They walked away. J'onn drove the vehicle on to some meeting point.

 

---

 

            Alex and J'onn ditched the DEO vehicle within a few miles. They could never be sure they had found all the imbedded tracking devices.   In a sheltered alleyway, J'onn shifted from Ward's form to another. In the moments in between, Alex saw that he was hiding wounds he had been dealt by the chain weapon.

            "We need to get you medical care fast," Alex said.

            They made their way carefully to the hidden nanite lab. They were taking a risk, not knowing if or when Lex and Lillian might find this place. But they had medical supplies there. Alex got J'onn's wounds cleaned and bandaged, and then Nia and Brainy showed up with Kara.

            Alex and Kara came to one another immediately and embraced for a long time. When they let go, Alex saw the blood on Kara's shirt. She could tell the heavy distress in Kara's look was not over her wounds.

            "You need medical attention," Alex said.

            "Not yet," Kara said. The two sisters gave one another a look. Alex was the one who conceded this time.

            They circled up. Everyone ran through what had happened on their end of things. They were worried over James, but not nearly as worried as they all were over Lena.

            "How do we find Lena?" Kara asked aloud.

            "I don't know," Nia said, as if the question had been addressed to her specifically.

            "Lena is too smart not to have left us a trail of breadcrumbs. The suit! Did that have tracking devices?" Alex said.

            "Can you hack into the system at L Corp?" Kara asked.

            "No. That would be impossible," Brainy said. Every heart dropped. "Lena did give me full access, though, so I don't need to hack in."  

            "Ok, great. Also, please, lead with that next time," Alex said.

            They followed Brainy, as he got into the L Corp computer system. He scanned information faster than the rest of them could comprehend what they were seeing. He leaned back with an aura of finality.

            "There is a tracking system, but it's been disabled," Brainy said.

            "How is Lex this good?" Alex asked.

            "Lex did not disable this system. Lena did. There's a clear record," Brainy said.

            "What? Why would she do that?" Nia asked.

            "Maybe it's misdirection. Could be Lex did this and was hoping we would question whether Lena secretly defected to their side," J'onn said.

            "When did she do it?" Kara asked.

            "Last night around nine p.m.," Brainy said.

            "She did it right when she realized Lex was out of prison. If she got taken, she didn't want us following after her. She thought it would be too dangerous," Kara said.

            "I think that means she knew they would take her to wherever this sun-fire laser really is. She could have led us right there," Alex said.

            "They would take her to their stronghold, and I can't see how it could possibly be anywhere else besides there. No other technology could be more of a threat to Kara. It's clear why she did it," J'onn said.

            "Brainy, is there any hope of sorting those hits we got on the sun-fire ray?" Kara asked.

            "Lena sent out drones to investigate. We are down to forty-one, but they are spread all over the world," Brainy said.

            "If I could get up to full strength, I could go check out all of them," Kara said.

            "We talked about that a long time ago. You'd find yourself at war with the U.S. government by the time you got through a handful of them," Alex said.

            "Does it matter anymore?" Kara said. Everyone else gave Kara concerned looks and did not answer this question.

            "Yeah," Alex said finally. "Lena will probably kill us if she gets herself free of the Luthors and finds out we got you killed while we were looking for her."

            "The probability of that is actually higher than you might think. Lena – " Brainy started.

            "Brainy," Nia said. "Just hold onto that thought, love. Let's not deal with that now. We need two things at the very least. We need to get Kara's strength back. And we need a location."

            "So we steal a plane, get Kara up over the clouds," Alex said.

            "We don't need to steal a plane for that. We can simply use one of Lena's jets," Brainy said.

            "How long before the feds are all over those?" Nia said.

            "As far as I can tell, they don't even believe yet that Lena is missing or that Lex is free," Brainy said.

            "Let's move them now. We can make it harder for them to get rounded up," J'onn said.

            "I can do that. No problem," Brainy said.

