When she wakes, it’s with the feeling that she’s been out for a long time. There’s a smell of earth, damp and thick; her airway feels coated in dust. Lena Luthor has survived enough assassination attempts in her life to know when she’s ended up somewhere she’d rather not be.
She’s laid out on her side; she doesn’t move. As awareness filters back in she can make out sounds behind her. Rustling, gentle clanking, light footsteps. Lena keeps her eyes closed, keeps her breathing steady. Her clenched fingers flex slowly, brush up against sheer fabric. She’s still wearing her suit. Tight-fitting, expensive. No pockets. No taser, no phone.
The footsteps come closer. There’s a presence at her back. She forces her lungs to expand, smooth, exhale, smooth. Focuses on keeping her face slack, relaxed. An eternity passes in a matter of seconds, no movement beyond her own measured breathing, and then: something warm against her throat.
Lena seizes her opportunity. She latches onto the hand at her neck, her other fist following the momentum of her body as she rolls over. Her knuckles connect with concrete and Lena swears she hears the bones crack. A gasp forces its way from her lungs even as she continues to fight, shoving hard against her captor. She brings her knees to her chest, plants her feet against the dim figure and uses her full strength to propel them apart.
The figure doesn’t flinch, even as Lena’s own force launches her backwards into the wall behind her. Her skull slams sickeningly against it and she reels as her vision whites out. Dizzy, teeth gritted against the shock, she winds up for another punch.
Suddenly she’s being tugged forward, both arms caught at the wrist. “Stop, it’s okay—”
The voice filters in around the ringing in her ears. Arms immobilised, she twists and tugs in the person’s grip, kicking wildly at whatever her feet can reach.
“Stop, please, you’ll only hurt yourself! Lena, please—”
Only one person has ever said her name like that. Lena stops struggling. Squeezes her eyes shut until the drumming of blood in her ears subsides.
She doesn’t want to open them again. She doesn’t want to see the face still holding her limbs hostage, doesn’t want to face the reality of her presence.
“Are you okay?”
And then her wrists are released, her legs unpinned. Gentle fingers dig through dark hair at the back of her skull, probing for injury. She jerks away.
“Don’t touch me.” Her command is weak, but it has the desired effect.
Kara drops her hands instantly, takes two quick steps backwards.
“Are you bleeding?” The blonde’s voice is hesitant. Lena won’t give her the satisfaction of checking. She draws herself to as full a height as she can manage while still sitting dazed on some sort of bed. Levels her coldest stare on the Kryptonian, unblinking. Her stoic façade is shattered when she goes to push herself to standing and a burst of white-hot agony shoots through her knuckles. She can’t restrain the hiss of pain that slips past her lips.
“I think you broke your hand.” Kara’s face is contrite. “When— when you punched me.”
If it weren’t for the pain throbbing through her fingers, Lena would roll her eyes. Of fucking course she did. God forbid she ever catch a break.
Kara narrows her eyes for a moment, gaze focused intently on the hand Lena’s now cradling gingerly to her chest. “Yeah. Second and third metacarpals. Clean fractures.”
The blonde flits around the room, collecting various items before placing them hesitantly next to Lena on the bed. She snatches them up, tries to unroll the gauze but of course, of course it’s her dominant hand that’s broken. She struggles valiantly with the strip of fabric, even rips the packaging open with her teeth, but no amount of stubbornness is going to let her cut the damn thing to size one-handed.
Kara watches her silently. She won’t approach, despite how clearly Lena is struggling. It seems she’s waiting for an invitation.
Lena clenches her teeth so hard she hears the bones in her jaw creak. Without making eye contact, she holds the gauze out to Kara.
The Kryptonian works quickly and efficiently, trimming the bandage and folding it to size. She glances up for permission before straightening out Lena’s fingers as gently as she can, quietly apologetic as Lena’s eyes fill with unbidden tears.
“How long was I unconscious?” she grits out as Kara begins to fashion a splint around her knuckles.
“A few hours.” Lena flinches involuntarily as the new brace forces her injured fingers together. The blonde’s hands still for a moment. The breath she sucks in sounds strained.
Lena focuses on keeping her breathing steady. “Are you going to tell me why you’ve kidnapped me?”
“I haven’t— Lena.” Kara’s voice is pained. She sighs. “What do you remember?”
Mount Norquay. Hope on the surface, recalibrating the satellites. Threat after threat from the DEO. Non Nocere launching. A second earthquake. Then— nothing.
“I remember getting another meaningless apology so your hologram could hack my security systems.”
Kara’s head is bent as she wraps Lena’s hand. The blonde’s throat works. “The virus wasn’t my idea. I didn’t know they were going to do that.”
Lena scoffs. “Why should I believe a single thing that comes out of your mouth?”
“Because it’s the truth.”
“I’m not sure you even know the meaning of the word.”
Kara tucks the end of the bandage into itself, securing the splint as a faint tremor shakes the floor under them. Her head cocks to the side. “I have to go,” she says, tone apologetic. “I’ll be back soon.”
Already at the door, she glances back at Lena, sitting silently on the bed. “Don’t— try and go anywhere, okay? Please. It’s not safe.”
Lena says nothing. Stares down at her bandaged fingers until the door knocks shut, a faint whoosh of superspeed, and Kara is gone.
She takes the opportunity of Kara’s absence to explore.
The building she’s in is small, a single-room log cabin. The interior is sparse but cosy; a thick quilt covers the single bed she’s still sitting on, a cast-iron woodstove stands against the opposite wall.
The small wooden table is strewn with hastily-packed bags, their contents spilling out onto the floor. Lena recognises Kara’s red knitted blanket, her baby blue dressing gown, and has to fight down a shudder. On one of the dining chairs stands a bag containing what looks to be the contents of Kara’s fridge. There’s very little else in the cabin besides a small kitchen area, a worn brown sofa, and a tiny bathroom in the back corner.
Lena fights her growing headache as she moves to the window. Presses her fingertips to the back of her skull as she looks out over rugged mountains and spruce-covered slopes. The sun is just beginning to rise over snow-capped peaks to the east, the sky painted cadmium mauve. When Lena pulls her fingers away they’re coated in sticky, drying blood.
Grabbing the leftover gauze from the bed, she presses it to the back of her head. Bites back a wince, ignores the throbbing behind her eyes, and pulls open the door. The first rays of sunlight are bright enough to make her squint, her first steps outside tentative. Good thing, too; the cabin is perched on the edge of a steep cliff. Lena can see the remains of rudimentary footholds cut into the rock below her feet but they’re damaged, half-destroyed, perhaps the victim of a recent rockslide.
She walks a shaky lap of the property, one hand still pressed to the back of her skull, the other shielding her eyes from the glare. The cabin is the only building in sight, built to back straight onto the cliff face. The mountain’s summit is so high above her it makes Lena’s head spin. The plateau itself is tiny, barely enough space for the cabin and a handful of trees. The rest of her surroundings comprise of empty air, a dizzying drop; just her and the distant birds wheeling overhead.
Lena goes back inside.
