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with the birds i'll share this lonely view

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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?”

“Somewhere safe.”

“Where?”

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.

“I know.”

 

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.”

“Not this.”

“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.”

“Fine.”

“Good.”

Great.”

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?”

“No.”

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.

“A laptop.”

“No.”

“A radio?”

“No.”

“Two tin cans and some string?”

Lena.

 

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?”

“No.”

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?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t the DEO wonder where you are? And Catco— surely Andrea’s noticed you’re never there?”

“Nope.”

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.”

“Hmm?”

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.”

 

“Alex knows.”

“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?”

“No.”

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’s not.

 

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.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

They agree, after a not-insignificant argument, to give it five days. Five more days at the cabin, five days for Lena’s injuries to heal so she can re-enter public life without too many awkward questions.

Kara, after a brief supply run, tends to Lena’s wounds with single-minded focus. It takes less than two minutes and only one thinly veiled threat – if you break this hand again so help me God, I’ll laser vision right through your skin and fuse the bones back together myself – before Lena stops fighting it.

She just sits, exhausted, drained in more ways than one. Lets Kara clean the dirt from her bloody face, sterilise her wounds. Lets her spread a burn salve on her skin and wrap her arm and waist in soft bandages. Lets her reset the bones in her hand, feed her painkillers and a hastily concocted soup, and lay her gently on the bed.

She sleeps through the night and most of the next day as well. When she wakes, Kara is silhouetted against the window by the setting sun, tongue poking out between her teeth as she sketches.

Lena, groggy from sleep and the throbbing pain of her injuries, knocks a glass of water off the table in her struggle to reach the painkillers. Kara catches it before it can shatter, supports Lena’s shoulders as she swallows the tablets and downs the rest of the glass. She smells good, like rain and moon dust where their bodies touch. Lena pushes her away.

“Quit cleaning up my messes, would you?” Her words are half-muffled against the pillow. “Stop trying to save me.”

Kara chuckles as she checks the burns on Lena’s arm. “Nope.” She pops the p, unperturbed. “Never.”

Lena huffs, batting Kara’s fingers away from her grazed face. “What does a girl have to do…” She can feel the numbing tide of industrial strength painkillers washing over her. Her head lolls further into the pillow, tongue heavy. “Lie to you, check. Use Kryptonite, check. World domination?” She pouts, brow furrowed. “Half check. So would you just—”

She squints, trying to remember her point against the growing insentience of her body and mind. “Just write me off as a villain already.”

Kara’s fingers still where they’re nudging her shirt up around her ribs. If Lena was more with it she would certainly have elbowed the blonde away by now, probably have gotten another broken bone for her trouble. In the eternity it takes for Lena’s drooping eyelids to blink Kara starts moving again, pressing clean bandages to her chafed raw skin.

“I won’t believe the worst of you, Lena. I know who you are.”

Lena huffs again, but it comes out as more of a sigh as unconsciousness beckons. “Like hell. I don’t even know who I am.” It’s spoken more into the pillow than to Kara, but the blonde chuckles anyway.

“Get some rest, Lena,” she says as she pulls her shirt down, draws the quilt back over her.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Lena mutters, good hand fisted into the soft covers tucked under her chin. Darkness tugs at her, and whatever else Kara was going to say is lost as she slips away.

 

Things are marginally – marginally – more peaceful after that.

After her daring escape-turned-freefall-turned-rescue, after the blood and the tears and the promise extracted, and regularly reaffirmed, that Kara will take her back to civilisation within the week, Lena tries to call a ceasefire.

Compromise, she reasons. It’s all about compromise. Kara saved her from certain death, tended to her wounds like a war nurse, promised an end to her entrapment. Surely Lena can manage to keep her temper in check in return.

But the graveyard of her hurt is too vast, too easily tilled over and exposed anew, and the sailing is not as smooth as Lena’s sure either of them would like.

Yes, Kara had apologised and yes, if she’s honest, Lena believes her. The memory, that image of the blonde quite literally brought to her knees and trembling through tears, is not one Lena can find it in herself to doubt.

But shattered trust and wounded pride do not harmonious bedfellows make, and the smallest comment can manage to expose every raw nerve once more, tip the scales of her composure so that she hurts before she can be hurt. Sometimes she thinks she might even do it to herself, inflame the situation like a tongue drawn over and over to poke at a rotten tooth, prodding until the pain flares anew.

If Lena were of a more introspective inclination she might wonder about the masochism of it all, the self-flagellation she seems determined to inflict. Thankfully, though, she has an axe to swing and a cliff-edge to scream from whenever the urge to ruminate comes knocking.

She takes small comfort in the fact that the truces between each fresh bout of screaming are getting longer. There may yet come a time when she and Kara can make it a whole day without fighting.

 

Today, however, is not that day.

“You’ve hidden things from me too, Lena.”

Kara pre-empts the outrage boiling in Lena’s throat, hands up in pointed surrender as another book flies at her head. Lena forces down the memory of Kara’s raised hands against a dark mountain sky, Kryptonite cannons auto-arming. Launches another book across the cabin to be easily sidestepped. She’s not sure how they’ve ended up here, who she’s keeping up this pretence for anymore.

“I’m just saying,” Kara continues, irritatingly calm. “Making Kryptonite, the Harun-El. Reign. Lex.”

Lena gasps, casts around for her next missile. “How dare you—”

“I’m not saying it justifies what I did,” Kara cuts in. “I’ll apologise to you forever for that. But you know, I wasn’t the only one keeping secrets.”

Lena’s eyes burn against the sting of furious, useless tears. “The difference being,” she spits across the small space, “—that I was keeping secrets from Supergirl, not my best friend. I know the distinction was never important to you but believe me, it mattered to me.”

This righteous anger feels like all she has left, some days. When the thought of healing is too much, too high of a mountain to climb, at least she has this to fall back on.

“We both know you’ve kept things from Kara, too.”

Lena laughs humourlessly. “But I always came clean in the end. That’s the difference between us.”

“Tell me, Lena.” Kara stops, braces her hands on the table and meets Lena’s gaze with burning, shining eyes. “When we met, when we became friends, if I hadn’t already known who you were— if you had the chance for a relationship without the baggage of your name, would you have told me?”

Lena’s mouth opens, then closes again without a word. Kara presses her advantage.

“Would you have announced yourself as a Luthor, opened yourself up to all the shit that comes along with being the person you never asked to be, or would you have kept quiet?”

Blue eyes are piercing in their unwavering stare. Lena hates the vulnerability she feels, hates hates hates the sensation that Kara is seeing her, seeing right through her.

“Lying to you for so long was the biggest mistake of my life. But can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn’t have done the same?”

