The tinkling of silverware against glass delicately ringing through the room pierces dully through the crystalline numbness surrounding Lena, and she looks up only when she hears her name amidst happy applause.
"...... the maid-of-honor, Lena Luthor."
The delicate bell of apathy Lena has been existing in since the ceremony shatters, and she is saved only by the impeccable manners that have been drilled into her since early childhood. The perfect smile on her face is as permanent and forced as one painted on a wooden doll.
That is exactly how she feels as she stands, wooden and lifeless, her elaborate dress and corset feeling heavy and constricting around her chest and middle, cutting off her breath. But her glass is already raised, her voice somehow steady despite the roiling in her insides.
"A toast to the groom!" She tips the glass toward her brother, handsome in his suit. Lex smiles at her, affectionate as ever.
Lena returns the smile, lingering in hesitation - and it's telling of how far gone she is, because Lena Luthor never hesitates, always wrestles her fears into submission - before letting her eyes slide to the woman beside him. She carefully curates the smile on her face, fearing it will betray her at this moment.
"To the bride."
The crowd echoes her words, all turning with fondness to the blushing woman in ivory white sitting beside Lex Luthor. Golden hair crowned with flowers and a sweet blush adorning her face, she is exquisite, and Lena's heart squeezes painfully in her chest.
Linda Lee Luthor, nee Danvers. That is how people call her now. Even Lex calls her by that name - it makes sense to call her Linda, he says -- she is still in hiding, and Linda was the name given to her by her adopted family since they arrived in Metropolis. It's a name fitting for a Luthor.
Only Lena still calls her Kara.
She had insisted on it, her warm hands clasping Lena's moments after she and Lex had announced their engagement to the room filled with their loved ones - family friends, Lex's associates, and Kara's kin.
Lena is now the only one, outside of a select group comprised of Kryptonian immigrants and Kara's family and friends, who calls her by the name she was born with.
"From your sister, who is always by your side." Lena smiles her way through the envy clogging her throat. It is the great tragedy of her life that she means every word out of her mouth - oh, how she means every felicitous wish of happiness that she expresses for her brother and his new wife, she means it with all the love in her heart she bears for both of them - and yet each one rasps out of her throat like a bittersweet barb as her gaze lands on that smiling face and those lovely eyes sparkling with joy.
"To your union!" Lena lets her fond gaze travel from the couple to the people surrounding them, citizens of Metropolis and New Argo all sharing the same table, thanks to these two most important people in her life. "And the hope that you provide."
Hope. That is what Kara is, and always will be for Lena. And that is what she is for her people.
"May you always be satisfied."
In 1763, Krypton was ravaged by Civil War.
Young Kara was always inquisitive, even at the age of thirteen -- “nosy”, her Aunt Astra had called it fondly -- and she’d heard whispers, between her parents, and Aunt Astra and Uncle Non.
Rumors of the House of Daxam. Of the formidable Lady Rhea. Of plots against the House of El.
It seemed preposterous at the time. She’d grown up under the near-holy light of the House of El. Her family had ruled Krypton for over a hundred years, and, it seemed, would rule a hundred more. Under its banner, Krypton had flourished. Her father’s brother, Jor-El II had been Bythgr even before Kara was born, and would continue to rule until her older cousin Kal succeeded him. On and on, the House of El would stand mighty, carrying Krypton on its unwavering back.
But she’d been too young, or perhaps too naive, to understand.
That night -- the night that changed Kara Zor-El’s life and destroyed everything she knew -- she was roused from her sleep by her mother, whose urgent face was drawn and pale.
She’d never seen the aristocratic Alura Zor-El look so ... terrified, and it frightened Kara. At her mother’s frantic insistence, the confused girl put on her warmest clothes and was just about to put on her favorite cloak with the El crest emblazoned on the back, but her mother yanked it off urgently.
“No! Not that one. Put this on,” Alura threw the mantle aside and grabbed another cloak, one of Kara’s older ones -- simpler and more worn, she’d always lamented that Kara looked like a street urchin rather than a princess in it.
Now she wrapped it securely around Kara’s shoulders and pulled the cowl up so that it obscured Kara’s golden hair and part of her face. “Now, follow me. Quickly!”
Her mother herded her down the vast marble steps, Kara struggling to keep up with her. There were raised voices all over the place, and was that smoke rising from the West Tower? As they rushed by a window, Kara could see the angry orange glow of a raging fire emanating from the tower that housed Kara’s beloved Science Guild. She wanted to run to the window and see, but Alura steered her firmly away.
She and her mother were met at the foot of the stairs by her father and Kal. Her older cousin was also wearing a cloak like Kara’s, his face similarly obscured, and it only added to Kara’s confusion. “Ieiu, Ukr. What’s going on?!”
Her mother hurriedly clapped a hand over Kara’s mouth, but it was too late. Her high, panicked voice carried through the empty hall and alerted others to their presence. She heard yells -- that was her Uncle Non’s voice! -- booming from beyond the Great Hall.
“There! They’re over there! Get them!”
Her father’s face hardened as he drew his sword and turned toward the mob pursuing them, his own kinsman among them. Their faces twisted and contorted like the monsters from the bedtime stories Kara had heard as a child, except these faces were terrifying real, glowing red from the light of their torches, and they were coming for Kara and her family.
At the head of the army was a tall, regal woman with eyes that reminded her of the stones at the riverbank she used to play in -- cold, black and smooth. She wore an armor stained dark with blood -- Uncle Jor-El’s blood, she would later learn.
At the sight of Kara and Kal, the smooth coldness of the woman’s dark gaze morphed into something mad and feral, and her lips twisted into a cruel smile. A blade glinted dangerously in her hand.
“Alura! Take the children and go!” Zor-El planted himself between the woman and his family. “I’ll hold them off! GO!”
Kara stood frozen in terror as her father raised his sword and the woman loomed over him with her eyes as black as stones and as mad as the inferno that engulfed the West Tower. She couldn’t have moved if her mother hadn’t yanked at her elbow, pulling her along as Alura and Kal fled down a back corridor.
Kara’s feet could barely keep up with them, and she struggled, screaming for her father, begging to go back and help him.
She struggled so much that Kal had to scoop her up in his arms -- it occurred to her vaguely in the back of her mind that he hadn’t carried her like a babe since she was a child, she was too big to be carried now -- but they ran faster, faster down narrow passageways, with the din of a pursuing mob behind them -- and all Kara could think of was her father struck down by that woman.
They reached the end of a corridor and Kal kicked the door open. He set Kara down long enough to barricade the door against their pursuers with Alura’s help. It was only then that Kara realized they were at the stables.
“We have to go back! Ieiu, Kal, we have to go back!”
“Kara,” Alura abandoned her task to take Kara by the shoulders. “Listen to me. I will go back to your father, but you -- you and Kal must go. Quickly, Kal. Take Steyg, he’s the fastest and he can carry you both…. Listen to me, Kara. You must be brave now. You must be strong. Your journey will be long and hard, but your father and I will be with you always.”
Alura reached around her neck and hurriedly unclasped the necklace Kara knew she always wore there -- the one with the crest of the House of El that Zor-El had given her on their Bonding Ceremony years ago.
Alura pressed her necklace into Kara’s palm and curled her small fingers around it. Even through her panic and confusion, Kara could see the tears in her mother’s eyes. She pulled Kara close, and Kara clung to her tightly, out of fear and a panicked certainty that she would never be able to hold her mother again.
“I am so proud of you, my Kara.” Alura whispered in her ear, her voice thick with tears. “I know you will do extraordinary things.”
Too soon -- much too soon -- they heard the clamor of their pursuers beyond the barricaded door, and Alura hoisted Kara up onto the horse in front of Kal.
“Take care of her, Kal. Go to the docks, there’s a ship waiting there that can take you to Metropolis. Look for Jeremiah Danvers. He was your father’s friend many years ago, and he will help you.” Alura’s fingers dug into Kal’s arm for one second more before she let go and pushed Steyg into motion. “Be safe. Don’t let them find you!”
Steyg was already galloping away when they heard the mob break through the barricade. Kara cried out and struggled to turn back, but Kal wouldn’t let her. He was immovable, no matter how much she pushed and pushed against him.
“We can’t go back, Kara. We can’t!”
They reached the docks after a few hours’ ride, Kal pushing Steyg to his limit while a sobbing Kara helplessly clung to him. The horse was given as payment to the Captain who let them hide in the ship with the other survivors just before it slipped its moorings.