There’s no phone in the cabin. No television, no radio, no internet. No way of contacting the outside world at all. Lena wonders which meetings she’s missing at L-Corp, how many hundreds of emails will have flooded her inbox just since yesterday.
There’s also no clock, so she has no way of accurately telling how long Kara is gone. But the sun is high in the sky by the time the Kryptonian touches down outside the front door, and Lena’s stomach is growling. She’d investigated the food bag, even been tempted to sneak a granola bar, but. She refuses to lean into whatever is happening here, refuses to accept anything from Kara that she doesn’t absolutely have to.
The Kryptonian is smudged and dirty when she pushes through the door. Mud streaks her face, her hair more brown than gold. She smiles at Lena, who doesn’t return it. Shuffles her way into the small bathroom without a word.
When she emerges again, dripping hair returned to its usual colour, she’s traded in the supersuit for sweats and fluffy socks. She’s not wearing her glasses, and seeing Supergirl’s face above Kara’s NCU hoodie is enough to knock the breath from Lena’s lungs.
“Are you hungry?” the blonde asks, apparently rhetorically, pulling out the fixings for grilled cheese without waiting for an answer.
It’s a little too casual, a little too normal, and it makes Lena’s skin prickle.
“Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?”
Kara freezes, butter knife suspended in mid-air. Her mouth opens and closes comically. Lena huffs.
“Where am I? How did I get here? Where have you been? And why did you come back?”
Kara replaces the knife on the table, careful. Her gaze drops to the bloodstained gauze Lena had meant to discard. She’s crossing the room before Lena has a chance to back away.
“You were bleeding, I knew it. How do you feel now? Have you had any dizziness? Nausea?”
Lena backs away so quickly she almost trips over the rug. The blonde’s hand shoots out as if to steady her, but she jerks out of reach. “If you keep dodging my questions, I swear to God—”
“Okay. Okay.” Kara’s hands are up. She backs up, slowly. “Will you just— you should sit down.”
“You don’t get to make decisions for me,” Lena snaps, painfully aware of the fact that every detail of her current situation would beg to differ. Her head spins a little, but she forces herself to stay standing. On principle.
Kara stares at her for a moment, then lets out a long breath. It sounds like resignation.
“There was— an earthquake. Part of your bunker collapsed. You were unconscious. I pulled you out and brought you here.”
Lena narrows her eyes. “And where exactly is here?”
Kara averts her eyes. “It’s— better if you don’t know.”
“Oh, so you have kidnapped me.”
Kara tugs a hand through her damp curls, huffs out a breath. “No, I rescued you.”
“I don’t recall asking to be rescued.”
“You might not have wanted it, but you needed it.”
Lena can feel her blood start to boil. “Did I not just tell you that you don’t get to—”
“If I hadn’t, you’d be dead,” Kara says shortly. The cabin falls silent. The frying pan sizzles when the blonde drops the first sandwich onto it, shockingly loud in the sudden quiet.
They don’t speak again until the food is ready. Kara clears the bags from the table as she sets down their plates and Lena, reluctantly, takes a seat. A flurry of questions are on the tip of her tongue but none feel more pressing than the mouth-watering smell wafting up from her plate. She doesn’t say another word until she’s inhaled half the grilled cheese.
Kara is quiet, all six of her sandwiches already vanished as though they’d never existed. She’s watching Lena from across the table, solemn.
Lena licks the grease from her fingers. “What about the bunker? My work?”
Kara’s eyebrow raises. “You mean your project? It’s gone.”
“It’s— what? No.” Lena’s shaking her head so hard it hurts. “There’s hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of research in that facility! Surely it won’t all have been destroyed. I have to go back, I have to salvage what I can—”
“You can’t go back. It’s all gone.” Kara’s tone is heavy with finality.
“Of course I can.” Lena’s voice is rising in pitch. She’s thinking of Hope, of Non Nocere, her hail-Mary shot at making the world a better place. The rest of her sandwich lies forgotten on the plate. “You can take me back. You managed to abduct me all the way out here, you can just fly me right—”
"Lena. Mount Norquay is gone.”
“No. No, the quakes weren’t that big. The whole mountain can’t have just—”
“It wasn’t the quake! It was the satellite!” Kara’s fingers are trembling. She clenches them into fists. “Claymore 3 blew up your facility. The whole thing was destroyed.”
Lena gapes. “You— you actually used it? You locked a military-grade satellite cannon onto my location, and then you fired?”
The wooden table creaks and groans beneath the pressure of Kara’s fists. “Obviously I didn’t! I would never— I pulled you out, I brought you to safety! That’s what I did.”
“Then who was it?” Lena cannot process the implications of what Kara is telling her. All she can think to do is to keep the blonde on the defensive. “Who made the decision?”
Kara’s mouth snaps shut with an audible click. Lena’s eyes widen.
“Whoever it was, they didn’t authorise your little rescue mission. Am I right? That’s why you won’t tell me where we are. The DEO thinks I’m dead, don’t they? They—” she has to swallow hard to keep the bile at bay. “They fired Claymore believing I was still inside.”
Kara is staring down at the table with such ferocity that Lena can see the tell-tale glow of impending laser vision around her eyes. The blonde’s entire body is quivering with some barely-restrained emotion. Her silence is all the confirmation Lena needs.
When she speaks again her voice is quiet, hesitant. She wants Kara to tell her she’s wrong. She wants to be wrong.
“It was Alex, wasn’t it? She gave the order.”
Kara’s fingers twitch, and the solid ceramic plate cracks clean down the middle. She’s gone without another word.
The Kryptonian doesn’t return until nightfall. Lena spends the rest of the day alone, fighting a building headache and persistent nausea in the pit of her stomach. Whether they’re a result of her injuries or her conversation with Kara, she isn’t sure.
She tries hard to distract herself, but there’s very little to do in the cabin. She showers, if the weak trickle of water in the bathroom can be classified as such. Nervous to wet her hair with her open wound, she settles for sluicing the residual dust and rubble methodically from her body, bandaged hand stuck awkwardly outside the shower curtain.
Clean at last, she looks over her suit with an appraising eye. The maroon fabric is filthy, ripped and stained, practically rigid with dirt. With a resigned sigh, she manoeuvres her way into a sweater and a pair of Kara’s leggings. Refuses to look at herself in the mirror. Doesn’t need to solidify the image.
Lena stands in the middle of the cabin, debating. She wavers for a long time before tugging open the various bags with a huff. Deposits the meagre food into the small fridge, folds the rest of Kara’s clothes into the trunk at the end of the bed. Ignores the implication that she’s settling in, staying a while, in favour of having something, anything to do.
The clothes smell like Kara. They smell like her apartment, like sleepovers and movies and game nights before it all fell apart. They smell like splitting bottle after bottle of red with Alex even as they shout at each other from opposite ends of a Trivial Pursuit board, of sharing tipsy cab-rides home, the redhead snorting drunken giggles against her shoulder.
Alex had lied to her alongside Kara, all these years. But the difference between deception and giving the order to fire a warhead is one that Lena’s battered heart is not currently equipped to handle.