            "The rest of us can start trying to sort through these locations. That's going to take time, whether we like it or not. If the answer were simple, Lena would have found it ages ago. We all need to rest. Everyone was up all night in the middle of the crisis downtown. We're strung out and not at all in top condition. Before we engage the Luthors, we need to recover and form a real, solid plan," Alex said.

            The group remained quiet. Nobody wanted to accept what Alex had said. And yet nobody had any arguments. Kara looked around at every face. They had been rushing for so long, and the tension seemed suddenly to snap. They hit a hard stop. Kara felt as if she suddenly crashed hard into the ground with no strength to protect her anymore. She could feel her body physically shaking all over from both fear and pain.

            "What if we don't find her?" Kara heard herself saying out loud.

            After a moment of sheer, unseeing terror, Kara looked up at every face. Everyone had looked up at her in surprise. No one could think of a single thing to say at first. At that, Kara started weeping in earnest. Alex simply grabbed Kara into a hug. Everyone else put their arms around Kara, as well.

            "We will," J'onn said, and every voice repeated this.

            When they let go, Kara stood back and nodded to them all in a kind of desperate affirmation. She barely got her composure. Her chest hurt even more from being embraced, but her soul felt far better at the reminder that they were still all together. Wherever James was now, he was with them. Wherever Lena was now, she was with them, as well. Those two would be working with them even from afar.

            Alex was looking at the blood that had gotten worse on Kara's shirt with severity. She brought Kara to the only room in the complex that had an opaque skylight and into the dim sunlight coming down into room. She got her to sit on a long, cushioned bench installed in the wall, somewhere between a couch and a bed. Alex found all the duct tape over Kara's wounds. She glanced in the direction of Nia and Brainy then looked back at Kara.

            "I am not happy about this," Alex said.

            "Neither were we, but there wasn't anything else we could do," Kara said in defense of the others.

            Alex ripped the tape off as carefully as she could, but the wounds opened up again even so. They were bad enough to make Alex's eyes tighten, but not bad enough to make her any more mad. She decided to staple them closed, given that she had no idea how long they would take to heal on their own now. Alex wondered if Kara even knew how exhausted she was at this point. Kara rubbed her eyes with both hands. Her voice practically slurred as she spoke.  

            "What do I do now, Alex?" Kara said.

            "First, I patch you up, then you sleep. Then you drink a ton of water and eat some food. None of us have a choice anymore, Kara. We've pushed too hard. After we recover some, then we'll get you up over the clouds whether we have a lead or not. We will find the Luthors and take Lena back," Alex said.

            As soon as the wounds were bandaged, Kara started to stand. Alex gently but firmly got her by the arms and pushed her back down. The force sent sharp lines of pain streaking through Kara's wounds, and Alex held onto her sister hard to brace her and keep her in place. The face Alex was making was enough for Kara to fully register that her entirely human sister had just overpowered her. Alex had not even remotely expected to be able to do that, and she was profoundly silent now.

            At that, Kara looked down over her own body. The bloody shirt in her hand was the only one she had, and she couldn't walk down the street wearing this. And she was weak. Her hands were shaking visibly. Every cell in her body was beyond exhaustion. Now, when she needed to be strong more than any other time in her life, she had no strength left to give to this. She was not fit to lead them on and into another fight.

            "You will recover much faster if you sleep, I promise you. Everyone has to sleep, even the Luthors. We have a little time. They're not going to walk away from last night without being worn out," Alex said.

            Alex sat down beside Kara and put her arms around her. They sat there quiet together for a long moment. Then Alex climbed onto the bench with her back to the wall and pulled Kara down to lie in her arms. She wrapped her arms tight around Kara, the way she used to so many years ago when they were girls and Kara would wake up screaming from a terrible dream about their family dying that scared her so deeply she was left shaking after. The last thing in the world Kara wanted was to sleep now, and still she fell into an exhausted sleep within what felt like mere moments.