They stayed hidden below deck, shivering out of fear and cold. The others -- supporters of the House of El, old enemies of the House of Daxam, slaves owned by the House of Daxam making a bid for freedom -- crowded around them, like moths drawn to a flame. They all huddled close to each other, hidden in the underbelly of the ship, staring at Kal and Kara, murmuring “Kir Bythgr… Kir Bethgr… Zhaonah… Zrhythrev Ehl… Voikirahm...”
Kara didn’t hear any of it. She spent most of the trip in a numb, shocked haze, clinging to Kal for most of the journey. The only thing that jolted her out of her catatonic haze was whenever Kal moved away, to retrieve food for them or to assist another refugee.
If Kara wasn’t holding onto a piece of Kal at any given moment, she would be besieged by a mindless terror that caused her to gasp for breath, fat tears leaking out of her eyes before she could stop them.
The only thing that could calm her was Kal holding her again, rocking her as the ship creaked around them, the sound of the waves lapping at the ship creating a dull rushing in her ears, allowing her to slowly calm down.
Finally, after weeks at sea, they docked at Metropolis in the dead of the night. Met in secret by Jor-El’s old friend, Jeremiah Danvers and his wife Eliza, who received them into their house warmly.
Only to tell them that Kal could not stay.
Kara was appalled and near-wild with fear. Jeremiah was talking on and on about the danger of the two of them being seen together, about how Jeremiah’s friendship with Jor-El had been well-known and it would only be too easy to deduce Kal’s lineage if he was suddenly adopted by the Danvers, Kara could stay, she shared Eliza’s coloring and looked enough like her that she could pass for a family relation, but Kal must go, perhaps to his friends, the Kents, who lived west of Metropolis --
But all Kara could hear was that Kal -- her only family left -- would be taken from her.
“no…. no… No… No! ….. NO! NO!!!” Kara could only mutter over and over, shaking her head back and forth, each interjection a terrified moan that escalated into high-pitched shrieks that both Jeremiah and Kal hurriedly tried to silence for fear of discovery.
Her screaming woke the Danvers’ daughter Alexandra, who found them all trying to subdue Kara, who was now crying and screeching inconsolably while clinging to Kal. Eliza was trying to wrap a blanket around her, but Kara refused to let go of her cousin.
“Alexandra, make a cup of tea. And fetch the laudanum from the cupboard.” Alexandra, confused and a little frightened of this howling creature, complied with her mother’s orders for the first time without protest.
In the end, there was no help for it, and they all knew it.
Kara would not be safe with Kal. They would be too easily discovered together -- two displaced young people with the telltale brilliant blue El eyes arriving in Metropolis at the same time the Prince and Princess of Krypton went missing? It would be frighteningly easy for Rhea -- who had now established herself Bethgr of Krypton -- to discover them.
So Kal stayed with the Kents, distant friends of Jeremiah’s, who lived out west in Smallville. And Kara stayed with the Danvers in Metropolis. Plagued nightly by nightmares of her family burning or dying at the hands of Rhea with her stone-black eyes.
Every night, Eliza Danvers slept in a chair beside her bed. Whenever Kara woke up screaming and shaking, Eliza was there, with her gentle calming voice, to smooth her hair back and hold her until she felt safe enough to sleep again. She wasn’t her mother -- could never be her mother -- but Eliza was a desperately-needed source of comfort for the terrified young girl.
The Danvers’ daughter, Alexandra was more than a little chilly toward her at first. Especially after her first impression of Kara, and especially after Kara called her Alexandra, a name she loathed with a burning passion. Alex treated her more like a nuisance than a sister during the first few months of her stay with the family.
Until one night, when Jeremiah and Eliza were invited to dinner at the Luthor Manor.
One did not simply turn down an invitation from the Luthors, and not even a renowned doctor like Jeremiah could refuse. Eliza was unable to sit with Kara that night, and the young girl, terrified of the nightmares, huddled in her bed, forcing herself to stay awake.
Sometime in the night, Alex found her there, crying silently, curled into a painful little ball.
Alex took one look at Kara, and with a deep, resigned sigh, she pulled the covers back and slipped into the bed beside the young girl, holding her gingerly.
It was awkward, since Alex did not customarily like giving or receiving hugs, but she made an effort to pat Kara stiffly on the back.
Instead of soothing her, the clumsy attempt at comfort made Kara snort a laugh, and Alex glared at her. But as her next attempts at comfort got no less awkward, Alex was forced to acknowledge to herself how inept she was at this, and she reluctantly joined in on Kara’s laughter.
Both Eliza and Jeremiah were astonished to see both girls sleeping soundly on the same bed when they got home late that night.
And they were even more astonished to see Alex pushing her bed into Kara’s room the next day. When asked what she was doing, Alex replied sniffily “Well, clearly she’s useless on her own. Someone has got to make sure she behaves like an actual human being!”
From then on, they were inseparable.
It was Alex who still called her Kara, even when the Danvers said that she must change her name to Linda to avoid detection.
It was Alex who stayed up with Kara on each passing birthday, waiting for Kal -- whose name was now Clark Kent -- to visit. He never did, though a letter would often arrive. Except Kara hated those more, because they had to be impersonal to avoid giving away information, and as such each missive contained as much emotion and affection as a handshake.
And it was Alex who would usually end the day making increasingly diabolical plans to get petty revenge on him to make Kara laugh.
It was Kara who took Alex’s side in every argument she had with Eliza. It was Kara who made funny faces behind her silk fan to entertain Alex whenever Eliza forced them to accompany her to a luncheon.
And it was Kara who held Alex’s hand tight as they stood silently at Jeremiah Danvers’ grave. It was Kara who sat quietly beside Alex after the funeral, and said nothing when Alex began sobbing -- faintly, in halting, reserved hiccups at first, then bigger and bigger until she was rasping her grief out into Kara’s collar while Kara stroked her hair.
Still, despite their mourning, there were still some things to be thankful for. They were far better off than the other Kryptonian stowaways with whom Kara had shared close quarters in the ship years ago.
The Kryptonian refugees had gathered among themselves, banding together like a school of fish in hostile waters -- which they were.
Metropolis was not kind to them. Metropolitans were trade people, and while some had welcomed the new business, most were resentful of these newcomers whom they whispered had come to take their land, their resources and livelihood.
And so, the Kryptonians had kept mostly to themselves all these years, making a home for themselves in the fringes of this new land they had found themselves in. Within a few years, a growing settlement had formed, a hopeful patch of land they had called New Argo, after the city that once had been their home.
Here, in New Argo, the Kryptonians felt safe -- away from the reach of Rhea and the House of Daxam. And if they were not accepted, they were at least somewhat tolerated by the Metropolitans.
Most Metropolitans would not cross into New Argo, and very few Kryptonians ventured too far into Metropolis. The few exceptions were Kara -- who lived in Metropolis with the Danvers family -- and the Olsens, who along with the Nals, owned an apothecary shop on Bakerline.
It is in this manner that Kara is brought up, with one foot in one world and one foot in the other. Never quite able to let go of the past and uncertain of the future, never able to share the entirety of herself to another.
Now that they’re older, Kal -- or Clark, as he seemed more to be now, since Kara saw little of the Kal she had known before in him now -- visits New Argo and Metropolis more often.
He tries -- for Kara -- she knows he does.
He makes attempts to cross the gulf that has opened between them, but it’s hard. There is too much secrecy, the need for it permeating every aspect of their lives so that neither of them really knows what to say to the other any more.
He does tell her things about himself -- how he has been invited to write for the new publication that Perry White, a visionary publisher, and an illustrious and irrepressible widow named Cat Grant had been trying to get off the ground. The paper is to be called The Daily Planet, and Clark is tremendously excited at how much good he could do in such a position.
He speaks of how he had been invited to dine with the famed Luthor family, and had met the enigmatic Lex Luthor, who helms the Luthor Trading Company, and his beautiful sister. How he had the most fascinating conversation with a woman named Lois about the Metropolitans’ stance on New Argo at dinner with the Lanes’, and how they had spoken about what actions could be taken to build a bridge between the Metropolitans and the Kryptonians.
Kara tries to appreciate Kal’s efforts, but she cannot help but feel disconnected from him. Where is the boy who had taught her the prayers of Rao’s faithful? Who stood, tall, youthful and earnest in the Great Hall beside his father and told Kara stories of the Bythgrs of old, and took pride in their family's legacy?
