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Dreamboat

Chapter Text

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”

― Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It

She wants to do it, wants to say the words she learned for this occasion, wants to be the one who will ensure this soul makes it safely to a realm she herself doesn't believe in ; but she can't, she opens her mouth, and no words make it past her lips. A strong hand grabs her own, and though she doesn't want to be weak, she can't help but lean fully on the strong figure dressed in kryptonian's ceremonial robes. The Kryptonian's voice rings out, strong, and steady.

"Rao, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath your light, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of our beloved and our blameless, who went to their eternal place of rest. May You who are the source of mercy, shelter them beneath your light eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace."

Chapter Text

The weather today, is mercilessly warm. It's not even 8:00 am yet, and Lena is already sweating through her tank top. The radio host is ranting about global warming and how corporations are lying about green energy ; Lena changes the station when she catches her name, she doesn't need to hear about her failures again, not when today already sucks beyond comprehension.

Granted, the radio host is right, it's hot today, a sick and sweaty mixture of climate change and good old summer heat, but she's doing everything she can with LCorp to help with that. She goes to make a vocal note to develop a better air freshening system before remembering she's not in her usual car. She huffs, wiping her sweaty brow and promptly putting both hands back on the wheel ; clean energy or not, crashing a moving truck would still be catastrophic. With her thighs sticking to the seat, she can't bring herself to remember one good reason why she decided to do this herself.

Her destination comes into view, an old building covered in bricks with picturesque fire exits. Right, she remembers now. She's doing this to appear more human in the public eye. She's moving out of her giant and comfortable manor to the rent control side of town because being more down to Earth is good for her business. She would kick herself for agreeing to this if she weren't at risk of slipping in her own sweat and injuring herself.

When she reaches the parking spot she took the liberty of blocking out, there is a car already parked on it. It's not a big deal, technically she can go park somewhere else, but it's a dent in the plan she made for the day and a feeling of discomfort creeps at the back of her sweat covered neck. Like this morning, when she left the manor and realised she wouldn't be able to go through her usual routine, she feels uneasy. She considers driving back to her former home to make sure her books are in alphabetical order, then realises that it would be of little use, her books are packed in this very truck. She drives further down the street with some difficulty, this alley makes the path to the manor look like a bloody highway.

Lena sits in the truck for far too long, weighing her options, from turning around to texting Sam to ask her to fly from Metropolis ; completing the move seems so absurd now that she's actually in front of her new home. After an eternity of psyching herself up, she manages to unbuckle her seatbelt and open the door ; the heat radiating from the pavement immediately hits her like a freight train. She's never ever listening to her PR team ever again.

At least, the street is empty, the neighbourhood inhabitants most likely still lying in bed, wondering if the world really needs them to get up today. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees something move, a curtain falling back into place, and she wonders if they know a Luthor is setting up home next to them. Probably, and if not, it's bound to make the news soon anyway. She wonders if her hate mail will follow her here.

Fumbling with her keys with one hand, she checks her phone with the other, the screen still displaying Sam's message of good luck. The door to the building is stuck, because of course it is, and Lena has to shoulder it to get it open. She considers texting Sam again, or Jess, to go back on her own refusal of employing movers, but she doesn't want to have to deal with people today, and instead steps into the poorly lit hallway.

Here goes nothing.

The dark hallway is surprisingly cool, and Lena welcomes the reprieve from the heat with more gusto than she thought she would. That is until she notices the elevator is broken, and she marches right back out.

She's barely outside and already dialling Jess' number, to hell if it's a Sunday, she needs to buy this building and she needs to do it now. She has no idea how this place tumbled to ruin in the short span since her last visit, but it cannot go on like that. The infuriating sun makes it hard to see her screen and Lena is just about ready to plummet into frustration, on the edge of which she's been since she got up this morning, when a shadow covers her, bringing the world back to acceptable brightness.

Lena lifts her head taking in the form in front of her. The person is tall and their features are hidden in their own shadow. For a short, yet infinite second, they gauge each other, before the figure moves to the right, then to the left, trying to get around Lena but getting stuck when she does the same. The figure chuckles, and their laugh sounds like a cool breeze on a summer day, and though Lena doesn't quite understand why, she wants to hear this sound again.

"I'm sorry," the voice attached to the laugh says, "you're trying to get out, I'm trying to get in, I'll just move and let you go through."

"I," Lena starts, her own voice sounding like sandpaper.

"Are you alright ?" the voice asks, deep with concern. "You look a bit distraught."

Lena prepares herself to answer, she's got a whole speech planned out for introducing herself to her new neighbours, but she makes the mistake of lifting her eyes and words and common sense escape her entirely. The voice belongs to a woman. A tall, broad shouldered woman with short unruly blond hair and twin deep pools in place of eyes. Her face is alive with emotions, halfway between worry and happiness, a small welcoming smile tugging at her lips and a twinkle of something in her gaze.

"Yes. Hi. I'm moving in today and I'm freaking out."

"That's understandable," the woman says, "moving house is a big thing. But that means we're going to be neighbours. I'm Kara. Kara Danvers."

Kara extends her hand and Lena reaches out without thinking about it. Handshakes are a known territory for her, but as soon as their hands touch Lena is thrown head first into the unknown. Kara’s hand is strong yet surprisingly soft and warm, and though they hang onto each over for a beat longer than is polite, she misses it as soon as she lets go.

"I’m Lena," she says, and for some reason, her own name has never sounded so silly to her ears.

"It’s nice to meet you Lena," Kara replies, Lena's name catching on her tongue in an enticing way that contrasts so much with the way it sounded in her own mouth seconds ago that she wonders if it's the only way it's was ever meant to be said. Her hand hesitantly retracts to her own space in a way that has Lena hope that she too wanted to hold on a little while longer. "Will you be," Kara starts, stammering for the first time since the beginning of their conversation, "will you be needing help with moving in ? Well, I mean, you probably have friends coming in to help you, but I'm quite efficient when it comes to carrying heavy stuff."

No, nobody's coming to help Lena. Her best friend lives hundred of miles away and none of her acquaintances would do something as mundane as carrying boxes. And she refused to rope her already overworked secretary into doing this. "I was actually planning on doing everything on my own," she replies, her words causing Kara's smile to fade a little. "But with the heat, help would certainly be welcomed. Unless, well it's a Sunday, so you probably have better things to do."

"What is there to do on a Sunday ?" Kara asks, her smile returning to its previous level. "Carrying boxes is a good work out and I'm just meeting my sister and her fiancée for lunch. Until then, I'm at your entire disposal." Lena really likes the sound of that. "Unless this was a very polite way of telling me to leave you alone,” Kara adds hastily, a frown creasing her golden forehead.

"No, no," Lena says, nearly stumbling over her usually pristine words in an attempt to reassure the near stranger before her. "I do need help. I admittedly didn't choose the best day to move in and if I have to carry everything to the fourth floor by myself I won't make it to the end of the day."

"You're not in bad shape," Kara remarks, eyeing her in a way that isn't unpleasant though it is premature in the social decorum drilled into Lena. "Sorry," she adds like she somehow read Lena's subconscious thought, "I’m not sure this was a socially acceptable thing to say."

"No, no, it's okay," Lena says, trying to fight the blush that is no doubt taking hold of her cheeks, unless it comes from the unbearable heat catching up with her. "Though my mother would disagree with you," she adds, with no precision over what her mother would disagree with. Of their own accord her eyes rack up and down Kara's body, and without consulting her first, her mouth forms the words : "You're not in bad shape yourself."

Kara smile, a bit surprised, a bit teasing ; the blush that Lena can now most definitely feel, is not from the weather at all.

***

As it turns out, Kara doesn’t just look in shape, she is the very definition of it. Lena figures that out from the get go, when Kara starts piling up boxes and carrying them like it's nothing when she herself struggles to just lift one, yet alone drag it up four floors. After the seventh trip (why in the name of all that is holy did Lena thought packing up all of her library without hiring someone to carry it for her was a good idea, she cannot remember), when her legs, lungs, and everything else relating to basic body function are ready to collapse, her new neighbour gently pries a not so heavy box out of her hands and instructs her to start putting things away instead. She wants to protest, really, but her brain is otherwise occupied, half trying to commit Kara's biceps to memory, though everything screams that she shouldn't, half cursing the friends she doesn't have to help her move in.

"At least," Kara says when she returns from the eighth trip with still not a bead of sweat in sight, "you've had the clarity of having your furniture brought in earlier, that would have been another story."

She doesn't look exhausted in the least, but Lena beckons her closer nonetheless, offering a tall glass of water that she found in a cupboard in which glasses shouldn't be stored at all.

"Can I at least know what in this boxes ? You have a lot of them."

"Human body parts," Lena deadpans as if it's not a completely disturbing thing to say to someone you just met. "I'm sorry," she adds, "these are all my books."

Kara looks at her like she doesn't quite know what to make of her and Lena would beat herself but her neighbour chuckles lightly and she releases a deep breath that was uncomfortable to hold. "Well, this doesn't smell like a decaying body, so I'm going to trust you, and assume these are books," she says, motioning to the boxes and spilling half of her untouched water doing so. "Or what I think dead bodies would smell like, because I don't know what dead bodies smell like" she scrambles to add, a weird look shading her eyes for a split second. She suddenly looks unsure of herself, out of place, and it's unsettling because she spent most of their morning together looking generally handsome and confident. She gulps down what's left of her water and refills her glass, downing it too in mere seconds.

Lena follows a drop of water making its way down her chin, her neck, before disappearing under the collar of her shirt ; she's never regretted making a weird joke that much. "That's why you don't have friends," she mutters under her breath, or at least she thinks she whispered, because Kara's expression shifts again, like she heard what she said, and Lena has to stop counting the frayed threads of her shorts (there are thirteen) to find something to say. "I promise these are just books, I have an extensive collection of them. I don't cut up people, not for a living and not as a hobby, only machines."

"Machines ?" Kara repeats, her voice alive with curiosity.

"I'm an engineer," Lena replies with a dismissive wave of the hand.

Her words ends up sounding more like a question than an affirmation, surely because Lena isn't quite an engineer anymore, but it occurs to her then and there that there is no sign of recognition in Kara's eyes, and that there hasn't been one since they met on the porch. No "shit it's Lena Luthor" moment, no disgust, no prying. Maybe Kara doesn't have a TV, or maybe she just woke up from a six months long coma and missed the demise of the great Lex Luthor and the subsequent take over of the company by a "spoiled out of touch ice heiress", because what matters aren't her multiple diplomas, but the fact that she's a Luthor. Now that she's been dragged in the spotlight, nobody cares that she's got three phds, it's not newsworthy, unlike, apparently her supposed insane salary and her inherited manor. She's so deep in her, admittedly, self depreciative thoughts that she doesn't even realise Kara is talking again.

"... food ?"

"I'm sorry," she says as earnestly as she can. "I lost track for a second."

"It's okay," Kara says with a warm smile. "I was just saying that I could carry up the last couple of boxes and then we could get food, a morning snack ?"

"I only have oat," Lena says, her frown seeping all the way into her tone. "And tea."

"Horse food ?" Kara asks with a snicker. "It's okay, I have real food at home."

"No, for porridge," Lena says slowly, the appeal of her favourite meal disappearing more and more as her body empties of its sweat. "You know what, never mind, I'll let you feed me. But you'll have to let me repay you. For carrying my boxes, and the food."

"I don't mind carrying stuff, and sharing my food," Kara replies like the thought of being paid back is the most incongruous thing she's ever heard. "And it's a good getting to know your neighbour exercise."

"Are you secretly a mover ?" Lena asks, arching a teasing eyebrow as she tries her best to get back in her previous mood.

Kara shrugs, a small self-conscious smile dancing on her lips. "Not at all, I just like being useful."

"Do you carry boxes for a lot of people ?" Lena enquiries, trying as best as she can to not sound as interested as she is by this tidbit of information.

"Just you actually," Kara answers with a smile that is much too charming to be legal. "And I carry Mrs Meyer's groceries when her son can't help. Well, I also help Alex  each time she moves, but it doesn't count, she's my sister."

Lena's heart clenches at the familiar way Kara casually mentions this Alex, the mere idea of someone in the life of her neighbour, who's barely more than a stranger, suddenly unbearable though she isn't sure why and certainly doesn't want to feel that way. It clenches harder at the mention of siblings, because know she's thinking about Lex.

"I'm talking, I'm talking," Kara says, derailing Lena's dangerous train of thought, "but this boxes won't get themselves up the stairs. I'll let you  start unpacking, and I'll be back with the rest in a minute, okay ?"

Lena must agree somehow, because Kara exits her apartment and she's left all alone with a clutter of boxes that make her uncomfortable, and Lex in her head.

***

By the time they're sitting at her brand new dinner table with a drink that is equal part sugar and coffee for Kara, tea, and an insane amount of breakfast food, the rest of the building is starting to wake up. Chairs are being dragged on the floor above them, people bang on walls for absolutely no reason, and Lena wonders, for the nth time today, why she decided to listen to her PR team when she could have stayed in her quiet and remote manor. Kara seems to notice her discomfort and assures her that she'll learn to tune everything out, eventually. To take her mind off everything, she proceeds to introduce all of her new neighbours, floor by floor, regaling her with more or less horrifying tales about each of them. Lena would like to point out that it isn't really effective, but Kara has a very nice voice, so she doesn't.

She learns that Mrs Meyer has six cats and is a war widow. Her son doesn't visit much and on Halloween, she makes the best pumpkin cookies. The couple on the second floor just had twins and they started a competition with the toddler on the third floor to determine who can scream the loudest. The twins are winning. Cyril on the ground floor is a baker and makes rainbow bread for Pride every year. Lena stops listening somewhere around the retelling of this year roof top party, that included the third floor toddler throwing expensive vegan sausages on passersby below, to instead focus on the cadenza of Kara's voice. She sips her tea, looking out the window and somewhere between a crooked word and the enticing way Kara keeps on saying her name, she forgets about the ill arranged boxes cluttering her living room and her simmering wish to find another place to live.

The heat, the food, and the strangely comforting voice of her new neighbour are slowly lulling Lena into a dazed state that isn't quite sleep, but certainly isn't full consciousness either. It would be almost nice, if there wasn't also a river of sweat making its way down her exhausted body. She wonders why Kara isn't sweaty at all ; her biceps would surely look nice like that, strong and glistening, which is not a though to be had but she can't bring herself to care right now.

Her neighbour starts buzzing, which is strange until it isn't because it's just a phone that Kara extracts from her back pocket with more dexterity that one should have.

"Shoot," she says to the phone bringing it to her ear with a sheepish smile. "Hey Alex... No. No I didn't forget. It's Sunday, we always get lunch on Sunday... I can hear you at the door... No I'm not home... At a neighbour next door. I was helping her out... I'll be here in a minute. Love you."

She hangs up with an apologetic expression, and something that isn't unlike what Lena wants to see as disappointment. "That was my sister," she says, already rising from the chair, her lean body unfolding with far more grace than Lena herself can muster. "I have to go, but I live just next door if you need something. Don't hesitate. I'm sorry, I talk a lot sometimes, I promise I'll let you lead the conversation next time. If you want."

"It was nice, actually," Lena replies as reassuring as she can. "You're great at telling stories, and you seem to care a lot about everyone in this building."

"Oh," Kara murmurs somewhat self consciously. "It's because I like stories, and people, and stories about people."

"Aren't all stories about people ?" Lena prompts, eager to keep the conversation going even when Kara already has her hand on the doorknob.

"Well no," Kara replies brazenly, in a way one can only do when they have really thought about the matter at hand. "I could tell you a story about space, and it would have nothing to do with people at all."

"I guess I had never thought about it that way," Lena says slowly, mulling over the statement at the same time as she speaks.

"I could also tell you a story about space that has everything to do with people," Kara adds as she opens the door, "so I suppose some stories are about people, and some aren't."

"Seems fair."

"I'll tell you about space sometimes," Kara says with a dazzling grin of the illegal sort.

"I have a degree in astrophysics," Lena deadpans.

"You do ?" Kara asks with an even bigger smile, something that Lena didn't know was possible only moments ago. "Then we can talk about space on an equal footing. We could talk about space right now, but my sister is being impatient in an annoying sister way so I really have to go."

"I wouldn't know," Lena says with a small smile, not thinking about Lex at all.

As she speaks, Lena glances at said sister over Kara's shoulder. Standing with grocery bags in the hallway, she looks mildly irked and not at all like Kara. She's shorter, Lena thinks, with reddish hair uneven on the sides, and what could pass as a permanent frown if it weren't for the glint of sibling love shining in her eyes. This isn't what strikes her most though, but the nagging feeling that she knows her, that if they haven't met, she's at least seen her somewhere before. The thought occupies most of her brain power as she watches Kara strutting towards her sister and taking the bags like they weight nothing ; but Alex nods hello with no sign of recognition and Lena shakes her head in disbelief, maybe she just walked past her one day, or they didn't match on Tinder.

***

Barring the broken elevator and the somewhat loud neighbours, this isn't such a bad place to live, Lena decides after a shower, standing naked in her living room, shielded from prying eyes and the hot summer light by designer blinds. It's in a good neighbourhood, with schools, not that this matters to her, and easy access to public transports, not that she takes public transports in the first place. Maybe she should, maybe it would be good publicity. The apartment is spacious, which makes her think Kara and her are the only ones on this floor, and the windows bring in enough light for the place to be livable. Most of the walls and every room have been covered with tailored bookshelves, and Lena spends the remainder of the day unpacking, organising and alphabetising her books in the living room, the bedroom, and the office. Despite her proficiency in arranging and tidying, some of them don't fit, and she ends up having to remove her less read one to exile them to a little shelf that she builds out of scraps and installs above the toilet.

The day is drawing to an end, but with no promise of a cooler night, Lena doesn't really take notice of this. She's skipped lunch, and is well on her way to also skip dinner, trying to pick a shard out of her thigh because she made the ill advised decision of tinkering in her underwear, when a sharp knock sounds at the door. The noise startles her, and immediately, uneasiness fills her empty stomach. It's not the reaction she wants to have, not the one she should have to this distinctive knock, but dread settles over her nonetheless. Hastily, she removes the splinter from her leg, haphasardly wiping the blood with the back of her hand before navigating between empty boxes to make her way to the door.

"This place is a fucking dumpster Lee," her girlfriend says with a scowl, "you should have just bought a penthouse like a normal person instead of trying to be original." Leaning forward, Veronica Sinclair presses a sharp kiss to Lena's lips before bypassing her to make her way into the apartment.

"Hello to you too Ronnie."

Chapter Text

"Kara's new neighbour is Lena Luthor," Alex says as soon as Kelly enters the apartment.

"I know that babe," her fiancée replies laughing. "It's written on her mailbox. But I do wonder what she's doing here."

"Probably has something to do with the dozens of articles written about her downplaying her work to focus on her lack of people skills and her supposed lavish lifestyle. 'Lena Ice Queen Luthor, Will The Cold Genius Snap Like Her Brother ?' 'Out Of Touch Luthor Heiress To Take Over Family Company' 'Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About The Luthor Manor' 'Exclusive ! Lena Luthor Makes More In A Month Than You Will In Your Life' and my personal favourite 'When Will Female Lex Luthor Blow Up National City ?'."

Kara doesn't mean to be so virulent, but she's getting tired of people focusing solely on the Luthor part of Lena Luthor when the woman in question seems so amazing. She's only known her for a couple of hours, and maybe it's silly, but she's pretty and she wants to talk to her about stars. She's been keeping up with the Luthors, of course she has, for Kal's sake mostly, but also because LCorp is a leading technological firm, and Kara is very, very, into science.

Kelly shoots her a curious look silently asking Alex what's going on, but her fiancée only shrugs, a gesture that screams "She's been going on and on about this for the past hour, please don't ask."

"I take it that you've met her," Kelly prompts nonetheless, eliciting a desperate sigh from Alex.

"I did," Kara replies somewhat harshly before forcing herself to calm down. "She needed some help with moving in, decided she could do it on her own, probably forgot that human aren't built to carry such heavy loads in this weather. She's nice."

"You didn't fangirl, did you ?" Kelly asks with a teasing smirk that is so similar to her sister's that Kara can't help but roll her eyes.

"No I didn't," she says, turning towards the oven to retrieve, bare handed, a perfectly cooked zucchini and goat cheese pie.

"God I hate it when you do that," Kelly mumbles, averting her eyes.

"She looked distraught. I wasn't going to assault her about how much I like her thesis on the compatibility between alien prosthetics and the human body. I was just being a good neighbour." That last statement brings back vivid flashes of Lena in her tight tank top, glistening with sweat and out of breath and Kara shakes her head so fast to get rid of this thought that she nearly bangs it against a cupboard in dizziness.

"I'm sorry," Kelly says, reaching out to stabilise Kara. "I was just teasing."

"Well if you want to eat any time soon, I'd suggest less teasing and more setting the table," Kara mumbles, trying very hard not to thing about how her green dishcloth isn't unlike the colour of her neighbour's eyes. She fails ; if only because she has to berate herself for comparing Lena's eyes to something as mundane as a tea towel.

***

Kara doesn't hate the hot weather per se, she just hates the heat wave aspect of it. The reminder that this planet, her second home, is in peril, keeps her up more often than not these days. When she first came to Earth, summer was her favourite season, the warmth and the extended day light used to bring her a sense of comfort and safety ; now, she spends too much time dreading heat strokes from her loved ones and setting up water for bees to really enjoy it. As soon as the temperature goes above 100°F, she calls Eliza every day, making sure she's taking care of herself, and always ready to fly to Midvale before her Earth mum even has the time to pick up the phone.

She hangs up now, reassured about Eliza’s state, and brings back her focus to other, less frightening, things ; insects, buzzing around in the roof's garden, the sun warming her and charging her body. This is where she feels most at home in National City, not in her apartment, not at Alex's, but here, surrounded by as much nature as could be fit on top of the building. Alex often jokes and says she must have been a plant in a past life ; Kara often thinks it's true, even if it's a bit ridiculous. Kryptonians did not believe in reincarnation, but Kara learned to adapt to her new planet, and if she did have a past life, she hopes she was a Dar-Essa.

The sky above her seems infinitely blue, she knows it's not true, of course, there’s a limit to the sky, if only in terms of spacial laws and the Karman line ; but this hue, so particular to Earth, has always brought her a strange sort of comfort. They did have blue on Krypton, dozens of shades, though with names different from Earth's, but they didn't have this one. It's nice sometimes, to look at something that doesn't remind her of Krypton ; even though she does end up thinking about Krypton a lot. It’s because of Alex and Kelly’s upcoming wedding, she reckons, that she thinks so much about love, and family, and how things are so different here.

Her phone buzzes in her pocket, and she doesn’t bit back her annoyed groan when she recognise the ringtone ; it’s Sunday for Rao’s sake !

"Consultant Zor-El speaking," she says into the phone, "what can I do for you Assistant Director Danvers ?"

"No need to be so formal Kara," her sister sighs on the other end of the line.

"It’s Sunday and I was about to take a nap, I think I ought to be petty about it."

"And I was about to have mind blowing sex with my fiancée," Alex mutters to herself, though she knows Kara will hear her.

"You win this one," Kara grumbles, sitting up with discontent. "What can I do for you ?"

"We have," Alex starts before pausing, weighting her words, "kind of a situation here. It’s hard to explain on the phone, but we need your help."

"Alright, let me put on a shirt and I’ll be there in a minute."

"You were...?"

"I was sunbathing Alex, you don’t do that with clothes on !"

***

Kara usually is a fan of walking, even to the DEO which isn’t exactly close to her building. Whenever she can, she avoids tight enclosed spaces, cars, packed trains ; but the urgency yet strange hesitancy in Alex's voice compels her to take the fast route to the DEO, up up and away.

Nothing more than a blur, she's at the DEO in less than 45 seconds, flashing her badge to security and making her way into the control room where everybody is gathered around…

"What am I looking at exactly ?" Kara asks, coming behind Nia who doesn’t so much as flinch at her quick arrival.

"Saw you coming," she confirms with a wink at Kara’s silent question.

"That’s the thing," Brainy says to answer the one she vocalised. "We don’t exactly know. Director J’onn and myself thought you might have an idea."

"It looks like some kind of pill to me. Is it drug ?"

"That's what we're thinking too," Alex says, reaching out with a gloved hand to take a closer look at the pill. "But we had lab running tests on it and it isn't man made. Have you ever encountered anything like this ?"

"I wasn't taking drugs at 12 cycles," Kara replies snarkily, barely restraining an exasperated eye roll. "Do you have any witnesses ?" she adds in a gentler way, aware that most of them here also had to give up their peaceful Sunday to investigate another crisis. "If I know what it does, maybe I'll be able to help."

"More or less..."

"More or less ?" Kara repeats, "how can you more or less have witnesses ?" She does know what it means, but she needs the dreadful confirmation.

"We have three overdoses," Brainy cuts, exposing the facts in his usual clean and straight forward way. "And two apparent users who are unresponsive and can't help us in anyway. At this rate we have a probability of 13% of gaining information that way."

"Well I've never seen this in my life." Kara reaches out, motioning for Alex to pass her the pill. She brings the iridescent oval shape to eye level focusing on it until her vision goes around it and through her hand. "There's lead in it, so I can't do anything about this. I can ask around at the bar but I don't know if we'll get anything from this."

"Do you want to see the bodies ?" Alex asks, a bit too pragmatically for a Sunday evening.

"I guess I should." Kara grimaces, thinking about her leftover potstickers and the TV show she wanted to catch up on. "And I need to see the alive ones too."

Alex leads her into the depth of the DEO, to a place she tends to avoid when she's here. On their way to the morgue, she grabs a lab coat, emblasoned with the official logo, using it to cover what know feels like a very inappropriate loose white t-shirt. At least, she thinks, her jeans are clean.

The morgue is cold, and sanitised, everything Kara dislikes ; it reminds her of her pod, of the Phantom Zone. The bodies look peacefully asleep and she can't help but think that, if it weren't for the absence of breathing, they could, like her, wake up.

Alex briefly puts a comforting hand on her shoulder, its warmth cutting through the cold Kara doesn't normally feels.

She sets to work, x-raying the bodies, peering through brains and bones, shuddering at the motionless blood in the still veins. She even cradles one of them in her arms, checking its weight for any abnormal density.

"Nothing," she eventually says, turning towards Alex with a grim look. "Well, there are traces amount of lead, but not enough to be lethal. Have you ran scans on the others ?"

"We were about to, but I wanted to have your expertise first, in case we were to run tests that could interact poorly with the drug."

"Good idea."

"I've been known to have those from time to time," Alex teases, the tension seeping away as they step out of the morgue.

"Agent Danvers ?" Brainy's voice comes through the coms. "We seem to have a bit of a situation."

"What kind of situation Agent Dox ?" Alex asks with a sigh, her smile disappearing from her face.

"One of our patient is dead," Brainy replies matter-of-factly. "Our chances of finding out what is happening have dropped to 8%."

"Thanks you Agent Dox,” Alex sighs, defeat weighting down the few words she manages to say. "Can you ?" she asks to Kara motioning between their bodies and pointing up.

With only a nod for confirmation, Kara gathers her sister into her arms and shoots through the corridors, stopping only to swipe her card when necessary, the armoured doors frustratingly slowing them down. They reach the med bay in twenty-seven seconds.

"What can you tell me ?" Alex asks as soon as Kara's put her down. She clasps her arms behind her back, fighting a wave of nausea induced by their hectic travel up. Only Kara notices that ; to others, she looks as calm and collected as ever.

"There was an increase in brain activity a minute away before the death," a tall woman with vibrant pink hair says, swiping at her tablet until statistics appear on the far wall. "It spiked up then dropped down to zero, and the organs who already had a lower than usual activity shut down immediately. The heart was last."

"How much of an increase are we talking about ?" Alex asks, looking at the numbers in confusion.

"It tripled. I think it's safe to say his brain fried."

***

For the first time in months, Kara doesn't think about Lucy when she lays awake in bed. No, to keep her mind of the dead bodies, that she doesn't see much, but still too often for her liking, she thinks about Lena. Not the Luthor part of her, just about Lena ; what she knows about her, how little it is, and how much she'd like to know. She knows that there is more than meets the eye. Lena is more than her alluring body, and much, much more than what they show on TV. Kara heard it in her silences, her fumbled words turned sharp questions infused with infinite wit ; saw it in her measured gait, her guarded posture, and the way her eyes seemed to follow her everywhere. Her neighbour is enticing, mesmerising in the best of ways. The way she moves, placing herself in the world with caution, the way she looks at things, with genuine curiosity but a hint of restrain. She wants to know what books she reads, what her favourite colour is, if she likes autumn better than summer, her opinion on donuts and the semicolon.

Two sets of moans and panting reach her ears through the wall.

She can get to know Lena in a friend way. Friend is good.

***

Snapper is yelling. About what, Kara isn't quite sure exactly, but his voice sounds like shrapnel and the office smells like sweat and hot dust, and she really, really wishes she could go back to just twenty-four hours before. She wonders what it would take for Brainy to let her borrow his time ship. Maybe if she asks Nia to ask him...

"Danvers !" Snappers roars. "Are you listening ?"

"Yes sir," Kara replies, straightening her back out of instinct.

"Then what was I just saying ?"

"Less gossip, more news," Kara says, in the practiced way of someone who’s had to repeat this exact sentence a lot. "And you'd like for someone to report on LCorp next big release, I'd like to volunteer for that."

"What do you even know about science Danvers ?"

"I minored in Astrophysics sir."

"LCorp's new product is a solar powered high capacity emergency generator."

"I could work on that," Kara says, hope brimming in her voice.

"I'm giving it to Dey," Snappers cuts, already turning away to go about his day. "You're covering pelicans eating dump at the new recycling factory. I hope your nose isn't too sensitive."

"But..."

"And your tie is crooked."

With a wave of the hand, everybody's dismissed, and Kara is the first one out, courtesy of enough superpowers to be fast but unnoticeable ; there's no point of hanging around when Snapper won't let her prove herself anyway. Shouldering her messenger bag she makes a beeline for the elevator, straightening her tie in Cat's empty office's window. At the last moment, she makes a sharp turn, nearly colliding with some intern or another and taking the stairs instead. She doesn't feel like being trapped in a metal box right now, now matter how short the trip.

She spends the rest of the day wading in dumpsters, interviewing workers and specialists. Her head is going to explode from the smell and she has a feeling she'll never be able to get the stench off her favourite shirt but she'll be damned if this isn't the best article about garbage eating birds. At some point, a raccoon jumps out of nowhere and decides her tie would make a perfect lunch, ripping part of it and running away faster than Kara can dare to react.

By the time she finally makes it home, she's definitely convinced Rao must be having a laugh about her, because when she shoulders the stucked door, she bumps straight into Lena. Lena and her girlfriend, both impeccably dressed while Kara herself has dirt in her hair and her unsalvageable tie slung around her neck.

"Kara," Lena breathes out in greetings with a radiant smile.

And despite her bad day, despite everything, Kara can't help but smile in return. "Hi," she says quite eloquently, sheepishly rubbing her neck.

Lena's girlfriend clears her throat loudly and the bubble they weren't even aware they were in, bursts.

"Oh, right," Lena says, her face melting into a scarily blank expression. "Kara, this is my girlfriend Veronica Sinclair, Ronnie, this is..."

"... Kara Danvers from CatCo Magazine," Veronica cuts with a slightly terrifying grin. "I really liked your article on high waisted jeans, will you write a follow up ?"

"I didn't know you were a journalist," Lena says with a frown.

"Honestly Lena, do you ever pay attention to anything that isn't right under your nose ?" her girlfriend says sharply.

"I am," Kara replies, speaking exclusively to Lena and trying to not pay attention to whatever is going on between the two women ; she doesn't remember ever feeling so uneasy. "I was Cat Grant's assistant for a couple of years then she gave me a shot as a reporter. But I work at the National City Tribune now."

"I only read the science column," Lena says softly, half thinking to herself while she's speaking. "And the book report."

"Books and science, that's my Lena," Veronica chimes in with what is probably meant to be a smile but is leaning more toward a grimace.

"I'll ask Jess to give me the full paper next time," Lena muses to herself. "Have you published anything recently ?"

"I have a story on the new recycling plant going out tomorrow."

"That's reassuring," Lena says with a bright laugh, "I was staring to think your office was in the sewers."

Kara can't help but join in on her laughter, tension from her hard day seeping out of her body as her neighbour's face scrunches adorably.

"We're going to be late Lee," Veronica's voice cuts in, her cold tone rendering the term of endearment meaningless.

"Oh right," Lena says, straightening up and smoothing invisible wrinkles on her tight dress. "I'll see you around," she shoots at Kara as she follows Veronica out the door.

"I live right next door," Kara replies with a sudden burst confidence, "you'll see me plenty."

She earns a smile right before the door slams shut.

***

Late that night, late enough that it's already tomorrow, the door from Lena's apartment slams, causing Kara to jolt awake from a feverish vision of Veronica Sinclair eating her favourite tie. She's taken three showers and washed her clothes two times but still smells like a sewer rat.

No matter how much she tosses and turns, she finds it impossible to fall back asleep after, her hearing tuned into every single noise coming from Lena's apartment. It's a relief, because she isn't sure she can handle another dream of her neighbour's girlfriend snacking on her clothes ; but the longer she's awake in the heat and the lingering stench, the farther away the morning seems.

Thirty-seven minutes pass before she decides to get up, wrapping herself in a plaid shirt, more out of habit than because it's really necessary, and makes her way to the roof.

The night is quiet, and there's a whiff of breeze cooling it down just enough for the air to be breathable again. The night sky is clouded, making it difficult to see the stars, and though she could see past them if she wanted to, Kara doesn't feel much like looking for Krypton tonight. Every passing day could be the day her planet finally stops shining and if it has to be today, she'd rather not know it yet ; not when she's confused and smells like gunk.

"Can't sleep either ?" Lena's voice rings out from behind her.

Kara doesn't mull over how she already knows by heart the voice of a woman she's only met twice, she simply pats the spot beside her on the edge and scoots to make more room for her.

"Hard day," she says, "and now my brain won't shut up. You know," she dismisses with a careless wave of the hand choosing instead to focus on Lena. "Why are you up there ?"

"Just life keeping me awake," Lena replies with a sigh.

There's an edge to Lena's voice, something between sourness and exhaustion that warns Kara that she shouldn't pry, so she doesn't. They sit side by side in silence, wrapped in the peculiar comfort brought by someone who is not quite a stranger and not yet a friend. The city sleeps below their feet, cars occasionally passing by, planes flying up above. They breathe, focusing on nothing at all and everything at the same time, until Lena speaks again.

"I'm sorry about Veronica," she says softly, trying not to disturb the air around them. "She tends to be a bit harsh, but she's not a bad person."

"It's okay", Kara replies, though she isn't sure it really is okay. "I have a thick skin." Thicker than you could possibly imagine.

"Still, it wasn't very nice. I tried to get her to apologise but..."

"Don't sweat it, I won't get mad at you because your girlfriend was mean to me. People are mean to me all the time and I still get up every morning. It's just the way things are."

"It shouldn't be this way. I'll get her to apologise."

"It's okay. Honestly. Don't ruin your relationship over someone you barely know." Kara winces at the unintended double meaning of her words. "But if it makes you feel better, I accept the apology you don't owe me. And if you're happy with her and she treats you right then I don't care that she doesn't seem to like me very much."

"She's the right person for me," Lena says, averting her eyes when Kara catches her looking at her. Her statement answers Kara's question more than any other words could have.

Chapter Text

She knows she’s doing something she shouldn’t do, when she finds Kara on the roof for the second night in a row and her presence is no longer a coincidence, since it does seem to be her neighbour’s hang out spot, she knows she should turn around and occupy her sleepless time in her apartment. But Kara makes her feel safe, protected, unreasonably so for someone she doesn't even know, and when she sits next to the blonde on the roof’s edge, it's like she's breathing for the first time that day.

Kara welcomes her silently, but with an eloquent grin, and her stomach does somersaults at the way the moonlight catches on her smile. The night is cooler than the one before, the temperature having dropped down drastically after a much welcomed storm, and though the wind isn't that cold, Lena shivers nonetheless when it picks up. Seemingly unwilling to disturb the peacefulness of the night Kara wordlessly wraps her plaid shirt on her shoulders, exposing biceps that Lena doesn't look at.

"Thank you," she says, barely over a whisper, cautious not to break whatever spell is surrounding them.

"Wouldn’t want you to get cold," Kara replies, her voice low and raspy.

"But won’t you get cold ?" Lena points out.

Kara shrugs, the movement causing their shoulders to brush. "I don’t get cold."

Time passes in a strange fashion, and it could be a second, or two hours, before she speaks again in the same low quiet voice. "Life’s keeping you awake again ?"

Lena nods, then hums in acknowledgement of Kara's prompting but without actually answering her question. She doesn't feel like elaborating, doesn't want to weight down the night with complicated thoughts. She's met with a respectful silence, and Kara looking at her with a comprehensive smile before she turns back to the clouded sky with a forlorn look on her face. She indulges in the easy silence, something that Veronica never lets her have unless it's to her own advantage, and snuggles into the slightly too big shirt. It's impossibly soft, and smells of lavender and something sweet and spicy that is probably unique to Kara. Burying in the scent, she squashes the spark of guilt that arose at the thought of her girlfriend.

***

Lena wakes up to Veronica still giving her the cold shoulder. She double texts again, knowing full well that she won't get an answer until Veronica decides she's worth her while ; it's always like that with her.

That single thought is enough to overturn her stomach, her whole body suddenly filled with rocks and thorns. She shouldn't think like that, she should be grateful to have Veronica in her life, she is grateful to have her in her life. She is a complicated person to be with and Veronica still loves her ; she shouldn't resent her for needing a break when Lena so clearly did something to upset her.

And even if Lena didn't do anything, even if it's just her usual feeling of unworthiness, she still shouldn't have bad thoughts about her girlfriend. What if she's hurt, or dead, and that's why she isn't texting back. Or worse, what if Lena's negative feelings lead to something terrible happening. She shakes her head at this one, trying to get rid of the disturbing thought by thinking about positive things, like their first kiss, when she rented out an art gallery for them, or their most recent vacation, when she bought an island for her. She tries to crush any negative ideas by layering them with positive memories, starting over several times when she loses track for fear that something bad will happen.

By the time she manages to get out of bed she’s late for work and she trips twice on her way to the bathroom, still unaccustomed to the layout of her new place. The person that stares back at her in the mirror looks terrible, with deep shadows under their eyes and a sick complexion. As she splashes water on her face, she starts feeling ridiculous ; bad things don't happen just because you think about them. And yet…

She rubs her hands twenty-three times when she washes them.

She changes her outfit three times, calls Jess twice to tell her she's going to be late and skips breakfast ; who needs food anyway. Veronica did point out after all that she's put on a bit of weight lately. She's ready to leave, keys in hand, heels on her feet, purse slung over her shoulder, but she doesn't cross the threshold, cannot bring herself to do it without dread squeezing at her lungs, making it impossible to breathe.

Something bad is going to happen, she knows it.

Hesitantly, she looks back at her bedroom and takes a deep breath, marching right to it. If she needs to do it, fine, she’ll do it. Her childhood teddy bear, check, the picture of her birth mother, check, the snow globe Ruby gave her, check, her Superman PEZ dispenser, check, her first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone, check, her first chess trophy, check, the bear shaped rock she found on a beach in Ireland, check. They're on the dresser, easy to see, easy to count ; she does it five times, and when it's not enough, seven. She stops at eleven, less convinced that the world is about to end, and, after checking three times that the door is locked, finally makes her way to work.

***

Lena gets to work at 8:10 which is ten minutes too late and by half past ten, she's ready to either commit murder or launch herself from her balcony ; neither being suitable options in term of company  image as Jess kindly reminds her with a joke that would make her laugh most other days. Before the clock strikes eleven, she's making her way down to R&D, heels swapped for sneakers and blazer abandoned in favour of a lab coat, monogrammed, so people won’t forget she's the boss. The heavy armoured door closes behind her with a hiss and she's able to breathe for half a second before she's welcomed by a chorus of "Good morning Miss Luthor" and she remembers that to get to her private lab, she has to cross the common area first.

Her new head of R&D, Jack Ball, or Round, or something equally insignificant, is on her before she even has the time to take a second breath, talking a mile a minute about their progress on surgical bots. She makes her way through the lab as fast as she can while listening as politely as she can manage to, she glances down at the name tag, Jack Spheer, that's his name. It's not that she doesn't like the guy, he's clever and well mannered ; but he currently occupies her job, doing the work she would be doing if she weren't stuck some thirty floors above this room, in a glass cage, signing papers all day and dealing with old men who think they know more about LCorp than she does. If Lex hadn't levelled a city trying to get to Superman, she would be here, working on advanced surgical bots, instead of up there with a target on her back. With one last polite smile, that might be permanently etched on her face at this point, and the promise to review his work anytime but now, she finally locks herself in her lab, nearly sliding to the ground in exhaustion as soon as the door closes.

Her newest prosthetic is waiting for her where she left it, a kinetically powered nth metal arm for which she's trying to develop better machine to human nerve connection. Out of her pocket, she extracts a small USB drive that she sticks into a hidden port in the arm, and starts uploading the new code she wrote for it. For a blissful minute, the drive glows a reassuring blue before it fizzle, along with the prosthetic, and everything shuts down with a loud pop, followed by the stench of burnt wires.

She doesn't panic, at all. Not when she can't see anything through her soot covered goggles, not even when her sleeve catches on fire as she tries to localise the source of the smoke. She doesn't allow herself to feel anything but cold focus until the fire is controlled and her life work is safe ; only then does she acknowledges the wild beating of her heart, the way her breathing is raged and air seems filled with thorns.

It's this chain of events, she reckons, that leads her to actually answering the phone when her mother calls.

"Mother," she says in lieu of a greeting, "what did I do this time ?"

"Hello Lena," Lillian Luthor says on the other end of the line with something akin to mild amusement in her voice. "You didn't do anything wrong ; why would you believe such a thing ?"

"Because for the past seven months, you've only called me to berate me about one thing or another. So, what did I do ? And can you make it quick, I'm busy."

"I was actually calling to congratulate you on your solar powered generator dear ;  the results are amazing."

"You were...?" Lena questions hesitantly, a spark of hope blooming in her chest despite everything.

"I was," Lillian confirms, "you did a good job Lena. Appointing you at the head of the company was definitely a great idea. All you have to do now is be photographed around that new neighbourhood of yours and the stocks should truly go back up."

"I'll do what I can," Lena agrees, almost high on the closest thing to a praise she’s ever gotten from her mother.

"However," Lillian says, "Veronica did call me about your latest tantrum."

"Of course she did," Lena mumbles to herself, cold washing over her. "I didn't throw a tantrum. We merely had a disagreement."

"She really cares you know. It's a rare thing."

"I do know."

"Then call her, take her to dinner, make amend."

"I would if she'd return my calls."

"She will. Your fight really saddened her and she needed a little time."

Lena sighs, gesturing dismissively before she remembers her mother can't see her. "I just wish she would talk to me about this, instead of calling you every single time."

"She would if you were more open,” Lillian scolds. “She really care about you, but if you push her away…”

"I didn't push her away," Lena says slowly as she thinks it over. Didn't she though ? Didn't pressing her about a subject she didn't want to change her mind about amount to pushing her away ? "I'll apologise," she says finally, her voice weaker than she wishes it to be.

"This is the right thing to do," Lillian replies, "that's all she wants."

Something about this doesn't sit right with Lena, something she can't quite put her finger on ; nonetheless, she agrees with her mother and hangs up.

***

Surprisingly, Veronica ends up being the one who calls first ; not to apologise, but to inquire of Lena's presence at the charity dinner she's organising at her casino on the waterfront. Though Lena longs for nothing else than a quiet night at home where she'll be able to rewrite her code and certainly not go on the roof with Kara, she agrees. After all, she did forgot about this dinner in the first place, despite it being underlined twice on her calendar, so she now has two things to be forgiven for.

Lena is good at convincing herself of things, it's a useful skill she tediously acquired during her time with the Luthors ; and so she convinces herself that things will be alright. She goes through the rest of the day with little thoughts for Veronica and their upcoming evening and instead focuses on paperwork, nearly forgetting to eat lunch if it weren't for Jess and her salad.

Lena is good at convincing herself of things, and so of course, everything goes to shit. It starts when Veronica picks her up at her apartment instead of meeting her at the casino like Lena assumed she would. She all but drags her out of her home, deterring her from completing her routine with a pointed sigh and the knowledge that she needs to go her way if she doesn't want for Veronica to break up with her. The world feels as though it's about to collapse on her but her girlfriend pays her no mind as she rambles on and on about how hard it is for her to support charities with her small fortune and how easy it must be to be Lena, rich beyond measure. She promises to write her a hefty check but it doesn't stop Veronica's tirade. She doesn't stop talking until her L-car, a gift from Lena, stops in front of the casino, only then does she take a short breath before saying "And for the love of God, don't be weird tonight," while pointedly looking at the expensive bracelet Lena has been toying with for the entire ride.

It's stress, Lena reasons, just stress. Veronica still loves her.

Things don't get much better during dinner itself. Veronica plays hostess, and Lena plays arm candy, trying to put a damper on her enthusiasm everytime someone asks about one of her projects. When it happens, she does her best to bring the conversation back to her girlfriend. In front of her attendees, Veronica is perfect, but behind the scene, it's a different story ; she spends the night throwing jabs at Lena, criticising her every move, going as far as mocking the dress she chose to wear because it's usually one of her girlfriend's favourite. Lena takes it in stride, letting it pile up over her already more than shitty day because she knows she did something to anger her and she just needs to let the storm pass until Ronnie is sweet and caring again. She apologises ten times, adds a zero to her check, and gratefully loses extra cash during a staged poker game, but nothing seems to be enough.

Failed dinner parties and public humiliation are something that Lena can take, she's mostly used to it, but Veronica isn't, and when the tension between them starts to be noticed and discussed, she snaps.

"I'm sorry," Lena says, trying to ignore the burning on her wrist as her girlfriend forcefully drags her behind a hidden door. "I had a hard day."

"You always have excuses," Veronica snarks, "do you rehearse them so you don't have to act like a normal person ?"

"Listen, if I angered you with my comment the other day, I truly I’m sorry, it wasn’t my place to criticise your views on the world."

"It’s not about that Lena !"

"Then what is it," Lena pleads, hating the waver of her voice. "Please tell me so we can fix this."

"God, are you so self-centered that you really don’t understand anything at all ?! Everything is always about you, the great Lena Luthor ! Tonight was supposed to be my night, yet, all people can talk about is you. How smart you are, your latest great invention, and did you really have to add a zero to your check just to prove you’re richer than me ?"

"I thought it would make you happy…"

"It’s hard being your girlfriend, you know ? I’m constantly in the shadows, you always have to prove you’re better than me."

"I don’t do it on purpose," Lena interrupts weakly, picking at her bracelet in an effort to stay focused, to remember that Veronica loves her and it's only normal that the two of them talk like that when she needs to be reminded of how lucky she is to have her as her girlfriend.

"And that thing you do !" Veronica shouts, "guilt tripping me with your quirks so I’ll have to take care of you because you can’t bother to be like the rest of us !"

"I can’t help it…"

"Some days, there are just no rewards for loving you."

"I’m sorry…"

"Just go home. I’ll handle the rest of the party. I’ll find an excuse for you. Just go. I’ll call you later."

***

Lena doesn’t cry herself to sleep. She merely doesn’t go to sleep at all. There’s no use in going to bed if she knows all she’s going to do is toss and turn until the world is too much and she has to get up anyway. Instead, she takes a long, scorching shower, puts on her comfiest sweatpants, and settles in her home office to rewrite her prosthetic's code. She works until the early hours of the morning switching to a new algorithm for Veronica's poker app when the sun starts peeking over the horizon. She relocates her body, mind, and extra large coffee to LCorp before the clock strikes seven.

She spends most of her day grovelling, not to get back in her girlfriend's good graces, but to have several new projects approved by her useless board. It occurs to her, after she nearly beheads Jack from R&D, that she should have slept on it, as one says, to get a fresh perspective on her relationship, and to avoid bringing her personal life into work. But Lena is a woman of science, of algorithms and wires, not of people, and human relationships have always puzzled her. In comparison to human beings, quantum physics is easy.

She decides to give her space, holding on to the promise that she will indeed call, and reckoning that Veronica probably needs a break from the work that is dating Lena Luthor. Thursday is terrible. She refuses to follow her own routine in order to be better for Veronica and ends up panicking on her way to work ; she has Frank circling the building thrice before she can get out of the car. Jess has to go home after lunch because of food poisoning, and her prosthetic blows up in her face again. Veronica doesn't call her, and Sam is busy with her move and she doesn't want to bother her with her problems. When she hears Kara walking past her apartment around one in the morning, she nearly follows her to the roof, if only to feel safe for five minutes ; she doesn't.

Friday is a bit better. Jess comes back bright and cheery with an extra donut and she manages to input the new code without blowing anything up. It still doesn't work perfectly, but it's better than it previously was. Her day improves even more when she comes back from a meeting to two missed calls from Veronica. It's a peculiar sort of improvement, because her relief is filled with dread, but she squashes it, she is happy that her girlfriend called her.

"Hey," she says when she calls her back, holding the phone to her ear with one hand and trying to open her salad with the other. "I'm sorry I missed your call, I was in a meeting."

"Good," Veronica replies, "I thought you were giving me the silent treatment for a moment."

"I wouldn't do that," Lena says, swearing under her breath when her salad escapes her grasp and olive oil jumps on her, leaving a greasy stain on her white shirt.

"Listen, I wanted to apologise for the other night. I was stressed and I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I mean, we were clearly both part of the problem, but we should have communicated better and I shouldn't have talked to you like that, I'm sorry."

"It's okay, I can understand that it's not always easy to be with me."

"Still, I shouldn't treat you like that, I promise I'll do better. Will you forgive me ?"

"Of course I forgive you," Lena says with a smile that Veronica can't see, but that she certainly can hear.

"Thank you so much Lee, I'll do better, I promise."

"I'll do better too," Lena replies, her smile falling a little at the mountain she'll have to climb to be worth it.

"Are you free tomorrow ? We could go to that bookshop you like. Or even go to several bookshops, make a day out of it and then get dinner and get back to my place for a movie ?"

And there she is, Lena thinks, her smile making a full blown reappearance, her sweet and caring Veronica.

Chapter Text

"Are you okay ?" Alex asks, threading her fingers in her sister's hair. "It's getting a bit long, do you want me to cut it ?"

Kara used to fiercely dislike people playing with her hair, but now that they're short, it's rather enjoyable, and she leans into the hand before nodding. "I had a hard week, but I'm okay now."

"I'll go get the clipper, and you can tell me what's going on."

"Nothing is going on really," Kara says in between two handfuls of organic cheetos, a leftover impact from Maggie's passage in their lives. "Except for global warming. And Snapper is being mean again."

"He's still giving you a hard time about James ?" Alex asks, returning with the clipper and motioning for Kara to move to the floor. "You know it's not your fault. But maybe you could ask Cat for help, she could set his head straight."

"It is kind of my fault Alex," Kara replies, leaning against her sister's legs. "My girlfriend left me for my best friend and they both moved to the other side of the country robbing Snapper of his favourite photographer in the process. It's got everything to do with me. And I can't really talk to Cat because the last time I asked for advice, she thought I meant I had a date and told me to wear blue before hanging up."

"Well blue is your colour," Alex jokes, lightly shoving her shoulder. Kara goes along with the movement even though it would take much much more than that for anyone to move her against her will. It's a habit she took a long time ago.

"I know that," she sighs, "but it's not the kind of advice I need right now. How can I prove myself to this jerk if he won't let me do it ? I can't spend the rest of my life interviewing old people and birds !"

"Then don't ask for his permission. Write that piece on LCorp you wanted to do and shove it in his face. Lena Luthor is your goddamn neighbour, you could even get an exclusive !"

"You think that would work ?" Kara asks, turning to look at Alex before letting herself be moved back to her previous position.

"I don't know. But if you never try, you'll never know. Now stop moving, or you'll be down one ear when I'm done with you."

Kara freeze, making herself as still as a century old statue as her sister works on her hair. Only her eyes are moving, following the mindless plot on the TV. "Could you do me a favour ?" she asks after a while.

"Go ahead," Alex says, turning the clipper off and brushing stray hair off of Kara's shoulders.

"Do you think you could look into someone for me ? Or use one of your connection to do it ?"

"Depends on who you need info on. And why."

"Veronica Sinclair," Kara says, not moving an inch for fear that if she so much as breathe, her hesitancy will show in her voice.

"The casino heiress ? Why ?"

"She's dating Lena and..."

"Kara no," Alex groans, "you've known the girl for less than a week."

"Kara yes," she replies in all seriousness. "I’d need to know if there’s been any complaint filed against her by previous partners."

"Regarding what ?" Alex asks, though she already has an inkling as to what Kara is going to say.

"Domestic abuse. Or maybe restraining orders from her exes."

"You think...?"

"I kind of overheard a couple of things at Catco ?" Kara says tentatively. "And Lena looked uncomfortable when I saw them together, also when I talked to her afterward. Veronica kept on diminishing her, it was weird. There's something shady about their relationship. It's toxic, at the very least, I don't need to have interacted with them much to know that. And I'd like to get ahead of it, in case something happens."

"I'll see what I can do," Alex promises, because when it comes to her sister, she'll always do everything she can even if it’s insane. "But this girl that you barely know is not your responsibility. Don't do anything stupid."

"Define stupid ?" Kara says, turning around with a taunting grin.

Alex rolls her eyes before ruffling her sister's pristine hair and using her head as leverage to get up. "Don't fall in love with her. Don't beat up her girlfriend."

"I'll see what I can do," Kara echoes.

"Maggie has been pestering me about drinks for weeks anyway," Alex says from the kitchen where she's grabbing wine glasses. "So I'll take her up on her offer and kill two birds with one stone."

"You don't have to see Maggie for that. I can find another source."

"Kelly is okay with me seeing her," Alex replies matter-of-factly, plopping back down on the couch.

"But are you okay with seeing her ?" Kara prompts gently when Alex hides herself behind her wine.

Alex shrugs, focusing on the television that now displays a weird cereal commercial. "She's been asking to see me everytime she's been in town for the past two years."

"And you've never taken her up on her offer."

"I'm happy, and I'm getting married. I can go out for drinks with my ex and use her for information," Alex replies with an air of finality.

"Alright," Kara says, well versed by now in the art of Alex Danvers and knowing when to push and when to back down. "But I won't be mad if you change your mind. And I'll be there for you if you do decide to go and it doesn't go well."

"I know that," Alex sighs, leaning into her sister, her glass of wine precariously balanced in one hand. "I promise I know that."

***

If Kara is surprised to bump into Lena in the hallway, it's not because she overheard her talking about her date, the walls are thin, it's not her fault ; but merely because she hasn't seen her in a few days and was just beginning to casually wonder if now would be too late to bring her housewarming cookies just to see her. Her neighbour leaves early, and comes home late, and since their second night on the roof, she hasn't seen her there at all. She doesn't have much time to ponder about cookies and inhuman working hours because Lena looks absolutely devastated, half a second away from crying, her face crumpled like it's trying to hold itself together but knows any effort will be in vain.

"Are you okay ?" Kara asks before she can stop herself.

Lena looks at her like a startled deer and Kara realises she probably didn't hear her coming. It's not that she meant to sneak up on her, but half floating all the time to avoid breaking the floor means she has a tendency to move around very quietly.

"Alright, that's a stupid question," she tries again. "What's wrong ?"

"Im okay," Lena replies with a small heartbroken voice.

"And I'm Queen Elizabeth. Can I do anything for you ?"

"It's stupid," Lena sighs, sagging against the wall. "I was just very excited about this date and my girlfriend cancelled on me." She stops abruptly, seemingly surprised by the honesty of her own words. She looks mildly terrified for a second, but she keeps talking nonetheless. "We've been fighting. Not about what she said to you. We just fight. Like normal couples. Couples fight a lot."

Kara wants to argue that couples don't fight that much ; Alex and Kelly don't fight at all, Alex and Maggie were perfectly happy until they weren’t. But she thinks about Lucy and how things were near the end, and she decides to shut up instead.

"I'm just worried," Lena says. "But it's okay. I'll go read a book. Have a quiet day. Or maybe I'll got to the office. Be productive."

"You're not going to go to the office on a Saturday !" Kara exclaims absolutely revolted. "Come with me instead," she adds before she has time to decide if it's a good idea, "I have the perfect activity to change your mind."

"I wouldn't want to impose on you," Lena says shrinking on herself in a way that Kara finds unacceptable.

"I offered," she replies with her best smile. "And I was on my way there anyway."

"Well if you're sure you don't mind," Lena says letting the end of her sentence disappear in a vague hand gesture.

"I don't, not at all."

"Where are we going ?" Lena asks after a second, her reluctance at being even more of a burden clear in the way she doesn't quite dare to make herself heard.

"What's your opinion on surprises ?" Kara asks in lieu of a reply.

"I'm not very good with them to be honest," Lena says almost inaudibly.

"Then we're going to the animal shelter. I volunteer there from times to times. Is that okay with you ?"

"Will there be dogs ?" Lena asks, the hint of a smile finally making its way to her lips.

"We can even walk them," Kara answers with a wide grin. "Are we good to go or do you need to grab anything ?"

Lena doesn't answer, only stares intently at her door with a furrowed brow before she shakes her head to herself. "I'm good," she says in a voice that contradicts her very words.

"You sure ?"

"Positive."

Lena walks past her in a breeze and makes her way to the elevator. Kara doesn't usually take the elevator, it's old and cramped and overall worrying ; but she doesn't dare to question her willingness to follow without a second thought when Lena steps inside of it. She focuses on her breathing like Eliza taught her when she first landed on Earth, the ride is short, and she'll be alright. In and out, in and out. She's so focused on herself that she doesn't notice that Lena looks ready to implode until they're out of the elevator and halfway through the hall.

"Are you sure you're okay ?" she asks, stopping Lena with a featherlight hand on her elbow.

Lena looks genuinely surprised by her question, which leads Kara to wonder if it's something that people don't bother with asking her often ; her heart breaks a little at the implications.

"I'm fine," she answers in a way that sounds too much like an automatism to truly be what she means.

"It's okay if you don't want to go. I'd understand if you want to be alone."

"No. No," Lena cuts hurriedly, "I do want to go. It's just..."

Once again, she lets her sentence trail off in favour of a dismissive gesture.

"Just what ?" Kara prompts gently.

"I need to go back upstairs for a minute, just to check something, it's stupid, but I really need to do it," Lena says, her words bumping against each other with the speed of her speech.

"It's not stupid if it matters to you. Do you want me to come with you ?"

"I'd rather go alone if that's okay," Lena mumbles, her eyes fixated on her shoes.

"I'll wait right here," Kara replies with a smile, motioning to the poorly lit hallway.

Lena darts back to the elevator and Kara is left alone, wondering what is important enough to leave Lena in such distress. It's only when she hears her counting over and over again that she realises her ears followed her of their own volition. Horrified by the inadvertent breach of privacy, she wills herself to focus on something else, anything else, and only relaxes when all she can hear is the crackling of electricity in wires some twenty blocks away.

***

Lena is quite the sight. A dangerous one, because it makes Kara feel peculiar things, but a sight nonetheless. She's sitting cross-legged on the floor, laughing, with as many puppies as ones laps can fit, and then some. She's petting them, learning their names, and looks so otherworldly adorable that Kara doesn't even mind that she's been deserted by her usual companions. There is one in particular that keeps on coming back and which she herself doesn't want to let go of. It's a white and brown pit bull with a heart shaped nose, a little older than your typical pup but it doesn't matter because Kara abides to the intergalactic law stating that all dogs are puppies, and this one is adorable.

She sneaks a picture, for no reason at all.

"Which one do you want to walk ?" she asks when one of the workers hands her two leashes.

"Can we really do that ?" Lena asks in disbelief.

"Of course we can !" Kara exclaims, not bothering to contain her excitement. "That's the whole point of coming here. They get to stretch their cute little legs and we get to spend time with adorable puppies."

"Can I walk this one ?" Lena asks, unsurprisingly pointing to the pit bull.

"Excellent choice," Kara replies, swiftly catching a brown labrador mid-run. "And I'll walk this one."

***

"Did you ever have any pets ?" Kara asks as they walk, or more exactly, strut with their puppies, down the street towards the park.

Lena misses a step, nearly tumbling over the dog and only owing her swift recovery to Kara who grabs her elbow before she can really topple forward. She doesn't answer immediately, and instead resumes her walking like nothing happened even though Kara can feel she inadvertently asked a loaded question. "I had a dog," she finally answers when they approach the park and Kara holds the gate open for her. "A massive Irish Wolfhound. At least it was massive to me, I was four. I think they put him down after my mum passed away. I don't even remember his name. Sean maybe, or Seamus."

"Oh," Kara says eloquently, unsure of the type of answer this confession calls for.

"I'm adopted," Lena adds as an explanation, her tone neutral and clearly practiced, the time she took to teach herself how to not feel too much clearly seeping through despite her best efforts.

"I'm adopted too," Kara confesses. "At thirteen. And I had a cat. Streaky. Found her in a dumpster behind my school. She was alone and scared, like me, so I kept her. I towed her around in my backpack for a while until my adoptive mother found out. She wasn't even mad, just weirdly happy that I could relate to another living being."

"I had a fish for a while, at my new home, with the Luthors. But I'm pretty sure my mother poisoned it."

"That's terrible," Kara says, surprised that she even managed to form words with the way her mouth twists in disgust.

"Well it was a rather efficient way to teach me good manners," Lena shrugs.

"Still terrible."

"I'm sorry," Lena says looking down at her shoes, "that's not a very pleasant conversation"

"Not all topics have to be pleasant to be conversation worthy. That's how you get to know someone, by discussing the good and the bad."

"You want to get to know me ?" Lena asks, bewildered.

"Of course I want too !" Kara says, the opposite seeming quite ludicrous to her. "It's important to know your neighbours," she adds with a smirk, "who else is going to call you when there's a leak in your apartment and you're on holidays ?"

"Yes," Lena answers flatly, "you're right. We're neighbours, we should know each other."

"But I also want to get to know you as a friend," Kara continues softly, dropping her mocking tone, "because you look like a great person."

A moment passes, a silence filled to the brim with thousands of words. "You seem great too," Lena whispers eventually, a shy smile lighting her face. "I’d like to be your friend."

"So what’s your favourite colour ?"

Lena laughs, unabashedly, in a way that surprises both Kara and herself and causes the puppies to startle. "Is knowing this a friendship requirement that I didn't know of ?"

"It is," Kara answers seriously.

"Blue," Lena answers, coming to a stop in front of a bench and taking residence on it, like talking about colours is the kind of conversation that requires to be sitting down. "Well I also really like deep purple, and deep red, but my favourite is blue. What about you ?"

"I don’t really have a favourite colour."

"You don’t ?" Lena asks, bringing a hand to her chest in mock offense. "It’s a bit unfair to ask me such a serious question when you can’t answer it yourself."

Kara shrugs. "It would be unfair to the other colours to only choose one."

"Ooh, so you’re that kind of person ?" Lena says with a teasing smile.

"Alright," Kara says, raising her hands in surrender, "alright. Today, my favourite colour is green," she confesses, surreptitiously looking from Lena's green plaid shirt to her clear green eyes. "Ask me again some other time, and it will be different."

Truth is, Kara's favourite colour switches everyday. Sometimes it's the colour of the sky, sometimes the colour of Alex's hair ; she has a feeling however that green is going to be her favourite for the foreseeable future.

"Green ?" Lena echoes, this single word stuck halfway between a statement and a question.

"Is that surprising ?"

"I’ve been told it’s my colour," Lena replies, arching an enticing eyebrow.

"Oh it is," Kara mumbles to herself, a bit louder than she intended to.

A light blush spreads on Lena's cheek when she catches her looking at her ; but to be fair, Kara only caught her because she was starring too.

"What’s your favourite food ?" Kara asks to cover up her own blushing.

Lena chuckles, the sound drawing the attention of the two sleepy dogs ; Kara would even swear they’re smiling. "Are you asking me that because you’re hungry ? Because I can see you eyeing that hotdog cart."

"Well yeah," Kara answers with a small laugh of her own, "but I also genuinely want to know, that’s a friend thing."

"Sushi. Or roasted lamb, depending on the weather. And I eat an awful lot of porridge."

"So hotdog won’t cut it ?"

"If I’m being honest with you," Lena mumbles, averting her eyes, "I’ve never had a hotdog before."

"You never what ?!" Kara shouts, so offended that one could believe Lena just insulted her ancestors. "What planet are you from ?" she asks, fully aware of the irony of her question. "Even aliens have tried hotdogs, that’s like America 101 !"

"Well I’m Irish so…" Lena says, purposefully leaning heavily on her accent in a way that has Kara stumbling when she darts up from the bench.

"That’s no excuse," she replies firmly. "I’m getting you one right now."

***

Time has been known for playing tricks on Kara ; slowing down when she desperately wants to escape a situation, flashing by when she wishes she had all the hours in the world to enjoy it. The rest of the day passes by in a blur and Kara is left running after it, scrambling for precious seconds of puppies, stories, laughter and that special glint in Lena's eyes when the sun hits them just right. They take another walk around the park, Lena insisting on buying her ice cream twice, sitting down when the pups decide to take random naps, running after them when they decide to chase a duck. Well Kara runs after them, Lena just falls on the grass, doubling over in laughter when her new friend nearly tumbles head first into the lake. Overall, Kara thinks that she achieved her goal of distracting Lena from her missed date.

Much too quickly for either of their liking, the afternoon draw to a close and they have to make their way back to the shelter. Kara scoops a puppy in each arm and hopes Lena ogling her biceps isn't a figment of her imagination. The farther they get from the park, the less chatty Lena gets. By the time they have dropped the pups at the shelter, she's not talking at all anymore. Kara talks about Streaky again, in the hopes of getting Lena to open up about her own childhood. When she realises this isn't a good nor respectful idea, she switches to musing aloud about dinner. At several points, it looks like Lena is about to talk, but no words make it past her lips.

Something in her eyes prevents Kara from asking her if she's okay, and it's clear that Lena is grateful for that. They make it back to their building and take the elevator ; Kara holds her breath for the entirety of the ride up, and, in the eyes of someone who's known her for less than a week, Lena looks like she's trying to get rid off the whole spectrum of human emotions. Her features are fixed in a deep concentrating frown, her eyes are miles and miles away. Kara would say she's almost successful. Almost, because when they reached her apartment, Lena turns towards her and blurts : "Would you like to come in for a drink ?"

The question startles Kara, but she answers positively quicker than she'd ever admit, and follows Lena, and her frown, inside of the apartment.

Something strange radiates from Lena's home and it takes Kara both her enhanced vision and a full minute to figure what it is ; though the place is fully furnished and somewhat cosy, it looks still, with not so much as a cup abandoned on a counter. Nothing is out of place, and if she didn't personally know that someone lives here, she would believe it to be one of these fake apartment built for photo shoots. Lena even moves around the space in a peculiar manner, unsure of if she belongs in her own home. She's still getting used to the place, and it's her strange cautiousness that prevents Kara from immediately plopping down on the comfortable looking couch, like she would have anywhere else.

"Do you want something to drink ?" Lena asks, bent down in the fridge. "Wait," she adds straightening up and blushing, "wrong question. I invited you in for a drink, of course you want to something to drink."

"I'm okay with whatever you'll have yourself," Kara shrugs, torn between exploring the room and looking at Lena.

"Do you like beer ?"

"I'd be a fool not too, it would ruin my aesthetic."

Lena looks mildly surprised by her answer, but after a short second during which she doesn't breathe at all, her gaze stuck on Kara's figure, she honest to Rao snorts in delight and Kara mentally pats herself on the back.

"Guinness ?" Lena asks with a small smile, already extracting two of these from her fridge, her whole demeanour more relaxed.
"Of course."

"You can sit you know," Lena says, rounding the kitchen table towards the couch.

"Should I take off my shoes first ?"

"No, it's okay," Lena replies with a grimace she immediately schools.

"I don't mind taking them off," Kara says, already crouching to do so. "You look like you'd like it better that way."

"Sometimes I don't like touching the floor of people I don't know," Lena mumbles, averting her eyes. "So I wouldn't force you to take your shoes off if you don't want to."

"Well I don't mind," Kara replies, stepping out of her dark blue sneakers and making her way to the couch.

"Sorry," Lena says, looking at her beer can like it holds the secrets to life and the universe. "It's silly."

"It's not silly if it matters to you," Kara scolds. "I'll tell you something. Sometimes, I don't like the smell of other people's fridges."

"You don't...?" Lena asks cautiously.

"I think they stink, and I have a sensitive nose" Kara says, taking a swig of her beer. "When you'll come at my place, you'll be able to keep your shoes on. I wouldn't force you to do something that makes you uncomfortable."

For a moment, Kara fears that she's overdone it with her confession, but Lena's smile is so grateful that the thought dies as soon as it arises.

The light coming in through the blinds draws an intricate pattern on Lena's face, fracturing it between shadows and a pale glow. The pattern changes everytime she moves ; when she switches position and brings her legs under her, when she takes a sip of her beer, tipping her head farther and farther back, exposing her alluring neck, when she launches in an animated story about her first drink, at twelve, in boarding school.

"It wasn't even that heavy of a beer," she laughs with no hint of embarrassment. "But I was pint sized at that time and it knocked me out completely. I woke up with a killer headache, alone in the garden shed and received the scolding of a lifetime. I didn't touch so much as apple cider again until I was eighteen and fully grown. Now I've become quite good at handling my drinks, but I still get a fantom headache when I see that particular brand of beer."

"Rhum does the same for me," Kara says with a sympathetic smile, forbidding herself from following it with a pat on the arm as she isn't sure where Lena situates herself on the scale of touch.

"Rhum ?" Lena repeats with an incredulous look, "you started strong."

"It was last year actually," Kara says with a sheepish laugh. "I'd drank before." But can't actually get drunk on human alcohol. "But I'd never tried hard liquor, and well, let's say my boss sent me home the next day because I was zombified. Completely out of it except for primary bodily function, though I couldn't exactly see clearly through the headache. So I'm sticking to beer now."

Lena laughs so hard that she snorts beer through her nose in a way that should be unattractive but isn't.

The door bangs open.

The noise startles Kara enough that she crushes the can, sending liquid and foam everywhere, including the ceiling. When she turns and meets the eyes of the newcomer, she wishes she'd been more aware of her surrounding, if only so she could have prepared herself to come face to face with Veronica Sinclair again.

"Having fun, are we ?" Lena's girlfriend drawls. "How nice of you, Miss Danvers, to be keeping my girlfriend company," she adds, in a bone chilling tone that suggest only pretend politeness is keeping her from murdering her on the spot.

"Would you like a beer, Miss Sinclair ?"  Kara asks though she shouldn't, raising from the couch to position herself between Lena and Veronica, though, again, she shouldn't.

"No, I don't. Would you mind leaving us Miss Danvers ?"

Kara turns towards Lena, waiting for the confirmation that she does want her gone, refusing to move an inch unless she assures her she'll be alright. Lena is still as a statue, her face a perfect mask, only missing the smile that would make her akin to a marble Venus. Her eyes are set onward, fixed somewhere above Veronica's left shoulder, and in her hands, the beer can is shaking almost imperceptibly.

"Please go," she mouths to Kara, her eyes flickering towards her so quickly that Kara would have missed it if it weren't for her alienness.

"I'm just next door," she mouths back. If you need me. If you need rescuing. If I can do anything for you. She doesn't add any of this, too much of a stranger to this situation to risk making it worse. Instead, she gathers her shoes and slips out of the apartment, almost shoulder checking Veronica on her way out. No shouting emanates from behind the door, but Kara as the deep and clear feeling that Veronica Sinclair isn't someone who needs to raise her voice to be heard.

Chapter Text

Lena has a feeling that Veronica is waiting for her to say something, but she can't think of any words to change the look of furry in her girlfriend's eyes.

"Are you cheating on me ?" Veronica finally barks, moving further inside the apartment and sitting on the couch like she owns the place.

"What ?" Lena says incredulously, nearly chocking on her spit. "I would never do that, you know it. And I've known her for less than a week, this is ridiculous."

"Then what were you doing here with her ?"

"We were just having a drink," Lena says stating the obvious in a way that, she quickly realises, isn't going to appease Veronica.

"After spending the whole day together ? Sounds cozy," Veronica bites, kicking Kara's abandoned can as she sets her feet on the coffee table.

"How do you even know that ?" Lena asks, dread drenching her insides like freezing water. "Are you spying on me ?"

"Don't be ridiculous Lena. One of my men merely saw you at the park, with her."

"Don't call them that," Lena says, barely repressing a shiver, "it sounds like you have a gang."

"I have lackeys. And my lackeys told me you were spending your day with someone who isn't me."

"You cancelled our date," Lena says, harsher than she intends to.

"And that somehow give you the right to do this ?"

"I didn't do anything ! I'm just making a friend. Being social. You always tell me I need to make efforts well that's what I was doing." Lena skips the part where she herself really wants to be Kara's friend, not just for Veronica's profit. She doesn't tell her how she craves the company of her neighbour, how she longs for her warm presence not even five minutes after she left. She wonders if there's such a thing as emotional cheating, but it's preposterous, she doesn't know Kara enough, and she loves Veronica. "I'm not cheating on you."

"Good. Because you know I love you and I wouldn't want that."

"I love you too," Lena mumbles, deeply ashamed though she isn't sure she really should be.

"Go change," Veronica says, abruptly getting up and making her way to the kitchen, most likely to get herself a glass of wine. "You look ridiculous and we're going out."

"I don't really feel like going out," Lena says weakly, "I'm a bit tired."

"We're going out. You never want to do anything fun, and I want to have fun." Her tone is final, and Lena knows better than to argue with her even when she wants nothing more than a nice bath and a good book. "God !" Veronica shouts, slamming a cupboard door, "where the fuck are your wine glasses ?!"

***

Lena treats the pounding in her head with two painkillers and a cup of tea. The tightness in her chest however persists for the entire day, and by the time Monday rolls around, she can barely breathe. 

She tries yoga, takes a bath, goes to work early, but nothing can distract her from her phone, silent except for an early text from Ruby, with a picture of an uncannily smiling cookie ; she swears this child has a sixth sense. She considers calling Sam, but knows she's busy with her move. She needs to call Veronica, but knows there's little chance she'll pick up, even after abandoning her in the dingy bathroom of that loud club she doesn't like. She might want to call Kara, but she doesn't have her number, and Veronica wouldn't like that anyway.

In spite of the smothering mud filling her lungs, she still goes about her day pushing through her anxiety to be the CEO this company needs. She doesn't take a lab break, her presence being required in three back to back meetings, a conference call and one board meeting. Some of these she could delegate, Sam could easily take care of the call from Metropolis, Jess could lead the board meeting for her ; but she needs to prove she can do it, to herself, and to the email from her mother sitting in her inbox, and to her board, and to Jess who gives so much of herself to L-Corp already, and to Ruby who looks up to her. 

She doesn't make it to the end of the day.

Sam calls her to debrief a meeting of her own and when she picks up, she cannot breathe. Air sticks to her throat like it's made of goo and she doesn't know what to do except drown. Her office is too bright but when she closes her eyes, the walls collapse on her, and when she opens them again, she finds herself curled under her desk, knees drawn to her chest, and shivering, shivering, shivering, like she’ll never be warm again.

The phone lays abandoned on the desk and she can no longer hear Sam’s voice coming through it ; she bears it no mind, she doesn't even think about her friend calling in the first place until said friend burst into her office, nearly unhinging the double doors.

"Lena !" she calls out, covering the last meter by sliding on her knees. "What happened ?"

Lena doesn't try to reply, knowing that if she tries, no words will come out of her mouth anyway. Instead, she focuses everything she has into turning the air into something breathable again. But everything still feels like goo, like drowning in a monster ; a monster coming from inside.

"I'm going to touch you, okay Lena ?"

Sam's voice is distant, muffled through the ringing in her ears. She agrees, at least she must do, nodding or saying words she doesn't hear, because Sam slides under the desk with her and gathers her into her arms, applying a firm, but not overbearing, pressure. Her friend is warm, solid, and she singlehandedly prevents the world from caving on Lena. She puts her hand on her chest, accompanying her ragged breathing until it settles back into something calmer.

Air turns into air again and the pressure in her chest dissolves a little, helping the world around her regain its shape. Everything is a bit blurry ; she thinks she's crying. 

"I'm carrying you to the couch, okay ?"

Lena mumbles her agreement, giving up on words for the time being, and lets Sam move her to the couch and wrap her tightly in the fluffy blanket she keeps hidden there for long nights of work, or situations like this one. It's not that it happens that often, but she keeps such a tight control over her life that the moment a piece of her carefully crafted puzzle falls out of place, she tends to lose it. 

"Want to talk about what happened ?" Sam asks gently as she puts the kettle on and sets to making some tea, black for Lena, herbal for herself. "Did Veronica do something shitty again ?"

"She didn't do anything," Lena replies harshly, even when she knows it won't take long for Sam to get to the bottom of this. Her friend is, unfortunately, used to handling her, and over the course of their friendship, Lena has seldom managed to hide something from her.

"Are you sure ?" Sam prompts softly, returning to the couch with two steaming cups of comfort. "Because if I need to talk to her again, you know I will."

"We all know that your version of 'talking' isn't always appropriate," Lena says, taking a grateful sip out of tea. "You shouldn't even be here."

"Nobody saw me. And if someone did, it'll just spark speculations over Superman returning from wherever he is right now and then people will move on. You needed me, so I came. Now, don't deflect my question, do I need to talk to Veronica ?"

"It's not her per se," Lena gives up with a deep sigh. "You know how I get wrapped up in my head sometimes and then things get a little bit much." Sam nods, encouraging her to go on. "We got into a fight. Over the way she treats people like garbage sometimes. And it really wasn't my place to say anything. I shouldn't try to influence her views on the world. So I apologised, we made up. But she got a bit rough and..."

"Did she hit you ?" Sam cuts, her voice rising angrily, enough to cover the sudden crack of her broken mug. "Because if she did I swear to Rao you need to break up with her. You deserve much better."

"She didn’t," Lena replies in the smallest of voice, "she just got angry, the way she does when I'm being an ass. I deserved it."

"You did not. You deserve to be treated fairly and lovingly by someone who really cares."

"No one cares."

"Don't be. What's that weird word you like ? Daft. Don't be daft Lena, you know it's not true."

"You know what I meant," Lena sighs, her headache returning in full strength.

Sam sighs, running her hand through her tangled hair and closing her eyes for a second. "Yes I know you meant romantically but it still isn't true. There's a gentlewoman out there waiting to take care of you. I know you've got history with Veronica, but she's abusive, and a part of you knows that, no matter how deep that part of you is buried."

"You just don't like her," Lena defends weakly.

"No I don't, that's true," Sam admits. "But I can tolerate her if she makes you happy. She doesn't. She's dangerous, she's trying to break you until all you have is her and I won't let that go on any longer."

"She loves me."

"And someone else will. Just because she tells you you're hard to love doesn't mean it's true. The right person won't give a shit about your OCD, won't care that you need to take inventory before you leave your home, or that you alphabetise everything, or that you wash your hands all the time. You're not hard to love. I love you. Ruby does too. And we know there's a girl out there for you who isn't an abusive asshole."

"Do you really think I should break up with her ?" Lena asks in a small heartbreaking voice.

"I think you should do what makes you happy. Does she make you happy ?"

It's a question Lena should be able to answer immediately, and a part of her knows that by struggling to reply, she's proving Sam's point. Veronica doesn't make her happy. Veronica makes her feel small, and lonely, and weak. 

"I know you don't want to be alone," Sam says gently, "that you want a girlfriend, and ultimately, a wife, but you used to be the best at being alone. Remember college ? When I used to find you in the most random places because you needed some peace and quiet and were tired of people trying to get in your pants ? And then you decided that we could be alone together and you invited me to all your spots and I confessed I was an alien on the roof and you told me you were a lesbian in the storage room of your lab. You never needed anyone back then, you weren't afraid of not being romantically involved. You were fierce. When was the last time you felt like that around Veronica ? When was the last time being with her didn't feel like drowning in a crowd ? I know you went through a rough patch, but you don't need to be in a relationship to be worthy, to not be alone. I'm moving here soon, with Ruby, you'll have us, like you've always had."

Lena answers with a sob, and the waterfall breaks loose. Her body convulses with the strength of her tears and she's vaguely aware of Sam's comforting hand on her back. She cries for what could be hours or minutes, she doesn't care ; even through her wracking sobs, Sam makes her feel safe, safer than she feels around her girlfriend. The more she cries, the more she realises Sam is right. With actual words on the way Veronica makes her feel, it's clear that this isn't right. She doesn't want to believe it, doesn't want for it to be true, she wants this love to be real, to be healthy, but it isn't and her current state is proof enough of it. 

Curled into her friend, she tries to make sense of her thoughts, to hang onto something that will help her see this through. Veronica loves her, in her own way maybe, but she does, and Lena cannot help but think this is the only chance she'll ever have. Without meaning to, she thinks about the half torn picture on Sam's bedside table and how her friend has been heartbroken for the last decade. Is this how she's going to be too ? Sam is strong, but Lena isn't ; and she doesn't know if she can break up with Veronica knowing that she could very well never find something like that again. 

"I'm not strong like you," she whispers eventually. "I can't break up with her if it's my only chance. What if it's just a rough patch ?"

"You'll have to admit it's been a rough patch for a while," Sam says, rubbing her hand up and down her arm. "You deserve the world, and she doesn't want to give it to you."

***

Lena has been staring at her phone long enough to not remember when she started staring at it. All she knows is that Sam has been gone for roughly two hours and that "we need to talk" is not a good way to start a break up conversation. Overall, a text conversation isn't a good way to break up with someone, but she doesn't want to have to invite Veronica over, she needs to be able to leave and she knows she'll feel trapped. She guesses she could also go to Veronica's, but lately, her girlfriend's penthouse has been a source of unrelentless anxiety ; everytime she's stepped through that door she's been overcame by a deep fear seemingly unattached to anything real. She really should have seen it before.

Now that she has acknowledged what she didn't want to acknowledge, there's a sense of urgency surrounding the next step she has to take ; strangely, this sense of urgency is also what's preventing her from acting. She knows her endgame, knows she needs to blow up the bridge that exists between Veronica and herself, but every moment up to this point is blurry and mostly made of dread. Lena cannot fathom a possibility where everything would go right. Good outcomes are foreign to her, she’s used to bad things, horrendous catastrophes ; and the more she thinks about it, the more she’s convinced she’s running straight into a wall.

The looming fear of confronting Veronica is strong enough that she cocoons herself in her anxiety instead of doing it. Anxiety, wild heartbeats, the crushing pressure in her chest, are all things she’s used to, and compared to what she needs to do, they’re almost welcomed. By Friday, after almost a week of no contacts with Veronica, she’s half convinced that they’ve broken up already, and half hopeful that things are going to fix themselves on their own. She tries not to want it, but she can’t help but think she’s going to find a bouquet of roses on her desk, maybe even plumerias if her girlfriend remembered, and that things are going to get back to how they were, not right before their fight, but long ago, when it felt right, and Lena was happy.

The week is marked by no progress at all in any department of her life ; Lena is both stationary and rushing towards impediment doom with what she perceives as zero chance of survival. She finds no refuge in her private lab, no refuge in her home office, her books are all glaring back at her, and tea doesn't even do the trick anymore. When she climbs on the roof that Friday night, she's on the verge of another panic attack and it doesn't even occur to her that, of course, Kara is going to be there too. She's both surprised and relieved by her presence but refuses to acknowledge how she might have subconsciously came up here chasing after that peculiar feeling of safety that emanates from her neighbour.

Kara is sitting on the edge with her back to her and it's only when she sees her swinging her head back to take a sip of something for the third time that Lena realises she might have been staring for longer than intended. She pads closer and takes a sit next to her ; close enough to feel her warmth but with a decent distance between them. The label of Kara's beer has been torn off.

"What brings you to my side of the turf ?" she asks playfully, but with a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes.

"What do you do when you have something important to do but can't bring yourself to do it ?" Lena asks without meaning to, tricked by Kara's comfort.

Kara looks surprised for a second before her expression morphs into a mask of blankness. "I find it easier to just dive straight in," she says slowly, looking right at the setting sun. "Just get it over with and then maybe reward myself with a little something after."

"So just rip off the bandaid ?"

"Exactly. It can be hard, sometimes scary depending on what you have to do, but you’ll feel better once it’s done."

"Easier said than done," Lena mumbles to herself, looking at her shoes and then quickly back up when she realises doing so places the ground right into her sightline.

"It is," Kara admits, "but you’ll feel better after." She takes another sip of her beer, the setting sun glistening on the bottle and illuminating her golden jaw. "Is this something I can help you with ?" she adds, her bottle now empty but her eyes full of something that is slowly becoming addicting.

"No," Lena says reluctantly, "but thank you."

"Can I offer you a beer then ?" Kara asks, producing an ice cold can of Guinness with an inviting smile.

Lena accepts, but the contact of the freezing metal makes her shiver so violently that if it weren’t for Kara’s strong arms, she might have fell off the roof. She takes back the can and opens it for her, before she passes it back along with her thick plaid shirt that Lena doesn’t even think about refusing. She takes in the smell of lavender and a swig of her beer ; somehow, she seems to be sitting closer to Kara than she was before.

***

Lena doesn't dive straight in, doesn't rip off the metaphorical bandaid. Comes Monday morning and there are roses on her desk ; she allows herself to confuse the tight feeling in her chest with love.