She slams the lid of the trunk down so hard it almost splinters, and shoves her way out of the cabin.
She spends what feels like hours sitting on the edge of the cliff, staring out over the mountains. Trying to pick out any distinguishing feature that might clue her in as to where Kara’s brought her.
She’d guess she’s probably still in North America, but that might just be wishful thinking. After all, what’s a quick trip to the Himalayan foothills or the Chilean Andes for someone who can break the sound barrier without breaking a sweat?
As darkness drops over the valley like a veil, Lena pushes herself tiredly to her feet. Eats the rest of her grilled cheese, stone cold. Does the washing up one-handed, for lack of any other entertainment.
She’s just perched herself back on the edge of the bed – on, not in; she will not be that vulnerable, will not acquiesce quietly to staying here tonight – when the front door opens.
Kara moves silently to the dining table, then stops short.
“Where’s all the stuff?” the blonde asks, glancing around the cabin. Lena stays quiet, loathe to admit that she’d tidied up after her like some 1950s housewife.
“Lena,” Kara sighs into the silence, pinching her fingers together at the bridge of her nose. “Did you throw the bags off the cliff?”
“Did I—? No I did not,” Lena snaps indignantly, privately annoyed that the thought hadn’t even occurred to her.
Kara stares at her for a moment, expression unreadable, then turns to the kitchen. Cracks open a family-sized box of crackers, inhales them all without pausing for breath. At this rate, they’ll be out of food by the morning.
“You can take the bed,” Kara says, cracker crumbs sprinkling her collar as she toes off her shoes. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Lena huffs. “At what point did you hear me consent to staying here? Much less with you.”
Kara’s voice is tired. Her shoulders are slumped, fatigue weighing heavy. “You don’t really have another option.”
“Excuse me?” Lena says, eyebrow raised. “Last time I checked, I was a free citizen with a million dollar penthouse and a king-size bed waiting for me back in the city. Unless you blew that up too.”
Kara doesn’t bite. “You can’t go back, Lena. It’s not safe.”
“As far as I can see, the only threat to me is you. You and your family,” she spits out.
The blonde is shaking her head. “You’re not— Lena, you committed a crime. You used Myriad. Well—” Kara’s face is pained. “First you stole it from me. Then you used it. You could be arrested.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“No, you won’t.” The set of Kara’s jaw could be carved from stone. “If the DEO catch you they’ll lock you up, for who knows how long. But right now they’re not looking for you—”
“Because they think I’m dead. Because your sister tried to kill me.”
Kara ignores her. “—so the safest place for you is right here. Until I can figure something else out.”
The next round of arguments dies in Lena’s throat as Kara leaves. Again. Shoulders her way back inside a moment later, arms full of firewood. She stokes up the woodstove with a practiced hand, warding off the fall chill Lena had barely noticed had settled over the cabin.
It's quiet for a long time beyond the crackle of the flames, the hiss of burning sap. Kara flicks off the light, leaves the room bathed in a dim orange glow as she settles onto the couch with a sigh.
“Tomorrow I’ll get some more food. Clothes and blankets and stuff. If there’s anything else you want, things to make you more comfortable, just let me know.”
“What I want,” Lena says, voice low and measured, “—is to be anywhere but here. What I want is to be as far away from you as physically possible.”
The cabin is painfully quiet after she climbs, reluctantly, into the narrow bed. The firelit-halo of golden curls along the arm of the couch is the only sign she’s not completely alone in the small room. Lena cradles her broken hand against her chest, wincing as she tries to find a position that puts no pressure on her injured skull. Fatigue weighs heavy as the fire’s warmth settles over her. Just as she’s tugged over the cusp of unconsciousness, Kara’s voice sounds from the couch, desperately small.
The morning dawns bright and cold. Lena wakes to an empty cabin, Kara’s red blanket folded into a neat square on the couch. Her hand is throbbing; there’s a smudge of dried blood on the pillowcase.
There’s no medicine cabinet in the tiny bathroom. The gauze from yesterday has been used up. Lena grits her teeth, sets about investigating the cabin’s caffeine situation instead.
She’s managed to brew a rudimentary pot of coffee when Kara pushes through the front door. A breeze follows her in, crisp and clear, the advance guard of winter’s biting chill. Lena wonders briefly how the cabin fares in sub-zero temperatures. Quickly pushes the thought from her mind. What does it matter; it’s not like she’s going to find out.
Kara sets two new bags down on the table. “Painkillers,” she says quietly, sliding a box across the worn wood towards her. Lena just nods, conflicted by the unprompted anticipation of her needs. “And I brought breakfast.”
The meal is silent but the pastries are good. Lena spends breakfast decidedly not thinking back to the last time Kara flew around the world to bring her food. Throws back a couple Advil and refills her mug, pushes the coffee pot silently toward the blonde.
Kara opens her mouth but her voice cracks. She clears her throat awkwardly, blushing. “Thanks. I’m going to, um, to go out again later. Is there anything else I can bring you?”
“Well, if a one-way ticket out of here isn’t an option—?” She swears she’s only half joking.
Kara just stares at her flatly. Lena sighs. “More painkillers then, I suppose. And some clothes, maybe some books? I can tell you where they are in my bedroom—”
The blonde cuts her off. “I can’t go to your apartment. It’s being watched.”
“It is?” Lena blinks. “Why?”
“I told you, you committed a crime. The DEO—”
“The DEO thinks I’m dead,” Lena interrupts bitterly.
“They do. But Alex will figure out the truth soon.”
“You sound awfully sure. Planning to make sure of it, are you?”
Kara doesn’t dignify Lena’s jab with a response. “I won’t be able to lie to my sister. Not about that.”
“Oh, now you’ve developed a conscience? You had no problem lying to me for years.”
Again, Kara ignores her. “Alex will see through it.”
Lena chuckles darkly. “Don’t worry, you’re an excellent actress. Just imagine she’s me. You should be able to fool her into anything.”
“And why not?”
Kara exhales hard, blows her hair away from her face. “Lena, if you were dead, I wouldn’t even— I would be so—” She takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders. “We’re not talking about this. I’m not going anywhere near Alex for as long as I can help it. Which means I’m not going to your apartment.”
Lena snatches her mug off the table, slams out of the front door. Perches on a smooth jut of rock and stares out over the patchwork of peaks and valleys laid before her feet. Ignores the bite of the wind and focuses on the sun’s rays, however weak, warming her skin.
Ignores Kara when she follows her out, ignores her murmured goodbye. Tries hard not to let her eyes follow the tiny caped figure that shoots away over the mountains. Tries, and decidedly fails.
Kara does bring books, as it turns out. And clothes, and painkillers. A plain notebook, some pencils, and an iPod so battered it could easily have lived through the Revolutionary War.
Apart from the drugs and a plastic-wrapped four-pack of underwear, her size – Lena thanks a God she doesn’t believe in that Kara had at least had the good sense to buy those new – it’s all from the blonde’s apartment. Lena recognises it all instantly, these relics of another life.