Lena seethes, she rages and she hates and she aches in utter silence because she can’t. And she can’t very well lie, given the subject of their fight, given the moral high ground she would have to concede.

She has a sneaking suspicion Kara wouldn’t buy it even if she tried. Perhaps they’re past the point of being able to lie to one another.

She doesn’t know if she should be grateful or terrified.

 

“Can I show you something?”

Their most recent ceasefire – their concession to one another – has been to remain stonily silent for most of the day. Like all their fights now, this morning’s bloodshed is not mentioned again. There’s no resolution, no solution. Just a silent cataloguing of new wounds, an endless battle to move on.

Lena hesitates for less than a second. “Yes.”

Kara leads her out to the cliff edge. The night air is so cold Lena’s breath mists in front of her. She wraps her arms tight around her torso, tucks her hands into her armpits.

The blonde glances at her, flits back inside and reappears at Lena’s elbow in a heartbeat. She’s flicked off the cabin’s lights, Lena realises, as a blanket is draped around her shoulders.

In the sudden total darkness, the stars are so bright she can almost hear them. Her head tilts back, mouth dropping open at the celestial tapestry above their heads. A hundred million pinpricks of light dance across the sky, weaving in and out of rich swirls of deep blue like sunlight refracting off waves.

These are stars like Lena’s never seen. These are stars that put all other stars to shame.

“Up there,” Kara says quietly. “You see Ursa Major? From Alioth, the brightest— three to the left.”

“There?”

There,” Kara breathes. Her hand wraps gently around Lena’s pointed finger, shifts it minutely higher. Her touch, her tone, they’re reverential. “That’s Rao. My sun. And sometimes— sometimes you can see the shadow. Of Krypton.”

A tiny gasp falls unbidden from Lena’s lips. “We can still—?”

“Yeah. Even though it’s gone, we can see it.” Kara sighs, heavy and wistful. The survivor’s lament. “When I first got to this planet, I found it comforting. A little glimpse of home.”

There’s an edge to Kara’s tone that Lena’s never experienced. “You don’t feel that way anymore?”

“No.”

Lena can’t tear her eyes away from the sight, the illusion of life where all has died. They stand silent a long moment, lost in the spectacle, the heedless majesty of it all.

“Now, now it just feels cruel,” Kara says, voice barely above a whisper. “A taunt. A reminder of what could have been, what will never be again.”

Kara’s voice is tremulous and soft, and Lena aches.

“When something is lost, irrevocably, it’s kinder to just let it go. To stop pretending.” The blonde chuckles, but the sound is hollow. “But, fool that I am, I just keeping coming back. I don’t think I’m strong enough to stop.”

Her words send a shiver down Lena’s spine. When she forces her eyes away from the splendour of the cosmos, she realises Kara isn’t gazing up at the ghostly after-image of her home.

She’s looking straight at Lena.

 

Kara assures her in no uncertain terms that she has everything handled.

Lena greets this assertion with a healthy amount of scepticism. They bicker over breakfast about how to manage Lena’s return to L-Corp, pass lunch arguing about the logistics of packing up the cabin.

By dinner, they’ve moved on to a (heated) disagreement regarding Lena’s physical safety. She wants to contact her head of security, to increase her detail, have them ready and waiting on her return to the city. Wants to brief them on the threat that is the DEO, prepare them for whatever a covert military government faction could try to throw at her.

Kara disagrees. Doesn’t trust Lena’s security team. Doesn’t see the need.

“I can handle it on my own.”

Once upon a time, there was nowhere Lena would have felt safer than under Kara’s protection. But that fairytale shattered in tandem with her brother’s ribcage the moment she put a bullet in it.

“I know you fancy yourself omnipotent, Supergirl,” she bites out, “—but you can’t be everywhere all the time. You can’t shadow me forever. What if the DEO arrest me? If they try to kill me again?”

Kara groans, head in her hands, elbows braced either side of her plate. “Lena, I said I will handle it.”

She scoffs. “Oh yeah? You’ll handle Alex? You’ll go against your own sister?”

“I already have,” Kara snaps. She gathers up their dishes, tossing them none too gently into the sink. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?”

Lena winces. The unsolicited reminder of that betrayal, that particular bridge burned to smoking ruins still cuts a little too close to the quick. She shakes her head, digs up the most venom she can muster. “She’s your sister. How do I know you two won’t just kiss and make up?”

“You don’t understand. After what she did—”

I don’t understand?” A trail of sparks blazes down Lena’s spine, settling somewhere hot and deep and painful. “Then let me get it straight. What you’re saying is, the person you trusted most in the world betrayed you? Did something you thought they’d never be capable of? Gosh.” Lena taps her fingers thoughtfully against her chin. “I wonder what that’s like.”

Kara growls low in her throat. “That’s not— this is— fuck.” She slams a plate onto the draining board hard enough to shatter it, the sharp crack deafening in the small cabin. Lena flinches, out of her chair and backing up into the opposite wall on instinct.

The blonde’s voice is low and dangerous, rent through with pure pain. “How can I even look at her after she—” Lena’s water glass meets the same fate as its kinsman, splintered beneath Kara’s fist. “Nothing has ever come between us. Ever. But then she— and I couldn’t, I had to, so I chose—”

The countertop creaks and groans, warping under Kryptonian strength. Lena hunches intuitively, shoulders drawn up. Makes herself a smaller target. She doesn’t breathe as a handful of their cutlery mangles in Kara’s grip, a deformed metal carcass hitting the floor where it’s dropped in disgust.

The blonde’s hand clenches around the edge of the counter, punching four distinct finger holes through solid oak. “You don’t have to worry. I don’t think we’re ever going to get over this.”

Kara turns then, facing her at last, and the unbridled agony in her eyes sends a shockwave through Lena’s already trembling body. The blonde registers Lena’s cowering stance, her thundering heartbeat and wide eyes for apparently the first time as her expression slides from anger to shock to fear.

Kara raises her hands and Lena can’t help it; she flinches. But they’re open, palms out, a gesture of peace. “Rao, Lena, I—” the blonde breathes, all trace of ire gone. “I’m not, I would never—”

But Lena can’t force her trembling body to move, can’t do anything but press against the worn wood. Braced for the onslaught, for the inevitable end of these tirades at the hands of Lionel, Lillian, Lex.

Kara looks like she’s about to be sick. “I’m, I’m going to go. I’ll be back in the morning.”

And for once, Lena’s grateful for her superspeed. The cabin is empty a millisecond before her knees give out and she hits the ground.

 

“I shouldn’t have yelled. Or lost control, used my strength like that.”

The morning brings Kara and Kara brings scones and Italian coffees and a careful, nervous distance between them. She stands by the door, fingers knotted together, chewing on the inside of her cheek.