It last two days, two days of thinking what she has with Veronica is right and that Sam is wrong. Two days before she meets Kara on the roof again and it hits her in the face like a boulder. Her neighbour is sitting at her usual place with a spare plaid shirt and a blanket neatly folded beside her, like she understood without being told that Lena gets cold easily. For a moment, she can hear Sam like if she were standing next to her, "There's a gentlewoman out there waiting to take care of you." This woman that she barely knows, that she's just beginning to befriend, cares for her better than her own girlfriend.

Kara straightens up, she knows she's here, can hear her even though she always try to make the least possible noise. Lena doesn't join her, instead she retreats back to her apartment.

None of this feels right.

She ends up lying on her cold bed, staring at the dark ceiling for far too long and trying to find the motivation to get up and start her day early. Eventually, she falls asleep, she must do because she's startled awake by the ringtone she assigned to Veronica. She struggles to reach her phone, misses the call and is in the process of dialling back when it rings again.

"Good, you’re awake," Veronica’s voice bites through the phone.

"Roonie," Lena mumbles, "it’s 5am."

"I have a breakfast meeting at 8 and I want you to be here. Wear something suitable please."

"I can’t this morning," Lena says, pushing herself up and instantly missing the semi-warmth of her blanket. "I have a meeting with an engineer from Japan at 8:30."

"Then push it back."

"I really can’t. It’s an important meeting."

"My meeting is important too. This relationship can’t be just about you Lena."

"This has nothing to do with our relationship," Lena says, trying to keep her voice calm even when she can feel an uncharacteristic anger boiling inside of her. "My meeting with Miss Sato has been planned for two months and it’s on the shared planner you insisted we get."

"You’re impossible to deal with," Veronica sighs and Lena can definitely hear her hitting something on the other side of the phone.

"No I’m not," she whispers.

"What was that ?" Veronica asks sharply.

"I said no I’m not," Lena repeats, her voice just on the edge of trembling, her heart one inch closer to breaking. "I’m not impossible to deal with, you’re just not willing to make the effort."

"Well, that’s new," Veronica says, seemingly unfased. "Who have you been talking to ?"

"I can think for myself."

"I never implied the contrary."

"Haven’t you ? You only ever see me through you, like I can only do things if they come from you."

"So what ?" Veronica barks, "are you out to get me now ?"

"I am not hard to love, I am not hard to be with, and I’m breaking up with you."

"No you’re not," Veronica says with finality.

"Yes I am," Lena says, her voice braver that she herself is. "I’m breaking up with you. I don’t want you to string me along anymore, I’m not a toy."

"Come on Lena, you don’t really want to break up with me, I can hear you crying."

Indeed, Lena is crying, but she isn’t quite sure it’s out of sadness. These feel like tears of relief more than tears of heartbreak.

"And this is the last time I’ll ever cry because of you," she says, "we’re done."

"You can’t be serious. What are you going to do without me ? We need each other."

"I don’t know what I’m going to do without you," Lena answers honestly, "but what I’m doing with you isn’t right. We’re breaking up, and I won’t change my mind."

"You’re going to change your mind, I know you. The question is if I’ll be there to take you back."

Lena doesn’t have the time to answer before the line disconnects.

It doesn’t feel at all like she expected. Her heart hasn’t been ripped out of her chest, the world hasn’t stopped turning ; and the pressure in her lungs has even eased up a little. She sits extremely still for a minute, then another, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for her phone to ring, for Veronica’s lackeys to swarm her home. When none of this happen, she exhales deeply, and gets out of bed, feeling better than she has in quite some time.

***

Lena's alleviation doesn't last, and the other shoe seems to hover over her head for the remainder of the day. When she gets out for lunch with Miss Sato, she feels watched, her phone rings seven times from an unknown number, she feels unsafe in her lab, and when she finally decides to go home, she's certain she's being followed. By the time she's done struggling with the heavy door of her building, she wouldn't be surprised if someone was waiting for her in the hallway, ready to discreetly take her out. She doesn't even fully grasp why she believes Veronica would get her killed for breaking up with her, but she can't shake the feeling off.

The elevator is broken and she makes herself believe that her elevated heart rate is due to the exertion of climbing four flights of stairs and not the crushing fear of being shot. She’s even more easily convinced when she opens the door to the brightly lit corridor (someone must have fixed the lights) to the delighting smell of cookies and a hint of lavender that clear her lungs and the pressure in her chest.

Veronica is waiting for her on the couch.

Chapter Text

Snapper is mean, but I’m worth better than that. Snapper is mean, but I’m worth better than that. Kara’s new mantra is admittedly a bit singular, but it’s keeping her sane as she busies her hands with baking. The kitchen counter is already littered with various cookie trays, that Kelly will no doubt frown upon because baking isn’t therapy, but she can’t stop. It’s all she can do to will her hands to do something other than strangling her boss.

She followed Alex's advice, and presented him with a fully researched article on LCorp's new technology using just enough superspeed to get it done before Dey. Snapper didn't even read it. She would have been happy with a draft bleeding red from all the corrections, but Snapper just tore it in two without looking. He's mean, he's mean, he's mean, but Kara will rise above it.

To top off the awful past couple of days, the DEO found seven new victims of their unidentified drug with no way to track it down to its source. One of them is still alive, staring into the distance with a happy smile and hooked to life support, but if he doesn’t come back, it will be of little use. It's even more frustrating when she knows that if they had more informations, it wouldn't take much convincing to get a green light from the DEO to write something about it, something that might get her an upgrade from puff pieces.

So for now, she bakes, and maybe she'll leave work early tomorrow and go to the animal shelter ; thinks will be alright.

"Get out of here !"

The shout from next door breaks her concentration and an egg cracks open in her hand.

"Come on Lena we need to talk."

"We already talked. Get the fuck out of my home !"

"Don’t be irrational. We need to talk."

"Irrational ? I’m being irrational ? You broke into my apartment Veronica !"

"You’re being dramatic Lena."

"Let go of me ! You’re hurti…"

Covered in flour and eggs, Kara is out the door before Lena can finish her plea.

The door of her apartment is open which saves Kara the trouble of kicking it down, but leaves her with no time to prepare for the scene unraveling in front of her. Veronica is towering over Lena, her hand wrapped around her wrist in a way that can only be described as painful. Kara allows herself two seconds, two seconds to remember that humans are fragile, two seconds to breathe and not jump head first. She gives one of these two seconds to Veronica, giving her a chance to obey and let go of Lena. Only when she doesn’t does she steps inside of Lena’s home.

"I believe she asked you to let go of her," she says in a cold and measured voice.

"You again," Veronica sneers when she takes notice of Kara’s presence.

"Let her go."

"Stay out of this Miss Danvers. This is a private matter."

"Lena, do you want me to go ?" Kara asks cautiously, deeply aware that her question could put Lena on the spot.

"I," Lena tries to answer, her raged breathing preventing her from truly forming a coherent sentence. "I want quiet."

"You can’t just break up with me. We need to talk," Veronica cuts, tightening her grip on Lena’s wrist.

"I want you to go," Lena mumbles.

"You’ve heard her Sinclair," Kara says, taking a couple of steps further into the room. "You’re going to need to step out."

"Stay out of it. This is between me and my girlfriend."

"I do believe Lena just mentioned the two of you breaking up."

"She’s not in her right mind," Veronica says harshly, still not moving an inch.

Swiftly, without even meaning to, Kara reaches forward and takes hold of Veronica’s wrist, pressing until she lets go of Lena with a pained yelp. "Out," she says, subconsciously baring her teeth threateningly.

Kara is the one towering over Veronica now and she doesn’t hide her satisfaction at the hint of fear that shades her eyes. Carefully, she manoeuvres her body until she’s positioned between Lena and Veronica, shielding her friend with the sheer strength that radiates from her. The taller she stands, the smaller Veronica seems and after a couple of seconds and missed heart beats, she relents, trying to shake Kara’s grasp and motioning towards the door.

"I can see myself out," she says in a way that is meant to be powerful but is closer to a squeak in which Kara takes great satisfaction.

"Let me walk you out," she answers with a polite and frightening smile, all but dragging her out of the apartment until she can slam the door behind her.

"Is there anything I can do ?" she asks, walking back to Lena at a deliberately human pace. "Anyone I can call ? I can go if you'd rather be alone."

Lena doesn't answer. She seems frozen in time, staring at her in disbelief, clearly struggling to catch up with what just happened. In turn, Kara doesn't dare to move, treating Lena like a wild animal that could bolt at any moment. A beat pass, and another ; eventually Lena speaks, mutters a couple of words that seem to take all of her remaining energy. "Can I, can I get five minutes of quiet, please ?" She moves to the couch sitting down with an air of dizziness. "Would you mind staying with me ? I'm not sure I can be alone," she adds in a small voice, so low actually that it's almost like she doesn't want Kara to hear her so that if she were to leave now, it would only be because she didn't hear and not because she doesn’t care. The look of surprise on her face when Kara does sit down next to her is heartbreaking.

They sit like that for a while, in complete silence except for Lena's increasingly calmer breaths. More than five minutes pass, but Kara doesn't move at all because neither does Lena ; she seems to need this moment of peace. Little by little, the tension seeps out of the apartment and filled by two people, it seems less still, more lived in. There still isn't one thing out of place, but as Lena dozes off on the couch, the place seems warmer, more comfortable. That is until she springs up from her half sleep staring around in utter fear and the apartment is drenched in cold again. She looks at the door like an army is about to burst through it, or more likely, Veronica.

"You can sleep over at my place tonight," Kara says before she has the time to ponder if it's an appropriate offer. "Until you have the time to change the lock." Lena looks at her like she'd forgotten she was even here, her heartbeat spiking up before she realises it's only her. "I don't really know what happened between the two of you, but she had no right to invade your private space, and I won't let her do that again."

"I've never been to your apartment," Lena whispers, "I can't sleep there."

"Then we can stay up and watch cartoons. Or I can stay here with you if you don't want to be alone, and tomorrow I'll change your lock."

"I can't ask that much of you."

"You're not asking, I'm offering," Kara says firmly. "And honestly, I'd feel better if you'd let me keep an eye on you, at least until we're sure she won't come back."

"Cartoons do sound good," Lena relents with an uneasy smile. "I won't be able to sleep anyway. But I need to check something in my bedroom first, if that's okay."

"Take all the time you need. I'll wait for you right here."

Lena looks at her with an air that she can't decipher. She stares for a little longer than she should, for a little longer than she probably realises, and then stands up, and walks towards her bedroom, a bit unsteady, extremely cautious.

***

Lena is sitting so stiffly that Kara is starting to wonder if she’s made of stone instead of flesh and muscles. She wouldn't be surprised if that were the case ; there's something so ethereal about Lena's beauty, that, even in the blue light of the television, she doesn't look entirely human. The harsh light enhances the sharpness of her jaw and Kara can see her gritting her teeth. On the plate before her lay three quarters of a cookie, three actual quarters, because she's cut it in four equal parts with great care. She's staring right ahead but Kara can tell she isn't really paying attention to the cartoon she selected at random. She wants to ask her how she's doing but can't tell if the question would be welcomed. She shivers and Kara realises she's let the window open ; she herself can't really feel the cold and she likes the fresh air. Wordlessly, she drapes a blanket on her shoulders, the same one she brought on the roof hoping to find Lena there.

"You really like lavender," Lena says, startling them both as it’s the first time she speaks since she set foot in the apartment.

"Oh," Kara says, noticing the strong smell she forgets most of the time. "My sister is arachnophobic, but I don’t want to kill spiders and I read somewhere that lavender keeps them away."

"I’m arachnophobic too," Lena says, finally moving to glance at Kara while she tightens the blanket around her. Kara would swear she inhales deeply when she brings the fabric closer to her face. "I know it’s irrational, but spiders really creeps me out."

"Humans have a lot of irrational fears."

"We do," Lena says, not picking up on Kara’s slip up, or maybe not noticing at all.

Bending forward, she reaches out for the rest of her cookie, picking up the three pieces and stacking them to put them in her mouth. "I like it," she says with a small smile. There’s a crumb stuck to her lips and it fills Kara with the desire to touch them ; she doesn’t. "The smell," Lena adds, "well the cookie too, you’re an amazing baker. But I like the smell, it’s, I don’t know, safe."

"That's also what I associate it with. Safety. My adoptive mother keeps cushion full of it around the house. It doesn't just ward off spiders it's also a piece of my second home."

"She sounds nice, you’re adoptive mother," Lena says, reaching out for another cookie.

"She is. I got really lucky."

"May I ask how it was, losing your birth family so late ?" Lena asks tentatively. "Most of the time I don’t remember my mum unless I have a picture right in front of me, but I suppose it must be different for you."

"It’s hard," Kara replies, swallowing back a sigh and forcing her body to stay lax. "Not a day passes during which I don’t think about them. All of them. I have nightmares, and bad days. They died in an, an accident. Big fire. I’m claustrophobic, I avoid enclosed space like cars, or elevators. I don’t take crowded trains because I need to be able to exit at any time. But my sister really helped me. I would have gone crazy without her."

"You took the elevator with me," Lena whispers, her voice teetering on astonishment.

"You needed someone to stay with you," Kara shrugs, "so I did. I spend a lot of time on the roof, maybe you noticed." She punctuates her statement with an empty laugh ; most of her laughs regarding Krypton are tainted by emptiness. "I like to be able to look at the stars, they make me feel closer to them. I’m really afraid to forget about them. I fear that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t remember the way my father smiled or the colour of the dress my mum was wearing when she died."

"What colour was her dress ?" Lena prompts easily and Kara is so grateful that she almost forgets to answer.

"It was blue."

"See," Lena says, "you remember."

"I remember," Kara confirms. "Do you really remember nothing at all about your own mum ?" she asks after a while with the slightest hesitancy, afraid that she's going to cross a line that would cut the conversation short and cause Lena to retreat in her shell. She's talking now, and looks less ready to implode, but Kara knows she doesn't know her enough yet to be acquainted with all of her triggers.

For a couple of seconds that last for a couple of years, Lena indeed looks like she's not going to answer ; but she does. "I think she must have liked tea," she says slowly. "It always smelled like freshly brewed breakfast tea in her house. Sometimes I hope she drank Barry's Gold Blend, the one that comes in the red box, because it's also the one I drink, but truly, I don't know."

She looks sad, but also like she wants to keep on talking, like it's something she doesn't talk much about and therefore have a lot to say.

"Does tea reminds you of home ?" Kara asks, a lot more confident in her probing now than she was moments ago.

"It makes me feel warm, but I'm not sure Ireland ever really was my home. My father sent me to boarding school there because he thought I should learn about my roots, and then I cultivated the accent to annoy my mother, but ultimately, I think my home was were my brother was, and by proxy the manor."

Her last words are almost inaudible, tainted by shame and a hint of fear. Kara thinks she understands where it comes from, but hesitates before she acknowledges it.

"You're allowed to miss your brother."

"He is a murderer," Lena says, her voice lacking the usual bite associated with this word.

"He is. But he was your brother first and you're allowed to remember him as such."

"The rest of the world doesn't agree with you," she says sadly. "Veronica doesn't agree with you," she adds, saying her ex-girlfriend's name for the first time since she stepped into Kara's home.

"I'm not the rest of the world. And I certainly am not Veronica Sinclair."

"I am Lena Luthor, you do know that, right ? What the rest of the world thinks of me follows me everywhere and taints everyone I get close to."

"I do know who you are. I'm a huge fan of your work," Kara says, rolling her eyes exaggeratedly in the hope of making her smile. "But to me you mostly are Lena, my neighbour and friend, and I don't care what the rest of the world says. And just to be clear, I genuinely like you, I don't want to befriend you just to get exclusives or anything relating to my job."

"Why not ?" Lena asks, her brow creased by a frown halfway between mistrust and disbelief.

"I wouldn't abuse your trust like that."

"That's all ?"

"Does there need to be another reason ? Because I honestly just think that if you trust me with your friendship it's precious enough to not risk losing."

"We barely know each other," Lena says. "I know you said you want us to be friends, but how do you know I'm worth it ?" Her tone is bordering on self-deprecation, her shoulders dropping inward, her gaze falling to her knees ; Kara doesn't like that.

"First of all," she says, choosing the goofy approach, "we've talked adoption trauma so we're basically best buddies at this point." She refrains from shouldering her playfully but her statement still elicits a small smile from Lena, the curling of her mouth animating her delicate profile. "I also have a good feeling about you, and I'm rarely wrong about people. I think you're worth it, and I truly want to get to know you."

Lena's smile falls again, a glimmer of self hatred briefly shadowing her face. She doesn't say anything back, and before Kara can assert once more her desire to get to know her, a loud pop resonates through the apartment, and next door, and in the next building, and the next one over, and the room is plunged in darkness.

Lena immediately tenses beside her, her body radiating discomfort. Her neighbour's uneasiness is the only thing that prevents Kara from freaking out herself. Complete darkness reminds her of the Phantom Zone and there always is a second between the moment the lights go out and the moment she remembers her powers during which she feels unreasonably uncomfortable. With her enhanced vision, Kara can see Lena’s eyes quickly shifting from side to side and she wonders if she's mentally cataloguing the escape routes she can discern in the dark ; she used to do it too.

"It's just a power cut," she says, to herself as much as to Lena, "I have candles somewhere."

Her reassurance does nothing to alleviate the pounding of Lena's heart ; her body doesn't loosen either. She's on high alert, which, after the day Kara assumes she's had, isn't much of a surprise. She sets off in her quest of candles, berating herself when she doesn't find them in any sensible place. She knows she's got some in her bedroom but those are expensive and reserved for Rao. She vaguely remembers Alex telling her she should always have some in an accessible place and she knows Eliza keeps hers in the kitchen but she's checked four drawers already and can't find them.

"You didn't check the TV drawer," Lena mumbles from the couch. "That's one other thing I remember from my birth mum, she kept her candles in the TV drawer." She hasn't moved an inch, except for her eyes that are now closed tightly like mixing the darkness of the room with a blackness she willingly created will somehow make the situation less frightening. "That's a weird thing to remember, why do I remember that ?" she adds in a bewildered whisper.

Sure enough, Kara finds the candles in the TV drawer. She doesn't remember putting them there in the first place. She doesn't have matches though, and she's glad Lena is closing her eyes because she doesn't know if she's willing to explain why lasers are coming out of hers. It's a story for another time.

Once the room is basked in the warm glow of the flames, Lena relaxes slightly, her shoulders uncoiling, her fists untightening.

"I'm sorry," she says sheepishly, "I'm not a fan of the dark."

"No need to apologise for that. I don't like it much either."

"But you were so calm."

"That's my St Bernard complex, when I see someone more distressed than I am, my rescuer's instincts kick in."

"St Bernard ?" Lena repeats, amusement replacing her previous torments.

"Yeah. You know the big mountain dogs ? They're used to rescue people."

"I know what a St Bernard is, I've just never heard anyone calling themselves that."

"That's how my adoptive father used to call me. I had a tendency to want to save people with little thoughts for the consequences." More like rescue babies out of car crash, but Lena doesn't need to know that.

"That's, that's a fun nickname," Lena says, her words interrupted by a yawn that scrunches up her face adorably. "Is he dead ? You said 'used to'."

"You can take my bed," Kara says, rising from the couch at the sharp pain that sometimes still cuts her breath when she thinks about Jeremiah. "We suppose he's dead," she adds, turning her back to Lena and busying herself with rearranging the candles. "He worked for the FBI and they didn't find a body."

Behind her Lena gets up too and Kara doesn't need to turn around to sense the comforting hand hesitantly suspended between their two bodies. The existence of this gesture makes it easier to breathe. "I'm sorry. It must be hard to grieve when you never saw the body." Lena says. "I'll sleep on the couch, I don't want to deprive you of your bed."

"You're not depriving me of anything, I'm offering."

"I wouldn't," Lena starts before stopping, words coating her tongue but never making it past her lips. "It's your bed," she says finally, looking at Kara with eyes that beg for her to understand.

Kara looks at her for a while, taking in the shy and tired figure standing in the dancing glow of the lights ; it seems important to be looking at her right now. "Okay," she eventually says. "I'll get you a blanket and a pillow."

***

Kara doesn't go to bed immediately ; instead, she lingers on the doorstep of her bedroom, keeping Lena's soft silhouette in her line of sight. She tells herself she's just checking if everything is alright, if Lena is comfortable ; but she hovers like that until well after she's asleep. There's something fascinating about this half asleep Lena. She's less guarded, looks younger. Her body relaxes inches by inches until she's nothing but the shape of a woman under a blanket with no trace of the day's hardships. Kara is vaguely aware that her staring is bordering on creepy, but if Lena notices, she doesn't seem to mind.

When she does get into bed, it takes her a while to actually fall asleep. Her mind is much too loud to let her rest. She thinks about Lex Luthor, about how before she said those words to Lena, she had never considered him as a man, but now that she has, she can only think about him in relation to Lena. She thinks about Jeremiah and the concrete pain of his disappearance, so different from the phantom ache of Krypton’s destruction.

In her dreams, Alex chases her in the Lexosuit. She screams words that Kara doesn’t quite grasp as she runs away.

She awakes to a loud and painful buzzing that seems to be coming from inside her head. It most probably comes from her phone, she decides when she notices it ringing next to her.

"Alex ? What’s happening ?" she mumbles when she manages to pick up.

"Someone broke into the DEO," Alex says without preamble. "They used the power cut and the back up generator didn’t kick in.

"Do you need help rounding up prisoners ?" Kara asks, thinking about Lena waking up alone in an unfamiliar place.

"We’ve got that under control. But the pill’s missing. And Doctor Veritas’ notes."

"And the user ?"

"Dead," Alex says plainly, her voice cold and professional even through the phone. "Not because of the failing life support. His throat was slit. So we literally have nothing."

"I could get down to the alien bar ?" Kara suggests sleepily, her half asleep brain not quite processing the viability of her idea. "Ask around a little, say I want drugs."

"We only found human users."

"But it seems to be an alien drug. And we've got to start somewhere."

"It's not a good idea," Alex says, her DEO agent mask cracking to let the big sister slips through. "It could be dangerous."

"Do you have a better idea ? Because I don't."

There's brief pause, a tensed silence during which Kara can only hear the thrumming of the line, and her sister breathing on the other side, and Lena's heartbeat in the next room. Eventually, Alex speaks again. "I'll come with you then," she says with a tone that calls for no questioning.

"It would be dangerous for you."

"I'm a field trained agent."

"And I'm virtually indestructible."

"We make a pretty good team."

Kara doesn't have a counterargument for that.

Chapter Text

When she wakes up, it takes a moment for Lena to remember where she is. Even before she opens her eyes, she knows she isn't in her own bed. The air around her smells of cold smoke and, faintly, of lavender ; she's at Kara's. The hard cushions under her back confirm that she's still on the couch and she's infinitely grateful that Kara didn't move her to the bed when she was sleeping. Not that she truly thinks Kara could be part of the general crowd disregarding her wishes, but it's hard to shake off the lingering concern.

As far as she can tell, Kara isn't here, but she must already be awake because though the microwave blinking at her indicates that the power is back on, all the lights of the apartment have been turned off. She waits for the moment she's going to start feeling uncomfortable, alone in this alien place, but it doesn't come. Instead, she considers going back to sleep for a couple of minutes, the warmth and peacefulness surrounding her crafting ideal conditions for slumber. Micro particles of dust dance in a ray of morning light in a hypnotic way and it almost manages to lull her back to sleep, she snuggles back under the insanely comfy blanket, closes her eyes, behind her, the door creaks open.

She springs up, her heart missing a beat and blood rushing to her head, turning her surrounding into a blurry mess. There's no time for rationality, it's fight or flight, and considering she's in her pyjamas in a foreign place, it's going to be flight.

But it's Kara, just Kara.

She's standing in the doorway in basketball shorts and a muscle tee ; the atrocious neon blue running shoes on her feet don't even manage to make her less attractive.

"I went for a run," she says, pointing to herself, "sorry, didn't mean to wake you up."

"Mmmm," is the only answer Lena can manage, her whole brain grinding to a halt at the sight of Kara absentmindedly flexing her biceps when she brushes her short hair back.

There isn't a hint of sweat on her muscular body.

"I picked up croissants from the french bakery on the way," she says casually lifting a greasy paper bag, "do you like croissants ?"

"Yes," Lena mumbles, "yes," she says more intelligibly, "I do like croissants."

Having to build a full sentence brings her back from her ogling and guilt rises in her stomach ; she just broke up with someone, she shouldn't be checking out her new friend.

"You can freshen up in the bathroom if you want," she says, alluringly moving further into the apartment, completely unaware of Lena's inner fight. "Do you want some tea ? I could pick it up from your apartment if you’d like ?"

Lena only nods, she doesn't trust her capacity to communicate verbally right now.

The bathroom is her safe haven. She locks herself in and proceeds to generously splash herself with cold water. She considers taking a shower, but being naked in Kara’s apartment is a level of vulnerability she hasn't reached yet. She washes her hands twice and the soap unlocks a new information about Kara's particular scent, cleanliness, and something spicy. She considers smelling the bar soap, or maybe finding a way to keep her hands close to her nose at all time ; but the thought of Kara somehow knowing stops her, more so than the general creepiness of the action.

She exits the bathroom to find water boiling on the stove and croissants neatly lined on a plate on the counter that acts as Kara’s kitchen table. The curtains have been fully pushed back and light streams freely into the room. Kara’s apartment is almost identical to hers except for one room of which the walls have been brought down to create one big space that houses the kitchen, the living room and Kara’s office with plenty of room to spare. An easel on her right is occupied by a painting of whirlwind greys, blues and greens which on closer inspection turns out to be an angry sea meeting a stormy sky. The floor around it is dotted with paint of various colours, the newest matching the painting. She notices this when she averts her eyes from the ocean, convinced she's going to get sucked in if she looks at it any longer.

"Do you like it ?" Kara asks, coming up behind her. "There was an impressive storm the last time I visited Eliza in Midvale."

"You painted this yourself ?" Lena asks, turning around to meet Kara's timid smile. "It’s amazing."

"Really ?"

"You're very talented," Lena says, determined to bring back confidence to Kara's hesitant smile. "It’s so expressive, I can almost hear it."

"It’s just a hobby," Kara mumbles, scratching her neck as a light blush spreads on her cheeks.

"You can be talented at your hobby, it’s not forbidden."

"Yeah you're right," Kara says with a much fuller smile, "I don't know why I'm so dismissive of myself. I'm allowed to be talented. Especially if it prevents me from murdering my boss."

"To be fair, you're also very talented at writing. And your boss is a real cunt."

"You've read my articles...?" Kara asks timidly, her blush spreading down the neck that disappears into the open collar of a sinful henley shirt. The shirt in question is half tucked into low cut faded blue jeans and Kara seems to think that having rolled up her sleeves is a good idea.

"Don't look at her forearms, don't look at her forearms," Lena mumbles before she embarrassingly realises she's talking out loud and not in her head.

"Did you say something ?" Kara asks with a smirk that Lena really hopes is the produce of her imagination and not because she actually heard her.

"I could speak to Mr Carr for you if you'd like ?" Lena says, opting for moving on from words she'll pretend she never said until her last breath. "Request to only be interviewed by you if you'd like ?"

"Thank you, but I don't think it would work. He doesn't even listen to Miss Grant. I just," Kara marks a pause, looking down at her socked feet with a mixture of sadness and resignation, "I just think he doesn't like me very much."

"I didn't know they gave Pulitzer prizes to idiots but apparently I was wrong." Lena accompanies her statement with an unrestrained eye roll which, though she hears Lillian's voice telling her she's going to get stuck like that, at least has the merit of bringing a smile back to Kara's face. "Because I truly do not understand how anyone could find you unlikable." The second part of her statement is an afterthought and she almost regrets it as soon as she finishes talking ; almost.

"Such a high opinion of me already ?" Kara says teasingly with an unimagined smirk this time.

"Well," Lena says, fully leaning into whatever this is even when deafening alarm bells are going off in every corner of her brain, "you're quite impressive."

"You're quite impressive yourself," Kara says back with a dazzling grin. At least, Lena supposes it's what she says because the end of her sentence is swallowed by a real alarm.

Kara tenses, her face contorting in pain for half a second. It passes by so fast that Lena would have missed it if she weren't looking at her so intently. Her smile falls and her body seems on the verge of crumbling before she shakes it off and runs to the kitchen at an impressive speed. Bare handed she removes a smoking empty pan from the stove and turns back to Lena with an awkward smile : "I forgot about the water."

"You forgot about the ? Don't you have a kettle !?"

"I don't drink tea," Kara mumbles with a clumsy shrug, her body suddenly too big for the space around her.

Suddenly very aware of the burning metal in Kara's hands, Lena rushes forward. When she grabs one of them though, it's strong and unmarred as ever.

"I have a high resistance to heat," Kara says, retrieving her hand and busying herself with boiling more water.

Her words sound enough like a question that an interrogation rises on Lena's tongue, who the fuck has high heat tolerance ? But she has a feeling that if she were to voice it, Kara would retract into her shell, and she doesn't want that.

"So what's your hidden talent ?" Kara asks with her back still turned to her. "I was going to ask what you do when you need to distract yourself from murdering your boss, but you're your own boss."

It doesn't take Lena's IQ to understand she's trying to bury the water incident and Lena happily follows her lead. "I may not have a boss," she replies, "but I have a mother that I sometimes want to strangle, does that work too ?"

"Of course it does, anything to prevent you from murdering anyone. You wouldn't like jail."

"Well then I'm really good at finding hidden meaning in books, I would have made a great literature teacher. Of the annoying kind." She pauses, pondering over her next words before she decides to add, as blandly as she can, "and what's telling you I don't already dislike jail ?"

"You've been to jail ?" Kara asks, whirling and leaning back on the counter in one fluid movement.

"A misguided night of drinking." Lena shrugs to hide a shiver. "I was there for two hours and my brother picked me up and laughed about it for a week. It smelled like shit and puke and I had to wear disgusting baggy clothes because my dress was quote-unquote 'inappropriate'. I don't like jail."

Kara bursts out laughing and to Lena's great dismay, it's attractive enough that she can't get mad about it. She does try, but to no avail. "Stop making fun of me," she grumbles, "and check the water."

"I'm sorry," Kara says, wiping a tear from her eye, "I shouldn't be laughing but it's just, the visual, I'm sorry, it's funny."

"Glad one of us is having fun."

"I'm sorry. Here," she says, pouring hot water into a cup, "your water's ready."

"You're supposed to pour the water on the tea bag," Lena chides before she can stop herself.

Her heart stop as soon as she realises what she said, and the tone she used to say it. She shouldn't be scolding Kara. Kara is being nice to her and she should be grateful for it.

The water Kara poured for her is hot, but Lena feels like she's been plunged into a cold and unforgiving ocean.

She forces herself to look up from her cup, ready to apologise if Kara allows her to do so, but the sight that greets her is puzzling. Kara doesn't look mad. Instead she's sporting an apologetic smile and is carrying another cup, this one with a tea bag in it.

"You'll have to teach me how to make it," she says softly, "so I can make it perfectly whenever you need it."

It takes a full minute for Kara's words to register, even has she's already accepted the new cup. Kara wants to learn the way she takes her tea so she can make it for her. Kara is willing to learn how to do something that she doesn't need and won't use for herself just to be nice.

It doesn't seem real. How can it be ?

She knows a thank you would be appropriate if she doesn’t want to anger Kara by rejecting her offer, but somehow, her self destructive stupid brain choses to go for : "You really don’t have to."

"I know I don’t," Kara replies against all odds, "but it’d make me happy too. So, would you show me ?"

And so despite herself, Lena finds herself answering : "I’ll show you. If you show me how you take your coffee."

"Oh that’s easy," Kara replies, her excitement on par with a puppy who’d have heard the word walk, "lots of milk, lots of sugar, Alex likes to say that coffee is optional in this."

"That doesn’t sound really healthy."

"It’s probably not, but I like it."

Kara shrugs, sliding the croissants towards her and motioning for her to sit. Her lips keep on moving and she must be talking ; but Lena is too busy noticing for the first time how her eyes crinkle when she smiles to really understand what she’s saying. She doesn’t know if she should, but she decides to indulge anyway, if only just for this morning.

***

Kara is laughing again and for the life of her Lena doesn't understand why. What she said wasn't even that funny. At least she doesn't think so, she's never considered herself a funny person. But Kara is laughing and the fact that she doesn't understand doesn't mean that it doesn't fill her with a strange kind of warmth that she wants to keep forever.

The microwave is glaring at her, displaying an awful hour that she tries not to notice. The digital minutes pass by quicker and quicker and there's a finite amount of time she can spend pretending to enjoy her cold tea before she has to get back to the real world and go to work. It's irrational, maybe, she isn't sure and she doesn't care ; but she doesn't want to leave Kara's apartment. If she does, she might never come back, Kara might never talk to her again, something terrible could happen, the building could collapse, she could have an accident on her way to work, she could never know what's next on the road they now share. It's irrational, or maybe it's not, because she's Lena Luthor and good things don't happen to her, and she can't help but think that if she says goodbye now, there might not be another hello.

She's brought back to reality by Kara's hand hovering over hers. She doesn't touch her, but this mere gesture shifts all the atoms of Lena's body. She wonders if Kara feels it too.

"Hey," she says softly, "are you okay ? I lost you there for a second."

"I'm fine," Lena lies, "I just got lost in my own head. I'm sorry."

"Don't apologise for that, it happens to the best of us," Kara says with the kind of smile that truly makes Lena believe that she doesn't have to apologise. "At what time to you need to get to work ?" Kara asks after a second, glancing back at the clock with a frown. "I can drop you off if you want. I don't have a car, but I have a bike and a license. I'll be super careful."

For a micro second, Lena considers lying about having to go to work, but her brain gets stuck on the image of Kara on a motorcycle and she experiences a reboot factory, back to lesbian default settings. "You," she croaks, "have a bike ?"

"I promise I'm a safe driver. And it'll be much quicker than the bus," Kara says, her smile slipping into a confused expression. "Oh," she adds after a second, "you have a driver, don't you ?"

Lena does have a driver, and it's the safest option, it's what she should say right now to avoid falling head first into a confusing situation. "It's his day off," is what she finds herself saying, which is a blatant lie but Kara doesn't have to know. "I could use a ride."

***

Lena is convinced that Kara belongs to the kind of people who don't lie, and so true to her words, she is a very safe driver. But Kara being careful leaves her with zero excuse to cling to her desperately except for the fact that she wants to. She's wearing sensible shoes, so precarious heels won't precipitate her on the road, she's wearing pants which allows her to sit securely, and the bulky jacket Kara gave her is protecting her from major harm ; she literally has no reason to cling to Kara so hard, she does anyway.

This ride is both the best and the worst experience of her life. The best because she's never been this close to Kara and the vibrations of the bike enhance every point of contact between them. Somehow, even the leather jacket smells like her and it's dizzying in a very pleasant way. The worst, because now that she's outside of Kara's home, she doesn't feel like she has the right to indulge in her like that, she's imposed her presence long enough and the more she stays, the more it's going to be difficult to be away. She's taunting herself with something she's not allowed to have and she knows the fall is going to hurt. Sooner or later, Kara is going to realise their friendship isn't worth it. Sooner or later, she too, like Veronica, will come to the conclusion that Lena is too complicated to be worth the effort.

She presses herself harder against Kara, willing the thrumming of the engine below them to empty her whirlwind mind.

When they come to a stop in front of LCorp, she doesn't dare to look at her. Half because she fears Kara is going to read her mind and see that she's been lusting after her all morning, half because if she does look at her, her outfit will be the only thing she can think about for the remainder of the day. She looks anyway, out of self destructiveness she reckons, it does seem to be her thing.

Kara doesn't dismount of the bike, she props it upright with the sheer strength of her legs, and removes her helmet to reveal pristine hair when Lena knows her owns are flattened against her skull. She looks so good it's unfair.

"Thanks for the ride," she eloquently says, unzipping the jacket with the intent of giving it back.

"Just keep it," Kara says, her voice strangled in a way Lena dares to hope is related to the direction her eyes are looking, directly to the artfully exposed skin revealed by a few opened buttons on her otherwise very professional shirt. "I'll come and pick it up later when I change your lock."

Lena doesn't bother saying that she could pay someone to change her lock, hell, she could even do it herself. But somehow, she trusts Kara much more than any locksmith to keep Veronica away.

"So," she says instead, scrambling to find something interesting to add so that Kara will stay a little longer, even thirty seconds so she can delay reentry in her regular life, thirty seconds to bask in the unnatural glow of her neighbour, thirty seconds to allow herself to believe there is some good in the world, even if not for herself. "I’ll see you soon ?" she finishes lamely. "I owe you for last night. Maybe dinner ?" she adds so fast that she isn’t quite sure the sentence she produces is cohesive enough for Kara to understand.

"You don’t owe me anything," Kara replies with an unfairly charming smile. "You needed help and I was more than happy to provide. You’re a strong woman, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let other people take care of you when you need it. That being said, I would love to get dinner sometime, not because you need to repay me, but because I want to spend time with you. First though, I’ll see you tonight, for the lock, if that works for you."

Lena has no idea of if she’s free but she agrees wholeheartedly anyway, already thinking of possible excuses to cancel whatever meeting might find itself on the path of spending time with Kara. She might have to be crafty, because Jess has a way of seeing through her and though her secretary would never snoop in her personal life, Lena would still feel compelled to embarrassingly explain herself. And considering she doesn’t really understand why it feels so viscerally important to see Kara again tonight, she’d rather avoid the explanation entirely.

"Aren’t you going in ?" Kara asks tentatively, her eyes shifting between Lena and the eight feet tall alien who is working security today. There's a tinge of what Lena wants to believe is regret in her voice. "I wouldn’t want you to be late because of me."

If Lena is late, it’s of her own device, she's the one stalling and buying time ; but she isn’t about to correct Kara. Instead she nods, one time, then two, stopping right before she turns into a bobblehead. "You’re right," she says," this company isn’t going to run itself."

"I’ll see you tonight," Kara says before slipping her helmet back on, hiding a smile behind the visor.

Lena echoes her words as she drive away with a confidant wave of the hand, keeping her in sight until she disappears in the morning traffic.

***

In the end, Lena doesn’t need to craft an elaborate story to get out of a poorly timed meeting, she doesn’t have much on her planning for that day, a couple of papers to sign, and a follow up conference call with Japan. Jess is as efficient as ever, working quickly and filtering calls so Lena can spend as much time in her lab as she wants. Her assistant in training however is useless, and spends a good portion of the day staring off into the distance with a weird happy smile.

Chapter Text

Kara skids to a halt a few feet away from Alex in the dingy alleyway leading to the bar. It smells like trash and she's pretty sure nobody cleaned the puke behind the dumpsters since she saw a scaled individual throwing up there at least three weeks ago. Her sister is casually leaning against her own bike, looking at her phone, the light smile on her face contrasting quite funnily with the way her nose crooks at the smell.

"You're late," she says, looking up from the phone. "Wait," she adds with a frown, "is that Lucy's bike ?"

"It is," Kara says, taking her helmet off and absentmindedly ruffling her hair. "I dropped Lena off to work."

"Lena as in your neighbour Lena Luthor ?" Alex asks in a way that spells trouble. "Doesn’t she has an army of driver and fancy cars ?"

"It was her driver’s day off," Kara replies with what she wills to be a casual shrug, hating the way her words sound more like an unsure question than an irrefutable statement. "She slept over and we hanged around a bit this morning. I didn’t want her to be late."

"She slept over ? Did I missed some crucial part of your life ?"

"Sinclair snapped. Lena didn’t feel safe so I offered for her to stay over for the night."

"Well, this went from zero to gay very fast," Alex says with an annoying teasing smile.

"She just needed help and I was around."

"Alright," Alex says picking up on Kara’s wish for the conversation to be other, "just be careful, okay ?"

"I’m always careful," Kara mumbles, not really putting in the effort to reassure her sister because she knows she’s being anything but careful.

Grateful that, for the time being, Alex isn't going to pester her more about Lena, Kara slips past her and sets her mind to the present task, buying drugs. She spares a second to pray to Rao that Eliza never, ever, finds out about this.

"What do you think you’re doing ?" Alex calls after her, uselessly grabbing her by the elbow to stop her course towards the door.

"Um, walking ?" Kara questions, shrugging at the obviousness of her action.

"Give me your glasses ?" Alex says abruptly.

“What ?"

"Give me your glasses. You can’t come in here looking like Kara Danvers and I can’t secretly investigate looking like myself. So, give me your glasses."

Tentatively, Kara slips her glasses off her face and hands them to her sister who all but slams them onto her own face. Begrudgingly, she has to admit the disguise is quite effective. Breezing past her, Alex buries her hands deep in the pockets of her leather jacket and mumbles the password to the door, leaving Kara to hurriedly trail after her.

***

Kara never goes to the bar during the day and it takes her a moment to recognise the place with actual light streaming through the half boarded windows. Speckles of dust dance in the sunlight everywhere she sets her eyes on, giving the room an almost magical look. The place isn't as packed as it is during the night but more than a dozen aliens still tread around, some already drinking, some using the old computers to apply to jobs, some others doing nothing in a way that is suspicious only because she’s looking for it.

Their usual bartender isn't here and it's only when she notices her absence that Kara realises their plan is built on misshapen foundations ; if the telepath had been here, they would have had zero chance at discretion. M'gann doesn't make a habit of reading people's mind, but she almost always pick up stray thoughts from her friends when they first walk into a room. Alex Danvers in glasses wouldn't have fooled her, and she's seen Kara without them before.

The bartender, a bright orange woman whose hair seem to be made of flames, barely raises her head at their arrival, but Alex nudges her towards the counter nonetheless in what she seems to think is an inconspicuous way. They’re admittedly not very good at this. Kara orders a vodka soda that will do nothing to her, and Alex a jack and coke that will most definitely alter her judgement.

“What now ?" Kara asks after several minutes of watching Alex swirl her drink in her glass.

“We wait."

“We wait ? Can’t we just walk up to someone and ask ?"

"And say what ? ‘Hello I want to buy drugs ?’ That’s ridiculous."

Kara shrugs. "Well that was kind of the plan to begin with."

"We can’t just ask anyone. We have to observe, and pick the right person. And when we do that, we’re not even sure they’ll have what we want for sale."

"I’m not sure I thought this through," Kara says, deflating on her seat. "What are we even supposed to ask for ? A drug that makes you smile creepily then melts your brain ? That’s weird."

“Well," Alex says with a crooked smile that’s meant to be reassuring, "we’ve had better plans, sure, but this is our only option, so we’ll have to make do with it." She takes a sip of her drink, grimacing at the taste and setting the glass down with a bit more strength that necessary. "This is disgusting."

"This is literally the same drink you order every time."

"Yeah well M’gann makes it better," Alex bites back, her voice rising enough to draw the attention of the fiery bartender.

"Sshh, don’t talk so loud, she looks like she could murder us with her hair."

"You’re invulnerable," Alex grumbles looking at her drink like it’s the thing she wants to murder.

"You’re not," Kara states like a warning.

They stay silent for a while, their mostly untouched drinks warming in their hands. Alex is periodically glancing around the room with mock disinterest and Kara takes to people watching. Out of the two of them, she isn't sure who is the least discreet.

She averts her eyes from a couple of youngish looking individuals making out in the corner and starts reading the job application of an alien with long pointed ears, using her telescopic vision to look over their shoulder. It's full of mistakes and she's considering walking over to help when Alex elbows her in the ribs and then hisses in pain. "Over there," she whisper-shouts pointing to a small gathering.

"Is that Brian ?" Kara asks at a normal volume noticing the bright blue alien in an ill fitting suit. "I thought he had a new job."

"There’s something in his hand. Can you see what it is ?"

Brian is standing on the other side of the room, directly opposing them and half hidden by chairs stacked on top of a table. He’s talking to the only two humans in the bar apart from Alex. Kara concentrates, zooming in on his hand and hoping that she doesn’t find what they’re looking for in it. She really doesn’t want for it to be him, but the couple of iridescent pills in his hand are too similar to the one that got stolen from the DEO for them to be anything else.

"It looks like what we’re looking for," she says turning to Alex. "What should we do ?"

Not bothering with words, Alex is already standing up, leaving her drink behind with no regret.

"Oh alright. We’re doing that," Kara mumbles, catching up in a blur just before Alex stops right in Brian’s personal space.

"I’m going to need to ask you to step away," she says to the two humans before turning to the alien.

"And may I ask who the fuck you are ?" Brian asks not backing down but with the smallest hint of fear in his eyes. When Alex rips off the glasses from her face, he takes a full step back. "Oh. Hi Agent Danvers, what can I do for you today ?"

"Hand over the pills and every other drugs you have on you," she says firmly while extending her fake FBI badge in the general direction of the humans.

"I needed money," Brian says, taking another step back and bumping into the wall.

"I don’t care about that. This is a matter of public security, hand over all your drugs."

"And we might be nice to you," Kara adds, not wavering under Alex’s glare when she briefly turns to look at her.

"Do you know what these are for ?" Alex asks, turning back to Brian and snagging the pills out of his extended hand.

"I don’t. I swear I don’t," he says hurriedly, the tremor in his voice making it hard to understand him. "I just needed money. Money ! They don’t tell me what it is. Only to give the first one free and then to increase the price. I get fi-five percent."

"Who are they ?"

"I don’t know. I only, I only meet with the intermediaries once a week."

"Alright," Alex says, shoving a card into his trembling hand. "Next time you meet with them you call me beforehand and you might not be in too much trouble. If you don’t call me, you’ll never see the sun again."

"I will," Brian says, raising his hands and trying to back further into the wall. "I’ll call you. I promise I will."

"Go."

She doesn’t need to say it twice, Brian is out the door before neither Kara nor Alex can notice that his two customers are casually following him.

"Where are the…?" Alex starts, looking around while she pockets the pills. "Shit. Kara can you…?"
   
Kara is blocking the door before she has the time to finish her question, it’s too late though, and there’s nothing either of them can do about the creepy smiles adorning the users’ faces.

***

"You're telling me," J'onn says sternly, "that you improvised a stake out in a dive bar, disguised yourselves poorly, threatened a civilian, let said civilian go when he proved to be a drug dealer, all to bring back a couple of pills and two drug users ? And you didn't think of telling me beforehand ?"

Pills still clutched in her hand, Alex is standing straight, shoulders tensed back and feet firmly planted on the ground. She seems to be taking the scolding in stride, but Kara knows she isn't as unbothered as she's pretending to be. To be fair, J'onn can probably see it too, he knows his Earth daughter even if he still has to be her boss.

"Consultant Zor-El," he says turning to Kara, "this isn't in your contract. If you want to get more involved in the DEO's current affairs, we'll have to draft a new one. Agent Danvers, next time you want to do something stupid, warn me first."

"Yes, sir."

"That being said," he adds, the hint of a smile brightening up his serious face, "well done. We're back to square one which isn't much but is still better than where we were last night."

"Is there anything lower than square one ?" Brainy's voice sounds behind them, not low enough to be cataloged as a whisper but Kara still gives him a bonus point for trying.

"It's a human saying," Nia replies in a true whisper, her words swishing out of her mouth to slither into Kara's attuned ears.

"Humans are weird," Brainy comments offhandedly. "No offence," he adds, his body shifting behind Kara, presumably to turn to Nia.

"None taken. I'm half and half, I get quirks from two species."

"You are a fascinating being."

"Um, thank you ?"

Kara chuckles, which gets her an elbow from Alex, and regretfully tunes out of a conversation that isn't hers.

"Our best course of action," J'onn says when Kara gives him her full attention again, "is to analyse the pills to get a clearer look at what they’re made of which could help determined their effect. Dr Veritas is also going to get blood samples which should help us too. If only so we can know our guests chances of survival. Did they look like first time buyers ?"

"I'm not sure," Kara replies, truthfully having not payed much attention in the first place.

"They seemed to at least know what they were doing," Alex chimes in sourly, "where to look, who to ask. So either it's the best drug ever and word is spreading fast, which isn't good. Or it's not their first taste, and they'll be dead soon, which isn't good either."

"These are valid conclusions," J'onn says, his strong brow creased in thoughts, "but we should wait before we assume the worst. We lost all our data on this..."

"... not that there were much to begin with," Alex mumbles.

J'onn shoots her a soft warning look. "And we need to work from the ground up if we want to find something," he finishes. "Now, until we have something, you're all dismissed."

"Well, see," Brainy says as everybody starts walking away, "we do have something."

"What is it Agent Dox ?"

"I took the liberty of linking myself to the mainframe, which I shouldn't do because it's giving me a headache…"

"Can computers get headaches ?" Alex whispers to Kara.

Kara only shrugs, dismissing Alex’s question in favour of listening to Brainy. If something is truly happening, then she might not have to get back to her actual job today, which would be a real bonus.

"… and our monitoring system is telling me one of our ‘guest’ just woke up."

A sharp cry coming from the med bay punctuates his sentence. It's desperate, hopeless, and seeps inside of Kara like iced cold water.

"Please. Let me go back. I want to go back. Please !"

***

The distraught screams unsettles her so much that, later that day, Kara finds herself sitting at her desk at CatCo with no recollection as to how she got here. They didn't manage to calm the man down and he kept crying, asking after his wife ; his wife who according to public records has been dead for five years. Dr Veritas ended up having to sedate him, but even in his sleep, tears were still streaming down his face.

Kara doesn't quite understand why this one is sticking with her, why she feels for him and not for the ones who are already dead. His blood test revealed that, unlike his friend, it probably was his first taste of this drug, and she wonders what pushed him to take it, and what happened while he was under its influence. What he saw, where his mind went, what's so important about experiencing this again.

More than anything, she wishes she could help, she wishes her alienness could be useful to this situation ; she's always been able to help her sister and the DEO before, on her hardest days it makes her presence on Earth seem less pointless. If she can help, however discreet it might be, then there's a reason she's alive.

There was a time when she thought she'd be like Kal one day, helping in every possible way ; helping out in the open. Then she lost Jeremiah, and she made herself human ; humanish. She outgrew her ceremonial tunic, and now her house crest is on a cheap Superman t-shirt she wears under her shirts. Most days it's okay, but from time to time, it's not.

On the blank page, the cursor blinks back at her in an infuriating continuous pattern. She pitched an article on the effect of the Alien Amnesty Act on aliens employment ; Snapper got her working on the cost of the special summer meal plan of the retirement home. She thought about just writing her article and then presenting him with it ; more doing, less asking. But she can't afford to come off as aggressive and so like most days when it comes to Snapper, she shut up, and made herself scarce. He's in his office right now, yelling at someone else about some other things ; it's not a nice thought, but it's always a relief when he's mad at someone who isn't her. He disliked her long before her so called "lesbian drama", but James leaving seemingly because of her did nothing to improve his opinion of her, and some days, like today, she's on the verge of quitting, an inch away from burning her journalism dreams to go sell ice cream or books. She never does, but she entertains the thought nonetheless, wondering if writing pointless articles with no chance of advancement really is worth suffering Snapper's wrath. Though if she were to really quit, she has no doubt that Cat Grant would drag her back in by her tie.

The blank page is trying to hypnotise her, she can feel it chipping away at her mind and sucking away her will to live. She turns off the computer without bothering with backing it up and slips out of the office almost unnoticed. Only Nia looks up when she walks past her shooting her a questioning look that she deflects with a shrug. She makes her way home with her head down, artfully avoiding shoulders bump, and doesn't stop walking until she reaches the roof. Only then with her feet dangling over the edge does she feel less pressured, less crushed by the world around. With her view unobstructed by the other low buildings of the block, it's easier to breathe and she revels in the soft feeling of the sun on her skin.

When Lena joins her some three hours later, she hasn't moved an inch.

"I thought I might find you here," she says, slightly out of breath from climbing the stairs, her flushed cheeks brightening her green eyes. One of them is slightly bluer than the other, Kara notices when she briefly turns around to acknowledge her presence with a smile and a wave. She lingers at the top of the stairs for a moment, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, her eyes never leaving Kara's back. Eventually, she pads closer, crossing the small distance that separates them and sitting next to her, closer than the last time they found themselves here. Their respective body warmth seeps in the air between them, wrapping them in an invisible space that is theirs only.

Lena asks her about her day. Probably, Kara doesn't really hear the words that comes out of her mouth, only registers her tone, kind and open ; but it seems like an appropriate question to fill in the easy silence.

"It was good," she replies, mostly out of habit, and a bit because she isn't sure her answer actually matches the question.

"You're not a very good liar you know."

Kara turns to look at her surprised by her words, and the sharp analysis that they denote when they haven't known each other long enough for Lena to know that Kara indeed is a bad liar.

"I'm sorry," she adds hastily, her expression morphing into one of horror as she scrambles to apologise. "I shouldn't pry."

"It's okay," Kara says softly, a smile slipping on her face despite her bad mood. "You're right, I didn't have a very good day. But I'm okay know."

"Snapper ?" Lena questions cautiously.

Kara shrugs, knowing full well that the extent of her poor day can't be shared. "Amongst other things," she says, averting her eyes to gaze upon the skyline. "How was yours ?"

"Better than I thought it would be. Honestly, spending time with you this morning really helped with that."

Her words are leaden with hesitancy ; even as she shares them, she's trying to reel them back, to keep them for herself so that Kara's reaction cannot harm them.

They hover in the air for a moment before Kara catches them, her own words a promise to keep them safe. "This hour with you was the best part of my day."

Lena beams so hard that she seems surprised by it ; and it's exactly the kind of smile Kara needed to see today.

Lena doesn't reply anything to that, and her smile slowly disappears in favour of its opposite, her face morphing under the weight of doubt and something akin to dejection. And so Kara prompts her again, asking one more time about her day, trying her best to showcase her real interest in hearing about it. When Lena starts dancing around a secret project of hers, stumbling over her words to say a lot without revealing too much, her heart does somersaults of success.

She comes alive with her words, her body leaning forward in excitement, to the extent that Kara considers putting her arm in front her several times in fear that she'll fall off the edge. She talks about the private lab she had built at LCorp, close enough to her employees to be in the heat of the action, but still secluded so she can work in secret. Her current project is a long term one, something she's been working on since college and which development would be a major step in breaching the gap between human and alien technologies. It's almost like Kara has heard of it before ; in fact she's sure of it.

"Are you talking about your prosthetic ?" she asks, eagerly cutting Lena in the middle of a sentence. "I'm sorry if you didn't want anybody to know about this but I've read your thesis and it's amazing to know you're still working on your prototype."

"You've read my thesis ?" Lena whispers, dumbfounded, her enthusiastic hands stilling mid air before falling back to her lap. "Nobody's read my thesis apart from my research director, not even my best friend."

"Of course I've read it. And my adoptive mother did too. It's online, free, and the subject is fascinating."

"The prototype was wonky."

"It was still more than anybody had ever achieved. And your research helped with creating life and planet saving mixed technologies. You're amazing ! I still think about your miniaturised solar powered engines."

"Actually, I'm working on making it self sufficient by using kinetic energy only."

"It would be revolutionary."

"It would," Lena admits, one of her eyebrows arching smugly.

The more she talks about her work, the more confident she appears, her assured tone paired with her somewhat ruffled work attire making her all the more alluring. Kara knows she's staring, but she cannot bring herself to care, even when Lena catches her red-handed, her own eyes peering into her soul for longer than the both of them can bring themselves to admit.

Lena, Kara realises then, is a person of layers, and one of them has been peeled back in front of her very eyes. Her cautiousness falls aways to reveal passion and confidence. Away from Veronica Sinclair’s battering, she reveals herself to be the sun, not the moon. It’s not to say that Kara thinks her shyness is an act, her hesitancy a masquerade, but there is something more below. Lena Luthor contains multitudes, and Kara hopes she’ll have the privilege to know all of her. She almost voices it, almost lets slip premature words that may never see the light of day ; but a heavy rain drops falls on her nose, causing her to squint and lose her focus on Lena. It’s followed by another, and another, and soon enough, the sky is pouring down on them.

“I bought a new lock,” Lena shouts over the rain as they scramble off the edge and to the stairs. “Do you still have time to change it ?”

Kara nods without looking at her, both of their shirts are clinging to their skins and acknowledging it might be too much for her poor gay heart.

***

The air in the hallway is uncannily warm and damp, weighed down by the rain they brought back from outside, crowded by their breathing. Kara can feel Lena's eyes following her every move, burning holes in her back, glaring at her arms ; when she turns to ask for a screwdriver, she's fixated on the tendons of her neck. She doesn't know what to make of it. Well, she knows what she wants to do, she understands very well what her base instincts are saying ; but she doesn't know what Lena wants, doesn't know if she's even aware that she's staring with brimming hunger in her eyes. Her gaze feels nice, but Kara is once bitten twice shy and so she won't act on it until all of the signals, and then some, turn to green. Lena is fresh out of a break up, just relieved from a toxic relationship, and Kara isn't about to throw herself at her even though right now, in the heat of the corridor, she looks like she wants to eat her. She's taken off her shirt which on second thoughts might have been a bad idea because her Superman t-shirt is a bit tight around her biceps and these have been known to be her better feature ; the strength she's holding back as she fixes the door makes them quiver in what she's aware is a very attractive way.

Lena passes her a smaller screwdriver to help her insert the new deadbolt and it occurs to Kara that she's an engineer, and could probably have changed her lock herself. She doesn't mention it though. Instead, she puts back the doorknob, securing it with the other screwdriver she stored in her back pocket ; behind her, Lena chokes. Kara gets up, brushes off the wood shaving on her pants and shakes off the dust in her hair ; she doesn't bite back her smile, she can indulge now and beat herself up later. "Here you go," she says, reaching out to drop the new keys in Lena's hand.

What Lena does next is unexpected enough that it's Kara's turn to choke, beaten at her own game. Lena blinks, clearing off her daze, and smoothly slides one key off the ring to hand it back. "You should have one, as my neighbour, in case there's a problem." Her fingers linger on Kara's hand for a beat longer than is appropriate, and her smirk makes it clear that it's deliberate.

Kara has half a mind to grab said fingers and keep them linked to hers ; there are dozens of reason why she shouldn't, but she's teetering on the edge of doing it anyway. A forgotten heartbeat reaches her.

Hurried steps rattle the stairs.

A lone figure dressed in black and with hair plastered to her face appears on the landing.

"Sam ?" Kara whispers, startled by the apparition, her hand sliding out from under Lena's, the key loosely caught between two fingers. "Samantha Arias ?"

A vibrant smile stretches on Lena's face. "You know Sam ? She's my best..."

"What are you doing here ?" Kara cuts, her words seething out with barely restrained hatred.

Lena's smile falls, her eyes flickering between Kara's suddenly tensed body and Sam still as a statue. Her presence is the only thing that keeps Kara from launching herself at the intruder's throat.

Chapter Text

The air around her turns cold, and when seconds ago, she couldn't breathe because of the heat radiating of her own body, Lena is now out of breath because her lungs seem filled with ice spikes. This is what happens when she lets herself go. This is what happens when she indulges in the warmth of Kara. The feeling of safety that usually radiates from her neighbour clearly blinded her, made her believe she deserved something good. Clearly she was mistaken.

Sam is standing frozen at the top of the stairs, and Kara looks ready to tear her apart. Her eyes almost seem to glow and her tantalising biceps vibrate with the strength she's holding back. Lena wants to reach out, to stop Kara from attacking her best friend ; not because she’s scared for Sam, but because she’s afraid that Kara will get hurt if she collides with her friend’s invulnerable body. Sam is virtually indestructible, and Kara, strong but sweet Kara, is only human.

"What are you doing here ?" Kara repeats through gritted teeth, her clenched jaw moments away from blowing up to dust.

"Lena called," Sam finally says, taking a cautious step forward, then another when Kara momentarily shifts her gaze to look at Lena.

On her, her eyes soften almost imperceptibly before they harden again as she turns back to Sam. "You can't be here."

"Lena called."

"No," Kara barks. "You can't be here. Alex is coming. Right now. Which you should know, unless you've forgotten how she sounds."

Sam freezes again, the rest of the colours draining completely from her face as she listens. Lena knows she's missing something, something crucial, but she can't put her finger on it.

"Get inside," Kara growls motioning to Lena's apartment. "Quicker," she adds sharply at Sam's hesitant steps. "If she sees you I'll kill you myself."

"I'm moving back to National City," Sam says as she walks past her.

"No you're not," Kara says with finality, slamming the door behind her. "I'm sorry," she adds, "really."

Or at least it looks like that’s what she's saying because the blood roaring in Lena's ears prevents her from fully understanding and she isn't sure for what part Kara is apologising anyway. She considers asking, she builds up the words in her head, but someone else makes their way down the corridor and the puzzle clicks. Kara Danvers. Alex. Alex Danvers. That's why she looked so familiar.

"I have to," she says, taking a step towards her door and then stopping, looking at Kara who relaxes ever so slightly, composing herself to face her sister.

"I'm sorry," she repeats. "Go. Sam probably needs you. I'll call you later. Wait, I don't have your number. I'll talk to you later. I'm really sorry."

She looks sincere, but her smile feels like hail.

The door slams behind her and Lena all but falls backward onto it ; the wooden surface the only thing keeping her body upward as billions of needles prickle her paper thin skin and her breathing becomes more and more ragged.

"Go sit," Sam says, her voice muffled by the blood in her ears and hoarse from her own emotions. "I'll make some tea."

"No, no," Lena manages to say. "You sit. I'll make some tea."

"Don't be ridiculous Lena."

"You've just had a bad surprise, sit, I'll take care of you."

"No offence," Sam says, her face blank and her words stern, "but your life is a literal pile of shit right now and you look like you're about to pass out. Sit."

Lena can feel her resolve slowly seeping away from her and her body sags further against the door. "Okay. Okay. I'll go sit. But we take care of each other. Not just you of me or just me of you."

"Deal," Sam says with a mock salute and a somewhat pained smile. She unfurls her long body from the couch and makes her way to the kitchen, control and cautiousness etched into her every step. 

Staggering to the couch takes all of Lena's remaining strength and she's unsure of how much time passes before Sam deposits a warm cup of tea on the coffee table in front of her. She thanks her with a nod, words refusing to come to her.

Minutes pass in a less and less steep silence, the air becoming more and more breathable with each sip of the scalding tea. Next to her Sam relaxes a little, her strong body sinking further into the cushions with each shared breath. 

"Did you know ?" Lena eventually asks though it pains her to hurt her friend by asking.

"That your Kara was this Kara ? No. You didn't tell me her last name remember ? But did I know that Alex was still in National City ? Yes. I stopped keeping tabs on her a while ago, but," Sam swallows, her eyes dropping to her knees where her restless hands are playing with her leather bracelet. "But this entire city smells like her. I just hoped I wouldn't accidentally bump into her."

"You could have just refused when I offered to have you relocated here," Lena says softly, reaching out hesitantly to lightly squeeze Sam's wrist. "I would have understood."

Sam sighs, forcefully rubbing the heel of her hands on her eyes. "I wanted to come back here. You know I would have told you otherwise. I've always loved National City. And mum isn't getting younger so it's easier if I'm not too far from Midvale either."

"You can fly Sam. You could be across the world and still be there in time to catch Patricia if she were to tumble down the stairs."

Sam laughs sourly and take a sip of tea. "I should have put whisky in this," she mumbles with a dejected look.

"I can cancel your transfer," Lena offers softly. "Because you know you're going to see a lot of her, her sister lives next door and if you come over you're due to bump into her one way or another."

"No. I'm moving back here so I can be closer to my best friend and if I have to see my ex then so be it, I can handle it."

"Can ?" Lena starts, nearly biting back her words when she realises what she's about to ask. "Can Ruby handle it ?"

Sam tenses like a spring, freezing up before she drops her head in her hands. "Fuck."

"She's smart. You know there's a chance she might recognise her."

"Rao... I can't do that to my kid. She asked after her for so long."

"Do you want me to cancel your transfer ?" Lena asks again, as gently as she can.

"No. No don't. I can own up to my mistakes. If it comes down to that, I, I’ll try to make it right."

"Are you sure ?"

"I. Yes. I am."

"Alright." Lena drains the rest of her tea, dropping the cup back on the table and taking Sam's half full from her. "Then let's go to bed."

"I'm sorry for all this mess," Sam mumbles, motioning to everything and nothing. "I came here for you and now everything’s fucked up."

Lena sighs, resisting the urge to burry her face in her hands and never move again. "You couldn't have known you'd bump into your ex's sister. It's not your fault."

"I don't want to come in between you and whatever this is."

"You're my best friend," Lena replies firmly. "She's a girl I met a fortnight ago. You're more important."

"You like her. And your happiness matters to me."

"I'll admit I enjoy her company," Lena says, turning away to hide the faint blush she can feel spreading on her cheeks.

"The hallway reeked of pheromones Lena, you can't fool me."

Lena groans, her embarrassment radiating from her. "God, I keep on forgetting you can do that. I don't even know her that much !"

"I fell in love with her sister in five minutes," Sam croaks with a sad smile. "It's a Danvers thing. I'm not saying you have to marry her and raise her handsome kids. But you're allowed to 'enjoy her company'. Nothing bad is going to happen if you do."

Lena scoffs, turning back to Sam to glare holes into her head ; but truly, she looks more defeated than offended. "Have you seen my life ? Good things don't happen to me. She probably won't ever talk to me again. I wouldn't be surprised if she were to move to Alaska in the middle of the night."

"You have two private jets, you can chase her down to Alaska."

"This is ridiculous."

"I'm glad you agree."

"I."

"Let yourself be happy," Sam cuts before Lena can launch into an indignant rant. "No matter what Veronica made you believe, you do deserve it. If you like Kara, then be friend with her. Or fuck her. Marry her. I don't care. Do something for yourself, for once."

"If she still wants to be my friend..."

"Alright," Sam concedes. "If she still wants to be your friend. But you did nothing wrong. And, well, unfortunately I know her, and she's a good person. She won't drop you just because she doesn't like me."

"Good things don't happen to me," Lena repeats.

"I am your friend, aren't I ? And I like to think I'm not half bad. Good things do happen to you. You just see the world a bit differently than most people and you sometimes need to be reminded that things will be alright."

Lena exhales strongly, willing away all the tension in her muscles. "You're good at this."

"Just like you're good at handling me."

In synch, they shuffle to the middle of the couch until Lena can rest her head on Sam's shoulder, and Sam can rests her own on top of hers.

"Are you gonna be okay ?" Lena asks after a short moment, the last of the tension seeping out of her body as she huddles close to her best friend’s unnatural warmth.

"I don't know," Sam admits, wrapping her arms around her exactly like she's done hundreds of times before. "I don't know."

***

Lena doesn't remember falling asleep, but she wakes up in her bed, the side Sam must have slept on still warm and the smell of coffee wafting in through the open door. Her friend's voice filters in from the living room and for a moment she fears someone is there with her before she realises she's only on the phone.

"That was Ruby and my mum," she says when Lena pads into the kitchen, rubbing her tired eyes. "I dropped her off last night on my way here. They wanted to know if I’d be there for breakfast. I said lunch at best." She turns away from the stove, carelessly waving an egg covered spatula. "You’re not going to work today."

"I don’t know. I’ll have to check my schedule to see if I can take the day off."

"Oh that wasn’t a question. I called Jess and cleared your schedule."

"Is that why you let me sleep in ?" Lena asks, yawning as she checks the oven’s clock.

"7:30 isn’t sleeping in Lena," Sam replies with an eye roll before turning away from her to flip something in a pan.

"Are those pancakes ?" Lena enquires, her stomach rumbling at the smell.

"I figured that while I’m here I’d take the opportunity to feed you something that isn’t greyish mush."

"I had croissants just yesterday," Lena mumbles as she takes a seat at the kitchen table. "Kara bought them for me."

"Wow. She seriously upgraded her moves. She used to feed her ex burned toast." She chuckles sourly, the sound half blocked in her throat. "Alex and I taught her a lot of things. And she taught me a lot in return."

"You know," Lena says cautiously, "you never really told me about her. I mean I knew Alex had a sister, but that’s about it."

"We were really close," Sam replies after she’s done swallowing a mouthful of pancakes that she chases down with coffee. "I was utterly and devastatingly in love with Alex, but Kara, Kara was my sister."

Lena reaches out across the table to lay a comforting hand on Sam’s. "You don’t have to talk about it."

"I want to. I think." She sighs, looking down at the spoon she's twisting between her fingers. "I already knew Alex when Kara came to live with the Danvers. I had been in love with her for a while. Alex and Kara didn’t get along at first so I didn’t get to talk to her, but she always had a smile for me. She was sad. Cautious and careful. Even more so after Jeremiah died. The first time I really interacted with her was when I found out I was pregnant with Ruby. She heard me crying in the bathroom at school and she came after me. I remember it so vividly it’s crazy. She used to wear a lot of ill-fitting sundresses but not on that day. She was dressed in a white tee and mud stained jeans. Her hair in a low ponytail."

Lena laughs lowly at that, the image of teenage Kara swirling warmly in her stomach. "Baby butch", she mutters through the smile that stretches her lips.

"She held me for Rao knows how long and then she called Alex. But before Alex showed up, she told me something that is probably the reason I didn’t give up. She told me about her birth parents, and the community she grew up in, and that being gay wasn’t a fatality. I denied it of course. Vehemently. But she told me she knew, and that there was no need to be afraid."

"That was also the day Alex kissed you for the first time, right ?"

"It was," Sam confirms with a sad smile. "Kara changed our lives for the better. We were a family. She was with me when I told my mum that I was gay and pregnant. And she was pacing the corridor when I was giving birth and crushing Alex’s hand. I was there for her first heartbreak. And I taught her how to knot a tie. She was there to hold Alex after I left." She sighs, toying with her food for a minute. "She has all the reasons in the world to be mad at me. But she’s a good person. She took care of you when I couldn’t. Protected you. She even changed your lock and you and I both know you could have done it yourself." Lena glares at her over her mug and Sam laughs. "I think she cares about you. So don’t let my issues with her get in the way. If I’m wrong though, and she treats you like crap because of me, then that means she’s undeserving of you and you’re meant for someone better. Not the opposite."

"I heard what you said and I won’t fight you on it," Lena says with some difficulty, "because I’m trying very hard to believe you when you say I deserve something good. But what about you ? You’re putting yourself in a painful and difficult position. I don’t want you to get hurt. You were," Lena stops, swallowing and pushing back the tears pricking her eyes. "You were so sad when I first met you. Heartbroken. Hollow."

"I grew up a lot," Sam says with a somewhat doleful smile, "and I think I can handle it. But if I can't, then I promise I won't try to hide from you. And I'll let you take care of me."

"Okay," Lena replies softly, nodding along her words. "I trust you. I trust that you’ll make the right decision."

"Thank you."

"Thank you," Lena fires back. "For always being there, and always knowing what to say."

***

Sam does get to Midvale in time for lunch, but she flies Lena there with her. They land in the forest just outside of town and walk the rest of the way to Patricia's. They pass the Danvers' house and Lena catches a glimpse of a blonde woman cutting flowers in the garden. If she didn't know Kara is adopted, she would no doubt believe that Eliza Danvers is her birth mother. It's not the first time she comes to Midvale with Sam, and so it's not the first time she walks past Kara's childhood house. It's the first time however that she knows who Kara is. The bright home seems cheerful and filled with happiness ; it suits her. She wonders behind which window her bedroom hides. Eliza looks up as they walk in front of her gate and she waves with a sad smile. Sam waves back politely but her shoulders and head drop down heavily as soon as they're out of sight.

Ruby jumps on them as soon as they come in through the kitchen door and Lena squeaks a reminder that she isn't as indestructible as the over eager child. She smells like cookies and fresh air which Sam picks up immediately.

"Have you been flying ?" she asks with a scowl even as she ruffles her hair affectionately.

"No," Ruby replies with a cheeky smile, bouncing over to her grandmother to sneak a slice of bread out of an overflowing tray.

"Liar."

"I stayed under the tree line like you said," Ruby mutters, looking everywhere but at her mother. "I'm sorry I went flying without asking for permission. It's boring here without you."

"Thank you for me," Patricia scoffs teasingly, not meaning it one bit. "Lena dear," she adds, "it's such a pleasure to see you. Do you eat properly in that big city of yours ?"

Patricia opens her arms, and Lena willingly steps into her warm embrace, taking a moment to breathe deeply in the older woman arms.

"I fed her real food this morning," Sam says, following her daughter's example to scavenge a piece of bread. "Shit this is good, is it homemade ?" she asks with her mouth full, crumbs littering the floor around her.

"Samantha," her mother scolds, "don't talk with your mouth full."

"Mum ! Language !" Ruby shouts with an ear splitting grin. She extends her hand towards her mother, wiggling her fingers. "That'll be one dollar for the swear jar."

Sam sighs and pats her pockets. "Put it on my tab, I don't have cash on me."

"Oh I can take your credit card," Ruby offers.

"Here," Lena says, extracting a random bill from her own wallet. "I'll settle her debt."

"Aunt Lena," Ruby says with a frown, "that's nineteen dollar more than what she owes me."

"Buy yourself some ice cream," Lena says, shrugging and taking the slice of bread Patricia willingly offers her on her way to the dining room. She made roasted lamb, but Sam pretends to be innocent when Lena shoots her a questioning look.

The day passes by much quicker than Lena wants it too. After lunch, they take a long walk on the beach and Ruby buys everyone ice cream. She hugs Lena a bit longer when she slips her a fifty dollar bill before she has to leave.

The flight home is short, which is both good and bad. Good, because Lena isn't a fan of flying and Sam's speed gives her motion sickness. Bad, because she isn't quite ready to face her life and her empty apartment, knowing that Kara is just next door.

"I know what you did," she says when Sam drops her off in a shallow alley behind her building. "You took me to see Ruby and your mum to show me something good and reminds me that such things exist."

"Well, did it work ?"

"Yes," Lena sighs, "yes it did."

"Good," Sam says with a soft smile. "I gotta go," she adds pointing to the sky, "I promised Ruby we'd go flying before bed."

"Have a safe flight," Lena says, taking a couple of steps back to avoid being blasted away by Sam's take off.

"Oh," Sam adds right before flying away, "Kara's on the roof. If you want to talk to her." And then she's off, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust and lingering warmth.

As she climbs the stairs to her apartment, Lena hesitates, unsure of if she should meet up with Kara or not. But on her doorstep is a box of apology cookies with a note offering to talk, and so, putting on a thick jacket, she takes the path to the roof, her heartbeat quicker and quicker with each step. Kara is sitting on the edge, in her, their, usual spot. Her t-shirt is tight around her shoulders, but they seem less tensed than last night. She tilts her head back, the rays of sun making one with her features, and exhales, before lifting her hand and motioning for Lena to come closer.

Chapter Text

Anger, betrayal, guilt, sadness ; a whirlwind of emotion eat away at Kara and she doesn't know what to do with them. She manages to hold herself together for a movie and small mindless talk with her sister, but the moment Alex is out the door, she’s ready to implode.

The worst, she thinks, might be that if it weren't for Lena, she would have torn Sam apart on the spot. Even with the door closed and a wall separating them her hands are itching with violence. When she closes her eyes, she sees nothing but blood. Kara lost her balance when she lost Krypton, and she's used to anger, she used to be a very angry person, she still is ; but she never acts on it, at least not on other people, and the brutality of her thoughts towards Sam makes her stomach churn.

She considers going to the DEO to lock herself in a training room and pummel blocks of concrete ; but she'd have to explain herself to Alex, and she knows she wouldn't be able to lie. She might not be able to hide Sam's return for long anyway, but she'll shield Alex with everything she has for as long as she can.

She tries to tell herself that her anger is rational, that she has the right to be mad at Sam for disappearing for a decade ; but it does nothing to alleviate the white-hot anger that threatens to burst from her every pore. At least the thrumming of her rage covers the voices of Lena and Sam on the other side of the wall.

Because yes, then there's Lena, and Kara won't deny that she liked the way her neighbour seemed to put her on a pedestal. She won't deny that she liked being looked up to, and she won't deny that she liked Lena's eyes on her. At least it didn't last long enough to really break her. With Sam being Lena's best friend, there's no way she'll even talk to her again, even more so with the way she acted in the corridor.

Sleep doesn’t come. Not that she goes to sleep in the first place, but she expects to collapse from some form of exhaustion or another ; she doesn’t. She paces her apartment for endless hours, takes two showers, scrubs her kitchen clean and washes the blanket on the couch because it smells like Lena. When the clock starts flirting with the early hours of the morning, most of her anger is gone, leaving behind only anguish and sorrow. Without allowing herself to give it much thoughts, she launches herself out the window and flies to Eliza's.

She lands behind the house, narrowly avoiding a flower bed that wasn't there the last time she visited and immediately drawing Eliza's attention. Her Earth mother is busy making breakfast in the kitchen and when she catches sight of her, she waves, and gets another mug out of the cupboard.

"Hi sweetie," she says with a warm smile when Kara makes her way into the house, shaking dew out of her hair.

Wordlessly and carefully, Kara wraps her into her arms, squeezing just enough to let her know she really, really needs a hug.

"Bad night ?" Eliza asks. "Go put on some dry clothes, I'll make some coffee," she adds when Kara only nods and hugs her tighter.

She makes her way upstairs, to Alex's and hers shared bedroom, taking in its peacefulness and familiarity. There's an uneven layer of dust on her desk, and the cover of her old copy of Carol is starting to fade in the sun, but there also are fresh flowers on the dresser, and the smell of lavender permeates the air. She makes her way to the bed, slowly laying down on it and patting under the pillow until she finds the little bag of dried flowers, bringing it to her nose to fill her lungs with comfort. The bed is soft, the heavy comforter creating an extra layer of fluff under her back ; it's almost like floating. She considers falling asleep, but the scent of coffee reaches her sensitive nostrils and she sets to the task of finding clean clothes.

She chooses old sweatpants that might be hers, and a hoodie that is definitely Alex's. It used to be her favourite, until it got claimed by Maggie and ultimately abandoned here. Eliza washed it, and it smells neither like her sister nor like Maggie anymore, but like freshly cut grass and laundry detergent. She slips on a pair of fluffy socks and doesn't resist the urge to slide across the length of the floorboard. Jeremiah's throaty laugh echoes in her head.

Downstairs, Eliza is making perfectly round blueberry pancakes and Kara feels a surge of affection for her adoptive mother.

"Sit," the older woman orders, sliding a cup of coffee in front of Kara's designated place at the table. "Do you want to talk about what happened ?"

"I saw Sam," Kara says, finding no reason to stall. "She's going to move back to National City."

"Does Alex know ?" Eliza asks without missing a beat.

"She doesn't," Kara manages to say through the lump in her throat. "I don't know what to do about this."

"Tell her," Eliza replies softly, reaching across the table to squeeze her hand. "She's going to find out one way or another and it's better if you're the one who tells her."

Kara sighs, roughly rubbing her free hand over her face. "She still has that baby picture of Ruby in her wallet. It would break her."

"She's stronger than you know," Eliza points gently, "happier than she was. And she's got you and Kelly to support her if it's too much. Trust her strength."

"Do you really thing that telling her is the best solution ?"

"I think it's the one that might hurt less, ultimately."

"I really don't know," Kara mumbles, staring at her cup like it holds the answer to everything. "She's happy you know ? With Kelly. Really really happy. They're getting married, and they're already thinking of babies name. I just. I just wish Sam could go away. It's not fair that she's here."

"You can't bend people to your will Kara," Eliza says quietly, smoothing half crescent of anger on Kara's wrist. "I too wish she would stay away from your lives. She did lasting damage, on both of you. You held it together remarkably well when she left, but that doesn't mean I didn't notice you were hurting." She sighs, a glint of sadness shading her usually bright eyes. "If only Patricia had told me Sam was coming back, I would have told you, to give you time to prepare."

"It was like seeing a ghost," Kara whispers, looking up to her Earth mother, her silhouette blurry through the tears pooling in her eyes. "One second I was with Lena, and we were having a moment, I suppose. And the next Sam was here and the world was upside down. I could have killed her on the spot, and I don't like that about me. I think if I had blinked, let go of my focus for half a second, I would have."

"But you didn’t," Eliza says with a smile. It's a crooked smile, a smile full of sadness, and it makes Kara's heart ache.

"I think I scarred her. Lena not Sam. I don't care if I scare Sam. I don't know if she'll let me talk to her again. We were becoming friends."

"She'd be a fool not to. You were caught by surprise, I'm sure she can understand that. Some of my pumpkins are a bit early," Eliza muses, distractingly taping her finger against her cheek. "I’ll give you one, make some cookies, explain what you can and apologise for losing your temper in front of her. If there's a way to keep your friendship going, it would be a mistake not to try."

"Do you really think she'll want to talk to me ?"

"I think so yes. Because you're amazing and she'd be missing out."

Kara scoffs, rolling her eyes and leaning back on her chair. "You have to say that."

"Which doesn't mean that it's not true. You're amazing Kara, and brave. Like your sister. I couldn't have asked for better daughters."

***

Kara waits on the roof for three hours. Maybe.  Time keeps on jumping around haphazardly and everytime she checks her wristwatch, she can't remember what time it was before. She dozes off in the sun, periodically brought back to awareness by clouds cooling her off. She can't hear Sam anymore ; it's nice.

The air around her smells of pumpkin, brown sugar and ozone. Below her feet, a siren, two heartbeats, then one, Lena's.

Her neighbour makes her way up, slowly, pausing on the fourth floor for an insufferably long moment, before she appears behind her, unmoving, each of her breath leaden with hesitancy. With a wave of the hand, she beckons her closer, and lets the silence hang for a minute after she's sat.

"I wanted to apologise for last night," she says, her voice thick and gravelly from staying silent all afternoon. Beside her, Lena shivers. "And I'd also like to explain my reaction, if you'll let me."

"Okay," Lena says warily, briefly turning to look at her with a shy smile.

Kara inhales deeply, and takes her time releasing this breath. "What did Sam tell you ?"

"That the two of you were like sisters."

Kara's heart cracks right on its old scars, the organ pumping and pushing against old wounds that shouldn't hurt anymore. "We were," she says with some difficulty. "Apart from Alex, she was the person I was closest to. My best friend. I could tell her things that I couldn't share with anyone else. And then one morning she was just gone. She left without saying goodbye. And I was broken, but I had to hold it together because Alex… Alex was barely alive. She cried for days, couldn't sleep for weeks. Nearly dropped out of college. Did Sam tell you that I'm Ruby's godmother ? Not Alex. Me. Can you guess why ?"

"Because Alex is Ruby's other mum...?" Lena whispers tentatively, her eyes trained on the ground far below her feet.

"Because Alex is Ruby's other mum," Kara confirms crookedly. "It was never official of course. They were both so young. But everybody knew it was how things were. Ruby even called Alex mum. And I can forgive Sam for leaving me behind. I'm tough. I'm used to loss. If anything I'm thankful, because it prepared me for the way people would treat me in life. But I can't forgive her for leaving Alex. Never."

"If it helps, she nearly went back several time."

"It doesn't," Kara says grimly before breathing out forcefully. "But I appreciate you trying."

"Can we still be friend ?" Lena asks after a stretch of silence so long that Kara wonders if it was ever going to be filled.

"Why couldn't we be ?" Kara asks back even though the answer to this question is terribly obvious.

"Because Sam is my best friend. And you might not want to be anywhere near me because of that."

Kara opens her mouth, and closes it, surprised by the phrasing that isn't quite what she expected. "I thought," she says, "that you wouldn't want to be my friend because of this. Not the opposite."

"I do want to be your friend," Lena says, so low that it's almost like she doesn't want to say it. It's puzzling, but somehow it makes sense with the words she says next ; and Kara dares to think she understand. "You make me, you make me feel safe, and it's not something I feel around a lot of people, so I don't want to lose it. I'm sorry if that's not things friends says to other friends. I only have one other friend and it's Sam so my framework for this might be a little bit lacking."

"You're already covering one basis of a good friendship," Kara says even though she isn't sure how she manages to speak, the beating of her own heart deafening her beyond comprehension.

"Which is ?"

"Honesty. And it takes a lot of bravery to be honest."

"I don't," Lena mumbles, "I don't see myself as a particularly brave person."

"I think you are," Kara says, slowly reaching out and then squeezing her forearm when she doesn't shy away. Her skin is colder than most people, but it still burns like a thousand suns against her own. "You came up here to talk to me even when you were afraid I wouldn't want to be your friend anymore. You broke up with Veronica. You moved to a very unfamiliar environment. I think you're very brave. And if you don't think that about yourself, at least let me think it for you."

"I guess I can let you think that," Lena says with a small uncertain smile.

"Where," Kara starts asking before she can second guess herself, making the most of their current momentum, "do you situate yourself on the hug scale ?"

"The hug scale ?" Lena repeats, bewildered and sounding mildly amused.

"Yes, the hug scale. Friends hug sometimes, and I'd like to hug you if that's okay."

"I suppose a hug would be nice," Lena says, nodding slowly and turning her whole body towards Kara even slower.

Despite being the one who initiates it, Kara is wholly unprepared for said hug. Lena's body against hers is gasoline on fire. Every single one of the particles that make her her suddenly come alive like they haven't in a long time. It's a bit awkward, hugging sideway on the edge of a precipice but it's not what Kara notices. What she perceives instead is the way her atoms shift and vibrate, trying to fuse with Lena's. It's exhilarating, life altering, and all she can think, all she can formulate is, fuck.

"Can I ask you something ?" Lena asks when their bodies have detached themselves from one another and Kara's cells are screaming after the ones next to them. "You don't have to answer if it's inappropriate."

"Go ahead."

"What did you meant, earlier, when you said that Sam leaving without warning prepared you for the way people would treat you in life ?"

"Oh," Kara says, surprised by the question, and not quite sure she's ready for Lena to hear its answer. "Um. You may have notice that I don't exactly look like you, or Sam for that matter."

"As a matter of fact, I did. You're very handsome." A bright blush invades Lena's face, and she seems taken aback by her own words, freezing up beside Kara.