It makes her skin crawl, to be so dependent. To be reliant on Kara in every way imaginable.
She pops some more Advil for her lingering headache, grabs a book at random. Kara does the same. They sit, silent, Kara on the couch and Lena at the table, the only sound the quiet turning of pages.
Afternoon bleeds into evening, which bleeds into night. Lena’s trying, really she is, not to start another fight. But the silence, the complete isolation— it’s making it hard to breathe.
“Will you bring me a phone?”
She swears she hasn’t pouted this much since she was four years old. It’s doing nothing to ease the pressure building behind her temples.
“Two tin cans and some string?”
She decides to make dinner, a peace offering of sorts. Forgets about her incapacitated hand for a minute and stumbles at the first hurdle. Holds the sauce jar out sheepishly to Kara, who flicks the lid off without looking up.
Dinner is quiet. Kara seems to have accepted Lena’s white flag and raised her own. They talk a little. Once Kara’s had thirds, she offers to do the dishes. Settles herself down on the couch afterwards and grabs her iPod, foot tapping out a jaunty rhythm against the floorboards.
Lena showers, one-handed again. Forgets about the fresh cut on her scalp, winces as blood mingles with the shampoo suds swirling at her feet.
She’s rooting around for more gauze in the shopping bags when Kara pulls her headphones out of her ears. “What do you need?” she asks, suddenly so close that Lena jumps.
She gestures tiredly at the back of her head, too weary to fight as Kara sits her down, gently parts her dripping hair to get a better look. Sits quietly as sure fingers dab antiseptic on the wound, tries not to flinch when a narrow bandage is pressed carefully against it.
If Kara’s hands linger a moment too long against her scalp, her chin, the nape of her neck, well. Lena’s too tired, and Kara’s too— something, to comment on it tonight.
They drop into their respective beds without another word.
As the days pass, each starts to take on a similar pattern. They eat breakfast and dinner together. Kara shoots off multiple times a day. Supergirl stuff, she mutters on one trip out the door. Lena doesn’t ask.
They talk a little. They bicker a lot. When Kara is there, Lena tends to pass the time reading. The blonde spends hours with her earbuds tucked into her ears, tapping out imaginary drum solos against her thighs. Sometimes she draws, quick sketches in her notebook that Lena is never invited to see. She never asks to.
Lena spends hours just, sitting. Staring into space. Looking out over the vista from the cliff-edge, from the cabin windows. Thinking about nothing. Thinking about everything.
On day three, she gives in to her more childish inclinations and slams her coffee mug down on the table hard. “I need to go to work.”
Kara doesn’t even look up from her book. “It’s not safe.”
She scoffs. “Attempts on my life are hardly a novelty. I’ve worked too hard to let L-Corp fall apart.”
“It’s not falling apart. Jess is handling it. Everything’s fine.”
“So you’ve been checking in?” Kara ignores her. Just flips another page, slowly and deliberately. “If I could just have, maybe, a few hours with my work computer—”
“No. Nothing with a signal. It would be detected in seconds.” The blonde flips another page. Lena narrowly resists the urge to rip the stupid book from her hands and throw it at her stupid head.
When Kara’s gone, Lena spends her time cataloguing.
She makes a note of everything. The entire contents of the cabin, down to the number of loose screws in the floorboards. The number of times Kara leaves daily, and roughly how long she’s gone. The direction of the wind. The number of trees on their little plateau. The potential viability of the worn footholds leading down from the cabin.
She explores her surroundings in as much detail as possible. Runs her fingers along every inch of reachable cliff face behind the cabin. Examines every tree, every loose branch and stone and pinecone. She ventures out through the wooded thatch, only to find the ground dropping away sharply less than a hundred yards from the cabin. Not as steep as the sheer cliff face to the front of the building, but impassable nonetheless.
She wrenches the cover off the small generator at the back of the cabin with one hand. Stares at the wires and connections until her eyes blur. Makes a note of all of it, in her head. Every detail, every seemingly innocuous piece of information stored away, leaving no visible trace. Ready, for whenever an opportunity might arise.
She makes a point not to ever stay out too long. When Kara returns, there’s never any warning.
Petulance quickly becomes Lena’s default setting.
“You have a phone.” She doesn’t bother trying to keep the accusation from her tone.
“Not with me. Not here.”
Lena scoffs, disbelieving. “Like hell you don’t. You’re Supergirl. What if the DEO has to contact you? What if Alex does?”
Kara fidgets, uneasy. “They— they still have the watches. I can hear them, if they need me.”
Lena files the snippet away under information that might be useful, but probably isn’t. Who knows how far Kryptonian superhearing can reach, after all. It doesn’t really narrow her location down any.
Lena reads voraciously. She reads at a speed she hasn’t since books were her only escape from the bitter reality of her childhood. Devours book after book until her eyes blur and her head aches. There’s really very little else to do, after all.
Kara starts switching out their book supply every couple of days. She watches Lena sometimes, when she’s reading. Seems to take note of how fast she flips the pages, how many bored sighs or contrived eye-rolls each story tugs from her.
She quickly becomes good at figuring out the books Lena’s most enjoyed, though neither of them ever talk about it. The next day she’ll bring more of the same author, the same genre, stack them carefully on the dining table and step back with hesitant, expectant eyes. The look on her face reminds Lena of catching her eye in the crowd at the Pulitzer party. That gut-churning mix of fear, trepidation, and unkillable hope. It still makes bile rise in her throat. She always looks away.
She never thanks Kara for the things she brings. It seems a little Stockholm Syndrome-y, to thank her captor for making her more comfortable while keeping her locked up. Even if it does go against every fibre of her being to be impolite, does make her feel like she’s literally forcing down stones as she swallows the gratitude that rises in her throat.
Lillian would be disgusted. The world could burn before a Luthor loses her manners.
But then again, Lena’s done some things recently that would undoubtedly make her mother very proud. The kind of proud that turns Lena’s stomach, frightens her to her very core. The kind of proud that is making it harder and harder to look in a mirror. She’s starting to hate the person looking back.
So. She doesn’t mind continuing to disappoint her mother in whatever small way she can.
It’s a little worrying, maybe, how quickly they adjust to cohabitation. She and Kara settle into the routine of domesticity with such unspoken ease that it fans the flames of the ever-present anger in Lena’s gut. Makes her want to lash out in response.
“Doesn’t the girl of steel have anything better to be doing than babysitting me?”
Kara’s getting better at ignoring Lena’s jabs, at not stooping to her level. It never stops Lena trying.
“Really? There’s no store being robbed somewhere? No cats stuck up a tree? No babies to be kissed?”
“Doesn’t the DEO wonder where you are? And Catco— surely Andrea’s noticed you’re never there?”
Lena quirks an eyebrow, levels the back of the blonde’s head with her best no-bullshit boardroom stare. “You’re seriously telling me there’s not one thing you could be doing right now that’s more important than making bolognese?”