 

---

 

            Nia bedded down to try and get some sleep. She was hoping she might dream something useful, and her own desperation to see something of Lena filled her chest with a longing that ached constantly. Nia could feel the presence of the others. She could hold each one of them in her mind with a sense that went far beyond simply looking at someone. J'onn had bedded down in a quiet room nearby. He was restless, because his wounds were hurting. Nia knew he would stretch and grimace and be worn out the next day both physically and mentally. She got up and spent a while searching the labs for pain killers and finally found some. She brought these to J'onn with a glass of water and knocked softly on the door to the room he was in.

            "Does ibuprofen work on Green Martians?" Nia asked.

            "Yes. I didn't hope to find anything except maybe alcohol, and that wouldn't work," J'onn said, and he sat up and took the glass and bottle. "Thank you."

            "They wouldn't help Kara, so they're all yours," Nia said. J'onn measured out a dose that looked dangerous to Nia that he must have known made sense for himself. He looked up at Nia.

            "Your psyche is changing so fast," J'onn said.

            "Really?" Nia asked.

            "Yes. I can't ever really see your thoughts, but I can feel the presence of your mind. And it's expanding. It's reaching out. I think your powers are growing at an incredible pace," J'onn said.

            "It doesn't seem that way to me," Nia said.

            "You saved all of us today, so I am not sure your estimation is quite accurate," J'onn said.

            "Not all of us," Nia said.

            Nia realized for the first time how tired she was herself. She nearly swayed at the weight of a myriad of thoughts that came into her head all carrying reasons she should feel guilty now. If she only understood her powers better, she could fix this. If she were only stronger already, none of this would have happened. Nia was familiar with the many voices that could take up residence inside of her and try to negate who she was and what she could do. Even such a heavy wave of them as this, she pushed back with the force of habit and a quietly strong will.

            "We will find her. Rest now. Thank you again," J'onn said.

            Nia came back and sat once more. J'onn must have been right in some way about her mind changing. Nia could sense Kara and Alex above them and over to her left. They were holding onto one another. She knew that without question. Their sisterhood formed a kind of shelter where they could rest no matter what else was happening. Nia's heart felt full and her eyes welled. Their bond was so beautiful. To Nia, love was the most beautiful thing in this world. There was no question about that, and the love between women was very possibly the most threatened and powerful form of love in the world.

            She considered Brainy across the room. He was on a pallet, as if he were about to try to sleep, but he was still typing furiously on a laptop propped on his legs.   All of his vast mind was absorbed in his work, trying to find ways to pinpoint which of their leads was the real sun-fire ray. An intuition so clear and strong that Nia could not question its truth spoke in her mind. He will not be able to find her.

            When an intuition came to her that way – not emotionally charged and yet speaking as if with every emotion woven through it – Nia always accepted it as true.

            The sadness of that reality washed over Nia, and she almost cried. The grief that would overtake them, slowly as they exhausted themselves over and over with struggle, would be immense. They had to find Lena someday. They would never stop trying. That day felt far away.

            The grim, hateful voices in Nia's mind filled her thoughts once more. If she had been different, if she had been someone other than who she was, if she had done something other than what she did, this would not be happening to her people . Those thoughts wanted to form into sharper, more specific criticisms. But they held no truth that she could use. They were daggers of self-hatred, and Nia let them fall away without turning her attention to them.

            Still, the weight of the situation rested on her, and Nia took pause and did not push it aside. She was in no way the one at fault for this situation, and yet she might truly be their best hope of finding Lena now. Nia considered and could find no flicker of belief in herself that she could find Lena. They were not close enough, the two of them, and Nia was not powerful enough to conjure dreams or visions of someone, unless she was already deeply entwined with them in some cosmic way. These were all perfectly trustworthy thoughts, even though they were heartbreaking to face.