"Thank you," Kara replies, not as confidently as she'd like. She raises her hand to fiddle with her glasses and almost pokes her eye out when she realises she isn't wearing them ; she often forgets to put them on around Lena. "My parents were pretty much okay with whatever I wanted to do, whoever I wanted to be. They were really supportive. But when they died, and I moved in with the Danvers, I was at that age when it starts to be less okay to be a tomboy and people start calling you names. I was thirteen, living with strangers, I had just lost my whole world, and people were calling me a dyke in the school's hallway." She stops, not very smoothly but the comment about losing her world, not her parents, her world, tumbled out of her without her own accord and even though she knows Lena must know Sam is an alien, she doesn't feel ready to tell her this. "I hid for a while. And then I realised being true to myself could help other people, namely my sister and Sam. Eliza took me shopping, insisted on buying me boxer briefs with weird patterns, and things were okay for a while, I even had a girlfriend, Jen. Until college."

"What happened in college ?" Lena prompts, reaching out to squeeze her forearm like Kara did before ; her hand is fatally soft.

"Well for starter, Sam left," Kara says with an empty laugh. "I took care of Alex, a lot, broke up with Jen. I dabbled a bit in dating, got ghosted fifty percent of the time, was too trusting, too open, too soft the rest of the time. Too complicated too, not enough of a girl, and definitely not a guy. I had troubles making friends, making connections. Until I met Lucy. We became fast friends, and ended up dating. For four years. Until she left me for my best friend. And she was so, ashamed of herself I guess, that she left without saying goodbye. I looked for her of course, but she refused to talk to me. I got a voicemail three days later, she said some pretty harsh things. She apologised since then but these kind of things stick. 'You’re different. You make me uncomfortable.' A week later, I asked Alex to cut my hair, and I haven't looked back ever since. I'm a butch lesbian. That's just part of who I am, but it's an important part and I won't deny it."

"I like your hair," Lena says, her eyes widening in horror. "I'm sorry," she adds hastily, "this is in no way an appropriate response to what you just told me."

"I don't mind," Kara mumbles shrugging. I like that you like my hair.

"It's unfair that people treated, treat, you like," Lena pauses, "like that."

"Like I'm dirt under their shoes ?" Kara asks bluntly.

"Yeah. And I'm sorry Sam was one of them, even if it was for different reasons."

"You don't have to apologise on her behalf," Kara says, shaking her head to clear her voice, "but I appreciate it anyway," she adds, raising her hands just in time to interrupt Lena's protest.

"Is it when I hug you ?" Lena asks sheepishly.

"It can be," Kara replies, opening her arms in invitation.

She's ready this time, for the feeling of Lena against her, but it is in no way less intoxicating. Lena mumbles something against her shoulder, something that sounds suspiciously like, is it friendship if you're attracted to your friend ? She almost feels guilty that her sensitive hearing picked up on this secret ; almost, because the warmth that spreads in her chest combats the guilt quite effectively.

Chapter Text

When two hours after hugging Kara on the roof, it’s still the only thing she can think about, Lena comes to the logical conclusion that she is utterly fucked. The uncanny warmth of Kara's body pressed against hers, the way her entire being realigned to be in synch with her, and the always present scent of lavender that is slowly redefining all she ever thought about comfort are all she can think about. She expects to feel guilty, to do something crazy like googling the typical mourning period one should observe after breaking up with one's toxic girlfriend, or to beat herself up for hugging her very attractive neighbour. Instead, she changes into her most comfortable sweatpants, eats her cookies straight out of the container, and watches reruns of The L Word. When she's too tired to think straight, she goes to bed without doing the dishes. She sleeps better that night than she has in weeks and wakes up bright and fresh, a feeling so foreign to her that for a second, she wonders what's wrong. But for the first time in as long as she can remember, she can't point to anything that could be.

Her alarm clock displays an hour that would be indecently early for anyone but doesn't differ much from her usual wake up time. What's different is she isn't tired, and it really is a vast improvement. She lays in bed for a moment, stretching and yawning and thinking about Kara. She takes the time to wonder about silly things, like on which side of the bed she sleeps, if she's a morning person, and what she eats for breakfast when she isn't trying to impress girls with croissants. She chooses to believe that Kara was indeed trying to impress her, and that she wasn't just being nice. It occurs to her that maybe her hope is teetering on the edge of being out of control, but she doesn't have space, in this early happy morning, to care about it.

When she finally gets out of bed, she makes a very important discovery ; the wall are thin. It's not a discovery per se, she had an inkling that they had to be in a building such as this one, but they are thin enough that she can hear Kara taking her shower when she enters her own bathroom. Mostly, she just hears water running, but her imagination supply for the missing parts quite efficiently. It's not just water running, it's water on a body, Kara's body, Kara's naked body. She shakes her head so fast to get rid of the mental image that it's a miracle it doesn't get teared off right of her neck. She's beyond the point of not lusting after her neighbour but even she can acknowledge that this might be going a little too far. She strips off her clothes in record time and most definitely doesn't trip over the edge of the bathtub in her hast to turn her own shower on to cover the sound of Kara's morning ablutions. As it turns out, being naked when she knows Kara is naked as well isn't helpful at all. And yes, Kara has been naked in her apartment plenty of times before, it's a given considering that she's a living breathing human being that does thing like changing her clothes and taking showers ; but there's something different about it now that Lena has allowed herself to think about it. Washing up, running her hands on her skin, certainly is an experience.

Later that day, when her soldering iron goes straight through the lab table, she cannot really deny that it's because she was thinking about Kara's biceps. Unfortunately, it happens as she's working side by side with Mr Spheer, and she doesn't have a ready made excuse for forgetting about the tool in the first place. Sorry, my neighbour is hot, doesn't strike her as something she wants to share with an employee. However, forgetting to turn off a soldering iron is unprecedented in the history of Lena Luthor, and her suspicious secretary is very much aware of this. Lena spends the rest of the day purposefully avoiding Jess which proves to be very hard because she suddenly has an enormous amount of documents to sign that apparently can't be delivered in a single trip. By the end of the day, she's sure she's signed some of them twice. Fortunately, Jess doesn't ask any questions ; unfortunately, Lena can feel her eyes trying to read her soul everytime she enters the room.

Her good mood shrivels down to nothing the moment she steps a foot in her building at the end of the day. It's so sudden that it's almost painful ; she wouldn't feel more out of sort if someone had dumped a bucket of ice on her head after spending a day in the sun. On the cork board in the hallway a slightly ruffled piece of paper announces the next roof-top party and asks her to sign up for the food she'll be bringing. She categorically refuses the excuses of the ugly yellow post-it apologising for putting it up late, with two childish smiley faces. The party is this week-end and there's no way she's going ; as the newest neighbour, there's also no way her absence will go unnoticed. It's not that she doesn't like parties ; she understands the concept and their importance when it comes to galas and charity balls. But she isn't equipped to deal with a small gathering of normal people who probably drink warm beer and rosé and talk about their children. To attend such a thing, she would have needed a two weeks notice to get ready and to find a potential excuse not to go ; she has three days.

Sullenly, she makes her way up the stairs (because nobody fixed the goddamn elevator), wondering if it's too late to put together a decent sized gala for a good cause, and also if it's worth it just to get out of this party. Jess would be pissed, and it would cost a lot of money, and she'd have to invite her mother who would probably take the opportunity to question the value of her existence. It would still be better than making a fool of herself in front of her neighbours.

She's so caught up in her own thoughts that she misses Kara standing in front of her door and barrels straight into her. Running into a brick wall would have most likely hurt less. Lena reels backward with much more momentum that she had when moving forward and doesn't have time to prepare herself for impact. There is no impact. Kara is holding her by the waist and stopped her downward course inches from the ground. They stand like that for a long second, frozen in a graceful dance, before Kara slowly moves them back to the vertical and Lena ends up flattened against her chest.

Kara moves and Lena follows, not just because she's tucked into her safe arms, but because if she didn't, she fears that the very base of her atoms would tear apart. In the last two seconds, gravity has changed several time, from firmly below her feet, to somewhere around where her body was supposed to touch the ground, to Kara where it's anchored now, probably forever. They're linked now, and she doesn't understand how something so Earth shattering could happen in so little time, but she doesn't dare to question it, she embraces it because going against it would only lead to disaster. Her heart beats loudly, but it's not because of her fear of the party anymore, no, the organ is deeply aware of its new mainstay and is both revived and terrified by it.

"Are you okay ?" Kara asks, her voice lower than it has ever been, her breath warming and caressing her face ; letting her go doesn't seem to cross her mind. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you coming. I was going to warn you about the roof top party. I forgot to put up the announcement and I was wondering if you wanted to cook on your own or if you'd like to bake with me. I'm making pies for dessert."

"You drew the smileys ?" Lena asks rather dumbly.

"Um, yeah ?" Kara mumbles, finally letting go of Lena to take a step back and fiddle with her glasses. Lena shivers at the cold that encompasses her and has to consciously stay put against her want to follow Kara. "I figured that since you told me you don't really like surprises and it's a bit late to warn you about the party you might want for us to make something together so it'd be less stressful."

"Sure," Lena replies, realising when Kara makes her offer for the second time that it would be a good thing to answer instead of criticising her post-it note. "You're right, I'm a bit stressed and I really appreciate you remembering that."

"I pay attention," Kara says with an illicit smile, briefly looking down at her shoes before she turns her gaze to Lena, her eyes full of care. "I was thinking we could eat lunch together and then bake all afternoon ? The party starts at five but we don't have to be the firsts there."

"It works for me, I'd love to have lunch with you." Somehow Lena doesn't think her words pay justice to the thrill of spending more time with Kara ; but her neighbour doesn't seem to mind her ineloquence.

"So, I'll see you on Saturday ?" Kara asks, her body simultaneously moving forward as if going for a hug and backward towards her apartment.

"Do you want to watch a movie ?" Lena blurts, threatened by the possibility of Kara doing something as inconceivable as going back to her own home.

"Yeah, I'd like that," Kara replies with a smile, freeing a breath Lena didn't know she was holding. "Let me go change into something a little bit more comfortable, and I'll be right back."

As she walks away, Lena gets the perfect view of her broad shoulders under her blue shirt and of her ass on which her trousers seem to have been moulded ; she really wouldn't mind if she were to stay dressed like that. She does change her mind however when Kara comes back in sweatpants and the tightest V-neck known to humankind.

***

Kara is mumble-singing along to Moon River, and Lena will be damned if it isn’t the cutest thing she’s ever seen. She's glad Kara chose this movie because she's seen it ten times already, and knows it by heart which allows her to bask in the woman next to her instead of actually paying attention. In the glow of the television, Kara looks ethereal, out of this world. Her sharp features flicker in and out of existence along with the light of the movie's scenes. She barely moves at all, her regular breathing the only thing that disrupts her stillness. From times to times, she catches Lena looking at her, but she only smiles, and turns back to the TV. Each time their eyes meet, Lena can feel her body temperature rising, and she knows the faint blush she can see on Kara’s cheeks is mirrored ten times on her owns. The progression of the movie shows on Kara's face ; she laughs at all the jokes, smiles at all the sweet moments, and looks genuinely sad along the characters. Several times, she excitedly turns towards Lena for the sole purpose of sharing a special scene with her. Lena has seen this movie over and over, but she's never seen it like that ; she'd gladly watch all the movies in the world just to see Kara like that again.

Holly and Paul kiss in the rain and it's raining on Lena's face too ; the ending gets her everytime. Surreptitiously, she tries to wipe away her movie induced tears before Kara can notice ; but of course, she does. Instead of mocking her though, she extracts a deep blue handkerchief dotted with little stars from her pocket and passes it to her with a small smile.

"I always feel so bad for the cat," she says. "I swear it's clean," she adds quickly when Lena stays unmoving, staring at the piece of fabric like it's the oddest thing she's ever seen.

"What are you doing with a handkerchief ?"

Kara shrugs. "I like them better than paper tissues. They produce less waste and they go well with my aesthetic."

"You and your aesthetic," Lena says, laughing wetly as she takes the handkerchief from Kara’s hand to wipe her eyes, "beer, handkerchiefs, what else ?"

Kara shrugs again, then laughs brightly. "Plaid shirts I guess. And space."

"Plaid shirts ? How butch of you," Lena snickers with no malice, reaching with the intention to playfully bump her shoulder but stopping abruptly when what she just said registers in her brain.

Without missing a beat, Kara picks up the sudden change of mood and completes Lena’s statement, leaning fully into it. "I also have an excellent pair of walking boots that looks like it's been looted off a lumberjack's feet so yeah."

Meeting Lena midway, she catches her hand from where it's suspended between the two of them and briefly squeezes it before bringing it back to Lena's lap.

Nonetheless, Lena feels the need to apologise. "I didn't mean to stereotype you," she whispers averting her eyes. "I’m sorry."

"Don’t sweat it, I know you meant no harm. And your analysis was spot on," Kara says, nudging her until Lena accepts to look at her again. When she does, she drops her hand and rests it on top of hers, squeezing lightly. It's slightly bigger, visibly stronger, and it engulfs hers completely. Flabbergasted, she cannot help but stare at it, wondering how she never noticed that every single second of her life has been leading to this exact moment.

***

Kara’s door has been propped open with a shoe box and music filters out in the hallway. Lena went out for some fresh air, to get rid off the extra energy that fills her restless body at the thought of a whole afternoon with Kara. She was beginning to go a bit crazy, pacing in her apartment and waiting for an appropriate time to show up at Kara’s. 11:59 for lunch is a perfectly reasonable time, right ? On her way up, she had to dodge the whirlwind of activity on every floor, kids running up and down the stairs, dozens of cooking smells, and widely different music blasting behind every door. The fourth floor is her favourite. It’s quieter, with only the faint sound of piano drifting to her ears, and it’s Kara’s and hers.

"You can come in !" Kara shouts when Lena’s fist isn’t even halfway raised to knocked on the door. "I have good ears," she adds, pointing to her head with a grin when Lena comes into view with this exact question on the tip of her tongue. "It’s good to see you."

"It’s good to see you too," Lena says back, her words muffled by Kara’s shoulder when she gives her a short hug. Neither of them mention that they’ve seen each other not twenty-four hours before, when a slightly disheveled Kara came knocking on her door to ask for her opinion on dried tomatoes. "It smells amazing in here."

"Vegetarian lasagna. And I made a dried tomato and goat cheese salad. Is that okay ?"

"It sounds amazing," Lena replies, not bothering to add that she’d probably eat anything as long as Kara is cooking it. "I know that music, but…"

"It’s Bach," Kara supplies, "Goldberg Variations. But played by Alexandre Tharaud not Glenn Gould."

"I like it," Lena muses. "It’s less aggressive."

"I can burn you a CD if you want," Kara says as she grabs a tea towel to get a golden bread out of the oven.

"You can burn me a CD ?"

"Um yeah," Kara says, puzzled. "You know, put music on a disc from my computer and then you put it in your computer and you have my music ?"

Lena tries not to laugh, but really, she can’t stop herself. The sound bubbles past her lips as her body shakes with hilarity. "I know what burning a CD means," she whizzes, wiping a few tears from her eyes. "I just didn’t know people still did that."

"Oh," Kara mutters, a wave of light pink overtaking her cheeks, "well I do. It’s a bit old fashion but I like it. It makes Alex laugh, but she’s always happy when I make her a special mix for her birthday and take the time to draw something on the cover."

"It is old fashioned. But it suits you. I think."

"So it goes well with my aesthetic ?" Kara playfully asks, sliding a warm piece of bread with melting butter towards Lena.

"At this point everything you do go with your aesthetic," Lena replies, rolling her eyes teasingly. "Shit, that bread is amazing."

"Thanks, it’s a family recipe. And it’s important to stay on brand."

"On brand ?" Lena repeats pointedly, holding back her laugh so she doesn't choke on her food.

"What ?" Kara asks, leaning against the counter in an unfairly seductive way and taking a comically large bite of her own slice of bread.

Lena sighs, her heart growing two sizes at Kara’s antics. "Nothing. You’re just, you’re something."

And if she sounds a bit lovestruck, well it's better not to dwell on it.

***

For some reason that Lena doesn’t quite understand, there is flour everywhere. Including her hair. She remembers Kara making fun of her for having flour on her nose ; and then flicking some to her to level the play field. Right, Kara sent a handful back in retaliation ; that’s why she’s covered in flour.

White speckles twirl and fall around them and Kara stands unmoving in their midst, a childlike grin on her face. Flour has accumulated in her tears of laughter and Lena can feel a similar mush coating her own face. Lena thinks she looks ridiculous, and absurdly happy, and can't help but hope she looks the same. Never would Lena have pictured such a situation. Not only the act of baking and food-fighting with Kara, but not feeling uncomfortable, when most of the time, she can't stand the mere idea of filthiness. She feels nothing but pure bliss, utter exhilaration ; it's different, but welcome.

"You've got a little something here," Kara says raspily, her hands slowly moving towards Lena's face.

"I have a little something everywhere," Lena replies, rolling her eyes which is definitely not a good idea because it causes more flour to fall into them and there's a very high chance that she will never be able to take her contacts out.

"Here," Kara whispers, her hand reaching its destination right on the corner of Lena's mouth.

Idly, Lena wonders if it's what death feels like. Everything stops to focus on the single action of a thumb wiping an inch of skin ; her heart doesn't beat anymore, she doesn't breathe at all, every single one of her particules is tasked with memorising this moment. When it's passed, time doesn't resume its rightful course and she knows she'll live forever in this second, stuck reliving the feeling of a phantom thumb against lips that used to be hers.

"We should roll down the dough," Kara says, her hand no longer on Lena's face.

She wonders if she imagined this moment, if this feeling that she'll chase to the end of time was just a figment of her mind and this is her purgatory. But Kara is looking at her so intensely that it cannot be, right ?

"We should," Lena whispers.

In companionable silence, they set to finishing their pies, rolling down the dough and garnishing it with glazed fruits and a sinfully delicious applesauce. Kara shares its precious secret, gently guiding Lena in adding cardamom and a pear to the simmering concoction. She has no doubt that she's been let on something far more guarded than LCorp's rocket fuel.

With the last pie in the oven, there isn't much to do but get ready for the evening, and though Kara insists that getting ready for the neighbours party doesn't go much farther than putting on a clean t-shirt, Lena still wants to put in the extra effort. Nonetheless, she delays her return to her own apartment by sharing a beer with Kara, out of two glasses and not from the same can, even if she experiences an unusual inclination to do so.

Kara puts on some music and Lena recognises the opening of Carol which makes her want to drink outdated cocktails and lounge on the couch, and certainly not go to the party. Somehow, Kara ropes her into helping her choose a t-shirt, and holds two almost identical blue ones next to her face so they can discuss which one best compliment her skin tone. She looks so excited that Lena doesn't have the heart to tell her that they both look the same to her. Instead, she chooses the one on the left side, based on how soft the fabric is. They stand just a little too close to each other.

***

Getting dressed for the party is a nightmare. No matter how many clothes she owns, she can't seem to find anything that is both casual enough for the occasion and that will still convey her place in the world. Flannel doesn't scream power enough, she can't down her usual suit and tie armour and a cocktail dress would also be too much. She settles for slacks and a sleeveless blouse which existence she had forgotten entirely. She has no doubt she'll be overdressed anyway. To make it worse, the second she's away from Kara, her stress comes back ten folds. It's too late to back down but she still considers it until the moment Kara comes knocking on her door. Hair gelled back and with an open shirt on top of her t-shirt, she looks so handsome it's unfair ; compared to her, Lena looks like a potato. Kara however, doesn't seem to agree. "This is a good colour on you," she says, "you look very pretty."

This simple and genuine statement warms Lena from the inside, and she stands a little taller. Kara radiates confidence and comfort and next to her, Lena does start feeling pretty.

They walk into the party shoulder to shoulder and with her cheeks almost matching her burgundy blouse. Just before they step onto the roof, Kara nudges her and smiles reassuringly. "You can leave whenever you want to," she says softly, "I'll cover for you."

Before Lena can't thanks her, a small child runs past her and jumps on Kara. Without even dropping the pies, Kara manages to lift the little girl and steady Lena. It happens too fast for Lena to understand how she did it, but, it's attractive.

"Hello little one," she says, kissing the top of the girl's head.

"Did you brought dessert ?"

"Sure did," Kara replies with a bright laugh. "But you remember what your mother said."

The kid sighs, puffing her cheeks exaggeratedly. "Vegetables first. Dessert later."

"Sounds about right," Kara says cheerfully.

Without showing the least of strain, she walks them to the buffet where she deposits the pies. Lena immediately start arranging them, if only to have something to do that doesn't involve introducing herself to everyone.

"Oh hey Kara," a voice, that can only be described as sultry, rings behind them.

"Mary, hi !" Kara says in a way that Lena thinks is a bit strained, "I have your child."

"I can see that," the voice says, a bit too low to be natural. "Go play with your friends sweetie. Mummy wants spend time with her friend."

Kara squats and frees the girl who goes off running to the loudest part of the roof. With one last look at the buffet, Lena composes herself and turns around. She doesn't like the way this woman talks to Kara, doesn't like her overly sensuous tone, and she can't fight the need to stand her ground, to assert her friendship with her handsome neighbour, no matter how awful that sounds. The first thing she sees are her boobs, barely covered except for platinum curls of hair. She almost scoffs ; Mary clearly mistook casual for lingerie, and she won't stoop low enough to be jealous of that flirty piece of shit.

"Hi," she says, sticking out her hand in a way that leans more heavily on the boardroom side of things than anything, "I'm Lena. Lena Luthor."

Mary limply shakes her hand, leaving awful orange foundation stains on it.

"This is my new neighbour," Kara adds warmly but unnecessarily.

Lena can feel her eyes on her, and she takes great satisfaction in the fact that she's looking at her and not at this Costco seductress. She feels a hand on her shoulder and finds Kara brushing off non existent lint. Her warmth helps relieving the tension in her body. The little girl comes barrelling in her mother's legs, nearly taking her down, and taking advantage of the distraction, Kara drags her away. "Come on," she says, "I'll introduce you to the others."

They walk around the roof, wafting in and out of conversations. The beer, as predicted, is tepid, but the people, surprisingly, are mostly nice. Apart from a couple of side glances, the Luthor thing isn't mentioned. Lena can't help but think Kara acts as a buffer against their judgment, but she'll take anything to avoid their possible wrath. Kara barely leaves her side all night, except to get more food. She hoist various children on her shoulders and talk to their parents, but if she can help it, there is never more than a foot between them.

Somewhere along their loop amongst their neighbours, Lena ends up wearing Kara's shirt to ward off the cold breeze. Mrs Meyer eyes them curiously, and then ropes Lena into a lively conversation about robotic help for seniors. She resists the urge to take notes, but in her head, she's already drafting her next board proposal.

The sun goes down and strings of lights are turned on. The food dwindles and kids are brought downstairs to bed. Most adults stay up and Cyril the baker retrieves a cheap bottle of whisky. It burns down Lena's throat, but it does its job of warming her. Or maybe this is due to Kara's side pressed against hers.

Chapter Text

/Kara Zor-El, I've been watching you/

Kara wakes up drenched in sweat ; which, for someone who can't sweat, is a gross and terrifying experience. There's a cry stuck in her throat and her head is caught in a vice, the pressure threatening to burst it open. She must have had a bad dream, she cannot remember, but it's the only possible explanation. One doesn’t just wake up like that for nothing. She feels unsafe, like she's being watched, and the pounding in her head doesn't alleviate. It's 3am, and she wants nothing more than to go back to sleep, like Lena who's peacefully breathing on the other side of the wall, but she knows there's no way she'll even manage to close her eyes. She should feel a bit guilty for tuning into Lena like that, but right now, it's the only thing keeping the rest of the world at bay and she knows that if her hearing gives out, she'll go crazy.

She pads out of her bedroom, her pyjamas clinging to her damp skin, and turns all the lights on on her way to the kitchen. The glass of water she pours is cold, and condensation trickles down its side, pooling in a perfect circle on the counter. It's weirdly fascinating, and Kara spends more time looking at the water than drinking it. It helps with distracting her from the prickling at the base of her neck and the weighting feeling that she's being followed ; from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the bathroom. It even feels like there's someone with her when she steps in the shower after having checked three times that the door is locked.

The water rushing over her body makes her feel marginally better. She stands under the stream for a long long time, counting her breaths and emptying her mind, until she’s less certain that she's being watched. She changes into clean sweatpants and her Superman t-shirt, all the while wondering if there’s a way she can contact Kal across the galaxy without alerting literally everyone at the DEO. It's nothing, just a nagging feeling at the back of her head, and she doesn't want everybody to be scrutinising her for days like that time she accidentally let slip that she still has incapacitating nightmares about the Phantom Zone. And that’s the thing, she always remember her nightmares, and they always revolve around the same exact two things : the death of her loved ones, and her time in hypersleep. This time, she has no idea of what she dreamed about, and it's troubling.

She retrieves her candles from her bedroom, and with her back firmly pressed against the wall, she lets herself fall into the rhythm of a prayer to Rao.

***

The sun rises slowly, and with it come clearer thoughts, and a call from Alex.

"Brian is dead," her sisters says in place of a hello.

"Good morning Alex," Kara says, not quite understanding what she just heard. She rises from her crossed-legged position, idly thinking about pancakes and coffee.

"Brian is dead," Alex says again.

"How, how dead ?" Kara stammers, finally catching up with her sister’s words. She trips, and almost crashes through the wall, hovering at the last second to prevent this disaster.

"Um, dead dead ?"

"No, no, sorry, that’s not what I meant," Kara says, her heart spiking up as she starts pacing her apartment like a mad alien. "How did he die ?"

"All his bones were broken," Alex says, her voice leaden by exhaustion, "and then he was set on fire."

"Who…?"

"Someone was caught on a security camera getting in and out of the building. Or something, we’re not sure. A black blur." Alex sighs, and it doesn’t take much effort to picture her stopping mid-pace to facepalm wearily. "With been trying to slow the footage down but without much luck."

The couch makes a frightening noise when Kara lets herself drop on it, the act of standing upward suddenly impossible. "Is there anything I can do ?"

"We’re going to bring in what’s left of the body for autopsy, but I know you don’t like that place, so I’ll just let you know if the conclusions need your expertise."

"What about you ?"

"I’ll soldier on. And Kelly is going to run me a nice bath when I get home, so I can look forward to that."

The mention of Kelly brings Sam to the forefront of her mind and Kara’s stomach churns uncomfortably. She knows she’ll have to tell Alex eventually, but not now, definitely not now.

"Okay," she says. "If you’re sure. Call me if you need anything."

Alex hangs up with the promise that she will, and Kara is left alone with a spike of guilt firmly lodged in her side. When her sister drops by for dinner, she doesn't tell her about Sam. She tells herself that it's because Kelly is here, but really, it's not that solid of an excuse. She knows she can't, and shouldn't even want to, intervene in Lena's personal life, but she'll be eternally grateful that she didn't invite Sam over while Alex was just next door. She can't help but think that it's because she remembered that Alex comes here on Sundays ; it's heartwarming, but it doesn't help with the guilt.

***

Monday comes and goes and the rest of the week rolls around with its joys and usual disappointments. Snapper resumes its stellar role as leader of the disappointments, with the stand still at the DEO in close second. Brainy has to skip game night to deal with a headache and his and Nia's absence imbalance their usual gathering. Amongst the joys, is Lena’s recurring presence in her life ; almost no day passes without them seeing each other. And it's not just bumping in the corridor anymore, or sporadically passing time on the roof, they make actual plans to meet, and phone numbers are exchanged.

On Monday evening, Lena comes knocking on her door, stating that she made too much pasta and she needs help eating it. They dine together while watching reruns of The L Word and occasionally talking about their days. It's nice, if only a bit tensed because Kara is trying very hard to keep a socially acceptable distance between them while psyching herself up to ask for her number. In the end, she doesn't have to, because right as she's about to leave for the night, Lena slips her her business card in a very awkward and sweet way, stating that it'll be easier to make plan if they can text each other.

They have breakfast on Tuesday, and evening tea on the roof on Wednesday. On Thursday, Lena has to handle a PR nightmare when one of her high ranked employee comes out as a fervent Lex supporter and tries to bomb her office. He's arrested fairly quickly, courtesy of a black blur caught on LCorp’s security cameras, but Lena has to spend her afternoon handling the press and reaffirming that she isn't her brother, and isn’t in fact, experimenting to create a metahuman guard dog. She comes home well after midnight, and though they don't actually see each other, Kara doesn't go to bed until she's sure her neighbour is home and safe.

Friday is an absolute nightmare, with Snapper yelling and then yelling some more to the point that Kara's brain is tip toeing implosion. He's beyond pissed that LCorp is refusing all interviews for the time being and seems to decide that Kara is personally responsible for this, and somehow, for the lack of clear footage of National City’s newest vigilante, baptised The Blur in an impressive display of journalism. Or at least she's the one he screams at the most. She spends the entire day using DEO ressources to tape into every security camera in the city, but he still isn’t satisfied when all she can find is a grainy picture of a masked figure helping an old lady cross the street after flying a couple of employees away from LCorp.

When she comes home that night, she barely has five minutes to check that Lena is mostly okay after the prior day's incident before she remembers she's supposed to be at Alex for movie night. These five minutes are the best of her day. Lena left work early and opens her door in sweatpants and the softest jumper Kara has ever seen. Gigantic glasses rest on the bridge of her nose and she's pilled up her hair in a loose bun. Several bandaids cover the left side of her forehead and Kara doesn't restrain from reaching out to tenderly graze them. The blush on Lena's cheeks makes it clear that her gesture isn't unwelcomed. She offers to stay with her, to order some chinese and take care of her ; but Lena reminds her that Alex is waiting for her, and gently pushes her out the door. She's trying to school her face, but Kara doesn't miss her forlorn look.

The plans they made for Saturday are cancelled at six in the morning when the slamming door of Lena's apartment wakes Kara up ; a companion text sent thirty seconds later apologises profusely for having to go to work. Kara still visits the animal shelter, but it's different without Lena. The fact that they've only been there once together but that she already is an intrinsic part of the ritual should scare Kara, but it doesn't. Kara's life is largely constituted of grey areas, things she hide to others, the fact that she's an alien is one, and things she refuses to acknowledge, like the fact that Snapper might be more than a little homophobic ; but her budding feelings for Lena are crystal clear. She likes her, might even says she likes likes her if she were a twelve years old, and she has an inkling that Lena likes her too. Now it's all a question of finding their rhythm. She's increasingly aware of the fact that Lena is unsteady, fragile in places, and so so strong in others, and that acting on her own impulses too soon could kill their chances before they even really existed.

***

The rest of the world fades away as Kara looks at Krypton. It's nothing but a bright spot in the night sky, a dead star that will soon fade like they're wont to do. She thinks about her mother ; Alura always gave the best advice and she wonders what she would say about her current predicament. What she'd suggest about Alex and Sam, what she would think of Lena. Surely she would like her, Kara doesn't doubt this. Lena is brilliant, and could hold her own against any Kryptonian. Kara’s had dreams before, of part of Krypton surviving and of her parents finding her on Earth, meeting the family she has built there. But that’s all they are, dreams, old dreams, maybe even bordering on the side of nightmares.

Hurried footsteps rattle the stairs and Kara is on her feet before an out of breath Lena has time to emerge on the roof. Her blazer is thrown over her arm and her sleeves, that were probably neatly rolled up at some point, have been frustratingly pushed further up. There's a bead of sweat rolling down her neck, Kara averts her eyes before she can see it disappear under the open collar of her shirt.

"I’m really sorry," Lena huffs, bended in two with her hands heavily resting on her knees. She exhales loudly before straightening up, a timid smile on her face.

"There was a situation at work requiring your attention," Kara says, walking towards her until she can relieve her of her jacket. "It’s not your fault ; and you didn’t have to run all the way up there."

"I saw your feet dangling over the edge," Lena replies, looking down at her shoes. "I didn’t want for you to have to wait longer than necessary."

"I had my mind set on seeing you today," Kara says with a smile. "I would have waited much longer if I had to."

"Really ?" Lena asks, a dazzled smile spreading on her face along with a light blush.

"Of course," Kara reassures, confidently sliding her hand down her back to gently guide her towards the edge. "Now, have you eaten yet ?"

"I had a salad."

"For lunch or for dinner ?"

"For dinner, I didn’t eat anything for lunch," Lena mumbles, the end of her sentence purposefully trailing off under the range of human ears.

"Lena…" Kara scolds, making sure her tone is light enough that Lena won’t think she’s really mad, "food is important. Do I have to personally deliver sushis to your office to make sure you’re eating ?"

Lena smirks, and arches an eyebrow, her demeanour fighting her lingering blush. "Oh I wouldn’t mind that," she says lowly.

Her voice vibrates at a pleasant frequency that has Kara loosing focus for a couple of seconds. When she looks at Lena again, the teasing glint in her eyes doesn’t help with staying clear headed.

"So," she manages to say eventually, "I brought some snacks. I made lemon cake and dark chocolate cookies. And I have organic hand sanitiser if you want to wash your hands."

"Did it hurt ?" Lena blurts.

"Did what hurt ?" Kara asks, suddenly very confused, her hand half extended towards Lena with the hand sanitiser dangling from her fingers.

"When you fell from heaven ?" Lena completes with a wide tired grin.

Kara barks out laughing, her laughter taking her by surprise so much that she almost falls off the edge. "Did you, did you seriously just pick-up lined me ?" she asks, grabbing the hand that Lena extended to keep her from falling. "Isn’t that supposed to be my job ?"

"Oh don’t stereotype yourself Kara," Lena snickers, letting go of Kara’s hand to blindly reach out for the sanitiser and spray some on her hands, "everybody can spew shitty pick-up lines, even if they’re a supposedly pristine CEOs."

"Well did it hurt ?"

"Are you seriously…?" Lena starts before huffing exageratingly. "Alright, did what hurt ?"

"When you..." Kara continues before abruptly stopping. "You know what, I’m not going to finish that, it would be gross and objectifying."

"I can guess what you were about to say," Lena mutters, dropping her face in her hands to hide a blush that spreads to the tip of her ears.

"Yeah I’m sorry," Kara mumbles sheepishly.

"I’ll let it slide because it’s you," a tomato impersonating Lena says with an unconvincing glare. "And if you give me some of that amazing looking lemon cake."

"I made it for you anyway, you can even take the rest home. And I’m really really sorry, I get all of my lines from my sister and she isn’t the classiest person in the universe." Kara stops to take a breath, having rushed out her words as fast as possible. "Can I have a go at another one ?"

"Sure ?"

"Are you the moon ?" Kara asks tentatively, "because you shine even in the dark."

Lena’s mouth falls open, but no sound makes it past her lips. She stands unmoving, bewildered for the longest ten seconds of Kara’s life before she turns to her, a shy smile illuminating her features. "This one," she whispers, "this one is actually very sweet. I’m not sure if it really applies to me, but it’s sweet."

"It does," Kara simply replies, slowly moving her hands until it comes resting on her knee. She squeezes it lightly with the intention of letting go, but Lena's hand hesitantly gravitates over hers so she stays put, holding her breath until their hands crash together. Slowly, she rotates hers until she can thread her fingers through Lena's, stopping her breathing for a beat longer until Lena relaxes beside her.

"I recall you telling me you wanted to talk about space," Lena whispers after a while. Kara can feel her gaze on her, scanning her face ; it's so intense that she almost can pinpoint the individual places her eyes stop on every few second. She herself doesn't deviate from looking at the stars.

"What do you know about entropy ?" she asks after a moment, her eyes briefly loosing their focus on Krypton.

"It’s related to the second law of thermodynamics," Lena answers confidently, "it states that over time, everything goes from an ordered state to a disordered state. To say it fancily, as one goes forward in time, the entropy of an isolated system can increase, but not decrease. It’s the only physical law that doesn’t obey T-symmetry. To put it simply, if I throw your glasses over the edge and they shatter on the ground, time will not unbreak them."

"Please don’t throw away my glasses," Kara chuckles, "but yes, that’s what it is. Well see, overall the concept of entropy as nothing to do with people, except if you stop to ponder about what order and disorder is and why we’re applying human concepts to most likely unchanging physical laws, which I won’t do."

"But humans did figure out these physical laws," Lena points out, her frown slipping all the way into her voice.

"They did decipher them yes, but same as a lot of other sapient beings who populate our universe."

Lena straightens up, bright and attentive. Her eyes seem intent on peeling back Kara's soul to its very core. "Then what about the arrow of time ?" she asks, "psychological time and thermodynamic time do run parallel, that’s a fact."

Kara chuckles lowly, turning to look at Lena, which is a primordial mistake is there ever was one. Lena probably doesn’t intend to be distracting, but she is, and Kara looses her train of thought for long seconds, captivated by the way the moonlight shines on her pale skin. "I see what you did there," she eventually says after clearing her throat, "you’re trying to get me to tell a story about people."

Lena shrugs, jolting their intertwined hands. "Guilty. But please, go on."

Kara laughs, playfully bumping their shoulders, the smells of Lena, lemon cake and lavender mixing in the air around them. "If you let me, I will come to people in a minute, but you’ll see they’re not necessary and I was right. Some stories are about people, and some are not about them at all." She stops to look at Lena, their eyes and smiles meeting for a brief second before she goes on. "It is generally accepted that the cosmological arrow of time points in the same direction as the thermodynamic arrow of time because the second law stemmed from the peculiar birth of our universe. Our universe was born particularly ordered and as it expands it becomes more and more disordered, with particules mixing together. Now either our universe is an open infinite space and it will constantly expend, creating pockets of reduced entropy to have more spare chaos for other places, for lack of a better explanation. Or our universe is a closed finite system and when it hits its limit, it will shrink back therefore violating the second law of thermodynamics."

"Like Poincaré’s recurrence theorem ? Wouldn’t that reverse time until the universe reached its primordial state again ?"

"Probably."

Lena shivers, leaning more fully into Kara’s side. "From a scientific stand point I’d want to witness that but as a fragile human being I’d rather be out of the way before this happens."

"Now, before I introduce sapient beings to this, we can agree on the fact that without us, the universe would still be here and would still behave as it does. Actually, there even is a small scientific community looking for other universes devoid of any life forms to study this."

"I’d like to hear the part about people before I subscribe to either part of your story."

"Of course you want to," Kare mumbles, rolling her eyes in mock annoyance. "Well some people believe that the cosmological arrow of time is an artefact of our place in the universe’s evolution. It’s called anthropic bias. It states that the universe must be compatible with the sapient life that observes it and that either the universe was always compelled to have sapient life emerge in it or sapient life is a result of selection bias therefore our universe is special because it sustains life. This part of the scientific community is also looking into the multiverse theory to prove that."

"I like this one better," Lena says, looking up at the sky.

"Why ?" Kara prompts, looking from the stars to Lena, studying her sharp profile as it glows under the moon. She's still entranced by the contrast between the sharpness of her jaw and the softness of her neck when Lena starts answering.

"Because if we were somehow meant to be there from the start, then everything seems less empty, less devoid of purpose. And it means on days you can’t find a reason, there still is one." Lena stops, and sighs deeply. "I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense."

"It does. I think we all have our reasons to subscribe to one theory or another. It's embedded in ourselves, beyond scientific evidences."

"So what theory’s got your preferences ?"

"I think that whether we're here or not," Kara says, trying to keep her tone light but failing spectacularly when all she can think about is the death of Krypton, "the universe does what it does. And whether we’re here or not to witness it, nothing stops the course of entropy."

"Is that your final answer ?" Lena asks tentatively, "everything’s running toward utter disaster and we don't matter one beat ?"

"Feel free to change my mind," Kara answers with a small smile, shaking herself out of her sour mood.

Truth is, Kara's seen an entire world explode, she's witnessed a god almost fizzle out because there's only one person left to believe in him. If the universe was indeed made to sustain life, then why is it systematically whipping it out ? But she's also stood on the path of destruction and came out alive, a singular act that may have lead her to sitting on the roof, right here right now, sharing cake with Lena. Truthfully she cannot answer because she herself doesn't know, but she does have another question for Lena : "What do you know about quantum entanglement ?"

Chapter Text

Despite the balcony door being open and the air freshening system functioning at max capacity, the office is stifling. Lena is seriously starting to regret wearing a dress today because there's little she can do apart from removing her blazer to feel less crushed and sweaty. She's wondering if downright quitting and moving to a remote island would be too much. She's halfway through googling Themyscira to check if they have a landing strip for her jet when the intercom crackle with a call from security.

"Miss Luthor ? We have someone for you down here."

Lena's heart rate skyrocket. At least her dress is black and Kara might not noticed she sweat through it. "If it's Kara Danvers from the Tribune I've already filled her autorisation, she's cleared."

"It’s not that Miss Luthor," her head of security stammers, "but she’s setting off all of our detectors."

"Well does she have anything prohibited on her ? Did you remember to ask her to remove every metallic object ?"

"We did Miss Luthor."

"Then let her through," Lena says through gritted teeth, "and I’ll send a technical team your way to adjust our new detectors’ settings," she adds, terminating the call. "Because it’s not like I don’t already have a thousand things to do," she concludes to herself.

Unless Kara decides to take the stairs, the elevator ride is short, and Lena knows she doesn't have the time to complete the mental prepping she's been working on all morning. What if Kara is only here to tell her she's overstepped ? She did go behind her back to request that she be interviewed by her and only her even after Kara specifically told her not to talk to Snapper. She finishes googling Themyscira. She doubts they have an airport, but it's okay, she can drive a boat. And if all things fail, she can have Sam parachute her there.

In the corner of her office, the television spews grainy footage over grainy footage of Lena’s saviour. They’re calling them "The Blur" ; it’s much better than "Luthor’s Latest Experiment", and it’s more accurate. After all, Lena can’t even remember their face, it happened all too fast. She tried to hold onto their masked features for as long as she could, but they slipped away ; and now, when she tries to invoke the feeling of absolute safety of being taken away in the masked vigilante's arms, all she can think about is Kara coming to her apartment and touching her bruised face.

Kara reaches her office before she has the time to speculate any further, or to ask for a lift to Paradise Island.

A good head taller than her secretary, she appears behind Jess in all her glory. Light blue shirt neatly tucked in dark blue pants, hair carefully combed back but with an unruly blonde strand threatening to get away, she's got one hand in her pocket and the other loosely resting on her messenger bag. Her CatCo lanyard is tangled in her LCorp visitor badge and both hide a heather gray tie held in place by a small chrome bar.

Kara Danvers is unfairly handsome.

She politely hangs back as Jess introduces her, before confidently moving across the room when Lena beckons her closer with as much poise as she can summon.

"Miss Luthor", she says with an outstretched hand and a dazzling smile, "it was quite a surprise to be sent here this morning."

"Kara, please, you can still call me Lena."

"I didn't want to overstep my mark," Kara says, straightening her glasses with a small smile, "this is a professional setting."

"You can relax," Lena says, fully conscious of the irony of her words, "there's a reason why I wanted to be interviewed by you." Kara's shoulders slack as Lena motions for her to take a seat. "I hope you're not mad I talked to Snapper anyway. It's just that I do need to talk to the press but it's not my favourite exercise and I thought it'd be easier with a familiar face."

"No, no it's okay," Kara says, stopping her rummage through her bag to look at Lena in a way that immediately loosens the knot in her throat. "He's a bit of a brick wall and I didn't want you to confront him just for me. If it's useful to you to, then it's okay." She looks through her bag again for a moment before producing a small recorder, a notepad and a pen with a triumphant smile.

"I really wouldn't have minded talking to him you know ?" Lena says, hoping that Kara will understand that she truly does think she deserves it and truly does want to help. "I mean, I just had Jess send a couple of emails and now he's probably deadly afraid of her, but I could have done something myself just to help you, you deserve a shot at a real journalism career. I was just afraid of overdoing it, and that you'd get mad at me."

"I wouldn't have gotten mad," Kara says in the quiet reassuring way Lena is coming to associate with her. It goes against her better instincts, she should be waiting for the other shoe to drop, should be waiting for Kara to snap at her ; after all people always get mad at her, Veronica amongst others, even when she's trying to do good. But she can't help but be comforted by her support, can't help but want to lean in her warmth. Even more, she's starting to push against her own unsteadiness, her fragilities, to see, and to believe, that something good could happen to her.

***

The interview is surreal, at least from Lena's point of view. For someone who was warned at the last minute, Kara is well prepared, and her questions are razor sharp, but never aggressive. She, of course, has to ask her about LCorp's new security measures following the prior week incident ; but instead of this question segwaying into an attack against her supposed views, Kara asks her about her aliens employment plan, congratulates her even. The last time a reporter interviewed her on this matter, she was accused of lulling her new employees in a false sense of security to experiment on them later. Her relationship with the press isn't really stellar, but Kara is different, quick minded, and her questions, though precise, are open enough to give Lena some room to breathe. From aliens, she transitions to LCorp latest projects using Lena's supposed exploitation of her employees to delve into their work in the R&D department. Kara is focused, professional, and doesn't make her feel like she's having a conversation with a friend, but she still makes her feel at ease, and Lena blames the offer that passes her lips without checking with her brain first on that.

"Would you like to visit our labs ?"

In her time as CEO, no journalist has ever been allowed to do such a thing. One doesn't just walk into LCorp's R&D without seven separated background check ; but she just gives Kara a basic lab safety reminder, a lab coat and a pair of goggles. And she could have had any lab coat fetched for her, probably could even have 3D printed a custom one if given enough time, but the one she chose is a little bit tight around Kara's shoulder, and a little bit short on the sleeves ; it also happens to have Lena's name embroidered on the breast pocket. The view is enticing, and she can't help but smile smugly to herself at this very good spur of the moment idea.

In the lab, Kara quite literally thrums with childlike wonder. She seems most interested in eco-friendly and global warming reversing technology, but still has a kind and interested word for everyone. She jumps from table to table, vibrating with excitement, asks respectful questions, and at some point, stops for several minutes to make obscure math jokes with Jack Spheer. Lena wouldn't believe it if she weren't seeing it with her own two eyes ; actually, she isn't quite sure this isn't an elaborated hallucination.

"This place is amazing," Kara says when she's done nerding out with the employees, "surgical nanobots ? A wide scale medicine aero disperser to stop epidemics ? And I'm pretty sure this thruster belongs to an actual rocket ship ! I mean it probably won't fly because whoever built it got the math wrong but still, amazing !"

"What do you mean the math is wrong ?" Lena asks, grabbing Kara's forearm and setting off in direction of said thruster.

"Well, um," Kara stammers before pointing to a wall covered in writing, "it goes with what's written on this board, right ?"

"It does," Lena says slowly, scanning the blackboard in search of a mistake. "It's a side project I gave to a couple of interns."

"I think the equation is wrong," Kara says, adjusting her glasses to peer at the numbers.

"You think, or you're sure ?"Lena asks with a little more bite than intended.

"I'm sure," Kara says after a second, straightening up and crossing her arms behind her back. "It should be on r2 and it's on r1. That ship's never going to pull out of gravity."

"Do you want to correct it ?" Lena asks, producing a blue marker from her pocket.

"Oh," Kara says, taking a step back and seemingly nervous all the sudden. "I don't want to intrude on the work that's being done here."

"I think you know what you're doing and I want this rocket to fly." Lena reaches out and puts the pen in Kara's hand, closing each finger around it before squeezing determinately. "I'm giving you permission to do it, you're not overstepping."

Kara stares at the board for a moment, unmoving, and Lena fears that she's the one who overstepped by asking her to do it. Sure, she wants to know how far she can push Kara's intelligence, but maybe Kara's confidence is just a front and she's uncomfortable with rewriting an entire equation in front of strangers. Lena is about to take the pen back to maybe offer to get some burgers instead when Kara tentatively, then decisively moves towards the board. With a swipe of her sleeve, that has Lena shudder at the filthiness of the once pristine white fabric, Kara cleans the board and sets to work. She rewrites part of the equation quickly, having somehow memorised what was written and proceeds to correct it like it's something she could do in her sleep.

"A clean energy rocket," she says, "is less heavy that a traditional one because you don't have to take the weight of the fuel into account, but it still needs a good push off the ground to make it to orbit. Adapting alien technology to Earth’s rockets is a good idea, but your interns forgot to take into account the peculiarity of our gravity." She caps the pen, and turns back to the entire room which has effectively stopped working. "I don't blame them," she adds hastily, shifting to focus on Lena, "it's not easy to calculate."

"But you did it," Lena whispers, surprised that she managed to form words with how flabbergasted she feels.

"Um, yeah," Kara says with a somewhat shy grin, "I did."

"Didn't you say you were a journalist Miss Danvers ?" Jack asks, stepping out of the small crowd.

"Science journalist," Kara corrects. "Well I aspire to the science part. But I like science. I know things about science."

"You know more than 'things'. Where did you learn all of that ?"

"School ?" Kara replies, though it sounds more like a question than an actual answer.

"Come on," Lena says, choosing to intervene before Kara starts feeling uncomfortable, putting her on the spot is the last thing she wants, "I want to show you something else."

***

If no journalist has ever been down to R&D, it's even truer for Lena's personal lab ; actually, no one has ever been invited in, period. It's where she houses her most personal and secret works, it's where she comes to relax or to hide. The secrecy of its existence is stated on the first page of her employees' NDA. She lets Kara in without a second thought. She holds her breath as Kara takes the room in, waiting for her to say something, maybe about the prosthetic abandoned on her desk, or about the shelf overflowing with printed out thesis ; what does come out of the blonde's mouth is the last thing she would have expected.

"You have glowing stars on your ceiling ?"

"I do...?" Lena says slowly, looking up to find that the cheap plastic stars she put up when she took over LCorp are still here. "I do."

Kara cocks her head to the side, looking at her like she's trying to decipher the meaning of life.

"My bedroom at the manor is gigantic and when I moved in at four years old, it was downright terrifying," Lena says, sitting down and patting the bench next to her. She inhales slowly ; talking about this, opening up, is almost as terrifying as sleeping at the Luthors for the first time. "I had trouble falling asleep. And staying asleep. And then one day, Lex came home from school with a pack of cheap glowing stars, and he held me up so I could put them on my ceiling. Every evening, he would read me a story before bed, and then he'd check that the stars were charged enough to hold for the whole night. I missed him so much, when I took over LCorp. I tried to hold on to that little something we shared and I put some up here too."

Kara doesn't interrupt, but she does reach out to take her hand and squeezes it softly, tracing soothing patterns with her thumb.

"Veronica always thought they were stupid," Lena continues, tapping a rhythm on her thigh with her free hand, "so I never put any in my new bedroom. But I think I will now, even if they're a bit silly."

"If they make you happy, you should," Kara says, briefly looking down at Lena's fidgeting hand before shifting to look at her again, her gaze gentle and reassuring.

"It's not just about Lex," Lena states, feeling the gut wrenching need for Kara to understand. Because sure, these flimsy pieces of plastic remind her of her brother, but beyond that, it's comfort, it's someone caring for her. "It's more than that," she says, "it's comfort, familiarity. Familiarity is something that I need in my life."

"I think it's sweet," Kara says after a stretch of silent. "That's why I asked. I'm happy that you're sharing this piece of yourself with me, but I don't want you to think you have to justify yourself. With me, you never have to."

"Thank you," Lena whispers because she can't think of anything more appropriate or eloquent to say. "Will you hang new ones with me ? In my bedroom ?" she adds shyly after a rather short moment of deliberation.

An earnest smile spreads on Kara's face ; it shines so bright that Lena swears the room is suddenly brighter. "Nothing would make me more happy. But first, please tell me more about your prosthetic. And don't hold back, please, ramble on, your work is fascinating."

A weird simmering feeling takes hold of Lena's stomach, like the acuteness of her body towards Kara's just got upped several notches. She gazes around the room, letting her eyes fall on everything that isn't Kara until she cannot take it anymore and she has to look at her. As her eyes land on her lips, the clarity of this new sensation hits her harder than a ton of nth metal ; she wants to kiss her.

***

Long after they've parted ways, Kara to go back to CatCo, Lena to drown in files, she still can't shake her newfound need to kiss her. It's not like it's surprising, she's deeply aware of her attraction to Kara ; but it's distracting, a now always present thought, more at the forefront of her mind that at the back.

She wonders what her lips feel like.

What it would be like to run her hands down her muscled arms.

If the hair at the back of her head is soft or rugged.

If she would kiss her back or if she would push her away.

She wonders if Kara could tell that she was thinking about kissing her. And she tries not to think about it because what if Kara knows, what if she thinks it's laughable, what if she finds her disgusting, what if she ruins everything ?

Her train of thoughts derails, burying her under the too great number of odds ; too little being in her favour. She tries to keep her thoughts parked in a square box but she fails miserably, and they keep on spilling out as she tries to organise her files in a non disturbing colour scheme, and as she tries to remember what possessed her to choose an oval desk on which she can't possibly align anything parallel to the edge, and as she checks seven times that her keys are in the key pocket in her bag. They are. Her keys are always in her bag right where she puts them every morning after closing the door. She has to check anyway, because today could be the day she misplaced them. Or she could have missed their absence the first six times she looked.

To top it off, she spent more time with Kara than her schedule intended and she missed her usual lunch time, leaving her nauseous and vaguely hungry but not that much interested in her salad.

Her phone going off has her jumping out of her skin. She nearly falls off her chair, but it at least has the merit of getting her out of her head.

The screen cuts through the daze, temporarily blinding her before the brightness adjusts. It's a message from Kara, more precisely, it's a picture of a small cardboard box with a childish star drawn on top. Kara has it captioned : "They make them out of recycled plastic now !"

And just when Lena thought Kara couldn't get any more perfect, she does.

She seems to have been literally chiseled out of the finest marble and it's a bit nerve wracking. Sometimes, like right now, Lena can't help but think that Kara's been made for her, to taunt her, tempt her, and that she's running straight into some big cosmic joke. On no planet and in no universe does Lena Luthor gets what she wants. It's her life, her experience, she's seen these things first hand and there's no way that she's anywhere near the level of someone who openly talks about feelings, lends her comfy clothes and buys her glowing stars.

Lena spends the rest of the day pondering over this, busying her hands with disassembling and reassembling her supposedly state of the art metal detectors under the astonished eyes of her security team. It's with her arms elbow deep in grease and a shallow gash on her hand that she comes to a definite realisation ; she's smart, she's gifted, and when she's not covered in bruises from encounters with various bits of metal, she's more than conventionally attractive. And Kara seems aware of all of this. The only thing keeping her from going after her might be her own twisted mind, and if she can take just a minuscule step out of her comfort zone she may be able to get the girl.

***

Lena goes home early, well, early for her and at a normal end of the work day hour for everybody else, and slightly frustrated for a multitude of reasons. Kara isn't here yet, unless she's standing extremely still in her apartment and isn't making any noise at all ; but the array of kids who lives in the building are all home and making their presence known, releasing their after school energy everywhere they can go. The press released a new, less blurry, picture of The Blur carrying an ambulance on their back, and some of the kids are wearing messily painted black cardboard on their heads to mimic the vigilante. It would be endearing if they weren't so loud ; and if they weren't too young to know that their newest hero might be involved in a more than a little violent drug bust that as reporters fighting on TV about the vigilante’s goodness ratio. She envies these kids innocence, but they're so fucking loud.

Two minutes in, and Lena already has a headache. Four, and she's planning renovations that would include better isolation. Six, and she's sitting in her home office, sketching and planning for a new waste free and compact isolation material. Cut from the world with her noise cancelling headphones and engrossed in her calculations, she doesn't even notice when the building quiets down around dinner time ; she does however, hear a faint knock on her door, and unsurprisingly, it’s Kara.

She's changed after work, and the tank top she's now sporting exposes her sinful arms. Her sweatpants fall a bit low on her hips which is something Lena has never considered attractive until this very moment. Dizzily, she removes her headphones and realises she should probably say something instead of just staring at Kara. She's about to open her mouth, ready to craft an interesting way to say hello again but stops short when she notices Kara openly staring back at her. She didn't change after work, and is still wearing the dress that was so suffocating just this morning. It was a good call apparently, because Kara's eyes are everywhere on her body.

"Are you busy ?" Kara asks after a moment, her lips curling into a small smile.

"No, not at all," Lena lies, discreetly wiping her pencil stained hands on her dress, "come in."

"I brought the stars," Kara says, pushing on the doorframe to move into the apartment. "I thought we could put them up now so you'd have a shot at a good and safe night of sleep." She kicks off her sneakers and after a second of deliberation, bends down to align them next to Lena's. "If that's okay with you that is," she adds, her smile falling a little. Lena wants to kiss that smile back on her face.

"That's perfectly fine," Lena whispers instead, shaking herself out of her daze to lead the way. "My bedroom is over there," she says more assertively.

Hyper aware of Kara's presence, she walks them to her bedroom. Each of her molecules is buzzing in synch with Kara's every moves even though she's standing a good respectful five feet behind her. It wouldn't take much to just turn around and touch her ; Lena doesn't do it, of course, but keeping herself in check is excruciating. The bedroom isn't far from the door, at all, but it's the longest walk of Lena's life and for the century long seconds it takes, the only thing she can think about is if Kara might want to kiss her too.

Without much surprise, Lena is way too small to reach the ceiling, even standing on the bed. She retrieves a step ladder from her office, and puts stars everywhere she can reach standing on this unstable death contraption. She threatens to fall a good couple of times, her legs weaker with each minute Kara spends protectively steadying the ladder. In the end, she waves her away, tasking her with putting stars above her bed, her height allowing her to do so. Lena regrets the absence of a window in this room because the air is so thick that she's sure she's going to be able to see it any second now.

They must work quickly, it's an easy task, but Lena feels like a lifetime passes as they start a weird and complicated dance around each other, Kara standing on the edge of the bed, close to Lena, and Lena moving the ladder away to work somewhere else. The farther away she is, the more she can feel her presence. Soon enough, they're down to one star. Kara hands it to her delicately, like a present.

"You should be the one who puts it up," she says lowly.

And before Lena can point out that she'll never be able to reach the one spot without a star, Kara is lifting her up and holding her like she weights nothing.

Her arms shake as she extend them, Kara adjusting her grip so she can lift her higher.

Her fingers graze the ceiling and the star sticks to it.

Kara brings her down, but doesn't step back ; she holds her close to her chest and they can't risk breathing without their bodies touching.

Lena holds her breath.

Almost imperceptibly, Kara leans forward.

A second pass. Two.

Lena closes the almost inexistant gap between them.

Chapter Text

Kara would like to say she saw it coming ; and actually, she did, because it almost happened in slow motion, her brain just didn't process it correctly. One second she’s holding Lena up and they’re close, too close ; the next she’s impossibly closer and leaning in and she can’t stop it, wouldn’t if she could. Gravity shifts to revolve entirely around Lena, and they collide, softly at first, hesitantly, then eagerly, like unstoppable asteroids meeting and meeting again. Lena's lips are fire on gasoline and she feels everything at once with a clarity she's never experienced before.

Lena moves an inch back, her face flushed and her breathing ragged, and Kara remembers that humans need to breathe more often than she herself does. It's disappointing, and she almost leans back in, following Lena's lips with her own, but the ridiculous distance between their faces is enough to bring her back to awareness.

"Let me take you out," she says hoarsely, "on a date. Let me take you out on a date."

Lena leans towards her again, but Kara stops her with the softest of touch, cradling her face in one hand until Lena huffs reluctantly.

"I want to treat you right," Kara whispers, watching her own thumb trace the bow of Lena's lips. "Will you go on a date with me ?"

A full minute passes during which Lena glassily stares at her and Kara wonders if she's made a mistake, if she's misread the situation.

"Okay," Lena says eventually, the heat of her blush warming everything around her. "Okay."

***

Against Lena’s will, and her own reluctance, Kara goes back to her apartment. Once the door closes behind her, she lets out an undignified squeal, stopping short of jumping up and down for fear of causing the whole building to collapse.

Lena agreed to go on a date with her. She’s going on a date with Lena.

She allows herself one tiny jump of excitement.

Realistically, she knows now comes the hard part, finding something to do that Lena will enjoy and that is worth the wonder that she is. For lack of a better description, Lena is rich, and she's probably used to much much better than what Kara can offer. She recalls reading at some point, in a trashy magazine someone abandoned on a table at the DEO, that she bought an island for Veronica Sinclair ; if that's the kind of gift she's used to making, then what is she in the habit of receiving ? Kara chastises herself for this thought. She isn’t going out with the glossy cover version of Lena Luthor, no, she's going on a date with just Lena, her incredibly talented and beautiful neighbour, and this Lena, her Lena, likes her enough to kiss her.

Reassured, but restless, Kara starts brainstorming ideas while doing push ups on a shock absorbing mat. She goes to bed as tired as she can get, which isn’t as much as she’d like, and falls asleep to a text of Lena, a slightly blurry picture of her new night sky.

***

/"Dad ? Dad ! What’s happening ? You said we would be safe. You promised we would be safe !"

"I’m sorry Karanizu. I’m really sorry. Close your eyes. I’ll see you in Rao’s light."/

***

"Don't get me wrong," Alex says from the couch after witnessing a tired Kara trip on nothing but air for the second time in the last ten minutes, "I love you, but I don't understand how you managed to score a date with Lena Luthor."

"I," Kara starts, hands flying to her hips in indignation.

"No, no, no," Alex cuts, hurriedly raising her hands in surrender, "please don't tell me what it's like to kiss her, again, please. I don't need the visual."

"Keep on making fun of me, and I'll keep on telling," Kara grumbles, drop-floating on the couch next to her sister. Something pull in her chest, a flare of anger, protectiveness over Lena maybe.

"I'm proud of you," Alex says, reaching to playfully ruffle her hair. Kara leans into the touch, the warmth of her sister's hand melting away the slight tension that only she perceives. "What are you planning on doing ? I took Kelly to this great place that just opened, it's a bit fancy but the food is great."

Self-consciousness comes back to slap Kara right in the face. She glances down at her sweatpants, adorned with a coffee stain, and then looks around, noticing all the places she forgot to dust. "Do you think I should take her somewhere fancy ?" she asks in a small voice. "I had a plan, but, but it's probably subpar."

"Well what was your plan ?" Alex asks, grabbing Kara's hands between her owns to prevent her from destroying yet another cushion by picking at it. "Walk me through it, I'm sure it's great."

Kara takes a deep breath, and releases it slowly, closing her eyes to focus on Alex's reassuring heartbeat. Her plan seemed great when she made it, and it probably still is. "I thought we could go to that sushi place on the waterfront," she says, "it's a bit far, but the food is good and I think she'll enjoy the privacy. The weather should be clear so then I think I'll take her for a walk on the non-touristy side of the pier, you know the one that leads to the creek ? I'll bring a thermos of hot chocolate, maybe cookies, and then we'll see. What do you think ?"

"I think you should wear blue and you'll be fine."

Kara huffs, rolling her eyes in affectionate exasperation. "That's not really the kind of advice I was expecting."

"You're amazing," Alex states like it's an obvious textbook fact. "She'll love whatever you plan."

"You're my sister, you have to say that," Kara mumbles, rolling her eyes again.

Alex shrugs. "Doesn't mean it’s not true," she says still as earnestly as the first time she reassured Kara about going on a date. "You're amazing, and dedicated, I'm sure she'll love anything if it comes from you. Be your usual charming self, draw attention to your assets," she continues, patting Kara's arm with a teasing grin, "and bring her over next game night so I can threaten her. Gently. So I can threaten her gently."

"I'll hold you to that," Kara says with a sideway glare. Alex slight overprotectiveness is mostly heartwarming, but Kara also knows she has a tendency to go overboard, and with the "Sam situation", that Kara knows she has to take care of, it's better for everyone if Alex and Lena aren't put in position when they might want to behead each other.

"I only punched Lucy after she broke your heart," Alex grumbles, flexing her once broken hand, "she deserved it."

"I know," Kara says softly, taking her sister's hand and tugging until she shuffles closer and accepts her hug. "You're only looking out for me."

Alex sighs into the embrace. She's tough, harsh sometimes, but underneath she's loving and warm, and in Kara's arms, she often turns to goo. It took them a while to get there, they had to learn how to appreciate each other presence and comfort. After Jeremiah's death, Alex would often bruise herself trying to hit Kara in fits of pain and rage. But here and now, is the proof that they've made it.

Alex mumbles something against her shoulder.

"What did you say ?"

"I said, don't set her clothes on fire."

"That was one time !" Kara shouts, leaning away, her face contorting in offense and shame.

"And as your sister," Alex says with a wide grin, "it's my duty to remind you of this 'til the end of times."

"I didn't do it on purpose ! This is so..."

Kara's interrupted by a sharp knock on the door accompanied, behind it, by ragged breathing and sniffling.

"Don't think you're getting out of it," she says to Alex, pointing an accusatory finger at her. Alex's smile only widens in reply.

Lena is standing at the door, or more exactly slouching, a haphazardly wiped tear still visible on her cheek and her phone almost crushed in her hand. The screen is definitely cracked, and one of the corner has most likely encountered a wall.

"My mother's a fucking cunt," she says thickly, her body shaking with unreadable energy. She could be about to burst into tears, or to murder someone, and Kara isn't quite sure how to approach her. Wordlessly, she opens her arms, offering comfort and stalling for time until she can find something to say that isn't a stupid "How are you ?" when clearly she isn't fine.

"She, she," Lena mumbles, her face buried on Kara's t-shirt.

Kara hugs her tighter, running her hands up and down in a soothing rhythm and keeping her breathing calmed and measured so Lena has something to match hers on. "It's okay," she whispers, "whatever is happening, it's okay. I'm here."

Behind them, Alex shuffles around, gathering her things and slipping her shoes back on. Lena untangles herself from Kara in a flash, straightening her clothes and wiping her face self consciously. The transformation is almost scary ; in less than a second she goes from a nervous wreck to a pristine and proper heiress with a terrifying sharpness in her eyes. "I'm sorry Kara. I didn't realise you had company."

"I'm Alex Danvers," Alex says, firmly, but with an open smile, expertly cutting Lena before she has time to panic further. "I'm gonna go, but I hope we can meet again under other circumstances. Call me if you need anything," she adds, squeezing Kara's shoulder on her way out.

As soon as Alex is out of sight, Kara swoops Lena up, carrying her inside of the apartment, choosing to ignore that two players of her Sam situation just bumped into each other in less than stellar circumstances. At least, and though Kara isn't happy about it, Lena is too out of it to have really acknowledged Alex. Gently, she settles her on the couch, crouching in front of her and tenderly prying her hands open, stroking a soothing thumb on the half moons in her palms. "What happened ?"

Lena sniffles, and to Kara's surprise, she pulls out the handkerchief she left at her place to dab at her eyes. "God, I hate that I'm like that." She exhales, and forces a smile on her face, toying with the handkerchief while Kara, satisfied that she isn't going to hurt herself, sits on the couch next to her, her hand hovering a moment above her knee before she sets it down on it. "My mother just called to request my presence at her next fundraising gala that she conveniently forgot to mention before. And as the CEO I really have to be there." Kara can see it coming a mile away. "It's the night of our date."

In a fit of good timing, Kara manages to school her face, wiping the disappointment off it before Lena can turn to gauge her reaction. "It's okay. We can reschedule."

"I know I shouldn't be so upset about it," Lena sighs in frustration. "But she. She's getting on my nerves. She treats me like a child but expects me to act like a fucking adult with all of the responsibilities and none of the benefits. I’m sure she checked my planning. I was really looking forward to our date. I don't want to go to her shit gala."

"Would it," Kara starts before stopping, pondering over what she's about to say for a couple of seconds. Lena looks at her expectantly. "Would it help if I came with you ? You're allowed a plus one, right ?"

"These things are terrible. I wouldn't want to drag you to hell," Lena replies hastily, almost fumbling over her words.

"But would it help ?" Kara asks again, "if I were here with you ?"

"Yes but..."

"If you really don't want me to come," Kara says, "I wont. But it would be an honour to be there at your side. And as soon as you're allowed to leave, we can sneak out and go do something cool."

"I'll have a suit tailored for you. So we can match," Lena says, straightening up a little, freezing for a second, and then allowing herself to slide closer to Kara to rest her head on her shoulder.

***

Kara isn't unused to formal wear. She wore a suit to prom, and owns a relatively cheap one tailored to her body by Eliza ; but for all that money can buy, the kind of clothes she's wearing right now are definitely part of it. The fabric is of unknown origin, but it's more expensive than anything she's ever touched on Earth. A man in another expensive suit is deftly working around her, lifting, pinning and making wrinkles, that even her eyes can't see, disappear. Lena is sitting on a luxurious armchair, her laptop open on her knees but her gaze fixated on Kara ; her own dress is hidden, and no amount of puppy eyes could get Kara even the tiniest of sneak peek. Part of her wants to point out how unfair it is that Lena can look at her freely, the other, stronger, is stuck on the way she's staring at her, like she's a five course meal and she hasn't eaten in months. Kara won't deny that it's good to feel wanted. She's had women looking at her before, she's no stranger to lust filled looks and desire ; but something about the way Lena looks at her feels different, more permanent. Their story is barely beginning, and Kara is already in too deep for her own sake. It isn't as frightening as it should be though, because deep down, she feels Lena is in this with her.

A pin fractures against her impervious skin and she's startled out of her happy daze. She's going to, at some point, have to tell Lena that she's an alien. And not any alien, a Kryptonian, unregistered. It's been drilled into her so hard, that no one should know, that it's dangerous, that it's become second nature for her to hide it ; it almost take no effort at all. She's kept Jeremiah's leaden glasses but forgets them most of the time. It's not like she has a secret identity to protect, they're just for comfort, a sort of security blanket that reminds her of her adoptive father and prevents her from accidentally looking through people on harder days. While she's being fitted for clothes she'll probably only wear once and that cost three months of salary, Lena is keeping them safe for her. She toyed with them for a while before putting them away in her purse. If she noticed the lack of prescription, she didn't say anything about it.

"All set," the tailor says, stepping off the stool. "It will be ready tonight for pick up, or of course we can have it delivered to a place of your choosing. Have you settled on a colour for your tie yet ?"

Kara considers this for a moment. The suit is charcoal black and she's sure that, unlike her usual dark blue suit, almost any colour would go with it, maybe gr...

"I'll show you a sample," Lena says rising from her seat, her credit card already in hand. And Kara isn't, she really isn’t, attracted to people waving their money around ; but Lena is standing on eight inches heels, her ankles disappearing in the skinniest slacks to ever grace the surface of this planet, the rest of her figure hugged by a no-nonsense blazer, nonchalantly handing her credit card like she's buying something as cheap as tomatoes, and yeah, maybe Kara is a little bit attracted to the visual. "We'll need shoes to go with that," Lena adds, "black, shinny, seven, no seven and a half. Put it on my card and have it delivered here."

"Are you sure this is the right address Miss Luthor ?" the salesman asks, his voice confused but his customer smile well in place.

"Positive," Lena replies with a cold smile.

Kara simultaneously doesn't want to ever be in that man's position and would do anything for Lena to murder her with her glare.

***

In insight, Kara should have seen it coming, and she entirely blames her dumb lesbian brain for this. She should have seen it coming because since the tie wasn't in the package that was delivered, of course Lena would be the one who has it. The input of sensations is so high that she doesn't know where to look, what feeling to concentrate on. Her hands on Lena's hips, or the hands that flutter around her neck ? The tastefully sinful pine green dress that wraps around the goddess in front of her, or the delicate hands that work close to her face, creating an intricate knot ? She might just explode and be happy about it.

"There," Lena whispers huskily, smoothing down the tie and tucking it under Kara's waistcoat. With her heels on, they're standing eye to eye and Kara is very grateful for it because she doesn't have to look down to see her and risk getting caught in her neckline in an untoward manner. Her boobs are probably not talking to her, but she hears them anyway. Unfortunately it also means that Lena is at the perfect height to leave a lipstick stain right on the corner of her mouth. Kara doesn't remember signing up for temptation when she offered to come with her tonight.

"Thanks for the flowers," Lena says taking the offered arm with a shiver ; even through their clothes, their skins react to each others like magnets.

Kara hums, resisting the urge to smooth her thumb across Lena's soft skin. "They reminded me of you," she says. "You're beautiful."

Beside her, Lena ducks her head shyly. "You're very handsome yourself."

A black town car is waiting for them in front of the building. Lena's driver is standing next to it in a crisp uniform, but Kara beats him to opening the door, stepping back slightly so that Lena can get in.

The car ride is silent, not tensed, but silent nonetheless. The vehicle is filled with the sound of their breathing and the occasional clicking from the bracelet Lena is absentmindedly fidgeting with. A thin drizzle covers the tinted windows, making it impossible to see through them, but having seen the city from above, Kara can situate them by mentally following the twists and turns of the streets. They come to a stop in front of the convention center, a bulky building that in Kara's opinion is downright ugly.

She goes to open the door, but Lena stops her with a cautious wavering hand. "Whatever stupid shit my mother says tonight," she says, "ignore her. She lives to make people unhappy. She's best left to her own nefarious devise."

"I promise," Kara says softly. "But don't let her get to you either." And with a deep breath, she opens the door to the loud outside world.

A narrow red carpet leads to the door and is surrounded by guards and security. Kara even spots a couple of burly men with guns strapped to their side ; the event immediately seem a lot more ominous. She thought she was the only one with a Lena radar, but as soon as she steps out of the car, she's proven wrong. Every single camera turns to her, reporters screaming her name to get a good picture or a quote. For a second, Kara fears she's going to cave on herself, but Lena squares her shoulders and start walking determinately, her eyes fixated on the door, a fake smile plastered on her face. Kara catches up with her in two quick steps and walks by her side, a comforting hand lightly resting on the small of her back. Halfway to the door, she's recognised by a colleague, and her name circulates quick enough that by the time they've walked the entire carpet, people are calling equally after her and Lena.

"I'm sorry," Lena mumbles as they walk into the brightly lit hall.

"Don't be," Kara whispers back, "it's not your fault."

"You're going to be on the cover of every tabloid."

Kara goes to say it's worth it if she's by her side when a shadow falls over them, encompassing them in darkness and cutting the words out of her mouth. She looks up to find Lillian Luthor herself, towering over everyone with menacing heels. Everything, from her tight bun to her grey straight dress, is severe and intimidating.

"Good evening Lena," she says with a smile that manages to be both belittling and hostile. "It's good to see you there."

"It's not like you left me much of a choice," Lena mumbles under her breath. "It's good to see you too mother," she says, louder this time.

"Where's Veronica ?" Lillian asks, her eyes turning to Kara for the briefest of moment.

Lena tenses again Kara, her body straightening up in a way that can only be painful. Her tremor reverberates in Kara's body. "She's very obviously not here," she says. Kara can almost picture a grimace on her face, but when she turns to look at her, her features form a mask of impassibility.

Lillian lips curl with displeasure. "Who is your, lovely, companion ?"

"Kara Danvers," Kara says, extending her hand for an awkward second before dropping it to her side when Lillian doesn’t so much has glance at it. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Kara ?" Lillian repeats with a sly grin, "that's a girl name."

"I've been known to date girls," Lena replies, gripping Kara's arm strongly enough that it would hurt if she were anything over than indestructible.

"Well," her mother says, this single word dragging eternally out of her mouth as she eyes Kara up and down several times. "This certainly is confusing." Her gaze stay fixed somewhere around Kara's tie for a moment before she snaps out of it and turns towards Lena again. "I have business to attend. But have fun tonight. Talk to important people. Shake important hands. And please, don't be an embarrassment. God knows we need the good press." And with that, she whirls around and leaves them both alone, still standing by the door.

"Well," Lena says after a beat, "that went well. I need a drink."

Kara tries to find words, tries to construct a sentence with any sort of meaning, but the only thing her brain supplies her with are strings of kryptonese swear words that she most definitely can't say here.

***

Its startling beginning sets the tone for the rest of the evening and Kara does what she can to support Lena, whispering jokes in her ear and fetching her various bites of fancy food. That is until Lillian Luthor falls upon them again, appearing quicker than The Blur, and dragging Lena away to dance with various sleazy men and a couple of plastically enhanced women for "the company image." Kara stays to the side, ready to intervene if needed, scooting the place for any sign of Veronica Sinclair. As the evening progresses, Lena looks less and less put together and more and more like she could bite someones head off ; Kara's hope of getting drunk on human alcohol increase with each passing minute. Both of their resolve finally snap when Lillian introduce Lena to Morgan Edge and he somehow thinks that squeezing her ass as they slow dance is acceptable. Kara interrupts the dance immediately, not caring at all that anyone could have witnessed her crossing the room at an inhuman pace. She shoves Edge aside with a bit more strength than necessary and she's sure the bone she hears cracking is not a figment of her imagination.

To an outsider eye, Lena is the picture of poise and grace as she takes Kara's hand and dignifiedly walks away ; but Kara can feel her trembling, and she easily pick up her fumbled words, "please, get me out of here." Kara does, stopping at the door for a short minute to remove her jacket and drap it over Lena's shoulders. As they leave, she glances back to find Lillian Luthor staring at them, an indistinguishable look on her face as Morgan Edge is escorted off the premises.

Outside, they stop on top of the stairs to breathe for a minute, Lena refusing to stand on her own and instead leaning fully on Kara. She turns her head to the stars, letting her head hang backward like she's trying to detach it from the rest of her body. Kara doesn't ask if she's okay, she knows she isn't. "I don't wanna go home yet," Lena says eventually. "I know this was a thwart evening from the start, but I don't know, I would have liked to at least dance with you."

"There'll be plenty of over, better, occasion," Kara says, kissing the side of her head and letting her lips linger there for a moment. "We can even dance right now if you want to."

Lena closes her eyes, inhaling deeply and then slowly emptying her body of all air. "Can we go somewhere ?"

"Sure. Do you have any particular ideas ?"

"No. But I trust you."

Kara flags down a taxi. The old hybrid is a far cry from their previous ride, but Lena doesn't seem to mind. Forgoing the seatbelt, she cuddles to Kara’s side and normally, Kara would say something about it, would even buckle her in herself, but for now, she trusts herself to protect her.

The car weaves in and out of traffic, taking them to their destination. The sun is setting, shading everything in its golden light and warming even Lena's pale skin. They're nearly there when she speaks for the first time since they've sat down at the back of the car. "I don't even hate her. My mother. I don't even hate her."

"It's okay not to."

The taxi drops them off in a narrow street that picks Lena's curiosity. She's intrigued enough to not fight Kara much when she bats her hand away and pays for the ride. "Where are we ?" she asks once they're alone. "I've never been to that part of town."

"I thought we could go on our date," Kara says, offering her arm to lead her through the streets. "But since we've already eaten, I thought we could skip straight to dessert. Unless you're hungry."

Lena lights up suddenly, and she starts walking alongside Kara with a renewed spring in her steps. "You've slipped me enough finger food to last me for a month, I think I'm good for now."

"Is ice cream good ?"

"Ice cream's perfect," Lena beams. "Where are we going ?"

"Someplace really cool," Kara says with an engaging smile. "I know you don't like surprises, but this one's worth it. It'll be just us, and it's very quiet. Is that alright ?"

"Okay. Okay I trust you."

***

"I've been living just outside of National City since I was four," Lena says, "and I've never once heard of this place. How did you find it ?"

She leans back on the rock they're sitting on, exposing her pale features to the paler moonlight. The stars reflect in her eyes so much that Kara doesn't know where Lena begins and where the sky ends.

There's mint ice cream on the corner of her mouth. Kara wants to kiss it off ; so she does.

They're sitting close enough that they're almost touching already, and Kara only has to tilt her head an inch to the right to deposit the softest of kiss on the corner of Lena's parted lips.

Lena inhales sharply. She doesn't move, but still looks ready to take off under the sheer power of the sudden tension radiating from her. "Aren't you supposed to wait until the end of the night for that ?" she whispers her words accompanied by the hint of a smile.

"Sorry," Kara says, moving back, "that was impulsive."

"I'm only teasing," Lena says, turning fully to Kara and leaning slowly until their faces are almost touching. "You can kiss me Kara."

Kara waits a second, to give her the time to change her mind, and then closes the non existant gap.

It's chaste at first, respectful she'd say. Just the press of lips over lips, a hand cupping a face, the smell of sea salt in the air. But Lena lights a fire inside of her, and when she leans back in after the shortest intake of breath, with an open mouth and a tongue running across her lower lip, she can do nothing but deepen the kiss. For all the power she usually wields, for all the strength coursing through her veins, she's putty in her hands.

Lena's hands come circling her neck, threading at the back of her head and scratching where her hair is short and soft. Her own hands leave her face, trailing down Lena's body until they settle firmly on her hips. Shamelessly, Lena licks into her mouth, and it's a life altering experience. She tastes of champagne and mint. Kara bites down on her lip, one of them moans, she's not sure who. She presses more fully into Lena, feeling the length of her body against her and intimately aware of all the places they're touching. Lena arches away from the rock, in pain, or something else, and swiftly, Kara flips them so that Lena is above her, bracketing her hips with her thighs, her dress bunched up and leaving acres of smooth skin uncovered. After that, her brain stops functioning.

She has no idea of how long they stay like that, making out under the stars, lips sliding against lips until they get tired and slide against skin instead before they connect again like long lost lovers. Lena's got her hand under her shirt and Kara's got both of hers on her thighs under her dress. Somewhere along the way, she forgot to be gentlewomanly.

Somewhere further along the line, she becomes aware of a damp spot in her underwear and at the same time, Lena draws back, breathing out of control and pupils so dilated her eyes are no longer green. "We should stop," she manages to say between two sharp intake of breath, "before I do something untowardly."

"I'm sorry," Kara says, gulping for air, her lungs having somehow reached their maximum capacity. "I'm really attracted to you."

"Don't apologise for that," Lena mumbles, hiding her face in the crook of her neck for a moment before she slides off Kara's body and lies down beside her. "We just got a bit carried away. But to be continued, right ?"

Her question has her shift from confident to shy and unsure in a way that Kara finds revolting. She cannot bear the thought of Lena feeling so shy and small even after what just happened. They were well on their way to having sex on a beach on their first date and Kara would have been a very willing participant, decency be damned. "To be continued," she says, taking Lena's hand into her own and threading their fingers delicately. "Don't be shy," she adds when Lena averts her eyes to the ground. "You're beautiful."

"With you I really feel like I am," Lena says, her voice caught between a whisper and slight certainty.

"Then I shall make it my life mission to make you feel like that, always."

Lena doesn't reply immediately, and Kara wonders if she's pushed it a notch too far until suddenly, a chuckle escapes the woman next to her and it barrels into full body laugh. It's contagious, and she starts laughing too even if she doesn't grasp what's so funny about their situation.

"I'm sorry," Lena eventually says, wiping happy tears from her eyes, "it's just, you said that in such a nerdy way. You're like my knight in shinning armour."

"Bestow me your favour and I'll battle literal dragons for you," Kara says, exaggeratedly puffing her chest. She guess she can see how it's funny, but deep down, she's bursting with pride.

***

They stay a while longer, laying under the stars, Lena pointing gas clusters and Kara telling stories about them, making things up when she can't quite remember the correct myths. There is an opening at some point, a moment when she could mention how different the stars were back on Krypton. But she doesn't. She feels so happy and she's too afraid of ruining it. She'll tell her tomorrow, maybe, but tonight, she wants to feel nothing but joy.

They take another taxi home, and this time, Kara doesn't manage to deter Lena from paying. She still opens the door for her, bowing down to make her laugh, the musical sound filling the night around them. Lena struts up the stairs, a spring in her step that Kara hopes comes from her. They're on the second floor when her brain tunes in on wracking sobs coming from over their heads. She climbs faster, hoping, wishing, praying that she's wrong ; but she isn't, Alex is on her doorstep, and the world crumbles around her.

Chapter Text

Kara's jacket slips off Lena's shoulder. She lets it slide almost all the way down, catching it loosely in her fingers before it can hit the ground. She's cold. At least she thinks she is. She must be because she's shivering so much that she can't fathom another reason why. Kara is no longer at her side, instead, she's kneeling next to her sister, whispering in her ear and gathering her in her arms, sweeping her off the ground and opening the door in one shaky motion. Dread takes hold of Lena and she knows, she just knows that something terrible must have happened, but her brain refuses to catch up with her to point to the only evident reason. Intimately aware that she should do something, she stays rooted to her spot, watching as Kara and Alex disappear into the apartment as one.

Where Kara's hands were tracing fire not an hour ago, are now trails of doom and emptiness.

One of said hands appears at the door, and it jerkily motions for her to come in ; like a puppet, Lena follows its string.

Kara is on the couch, holding her sister, her face contorted in fear but with a hint of something in her eyes that screams she's about to tear the world down. "There's a green can in the cupboard right over the sink," she say, "instant herbal tea. Can you make some ? Please ?"

Lena nods then realises that words would probably be welcomed in this situation. "Yes," she says, "yes I can."

She retrieves cups, glosses over the fact that she knows where they're stored, puts water on the stove, and sets to making tea. It's grounding, it's something she knows how to do ; she breathes a little easier. She puts the same amount of granules in each cups, stirring exactly seven times because if she doesn't something bad is going to happen. Kara takes her cup gratefully, Alex limply, and she holds it close to her chest, like she's trying to fill the hollowness there. At once Lena knows what happened. "Do you think she saw Sam ?" she mouths to Kara.

"And Ruby," Kara mouths back, a flash of anger tearing her face for a split second.

"They weren't due until tomorrow," Lena whispers to herself. "Can I do anything ?" she asks, louder.

"Stay with her ?" Kara asks hesitantly. "I'm going to call Kelly but I don't want to leave her alone." Abandoning her cup, she rises from the couch and kisses Lena's forehead in a way that makes her ache everywhere. She takes two steps before freezing and turning around with an unreadable expression. "I'm sorry," she says. "You can go home if you want. I'd understand if it's a situation you don't want to be in."

"Do you want me here ? Would it help ?"