He asks about Kara’s life, but truthfully, there is not much to tell, and she can’t help but feel that this is at least partly his fault. The Danvers have sheltered her all these years for her own protection, but there is much she knows she has been kept from.
It's been thirteen years since that night.
Thirteen years of change and secrecy, of hiding, of holding herself back in so many ways.
Nights like this, however, give her the chance to drop her guard.
Tucked in cellar of Megan Mores’ home on the boundary between New Argo and Metropolis, she laughs as she watches the revelry around her. Even with twenty or so people crammed in the basement lit only by candles, her people still know how to have a good time.
She claps in time to the lively beat reverberating through the small space, nearly shaking the walls each time James plays the belahdiehd.
Winn, one of her oldest friends and one of the few Metropolitans present, is well on his way to drunk from the Aldebaran rum Megan has been pouring all night. Someone really should have told Winn that stuff is deadly to anyone who doesn’t have a Kryptonian’s constitution for liquor.
Most of the revelers are Kryptonian and all of them are familiar to her. She waves to each of them and stops to converse with each one, cheerfully inquiring about their livelihoods and their little ones. They all respond warmly, chatting and laughing heartily with her.
In the safety of this secret cloistered place, they all still call her Kara and the ones who are old enough to remember Krypton before they fled still call her Kir Bythgar, and she doesn’t have the heart to remind them that she is a princess no longer. She’s not Kara Zor-El anymore, she’s just Linda Lee Danvers.
She doesn’t begrudge them their nostalgia. She’s lived in Metropolis for thirteen years now, she’s lived here just as many years as she lived in Krypton. Outside of this basement, she looks and acts a Metropolitan as much as Alex does -- but she knows, in her heart, that a part of her is still that thirteen-year-old Kryptonian princess who never grew up.
She never speaks it out loud -- and she only ever lets herself think this thought at Gatherings like this, when she doesn't have to be Linda Lee Danvers -- but sometimes Kara feels as if she is the only El left.
Kal-El is now Clark Kent. He never speaks of Krypton. Instead, he speaks of Metropolis as if it is his home. He never speaks of their old friends in Krypton. He no longer speaks of their family, as if they had all vanished into the ether that terrible night.
Instead, every word out of Clark's mouth nowadays is usually attached to one of two names -- that of Lois Lane or Lex Luthor.
One is his beloved, and the other he calls his dearest friend. Kara sometimes wants to tease him that she can't tell which is which the way he talks about them both, but she and Clark are no longer familiar in that way.
She's never met Lex Luthor, but Kara has met Lois -- or rather, Linda has met Lois. She likes the older woman well enough: Lois is intelligent, bold and unafraid of speaking her mind. She keeps Clark on his toes, and she can see how happy Clark is with her.
Kara sometimes wishes she could be like her, that she can be as free with her words and her mind as Lois seems to be.
She spots Alex across the room. She’s talking to Kelly and another woman Kara doesn’t recognize. She can’t quite see her face, but from the looks of her, particularly the elegance of her clothes, she’s Metropolitan.
Alex beckons her over, and as Kara approaches, the other woman turns around, and the first thing that Kara immediately notices is the brilliant clarity of the woman’s jade-green eyes as she surveys the celebrations. There’s an agile curiosity in the way she watches the revelry around her, the people dancing to the belahd.
“This is my sister, Linda Lee.”
Those curious eyes flit to Kara’s and the lady holds out her hand. Kara takes it, expecting it to be soft and delicate, but instead, the other woman’s hands are surprisingly calloused and her grip is firm. She smiles archly as Kara stares at her. “Lena Luthor.”
So this is Lena Luthor. Only daughter of the most powerful family in Metropolis, and the sister of Clark’s best friend.
Kara vaguely remembers that Clark had described her as ‘beautiful’, but now she realizes her cousin has not done her justice. Lena Luthor is lissome and regal, her every move elegant even in the confines of this tiny, cloistered basement.
When Kelly manages to pull Alex over to the small makeshift dance floor, Kara and Lena are left on their own. Kara shifts nervously at first, unsure of what to say. Her sheltered upbringing has somewhat limited her capacity for small talk, and it’s especially difficult to come up with interesting and engaging conversation when faced with someone as beautiful and important as Lena Luthor.
But Lena surprises her.
She’s a stranger to these Gatherings. Most Metropolitans are, since very few come to them. Lena is brimming with curiosity and asks about every dance and every song James plays on the belahdiehd.
Kara tries to be careful about her answers. After all, she is supposed to be a Metropolitan too.
But Lena turns out to be dangerously easy to talk to. She’s effortlessly charming and she seems genuinely interested in listening to whatever Kara has to say.
At one point, their conversation turns to the latest advances in science, and Lena lights up even more. “.... I’ve heard of a self-taught inoculator from Scotland who claims to have developed a cure for smallpox, and while I’m skeptical about his technique, I think his ideas might have some merit.”
And Kara, who was once the youngest member of the Kryptonian Science Guild, is enthralled. She chimes in unreservedly, and the two of them spend most of the night by the fire, talking and talking. Kara doesn’t think she’s talked to someone this much or this freely in a long time, except perhaps Alex.
She tips her head, surveying Lena during a lull in their conversation. She’s never been good at filtering her thoughts before they leave her mouth, and Lena’s company is easy and comfortable. “You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied.”
Lena stills. For the first time in their conversation, she draws herself up to her full height, and Kara is reminded of her station. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. You forget yourself, Miss Danvers.”
And Kara looks away, down at her hands, sure she’s overstepped. “I just -- I only meant.... You’re like me.” she fiddles with her hands on her lap. “I’ve never been satisfied.”
It’s Lena’s turn to study her. One perfect eyebrow arches. “Is that right?”
Kara nods, risking a glance at her companion. Lena is watching her with a strange look on her face, thoughtful and measuring at the same time. She’s spared the agony of thinking of a reply when Megan announces that the Metropolitan Police have started their patrol.
While there is nothing illegal about the Gatherings, people tend to frown at any event that brings Metropolitans and Kryptonians together, and they don’t need to bring down the wrath of any Metropolitan authorities on New Argo. The crowd disperses quickly, but quietly.
Kara walks Lena back to her carriage, while Alex waits impatiently for her in theirs. Lena gives her a contemplative smile as she stops at the small door. “Thank you for a very interesting evening. Goodbye, Linda.”
The name jolts Kara, and she flounders. It sounds wrong coming from Lena. Just before Lena climbs into the carriage, Kara takes her wrist. And despite all of the warnings that have been drilled into her by Alex, Jeremiah, Eliza and Kal, she finds herself speaking in a quiet voice meant only for the other woman.
“Kara. My name is Kara Zor-El.”
The name has been swirling in Lena’s head since she heard it that night at the Gathering. The name had confirmed Lena's suspicion that "Linda" was Kryptonian.
It changes nothing for her.
She had found Linda -- Kara -- to be a very intriguing woman. Pretty, mild-mannered and unassuming at first glance, but so very quick and clever behind those lovely azure eyes -- with a straightforward frankness that had both surprised and ensnared Lena.
It doesn’t matter to her that Kara is Kryptonian, but she does want to know more.
The name is somehow familiar. She has heard the name before.
She asks around as discreetly as she can, and her inquiries lead her to the deposed House of El and its missing scions, believed to be dead.
Clearly not, if Kara -- Linda -- is to be believed.
The next time they meet is at a garden party. As the widow of an important doctor, Eliza is invited. Alex and Kara tag along as her dutiful daughters, Alex squirming in her dress the whole way.
Lena gravitates toward Kara, and she can see the trepidation in her eyes. Kara’s hands open and close nervously at her sides as she awaits Lena’s reaction.
Lena leads them away from prying eyes down a small path, and as their surroundings get less crowded, Kara seems to become less agitated. She calms more the farther they get from the party.
By the time they reach the lovely little fountain at the end of the path, Kara has visibly relaxed, though she still looks at Lena tentatively.
“Why did you tell me your secret?”
Kara ducks her head, watches the water burbling in the fountain for a long moment. “I don’t know.... I’ve only told one other person, and that was Winn, and he’s been my friend since I first came here. He’s practically a brother to me. Only my family and the other Kryptonians from New Argo know.”
“So why tell me?” Lena asks softly.