“It’s fine,” Lena mutters, embarrassed, refusing to meet her gaze. Ashamed in the cold light of a new day of her own reaction, her reflexive weakness. “I was being ungrateful, insensitive—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Kara cuts in. Her tone is firm but meticulously measured, gentle as it commands. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. You never deserve to be yelled at.”

Lena busies herself laying the table. “Kara, it’s fine. I yell at you all the time. It’s not a big deal.”

The blonde’s eyes drop to the mismatched plates, the missing cutlery. She winces. “It is. It’s important to me that you know you never deserve that. You should never have to be afraid.”

Lena clenches her jaw hard enough that her vision blurs at the edges. But not enough, never enough to block out those blue eyes fixed on her face, aching in their sincerity.

“I know I’ve done plenty to make you believe otherwise but Lena, I swear. I will not hurt you.”

And Lena thinks she probably surprises them both when she doesn’t even hesitate. “I know.”

 

When Kara makes pasta for dinner for the third night in a row, Lena puts her foot down.

“I can’t eat this again,” she mutters. Chances a glance at the blonde’s crestfallen face. “No offence.”

“Some taken,” Kara shrugs, shovelling another forkful of spaghetti into her mouth. “I’ve been told my bolognese is great.”

“Your bolognese is fine. I just, I need a salad. If Claymore didn’t get me, the carb overload will.”

Kara freezes, sauce dripping off her half-raised fork and splattering the table. Lena’s reaching out with a napkin without needing to look. “Too soon,” she mutters around a wince. “Got it, got it.”

They continue eating in silence, but for once it’s not oppressive. “Really though,” Lena says after Kara’s helped herself to thirds. “Do you actually know how to cook anything else?”

“Hey,” the blonde protests, mouth full. “I’m doing pretty well. Considering my natural diet is 98% takeout and all. You do realise I haven’t eaten a pot sticker in almost three weeks.”

Lena drops a scandalised hand to her chest, feigning shock. “My God. The things you do for me.”

It’s out before she can think better of it. Kara doesn’t comment, but the silence is almost worse. It leaves far too much space for them both to dwell on the unintended weight behind the words. Her punishment, Lena supposes, for slipping back into their old banter. For pretending nothing’s changed.

But the next day, Kara shows up with a grocery bag full of fresh vegetables. Lena tries very hard not to drool as the blonde produces bags of spinach, peppers, tomatoes, even kale. Admittedly, she holds it at arm’s length like it’s a biohazard, but still.

Lena gorges herself on food with actual nutritional value, and she doesn’t quash the urge to thank Kara for making the trip, and when a smile lights up the blonde’s face she doesn’t even regret it.

 

The nightmares haven’t been so bad since Lex.

But now, now they’re back with a vengeance. And instead of her brother’s smiling, dying face it’s Kara, veins shot through with glowing green, the Kryptonite dagger burning Lena’s palms.

I’m not a villain. A desperate refrain, the only coherent thought left to her. Her whole body is shaking.

Kara looks up at her, blue eyes bright but dimming through the sickly green fog. Blood thickens her lungs, trickles from the corner of her mouth. What else do you call the one who slays the hero?

Lena jolts upright in bed, thrust back into consciousness with all the tenderness of a sledgehammer to the skull. She’s breathing hard and sticky with sweat, caustic, stinging.

“Kara?”

A faint grumble through the darkness.

Kara.”

“Huh, what? I’m up, I’m—” A crash, presumably the dining table. In the faint glow of the fire’s dying embers Kara stands, blanket twisted around her ankles, scrubbing wild curls from her face.

“Lena?” Her voice is rough and low from sleep. “What is it, are you alright?”

“Fine,” Lena grits out, throat tight. “You can lie back down.”

Kara stands uncertainly for a moment, brow furrowed, one eye screwed shut. Slowly, she lowers herself back onto the couch, untangles the blanket and pulls it to her chin.

The room is deathly quiet save for the thundering beat of Lena’s heart. Kara can probably hear it too, she realises. It’s probably deafening them both.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers into the black once both their heaving chests have calmed. “About the Kryptonite. I never should have used it on you.”

Kara is silent a long moment. “Then why did you?”

Lena clenches her good fingers tight into the quilt, forces Kara’s agonised, dying face from her mind. “I didn’t want you to follow me. I knew you would try. But I— I crossed a line.”

The blonde hums, drowsy and low. “Yeah, you kind of did.”

Lena forces her lungs to expand, to contract. Forces her chest not to cave under the weight of all her fuck-ups. Her whisper comes out only semi-strangled. “I won’t cross it again.”

A promise, to Kara and to herself.

Blankets shift on the couch as the blonde wriggles further into her nest. When she speaks, her voice is muffled into the pillow. Warm and sure. “Okay. Goodnight, Lena.”

 

“Alaska.”

“Hmmm?” Lena pauses where she’s carefully arranging kindling into the perfect fire starter. Kara had taught her on their second day, explained about airflow and oxygen and different patterns to lay the logs, and Lena had been honing her skills ever since. Hunched over on her knees with ash caked beneath her fingernails, few things bring her more pleasure than imagining the look on Lillian’s face, if only her mother could see her now.

“You wanted to know where we are,” Kara says, pouring two mugs of tea. “Alaska.”

Lena sits back on her heels. “Are you fucking kidding me?” And suddenly, unexpectedly, she laughs.

She laughs until tears gather at the corners of her eyes, until she’s clutching at her sides and wheezing, smearing soot all over Kara’s too-big flannel. Kara watches her with that delicate mixture of amusement and concern usually reserved for blackout drunks or the criminally insane.

“Is that… bad?”

Lena drags a hand beneath her welling eyes, gasping in breaths between unstoppable giggles. “God, it’s just— I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska, you know? Since I was a child.”

She takes the mug the blonde offers her, takes a long sip as she tries to regain her composure. “I just, wow. I cannot believe what it ended up taking to get me here.”

“Maybe just go to a travel agent next time,” Kara mutters from the couch, and Lena’s gone again.  

 

On their last night in the matchbox, as Lena has less than affectionately termed it, Kara wraps a quilt around Lena’s shoulders and an arm around her waist and floats them wordlessly off the ground.

They sit side by side on the cabin’s sloping roof, gazing out over the westward mountains. Lena pulls the blanket a little tighter around her body. They’re not touching, but Kara radiates heat like a furnace. Lena has to force herself not to lean into it.

The sun is setting, just barely skimming the tops of the highest peaks. Overhead the sky forms a celestial watercolour, awash with pinks and blues and golds. Nature’s biggest, most beautiful canvas.

“Non Nocere would never have worked,” Lena murmurs, almost to herself. Never tears her eyes from the symphony of colour exploding silently before them.