Kara's arm shakes almost imperceptibly, and in the silence of the room, Lena swears she can hear her phone's screen crack. "Yes. Yes it would help."

"Then I'm staying."

Kara disappears in her bedroom and, after hovering hesitantly, Lena goes to sit on the couch next to Alex. Like Kara has done several times with her, she wraps a blanket over her shoulders, trying to offer whatever comfort she can as a stranger. She feels uneasy, rightfully so, caught in a terrible situation and carrying a lie that isn't her to diffuse.

With a strange jerky brutality, Alex slouch forward and puts her cup on the table, hot liquid slouching over and dripping down to form an expending circle. "I haven't seen her in ten fucking years," she says, barely over a whisper. "My kid. My little girl. I mean, I guess she was never properly, technically, mine. But it sure as hell felt like it. What am I talking about ? You don't care about that shit."

"I do," Lena says as softly as she can. "You can talk to me. Sometimes talking to a stranger helps."

"Her name's Ruby."

Lena is aware of this. Damn is she aware of this.

"We chose it together," Alex says, making a weird gesture with her hands. "Her name. It suits her. She was so tiny. She's big now." She makes the same movement again and Lena realises she's indicating Ruby's size in a drunken motion. She catches something silvery in her palm. "Your phone's ringing," Alex says, extending her arm towards Kara's jacket. "Nice ringtone."

Lena staggers to the abandoned jacket, retrieving her phone from the inside pocket with slightly shaky hands. All the while, she tries to keep Alex in her sightline ; she's starring into the distance now, tears rolling down her face, and it's frightening. She averts her eyes for fifteen seconds, looking down at six missed calls from Sam and a single text, Is she ok ? When she looks up Alex is gazing at her with the creepiest of smile. Her hands are resting on her knees, palms up, empty of the shimmering thing she thinks she saw.

From then on, things happen fast. So fast actually, that Lena feels like she's caught in slow motion as the world rushes past her. Kara barges out of the bedroom, still on the phone, but she knows, it's clear that she knows, that something just happened, that the situation just got ten, twenty times worse. She crouches next to Alex, firing questions after questions at Lena, tears pooling in her eyes like Alex is as good as dead. She moves fast, talks even faster on another phone that came out of nowhere and less than two minutes later, a literal Martian phases through the door. Lena doesn't have it in her to be surprised. He gathers Alex in his arms and turns to her, his eyes glowing red. Something pulls at her mind, and she feels the room slipping away. Kara is blurry, the air is too thin to breathe, she's light, untethered, ready to float away. "Don't," a voice says, maybe Kara's, before the room comes back in focus, slamming in Lena like a running train. They're gone, all three of them and Lena is left wondering if she just hallucinated the whole thing, struggling to wrap her head around what just happened, if it did happen. There’s a crumpled piece of paper in her hand, a promise from Kara to come back and explain ; she smooths it against her knee over, and over, and over.

***

It takes Lena a full hour to move again and consider regaining her own home. She knows it because in the semi darkness of the room, the microwave clock is nearly blinding. When she does move, it’s not because she's finally regained full consciousness of herself, or because she's worried out of her mind and needs to do something, but because her dress is starting to feel uncomfortable, dirty, clinging to her body in all the wrong places. She goes to fish her key out of Kara's jacket, and on second thoughts, takes the jacket with her. Sue her, it smells nice, and if the world is running at full speed toward disaster, she should get to enjoy at least one final thing.

During her scorching shower, she forces her mind to empty, washing her hair twice and scraping her skin thrice until she is clean, smells clean and feels clean. Once the water stops rushing, her mind starts running again. She busies herself with laundry, then cleans her bathroom, disregarding the fact that it was clean to begin with, washes the single cup she's taken to leaving on the counter, turns her phone on and off five times, moving around the apartment in a quest for better signal in case Kara is trying to reach her.

Her stupid brain still won't fucking shut up, and most of all, it refuses to settle on one thing long enough for her to actually grasps what’s happening. It keeps switching from Kara kissing her on the beach, to Alex smiling like a creepy children's cartoon, to the the tall green man, back to Kara kissing her, via Sam crying herself to sleep, to Alex smiling… She knows there must be a good and rational reason why Kara has a Martian on speed dial, and there must be a rational, if not good, reason for what happened to Alex ; but right now, she doesn’t understand any of it. And the more she tries to make sense of it, the more it feels like her neurons were used to make scrambles eggs ; she’s powerless. Without meaning too, she's reminded of the time Lillian left her on the side of the road when she was seven ; she feels as small, as confused, but this time, Lex isn't here to pick her up.

In a last desperate attempt to calm her brain, she turns on the television with the firm intention of finding a rerun of something ; it might be her worse idea to date, because if her mind is chaos, the outside world is Armageddon.

At first sight, the heat vision cutting through the night makes it looks like it’s Superman, but then again, Superman probably wouldn't set fire to entire neighbourhoods. He probably also wouldn't beat anyone to death on live television, even if they’re drug lords and overall terrible human beings. The footage is terrible, and puzzling. In the hour Lena spends glued to her TV, she sees it no less than ten times, a building bursting into flames, a dark figure, cape billowing behind them, throwing bodies left and right, pummelling them into the ground with never seen before strength, then the exact same figure rescuing kids from the fire.

What really throws Lena off, is that at the very end of the footage, before it circles back again, three black SUV pull up just as the figure disappears, and she swears Kara is amongst the agents in tactical gear circling the wreckage. When they stop showing the footage, she rewinds it several times, zooming in as much as she can and paying no mind to the reporters musing about violent vigilantes and wondering if this is the same Blur they were praising for helping grandmas. She catches a wisp of blond hair before a blue man pulls a hood over it, and the suit peaking from under the tactical vest is too similar to the one Kara was wearing tonight for this to not be her. She rewinds it again, and again, until even when she closes her eyes, all she can see is Kara not getting out of a SUV, but simply blinking into existence between the blue man and the hero known as Dreamer. There must be a perfectly reasonable and rational explanation for this, but for the life of her, Lena can't figure it out.

Well into the night, Sam shows up with a black eye and a split lips, and really, the explanation is right in front of her, because not many people are angry enough at Sam to beat her up, and not many things can truly hurt her, but she doesn't ask, if Kara as something to tell her, she will do so on her own terms. And if she can't, or doesn't want to, because if she's a government agent part of an alien threat strike team with enough gun power to injure her friend, there's a chance she can't share it, Lena can make her peace with it. With few words, they fall asleep on the couch together, Lena draped in Kara's jacket and Sam with an ice pack on her face. Sam's body, usually so warm, is freezing, and Lena wonders how her broken heart is still beating.

Lena wakes up alone, approximately ten seconds before a soft knock reaches her ears. Call it instinct, call it acute awareness of her body and mind to Kara's own, but she knows who’s behind the door without having to open it. She's wide awake, terribly so, before she has the time to decide if she wants to be or not. The sun is barely rising, plunging the room in pre-dawn greyness and a muted feeling that puts her slightly on edge. She doesn't know what to tell Kara, what to ask. What she can ask. She doesn't want to greet her with an onslaught of questions, are you a secret agent ? is your sister okay ? are you okay ? but she also doesn't know if she can hold back her running interrogations. The sight of Kara when she opens the door does the job for her.

Her face is covered in soot, her eyes are red, her right hand is buzzing with the remains of an ache and the beginning of a bruise. She’s standing ramrod straight, shoulders tensed back, trying to make herself tall when truth be told, she's never appeared so small to Lena. All she can do is drag her inside and engulf her in a hug, feeling like she's breathing right for the first time in hours.

"I need to tell you something," Kara mumbles in the crook of her neck.

"Go shower," Lena says, forcing herself out of the embrace. "Take some time to breathe, think it other, then we can talk. You don't own me an explanation, I just want to know if you're okay."

Kara disappears to the bathroom, and while the water runs, Lena prepares a change of clothes for her, then sets to making some tea. Tea always bring comfort, tea is something she understands and can cling to in the face of whatever mess is threatening to tumble over her, over them, like a goddamn tsunami.

For fuck sakes, she was happy for five minutes.

Kara emerges from the bathroom in too short sweatpants and a too tight sweater but she looks better. In the steam, she looks eerily otherworldly, but with her wet hair falling in her eyes, she also looks painfully human. She comes behind Lena, weaving her arms around her waist and holding tight for a breath, two, before she kisses her on the side of the head and steps back.

"How is Alex ?" Lena asks carefully.

"Awake."

Lena takes in the non answer, giving time to Kara to elaborate before she herself goes on.

Kara fidgets with her glasses for a moment, pushing them up on her nose, running her fingers on the branch. "I'm an alien."

Chapter Text

Kara has never flown so fast in her entire life. A second after leaving the building, she gets frustrated with J'onn slightly slower pace, barrels mid-air and grabs Alex out of his arms. She doesn't bother with landing, instead bursting through a window back first to shield her sister from the shards. When she does land, in the med bay, her feet leave a five inch imprint behind. She hooks Alex up to every machine herself, fast but gentle, and when she's done, she still frets around her, fetching a second blanket, arranging her hands so she isn't uncomfortable. Alex's wide unflappable grin tells her she doesn't notice any of this. As she moves lightning fast, the world around her is left trailing in slow-motion ; but she cannot stop, if she does, she's going to be sick.

A hand appears on her shoulder, pulling her to a shattering stop. "There's nothing more you can do right now Kara," J'onn usually soothing voice says, "now is the time to wait. Rest, she'll need you later."

"I have to do something !" Kara shouts, her voice high, full of fear. She feels small, paper thin in the face of something terrible she can't control. "Or you have to ! Can't you reach in her mind ? Or Brainy ?! Someone has to do something !"

"I tried," J'onn says, calm, measured, and Kara hates the way his gravelly voice washes over her, pulling her to safety against her will. "Brainy did too. The drug closes the user's brain to external stimulation. We have to wait Kara. She's strong, she'll make it."

"I can't just do nothing..."

"You called me, you brought her here," J'onn says, "you did something, you helped. Now let doctor Veritas do her job."

Limply, Kara lets J'onn guide her to a chair next to Alex ; she ends up on the floor, sitting on a pile of wood and metal. She doesn't even register the act of sitting down, one minute she's walking backward, the next she's on the ground. Her brain fizzles with irritation.

"I'm supposed to protect her," she seethes, self hatred seeping from every part of her being to pool into her words. "That's what we do, I protect her and she protects me. I failed."

"You did what you could," J'onn says, reaching out towards Kara's now upright body before thinking better of it and retreating. He blurs before her, and Kara focuses as hard as she can to turn off the beginning of a heat blast.

"You don't understand ! I should have told her. I should have trusted she could handle it. I should have..."

"You can't rewrite the past," J'onn says, unfairly and infuriatingly wise. "You did what you thought was right at the time."

"But it wasn't right !" Kara shouts, screwing her eyes shut to fight the first signs of a headache. "If I'd told her, she would have been ready, and she wouldn't have taken that thing."

"You don't know that. She's been frustrated with this investigation, you telling her what you wanted to tell her might have pushed her over the edge anyway. She might have taken the pill without you and you might not have been able to help her. You did what you thought was right," J'onn says, putting his hand on Alex's and squeezing softly, tracing the outline of her knuckles with his thumb. "Now we have to trust her strength."

Kara wants to argue, wants to tell him that no, she didn't do the right thing, that she’s a coward and this is her fault, but rapid footsteps and two familiar heartbeats stop her on her tracks. She takes a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down, at least a little, and exhales just as Kelly and Brainy step in the med bay.

"I took the liberty of redirecting Miss Olsen your way," Brainy says, clasping his hands in front of him, "I felt it was important. Now, if you do not require my presence, I'll go take a nap."

Kelly takes a hesitant step, then another. She accumulates a series of hesitant foot in front of hesitant foot until she's standing next to Alex. "What happened ?" she asks, disheveled, shivering, and so unlike her usual pristine self that Kara feels the need to stand taller, stronger, so she can be a rock in her storm. "Kara, what happened ?"

"She. Sam's back in town. With Ruby. And Alex saw them." Kara swallows, a multitude of rocks clogs her throat, but she chooses to disregard the thickness of her voice. "She lost it, completely, and she took some kind of drug."

"She looks happy," Kelly says absentmindedly. She's trembling, but her hand is assured, confident, like it's detached from the rest of her, and it comes resting on Alex's forehead, wiping hair from her eyes and sliding down to caress her cheek.

"I don't think it's the good kind of happiness."

"Oh."

Somehow this simple onomatopoeia both summarise the entire situation and doesn't grasp it at all.

Time wraps itself around them, leaving them stuck in a daze of long seconds and anxiety, short minutes and worried hearts. On the outside, Kelly is the picture of calmness and rationality. One of her hand is lightly resting on Alex's, the other on her own lap, and she seems mostly unaffected, but Kara can hear her heart ragging on the inside, can hear how it spikes up every time she glances at the machine monitoring her brain activity. She notices the quiver of her left eye every now and again, sees the way she shuffles her foot in a discreet motion full of anguish. She's had time to learn her almost sister's tells, can decipher them as well as she can read Alex, and right now, Kelly is only holding herself together because she has to.

Kara herself is thrumming with unreleased energy, her leg bounces up and down, her fingers pick apart the armrest of her new chair, her eyes flicker everywhere around the room, following doctor Veritas' every move. She wishes she could do something, anything. What good is having a super brain, super strength, super everything, if she can't even keep her own sister safe ? Ever the picture of professionalism, doctor Veritas doesn't chastise Kara, but she still looks mildly annoyed by her constant prying and nervous fretting. She knows she's a good doctor, if she herself had to see one, she'd go straight to her with no hesitation, but when it comes to Alex, there aren't many people she trusts to protect her, especially since she herself failed while being the most powerful being on this planet.

The alarm of the DEO going off gives Kara the opportunity to do something, but before she has time to react, she's reminded that she isn't the most powerful being on the planet, she's only one of three, and the second is standing right in front of her.

She grabs Sam by the throat before she has the time to realise it's what she intends to do. She feels her muscles working, contracting to cut her air way as she pushes her out of the room and away from Alex and Kelly. "You shouldn't be here," she groans, her voice estranged to her own ears.

"I needed to see her," Sam stutters, "I followed her heartbeat." She doesn't resist, doesn't try to get out of Kara's hold. She lets herself be pushed further and further away from the med bay until her back hits the banister and Kara pushes her straight through it.

"I don't mean here the DEO. I mean here National City," Kara says, opening her hand and relinquishing her hold on Sam right above the three levels drop.

Sam of course floats back to eye level, standing just outside of Kara's reach. She raises her hand in surrender in a way that makes Kara want to punch her until she bleeds. "I wanted to set things right."

"You're ten years too late."

Sam doesn't have time to avoid her, and Kara's fist makes contact with her face with a satisfying thunder-like crack. Sam doesn't hit her back, doesn't even try to escape, she just looks sad, so so sad, and it's unfair, she doesn't have the right to be sad, she's the one who left. Kara hits her again, barely registering the pain when her unstoppable fist meets Sam's unmovable face. She wants her to hit back, to fight, to give her a reason to keep on punching her until all of her anger is gone. J'onn phases in front of her and her fist collides with him instead. He reels back, taking Sam down with him. He rights himself, avoiding collision with the ground at the last second but Sam doesn't. She lays on the floor for a moment, eyes closed, before she sits up and exhales longly. Kara looks away from the tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Who are you ?" J'onn booms, towering over Sam but keeping his agents at bay with a single warning finger.

"Samantha Arias. Or," Sam says, her eyes flickering up to Kara, "or Sam of House Vex."

"We don't know you," Brainy says, popping behind them with a tablet in hand, no doubt already checking the Alien Registry and cross referencing her name.

"Thank you Agent Dox," J'onn says. "I can guess why you're unregistered," he adds, helping Sam off the ground, "and I can respect it. But you need to keep your foolishness out of my facility, or I'll need to arrest you."

"I need to know if she's okay..." Sam whispers in a small heartbroken voice that Kara refuses to acknowledge.

"Miss Arias," J'onn says, his voice bordering on a growl, "I'm trying really hard to keep my personal feelings for Agent Danvers out of this, but you'd do well not to test me. Agent Dox will escort you off the premises. Do not come back uninvited."

Slowly, he turns away from her, and as soon as his face is hidden from her sight, his mask of calm and professionalism falls away. "Kara, you need to take a break. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and you know it."

"She..."

"Take a break," J'onn sighs, forcefully rubbing the heel of his hands on his eyes. "We all need a moment to breathe."

***

//

***

"What's happening ?"

"Shit Kara you scared me !"

"Cover your face, or Agent Danvers is going to lose her proverbial shit when she wakes up."

Kara, Dreamer and Brainy walk into what is most certainly the prologue of the apocalypse. Half collapsed building still smouldering with dangerous heat, families stranded on the pavement, broken bodies. The air is filled with the smell of burnt flesh and blood and Kara's stomach threatens to overturn.

"What the hell did that ?"

"Where you asleep or something ?" Nia asks with a sideway glance. "Isn't that my thing ?"

"I was meditating," Kara whispers, running her hand on a damaged brick wall as she walks past it. Cinder and dust swirls after her.

"Luminous figure showed up out of nowhere, killed a bunch of drug lords and destroyed a crime-ridden neighbourhood in the process," Nia recaps for her, her face contorting grimly as she takes in the destruction before them. "The damsels and kids are all safe. People think it’s the newest vigilante in town, or alternatively, the person we’ve been looking for."

"This isn't a vigilante," Kara spits with far more disgust that she previously believed herself to be capable of. "This is a killer." She feels a surge of anger overtaking her stomach. This person saved Lena’s life, breathed the same air, touched her.

"On the bright side, as one might say, this is now a crime free neighbourhood."

"There is no bright side to this Agent Dox," Kara says, turning her head so fast to look at Brainy that she almost gives herself whiplash. "People are dead."

"Do you think it had anything to do with our mysterious drug ?" Nia asks, gently touching her elbow to bring her back to focus.

"Maybe," Kara whispers, walking further and further into the ruins, Nia and Brainy trailing behind her. "We haven't made much progress. They attacked drug dealers before, could have snapped trying to bring attention to this."

"That's one hell of a statement." Nia tries, and fails, to whistle, and then proceeds to trip on rumbles as she tries to walk while rotating. Usually Kara would find this adorable, but she's on the verge of snapping and right now, it's mostly annoying. She shudders, knowing that she has to keep herself in check because she could cause as much, if not more, destruction than whoever did this.

"Do we have clear footage ?" she asks after closing her eyes for a second, "or anything really. So I can identify a species ?"

"The press is all over this," Brainy says, handing her his tablet, "so we do have footage, but it's blurry. There’s a glimpse of something that could be heat vision. Or is at least very similar to it."

Kara glances down at the footage, watching as the figure zooms in and out of the screen, breaking bodies like twigs and carrying entire families out of collapsing buildings. Something tugs at the back of her mind, an idea, a feeling that prickles at the back of her neck like hundreds of needles.

"Brainy can work on making it clearer," Nia says with an encouraging smile. She's standing much closer that Kara remembers her being a moment ago. "But you should go, Alex is about to wake up."

Just as she says this, Kara's coms crackle to life with J'onn's voice. "Kara ? Alex is awake. She wants to see you."

***

Kara doesn't know what she expected to find, how she expected Alex to feel, but giving herself a few minutes would probably have been a wise thing to do. Instead, she rushes to her sister's side, ignoring J'onn's instructions to take back roads so nobody mistakes her for the newest flying individual, and only stopping a foot away from her bed. The distant sound of glass shattering reaches her ears, but she decides her pay check can handle a few broken windows.

Alex is propped up against her pillow, eyes closed, face paler than a ghost. She looks asleep, dead ; the only hint that she really is alive, awake, is the death grip she keeps on Kelly's hand. The gush of air following Kara's arrival ruffles her hair, but she doesn't move, doesn’t acknowledge her presence.

"Babe ?" Kelly says, leaning forward to lightly brush Alex's forehead, "your sister's here. You asked for her, remember ?"

Slowly, almost like it’s painful, and it probably is, Alex opens her eyes and locks them onto Kara’s. She holds her gaze for a second, long enough for her slow heart to move on to the next beat, then averts her eyes to her hands. At a human pace, Kara regains her chair and sits down as carefully as she can. Weariness threatens to overtake her but she wills herself to be strong, stronger, until Alex can fly on her own again. "You scared me," she says gently, reaching out to take her sister's free hand between her owns.

"I’m sorry," Alex whispers thickly.

"It’s okay," Kara lies. "It’s okay," she says again, lower, to herself. "Do you want to tell me why you did that ?"

"We both now I don’t make the best decisions when I’m drunk."

"That’s not what I’m talking about," Kara says softly, trying her best to stayed measured and loving when all she really wants is to scream about how scared she is. "Why did you take that pill ? Why were you carrying it around in the first place ?"

"It’s stupid," Alex mumbles, "I feel stupid."

"Try me anyway."

"I wanted to figure it out. I was hoping, I guess I was hoping for some sort of miracle solution. Maybe if I stared hard enough at it, I’d figure out what it is about this drug and maybe I could prevent more people from dying. And then." Alex stops, swallowing harshly and ducking her head, trying to hide the tears that are pooling in her eyes. "And then I was out, just at the corner store. We were out of bread. Fucking bread. And I bumped into Sam, and she had this girl with her. Ruby. I saw Ruby Kara, and," she chokes, fat tears rolling down her cheeks, "and the hole I’ve been trying so damn hard to fill just opened up again and it’s so painful. I miss her so much. I’ve been missing her for the past ten years and now she’s here and I don’t know what to do. It's like, it's like my insides are cracking and spilling away and I can't breathe and I wanted to feel something, anything other than this. So I thought, God I’m so stupid, I thought 'this pill makes people happy, I want to be happy !' So I just, I took it you know. I’m sorry."

Angrily, forcefully, Alex retrieves her hand from Kara's gentle hold and wipes at her tears, leaving red imprints behind. Her eyes are glistening, bloated, and she looks smaller, weaker, than she ever has.

"You scared me," Kara says again, "and I’m a little bit angry, but mostly I’m glad you’re okay."

"I’m not sure I’m okay…" Alex says, looking down at her hands again, "I want to, I want to go back to what I saw. I want to live in this fantasy forever. Kara it’s so much better than real life…"

"Is that," Kara says, stopping to gather her spiralling thoughts, "is that what happens when you take that drug ? It shows you your deepest fantasy ?"

"I was married," Alex says, "to you," she adds, turning to Kelly and bringing her hand to her mouth to lay a soft kiss in her palm. "And we had Ruby. We were raising her with Sam and we were all so goddamn happy."

"You were married to me ?" Kelly whispers in disbelief, tears welling up in her own eyes.

"Of course I was," Alex says, choking on a sad laugh. "I love you. Sam was my first love, it's true, but I want you to be my last, and I'll always want that. It's not Sam that I miss, it was never Sam. It's Ruby, it's my daughter I miss. I did my best to move forward, and I did, I healed, and now she's here and I don't know what to do because I could have had it all. There's a whole world in my head in which I can have it all."
"But you can't go back there, you know that right ?" Kara probs softly, "it's dangerous. We've seen people die because of this, and you, you can't die Alex."
"I'm going to need your help," Alex whispers, low enough that it's almost inaudible, "both of you. I'm going to need your help."
"We'll be with you every step of the way," Kelly says, gripping her fiancée's hand and putting it on her heart. "I promise."
"I promise," Kara echoes. She smiles, trying to build a reassuring and strong presence even if she feels as small and fragile as Alex looks. "I wont let you down again."
"You didn't let me down. You couldn't possibly have known that I'd do something that stupid."

"I did let you down," Kara replies through gritted teeth, pushing forward to her confession though she knows she's about to strike her sister when she's already down. "I knew Sam was back in town."

"You..."

"I bumped into her the other day," Kara continues in a breath, rushing to her end point before she can chicken out of it. "She's Lena's best friend, because of course she is, and I was so angry, and sad, and I didn't know how to tell you she was here. I'm sorry."
Alex opens her mouth to speak, then closes it again when all she can produce is a thick gasp. Something flashes across her face and it's not what Kara expected, it's not hurt, nor betrayal, but a deep soul crushing sadness that flickers in and out of existence before Alex schools it into a less weary sorrow.

"I was with Lena, we were having a moment, I think, and then suddenly Sam was there and I got so angry, angrier than I had in a long long time." Even just saying this sparks fury deep in her guts and Kara has to stop talking for a moment. "She was here earlier, and I punched her, just a little because J'onn was not happy about it. She says she want to fix things, and I don't trust her, I don't think I can, but if you need her in your life, I won't stand in your way. I'll be there for you, and for Ruby. I'll be there even if you can't forgive me for keeping this from you."

"You're already forgiven," Alex says softly, her voice hoarse from crying. "Life's too short and frightening for me to waste time being mad at you."
"I," Kara starts, giving up on fighting back her own tears. She's tired, so so tired. "Thank you."
"I know you've got to go back to Lena, but can you stay with me until I fall asleep ? Please ?"
"Sure," Kara whispers, reaching out to take Alex's hand once again. "Until you fall asleep."
***

Kara does stay until her sister falls asleep, and then a while longer, tuning out anything that isn't the soft beat of her heart and taking the time to think, to ponder, to mull over what she's going to say to Lena. She's not stalling per se, just using her need to be close to her sister as an opportunity to not face Lena just yet. Kara refuses to acknowledge the passage of time, she just knows that at some point during the night, Kelly kicks off her heels and climbs in bed next to Alex ; and that sometime closer to down, she herself finally gets the strength to let go of Alex's hand to leave.

She elects to walk home, her pace faster than a regular human, but much much slower than she can. A part of her wants to go back to her place first, clean up, and only then go talk to Lena ; but this idea goes out the window the moment she steps inside of their building, her ears reaching out to the woman lightly sleeping four stories above her. She starts planning a speech in the ten seconds it takes her to get upstairs, changes her mind entirely while she stands unmoving in front of the door, gets another idea when her fist lightly knocks on the door. She resists the urge to peek inside with her x-ray vision, instead tuning into Lena, synching her wild heart with hers, and waiting, for both infinite and non-existent seconds for her to open the door. Absentmindedly, Kara squares her shoulder, drawing herself to her full height to trick herself into thinking she's okay.

All of her half-assed words evade her the moment Lena comes into view.

Hair tousled, feet bared, she's draped in her suit jacket, the expensive fabric contrasting with the old rock band t-shirt she's wearing underneath. They stand face to face, eyeing each other for a moment, before Lena all but drags her inside, wrapping her in the safest hug Kara has ever experienced. She buries her head in the crook of her neck inhaling her clean smell and revelling in the softness of her skin, velvety even around her tensed muscles and sharp bones. She speaks before she can really decide if she wants to or not. "I need to tell you something," she says, her words muffled against Lena's body.

She wishes she hadn't said anything at all, because Lena steps out of the embrace, unwinding her arms from around her, and leaving her small and cold. She looks at her with eyes that make Kara want to cry with everything she has. "Go shower," she says softly. "Take some time to breathe, think it over, then we can talk. You don't owe me an explanation, I just want to know if you're okay."

It's hard to put one foot in front of the other, Kara is exhausted, and the few steps necessary to reach the bathroom are not unlike climbing a mountain. She does feel better once she stands under the hot stream, scalding water washing away the darkness and pooling at her feet in a torrent of blood and soot. The clothes she puts on don't fit, but they smell like Lena, a peculiar combinaison of white flowers and hot metal, and it's much more important. She pads out of the bathroom, steam curling behind her in an almost supernatural way that has her consider for a short second that maybe hovering above the ground with no explanation would be a sufficient answer to the questions in Lena's eyes. She doesn't, because that would pretty stupid, and instead walks to Lena, gathering her in her arms from behind and breathing deep and slow, once, twice, before kissing the side of her head and stepping back.

"How is Alex ?" Lena asks, turning around to look at her.

"Awake," Kara replies because it's the only thing she can think of saying without spilling her guts about how scared she is.

Lena nods, but doesn't say anything. She stands there open and reassuring, looking at her softly like she has all the time in the world.

Kara fidgets with her glasses for a moment, thoughts whirling in her head too fast for her to grasp any of them, she stays silent for a moment, trying to make sense of her mess, then settles on something she has to say ; "I'm an alien."

Chapter Text

A ray of sunshine warms her back ; these are her favourite kind of mornings. She has no idea of what time it is, but with the sun up, her daughter is bound to bounce in her bedroom anytime soon. Alex learned this the hard way, first with her sister, now with her daughter, Kryptonians rise with the sun. With the knowledge she only has a matter of seconds now, she snuggles closer to her wife, moulding around her back and tightening the arm thrown over her waist. Even asleep, her wife sighs contently. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, Ruby comes flying in her room, pretending to be swimming mid air in a both endearing and ridiculous fashion. She's only developed flight recently, and she's taking every opportunity she has to explore this new power of hers. Alex knows it's no use, but she still pretends to be asleep, hoping her personal ball of sunshine will go away on her own.

"Rise and shine Mum !"

"Sssh Rubes," Alex whispers, "Mummy is still asleep."

In her arms, her wife moves sleepily, trying to no avail to stretch while still being encased in her arms.

"Not anymore loves," Kelly groans, "not anymore." She rolls over, burying her face in the crook of Alex's neck. "It's so early," she mumbles, "are you sure you want to have another one ?"

"With you ?" Alex asks, kissing the crown of Kelly's head, "always."

"Thanks God the next one won't be such an early riser."

Alex chuckles fondly. "You don't know that love."

"Let me hope for just a second."

"Not to interrupt the preparation for my unborn sibling," Ruby says, floating right above them, "but I'm hungry and we're meeting Yeyu at the museum at 10."

With an exaggerated groan, Alex pushes herself of the bed, carefully untangling her limbs from Kelly's. "Close your eyes for a minute babe, I'll get started on breakfast."

The floorboard is cold under her feet, even through her night socks. As she pads to the kitchen, she wonders what it would take to convince Kara's girlfriend to develop ecofriendly heated floors. All things considered, it probably wouldn't take much, all she'd have to do is ask Kara to pout.

"Alright kiddo, what shape do you want your pancakes this morning ?"

"Brontosauruses !" Ruby replies excitedly, shoving her brand new phone in Alex's face, probably to show her a picture though this close to her eyes, Alex can only see blurry shapes.

"You do know brontosaurus have really long necks, right ? It's going to be a mess to make and to eat."

Ruby considers the question for a moment, frowning in a familiar way that isn't unlike her own face in the mirror. "Okay," she says eventually, "then I want stegosauruses."

Stegosauruses, as it turns out, are also a hard shape to achieve with liquid batter. Alex ends up with slightly overcooked pancakes that distantly look like crocodiles, if one were to squint while looking at them. Ruby eats them anyway, and Kelly finds her endeavour absolutely hilarious. She shares a picture of it on the "Ruby's mums" groupchat they have with Sam.

It's cold outside, courtesy of a somewhat early winter, and it's a pain in the ass to get Ruby to dress in something human appropriate and not just the t-shirt with a brontosaurus print Kara got her for her birthday.  She gets her to wear a coat with the promise of two extra scoops of ice cream. Few people are actually blood-related in her little mismatched family, but some days, Ruby is so similar to Kara that it makes her heart soar with love.

Sam is waiting for them in front of the museum, and she engulfs her daughter in a bone crushing hug that only the two of them can share. When the newlyweds reach her, at a far more human pace, she kisses Alex on the cheek, ruffling her hair with a teasing grin, and lightly hugs Kelly. They let Ruby loose in the exhibit, and she drags them from display to display, rattling dinosaurs facts at an impressive speed. At some point, she amasses a decent crowd of younger children who are all entranced by her T-Rex stories.

"We raised her well," Sam says, slipping between Alex and Kelly.

"Not how I expected my life to go," Alex says with a content smile, "but we sure did."

"So when are you adding to the family ?" Sam asks cheekily, poking her in the stomach.

"Stop it," Alex whines, "you sound like my mum."

"Soon," Kelly says, bypassing Sam to kiss her wife right on the corner of her lips, "soon."

"Aunt Kara ! Mum, aunt Kara is here !"

Taken aback, Alex turns her head in the direction of Ruby's excited shouting. Kara is on a date today, and she didn't mention dragging Lena Luthor to the science museum. Before her eyes can find her sister though, her own body seemingly contracts, knocking the air out of her lungs.

"Aunt Kara, are you okay ? I think something's wrong with your face."

Urgency takes over Alex as she frenetically looks around for Kara, then for Ruby who's out of sight. Neither Kelly nor Sam seem to be that much concerned with the girl's sudden disappearance and Alex stomach collapses on itself. The world blurs around her, and her head pounds like it's going to explode and she can't breathe, her lungs filling with acid as she tries to look for Kara. She tries to grasp Kelly's hand but it slips further and further out of reach, and //

Chapter Text

"I'm an alien."

Lena's brain grits to a halt. In no universe are these words a logical follow up to the rest of their conversation, yet they fit, and ring true. Little moments, memories, oddities, flash in front of her eyes, assembling themselves like puzzle pieces. The fact that Kara doesn't sweat. How smart she is. That time she grabbed a boiling pan with her bare hands. How she looks at the stars like they're her home. It makes sense.

Kara grows restless before her. She takes off her glasses, promptly puts them back on, tries to fit her hands in the too small pockets of her borrowed sweatpants, crosses her arms, then lets them hang limply at her side. It occurs to Lena that she might want to say something, something warm and reassuring, something that screams 'you're amazing anyway' and 'thank you for trusting me' ; instead she opens her mouth to string a couple of idiotic words that make her want to smack her head until her genius brain reboots. "Oh okay. Do you want some tea ?"

Kara turns to stone, her hands stopping mid fidgeting, her pointer fingers half an inch from each other in an almost comical gesture. Only her eyes move, flickering across Lena's face like she's the one who just confessed to being an alien. She feels compelled to check if she didn't suddenly grow a second head.

"I'm an alien," Kara repeats, her hands completing their jerky journey towards each other.

"I heard you the first time darling," Lena says, a soft smile stretching on her face. Slowly, she moves towards Kara, reaching out until she can touch her suspended fingers. She pries them apart, Kara resisting only for a second, and wraps one of her hands between her own. "I suppose you know about Sam ?" she asks.

Kara nods, her head moving almost mechanically. "I do."

"Then you know I don't mind that you're an alien. Honestly, I thought you were a secret agent, so I'm relieved."

"To be completely honest," Kara mumbles, looking down at her feet, "I also am sort of a secret agent."

Lena hears the words, can process that they came out of Kara's mouth and that therefore she must have said them ; their meaning however, doesn't register at all. She understands them separately, alien, secret, and agent ; and in some combination or another, secret and alien, alien and agent. But together, secret agent who's also an alien, they make no sense at all. Or they do make sense, a lot of it, and it's too much for Lena. Because of course Kara would be an otherworldly creature with a dangerous job ; nothing is ever easy in Lena's life.

"I'm sorry for springing this on you," Kara says, her voice coming like a rumble to Lena's ears. "I've tried to find a better way, but I couldn't make my words work right." She smiles, a bit hesitantly. She's still Kara. "I can go if you want. Give you space. I know it's a lot to take in."

This sparks fury in Lena. There is no way in hell she's letting Kara leave know. "Stay," she says, the single syllable throwing itself out of her mouth fast and harsh. "I want to know all of you," she adds, crafting softer words. "Or all you're allowed to share at least. I'll sign all the NDAs you want."

Kara chuckles, tugging on Lena's hand with a silent question until they softly collide against one another, their bodies moulding around each other like they were made to do so. "I'm sure J'onn will send some your way," she says after laying a kiss on Lena's head. "For the agent thing, and for the alien stuff. I trust you, but as far as most people know, I'm human."

"You're not...?" Lena starts, recognition flaring at the back of her mind.

"Registered ?" Kara finishes for her, prompting a nod. "No I'm not. It's a long story."

"Tell me about it ?"

***

"When I was a child, my planet was dying. I was sent to Earth to protect my cousin, but my pod got knocked off-course, and by the time I got here, my cousin had already grown up. So, I hid my powers, made myself human. To most people, I am a reporter for the National City Tribune, but in secret I work for the D.E.O. to protect my city from extranormal threats and anyone else that means to cause it harm. My name is Kara Zor-El, I'm from Krypton, and my cousin is Superman."

Kara pauses for a moment, glancing at Lena with hesitancy. She's hugging her mug to her chest in a heartbreaking gesture Lena has done herself so many times. Carefully, she switches position on the couch, prying the scalding tea out of Kara's hands to replace the mug with her human living body. Kara welcomes the change, shuffling to adjust before she wraps her arms around her and holds her like she's afraid she could burst to flame and disappear like Krypton.

Krypton. Lena understands everything so much better now. The heartbreak over Sam. The anger at Sam. The forlorn looks at the stars. Kara’s strength, her gentleness, is fuelled by her brokenness, by her cracks, carefully patched and full of love. With a couple of sentences, words put next to other words, everything changes and nothing changes at all. It's still Kara, shaded in a new light, sure, but it's still Kara. Doors open left right and center with opportunities for Lena to really, truly, get to know her, and she wants to take in everything at the same time.

"Even by kryptonian standards, I was a special child, gifted would be the word you'd use on this planet. I basically grew up in my father's lab, not just learning, but understanding scientific concepts that are beyond humanity's wildest dreams. I was going to be the youngest person to make the Science Guild ever." She stops, chuckling wetly, and takes off her glasses to wipe a couple of tears. "When I wasn't in the lab, my mother would take me to court with her, and she taught me all about justice, fairness and forgiveness. Kryptonians, my people, were just and tranquil. We'd had our dark times of course, decades of revolutions and blood baths to get there, but by the time I was born, we were at peace, we were balanced. And when I got to Earth, I was so angry, and I didn't knew what to do about it because I couldn't even work it out like on Krypton. All of my sparring partners had exploded decades ago and everything I so much as brushed against would instantly crumble."

Her hands flex, turning into dangerous steel. Against her better judgement, Lena, frail human, lays her owns against them, soothing the frustration out of Kara with a gentle touch.

"Kal, Superman, left me with the Danvers, and I understand it now, he was young, but I didn't then." She sighs, and lifts Lena's hand to kiss it. She keeps it there, against her lips, breathing slowly like she's drawing strength from Lena's skin to keep going. "I was mad with grief, lost, alone. I couldn't understand the world around me, barely understood the language, and I had all these powers which were nothing but dangerous. I couldn't look at thing without seeing through them. Could hear for miles and miles but couldn't concentrate on a simple conversation. And I looked weird too, short hair, baggy clothes because everything else felt terrible on my skin. I didn't see how I could fit in, how this could ever be my home. When I realised that like Kal I could fly, I… I guess you know what's coming."

"I think I do yes," Lena whispers, her heart dropping to the bottom of her stomach because she does know, she does remember that not so long ago, aliens weren't exactly welcomed, that they tended to disappear in, mysterious, circumstances. "They found you didn't they ?"

"They did," Kara replies in a whisper, letting implications hang in the air for a second before she clears her throat and goes on. "Government agents came to our house in the middle of the night, stormed it more precisely. I was in my pyjamas. I remember that because they were my favourites, from the 'boy's' section and with little spaceships on them. And, hum, they wanted to take me in, of course, they had power dampening handcuffs that would have been way too big for my wrists. Jeremiah offered himself up instead. He knew about my biology and Kal's and he made a trade. He left with them, in his pyjamas. We only saw him a handful of time after that. He would always be away on various missions. He missed Alex's birthday, and then he didn't come home at all. He died because of me."

"He..."

"Don't," Kara cuts gently. "Others have tried before you, but I can't not blame myself for his death. I was reckless, and I may not have killed him, but I triggered the events that lead to his death. That's how things are."

"Okay." And Lena wants to fight her on this, she does. She wants to remind her that she wasn't the one who pulled the trigger or whatever it was that killed her foster father, but she also knows that it's not what Kara needs right now.

"From then on, I hid my powers, and who I really was. It was unspoken, Eliza would never have asked me to do so, and Alex wasn't talking to me at all, but that's what I did. I became a regular human. A regular human girl. I've only breached my secret twice. I told Sam, and I told Lucy. Everybody else found out either by accident or was told by someone else." Kara straightens up, lifting Lena with her in a casual and intimate show of strength that warms her all over. Once she's managed to reach her cup of tea, she settles them both back on the couch, wiggling to get comfortable until their bodies turn into one. "We're going to fast forward now if that's okay."

"Of course it’s okay," Lena whispers, a bit unsure of why Kara would even take her opinion in consideration when she's already doing so much by opening up like that.

"After high school, I moved to National City with Alex. She'd been living with Sam there, they were raising Ruby together, but when, when they left, she came back to Midvale for a while. She followed me to university but she wasn’t doing much better. She was drunk most of the time, nearly dropped out a couple of times, I think there was even a good chunk of time when she didn’t go to class at all. And then she did a complete 180°. Dropped all of her psych classes, went into xenobiology with a side of engineering, and got a six pack. I was happy for her so I didn’t really question it."

"I suppose you should have ?"

Kara laughs, low, and deep ; and it causes a joyous earthquake in Lena's body above hers. It's a funny sensation, shaking from someone else's laughter, and it makes Lena feel so, so close to her. "Rao yes I should have questioned it. One day, she came home covered in blood. And I mean really covered, drenched from head to toes, it was disgusting. Turns out she's been recruited by the D.E.O. and they were paying for her education while she was training to become an agent. I couldn't stop thinking about this. Not because I was worried about her, well I was, but I'd been for a long time and it was actually a relief to know she could take care of herself. I couldn't stop thinking about how I might be able to help too. Eventually, I sat down with Alex and her boss, the Martian from earlier and…"

"Wait," Lena interrupts, almost choking on air, "the D.E.O.’s boss is an alien ? God Lex would lose his shit."

"He’s a shapeshifter, so most of the time he looks human, but yes, the director of the D.E.O. is an alien. Which helped a lot because he managed to pinpoint exactly what I was trying to explain. I wanted to help, a part of me even wanted to be like Kal, I wanted to be Supergirl."

Lena echoes the word, letting it roll off her tongue. Supergirl.

"But I was afraid, so so afraid because if alien haters had learned that Superman had family, it would have put a huge target on everybody close to me. I had already lost Jeremiah, and, and I couldn’t handle more. We came to the conclusion that if I wanted to help, it'd have to be privately. I’m an external consultant, I help in any capacity when nobody else can. I rarely go out on the field, but I do have an extensive training in several human and alien martial arts."

"That’s impressive," Lena says, clearing her throat surreptitiously when she realises her voice is much much lower than she intended. She blinks forcefully, trying to get rid off the mental image of Kara sparing in tactical gear. She now knows Kara can hear her heart, and the fact that they both established their mutual attraction doesn't make it any less embarrassing.

"I started working with the D.E.O. when your, when Lex Luthor was leading his campaign against aliens." Lena's heart drop at the mention of her brother, his name washing over her like ice cold water. She knew it was coming, of course ; there probably isn't even one story about aliens and governmental agencies that doesn't somehow involve her brother. Kara runs a soothing hand down her side and keeps talking. "At first he was all bark and no bites, but then he started coming after my cousin, harder and harder each time. He even tracked down his pod to the crash site and was going to bomb his hometown."

"I didn’t know that…"

"You couldn’t have," Kara cuts quickly, the scowl that must be gracing her face making it all the way to her words. "After he fell, hatred towards aliens subsided a bit, at least it's punished now. But when the Alien Amnesty Act was voted, I didn't even consider it. I have a life as Kara Danvers, a good one, and I can't put everyone in danger just because I'm Superman's cousin. I don't like it, but it protects my family. I’ve lost all of my family on Krypton, I couldn't bear losing the one I’ve built on Earth too." She stops, sniffles and chuckles sombrely, but the tightness of her embrace prevents Lena from contorting to look at her face. "So that’s it I guess. Except from the current mess which relates to a drug going around the city. It traps you in your fantasy world, is highly lethal and it’s what Alex took. Please don’t take it. Do you have any questions ?"

"Hum…"

Lena tries to make her brain work, she really does. But she’s never reacted well to info dumping, and currently, her mind is overloading with informations that she doesn’t have time to sort and much less process.

"I’m sorry. That’s a lot to take in."

"How old are you exactly ?" Lena blurts out, grabbing the first thought she can make sense of and throwing it out in the world. "Sam and Superman were babies when they left Krypton, right ? But you weren’t. How are you not a grandma ?"

"I’m 27."

"That doesn’t check out. Sam is 29 and Superman is 35 I think ? Didn’t he say that in an interview once ?"

Kara inhales sharply, her breath catching in her throat in a way that makes Lena regrets her prying. "We all crashed on Earth at different times."

"How is that possible ?"

"We believe that Kal’s pod is the one that took the most direct path. Sam and I both got caught in a place in space where time doesn’t pass. It’s called the Phantom Zone. She was stuck for six Earth years and I stayed there for roughly twenty."

"Sam never told me about that…"

"She was a baby, it didn’t have much of an impact on her. But I, I, somedays it’s all I can think about. It’s kind of like hypersleep, except you don’t dream in hypersleep, and in the Phantom Zone, dreams were all I had."

"How did you got out ?" Lena asks carefully. She wants to understand the extent of Kara’s trauma, and the string of event that lead her down here, to her. But she also can feel her repressing shivers and wants more that anything, to shield her strong body from these memories. With no regrets, she catches herself wishing that Krypton had never exploded, they would have never met, but Kara would still be whole.

"I have no idea. One moment I was in space in a tiny pod on life support, and the next I was on Earth, alone, and confused as to how I’d survived the landing. Everything I’d studied in class was telling me I should be dead, and here I was, alive and in the middle of nowhere. I thought I was dreaming. I thought this was the conclusion of a very shitty nightmare and I was going to wake up at home, safe. I thought it was just a bad dream and if I could shake out of it I could go join my parents in bed and sleep for five more minutes before my morning lessons."

"But it wasn’t just a bad dream."

"It wasn’t."

Kara sighs, but it's a peculiar sigh, not quite one of weariness. It breaches more on the side of quiet acceptation, almost resignation. Lena realises then that though she's just learned about all of this, though this information is raw and painful to her, Kara has had years to get used to it. The deep ache she feels for Kara is new and terrible, but to Kara, it's everyday life.

"I'm lucky though," Kara continues, a small smile seeping into her voice, "I'm alive, I have a family here, Eliza, Alex, I have friends. I have you, if that's still something you want."

"Of course it's something I want," Lena says softly. "I'd sign all the NDAs in the world for you. I'm sad." She pauses, mulling over her words for half a second, speeding her thought process when she feels Kara's heart accelerate beneath her. "No not sad, that's not the right word... Heartbroken maybe." She stops again, squeezing one of Kara's hand in her own and lifting it to deposit a gentle kiss in its palm. With the way her heart painfully contracts in her chest as she pictures a smaller version of Kara watching her whole world disappear, heartbroken does seem to be the right word. "Heartbroken by all you've been through. But it doesn't mean I like you any less. I'm amazed by your strength, your resilience. You're wonderful, and I want to be with you."

"Even with all my baggage ?" Kara asks in a small voice that reminds Lena so much of herself that all she wants to do is to wrap the both of them in a blanket forever.

"I'm not an alien, but I've got baggage too," Lena answers softly, "and it didn't seem to stop you from pursuing me. Actually, you've been better for me than anyone before."

Kara hums lowly, the beginning of a laugh reverberating from her body to Lena's. "So I've pursued you ?"

"You've seduced me with your handsome ways," Lena mumbles, her cheeks growing hot under the effect of the blush that is no doubt spreading on them. "And you asked me out."

"You kissed me first," Kara points out deviously, her teasing smile breaking the kiss she's trying to lay on the hollow of Lena's throat.

"You've got a point," Lena croaks, arching to give Kara better access to her sensitive skin. "But someone had to make a move, you're too much of a gentlewoman for that."

"Am I ?" Kara hums.

"I tried to make out with you and you stopped me to ask me on a date."

"Point taken. Will you go on another date with me ?"

"I will. As long as it doesn't involve my mother, I'll go anywhere with you."

"To the moon then ?" Kara asks in a surprisingly serious manner.

Lena springs up, untangling herself from Kara's pliable arms and shifting until she can look at her. "Is that an option ?"

"Well I have a spaceship," Kara replies monotonously, shrugging like her offer isn't completely wild and out of the realm of possibilities for anyone else.

"To the moon then," Lena dares to reply, thrumming with the knowledge that Kara could indeed take her to the moon if she wanted to. With little thoughts, she leans forward with the intention of capturing her lips ; her momentum however, is cut short by an all powerful yawn.

"How about I take you to bed first," Kara says with a short laugh. "To sleep," she adds hastily, her eyes widening comically at her slip up. "If that's okay."

"Will you stay with me ?" Lena asks, exhaustion catching up with her and weighting her body down.

"That was my intention."

Swiftly, like she doesn't weight more than a feather, Kara lifts her up, and cradles her in her arms. "Thank you," she whispers against her hair, "thank you."

Chapter Text

/"Where am I ? Dad ? Anyone ? Where am I ? Dad ?!"

"Foolish little girl. Your dad is gone. Your world is gone."

"Please let me go ! Where's my dad I want my dad !"

"For fuck's sake will you shut up ? Your dad's dead. He can't hear you. No one can hear you !"

"Please let me go !"

"Oh that I won't. I have big plans for you Kara Zor-El. Big big plans."/

***

Kara springs awake covered in sweat and with a blank in her mind where her nightmare should be. This new running theme in her life is really getting old. Lena clings to her torso with an undignified shriek and Kara realises with a start that they're hovering a good foot above the bed.

"I did not expect the flying," Lena mumbles, "I should have expected the flying."

"Sorry, sorry !" Kara shouts hastily, lowering them down and kissing the top of Lena's head as an apology.

"Does this happen a lot ?"

"The sleep flying ? Yeah it does, quite a bit. I’m sorry, I should have warned you."

"No," Lena says gently, shuffling so she can face Kara. "The nightmares."

Slowly, she reaches out to put her hand on Kara's cheek. Her skin is soft, warm from being under the covers, and for a moment, Kara focuses on nothing but the flow of her blood underneath it. She looks around, taking in the darkness of the room before her eyes settle on the twinkling plastic stars on the ceiling. She doesn't know what time it is, but it doesn't matter, not really. With Lena in her arms, hours can do what they want, pass as the universe needs them to, as long as they get to be together.

"I have a lot of them yeah," Kara finally answers, ghosting over the fact that she usually remembers them because it's the same scenario every time. She can't explain why she doesn't want to tell Lena this just yet, why it seems important to keep this from her ; but she can't fathom building the right sentence to unveil the intricacies of her brain when she doesn't even understand them in the first place.

"Is this why you got up in the middle of the night ? Day ?" Lena asks with a concerned frown. "I woke up and you weren't there."

"Yeah," Kara answers with a reassuring smile. "I just needed some fresh air."

Except she doesn't remember getting up in the first place. And she doesn't know why she's lying either.

"You can wake me up next time if you need company," Lena offers, "don't hesitate. I know how much it can help to have someone with you when you feel like the world is upside down."

"Thank you," Kara whispers, "I’ll try to remember that."

"Do we have somewhere to be today ?" Lena asks, her voice sleepy and full of hope.

Kara sighs, rubbing the heel of her hands on her eyes. "I'll call Snapper later to take the day off. But I'd like to swing by the DEO. See how Alex is doing. Would you mind coming with me ?"

"I suppose I do have to sign these NDAs." Lena groans, rolling over until she can press her face in Kara's shoulder. "Can we stay like that for five more minutes ?"

"Sure," Kara says, combing her fingers through the sleepy woman's hair. "Five more minutes."

***

When they finally make it to the DEO, well over their self imposed time constraints because Lena fell back asleep and she's too precious to be awoken, Alex is awake, and to Kara's great dismay, dressed and roaming around with manic energy.

"Don't look at me like that," Kelly says, raising her hands in defence, "I've tried to get her to stay in bed but you know how she is."

"What is she doing now exactly ?" Kara asks, sitting on the edge of the bed as Alex puts a pair of gloves on another pair of gloves and peers in a microscope.

"I think she’s analysing her own blood."

"She does know we have people who can do that for her, right ?"

"I’m trying to be a good fiancée and hide that I’m scared shitless," Kelly says, her voice almost perfectly steady, "so if doing this makes her happy, I’m not going to stop her."

"Yeah," Kara sighs, "you’re right. Whatever makes her happy." Closing her eyes, she cocks her head to the side, listening until she can find Lena three levels down. Her heart is calm, strong ; and she uses it to ground herself, to find peace and solace in the mess unravelling around her.

"How did it go with Lena ?" Kelly asks, "you look like you haven’t slept much."

In front of them, Alex swears loudly and angrily scribbles a couple of words down.

"It went well, I think," Kara says slowly. "She’s downstairs with J’onn signing NDAs."

"Oh so you just went for it ?" Kelly chuckles, her laugh cutting through the room and catching Alex’s attention. She turns around to look at them, shadows under her eyes but a warm loving smile on her lips. Her heart settles a bit once her gaze falls on them, and Kelly ’s and Kara's respond in kind. "It took Alex almost dying twice for him to even allow me in here, and I had to be blindfolded."

"He tried to mind wipe her last night," Kara grumbles. "He owes me."

"Wow, that’s harsh," Kelly says, more to herself than really to Kara. "Are you planing on telling her ?"

"Not if I don’t have to, no," Kara replies, barely repressing a frustrated groan. "Nobody likes knowing someone tried to tamper with their mind, but it’d be even worse for Lena."

And it would be, Kara as no doubt about that. She knows with almost no hesitancy that if Lena were to know that someone tried to erase even the smallest of memories from her brain, the organ that is both her greatest ally when it comes to her work, and her worse enemy when it comes to her mental health, she would not react well.

"So, is this why my head felt like someone tried to make breakfast with it ?" Lena asks, her interrogation somehow both firm and feeble.

A second too late, Kara realises Lena’s heartbeat moved from J’onn’s office to right behind her.

***

"You sure seem to like rooftops," Lena says, eyeing Kara from where she stands stiffly, away from the edge.

"I just enjoy the fresh air."

Inhaling deeply, Kara slowly spins on herself, arms wide open. Goofily, she jumps on top of the thick edge separating them from a 37 stories fall.

"Get away from the edge," Lena says, trying, and failing, to mask her worry. "You could fall."

"It’s okay, I can fly !"

"But I can’t," Lena seethes, "and if you fall I’ll do something stupid like jump after you."

"I’d catch you." Kara shrugs, but she still steps off the edge to join Lena in the middle of the roof. There's an air vent there, and she sits on it, patting the spot beside her in a silent invitation for Lena to settle next to her. "How are you feeling ?" she asks cautiously once Lena has shuffled close enough to her for her to be satisfied.

"About the mind wipe ? Are the rest ?"

"About anything you need to talk about."

Kara reaches out to briefly squeeze Lena’s hand, trying to breathe in comfort without being overbearing ; it's a hard balance to master, and she's been known for being suffocating at times. Before she can let go however, Lena retains her hand in her own and threads their fingers. She's looking at her curiously, like she's trying to read her soul, to dissect it and lay it out so she can dive in and understand all of her. Eventually, she exhales sharply, and starts talking, her eyes fluttering close and open as she says the first few words.

"I have trouble relying on my brain sometimes. I see, perceive, things differently from you, from most people really, and it can be hard to challenge my beliefs. I experience a lot of anxiety, it can be paralysing, and there are days when I don't know if I can trust my brain. To know that there is someone out there who can just enter my mind on a whim and do absolutely everything with it is highly disturbing. Everything else, you being an alien, the DEO, is something I can get used to, but someone breaching my mind is something that is going to be more difficult to deal with. It makes me feel unsafe, and there isn’t much I can do about it."

Kara sighs, and has to consciously remember not to crush Lena when her fingers reflexively contract around her very breakable human hand. "I wish I could protect you from that."

"Director J'onnz has already promised he won't do it again. As for the rest, you can't protect me from my own mind. All you can do, all I can ask for, is for you to be there when I need it." Lena speaks slowly, almost over enunciating every words like she's trying to convince herself as much as she's talking to Kara. Kara expects her voice to break at some point, for it to crook, bend, but it doesn't. It's small, but it carries Lena's words nonetheless.

"That's something I can do. I can, and I want to be there for you." As she makes this promise, her breath catches in her throat, and she knows tears are threatening to spill from her eyes. Lena is so special, so good ; and though it's no use to think so, though hardships build someone just has much as victories do, Kara can't help but feel her guts twist when she thinks about all the bad things she's had to go through. Slowly, tenderly, she kisses the side of her head, leaving her lips there for a moment, until she can feel Lena building up strength to speak again.

"I don't really have a framework for this," Lena says, "I have no idea how healthy relationships are supposed to work. But I want to try, with you. I really do. I just need you to know that being with me isn't easy. I'm not an easy person to deal with, I do weird things, my wealth can be smothering, I don't always react accordingly to situations, I..."

"If it's with you, it doesn't have to be easy," Kara cuts before Lena can spiral any further. "And if I have to remind you of that every single day, then I will. It's as simple as that. Being with you is worth it. But you have to talk to me, alright ? Tell me when you're feeling uncomfortable with something, or when you need help. This way, we can build our own framework, make our own rules."

"I can do that," Lena says turning to look at Kara with the softest of smiles. It's the kind of smile that could make her lift mountains, fly, is she weren't already able to. It shines warmer than the afternoon sun, and for a second Kara worries, because she perceives the lengths she could go to to protect that smile. It's been building up for a while, faster than with anyone else yet still just simmering under the surface, but it's in this very moment that Lena becomes her everything. Clarity downs on her as she watches the sunlight reflects on her diamond like skin, and it's frightening, shattering, but she embraces it nonetheless.

"What ?" Lena asks when she catches her staring. She arches a perfect eyebrow, and Kara realises she's starting to fall in love with her.

"Nothing," she says, shaking her head with a lazy smile. "Life's crazy, but I really like you."

"I really like you too."

***

"What am I looking at exactly ?"

"Alex's blood."

"I gathered as much," Lena says, rolling her eyes and switching the slides under the microscope. "But am I looking for anything in particular or do you just need a second opinion."

"Anything you can tell us would be useful really." Kara reaches out and squeezes her shoulder gently. Kelly has managed to get Alex to sit down long enough for her to half fall asleep and admit she is indeed tired and they're dozing off on the hospital bed. "Alex went through her samples twice but I still think we're missing something."

"Alright," Lena says, stepping away from the lab table and turning to Kara. "There are trace amount of lead, which was to be expected since you told me there is lead in this drug, but the level isn't deadly." Kara nods, taking in each of her words and mulling over them. She's heard various versions of this other the past few weeks and she's trying to fit them with what Alex told her, but it just doesn't click. "Alex is in serious need of every vitamins known to mankind and then some and she has a weird iron deficiency but other than that, nothing is out of the ordinary."

"And you can confirm that these deficiencies are linked to the drug, right ?"

"I can yes. If we compare this sample," Lena says, grabbing a small tube out of a tray, "with this one," she adds taking another one, "the difference is clear. I think that lead as a lot to do with her iron level falling which would mean that this drug has been made specifically to target humans. Unless you know of another species with a high sensitivity to lead ?"

"Yeah," Kara whispers, thinking as she speaks. "Daxamites are allergic to lead but the last one living on Earth was killed for his association with Krypton. But... So lead is a cause for low iron level, right ?"

"Yes, it's a quite common cause for this. High exposure to lead can cause a decrease in iron absorption. Is that particularly significant to you ?"

"Yeah. I mean maybe. I'm not sure. Kryptonians on Krypton had naturally high iron levels because we metabolised it faster and we had more efficient red blood cells. But. Rao !" Kara exclaims, frustration pressing on her head and making her see red. She's trying, really trying, to remain calm but she knows she's missing something, has been missing it for weeks, and she can't help but think that it's right in front of her. "Decrease in iron levels," she mumbles, "possible lack of vitamins, organ failure, fantasy world. Fantasy world..."

It can't be. It's impossible. It's a method of killing on Krypton that had been outlawed hundred of cycles ago. And yet. She doesn't want to believe it, because how ? How ?

"Fantasy world ?" Lena repeats, prompting her to go on as her brows knit in a frown.

"Black Mercy," Kara whispers, these two words almost getting caught in her throat as their weight makes it hard to breathe.

"Black Mercy ?"

"It's a bioengineered plant from Krypton. It was used for centuries to carry out the death penalty but they were all destroyed after the discovery of the Phantom Zone lead to this more 'ethical' choice for sentencing." Kara speaks slowly, hoping that by the time she's done talking all of this will appear as completely ridiculous and it will be something else. She'd even take starting their investigation all over again if it meant it wouldn't be linked to Krypton. "It would attach to the body and suck its vital force, trapping the convict in their perfect fantasy as a twisted way to make the death penalty less cruel. We studied it in history lessons but we never broached anything concrete about it like it's molecular structure or how to make one. Manufacturing these was made illegal long before I was even born so I couldn't have known but..."

"So you couldn't have known period," Lena cuts firmly. "It's not your fault."

"But..." Kara tries.

"Not buts. You didn't know. You do now and you can help now, but it was impossible for you to do anything before you had all the informations. It's not your fault."

"I can't help now either," Kara sighs in defeat, her heart roaring in her ears as pieces of the puzzle rearrange themselves to unfurl this new and terrible development. "There's is no cure for the Black Mercy and certainly not for a modified version that is unlike anything I've seen before."

"You can't help," a voice rings out behind her, "but maybe I can."

Kara whirls around to find Sam standing at Alex's bed for the second time in as many days. Her blood boils and she tries to focus on Lena's presence by her side. Lena who she was holding in her arms a few hours ago, Lena who is trying so hard to be open and trusting, Lena who is good, and deserves more than for Kara to rip her best friend's throat out.

"What are you doing here ?" she asks slowly instead of launching herself at her.

"I asked her to come." Alex clears her throat and shuffles to sit upright in her bed, trying to stand taller than she is and feel. "I didn't ask her to come help, but at this point, everybody's welcomed." There's something in her eyes, phantom brokenness, and Kara feels a surge of protectiveness for her sister.

"May I ask," Kara says, struggling to keep her voice even, "how you of all people would be able to help with any of this ?" She's infinitely grateful for the presence of Alex and Lena in the room, because if it were just her, she might just hit Sam again. Something churns in her stomach, a mixture of anger and gut wrenching sadness that sparks every time she turns her eyes to Sam's face ; she realises she could just as well be sick, and throw up on her.

"I know a thing or two about the Black Mercy."

"So do I," Kara seethes. Lena puts a gentle hand on her elbow and she forces herself to take a long deep breath.

"I know they were manufactured again," Sam says sombrely, "and I know who was doing it." 

To that, Kara has to relent. Time stops in the room as everybody retains their next breath and Sam shuffles from foot to foot suddenly hesitant. "Okay," Kara says on her next exhale, "I'm listening now."

"My family did this, my mother." She stops to gather her thoughts, and Lena jumps on the poorly timed dramatic pause to blurt something that sounds ludicrous even to her.

"Patricia is an alien too !?"

Alex snorts and Sam chuckles sadly. She forces her lips into a tentative smile but it doesn't hold. "No not my mum. My birth family on Krypton. Turns out the House of Vex was pretty shady. That's why I left you."

"Not now Sam, please," Alex whispers from her bed, cutting Kara before she forgets to be civilised and punches her into the next century.

"Do you know what they wanted to do with it ?" Lena chimes in, her apparent calmness only rivalled by Kelly's.

"Make money. The last shipment left shortly before we did."

"Do you know where it went ?"

"The archives from this space sector tracked the cargo to Maaldoria."

"Oh," Kara mumbles, "that's not good."

"It isn't." Sam sighs. "I'm sorry."

She looks at her feet again, and for a moment, Kara gets a glimpse of the person she used to know. She doesn't have to fake the words that come out of her mouth next. "It's okay. It's not your fault." And it's true. A lot of blame can be put on Sam Vex, but not this, and the least Kara can do is acknowledge it, even if it pains her to do so.

And it is painful. Because she wants to be mad. She wants to hate her and she wants to prevent her from coming back into their lives ; but the more she looks at her and the more she sees her former best friend, her second sister, instead of the woman she's come to hate. Lena must sense her conflict, because she comes closer to her and wraps herself around her tensed arm, soothing her hand up and down her body until she relaxes.

"Are Maaldorians particularly known for drug dealing ?" Lena asks, her brow creasing with her thinking.

"Not really," Alex says, "they're more into slave trade. But we haven't had to shut down one of their trade routes in a while so it's possible they decided to expend their business. But they aren't really smart so I don't see them synthesising a plant to make drug."

"That's at least a place to start looking," Kara adds, sounding much more positive than she actually feels. "Preferably before our new friend decides to wreck another part of town." At her words, there's an uptick in Sam's heartbeat, and she flinches. It's almost imperceptible, actually Kara is sure she's the only one who notices, but it awakes doubt in her, and maybe it's because she's already suspicious of Sam, but she can't shake it. "Why are you here again ?" she asks, turning all of her attention to the other Kryptonian.

"Alex asked me to come," Sam replies, slowly, and with enough hesitancy that the whole rooms attention shifts to her.

Kara wants to press on, question her, but Alex cuts her short.

"We need to talk about Ruby," she says after clearing her throat. She sounds small again, tired, maybe it's her default now ; and Kara wants to coddle her in a warm blanket forever, away from Sam.

***

The DEO lunch room might be the worst place in the universe. And that says something considering that Kara has spent two decades in space purgatory. It’s loud, too brightly lit and smells of a thousand different gross things at the same time. But Alex wants a jello cup and who is Kara to deny her this simple, though quite weird, pleasure. Lena stands at her side in the queue, mildly amused by the whole situation and Kara suspects that she has never set foot in such a place before.

Really, she suspects Alex wanted to talk with Sam for a bit without having her hovering over her shoulders with barely veiled death threats ; nobody likes jello cups enough to crave them when they come back from almost death. But she didn't point it out, only complied and dragged Lena with her.

"You know this is closer to pee than actual tea, right ?" she asks when Lena selects a little yellow tea bag on the shelf.

Lena snorts, and her face crunches in the most adorable way. "I know," she says, "I drank some in an airport once and I’m pretty sure it cursed me. I have my own with me but I want them to give me actual hot water and not that half warm shit from the vending machine."

"You," Kara starts, biting back a mocking smile, "you do know I could boil it for you ? With my heat vision ?"

"Oh, that’s right," Lena mumbles. Her cheeks glow slightly red, and the look of shocked recognition on her face has Kara laughing all the way back to the med bay.

"What’s so funny ?" Kelly asks when they set foot inside the room. She’s still sitting on the chair by Alex’s bed, but she looks more relaxed than she has in the past sixteen hours. Sam is nowhere to be seen, and Alex is lying down with her eyes closed, but isn’t sleeping. She too looks better, if only a bit tired ; and a smile stretches on her lips when she hears her fiancée’s voice.

"Oh not much," Kara replies with a teasing grin, "just Lena consistently forgetting that I'm an alien."

"Twice," Lena grumbles, "it happened twice."

"To be fair," Alex says without opening her eyes, "Kelly also keeps on forgetting you can do crazy stuff."

"Yeah, but Kelly’s not my girlfriend," Kara says before putting her hand on her mouth in horror, jamming the jello cup in her indestructible upper lip in the process. "That’s not the kind of things I should have said without asking you first," she mumbles sheepishly, turning to Lena with an apologetic look. "I’m sorry."

"It's okay," Lena says, reaching out to take Kara’s free hand. "We went on a date, we’re going on another one. I’d really like to be your girlfriend." She leans up, pressing a kiss on the corner of her mouth. The heat of her light blush fills the air between them, and when she steps back, Kara squeezes her hand to keep her close.

"Lesbians…" Alex groans, her finally opened eyes filled with teasing annoyance.

"To be fair," Kelly cuts with a laugh, "you’re also a lesbian babe. Let them have their fun."

"Fine." Petulantly, she crosses her arms on her chest before abruptly unfolding them to make grabby hands at Kara. "Gimme my jello."

"You don’t even like jello," Kara says, nonetheless tossing the disgusting cup at her sister.

"But Kelly does," Alex says, catching the cup with surprising dexterity for someone who was out for the count not so long ago. "And she deserves it because she’s amazing."

"Thank you babe," Kelly coos, grabbing the cup from her fiancée's hands. "I love you."

"I love you too," Alex says, "forever," she adds in a whisper.

Her words are meant for Kelly only but Kara easily hears them anyway and Lena can probably understand them too given the love that radiates from the couple in front of her. "Lesbians," she mutters with a fond smile.

Kara wouldn’t be surprised if her heart were to burst with love.

Chapter Text

She’s in a room with everybody she cares about, and two people she knows will grow to be important to her ; yet, Lena feels like she merely exists next to them. Kara is glaring at Sam who's staring at Alex who's clenching Kelly's hand and gazing at Ruby who's looking at Lena like she's her anchor in this situation. Lena doesn't dare telling her that she might not be the sanest person to rest upon.

Lena is looking at Kelly who dutifully sits at Alex's sides. She brought tea and biscuits for everyone, and even mastered Ruby's hot chocolate on the first try ; but now that there isn't much to do anymore, she looks like she doesn't know what to do with herself. And Lena understands. Because if she herself feels out of place here, even as moral support for both Sam and Kara, it must be a thousand times worse for the woman who has to deal with her fiancée's ex and daughter at the same time.

"Okay," Ruby says suddenly, shoving her hot chocolate mug on the coffee table and straightening up to her full twelve years old height. "Aunt Lena, you’re the least crazy person here, tell me what's going on. I don't understand what I'm doing here or why red hair person is looking at me like I hold the answer to the universe. Which is 42 by the way so red hair person, Alex ? Can you please stop staring at me ?"

"Sorry kid," Alex mutters averting her eyes to look at her knees instead. "Didn’t mean to freak you out."

"Do I know you ?" Ruby asks shyly after a stretch of silence long enough for her false bravado to falter. "Because I feel like I do and I seriously don’t understand."

"I’ve made a mistake," Sam whispers. "I’m sorry."

"Are you serious ?!" Kara shouts, jumping out of her seat and stopping her death course towards Sam only because Lena manages to grab her hand at the last second. "Are you serious ?"

"I didn’t mean know," Sam says, "and I was talking to Ruby." She stops, her eyes flickering everywhere across the room as she tries to swallow the rock blocking the words in her throat. "Ruby," she says, turning to her daughter, "ten years ago, I’ve made a very big mistake. I hope you can forgive me. If you can’t, that’s okay, I’ll love you all the same."

Her eyes briefly leave Ruby for a second, and she turns to Lena in a silent plea. Lena shuffles closer to the edge of the couch, and, still keeping one hand firmly around Kara’s, she reaches out to put her free one on Sam’s knee. They share a small smile, a sad heart broken one, but she does her best to give her all of her courage.

"If you feel like you know Alex, it’s because you do." Sam forces herself to look at Ruby. It pains her, everybody can see that, but Lena knows her best friend, knows her strength, and so she knows she'll pull through, no matter the cost. "I loved her once," she says, her voice wavering but not breaking. "Love her still. And she’s your mum."

A beat passes, two, during which Lena notices Alex consciously not looking at Ruby and Kara consciously not crushing her hand. She waits, they’re all waiting for something to happen ; either for Ruby to say something or for Sam to keep talking, but neither of these things happen. Instead, Alex is the one who finds the courage to speak. "I want you to know," she says with great difficulty, "that I looked for you. I would have never abandoned you, and I kept searching for a long time. You’re Sam’s, but I love you like my own." She's overflowing with words, thoughts, and not speaking seems as hard as doing so. Ruby looks at her, and she looks at Ruby, and Lena's heart aches for everyone in this room.

In the time it takes for Ruby to find words to say, Kara has sat back down beside Lena and Sam is gripping her hand with a bit too much pressure for it to be comfortable. Time seems suspended yet everything rushes forward and in the second before it crashes down, Lena thinks she understand at least some part of what Kara said about entropy. The universe doesn't care if it destroys lives.

"Why ?" Ruby croaks this single word and it's a word that everybody was probably expecting, still, it hurts. It hurts in its all encompassing simplicity, and its childlike misunderstanding. It hurts because it's the only thing anyone could possibly think about asking in this situation, yet it's the one question no one wants a full answer to. Ruby asks, but her eyes tell everyone that the answer might no be welcomed. Lena remembers asking this exact question, this life altering, universe shattering question to her father on his death bed when he told her she was indeed his daughter. Why ? Ruby asks it again ; "why ?"

There is a moment during which Lena thinks that she was wrong, that Sam is going to crumble, that she wont be able to push through and answer. But she does, she goes to open her mouth, her brain working double time to craft words. "I found out some things, about us." She says it slowly, painfully. "And we had to leave."

"Is it because we're..." Ruby tries, letting the end of her sentence trail into nothingness.

"No Rubes," Sam sighs, "it’s not because we’re aliens. Well not entirely. Kara is like us. Same planet. And she's your godmother."

"If she’s like us, then why did we leave ? The two of you are invincible, you could have protected us from anything."

"From anything," Sam sighs defeatedly, "but not from myself."

"For Rao's sake, can you stop being so vague," Kara spits, tensed beside Lena. "Your kid needs answers, we all need answers !" Lena can feel angry heat radiating from her in waves. Her taut muscles could rip her apart in seconds, but she doesn't let this scare her. Instead, she rubs the pad of her thumb on her skin, over and over again, giving Kara something to focus on.

"When you were almost two, you broke Alex’s hand," Sam continues.

"It’s alright kiddo," Alex says softly, "it was an accident."

Ruby looks up from her much too powerful hands to lay her eyes on Alex, and she smiles, truly smiles at her for what Lena suspects is the first time in ten years.

"We’d been happy, blissfully so, the three of us living together, but when I realised my genetic had overridden your father’s, I started looking for answers. I wanted to know as much as I could about Krypton so that when the moment came I’d be able to teach you everything."

"You could have asked me," Kara says faintly, maybe more to herself than really to Sam.

"But you didn’t know everything," Sam replies with an aching smile. "I know now that I should have just talked to you but at that time, I wanted to do just one thing by myself. Because I was raising a toddler with the love of my life but we were barely twenty. Barely twenty. Exhausted from college and from raising Ruby and we needed help from everyone and I wanted to do one thing, just one thing on my own."

"I would have helped," Alex whispers, "you know that."

Sam ignores her, it’s painful for her to do so, and maybe a bit rude, but Lena knows her friend, and knows she needs to keep going. "I guilt tripped Kal into helping me. Thanks to him, I was able to access every archive on Krypton, as well as the Lanterns’ records on our space sector. Only two ships left Krypton when it exploded."

"But there are three of us," Kara says, disbelief and confusion etched on her face.

"I crossed referenced this with records on my family. They weren’t just working on the Black Mercy." Her words are swallowed by the tightness of her throat and she has to stop talking for long seconds. She stares at Kara, trying to communicate something, something heavy and game changing that Lena doesn’t understand. "They tried to revive Project Worldkiller."

"How…?"

"Let me finish," Sam pleads, "please Kara. Let me finish and then you can ask all the questions you want. Everybody can ask me anything but I just need to say this."

Kara’s world, her beliefs, are on the verge of exploding a second time, and if they do, Lena doesn’t know if she’s going to be able to help, if she’ll manage to hold her together. She feels her tense even further, like she’s about to burst, but all she says is : "okay. Okay. I’m sorry, I’m listening."

"It couldn’t be you," Sam says, barely over a whisper, "because you remember Krypton. And it couldn’t be Kal, because you remember him. So that left only me. I thought I was a Worldkiller."

Lena realises that what Sam just dropped is a nuclear bomb, but what it means for Kara, for Kryptonians, she doesn't understand. The word itself is self explanatory, worldkiller, it sends chills down her spine, but Kara herself seems to have been turned to ice.

"There are no records of my birth and since Worldkillers are genetically bioengineered, it made sense to me. Since Ruby's birth, I'd been having a lot of nightmares, and if there was the slightest chance I could be awakening, I had to get away from all of you. Worldkillers are much stronger than Kryptonians, and I would have killed you Kara. I don't even want to think about what I could have done to you Alex. I thought about leaving Ruby with you, I wanted to, it was the best way to protect her. You were a fantastic mum to her and Kara could have taught her everything about Krypton. But it was like trying to rip a piece of me. So I took her with me, stole heart cloaking devices from Kal and changed our last name."

"And you left," Alex concludes for her.

"I left."

"Are you," a little voice chimes in hesitantly, "are you a Worldkiller Mum ?"

"I don’t know Rubes," Sam whispers. "I don’t know."

"You don’t know ?" Kara asks, her voice wavering with poorly restrained fear and anger. "You drop something like that, and you don’t know ? You leave us for ten years, and you don't know ? You come back, and you don't fucking know ?!"

"I'm sorry Kara."

"Sorry isn't fucking enough."

"After I met Lena, I started thinking about it the scientific way," Sam says in a rush, fully conscious that Kara could kill her here and now. It downs on Lena, maybe harder than any other time when she's been confronted to Kara's alienness, that her girlfriend is not from this world, she's closer to a god than anything, and the power she wields and restrains could destroy them all. "I tested myself," Sam continues, "tinkered with my body basically. I was looking for a trigger, something that I could block that would make sure I wouldn't lose it. Meanwhile I was losing it in a completely different manner. I missed you like crazy, and Ruby missed you too. I wanted to come back, but I also wanted to be sure I wasn't dangerous and so I kept looking and experimenting until I realised I had no way to know for sure, and by then it was too late. Ruby had long stopped calling after you and you were engaged to a cop. I didn't think there was a place in your life for me anymore."

"There would have been," Alex whispers, "I would have made space for you and for Ruby." Her small and broken voice snaps Kara out of her angry daze, and beside her, Lena feels all the fight drain out of her. She sags in the couch, suddenly out of place in the way her body tries to contain her pain. "And I'll make space for you now," Alex continues, "if that's okay with you Ruby. You don't have to answer now, you can think about it. And you don't have to call me mum. I just want a chance to get to know you."

"You lied to me," Ruby says as harshly as a kid can. "You lied to me," she repeats, barely looking at her mother. "When I asked why you were crying on every single one of my birthday. When I asked why I only had one parent. When I..."

"I told you the truth about your father," Sam says weakly.

"I don't care about Peter !" Ruby explodes, rising from where she’s sitting next to her mother. She's floating a few inches off the ground, her fists tight and trembling. "He didn't want me ! But she did ! I don't care if you're dangerous, if you're a worldkilling person, you're my Yeyu and I love you. But you could have told me the truth. You could have told me why half of my baby pictures are missing. Maybe I'd have known it was Alex's face in my dreams and maybe I would have stopped missing someone I didn't even remember. You could have just told me Yeyu."

Sam slowly shakes her head. "You wouldn't have understood," she says, "you were so young."

"Well I understand it even less now." The ground shakes when her feet hit it, the floorboards creaking in a worrying way. She goes to leave, shaking Sam's hand off when she tries to catch her, and almost rips the door on her uncontrolled way out.

Lena is just starting to think of a way to stop a kryptonian teenager from running away when Kara disappears from her side and catches up with Ruby in a blur. "Come on kid, I'll buy you ice cream."

There's a beat, a frightening silence during which the whole room holds its breath waiting for Ruby to snap ; it doesn't happen. "Can we get donuts too ?"

"Sure thing," Kara says, shrugging on her thick tan jacket. Before they leave, she glances back at them with a small sad smile, and in her eyes is the assurance that beyond her hatred of Sam, she'll take care of her goddaughter no matter what.

***

"I just got off the phone with Sam," Lena says as she emerges on the roof, "I don’t know what you said to Ruby, but she came home and went straight to sleep on the couch, cuddled up to her."

It's been a long tedious day, and she's exhausted. Every single part of her body screams for her to go lie down and sleep for the next twelve hours, but she catches a glimpse of Kara's golden hair, and pushes through.

"That’s the way this kid is," Kara replies, patting the concrete beside her for Lena to sit. "She used to do the same thing when she was a baby. She'd get upset, crawl out of the room and refuse to come back until someone came and listened to her babble nonsense for a couple of minutes. She just needed someone to be there while she made sense of the mess in her head."

"Do you need someone to sit with you while you make sense of the mess in your head ?" Lena asks softly, padding closer until she reaches her usual sitting spot. Kara looks tired too. Less so than Lena thanks to her alien biology, but there still are shadows under her eyes, and a hardness in her jaw that wasn't there before.

"I’m fi…" she starts, before meeting Lena's soft glare and cutting her lie short. "I’m not even remotely fine."

"That’s completely legitimate."

"But I wouldn’t even know where to start unpacking all of this." Kara sighs, her breath full of confusion, unsaid words, and ice crystals. Tiny snowflakes float to Lena and she catches them in her hands, watching them melt as Kara takes the time to think. "Did Sam ever told you about the Worldkillers ?"

"No," Lena replies softly, "she never did. I knew she broke up with Alex for a reason, and that she was struggling with something, but she never gave me the specifics. If she had, I might have been able to help."

"Can I tell you about them ?" Kara asks hesitantly. "It’s not a nice story."

"You can tell me about anything you want. Really."

Kara opens her mouth, stammers, hesitates, then screws her eyes shut before opening them again with a new sharpness in her gaze. "Unlike most children on Krypton, I didn’t grew up thinking the Worldkillers were a myth. My father was a scientist and he was very real about this with me. To him, the Worldkillers weren’t just a thing you’d talk about to get your kids to eat diner, they were a very real part of Krypton’s history, one that shouldn’t be hidden. I was still terrified of them." She chuckles, and sighs, shooting a sad tenuous smile that twists Lena’s guts. "Project Worldkiller happened a few hundred cycles before my birth. It was a terraforming, well kryptonforming I guess, project that was supposed to help Krypton colonise nearby planets, at their expense of course. Krypton had a very high gravity and getting out of its pull was hard. Worldkillers were bioengineered to be stronger than regular Kryptonians so they could endure just about anything, including getting out of the planet’s atmosphere. They were also encoded with a strong moral code and attachment to their home planet so that when faced with extreme circumstances, they'd always chose Krypton's side. Admittedly, it was a terrible idea."

"That's a mild way to say it."

"At the time," Kara says, acknowledging Lena’s remark with a short laugh, "Kryptonians hadn’t fully master accelerated growth, so the Worldkillers had to be raised in a lab. Before they were fully grown, someone altered their genetic code and set them loose on Argo City. There were hundreds of deads. Now, legend has it that a mighty heir of the House of El, assisted by Flamebird and Nightwing, rose to the occasion and defeated all five Worldkillers. Truth is he nuked part of Argo City and only got four of them. A sixth Worldkiller, with a built in trigger, had to be raised to hunt down the remaining one. It took seven years, and Krypton never attempted to colonise anything ever again."

"That’s," Lena starts, trying to find a word to summarise what she’s feeling right now. "That’s terrible."

"It doesn’t stop here. There’d been so much death and destruction, and the last Worldkiller had been such a helpful killing machine, that the Voice of Rao, Krypton’s religious leader at the time, decided to spare their life." Kara snarls in distaste, her features distorting in an almost ugly expression. "The trigger was switched off, the Worldkiller made Kryptonian and integrated in society. Until one day they snapped, and killed sixty people, including thirty seven kids."

Kara swallows harshly, and lets the silence stretch after her words. She's hunched over, deflated, and when Lena reaches out to take her hand, she shivers. A question hangs in the air, and Kara doesn't seem ready to broach it, but Lena has to ask. She has to, because if she doesn't, she doesn't know where her brain could take her. "Do you think Sam…?"

"I don’t know," Kara sighs. "From the outside, you can’t tell the difference between a Kryptonian and a Worldkiller. We’d have to run tests. Do the thing we would have done years ago if she’d just told me, if she’d let me help. I wish I'd thought about the heart cloaking devices. Or that I had another idea to track her. It would have saved Alex the heartbreak. And Sam a decade of worrying."

"It’s not your fault."

"I know," Kara replies with a smile, turning slightly to look at Lena. Warmth is starting to return to her eyes, and they twinkle when she brings Lena’s hand to her mouth. "I still wish I’d done things differently, tried harder," she says, "but I know it’s not my fault. And I do feel better know that I’ve shared this with you."

"I’m glad I could help," Lena says. She wiggles closer, and leans in until she can lay a soft kiss on the corner of Kara’s mouth. Before she has time to fully do so, Kara turns and captures her lips with hers. They kiss lazily, their mouths sliding against each other unhurriedly. The last rays of sun warm her back, and it’s almost relaxing. Almost, because when Lena closes her eyes, she can’t help but superimpose Sam’s face on the masked body of the out of control vigilante.

Chapter Text

"So where are we going exactly ?" Lena asks, "I'm still very interested in the moon, but I'm not sure I'm dressed accordingly for that."

"You're dressed beautifully," Kara says, happily swinging their plaid covered arms. "And don't worry, we're going to see stars, but we're staying way below the Karman line, so you don't need a space suit."

"So we are going to the planetarium ! You could have just answered instead of smiling ominously."

"I wasn't being ominous," Kara says, affecting a shocked expression, "I told you we were going to see stars."

"There are a good number of places and ways to see stars," Lena replies with a sideway glance. Her voice drops an octave as she says this and it resonates pleasantly in Kara.

"Oh."

"I'm just teasing," Lena says, her lips curling around her words. "Come on Miss Danvers, show me stars."

Their arms swing between them as they walk to their destination. The sun is shining behind low cottony clouds, filling the air with light warmth. After a hectic couple of days, Kara finally feels safer, more at peace. She's decided to keep Sam, Worldkillers and murderous vigilantes out of her mind for the day, and so far, she's quite successful. She lets herself be carried by the beat of Lena's heart, the way it spikes up every time their eyes meet, and the cadenza of her voice, the way it drops with her innuendos. Her phone is on silent, she's finished her article, and Kelly is taking care of Alex ; everything that isn't Lena is on the backseat of her mind. Well, she's keeping a special spot for the sticky buns from the museum's café, but mostly, her thoughts revolve around Lena ; the scar on the inside of her palm, her calm pulse beneath her skin, the soft green of her eyes in the sun. Kara can't stop herself from looking at her, she steals glances as they walk, lingers at crosswalks so she can imprints her face in her mind. There's something in the way the low sunlight hits her face, the way the wind tugs at wisps of her dark hair, that makes everything feel right.