Kara meets her eyes slowly, and Lena can see the plain honesty in them, “It’s very easy to trust you.”
A sense of lightness sweeps over Lena’s chest, and she smiles. “It’s very easy to trust you too.”
A slow smile blooms over Kara’s face, and Lena delights in it for a long moment. Then she reaches out and, very gently, touches Kara’s hand.
“Tell me about Krypton.”
That is where it begins for Lena. The slow, intoxicating downward spiral of emotions that Kara induced in her.
It only grows from that one conversation, in which she had listened, enraptured, to Kara’s stories of Krypton. And with each new encounter -- over tea, at parties she makes sure Kara is invited to -- Lena becomes more and more enamored, until she catches her heart racing when she sees Kara’s smile.
And she knows.
When Kara places her hand lightly on top of hers, and Lena’s heart skips a beat. When Lena says something that makes Kara throw her head back and laugh, and her heart soars along with the sound of Kara’s laughter -- she knows that what she feels has grown into something more.
She also knows there is simply nothing to be done about it.
Lillian has been pushing her to choose between two suitors, Jack Spheer and Morgan Edge. But Edge is simply abhorrent in every way, and while she adores Jack with all her heart, the thought of Jacky as a husband makes her balk just as much, because he has been a friend and almost a brother since childhood.
So it really is quite impossible for anything to come out of Lena's feelings, and so she keeps them to herself.
Then there is also the matter of Kara’s true identity. She has been in hiding for a long time, but the only thing protecting her right now is her anonymity. What happens if that is somehow taken away from her? She would be in danger, not just from Rhea, but also the other Metropolitans who are already hostile toward the Kryptonians.
The anti-Kryptonian sentiment has been rising with alarming swiftness throughout Metropolis recently. Enough that Lena knows Kara’s cousin has been investigating possible links between Rhea's regime in Krypton and the unrest in Metropolis. It’s already necessitated several dangerous trips there for Clark, Kara has told her, and Lena is worried for her friend.
But, if Kara were under the protection of the Luthors....
No one would dare to come after Kara if she had the might of the Luthor family behind her.
As she watches Kara try to sip her tea as delicately as possible, Lena makes her decision. She reaches across the table and takes Kara’s hand. “Come with me.”
She rises, tugging Kara lightly with her. Kara sets the teacup down carefully, as if trying to avoid breaking the fragile thing. She tips her head curiously at Lena, but allows her to pull her along. “Where are we going?”
“I’m about to change your life.”
She leads Kara to the door of Lex’s study and knocks.
Lex Luthor is a strange man, Kara thinks.
There’s something about him, something enigmatic that immediately draws the eye. Perhaps it's the way he moves with confident ease through any room, commanding attention. He’s larger than life, and he has a charismatic way about him that makes it easy to gravitate toward the man.
Kara doesn’t quite feel the same ease with him that she does with Lena, and in fact, she feels a certain discomfiture around him when he first asks to court her. She’s never had anyone court her, and to have her first suitor be the great Lex Luthor himself is enough to make Kara want to curl in on herself and hide.
It takes her and everyone around her aback, because Lex is older and such a prominent figure, and Kara is, well, Kara. Or rather, Linda.
But Lex gallantly applies himself to the task, and with Lena gently encouraging her, Kara slowly warms to him and she begins to spend more time with him.
Lex treats her with the same affection he gives Lena, and Kara has to admit, it feels nice to be the center of someone’s attention. She warms to him the way she warms to everyone else. She doesn't feel any of the affection for him that she saw between Jeremiah and Eliza, but she likes him well enough because Lena seems to love him so much. And she supposes that love can come later when they are married.
And Kara does find him intriguing. These Luthors entrance her, with their piercing intelligence and easy charisma. Lex reminds her of Lena, a bit. The way their brilliance simmers just underneath the skin -- Lena's brilliance is more tranquil; it radiates from her, like the sheen of a pearl; but with Lex it seems to coil and tense under a thin veneer.
She craves to know more about them. Kara calls on Luthor Manor more and more often. Often, it's Lex she sees there, since he is her intended. And she enjoys reading the books he gives her, and playing chess with him.
He tells her stories, of the history of the world as they play, things she never knew from her sheltered upbringing with the Danvers. Her family never neglected her education, nor did they keep her ignorant, but there is so much Kara has been kept from, and Lex, like Lena, seems to know so much.
On one occasion, he tells her of Philip of Macedon, and his son Alexander the Great, for whom Lex himself was named, and how he conquered the world. And Kara smiles as she moves her next piece.
"This appeals to you, the idea of conquering the world." This is as close as Kara's come to teasing him, and she lets it show in her voice. It's almost domestic, this routine they've fallen into while playing chess.
Lex huffs a short laugh. "You sound like my sister."
Kara can't help it, the way she looks up at any mention of Lena's name, the warmth it introduces to her chest, spilling down to her stomach slowly, like honey. Her smile is soft, and Lex notices.
"You remind me of her sometimes. The two of you share many things."
"Well," Kara keeps her voice light. "We are friends."
"More than that, you two are kindred spirits. You both aspire to be good." There's a note in Lex's voice that sounds almost condescending at the word. "You both believe in the good in people. You both belong in the light."
Then he smiles, teeth flashing. “Checkmate.”
“Not again!” Kara groans, and Lex laughs, teasing. She ducks her head and joins him in light laughter. It feels comfortable, and Lex promises to teach her how to play better with an affectionate smile.
She can see why Lena loves him.
The more time Kara spends with Lex, the more she likes him. And the more time she spends with Lena, the happier she is. This is nice, she thinks. Playing chess with Lex, then having tea with Lena in her lovely sitting room later, just the two of them.
Whenever Kara gets back home, she's always smiling brightly, and Eliza teases her, says it's the happiness of a young girl in love. Alex is a little bit more skeptical, but she sees Kara’s light mood, and she refrains from saying anything.
When she joins Lena for tea later that week, Kara gives her permission to tell Lex her secret.
Lena watches the growing closeness between her brother and her friend from the sidelines.
She can see how much good this union will do. It's necessary, it's best for Kara, to protect her. And on top of that, she can see the hope it gives Kara’s people.
Already, she can see the changes.
Kara's true identity is still secret, of course, but as she becomes more and more visible with the Luthors, among the Kryptonians of Argo -- who know who Kara truly is, and look to her and her cousin as their leaders -- there is already a burgeoning sense of cautious hope, a possibility of more than just existing alongside the people of Metropolis, but of a union, of acceptance.
And this, to Lena, is further proof that she made the right choice. That this is the best way.
Lena can see the way Lex makes Kara smile, and he is as affectionate toward her as he is with Lena herself. And Kara, sweet Kara, who envelops everyone with her warmth and earnestness -- how could anyone not love her?
And Kara is always so excited to tell Lena everything she and Lex talk of. More than anything, Lena cherishes the moments she and Kara share just before Kara leaves. After her visit with Lex, Lena gets to steal Kara for herself, a little bit of precious time for the two of them to talk. ‘Ladies' gossip’, Lex calls it.
But these moments are never filled with idle chatter for Lena.
She's enraptured by everything Kara has to say, about Krypton, about the new things she's learned from Lex -- Lena has heard them all, of course, but seeing everything through Kara's eyes provides her with a uniquely refreshing perspective that thrills her.
And Kara seems equally interested in everything Lena has to say, God knows why -- but she'll listen raptly as Lena babbles on about her study in finding vaccinations for smallpox, which everyone else regards as preposterous and unladylike, but Kara nods along excitedly and provides her own ideas and opinions
This is more than Lena can hope for. This way, she gets to keep Kara in her life.
Kara was wrong. Lena can learn to be satisfied. She can.
When Clark returns from Krypton, Lex suggests to Lena that they all dine together.
"They are to be part of the family, after all." There's something about the way he says it, a note just slightly off-tune, his smile a tad too much like the one Lex wears when he plays chess against her and is near victory.
But then he puts his arm around her, warm affection all but seeping through his voice against Lena's temple.
"And I owe it all to you, sister. This is all because of you, Lena. Remember that."
Lena takes this for ardor, and she embraces him warmly, accepting his affection and gratitude as if it doesn't pain her, as if she is happy for him.
And she is.
This is the domestic scene Clark comes home to, Kara all but ensconced in the Luthor home. His first instinct is to be defensive, to protect his cousin -- they’ve kept their identities hidden for so long, how can Kara share the truth without telling him?