There’s no I told you so from the woman beside her. No judgments or accusations. Kara just quirks an eyebrow, cocks her head to the side as though waiting for Lena to elaborate.

“If you’d never lied to me, I would never have ended up here.” She juts her chin toward the masterpiece the world is painting as the sun dips below the horizon. “I would never have seen this.”

She can feel Kara’s eyes on her face, her profile, but Lena keeps her own gaze fixed ahead. Tracks the sun’s glow until it disappears completely. “If I hadn’t known pain, I couldn’t know relief.”

Kara hums, turns her gaze back to the darkening valley. Cups her chin in her hand, props her elbow on one bent knee. “Yeah,” she breathes. “I think that’s about the size of it.”

 

Departure day dawns tense and overcast.

Kara is noticeably nervous, splintering the table as she sets down their dishes, burning the coffee on the stove. Their meagre belongings are packed up in silence, standing by the door ready for collection on a later trip. Lena gouges the nineteenth mark into her bedframe with unsteady hands.

As she’s fastening her – Kara’s – jacket, the blonde turns to her. “Are you sure—?”

She will not let Kara finish that thought. “God, yes,” she snaps. “Get me out of here. Please.”

The silence that follows her outburst is too long, too laden with some undefined significance. The air between them is suddenly so thick that she almost wants to take back the harshness of her words, assuage their bite with something softer, kinder. But she’s so close now, so close to getting what she’d literally fallen off a fucking cliff for. There can be no backing down.

“Alright then,” the blonde says after a long moment, holding out both arms. “All aboard.”

A beat of silence. Kara grimaces. “Rao, that was weird. I don’t know why I said that.”

In another age, another lifetime, Lena would have laughed. But Kara’s eyes are clouded and anxious, holding none of their usual mirth, and her stomach is clenching in knots, so she doesn’t.

She just chances a last glance at the tiny cabin, holds her breath so as not to inhale the scent of Kara’s hair, and steps into the blonde’s arms.

 

They stop first at the DEO, at Kara’s insistence. No sooner have heeled boots touched the ground than at least twenty guns are trained directly on them. The Kryptonian’s expression is calm and level but Lena feels the tension in the body pressed against her, the quiver of the cape half-extended as a shield.

Alex is there. Alex is pissed.

“Supergirl. Nice of you to drop by. To deliver our most wanted criminal, no less.”

J’onn appears from whatever shadow he was lurking in, pushes Alex’s trained weapon gently down towards the floor. Lena doesn’t miss the slight shake of the redhead’s hands.

Only once Kara’s satisfied that Lena’s not going to be shot on sight does she speak. One hand stays clenched around the edge of her cape, the other burning the small of Lena’s back as she keeps her close. “Alex. J’onn. I’ve brought Lena here so we can agree on an amnesty.”

Alex laughs, a short sharp bark. “You must be joking.”

“I’m not.”

The Danvers sisters lock eyes for an interminable moment. Lena feels the battle of wills like a physical presence in the room, the push and tug, the refusal to bend. “Stand down,” J’onn mutters to the agents surrounding them. “Give us the room.”

Even once they’re alone, Kara doesn’t move. Keeps a hand on Lena at all times, keeps her body between her and her sister. “You’ll give her amnesty for Non Nocere, for all of it. You won’t arrest her, you won’t track her or hack her or interact with her in any way. She’ll be a free citizen.”

Alex’s tone toes the line between incredulity and imploring. “Kara, she’s a criminal. She tried to mind control the entire population.”

“She was trying to help people. She didn’t hurt anyone.”

“Because she didn’t get the chance! And she hurt you, she trapped you with Kryptonite—”

Lena doesn’t much appreciate being spoken about as though she isn’t there. She especially doesn’t appreciate this rehashing of her sins, the guilt and regret that bubble up like sulphur in her throat. But the meaning of Kara’s firm hand on her waist, her full body block, is clear: this is Kara handling it.

“I’ve forgiven her, and you will too. Or I won’t— I won’t work with you anymore. I’m gone.”

Everyone in the room gasps, or maybe it’s just Lena, her own intake of breath deafening in her ears. The pain that rents Alex’s expression in two makes Lena want to light herself on fire.

Kara,” the older Danvers whispers. “You don’t mean that.”

J’onn rests a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Director Danvers. We need to consider what she’s saying.”

Kara’s stance stays strong, but she’s no longer meeting her sister’s eyes. The hand at Lena’s waist has tightened to the point of pain.

“Kara,” Alex begs. “Kara, please. You’re not thinking straight. This is you and me, this is us—

“This is Supergirl and the DEO, and these are the terms of our partnership,” Kara says, firm voice masking the trembling of her body.

Lena has never hated, has never so viscerally despised herself more in her entire life than she does in this moment. Opening the door for a hostile alien species to take control of the Earth? Irrelevant. Shooting her own brother in the chest? Child’s play. Trying to control every brain on the planet? Just a regular Monday afternoon.

But this, this, jamming a crowbar into the centre of the purest, most devoted relationship she’s ever witnessed and wrenching – however inadvertently – until it shatters into a billion shards? This might just be the worst thing Lena has ever done, and she’s never been one to under-achieve.

J’onn is murmuring something into Alex’s ear, voice low. Not low enough to evade Kryptonian superhearing though, and with Alex’s every flinch Kara’s already tense shoulders tighten further.

When the redhead speaks again her voice is thick and choked beneath the authoritative tone. “How do we know she won’t go right back to her mind control project? Won’t do something worse?”

“I won’t,” Lena says quietly from behind Kara.

Alex scoffs. “And I’m supposed to just believe that? Take you at your word?”

“Yes,” Kara says, resolute.

Alex’s eyes are desperate. “Kara, I can’t just—”

“You can. You have to. If you want me to work for you, if you want us—” Lena doesn’t miss the way the blonde’s voice cracks. She doesn’t think Alex does either, “—to have any kind of continued relationship, then you have to.”

She raises her chin. It barely trembles. “This is my condition. Take it or leave it.”

 

Alex takes it. Kara gets her amnesty, the DEO gets Kara, Lena gets a clean slate. Everyone gets what they wanted. She’s pretty sure none of them have ever been more unhappy.

Kara doesn’t speak as she flies Lena back to her penthouse. The blonde is all steel and bared edges; Lena fears she could cut herself on the hard set of her jaw, bleed out in the knife-blade of her grip.

“There,” the Kryptonian says as she sets Lena’s feet on her balcony. “Home, safe.”

Kara’s body is so tense, so rigid, that Lena wonders if one sharp tap could shatter her entirely. The anger consuming Lena’s soul had seeped out of her somewhere between Alaska and the destruction of a sisterhood, replaced now with an aching void of— something. Despair or guilt or regret or longing, or likely some noxious combination of them all.