Under the artificial twinkle of the museum's stars, she looks just as beautiful, and the childlike wonder taking hold of her features as they walk through the aliens' myths and constellations exhibit warms Kara's heart more than the sun ever could.

"I like how we see the same stars but we have different stories about them," Lena muses as she peers at the long text captioning a depiction of Mars' night sky. "There's nothing about Krypton though. I thought it'd be the star of an exhibit like this one."

"Well Superman's off world," Kara remarks, "and as far as they know, they don't have anyone else they can ask these questions too. Plus, they had an exhibit about him not two months ago." She holds back a sigh, wondering for half a second if she should go forward with her next thought, one that is not always well received.

"That exhibit was about Superman," Lena says with a frown, "not Krypton. Your home planet is more than just your cousin."

At that, Kara soars. Since Sam left, and apart from Alex, not many people ever point that out. Nobody ever thinks of Krypton as a world outside of Superman's existence. Kal has told the public about a few legends, to try to make their world known, but even when they aren't recounted by him, everybody always find a way of bringing them back to just Superman. It has broken Kara's heart countless times. "I think about that from time to time," she says with a grateful smile. "I guess I can understand why Krypton would only be seen that way by the people of Earth, but it's my home, and there are days when it's hard that everything is always about Superman. I'm not in the public eye, I'm laying low and I can't really do something about it, but sometimes I really want to just, just scream, because the S does not mean super, and Kal-El is much more of a Nightwing than he is a Flamebird. Everybody's got it completely wrong."

As she speaks, her voice rises with frustration, and she's grateful for the companionable stretch of silence Lena gives her to calm down. They walk through suspended models of planets, their faces wafting in and out of their shadows until they reach the planetarium and Lena stops in front of the double doors. "Tell me a story from your home."

They make their way inside of the theatre. It's only a quarter full, courtesy of the next showing not being on until fifteen minutes, and silent stars dance across the spherical ceiling. In the semi darkness of the room, Lena cuddles up to Kara ; she sinks into her hold as Kara leans forward and starts talking in a low voice, her lips close to her ear.

"I told you about humans' misconception about wether Superman is Flamebird or Nightwing. It always infuriates me because they misread the myth by stopping at the names and it's actually much more complicated than that."

"So Flamebird isn't the nice one ?"

"There is no good or bad in the story I want to tell you," Kara corrects gently. "Both Nightwing and Flamebird are necessary to life, and their duality is present in every Kryptonian's soul."

"Okay," Lena says softly, "I think I understand."

Kara smiles and kisses the side of her head before she continues. "Kryptonians are more are less polytheistic. Rao is the main one, but we have a large pantheon of gods and several subdivision when it comes to our religion. Some prayed more to Rao, some more to his polar opposite Cythonna, but there are also Yuda, Telle, Mordo and Lorra. If you want to get into technicalities, there's also Aethyr, ruler of the Phantom Zone and collector of souls, but I’m not a fan of his work. I'm a Raoist. When I die," Kara stops to clear her throat, forcing out the words that get stuck in it, "I'll join my family in his light. In case I'm the first to leave, I taught Alex the prayer for the dead. If we're unfortunate, and she departs first, I'll have to find another solution."

With nothing but a light squeeze of the hand, Lena wordlessly tells Kara that she understands the depth of what she just told her, that she gets it, that it makes sense that she would want to be send off that way. She doesn't voice it, doesn't interrupt her, but Kara has a feeling that Lena wants to learn this prayer too, that she intends to stick around long enough to unfortunately need it someday. She glances at her, and Lena is staring ; her eyes deeply green and full of compassion and comprehension.

"Rao was born at the beginning of times, alongside the universe, and in turn he allowed the birth of his brothers and sisters. One in particular, Vohc, was tasked with creating the most perfect world. To assist him in his work, Rao created Flamebird who destroyed each of Vohc's creation, pushing him to do better and better each time. In time, Vohc and Flamebird fell in love, and to be with Flamebird's physical incarnation, Vohc took on the form of the dragon Nightwing. Nightwing would create a new world, and Flamebird would burn it down again and again. This went on for an infinity of cycles, until Nightwing created the most perfect of worlds and begged Flamebird to spare it. To fulfil her duty to Rao however, Flamebird destroyed this world too, and Vohc at the same time. With no purpose to her existence, Flamebird eventually burned out."

Lena exhales sharply, her lips forming a little oh that doesn't come out. "That's not a very happy story," she breathes out in a sad whisper.

"Who says it's the end of the story ?" Kara asks softly. "After all, Flamebird and Nightwing are reborn in each cycle."

"But it always end in tragedy, right ?"

"It does," Kara concedes with a shrug, "but it still was my favourite myth as a kid. I liked the idea of soulmates. And dragons. I mean, that's not what's important in that story, but I was five when I heard it for the first time, so I'll allow myself some leeway."

Lena's frown is broken by a quick laugh that cuts through the silence of the planetarium. Sheepishly, she covers her mouth, but it doesn't do much to hide her wide grin. "That's very you," she whispers though they've already attracted the attention of the few other people sitting under the stars. "Is there a broader meaning to the story that isn't 'dragons are cool' ?"

Kara bites back a laugh and pokes her shoulder in mocked offence. "Dragons are cool is the official teaching of Flamebird and Nightwing's story."

"If you say so," Lena says, raising an eyebrow and twisting her lips in a teasing and taunting smirk.

"Alright," Kara chuckles lowly, "you got me. It's about balance. Birth and destruction go together. Dark and light. Life emerges from chaos and in turn chaos comes from life. We all have Flamebird and Nightwing in us, what's important is how we balance them out, what we do with our emotions."

"Do," Lena starts before swallowing her question.

"Do the cycles end with Krypton's destruction ?" Kara completes for her. Lena nods, a small sad smile curling her lips. "No they don't. As long as there still is someone to tell these stories, then the cycles won't end. And I still believe in Flamebird and Nightwing. It's like Starhaven," she adds, gesturing toward the ceiling where a movie has started taking them on a journey across the stars, "if someone is here to talk about it, then it's not really dead."

The drowsy narrator's voice leads them through the planet's asteroids belt and for a moment, Kara lets herself be lost in the somewhat familiar stars. The planet has been reconstituted thanks to promotional pictures, and she remembers taking a long-haul flight there with her parents. It's not as impressive, not as beautiful, but the memory still twinges her heart a bit. Beside her, Lena shuffles to get comfortable and lays her head in the crook of her neck.

"Have you ever been there ?" she asks sleepily.

"Once," Kara replies softly. "It was the best holiday I've ever taken. The air smelled like, I guess like Earth cinnamon."

"Tell me about it ? That dude's voice is boring."

Kara chuckles and yawn exaggeratingly. "I was just ten cycles old," she remembers, "the Science Guild had just cleared for commercial flights several new types of ships capable of lifting off Krypton and my father decided we should go on a trip..." Using Lena's slow heartbeat, she tunes out the narrator's voice, and lets her own take control of the story.

***

"I’ll have a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and twelve sticky buns."

Kara rattles her order without looking at the menu and in turn the waitress writes it down without raising an eyebrow. She's been here enough time that the staff doesn't ask questions anymore and it brings her a welcomed sense of normalcy. The Science Café's sticky buns are almost better than Noonan's, and she doesn't want to have to restrain herself. The place is decorated in a quite cheesy and science fictiony way, with metal paneling, blinking LED lights and round windows. The place mats are planet shaped and the chairs might have been scavenged from an actual space ship ; Kara loves it.

"And my girlfriend will have," she continues, pausing for half a second to allow a wide grin to take over her face after her lips wrap around the word girlfriend, "what will you have Lena ?"

Lena hums and blinks back to reality. She’s sleepy, her hair a bit ruffled from the nap she took in the planetarium. She looks gorgeous, magnificent, out of this world. The coloured lights dance across her cheekbones, and it's simultaneously the cutest and most enticing thing Kara has ever seen. She wonders what Lena would look like aboard of an actual space ship, wearing one of those tight regulation suit women always seem to wear in budget sci-fi movies, with grease on her nose as she fixes a critical leak with poise and overt sexiness. She smiles, her eyes twinkling in time with her blush like she can read Kara's slightly inappropriate thoughts.

"I’ll have a black coffee," Lena says after a cute little yawn, "and one of these sticky things my girlfriend is having."

The way Lena says this word, the way her body works to produces the word girlfriend with a slight lilt, is probably illegal across seven galaxies. But Kara thinks she deserves it, for taking too much pleasure in hearing her own voice saying that same word.

"Alright. So we have a hot chocolate, extra whipped cream, a coffee, black, and thirteen sticky buns," the waitress summarise, unaware, or uncaring of what's happening in front of her. "Anything else ?"

"A dozen more sticky buns to go," Lena says, shaking off the last remnant of sleep and sliding a shiny credit card across the table.

Gently but firmly, Kara covers her hand with her own and stops the progression of the offensive plastic card. "You're not paying."

"You paid for our museum tickets," Lena fires back with a slight frown.

"This is a date," Kara reminds her with a smile, "I asked you on a date. And I want to treat you right."

"Don’t be old fashion darling," Lena scoffs. "I’m rich."

Kara's resolve wavers at the term of endearment, and it's enough for Lena to slip her hand out and give the card to the waitress.

"You're sneaky."

"Am I now ?" Lena asks with a pointed smirk.

Next to them, the waitress announces she’ll be back with their order, but Kara barely notices her. Lena outshines every single person in the room.

"I have more money than is decent for one to have," Lena mumbles, twirling a napkin between her fingers. "Available in seconds, in every currency on the planet and then some from other worlds. This isn’t nearly enough to even show up on my bank record. Let me do something nice for you."

"You don’t have to shower me in money for me to l-like you," Kara replies. She feels hot all of a sudden, her invisible kryptonian blush simmering under her skin, out of sight, but very much present.

Lena sighs, stilling her hands for a couple of seconds before she resumes her destruction of the napkin. "I'm not always the best at showing that I care. I do things that might seem inadequate because I lack understanding of what is appropriate. I want you to teach me your love language, I want you to show me how I can be what’s best for you. But until I learn, until I understand, I'll spend every last dime on you to make you see how much I care about you."

"Okay," Kara whispers, slowly bringing her hand back over Lena's. "I can understand that. You don't have to change who you are for me."

"I do want to be a better person though."

"Then we can learn together what being better means for us."

Kara lifts Lena's hands to her mouth with the firm intention of laying a soft caring kiss on them. But Lena uses the momentum to lift herself from her chair and lean forward, stopping an inch away. "Is it okay if I kiss you ? In public ?"

"Very much so."

She leans the rest of the way for what she intends to be a chaste and short kiss, but Lena's lips are a black hole and the moment she touches them, she loses all sense of time and space, getting lost in the feeling of kissing, and being kissed back by who she has no doubt, in this moment, is the love of her life.

***

/There’s pain. Pain everywhere. Blinding pain that has her convinced that if she were to try to open her eyes, she wouldn’t be able to see anything.

There’s pain, and an incessant buzzing that doesn’t come from a communication device, or a delivery drone outside her window, but from inside her own head.

It's unbearable and she wishes she were dead. She should be dead. She should be dead and welcomed in Rao's light for her virtuous short life. This is definitely not Rao's light.

Something churns in her stomach and she wants to throw up. She lurches forward but is stopped by heavy metal strapping her down. She can't even tell if she's standing or lying ; there is no up and down anymore.

"Hello Kara Zor-El, I’ve been watching you."

The voice seems to be coming from everywhere at once. She tries to open her eyes, but there’s something blocking them, something inside her very brain telling her she can't.

"Where am I ?" she manages to croak. Her lips are chapped, her throat dry, and the edge of panic is starting to slice her in two. "Dad ? Anyone ? Where am I ? Dad ?!"

"Foolish little girl. Your dad is gone. Your world is gone."

"Please let me go !" She rocks against her restraints willing her body to be stronger than it is. She's trained harder that most kids her age, but it still isn't enough. "Where's my dad I want my dad !"

"For fuck's sake will you shut up ? Your dad's dead. He can't hear you. No one can hear you !"

"Please let me go !"

"Oh that I won't. I have big plans for you Kara Zor-El. Big big plans."

The voice moves, and she tries as hard as she can to locate it in the room, but apart from her own, there is no breathing, and she might has well be alone, hallucinating.

"Please," she tries again, calling on the voice’s kryptonian virtues, "please can you tell me where I am ? I promise I’ll be good. Can I please have some water ?"

"No," the voice cuts with cold finality. "You’re annoying. Initiate implantation."

"Initiating implantation in 3, 2…"

"Wait ! No no no !" She trashes against her restraints once more but something seems wrong with her body. It’s like she has no right side anymore. At all. "Please ! I want my dad !"

"…1. Implantation initiated."/

***

There’s pain. Pain everywhere. Blinding pain that has her convinced that if she were to try to open her eyes, she wouldn’t be able to see anything.

There’s pain, and an incessant buzzing that doesn’t come from her phone, or from a plane passing over, but from inside her own head.

It's unbearable and she wishes she were dead. She should be dead. She should have died on Krypton and…

Kara jolts awake to a deafening scream. Her own. She trashes around, frenetically looking for Lena until she remembers they're both sleeping in their own beds tonight. She's covered in a thin layer of sweat and there's something sticky on her hands and her phone is ringing and she just needs some fucking silence !

She tries to focus on her breathing, and asks Rao for help, but her god seems to be slipping away no matter how much she tries to cling to him and her phone is still ringing and "What ?!" she snaps as she takes the call.

"I’m really sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night," Alex says, her voice wavering on the other side of the line, "but our new vigilante went on another murder spree. They attacked fast, at several point in the city but we lost track of them in the Maaldorian neighbourhood, two blocks away from you..."

"Have you been able to reach Sam ?" Kara asks before the thought even forms clearly in her head.

"Her phone went straight to voicemail. But Kara I don’t think she is…"

"We can't overlook the possibility, you know it." Kara sighs and forces herself upright, shuffling until she can sit on the edge of her bed. Out of habit, her hand goes to scratch her hair, but when it gets closer to her nose, she has to stop. The sticky thing smells metallic. Like blood.

"She wasn’t able to prove she’s a Worldkiller," Alex says weakly.

"But she didn’t prove she isn’t. I’ll pick up Lena and meet you at the DEO."

"Lena ?"

"I don’t care if this killer is her best friend or not, I’m not leaving her unprotected."

She hangs up before Alex has the time to protest, and besides, her sister has no ground to stand on, Kara knows she'll bring Kelly to safety too.

Momentarily forgetting about the blood, Kara rushes to Lena's apartment and starts knocking on the door. There's no reply from the other side, but Kara can hear Lena's heart rate jumping from sleep to consciousness to mild panic and she realises that waking her anxiety ridden girlfriend in the middle of the night might not be a smart thing to do.

"It’s me," she says through the door when it doesn’t open. "It’s Kara."

"Kara ?" Lena mumbles, appearing in a sliver of light that gets wider when her identity is confirmed.

"I’m sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night," Kara says, stepping inside of the apartment. "Something happened. We need to get to the DEO."

"We…?"

"I’m not leaving you behind," Kara cuts with hurried resolve.

"Sure," Lena manages to say between two yawns. "I’ll just grab a jacket."

She begins to turn away, slowly, and in an uncoordinated way that Kara would find endearing in any other circumstances but that right now bumps against her perceived emergency of the situation.

"Wait," Lena says, stopping mid turn as her tired eyes settle more fully on Kara. "What happened to your arm ?"

Kara glances down, the blood on her hands coming back to her memory like a punch in the gut. The pain too. Her right arm is bleeding severely, scratched raw from her shoulder down to her elbow, the skin unevenly missing in several places.

"I think I had a nightmare."

Chapter Text

This is a nightmare. There's no way in hell that this isn't a nightmare. There's no way her girlfriend is standing in front of her covered in blood and Lena is going to wake up in her bed, safe, and she'll call Kara and they'll have a nice breakfast together. She lifts her hand with the firm intention of hitting herself awake but Kara stops her and the sharp pressure around her wrist is definitely real. She is awake. She is awake and her girlfriend is bleeding in front of her and something bad happened.

Something bad enough that they need to get out of here in the middle of the night.

She feels the beginning of panic turning over in her stomach as iced fear spreads through her veins. She knows she needs to stay level headed, that she needs to call Alex and maybe find something to stop the bleeding ; but her vision starts to blur and fear paralyses her and she just can't breathe.

"We need to get to the DEO," Kara says, her warm blood coated hand tugging on her arm. "There was another attack, close to our building. It's not safe for you here."

"Your arm..."

"Alex will know what to do. We need to leave. Now."

Lena wills herself to focus on Kara and only Kara, pushing away her panic to deal with it later. It works, moderately. Kara is hurt, and if she doesn't do something, she might bleed out ; Lena needs to be focused, there's no time for panic.

"I'm sorry," Kara says suddenly. "I'm going to have to carry you. Hold on tight."

The world blurs again, not from panic, but from inhuman speed, and seconds later, Lena finds herself in the middle of the DEO, under too harsh lights and facing too bright monitors. She empties her stomach on Kara's bare feet.

There's no way in hell that this isn't a nightmare.

***

"Don't worry. It happened to me the first few times too. Apparently, the human brain isn't made to handle super speed."

With a shaky hand, Lena accepts the glass of water from Kelly and gulps it down in one go. "I threw up on my girlfriend," she whispers, "I threw up on my girlfriend in front of everyone."

"They've seen worse, these people deal with human and alien body fluids on a daily basis. You wouldn't believe half of the things Alex tells me," Kelly shrugs matter-of-factly. "You can take a shower, and I'll go grab you something from the DEO's most glamorous collection."

Lena turns around, psyching herself up to take a shower in a shared locker room. She just hopes she can find a clean stall in which nobody has showered yet today.

"And, um," Kelly stammers before Lena can evaporate from this embarrassing conversation, "if you need to talk to someone, if you need a friend, I'm here. Or I can get you a referral if you want to see a professional."

"I. Thank you."

Lena doesn't say much else. She’s trying very hard to extract herself from this situation with the intention of avoiding all contact, from humans and aliens alike, for at least the next half hour. Thankfully, Kelly picks up on her mood and slips out of the room with a warm encouraging smile. Lena really wants to be alone right now, but she still finds herself thinking that she wouldn't mind being friends with her.

The shower, and clean, almost sterile, environment do a good job of clearing her mind. Under the scalding water and the harsh neon lights it's easier for her to think rationally, to focus on one thought at a time. Whatever happened to Kara's arm, Alex can probably handle it. Kara is safe with her sister, and in turn, Lena is safe with Kara. As for Sam, if it is indeed her, she'll deal with it no sooner than she has to. There is nothing, in her present state and with her present knowledge, that she can do to help. It's a hard thought to acknowledge, but once she has, once the hot water has drilled it into her, she feels better.

Kelly holds true to her promise and a stack of clothes is waiting for Lena when she gets out of the shower. Dark heather grey sweatpants and a sweatshirt sporting the DEO logo, a sport bra that is miraculously her size, and for some reason, Superman branded boxer briefs. The clothes are warm, like someone took the care of laying them on a heater first, and surprisingly comfortable. She feels a thousand time better ; all she needs now, is to find Kara.

She doesn't have to look very far ; Kara is leaning on the wall outside of the locker room, clad in her own set of DEO issued sweats and fiddling with the hem of her sweater. "How are you feeling ?" she asks as soon as she catches sight of Lena. She looks and sounds truly embarrassed, and an apologetic smile accompanies her statement. Standing on the tip of her toes, Lena wipes it off with a kiss.

"Better now," she mumbles, her words muffled by the crook of Kara's neck.

"I'm sorry about the flying. I should have let you know it has slight side effects."

"Slight side effects ?" Lena repeats, forcing indignation on her features as she pulls back of the embrace. "I threw up on you !"

"It's okay," Kara says, tugging lightly until Lena complies and lets herself be wrapped up in her arms again.

"Is it ?" she asks, her words barely audible from where her mouth is buried against Kara's shoulder.

"I'm the one who got covered with puke, I get to decide if it's okay or not."

Kara punctuates her sentence with a soft kiss on top of her head. It gives enough finality to her words that Lena doesn't bother with arguing. Plus, she doesn't really want to argue, she's way too comfortable where she is now to risk it. She snuggles closer, wrapping her arms around Kara who effortlessly lifts her off the ground so she's resting fully on her even though they're still standing. As she adjusts her grip around her however, Lena's hand come resting on Kara's right arm, and she doesn't find what she's looking for. No bandage, no cast, nothing. Bending a bit so she can look at Kara, she manages to shake off the comfortable warmth enough to ask a question. "Did Alex fix your arm ?"

"Yeah," Kara says, glancing down with a weary smile. "We have yellow sun lamps here. They boost my system. I'm all good."

She shrugs to demonstrate, shaking Lena up and down in the process in a careless enough manner for her to realise there's something there. "Did this ever happen before ?" she asks carefully.

"A couple of times on my first few weeks on Earth. I used to have bad nightmares. Kal worked with Jeremiah on a sun lamp prototype so I wouldn't scar too badly. It's one of the only times I saw him."

"And you had a nightmare again tonight ?"

"Yeah," Kara sighs, "I think that Worldkiller thing twisted me up."

"Do you want to talk about it ?" Lena prompts softly.

She herself doesn't like talking about her nightmares, it makes them too real, gives them more power to cling to her tired mind, but maybe Kara is different, maybe she needs to exorcise her fears. And if she doesn't, Lena can at least be there for her.

"I don't really remember it. Just that it was painful. I think someone was hurting me."

"How do you feel ?"

"I'm okay," Kara shrugs, poorly deflecting the question.

"Really ?" 

Pushing might not be the right solution but Lena feels the need to do it anyway. She's much too accustomed to ignoring her own problems to let Kara do the same.

"Alright." Kara chuckles and smiles affectionately, something akin to what Lena dares to perceive as love shining in her eyes. "I'm not feeling very good. I've been doing better. But I have too much on my plate to deal with it now. I do promise though, that if it still bothers me when we're done finding Sa-the vigilante, I'll talk to you. I'm not shutting you out, but I need to focus on something else right now."

"Okay," Lena breathes out, slightly relieved. "I trust that you'll make the right decision."

"Thank you."

Kara kisses the top of her head again, her warm lips pressing against her scalp in what is quickly becoming Lena's favourite gesture of affection.

"You were going to say Sam, right ?" she asks after a short moment of silent comfort. "You think it's her too ?"

Kara shakes her head, her chin rubbing on Lena's hair. "I don't know. But Alex scanned her apartment, there's only one heat signature there, and it's not hers."

Lena's guts twist uncomfortably, and when seconds ago, she was as safe as can be, Kara's arms now feel too warm against her own cold skin.

***

The room is tense, tenser maybe than any room Lena has ever found herself in ; and that's counting the multiple board meetings surrounding the near collapse of former Luthor Corp. Everybody, including herself, is forcefully trying to remain calm, and it shows. Kara's blue friend, who introduced himself to Lena as Querl Dox but insists on being called Brainy, is sitting with his eyes closed in what is meant to be a display of intense focus but might also indicate that he really wants to take a nap. His cheeks are flushed purple, and though he's hiding it mostly well, he looks in pain, his brow furrowed, his lips taut. Dreamer, who may or may not be his girlfriend, Lena isn't sure if they are both aware of that fact, is standing behind his chair, starring at the monitors and periodically tapping her fingers against her thigh. Alex and Director J'onzz seem engaged in a staring contest, but the way the Martian nods and sometimes strings a couple of words makes Lena wonder if he isn't reading Alex's mind and answering to her thoughts. Kelly is sitting on the desk, her eyes casually wandering around. Out of all of them, she looks the calmest, but Lena is aware enough of her own tells to be able to pick up others, and the way her foot is twitching nervously is a quite good indicator of her true state of mind. Kara is standing ramrod straight next to Lena, her hand featherlight on her shoulder, but her body full of restrained and destructive energy.

"Can you maybe vocalise your conclusions ?" she asks after a while, any trace of tension remarkably absent from her voice though her words certainly are on the aggressive side of things.

"We were just running through potential plans and outcomes based on what we know," Director J'onzz says in his deep soothing voice. He sounds like Lena's dream grandfather, and if he were any less physically threatening, she could see herself going out for ice cream with him, or to the library, checking out books from the kids' section and reading for hours on plushy armchairs.

"Maybe I can be included in that ? You know, the search for an out of control pseudo vigilante who may or may not be a Kryptonian ? Seeing as I'm the only Kryptonian available right now ?"

"There are civilians with us Consultant Zor-El, we can't discuss these matters aloud in front of them," Director J'onzz points out.

It would have been a clever and quite right thing to say if, Lena wants to say, Kelly and herself hadn't already been involved deeper than intended by any of them.

In the time it takes her to formulate that thought, Kelly beats her to it. "With all due respect J'onn, Lena and I are already involved in this. You are potentially looking for the mother of my fiancée's daughter, who happens to be Lena's best friend. Lena who is one of the smartest person in National City, if not the world. She can help. I can still leave the room if it makes you comfortable, but she can help."

Lena ducks her head, trying not to blush at such a high praise coming from someone she barely knows. She's used to flattery, to an extent, but this sounds genuine, and it's slightly unsettling.

"Alright," Director J'onzz says after a couple of short seconds during which he seems to hold an entire silent conversation with Alex. "Agent Danvers, please get everyone up to speed."

"So Sam isn't home," Alex says in a flat, cold, almost frightening voice, "we have a team surrounding her building in case she comes back and is indeed who we are looking for. But I don't want to wake Ruby unless it's absolutely necessary." She stops, her eyes flickering across faces as she looks for emotional support. Lena isn't sure she can even begin to comprehend what she must be feeling right now. "We lost trace of our target in the maaldorian neighbourhood. The vigilante applied the same code, the children and presumably innocent adults have been spared. All the others are dead. That's all we have. We've been trying to narrow down where she, where they," Alex swallows roughly, her words forming around the hope that it might not be Sam, "could pop up next, but considering our own clues pointed to Maaldoria, we're stuck."

"We could track Sam's radiation signature," Kara says, squaring her shoulders and stepping away from Lena so she can join Alex and face everyone. "Match it up with what we have on this killer."

"We don't have Sam's signature. And since we don't know where she is..."

"But we can pick something up from satellite imagery, right ? We must have those for the attacks."

"That is a quite good idea," Brainy says without opening his eyes. "We can recover our vigilante's radiation signature, follow it and see who it leads to. Your friend Sam, or someone else."

"How long will it take us to get that data Agent Dox ?" Director J'onzz asks his question quietly, and apart from a slight furrow of his brow, he's composed, calm. Lena wonders if this is always who he is to them, a lighthouse in the storm, a promise of peace and safety in the mayhem that seems to be Kara and her friends' life.

"Well I am not operating at a 100%," Brainy says, abruptly straightening up and leaving his chair in an almost robotic way, "but I still am a twelfth level intellect and will be able cross-analyse everything in no more than three minutes."

"Don't overwork yourself Brainy."

"There's no need to worry about me Nia Nal. You however, should rest, take it easy, we will most certainly need your expertise later."

"You know I still can't make sense of what I saw, I don't see the point of slaving over it." Dreamer mumbles, just high enough for Lena to pick it up. It's not of much use though, because she doesn't understand any of this.

"You've had a dream that you can't interpret ?" Director J'onzz asks, his obvious concern grinding against his reassuring voice. "Why didn't you tell me ?"

"It's not in any books, and Maeve still refuses to talk to me. I've had this dream seven times in the past few weeks and it's terrifying. What if I've gone dream-blind ? What if I can't interpret anything ever again ? I'd be completely useless."

"What did you see ?" Kara's soothing voice is competing with Director J'onzz's. She steps forward calmly, reaching out to lay a hand on Dreamer's forearm. "I may not have precognition, and can't help on that front, but it might help to share it with us. If you want to."

"It's a child," Dreamer starts, her voice a bit wobbly, "I see a child, strapped to a metal table. They're missing limbs, and half their face. There's a blinking green light. And the kid, they're, they're asking for their dad."

Lena catches movement on the corner of her eye, and she looks away from Dreamer to find Kara wincing and rubbing her neck ; she looks disturbed by what she's hearing. Lena  can feel her own lips pulling down and is sure her face is a perfect match to Kara's expression.

"It doesn't evolve, never," Dreamer continues, "it seems so fixed in time that I'm not sure we can save this child."

"I..." All of their voices mix to produce one unique sound of heartbroken bewilderment. Lena barely knows Dreamer, Nia, but she needs to help, it's visceral.

"Director J'onzz," Brainy says, his voice covering everyone, "I have something, well two somethings. I have a ten feet radius in terms of accuracy but..."

He looks up from his tablet, his eyes scanning the room until they stop on Kara. A thought begins to form in Lena's head, it fizzle to life, wrapping itself around everything no matter how hard she tries to squash it.

"...they are in this room and…"

Chapter Text

"...they're in this room and…"

Kara registers Brainy's words. And part of her also registers Sam's sudden appearance in front of her, her eyes red with anger and her body trembling with repressed strength. But all she can think about, all she can truly grasp, are the nightmares, and the blood on her hands. The last attack happened a few blocks away from her home. And she's privy to every development of their investigation, she'd know where to strike. What if, what if it's her ?

"You better have a fucking good explanation for this bullshit," Sam seethes inches from her face. "Why is my building on lockdown on orders from the DEO ?"

Kara blinks, Sam flickering in and out of existence as her brain loops again and again on her bloody hands.

Alex slips in between the two Kryptonians, a very stupid thing to do that is very much like her.

"We couldn't find you," she says, slowly marching Sam backwards with only the slight pressure of a hand on her chest.

"And that somehow warrant such a disproportionate reaction ?! My kid is in that building !"

"Exactly," Alex says, one hand still on Sam as the other rises slowly as a warning. It's only then that Kara notices the dozens of red dots shining on her former friend ; they're ready to take Sam down. She wants to intervene but each time she tries to open her mouth, her brain freezes. "I had to protect Ruby," Alex finishes.

"From what ?! I fell asleep at work ! She knows what to do when I get home late."

"Are you sure you just fell asleep Sam ?" Alex asks with a cold calm that Kara doesn't understand.

"What the fuck does that mean Alex ?"

"There was another attack. So I'll ask again, are you sure you were asleep ?"

Sam sags, all fight draining from her in the blink of an eye. She leans forward on Alex's hand and opens her mouth to say the worst thing she could possibly say : "I, I don't know. Alex, I don't know."

"You understand that we have to take precautions, right ?"

"Lena !" Sam interjects with renewed energy, "there are cameras in my office, right ?"

Kara's ghostly vision of her own bloody hands disappears from her sight quickly enough for her to catch all colour draining for Lena's face.

"I. No. Your office was empty before you came and it's not linked to our security system yet. And the whole building, I'm so sorry Sam but it's lead lined. No heat or radiation signature can be picked up from it."

"Why would your building be lead lined ?" Alex asks in confusion.

"Because my brother is crazy and thought Superman was after him," Lena snaps defensively. "He also installed a cloaking device on the manor and once tried to chip me in my sleep. He's a homicidal maniac, this kind of shit is common knowledge and…"

"I'll come quietly," Sam cuts in, raising her hands in surrender, "so you can run your tests. Do what you want with me, or what you need. But someone needs to watch over Ruby. That's all I ask."

"I promise you she’ll be safe," Alex says softly, her voice bordering on heartbreak. "Kara and I will make sure of this. Are you ready to go ? Or do you want to call her first ?"

"No," Sam says firmly, "if I’m… If that thing is me, I don’t want to be anywhere near her."

She straightens up, getting ready to go, and for the first time in a long long time, it strikes Kara how tall she is. She tries to match her height with the vigilante’s, but she only saw blurry images of the killer, and the bulky armour they’re wearing doesn’t help. If only she could get a good look to make sure that it’s not Sam, and that it’s not her. She flexes her hands, wondering if she’d remember punching someone to death ; wondering also why her thoughts refuse to make it past her lips, why she can’t ask to be locked up with Sam until they can be sure that it’s neither of them and that everyone is safe.

"Alex," J’onn says, breaking character for a second at the sight of his daughter looking so so small next to their new prisoner, "give her one of the good blankets. Make sure she’s comfortable."

Alex only nods, words eluding her as she leads her daughter’s mother away. Their retreating figures vanishing down the corridor look almost unreal. Kelly takes a step forward, one hand slightly raised like she thinks she can stop them, and it pains Kara to do so, but she has to hold her back. The hand she puts on her shoulder weights a thousand tons.

"Brainy," Lena asks, cutting the heavy silence left by Sam’s surrender, "you said you had two things to tell us."

"Right," Brainy says, clasping his hand in front of him and staring ahead in a stilled manner that can’t mean anything good. "Well before Sam of House Vex decided to show up, I was going to inform you that we have a lot of missing data. Our satellites seem to have suffer through several undetected overloads in the past months and that radiation signature jumps around a lot. I can’t assure you that it really links back to the woman you just arrested."

"Which could mean…?" Kara dares to ask, albeit tentatively.

"Just about anything," Brainy concludes with a grim smile.

***

Things get a bit blurry afterwards. Kara tries her best to stay present, awake, to not slip away, because, what if ? They're dismissed after that, J'onn suggests that they all go home and get some sleep. The ride back to their building is the longest of Kara's life. Cuddled in the back of Lena's town car, she tries her best not to crush her hand ; she concentrates on the feeling of her delicate fingers between her own and clings to the slipping knowledge that she was born on Krypton, and isn't the produce of illegal bio engineering. Lena has questions of her own, concerns looming in her eyes, but she doesn't voice any of them, and Kara is both infinitely grateful for the reprieve and frustrated that Lena can't somehow read and voice the thoughts that are locked away in her brain. She can't understand why she doesn't manage to speak her fears and it only adds more to the crushing weight on her shoulders.

"Do you want to be alone ?" Lena asks, "Or can we talk for a bit ? I'll make some tea, and I think there's leftover banana bread."

Lena's soft voice shatters her constricting bubble of anguish, and Kara realises with a start that they are parked in front of their building. She has no idea of how long it's been since the car's stopped.

"My head's a bit of a mess," she manages to croak along with what she wills to be a reassuring smile but falls probably more on the side of a grimace. "So I don't know if I can talk much, but I don't want to be alone right now."

"We can take a nap if you want," Lena offers, running the soft pad of her thumb across the back of Kara's hand. "Your place or mine ?"

"I." Kara thinks about her apartment, the blood that is no doubt still on her sheets, the terrible feeling of being watched, followed. "Yours please," she says, her voice barely over a whisper. 

She wants to be stronger, for Lena, for Alex, for Sam even ; but in this moment, she can't and it should be frustrating, it should make her angry that it takes so little to bring her down, but Lena is standing in front of the car, helping her out, so warm, so open, so willing to be strong for her, that it doesn't really matter if it takes her some time to get her head straight.

They end up falling asleep on the couch, food and tea untouched, just the two of them drifting off into slumber even when Kara is trying so hard not to because right now, falling back asleep is the most terrifying thing that could happen to her.

//

She wakes up with a start, her heart pounding so fast she's sure it's about to give out and with Lena crouched over her trying to keep her hands from scratching her arm off again.

"Kara. Kara wake up ! It's okay, it's nothing, just a bad dream."

Kara wills herself to still under Lena's hands. It's hard, her body is screaming for her to move, to get up, to do something ; and there's this feeling, this feeling of being watched that makes her want to run for her life. But lit from behind, Lena looks like an apparition, a sign, a message from Rao that she’ll be alright. Even if she doesn't feel alright at all.

Tentatively, Lena brings her hands on her face, cupping it tenderly. She's looking at her, and it feels like she's staring into her very soul.

"It was just a bad dream. You're okay Kara."

"I don't remember what I dreamed of," Kara whispers. She sinks into the feeling of Lena's hands on her face, letting them anchor her to the present. They are just a little bit cold, like they always are, and if Kara focuses hard enough, she can feel faint calluses, a scar, everything that makes Lena's hands hers.

"You started screaming," Lena says softly, "and flailing like you were fighting something, or someone. You got up and shoved me aside. But it's okay," Lena adds hastily, soothing her thumbs on Kara's cheeks, "I'm okay, I'm fine. But me falling off must have distracted you because you just dropped back on the couch and started screaming again."

Slowly, Lena moves to sit on the edge of the couch and in doing so, exposes her face to a different lighting. It's entirely bruised on the left side, the deep pink colour contrasting so heavily with her pale skin that it's impossible to miss. Kara's hand raises on its own accord and when it reaches Lena's face, the bruise is swelled, and hot to the touch.

"I hurt you," she whispers hoarsely, her eyes prickling with tears as she forces them open so she can engrave this image in her mind ; she hurt Lena.

"It's okay."

"It's not..."

"You weren't in control of yourself," Lena cuts. "You were asleep. It's not your fault."

Kara blinks, and with her eyes closed, she sees blood on her hands. When she opens them again, it's to see the bruise on Lena's face. Something starts bubbling in her chest, a storm of fear and frustration, a hurricane of nightmares and Sam and the DEO and Alex and the vigilante and the sweating and the pain and, "I'm scared," she says, even if it's the last thing she wants to admit.

"Do you want to talk about it ?"

"No. But I think I have to."

For a second, Kara thinks that Lena is going to retract, to offer her an out, but she doesn't, and Kara doesn't know how she feels about it. She viscerally both wants to talk and remain silent, and so when Lena pushes her to speak, she's both relieved and desperately annoyed.

"I think so too," Lena says with a slight tremor in her voice. "I think it's important that we're both on the same page when it comes to what's in our heads right now."

"I'm scared," Kara admits again, freezing her gaze over Lena's shoulder so she doesn't have to really look at her.

"It's okay," Lena says with a somehow both sad and hopeful smile. "I am too. But I feel better when I’m with you, and I want to be that person for you too. Whatever is bothering you, you can tell me, and I’ll do my best to carry it with you."

Kara opens her mouth once, twice, thrice, before she can form a comprehensible sentence ; and when she does, it feels like she's ripping the words out of her chest. "What if it’s me ?" she whispers, the question the hardest thing that she’s ever had to say, harder even than lying about how her parents died. "What if it’s me Lena ? What if I’m the, The Blur, or whatever you want to call them ? Things have been happening to me. Things that are not normal for me. I’ve been having nightmares that I can’t remember. And there was blood on my hands. And, and the attack on the Maaldorian's neighbourhood, it had to come from someone who knows what's happening. I wasn't a random thing. What if it’s me ? What if I’m, what if I’m a Worldkiller ?"

Her heart is trying to break out of her chest and she's sweating again. She's not supposed to sweat. In front of her, Lena goes a little blurry and her head hurts so so much like something is pounding inside of her skull, trying to get out. What if it's her ? What if she's the Worldkiller ?

"I’m going to be honest with you," Lena says, her voice unsure and her heart beating almost as hard as Kara’s. "I thought so too."

The world stops spinning, the universe working overtime to suck all the air out of Kara's lungs.

"For about half a second today," Lena continues, "because I was scared. Because you showed up on my doorstep covered in blood and because Brainy was telling us The Blur was in the room. And then Sam showed up, and I realised that it was impossible, and that I was wrong. I remembered what she said. You were born on Krypton Kara, you remember it, you remember your parents."

"It could all be fabricated," Kara cuts, the memory of her mother helping her into her pod flickering before her eyes.

"I don’t think it is," Lena says softly. "I’ve lost my Mum too, and the love we feel for the ones who left us is not something that can be made up."

Kara thinks of her mother then, of falling back asleep in her parents' bed on rest days and baking in the morning. She thinks of her father too, of long nights in his lab and his boasting about her accomplishments. She can almost feel their hands around hers, Rao's warmth on her skin as they walked in the park. Her mother's smooth hair, her father's stubble ; it's all real, and yet…

"But you said it yourself…"

"I was scared," Lena says firmly. "We do and think terrible things when we’re scared. I let the DEO lock up my best friend because I’m scared." Her last words dissolve in a whisper, and when Kara turns her eyes to her, Lena averts her gaze, dropping her head down. "The Blur rescued me you know, and I let them lock Sam up anyway."

"It wasn’t your call to make." Hesitantly, Kara reaches out until she can frame Lena’s face with her hands. A tear rolls down until it crashes against her finger, pushing on it as it looks for a way around. "I could have done something too. I could have asked to be locked with her and I didn’t."

"I'd have nothing left if you'd done that," Lena whispers, her voice almost inaudible in her shame. "No Sam. No you. I know it's selfish, but I'd have been all alone, and I don't want that."

"Is that why…?"

"Don’t think about me for a second," Lena cuts, "think about Krypton, about your parents. What do you feel ?"

Kara doesn't answer, she can't. A storm of feeling is raging inside of her and, hit from all sides by the warmth of her parents' love and the deep coldness of loss, she can't sort through it. This isn't something she's invented, these are things she's experienced, felt ; the death of her parents, of an entire planet, a civilisation burning out, the love of a family that now only exists in her memories. Something stronger cuts through it all, a hand on her chest, the warmth of a different kind of love, and Lena's voice. "What you remember can't be anything but real. You're a real person Kara."

"And Sam ?" Kara asks slowly, her words stumbling on Lena's as she tries to process what she said ; Kara is a real person, but Sam is too.

Lena’s answer is unequivocal. "I’ll save her."

Chapter Text

The following week goes by in slow motion, time creeping past as they wait for the equipment to be ready and the protocol to be approved, all the while there's a desperate scream stuck in Lena's throat.

On Monday, she’s awoken in the middle of the night by Kara sobbing in her sleep, crying after Krypton and her parents and all that she’s lost. On Tuesday, they find Alex napping in front of Sam’s cell, their hands resting next to each other but separated by the thick glass. On Wednesday, she punches the too slow 3D printing machine, splitting her knuckles open and splattering dark blood everywhere. On Thursday, Sam starts getting sick from Kryptonite exposure. Alex immediately turns off the emitters but Sam begs for them to be turned back on. Kara steps in to do it with an unreadable expression on her face. They spend the night from Thursday to Friday in a meeting, reviewing protocols and sub-protocols until Lena sees numbers and odds even when she closes her eyes, and her blood is 99% coffee.

Their base idea is simple enough ; find Sam's trigger, and block it forever. The implementation, however, is so complex that Lena almost regrets her college days when she had do dissect and explain the simplest of steps to her professors. They have plans, backup plans and backup plans for their backup plans, a chain of command in which she somehow comes before Kara and even Alex, and so many levels of security that nothing could possibly go wrong. All that Lena can think about is that all they're about to do will cause Sam more pain that either of them are capable of handling.

There is a light in all of this though, and it's that during this entire week, The Blur doesn't make any apparition. There's no more destruction, no more death, and it means that Lena was right to reassure Kara, was right to tell her it couldn't possibly be her. Because she's been downright terrified, been trying to reassure herself as much as she was reassuring Kara that there isn't a murderer inside of her, that her strong arms are here to protect, not to harm.

All she has to do now is save Sam.

***

"So," Sam starts in a firm and unwavering voice, her flickering eyes the only hint that she's scared, "walk me through what you’re about to do."

She's sitting on a metal chair that looks so uncomfortable it's probably been designed for torture, her wrists strapped down to the armrests. She looks sick, but Kelly has wiped out her sweaty brow when she came in earlier to offer counselling. In the week Sam has been locked up, the two have stroke up an unlikely friendship, their love for Alex leading them to care about each other. What little Lena has witnessed from their short interactions makes her heart ache. Sam’s skin is pale, almost green, and a strange glow radiates from the device plunged into her skin, delivering Kryptonite right into her veins. Kara is standing as far as the room allows, but she too looks greenish and slightly ill, and if this is how she's reacting to it, Lena doesn't want to think about what it's doing to her friend.

"We’re going to try to make you angry," Lena replies, forcing herself to look at Sam.

"Angry ?"

"To find your trigger," she elaborates, shuffling her files to keep her hands busy. "Since you don't remember what happened, it seems likely that you are not yourself when the attacks occur." Lena stops to exhale deeply, fully aware of how clunky her explanation sounds. She's trying hard to not directly link Sam to the attacks, the deaths, because she knows pointing it out will do nothing but harm ; but it makes her sound unsure when she's not. She knows she can save Sam, what she doesn't know is how much pain she'll cause by doing so. "It seems likely that you're suffering from a personality split. Your body is inhabited by both you and the Worldkiller. When I find what triggers the Worldkiller, I can lock it away forever. But it might hurt. A lot."

"Okay," Sam says, with an encouraging smile, "do what you have to do. I trust you."

Lena looks around the room, letting her eyes wander for a long moment. She’s waiting. Waiting for someone to step forward and say it’s a bad idea. For an agent to interrupt them with the news they captured someone else. For an emergency of any kind to just delay everything for even five minutes. Nothing happens ; and Lena has to start torturing her best friend.

"Alright." Lena breathes in deep and slow, allowing herself to look at Kara one more time before she starts. Her girlfriend smiles, her lips curling encouragingly even as her entire face is set in stone. "I’m going to ask you where you think you were when the attacks occurred. Just, just to be sure. And we’re filming you this time."

With a hand as steady as can be, Lena motions for the agent that has been assigned as her assistant to start showing the evidence. She doesn't look at the wall where the pictures and videos are being projected, she doesn't need to. She's watched them enough time, trying to recognise features and patterns, and they are engraved in her mind, no matter how much she wishes them away.

"This one I was supposed to be asleep," Sam says with a defeated and vague hand gesture. "And the day you were attacked in your office I slept the morning away after watching all eight Harry Potter back to back with Ruby. I learned about it when I woke up, it was all over my TV. All I know is that I had a nightmare right before waking up." Sam stops, her throat bobbing as she tries to swallow down an anxious knot. Lena wants to reach out and take her hand, but it goes against protocol. "The night Alex took that drug, I went to see her, cried myself to exhaustion and then went straight to you. But I can’t remember if I stopped anywhere else. All I could think about was Alex, and I don’t remember anything else. At all. As for last week, I, I was in my office. Before and after. During, during I don’t know."

"Brainy ?" Director J’onzz asks, filling the silence that follows Sam's words just when it starts bordering on uncomfortable.

"Right," Brainy says, clasping his hand in front of him with purpose. The blue orbs on his face seems more prominent, his features more sunken, than the last time Lena saw him. "Well we can neither refute nor corroborate this as our satellite situation still hasn’t been addressed. We will have to take Sam of House Vex at her words."

"Just Sam is fine Brainy."

"Very well, Sam it is," Brainy says with a sharp nod. He eyes her curiously for a second before his focused gaze sweeps the room to stop on Lena. His forehead twitches where his eyebrow should be ; it's time.

"Okay, Sam ? We’re going to move on and get started if that’s alright with you ?"

Lena finds herself asking again, stalling once more even as a single hand motion brings forward two agents to hook her best friend to various electrodes. The more she tells herself she's confident in her abilities to save Sam and the more she feels like she's just trying to convince herself that she can do it.

Sam sighs with a tired smile and Lena forces herself to look at her. "You don’t have to ask every time. I’m not going to snap at you if you just go ahead and shock me."

Oh I want you to snap, Lena thinks, setting herself straight with an affirming nod. She's got this, she's going to save her friend.

***

They spend the next four hours showing various pictures to Sam. Drugs dealers, wounded kids, disadvantaged neighbourhoods ; they're trying to spark the self-righteous side of the Worldkiller. But hours trickle by, nothing happens, and Lena finds herself the one growing more and more frustrated. In the far left corner of the room, Kara hasn't move an inch. She's paler, the lightest of shadows tainting the skin under her eyes, but she’s still standing there as unwavering moral support. When their eyes meet, she smiles, and with a flick of the wrist, Lena moves on to the next picture.

"I can’t look at that," Sam says, screwing her eyes shut and turning her head as far away as her restraints allow.

Lena doesn’t have to look at the wall to know that they’ve finally reached phase one's last resort, photoshopped pictures of Ruby.

"We should move on to phase two," Alex says through gritted teeth. She's standing straight, her arms behind her back, her feet firmly planted in the ground, her jaw clenched and her gaze lost far ahead of her. Her features form an almost emotionless mask, and in her head, Lena is trying to reconcile this vision with what Sam told her of her. For a second she wonders if the woman asking her to electrocute her best friend truly is the same person who used to read Ruby bedtime stories ; but she knows she is, because both times Alex only had her daughter in mind.

Lena waits for a moment, an excruciating second during which she remembers she’s the one who has to give the green light. "I’m sorry Sam," she whispers before pushing the button.

Her best friend’s screams fill the room.

It’s deafening, a roar that only a Kryptonian could produce ; but it’s filled with more pain than rage, and Lena knows it’s not going to be enough.

Sam opens her bloodshot eyes to stare straight at her. "Do it again," she groans.

This time, when Lena pushes the button, Sam screams longer, her body arching away from the chair as her right arm comes off the restraints in a thunder of ripped metal and broken bones.

Alex steps forward and Kara does to, a mix of fear and concern twisting their faces ; but Lena, Lena feels something curling and stretching deep inside of her, an instinct awakening. Sam flickers in front of her and she doesn’t see her friend, she sees an experiment, something to crack open, something to dissect and understand. When she pushes the button a third time, she’s not a friend, she’s a Luthor.

***

They cart Sam back to her cell on a stretcher. A thin line of blood and saliva runs down her face, and Lena follows its trail, her eyes fixated on the retreating figure of her friend. She feels dirty, like the skin that holds her together isn't hers. She's buzzing with unconcealed self hatred, and suddenly Kara is behind her, a protective hand hovering an inch over her shoulder ; Lena breaks into a run.

She barrels out of the room, take a sharp turn, runs three flights of stairs, up and up and up until she reaches the floor where she thinks the locker room is. She bypasses startled agents, thinks she can see pity on their faces. She doesn't need anyone's pity, she's crossed a line. The locker room comes into view and she launches herself through the door, her shoulder hitting it open painfully.

She doesn't stop running, doesn't breathe again until she's standing under the boiling stream of the shower, her disgusting clothes clinging to her disgusting skin. She hunches forward, her forehead banging against the wall as bile runs past her lips.

Kara is behind her again, and this time she doesn't just hover ; one hand settles firmly on Lena's shoulder while the other reaches past her to turn the shower to an acceptable warmth. "You did good," she says.

It’s the last thing Lena expected her to say and it’s terrible and "I tortured my best friend," she bites back.

"To save her."

"How can you be so fucking calm ?!" Words tear out of Lena's throat and she whirls around so fast that she almost hits her head on the hot plumbing. She passes an inch away from splitting her skull open ; she would deserve it. "How are you so…? How can you not…!"

Kara scoffs softly. "Years of practise," she says. "When you spend two decades suspended in space-time only to crash on a foreign world, you learn how to remain calm in every circumstances. I'm not unaffected by this Lena, I'm just protecting myself."

Lena deflates on herself, all fight draining out of her like it was never there in the first place. She staggers forward, her body colliding with Kara's in a soft tud. Her girlfriend's arms immediately come wrap around her but they feel too hot, too heavy, and Lena forces herself out of them, retreating until her back hits the shower wall. "I'm sorry."

"I know," Kara says, and once again, these are not the words Lena was expecting, and she doesn’t know what to do with them, doesn’t know how to handle the fact that Kara is still standing there, perfect, and welcoming Lena's searing thoughts without invalidating them.

"Why are you still here ?"

"I can go if you want me to," Kara answers with a shrug, her arms still suspended between them from when Lena tore herself away from her. "I can leave you alone if that’s what you want, but I don’t think it would be very wise. Can I take care of you ?"

"Why ?" Lena asks. "Why do you want to take care of me ?"

If she pushes her away maybe Kara will stop being perfect and will leave her alone to suffocated in her self hatred ; that's what she deserves.

"You're important to me. You matter Lena Luthor."

Something cracks in Lena when Kara says her name. She sees herself pushing the button, she hears Sam screams. Her legs give out from under her but she doesn't hit the ground. Kara scoops her up with ease and brings her closer once more. This time, Lena doesn't have it in her to fight her way out of her warmth. She doesn't have the strength to hold back her tears either.

"Let's get you cleaned up okay ? Is it okay if I remove your clothes or do you want to do it yourself ?"

Lena realises then that she's still clothed and still standing under the shower stream. The damp fabric clings to her skin in a way that feels wrong but she finds herself incapable of answering to Kara's question, words eluding her as she starts shivering.

"I’ll do it for you," Kara says without missing a beat.

Lena registers that Kara is about to see her naked for the first time, in less than ideal circumstances, but she couldn't care less. Her girlfriend works on sliding her lab coat off her shoulders, then it's her shirt, that she unbuttons quickly, her bra, that she unhooks without looking, and her slacks and underwear that she slides off in one quick motion.

A voice reaches her ears and she thinks Kara asks her again if she wants her to go. Now that she's naked, vulnerable and shivering, the idea seems so ludicrous to Lena that she doesn't have words to answer. Instead, she steps closer to Kara and wraps her arms around her neck, clinging to her like it's the only thing tethering her to sanity. It probably is.

They stay like that long enough that Lena loses track of time ; her naked front pressed to Kara's clothed one, warm hands running down her back, light lips pressed on top of her hair. It's the first time in forever, maybe the first time in her adult life, that she's naked with someone for a reason that isn't sexual ; she feels clean, and loved.

Later, Kara carries her to bed in an empty rest room and promises to stay with her through the night. Her body is warm against hers, and the strength that Lena knows is there feels soft and protective. She's out like a light.

***

A few hours into the night, or it could be a few seconds, Lena is startled awake by the sudden disappearance of the warmth beside her. It takes her a moment to shake off the weighted daze of exhaustion, but when she manages to open her eyes, she wishes she hadn't. Everything around her is tinged by a red light that dulls her vision and there's a tall shadow hunched over her, its face inches away from hers. A sharp cry bubbles out of her throat, and as she shuffles away, she gets tangled in the covers and lands ass first on the cold hard floor. It's only a short fall, but she's tired and confused, and as she scrambles to get back up, she's hit with the pointed realisation that she won't make it out. She considers calling for help, but her brain doesn't supply her with enough memories for her to remember where she is, and before she can take any action, a warm hand wraps around her wrist and she's brought to the vertical again. Kara. She's with Kara, and she's safe.

"I'm sorry," her girlfriend says in a husky, tired voice. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"It's okay," Lena mumbles even if it's clearly not and her heart is threatening to break out of her ribcage. She lets herself be wrapped in Kara's arms, breathing in the comforting scent of lavender. "What's happening ?"

"There's been an alert," Kara replies, her slow and soothing voice making these words sound much less serious than they are. "I have to go but I didn't want you to wake up alone."

Lena's heart stops, contracting painfully before it resumes its wild run."Is it Sam ?"

"No. No it's not," Kara says hastily. "She's still asleep. But Brainy altered our facial recognition scanner to tune in on facial expressions instead and we've been tracking creepy smiles for any signs of the Black Mercy drug. We've found a hub down on the waterfront, at The Roulette, I think it's the rival casino to Veronica Sinclair's."

"It's not," Lena whispers, her heart plummeting into her chest once more. It twists and turns in time with her stomach, and she feels so sick she wouldn't be surprised if she were to throw it up. "She owns both and plays up the rivalry to make more money. That's all she's interested in. Money..."

A sharp pain cuts the rest of her jumbled thoughts before she can make them into words. Kara's body goes rigid against hers and her hand clasps tightly around her arm ; so tight that Lena can feel the bone shifting and cracking underneath to accommodate to the pressure and her blood vessels bumping against a wall of steel. She's never broken a bone before but she knows she's about to and she braces herself for the inevitable snap that is bound to be heard any seconds now.

It doesn't happen. The pressure and the pain disappear, and like nothing happened, Kara relaxes as quickly as she tensed. "We need to get to command centre."

And just like that, she takes off.

Kara walks slow enough that Lena can follow but she's still too quick for a human and Lena trips twice in her hast to follow. As they make their way through the long corridors, Kara keeps a running train of words, throwing ideas and stray thoughts. "We'll need a list of every place she could hide if the DEO misses her this time," is one of the thing Lena catches. "I'm gonna put her behind bars for life," is another. But the faster she walks and the less sense Kara makes, her angry words bumping against one another until she stops talking altogether ; and when Lena looks up from her clumsy feet, she's nowhere to be found.

To her credit, Lena doesn't panic immediately. Her momentum carries her forward for a good fifteen seconds ; but with each new door passed and each unfamiliar corridor, her heart is a bit more erratic, her breathing a little more raged. She's almost surprised when the last turn leads her straight to the command centre and she finds herself in the middle of a strike team getting ready to leave. Alex is in the middle of it, multiple guns and knives  strapped to various part of her tactical armour. She looks fierce, dangerous ; something that Lena only realises when she forgets to stop running and comes into full contact with her, the pain in her arm awakening immediately. "Where's Kara ?" she manages to ask through her clenched jaw. "Where's Kara ?" she asks again, more clearly as Alex straightens her like she weights nothing at all.

"Isn't she with you ? She was with you when I talked to her on the coms."

"She's not !" Lena says, her voice rising with frustration. "The casino. The Roulette. It's Veronica. And when I told her that she just left the room and then straight up disappeared. I don't know where she went !"

"Calm down," Alex says in a slightly harsh tone. "She must have a perfectly good reason. Maybe she thought you were following."

"At superspeed ?!" Lena screeches. And she hates how hysterical she sounds, how panicked she is ; but she doesn't know this place, and she doesn't know these people, and her best friend is locked up in the basement and her girlfriend is missing. Everything is too fucking much.

"Director J'onzz ? Agent Danvers ?" Brainy calls out from behind her. "We seem to have a bit of a situation."

Lena sees Alex's eyes widen in horror, and slowly, like she isn't really in control of her body anymore, she turns around to look at the monitors too. For the third time since she opened her eyes to the red glow of the emergency lights, Lena's heart falls into her stomach. On the screen, The Roulette bursts into flame and a lone caped figure rises from it, dragging a limp body in a red dress. The Blur was never Sam.

"I need everybody on deck now !" Director J'onzz booms, his voice covering the throng. "Agent Danvers ! Double the strike team, I'll go ahead of you. Miss Luthor, Lena, I'm going to need you to step aside."

"It's Kara," Lena croaks, surprised that her voice is cooperating when the rest of her body seems to be shutting down at an alarming rate.

"Don't worry Lena," Alex says in an eerily calm way. "I'm going to send someone to look for her. I'll make sure she's safe."

"No no no. You don't understand." Panic bubbles in Lena's stomach and she has to fight for it not to swallow her whole. "It's Kara. She told me and I, I didn't believe her. I told her it was impossible and then the whole thing with Sam, it just, it skipped my mind."

"It's not," Alex stammers, her stern facade cracking. "It can't be."

"Alex," Lena whispers, "it makes sense. The nightmares. Her arm. Think about it." She hates that she has to be the voice of reason, hates each words that she forces out of her mouth, but she doesn't have a choice anymore.

Cautiously, Brainy steps in front of Lena, tablet in hand and eyes straight ahead. He stands tall and rigid, and winces before he starts speaking, saying words Lena wished she never had to hear. "Then we need to get ready for a Sun Down protocol."

"I can't do that to my sister. There has to be another way."

"If we don't intervene in the next five minutes, there is a 100% chance that The Blur will tear down the entire waterfront. We need to move now Agent Danvers."

"It could kill her Brainy. Kill her."

"I am well aware of that Agent Danvers. Kara's survival rate is of 40% is we proceed as such ; but The Blur's death count will keep on rising if we do nothing."

"She's my sister !" Alex's scream startles Lena enough that she finally catches on with what they want to do.

She's heard about the Sun Down protocol. It was put in place after her brother poisoned Superman with synthetic kryptonite and he destroyed half a city. She knows it's a necessary safety net, but what matters know, all she can remember, is that the Sun Down protocol gathers enough gun power to kill a Kryptonian.

"Agent Dox," Director J'onzz says, "prepare for a Sun Down protocol."

His words are leaden with purpose and gravity, they leave no room for protest yet Lena isn't surprised when Alex tries again.

"J'onn please..."

"Agent Danvers. Go to Miss Arias with a sun grenade and my deepest apologies. We will need her help."

"With the dose of kryptonite we gave her, a sun grenade might not be enough." Lena doesn't realise she's the one who spoke until everyone turns to look at her and she finds herself having to string more words to pretend like she's holding herself together. "She'd need two. And for the kryptonite to be pumped out of her system, that'd take at least an hour. Plus she doesn't really know how to fight, Kara is literally a warrior."

Alex looks conflicted for a second, but her eyes quickly turns feral at the prospect of saving her sister. Between Kara and Sam, she's made her choice ; and though Lena doesn't want to admit it just yet, she's made hers when she chose to ignore the warning signs.

"Brainy," Alex asks, "what are our odds if we send in Sam without pumping the kryptonite out ?"

"There's a 70% chance of capturing Kara with non-fatal injuries if both Director J'onzz and Miss Arias go in to apprehend her."

"Then we're moving now !" Director J'onzz barks, morphing into his true form. "Agent Danvers, release Miss Arias and send her my way."

"Wait !" Alex cuts, catching the Martian by his cape before he can take off. "Brainy, what are, what are Sam's odds ?"

"I can't tell you that," Brainy says slowly, his eyes blinking repeatedly as he cocks his head to the side. "My brain seems to be, lagging."

This, Lena has a feeling, isn't something that is supposed to happen ; but before she has time to offer her help in any capacity, the room is moving at full speed again.

The first strike team is out the door, hot on J'onn J'onzz tail in less than a minute ; and the second one is ready before Alex has the time to return with Sam. They both appear at the same time, Sam carrying Alex bridal style to save them precious seconds. She's standing, alive, but she looks greenish still, and she doesn't look at Lena. Lena wishes she could find something to say, a way to apologise, but the only thing in her head is Kara, Kara, and Kara again.

The rest happens so fast that Lena doesn't understand how it can sear itself into her mind. In the blink of an eye, both Sam and the Martian appear on the DEO monitoring system as they launch themselves at the figure that Lena is now sure is Kara. Just before they can get to her though, Kara sneakily drops several feet and Sam and Director J’onzz collide with each other instead. The thunder like crack is muffled by the distance and it's just as well. In a second, Kara is up again, and she has Sam by the throat. With her other arm she throws the Martian to the ground. He gets up immediately and rams back into her with so much strength that Sam is ejected out of her grasp and Kara herself goes spinning away. She stabilises rapidly and flies straight for him sending him tumbling in the blazing casino. From the ground, Sam runs and jumps to her, but with a flick of the wrist, Kara sends her rocketing into the cold sea. She hovers alone for a moment, crossing her arms in satisfaction. When Sam launches herself out of the water, she sends her right back in with a burst of heat vision. The Martian tackles her from behind and sends them both tumbling in the ruins. They roll around in a flurry of movements but Lena can see him weakening with each blow, and Sam, finally out of the water, lacks military technique to get close enough to help. When Kara hits him with a lamppost, he doesn't move again.

It's just Sam and Kara then, and an awkward nervous laugh starts bubbling out of Lena's throat. She claps her hands on her mouth, looking around in shame, but no one is paying attention to her and she just can't stop laughing. She laughs as Kara and Sam zooms in and out of the screens, crashing in buildings, in the ground, in cars. She laughs when a piece of concrete shatters one of the monitoring camera. She laughs when a blood covered Kara throws Sam up in the sky. She laughs when Sam comes back into view, two shaky fists extended in front of her to pummel Kara into the ground.

She's still laughing when two DEO SUV pull up next to the crater and Alex barrels out of one of them, running to her sister’s lifeless figure. She just can't stop herself, and as her body shakes hysterically, she starts crying too.

Chapter Text

Kara wakes up to pain. So much pain that she doesn’t understand how she’s still alive.

She should be dead. She wants to be dead. She should have died on Krypton.

The inside of her mouth is coated with sour bile, and the taste upturns her stomach, but it doesn't feel like she has anything left to vomit.

She tries to open her eyes, but they won’t, and actually, she isn’t sure her face is still attached to the rest of her body. She raises her hand to touch it, but encounters resistance. She's strapped down to something, and it sparks something at the back of her mind. She's been in this situation before.

A voice, rich and smooth, reaches her ears and she latches onto it, hangs onto its lilt and patterns even when its words hurt.

"I’ve been so blind," the voice says. "I didn't want it to be her so bad that…"

"I did the same thing." Another voice joins the first, and it’s one that is familiar too, comforting in the greenish darkness that encompasses Kara. "Sam offered herself up on a golden plate. We all wanted it to be her. It would have been easier."

"She’s my best friend. And I tortured her without second thoughts."

"She’s my best friend too you know. Before she was my first love, and the mess in my head, she was my best friend. And I just watched her pummel my sister into the ground."

"How is she doing ?"

"Sam ? She’s bruised. Battered. But awake. Ruby’s with her. Kelly went and picked her up from school."

"Why did it have to be Kara…?"

"I don’t know. But we’re going to have to…"

"…do the same thing to her that we did to Sam ?"

"Yeah…" There's defeat in the voice, and Kara wants to reach out because this voice is supposed to be strong and unwavering. It’s the voice that’s supported her and carried her through everything up to this point. It’s her sister’s voice.

"Do you think she can forgive us ?"

I already have. Kara wants to scream out. Whatever is happening I forgive you. But her voice is stuck in her parched throat and she still can't move. I love you. She thinks as hard as she can, trying to make herself heard by the two most important voices in her life.

"I don't know. I think she’s waking up. Knock her out again. She deserves a bit more rest before we start."

Kara tries to speak once again, she thinks she can feel her lips opening to form words ; but before she can, a blissful blackness takes over, and the pain disappears.

***

When Kara wakes for the second time, she feels floaty, untethered. The voices around her are warm, cottony ; she feels safe. A hand rests on her naked arm, Lena's, and she realises one of the voices belongs to her too. She tries to flex her own hands, to show that she's awake, but movement doesn't seem like an option for her right now. It's okay, if her girlfriend and her sister are here, Kara has nothing to worry about.

"That scan's not normal," Lena's soft voice says.

"Could be a difference between human and kryptonian bone density," Alex's reassuring tone chimes in.

"No that's not it. Sam's was normal. And here it's different from one side of the body to the other."

"That's right. Look at the pattern on her right arm."

Said arm starts to itch ; it tenses against Kara's drowsy will.

"Could it be...? No."

"Metal," Alex whispers. "It’s metal."

The itch becomes unbearable. It spreads on her arm like a burn but the rest of her body is unresponsive and she can't move to do anything about it. Her head starts buzzing and she doesn't feel safe anymore, at all. It's like her body has been slammed down to Earth with incredible strength and pressure starts building in her lungs as they close up.

Awareness eludes her once more.

***

When she wakes up for the third time, it's to a dull pain covering her entire body like treacherous flames. It's not bad enough to really bother her, but the soreness is present in a way that makes her very aware of the danger she's in. Something is happening, something wrong. This time, when she tries to wiggle her fingers, it works, and she starts repeatedly bumping her hand on the hard surface she's laying on trying to draw Lena's attention. At least she thinks Lena is the one standing next to her, she's not so sure anymore. She tries to inhale deeply to get a whiff of Lena's characteristic smell, but her nostrils are clogged by something and all she manages to do is choke.

"Please, don’t try to move," a soft voice says, "I’ll remove the cannula for you, but please, don’t move."

At the sound of Lena's voice, Kara forces herself to calm down immediately. Whatever is happening, if Lena is here, it can't be that bad. Two hands briefly brush against her face and the plastic tube stops bubbling air into her nose. Kara takes a long shaky breath, and tries to make words work again. "What…" she croaks, "what happened ?" Her throat is parched in the worst way, and she wonders if the gap in her memory might have involved swallowing barbed wire. "Can I… ? Water ?"

Two heavy boots shuffle on her right side and she recognises the characteristic sound of Alex’s anxious gait. Water trickles down into a cup, and moments later, Kara feels a cardboard rim pressed to her lips. Gratefully, she gulps it down to the very last drop. In her eagerness, part of the liquid runs down the wrong pipe, and for the second time since she woke up, she finds herself gasping for air, her lungs contracting painfully and sending aching shivers through her body.

"Careful," Lena says quietly.

She sounds small in a way that makes Kara uncomfortable beyond the simple pain in her body. What happened ?

A warm gloved hand presses to her forehead, lightly brushing away strands caught in cold sweat. Kara wants to lean into it, but as she tries to do so, her head gets stuck against a metallic frame. She’s trapped.

Panic grips her heart and she can feel it contracting uselessly as her ribcage tightens against it. But she doesn’t have time for panic, she needs to remain calm, assess her surroundings and see if the people around her really are Alex and Lena or if her senses are deceiving her. Surreptitiously, she tugs at the restrains around her wrists, testing her strength against them. As she does so, the phantom of a memory makes itself known at the back of her mind. It prickles at the back of her neck, but when she tries to grasp it, to understand it, it slithers away leaving only a pounding headache behind.

"What, what happened ?" she manages to ask again.

Beside her, someone inhales sharply, but when she tries to open her eyes to identify them, all there is is blinding light.

***

/"Ah, child. Glad to see you are awake."

"Glad to be, Master," her own cold voice replies. "May I ask where I am ?"

"On board of my ship. Inside my own brain. Everywhere. Try it, what do you see ?"

She opens her eyes and worlds flicker before her. "Everything," she says, "I see everything." She closes her eyes again, the rapid rotation of dying souls and planets making her feel slightly nauseous. "What am I to assist you with Master ?"

"Your task is quite simple child, harvest the universe."

"Very well Master, this will be my sole purpose."/

***

A gasp tears itself out of Kara and she hears her restrains crack as her body arches away from the hard bed. A strong hand pushes her back until she's laying flat again. It burns where it touches her, the spike of pain adding to the latent ache that already encompasses her body. She feels it even through the unknown thick material she seems to be clad in. The sudden realisation that she isn't dressed in the clothes she remembers falling asleep in sparks a flare of anxiety and her breathing goes awry once more. There is no staying calm anymore, no taking the time to access the situation, she just wants someone to fucking tell her what's going on.

"What's happening ?" she asks for what feels like the bazillion time since she first woke up.

She opens her eyes again, and this time, forces them to stay that way, fighting against the blinding light until she can see the outline of the ceiling and two concerned faces hunched over her. She recognises Alex and Lena, can confirm that her other senses didn't deceive her, but it doesn't make her feel better. She's in pain, feels sore, weighted down, vulnerable, and like something is terribly, terribly wrong. In one simple and awful word, she's scared.

"You're okay," Alex says. These are the first words her sister has said to her since she woke up, and it doesn't take much for Kara to detect the lie behind them. A kryptonian swear word that would make even her aunt Astra blush escapes her lips.

"Don't lie to me Alex," she replies a bit harsher than intended. "Please."

"You were right," Lena whispers, her voice cracking on every word. "It's you."

It takes a moment for Kara to catch up with this simple sentence, her tired brain working double time to make sense of it ; but when she does, when she understands, she wishes more than ever before, more even than on her first nights on Earth, that she had died on Krypton.

She's an abomination.

She shudders. The skin and bones that house her consciousness suddenly disgusting ; being alive is repulsing. Is she even alive ? Or is everything she remembers, everything she's ever experienced, a construct of someone else ? Are the memories that built who she is real, is anything about her real ? She thinks of Kal then, of holding is tiny body in her arms on his Naming Day, he is a real person, right ? If she knows him, some of her has to be real too. She tries to hold on to this, but it starts slipping away, everything starts slipping away spiralling out of reach, her memories blurring around the edges until she isn't even sure her mother really sent her away from Krypton, until even the face of her father starts to fade.

It occurs to her that a conversation is still happening, that people are talking to her and she should react. The only reaction that she does have is shrinking away from the warm hand on her body ; nobody should want to touch her right now.

"None of this is your fault," Alex says, her voice too comforting and sisterly for what Kara thinks she deserves. "And we're going to do everything we can to help you. I promise. You're still my sister okay ? I love you no matter what."

"There's no point in loving me," Kara mutters, "I'm not a person."

"Of course you are ! You have a consciousness, memories, there are records of your life on Krypton !"

"It could all be fake... Everything about me is fabricated..."

"No one would go to such great length to cover it up," Alex states like it's a sure thing. In any other circumstances Kara would believe her, would cling to her, but her body is burning up and everything is hazy and all she can think about is that Rao has forsaken her and she shouldn't exist.

"What do you even know about Krypton ?" she spits hatefully. It's a low blow, and she's aware of it, but she doesn't have it in her to take it back. If she hurts Alex, maybe her sister will stop caring and she'll put an end to this.

"I don't think it's what you think it is," Alex says gently. Her voice is soft, too soft, and it makes Kara flare with anger.

"Then explain ! Share your great wisdom with me !"

"I'm going to ask you a question," Lena chimes in, "and I need you to really think about it before you answer. It's very important." Her voice is soft too, warm, but it plunges into Kara's heart like ice shards. "Did you ever suffer a life threatening injury ? Something that would require major surgery. Of the replacing body parts kind."

"We were much too advance to do something that barbaric."

"But did you ever have surgery ?"

"I," Kara stammers.  She starts pulling at a distant memory, focusing on its sounds and colours, on the things that make it authentic. "I broke my arm once. Stollen race ship accident. I crashed it into a bridge." As she speaks, she remembers the crash, the harsh blow to her arm ; and the intense sudden pain, the memory of it fusing with her current ache. "It was fixed in fifteen minutes. Nanobots."

"Which arm was it ?" Alex asks tentatively.

"The left."

"Not the right ?"

"I said it was the left Alex. Why does it even matter ?"

"Because your right arm is a prosthetic," Lena says with a gentle finality.

"No it's not," Kara snaps. She tries to twist to glance at her arm but the way she's tied up prevents her from doing much more than frenetically moving her eyes.

"It is. And your right leg too. And part of your skull is metal. And," Lena stops abruptly. Kara can hear her swallowing nervously, she picks up the sound of her fingers tapping against each other, of her foot shuffling on the plastic floor.

"And what ?"

"And there's a motherboard at the back of your head," Alex finishes for her.

***

/"Master, may I ask you a question ?"

"You may."

"Where do I come from ? Before you took me in and made me the greatest gift to the universe, what species was I ?"

A flash of annoyance passes on the green face of her master. He rarely shows emotions at all, and that's how she knows she's angered him.

"What prompts this enquiry ?"

"I've been having flashes, and I wondered if they could be memories."

"Well how do you feel about these ?" he asks curtly.

She ponders over this question for a while. For how long, she doesn't know, time means nothing to her.

"Annoyed," she answers eventually.

She doesn't get an answer to that. Her master just stares ahead ; in front of them, a red sun arises.

"Master ? What is Zor-El ?"

"Your last harvest seems to have damaged your circuits. You'll need some conditioning."/

***

"There's a what ?!"

"A motherboard," Lena says gently, "it's a..."

"I know what a motherboard is," Kara says sharply.

She doesn't mean to snap at her, and she isn't even sure that all the anger she feels really is hers. But everything is so confusing and she might be a robot and her girlfriend is looking at her so tenderly that she just needs to get it out. To her credit, Lena doesn't so much as flinch.

She breathes deeply, focusing on the intake and outtake of air in her lungs. Does she even need to breathe ? "I'm sorry," she says, forcing her voice to stay measured and amiable.

"You," Lena says squaring her shoulders, "you don't need to apologise."

Kara does need to apologise, she hates being mean, hates being unfair ; but anger blurs everything around her, and she finds it hard to assess what part of what she's feeling is hers and what part is the thing in her head. If there is even a her at this point.

"Can you explain this to me ?" she asks with the intention of waving around to manifest the mess that is her head before she remembers she's tied down and can't move at all. "Am I, am I not a person ? A robot ?"

"I'm going to have to be cold and technical," Lena says, her voice wavering ever so slightly. "I'm sorry."

"Do not apologise," Kara snaps, her own voice almost foreign to her ears. "Just tell me. Please."

"You are not a robot. There are enough organic parts in your body for you to qualify as more of a cyborg," Lena explains in what is no doubt meant to be a reassuring voice but does nothing for Kara. "What you need to take away from that, what I want you to remember, is that you are a living breathing person. You are real Kara."

"And we can help you," Alex adds. "There are growth marks on your metal bones so the most plausible solution would be that you were enhanced in your youth."

"Enhanced ?" Kara repeats with as much snark as she can manage.

"Yeah, poor choice of words I'm sorry. We think that you might have suffered a critical injury that would have required such a heavy intervention. Possibly as a consequence of Krypton's destruction." Alex marks a long pause. Not being able to move enough to look at her is starting to get on Kara's nerves. She almost intervenes, almost snaps once more, but her sister starts talking again. "Sam did say that only two escape pods were recorded in this space sector's archives, and since biologywise you are undoubtedly a Kryptonian, you could have simply not made it out."

"I remember my mother putting me in that pod," Kara counteracts before she has the time to fully form that thought. "I saw Krypton explode with my own two eyes."

These words however, don't bring up the usual memory. This time when she says them Kara doesn't see her mother sending her to safety, instead she feels her father's arms wrapping around the distant remembrance of what her twelve cycles old body felt like, and she hears words that feel familiar even when she doesn't remember hearing then in the first place. "I’m sorry Karanizu. I’m really sorry. Close your eyes. I’ll see you in Rao’s light."

***

/"Why did you go against my orders ?"

There's a lie on the tip of her tongue, but she choses not to speak.

"I asked you a question child. Why did you go against my orders ?"

"They didn't seem worthy of your collection, Master."

He hears the lie of course. He always knows. Truth is she saw a little girl hiding in her mother's arms and for a split second she remembered that she was a child too once. Before she was gifted with enhancements and stopped growing old. Lately though, she's been wondering about this gift ; namely, is it really one ? She doesn't remember their faces, but she must have had parents too, and she misses them.

"And who are you," the cold disembodied voice of her Master asks, "to decide what is and isn't worthy of me ?"

I don't know who I am, is what the newly awaken part of her wants to reply. I don't even know my own name, is what's screaming inside of her. "I am your sole creation," is what she says, "and I exist to serve you." It's the expected answer, and it would be perfect if it weren't for her voice wavering at the wrong time.

"Are you sure of that ?" the voice asks right behind her.

She turns around to face him. It's rare that they find themselves in the same room these days. "I am, Master."

"See, I don't think you are. Lately, you've been a liability. You've become bold, and reckless, in your disobedience."

She opens her mouth to contradict him, but he silences her with a finger, shutting down her ability to speak.

"Have you forgotten I know and see everything ? I know you've been researching things you don't need to know. And I've seen you helping unworthy children. Did you really think I wouldn't notice ?"

Something strange simmers inside of her ; something cold. It's a strange feeling, a new one ; and in her contrived silence, she recognises it as fear. She shouldn't be able to fear.

"I could kill you right now."

She has no doubt of this. She's seen her Master kill with no second thoughts and right now, she can feel an invisible hand tightening around her throat. Behind him, his multiple metal appendages ripple to life. She hopes he will go straight for the heart. Make it quick.

"Unfortunately child, I've grown attached to you, so I'll give you one last gift, altered memories, and freedom. But remember, Kara Zor-El, I will come collect you too."/

***

"I’m sorry about the cuffs," Alex says, tenderly wiping her sweaty brow. "And the kryptonite."

"I tried to attack you didn’t I ?" Kara asks oddly aware that she just missed a good chunk of time again.

"It’s okay," Alex replies, a sad smile seeping all the way into her voice.

"We both know it’s not," Kara croaks. She lets her words hang there for a moment ; time doesn't matter anyway. "What’s the death count ?"

"I don’t think…"

"What the death count Alex ?" Kara asks again, firmer.

"67."

"Including Brian ?"

"Yes, but…"

"There’s not but," Kara cuts harshly. "I killed people." Her fists curl on their own accord and a loud crack fills the room as the pressure shatters the cuffs holding her arms in place. "Sorry."

"Technically…" Lena starts with little hope of finishing her thought before she’s interrupted.

"Okay," Kara barks, "well my body killed people. That's the same thing. And it can’t possibly be a new thing. How am I supposed to know how long this thing in my head has been influencing what I do ?"

"Well…"

"I should have died on Krypton."

"Yes, you should have," Alex says softly, and her words are so strange, so unexpected, that Kara completely loses her momentum and doesn’t have anything to reply. "You should have died on Krypton. But so should have Sam and Kal. The three of you were given a shot at something else, and the fact that you’re a cyborg doesn’t change this. You have the right to live Kara, and I’ll remind you of that everyday until the end if I have to."

"I’m a murderer Alex…"

"I’ve killed people too," her sister says in an almost too casual way.

"As part of your job ! Twice ! And one was an accident ! I did it on purpose !"

"You didn’t," Lena cuts, "you were unconscious of your actions." Her voice is huskier than usual, it sounds exhausted, and Kara wonders how long this as been going on, how long Lena has been awake, how long she herself has been strapped down to this bed. "I don't think that your motherboard had any influence on your actions prior to, prior to what happened. Something must have triggered it."

"Can you remove it ?" Asking this question causes a spark of pain to shoot across her body. It starts in her brain, fizzling like electricity and drawing a sharp cry from her. The restrains around her neck and torso crack open when she arches away from the bed. "The motherboard," she tries again in between two breathless pants, "can you remove it ?"

"No," Lena replies gloomily, "I don’t think so. Not without lasting damage anyway. I’m talking permanent memory loss at best, complete shutdown at worst."

"Then what ? How can we prevent me from doing that again ? Are you going to k…"

"I can overwrite it. Input a new code to block the trigger. It should work but I won't do it without your explicit consent."

"Do it."

"Are you sure ?"

"Do it Lena."

"I also can’t promise you it’ll be painless," Lena says softly as she types on her tablet without looking at it. On Kara's other side, Alex pulls out a green scalpel from a lead lined box. "We have to keep you awake during the procedure. The motherboard is in the back of your neck so we’ll untie you and turn you over, okay ?"

"I’d rather you don’t," Kara says before either of them can reach for the last of the restrains holding her back. "We don’t know what could happen. I could… If you let me go completely I could hurt you and…"

"It could work if you were just sitting," Alex interrupts gently, putting a hand on her shaking arm. "Lena ?"

"I just need access to the back of her neck," Lena confirms.

"Wait !" Kara suddenly shouts even as she’s starting to sit up to offer her neck. Her body and brain are torn in two different directions and everything is going too fast. She's barely had time to process the most life altering of things that already she has to decide for herself if the monster that she is deserves a life or not. She'd like the decision to be out of her hands, for Lena to fuck up the procedure so she could just be shut down and never have to deal with the blood on her hands and the new type of grief in her heart. "It might not be an Earth type plug, you won’t be able to connect."

"Brainy got me 71 different cables from the DEO storage, it will work. And if all else fails, he'll be able to do something."

"Where is he ?" Kara asks, glancing around in case she might have missed him. Brainy does have an uncanny way of hiding in plain sight.

"Just outside the room," Alex says softly. "We thought you might want some privacy."

Kara doesn't answer. She does want privacy, but she doesn't deserve it. She should be scrutinised by as many people as possible to ensure that she won't hurt anyone ever again.

"I'm going to start," Lena says, her voice distant, rumbly in the static in Kara's hears. "Tell me if anything feels wrong, anything at all."

A warm hand ghosts against her back, "it's okay, I'm scared too," she thinks she hears, though it’s low enough that she could be imagining it entirely. She feels the bite of the scalpel as it slowly cuts a line at the base of her neck. It hurts. The pain flaring then prickling as it spreads from the new wound. Something hot and sticky trickles down ; blood probably. Rao, she hopes it's blood and not machine oil. Lena forages behind her for a moment, she hears bits of metal clanging and long plastic tubes sliding against each other. Her hands tremble, Kara can feel their vibrations first, then their slight unsteadiness as they come rest under the gap in her skin. Something slides inside of her neck, and for a moment, nothing happens. Then the cable fizzle and she feels something rushing out of her faster than she can comprehend what’s happening. She tries to grasp at it, tries to retain that part of her that seems to be abandoning ship but pain seizes her body and mind until all there is is white, and hot.

***

/The ground shakes underneath their feet harder than ever before ; harder even than the quake that preceded this one by only a minute. It's time, Kara knows it yet she fights against the inevitable, fights against her mother unwrapping her arms from around her, fights against the very idea of living when everyone must die. It's not right.

The pod is too small, too constricting, and she cannot breathe as it rockets away from the planet and into the stars. In front of her, vastness and the future, behind her fire and death ; she knows which she'd choose if she could. Something rocks her ship and it starts spiralling away, off course. For the longest second of her too short life, she sees a glimpse of all consuming fire before her home disappears into nothingness. Her pod shakes again and she hits the windshield, her forehead splitting open. It doesn't hurt, nothing can hurt as much as the hole opening in her chest as everything, absolutely everything, is erased from existence before her very eyes.

The ground shakes underneath their feet harder than ever before ; harder even than the quake that preceded this one by only a minute. It's time […]/

***

"How dare you lay your hand on me ?"

The words come out of her mouth but it's not her voice. Kara knows it. It's not her voice. It's not her voice and yet…

"You will pay for your foolishness."

***

/"Get inside Kara ! Now !"

"But I can’t find Thara ! I need to go get her Dad ! I need to go !"

"Did you tell her to meet us there ?"

"I told her to meet me behind the line like you said. I told her everything you said. I promised her she would be safe I need to find her Dad !"

"If you told her to cross the line she’s done it honey," her mother chimes in with her usual gentleness. "She’s safe right now, you can find her later."

"I need to find her…"

"I’m sure she’s safe Karanizu. I’m sure she’s safe."

The ground shakes underneath their feet harder than ever before ; harder even than the quake that preceded this one by only a minute. There’s no time left. She feels the sickening pull of gravity as the part of Argo City her father managed to secure lifts off the rest of the planet. Her legs give away and her body meets the ground with more strength than she has ever felt. Through the window she sees the force field flicker to life ; they're safe now. "We're safe now," her mother says as she slides down next to her. "We're safe."