            A spider crawled across the floor beside Nia. Nia watched her as she moved across the floor and up the wall She did not realize the spider had captivated all of her attention, until Brainy's voice made her awareness snap back to the rest of the room.

            "What are you looking at?" Brainy said.

            "Spider," Nia said and pointed. Brainy got up and came over. His eyes scanned the wall.

            "There isn't one," Brainy said. Nia looked from the spider to Brainy a few times. He followed her line of sight. He stood for a moment thinking hard. "You must be seeing something that I can't see," Brainy said simply. He considered for a moment longer and went back to his work.

            Nia considered the spider. She was starting a web. She drew together three strands into a beautiful triangle with bowed sides forming perfect arches. She hung down in the middle and stopped. The shape moved into Nia's mind, oddly and very clearly pointing in this space towards Kara, J'onn, and herself. There was something there.

            Follow the thread.

            These words came into Nia's mind. The tone and quality of this voice was one Nia found infinitely familiar, as if she had heard it before she was even born into this world. This voice came from a deep place, the deepest she knew, and carried the most gravity of any in her inner world. This one carried the truth. Nia never once doubted. Even when the rest of the world told Nia something different, she always trusted this inner voice. This voice was how Nia knew who she was, what she loved, what she should do. This voice did not always speak to her. Sometimes, she would long to hear this voice and be left waiting. Every time this voice came to her brought at once a profound relief.

            Something occurred to Nia quite suddenly. Her mother had spoken of times when the Grandmothers had spoken to her in voices and visions. Nia always imagined what that experience of her powers must be like. She was always quiet and still, lost in her inner thoughts. Her eyes would move over things that Nia could not see. Nia always imagined something loud and grand happening that only her mother could see, something dramatic. And Nia realized now that this was it. This quiet, utterly potent force was the voice of the Grandmothers, a psychic link to wisdom going back generation upon generation to a time no one could know in any other way than this.

            The triangle of web and the spider still stood out vivid and beckoning in Nia's mind. That one thread went to the spider and the three points of the triangle gave her the strength to defy gravity and find the place she sought to be. The voice spoke once more with a profound power in Nia's mind. Follow the thread. All of Nia's mind remained in absolute focus, as she sat still and quiet on the floor of the lab, lost to all the world beyond her own inner world and this outward manifestation that coalesced into one, tiny vision.

 

Chapter Text

            Lena woke and sat up, her thoughts quickly dragging themselves back into order in her mind. Her neck ached, and she reached back to feel a knot at the base of her skull. She took in where she was, a lab with sophisticated equipment even she would take seriously separated down the middle by a high tech glass wall. There was no visible door on her side. On the other side, Lex sat reading a tablet with a cup of coffee in his hand. When Lena woke up, Lex stood up and came to the glass wall.

            "I'm terribly sorry," Lex said and pointed. "There's something for that headache, and some decent breakfast." Lena did not trust Lex, but it did not matter anymore. She took a pair of pills and drank a glass of water. She opened a thermos and took a drink of coffee, made precisely the way she liked. That made her heart hurt, and she looked up at Lex. He stood there, rather apologetic. He raised his mug as if in an awkward toast. That gesture reminded her of a thousand mornings with Lex and made her chest ache and her eyes threaten to well over how much she had missed him. Fortunately, Lena was too tired and too angry to even begin to cry.

            "I promised mother I would get you for her if she got me out of prison. Given that you intended to leave me there forever, I had to agree to bad terms," Lex said.

            "I never would have left you there forever," Lena said and looked hard at her brother. As Lex considered this, the very corner of his mouth turned up.

            "I never promised to help her keep you," Lex said and raised one eyebrow briefly. Lena smirked at him, as well. They both knew Lena would get out of this place, no matter how it had been built. Even Lillian would know this, but she likely assumed she could get Lex to help her keep Lena there long enough for her to finish some work that Lillian wanted. Lex tucked the tablet under his arm and held up the energy core with the nanite suit closed around it.