“Kara, I—”

“You should be all set,” the blonde interrupts, not meeting her eyes. “And you still have the watch. If you ever need me, want me, I— I’m here. But I know you don’t.”

Kara has curled in on herself, closed off. Her feet shift against the patio tiles, a split second away from launching her into the air. “Look after yourself, Lena.”

And then she’s gone. And up there on Lena’s no-clear-line-of-sight, chosen-for-that-very-purpose balcony, there’s no one to see her cry.

 

Being home is— weird. It doesn’t feel as good as she’d thought it would.

After the cramped one-room cabin her apartment feels vast and cavernous, full of space she doesn’t occupy and things she doesn’t use. Even from her penthouse balcony the skyscrapers of National City feel like they’re pressing in, bearing down. She misses the sight of an empty sky.

She goes back to work. Jess greets her outside her office with her regular coffee order and a hug. Lena’s a little ashamed to admit that she flinches at the contact.

L-Corp is not falling apart. Between her assistant and Lena’s hand-picked team of C-Level executives her business has stayed mercifully afloat during her three-week absence. One of the first things Lena does after sitting down at her desk is to put in a call to accounting and have a healthy bonus authorised for each of them.

She spends one evening meticulously combing through her apartment for anything that reminds her of Kara. Admittedly, there isn’t much. But into the trash bag go Kara’s favourite brand of potato chips that Lena always kept stocked, the blonde’s softest hoodie that Lena had long since appropriated for herself, the toothbrush kept around for sleepovers.

In goes the framed photo Kara had given her last Christmas, the blonde’s arms strong around her as she holds Lena’s unsteady, roller-skate-clad form upright. The trip to the roller rink had been Kara’s idea, of course. Lena had snarked about it all the way through her many slips and falls but it hadn’t mattered because Kara was always there to catch her.

Staring down at their grinning faces, her own head thrown back in genuine laughter, Lena feels sick. She tosses it into the bag.

The whole process feels a little more analogous to a breakup than a fight between friends and it makes her mad. She slams out of her apartment and is halfway to the trash chute when it’s like a switch flips. The fight drains out of her suddenly and she sags against the wall of the corridor, panting for air.

She turns around and goes home. Locks her front door behind her. Locks the balcony doors too, for good measure. Stuffs the trash bag into the deepest darkest corner of her closet, out of sight, and refuses to think about it again.

 

It takes Lena three days, eight hours and seventeen minutes of being home to realise she misses Kara.

It takes her three days, eight hours, seventeen minutes and one second to be pissed about it.

It’s just some bullshit exposure conditioning, surely. She and Kara were embedded in each other’s daily lives long before all of this. And then even after she found out, she still kept the blonde around. Engaged in the perfect charade that began the process of revenge while simultaneously granting herself near-constant access to her best friend.

She’s not in the mood in this moment to consider the rationale behind her choice. To ask herself why she hadn’t confronted Kara right away, cut betrayal and betrayer clean out of her life and moved on. One crisis of character at a time, surely.

What matters is that she’d done it, kept up their lunch dates and game nights and movie binges. And then there was only a short 24 hours between their confrontation in the Fortress and waking up on top of an Alaskan mountain. Sharing one tiny room with a person, any person, for almost three weeks would surely have an impact once the co-habitation stopped. Going cold turkey on anything is hard.

It's got nothing to do with Kara. It’s just basic psychology.

Satisfied in her own reasoning, Lena takes a healthy swig of scotch before she buzzes Jess to let her know she’s ready for her next appointment.

And people say she needs to see a therapist. She’s doing just fine by her damn self.

 

How Alex Danvers managed to get past Lena’s strict no-entry instructions to her guards, she has absolutely no idea. It seems she’s going to have to have a chat with her head of security about exactly what under absolutely no circumstances really means.

But that’s a problem for future Lena. Current Lena has about twelve seconds to prepare herself between the warning coming through on her intercom and her office doors slamming open.

Jess comes scurrying in behind the redhead, looking harried. Lena dips her chin at her in the universal gesture of give us some privacy unless you hear screams. Her heaven-sent assistant nods, perceptive as ever, obediently backing out and pulling the door with her.

Lena stands behind her desk, panic alarm held conspicuously in full view.

You,” Alex all but snarls as the door closes behind her, gaze fixed on Lena’s face.

“If you try anything,” Lena warns, thumb firmly covering the panic button, “there will be guards in here before you can finish blinking.”

Alex stalks across the office towards her and Lena forces herself to stand her ground. “Come now, Agent Danvers. Wasn’t trying to kill me once over my research enough for you?”

“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your fucking research,” Alex half-yells. To Lena’s shock, the redhead doesn’t reach for any kind of weapon. Rather, she scrubs a furious hand beneath her tear-filled eyes. “You took my sister from me.”

Out of all the things she was expecting Alex to throw at her, this wasn’t on the list. Lena’s mouth opens and closes. She lays the panic alarm slowly down on her desk.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she settles on at last, digging deep into her reserves of CEO cool. Tries to claw back control of the situation. “And I thought we agreed that you weren’t to interact with me. Weren’t those the terms of your deal?”

“I’m not here as the director of the DEO,” Alex snaps. “I’m here as Kara’s sister. I’m here to ask you what the fuck you think you’re doing. What the fuck you’ve done to her.”

“I haven’t done anything to—”

“No? I’d like you to explain to me why my sister has turned against everyone who loves her to defend you. Why she won’t even speak to me. Why she’s AWOL from both her jobs unless there’s a life-or-death emergency—”

“Wait, wait.” Lena holds up a hand against the onslaught. “Kara quit Catco?”

“She didn’t quit, she was fucking fired. For missing too much work while she was with you,” Alex snarls, arms crossed, combat boots planted against the floor like an immoveable fortress.

Lena’s struggling to keep up with this barrage of information. Alex doesn’t care.

“You lied to her and stole from her and hurt her, and still she turned around and—” Alex swipes a tear from her own cheek hard enough that she practically slaps herself in the face. “And then the two of you basically disappeared off the face of the Earth, and now you’re back and she’s so— she’s as bad as she was after Mon-El. No, worse. So I would just like—” Alex’s voice drips with so much acid Lena’s going to need a decontamination shower to recover, “—for you to tell me what the fuck has happened to Kara.”

Lena’s brain seems to be lagging about three months behind the current conversation. She shakes her head, as if that will help clear the fog that has gathered there. “I— I can’t. I don’t know.”

Alex actually growls at her then, a sound so vicious and primal it sets Lena’s fingers twitching towards the panic alarm all over again. “You’d better fucking figure it out.”

That cuts through. “Excuse me?” Lena arches one eyebrow, calls upon the her most intimidating misogynistic-old-white-man-in-the-boardroom stare. “I don’t have to do a damn thing. You tried to kill me. You very nearly succeeded. If Kara is mad at you for that, I’m not going to talk her out of it.”