But then he sees her with the Luthors.
Lillian, the family matriarch, is distant and pragmatic, but Lex is affectionate toward her, and Clark knows his closest friend to be a trustworthy man. He would never hurt Kara.
And Lena, well.... Clark sees the clear devotion between the two women, and he’s happy Kara has found a loyal friend and a confidante of her own. And when he sees how lighter she seems now than she ever has since they left Krypton, he smiles and tells her he’s happy for her.
It begins after the wedding.
More and more Kryptonians had begun integrating into Metropolis, and the Gatherings between Metropolitans and Kryptonians become less secret and become more of the celebrations they were always meant to be. Kara’s marriage had drawn Kryptonians and their supporters out, and it had been a hopeful thing.
Until the Children of Liberty emerged with them.
They had started out in the fringes -- small, random isolated attacks, and Clark had been keeping an eye on them. However, they gain momentum quickly as more Kryptonians come out of the woodwork and become bigger targets for bigger attacks.
Storefronts damaged and defaced in the dead of night. A hooded and masked group carrying torches chasing down and terrorizing a young Kryptonian girl who had ventured into Metropolis to visit the Nals’ apothecary at Bakerline. Luckily, Clark and James had been nearby and had managed to fight most of the group off, while Nia had taken the girl quickly back to New Argo and delivered her safely to her parents.
And then the illness starts.
It hits the older people first. A couple of people, then five, then ten, then enough that Kelly has to leave the apothecary so she can tend to the sick.
Then come the children. Little ones crying for their mothers as they convulse on the bed, sweating and heaving. One after the other, they fall ill and Kelly makes a valiant effort, but it’s simply too much, and even Eliza and Alex have to come and help.
It’s simply too much, and Kara cannot stand by and let this happen to her people. An illness that only spreads among Kryptonians? It’s too deliberate. She knows that somehow, the Children of Liberty are behind this.
The organization is shadowy and incredibly effective, leading Lena, Kara and Clark to believe that it's being funded by people in high places. Lex offers to help the investigation by giving them access to Luthor Trading Co resources, but the answers remain elusive.
It’s only after weeks of fruitless investigation into the Children of Liberty and after several Kryptonians have already died of the mysterious disease, that Kara discovers that the sickness is caused by a certain substance found only on Krypton called Kryptonite. She discovers that it has been introduced to New Argo’s water supply, and the efforts to stop the spread begin in earnest, but the damage has been done, and the sick continue to get sicker.
Clark manages to procure a sample with great difficulty, despite the resources Lex has offered, and he gives the sample to Lena to study.
Lena applies all her skills and intellect into developing an antidote and a vaccine to the Kryptonite like she has never applied herself to anything before. She studies the substance diligently, with little thought to food or sleep.
When she has a breakthrough -- finally discovers how the substance was produced and takes one step closer to finding a cure -- it’s not what she expects. Nor what she wants to see.
The Kryptonite, she discovers, targets specific parts of the body’s cells, and Kryptonians have a particularly high susceptibility to the substance. And even more than disturbing, some of the materials that are necessary to produce the Kryptonite are incredibly rare. In fact, she knows only one trading company who could possibly have access to these materials.
Luthor Trading Company.
She enters her mother’s study on shaking legs. Lillian spares her a short disdainful look before returning to her book.
“How could you, Mother?”
Lillian doesn’t look up, merely drawls in a bored voice “How could I what?”
“All those people.... I knew you were no saint, but I had no idea you were the devil incarnate.”
This time, Lillian does look up with casual, almost bored, disdain. “What are you talking about?”
“Those people in New Argo!! You procured the materials to produce Kryptonite, and you poisoned their water supply! Why would you do this?? Don’t tell me you’re one of those fools who believes the Kryptonians are here to steal resources from our business? How could that ever justify killing them? How could that ever justify what you’ve done?”
Lillian rises from her desk and pins Lena with a glacial look. For a moment, Lena feels like a child once again, being cowed into submission. But she holds her ground.
“If I were you, I would choose my next words wisely, Lena. Don’t go making accusations on things you know nothing about. I'm not the one you should be chastising. After all, I’m not the one who poisoned those people. And I’m certainly not the one about to deliver your friend to her greatest enemy”
“What? What are you talking about?”
Lillian laughs, low and cruel. “Oh, you truly are slow, Lena. Gullible where your brother is brilliant. He had the right idea and the right sentiment against those parasites.”
Horror creeps over Lena as the realization slowly dawns on her. “Lex....” her voice breaks. “.... Lex was the one who poisoned all those people?”
"Finally, you’re catching up.” Lillian smiles, her lips a sharp curved line, like a scythe slashed across her face. “Why do you think he married that worthless little twit? He needed a bargaining chip. Something he could trade for the materials he needed to make the Kryptonite and wipe out New Argo.”
Lena’s heart stops, and an icy sweat breaks out all over her body. “Kara...?”
“.... Is probably being delivered to Queen Rhea’s hands as we speak.”
Something inside Lena breaks, and she doesn’t remember rushing out of Lillian’s study, or the cruel laugh that trails after her. She doesn’t remember running and almost falling down the stairs in her haste. She doesn’t even remember mounting her horse and racing through the streets of Metropolis.
All she can think of is Kara, in danger because of her.
Kara who could die because Lena was a fool and had unwittingly betrayed her. All this time, she’d thought she was protecting Kara, giving hope to the people of New Argo, when really she’d been offering Kara up to Rhea on a silver platter, and leading the Kryptonians by the hand to their deaths.
She’s so numb to everything else around her that she is nearly unseated when the explosion rocks the whole city. The ground beneath her trembles in the resulting blast, and she has to hold on to keep from falling off when her horse rears up in fright. It comes from a few miles east, near the port, where the Luthor Trading Company keeps its ships docked.
Lena wastes no time. Once her spooked horse is under control, she turns toward the docks. Her breath comes heavy and she rides as fast as she can, but she’s too late.
There’s too much confusion at the scene -- too much smoke, people running to put out the fires as they spread from the docks to the homes, people fleeing the fires with their children and their possessions.
She can’t find Kara anywhere.
She tries to stay and look for her, but one of the fire wardens sees Lena trying to approach the burning wreckage, and hauls her away, struggling the whole time. She only calms down when she’s told that only one body was pulled out of the wreckage.
"Miss Luthor.... it’s your brother.”
Everything descends into chaos then.
A witness, a dock worker named Ben Lockwood, comes forward, stating that he had seen Lex Luthor in a confrontation with Clark Kent. According to Lockwood, Kent claimed that Luthor was trying to kill the Kryptonians somehow with the illness that had spread through New Argo. Luthor, in turn, had exposed Kent and his cousin, Luthor’s wife as Kryptonian anarchists trying to incite a rebellion to take over Metropolis and claim it for the Kryptonians.
Luthor had then produced a device with what he claimed to be an unstable substance inside. Kent had tried to take it from him, and in the ensuing struggle, the device exploded.
It doesn’t matter how factual Lockwood’s statement was. Lex’s body at the site of the explosion is enough to seal her fate.
Lena returns home to find her mother, and all of the valuables in the house, gone. With Lillian gone, Lex dead, his wife revealed as a Kryptonian and both her and Clark Kent missing, the only one left to shift the blame to is Lena.
The whole city condemns her. Metropolitans blame her for the wreckage her brother inflicted on their home. They point the finger at her and say she must have been involved in it somehow. Even orchestrated it. After all, she is the only one left unscathed.
She inherits the company, and the mess Lex left behind. There’s still the Kryptonite poisoning to contend with, and now that she knows her brother was behind it, she throws herself into the work even more. People are still dying, and if she doesn’t come up with a vaccine soon, even more people will die.
All because Lena was a fool.
On top of it all, the Children of Liberty grows stronger -- now they call themselves Cadmus, and this time, their messages of hate contain a proclamation of vengeance, for the life of Metropolis’ son, Lex Luthor -- whom they have now claimed as their hero.
They blame Lena for this too.
She grits her teeth and bears it all, as she should. She scrambles blindly to keep everything together. The vaccine. The business. The family name.
But even all this is easier to bear than the memory of seeing Kara’s room empty. Of walking up the stairs to the Danvers’ porch and knocking on the doors fruitlessly. The house is dead and empty, devoid of Kara’s warmth and Alex’s teasing laughter.
Kara is gone, and Lena is completely and utterly alone.