Thara isn't on Argo. Kara looks for her for three days straight without stopping, she knocks on every door, turns every rock, twice, but her best friend is nowhere to be found. Her family may be safe, but who is she without Thara ? Her Aunt Astra is the one who picks her from the floor when she collapses from exhaustion. She doesn’t talk, just lays with her in bed in silence. Her husband stayed behind to help with the evacuation.

Days pass and blend into each others ; bleak. But against all odds, Kara finds that it isn't that hard to breathe, the air less stale with each hour as her father and his team work on improving the machines, the thrum less present as she gets used to the sound of life support.

And then the ground starts shaking again./

***

It hurts. It hurts so much. Her whole body aches like it's been split in two and Kara isn't quite sure what's happening. There are voices yelling all around her and she's standing when she's sure than not a second ago she was sitting and everything was quiet. Her vision is blurry and she can't quite make the shapes dancing in front of her. She looks around for Lena. Or Alex. She knows they're here, they were here when she closed her eyes. She focuses, focuses hard to understand what's happening but the noise makes it impossible for her to grasp one single thing.

"Shut up !" She's almost sure she's the one who willed these words into existence, but this voice is too cold, too impersonal to be her own. These are her words, but she’s not the one who spoke. The world sharpens around her, just in time for her to see her right hand tightening around Lena's throat.

Chapter Text

She should have seen it coming, really. Not just because things have a tendency to go awry in her life, but because imputing a new code in her cyborg girlfriend with little preparation was bound to be a bad idea. But Kara was in pain, writhing under the effect of kryptonite and bound to mentally flog herself upon waking up, and Lena had to do something. She should have seen it coming ; she didn't. And now there's a hand wrapped around her throat and the person squeezing and looking back at her has Kara's eyes and Kara's face, but isn't Kara. Or is she ?

As the air flow to her lungs reduces, the shouting in the room becomes more and more muffled ; her vision blurs too, and in a way, it's almost peaceful. Thinking gets hard, she doesn't really know what's happening anymore, but she's dying, that much she's sure of, and she's grateful that at least Kara is the last thing she saw. Someone rams into Kara and for a second Lena can breathe again before the steel like grip adjusts around her throat once more.

Wait, she doesn't want to die, not at all.

If she can get out of this deadly grip, she can save Kara, she knows it.

Alex’s fuzzy bloody face appears in her reduced sightline and she thinks she's the one trying to shake Kara. She hears her muffled frightened voice, and a plea, over and over again. "Kara. Kara please wake up. Kara." Something loud pops in her ears and Kara staggers back, rocking Lena with her. Black spots dance in front of her eyes and a weak cry escapes her mouth against her will. It's nothing but a strangled moan, but something flickers in Kara's blurry eyes, and the pressure around her throat drops for longer than a second. And then returns tenfold.

Something, that she this time identifies as a bullet hits Kara again and Lena is quite sure that this is it for her. Her lungs are burning, she can't breathe, can speak even less and her last pathetic attempt turns into an almost silent "K-A." Then nothing. Nothing but black. Surely she can't be dead if she can acknowledge that there's nothing at all and she hangs to that fact for long enough to hear two words. Two words that are not her own. "Help me."

All at once, her back collides painfully with the ground and air returns to her lung. She wishes it hadn't when immediately after, she's hit with the stench of metal and burnt flesh. As her senses return to her, her ears fill with deafening shouts and she almost throws up when it adds to the pain of being thrown to the floor. A rough hand touches her arm and she recoils, tripping on herself as she tries to crawl back. She needs to open her eyes, find Alex and get out of here. She forces her eyes open, blinking heavily when all she can see is blinding light and the vague shape of a tall figure towering over her. Her vision adjusts, and she finds Alex next to her. It's her hand on her arm, her armoured glove that is anchoring her to reality. She looks up, slowly, following a trail of something that is neither blood nor machine oil but a terrible mixture of both. Kara is standing in front of her, her right arm torn away and hanging limply in her left hand. She doesn't have time to get out of the way before she all but collapses on her, a small bloody smile dancing on her lips.

***

Everything hurts. Everything hurts horribly like she's decided to battle a giant, or maybe been in several accidents involving fret trains. It's not what's preventing her from moving though, but a deep sense of dread that clutches at her lungs and crushes her down on the bed she's lying on. Panic seizes her and she shoots upright, ignoring the way her bones and muscles seem to snap back into place. She can't breathe, the air around her thicker than impenetrable goo ; she's dying, having a heart attack, and "you're okay," a kind voice says close to her. "You are okay."

She opens her eyes to find Alex sitting next to her, her face blooming with bruises and the cut on her lips barely dried. Reality slams into her like a speeding truck, a phantom hand wrapping around her throat and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing until air ceases to exist. "Easy there," Alex says softly. "Breathe."

"Kara ?" Lena chokes out. "Where's Kara ?"

"She's sleeping next door. It's better to keep her under until we can figure out what to do." Her words are painstakingly slow, and they collide with Lena's need to fix this in an instant. "Doctor Veritas patched up her arm. I promise you she's as okay as she can be right now."

"So not okay at all," Lena croaks snappily.

Alex doesn't answer, but her grim expression says it all. Instead, she lifts a cardboard cup of water to Lena's lips and lets the liquid slowly trickle down. Swallowing is painful, and the cold water burns all the way down her bruised throat.

"I need to see her," she says once she's mostly sure her body can handle speaking.

"I'm not sure that's a good idea. You've been through a deeply traumatising event and you need to rest."

"I need to see her," Lena says again, her words infuriatingly failing at conveying her urgency.

"I..." Alex glances at the thick door separating them from her sister. The glint in her eyes tells Lena she too knows she should be on the other side with Kara.

"Please."

"Okay," Alex relents, "but you're taking a wheelchair."

Lena doesn't bother with replying, instead throwing the covers back and swinging out of bed in a staccato of movements. She almost face-plants on the ground, Alex dexterous hands thankfully catching her before she can hurt herself further. She lets herself be wheeled out of the room like a rag-doll of abrasive paper and barbed wire. There's a certain hesitancy in Alex's gait as she pushes her slowly after having spend a good minute tucking her under a blanket of the most depressing grey. There aren't many cracks in her tough exterior, but it still is her indestructible sister lying drugged and tied in the room they enter.

Kara's bed is flanked by four heavily armed DEO agents who at first hide her from view. From where Lena is sitting, they look even more threatening than usual, and she can't repress a shudder when her eyes ghost over the glowing canons of their kryptonite guns. Alex's gloved hand squeezes her shoulder reassuringly but the weight, though brief, doesn't help with the sterile and menacing atmosphere of the room. Her breath itches inside her burning throat but she does her best to hold it before expelling it slowly until its rhythm is mostly normal. Alex wheels her to the left side of the bed but as they pass by the foot of it, Lena gets a glimpse of the dip in the sheets where Kara's right arm used to be. The arm that she tore away from herself to save her. It makes her feel sick deep in the pit of her stomach, and she knows she needs time. Time to process her girlfriend being a cyborg. Time to understand how part of her is an evil robot. Time to devise a way of saving her. But she doesn't know how much time she has exactly, and her insides clench on themselves as cold fear washes over her. She's a literal genius, used to dealing with scientific conundrums and otherworldly technology ; but she's always been ill equipped when it comes to personal matters and here, these two sides of her are colliding and anxiety is oozing from all her pores.

They finally come to a stop next to the bed and Alex wordlessly waves her soldiers away. With a bit of struggle and contortions, Lena leans in to grab Kara's hand. It's cold in a way that she's unused to, her girlfriend usually running a few degrees higher than regular people. Kara looks surprisingly peaceful, if only a bit green, but there are new gashes on her face that don't seem like they will be healing anytime soon. She's still clad in her black suit, the cape spread out under her, and the dark material contrasts heavily with her pale and soft looking skin. Lena's fingers brushes against it, taking in the alienness of the rough fabric. It seems almost glued to Kara, and she can feel her relaxed muscles under it.

Alex rounds the bed to sit on the other side. With no hand to hold onto she struggles for a moment with what to do with hers until she simply lays it on her sister half torn shoulder. She does so carefully, softly, and Lena wonders if Kara would even be able to feel the touch if she were awake. Probably not. Silence stretches on for a while. It's not really uncomfortable, maybe just a bit heavy, and not really silent as it's filled with the clicking and beeping of various machines. At least Kara is breathing on her own this time.

"I can fix this," Lena says eventually though this short sentence doesn't even begin to broach the swirling mess of thoughts in her head ; it's just the first one she managed to grab.

"I know you can," Alex answers, her voice somehow sounding like a shrug even when she doesn't move at all.

"I've been working on a prosthetic for a while. I could adapt it for Kara, she'd get her arm back. It wouldn't..." Lena interrupts herself, feeling the urge to wave around non-descriptively but not wanting to jolt Kara. "It wouldn't fix everything but..."

"But it would be a good start," Alex finishes for her. "I think it'll help to not have a murderous piece of junk attached to her body." She stops and hesitates for a while, her words resting on the edge of her mouth in a way that has Lena think that she won't like what she has to say. Her next words however are as gentle as the others, and Lena understands why Kara loves her sister so much. "For the rest, I'd like for Brainy to help you. Kara trusts you and so do I, but he's a twelfth level intellect and we need all the help we can. Kara needs all the help she can."

"If he's as smart as you say he is, I need his help anyway," Lena admits with no bitterness. "This is bigger than me and I can't do it on my own."

"Oh I have no doubt that you could to it on your own," Alex says with a genuine smile. "But you need support and back up and Brainy is the only one who can keep up with you."

Alex's seemingly unwavering trust in her sparks hope and warmth in Lena. She failed at her first attempt, but Alex doesn't blame her, trusts her still, and so maybe Lena does have it in her to save Kara.

"Part of Kara's code downloaded to your tablet when she, crashed, I guess ?" Alex winces at the technical term she has to use to describe her sister. It's controlled, gone as soon as it appears, but it's the proof that though she appears calm and collected, what's happening to Kara is eating her, affecting her as much as it's wrenching Lena. "He's been working on it to get a head start."

"Okay," Lena whispers, pondering for a moment if she should reach out to provide comfort. After a second, she does, pushing on her legs to lift herself from the wheelchair so she can move her hand from Kara's to Alex's. She squeezes lightly and throws in a smile that she hopes is genuine and not a grimace at the weird posture she's putting her body in right now. "What happens after ?" she asks when she's back on her seat. "To Kara ?" she adds though the precision isn't really needed.

Alex sighs. "She's going to need us, a lot. And we can't give up on her. You weren't there when she first landed on Earth, but she does that thing where she retreats on herself and doesn't ask for help. She's going to need us."

"That's not what I was asking."

"Do you intend to bail on her ?" Alex asks quite sharply, her hand contracting around Kara's shoulder.

"No I..."

"Because I know it's a lot for a new relationship," Alex adds in a calmer, though a bit forced, way. "But she really cares about you and if you want to leave just fucking do it now."

"I'm not going anywhere," Lena says with a frown. "I care about her too. I really like your sister, and I'm not leaving."

"Good," Alex says firmly, her features relaxing almost imperceptibly.

"What I meant to ask was what the DEO was going to do with her ?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing ?"

"She didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't her, and I'm not going to let anyone punish her for that."

Lena feels a weight lifting off her chest. Kara's road to recovery will be long and hard, but at least she'll walk it free. She feels silly for thinking even for a moment that Alex would let anything like that happen to her sister when she barely tolerates the armed presence in the room. "Good," she says, echoing Alex's previous word with a stiff nod.

***

"Some of this I don't even understand," Lena groans as she slams her tablet down on the lab table. She closes her eyes for a second, trying her best to fight the pounding beginning of a headache. Even in the dark, lines of code dance in front of her. She feels nauseous, out of sorts, and generally useless.

Brainy is pacing a couple of feet away his fingers touching in a triangle as he mutters under his breath. "I know this, I know this, I know this." Lena would very much like for him to figure it out because most of Kara's coding is too alien for her to understand. No wonder why she fried when Lena tried to overwrite it with primitive Earth language. It's an advanced form of binary code mixed here and there with letters that seemed to have been jammed in as an after thought ; she wonders if this could be the source of Kara's glitches.

Brainy's pacing accelerates and Lena switches to going through his own files. Most of them are strictly restricted to DEO agents and she only glances at them in passing suddenly very, and slightly irrationally, afraid that they'll find a legal way to behead her if she stumbles on any kind of secret. She swipes to another file, this one an array of numbers and letters so complex she wouldn't be surprised if Brainy had downloaded it directly from his brain to the tablet. She barely glosses over it, her eyes skimming halfway through before she decides to just close it and take a break.

Something catches her eyes just before the screen goes black.

In her hast to turn the device back on, Lena drops it, and her hands chase after it as it tumbles to the floor. She catches it at the last second, her index and thumb straining to support its weight. On the way up, the momentum almost causes it to crash in her face, and if she wasn't frustrated before, she certainly is now.

The screen flickers to life, and there it is, the same sequence of letters that she found in Kara's code. "I have something," she mumbles. "I have something," she says louder when her half audible whisper fails to catch Brainy's attention. "Brainy ! What's this ?"

Brainy almost slams in the tablet when Lena thrusts it in his course. In a quite impressive fit, he leans at the last moment and bends backward to walk under her arm. "I calculated there was a 89.3 % chance you would interrupt me this way and came prepared," he said, turning around to grab the tablet out of her hand.

"What's this ?"

"The log from one of our satellite hack," Brainy says absentmindedly, dropping the tablet back in Lena's hands. "I don't see how this is relevant at the moment."

"This," Lena says, bitting back her anger as she shoves the device back in his face, "is in Kara's code."

"Oh," Brainy whispers. "Oh."

"Oh ?" Lena repeats, raising an eyebrow in frustration.

"Oh no, I know this." He stops for a second, turning the tablet sideway and bringing it closer to his face. "It's coluan," he says to Lena like it's supposed to mean something.

"Alright. Well can you do something with it ?"

"I can," Brainy whispers, his blue face contorting in a sad smile. "But I apologise for suppressing the memory ; I have an interesting number of evil ancestors."

***

"I’m gonna need to sit down," Alex mutters with her face between her hands.

"But you are already sitting down Agent Danvers," Brainy says in confusion. He himself is standing ramrod straight in a way that can only be described as painful. His face indeed, is contorted in discomfort, but with the way his cheeks are flushed, Lena isn't sure it has much to do with his posture.

"Figure of speech Brainy," Nia stage whispers behind him. She lays a soft hand on his elbow, but he doesn't seem to notice.

Back in her wheelchair on doctor's orders, Lena wheels herself closer to Alex so she can contort herself to put a hand on her forearm. Alex doesn't really seem to notice, but Lena doesn't mind, she needs the comfort too.

"So you’re telling me," Alex says after a moment, "that a synthetic life form, who might be an estranged member of your family, hacked my sister, but it’s not just a bad thing ? That’s what you’re saying, right ?"

"That is an accurate summary yes."

"And that’s a good thing because… ?" Alex asks, failing to keep the bite out of her voice.

"It means I can reprogram her."

"And a bad thing because… ? I mean apart from the obvious fact that someone seems to have tinkered with my sister when she was a child."

"The interferences are probably due to increased proximity ; and, " Brainy marks a pause during which he looks around with the tiniest sign of hesitancy. "And my family members are not known for their great delicacy. I've been having strange recurring headaches. I should have investigated them sooner, and for that, I apologise Agent Danvers. Let me know if I can do anything to help."

"It’s not your fault," Alex says through gritted teeth. "Just fix Kara. We’re going to need her if we have to punch someone back into space."

Alex shoots up her chair, trips, then storms out.

"Agent Danvers," Brainy calls out after her. "Alex !"

Alex whirls around inches from the door, her hand already extended to slap it out of her way. "Just save my sister. Please."

The door slams behind her, and without her in it, the room suddenly seems too empty yet too small. A beat pass, then another during which they all hold their breath out of an unspoken common accord. Brainy is the first to break the silence. "I fucked up," he says, deflating on himself.

"No you didn’t," Nia reassures gently, her voice soft and compassionate.

"I have let everyone down," Brainy goes on. "The correct Earth idiom in this case is indeed 'I fucked up'."

"Well what can I do to help ?" Nia pleads. "Do you want to talk about it ? Can I do anything for you ?"

"Pizza," he says, snapping his head up. "Apple and olives please."

He exits the room in a couple of quick determined strides. The door doesn't make any sound when it closes behind him.

"He’s not very good with stress," Nia says, shooting an apologetic look Lena’s way. "And his relatives… Well he doesn’t have the best of relationship with the one he knows."

"I can relate to that," Lena mumbles. She tries to accompany her statement with a smile, but her face seems frozen and even the thought of getting her muscles to work hurts.

"Well," Nia says, putting her hand on her hips in a power pose that screams unease. "I’m going to order pizza. Do you want anything ?"

"I don’t think I can stomach anything. But thank you."

"I’ll get you tomato soup. Just in case. It always works for me." After slapping her hands on her thighs to punctuate her words, Nia starts towards the door. She falters a little, hesitates, then turns back to Lena. "It's going to be alright," she says gently. "I can sense it."

***

There's tomato sauce on Brainy's cheek and Lena finds the contrast with his blue skin intensely distracting. It's absolutely not what she should be focusing on right now, but it still is a recurring thing at the forefront of her mind. The thought circles back every few minutes, usually right before she acknowledges she's exhausted and pushes the fatigue away. Reasonably she knows she should take a break, take a painkiller and sleep for a couple of hours ; but Kara's life is at stake and so she ignores the pounding in her head and the ache in her throat and she keeps going.

Earlier, she scarfed down her soup, grateful in the end that Nia ignored her and got her food. It burnt her throat but settled her stomach and her grogginess, and fuelled her for a few more hours. They're closed to cracking it. At least that's what Brainy says, he's the one who's really working on the code, Lena herself is busy with finding a way to put it in her girlfriend without frying her. She's scared. Scared she'll fuck up and kill Kara. Scared shit'll go sideway and Kara will be alive but altered. Scared she'll turn her girlfriend into an empty shell. But she's managed to mostly tame her fear and it's bundled in a corner of her brain, like a cold beast, asleep for now, but with a terrible destructive power.

The lab they're in is adjacent to the room where Kara is. It's a bit unnerving, but mostly reassuring for Lena to know that she's still there, alive, and just a couple of steps away, separated from her only by a thick wall and unconsciousness. Apart from Nia, who pops in a couple of times with food and tea, nobody comes to see them. Alex has regained her spot at Kara's side, and as far as Lena knows, she hasn't moved. And she understands ; if her brain weren't of a better use here, she'd be glued to Kara's side too. In a way though, she’s grateful for all the work she has to do, because if given any down time, she's sure she'd implode from the mess of the past hours. Taking the time to process everything would be a better idea, sure, but she isn't sure she has it in her to do so. For everything she's learned at school all the things she's been taught there and everything she's learned by herself from hours upon hours spent in her lab, she's never learned how to deal with a situation like this one. She isn't sure this is what Kara had in mind when she said they had to build their own relationship framework either. This isn't part of any rule from anything, and it's frightening beyond measure.

Lena's eyes trail to the tomato spot on Brainy's face and she snaps back into work. With deft fingers, she runs another simulation, tweaks another bit of code, and hits another wall. She needs a more powerful input, something that can match and compete with Kara's motherboard. She needs an alien computer.

"Brainy ?" she asks tentatively after mulling over her conclusion for a second. "Brainy ?" she asks again when he doesn't acknowledge her. Brainy nods almost imperceptibly and Lena takes it as a sign to go on. "Do you have alien technology somewhere in the DEO ? Like something advanced enough that it could match with Kara ?"

"We do," Brainy says with a firm nod, "but we don't. Not advanced enough. Not coluan." Lena's guts churn with disappointment. "Well we do have something," Brainy adds with a frown, "but it would be extremely dangerous. So no, we don't."

"Well what is it ? Maybe we can workshop it."

"Me," Brainy says curtly before diverting his attention back to his work.

"You...?"

"Yes, me. I can link myself to Kara and input the new code. Well theoretically. I have never tried anything like that before and there is a 41.1% chance of irreversible trauma."

"The odds are still in our favour," Lena says against her fear.

"Not by much. Not by enough."

"But it's all that we have," Lena pushes because it's the only thing keeping the panic at bay. They have to act, to keep moving until Kara is safe or there's nothing else they can do. "So if the code is ready, I think we should do it. Unless you have another solution, because I don't have one."

"I do not have another solution," Brainy admits barely over a whisper. "And the code is ready. It has been for 37 minutes. I am sorry. I am unused to being overwhelmed."

"It's okay."

"Is it ?" Brainy asks, his voice filled with a slight confusion that has Lena wonder if it really is only rhetorical. Brainy is smart, more so than anyone that Lena has ever met, and it says a lot with her own IQ and alien science prodigy girlfriend, but he's ill adapted to everything else in a way that reminds her so much of herself that her heart aches in companionship.

***

Somehow, in the few hours since Lena last saw her, Kara's face has gotten hollower, her sunken flesh highlighting cheekbones that are now disturbing instead of enticing. Her face is pale, ghostly, and Lena hopes with all her might that Kara won't open her eyes to reveal nothingness. There are no guards in the room anymore and Lena almost questions this decision until Sam enters the room. The gash and bruises on her friend's face are all healed and she's clad in slightly ill fitting tactical gear. She comes stand behind Alex, arms clasped behind her back in a power pose that doesn't do much to hide her discomfort.

Brainy frets over Kara for a moment and when he stops hiding her from view, she is sporting a flimsy white barrette on her forehead. "This," he says, "shall allow me to enter her mind. It is primitive in design, but it will work."

Alex only nods, her throat probably as tight as Lena's though not entirely for the same reasons.

"Agent Danvers ?" Brainy continues, "I am sorry but I need verbal confirmation that I can proceed."

Alex shakes her head from side to side then steels herself, straightening up to her full height. "You can go on Agent Dox," she says with a firm unwavering voice.

The whole process is severely anticlimactic. Brainy brings two fingers to the side of his head, presumably entering Kara's mind, and then nothing else happens for the longest time. The silence and wait are unnerving, and after only minutes, Lena starts fidgeting with her bracelet, counting the links over and over to the point that the metal is no longer cold around her wrist, but hot, and slightly sticky with sweat.

"I have found it," Brainy suddenly says, causing everyone in the room to jump to attention.

"You're in ?" Alex asks nervously.

"I have been in Kara's mind for several minutes," Brainy says like his lack of update isn't a problem. "It is quite untidy."

"Untidy ?" Sam repeats, voicing everybody's question.

"Ones mind takes the form of ones safe place," Brainy explains in a monotonous voice. "In Kara's case, it is her apartment, and it looks like it has been wrecked by a fire and a hurricane simultaneously. Finding what I was looking for was quite arduous. And she has not been helping."

"Kara is there with you ?!" Lena blurts, speaking for the first time since she entered the room.

"Of course she is. Where else would she be ? I'm holding her in a choke hold has we speak. Inputting the new code with my toes requires some effort hence the slight delay. Oh."

"Oh ?" Alex parrots. "What do you mean 'oh' ?!"

"I will get back to you on this as soon as possible."

Brainy is barely done speaking that Kara starts thrashing on the bed.

There's a split second during which Lena's brain grinds to a halt and she can't think of anything to do. It's enough for Sam to spring into action and all but smack Kara back on the bed, immobilising her with two strong hands on her shoulders. Brainy topples forward, landing on all four at the foot of the bed. He scrambles to get back up, his movements almost robotic in their staccato, and when he finally manages to get back on his feet, with a little help of Lena's haphazardly grabbed hand, the utmost terror shines in his eyes. "He is coming," he says in a rough almost inaudible voice. "The collector is upon us."

Behind him, Kara springs up, her forehead colliding with Sam's in a thunder like sound. Sam shoots backward into the wall in which she sinks a couple of inches. "What have I done ?" Kara whispers in fright. "Rao what have I done ?"

Chapter Text

She's caught in a loop of pain and destruction. Worlds withering to nothing before her eyes. Her body breaking. Children separated from their parents. Hot metal soldering itself to her limbs. Rows upon rows of sterilised bubbles filled with frozen lives. Krypton exploding. The ground disappearing underneath her feet. Krypton exploding, again. A tiny, tiny pod rocketing through space. A voice, emotionless and cold ; "Remember, Kara Zor-El, I'll come collect you too."

Kara gasps awake, prickly air rushing into her lungs and head buzzing with an assault of forgotten information. She tries to will all this knowledge away, tries to forget again how much she killed, how much she took away from entire worlds ; but it's no use, she's a monster and her master is coming for her. She's lived an entire other life and it's imprinted in her again, the knowledge of who she is now completely impossible to ignore. "What have I done ?" she whispers, "Rao what have I done ?"

"It's okay Kara," a familiar voice says. "It's okay."

She's tired of these words. They're pointless, hollow. Nothing will ever be okay again.

Her head hurts so bad she feels like her heart is beating in it and the pain blurs the edges of her vision.

"Make it stop," she croaks. "Please make it stop."

Someone sighs, with the way the short breath is released she thinks it's Alex, and a couple of seconds later, everything fades to black.

***

When she wakes up again, she's in complete darkness and pleasantly numb. By the non-look of it, it might be night time ; or maybe everyone's finally decided to give up on her. A comfortable weight shifting on top of her clues her in to the fact that she isn't alone. A long hand slips under her shirt to absentmindedly stroke her collarbone. It's slightly calloused yet so so soft, and this, as well as the fresh smell of white flowers that fills her nose with her next breath, identifies the body as Lena's. Kara breathes in slowly, revelling in her girlfriend's presence at her side. Lena keeps the bad thoughts away, and she could almost forget everything. But when she goes to wrap her arms tighter around her, reality slams back into her like a thousand tons fret train.

She's missing an arm.

She's missing an arm because she tore it off when she tried to kill Lena.

She tried to kill Lena.

Why is Lena still here ? Why is she sleeping peacefully with her like she isn't the worst creature in the universe ? Why is she here with her like nothing happened, like Kara didn't try to kill her and successfully killed hundred of thousands of others ? Why are there other hearts resting in this room with her like she isn't about to snap and kill them all, like she isn't dangerous ?

She tries to lift Lena off herself with her arm but her girlfriend immediately snaps awake her heart rate rocketing in fear. Good, she should be afraid.

"Get off me," Kara pleads urgently. "Get off me. I don't want to hurt you."

Thankfully Lena complies, and Kara promptly clenches her fist around the thin sheets in a feeble attempt to control herself. She could kill her. She almost did.

Harsh lights are turned on and Kara finds the room packed with people. Alex is right next to her, her hand on the light switch. Kelly is half asleep in an armchair, Alex's sweater imprinted on her cheek. Brainy and Nia are waking up in another, their hands untangling hastily. The air is too thick to breathe.

"You need to get out. Please get out. I don't want to kill any of you."

"You're not going to kill anybody Kara," Alex says gently. She brushes a few sweaty strands from her forehead and Kara recoils away from her hand. She doesn't understand how anyone would want to touch her.

"Are you going to lock me up ? Please lock me up. I don't want to hurt anyone."

"There's no need for that. We took care of it. Lena and Brainy fixed it, you're safe now."

"I killed people."

"We know," Alex says, her voice much too soft.

"No you don't know ! I killed people. Thousands. Hundred of thousands."

"We know," Alex repeats quietly. "Brainy was in your mind. He saw it. But it's not your fault. It wasn't you. You know that, right ?"

"It was me Alex. I did it. Willingly."

"Someone did something sick to you," her sister says, her tone harder through her gritted teeth. "It's not your fault."

"Stop saying it wasn't my fault !" Kara shouts, her words tearing out of herself with enough strength that they hurt.

"I don't know what else to say to make it okay," Alex whispers, her words almost lost in the deafening thundering of hearts.

"There's no making this okay. It's never going to be okay."

Alex doesn't answer. Instead she climbs into bed with her, pushing with all her body weight when Kara tries to bat her away. Something wet seeps through her t-shirt, she doesn't know if these are her sister's tears or her own pooling down her face ; neither of them point it out. After a while, Lena climbs back in bed with them and this is how Kara falls back asleep, pulled away from consciousness by exhaustion and a warmth she doesn't know how to push away.

***

Kara is startled awake what feels like only a few seconds later by a debilitating nightmare and bone freezing cold. She yelps, sitting up in a jump when she realises Alex and Lena are no longer sleeping with her. With her arm she search around for them, trying to get rid of the terrible vision of everyone frozen behind glass forever.

Her x-ray vision picks up a lone figure in the room and the sight locks her body in fight or flight mode. She’s ready to pounce, her missing arm be damned, when the lights are turned on, their buzz feeling her ears to the brim.

It’s only J’onn.

The Martian pads closer to her with an expressionless face. "I sent everybody home for a shower and a change of clothes," he says when he reaches her armless side. "They really needed it," he adds with a light chuckle.

"Good," Kara groans. "They shouldn’t be near me. You shouldn’t either."

"They’re coming back soon," J’onn says, his green face splitting in a honest smile. "Your family wants to be at your side."

Tenderly, he adds a heavy blanket on top of her, its warmth seeping all the way into her cold bones.

"Please," Kara whispers, dread dripping in her guts, "tell me you didn’t call Eliza."

"I did. She’s on her way right now, and I’ve arranged for a security detail to pick her up from the airport."

"She can’t be here."

"You deserve to be surrounded by good people Kara."

"She can’t be here !" Kara repeats with urgency. "Someone’s coming for me. She can’t be around. You should all leave !"

"No one is leaving," J’onn replies with finality. "Brainy used your leftover code to pinpoint Brainiac’s location. We have time to get ready and to get you somewhere safe."

"I’m not leaving," Kara says, trying to replicate J’onn’s tone. "He did this to me. I should be allowed to face him."

"You’re right," J’onn says softly. "You should be allow to face Brainiac. You should be allowed to take down the person who tortured and brainwashed you. But we should also have a back up plan to get you out of here if you were to become a liability."

J’onn’s words surprise her so much that for a good minute, all Kara can do is open and close her mouth like a dying fish out of water. "Thank you," she whispers finally. "Thank you for not hiding this from me."

"Honesty is a core value."

Kara nods. As she does so, a few strands of hair fall in her eyes and when she goes to push them away, her absent right arm does not respond. "This is so messed up. I should have died on Krypton."

"And I should have died on Mars," J’onn says. "Second chances are here for a reason. Even if you were forced to take a detour."

"Do you think I’ll ever be alright again ?" Kara asks in such a small voice that she wonders if she talked at all.

"I believe in your heart and in your strength Kara. You can get through this."

Kara herself isn’t sure that she believes in this. But it still is good to hear these genuine words, to feel their warmth, to be wrapped in the soft blanket of their reassurance. She doesn’t even know how to begin to process this, how she can understand and accept this new reality. Part of her is relieved, she thinks, to know that she technically isn’t a Worldkiller ; but the other part, the part that can’t stop thinking about what she did, about how much of her is really her and how much is metal and circuits is much too close to losing it again.

Then there’s the fact that she did died with her parents, with Argo City, with Krypton. There’s the fact that she did suffer the same fate as her people only to end up part girl, part machine, and complete agent of chaos and destruction. She thinks about what she saw, what she remembered, the missing moments and forgotten dreams that slammed back into her because they weren’t dreams at all.

She’s disgusted with herself.

She thinks about how all she’s ever wanted was to help, was to be a bringer of hope ; and all she ended up being is a harbinger of death, on this planet, and countless others. There’s no coming back from that.

***

For the second time since she stepped into the shower, Kara slips. She manages to hover at the last second to avoid breaking anything but it still leaves her feeling dizzy and out of sort. She wasn't expecting for any of this to be easy but up until know she's always taken pride in her body and strength and now, now she's just broken, weak, unbalanced. The soap escapes her grasp and she goes after her it with her missing arm, cursing when she slips again and her left hand leaves a large indent in the tiled wall.

"If I come in," Lena asks tentatively from behind her, "will you let me help ?"

"I don’t deserve your help," Kara snaps a bit harsher than she wants to.

Lena sighs tiredly. "Don’t be daft."

There's a ruffling sound followed by a small tap as she presumably removes her shoes and a moment later she steps inside the shower. Kara suddenly feels very aware of her scarred and naked body.

"I'm going to put my hand on your shoulder," Lena says. "Is that okay ?"

Kara mumbles an affirmation and expects Lena to take hold of her left shoulder, but what she feels is a firm and unafraid hand on her stump.

"How can you do that ?" Kara forces herself to handle the touch, but it's so foreign that she can't repress a shudder.

"I care about you," Lena replies like it's that simple. "You're important to me."

"But..."

"Sure," Lena cuts as she starts rubbing the tension away from Kara's taut muscles, "this isn't what I was expecting when I first met you, but honestly I was also not expecting you to like me back so..."

"How can you be so calm ?" Kara asks, her fist tightening in barely contained frustration.

A weak, sad, chuckle escapes Lena. "I think my brain's broken," she whispers. "I don't know how to deal with any of this. I don't know how to process it, how to understand it, but I do know that I never want to lose you."

"I'm a killer," Kara spits. She knows she's rehashing the same thing again and again, but nobody around her seems to understand that this is her new reality and it's important. She killed people, she's a murderer.

Lena stops kneading her shoulders for a second before she goes on with as much fervour as before. "Yes," she says, "you did kill people. If I go by what Brainy said, you killed more than you even know. But someone else made you do it." She stops, her hand tightening hard around Kara's bicep. "Someone tweaked your good heart to make you into something you weren't and you can't blame yourself for that. Someone took agency over your twelve years old body to turn you into a weapon. That can't possibly be your fault Kara."

"But if I don't think of myself as a killer then I don't," Kara whispers, her words heavy and hard to say. She isn't sure she wants to speak anymore, the act of doing so taking a toll on her already battered body and mind. "I don't know who I am anymore. I have all this blood on my hands and I didn't even know it was there and if that doesn't make me a killer then what does that make me ?"

"You are Kara Danvers," Lena replies with all the simplicity in the world.

"I don't know who that is. It's not good enough anymore."

"It's the life you built on Earth regardless of what happened to you. And if it's not enough for you, it can be enough for all of us, we'll support you until you find yourself again."

"But it happened," Kara bites back. "All of this happened !" Lena tenses behind her and Kara forces herself to take a deep breath and calm down. She bites back a sob, her tears getting lost in the shower stream. "And a huge part of who I am is built on falsehoods. On survivor's guilt for being put in a pod I was never put in in the first place ! I died Lena. Died ! And then I came back as a half robotic monster and when I wasn't evil enough I was sentenced to the Phantom Zone with nothing but false memories for company !"

"Did you hear what you just said ?" Lena asks softly, her words barely covering the falling water.

"I..."

"You weren't evil enough," she continues. "You are not evil."

These words are the one that finally break her, and as a low wail escapes her, Kara allows herself to feel the deep painful sadness that has been clutching at her heart since she woke up. It claws its way out and Kara both feel like she can breathe again and like everything is collapsing around her. She bawls her ache out, weeps her loss, drawing it from a bottomless pit. Tenderly, Lena turns her around until she can collapse into her gentle arms and they tumble to the floor. She knows there might be bruises involved for Lena, but just this once, she hopes she won't mind ; the shower stream is hot on her back and Lena's arms are warm around her, and she doesn't feel okay, not at all, but she feels safer. She cries until she doesn't have a single tear left in her body and Lena doesn't let go. She keeps on holding her, strong and unwavering, not minding her wet clothes and the hard tiles underneath her.

"I don't know what to do..."

"Nothing," Lena whispers, pushing away the short strands plastered to her forehead to lay a soft kiss there. "For now, just do nothing."

***

When Kara and Lena get back to the room, Eliza has arrived. She's sitting on the bed, an arm around Alex's shoulders while her daughter is resting her head on hers with her eyes closed. Alex’s tears left drying tracks on her face and Eliza's eyes are glistening, but when she catches sight of Kara, her smile is warm enough to power a small city. "Come here honey," she mouths, motioning with her free hand. Kara hesitates for a second, clenching her own hand around Lena's. Her girlfriend is the only thing anchoring her to the world right now and she's afraid of what will happen if she lets go. Lena however, unthreads their fingers and gently pushes her forward. "Go," she whispers for Kara only. "I'm not going anywhere."

Still unbalanced, Kara staggers towards her Earth mum. Her armless side against Eliza makes for a slightly awkward position but she still sinks into the embrace, revelling in the soft smell of lavender. "You are okay," Eliza whispers. "You are okay." Kara doesn't know who this statement is made for, if Eliza is talking to her or herself, if she's trying to reassure her own heart, or her daughter's ; but Kara takes it for herself anyway, turning it in her head over and over like a mantra. She needs this.

Time wraps around them and Eliza's hug doesn't falter, not even for one second. Eventually, Lena moves to go sit with Brainy, both Kelly and Nia having gone back to work. Once she's out of her sightline, Kara allows herself to close her eyes, but though she's still exhausted, she doesn't fall back asleep. Instead, she forces herself to stay awake to listen to all the heartbeats around her. Lena's soft staccato, Alex's ever regular beat, Eliza's gentle pulse and Brainy's synthetic rhythm ; all hearts that could stop in the blink of an eye because of her. Any of them could be dead right now, and any of them could still die because of the unescapable threat tracking her through space. She tries to hang on to the fact that they love her, that they care and that she's brought them joy ; but she can't gloss over the fact that she's brought them doom too, it's not something that she can just erase and not think about.

She should leave. She should leave right now and find an empty planet on which she can await her fate without posing threat to others. Just as the thought crosses her mind, Eliza's arm tightens around her. Her Earth mum's embrace is still warm and loving, but it's like she knows something dark just crossed Kara's mind. It occurs to her that she can't say goodbye ; if she does so, she'll never leave. She makes up her mind in a quarter of a second, then spends two full minutes soaking up all the warmth she can. Her journey to death will be long and cold. As gently as she can, she slips out of Eliza's arm, plastering a reassuring smile on her face. "I need some fresh air," she lies, "I'll be on the roof."

Before she exits the room, she glances back at Lena who's dozing off next to Brainy. Fly away hair is masking one of her eyes and Kara feels the urge to brush it away. She can't though, it would be too suspicious, would look too much like a goodbye. Instead, she leaves in silence, her heart contracting painfully for an instant.

Her old pod is situated in an upper hyper secured level of the DEO, along with J'onn's ship. She could also take the rocket she's been tinkering with in an attempt to recreate a long haul kryptonian ship, but it seems fitting to leave the way she came. She elects to take the stairs, already feeling a little claustrophobic at the idea of her journey. The ascension seems to last forever, and the corridor to reach her final destination is endlessly long. At least it gives her time to think, to reminisce about all the good things she's leaving behind, to cherish the thought of all the people she's saving. She thinks about Kal, his strong hand around her little palm when she crash landed on Earth. She thinks about Jeremiah, his rough beard, his calloused hands, his sacrifice. She can almost smell his cologne. She thinks about Eliza, her ever welcoming love and warmth, her unfaltering support through every phase of her life on Earth. She thinks about Alex, their squabbles, their fights, yet their unconditional love for one another. She spares a thought for Lucy, but it's Lena she holds onto for the longest during her trek through the corridor. Her strength, her warmth, the twinkle in her eyes, all the things she won't ever say to her. She wishes for one more evening on the roof, one more hug, one more kiss. At least this way she'll be safe. They will all be safe.

The heavy door finally presents itself before her and Kara encounters an unforeseen problem ; she needs to scan her hand to get in, her right hand. "Do you need a hand with that ?" someone asks from behind her, their voice gloomily echoing down the long corridor. She whirls around to find Brainy standing behind her, legs firmly planted in the ground and customary tablet in hand. She has no idea as to why she didn't hear him approach. "I could scan your other hand to grant you access. Or just open the door for you."

"You're not going to...?" Kara starts hesitantly, wondering if it wouldn't be easier to simply kick the door down.

"To what ?" Brainy asks, his forehead mimicking an eyebrow raise. "Stop you from abandoning ship in the hope that Brainiac the first will change his course to follow you ? I will not." He tilts his head to the side, and unlocks the door with a flicker of his fingers. Kara slips inside before it's fully open, but before she has the time to fully disappear in the room, Brainy resumes his train of thoughts. "It is a noble gesture," he says, "but an ineffective one. If he has already made up his mind, leaving will not change the fate of Earth."

"Then what can I do ?" Kara pleads, her voice rising uncharacteristically. "What should I do ?"

"Stay," Brainy says, blinking heavily for a couple of seconds as he seem to consider the contradiction between what he might say next and his previous statement. "Allow yourself to heal from previously forgotten traumatic events. Do not punish yourself for past actions you just remembered, no matter how violent they were. Fight alongside your friends and family. We need you here Kara."

"The only thing I'll do if I stay here is put all of you in danger."

"Oh no. I assure you Lena and I did great work in overwriting your murderous tendencies."

Brainy's words are blunt, without frills, they hit Kara square in the chest, but don't make her angry. She lets herself slip to the floor until she's sitting on the steps leading to the launch ramp. "I can't 'abandon ship' can I ?" she whispers, glancing at her pod.

"It would be unwise," Brainy confirms.

"Will you stay with me for a while ?"

Brainy complies, promptly and stiffly sitting down next to her. After a short moment of hesitation, he gently squeezes her shoulder in companionship. They sit in silence for several minutes, gazing out the large windows that let in a bright almost blinding light.

"My mother taught me how to collect cities and planets," Brainy says with no prompting. "There was one I visited once that I particularly liked. A perpetual winter wonderland. I do not enjoy snow anymore."

Kara doesn't know how to reply to that. Instead, she returns his previous shoulder squeeze, and they remain silent for a while longer.

***

When they get back to Kara's room, everybody is much more awake and the atmosphere is slightly tensed. Eliza is silently sharing homemade cookies with Lena, and Alex is pacing, her face blank and unreadable. "I needed a moment," Kara justifies before anyone has the time to ask her this exact question.

It's a mistake, and when Alex turns towards her with a scowl, she realises that it would have been better to not say anything at all. This way, she might have been able to slip through the cracks. "In the ships' hangar ?" her sister asks dully. "It's a restricted section, I get an alert every time someone opens that door." Swiftly, she turns her tablet around to briefly show the live camera feed. "Were you going to leave without saying goodbye ?" Alex is trying hard to stay impassive, but it's no use, and her voice cracks right on these words.

"I," Kara starts, stopping to swallow the clutter of rocks in her throat. "Yes, I was. But Brainy knocked some sense into me."

Next to Eliza, Lena breathes in sharply and freezes.

"Okay," Alex says with a curt nod. And just like that, she turns around and goes to leave the room.

"Wait !" Kara shouts, staggering when she tries to stop her. "That's all ?"

"Yes. I just wanted to know were you stand. Now that I know, I can go prep against an invasion."

"I'm sorry," Kara whispers, shame gnawing at her insides even if she's unsure of if this is the right emotion to feel.

"I don't think these are the words you meant to say." Alex turns back around and leans heavily against the wall, her arms hanging limply at her sides. "I understand if you need time. I think all of us can understand that. But I thought, I don't know. I thought I'd be the one you'd want to talk to. At least I'd want to talk to you in this situation."

"I want to talk to you," Kara says softly. "It's just, just it's hard."

"It's hard for all of us."

"You're not the one who just learned she's a murderous robot !" Kara snaps, her unique fist clenching in anger. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell."

"You're allowed to," Eliza gently says from behind her. "You can be mad."

"You can be mad," Alex echoes faintly, "you are allowed to be angry, and feel things. But please don't lock us out." Tears well up in her eyes and her voice is almost inaudible. "Don't lock us out Kara. Please, don't leave me behind."

"I'm not leaving. It's not the right thing to do," Kara says as strongly as she can so she'll believe it too. Clumsily, she motions for Alex to come to her and wraps her in a one armed hug, holding her as tight as she can. Her sister hugs her back with all her strength and a moment later, Eliza's arms wrap around her too. Her Earth mum brings Lena into the mix too, and when Kara can smell her flowery scent, she feels her lungs coming alive again. Finally, Brainy comes in with a light hand on her shoulder before Alex shuffles a bit so she can get one arm out to hug him too. They stay like that, huddled and warm, long enough for their hearts to all synch up, and their breathing to even out.

Eventually, Lena wiggles out with a sigh. "There's something I need to do," she says, schooling her features when her eyes cross Kara's. "I'll call you," she adds before exiting the room, her shoulders rigid and her head high.

Chapter Text

Lena approaches Sam's room cautiously. There's a cruel lack of protocol for this kind of situations, and she doesn't think that "sorry you had to beat up my girlfriend" will be even remotely appropriate ; especially since they haven't had much opportunities to talk, be it intentional or not.

The door is ajar and she knocks on it softly before letting herself in, expecting her friend to be asleep. Instead, she finds Sam awake, propped up against her pillows and with her daughter cuddled at her side. Ruby is on the edge of slumber, soothed by the soft voice of her mum recounting the tale of Harry Potter. Lena stands there just looking for long seconds, revelling in the tender peace of this moment after so much pain and violence. She doesn't know where much of anything stands anymore but at least there's that, her family.

"We're trying to start anew on good basis," Sam eventually says when Ruby has succumbed to sleep. "I'm trying to you know," she adds motioning for Lena to come closer, "be a good not lying mother and all."

"You are a good mother," Lena says with a frown as she sits on the edge of the bed.

"I hid something big from her," Sam counteracts. "And I haven't been very present lately."

"You were only trying to protect her. Believe me, I know what a bad mother is like and you're nothing like that."

"You," Sam stammers, "you're not wrong. Thank you Lena."

Lena smiles, then shrugs. She doesn't know how to carry the conversation forward.

"How are you feeling ?" Sam asks softly after a minute of nothing but breaths hanging in the recycled air.

"I don't know," Lena sighs. "I'm tired, I guess. I. My girlfriend is a cyborg. And I almost fried her brain. I don't think there's a correct way to feel about this."

"And it's completely okay. I thought you'd stay with Kara though."

"I needed a breather," Lena mumbles, deflating on herself. "She tried to leave. To protect us."

"I can't really blame her for that," Sam shrugs with a half smile.

"I know, I know." Lena chuckles sadly. "I don't know what to do."

"Take a nap."

"That's not really the kind of advice I was looking for."

"That's the kind of advice I'm giving you," Sam fires back. "You need a break."

For a second, Lena thinks about pushing back, but the truth is she's tired, and not even remotely fine. "I don't know if I can sleep," she says eventually.

"Then just lay down with me for a moment. Disconnect."

"Okay."

Sam shuffles on the bed until there's enough room for Lena to lay next to her. She does so with surprising dexterity for someone who was exposed to a high dose of Kryptonite, lifting Ruby with one arm to adjust her against her and opening the other so that she can wrap her best friend in a warm embrace.

"I'm gonna repurpose my prosthetic for her."

"That's a good idea," Sam replies, soothingly rubbing her hand up and down Lena's arm.

Lena yawns. She feels herself slipping away, and as she does, a question arises at the back of her mind, something she hasn't had much time to think about. "Can I ask you a question ?"

"Anything you want."

"Was Veronica...? Did you see her ?"

"I saw a body but..."

"Sam," Lena cuts sternly.

"She was dead."

"Okay," Lena is aware that this isn’t the best reaction she could have to this ; her current girlfriend just brutally murdered her ex-girlfriend and this has ramifications that go beyond simple words. But when it comes to Veronica, she feels nothing, all her pain is dedicated to Kara. "I'm in love with her. With Kara," she whispers after a while.

"But ?" Sam prompts softly disregarding the multiple obvious answers to this question.

"But I don't know how she'll feel about that because, because she, you know."

"Because her evil alter ego tried to kill you ?"

"Yeah," Lena whispers, "that. But I, I'm in love with her."

***

L-Corp's deepest lab is desert, and Lena realises with a start that she doesn't even know what day it is, or what time for that matter. Whatever the reason, she slips in unnoticed and is grateful for it ; the bruises around her neck may be receding quickly thank to the DEO's enhanced medication, but she still looks roughed up and she doesn't want to have to talk to anybody, let alone an over eager employee. She scans her pass, her hand and her eye before the door unlocks and slides open with a comforting hiss. With her arrival, the lab blinks to life, the lights turning on one after the other, and in its clean atmosphere, Lena feels like she can breathe somewhat easier.

In a flurry of quick moves, she removes her jacket, slips on her lab coat and ties her hair back in a slick ponytail. In another couple of brisk gestures, her sleeves are rolled up, her watch removed and her shoes kicked off. The prosthetic is waiting for her on the table, still half fried and split open, and she gets to work immediately.

She starts by removing the burned off panels, exposing the complex Nth metal structure laying underneath them. Sparks fly as two flyaway wires come in contact with each other and a loud Irish curse falls from her mouth. She needs to be more careful. With slightly more caution, she gets rid of the remaining covering until all that's left are metal bones, circuits, wires and a useless kinetic battery. The smooth metal is beautiful and she finds a certain peace in it. This is something she understands, this is something she can fix.

She starts by manually testing the pistons, revelling in the way they allow the bones to glide easily. She repeats the movement more than she really needs to, only stopping when her brain reaches a new state of order and calm.

Then she replaces all the wires, thinking about Kara as she does so. Now that she's alone, it's easier to wrap her head around everything, to make sense of what she can understand, and to set apart what she can't deal with for the time being. Her mind is almost frighteningly clear and she wonders if it might be residual adrenaline. It could also be the seven coffees she drank on her way here.

She knows with deep clarity that she loves Kara. Loves her in all her complexity, loves her in spite of what happened. She knows that there will be sequels, scars on their relationship ; one doesn't just get over being accidentally strangled by their partner's evil alter ego. But she also knows that she won't leave Kara. Not just because it would be like ripping away a piece of herself, but because of the conscious choice she made of staying and trying because Kara is worth it.

When she’s done with rewiring the metal bones, she moves on to the battery, shaking it several times to give it an initial charge. The outside has been blackened by the previous incident, but it still vibrates to life, pulsing in Lena’s hand with a steady rhythm. It’s suppose to be subtle, mimicking a human heart to be undetectable, but it might still be too much for Kara, and anyway, it turns off in a minute, unable to hold the charge. With deft fingers, she snaps off the top of the formerly shiny box to get a look at the inside. The capacitor is fried. She stares at it for a long minute, until even when she blinks, the piece of junk is imprinted on her retina. How the hell did she build something that flimsy ?

Before she's fully formulated the idea in her head, she dashes back to the main lab, jumping over the threshold and covering the last few meters by sliding on her socks. She almost slams into the lab table that is her destination, catching herself on its edge with her hands. The table is covered in wires and circuits and she starts digging with manic energy ; she knows there's something there for her. She's got multiple scratches on her hands by the time she finds the shiny cylinder she's looking for. She'll have to let her interns know that they need to clean up better ; but this should work, they’ve been developing it for month under her supervision and it’s state of the art. About half the size of a regular capacitor it can hold up to twenty times the usual charge, and the Nth metal covering should protect it from interference. Quickly, she solders it into the battery and fits the coil and micro magnets around it, swearing mildly when her hand catches on the side of her hot iron. She holds her breath as she snaps the covering back into place, the smooth and perfect edges fitting perfectly.

She gives it an experimental shake, then another, and she feels the almost imperceptible vibrations as it flickers to life. She keeps her eyes on the clock, almost hypnotised as she watches seconds pass by and the battery doesn't run out. It doesn't run out either when the semi-sentient wires start thrumming, something that as always been a source of problem before. Now all she has to do is modify her code so it'll fit Kara and she will have achieved the work of a life time, a kinetic prosthetic with flawless nerves-machine connection. No big deal.

Her hand shakes a little as she connects her hard drive to her computer, an old laptop with a homemade CPU she's been tinkering with for years. She guesses she could also use one of L-Corp's latest computer, but she's got a special attachment to this one, it reminds her of simpler times. If there ever was something as simple times in her life that is.

She skims through Brainy's code, trying to find an anchor for hers. It's not a problem she'd have if Kara was, well, not a cyborg, but it's not a variable she can overlook, and she'll have time later to readapt her prosthetic for fully biological beings. It takes her a while to find the line she's looking for, and even longer to incorporate it into her own code. A prickle of anxiety makes itself known when she realises she needs to build a better bridge between the two but she squashes it, she doesn't have time for this. She tries to work as quickly as she can, the fear that Kara could worry about her absence more and more present in her mind. When she's done, she rips out the flash drive but has to be more careful when she connects it to the prosthetic. She didn't bother with putting the covering back on and the port is hanging on by only two wires. The flash drive blinks a familiar blue as it downloads its content into the prosthetic and Lena doesn't dare to breathe as it does so. Cold sweat trickles down her forehead and a pesky weakness has her holding on to the table for dear life.

Finally, the metal arms emits a deafening inaudible beep, and, it's done. Dozens of wires slither like as many tiny snakes and with a jittery hand, Lena removes the flash drive and takes hold of a delicate screwdriver to put new smooth and shiny panelling into place. She doesn't have time to grow synthetic skin so bare metal will have to do for now, even if it's not what's best for Kara's mental health. This thought swims around Lena's head for a bit but it's not until she puts her last tool down that it really hits her, she left Kara's side to make her a new arm and she isn't sure Kara even wants it. She didn't bother to ask, didn't bother to think about what Kara might want, what might be best for her. She simply rushed ahead full steam for her own benefit, to calm her own mind and to fix things for herself. Now that the prosthetic is nestled in its protective case and ready to go, Lena doesn't have anything to focus on, anything to fix.

Her legs sag from under her and she barely has time to catch herself to slow her fall. The floor is cold but it doesn't do much to clear her mind. She's overheating as her heart works double time and her lungs collapse on themselves. The room blurs around her, she can't breathe and she doesn't have strength to push her bad thoughts away, they just assault her from every side and the more she thinks about them the more she fears they're all going to come true. Her prosthetic won't work. Her prosthetic will work and Kara is going to be mad. Kara is going to leave her. That Brainiac person could be upon them right now and she could die in the next second, alone, away from Kara. Her lungs burn, her throat ache ; why didn't she tell anyone this is were she was going ? She's gonna die in here.

She rolls onto her back, legs kicking at nothing as she tries to make air work properly, but it's thick, it sticks to her body and compresses it. She thinks about Sam. Sam always manages to bring her back from this, but she isn't here now, it's just Lena, Lena and unbreathable air, Lena and twisted thoughts, Lena and imminent death no matter what she does to fix things. The ceiling comes into view, blurry from her tears but she still catches something to hold onto ; yellow plastic stars that stare back at her. She hangs onto them, hang onto the feeling of warmth and home until her body stops trembling, until she can breathe again. She sits up, holding her knees to her chest and rocking slightly to get rid of the dizziness. She tries to focus on Kara, on the fact that she's waiting for her back at the DEO and that there isn't much she can do now anyway. It's not very effective, but it's enough to get her up and out of her lab, her knuckles white with how hard she's clutching the strap of the prosthetic's case.

***

Save for Kara, the room is empty when Lena gets back. Her girlfriend is lying on the bed, eyes closed, her sole hand lying on top of the cover in an almost artificial way. For a split second, Lena thinks she dead and her heart drops to the bottom of her stomach. The case slips out of her fingers and crashes on the ground with a loud bang and both Kara and Lena flinch at the noise. Only then does she notice the unnatural flush of Kara's cheeks, she slight shallowness of her breathing ; all the signs that though wounded, she's still alive.

"Hey," Kara croaks with a pained smile.

"Hey," Lena whispers in turn, "where is everyone ?"

"Sent them away," Kara mumbles, "I needed some peace of mind. But I think Alex and Eliza will be back soon."

"How are you feeling ?" Lena asks, choosing the path of the obvious question as she picks up the case and moves closer to the bed.

"Not good," Kara answers with what she seems to intend as a shrug. "I think this might be infected," she adds, nodding towards her shoulder. "Kryptonite."

"Oh." Stilling her shaky hands, Lena grabs a cloth on the bedside table and empties half of a water bottle on it. She ends up with more liquid on her shoes than anywhere else but it still is something, and with great care, she lays the wet cloth on Kara's warm forehead. "You’re gonna be okay," she whispers, more to herself than really to Kara. As if on cue, Kara starts coughing, her body shaking violently.

"Well that’s new," she says when she goes to wipe her mouth only to find blood seeping from it.

"I’m going to get Alex." Lena springs from the bed with urgency but doesn't make it far. Kara's hand gently wraps itself around her wrist and she's tugged backward, falling awkwardly on the mattress.

"Not yet please," Kara whispers. "I missed you."

Lena considers it for a second ; in the end, Kara's feverish attempt at puppy eyes wins. "Alright. But only for a minute. You need medical care."

"Where did you go ?" Kara asks after they've adjust to lay in a less uncomfortable way. Lena almost doesn't hear her, her words lost as Kara mumbles them with her head buried in her hair.

"I," Lena starts, pushing back the spike of fear that arises at Kara's question. "Remember that prosthetic I showed you ?"

"Yeah," Kara replies evasively, her answer disappearing in her exhale.

"I worked on it a little. A lot," Lena confesses. "Adapted it for you. You don’t have to be okay with it, or accept it but, but I, I think I just needed to do something productive."

"Okay."

"Just okay ?"

"Yeah," Kara confirms with a decisive nod that causes her chin to bump into Lena's head. "I’ll need two arms to fight back."

"There are plenty of good reasons you need your arm back. Not just to punish yourself with a fight to death."

"But I need to fight," Kara says through gritted teeth, her body tensing with the anger she's restraining.

"I know," Lena says softly. "And I won’t stop you, I know I can’t, I..."

"Is that how you see me ?" Kara cuts somehow both angry and defeated. "Something you can't stop ? A variable you have to deal with because I'm too strong for you to oppose me ?"

"That's not," Lena tries, swallowing uncomfortably at the rage that emanates from her girlfriend. "That's not what I meant."

"No ?" Kara seethes. "You don't fear me at all ?"

"No I don't."

"I tried to kill you !" Kara snaps.

"You..."

"How can you bear to look at me ? I can't even look at myself in the mirror, I can't..."

"It's the eyes," Lena replies calmly. "When your body tried to kill me, I didn't see you. They were cold, empty. When you look at me, even know, even when you're angry, your eyes are warm, comforting. They're my safe place."

"I'm not angry at you," Kara whispers.

"I know."

"I just, I just don't understand how you can want to be around me, how anyone can want that when you know what I did and what's going to happen."

"I choose to stay. We all choose to stay with you."

"Yeah ? Well it's a bad fucking choice. You know there's no escaping this right ? Brainy told you ? If Brainiac deems you worthy of his collection he'll freeze you in time forever, if he doesn't, he'll make sure humanity can never stand again. And it's my fault."

"I still choose to stay," Lena replies, pushing back the small waver in her voice. "It's an educated choice. I'm not leaving."

"How can that be an educated choice ? You don't know the half of it !"

"Then tell me," Lena whispers. "Not now if you can't, I can understand if it's too hard, but, just, just don't shut me out. Please."

"I, I don't even know where to start..." Kara's body sags under Lena, she sinks into the mattress, her muscles melting with defeat.

"At the beginning ?" Lena offers tentatively. Her face contorts with her words, and she can feel her features pulling down in time with the pain that radiates from both Kara and herself.

"I died," Kara whispers, her voice somehow both soft and hoarse. She tenses again, trying to make herself tall even though she's lying down. She stays silent for a while, mulling over her words, and Lena doesn't push, she's willing to wait for her. When Kara starts talking again, she's never sounded so young.

***

By the time everyone starts trickling back into the room, Eliza with enough food to feed an army, Alex in work out clothes and with a thin layer of sweat covering her face, Director J'onzz as serious as ever ; Kara has exhausted herself talking, and she's burning up. Alex is on her sister in an instant. "You should have called me," she says, sending a pointed glare Lena's way.

"Don't," Kara mumbles, coughing up a bit of blood. "It was me, I wanted some alone time with my girlfriend."

A small smile graces Alex's face at that, but she's still tensed and ready to pounce. "I'll go get the sun lamps."

"About that," Lena cuts cautiously, "the prosthetic won't stick if we don't do it while Kara's weakened."

"The what now ?"

"Alex sweetheart," Eliza says softly, laying a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Let her talk."

Begrudgingly Alex nods sharply and Lena takes it as a sign to go on. "The wires need to establish a connection with her nerves. Chances are it won't happen if Kara's at top invulnerability."

"Lena's very smart," Kara mumbles with a feverish smile.

Eliza smiles tenderly at her Earth daughter. "She is," she says. "She's just as smart as you are."

Kara coughs again. "I don't feel so good," she whispers.

"It's okay sweetheart, we're here to help."

"I'll go get the lamp."

Too caught up in the sliver of blood running down Kara's chin, Lena barely notices Director J'onzz leaving the room. The dark red against Kara's unusually flushed skin is almost hypnotising and Lena snaps out of it with a shudder ;  she needs to act and she needs to do so quickly.

She needs to be fast, but unlocking the case seems to last forever and she wants nothing more than to smash it open as the pad slowly scans her thumbprint before deigning to grant her access. "It's inamovible," she says as she lifts the heavy arm from the protective padding. "Since it's powered by kinetic energy and the battery can hold the charge even if you don't move for a long time, there's no need to be able to remove it. I do realise it's a serious commitment, so," Lena frowns, "so you can back down if you want to. I'm sorry, I should have told you about that sooner."

Kara sighs. "I'm all in. But I'll sign a waiver if you want me to. I can, I'm ambidextrous." She tries to throw in a smug smile but the way her face contorts doesn't do justice to her intentions. She just looks in pain, and vaguely delirious.

Behind them, Alex snorts. "Your Cs are square when you write with your left hand."

"I can still write with both hands, you're just jealous because you can't." Kara's petulant tone is only short of a stuck out tongue and it does wonder for the tensed atmosphere. Alex laughs sharply and Lena feels her shoulders relax ; they can get through this, and with that in mind, her gait is much more confident as she walks to Kara's side with the arm.

"Are you ready ?" she asks one final time.

"I am."

Carefully, Lena deposits the arm next to Kara and with steady hands, she lifts her shirt off her shoulder. The wound has reopened and greenish blood oozes from the laceration. The fabric sticks to it  and she has to consciously schools her face at the sight. "Nth metal antibacterial properties eliminate the risk of prosthetic joint infection entirely," Lena says, talking quickly to distract herself, "so we don't have to worry about that but there are still plenty of things to consider. I've programmed it to fit your needs and we'll monitor it for a while, but if anything, anything at all, feels wrong at any time, you need to tell me. Promise me you'll tell me."

"I promise," Kara reassures softly. "You're so smart," she adds as Lena aligns the prosthetic with her shoulder. "But you also work so hard. You're amazing."

A strong blush invades Lena's cheeks and she ducks her head to hide it from Alex who sneers at her sister's dreamy voice. "Thank you," she mumbles, brushing up a few strands from Kara's forehead. "Tell me if anything feels wrong."

"I promise," Kara repeats.

Lena exhales slowly and with no further warning, all but jams the prosthetic into Kara's shoulder. Nothing happens, and she realises her mistake when her own arms start to tremble under the weight of Kara's metal one and she definitely can't free one to reach the screwdriver in her back pocket. "Um," she mumbles, "I'll need another pair of hands."

Alex dashes across the room to join her before neither Eliza, nor Director J'onzz who's returned with the lamp can react. "On it," she says as she carefully positions her hands next to Lena's to keep the prosthetic in place.

Confident that it won't move, Lena's slides her own hands away and takes hold of her screwdriver. "I'll grow skin for you later," she casually says as she lifts a small panel and blindly shoves her tool in the opening.

"Sure," Kara says like hearing this sentence is as common of an occurrence as commenting on the weather. She's barely finished enunciating this word however, that Lena turns a bolt a quarter to the right and the wires come to life, binding themselves to her flesh, and whatever she might have said next is turned into a pained yelp.

Lena holds her breath as she waits for Kara to say something. She feels suspended in time, doesn't know if she can't move or if her sudden stillness is of her own volition. Her minds run at a hundred miles an hour, going through every possible outcome and she readies herself for every possibility. She's on the verge on asking for a saw so she can cut the arm off when Kara wiggles her fingers. Air rushes out of her as her lungs resume their job ; it's working. "You can turn on the sun lamp now," she says to no one in particular. She can't tear her gaze off Kara, looking for any sign of malfunction. She wishes her girlfriend would speak, confirms she's doing okay ; at the same time, she understands, maybe, why she doesn't. When their eyes meet, Kara smiles, but it's not genuine.

Chapter Text

Her head is empty. She wishes it were the blissful kind of emptiness, the peaceful kind of carelessness one experiences when drunk, or the floaty moment right before waking up. But this kind of emptiness goes with a deep pressure in her chest that makes her fear she’s going to cave in on herself. She wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

Everything is quiet around her. Eliza is engrossed in a thick paperback she produced from her tiny handbag, Alex is making plans for the apocalypse on her tablet, and Lena is skimming through the science column of the Tribune. None of them complained when Kara said she didn’t want to go home yet. She was met with nothing but utmost care and compassion, something she isn't sure she wants to deal with.

Apart from the bottomless numbness of her mind there is something that Kara does feel ; a tiresome buzzing that seems to emanate from every part of her body. The worst, she realises after long minutes of only listening to herself, is that this little annoying noise has been here from the start. It's familiar enough that she can recognise it as her own and remember when she last heard it ; on Earth, before she learned how to tune out her own body. They've been here all along, these parts of her that she can't acknowledge as hers have always been here, waiting to be noticed in their terrible truth. This new knowledge has opened a black hole in her chest and it's sucking every good thing she's ever done.

Her right arm buzzes slightly differently than the rest. It would bother her if she were capable of feeling anything over than numbing nothingness. She should tell Lena she doesn't want it. Doesn't want to be whole. Doesn't want to have the capacity to hurt anyone. If she were to say it, she knows she would move Heaven and Earth to remove it ; but she won't, because Lena is too good for Kara to bother her with something that doesn't really matter.

Because it doesn’t matter, does it ? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that Kara feels so empty and broken that she could just as well be dead ? If she were dead, she wouldn’t feel like that. She doesn’t remember what it’s like, being dead, it happened too long ago, but she’s sure it’s nothing like that. Nothing like this crushing feeling of emptiness, nothing like this deep black hole swallowing her soul, nothing like looking at her loved ones and wanting them gone. She sighs, doesn’t realise she’s done it in the first place until it attracts Lena’s attention who lifts her head from her newspaper to question her with a softly arched eyebrow. Are you alright ? her eyes ask. Kara turns on her other side.

She must fall asleep at some point because when she comes to her senses again, she’s welcomed by the smell of cheap tomatoes, industrial mozzarella and white bread. "Do you want something to eat ?" Eliza asks because Kara has never been good at faking sleep.

"I’m not hungry," she manages to mumble before switching sides again to stare at the white wall. There’s a fly dancing on it and she follows it with laser like precision, trying not to think about ending its life with one precise burst of heat vision. When it becomes too overwhelming, she closes her eyes tightly, failing at repressing another sigh.

"Let me know if you want anything," her Earth mum says softly. "I think they have hot chocolate in the cafeteria."

At that, tears start to well up in her eyes and Kara hates it. Everybody cares about her and she doesn't even care about herself. It's not right. Reflexively, she curls up on herself, a protective position she hasn't felt the need for in such a long time that at first she doesn't understand why her body is cowering this way. She wraps her arms around her knees, tugging them against her chest to make herself as small as possible. Maybe if she disappears, the pain won't be able to find her. A low wail extracts itself from her, filling the room with a terrifying ache. Eliza puts her hand on her shoulder. At least she feels something now.

"You are okay," Eliza whispers in reassurance. "You are okay."

But Kara has heard these exact words so much in the past days that they're almost meaningless now. These syllables are imprinted on everything, even when untold and hidden in every gestures of everyone and at this point she just, "I'm not," she bites back weakly. "I'm really not."

"I think it's time to go home," Eliza says, tenderly brushing a few strands on her forehead.

"I don't want to," Kara replies with as much finality as she can manage. Her voice however, is broken by tears, and she knows she sounds like a child ; a tired, battered child.

"I know a place we can go," Lena offers softly. "If that’s okay."

"Please Kara," Alex pleads from much closer than Kara thought she was standing, "let's get out of here."

***

The air in the car is too warm, almost smothering. Not that Kara really cares, or would say anything if she did. It's a simple ascertainment, the air is too warm. She lays her head on the tinted window, letting the vibrations of the car fill her ears with something that isn't her own buzzing. Lena is leaning against her side, eyes closed, face stone cold. Their fingers are threaded together and stuffed in the nonexistent space between their thighs ; Kara can feel Lena's hand squeezing hard, then relaxing, every couple of minutes. When she semi agreed to this, it didn't occur to her that the Luthor's manor would be so far out of town, that the journey there would be so long and stifling. She feels like she ought to apologise to Lena, but she doesn't know what to say, doesn't know what words will be enough to stop her girlfriend from counting under her breath. Sorry doesn't seem to cut it.

On the seat opposite them, Alex is napping on Kelly's shoulder ; she was out like a light the moment the car started to roll. It's something that Kara has always been envious of, her sister's ability to just fall asleep in cars, planes, trains, like they aren't constricted death traps. Kelly's delicate eyes are roaming on the inside of the car and Kara knows that she notices everything, like the way she chose an oversized sweater so it covers her metal hand, the way Lena's feet are perfectly parallel on the ground, the way she doesn't bother with pushing her hair out of her eyes, the way Lena's jaw clenches  every time she misses a number and starts counting again. Kelly notices everything and files it away as proof ; she doesn't speak, there's no need for it right now.

The car turns into a large driveway, its tires screeching on the light grey gravel ; Luthor's manor comes into view. Since Lena moved out and Lillian is off to Rao knows where doing Rao knows what, it's uninhabited at the moment, but it certainly isn't unkept. It sits before them in all its crushing glory of dark stones and black slate, white and purple gladiolus blooming under every window ; Kara can't help but snicker at the irony. The long alley leading up to the front door is flanked by tall triangular trees that projects ominous shadows as they drive by. This place is not good for Lena.

Kara makes up her mind in half a second and she rises from her seat, ready to stop the car. She'll just have to handle living in her apartment, or agree to move to Midvale for the time being like Eliza wanted, because there's no way in hell she'll force Lena to go through living in this horrible place again. "Don't," Lena mumbles for her ears only, holding her into place with a light grasp on her hand. "I can handle it." Before Kara has the time to protest, the car stops and Lena all but ejects herself from it, squaring her shoulders and standing tall, her posture almost foreign to Kara in its Luthorness.

In turn, Alex, Kelly and Eliza extract themselves from the car ; Alex stumbling out like a baby doe. Kara is the last one to exit. She does so carefully, taking in all the new sounds around her at the same time. She hears a spring, trickling down somewhere behind the house. It's almost hidden beneath the ruffling of the wind in the trees, but she entangles the two sounds easily. Further away are the crashing waves of the sea ; and if it weren't the former place of residence of a genocidal maniac, the Luthor's domain would almost be enjoyable.

Two DEO vans pulling up behind them bring Kara back to her immediate surrounding, and with a sigh, she treks up the stairs to join her girlfriend in front of the door. "So," Lena says with a small contrived smile, "this is home."

"We can go," Kara interrupts urgently, "I can handle being in my apartment. You don't have to be here."

"I'm okay," Lena says as she unlocks the door and pushes the heavy wood out of her way to step into the hall. "I am, really," she assures before Kara has any time to protest. "I grew up here you know, this is my home. Sure, I'm, I'm a bit afraid of Lillian just popping out out of nowhere, and I need to settle down again because I lost the habit of being here, but I'll be okay. Will you ?"

Kara glances at the hallway, its dark wood and its obnoxious gilded ornaments ; she's so used to Lena's little apartment that she can't bring herself to see this place as her home. "With you, anywhere is home," she finally settles on, her words honest even if her heart sinks into her stomach at the thought of what's coming for them, wherever their home might be. "If you're okay," she adds earnestly, "then I'll be okay."

"Okay," Lena whispers, repeating the word softly. "Just don't approach the white peacocks," she adds louder, "they're vicious."

Behind them, Alex laughs loudly. "What's the fucking point of white peacocks ?"

***

Luthor's manor is gigantic, even, Kara thinks, by rich people standards, and so once she's lost Lena in it, it takes her a long time to find her. She wanders around in the gloomy corridors for what seems to be an eternity, searching for something that'll remind her of her girlfriend, she finds none. Everything is orderly, proper, in a way that could almost remind her of her first moments with Lena, when she was stilled and unsettled, if it weren't for a distinctive lack of warmth. She remembers Lena and her apartment blooming at her contact, prides herself on the love and warmth she gave to her girlfriend, but the manor is cold, and stays frozen in her trail. She doesn't understand how this place could ever be a home to anyone.

She walks quickly, trying to ignore the way Lillian Luthor's painted eyes seem to follow her even long after she's passed by her portrait. She keeps her head cocked to the side, hoping for just a square inch of non lead lined wall that would allow her to pick up the familiar heartbeat. She finds none, because of course, there's no loophole in Lex Luthor's manor. She expects for this to spark anger in her, for fury to course through her limbs ; and it does, for the shortest of second before she returns to semi apathy and resumes her search for Lena.

She walks deeper and deeper inside the house, passing by a gigantic indoor swimming pool. She wonders if she'd fry if she were to jump into it. Probably not, she went swimming before and came out perfectly fine. Still, she entertains the thought long after the chlorine has stopped assaulted her nose. Everybody would be better off without her. The further she walks away from the light, the better, relatively speaking, she feels in her darkness ; like being away from Earth's sun fuels a comfortable sadness, and like Rao dwindling down in her heart allows for a welcomed hopelessness.

She does eventually find Lena, her heartbeat drifting through the gap of a door left ajar, but as she goes to find her, Kara can’t help but hesitate. Caught between joining her girlfriend and wallowing for a while in an increasingly pleasant sorrow, she stalls, and lets herself slip to the ground, her back meeting the wall with a soft tud when she leans on it. She breathes out, a dull emptiness gripping at her throat. Somewhere above her, Lena breathes in ; Kara makes her decision.

The door leads to a crooked and narrow flight of stairs that she climbs tediously and in the dark, guiding herself with Lena's heartbeat. It takes longer than expected and she has to stop several times to catch her breath, dizzy with the fear that the lead lined walls are closing in on her. She emerges in bright daylight, blinded for a second as the sun tingles warmly on her skin. A roof, of course.

Lena is sitting on the marble ledge, back to her and feet dangling in the air. She comes aware to Kara's presence before she even considers making herself known, and, without turning to look at her, she swiftly lifts her hand to beacon her closer. "I'd forgotten how stifling this place can be," she says once Kara is sitting next to her. "Selective memory I guess. I thought it'd be more fond memories than crushing despair but this is still Lex's house and I still feel guilty for missing him."

"You don't have to," Kara says softly. "Feel guilty I mean. He's your brother."

"He's a genocidal maniac," Lena cuts with an air of finality. "I'm sorry," she adds after a long sigh, "I didn't really thought this through. Being here isn't easy for you either. I just, I just thought that since you didn't want to go home, and being cooped up in the DEO can't be good, it'd be better to come here, where you can breathe. I, I forgot about the Luthor thing for a minute, I always do when I'm around you."

"Good," Kara says firmly. "You are more than a Luthor." She lifts her new arm and with infinite carefulness, lays her hand on Lena's thigh. The sensation is strange, foreign. She doesn't feel it like she used to, can't experience the grain of her jeans, can't perceive the warmth of her skin seeping through it ; instead it prickles like soft electricity and even without looking at it, Kara knows she's touching something. It's new, but she doesn't hate it. It startles her, and she increases the pressure of her palm against Lena to ground herself. Up until now, she's seen her new arm as nothing but the possibility of hurting someone again but it seems to bring so much more, to open many more doors of love and comfort. Lena laces their fingers together, her bare skin sliding against the metal in an uncannily familiar way, and lifts the hand to lay a kiss on it. It's a simple gesture, but the love that emanates from it is enough to start to ease up the pressure in Kara's chest. "I don't mind it that much," she adds after a while, "being here. I mean, it'd be better for everyone to lock me up somewhere and I'm not fond of the lead lined walls, they're oppressive ; but it's outside of town, so, so when Brainiac attacks, it'll lessen the risk of collateral damage. And the garden is nice."

"You're not going to attack anyone again, you know that, right ?" Lena asks hesitantly.

"I don't," Kara snaps though she doesn't mean to. "I know very little things right now. I don't even know how I feel apart from dull and empty. It's like I've swallowed a black hole and it's eating me up from the inside. And I wouldn't even mind it."

"I would," Lena whispers almost inaudibly. "Mind it."

Kara breathes out, forcing all the air out of her lungs before she inhales again, slowly. "I know," she says, "that's why I'm here."

And that's true. She's only here, standing, alive, and not dead at the bottom of a pool or halfway to another planet because her family needs her, because Lena needs her. That's the last thread tethering her sanity ; the fact that somehow, she still matters to other people. Exhaustion freezes her bones, but there's one more thing she needs to say. "I'm sorry," she croaks. "About Veronica."

"I'm not," Lena replies in an almost unnaturally cold way. "Is the DEO going to keep on investigating ?"

"I don’t know," Kara muses. "But I can ask Alex. Why ?"

"I’ll need help finding all the victims of her little scheme. I want to set up a relief fund to help with treatment and going back to a regular life."

"Her mistakes are not yours to fix," Kara says softly, gently combing her fingers through her hair. "She’s not your responsibility."

"Mistake ?" Lena snarls. "People are dead because of her. I know her. She was probably very well aware of what she was doing. This is the last time I’ll be dealing with her. Let me do some good."

Kara sighs ; there’s no way Lena isn’t going to shoulder that burden. And in a way she gets it, the visceral need to do something, to keep moving because if she stops even for a second, the world is going to come crashing down. "I'll ask Alex to help you."

***

"This place is insane," Alex mumbles as she stacks a chair on top of a counter to reach what Lena vaguely referred to as the "cheap liquor cabinet". "Don't tell Mum I'm doing that."

"You know I could just fly there for you, right ?" Kara asks, trying to keep her tone neutral at her sister's antics.

"And enable my drinking habits ? I'd rather you stay out of my bad decisions."

"Fair enough," Kara shrugs though she still hovers protectively behind the makeshift ladder.

Alex hops down of the counter with a bottle of something that is very clearly on the upscale of the cheap stuff. She eyes it appreciatively for a second before nodding and simply dropping to sit on the floor. "If that's cheap," she says, voicing Kara's uninterested thoughts, "I wonder what's the good one." Her eyes trail on her sister and she pats the ground next to her. "Come sit with me."

"You don't even like vodka," Kara grumbles, plopping down next to her sister.

"That's true," Alex says, cracking the bottle open nonetheless before taking a long sip straight out of it. "God," she coughs, "that's fucking disgusting."

"Don't drink it then." Kara plucks the bottle out of her hand and takes a large gulp out of it. Alex is right, it's disgusting, tastes like window cleaner and can't even get her drunk. She slides the bottle out of both of their reach.

"How are you holding up ?" Alex asks after a while, staring forlornly at the bottle.

Kara thinks about the crushing emptiness in her chest, the dullness of things, and about Lena, her warmth, the prickling in her metal hand when she touched her. "I don't know," she settles on after a moment. "I feel like, I don't know. Like a black hole maybe."

"Feeling depressed would make sense right now," Alex says, her slight frown seeping into her voice.

"Sure Kelly," Kara scoffs, choosing to chip a bit of her pain to flick it at someone else.

Alex sighs. "You know I'm right, even if you don't like it."

"I don't need you to be wise right now," Kara snaps, "I just want to be sad. I just want for everybody to let me be sad ! Is that too much to ask ?"

"No," Alex whispers, her voice cracking on this single syllable. "No, it’s not. I’m sorry."

"There’s nothing you can do about it."

"Will you still let me be there for you ?"

"Yeah," Kara whispers. "Please. Please don’t give up on me." All fight drains from her body and she doesn't even try to stop herself from sagging against her sister. She feels so, so cold and Alex beside her is a warm brilliant sun that she can't help but cling to, because ultimately, that’s what her sister has always been, her beacon of hope in the storm.

"Never," Alex replies almost aggressively. "You hear me ? I will never give up on you Kara. I promise."

"I..."

"I'm always with you, alright ? And I'd still be there if you were a killing machine or if things had gone south and you'd been rebooted entirely. You're my sister Kara, I love you and I'm not giving up on you. Never."

"I..."

"You don’t have to say anything," Alex cuts softly.

"What if I want to ?"

"You can."

"I, I don’t understand," Kara tries, "what’s happening, or where things are going. And I’m not really sure I know who I am anymore. But thank you for being here, for being my sister. I’m a bit. I don’t know. But I love you."

Chapter Text

Lena sighs longly as she surveys the room with the least critical eye possible. It's uncanny, hosting a non lavish party in this place, but the evening is gearing to be enjoyable ; that is if she can stop thinking about how the hummus isn't spread evenly on all the toasts. She should have just stuck with pizza like Sam suggested about eleven times.

"I do not understand the purpose of this gathering," Brainy says loudly as he walks past her. "We should be preparing for impending doom."

"We're trying to cheer Kara up," Nia whispers with an over enthusiastic smile. There are heavy shadows under her eyes, and Lena suspects that, much like everyone in this room, she hasn't slept much in the past few days.

"I still have super hearing," Kara shouts with disinterest from across the room. She doesn't look up from her zakarian ale, turning the bottle between her fingers as the label peels off from the condensation. She doesn't look tired, but Lena knows she is. She spent the previous night sitting straight against the hard headboard of Lena's childhood bed, stirring at every sound coming in from the open window and surveying the room with mechanical precision every seven minute. Lena knows because she counted the interval over and over again before she finally managed to fall asleep.

Even with no trace of her lack of sleep anywhere on her face, Kara still looks like the picture of lassitude. She's leaning against the couch’s armrest, shoulders hunched forward, and she makes no effort to hold her body up. She looks around the room carelessly, her lips devoid of any smile, and when a drop of beer trickles from her mouth, she doesn't move to wipe it off with her sleeve covered hand.

"Figured you'd change your mind," a familiar voice suddenly says next to her, startling her into a near heart attack, "so I brought pizza." Sure enough, Lena turns around to find Sam obscured by a tower of pizza boxes. "Ruby wants to know where's your gaming room. She resents me for not packing her Playstation."

"Third floor, east wing," Lena replies absently. "Next to the blue guest room."

"East wing ?" Sam repeats with a low impressed whistle. "You really undersold this place. The lead lined walls are a bit old fashioned though."

"Yeah," Lena snarls, "I’ll just ring Lex about taking them down. I'm sure he managed to talk the warden into giving him a phone."

"You got me here," Sam says with a warm chuckle. She looks around for a second before simply putting her boxes on the ground. Once her arms are free, she puts one of them around Lena's shoulders and like magic, the world feels a bit lighter. "Nice end of the world party."

Lena sighs. "It was Eliza's idea. Apparently, Kara is a big fan of game night."

"Oh she is," Sam says with a fond smile. "Don't let her play any card games though, she cheats."

"Does she looks through the cards like you ?"

"Well yeah, she does. Or she did," Sam corrects with a frown. "I have no idea of the evolution of her game ethic."

"Have you talked to her yet ?" Lena asks with a tone as neutral as she can manage.

"No," Sam sighs. "No I haven’t. What am I even supposed to say ? 'Sorry I had to beat you up ?' This fucking sucks."

"Yeah. Yeah it fucking sucks."

On the other side of the room, Kara lifts her head to look at them. Her eyes gloss on Lena to settle on Sam, her expression shifting to one of apology, and heartbreak.

All things considered, the rest of the evening goes surprisingly well. Food is consumed, games are played, and as the night goes on, Kara's smile becomes more and more genuine, though a bit hazy from her beers. She even laughs at some point, the melodic sound cutting through the alcoholic daze enveloping Lena's brain. When Kara laughs, it's easy for Lena to forget about everything else. She just lets this cherished sound carry her to safety as it coats the world with warmth. She leans back against her strong legs, Kara cards her hand through her hair ; across the room, Brainy loses at charades for the third time in a row and Nia and Alex dissolve into fits of laughter. Things are so, so complicated, but right now, Lena feels curiously fine.

***

Movement catches the corner of Lena's eyes and she tenses, her heartbeat spiking up as she considers her options. Two figures walk further into her sightline and with the aid of the bright moonlight she recognises them as DEO agents making their round. They move briskly, like graceful felines, and Lena releases the breath she was holding ; they're safe here. Two strong arms wrap around her from behind and she leans back into Kara, revelling in the smell of lavender that persists through the alien beer.

She goes to turn around, suddenly overwhelmed by the need to kiss her, to feel her hands on her skin, her muscles against her body ; but Kara stops her. "Shhhh," she whispers, "don't go away. I just want to be close to you. You fill the void."

Lena freezes, halting her previous plan for fear that Kara might run away like a scared animal. "I just want to kiss you," she says tentatively.

"I’m a bit drunk," Kara replies.

"I’m a bit drunk too," she fires back.

Kara suddenly drops her head to the crook of her neck. She stays like that for several moments, exhaling longly, before she swiftly turns her around to press her up against the window. The sudden motion makes Lena feel a bit dizzy, but she gives it no thoughts, because a second later, Kara’s lips are on hers.

Kara's metal hand is a little rough on her hip, but the pressure still lights Lena on fire like never before. Eagerly, she slips her own hand under Kara's shirt, the feel of her abs flexing against it shooting through her like electricity. Kara presses against her like she's trying to absorb her and Lena would let her do so with no second thoughts. The idea of living inside of Kara turns her on in a strange yet welcomed way and she latches onto her impatiently, ready to lose herself in the process. Kara lips taste like hop, grease, and that mint chapstick that she doesn't really need, and all Lena can, and want to, do is kiss her and kiss her and kiss her until she forgets that the end of the world is coming.