“I was trying to stop you,” Alex snarls. “Maybe you were misguided or maybe you’ve seen the light now or whatever the fuck, but that doesn’t change the fact that you tried to control every brain on the planet. You knew exactly what you were doing.”

“So did you,” Lena snaps back. “I used Myriad. You used Claymore. Now we both have to deal with the consequences. Suck it up, Agent Danvers.” She sinks regally back into her chair, flicks through some papers on her desk with an Oscar-worthy display of nonchalance. “Do be sure not to let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”

 

She never sees Kara now.

It’s good. It’s what she wants. The weeks of radio silence from the blonde are about as far a cry from their cabin cohabitation as it’s possible to get.

Lena moves from her lonely apartment to her lonely office and back again, doesn’t spend a single moment in the presence of another human being that isn’t paid to be there.

The empty silence of her home gives her far too much time to think. Lena’s never been good at dwelling but now, it’s all she seems to do.

Somewhere along the way and quite without her permission, anger at Kara has mingled with anger at herself. She’s angry that Kara has done this to her, broken her down and stripped her bare, but she’s also furious that she’d let her. That she’d allowed herself to be so completely taken in by guileless blue eyes and the promise of being different, of being special.

And to make matters worse, Kara isn’t even around anymore. There’s no one to scream at, no one to argue back. It’s just not as satisfying to throw crockery at the head of someone who isn’t there.

That’s definitely the rationale behind the irritation coiling in her gut. She absolutely definitely doesn’t want Kara around for any other reason.

Without a target for her anger, without an enemy to fight she feels— empty. Drifting and aimless. There’s nothing to work for, now. No revenge to exact, no Non Nocere to develop, no captivity to escape. With nothing to burn down, the fires of her rage are dying.

But if it’s no longer anger clouding in her chest, then what the hell is left?

 

She never sees Kara now, except for precisely whenever she least expects it.

Once, yelling none too quietly at a misogynistic pig of a potential investor down the phone as she storms back to the office, Lena’s fury is so all-consuming that she barely notices the car speeding towards her as she steps out into the street.

But suddenly her phone slips from her grasp as a strong arm wraps around her waist and lifts her backwards, narrowly averting her head-on collision with the business end of a Maserati.

“Please watch where you’re going,” comes Kara’s strained voice before she’s gone, nothing more than a blur of red and blue amongst the skyscrapers. Lena’s fingers barely manage to retrieve her cracked phone from the gutter before it’s slipping out of her trembling grip again.

A few days later a rumour breaks in the tabloids regarding potential health hazards linked to L-Corp’s image inducer, and before long it’s being circulated by every news outlet in the city.

It’s baseless slander, she knows. She tested and re-tested the damn thing herself. So it’s nothing more than a smear campaign by one of her more ruthless corporate nemeses, but her stocks still take a hit.

Lena spends the day attempting damage control to little avail. But that night on the news she sees Kara in full Supergirl regalia, giving her first press conference in weeks (but who’s counting).

“I have nothing but confidence in Miss Luthor and her company’s products,” HD-Kara says calmly from her office TV. Lena hurls the remote against the wall hard enough that the casing shatters.

She doesn’t need, doesn’t want Supergirl to come swooping in to save her, even if L-Corp’s stocks do take off again almost immediately.

 

Life continues for Lena, insofar as her life is her work.

She knows some of her employees whisper about her when they think she can’t hear. Speculate about her absence, her supposed illness, the cast on her hand that had only come off two weeks ago. The rumours are salacious and scandalous to the extreme and not one of them compares to the truth.

Lena doesn’t really mind. For the most part things at L-Corp are good. They’re quiet. The company keeps chugging along but Lena’s heart isn’t in it. She hasn’t been down to R&D since her return, hasn’t so much as picked up a pair of pliers or a soldering iron. She focuses all of her energy into keeping L-Corp ticking over and very little into pushing it further.

She stills stays late at the office most nights, but mainly because there’s no one telling her to go home. And her apartment is too lonely, too empty, too blatant a reminder of her solitude.

Jess asks once, hesitant, whether Kara Danvers will be stopping by for lunch any time soon. Lena cuts her eyes to her assistant’s face, hard, and says nothing. Jess doesn’t bring it up again.

 

She doesn’t see any of the Superfriends.

Alex doesn’t come near her again. By extension, that means that Kelly is off-limits too. She and J’onn had never exactly been bosom buddies, and seeing Brainy and Nia turns out to be just too painful.

She’d thought, of all of them, that sweet Nia might be the safest bet. But when she accidentally runs into the young woman at a coffee shop across town, the spark of deception flares in the tinder box of her heart in the blink of an eye. Looking at that endearing smile is now nothing more than looking at yet another person who knew how she was being played and said nothing.

Lena ducks behind the serving counter in a most un-CEO-like fashion to avoid being seen, and makes a hasty beeline for the door.

 

The almost-encounter leaves her riled up for the rest of the day. By the time she makes it home and through a bottle and a half of her reserve cabernet, she’s done playing through imaginary arguments in her head. She’s ready to do it for real.

She still has Kara’s watch. She runs her thumb feather-light over the insignia beneath its face, contemplates forcing the blonde to rush to her side. But the memory of the last time she’d called Kara to her apartment like that, of her own deception and manipulation, ferments in her throat like overripe fruit. She can still feel the ghostly pressure of Kara’s frantic, desperate hug as she pulls out her phone.

The blonde responds as quickly as Lena had suspected she might. Less than a minute later heeled boots are touching down on her balcony, a heavy cape swishing against the doorframe as Kara enters.

“Long time no see,” Lena greets coolly, hand cradled around the stem of her wineglass.

Kara’s brow furrows. She’s wearing her suit again. Lena hasn’t seen anything but that damn supersuit in weeks. She never thought she’d be nostalgic for a flannel and a pair of sweats, but here they are.

“What?”

Lena stares down at the ruby red liquid, swishing it against the sides. “You haven’t been around.”

“You didn’t— you don’t want me around,” Kara says, uncertainty bleeding into her tone.

And— that is what she’d said. Lena can’t argue with that. She switches tack. “I saw Nia today.”

“Oh?”

Lena hums in assent. Kara’s voice is cautious. “Did you… talk to her?”

Lena scoffs. “Oh, sure. I was all, hey Nia, remember when you lied to me daily about my best friend’s identity, and yours as well? And she was all, I sure do! Wasn’t that fun? Can I braid your hair?”

Kara sucks in a sharp breath at the acidity of her tone. Her teeth dig hard into her bottom lip. “Why did you— why have you called me here?”