            "You know how mother gets when she is jealous of someone else's tech. She's going to want one of these. As the head of the Luthor dynasty, she's always supposed to be the very first to have the very best. I have always said that you have the most elegant mind. My designs look so unsophisticated in comparison with yours," Lex said with a pensive smile.

            "I believe you were the one named the greatest mind of our generation and awarded as such," Lena said. Lex scoffed in a lighthearted way at that.

            "By old-fashioned misogynist guilds of scientists who never had any real vision. History will remember us both, but even the greatest innovators will stand with me in marveling at your designs when mine become seen as crass," Lex said.  

            "Flattery won't get you forgiveness, Lex."

            "The truth is not flattery, and I would try to get that by appealing to anything except your reason and understanding."

            After a pause, Lex suddenly started to read from his tablet. It was a news article. He had been catching up on everything he had missed, Lena figured. The article he chose made her jaw grip instantly.

            "Lena Luthor served as a key witness for the plaintiffs suing the ARB. While most of their case rested on the unconstitutionality of the new laws, no other voice could have carried more authority than Ms. Luthor's in convincing the Supreme Court of what the scientific community at large has long been saying in collective chorus, that there is no scientific evidence to back the belief that aliens threaten native forms of life on this planet. After the hearing, Ms. Luthor stated in her characteristic style, at once soft, sharp, and sarcastic, 'There are plenty of reasons for invested parties to say that aliens pose a unique threat to this planet. That aliens actually pose a threat to our planet just happens not to be one of those reasons.'" Lex looked up at Lena with his jaw gripped tight. He looked utterly overwhelmed. "How could you say that?"

            "Because it is unquestionable fact."

            "You know, I honestly struggle sometimes to convince myself that you really don't comprehend the threat that alien species pose to all life on this planet – that you're not just pretending, guided by some form of malice."

            "I've had my doubts about you as well. They pass. Do you even remember a time when you thought differently than you do now?"

            "Once I really started to think about it, I arrived here fast."

            "I remember how it began to gnaw at you. You couldn't shake the thought. And then you started to believe things with no new evidence to convince you, not even trumped up data spewed from one of those knowingly false scientific studies out of some partisan think-tank."

            "It simply stands to reason. How much of your science is in truth founded more upon theory and intuition than data? Will you continue dismissing every alien attack as coincidence? You stopped a Daxamite invasion yourself," Lex actually made a smile of utter astonishment and huffed a laugh at that last bit.

            "Actually, a lot of aliens helped me do that. They level out to the same balance we had before they came. That war lasted one day. Before the first alien set foot on this planet, we had already waged wars that lasted years. Decades, arguably. Even outside of war, human beings cause destruction on a scale that is impossible to comprehend. I don't see any difference."  

            "I see it. I see the difference."  

            "Explain it to me then."

            "This world is perched upon a precious ledge. One nudge is all it will take to throw it off balance in a way that cannot be righted ever."  

            "I know. Sometimes I think that you might be that nudge, and I will be the one who did not stop you." Lex was obviously hurt. He had to scoff a harsh, single laugh at this.

            "If anyone is going to provide that nudge, it will be Supergirl. She is the strongest being on earth remember? A force that was never meant to inhabit this world."  

            "There are so many forces that never should have existed in this world. Most of those are homegrown."   Lena watched Lex progressively growing desperate. She remained calm. She had seen this happen before.

            "Lena, what alien life forms bring to this planet both biological or technological will destroy us. How? How do you not see it, Lena? This is the end! The end of our very species! If we don't rise up, we will lose the life that has been cultivated against all odds on this earth!"

            "If I could just take away your fear, you would think differently. Look at you, Lex. Your heart is racing. Your adrenaline is pumping. You're in a state of primal panic. Why are you so afraid of death?"

            "I am not afraid to die. I have risked my life many, many times. I took on Superman, the most powerful being we had ever seen on this earth, and now I will take on Supergirl. Passively accepting ali