It’s a member of Rhea’s court who saves Kara.
His name is J’onn J’onnz and he reveals himself first to Clark the night of the explosion. He tells him of how he had served as one of Jor-El’s advisors before he was murdered, but Rhea had taken his wife and daughters, and threatened to kill them if he didn’t serve her.
He tells Clark of Rhea’s search for the last remaining members of the House of El, and how it had ended when Lex Luthor had approached her with a deal -- he would deliver Kara Zor-El and Kal-El to her, if she gave him the means to eradicate the Kryptonian population in New Argo.
J’onn also tells him of the growing rebellion in Krypton, of the roiling unrest under Rhea’s regime. J’onn himself has been involved in the emerging movement, at great personal risk. But the movement needs a leader the people can rally behind.
It’s at this point that Clark Kent makes a decision.
He is at a crossroads. He can choose to claim the mantle of the House of El as he was meant to all those years ago. Or he can confront the terrible reality that lies before him now -- that his people here in New Argo are dying, and it is because of the man he had loved and called a friend.
He chooses the latter.
And now he lies on a pallet in a dark, cramped room, days after the explosion, bleeding half to death as his wife mops his brow and tries to stave off his fever. He has a bounty on his head placed there by the Children of Liberty -- or Cadmus, as he hears they’re called now -- for “killing” Lex Luthor, and he’s going to die if he doesn’t get medical help soon.
“I’m sorry,” he gasps as Lois adjusts the bandage she had tied around the wound on his stomach. “If it weren’t for me--”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Smallville,” Lois presses a kiss to his brow. “This still beats Sunday dinners with my Father.”
He smiles weakly but the smile turns into a groan of pain as Lois presses on the wound again to keep it from bleeding.
At least Kara is safe with J’onn now.
Kara braces her hands on the table in front of her. The wood creaks where her hands grip it so forcefully, but she doesn’t hear it.
The messenger who delivered the news from Metropolis quails under her murderous stare, and J’onn dismisses him before he can say anything more. As the messenger scurried out, he lays a calming hand on Kara’s shoulder.
They’ve been travelling together for a while now, ever since the night she had been secreted away from Metropolis by Alex and J’onn and Eliza. In all that time, the one thing that had kept Kara going forward and preventing her from going back was the fact that with Lillian forced underground and Lex dead, Rhea remained the biggest threat.
He also knows Kara well enough by now to know when she needs a moment. “You need to calm down, Kara. This is a good thing.”
Kara looks up at him, her eyes almost wild. “How is this good, J’onn? How is any of this good? My cousin is missing, possibly dead. And Lena is being condemned for something she didn’t do, and the whole of Metropolis is out for her blood.”
J’onn keeps his voice calm and steady. “You heard what James reported, they’re still searching for Kal-El. Cadmus would want all of New Argo to know if Kal-El was dead. All signs point to him still being alive. As for the Luthors -- Luthor Trading Company is failing. We know Rhea was relying on their trading partnership for funds. Without the Luthors, we’ve managed to cut off another significant limb holding up Rhea’s rule..... We have achieved so much in these past months, Kara. We have dismantled structures that have been in place for thirteen years. We have forced Rhea to retreat as her forces become smaller and smaller... I don’t think you realize how much this means to these people fighting with us. To the people of Krypton. We are so close to bringing down Rhea’s regime and restoring Krypton’s freedom. To restoring your throne. You cannot give up now.”
Kara looks away, and for the first time, she doesn’t accept his comfort. She shrugs her shoulder out of his head. “I need some air.”
J’onn opens his mouth to say something, but Alex steps forward and shakes her head. “I’ll talk to her.”
Kara isn’t outside the tent, but Alex finds her sitting in front of a dying fire near the edge of their camp. She’s poking viciously at the fizzling embers, a dark expression on her face.
Alex almost hesitates. She’s never seen Kara like this, not in all the years they’ve been sisters. “Wanna tell me what’s going on in your head?”
Kara exhales, long and slow. When she speaks, her voice breaks. “I want to go back, Alex. I need to go back. I know we’re doing the right thing here, but.... Clark... He could be dying, Alex. And a part of me is so angry at him right now, because he’s the reason why I’m here, because he chose to stay in Metropolis. And no one else would take up the crest of the House of El. He abandoned it a long time ago, and I was the only -- the only one left. And if he dies... if he dies, I truly will be the only El left.”
Alex doesn’t say anything, because she knows this has been building inside Kara for a long time.
“And Lena.” Kara’s eyes are shiny with tears now, reflecting the firelight. “She’s all alone, Alex. Everyone is turning against her, and she has no one. Lex betrayed her, and I left her. And I know you think she helped Lex, I can see it in your face every time I bring her up. But I know her, Alex. I know she would never hurt anyone, let alone create the Kryptonite that killed so many people. She would never, Alex.”
Kara’s voice breaks into a sob, and she pulls her knees up to her chest. “I never even got to say goodbye. To either of them.”
Alex scoots closer to her sister, tentatively putting one arm around her. Kara doesn’t brush her off like she did J’onn, but she doesn’t relax either. "You didn't think that Lex would do what he did either, Kara. None of us did, and yet here we are..... The truth is, Lena is a Luthor. And I think we've learned now that Luthors cannot be trusted. I know you care about Lena, but your life is in danger as well, and your people are in danger. If you go back, and the Luthors don't attack you, there's still Rhea to contend with. And she's not above hurting people just to get to you. We can't go back."
Under her arm, Kara sighs deeply, and a few tears slip from the corners of her eyes. She sniffs and gently disengages from Alex’s arm. “You’re right. I-I should probably get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow, Alex.”
Without waiting for a reply, Kara trudges off to her tent, leaving Alex to stare after her with a heavy heart.
In the middle of the night, a knock sounds on the door of the Olsens’ house in New Argo. After a few seconds of silence, the knocking resumes, and James drags himself out of bed to answer, unwilling to let the knocking wake his sleeping mother, and knowing it would take a canon to wake Kelly in the middle of the night.
He peers through the hole in the door to see who this midnight caller is, and when he sees, he almost doesn’t open the door.
The knocking resumes, more urgently this time, and James sighs. He opens the door to find himself face-to-face with Lena Luthor.
“What are you doing here?” James knows his voice is hostile, but he doesn’t care.
If Lena is at all intimidated by his hostility, she doesn’t show it. “I need your help. Yours and Kelly’s.”
James scoffs, shaking his head with a humorless laugh. “You Luthors really are something. You think I would ever help you, after what your brother did?”
He moves to close the door, but Lena blocks him with her arm. “Wait! Please! I found him! I found Clark!”
That stops him for a moment. “What?”
“I found Clark.” Lena repeats breathlessly. “He’s in a cellar in an abandoned house near the docks. Lois is with him. He’s badly hurt--”
“And why should I trust you?”
Lena fixes him with a level look, her green eyes clear. “I know you don’t trust me, James, and I understand. Truly, I do. If I were in your position, I would feel the same way. But Clark needs help. If we don’t help him, he will die.”
James stares at her for a long moment, trying to see the lie in her eyes, and she meets his gaze head-on, without any trace of artifice. Then he sighs. He might end up regretting this later, but if there’s even the slightest chance he could save Clark, he’ll take it.
He opens the door wide enough for Lena to walk through. “Tell me what I need to do.”
When Kara Zor-El finally sets foot in the palace of Krypton -- the place of her birth, her old home -- after thirteen years of being gone, it's as if she never left. The exact scene lifted out of her nightmares -- people screaming and fleeing, the West Tower burning -- plays out in front of her numb eyes as if Fate glories in letting her relive it again.
This time, she walks through the great doors, no longer the fleeing young girl, being carried kicking and screaming from her home. This time, she’s come to take it back.
She encounters very little resistance. Servants scurry past her to flee or plead for mercy. Rhea’s soldiers lay down arms in surrender at the sight of them.
Kara knows where she’ll find Rhea. She walks slowly through the Great Hall, up the steps she’d run down as a child. The last time she had been here, her uncle’s blood had marked the steps, and her father had stood between her and death.
She enters the throne room, knowing she’ll find Rhea there.
What she doesn’t expect to see are the three bodies lying at the feet of the throne. Two dead, one dying.
Kara drops her sword and rushes to Rhea’s side immediately. Her husband and son lie lifeless beside her, but Rhea continues to choke on life. Kara spies a small vial of what she recognizes as Kryptonite tipped over on the seat of the throne.