Kara’s hands, which had been tightening steadily into fists around the chopping board, relax suddenly. Their only sharp kitchen knife lives to see another day before it’s crushed to a pulp. Kara doesn’t turn.
“No, Lena. There’s nothing more important than this.”
Kara brings another notebook, some more pens. She must have noticed Lena eyeing her own pad covetously. So much for being sneaky.
The one upside to this whole mess – though she’d die before every admitting aloud – is having more free time than she has since, well. Maybe ever. It takes a few days for her scientist’s brain to come out of hibernation (or perhaps just recover from the head trauma that she’d stubbornly refused, after that one night, to let Kara take care of). But when it does, it returns with a vengeance.
Her mind floods with ideas, with new projects for L-Corp, too many to even pin down. She spends more time inventing than she has since her brief stint as Luthor Corp’s head of R&D, since her long nights in the lab were replaced with longer nights pouring over personnel files and budget reports.
She sits for hours on the edge of the cliff, wrapped in a blanket, sketching out designs and parsing through equations. Her coffee mug stands sentry at her side, perpetually topped up. Lena’s so engrossed in her plans that she barely notices Kara periodically refilling it.
The blonde starts to bring hard copies of the latest quantum physics and bioengineering journals home – not home, God, not home – with her of an evening. Lena still doesn’t say thank you, but when the first nanotechnology article is nudged into her lap, she’s not quick enough to catch the smile that breaks across her face before she can think to tamp it down.
The cabin is still quiet, almost oppressively so, in the ceasefires between each new argument. After dinner, if they’ve managed not to yell at each other, they tend not to speak. Lena sits hunched over the table, scribbling away with her pen lid caught between her teeth, brow furrowed in concentration.
Kara is usually flopped out on the couch. She sometimes draws in the evenings, eyes far away, lost in the world she’s creating on the page before her. More often than not she’s plugged in to that stupid battered iPod, eyes closed, head nodding to the beat.
For a being with super-sensitive hearing, Kara likes her music loud. So loud Lena can usually hear it too in the quiet of the small cabin. Sometimes it’s almost a comfort, to hear something else beyond the wind, her own thoughts, and whatever grenades she and Kara had launched at each other that day. Other times it’s a fucking nuisance.
Lena’s been working all day on an equation that would allow her to sublimate the non-decomposable elements out of plastic, so the remainder could be recycled with no negative environmental effects. But something isn’t clicking somewhere around her fifth page of workings and she cannot seem to finish the damn thing off.
She’s all but chewed the end off her pen in frustration and when Kara’s tinny pop music starts up from the couch, Lena can feel her hackles rise. The blonde’s eyes are closed, head tilted back against the cushion, mouthing silently along to the lyrics. Lena makes it through seven irritating songs and three more failed attempts at stabilising her variable before her patience wears out and she hurls the stupid notebook against the wall in disgust.
Kara cracks an eye open, pulls one bud from her ear. Lena ignores her, fumes silently in the shower and throws herself crossly into bed without a word.
She wakes the next morning to an empty cabin, as expected. Kara’s clearly gone and been and gone again, evidenced by the plate of croissants and fresh-brewed coffee already laid out. Next to them on the table is Lena’s notebook, open to the last page of her workings.
Lena huffs her way over, ready to throw the damn thing off the cliff so she doesn’t have to look at the physical manifestation of her current failings when something catches her eye. There, beneath her left-handed, illegible scribbles are three lines of neat, looping script, picking up where she’d left off.
Underneath the finished product is a tiny smiley face.
Lena checks through the completed equation three times. Much to her chagrin, it’s perfect.
Kara brings wine, once.
“I don’t even know you,” Lena slurs out, somewhere between her fourth and fifth glass.
“What? Of course you do.” Kara, perfect, saintly Kara is stone cold sober, washing dishes at the sink.
Lena props her chin in her hand because she suddenly lacks the strength to hold it up. “Nuh-uh. I only know the lies.” She snorts out a laugh. “I have no idea who you are.”
Kara stares at her from across the room, arms covered in soap suds up to the elbow. She doesn’t look nearly as amused by this revelation as Lena is.
“Come on,” Lena manages, breathless between tipsy giggles. “It’s been, what? Four years? And I don’t know your real name. We’re co-habiting in the world’s most isolated wooden box and I don’t even know your name.” Her head lolls sideways, narrowly avoids knocking the glass of the table. She pulls it back into the safety of her hands, takes another swig. “That’s pretty fucking funny.”
“You know my name, Lena.”
“I don’t think it says Supergirl on your birth certificate.” She snorts again. “Bit pretentious if it does.”
The cabin falls silent for a long moment, no sounds beyond the gentle splashing of the dishes, the unsteady clink of the wine bottle. And then, so quiet she almost misses it— “Kara Zor-El.”
The blonde turns to face her properly, drying her hands on their lone dish towel. Squares her shoulders just a fraction. “My name is Kara Zor-El.”
Lena gazes at her for long enough that her vision blurs at the edges, lets the unfamiliar sounds wash over her. “Zor-El,” she tries, tasting it on her tongue. “Kara Zor-El.”
Is it the wine, or does Kara stand up a little straighter?
Lena smiles, achingly sad. “I wish I could say it’s been a pleasure to meet you.”
Kara doesn’t bring wine again.
Kara chops firewood because, of course she does.
Of course she’s out there, rain or shine, stripped down to a white tank top that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, looking far better swinging a deadly weapon around than she has any right to. She could probably pry the logs apart with her bare hands if she wanted.
Lena banishes that mental image as quickly as it arrives.
She’s grateful for the end product, of course. Grateful for the steady supply of fuel that stops her freezing solid to her mattress on the increasingly frosty nights.
She just doesn’t understand why she has to bear witness to the process.
Kara offers to teach her, once. Lena frowns, the sensory overload from the mere suggestion of such an activity too much to handle. Takes a cold shower, buries her nose in a book, and refuses to look out the window for the next three hours.
“Exactly how long do you expect my company to keep running without me?” Lena asks over lunch one day, tone almost conversational. She’s not yelling, which means it’s already a better interaction than most of the ones they’ve been having lately.
She pauses suddenly, a piece of kale halfway to her mouth as her eyes widen. “Oh my God. What do they know? Do they think I’m dead?”
“No! No,” Kara manages around a mouthful of bread, her cheeks puffing out like a chipmunk. “Only the DEO knows about Non Nocere and— all of that. L-Corp just thinks you’re on medical leave.”
“Oh.” Lena’s tense shoulders relax a fraction. “Medical leave? Why would you—”
“Seemed like the best cover.” Kara won’t meet Lena’s eyes. “They can’t very well broadcast the fact that a covert government agency assassinated a Fortune 500 CEO. Or, well, tried to.”
Lena snorts. Spears another piece of spinach with the end of her fork. “No, I suppose not.”
“Hello to you too,” Lena mutters, not turning from the potatoes she’s chopping.
“Hi. How’s your day been. Isn’t it a lovely evening. Alex knows you’re alive.”
Kara’s voice is tense. Lena fails to see the urgency. “Great. So I can stop skulking around in the shadows and go home, then?”