Lena’s fingers clench hard around her glass. She narrowly resists the urge to throw it at the wall. “You didn’t just ruin you for me, you know. You ruined everyone.”

Kara drops her head. “I’m sorry.”

Lena pours herself another glass, drains half of it in one gulp. “I can’t do shit with sorry.”

The blonde sighs so heavily Lena wonders if she’ll collapse under the weight of it. For the first time she notices the Kryptonian’s sallow complexion, the dark circles beneath her eyes. “I don’t know what you— Lena, I can’t go back. I can’t change it. All I can do is try to do the right thing now.”

“This is you doing the right thing? God,” Lena says. “I’d hate to see you doing the wrong thing.”

Kara tugs a hand through her haphazard curls. “I did what you wanted. I brought you home, I’ve stayed out of your way, and you’re still not happy. What do you want from me, Lena? Really. Tell me what it is and I’ll do it. What do you want?

And isn’t that the million dollar question? What she wants, she realises, is for all of this to just stop. To have her best friend back, for things to be as they were. For there to be no more pain. But that’s impossible, and the naivety of such a desire makes her hate herself even more. So Lena does what she always does when she feels vulnerable. She attacks.

“I want you to stop treating me like some damsel in distress. All I ever get now is Supergirl, the high and mighty. You swoop in to save me and you let me yell at you and then you just disappear! You’re like— like a superpowered punching bag. What am I supposed to do with that?”

Kara raises her arms, lets them drop back to her sides. “I’m trying to protect you.”

“I don’t need you to protect me as much as I need you to respect me. Respect me enough to disagree with me. To actually talk to me.”

Kara is unmoving, a stone carving in the middle of her living room. Her muscles are wound taught, pain pulling at her features. Her voice is very, very quiet. “You asked me to let you go. I’m trying.”

“Well maybe I don’t—” Now it’s Lena turn to tug her hands through her hair. Maybe I don’t want that, is what she’d been about to say. Oh, fuck.

Anger bursts forth like a phoenix from the ashes only this time, it’s anger at herself. Anger at what she’d almost let slip. She clenches her jaw, teeth grinding. “Fine,” she snaps. “Then go.”

 

Kara goes. She goes, and she doesn’t come back.

She’d followed Lena’s instructions. She’d only done what she’d been told to do, so Lena can’t blame her for the fact that the blonde’s absence gnaws in her stomach like the world’s hungriest tapeworm.

Lena blames her anyway.

Whatever small progress they’d made, whatever modicum of civility they’d managed to claw back during their last few days in the cabin has been well and truly decimated now. Lena can feel every inch of space between them as she lies in her king-size bed, imagines Kara starfished on her battered mattress at the other end of the city.

It's as if the physical distance between them is only reinforcing the chasm that’s rent them in two. Lena can’t help but feel that all of this would be easier if only she could look up to see the blonde across the room, mouthing along to a trashy pop song on her iPod. That if she were only wrapped up in one of Kara’s worn flannels, sitting down to a dinner the blonde had prepared for the two of them, she might be able to reach across the void and find Kara reaching back.

It’s all just so messy. Her anger at Kara is shifting, day by day morphing from rage that the blonde is always around into resentment that she’s never around. It knocks Lena on her ass the moment she first admits to herself that even at the height of her ire and heartache, she’d never actually wanted Kara out of her life for good.

Kara had always called the shots for both of them. She’d set the tone, taken the lead in every aspect of their relationship and Lena, like an over-eager lapdog, had let her.

It makes her furious that Kara is deciding this as well. If Lena’s going to kick the Kryptonian out of her life she’s going to do it on her own damn terms.

 

She’s ninety pages deep into L-Corp’s quarterly report and her eyes have started to blur so much that she doesn’t even glance at the caller ID as she picks up her phone. “Hello?”

“Finally done dodging my calls, Luthor?”

Lena folds down the corner of the page to mark her place and sinks back into her chair, the warm voice down the phone a balm on all her fraying edges. “Sam,” she breathes. “God, I’ve missed you.”

Sam chuckles. “You’d miss me less if you answered when I rang, dummy. What’s going on? Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” Lena answers reflexively. “How are you? How’s Ruby?”

“Nuh-uh, Little Miss Deflection. When Lena immune-system-of-steel Luthor takes medical leave for three weeks and doesn’t answer her damn phone, we’re gonna talk about it. Are you alright?”

“I— yes. Sorry.” She chews her lip. “I’m fine. I wasn’t sick. I was— well, it’s a long story.”

“Well, Ruby’s at a sleepover and I’ve just cracked open a bottle of red, so I’m ready for a long night.” Sam’s voice is so kind, so unflinchingly supportive that Lena feels the prickle of tears. “So spill.”

Lena digs her teeth into her lip. “It’s, it’s been a rough month,” she admits. “A rough few, really.”

“Why didn’t you call me,” Sam chastises. “This is literally what I’m here for. Tell Auntie Sam everything.”

“It’s— well, it’s Kara,” she sighs into the phone. “She, she told me something that—”

“Oh my God oh my God oh my God!” Sam squeals so loudly that Lena has to hold the phone away from her ear for a second. “She told you she loved you. Finally.”

Lena blinks. “She— what?”

But Sam doesn’t even hear her, words tripping over themselves as she gabbles excitedly down the line. “Oh my God, what did you say?  Did you say it back? Did you laugh? Did you cry? Lena, did you cry?” Sam sucks in a gasp of air between her barrage of questions. “God, you didn’t run away, did you? Fuck, don’t tell me you said thank you?”

Lena shakes her head, holding up a hand as though Sam will be able to see it from Metropolis. “No, she didn’t tell me she— Sam, she didn’t tell me that. Why would you, why would you even think—”

Sam sobers immediately, the glee draining from her voice as quickly as it had arrived. “Oops, my bad. Continue.”

“No, I want to know why you thought—”

“Nope, you don’t!” Sam interrupts cheerfully. “Tell me what she did.”

Lena shakes her head. “Well, she told me that she’s—”

She can’t do it. She can’t say the words, can’t share a secret that isn’t hers to tell. She thinks back to the Pulitzer party, to that sickening, dizzying moment where she’d truly thought she might send that file to Andrea, might reveal Kara’s identity to the world.

But she couldn’t do it then and she can’t do it now. Not even to Sam.

“She, she told me the truth about something. Something big. Something she’d been lying to me about from the beginning,” she settles on eventually.

It’s quiet for so long that Lena actually pulls her phone away from her ear to check the call hasn’t dropped.

“Oh shit,” Sam breathes after an interminable silence. “Kara Danvers is Supergirl.”

Lena’s mouth drops open. She tugs it shut again. “What?” she laughs, voice unnaturally high. “Why would you, why would you say something like that?”