She orders the others to check on Rhea’s husband and son, but she knows it’s useless. Rhea she lifts as blood drips from her mouth. This woman killed her parents and has plagued her life for so many years, has given her nightmares nearly every night -- and yet now that she sees the husk of a woman choking on her own blood and bile, her eyes wide and gaping, it feels cruel to let her die like this.
Kara draws her sword to end her suffering, but Rhea wrenches away, refusing mercy. Rhea's eyes bulge at her, demonic even to her last breath. "I will take my family to hell before I let you have them."
There is nothing clean or dignified about her death, Rhea retches and claws at her throat as her body attempts to fight off the poison to no avail. And all Kara can think of is how this woman sentenced all those people in New Argo to die in this way.
When it is done, she orders the bodies to be disposed of in a secret plot, with no markers or memorials. If she could erase every single trace of their existence on Krypton, she would.
She should be satisfied.
She should feel some sort of release now that the woman who had killed her family is dead.
But she doesn’t. Instead Kara just feels tired. And empty.
Maybe it is true, what she told Lena when they first met. She’ll never be satisfied.
James hesitates at the doorway to Lena’s sitting room. “Listen, Lena... Perhaps you should... stay home for today.”
Lena looks up at his concerned face. It’s a far cry from the look of judgment and mistrust with which he had greeted her when she first asked him for help.
“Clark and I can help Kelly administer the vaccines. You don’t need to put yourself through that again.”
‘That’ had been the persistent rejection of the people of New Argo whenever Lena came and attempted to administer the vaccine.
It’s been a month since she had finally completed it. James hadn’t trusted her at first, had kept looking over her shoulder whenever she worked. Or followed her whenever she brought down supplies to the basement of Luthor Manor where she had made accommodations for Clark and Lois.
Eventually, however, his distrust lessened -- Lena suspects Clark or Lois or Kelly or even Winn had talked to him -- and Lena considered it a small personal victory when James had allowed her to inoculate him.
The other people of New Argo, however, are not as easy to convince.
Every time Lena arrives to administer the inoculations, doors and shutters close in her face. Everyone is too afraid of her, of what the Luthor might do to them. They don’t trust her, or her cure.
She’s seen Clark talk to the citizens about this, but Lena knows it’s pointless. The damage was too great. The kind of fear and hatred Lex left behind takes a long time to be erased. It might never heal completely, just like Clark’s own scars.
“You’re right, James.” Lena smiles, handing over the box of vaccines to him. “Thank you. My presence hinders the operation more than it helps. This should be about helping people, not about me. You, Kelly and Clark can do it.”
“Just you and Kelly today, I think, my friend.”
Both James and Lena turn to see Clark limping toward them. Lois walks beside him, ready to help if needed. “I’d like to talk to Lena, if you’re done.”
James nods at Clark, then tips his head at Lena, before leaving silently, taking the box with him.
Clark seats himself slowly at the chair beside the fireplace and Lois, bless her, pretends to busy herself somewhere else. Lena takes a seat opposite him, waiting.
“I’ve been thinking, Lena. There are still Kryptonians in Krypton who are vulnerable to Kryptonite. Someone needs to bring the vaccines to them, to ensure that no one else suffers from this disease.”
Lena immediately picks up on his train of thought. “And you want me to do it?”
“I need to stay behind to protect New Argo from Cadmus. Kelly, I suspect, will want to go, but she and Nia have agreed to stay behind at least until we finish the inoculations here. James could go with you, to accompany you on your journey as well as witness to the events here. And I know Winn wants to go as well. You wouldn’t be alone.”
Lena hesitates, biting her lip. Metropolis is all she's ever known. And even though Kara has told her so much about it, Krypton is still a foreign place that seems as distant as a dream.
“I... I truly don’t know, Clark. Kryptonians hate me right now, because of what Lex did. And my family’s company is on its last legs. And there’s still so much to be done...” Lena's words trail off when she sees Clark smiling gently at her.
"You are not Lex, Lena.” Clark reaches over and places his hand gently on top of hers. The gesture reminds her so much of Kara. She’d been doing an admirable job of not thinking about Kara the past month. Once she’d found out that Kara was alive and unharmed, she had deliberately stopped herself from thinking about her.
It hurt too much.
“You have so much good in you, Lena. So much love in your heart..... Why do you stay and keep your heart here, for a family that betrayed you so cruelly, for a legacy that's been tainted and holds nothing but poison for you -- when we both know that heart belongs to someone else in Krypton? To the woman who has only ever held love for you in hers?"
Lena looks up at him, eyes wide, and Clark chuckles. “You talk in your sleep. I hear you sometimes when you fall asleep at your desk. And always, it’s Kara’s name you say.”
Lena worries her lower lip with her teeth again, looking away. “What if she doesn’t want to see me?”
“Oh, Lena... If I know Kara, I don’t think that would ever be the case.” Clark pulls her into an embrace that reminds her so much of Lex, of the brother she had before this madness, and Lena chokes out a sob. Clark strokes her hair gently.
"I will stay. Krypton has Kara, but the people of New Argo need me. I don't want them to give up the hope of living their lives peacefully here in Metropolis, but they still need protection. Cadmus and the Children of Liberty are still a threat, and there is a family business that needs to be run here, am I correct?"
Lena looks up at him, surprised. "You mean --"
Clark grins at her. "Well, we’d have to do something about your mother trying to kill me first. And I've never tried running a company, so I might do a far worse job than you did. But I have Ma and Pa, and Lois. I don't think the trading business is ready for Lois, but I think it'll have to be. She won't give it a choice....You don't mind if I change it to El Trading Company, do you?"
Lena laughs. "I wouldn't mind setting Lois loose on those pompous bastards. Morgan Edge won't know what hit him."
She embraces Clark warmly. "Thank you, Clark."
Clark smiles into her hair. "No need for thanks between family, Lena."
He waves her off at the docks, Lois, with Kelly, Nia and the Kents beside him. Lena stands on the deck of the ship to Krypton, clutching the red cape that Clark had given her to wear.
He had told Lena that it would keep her safe. Now that the House of El is once again securely on the throne, no Kryptonian would dare attack anyone who wears the El crest on their person.
The sea voyage is enjoyable enough for Lena. Though she pities poor Winn who got seasick on the first day and never gained his sea legs until the last day and had to spend most of the trip in his bunk.
She spends most of her time on the deck, feeling the salty breeze against her skin. James often accompanies her. Now that he no longer distrusts her, she has observed a significant difference in his attitude towards her.
He is kinder, gentler, more thoughtful. He makes for quite fun company, to be honest, and he makes her laugh when she’s in a pensive mood.
Lena is not blind to his attentions, his courting. She allows him, because he’s a good man and, quite honestly, it's nice to have someone who wants her, after so long being hated.
At the same time, it makes her feel guilty, because she knows her heart belongs only to one person.
But that person is Queen of Krypton now, and if she was too good for Lena when she was still Linda Lee Danvers, she's leagues beyond Lena now.
What does Lena have that she can offer Kara now? No prestige, no money, no protection, just the tatters of a name that she was once proud of that now only leaves a bad taste in her mouth.
And even if Lena does something to offer Kara, there's nothing to tell Lena that she views Lena as anything more than a once-sister, or a former friend whose brother betrayed Kara in the cruelest way possible. And hadn’t she betrayed Kara as well, by pushing her towards Lex? Her own selfishness, her desire to have Kara in her life, had blinded her to Lex’s machinations, and she had delivered Kara to him without a fight.
And even if, by some miracle, Kara doesn't hate her -- if Fate smiles down on Lena for once in her miserable life -- and Kara still holds some measure of love for Lena in her heart, that love would never be the same as the way Lena loves her. Not in the way that the mere memory of Kara's smile fills Lena's heart with unbridled joy. Or the way each small touch of Kara's hand on hers had made her whole body burn and her heart skip a beat.
So Lena tempers her battered yet relentlessly hopeful heart, douses it with pragmatic reasoning, and determinedly turns toward James with a hopeful smile, as if she can teach herself to love him and not Kara.
Kara was wrong. Lena can be satisfied. She is.
She repeats the words in her head every night and wills herself to think of James’ hands holding hers, instead of Kara’s. She is satisfied.
The ship docks at Dendahu in Krypton and immediately word spreads of the woman who wears the El sigil, who claims she bears the cure for the poison their brothers and sisters on New Argo have died from.