They’ve had enough fights now that Lena can picture the expression that accompanies that particular tone of voice clear as day. She imagines Kara’s look of exasperation, projects it onto the potato in front of her. Slices her knife down the middle of it with a satisfying thwack.
“This is only going to make things harder for us, Lena,” Kara says, half authoritative, half beseeching. “She’ll figure out that I’m hiding you. She’ll try and track me. Every time I go shopping, fetch supplies from my apartment, the DEO will be watching.”
Lena gathers the chunks of potato, drops them into the pot. “Better make the most of dinner then. I suppose I’ll be eating pinecones soon.”
Kara groans. When she speaks, it’s through gritted teeth. “You don’t make this easy, you know.”
“Why do it then?” The question is out before Lena can think better of it. “Why keep coming back? It’s not like you’ll get any gratitude from me. If it’s so difficult for you, why don’t you just stop?”
There’s no hesitation in Kara’s tone. “Because all of this is my fault. No—” she raises her eyebrows when Lena turns at last to argue. “It is. You created Non Nocere because of how much I hurt you.” Her voice shakes a little. “Because you wanted to stop it ever happening again. I’m not going to let your life be destroyed because of a mistake I pushed you into making.”
Lena’s eyes narrow. “Do not infantilise me, Kara. I’m my own person, I make my own decisions. Contrary to what you seem to believe, not everything in my life revolves around you.”
Liar, her mind whispers.
Dinner is all but abandoned. Kara’s on the back foot now, eyes wide. “No, I didn’t mean—”
“So this is all an elaborate guilt trip for you, then? Your penance? Yet another way for you to save me, except this time it’s from myself?” Lena’s practically spitting her words, watches each one find its mark. “Your hero complex truly knows no bounds.”
It’s dark outside but Lena doesn’t care, pushing past Kara toward the door. The blonde reaches out for her as she goes, the tips of her fingers just brushing Lena’s arm. Scalding, even through her sweater.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” she hisses, pauses for a moment to level a stare so full of fury on the Kryptonian that she wonders if lasers might shoot spontaneously from her own eyes.
One of them gasps; Lena doesn’t know who. Doesn’t bother to find out, slams the door behind her.
Kara lets her go.
They don’t speak for two days, after that.
On the third, Kara returns from wherever she’s been with a face as pale as Lena’s ever seen it.
She drops wearily onto the couch, only to double over seconds later in a coughing fit so violent Lena’s pushed herself up from the bed before she realises what she’s doing.
She grabs a glass of water and sets it on the floor next to the blonde. Stands beside her, furiously unsure. Praying Kara recovers before she has to do anything more.
Finally, the coughs ease up. The Kryptonian grabs the water gratefully, downs the whole thing. “I had to… clear a gas… today,” she wheezes at Lena’s expression, chest heaving. “Poison.”
Lena sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth. “Are you—?”
“Poisoned? No.” Half a weak chuckle escapes before the sound seems to catch in her lungs and she’s bent double again. Thick, gruesome sounds emanate from her chest and throat and this time Lena can’t help herself, she reaches out. Rests a hand between the blonde’s heaving shoulder blades.
This coughing fit lasts even longer than the first and Lena’s just starting to wonder about the protocol for Kryptonian CPR when Kara collapses back against the couch, exhausted. She sucks in desperate lungfuls of air, tears streaming from her eyes as she glances up at Lena. “Well. Maybe a little bit.”
Lena stays with her, not that there’s anywhere else to go. Fetches glass after glass of water. Presses a damp cloth to her flushed face in the brief stretches of calm before the coughing begins anew.
Keeps watching her, even after the blonde drops at last into a fitful sleep. Listens to her unsteady breathing, eyes fixed on the shudder of her congested chest.
The poison has worked its way out of her lungs by the morning. Lena spends most of the next day in bed, catching up on the sleep she’d missed.
They don’t talk about it, any of it, again.
The gash on Lena’s scalp heals though her hand remains splinted, useless. The days get colder, shorter. Lena marks each one’s passing with the curved end of a hairpin, gouging a tiny mark into the wooden edge of her bed.
Kara is there most nights. Whatever duties she attends to daily in National City are evidently business hours only; she has a miraculous knack for turning up right as Lena’s plating up dinner.
On the days she doesn’t make it back by nightfall, the wind seems louder as it whistles around the lonely cabin. Lena will build the fire bigger, huddle inside the quilt and try desperately to focus on something, anything other than the blonde’s absence.
It’s not like she even wants Kara there. She doesn’t.
The Kryptonian always returns before morning. She’ll open the door silently at some ungodly hour of the night, would be undetectable were it not for the blast of frigid air she’s not quick enough to block. Lena, half-asleep, will lie silent and unmoving as Kara shuffles around, quietly preparing for bed.
Each time without fail, Kara will pause next to Lena’s bed, by her side in the dark.
Lena’s sleep-clouded mind usually, blessedly, retains enough of its wits to remember to breathe, slowly, in and out. Kara will count, quiet, barely audible: ten of Lena’s inhales, ten of her exhales.
Only then will she drop onto the couch.
They never talk. Kara doesn’t volunteer where she’s been, what she’s been through.
Lena doesn’t ask.
She’d estimate that probably 85% of their interactions are arguments. But they haven’t had a fight, not a bad one, for a solid few days when Lena wakes up and adds the fourteenth gouge to her bedframe.
It’s been two weeks, then. Two weeks since Mount Norquay, since Non Nocere and Claymore and vanishing off the face of the civilised Earth to whatever godforsaken corner she’s currently inhabiting.
It’s been two weeks, which means it’s now October. Which means Lena has missed her end-of-month review, her scheduled board meeting, her employee performance analyses.
Which means she’s missed two weeks of work. Which is, like, thirty years in CEO terms.
She’s angling for a fight from the moment she rolls out of bed. Makes no attempt to hide her frustration, her mounting fury at being cooped up against her will with her ex-best friend.
Kara, to her credit, takes it like a champ. She ignores Lena’s needling over breakfast, doesn’t bite at any of her incessant jabs during lunch.
Each time it gets heated, each time Lena thinks she might finally get the Kryptonian to take the bait, Kara leaves. Lena doesn’t know if she actually has somewhere to be or if she just flies around to cool off. Either way, it only ratchets her anger up another few degrees.
Why should Kara get to leave, when Lena’s stuck here like some caged bird with no hope of escape?
She quietly suspects that sometimes, Kara leaves as much for Lena’s sake as for her own. That she removes herself to give Lena room to breathe when the cabin walls press in around her.
Maybe she should be grateful for that.
She stews silently after Kara’s fourth departure of the day, injustices and accusations building in her chest like a thunderstorm. When Kara’s sheepish face pokes around the door that night, Lena lets rip.
She can see the blonde’s shoulders tighten with every insult, every recrimination Lena flings in her direction. Watches Kryptonian fists clench with a sense of grim satisfaction. Kara is nearing the end of her patience but Lena, Lena is just getting started.