And forget she does, because Kara lifts her off the ground as her tongue slips into her mouth and an almost sinful moan ripple through her body. She arches away from the wall and into Kara who supports all of her weight like she's nothing more than a feather. Kara's mouth slips from her lips and she nibbles her way down her jaw, her neck, to her collarbone where she stays buried for infinite seconds like time and space don't matter anymore. If they indeed don't, Lena doesn't even care. Truly, the entire universe could collapse around them and they wouldn't notice because to them nothing would be different ; they'd still be two souls and bodies tethered to one another, gravity lost entirely since the day they started revolving around each other.

Kara's hand ghosts over her breast and it's too much yet not enough at all. Lena wants to press into it, for this hand to grab her fully but Kara draws back, heaving and panting, her pupils blown black but free of their previous haze. "Is this okay ?" she asks hoarsely.

"It is," Lena mumbles, trying to bring Kara closer again, "please, it is."

Kara's hand slips under her sweater, slowly, like she's still checking that this is okay, her dark blue eyes full of questions and when Lena gazes into them right before she grabs her hand to drag it where she wants it to be, she's hit again by the upmost certainty that she is in love with her.

***

Lena doesn't sleep through the night, it's a luxury she hasn't had in a long time, but she only wakes up once, and it's to witness Kara acting as a living pillow. Lena's head rests on her bare chest, and Kara's arms are wrapped around her, her metal one having grown warm to the touch. She feels safe and comfortable in a way she isn't sure she's ever really experienced before ; sated, also, in a way that makes her blush all over. Kara shifts underneath her, draws her closer like she can tell she's awake, even if she's asleep herself. Lena takes notes of every single thing she experiences in this instant ; it seems important. She memorises the feeling of Kara's skin against her own, the texture of the cotton sheets pooled around their waists, the way the moonlight makes her girlfriend glow, the strangeness of the scent of lavender mixing in with sweat and what she remembers of her former bedroom. She catalogs everything, shelving it in her mind for when remembering all of this will be important ; and while doing this, she falls back asleep.

When she wakes up again, she's alone. A pillow has been tucked under her head and the sheets tightened around her to fight off the morning cold. She doesn't feel well rested, that is, again, a luxury she doesn't experience, but she doesn't feel like shit which is a vast improvement from the past days. She does regret Kara's absence, would have wanted to wake up next to her, would want for his to be a staple in their lives, something normal that they would do. She sighs, stretches, blushes again when she remember she's naked and curiously wants to thank Lillian for exiling her to the other side of the manor, otherwise, she doesn't think she could have faced anyone this morning.

She finds her suitcase propped open on the dressing's door, a third of it filled with clothes that aren't her own. She doesn't really know what to do with the knowledge that Kara didn't bother packing on her own and just stuffed her things with Lena's. She elects not to think about it, and selects one of Kara's unfairly soft t-shirt to wear as her own. The corridor is quiet, it's welcomed, but expected considering that her room is on the opposite of everything. She starts her trek down to the kitchen, but not without giving the stink eye to a portrait of some ancestor or another that she encounters on her way. She can't remember who it is, and wouldn't be surprised if this cursed painting changed every time she walks past it.

The kitchen is Lena's first guess, but she doesn't have to go that far to find Kara. As she reaches ground level, the distinctive smell of chlorine assaults her nostrils and she finds herself turning left and down another flight of stairs instead of right. The sliding doors of the indoor pool are open, but the lights are off, and the room is basked in the ethereal glow of the led strips under the water. Safe for her own breathing, the room is eerily quiet and it takes Lena a moment to realise that the pool isn't empty ; Kara is lying at the bottom, unmoving.

She doesn't think, it doesn't even occur to her to use this part of her brain, and in a second, she's jumped in the pool, head first and still clothed. She's a skilled swimmer, pestered Lionel for lessons the moment she arrived at Luthor's manor, but her t-shirt and sweatpants are not made for this and she finds herself leadened, her movements too slow and too clumsy. She pushes against the water, cutting her way through it nonetheless. There's no time, she has to get to Kara, she has to...

Kara opens her eyes, a flicker of surprise passing through them before she grabs Lena by the waist and shoots them both out of the water. "What are you doing ?" she asks urgently as Lena topples over her, drenched and spluttering.

"Are you bloody daft ?!" Lena snaps. She scrambles back up furiously, pushing on Kara's torso until she's mostly upright, her shaky legs bracketing her hips. "You were lying at the bottom of the pool !"

"It's quiet down there," Kara mumbles, averting her eyes sheepishly. "And I don't need to breathe as much as you do."

"Oh," Lena whispers, "I forgot about that." She rubs her eyes forcefully, wincing at the sting of the chlorine. "Just don't do stupid shit like that," she adds, shuffling until she can lie down on Kara. The foreign sensation of their wet clothes creates a disturbing barrier between them, but Lena pushes it away, choosing instead to let her heart calm down and synch up with the one below hers.

"Okay," Kara answers simply, "okay." With great care, she wraps her arms around Lena, bringing warmth to her cold body. She too, chooses to stay there for a while.

***

"This is so weird," Sam says, nodding towards Kara, Alex, Brainy and Director J'onzz.

"I'm glad you agree," Lena replies with a small laugh, glancing at the strange group across from them. In various swimwear, the four DEO members are preparing for an alien invasion ; something Lena never thought she'd ever witness. Both wearing board shorts and sport bras, Kara and Alex are leaning against the side of the pool. Kara is absentmindedly drawing patterns in the water with her metal hand, the shiny limb projecting fragments of lights everywhere. It's mesmerising, and does wonder to distract Lena from the disturbing sight of Director J'onzz in a tiny Speedo, a garment he's only wearing for their sake ; Martians, apparently, bath in the nude. He seems to be briefing them on something, aided by Brainy and his customary tablet. Shed of his usual DEO gear, the blue alien is displaying surprising muscles, something that Nia is apparently gossiping about with Kelly. "Never thought the fate of the world would be discussed in my swimming pool," she mumbles.

Sam chuckles. "Lex'd be so mad about this."

"He would." Lena sighs, trailing her eyes on the room. She follows Ruby for a moment, getting lost in the way the young girl hovers lazily above the water, then lets her eyes snap back to Kara. "But at this point," she adds, "I’m not sure there’s a lot of things that wouldn’t make him mad."

"True."

Sam doesn’t say much more and when Lena turns to look at her, she’s staring at Alex, a small pained smile etched on her face.

"How are you ?" she asks, bumping her shoulder against hers to get her attention.

"Oh," Sam says absently, "I’m good."

"Right, and I’m the Queen of England."

Sam laughs sharply. "Well I don’t know. Are you ?"

"Sam..."

"I’m always going to be in love with her," Sam sighs. "I think. But I’ve made my peace with it. I’m alright. Her and Kelly are very happy."

"They are."

As if on cue, Alex lifts her head from what Brainy is showing her to look at her fiancée. She smiles, her whole face lighting up with love.

"Are you ?" Sam asks, distracting Lena from the scene in front of her.

"Am I what ?"

"Happy," Sam replies softly. "Are you and Kara happy ?"

"We are," Lena whispers after a short second. "It’s complicated, but I think we are."

"Have you told her yet ? That you love her ?"

"Are you daft ? Of course I haven’t. We're facing a world ending threat, we don't have time for that."

"Exactly," Sam counteracts softly. "If not now, then when ?"

Lena sighs. She knows that, in some way, Sam is right ; but she isn't ready for that, she needs more time to cherish this nascent love and nurture it until she's ready to share it. Gently, Sam grabs her hands underwater and stops her from twisting her fingers nervously.

"Hell no ! We are not doing that Kara !"

Lena's heart skyrockets at the commotion and she raises her head so fast that she gives herself whiplash. On the other side of the pool, Alex lifts herself out of the water in one fluid movement and starts pacing dangerously close to the edge.

"It's the surest and quickest way to disable Brainiac," Kara says calmly, following her out of the water.

"It would kill you !" Alex booms. "Kill you !" She whirls around, hitting Kara square in the chest with an open palm. Kara goes with it, takes a step back, slips and lands back in the water. She resurfaces unfazed except for her short hair sticking to her face and lifts herself out of the pool with no effort. "An EMP would kill you Kara..." Alex whispers. She folds herself in her sister's arms, nothing but silence and the ripple of water following her words.

"Not if it’s a rectangular pulse," Lena mumbles, her brain working double time to catch up with everything and produce a solution. "Not if it’s a rectangular pulse," she says louder to get everyone’s attention. Kelly stops swimming to Alex and Nia freezes with her hand midway to Brainy’s shoulder. "Powerful but short controlled blast with limited damage. And we get Kara out of the way first. And Brainy. I can build it."

"Are you sure of that ?" Alex asks.

Lena holds back a scoff. Now isn't the time to be petulant. "This is well within my capacities."

"That’s not what I asked."

She lets Alex's words hang for a moment ; she doesn't want to have to lie. "This is our best bet," she says eventually.

***

Night is falling on Luthor’s manor and it should be a peaceful moment, yet, Lena feels restless. Eliza found Lionel’s old phonograph and the soft jazz playing in the living room drifts through the open doors as she pensively swirls her whiskey around. She keeps her eyes trailed on the stars ; she knows she can’t see as far as Kara or Sam, but she still hopes that she won’t be caught off guard. She’s not ready yet though, so if Brainiac were to arrive now, she’d be caught off guard anyway. She tries to tell herself that it wouldn't be her fault but then again she isn't working right now, isn't slaving over her lab table to save the world, so it would be her fault. She takes a sip, the liquid warming her from the throat down ; somewhere inside Sam swears and Ruby laughs raucously. Right now they're happy, maybe that's what matters.

"Something’s on your mind ?" a warm voice asks behind her. Kara's arms wrap around her and Lena relaxes in the embrace.

"Death," she answers with a shrug.

Kara hums in response, tightening her embrace and kissing the side of her head.

Lena sighs, all air rushing out of her lungs ; she lets it suspended there before she inhales again. "I should be working right now."

"You don’t have to," Kara says, rubbing her hand down her arm. "The fate of the world doesn’t solely rest on your shoulders. Brainy got our satellites back online, we have time before Brainiac arrives. You can rest."

"You’re so calm," Lena remarks, "it’s really weird."

"I'm trying to make my peace with things," Kara whispers. Lena feels her shift against her, her chin rubbing against her skull as she lifts her head to look at the stars.

"Do you think we’re going to die ?" Lena asks, her question coming out fast before she has time to think about it too much.

"I’ll do my best so that none of us do," Kara says almost dismissively before pressing a long kiss to the top of her head.

"But ?"

Kara sighs, and Lena knows she asked the right question no matter how short it is ; Kara won't lie to her. "If it comes to this," she says, "you know it’ll be me over everyone else."

"There's nothing I can do to make you change your mind, right ?" Lena asks, the selfish need to hold Kara back twisting in her guts.

Kara shakes her head and Lena’s heart breaks a little. "No," Kara says, "I’m sorry, but no."

"Then I’ll do my best so that it doesn’t come to this."

Chapter Text

On the morning of her fourth day at the manor, Kara expects to find the room she's looking for much more easily than she does. To be fair, the manor is a maze and the lead lined walls aren't helping, so Kara tries not to get too frustrated in her search. She's looking for Lena's lab and since she was, admittedly, a bit distracted when she was invited here she hasn't found it yet. Instead, she stumbled on Lex's former office, what appears to be Lillian's bedroom, a third living room and a ballroom so wide it could solve National City housing crisis by itself. She thinks about her house on Krypton, it was more than descent sized too, but it was lively and full of warmth. She wonders if this manor ever was a place of joy, even when all four of its inhabitants were still in it. She passes by a window then, and catches a glimpse of Ruby playing soccer with a slightly flabbergasted Kelly ; at least there's love in this place now, no matter how temporarily.

"Is it weird that I don't mind ?"

The sudden appearance of a voice behind her startles Kara, but she quickly recognises it and though it doesn't belong to the person she's looking for, she relaxes.

"I should be jealous, right ?" Sam continues, "that my daughter is so comfortable around her ? But I'm not. If she's happy, I'm happy."

Kara turns to look at her but doesn't do much more than stare. She isn't sure how to talk to Sam anymore, and the carefully patched cracks in her heart shudder at the sight of her.

"Right," Sam mumbles with no trace of animosity, "sorry, I'll be on my way. Lena is waiting for you by the way. She's making us combat suits."

"Wait," Kara manages to croak before she can disappear.

"You need to go the third floor and take the elevator on the west wing," Sam cuts. "It's behind that creepy painting of ancestor number 337."

"Can we talk ?" Kara asks in a rush before she can change her mind.

Sam looks taken aback for a second, she stands there dumbfounded, arms dangling at her side, before a genuine smile spreads on her face, making her look ten years younger. "Of course we can," she says in that warm sisterly voice that Kara used to love so much. "Do you want to go somewhere or...?"

"Here is fine," Kara interrupts, fearing she'll lose her nerves if she has too much time to mull over it.

She slips to the floor, ignoring the bench ten steps from there to instead sit against the wall. Sam doesn't complain, doesn't even so much has glance to the other sitting option, and drops cross legged across from her.

"I apologise for punching you," Kara says. It doesn't even begin to unravel all the things she needs to say, but it's as good of a start as any.

Sam shrugs, her shoulders lifting in an almost too casual way. "I deserved the first one," she says with a crooked smile.

"Still, I shouldn't have jumped straight to violence."

"And I shouldn't have left," Sam counteracts. Her words come out with a strange ease, not because they've been rehearsed, though maybe they have been, but because she's had to say them over and over again, to Alex when she came back, to Ruby when she cried, to Lena when she herself broke down time and time again. "I should have asked for your help and I shouldn't have abandoned Alex."

"You broke my heart too you know," Kara says once she's left enough time for the silence to fully express itself. "You broke Alex, not just her heart but her whole being, and I thought she would never get over it, and I barely slept for weeks because I was afraid that if I let her out of my sight for a minute she'd be gone when I'd wake up, and I was so so afraid that I was going to lose her. But you broke me too. When you left you took away the closest thing I had to a kryptonian family and I don't even know how I can begin to explain how hard it was to keep going day after day knowing that neither you nor Ruby were there anymore." Kara's voice cracks and she stops talking. She has plenty more to say but for now, she just wants to stare at Sam straight in the eyes and hear what she's inevitably going to say.

"I'm sorry."

Kara acknowledges these words with a nod. It's the first time that she's ready to hear them. "For months I kept on turning around when I thought of a good kryptonian joke thinking that you'd be here to laugh with me. And then there was the guilt of not having worked harder to find you, of not being able to conjure a magical solution, of not knowing how to make things better for Alex." She sighs, working very hard on not twisting and bending her fingers nervously. "I understand it now," she adds after a moment, "I understand why you left. Because if you thought you were the thing that I am then I get how you could think there was no over way."

"You didn't leave though. You're still here, still going, and you want to fight."

"You were scared."

"Aren't you ?"

"I'm terrified," Kara admits because with the little time there's left, there's no point in lying. "And I, I don't even have Rao anymore. It used to be my saving grace. The knowledge that however long I'd live on this planet I'd still join my kind in Rao's light. And now I won't."

"You can't be sure of that," Sam says softly.

"Can't I ?" Kara bites back bitterly. "Do I look like a child of Rao to you ?"

"Yes. Yes you do. You're the one who taught me that, remember ? That Rao is kind and compassionate. He will forgive you and let you go on in His light."

"Do you even believe in Rao ?"

"I don't know," Sam admits. "But you do, and that's what matters right now."

Kara deflates on herself. She sags against the wall, exhausted, and scared. "Thank you," she says.

"Thank you," Sam echoes. "For being honest with me about how me leaving made you feel."

"I'm ready to forgive you."

"I," Sam gulps. "Thank you. It means a lot. I missed you."

"I missed you too," Kara confesses. A ball of warmth sparks in her chest, spreading as she watches Sam smile hopefully. "Can you promise me something ?" she asks after a while.

"Sure, anything," Sam answers with no hesitation.

"You know I might have to kill Brainiac myself, right ? Please, don't stop me."

Understanding downs in Sam's eyes and for a second, Kara thinks she's going to refuse ; she doesn't. "Okay," she says, "I promise."

***

The ride down in the elevator is fast but to Kara, it lasts forever. The elevator is small and the lead lined walls seems to be closer and closer to her with each second that passes. She wonders if Lena would be mad if she were to just smash through it to get down quicker. It's what she's about to do when the elevator stops and the door opens smoothly on a gigantic lab of an almost blinding stark white. Her ears zero in on Lena's heart immediately and she follows the steady and reassuring sound to the back of the room, weaving between tables and cabinets filled with strange devices and contraptions.

Lena is hunched over a sturdy wooden table that contrasts with the rest of the materials used in the lab. There are three monitors behind her, all hooked to a CPU with peculiar addendums sticking from it. Endless streams of number run on them but Lena seems to be taking her information from a small battered laptop perched on a precarious pile of papers. She perks up at Kara's approach but doesn't derail from her work, her fingers working deftly on an electrical circuit about the size of her palm.

"Welcome to Lex's lair," she says, briefly glancing up before looking down at her work again. "Have you seen my screwdriver ?"

Kara looks around, trying to make sense of Lena's particular organisation.

"Never mind," Lena mumbles, "I got it."

Kara follows her hand from the table and to her bun from which she retrieves the tool. Dark hair tumbles in wave around her shoulder ; she looks just the slightest bit unhinged but mostly beautiful in a way that twists Kara's stomach with love. Lena drags her fingers through her hair, tying them back in a low ponytail with an old band she fished in her pocket. She keeps on tinkering for a moment, undisturbed by Kara's gaze, but aware of it if the small relaxed smile on her lips is anything to go by.

"Sorry," she says after an unknown amount of time, "I had to finish that. It's not everyday I get to build a bomb. This is more of Lex's hobby."

Kara sighs. "I'm sorry you have to do that."

"Don't be. I'm having fun. Sort of." Lena laughs, sighs, then puts her screwdriver on the table and aligns it against the tiles' joint before rounding the table to wrap herself around Kara. "How do you like my corner of Lex's madness ?" she asks, her words muffled against her shoulder. "I guess I could have moved my stuff to the front part of the lab but, but we built this table together and I like working on it."

"It's perfect," Kara reassures, glancing at all the things that make this place Lena's. "I like it much better than the rest of this lab."

Lena exhales longly and lifts her head to kiss the corner of Kara's mouth. "I need to take some measurements," she says, stepping out of the embrace, "for protective gear. I'll 3D print it. Then maybe you can give me your opinion on the bomb ?"

"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about this," Kara says cautiously. Lena's heart skips a beat and Kara hurries to continue. "About its range."

"You'll be far enough that you won't be in any danger."

"This isn't about me. I was wondering if there was a way to spare the ship."

"If we get Brainiac away from it we can do that. Why ?"

"That's were he keeps his collection." Kara braces herself, plunging into memories she wishes she never had back. It's her burden to carry though, so there's not much she can do about it. "Some of the planets were destroyed beyond repair by Brainiac, and by me. But some are still viable, stable enough that we could return the harvested cities and their people amongst their kind. That's something I'd like to do."

"Then I'll do my best to spare the ship."

***

Lena is standing close, so so close. Close enough to kiss, close enough to touch ; close enough that it would take minimum effort for Kara to take hold of her, lift her on the desk, slide her hand up her shirt and... But she's been instructed to stay still, so she does. Lena wraps the measuring tape around her bicep, Kara would swear it's the second time she takes that measurement but she doesn't mention it, only flexes a little and revels in the bright blush spreading on Lena's cheeks. She radiates heat.

"Having fun ?" Lena whispers against her ear, her whole body trembling as she rises on her toes.

"You've measured this twice," Kara whispers back, purposefully dropping her voice down.

"Have I now ? Well, I'll show you the design then."

Lena kisses the corner of her mouth, drops back on her feet and steps back swiftly, the tape unfurling from around Kara's arm. She misses the warmth immediately. Lena rounds the desk with a teasing glint in her eyes and Kara can do nothing else but follow. When they come to a stop in front of the screens, the couple of steps they took to get there having somehow lasted a too short eternity, Lena deflates slightly. "So," she says with fake assurance, "I asked Sam for her opinion but you can say no, and you can make any changes you want okay ?"

"Just show me ?"

Kara slides her arm around Lena's waist, feeling it prickle all over at the input of sensation. She's still not entirely used to it, it's still mostly strange and somewhat scary  ; but the more she touches Lena, the more she uses her arm to spread love instead of hate and the more it truly feels like her own.

Lena inhales, holds her breath, then releases it slowly ; absentmindedly, Kara matches the rhythm. Eventually, Lena leans forward and gently taps on her keyboard to bring the monitors to life. The blueprints that blink to existence in front of them take Kara's breath away. "Is that...?" she whispers crookedly.

"Kryptonian armour ?" Lena completes for her. "Yes it is. Is that okay ?"

"It's incredible."

"Really ?" Lena probs tentatively, her voice much too hesitant for the gift she's presenting. Kara finds this revolting and she has to rein herself in to not crush her with love and validation.

"It's amazing," she says fervently tugging Lena closer until she can embrace her with all her might. "You've done something incredible. It's what I would have been wearing for my first day as a member of the Science Guild and for important things like births and, and weddings." She whispers the last words, and thankfully stops herself before she can spill her next thought ; Lena doesn't need to know she's gifting her the possibility to die in kryptonian garbs.

"I know it's mostly ceremonial," Lena says, her words muffled by Kara's enthusiasm. "But I've reinforced the padding and changed the cape so it doesn't get in your way and..."

"Don't sell yourself short," Kara cuts, "you're amazing. Thank you."

"I couldn't let you go into battle unprotected."

"What about you ?" Kara asks, Lena's comment shooting a sudden spike of fear down her spine.

"I'll stay behind," Lena says in a small and strangled voice. "I don't have the same skills you have. But I'll still wear protective gear. In case I need it."

"Smart," Kara mumbles, pressing a soft kiss in Lena's hair.

"I don't want you to be distracted, and if I put myself in danger you'll worry about me and..."

"That's a very clever decision," Kara cuts before Lena can spiral. Gently, she rubs her hands up and down her back until she can feel the knots of tension melting away. "And knowing you're safe, I'll work hard to keep myself safe too, so I can come back to you. I promise."

Lena doesn't say anything ; she seems to be mulling over her thoughts and for a second, Kara thinks she's about to point out her previous intent of self sacrificing. But Lena doesn't. Instead, she stands on her tiptoes again and kisses her with a blazing fiery. Strength and power forgotten, legs trembling when Lena's tongue slips into her mouth with no hesitation, Kara almost staggers back. She does manage to keep her footing and kisses back with hunger, one hand on her hip and the other cupping her face with a rough delicacy. She bends her backward, pushes until she hits the table and it slides a couple of inches across the ground, sending papers and wires flying. Kara pays them no mind, all that matters in this instant is the soft pliable body beneath hers, the erratic heartbeat under her hand, the smile against her lips, the lab's door opening as Lena slides her t-shirt from her jeans so she can slip her hand underneath it.

"Oh. Am I too early ?" Brainy asks behind them. "I thought we were supposed to discuss bomb making but I must have misheard the time. I will come back later."

"No no no, you're right on time !" Lena exclaims, disentangling from Kara as fast as she can, stuck as she is between her body and the table. "You two," she says, her finger pointing several times between Kara and Brainy, "discuss bomb making. I'll go launch the printer." She tugs her shirt back into her slacks, adjust her lab coat and, with one last press of her lips on Kara's, removes herself from the situation. "To be continued," she adds under her breath, a taunting smirk gracing her face as Kara struggles to adjust her t-shirt.

Brainy swiftly crosses the lab, his hands clasped behind his back. "Well done Kara," he says once he comes to her level.

"Well what ?"

"Is this not what people say when their friends are involved with above average partners ?" Brainy asks with a hint of characteristic confusion.

"Sure..."  Kara replies, letting her eyes follow Lena's above average body.

"Great ! Then let us discuss bombs."

***

"We've got to stop meeting like that," Lena jokes, swirling her drink around in a tumbler fogged by condensation.

"You asked me to meet you there," Kara remarks with a short laugh. She comes behind her, encircling her in her arms, bared skin and metal against Lena's softest sweater.

Lena sighs. "Roofs are kind of our thing." She shivers and leans back, pressing her full body against her.

"You cold ?"

"A little," Lena admits with a small shrug.

"Come here." Plucking the glass out of her fingers to put it on the ledge, Kara gently turns Lena around until she's tucked fully in her arms, face nestled against her shoulder. "You should have brought a jacket. I can go get you one if you want."

"I don't need a jacket, I have you."

"I will not argue against this point."

Lena hums in approval but doesn't say much more. A moment passes, a sequences of heartbeats imprinted on Kara's memory. "Do you want to talk about what's got you so forlorn ?" she asks eventually.

"You mean besides the obvious ?"

"Okay," Kara admits, "I'm sorry. That was the wrong question."

"No I," Lena starts, "I just. I’m done working, everything’s ready and I have nothing to do to keep my head busy. And Brainy said the satellites are down again. And I don’t understand why no one’s evacuating civilians. And Sam, Sam isn’t a fighter she only..."

"She only took me down because of sheer luck ?" Kara supplies for her, trying to keep her voice calm and even.

"Yeah, that. And, and it was easy, or easier, to have hope when I was actively working to prevent a disaster but now, now I just can’t picture a good outcome to this."

"I’m sorry," Kara sighs. "I’m sorry," she repeats, wondering if she’ll have enough time to truly apologise for all the damage she’s done. Even if they do survive, her entire life won’t be enough to make up for this.

"You’re..."

"I’m sorry for bringing this to you. To everyone."

"It’s not your fault."

Kara's heart clench painfully in her chest. She isn't sure she can take much more of Lena, of everyone, defending her despite everything. "It literally is," she says, her words coming out wonky and weak. "If it weren't for me, Brainiac wouldn't be on his way here. And I can work towards accepting that what I did in the past isn't entirely my fault. But this, this I can't. I shouldn't have stayed. Everybody here would be better off without me."

"I wouldn’t," Lena whispers. "I wouldn’t be better off without you. I don’t even want to know where I’d be if it weren’t for you. You’ve changed my life for the better. And Alex’s. And Sam’s. I’d rather die having known you than live not having met you at all."

"I don’t want you to die."

''Then I won’t," Lena says like it’s that simple. "I’m a Luthor, we’re extremely hard to kill."

"That’s not how it works, and it’s not funny," Kara replies, smiling nonetheless at Lena’s stubbornness. For a second she finds it odd, that she still has the capacity to smile in a moment like that, but it feels good.

"Isn’t it ?" Lena asks with a short laugh. "I can hear you smiling."

"Okay. You’re a little bit funny."

"I’m scared you know," Lena admits softly. "But I want to be hopeful. Because that’s what you make me feel, hope."

Kara cups her face between her hands, raising her chin so she can fully look at her and conveys all the reassurance she can. Lena's green eyes shine peculiarly in the evening light and it makes Kara wants to kiss her. She leans forward with all the intent of doing so when a droplet crashes on Lena's nose causing her to go comically cross eyed.

"I didn't know it was supposed to rain tonight," she whispers, pushing on her feet so she can meet Kara halfway.

But Kara doesn’t kiss her, she leans back, gaze affixed to the sudden streak of purple lightning cutting the sky in two.

"It's not rain."

Chapter Text

Lena sees it. Of course she does ; there’s no possible way of missing the purple light, the skull shadow in the sky, the cold fear drenching her to her very soul even when half her mind is still fixated on kissing Kara. "I lo..." she starts because there's no time left to hold it back, she has to say it now because the occasion could very well never arise again. She knows too little about what's coming yet too much about the consequences to give herself the leniency of keeping her feelings to herself.

But Kara isn't listening, and even as she's holding Lena in her arms, strong and ever so delicate, her head is elsewhere. She presses two fingers against her ear and Lena notices for the first time the small communication device affixed to it. "Alex, can you hear me ?"

From wherever she is in the manor Alex must answer because Kara keeps going. "Put your suit on and get Ruby to Lena’s lab. It’s time." And with little warning, she lifts Lena up and carries her inside in a blur. It’s time indeed, but not for what Lena had in mind and as Kara rushes them through the endless corridors she feels her throat clog up with the need to cry, for no other reason than the possibility of death suddenly becoming very real.

She barely registers the two seconds stop they make in front of the elevator, her mind focusing instead on the strain of Kara's abs when she shifts her in her arms. The ride down doesn't last long enough for her to acknowledge it and much too soon, they come to a definitive stop in the middle of her lab. This time, she's prepared for the wave of nausea that accompanies superspeed and she manages to push it away, leaning heavily on Kara as her legs tremble under her weight. "Sorry about that," Kara mumbles against her hair, seemingly reluctant to fully let her go.

"It's okay," Lena replies with a weak chuckle after a couple of deep breaths, "we don't have time for human pace." Carefully she disentangles herself from Kara, testing the strength of her limbs until she's sure she can stand on her own. "Your armour is over there," she says, motioning to the part of the lab where she’s laid all the gear. "Brainy and Nia are keeping their own suits but I have reinforced parts for your sister’s suit and a few things for Kelly." She talks fast, and moves at an even rapider pace, stripping off her sweater to replace it with a bulky bulletproof vest and padded under armour. Kara’s eyes trail on her shamelessly and she wishes she could stop to indulge her, but she can’t.

"Kelly ?" Kara repeats dumbfounded, like she isn’t sure she heard correctly.

"Kelly," Lena confirms. "Above military grade bulletproof gear and a non-restrictive brace for her knee."

"Alex is not going to be happy about that."

"But it’s not for Alex to decide. And ultimately I think she’ll agree that Kelly should be protected the same as everyone."

As if on queue, the elevator opens behind them and the rest of the team steps into the lab, Alex and Kelly’s voices filled with concern and restrained anger. "It's not for you to decide Alex," Kelly says, unknowingly echoing Lena's previous words.

"I’m trained for this kind of situation."

"And I’m not ?" Kelly fires back. "I was a soldier. I have extensive military training, I can help."

"But your knee..." Alex tries, albeit weakly.

"My knee will be fine."

"I can’t lose you..." Alex whispers.

"You won’t."

Lena averts her eyes, the simple fact of even being in the vicinity of the couple suddenly feeling very intrusive. Kara busies herself with helping tighten the buckles on her jacket and she's thankful for the broad shoulders blocking her view. "They’ll all be fine," she mumbles, trying to reassure both Lena and herself.

"They’ll all be fine," Lena repeats barely over a whisper. They have to.

Kara drops in front of her and Lena feels her feet being lifted gently one after the other, her sneakers replaced with light combat boots that Kara laces for her. She focuses on this, on the feeling of Kara's hands ghosting over her, on her breath so close to her face when she rises again, a grim smile on her lips. Lena is dressed and ready, but Kara is still in this day's t-shirt, soft grey and rumpled in the places she clung to her earlier ; she tries to memorise the sight, to imprint the colour of Kara's eyes in her mind, before she gently pushes her towards where Sam is already getting ready. They’ll all be fine, they have to.

It downs on her, as Alex and Kelly change with the practised ease of women accustomed to crowded locker rooms and Kara slips on knee high boots she was always meant to wear, that apart from Ruby, a literal child, she's the only one who isn't physically fit for this fight. Even Sam who isn't a warrior wields more than enough power to hold her own against Brainiac. Her hands tighten on her tablet as she surveys the room, her eyes taking in the detonator strapped to Sam's belt, the metal pieces of Kara's suit sliding into place as she slips them on, the concealed brace on Kelly's knee ; she's already done all she can, but it doesn't stop her from wishing she could do more. She wants to go out there, to punch Brainiac raw with her own fists, see if his synthetic face can bleed ; but it's unrealistic, and even if it weren't, Kara wouldn't be safe is she had to worry about her. She'll have to stay behind, and babysit a kid who's seen way too much for her young age. Maybe Kara's god will hear her is she prays to keep them safe.

Lena sighs, shakes her head in disbelief. This is ridiculous. Praying to an alien god she doesn't believe in will not make this situation better. Standing her ground and providing technical backup from the safety of her lab is what will help.

"You okay ?" Kara asks, coming behind her to hold her tighter than she ever has.

"No," Lena answers abruptly but honestly. "But I'm trying to be." She melts into the embrace ; her body held up only by Kara's will and strength. As unrealistic and selfish has it might be, she's tempted to just stay like that and let the others risk their lives. The thought, sudden and unfair, feels like a punch to the gut and she forces herself to look over Kara's shoulder to take in all the people in the room. "Wait, where's Director J'onzz ?" she asks when her brain catches up with her eyes.

Kara looks around too, jolting her as she does. "Where's Eliza ?"

The question prompts Lena to recede from Kara's warmth. The older woman should definitely be safe in the lab with them.

"I believe they are leading the evacuation," Brainy informs in a calm voice that almost infuriates Lena.

"What evacuation ?" Kara blurts, her words mixing with Alex's own confusion. "I thought we weren't evacuating."

"Doctor Danvers believes it will buy us time," Brainy explains, "and I think so too. If citizens flee the city, Brainiac will have to create a bigger force field to collect all of them. It will give us more time to stop him."

"It's too big of a risk !" Kara exclaims, fully stepping away from Lena and taking all her reassurance with her to pace wildly, her arms taut and agitated. "People are going to die."

"It is a calculated risk."

"How can you be so cold ?!" Kara explodes, whirling around to stand inches from Brainy's face. Without meaning to, Lena takes a step back, her eyes glued to Kara's destructive frame, her silhouette bulkier and almost frightening under her armour.

Half brave and half foolish, Nia slips in the space between them and pushes Kara back with a glowing blue hand. "That's enough," she says, her voice low and more threatening than Lena thought it could be.

Brainy's hand ghosts over Nia's shoulder and he bypasses her gently to look at Kara again. "Because I have to," he says with a tilt of the head, "same as you."

Kara stumbles back, almost stunned, and Lena raises her hands, ready to catch her if she has to though she knows there's little chance she'll be able to support her weight. "I'm sorry," Kara whispers. "I shouldn't have said that."

"I understand why you did," Brainy replies softly.

"She should have told us."

"We wouldn't have let her go," Alex counteracts from where she’s standing, her hand clenched tight around Kelly's. Kara casts a grim look to her sister but doesn't answer, they both know Alex is right.

After Alex's words, silence hangs over them like a suffocating lead screed. Lena doesn't know what to do to make it better ; there’s nothing she can do to protect Kara and Alex's mum. She tries to think about her own family, tries to invoke the face of Lillian, or at the very least Lex's ; but when she thinks about family, the only people who come to her mind are the one already present in this room and it's terrifying. In the coming hours, she could lose everyone, and this knowledge is both paralysing and invigorating ; for the first time in a long time, she has something worth fighting for, and fight she will. She opens her mouth to say as such, to say that she won't give up until everyone is safe, but her words get lost in Brainy's, the alien straightening up before morosely delivering : "We should brace for impact." His words are barely out of his mouth when the world tips sideway.

The trembling floor rushes towards Lena's face at incredible speed and she closes her eyes, expecting the shattering of a few bones at any second. Like clockwork however two strong hands takes hold of her and stop her downward course. She's back on her feet in an instant, face pressed against the crest on Kara's chest. She holds on to her tight, her legs shaking underneath her in time with the room as cabinets fly open and experiments crash on the ground. When the Earth stops convulsing, Lena takes a deep breath and glances tentatively around the room to survey the damage. Sam is hunched protectively over Ruby, Alex and Kelly are rolled in safety positions, and Brainy and Nia are locked in an embrace that inches more on the side of passion than security. Not far behind them, a spilled pink bubbling solution is eating the concrete. Quick as lightning, Kara takes hold of the situation and freezes it before the damage can worsen. "Everyone okay ?" she asks, strong and reassuring. She stands with her hands on her hips, hair askew and eyes blazing ; in this moment, Lena doesn't understand how the universe doesn't solely revolve around her. Before anyone can reply however, another quake throws everyone down and Lena finds herself tucked protectively in her arms again.

It's over quicker than the first time, but followed just as rapidly by another tremor. This time, Lena manages to keep her footing, but Kara keeps her close anyway, wrapped in the cape that drapes over her left shoulder. "He's moving fast," she says in a rush. "Faster than he used to."

"Then we need to move just as fast," Alex growls, already unsheathing her gun.

"Wait," Lena says trying to stop the whirlwind of movement caused by Alex's words. "Wait ! I need to know what's happening." She bends down to pick her tablet ; the electromagnetic readings are off the charts.

"He's anchoring the ship down to create the force field."

Lena's heart stutters, a rock blocks her throat ; everything is happening much too fast for her liking. "Sam ?" she calls, "do you remember how to..."

"Activate the EMP ?" Sam finishes for her, her arms wound tight against her daughter. "Yes, I remember."

"Be careful."

"I will." Sam kisses the top of Ruby's head one last time, smiles guardedly at Lena and in a blur joins Alex and Kelly in the elevator right before the doors close.

"What happens when," Lena starts, frustrated when she finds herself unable to finish her question. "You know."

"When people enter Brainiac's collection ?" Kara offers tentatively before continuing when Lena nods. "They're frozen in time."

"And aware of it," Brainy adds sternly.

"That's why the Phantom Zone was part of my punishment."

Kara shudders, and with a lithe hand gestures for Brainy and Nia to go. The two heroes smile reassuringly at Lena, but her stomach feels drenched with acid. "I don't think I told you what this meant," Kara says, tenderly grasping Lena's hand to lay it on her crest. Her eyes trail on the -S- like shape. It took her a while to get it right when she drew it for the armour and unlike Superman's bright red and yellow, it stands dark red and gold on blue Nth metal. "I don't think you know how much it means to me that you put it on my armour."

"What does it mean ?"

"It's my family's coat of arms, it means El Mayarah. Stronger together. I'm stronger when I'm with you. We'll make it through."

Gently, Kara's hands come resting on her hips and she kisses her slowly, explores her lips with reverence as a single tear gets caught between their cheeks. It tastes like a last kiss and Lena will have none of it. Pushing herself on her toes she presses harder against Kara offering herself as she is in the hope that this kiss will be enough to keep her alive. She draws her closer, clenching her hands on the metal guards protecting her face. Kara's own hands adjust on her hips, their grip tight and hot, and she opens her mouth, her tongue gliding against Lena's lips with a whimper. The kiss is bruising, needy, and terrible. Lena wishes to be swallowed by it, to be dead then born anew in a land without threats.

Much too soon, Kara detaches from her. She walks to the elevator, head held high but fists trembling at her sides. Lena is grateful that she doesn't look back.

When Kara is gone, Lena lets her eyes fall to the floor, staring at her booted feet and holding her breath for a moment to instead focus on Ruby inhaling and exhaling behind her. Her heart contracts painfully and on its next beat, she moves, and goes to sit next to the girl. As she does so, she surveys the lab absentmindedly. A glimmer of light catches the corner of her eyes, a peculiar reflexion on a shiny surface that she neglected to pay attention to before. She stares at it, nonplussed, until she identifies it and remembers why she forgot about it in the first place. Protruding from a half opened cabinet is a green and purple gauntlet.

Chapter Text

Her heart is trying to beat its way out of her chest. She feels both too hot and extremely cold all over, and small, small like never before. She represses the urge to check that she isn't sweating, now is not the time to panic about this. She steps out of the elevator, wishes she could enjoy the way her armour ripples and follows her every move. She presses a hand to her crest, she's probably imagining the lingering warmth of Lena's hand but it still gives her the strength she needs to keep going. She's stalling, she knows she is. She has superspeed, should already be outside, helping, yet she's still there, moving down the corridors at a human pace. She's not ready for this confrontation. To Brainiac, it's been years in the making but it's still much too new to her for her to have fully wrapped her head around it, for her to be ready to face her forgotten Master. The word itself makes her sick to the stomach. A flash of purple light briefly illuminates the dark corridor. Regretfully, Kara launches herself out the window.

She lands in a crouch a few feet in front of her friends, her back to them and her eyes trailed on the ground. Around her, cracks spread like spider webs. She holds her breath for a second, tunes in on Alex to ground herself and then draws herself to her full height, shoulders taunt back and head high. The moment she turns her gaze to the ship a crackling metal snake springs from it. She deflects it with a powerful blow of her own metal appendage sending it back to its sender. "Is this really how you want to do this ?" she snarls, thanking Rao for her unwavering voice.

She waits for a beat, then two, the buzzing of her body seemingly louder by the second. Then come the disembodied voice. Ice cold, it grips at her insides like an inescapable vice to the point that she isn't sure Brainiac can't still control her. "Of course not child. I've waited so long for our reunion."

It makes her want to barf.

"I am not a child !" Kara fires back, almost cringing at her petulant approach to drawing his attention away from her friends. If it keeps them alive, it will be worth it.

"Very well. Then what should I call you ? What will be the caption on your display case ?"

"My name," Kara says, keeping her eyes firmly on the eye socket-like windows of the ship, "is Kara Zor-El."

Brainiac hums, the sound reverberating coldly all around them. "Are you sure of that ?" he asks eventually.

Kara's closed fists shake with anger. She imagines her father's warm hand encasing hers. "Only child of Zor-El and Alura In-Ze, last daughter of the House of El, and you will no longer harm anyone with my aid."

A low chuckle erupts all around her. She feels compelled to check behind her for Brainiac but doesn't ; she needs to stay focused. "Again," he says, "are you sure of that ?" Faster than the previous time, lithe metal springs from the ship this time aimed at Brainy. Kara barely has time to get in its way and when she punches it away, the tail end catches against her cheek, sending a burst of pain through her whole head. Her ears ring and she staggers back, only kept afoot by Sam's solid hand on her back. Brainiac laughs again. "I see you've made acquaintance with the scourge that is my descent. Querl Dox. I can't say it's a pleasure to meet you. I hope you won't mind me ripping you to pieces."

"Leave him out of it !"

"I’ll make you watch Kara Zor-El. You need to be taught a lesson."

Kara lets out a burst of heat vision. It does nothing to the ship, and nothing to quench the anger boiling in her guts. If she has it her way, he’ll be the one ripped to pieces.

"Still self-righteous I see. Such a disappointment that you've learned nothing." A malleable pillar ripples from the ship and anchors itself to the ground a few feet away from them. The ground rips apart in waves and Kara doesn't have to look back to sense that her friends have been thrown in the dirt. They scramble back up to the sound of Brainiac's hilarity. "It seems that I did teach you something. You've amassed a fine collection for yourself."

"You taught me nothing," Kara spits, "and my friends are not a collection."

"Haven’t I ? You did a fine job cleaning this unworthy city for me."

Brainiac has yet to make his appearance, but him punching her in the gut would have done less damage. Kara shakes with restrain, she can almost smell the stench of the blood that's been on her hands several times over. She blinks heavily, trying to get rid of the onslaught of terrible thoughts. It's his fault, not hers. His fault, not hers.

"Yeah ?" she growls, "well I missed a spot."

Disregarding the plan and with no second thoughts, Kara pushes off the ground and flies straight to the ship. Whether he wasn't expecting this or she's playing right into his hand, she reaches him with no resistance and breaks through the thick paneling separating him from the world. The impact shakes her to her very bones and she rolls ungracefully at his feet, glass shards following in her wake. She gets back up quickly making herself as tall as she can, and, here he is, Brainiac, first of the name, her Master, staring at her with his unliving dark eyes. The sight of him steals all air from her lung and it takes all her willpower not to cower in front of him. She feels her muscles tense, like they intend to bow for him, but she resists ; she'll stay upright even if it's the last thing that she does.

"I see you've got an upgrade," Brainiac muses distractingly. "Well, it's nothing that isn't fixable."

"You can’t just fix me," Kara hisses. "You don't own me."

"I do. I saved your life after all." Brainiac replies, nonchalant. His metal appendages shiver behind him ; they send cold fear in Kara's veins. "And you've grown beautifully. Aren't you grateful that I shaped you in such a marvel ?"

"You made me a monster !"

"Semantics." Brainiac sighs. It makes Kara wants to rip his head off. "Now, do you accept your place at my side or should I collect you alongside your, friends ?"

Tired of reasoning with him, Kara launches herself at him ready to take her vengeance into her own hands. At least she intends to. Without so much as a flicker, Brainiac thrusts one of his metal addendum at her and it wraps itself around her throat before she has time to cover half the distance that separates them.

"Alright then. I always knew you'd be a fine addition to my collection. The most brilliant Kryptonian in centuries, and now the strongest of Earth's adoptive child. I'll never tire of admiring you."

Black spots dance across Kara's eyes. She's been foolish. The tightening metal around her throat cuts the air flow to her lungs and it makes her think of Lena. She can only hope she'll be alright. Her hand claws uselessly at the metal and she feels herself fade away ; maybe Rao is waiting for her.

And then, against all odds, Alex's angry voice reaches her ears. "We've given her more than enough time to settle her matter with him, get her out of there !"

Lure him off the ship, she just needs to lure him off the ship. Whatever strength she has left she summons to her eyes to burn off the metal snake killing her. Brainiac doesn't so much as yelp but she still manages to get out of his clutches when his appendage breaks apart. Without looking behind her, she staggers back to the broken window readying herself for Sam’s imminent appearance. "If you want me," she snarls weakly, "come and get me." Brainiac starts towards her but she lets herself drop out of his sight, and into her friend's arms. Sam catches her clumsily and they tumble for a short moment before she takes flight again.

"You’re fucking reckless you know that ?"

"I needed to confront him," Kara coughs, her words thick and painful. Behind them, Brainiac jumps off the ship.

"Lena will have your skin for that."

"If I get out of here alive," Kara replies as Sam lands harshly and they sprawl apart, "she can do whatever she wants with me."

"I didn’t need to know that," Sam groans, scrambling up and turning away from her.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, it’s an emergency."

"Shit.

"Shit ? What shit ?"

Kara feels him before she sees him ; the ground rippling when he lands, the pull of her muscles as he try controlling her machinery again. When she glances over her shoulder, he’s already much closer than he should be. "Sam. Run. I’ll hold him back."

"You run," Sam fires back. "Take Brainy and go the lab. Out of range."

It takes a second for Kara to catch up, and when she does, Sam’s hand is already unbuckling the bomb from her belt. "No," she whispers. "Sam no. We’re much too close to the ship."

"We don’t have time for that Kara."

"But..."

"Kara," Sam pleads.

Kara’s eyes flicker from Sam to Brainy and back to Sam. "Be careful, please."

Sam scoffs, a smile graces her face for a second and it wrenches Kara’s guts. "I’ve been careful my whole life," she says, "I can disregard safety for a minute if it’s to save you." Brainiac’s shadow falls on them. "Run."

Kara breaks into a run and escapes Brainiac by an inch. She covers the distance to the rest of the team, shouts "Now !" as she reaches Alex and snatches Brainy as gently as she can.

They're only halfway to the manor when Brainiac's cold laugh causes her to stop abruptly, Brainy flying away from her arms and landing on his back a couple of feet from her. "An EMP, really ? How primitive of you."

It happens too fast, so fast that Kara feels her brain could explode from the input of information. Brainiac tears the device away from Sam's hand and crushes it to pieces. Brainy calls out from behind her. A green appendage springs from the collector's back. Alex breaks into a foolish run, the sound of her terrible footsteps towards death deafening to Kara. The appendage plunges into Sam's stomach. She falls. Alex screams. She fires blast after blast with her alien gun, her shots less and less precise the longer Sam stays unmoving, blood gurgling from her wound. Kara runs back to them.

She hears Brainy calling after her but she's already too far and won't stop anyway. She bypasses Alex in a blur, prays that she's strong enough, and with a powerful blow of her new and improved arm, sends Brainiac flying into a pillar anchoring the ship down. She doesn't wait to hear the satisfying crack that accompanies his back meeting the hard metal, doesn't even take note of the way the ship rocks on its foundations and the Earth quakes in time with it ; all she cares about, is what her x-ray vision shows her.

"There's internal bleeding !" she shouts once Alex is close enough to hear. "Alex ! There's internal bleeding ! We need to get her to the lab. Call Mum. She'll know what to do."

She takes a split second to note that she's never called Eliza "mum" before but files it away to deal with later. If there's a later.

Alex covers the last meters on her knees, her legs drawing trenches in the dirt. She discards her gun with no second thoughts and presses both of her hands to the wound. "Hey," Sam burbles.

"Don’t you fucking dare," Alex cries, her hands covered in blood. "You hear me Sam ? Don’t you fucking dare."

"I’ve never stopped loving you," Sam murmurs. "But I’m so happy you’ve found Kelly. Take, take care of Ruby."

"Don’t die. Please, please don’t die," Alex pleads in a broken voice. "Kara ! Kara do something !"

"Hey Kelly," Sam coughs, drawing attention to the figures rushing towards them, the former soldier in the lead. "Take care of them for me."

"Please don’t die," Alex whispers. "I need my best friend…"

Sam closes her eyes with a smile and Kara feels her entire blood go cold ; she can’t let her die. "J’onn ?" she calls, frenetically tapping against her earpiece. "J’onn ? We need help. Sun lamps." The lines crackles but she gets no reply. "Eliza ? Mum ? We need help."

Again, she gets no reply and this time, her blood boils with fury. She turns towards where she thinks she punched Brainiac away, heat vision building behind her eyes. But he's nowhere to be found, and at the exact moment she notices this, a blast from the manor rocks the ground.

"Lena…"

She starts in the direction of the sound at full speed, her heart missing a beat at the sight of smoke already billowing from a decent sized hole in the west wing. She cocks her head to the side, cursing the lead coverage that prevents her from hearing Lena's heartbeat. At least she hopes that it's because of the lead.

Clad in green and purple an ominous figure rises from the smoke. It's not Brainiac but it's still a sight that's imprinted in Kara's memories. How the fuck did Lex Luthor get thrown into the mix ? Kara doubles her speed, ready to punch him into the next century. She needs to get a hold on Kal and tell him he needs to be a bit less strict with his no kill rule. If Lex touched so much as a single hair of Lena's head...

The figure however, raises their hands in surrender and a soft familiar voice booms from the helmet. "Kara."

"Lena ?"

Kara slams into her, only relaxing her embrace when the Lexosuit squeaks in protest. "You shouldn't be out there."

"I need to get to Sam," Lena says, gently pushing her away.

"Sam is..."

"Not dead," Lena cuts in a rush, already flying past Kara at an impressive speed. Kara can’t do much more but follow. "At least not according to her suit. Director J’onzz left a sun lamp in my lab. If I can get her there she’ll be fine. Where’s Brainiac ?"

"I don’t know," Kara admits, quickly surveying the battle field. "I lost sight of him after he got Sam. And he destroyed your EMP bomb."

"I saw you punch him. You don’t need my technology to end him," Lena says, her words clear and reassuring even as she lands loudly next to Sam. Her helmet folds itself in the collar of the suit. "It's me," she says for Alex's benefit.

"I punched him with your arm," Kara remarks, shaking her head discreetly to get rid of the fog of attraction at the sight of Lena grunting as she lifts Sam of the ground. Now is not the time for this.

"It's your arm now," Lena says before taking off. "Find Brainiac. And please, be careful."

Kara doesn’t have time to make an empty promise before Lena is off to the manor.

More than ever before, she wishes for silence to clear her head, but her ears still pick up even the most menial of sounds. She hears the buzzing of the force field building itself up around the city, the vibration of the metallic pillars anchoring the ship down, the sliding of Kelly's hands over Alex's as she tries to clean the blood, the fretting of Nia's on the slim band affixed to Brainy's head to protect him from his ancestor. She hears her own breath too, her own heart, the pumping of her blood, the buzzing of her circuits ; and a low rumble beneath the ground. She barely has time to shout a warning before Brainiac emerges from it, holding himself up with his metallic tentacles.

She stumbles back, rights herself and extends her cape between him and her friends. No one else will be harmed. She has half a mind of telling all of them to run but before she can do so, Brainiac lowers himself to the ground and his appendages detach themselves from him. They slither towards them like snakes and Kara moves back, forcing everyone to retreat with her until she can get a hold of the situation.

She tries to stomp on one of the snake-like attackers, but to her horror, it turns into a hand that ripples into an arm that attaches itself to a torso and in a couple of seconds a full metal skeleton towers over her. "I'm never watching Dark Fate again," Alex mumbles behind her. The joke is well timed but not funny and Kara considers pointing that out but her sister is already busy blasting her gun at another skeleton a feral look on her face. "And that's my favourite movie you fucker !"

The fight breaks all around her. Kara takes a couple of seconds to make sure that they can all stand their ground, that Kelly's hand is assured enough to protect herself with regular bullets, that Nia's dream-blasts can hold off the attackers and that Brainy can dodge them with graceful acrobatics. She hears Lena lands beside her and a beam of heat takes out half the face of the skeleton in front of them. It reforms immediately, molten metal swelling back into shape. Lena groans, then shoots again. The skeleton avoids the blast. "Fuck."

Kara shoots her own beam of heat, a little off the side of the skeleton. She's aiming for Brainiac, but he sidesteps it easily. Annoyed, she charges forward, taking the skeleton with her like she means to hug it. She punches its ribcage trying to find a hold to rip it apart. It's Nth metal, because of course it is, and Kara feels her entire body ache as she forces her hands apart to tear it in two. An aching scream forces itself out of her throat and she pulls pulls and pulls until her own strength shoots her backward and she can only stare as the two halves of the skeleton melt to form two smaller but just as powerful attackers. They take off towards Lena and Kara barely has the time to jump in their way, changing their course in the nick of time. Kelly empties her charger on one of them. It slows it down, but it's not enough and as Nia encases the other in weakened dream energy, Kara realises they won't be able to hold them off for long. A plan begins to form in her head, one she cannot voice.

She charges towards Brainiac, lands a blow square in his chest that has him flying backward and landing heavily on the ground. He's back up in a second. Kara charges again, hits him twice, but she's spent, and her blows aren't as powerful as they should be. Brainiac laughs. She punches him harder, this time breaking the skin on his face. A milky white liquid oozes from it. It's not blood, but it's just as satisfying and it fuels Kara to strike harder. Brainiac catches her arm just as it comes to hit it on the side of the hand. His hand tightens around her wrist, the metal doesn't so much as dent under the pressure but whatever Brainiac does, it still shoots pain in all her body. "How do you like my own upgrade ?" he asks, nodding to where her friends are encircled and fighting back to back. "I would have liked keeping them for my collection, but if I have to kill them, so be it."

"It’s me you want," Kara groans, "so let them go."

"Don't flatter yourself Kara Zor-El, I didn't make the trip just for you."

Rage bubbles behind Kara's eyes and though she should conserve her energy, she lets it flow in a precise beam aimed at his hand. He yelps, his face contorting slightly, and with a disgusted grunt he throws her to the side to march right into the raging battle. Kara hurries back up and with all the strength she can muster she tackles him from behind. They roll on the ground, limbs flailing. One of his fists catches her shoulder but she ignores it in favour of pining him down, her hands around his throat. His eyes bulge as she squeezes and for the couple of seconds he is down, his army stops fighting too, allowing Alex, Kelly, Lena, Nia and Brainy to catch their breath and push the skeletons back. Kara allows herself half a second to look at them, it's enough for Brainiac to wrap his legs around her middle and flip them. She lands hard on her back, and before she has time to catch her breath, a fist connects with her face, then another, and another. She struggles to regain her grip around his throat, somehow can sense that it won't be enough. Sight begins to elude her but out of the corner of her failing eyes, she can see the skeletons assaulting her team again. And a blur of green and purple.

Lena pounces on Brainiac's back, rips him off Kara and blasts him in a flurry of movements. The blow is shot from near enough that it takes a chuck of synthetic flesh with it and sends him back a good couple of feet. Kara grips the extended hand and lets Lena help her back up. She's aching everywhere, wheezing, her vision is blurry, and when Lena's armoured hand brushes softly against her face, she can feel blood sticking to it. Somehow though she's still alive and, battered and bruised as she is, she won't stop fighting ; not until the very end.

In front of her, the army of skeletons closes on her friends. Alex is unwavering, but there's a long gash on the side of her face and a glint of fear in her eyes ; her free hand is clutched tight around Kelly's. Behind her, Kara can sense Brainiac approaching again. With a careless kick, she sends him sprawling back without looking. She has something to do before she can take him on. Brainy embraces Nia and lifts her off the ground so she can kick an opponent straight in its metal chest ; they both fall when another takes Brainy's legs from under him.

Kara doesn't have much time.

She extends her shaky arms to cup Lena's helmet, gazing in the slit that hides her eyes. Lena reels back. "No," she whispers, her helmet receding to reveal her face. A bruise is blooming on her left cheek. Kara caresses it softly. "No," Lena says again. Behind them, Brainiac gets back up. "No !"

"You know I have too," Kara says gently. Even as the battle rages on and all she can smell is blood and hot metal, she feels eerily calm.

"No," Lena begs, rooted to the spot in fear with her hands half raised between them in plea. "No Kara no. I love you."

Even with all the noise surrounding them, these words are all that Kara can hear. They wrap themselves around her, warm and terrible. She smiles, lets them suspended there for a moment. "I love you too," she says eventually, not because she’s about to die, not because there’s no more time to hold them back, but because they’re true, truer maybe than ever before. And Kara has been in love before, but beyond Jen, and beyond Lucy, she’s never experienced anything as fast paced and devastating as loving Lena Luthor.

She takes a step back, then another. Lena seems to finally find the strength to move and tries to follow but Kara dodges her grasp then pushes her back with measured strength. She turns around, colliding with Brainiac with all her weight to send them both down. Pinning him down with her legs, she fumbles at the back of her neck, scratching and scratching until the skin comes off with a gush of blood. With her other hand she scratches at his own neck revealing the array of wires that power him. Brainiac fights back, almost manages to send her sprawling but she holds on, finding strength in her final fight. One of his hand wraps around her throat again. She doesn't push him back, he can try all he want, they'll both be gone soon anyway. She can hear Lena getting back up again, she doesn't have much time. Clumsily, she unravels a wire from her body, tugging and tugging through the pain until it's long enough to be jammed in Brainiac's neck. A flash of fear passes in his eyes, but it's too late. She fizzles and it hurts, but Kara doesn't scream, she refuses to give him that. She won’t/

Chapter Text

It doesn't happen in slow motion ; real life never gives you the time you need to process this sort of things. The world doesn't stop turning either ; she can hear the snap of the force field disappearing, the growls of the ship collapsing on its anchors, the low clamours coming from the city, and a deep wail that isn't her own, but Alex's. Somewhere on the horizon, the sun starts to rise. Kara doesn't.

Lena knows. She just knows. Because when Kara collapses on Brainiac, it's her own heart that stops beating. Her knees buckle from under her, the suit suddenly unbearably heavy and constricting. She doesn't remember how to breathe. Alex pushes past her, stumbles on a root and gets back up faster that Lena's eyes care to follow. Blood trickles down her ashen face. She heaves her sister of Brainiac, stumbles under the weight until they both fall on their back side by side. Alex huffs with the effort, Kara doesn't. With manic energy, she attempts CPR ; her wrists break again her sister’s steely chest. Kelly too runs past Lena and with unsuspected strength lifts Alex off Kara's body to cradle her in her arms. She hears words that she refuses to acknowledge.

If Alex can't, maybe she can. She can do it ; and she has to. She forces her legs to unlock, pushes on them until she's up and can take the longest couple of steps of her life. She drops to her knees, puts her hands on Kara’s chest, extends and locks her arms and starts counting. One, two, three, four, five... A hundred compressions by minute. She can do it. She distantly remembers that the Lexosuit can shoot electricity but she doesn't have time to stop and fumble with the settings. She doesn't have time, she doesn't have time, she doesn't have time. Kara still isn't breathing.

A couple of feet away, two figures land on the barren ground, a Martian, and a human. Somehow, Eliza's scream is even worse than Alex's. A hand drops on her shoulder, she tries to shake it off but the person behind her doesn't let go. "Friend," Brainy says, his usual lilt broken by tears, "let her join Rao's light."

***

Kara is dead.

***

They had to ply her out of the Lexosuit. She couldn't remember how it worked. She hasn't moved at all since then. She's cold, in nothing but underwear and one of Kara's plaid shirt. It doesn't really matter. Alex cried herself into a catatonic state and hasn't moved either. The cut on her face has been cleaned, her wrists immobilised by casts and her suit shed in favour of sweatpants and an oversized shirt that Lena is sure belongs to Kara. Belonged. Kara is dead. There's nothing in Alex's eyes, Lena wonders if her own heartbreak can rival hers.

Eliza comes in the room with a trembling tray littered with cups of tea. Lena counts one more than there should be. Her face is blank, her tears long dried. Lena realises that there is no word for a parent who loses a child. Nor for the loss of a sibling. The tea tastes like nothing ; but Lena suspects it doesn’t have much to do with Eliza's skills.

Times passes inexorably. Lena isn't sure if she can actually hear the hands of the clock moving or if it's all in her head. Not that it matters. After a minute or an eternity, Director J'onzz walks into the room. He's taken his human shape, looks ghastly and exhausted. "I," he starts, unknowingly breaking the silence, "I put her in the blue guest room. I hope that's okay." His eyes are on her and Lena has a feeling he expects a response from her. She finds herself unable to speak. "Your friend is awake," he adds after a while. "Should I bring her up ?"

More silence. The clock in Lena's head is becoming too loud.

"Yes," Alex mumbles eventually, speaking for the first time since Kelly had to pry her off her sister's dead body. Her voice is raw, empty. "She was her sister too."

At that, the floodgates open and Lena realises with horror that she hasn't cried yet. She folds in on herself, hiccups tearing at her throat as an unending pit of tears spills out on her face. A low howl rumbles deep in her chest and escapes past her shaky lips. It takes her a moment to recognise the sound of despair as her own ; she would have never thought herself capable of emitting such a sound. Cold arms wraps themselves around her and even through her snot clogged nose, she catches a whiff of lavender. For the first time in Rao knows how long, she weeps in the embrace of a mother.

Later, Lena can't really be sure when, Director J'onzz comes back with Sam and Ruby. Her friend's armour is torn around her stomach, her new scar pink and tender, but she's up, and alive. Lena lets herself be held by her ; there's nothing else she can do.

***

Kara is dead. Kara. Is. Dead. It’s the only thought that Lena can muster, the only thing that sticks long enough in her mind for her to really notice. And it hurts. Hurts beyond what she can describe, hurts beyond what she should be able to handle. She doesn't understand how she's still breathing, how she can be alive when Kara isn't. It’s not fair.

Someone turned the TV on, Lena doesn't care to know who. The sound's off, she doesn't pay attention to the subtitles. Kara's sacrifice saved a lot of people, but Lena feels no guilt for all the lives she would give to bring her back.

Nia is crying in Brainy's arms. She's been doing so intermittently since they all came inside. She's shed her suit and her wounds have been patched, but she'll probably have a nasty scar on her face for the rest of her life. Brainy is carding his fingers through her hair. He's doing so with measure, precision, like most everything he does, but there's a look on his face that shows that he might finally understand what Nia means to him. Lena can't bring herself to be happy for them ; it makes her want to barf.

Alex is curled into a ball, sandwiched between Kelly and Eliza. Her eyes are wide open, fixed on something invisible to everyone else. Her lips move fast, like she's reciting something over and over again ; but no sounds make it out.

Sam and Ruby are asleep, the young girl clinging to her mum like she might disappear at any moment ; no one can blame her for being afraid of that. Lena wishes she could sleep too, thought crying would bring her to peaceful slumber ; but even exhausted, she's still painfully awake, and there's nothing she can do to turn her brain off because Kara used to be the one who could make everything quiet.

***

Her sheets smell like Kara. The shirt she's wearing smells like Kara. Kara's cologne and toothbrush are in her bathroom. Kara's sneakers are carefully aligned next to hers, her clothes still neatly packed and taking a third of her suitcase. Lena curls on the bed, her head buried in the pillow Kara spent her last few nights on ; but the smell that used to make her feel warm and protected now makes her feel cold and nauseous. In a fit of weak rage she throws the pillow off the bed then flings herself out of it and strips off Kara's shirt. With feeble manic energy she starts emptying the suitcase, discarding Kara's clothes until they're thrown haphazardly where she can't see them.

A metallic thud sounds behind her and she turns around slowly, fists raised in loose defence. She doesn't have it in her to really fight back whatever is coming for her. No one however is here to mercifully take her life. She surveys the room apathetically until her eyes fall on a small box loosely wrapped in a blue t-shirt. Her heart squeeze painfully when she recognises the one Kara was wearing at the roof top party, the day they baked together and Kara offered to burn her a CD. Lena only realises now that she never accepted.

She stares at the box for a long moment, long enough for it to lose any meaning and for her to gain enough strength to move her legs towards it. It's not snooping if the person is dead anyway. The box is of a faded red, dented, rusty in places but still smooth to the touch in others. The lid has been clumsily engraved with foreign characters, Kryptonese she realises ; and right beneath in a smaller shaky script is the word home.

Lena's vision goes blurry and she angrily wipes her tears before they can truly begin to spill. She wills her breathing to be more regular but even trying to do so is too painful right now so she gives up, letting her lungs work erratically and her heart pump carelessly. Her fingers tremble when she tries to open the box and it takes her two tries before the content spills on her knees. She doesn't know what she was expecting, but there isn't much in the box ; a couple of papers, a long sharp rock and a bracelet.

The bracelet is beautiful, bulky, but shiny and gold-like though she doesn't doubt that it isn't made with anything that can be found on Earth. It's covered in neat writing and she spots the same word that Kara scribbled on top of the box. Without giving it much thought, Lena slips in on her left wrist, as she does so, it splits neatly in two and after a brief wave of panic, she realises it's exactly what it's supposed to do. It's a matching pair. Her heart would tear in two at the implication if it was still capable of breaking.

The rock bears the mark of the house of El. Lena turns it over in her hand, observing its sharp, regular, edges and crevasses and trying to find a purpose to it. There's a small hole at the base ; it might have just been a pendant.

Amidst the papers she finds a flurry of drawings, faces, landscapes, some more hurried than others like Kara was jotting them down in fear of forgetting. There's a map too, of Krypton's constellations, countless stars and their names in a language Lena doesn't understand. She's furious at herself for never learning. She didn't have nearly enough time with Kara, but she spent years with Sam and never took an interest in it. Her own ignorance disgusts her.

The final scrap of paper is in rough shape, like it's been crumpled and smoothed over several times. The Kryptonese script is neat, precise, on this one, and the translation underneath messy and quick, some words almost unreadable, blotched by dried tears. Rao, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath your light... Lena can’t bring herself to read the rest.

Later in the day, or in the evening, Lena doesn't care to know, Alex comes in the room, silent and slightly haggard. She surveys the damage with an uninterested eye, bends down to pick the blue t-shirt and settles in bed next to Lena, curled with her nose buried in the fabric. It's far from being the weirdest thing that has happened, but it still is quite bizarre ; not that it's of any importance. Neither of them fall asleep but they drift closer to each other and when Alex starts sobbing again, Lena finds herself holding the only Danvers sister left. It's a good thing that her heart is already broken.

***

The next time Lena is aware of her surroundings enough to notice things, a red light streams in through the window ; the sun is rising again. Somehow, she's made it through her first day without Kara and the thought makes the pieces of her heart cave in on themselves. Alex is no longer curled up against her and without her, the room suddenly feels too big, too empty. Lena doesn’t have it in herself to cry more.

She staggers out of bed, almost faceplants, her legs giving out from starvation. She ought to eat something, Kara wouldn't want her to let herself die, but the very thought of food makes her feel queasy, and she can't compute the necessary steps to even make something to eat. With all the strength of a newborn fawn, she drags herself down to the kitchen, falling twice on her way there and adding to the infinite collection of bruises that litter her body. When Sam finds her in the swimming pool, she can't remember how she got there. "Come on," her friend says, hauling her up like a rag doll, "I'll make you some porridge." Lena follows with no complaint.

Sam sits her gently on a chair and sets to cooking. Lena wants to ask where everyone is, but she doesn't have the words. Instead, she starts picking at a blooming bruise on her thigh, repetitively pressing until it changes colour. It doesn't hurt nearly enough.

"Director J'onzz took Nia and Brainy to the DEO," Sam says when she deposits a steaming bowl of porridge in front of her. Lena gets lost in the sight of the butter slowly melting on top of it. "They needed a change of scenery. And to help, I think." Sam stops for a second and exhales longly. After a moment, she squats down to be at eye level with her. Lena hates it. "Kelly found Alex wandering outside in the middle of the night. I. Um. I helped her get her back to bed. I think they're both asleep now. And Eliza. Eliza is with Kara. We had to cut the central heating. I don't know anything about body decay in Kryptonians." Sam winces, Lena takes notice of the unnatural shadows under her eyes. "Sorry."

Lena only nods, acknowledging Sam's words and hoping that it'll be enough. Her own voice doesn’t seem to work anymore. Under her friend's watchful gaze, she forces a spoonful of porridge down her throat. It doesn't taste like anything, but at least it’s warm, and it'll have to be enough for now.

"I'm gonna go see her in a bit I think," Sam says. "To say goodbye. Um. You can come up with me if you want. Or go on your own. Or not at all. That's okay too."

Lena nods in affirmation ; she doesn't know what offer she's agreeing with.

She does end up at Kara's side, much later, and alone. She hesitates in front of the room for long minutes, shivering, though she doesn't know if it's her body finally catching up with the lack of heating or if being cold is her natural state now. Turning the doorknob takes all of her strength, and actually stepping inside causes her legs to shake so much that she wonders if she isn't just about to drop dead. She wouldn't mind.

Kara is lying on the bed, still as stone, with her eyes closed and her hands artificially crossed on her stomach. She doesn't look asleep, she looks dead ; and the more she stares at her the more obvious it becomes to Lena that she isn't ever going to wake up. And Lena herself isn't going to wake up either ; Kara's death plunged her into a new reality akin to a never ending nightmare that she can't see an escape from. There's no more light at the end of the tunnel.

The couple of steps she has to take to get closer are slow and painful, she can't fathom how her legs are still carrying her, but suddenly there she is, within touching distance, and of its own accord, her hand moves to come rest on top of Kara's. She used to be so warm, but the supple material of her gloves is disturbingly cold to the touch. She's still clad in her armour, cape sprawled underneath her. All this protective gear for nothing ; Lena couldn't even keep her alive. Her wounds have been cleaned, her wires tucked back under her skin ; but she will never heal. Her skin will never been gloriously unmarred again, she will never get up again, will never kiss Lena again, will never be simply there, alive, again. She stands staring for a long minute before retrieving half of the matching pair on her wrist to slide one of the bracelet on Kara's own.

"Self sacrificing idiot," she whispers hoarsely. "How could you do that ?"

***

It's a beautiful day. The extent of the things Lena notices during their ride to the DEO starts and stops at that ; it's a beautiful day. It's not warm, but the sun is shining low in the blue sky with not a cloud in sight. A soft breeze ruffles the trees, and before Lena slams the car door close, she can hear birds chirping in a hidden place. Kara would have loved this day. She's leaving the manor, they all are, and she can't remember if she locked the door properly but for the first time ever, she doesn't care.

She lays a disinterested eye on the people sharing the car with her. Kelly and Alex are both wearing dark suits ; Alex's shirt is misbuttoned and she can see Kara's blue t-shirt under it. They're huddled close, fingers linked and with Alex's head pillowed on Kelly's shoulder. In the hope of finding a way to contact Kara's cousin, Sam flew all the way to the Fortress of Solitude. Superman is unreachable, but she came back with somber kryptonian robes that she slipped over her armour. Her jaw is clenched so tight that Lena is afraid she won't be able to open her mouth anymore. Ruby is wearing a black t-shirt and dark jeans that Lena suspects were the first things she could found. She's draped into Kara's too big tan jacket, the sleeved rolled up twice so her hands can peek out from them. Lena can't remember how she's dressed ; in black probably, or maybe not.

They park in a gloomy sub-level, and the ride to the top floor is the longest of Lena's life. Without saying a word, Sam takes her hand and draws her close, offering her a shoulder to lean on. She shivers. Maybe this is the true first stage of grief ; the cold. Eliza sniffles next to her and without really thinking about it, Lena blindly reaches for her hand and squeezes softly. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Alex doing the same, her other hand still wrapped in Kelly’s. When they reach their destination, they walk out of the elevator hand in hand, with their heads held high but not an ounce of strength.

A long corridor leads them into a hangar entirely open on one side. A small crowd has already gathered inside, and a pod has been propped on a launch ramp. It's still open, and as they walk closer, Lena can make out Kara's delicate profile. If not for Sam and Eliza framing her, she wouldn't be able to keep moving. Their arrival seems to mark the beginning of the ceremony and a hush falls onto the crowd as everyone organise themselves in neat rows. The formality of it all makes Lena want to scream.

She finds herself on the front row, standing between Eliza and Sam and with all the important people. She spots Cat Grant, as stoic as ever, quietly talking to a man in futuristic clothing with tears streaming down his face A little further down the line are James Olsen and Lucy Lane. They've got some nerves showing up there, but in the end, it doesn't really matter. J'onn J'onzz in full martian glory rises from the end of the row. He walks towards Kara slowly, melodious strings of words leaving his mouth. He's singing, his voice careful and a bit clunky in a way that clues Lena in to the language he's using ; he's opening the ceremony in Kryptonese. When he reaches the pod he puts his hand on it and seems to waver for a second, but ultimately, he keeps going.

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the existence and sacrifice of Kara Zor-El Danvers, last daughter of the House of El, who gave up her life so we could live ours. Her sacrifice will not be forgotten and we will carry on the joy and love she brought to this world. Kara Zor-El was a survivor and her strength and resilience shall be an example for all lost souls of the universe until the end of times. As a testimony of her infectious fire, ever burning even in her darkest times, Kara leaves behind many friends, a family, Alex and Eliza, and a partner, Lena. As you pray for Kara and turn your eyes to the sky that will be her eternal home, I ask you to lend them your strength, as they will need it to carry forward without her. As we lay her to rest in Rao's arms, we shall make the promise of bearing her spirit so that she may live in us eternally."

He's fuzzy when he steps away from the pod and Lena realises she's crying. It's unsurprising, but it still infuriates her that her hollow body still has the power to spill something as shallow as tears. J'onn J'onzz motions to the crowd and she follows his hands until her eyes falls on Alex who sits frozen, a rumpled piece of paper clutched in her hands. She gets up abruptly, takes a couple of steps towards Kara then turns around and marches towards Lena instead. She shoves the paper in her hand and then hovers there, swaying back and forth in a mindless motion.

Carefully, Lena unfurls the paper and smooths it over until the words are readable. She immediately wishes she hadn't. It's the prayer for the dead. The one that was kept hidden in Kara's box and she inadvertently learned by heart after she finally managed to read it. Sure she knows the words, she knows they imprinted themselves in her mind for this very occasion, but the thought of having to say them makes her sick to the stomach. She takes a couple of long deep breaths, she can do this. She staggers when she gets up and is ever grateful for Sam’s steady hand that leads her to the pod. She can't help but glance inside. Even bruised, battered, dead, Kara is beautiful, and she lets her eyes trail on the bow of her lips, the lines of her jaw, the slope of her neck ; what if she didn't memorise them enough, what if her face starts to fade the moment she's definitely out of view, what if she forgets about her ? She can't let Kara fade away, she can't... She breathes out slowly, she needs to be strong for five more minutes, then she'll allow herself to break down.

As she looks away from Kara to the crowd, she realises that she wants to do it, wants to say the words she learned for this occasion, wants to be the one who will ensure this soul makes it safely to a realm she herself doesn't believe in ; but she can't, she opens her mouth, and no words make it past her lips. A strong hand grabs her own, and though she doesn't want to be weak, she can't help but lean fully on the strong figure dressed in kryptonian's ceremonial robes. The Kryptonian's voice rings out, strong, and steady.

"Rao, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath your light, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of our beloved and our blameless, who went to their eternal place of rest. May You who are the source of mercy, shelter them beneath your light eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace."

Sam then repeats the prayer, in Kryptonese Lena supposes, and the rest of the ceremony is a blur. The hull is locked in place, Kara's face disappearing behind a thick panel of glass, and once the ramp is clear Director J'onzz inputs a code to initiate the launch. The pod is nothing but a dot in the sky in a matter of seconds. Eliza faints, and Alex starts howling, the sound of her sorrow clawing at Lena's guts ; she wants to die. She stays rooted to the spot until Kara is out of sight, and once she's truly gone, she somehow finds enough strength to slip out of earshot before a pained wail tears its way out of her throat.

Chapter Text

*static*

Chapter Text

Lena wakes up with a gasp, startled by the sudden lack of warmth as the remains of her dream slip away from her grasp. With a furious hand, she pats the bed beside her, searching for Kara. Kara isn’t there. Reality slams into her like a Nth metal hammer, cutting all intent of breathing. The first wave of pain of the day is always the hardest, when she leaves her dreams with Kara to face a life without her. Everything else, she can handle, the pins and needles in her side every time she breathes, the shudders of her heart every time it beats, the ever present cold ; but this, she cannot. She tried not sleeping at all, so she would escape the terrible tricks of her grieving mind, but no matter what she does, she always ends up falling asleep from exhaustion and into Kara’s ghost arms. She catches a glimpse of her alarm clock, it’s only 3am. Shit.

She gets up anyway, pads out of her bedroom in complete darkness, delaying the moment she’ll have to turn on the lights and witness Kara’s absence with her own two eyes. She used to hate the dark, but now it’s her most faithful companion ; or at least, it matches the colour of her heart. In the kitchen, she closes her eyes before turning the lights on. These days, everything seems intent on assaulting her and her eyes need time to accustom to it. Once she’s ready, as ready as can be anyway, she sets to making some tea. It won’t taste like anything but at least it will fill her with temporary warmth. She picks up Kara’s cup from the sink, washes it thrice because that’s how it goes ; she probably shouldn’t, but she hasn’t been able to drink from anything else. As predicted, the tea tastes like nothing and so does the rest of her breakfast. But at least it's food and she promised Sam, before she fucked off to the Fortress of Solitude to rebuild her life, that she would feed herself while she was away. So that's what she's doing, feeding herself, like a grown up.

Out of habit, she checks her phone. She hasn't been texting anyone back but she supposes it's nice that they still think about her. She has seven unopened messages from Alex, a missed called from Kelly and there's a new selfie from Sam and Ruby ; she saves it in a folder along with a picture of Sam lifting a comically large golden key and Ruby hanging out with a weird space robot. They call her every night and do most of the talking ; Lena doesn't have anything worth saying. She hasn't deleted Kara's thread. She knows she should but when her fragmented heart is too heavy to bear she likes to torture herself with the string of emojis they sent each other when they didn't want to say goodnight. The last message in the thread is a single red heart ; she waited too long before telling her she loved her.

She makes it to L-Corp before 4am. The night guard greets her with no surprise in his eyes ; she’s been coming in early almost every day, week-ends included. It’s not that it’s easier to breathe when she’s in her office, it’s really not, but here, she can work on problems, fix things, be useful ; and it gives her a reason to make an effort. Her desk calendar is blinking with reminders of meetings she has to reschedule and she swipes through it with barely masked disinterest. She'll have to give Jess another raise for the fresh hell she's about to send her way. She moves on to her emails next, waking her computer up with a simple tap on the touchpad. With how much time she spends in the office, she doesn't really bother with turning it off now. There are a few urgent ones but those that jump to her face are all from her mother. She needs to reply soon, or it's likely that Lillian will barge in her office and demand to know why Lena hasn't been regularly showing her face in the past weeks. Or why she wasn't at Veronica Sinclair’s very public funeral. Or why she bought the dingy building that houses her apartment. She cleans her inbox easily, the absent minded motion almost calming. Transfer to Jess, ignore, straight to the bin, read later, read now. There's a particular email that makes it to the top after a couple of minutes and that she opens without giving it much thought ; she subscribed to the Science Museum's newsletter months ago and it never fails to bring a smile to her face. This time however, it's not a newsletter.

Dear Miss Luthor,

We thank you for your generosity and are pleased to announce that our board has voted in favour of accepting your grant to open a permanent alien immigration exhibition. Furthermore, it has been decided that the next temporary exhibition will be dedicated to the history of the late planet Krypton. We look forward to meeting with you and your team to discuss the specifics of this.

Best regards.

It was supposed to be a gift for Kara.

Her computer crashes loudly on the floor before the intent of pushing it off the desk even registers in her brain.

It hurts.

***

Being lonely, Lena finds out after a while, is like riding a bicycle ; you never truly forget how it goes. Lena is very skilled at loneliness ; for her, it’s easy to exist around other people instead of with them. She falls back into her patterns and schedules with a desperate ease, and quickly, she stops noticing how hard it is to breathe, and how her heart used to beat without hurting. Sam worries of course, Sam always worries about her ; it's her default setting. But they only talk on the phone and with her face hidden, it's easy for Lena to mask how her heart is breaking with every breath she takes. Sam never stops asking though, and sometimes it's irking. Some other times, Lena doesn't care at all.

She gets good again at dodging people and questions. She knows part of her success is due to the fact that no one tries to find her directly ; Kelly only calls, Alex does nothing but text. She does meet with Eliza once before she goes back to Midvale, for coffee. But seeing Kara's mother plunges her in a deep mutism and all the older woman can do is hold her until they both stop crying. Eliza Danvers smells of lavender like her daughter and it's the most terrible thing that has ever happened to Lena.

Eliza starts sending her care packages with homemade cookies and scented candles from the farmers market ; something that her own mother never did, not even once. Lena isn't sure if the gesture makes her feel worse or better. After she sends her Kara's favourite blanket, stating that she needs it more than her, Lena doesn't leave her apartment for two full days.

Alex and Kelly end up taking some time off to go to Midvale ; Lena is relieved that she doesn't have to fear they'll drop by to check on her anymore. When she receives their wedding invitation she regurgitates her meagre breakfast in the bathroom of her favourite conference room ; Kara won’t be here to see this special day.

***

From time to time, Lena's body likes to remind her of things other than Kara's painful absence. Right now, it's the fact that she's exhausted and shouldn't be on her way to her lab at 11:30pm. But Alex was waiting for her in front of her apartment when she tried going home, and so she decided that now would be as good a time as any to start working on her prosthetic again. She's removed her blazer and heels and swapped her stockings for thick socks covered in bright planets. There are crumbs on the corner of her mouth from the granola bar she found in her purse, no doubt placed there by Jess who's in league with Sam when it comes to forcing her to take care of herself. She isn't sure the reflection the elevator's mirror sends back to her really is her ; at least, she doesn't recognise herself.

There is someone in the lab already and Lena is so taken aback by it that when Jack Spheer turns around to greet her with a friendly smile, she doesn’t know how to react. "Good evening Miss Luthor," he says before turning back to his work without much care for her presence in the room. She stays rooted to her spot, lost in the familiar gesture of hands soldering wires and circuits, until the elevator door comes bumping into her side and she unconsciously steps into the room. "I hope you don't mind me working so late," he says after a while, "it's a difficult time of the year for me and my sleeplessness offered me several good ideas for our solar rocket."

He looks back at her and it occurs to Lena that he’s expecting a reply. Not at all or I really don’t mind would be the correct route to follow, but she washed down her granola bar with whiskey and she’s exhausted and the string of words she ends up spewing is inappropriate at best. "Why is it hard ?" she asks. "I mean. Why is it a hard time of the year for you ? If you don’t mind me asking."

"Not at all," Jack replies before putting down his soldering iron and removing his goggles. "My fiancé died in Syria three years ago. It’s still very hard sometimes. Harder since I saw the kid to be completely honest with you."

"The kid ?"

Jack sits down and pats the bench, inviting Lena to do the same. When she doesn’t move, he exhales longly and starts talking again. "Ruby Arias," he says. "My fiancé’s name was Peter. Peter Smith." Understanding downs on Lena but she doesn’t have time to interject before he resumes his train of thought. "He only found out about her after he escaped conversion therapy and by then she was happy with an Alex Danvers. By the time he had found a job and considered sending money for child support, Sam and Ruby had disappeared in the wild. I only ever saw baby pictures but I recognised her nose instantly. She has his nose."

He smiles sadly and the silence hangs for a moment as the mass of new informations swims around Lena's brain. She's trying to construct a cohesive sentence to relate to what Jack just said, but the only thing that comes out is, again, inappropriate. "So it never gets better ?"

"Are you okay Miss Luthor ?" Jack asks, rising from his seat at the sad virulence of his boss’ words.

"I’m perfectly fine," Lena bites before starting towards her private lab in long strides.

"Pardon me for overstepping, but it was in the obituary section of the Tribune. I know it doesn't help but I'm sorry for your loss."

Lena freezes, her body reluctant to the mere idea of taking another step. "I..."

"It does get better," Jack cuts, "just not yet. Would you like to get a drink sometime ?"

"Are you out of your mind ?!" Lena shouts, her broken heart reacting quicker than the rest of her body can follow.

Jack takes a step back and raises his hands in loose defence. "I apologise Miss Luthor, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant if you want to talk about her. It helps. Kara Danvers seemed like an amazing person ; I would have liked to have the time to know her."

Lena sags on herself. "I would have liked to have the time too."

***

She doesn't take Jack up on his offer. It's not that she doesn't want to, she could use a friend, maybe ; but she isn't sure she wants to talk about Kara, or that she can. Even just thinking about her feels like a stab to the heart, she doesn't think she can handle saying her name out loud. She misses her. Misses her so much. Misses her to the point that it's unfair ; one individual shouldn't have to feel so much pain. Most day, her body is overflowing with ache and she doesn't know what to do about it, how to make it stop if not by doing something radical. And she doesn't want to do anything radical, Kara sacrificed herself, she owes it to her to stay alive ; even if most days it makes her angry beyond measure.

Alex Danvers shows up in her office on a dreary afternoon. It looks like it's about to rain but the sky hasn't opened yet ; it's been like that all week. "We missed you at the launch," Alex says by way of introduction. "Brainy was disappointed. He's been giving you space, but with the travel he and Nia are embarking on, I think he thought you'd at least show up."