Kara thinks -- she dares to hope that it might be Lena. That her friend whom she loves so much doesn't hate her like her "husband" did. That she's come for Kara.
She almost races to the docks -- a full day's trip from the capital on the fastest horse. But Alex stops her. Caution, Alex warns. They still don't actually know how involved Lena was with the Children of Liberty, or how much she actually supported Lex.
"Think with your head, not with your heart." Alex tells her, and Kara knows she's just being cautious and protective, but Kara wants to shake her and tell her that she knows Lena, and she knows that Lena would never want to hurt anyone, that Lena would never do anything so vile.
They arrive at the capital two days later, and Kara nearly runs out to meet them. They're surrounded by palace attendants and a small crowd. She sees Winn first, looking curiously around at the courtyard. James is at the bottom of the gigantic steps, helping a cloaked feminine figure off her horse.
Her back is turned, and Kara can see she is wearing the sigil of the House of El on her back, her dark hair spilling over it. Kara's breath gets stuck in her throat, and she expels it all in one breathless sigh. "Lena...."
The figure turns to her once she's dismounted, and Kara can see tears in green eyes that mirror the ones pooling in Kara's own, obscuring her vision.
All dignity lost and forgotten, Kara stumbles down the stairs, her hands reaching out for her friend. She can vaguely see Lena thrust the ornate box in her hands into Winn’s, and her own arms open to receive Kara.
“Lena... Lena...” Kara falls into Lena's arms, clinging to her friend as if her life depends on it. She can hear herself sobbing Lena's name over and over, and she knows people are watching them, but she can't stop herself.
She buries her face in Lena's neck and inhales her friend's familiar heady scent as she sobs. She doesn't even know why her emotions feel so out of control, she just knows she wants to keep Lena in her arms after so long without her.
She clings to Lena the way she used to cling to Kal, when she had lost everything she held dear, and in some ways it feels like she had, and it’s now been restored to her.
It’s as if the emptiness she’d been feeling since Rhea’s death has been replaced by the fullness of Lena’s presence. Kara feels whole again.
And Lena seems just as keen to hold her. She whispers "Oh, Kara..." into her hair and strokes her back, calling her darling and all these sweet names, and Kara just cries.
Eventually, Winn snickers and James clears his throat, reminding them that they must part, and Kara does so unwillingly, brushing back a lock of hair behind Lena's ear with a watery laugh.
She accepts the vaccine for the Kryptonite and extends and invitation for Lena and the boys to stay at the palace. James delivers his report, and testifies to Lena's kindness and everything she's done, not only to cure the Kryptonite, but also to save Kal-El. Winn seconds it enthusiastically, though he’s not a Kryptonian emissary.
Kara beams at her friend and threads their fingers together just like they used to. ”I never doubted it.”
Lena smiles back sweetly, squeezing her fingers.
As the days pass, however, Kara notices a change. James is more solicitous and thoughtful around Lena, always inquiring about her, holding doors open for her, offering to help her out of carriages, eager to keep her company on walks.
It should make Kara happy that two of her closest friends are becoming closer and closer. James is a good man, and after everything, Lena deserves all the happiness she can find in the world.
But all she feels is a heaviness in her chest, like a lump under her breastbone, whenever she sees James smiling at Lena, or whenever she looks for Lena to keep her company on her daily walk and she finds out from one of the servants that Lena has been accompanied by James.
The effervescent sense of happiness she’d felt with Lena’s arrival dims, and she feels guilty for it. She should be happy for them.
But she can't help but feel jealous when she finds out that James has taken it upon himself to show Lena around the capital. It's childish and immature, Kara knows it, but she was the one who had told Lena of these special places in Krypton back when they were still talking in contented silence in Lena's sitting room in Luthor Manor.
It was Kara who had shared these places and her memories of them to Lena, and she wanted to be the one to share these places with her in the flesh. Instead, it's James who brings Lena to the gardens of Kandor, to Kara's favorite river.
She sulks in the palace, until Lena returns home, flushed and bright-eyed, on James's arm, hanging onto his every word. All the while, the jealousy inside Kara simmers and hulks like a hurt creature until she can’t take it anymore.
She very politely and tentatively summons Lena to her private sitting room in the palace. They haven't seen each other much at all since Lena came to Krypton -- not nearly enough for Kara -- and she desperately misses the talks they used to have by the fire when they were still in Metropolis.
But so much has changed since then, and she hesitates.
She awkwardly asks Lena if she's enjoying Krypton, and Lena smiles and nods "Everyone has been good to me here, and I am so thankful. To you, most of all. Your kindness and warm welcome has turned the favor of Kryptonians toward me, and I -- I'm just grateful you still consider me a friend. Even after everything that Lex did."
Kara reaches out for her with wide eyes. "Of course I still consider you a friend! Lena..... I never, for a second, thought that you had anything to do with Lex's betrayal. You are far, far too good for that. And he... he betrayed you too. He betrayed us all, but he was your brother and you loved him."
“But I introduced the two of you. I encouraged the two of you -- and he was your husband. I toasted your union, and the whole time--"
"It wasn't about Lex," Kara cuts in, her gaze dropping away from Lena's. Her hands open and close spasmodically at her sides, and the familiar nervous little habit almost makes Lena smile. "It wasn't him that I--"
Her voice trails off, and a charged silence grows between them. After a moment, Kara seems to steel herself. "I have something for you."
She reaches up to the back of her neck and unclasps the necklace Alura gave her all those years ago, that final night when Kara was forced to flee the palace.
The pendant with the sigil of the House of El glints slightly in the firelight.
"This was my Mother's. She gave it to me the night she died. It was given to her by my Father years ago on their Bonding Ceremony. Do you remember what that is?"
"Yes, of course. You told me that was a Kryptonian wedding. A sacred union."
Kara nods, swallowing thickly. "Yes. I-I want you to have it."
Lena's mouth drops and she seems to stop breathing. When she collects herself. "Oh, Kara... I could never take something so precious away from you."
Kara shakes her head. "I'm giving it to you. You saved us, Lena. You made the cure for Kryptonite. You risked everything to bring it here."
"I had to. I betrayed you. My brother --"
"Is not you. You didn’t betray me. He betrayed you. He betrayed all of us. You suffered the most for it, but you still righted his wrongs."
"It's what any decent person would have done."
Kara shakes her head, smiling softly at Lena, her azure eyes brilliant in the firelight. "You truly don't see how amazing you are, do you? I wish you could see yourself as I see you. You.... you are everything, Lena."
Lena's breath hitches, and she seems unable to speak. Kara holds up Alura's necklace in offering, her hands trembling ever so slightly. "Will you accept this?"
Lena nods mutely, seemingly overcome. Kara moves closer, holding the thin silver chain up, and motions for her to turn around. Lena does, and Kara feels how still she is, like the surface of a lake, one moment away from rippling.
Lena moves her hair away from her neck, exposing the tender, vulnerable curve of her nape, and Kara is overcome with the desire, no the need, to touch the smooth skin revealed to her.
Kara clasps the necklace with trembling fingers and moves closer still, her eyes moving downward to where the El sigil rests just underneath Lena's collarbones. Lena is motionless. She doesn't even seem to breathe when Kara's fingers find the small crest where it rests just above Lena's breast.
Of their own accord, Kara's fingers follow the chain upward, skimming ever so softly over Lena's skin. She doesn't realize how close she is until she feels Lena's soft breath against her cheek, shallow and tentative, as if she's unwilling to even breathe with Kara this close.
Kara starts to pull away, afraid that she's overstepped, but Lena exhales, her breath warming Kara's lips. “Please.”
Kara's mouth parts, and she is rendered helpless. She presses their lips together, softly at first. Warmth suffuses her whole body with that one small action, as if her whole being is rejoicing at the contact.
It feels so.... right.
As if coming home at the end of their long journey.
Kara presses forward, her fingers finding Lena's jaw and tilting her closer. Lena complies, her neck arching to find Kara, to press deeper. Kara urges her lips to part, and Lena accepts her with a small moan that sets her nerves on fire.
She was right. She will never be satisfied. Not now that she knows the taste of Lena.
"Stay with me," Kara murmurs the words into the heated air between them. She can feel her own lips trembling. She can’t bear it, every fiber of her being wants Lena. "Please?"
Lena's eyes open, and in the brilliant jade-green of them, Kara can see her whole future. "Always."