“Where the hell do you get off?” she screams across the cabin, red-faced, hands trembling. Oh, if Lillian could see her now. “Flying in and out like this is your fucking holiday home while you keep me here trapped?”
Lena snatches the nearest thing her good hand can reach – a mug, Kara’s mug – and launches it across the room. The blonde ducks; the mug rents a solid chunk of wood out of the front door as it shatters.
“Maybe we should put in a mini bar, hmm? Perhaps a turn-down service?” She’s practically spitting her words now, each one like acid on her tongue. “Let’s make sure you can really enjoy yourself.”
The cabin really isn’t very big, so Lena finds herself with a front-row view of the precise moment Kara’s composure cracks.
The Kryptonian advances on her, otherworldly now in her anger. Her voice is low and dangerous, the barely-restrained storm to Lena’s raucous bluster.
“You think I like this? You think I like forcing you to stay here, knowing you’d rather be anywhere else? Knowing you can barely stand to be in the same room as me? Knowing you hate me?”
Kara’s voice cracks on the penultimate word. Something in Lena’s chest does too.
The blonde takes a deep, steadying breath. Keeps a safe distance between them.
“This has nothing to do with me or what I want. This is only about keeping you safe.”
“Safe? Safe?” Lena’s burning now, hotter than a supernova. “I have never been safe with you.”
“Of course you— I promised I would always protect you.”
Lena’s laughing even as her eyes fill with tears. “Yes, you did. And more fool me for trusting that.” She swipes her knuckles furiously across her cheeks. “I led you by the hand to my weaknesses, my every vulnerability, and you swore you’d protect them. And then you used them to rip me apart.”
Her fingernails are clenched so hard against her palm that they’ve broken the skin. Sticky-sweet blood mars her like a brand as she presses her shaking hands together so she can’t do any more damage. Oh, how she wants to launch a book, a plate, a nuclear missile at Kara’s head.
Lena is burning. She wants the world to burn with her.
“From the moment you decided to lie to me indefinitely, I have not been safe with you. Stop trying to convince yourself otherwise.”
Kara, for once, seems at a loss for words. That’s alright. Lena’s got enough to say for both of them.
Laughter bites its way out of her throat, a dark, twisted sound. “Do you want to know the really ironic thing? The whole time you were betraying me, I was doing everything in my power to keep you safe.”
Kara’s hands are outstretched, desperate. “I know. Lena, I know how I’ve hurt you—”
“No, I don’t think you do.” If she’s not careful she’ll be screaming soon. She sucks in a heavy breath. “Do you understand that I have literally killed people for you?”
The Kryptonian is wide-eyed now, stammering. “I— of course I—”
“You do? Really? The day after we met I shot a man through the chest to save your sister’s life.”
Kara’s voice is thick with tears. “I know. I know you’ve always—”
“And then Jack.” Lena hates how her voice still cracks at his name. She’s too far past any semblance of composure to do a thing about it now. “My best, my oldest friend. The man I loved. I could probably have saved him, you know. With time, with L-Corp’s resources.” Even now the guilt gnaws in her chest. “But I didn’t. I ended his life to save Supergirl’s. To save you.”
Kara is silent save for her harsh, gulping breaths. Tears flow freely down her cheeks.
The pain in Lena’s soul is too huge, too demanding, to leave room for any other considerations.
“Lex.” Her molten eyes spill over, scalding tracks down her cheeks. “My brother. My only family, my only constant.” The grief and guilt and hell of it all are rising in her throat, unstoppable. Lena feels like she might be dying. Mouth clogged, tongue heavy. Blind behind cascading tears. “All for you.”
She wraps her arms around her own torso, digging in tight. Maybe she can hold herself together. Maybe she can keep the last remnants of her heart from falling apart.
Maybe she’s not strong enough anymore. Maybe there’s just no point.
She sucks in a ragged breath, blinking hard. To no avail; the tears are coming too thick and too fast to catch even a glimpse of Kara’s face. Perhaps that’s for the best. She’s not sure she can withstand the sight of those blue eyes as the two of them shatter beyond repair.
Lena summons her last shred of energy. Pushes the last piece of this agony into the air between them.
“And in return, you couldn’t even tell me your name.”
She wakes the next morning with the kind of dull, hollow headache intimately familiar to anyone who’d ever cried themselves into unconsciousness.
The cabin is empty. Unsurprising. She and Kara had not exchanged another word, another glance since Lena had dug her nails into both their scars and pulled. They’d just gone to bed. She’d laid there in the dark, trying hard to tame her own ragged sobs, stoutly ignoring the sniffles from the couch.
There are no croissants today, no pot of freshly brewed coffee. There’s just— nothing.
Lena knows she can’t stay here. Can’t spend another day skirting around Kara in this shoebox on top of a mountain, pretending that every point at which the fabric of their lives was once entangled is not now a black hole of pain and longing.
If Kara won’t take her home, she’ll have to do it herself.
She still has no idea where she is, but that’s okay. All she has to do is make it to some kind of civilisation and call for help. She’s Lena freaking Luthor. The world (at least, the world at the bottom of this god-damn cliff) is her oyster.
Her plan is half-baked at best, but Lena’s run out of time in the kitchen. She moves quickly, efficiently, dressing in her – Kara’s – most practical clothes. Pops her last few Advil for good luck. Snags the coil of rope from the outdoor toolbox, loops it around the tree she’s long had earmarked as perfect based on its strength to distance-from-cliff-edge ratio.
She winds it twice, looping it through itself into a sort of rudimentary one-man belay system. Ties one loose end snug around her waist, holds the other in her good hand.
Admittedly, the whole incapacitated-dominant-hand thing is something of a strike against her as she prepares to basically abseil off a fucking cliff. But then again, she’s never been one to back down from a challenge.
She stands for a moment looking out over the edge, appraising. The rock face she’ll have to descend is steep, yes, but many of the notched footholds are still there. She squints against the early morning sun. There’s another flat jut of rock much like the plateau she currently inhabits about a hundred feet below her. So. Phase 1: make it to the next ledge down.
As for Phase 2, well. Here’s hoping she makes it that far.
It’s going well.
It’s going surprisingly well, in fact, for the first half-minute or so after she finally convinces her trembling body to move. Loose end of rope wrapped securely around one forearm, she picks her way delicately over the edge of the cliff, wedges her toes into the first two footholds.
Her hips are level with the top of the plateau, Kara’s fucking axe propped provocatively against a tree right at her new eye level. But it’s fine, it’s good. It’s a solid start.
Until she reaches down to the next foothold and misses entirely. Whoever built the damn things must have had giant fucking giraffe legs, she’s thinking to herself even as she slips, twists, hip smacking sickeningly against the sharp jut of rock.
The rope around her waist forces her breath out in a gasp as it tightens, the other end a noose around her good arm. She curses none too quietly at the almost certain friction burn below her elbow as the thing constricts, holding her in place. But that’s okay, it’s fine, because it worked.
She pauses for a moment, blinking the tears from her eyes. Sucks in a few deep breaths, and starts her descent again.