It takes a moment for Lena to understand what she's talking about but when she does, her heart sinks with sadness. "That was today ?" she whispers, dreadfully thinking about Nia and Brainy leaving for a journey through space and time to fulfil Kara's wish of repairing Brainiac’s wrongdoings. "I forgot..."

"Yesterday actually."

Lena forces herself to look at her, taking in the hollowness of her eyes, the purple shadows under them. She looks frail, small, even as she stands with her head high and her shoulders tensed back. She brought coffee, the scent wafts to Lena but is not as comforting as it used to be ; she’s more interested in the cardboard holder trembling precariously in Alex’s hand. Slowly, she walks further into the room. There's a distinctive weariness to her gait, something that Lena has noticed in herself too, and this single thing is what makes her first tear of the day fall.

"Oh God," Alex mumbles, rushing towards her and almost dropping her coffees in the process. "I should have checked on you sooner."

"I’m okay," Lena cuts, messily wiping her tears away. She doesn’t want Alex Danvers’ pity.

Alex abruptly stops her course towards her. She sways for a second then limply lifts the coffee cups with an interrogative half smile that infuriates Lena for a reason she doesn’t quite understand. She doesn’t answer, instead producing a half empty bottle from under her desk. Alex nods in response and smiles again ; she smiles like Kara and the pain burns deep in Lena's chest.

They sit in silence for a while, coffee cups warming their hands but not much else. Alex opens and closes her mouth several times ; Lena doesn’t help. Eventually, Alex takes a sip of her coffee. Her face scrunches up at the taste and it's a slightly funny, though Lena doesn't laugh. "Wow," Alex says with a grim smile, "that’s more on the Irish side than the coffee side."

"Yep." Lena lets her lips smack on the -p- ; the sound resonates unpleasantly.

"Do you...?"

"No Alex. I don’t want to talk about it."

They sit there in silence for a while longer, sipping on their coffees more to occupy themselves than anything else. The whiskey settles high in Lena’s chest, warming its hollowed parts ; the concentrated heat makes her feel colder everywhere else. Alex is right, she might have overdone it a little in the alcohol department. They call it uisce beatha, water of life. How hilarious.

"I miss her too you know," Alex whispers when her cup is empty. "Everyday. All the time. I go to bed missing her and I wake up still missing her, feeling so damn empty like I’m going to cave in on myself and..."

"But you have people to miss her with !" Lena snaps. "You have friends, a family, a fiancée, a daughter, a mum ! My girlfriend is fucking dead. My best friend is on the other side of the world ! I let Kara become my everything and now I have nothing Alex. Nothing."

"That’s not true," Alex whispers, her words strangled and low.

"Isn’t it ?" Lena fires back bitterly.

"Sam may be away for now, but you have her. And you have me," Alex says in an almost too casual way for such an important statement. "I’m sorry I haven’t really been there for you. I’m not the best with grief and I just lost my sister... Kara was, Kara was half of the things I love in life and I don’t know how to be without her. Sure I, I have people in my life, people I love, but I don’t know how to exist without my sister. I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you, I just..."

"I’m sorry for taking it out on you," Lena murmurs hoarsely, allowing her hand to come rest on Alex’s knee. "I don’t know how to deal with all of this. I really need her right now but, but she won’t be here ever again."

"Kelly suggested therapy."

"That’s such a Kelly thing to say." Lena wants to laugh, but the ability to do so evaporated long ago, when the hole in her chest opened.

"She usually has good ideas," Alex points out, her hand slowly wrapping around Lena’s.

"I’ll try." She means it, but her promise wraps itself tight around her lungs and she's glad that she's sitting because a wave of nausea threatens to overtake her. She’ll try, but she can't fathom how to succeed.

***

The moment Lena steps inside of the room, she knows she's made a mistake. Group therapy was the alternative she suggested to grief therapy, the idea of doing something like that on her own seemingly insurmountable ; but plastic chairs are arranged in a circle and there are healthy snacks on a corner table, and it looks more like a PTA meeting or a weird cult than anything else. She's close enough to the door that she could just bolt out of here but Alex's hand lightly rests on her shoulder so she stays, even if it’s not for herself.

It only gets worse from then on. She introduces herself, people echo her name back at her ; she wants to cry. The counsellor is not half bad, she comes with a good recommendation from Kelly and knows what she's talking about, offering advice, complimenting progress and reminding everyone that she's available for one on one sessions. Alex manages to get a few sentences out. She talks about Kara's laugh, how she still expects to hear it, how she sometimes thinks about jokes that would make her sister laugh and how it makes her sick to the stomach. Her words are like cold knives plunged deep in Lena's soul.

When she's offered a turn to speak, she doesn't find anything to say ; she doesn't know how to lie about Kara to strangers. Because the first thing that comes to her mind is how warm Kara felt, how she always seemed to run a few degrees hotter than humans, how Lena is always cold now that she's gone. It's a flimsy excuse really ; there's an alien in the room who lost their partner in a xenophobic attack, so Lena could probably mention Kara's origin if she wanted to. But she can't help but want to hold Kara's memory close to her chest, like a secret ; if she shares her with all this people, she might be easier to carry, but she would also not be solely hers anymore, and the thought is unbearable.

They leave as soon as the session is over ; or more precisely, Lena drags Alex out as soon as she can with not a single thought spared for the snacks. The counsellor's business card burns in her back pocket, and breathing isn't much easier once she's outside of the room ; but Alex stands a little bit taller, so maybe it's worth it.

Alex goes back to group therapy the next week, sans Lena but they do get coffee after. Alex's is plain because she's making an effort, Lena's is discretely spiked because trying is fucking inconceivable.

***

Time warps itself around Lena and when Sam comes back from the Fortress of Solitude, she isn't sure how long she's been gone. According to everyone, including the calendar on her desk that keeps on blinking with important reminders, it hasn't been that long ; but to her, it feels like a lifetime. She cries when Sam steps inside of her office, sun-kissed and hair messy from a long flight. She's cried so much already but her body is an inexhaustible well of tears and she doesn't even have the strength to be annoyed by it.

"Rao," Sam mumbles, wrapping her tight in her arms. "A phone call a day wasn't enough. I should have came back sooner."

Lena sniffles uncomely ; there's snot on Sam's suit and when she tries to wipe it off discreetly all she manages to do is spread it around even more. "You needed this," she croaks.

"And you needed me," Sam fires back. "I have this way of fucking off when people need me and..."

"I wouldn’t have let you be there for me anyway," Lena whispers, admitting it both to Sam and herself at the same time. Weirdly, coming to this realisation lifts a small weight of her shoulders. She doesn't feel better, not even marginally, but maybe now that Sam is here she can accept other people helping her bear her pain. "Alex was there, and I didn't want her to be. And you, you needed to find peace. I’m okay with that. You went through something really tough."

"And you didn’t ?" Sam scolds in a motherly tone. Lena can't look at her face ; if she does, she fears she'll break even further.

"You gave up your whole life for something that wasn't true. You gave up Alex."

"My pain does not diminish your pain. That’s not how it works." Sam’s voice is so soft that it makes Lena’s stomach twist. "I know you miss her. And that’s okay."

"Is it ? Is it okay ? Because I don’t know how long I can go on like this Sam. I really don’t. I can't breathe. I'm in pain all the time. All the time. And I miss her. I do nothing but missing her and it has no purpose because it won't bring her back. I'm tired Sam. Really tired. But I don't want to not miss her because if I stop missing her I'll forget about her and I don't want that."

"Tell me about her."

"I don’t want to !" Lena shouts, her anger surprising even to herself. She pushes against Sam until her friend lets her go, and when she staggers away to stand on her own, her lungs almost give out in pain. "Everyone, everyone wants me to talk about her and I don’t want to ! I don’t know how…"

Sam doesn't seem fazed in the slightest. She just takes a respectful step back and smiles in a way that Lena finds outrageous. "She's the one who taught me that," Sam says, the tremor in her voice so well hidden that Lena almost doesn't hear it. "When we first became friends and we started talking about Krypton together, she would tell me a lot about her parents. She used to tell me that there was no day on which she wasn't missing them, no day that she didn't spend grieving ; but that talking helped her remember them in a positive way. I think talking helps, so tell me something about her."

"You already know her."

"I knew her ten years ago," Sam says, her voice finally cracking. "I don't know the person she grew up to be."

"I." Lena doesn’t know what she intends to say, what piece of Kara she’s willing to share ; but she has to try. For Kara. "She doesn’t. Didn’t. She didn’t like the smell of other people’s fridges." Even these few words are almost impossible to say. She has to rip them out of her chest to put them out there and she fears that she may never be able to get them back. "She told me that the first time she came over. She also told me she would never force me to do something that makes me uncomfortable because nothing is silly if it really matters to me. And she, she would always arrange her shoes in a perfectly parallel way, for me. She never gave me shit about my OCD. She was, was..."

"She was such a good person." Lena looks up from her wringing hands to find tears in Sam's eyes. This time, she's the one who gathers her friend in her arms. She leans heavily on Sam, but she knows her friend needs it just as much as she does. "I miss her too. You’re gonna be okay Lena."

"You don’t know that," Lena fights back weakly.

"I do," Sam replies softly. "You’re the strongest person I know."

Lena really, really wants to believe that.

***

It's raining. And it hasn't rained in a while which is probably why Lena notices something as inconsequential as the weather. It's almost soothing, the colour of the sky, the patter of the rain ; and it helps a little with, with everything. She promised she would have lunch not only with Alex today, but with Kelly too and that's interacting with two people at the same time, splitting her energy and her attention, something that she hasn't done in a while. She's trying though, so she's going to do it. Maybe after she'll go for ice cream with Ruby ; the young girl is easy to be around, and Lena wants to try talking to her about Kara.

She's been signing papers all morning ; her own signature has stopped making sense to her a while ago, but she enjoys the mind numbing repetitive motion, and it's work she won't have to dump on anybody else. Maybe she's only doing it to keep herself busy, but most days it's the only thing she can do and she's been trying really hard to tell herself that it's okay. It's the only way she can breathe through the pain. The door to her office opens with a bang and she loses her grip on her pen, ink splattering in a graceful arc on the document she was signing. Jess' voice drifts to her ears, "Wait ! You can't go in there without an appointment !" but it's too late ; Lillian Luthor is already standing in front of her.

"What do you want Mother ?" she asks, weary, and forgoing pleasantries with no second thoughts.

"Lena," Lillian replies amiably, "can't I simply want to see you ?"

"Cut the crap Mother. You've never genuinely wanted to spend even five minutes with me. What do you want ?"

Lillian Luthor deflates on herself and it's such an uncanny sight that Lena doesn't know how to react to it. "I heard about your partner," her mother says cautiously, "and I know it doesn’t mean much to you, but I’m truly sorry for your loss."

"Is that all ?" Lena asks, turning her attention back to her stack of files.

"Well yes but..."

"Then you can go."

"Lena."

Lena slowly inhales through her nose. Her grip tightens on her pen and she wonders how much pressure it would take to break it. "I don't need your pity Mother. Or your attention. In fact, I've never needed it less in my entire life, so spare me your bullshit and leave me alone."

"Listen, I know I haven’t always been an exemplary mother..."

"Understatement of the century," Lena mumbles under her breath.

"But I’ve been where you are right now, I know your pain. And I’m sorry it’s taken me that long to realise that you need a mother, but I’m here now, if you want me to."

"I don’t. I don't want you to be there for me. I've wanted a mother for so long, I've needed you my whole life," Lena says, her voice crooked and wavering. "I’ve done everything I could to please you and it was never enough. My world is falling apart right now, I don't even know how I'm still standing, I just know it's not thank to you, and I don't have space to feel sorry about all the thing we never shared. Get out of my sight Lillian."

"I’m sorry Lena."

"I’m not."

A beat passes, two, Lillian exhales shudderingly, then the click of her heels recedes towards the door, and Lena is left alone. She gets up in a hurry, the chair rolling back abruptly at the motion. She doesn't do so to chase after Lillian but because she needs air, and everything is suffocating. She strips off her blazer, then her shirt and stands there quivering in a t-shirt that isn't hers.

Eventually, her heart calms down sufficiently for her to consider moving, and she turns around to look outside. There’s something to be said, she decides after a moment, about endless rain and fluorescent lights, and the peculiar feeling of calm they create. Their combination builds an oasis in the middle of her grief, and standing in front of her window, she feels something else than intense pain for the first time in what seems like forever. The hefty patter of the rain fills the void that had become her companion, and both complete and incomplete, she doesn’t move at all for the next hour.

Chapter Text

*static*

Connection failed.

*static*

Attempting reboot in 3,2,1...

*static*

Warning. Failure to reboot.

*static*

Warning. Radiation level critical.

*static*

Radiation level critical.

*static*

Radiation level stabilised.

Attempting Sun Rise protocol.

*static*

Sun Rise protocol 23%

*static*

Sun Rise protocol 37%

*static*

Sun Rise protocol 59%

*static*

Warning. Radiation level decreasing.

Sun Rise protocol 73%

*static*

Warning. Radiation level decreasing.

Sun Rise protocol 89%

*static*

Warning. Radiation level too low to complete.

Failure to complete Sun Rise protocol.

*static*

Emergency location transmitter activated.

Sending informations for Kara Zor-El. Space sector 2814. Sol System.

*static*

Warning. Solar storm ahead.

Warning. Radiation level critical.

*static*

***

Something fizzles next to Kara's ear. It's persistent ; annoying. She tries to swat it away but her arms are trapped against her body with no room to move.

The air is cold and rare around her ; she's trapped, she knows she's trapped. She opens her eyes with a gasp, springs up with urgency only for her head to hit a clear panel with enough strength to send her back down.

Her hectic breathing fogs up the window that stands only inches from her face. Beyond it are nothing but stars, and infinite void.

She feels her heart pounding in her chest. She's in space. Alone. Again. And there's no way out. Blood rushes to her ears as she frenetically tries to move in the little space she has. The control panel is right opposite her and if she can stretch just enough, she might be able to reach it with her foot.

Her foot slips.

Emergency location transmitter deactivated.

No.

Life form detected.

Species : Kryptonian.

Status : undetermined.

What the fuck.

Prepping for hypersleep.

This can’t be happening.

It takes everything Kara has to contort herself enough to change position. She can feel the atmosphere changing around her, knows she'll be asleep in a minute if she can't reach the control panel right now. She tries. Tries again and again with one thing on her mind ; Lena. She has to get back to Lena.

Her hand slams on the hypersleep controller.

Hypersleep disengaged.

Failure to activate emergency location transmitter.

Fuck no. Her new position doesn't give her the best view of what she's doing but she won’t give up, not now, not while there’s still a tiny chance she can get out of here. With her face smashed against the control system she has to operate blindly, but this is her pod, she knows it, can do it. She fiddles with buttons, trying to get a feel for them through the electric jolts of her arm. She has to get back to Lena.

Failure to reroute.

Lena. Lena. Lena.

If she's even still alive.

Chapter Text

The venue is beautiful. They've foregone white entirely but everything else is fairly traditional, flowers, pastel colours, a side for each bride. Lena is sitting on Alex's side and next to her is the empty chair Kara would have sat on after walking her sister down the aisle. Alex cried when she told her that. She'd been doing well, as well as can be anyway, but when they talked about it Alex reduced to a state so scary in its despair that Lena feared for her life. She's doing better know, dressed in a light grey suit with a pale blue tie ; Director J’onzz ended up walking her to the altar and they know both stand under a canopy of pale roses and peonies. She's swaying nervously and a glint of light reflects on the bar fixed to her tie ; it bears the mark of the House of El.

Next to her Sam fidgets relentlessly and with a sad sigh, Lena catches her hands between her own. "You okay ?" she whispers.

"I’m fine."

"You’re fine as in you’re fine or as in you’re about to throw up but you’re holding on for now ?"

Sam chuckles dismally. "I’m fine Lena."

"Okay. I’m here for you."

"I know. Thank you." Sam squeezes her hand. "How are you ?"

Lena lets the question hang in the air for a minute, her eyes flickering to Kara’s chair. She’s not even remotely fine but, "I’m okay," she says. "Ruby looks sharp."

Sam lifts her eyes from her hands to her daughter standing a couple of steps behind the love of her life in her own grey suit. Her voice breaks a little when she speaks. "She definitely got that from her mum."

A light springy music starts and Sam stumbles up, propping herself on Lena who uses the momentum to get up too. On the other side of Kara's chair, Eliza sniffles. Kelly walks down the aisle on her brother's arm. She looks strikingly beautiful in her off the shoulders pale blue dress, her hair up in a complicated knot and pined with a broach discreetly marked with the House of El crest. Her hands are clasped nervously around a bouquet of mauve pink arum lilies but her smile could power National City in its entirety and her eyes don't drift from Alex even for one second. Kelly and James come to a stop beneath the canopy and he delicately places her hand on Alex's before kissing the top of her head and stepping away with a proud smile. For a moment, Lena sees the image of a loving brother but when he struts to his seat with the confidence of a man who has no doubt of his place in the world and plops down next to Lucy Lane she hates his guts again.

J’onn J’onzz steps in between the two brides and a hush falls over the room. With a graceful gesture he signals for everybody to sit ; to Lena, it’s almost as hard as getting up. "Dear friends," he begins with a kind smile, "we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of two brave souls, Alexandra Danvers and Kelly Olsen." Lena feels her guts twist as his words takes her right back to Kara’s funeral. It's hard to keep her focus on the ceremony, all she wants is to go home and curl up in the smallest of balls to never move again.

"It takes time and courage to find a companion to carry your life with you and Kelly and Alex have both gone through many adventures on their own before they found each other. But from today on it is together that they will carry on as their souls are intertwined for now and forever." J'onn J'onzz pauses and smiles. His next words seem suspended in an infinite breath and Lena almost smiles too when she notices Alex trying to inconspicuously shuffle closer to Kelly. J'onn shakes his head in gentle reprimand but before he has the time to continues his speech, Lena phone starts buzzing incessantly.

"Fuck," she mumbles under her breath. "I was sure I'd turned it off." With difficulty, she extracts the offensive device from her purse only to find it on and overloaded with blank notifications. Highly aware of the burning stares on her back she turns it off with a trembling hand and shoves it back down in the depth of her bag. Sam shoots her an interrogative glance that she dismisses with a shrug ; she doesn't have an explanation.

"I have seen much love in my long life," J'onn J'onzz goes on, his words followed by a light chuckle from those in the known. "But it is an utmost privilege to witness the special love that these two share and to be here today to proceed to their ceremonial sacred bond. Now, I believe the brides have prepared a few things to say."

"Oh God," Alex groans, causing Kelly to smile fondly. "I’m not good with that." She digs in her pocket and extracts a neatly folded piece of paper that she waves around awkwardly. "I have notes." She stares blankly at her paper, blackened by the impressive number of words she managed to fit on it, for a minute or so during which Lena can't help but hold her breath. "Screw it," she says eventually, jamming the paper back in her pocket, "I'm winging it." She takes a couple of steps forwards and delicately grabs Kelly's hand between her owns. "Do you remember how we met ?" she asks tenderly.

"Oh I do !" Kelly laughs, delighted. "I had to throw that shirt away."

"For those of you who weren’t there," Alex recounts, "I bumped into Kelly in a coffee shop, spilled my coffee all over her, romantic comedy style. And I, well I didn't know what to make of you. You were so puzzling, so kind ; that's one of the first things I ever wrote about you, you were so kind. I didn't know then how important you were going to become. I didn't know that I was going to see you through two deployments and a heartbreak. I didn't know that despite all I'd went through you were the one who was going to give me the biggest fright of my life. And I certainly didn't know that I was going to fall in love with you. But it still is on this day, when I spilled my coffee on you that my life became tethered to yours and I haven't let go of you since then. I never will. I love you Kelly."

"I love you babe," Kelly whispers, breaching the rules to deposit a soft kiss on her cheek.

Behind Lena, a sniffle attracts her attention and she cocks her head to the side, listening in with a small smile that she can't hold back.

"I am not crying Nia. There are merely emotions in my eyes."

"Sure Brainy," Nia snickers affectionately.

They came back from their space travel right in time for the wedding, having lived through years that never passed on Earth. Lena is glad they're here. Earlier, Brainy hugged her firmly and refused to let her apologise. There's a new kind of smile in his eyes that suits him well. 

"I knew," Kelly says, picking up Alex's train of thoughts with a wide grin. "That day in the coffee shop, I knew. I didn't really understand how, or why, but I knew that I'd just met the most important person of my life. This day, I felt the visceral need to get to know you and I have employed myself to do exactly that everyday since. You became my best friend, my anchor to the real world, my sense of normalcy, my reason to come home when I suddenly had none." A tear rolls down her cheek and Lena has to look away when Alex reaches out to delicately stop its course ; her gaze feel inappropriate, like she’s encroaching on a very private moment. "There are days in my life that seem so unimportant to other people but that literally changed the course of my existence, and this day is one of them. I love you Alex Danvers. But you still owe me a white shirt."

"Really ?" Alex snorts, suppressing a laugh that still stretches the corner of her mouth. "It's been six years !"

Kelly shrugs mischievously. "I liked that shirt."

Laughter roams through the room and Lena joins in, half because she's swept in, and half, she thinks, because in this short second, she's genuinely amused.

"You knew I was going to talk about the coffee shop, didn’t you ?" Alex asks softly when her guests' mirth has died down.

"I did," Kelly confirms quietly. She nods almost imperceptibly, her gesture lost to anyone not intended on soaking up the love radiating from her figure ; and J'onn J'onzz resumes the ceremony.

"Alexandra Danvers," he says, "Alex," he adds begrudgingly when the woman in question shoots him a threatening look, "do you take Kelly Olsen, here present, as your wife, to love, cherish and protect now and forever ?"

"I do," Alex replies in a slightly strangled voice. Ruby hands her a ring and tenderly, she slides it on Kelly's finger.

"Kelly Olsen," J’onn continues, "do you take Alex Danvers, here present, as your wife, to love, cherish and protect now and forever ?"

"I do."

"By the power vested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you wife and wife, you may kiss."

Kelly leans forward and Lena averts her eyes, she doesn’t feel much like watching other people kiss, even if it’s at a wedding. Before anything can happen though, Alex shouts and Lena feels her heart dropping in her stomach. "Wait !" Kelly straightens up, paler by the second, and the universe grinds to a halt. Alex turns away from her whispering something to Ruby who retrieves a long box from behind an incongruous potted plant. Lena holds her breath. "As you all know," Alex says, her voice small and crooked, "my sister passed away recently." She stops, struggling to open the box until Kelly, who seems to be catching up with the situation much quicker than anyone else, takes hold of it and helps her slide the lid off. "I wanted to add something, something from her faith. Because even if she's no longer here she'd taken you in her family long ago and, and well it's important. Is that okay ?"

"Of course it is," Kelly whispers. "This is beautiful," she adds, taking a thin bracelet in her hand. Even from afar, Lena recognise it immediately. She wears an almost identical one, its other half in space with Kara. Delicately, Kelly slides the bracelet on Alex's wrist then lets her wife do the same for her.

The box drops to the ground soundlessly when Alex lets it go to dip her wife in a passionate kiss. The room explodes in shouts and applause and above this thunder, J'onn J'onzz presents the newlyweds as Alex Danvers-Olsen and Kelly Olsen-Danvers. Lena feels dizzy, nauseous, but not from the noise only.

***

There's food and dancing and happy people and Lena standing in a corner with a half eaten piece of chocolate and raspberry cake. Her eyes lazily gaze on the room, she catches Kelly dancing with James, Sam and Ruby twisting ludicrously, Kara's face flickering in the crowd. She sighs. Since they showed a stupid presentation full of pictures and videos specifically designed to embarrass the brides, she's been seeing Kara's face everywhere. Making her way to her, blinking on a black screen, on the phone background she would swear she changed weeks ago. She doesn't know how to feel about it, doesn't know if she's sad or mad that she somehow still expects her to rise from the dead. It's probably a mixture of both.

Alex isn't the Danvers she wants to see but it's the one that remains and somewhere along the way Lena came to the conclusion that being there for each other isn't that bad ; so when she asks her to dance, she doesn't refuse. They shuffle like awkward teenagers, Lena with her hands on Alex shoulders, and Alex with her own on Lena's waist. They keep a comical distance between them ; or at least Lena supposes Kara would find it funny.

"Kelly is off dancing with her sibling," Alex says after a couple of stiff steps. "Thought I'd do the same."

Lena has half a mind to protest, but before she can do so, Alex keeps going softly. "You're family. You know that, right ?"

All Lena can do is nod ; if she speaks, she fears she'll cry.

They dance for an entire song and when the music change and Alex doesn't let go, they keep on swaying, oblivious to the beat.

"Thanks for coming. It means a lot to me. And to Kelly."

Lena shrugs. "It’s nothing. Thanks for inviting me."

"I always thought, you know," Alex continues after a moment.

"That she’d be here on a day like this ?" Lena supplies for her even if it breaks her heart.

"Yeah," Alex breathes. "It never occurred to me, not even for one second, that I'd do something this big without her by my side. She's been my anchor for so long, it doesn't feel right that she's gone."

"No," Lena confirms, shaking her head sadly. "It doesn’t feel right."

"How are you holding up ?"

Lena sighs, she sighs for a long moment, expelling all the air from her lungs until she finds it in her to say something. "I wish I had a straight forward answer for that. But somedays I feel... and some others I just..."

"Yeah. I get that."

The song changes again and Lena doesn't care. They're holding each other tighter, and it's nice, to have a sibling again. "The bracelets were a nice touch," she says after a while.

"You think so ?" Alex asks timidly. "I hesitated for so long."

"This way she was there too. Always will be."

"You’re wearing hers," Alex points out. "She made it herself with scrap metals from Superman's man cave. When she crashed here she had this frenetic, restless, energy ; she was always trying to gather things about Krypton, so afraid she'd forget about it."

"She was still afraid. I don’t think it ever went away."

"We'll remember for her," Alex whispers. "God. I miss her so much."

"I miss her too."

The song ends and Lena lifts her eyes ; for a moment she swears she sees Kara's face again, staring back at her from the screen above the DJ's booth.

***

Unfortunately, seeing Kara everywhere doesn't stop at the wedding. She's on a billboard across from L-Corp, on the blank screen of her TV, replacing her own reflection on her laptop ; always here and gone in the blink of an eye, leaving Lena deeply unsettled. Bit by bit, she starts to lose her mind, and when she previously thought that there might have been a light at the end of the tunnel now there's only darkness again. And the very real possibility that she might have a brain tumour.

"Remind me again why we're doing this ?" Alex asks as she helps her get settled in a state of the art MRI machine.

"I have reasons to believe something is wrong with my brain," Lena repeats through gritted teeth for what feels like the hundredth time. Her hands are sweaty, and she hates the way they feel when she wipes them on the paper thin gown Alex gave her.

"Something wrong that you won’t specify."

"I've been," Lena starts, choosing her words carefully, "seeing things. I just need to check that everything's alright."

Alex sighs, rubbing the heel of her hand on her eye. "Okay," she says gently. "Okay. The exam should take about fifteen minutes, you can communicate with me at all time and if you need to get out, just squeeze this." Alex puts a small pump in her hand and with one last smile initiates the exam. She tries to look at her for as long as she can as she disappears inside of the tube and Alex herself retreats behind a smoked glass panel, but it's hard, her gaze going cross-eyed because of the plastic cage maintaining her head in place.

The noise is infernal. The machine thumps and squeaks and squeals, deafening even through the thick headphones protecting her ears. The tube is narrow, its ceiling inches away from her face and the more time passes the more she feels it getting closer and closer to her. Her breathing gets laboured, tears stream down her cheeks, her body twitches even as she tries hard to stay still. Distantly, she remembers the exam she did years ago when she fell from a tree, how Lex had told her to picture herself in a spaceship. It'd helped then, it doesn’t now ; spaceships only make her think about her dead girlfriend.

It's over sooner than it feels. Alex helps her up, instructs her to go get dressed and follows a pink haired doctor, which name Lena struggles to remember, in another room. She trips twice while she puts her clothes back on, her hands trembling and her head fuzzy. She feels broken, useless. Scared also, in a way that drenches her in cold disagreeable sweat and as her counting under her breath as she does and redoes her laces until they're tied identically on both shoes. When Alex comes back an eternity later it's with a warm smile and the reassurance that nothing is wrong with Lena. The news fill her with both relief and intense dread. If nothing is wrong, then why is Kara looking at her from yet another screen ?

***

She does a second MRI. At a public hospital this time, under an alias and without telling Alex. The results are rigorously identical, and Lena still sees Kara everywhere.

From then on, her life slowly spirals out of control. She looks for her everywhere, on every screen, in every out of place electric signal. Every blond haired stranger in a crowd is Kara, every blank notification on her twice changed phone is Kara, every power cut, spark, gust of wind ; everything is Kara. She doesn’t tell it to anyone, not to Sam, and certainly not to Alex. If they find out that she’s insane, they’ll take Kara away from her.

She falls deeper and deeper into her own insanity, drifting away from common sense to the point that on a Thursday at 3am, when her microwave blinks at her one time too many, she ends up googling the craziest thought that has ever crossed her mind. Can my dead cyborg girlfriend communicate with me through kitchen appliances ? Google of course, has no response.

***

"Liar !" Nia shouts so suddenly that all of Lena’s remaining cards cascade out of her hands.

"Excuse me ?" Lena asks, focusing back on the game happening in front of her.

With a slow grin, Nia turns the card Lena just put down to reveal a seven where she should have put a ten ; she was so caught up in her phone buzzing again that she lost track of the game. "Liar," Nia repeats teasingly. "You lose Luthor."

Next to her, Brainy barks out a laugh. "Well played my love." He throws in an incongruous high five but Nia looks so happy that Lena doesn’t dare to point it out. Her phone buzzes again.

"Are you gonna pick that up ?" Alex asks with a pointed glare.

Lena waves it off. "No," she says, "it’s nothing that requires immediate attendance." Doubt nonetheless, seeps into her mind ; if Alex can hear her phone buzzing, then it’s not just all in her head and if it’s not just in her head then maybe her dead girlfriend can communicate through various electronic appliance or maybe, maybe she isn’t dead. She squashes the crazy thought away ; maybe what she needs is to see a fucking shrink.

"Your phone seems in need of assistance," Brainy says matter-of-factly.

"It’s brand new," Lena dismisses, "I assure you it’s in pristine condition."

"It is asking for help."

"What do you mean it’s asking for help ?" Lena asks, her heart lipping into her throat.

"Four short buzzes. A pause," Brainy starts listing. "One short buzz. A pause. One short buzz. A long buzz. Two short buzzes. A pause. One short buzz. Two long buzzes. One short buzz. That’s morse code."

"Brainy love," Nia cuts gently, "you’ve had too much to drink."

"No no no. Keep going." Lena straightens up abruptly, her wine sloshing out of her glass. The liquid trickles down her fingers to stain her couch irremediably but she pays it no mind. "What does it say ? Can you write it down ? Please ?"

"Lena..."

"Alex, it’s important."

She can't breathe. Feels dizzy and nauseous as she frantically looks around for a pen and paper. She finds a pen in her hair, as for the paper, she rips a page out a book, batting Sam's hand away when she tries to intervene. The world stops turning as Brainy tediously scribbles a couple of nonsensical dots.

.... . .-.. .--. -- .

"Help me," Alex whispers, shaking her head in disbelief. "That makes no sense."

"It’s Kara," Lena whispers, her voice almost inaudible through the thundering of blood in her ears.

"Lena," Kelly chastises in an infuriating way. "Have you been sleeping well ? I can..."

"You don’t understand !" Lena bursts out, weeks of frustrations crashing down on her. "I’ve been seeing her everywhere ! I thought I was going insane but, but I thinks she’s..."

"Don’t do that Lena," Alex mumbles wearily, her shaking hands rubbing heavily on her face. "Please, don't do that."

"... alive," Lena finishes for herself.

"I can trace her pod," Brainy says cautiously. "I can trace it and see if it is connected to your phone. And from there try to get a reading for what is happening inside."

"We would have known," Alex whispers. "If she’d send a signal, we would have known."

Brainy frowns, and Lena's heart drop in her stomach at his sheepish expression. "I deactivated her pod’s tracking from the DEO. There is a 100% chance it would have malfunctioned as it reached the sun and I though I would save us the heartache."

"So she could be alive ?" Alex asks, her voice trembling as much as Lena’s body. "That’s what you’re saying right ? She could be alive ?"

"I would need to check thoroughly, but yes, it is a possibility."

"Then check." Alex rises from her seat with a frightening determination on her face. Kelly's hand slips off her shoulder. "Double check. Triple check. Lena, I hope you don't get motion sickness, we're going on a space trip."

Chapter Text

*static*

There's nothing out there. And no one. No one is coming for her.

*static*

Kara's sole companion is herself, her own voice, her own memories.

Time and space warp on themselves and sometimes she can't be sure if she's really here, or if she's twelve years old again, stuck in the same pod, and her whole life after Krypton exploded has been nothing but a complex and treacherous hallucination.

*static*

Occasionally her pod bleeps with news ; it's never good ones.

Warning. Oxygen levels nearing depletion.

Of course. This ship was never made for an adult.

Sometimes she holds her breath, hoping to buy herself time ; some others, her panicked breathing costs her precious seconds.

*static*

She doesn't know how much time passes. Time is meaningless now. It just means her breathing gets shallower and shallower.

Warning. Foreign ship approaching. Non compliant identification. Provenance : sector 2814.

She thinks about Lena. There’s nothing else to think about now and if she focuses enough, she can even hear her voice.

Attempting emergency docking.

And Alex’s. Sometimes she can hear Alex’s voice too. She misses her so much, misses all of them so much and it's so unfair, that she was torn away from her family and lost in space not once, but twice.

Emergency docking failed.

She blinks and she can see Lena. She likes the form Rao took to welcome her in His realm. Death isn't that hard this way.

Chapter Text

The desert is cold and terrifying in the way only desert at night can be. Even with Alex’s body heat seeping into her, Lena is frozen, almost can’t feel her fingers and toes anymore. And it’s the strangest of sensations, because on the other hand, she doesn’t think she’s felt this alive in a long time. They speed through the desert, nothing in front of them and the vague shape of a fading city behind them ; a simple trail of dirt under their steady bike and the vast immensity of space above their frail bodies. Lena’s heart thunders away in an almost painful way, trapped between the possibility of Kara being alive and lost in space and the fear of further heartbreak if she’s still dead. She starts listing possible mental facilities to get checked into ; it’s not the best distraction, but it keeps her focused on something.

Brainy’s voice crackles in the comms. "I managed to get a reading on Kara’s pod."

"Elaborate please," Alex replies, her voice cutting clear through the rumble of their bike. Lena’s heart beats so hard she fears it might give out.

"Oxygen levels are almost depleted but it happened steadily which would indicated the presence of some sort of life and not a hull breach. The fact that several manual distress signals have been sent corroborates this theory."

"So she’s alive ?" Alex asks in a breath.

"It seems so indeed."

Lena exhales in a rush. Her heart stops, her ears clog and her head gets fuzzy ; then the world resumes its course at a frightening speed and she struggles to really catch up.

Kara is alive.

Alive, and alone, trapped in space.

"Where is she ?" she asks, her words covered by Alex’s when she asks the same question. In the distance, flat buildings come into view.

"On the other side of the sun. She just passed the asteroid belt."

"Shit."

"Fuck." That can’t be good.

"I will prepare J’onn’s ship for you."

"I’m not taking J’onn’s ship," Alex says. She accelerates, the building getting closer and closer to them.

"It is the safest way to get there."

"It’s the safest way to get there yes, but not to get Kara back. J’onn’s ship doesn’t have a cargo hold. I’m taking Kara’s ship."

They skid to a halt in a barren courtyard, the sudden stop almost throwing Lena off the bike. Alex doesn't apologise but she doesn't mind, they don't really have time for that. Alex starts towards a gigantic hangar in a fast jog, discarding helmet and gloves on her way. Lena puts hers neatly on the bike and breaks into a run, struggling to catch up and keep an ear on the conversation at the same time.

"Forgive my bluntness," Brainy says, "but do you know how to fly this ship ?"

"I do," Alex bites back with no place for second guessing. "Calculate a trajectory for me please. Or send me her exact coordinates, whichever is faster."

Lena keeps running after her. Under her feet, the ground changes from light sand to thick concrete.

"You will have to do a light speed jump. It is dangerous with a ship of this size in this part of the solar system."

"Wherever my sister is," Alex replies nervously, "I go. Send me her coordinates please."

"Very well."

Alex stops with no warning and Lena crashes right into her, almost sending them tumbling to the ground if it weren't for Alex's impressive skills. The world waver for a second before it's upright again and Lena comes face to face with a spaceship so big that she can't take it in in one glance.

"Kara's pet project," Alex supplies for her.

"Pet project," Lena repeats weakly, her throat closing at the sight.

The ship is massive, probably six to seven stories high with a dark grey hull and few windows. But it also is uncannily elegant, tapered rather than bulky, the metal dark, but polished and luxurious. It's an impressive beast, but a graceful one.

"Do you," Lena starts, trying her best to force her uneasy words out, "do you really know how to fly this ?"

Alex shoots her a dark look, one that almost has her cowering. "I'll learn," she replies quickly, covering the comms with one hand.

Lena gulps. "I'll help," she says with unease. Kara might be alive but they may very well die themselves to rescue her.

***

There are buttons to push, levers to pull, a seven pages long pre-flight checklist ; and of course, none of the instructions are in English. Lena sticks to the technical aspects of things, like rewiring the cargo hold door to make sure it'll open properly and checking each level one by one to make sure the fluids circuits are in order so they don’t suffocate or burst into flames. The suit feels strange against her skin. The tightness isn't unwelcomed but the material is foreign and she struggles to get used to it. Alex said it will enhance her chances of surviving should an accident happen. She doesn't want to think about it ; it's not exactly comforting, knowing that it'll take her longer to die if she's sucked in the vacuum of space.

"Are you ready ?" Alex's voice asks through the comms. "Brainy sent me Kara’s coordinates. We'll need to take off soon if we want to get through the asteroid belt without recalculating a new trajectory."

"In a minute !" Lena replies loudly before remembering that these advanced comms will pick up even the shallowest breath. "I'll be down in a minute. There's a loose wire in a cabin on level three."

"Will this loose wire make us implode in flight ?" Alex asks, her frustration clear even through the comms.

"Probably not," Lena admits, mumbling around the screwdriver she's holding in her mouth. "But if I don't fix it, I won't be able to think about anything else and then we might implode anyway."

"Okay," Alex sighs. "Okay, fix it. But be quick. Our launch window will close in seven minutes and my sister is lost in space."

"On it."

With laser like precision, Lena solders the wire back in place. Sparks hit her cheek but she disregards the short sharp pain, instead snapping the panel back into place before breaking into a run back to the cockpit. A few strands come loose from her bun as she sweats through several flight of stairs and slippery corridors and she wishes she could see herself know, frantically running through a spaceship in alien clothing. It's probably the most epic moment of her life ; too bad it's the premise to a suicidal rescue mission.

She dashes through the door, almost stumbling on her slightly too big new boots. Alex barely glances at her when she jumps on her seat and starts buckling herself in with shaky hands. "Brainy," she says, "we're good to go."

"Roger Agent Danvers. You are clear for launch. The coordinates have been uploaded to your navigation system. All you need to do is reduce your speed once you pass the Kármán line so you have enough margin to maneuver around the ISS. Then you can jump to light speed."

Lena can feel herself blanch but Alex doesn't so much as blink at Brainy's instructions. "Wilco Agent Dox." And with a speed Lena can hardly follow, she runs through her pre-flight checklist one last time. She clicks some buttons, adjusts others, turning them only a couple of millimeters each, then, with an unmatched determination she puts her hand on the main engine lever. "Lena," she says, "take off in ten."

"Nine," Lena echoes.

"Eight," they say together, "seven, six." Lena grips her own lever, pushes it in time with Alex. "Five, four." The engine rumbles to life. "Three, two." Her heart beats in her throat. "One. Take off."

For an infinite second, nothing happens ; then the ship roars and leaps up in a cacophony of squeaking and banging metal.

"Is it supposed to do that !?" Lena asks, not bothering with masking the fear in her voice as she hangs to the straps of her seat for dear life.

"How the fuck should I know !?" Alex shouts above the noise.

Pressure pushes them against their seats making it hard to breathe and even harder to speak. Still, Lena manages to bite : "You're an alien fighting badass, you should know."

"You're a scientist, you should know," Alex mumbles back. "Oh God," she adds, struggling to breathe, "we're going to die."

As suddenly as it started crushing them, the pressure eases up and Lena finds herself floating, tethered to her seat only by buckles and straps. A gleeful laugh escapes her ; she's weightless. With trembling hands she starts unbuckling herself but she's not nearly done dealing with the web holding her in place when she slams back to her seat.

Alex's pale and sweaty hand rests on top of the artificial gravity controller. "Keep us on course. I'm gonna go barf." She's out the door before Lena has the time to complain.

"Congratulation, you just passed the Kármán line," Brainy says in her ear.

"Hum. Roger Brainy," Lena tries, the words feeling awkward on her tongue. "Agent Dox," she corrects after a second.

Brainy laughs. "Welcome to space Lena. You will fly by the ISS in about 300km. Which is now at the speed you are going."

Lena barely has the time to turn her head to notice the free falling hunk of metal before the space station is already out of sight. She laughs again, can't help it ; she's in fucking space.

"How are you feeling ?"

The question sobers her up a little. "I don't know," she says honestly. "A bit like it's the best day of my life but it shouldn't be."

"Space is fascinating Lena. Enjoy yourself. You will be jumping to light speed in four minutes and thirty-three seconds."

Alex staggers back inside the cockpit a couple of minutes later. She's green, covered in sweat and doesn't look even marginally better. "Kara owes me a bottle of the best whiskey. At least." She straps herself back to her seat with trembling hands. "This is terrifying."

"If we get out of here alive I'll buy you a distillery. We're jumping to light speed in fifteen seconds."

"Roger," Alex says with a weak smile.

"Ten."

"Nine," Alex echoes.

"Eight," they say together. "Seven, six." Alex turns a button a quarter to the right. "Five, four." Two levers unlocks and they grasps them, Alex with open fear and Lena with dwindling confidence. "Three, two." Lena closes her eyes. She tries to keep deadly asteroids out of her mind. "One. Jumping to light speed."

Space warps around themselves. She feels her body pulling inside out, her organs now operating outside of it. Her heart beats out of reach, her lungs breathe away from her. Her eyes open of their own accord and she stares death in the eye as thousand of rocks rush past the ship. And then it stops. So suddenly that Lena doesn't quite understand how, her body struggling to catch up with itself and her mind still thousands of miles behind. They're alive, past the asteroid belt ; and only meters in front of them, is Kara's pod.

The sight seems unreal, Kara's pod slowly drifting away in front of them, the bright blue burning of the boosters almost insignificant measured to the vastness spread all around them. Next to their ship, the pod looks like a toy and the possibility of Kara somehow surviving in it appears as nothing more than a fantasy. "Alex," Lena starts, trying to attract her attention though her voice is weak and her words waver, "what if...?"

Wether Alex heard her or not, she pays her no mind, and Lena can understand why. Her eyes are glued to her sister's pod ; she doesn't breathe, seems suspended in time, lost in a place where Kara might or might not be alive like she's Shrödinger's cat and opening the pod is what will seal her fate.

"Brainy," she gulps, "we found Kara's pod. We're going to make contact and attempt to dock her to one of our ports."

"Roger Agent Danvers. Keep us updated and," Brainy stops talking and a long silence trickle down the line.

"Please be careful," Nia's voice comes in his place.

Alex nods, seemingly forgetting for a second that they can't see her, then with resolute determination turns on the ship external comms. "Attempting contact now." She hesitates then, falters and turns to Lena. "I think she, I think she'd like to hear your voice."

This is it, if Kara doesn't reply now, they will have make the trip for nothing, will come back only with further broken hearts. "Hey," she whispers, "hey Kara. It's me. It’s Lena."

The line crackles. Lena doesn't dare to breathe, her stomach twists into knots, she feels like she's swallowed acid and her heart is trying to get out of her ribcage.

Silent tears roll down Alex's cheeks.

"Kara ?" Lena tries again. "Kara it’s us. I’m with Alex. We’ve come to get you home."

The line crackles again. There's nothing on the other side. No one.

"Maybe," Alex croaks, "maybe her comms got damaged. I'm gonna try to dock her."

"Kara ? Kara darling it's us."

Nothing again. Alex slowly maneuvers the ship to align it with Kara and matches her speed, but when she attempts docking, the pod goes off course, speeding away from them.

The line crackles again but this time it sounds less mechanical and more, more like a groan.

"Did you hear something ?" Alex asks hurriedly. "You heard something right ?"

"I..." Lena doesn’t dare to reply.

"Lee... Na...?"

Kara's voice is small, almost non-existent and for a moment, she sounds more like a figment of their imagination than anything else. A sigh comes from the other end of the line, filling their ears with a broken version of Kara's usually warm and loving tone. "Lena."

"She’s alive..." Alex whispers.

"She’s alive," Lena echoes, louder.

Thousands of miles away, cheers erupt and fill the cockpit through the comms. Lena feels floaty, like she's wrapped in cotton, and she hangs on to Kara's repeated mumble.

"I think she's losing consciousness," Alex says. "We need to be quick. I can, I can…"

"We can get in front of her," Lena cuts. "Open the cargo hold and get the pod inside."

"That’s too dangerous. We don’t have any way of slowing her pod, she’ll crash right into us and then no one will get home."

Lena thinks hard and fast, her brain working double time like never before. "We can," she tries, "we can match her speed. Keep the cargo door open. And I'll deactivate her pod manually. From the outside."

"That could work," Alex muses, "but if we do that, there'll be no gravity and no oxygen in the cargo hold until the doors are closed again."

Lena shrugs, already unbuckling herself from her seat. "I’ve always wanted to spacewalk."

Lena runs faster than she's ever had in her life ; though to be completely honest, she doesn't run much under normal circumstances. She doesn't feel the burn in her lungs, doesn't notice the tightness of her muscles, she just runs, leaping through doors before they're fully open and skipping entire flights of stairs until the thick closed door of the cargo hold forces her to stop. With jittery frenzy she fumbles through the settings of her suit, trying to remember what will unfold the built-in helmet that will allow her to breathe on the other side.

"You need to slide the clasp at the base of your neck," Alex says in her ear.

Lena does as told and a perfectly round bubble snaps close around her head. She gasps, forgets to breathe and for the moment, the room around her gets blurry and unstable.

"You okay ?"

Lena breathes in, nods, "yes," she replies, "yes I am. I was just surprised."

"You’re gonna be okay," Alex reassures her voice warm in a way that as Lena easily picturing the sisterly smile on her face. "We’re right in front of Kara’s pod. I’m going to close the airlock behind you so I can change the pressure and you don't get sucked out when I open the door. There's a cable on your right side that you can hook to your suit."

Lena breathes out, concentrating on the recycled air flow in her body, and wills her hands to stop shaking. Only then does she follow Alex's instructions and ties herself up. "I’m ready." She gives a thumb up to the camera and immediately, gravity ceases to affect her.

"Okay. I'm gonna decelerate so we can get Kara inside and then I'll accelerate to match her speed again. Brace yourself, I’m opening the door now. Good luck."

Lena feels strangely confident, she lets herself float about, waiting for Alex to perform the series of check necessary to unlock the door ; the moment it slides open, reality slams back into her in the form of a pod coming towards her at unprecedented speed. She braces herself for impact, knows she won't be able to avoid significant damage, but refuses to close her eyes, Kara is in that pod.

Before it can take her life, the pod slows down and Lena almost cheers at Alex's success at aligning their ship's speed on it. She doesn't give herself much time to think about it and instead pushes on the wall to launch herself toward Kara. She floats to her destination slowly, unnerved by the impossibility to do much to adapt her course.

The pod is surprisingly hot to the touch and when she peers inside of it she barely manages to make out the shape of Kara hidden by the fog. She's definitely not in the position she was when they shot her into space, her face is smudged against the control panel, her arms bent at angles that can only be described as painful ; Lena can't tell if she's still breathing.

"Lena. Lena," Alex calls out, trying to get her attention. "Turn on your camera. Second button on the right on your neck. I need to see the panel on the left side of the pod."

Lena does so quickly, keeping herself steady with one hand on the pod. Alex stays silent for a long time and though they are pressed by time, Lena doesn't dare to interrupt her.

"Alright," Alex breathes. "There's a glyph that looks like a lozenge with a dot next to it, press this one and then the infinity sign with a bar underneath. On the count of three because I'm going to close the door immediately. Okay ?"

"Yeah. Okay. I saw it. I’m ready."

"One," Alex says.

"Two."

"Three."

Lena presses the glyphs, the pod powers down quicker than she thought it would and immediately starts sliding towards the still open door.

"Alex !"

"It’s stuck !"

"What do you mean it’s stuck ? Alex ! I checked it. Three times ! It can’t be stuck."

"It’s stuck ! The door is stuck !"

Through the comms, Lena can hear her swearing and repeatedly slamming her hand on something as the pod slides inexorably towards the void.

No.

No, this isn't happening. They've come too far, braved too many things for it to end this way.

Lena assesses her options quickly and with no time for fear tugs herself back to the wall, slams against it and allows the momentum to push her towards the pod again. She races against it, using its speed to propel herself further and faster until she reaches the other side of the cargo hold and stops herself by crashing into another wall, inches away from the oblivion of space. The pod keeps sliding towards the exit and with each passing quarter of a second they are closer to losing Kara again.

With furious energy she rips apart the incongruous zip-ties securing the emergency closing mechanism and slams it down with a strength she didn't know she possessed. A yellow light starts blinking and Lena knows a siren must be blaring, its sound lost in space. The door closes in the nick of time the pod crashing against it silently and rocking the ship with it.

Lena waits, adrenaline pumping in her veins and prickles of fear finally registering in her body. "Alex," she says tentatively, "I think we're good."

With a hiss gravity returns and with it the deafening noise of the sirens and the weight of her own body. Lena touches down gracelessly. It's suffocating, she feels dizzy like she's about to pass out but she must focus. She has to. Kara is still stuck in her pod.

Alex doesn't seem to be faring much better, her words are slurred, her breathing hasty. "There's a," she mumbles, "a glyph on the same panel as before. Sort of a hockey stick with a dot. Slide it. It'll unlock to hull. I'm. I'm coming down to join you. We need to get her to the med bay."

Lena's hands are shaky as she follows the instructions and she has to try twice before the hull opens, the glass panel almost slamming in her face. She stumbles back, rights herself and with her last strands of strength drawn from deep inside, she lifts Kara and drags her out of the pod. They both fall dawn but Lena doesn't register the pain, busy as she is with finding a pulse.

"Lena ?" Alex asks cautiously. "Is she, is she breathing ?"

Lena scrambles to look at Kara. She finds her with her eyes glassily open, an absent minded smile on her face. Even in the cacophony of the cargo hold, the sound of her breathing is all she hears.

"Yes. Yes, she's breathing," she says, when she realises Alex needs verbal conversation, the battering of her running feet echoing in the comms. "She's alive."

Chapter Text

Kara comes to in an unfamiliar place. The walls are grey and shiny, the light soft and warm and the surface below her infinitely comfortable. She blinks slowly, trying to assess her environment, confused as to why Rao would choose this place for her awakening in His realm. She feels safe, protected, content for the first time since she woke up in her pod to die a second time. She tries to get up and can't ; her limbs are unresponsive, her body heavy and malleable. She squashes the spike of uneasiness, she just needs to figure out why Rao doesn't want her to get up. Then, she'll be able to walk out of this liminal space to join her mum and her dad. And her aunt Astra. And her uncle Non too though is always been a bit of an ass. And Thara, Rao, she can't wait to see Thara again.

"Hey sleepy head," a warm voice says on her left side. "You feeling okay ? I can get you some more pain med if you want."

Kara recognises this voice but it can't be. She refuses for it to be Alex's, Alex can't be dead, she died so Alex wouldn't have to.

"Dead ?" she mumbles, opening her eyes to find her sister at her side. "Please tell me you’re not dead. Please please Alex tell me you’re not dead."

Alex chuckles besides her and Kara's stomach fill with pain and dread ; this is unfair, her sister shouldn't be with her, her sister shouldn't be dead.

"I'm not dead," Alex reassures softly. "You're alive. You’re alive Kara."

"I'm alive ?" Kara repeats, testing the words in her mouth like it will make them less unreal.

"You are," Alex confirms with a teary-eyed smile.

"How...?" Kara begins to ask, finally taking notice of the little things that should have clued her in like how far her hearing still stretches or the way her nose can still pick up and catalogue all the smells in the room.

"Lena received your distress signal. Signals. And Brainy decoded them and tracked you there. So we came to pick you up, bring you home."

"Where is she ? Lena ? Where is she ?"

"Manning the ship. Your ship. Prepping for a light jump back to Earth. We were just waiting for you to be stable. You gave us quite the fright."

"I’m sorry," Kara whispers.

"It's okay. You're here now." Alex smiles, and Rao, Kara has missed that smile. She's missed it to the point that it aches deep in her chest every time she looks at her sister ; she's missed her so so much. "Want me to help you up ? We can go see Lena now."

Kara nods, she doesn't trust herself with words. All she wants to do is cry, cry of relief because she's alive and her sister is here and if her sister is here then everything will be alright. She grabs Alex's extended hands, taking a moment to appreciate their familiarity, and lets herself be tugged to her feet. She stumbles forward, lands right in her arms and starts crying in earnest, can't stop herself. Alex wraps her in the tightest of hugs and the pieces of her life start falling back into place. Alex is crying too, sobbing uncontrollably against her shoulder. "It's okay. You're okay now Kara. It's okay. We're going home."

Kara doesn't know how long they stay like that, sobbing in each other's arms, but she doesn't want to move, and so they don't. "You're not allowed to die ever again," Alex mumbles at some point ; and it's the most ridiculous statement she could ever utter, but Kara promises it nonetheless.

Eventually, they do separate, Alex having exhausted her tears and Kara thrumming with the need to see Lena. She takes a step back, wipes her tears and her hair from her eyes, trying to arrange her figure as best as she can. "Come on handsome," Alex says, grabbing her hand with a laugh, "let's go see Lena. Don't worry about your face, she hasn't seen you in long enough to not give a fuck about your hair."

Kara ought to be offended but she isn't, she knows she probably doesn't look her best right now, she did die after all. She squeezes her sister's hand, takes note of the ring on her finger and the way it feels different against her metal limb. "You got married," she whispers.

"I did," Alex says, joyfully swinging their hands in between them as they starts walking down the corridors. "Kelly was beautiful. It was, it was a beautiful ceremony. And I, I added bracelets. I hope you don't mind."

"I don’t," Kara says, carefully disentangling their fingers so she can feel the bracelet resting under Alex's sleeve. "You're an El. Always have been. And Kelly is too now."

"I know. I’m proud to be a part of your House."

They walk in silence for a while, Kara somehow both enjoying her sister's presence and cursing herself for building a ship that big. After a moment, Alex starts chuckling and Kara lets her do so for a while, aware that her sister is angling for something and refusing to bite. "You're not going to ask about yours ?"

"My what ?"

Alex sighs good-naturedly. "Your bracelet."

Kara is confused for a second and then she notices it, the additional weight on her left wrist ; the rest isn’t hard to understand. "You better not have told Lena," she grumbles.

"Don’t worry," Alex whispers conspiratorially as they step inside of the cockpit, "I haven’t told her you’re basically married."

Kara barely notices the mocking jab ; Lena is here. Confidently seating on the captain's chair, with her hair up in a loose bun and her body hugged by a tight space suit ; she's here. Kara lets her eyes follow the slope of her neck, she drinks in the softness of her shoulders, lets her scent waft to her ; she's here. "Lena."

Lena turns around and her heart stops and restarts all at once. There's nothing else but Lena ; Lena getting up, Lena walking towards her, Lena running to her, Lena jumping in her arms. Lena is everywhere, she's everything, and Kara willingly gets lost in her. She tries to kiss her, but can't ; Lena is crying, trembling, breaking down in her arms.

"I missed you. God I missed you so much."

"It's okay," Kara mumbles against her hair, holding her as tight as inhumanly possible. "It's okay, I'm here now. You did good. You found me. You did good. You're okay. We're okay now."

She rocks them in place, trying to soothe the fragile, yet so strong, woman in her arms. The motion scares Lena who in turn holds onto her tighter. "Don't go. Please please please don't go."

"I’m here," Kara promises, "I’m not going anywhere. I love you. I love you so much. You are so brave. Thank you for saving me."

Lena looks up at her and there's something on her face that screams that Kara rescued her long before she returned the favour, and she drinks it in, drinks in the love and trust that radiate from her, drinks in the beauty and confidence and brokenness and genius of the woman who shot herself into space to rescue her. Slowly, but with intent, she bends down to kiss her. And it's by no mean a graceful kiss, there are too much fluids involved in it for that ; but it's the best kiss of her life. It tastes like both a hello and a promise, reunion and fearlessness. She kisses her and kisses her and kisses her because there's nothing else she wants or can do. Lena presses her entire body against her, she's warm, familiar ; Kara is home.

"So hum," Alex says behind them, "not that I want to interrupt or anything but we’re going to miss our jump window and I don’t know about you but I’m tired of outer space and my wife is waiting for me."

Begrudgingly, Kara disentangles herself from Lena and takes a step back. "Okay," she says, "let's go home." She doesn't let go of her hand though, not even if it makes it more complicated to strap themselves to their seat, not when it stretches their arms awkwardly during the light speed jump, not when they rocket through the atmosphere, not even when they land rockily miles away from their target, in the middle of the fucking desert. Kara doesn't let go once, and if she has it her way, she'll never let go again.

***

Earth is loud. It takes Kara a moment to remember how to forget that. How to tune out every single menial sound to focus instead on the important things, Lena's and Alex's heartbeats next to her, and at the bottom of the ship, behind the main airlock, the hearts of all her friends and family, the life coursing through their veins. She acknowledges the shifting of the air too, the gritting sound of sand, the thousands of insects coursing below the surface, and farther away, the buzz of the city, the loud engines of an airplane, someone cursing as they miss a step in squeaky stairs ; it's overwhelming, but truthfully she’s missed it, though not as much as the people waiting for her, her oasis amid the noise.

She sees her Earth mum first, the woman standing tall and proud but wrapped in Jeremiah's old sweater and with a distinct exhaustion etched on her face. At first, Kara can do nothing but stare at her, trying to match the face she remembered with the one standing in front of her. Eliza always looks younger in her mind, but she likes this living breathing version more than the ghost supplied by her brain.

Lena must sense her hesitation, must perceive the invisible vines that root Kara to the spot because she squeezes her hand gently before letting go and pushing her forward. "Go," she whispers, "I'll still be here when you're done saying hello."

Kara starts towards her family, stumbling like a baby fawn until she finds her footing and hurtles down the ramp to launch herself at Eliza at a reasonable speed and controlled strength. "Rao. I missed you. I missed you so much Mum." It slips out again, mum, the moniker that she once seldom used to refer to the woman that raised and shaped her into an Earthling.

"I missed you too sweetie. God, I missed you so much."

Kara think she might be crying again but she doesn't care. She's never felt so loved and safe than in this instant, back from the dead and where she belongs.

Kelly comes next, her sister in law hugs her with tender and solid arms. Her hair smells like Alex's shampoo. "I heard you got married without me," Kara laughs once she thinks she can handle words.

"We'll have another ceremony with you," Kelly promises.

"Welcome to the House of El."

She moves on to Brainy then, who hugs her in a surprising way, briefly and stilled, but tighter than ever before. "We completed your task," he says enigmatically.

"What Brainy means to say," Nia says, coming to hug her too, "is that we took a little trip through space and time with the pieces of Brainiac's collection that could be returned. Not everyone could be saved but..." she stops, gulps and averts her eyes shamefully. Kara hugs her as tight as she can.

Nia weeps against her shoulder and Kara makes the silent promise to protect the young woman from everything and everyone from now on. She takes a step back to look at her, to wipe the tears from her eyes and kiss the top of her head. She's got a scar across her right eye and shadows weighted by all that she's seen ; she’s still much too young for all of this.

"Thank you. You were very brave Nia Nal."

Nia retreats to Brainy's side. They keep each other up, their hands clutched around one another. Brainy kisses her cheek sweetly, mumbles words of affirmation in her ear ; the sight makes Kara happy.

The next person she sees is a surprise to Kara, or maybe it isn’t, fighting back an invasion will mend any rift between anyone. She’s also glad that her friend isn't dead.

"Your hair looks like shit," Sam says with tears in her eyes.

"Nice to see you too Sam."

They laugh, it's blissful, and something that Kara has missed too. They hug, briefly but without holding back, and Ruby joins in with a giggle and tight arms of her own. "That's my jacket kid," Kara says once she has stepped out of the embrace and can size her up fully. She takes note of the couple of inches that have made her goddaughter taller in her absence and refusing to be pained by all that she's missed is difficult, but for all of them, she's willing to try.

J'onn is standing behind all of them and he comes to her last, starting with a hand on her shoulder and kind eyes before he all but drags her into a bone crushing hug. He doesn't cry, J'onn isn't one for tears, but his muscles shake with emotion in a way that's just as meaningful. "Welcome home Kara Zor-El. Welcome home."

***

Lena is a sight for sore eyes. She’s a sight for sore eyes and Kara hasn’t stopped looking at her since they stepped in the privacy of her apartment. Not when she went and took a shower ; their hands intertwined and roaming on each other’s bodies, gliding with soap, kneading away the tension and massaging in love in its place. Not when Alex had to contort around her to buzz her hair short. Not when they ordered enough take out to feed an army and she inhaled thirteen cartons of potstickers, vaguely aware of how unsightly she must have been. And certainly not now, as they are tangled on the couch, Lena dozing off, eyes semi-open and tired smile on her face and Kara, Kara watching her like a hawk, taking her in like she's never seen her before. She watches and remembers all there is to remember about her ; the green of her eyes behind her half-open eyelids, the tempting sharpness of her jaw, the soft roughness of her hands, the swell of her breasts beneath the borrowed t-shirt, the curve of her hips where that same t-shirt rides up.

"I can feel you watching me," Lena whispers in between two yawns.

Kara chuckles, enjoying the sound of her own joy for a moment. "I'm not exactly hiding it," she says. "You're so beautiful."

"Sweet-talking will get you everywhere."

Lena tries to wink, but she blinks instead and yawns again; it's the cutest thing Kara has ever seen. "Come on," she says, "let's get you to bed."

"I'm not tired," Lena protests sleepily, her resolve to stay awake no match for the state of her body.

"You just came back from a space trip, you need some sleep."

"But I don't want to sleep," Lena whispers hoarsely. "I missed you too much, I don't want to sleep now that you're finally here."

"I'll be here when you wake up tomorrow."

"Promise ?" Lena asks with her eyes closed, her fists clenched in the fabric of Kara's shirt and her intentions of staying up waning with each breath.

"I promise," Kara whispers, slowly lifting her off the couch to carry her to bed. "I’ll be there when you wake up, tomorrow, and every day until the end."

"Don’t talk about the end please," Lena mumbles. "I don't like endings."

"Okay. Okay no talking about the end." Kara tugs them into bed, swiftly draping Lena into both the covers and her arms. "I'll be there when you wake up. I love you."

"Love you."

Lena's breathing and heart even out in no time and before long she's asleep, snoring delicately in the crook of Kara's neck. Kara's herself doesn't sleep at all ; she's just came back from the dead, she's not exactly tired. She focuses on Lena's heartbeat, thrives in the sound, and uses the almost quiet of the night to do some thinking. She has things to consider, things to plan about what she wants to do now, and what can be done. Coming back as Kara Zor-El is one thing, her friends and family know about her ; but coming back as Kara Danvers is going to be more complicated. She can either uproot her entire life, change identity and city, rewrite her life in a different place ; or she can come out, as an alien, an act that would have ramifications and consequences that could be devastating. But she can't hide anymore, can she ? She came back from the dead, twice, and something's got to change now. Her life is nothing like she thought it was and she needs honesty, needs truth to move on. Earth has given her so much and it's time she gives back to her home ; she could do so much good as a proud alien, as a proud alien reporter. Without moving Lena, she feels for her phone on the nightstand and after a quick heart check indicating that Alex is still awake despite the late hour, she dials the number of her guiding light.

Her sister picks up on the first ring, her anxious voice immediately filling Kara's ears. "Kara ? Are you okay ?"

"I am," Kara reassures immediately. "I am. Sorry for calling you so late in the night. I need, I need some advice. Can I ask you a question ?"

"Always."

Kara glances down at Lena, taking in the small frame of her girlfriend sleeping under the glow of cheap plastic stars. She mulls over her words for a long second then asks the question that might change the course of her life once more. "How would you feel if I were to come out ? As an alien."

Chapter Text

Kara looks dashing. Dashing, and mildly panicked and it might have been funny for the first ten minutes but Lena is growing more concerned by the second. She watches as Kara frets over her tie, tightening and untightening it and intermittently smoothing non-existent creases on her pristine shirt.

"Darling," Lena calls out. "Darling. Stop. You look perfectly handsome and from what I gathered, Cat Grant holds you in high regard. Everything is going to be fine."

"What if it’s not ?" Kara asks in a rush. "What if it’s not fine ? I’m about to give her the story of a lifetime and tell her she can’t publish it. I’m calling this whole thing off." She starts back to the bedroom at unnatural speed, Lena’s eyes barely able to follow the flurry of movement as she untucks her shirt and loosens her tie.

"No you’re not," she interjects softly. "You’ve been looking forward to this, to going back to work and being more open about yourself. You’re not calling this off."

Kara stops moving abruptly then reappears in front of her in a flash looking disheveled and somewhat lost. "What if people don’t like me ?" she whispers.

And that is another root of Kara’s issues, one that Lena can’t tackle on her own, one she can’t throw money at in the hope of nipping it in the bud. If she could, she would protect Kara from all the bad things in the universe, from all the worse of humanity, from every single insult and crooked look ; but she can’t, and it breaks her mended heart. She gazes at the butch hunched in front of her, takes in the strength of her broad shoulders, the fierce slop of her jaw, the spike of short hair that somehow resists all hair treatment ; and the strong hands that could break her in half, the soft blue eyes that could light ablaze with fury at any given time. She loves her so much that sometimes she feel like she could explode with it and still be perfectly content.

"If they don’t like you," she says with a sigh, stepping up to fix the askew tie, "it’s their loss. It doesn’t make you any less of a good person. You are gentle, and brave, and you deserve to be all that you are openly."

Kara sighs, drops a kiss to the corner of her mouth. "Thank you." She lets her lips linger for a moment ; Lena thrives at the warmth that emanates from her. "Oh," Kara adds much too soon, cocking her head to the side. "Cat is here." Sure enough not a second later a sharp knock sounds at the door and they both straighten up, ready to face the Queen of all media.

Cat Grant whirls around their apartment and she's not at all like what Lena remembers of her. She's not as aloof as the couple of times she's had to interact with her at galas and charity balls and certainly not as somber as she was at Kara's funeral. She strides in with purpose, plops down on the couch like she owns the place, but she's also smiling, genuinely, and the sight is so curious that for a minute, Lena can't help but wonder if she's actually stumbled in a parallel universe.

She slips to the kitchen to make some tea, gives them as much privacy as the open plan room allows. Cat calls Kara "Kiera" and Kara laughs at something she must have said. It's a new laugh, one that Lena has never heard before and that's different from her friends-laugh and her Lena-laugh. Kara makes Cat laughs too which in Lena's humble and uninformed opinion is no small fit.

"So," Cat says once Lena has joined them in the living room with tea and biscuits. "I'm not here just to play catch up am I ? Not that I'm not thrilled that you're alive Kiera." She says the name again like it's a joke and it must be because Kara's eyes crinkle in happiness. Cat extracts a recorder from her purse and sets a legal pad on her lap. Lena thinks even her own pens are not as expensive as the one clutched in Cat's fingers.

"I want to tell you a story," Kara says tentatively. "Well two. One as a friend, and one to publish." Kara doesn't even ask if she can trust Cat with this ; it's a given. Cat's known Kara isn't from here since she caught her warming her coffee with her eyes and has never said a single word about it.

"Good, I love stories."

They've talked about this at length, with Alex, Eliza and Director J'onzz, discussing what can and cannot be shared with the world, Kara herself wary of her association with the Man of Steel, her last blood relative who couldn't even show up to her funeral. She's not just hesitant to take the status of Last Child of Krypton from him, but afraid of the vicious vengefulness she feels in doing so. She opens her mouth, closes it again quickly. Her eyes fall on her lap where she's writhing her fingers. Lena half rises from her seat, ready to join her on the couch, but Kara lifts her head and, staring straight in Cat Grant's eyes says : "My name is Kara Zor-El, I'm from Krypton."

Lena is so proud of her.

***

The interview is a success. In the end, it's an insert in the National City Tribune that Lena cuts out to put on her desk ; and a promise to Cat Grant to be the first to know if Kara ever goes down the superhero path. It's a bit of a trick promise, with Kara reaffirming that she isn't sure it's something she wants to do, that she's grown past the desire to mimic her cousin because she can help in other ways. She just wants to be known for who she is, hide as little as she can, even if she still has to be careful for reasons beyond her control. And her wish is granted ; half an hour after the Tribune is put in kiosk, the science museum calls to put together an exhibition about Rao’s solar system.

Before bustling back to wherever, Cat elevates Kara to the rank of chief editor of the science section and fires Snapper Carr for blatant homophobia. Her coworkers throw her a welcome back party and though it's mostly frozen food and cheap wine, Lena decides then and there that her own galas could never compete. Cat's interview of Kara also inaugurates a new column, Aliens of National City, and Lena doesn't tire to tell to whoever might still listen to her that her girlfriend was in it first.

They're happy together, unabashedly so, and sometimes it's weird, sometimes Lena wakes up in the middle of the night to check that Kara is still here, that she's alive and well and breathing beside her ; some other times, she just goes with the flow, drifting peacefully in a love she for so long thought she didn't deserve. Not a day passes without Kara reminding her of how much she loves her. Sometimes it's loud, words of appreciation spilling out of her mouth, and sometimes it's quiet, a cup of tea on an early morning, her hand held in a busy street, take out on her desk when she can't make it to lunch.

Superman returns to Earth on a Sunday, ignorant of everything and infuriating on the very basis of his existence. Kara doesn't dignify him with her tears but Alex breaks her hand on his face and Lena wordlessly goes on to develop assisted bone growth technology, as a small thank you. It's another thing Kara brought to her when she wormed her way into her life ; a sister. Because Lena has missed Lex for so long, his betrayal and subsequent absence eating away at her heart and he will always be a scar she bears somewhat shamefully ; but somewhere along the road she's gained another sibling, someone who never fails to check on her and doesn't take no for an answer, someone who brings her coffee at midnight when she's holed up in her lab with Kara and rolls her eyes with her at her girlfriend's antics. A family in short.

With Kara alive and at her side life resumes its course in new and exciting ways. They bring down the wall between their apartments, Lena definitely forsaking her hold on Luthor's manor to instead build housing and a rehab centre on her former estate. They adopt a dog, a white and brown pit bull with a heart shaped nose who casually followed Lena out of the shelter on one of their visits and thus entered their lives. They name him Krypto and Lena loves him with all of her heart. He's energetic and makes Kara laugh even on bad days when she can't stop thinking about her own death and the deafening silence of space. Lena can't always help with that, but she grows to be okay with it, therapy helps. In the end Kara loves her, and she loves Kara, no matter what.

***

Lena surveys the room with the least critical eyes she's laid on anything she's ever made. It doesn't have to be perfect, she repeats in her head like a mantra, it doesn't have to be perfect because Kara is here, and their friends are here for Kara, not for the way the chairs are aligned on the floorboard or the perfectly dust free shelves. They look happy, all of them. Sam and Ruby, Alex and Kelly, Brainy and Nia. Kara and her too.

She surveys the room, but she's not looking for Kara, doesn't need to ; tethered to her as she is, she can feel her at any given time, her presence like a soothing balm every time she enters a room. She's in the kitchen at the moment, finishing up dinner because Lena's had a long day and couldn't fathom getting her hands dirty, taking care of her in small but meaningful ways as always. She's distracted for a moment by Ruby's joyful laugh, sets down her knife to look at her goddaughter learning a new card trick from Brainy before she resumes her task with a small content smile. Lena stares with no shame, follows the way her fingers move deftly and her biceps strain against the fabric of her shirt. She takes in the tautness of her shoulders glorified by the raglan cut of the garment, follows the rolling muscles of her back down to the old pair of jeans that frames her ass perfectly. Next to her, Alex snickers mockingly.

"Oh shut up Alex," Lena mumbles, her tone too light to fake annoyance.

Alex takes a swig of her beer and grins. "I haven't said a single word."

Lena tries to glare at her but she doesn't have to see her own face to know she's not very successful in her endeavour ; she's much too happy to threaten anyone.

"Let me have some fun. I'll be out of your hair soon enough."

"How's honeymoon prep going ?"

"Suitcases are packed. Phones are about to be disconnected. And I asked J'onn to not call me back unless it's a worldwide emergency."

"The DEO can deal with worldwide," Kara says, suddenly materialising next to them with a gigantic bowl of pasta salad topped with tomatoes so perfectly sliced that they're a form of art in and of themselves. Lena leans against her like it's her sole purpose in life, imperceptible tension seeping away from her the moment their bodies touch.

"Alright," Alex laughs. "I'll up my return level to galactic threat only."

Kara shrugs happily. "Works for me. You’ve been delaying your honeymoon long enough."

"Forgive me for wanting to celebrate my little sister’s return. And her promotion. And her eng..."

"I’m older than you," Kara cuts quickly.

"And yet," Alex teases, "you will always be my little sister."

Kara sighs good-naturedly. "Whatever makes you happy." She shifts against Lena, leaning towards Alex so she can whisper in her ear, "but I'm still older, and wiser," before darting away at a pace too fast for her to follow.

It doesn't mean that Alex doesn't try, springing after her sister only to stumble on the edge of the carpet and onto her wife's knees. She rises with a beer stained t-shirt and to the sound of laughter, Kara's booming above everyone else's. "You're lucky I love you," she grumbles to her sister, an unsteady accusatory finger pointed her way.

"Yes," Kara replies with a beaming smile, "yes I am."

***

The rest of the evening progresses in the same fashion, there's bickering involved, and laughter, lots of laughter. Lena pairs up with Kelly because the sisters are glued to each other's side, soaking up each other's presence before Alex goes away for a while. Lena doesn't mind because for the first time in her life, she really fits in with a group, feels at ease, welcomed and loved, and she knows that she could be anyone's game partner and still kick ass. It also means she gets to look to her heart's content, something that is more difficult to manage in a subtle way when Kara is closer to her. She'll never tire of looking at her, can't even fathom such a possibility ; Kara is everything she's ever wanted, and a little bit more.

Right now, she's sitting on the armrest of their couch, beer bottle loosely held in between two fingers and with her shirt bunched up to her elbows. Her metal arm is covered by growing patches of synthetic skin ; the process will be done soon, could have been over sooner if Kara hadn't insisted on being a test subject for this experiment. Her face scrunches up at Alex's attempt to mime a hint, and as she laughs, she looks younger, less like a revenant or the survivor of a lost world ; and Lena loves each and every version of Kara, but this one is the one that warms her heart the most.

"Wasp !" Kara shouts to everybody's dismay but no one's surprise.

"They're unbeatable at this," Kelly groans to Lena, "That's why they're not allowed to team up."

"To be fair," Lena points out, "the two of you are also unbeatable at this and shouldn't be able to team up either."

"So I should team up with Kara and you with Alex. To give everyone a fair chance."

Lena chuckles and takes a sip of wine. "Oh I have no intention of playing fair."

Lightning fast, Kara and Alex move on to another word, Ruby glued to the timer with a deepening frown the more points her mother and aunt add to their already impressive scoreboard.

"I thought I was going to lose her," Kelly says almost inaudibly. "When Kara died. I thought I was going to lose Alex."

Lena only hums at that, her stomach twisting painfully at the too fresh memory.

"She retreated on herself, became an empty shell and I, I didn't know how to reach out, how to bring her back. I know, I know they weren't always that close but by the time I met Alex, they were a unit, a package deal. Alex always had something to say about Kara, she would share jokes with me that had made her sister laugh and even when they stopped living together they were seeing or calling each other everyday. I know it's stupid, but it never occurred to me that they'd have to be without one another, ever."

"They're here now," Lena says, "both of them. Together."

"As they should be."

Across from them Ruby all but throws the timer to the ground to signify the end of the sisters' round ; by the time the game ends, they still wipe the floor with the rest of them. They high-five, laughing raucously before Kara unfurls from the couch and makes her way out the door, not without shooting a reassuring smile Lena's way. She waits a couple of minutes before following, excusing herself and slipping out after Kara up the newly consolidated stairs and to the roof.

Kara is sitting on the edge, like she always is, legs dangling without a care for her safety. Not that she would get hurt if she were to fall but sometimes Lena still worries, as a habit. Kara beacons her closer with a wave of the hand, having no doubt heard her coming from afar. Carefully, Lena joins her and sits down on the ledge, leaning into her warmth and breathing in deep.

"Sorry," Kara mumbles, "I needed a moment. Earth gets really loud sometimes."

"It’s okay. Do you want me to leave you alone ?" Lena offers even if she knows Kara will refuse, like she always does.

"No," Kara answers as predicted. "No. Please stay. You make the world quiet." She draws her closer, curling her arm around her shoulder and pulling her against her until not even a hair could pass between their bodies. "I love you," she whispers as she lays a soft kiss to the top of her head.

Lena hums quietly, content to just be here. "I love you."

They stay like that, warm in their embrace even in the midst of a cold night, until Kara sighs and averts her eyes from the stars.

"Something's on your mind ?" Lena coax gently.

"It’s nothing."

"It’s not nothing if it’s bothering you."

"I. I always worry when Alex has to be on a plane."

"She’ll call you as soon as she lands," Lena reminds her softly. "You know that. And statistically..."

"Statistically," Kara cuts nervously, "I don't have the best track record with flying metal cans. And I know, I know that if there's one human that could survive a plane crash it'd no doubt be Alex, but I worry, I'll worry until she lands, and it's a fifteen hours flight."

"Then I’ll wait fifteen hours with you. Until she calls. Okay ?"

"Thank you."

"Dublin is such a weird place for a honeymoon."

Kara laughs. "Aren’t you Irish ?"

"I am," Lena replies, "I am ! But I don't know. Most people just go to Hawaii. Where would you go ?"

"Hawaii," Kara mumbles sheepishly, dropping her gaze to the ground below them. Lena knows that if she could, she'd be blushing right now.

"Any reason for that ?" she asks with a kiss on the corner of her mouth.

"On Krypton," Kara says with a sad smile, looking up again, "it's traditional for bonded couples to go to the Fire Falls after the ceremony. There are volcanoes in Hawaii."

Lena mulls over this new information for a second, taking in the way Kara frowns as she stays fixated on the sky, the way she discreetly rubs the bracelet on her left wrist. "Hawaii works for me," she says eventually. "I'll just need a lot of sunscreen."

"You..."

Lena laughs, can't help it at the look on Kara's face, her girlfriend turning to look at her like a deer caught in headlights. "I’m not stupid," she says.

"I never implied that," Kara defends immediately. "Please, tell me I haven't made you feel less intelligent than you are..."

"Relax darling," Lena cuts with a kiss. "I just thought I'd tell you I know I accidentally married you while you were dead."

"Oh," Kara's lips part with this single syllable. She looks both happy and lost at the same time ; unfairly attractive also. "Is that, is that okay ? I mean I know it doesn't hold any true value on this planet and it was an accident and..."

"It’s perfectly okay. I don't actually think we're married. But I hold it as a promise, and as reassurance that we'll live through many things together and that when we're ready, you'll ask me to marry you, properly, and I'll say yes."

"You think I'll be the one asking ?" Kara teases with a squeeze of the hand on her shoulder.

This gets a sharp laugh out of Lena and she's grateful for the arm wrapped around her preventing her from tumbling to the ground.

"Yeah okay," Kara admits with a small laugh of her own. She sounds warm and happy and free and God, Lena falls a bit more in love with her everyday. "So, Luthor-Danvers or Danvers-Luthor ?"

"Think we could squeeze in a Zor-El too ?" Lena whispers tentatively.

"When the day comes," Kara starts, her voice tinted with promise, "I'll proudly take you into my House, officially. But in the mean time, I want you to know that in my heart, you already are an El."

Lena looks to the stars, stares at the place she scoured to find her love, knows poignantly that she'd do it all over again with no hesitancy. This is not what she expected when she met Kara, but then again she also wasn't expecting for her to love her back, and as she feels her cyborg girlfriend's burning gaze on her face, she thinks maybe it's not that bad when things don't go exactly to plan.

Kara nuzzles her cheek, kisses the hollow of her throat, "I'm happy," she says, her words vibrating against her body.

"Me too. I'm very happy."

Chapter Text

She lets her gaze wander all around her, taking in the peaceful darkness of her surroundings. The ground beneath her is surprisingly hard and dusty, a good imitation of the place it represents even if no one is supposed to see this side of it. Further away, she spots planets, and if she pays attention, she can see the featherlike chains holding them to the ceiling of the museum.

"You know," Lena says absently, "when you said you were going to take me on a date to the moon, I thought you meant the actual moon."

Kara laughs, her joy echoing all around them. "That's what I meant at the time," she says. "But I'm taking a break from space for now. I hope you don't mind."

"I don’t. I think I've seen enough of space for a while too." Lena sighs. She does like space but she's not sure she's ready for another trip just yet. "Are we allowed to be here ?" she asks as an afterthought.

"With the amount of money you donate to this place on a monthly basis, I think you could even move in," Kara jokes. "But yes, we can. I asked before setting this up."

"It's really nice." Lena reclines against Kara, pressing her back fully against her front and sighing happily when her arms wrap around her, all process of unpacking their lunch abandoned for now. "Peaceful."

"It is," Kara whispers, laying a soft kiss on her shoulder. "And the real moon is even quieter. You'd like it."

"I think I would," Lena agrees without really thinking about it. She twists a bit, shuffles until she can be face to face with Kara with the intent of kissing her until air is nothing but a memory. They're only an inch apart, Lena anticipates it with a stuttering heart, can already taste the sweetness of Kara's lips, when several disasters of various sizes happen at the same time.

Both of their phones start vibrating. Kara jumps up, sending Lena sprawling several feet away. At the commotion, the moon detaches from the ceiling. The fall is short, and Lena doesn't have the time to be afraid before Kara catches her and they land away from the wreckage in a crater of their own. She doesn't get a second to assess the situation before Kara's hands tighten almost painfully around her biceps and Lena starts trembling from a fear that isn't her own. "What," she starts asking before Kara cuts her.

"Are you okay ?" she asks, on the verge of tears. "Are you okay ? Please tell me you’re okay. I have to go. The plane. The plane is. It’s Alex."

"Go," Lena says as cold fear freezes her from the inside. "Go ! Kara go !"

Kara is gone in the blink of an eye and Lena is left alone, standing on the precipice of her life turning upside down again. No matter what happens now, nothing will ever be the same, but with her lips tingling with the ghost of an express kiss and Kara's glasses left in her hand, she trusts it will be okay.

***

Kara flies like never before, faster than she believed was possible, pushing her limits once again to save her sister's life. The plane comes into view quickly and she has to push away a wave of nausea at the sight of the smoke emanating from it. It's flying low over the city, much too low for a plane this size and the bridge is right ahead. Kara feels herself wavering, she's never had to deal with anything like that before, never had so many lives so directly hanging to her abilities. The world becomes loud, louder than she can handle and she drops a couple of feet to the sound of Catco reporting the event live, people screaming, Alex's heart beating and beating and beating like it's about to burst out of her.

She rights herself before she can crash and pushes herself faster, her fingertips grazing the rudder before it slips away from her grasp. With a burst of speed, she races with the plane until she can position herself right underneath to support its weight on her back. And it's heavy, heavier than she expected, heavier than she's ever had to carry and the bridge is only meters away. She doesn't know if she can do it, but she has to. She howls as she pushes on the hull to change the plane's course, rages against the metal until the wings are vertical. It hurts, her muscles screaming in pain and she isn't sure she's going to make it until she feels a pillar graze against her back as the plane flies through the bridge, unscathed.

The bay is right ahead, the water only a couple of feet below and with the biggest obstacle out of the way, Kara is confident in her strength and her capability to save these people, to save her sister. The plane groans and she feels the hull crack around her hands. This isn't good. At all. But before the plane can snap in half, they land in merciful water and Kara is sent reeling in the depth of the ocean. The last of her breath escapes her but the shock is balanced by the weight of the plane disappearing as it floats above her. She's done it.

She shoots out of the water, lands brutally on the right wing, out of breath and shaken up, wind flapping at her clothes and with her hair already crusting up from the salt. But it's not what matters, the state of her body is only in the background of her mind. What she notices is Alex, her sister looking at her from behind a cracked porthole, a confused but relieved expression on her face ; and what she hears is the thunder of applause coming from the other passengers. She stares at Alex and Alex stares back, both of them assessing the other and waiting for something, maybe for consequences, for a dramatic change to happen ; but Kara doesn't feel any different, and after Alex mouths a "thank you" before unbuckling herself to help her flight mates, she shoots up, up and away.

She stops at a good distance above the city and hovers there for a moment in the quiet with the sun beating on her back. Her phone, somehow still functioning, is still buzzing with incoming texts and calls, but she only answers to Lena.

"You know Cat is going to want to brand that, right ?" her love laughs in her ear. "So, Supergirl ?"

Kara sighs, smiles also, and glances down at her frayed shirt, her speed having burned away the garment to expose the crest of her usual ratty t-shirt. "Maybe."