She makes it down another eight notches before she has to pause for breath. Her right arm and waist are rubbed raw and stinging under the bite of the rope but she dares not readjust now. Her bruised hip is throbbing, knees battered, fingernails bloody where they scrabble for purchase, but she’s doing it.
She’s made it ten whole footholds so, by her vague calculations, she should reach the ledge she’s aiming for some time before midnight.
Lena presses herself tighter against the rockface as a particularly enthusiastic gust of wind whips at her clothes, her hair, threatens to dislodge her entirely. She pictures herself for a moment as the birds would see her, as Kara would see her; a tiny dot clinging to the side of an unforgiving mountain, suspended above the drop by a fraying rope and the sheer force of her own stubbornness.
The image is none too comforting and she forces it from her mind.
She makes it another three holds down and everything is going great. And then the jut of rock she had so carefully perched her right foot upon disintegrates into nothing without warning.
It takes a split second for her stomach to bottom out, for every fibre of her being to succumb to sheer, mind-numbing terror. She pitches forward against the cliff face hard, face and chest scraping against the rough surface as she tries to regain her footing. Reaches out desperately with the hand not caught up in the twist of rope, feels a stomach-turning crack run through her knuckles as her bodyweight slams her injured hand into the stone.
There’s nothing to grab, nothing that’s not crumbling.
She’s sliding. She thinks she might be screaming.
She’s not the only one.
Lena’s falling, and then she’s not.
She hits something hard. Not bone-shattering skull-splattering hard, not the hard of the ground eighty feet below, but hard nonetheless. Hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs as she lands, eyes screwed shut, battered limbs latching onto anything they can reach.
“Jesus fuck,” is exhaled harsh against her temple. “Lena? Fuck, Lena?”
She can’t force her eyes to open, can’t look again at the empty space surrounding her, at the bare rock below that so nearly became an intimate acquaintance. She’s caught awkwardly in Kara’s arms, half-draped over one shoulder. The Kryptonian shifts to better accommodate her but Lena’s arms tighten hard at her movement, a vice-grip around her neck. Because whatever else Kara is, in this moment she’s warm and solid and there and Lena is in no hurry to take any of those things for granted again.
“It’s okay. You’re okay. I’ve got you; I won’t let you go,” Kara murmurs, over and over. Her shoulders are trembling, chest heaving as it presses against Lena’s.
They’re still hovering miles above the valley bottom. The wind tugs insistently at Lena’s hair, Kara’s cape— no, not her cape, her coat. Her civilian trench coat, the soft neck of her knitted sweater warm beneath Lena’s fingers. “Are you okay?” Kara asks shakily. “Are you hurt?”
Lena shifts. The right side of her face feels raw, stinging where it presses against the blonde’s collar. Kara nudges her head up to get a better look, sucks a lungful of air through her teeth. “God, Lena…”
A sudden shock of heat near her cheek; Kara laser visions through the half of the rope still tethering her to the mountainside. “What the hell were you thinking?” she asks, panic bleeding into every syllable. “You almost died. I almost didn’t— do you have any idea how fast I had to go to get here? How close I came to not—” She chokes off, swallows hard.
Lena doesn’t trust herself to speak. Just tucks her face tight against Kara’s neck, eyes screwed shut. Tries not to tremble at the swoop of her stomach as the Kryptonian starts to float them back up. Focuses instead on the feeling of rising, of flying. Of ascending the cliff she’d just plummeted down.
Kara lands them gently, so gently, back on solid ground.
They end up on their knees, curled together on the sun-warmed stone. Lena finally, with no small effort, forces her arms to release their death-grip on the other woman’s neck. The blonde’s hands brush smears of dirt from her grazed cheek, push dark hair back from her blood-sticky temple.
She holds Lena’s damaged hand in both her own, tongue clicking against her teeth at the new fracture. Hisses as Lena’s shirt shifts, reveals the raw friction burns covering her arm and waist. “Look at you,” she breathes, swiping away the fresh blood coagulating under Lena’s fingernails.
The intensity of her blue eyes is— it’s too much. When Kara shuffles forward to pull her gently back into her arms Lena finds herself leaning in, if only to avoid meeting her gaze.
“Lena, you can’t, you cannot do that again. You almost— what if you’d actually— God—”
And to Lena’s horror, Kara’s voice trails off into what sounds like a sob. She’s grateful again that she can’t see the blonde’s face.
After a moment Kara pulls back. Her eyes are brimming, shining, swimming with tears. “Rao, I thought I’d lost you.” A deep breath, and she meets Lena’s gaze dead on. “I’m sorry. Everything you said last night… you have to know I’m sorry. I never meant— but it doesn’t matter what I meant because all I did was hurt you. Lena, I’m so sorry.”
The blonde winces, brow furrowed. A single, perfect tear rolls down her cheek. Kara’s eyes flit skyward as though they might find an answer there as she tugs Lena back into her embrace. Lena lets her, tries not to shiver at the words breathed against her hair.
“I thought I was protecting you but really it was just easier for me, to lie. It was selfish. I wanted to keep you. I couldn’t, couldn’t lose you.” She grips Lena tighter. “I wanted you. I just wanted you.”
Lena doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. Isn’t sure she can.
Kara seems to be fighting some internal battle, every inch of her body tightening and tensing where they’re pressed together. She seems to be losing.
“I can’t, I can’t do this,” the blonde gasps, trembling. “Knowing you would rather take such a stupid, suicidal risk than stay here with me—”
Kara’s voice cracks. A sound so broken rips from her throat that Lena’s entire chest seizes up of its own accord. She digs her teeth hard against the pad of her lip, the taste of iron blooming in her mouth.
The blonde is sucking in gasps of air like she’s drowning. Her breathing is laboured and quick, far too quick, whole body shuddering with the effort of it. Lena has no idea what to do.
“Okay,” Kara forces out eventually, more of a hiccup than a word. Shaky, but determined. “You have to— you have to help me. Tell me what to do. Tell me how to stop this ever happening again.”
Blue eyes bore into green. Kara looks— her expression is wild, desolate in its desperation. She’s begging, Lena realises. The most powerful being on the planet is kneeling before her, begging.
She’s already shaking her head. “You can’t, you don’t want to—”
“Lena.” Breathy, barely audible. Lena’s mouth snaps shut.
Kara tilts forward like a falling angel, like a toppling civilisation. Her forehead comes to rest against the juncture of Lena’s neck and shoulder, breath shuddering out against her clavicle. One hand lifts to splay against her ribcage, fingers slotting into the very grooves of her.
“I would do anything for you.”
The words are quiet, delicate despite their conviction, an exhale pressed against Lena’s skin.
Lena takes a deep breath. “Then let me go.”
The world is deathly still in the aftermath. There’s no sound; neither one of them breathes. Lena feels the moment teeter, some cosmic tipping point suspended in finite possibility. Like the final piece of a fundamental truth poised at last to slot into place.
Kara’s grip tightens around her body, for one brief second squeezes hard enough to bruise. In the next breath her arms are gone.