Sam ignores her. “Wow, that makes so much sense,” she murmurs. “Fuck, she had that little charade figured out perfectly. Props to her acting skills, honestly.”

Lena’s still gaping. “You, you knew?”

“Of course not,” Sam says instantly. “Not until right now. But nothing else would have got you so—” She cuts herself off, starts speaking again before Lena can ask her to finish that sentence. “Oh, babe. Okay, tell me everything.”

So Lena does. And it feels so good to unload it all, to have someone in her corner. To just have someone to talk to after these weeks of being so alone.

When she’s finished the whole sorry tale Sam whistles, long and low. “Holy shit.”

Lena huffs out a chuckle. “I know.”

“Do you want me to fly over there and beat the shit out of her? I can be on a plane within the hour. Joking,” she says as Lena’s opening her mouth to protest. “Well, half-joking.” Her tone turns serious again. “So, what are you gonna do?”

Lena sighs, eyes slipping closed. “I don’t know.”

“Well, what do you want? From her? With her? Any of the above?”

“I don’t know that either.”

Sam hums sympathetically and as stupid as it sounds, it’s like a warm hug reaching through the phone. It’s a feeling of comfort, of acceptance, that’s been sorely lacking of late. “Well, I guess it comes down to a pretty simple question really,” Sam says gently. “Do you still want her in your life?”

And Lena sinks back in her chair with a sigh and thinks, damn it all to hell. “Yeah,” she breathes. “Yeah, I do.”

 

Kara dodges her for six days.

She steers clear of L-Corp and Lena’s apartment building, superspeeds off in the opposite direction if they ever run into each other in public. She ignores Lena’s calls, answers with one word texts, and Lena has had enough.

On the seventh night, she slams her work laptop closed with an iron resolve. Makes her way out onto the dark balcony, slips off her heels. Drags one of the heavy wicker chairs over to the edge and steps up onto it. She’s got one foot on the railing and is just about to push herself to standing, palms clammy and heart hammering, when her view of the forty story drop is obscured by a red cape.

“What are you doing?” Kara hisses. She’s hovering so close despite the railing between them that Lena can actually see her heartbeat pounding behind her ribs. Her arms are outstretched to curl around Lena’s hunched form without touching, a steel safety net millimetres from her body. “Please get down.”

“Oh, hey,” Lena says nonchalantly, privately dizzy with relief that the blonde had shown up before she’d had to go any further. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Why do you feel the need to risk plummeting to your death to get my attention?” Kara asks, guiding Lena back onto the safety of her balcony and shoving the chair none too gently away from the edge.

“Why does it take me almost plummeting to my death to get your attention?” Lena shoots back.

Kara sighs, squares her jaw. Lena watches in real time as her Supergirl mask slips over her features like a shutter. “Lena, we’ve been through this. Distance is what’s best for you. It’s what you want.”

“How the hell would you know what I want? You’re never around.”

Kara says nothing. That damn insignia on her chest is right at Lena’s eyeline without her heels, burning a hole in her retinas. “You know, if I’d wanted some self-righteous martyr to dictate my life for me, I would have stayed in Metropolis and shacked up with your cousin,” Lena spits. “But I didn’t. I chose to come here. Because I thought you were different.”

Kara still hasn’t moved. Her hands are clasped in front of her body, feet slightly spread, shoulders tense. Her eyes are a million miles away. Lena shakes her head. “Where are you right now?”

“What?” Kara blinks. “I’m right here.”

“No, Supergirl is right here. Where are you, Kara?”

“Nowhere I want to be!” Kara bursts out. Her stoic façade cracks clean down the middle. “I don’t want to be Kara. Kara sucks. She doesn’t have a job. She doesn’t have a sister. She doesn’t have you.”

Lena’s mouth drops open. She can’t find it in herself in this moment to tug it closed.

“Supergirl is still okay,” Kara continues like she can’t stop the torrent of words now she’s started. “Supergirl can do her job. She can keep you safe while keeping her distance. You don’t need Kara.”

Lena’s mouth opens and closes. “You— that decision isn’t yours to make.”

That fervour, that unshakeable passion that had first drawn Lena to this woman is unmistakeable now in her tone. “I ruined it with you, Lena. Kara Danvers blew it with you. But with Supergirl, you—”

“My God,” Lena snaps. “Will you stop telling me how I feel for one goddamn minute? Maybe try asking instead?”

Kara blinks at her like a fish out of water. “I— I can’t,” she says, voice small again. “I don’t know if I can trust it.” At Lena’s furrowed brow, she takes a deep breath. “You lied to me for weeks. Manipulated me, pretended to still be my friend, and I believed you. I can’t see you – us – objectively, Lena. I can’t let myself go through that again.”

Lena blinks, shell-shocked. Kara has sacrificed a lot for her, she’s big enough to admit that. She’d gone against government orders, she’d bargained her relationship with her sister for Lena’s protection.

Kara has been doing plenty of atoning for her long list of sins, she realises. But Lena is not a wholly innocent party in their little tragedy. For the first time she’s realising that maybe she needs to work at undoing some of the damage she’s caused, too.

Kara’s staring at the ground, scuffing her boots over the balcony tiles. Her eyes are so, so sad. “I will always protect you, Lena. I mean that. But I— I have to try to protect myself, too.”

 

She invites Kara inside.

Brews a pot of tea and sets it on the coffee table, two mugs rattling in her trembling grip. They sit quietly at opposite ends of Lena’s long white couch, a great hollow between them.

When it becomes clear that the blonde isn’t going to break the silence, Lena clears her throat. “Shall we… talk?” she asks tentatively. “Just talk. No yelling, no leaving.”

“No climbing up on balcony railings.” Kara’s voice is small.

Lena feels a corner of her mouth tug upwards, sees it mirrored on the blonde’s face. “Deal.”

The room falls silent again. Kara sits, shoulders tense, tugging on her fingers in her lap. Lena clears her throat again, awkward. “You can, um. You can start.” She gestures vaguely into the air between them. “It’s probably time you got to say your piece.”

Kara nods. Takes a deep breath, eyes fixed on her fidgeting hands. “I can’t always read you, Lena. Those weeks after Lex died proved that.” She looks up, meeting Lena’s gaze. “So you have to tell me what’s in your head. You have to be honest with me.” Her fingers clench into fists against her thighs. “I have to be able to trust that you’re being honest with me.”

“Bit rich for you to be asking me for honesty, don’t you think?” Lena says, but there’s no heat behind the words. Just a tired, aching sadness.

Kara presses her lips together. “Maybe,” she concedes. “But you know better than anyone how vital it is. How much the lack of it hurts.” She meets Lena’s gaze head on. “You have to be prepared to give what you’d like to receive.”

Lena tamps down her reflexive anger. Forces herself to sit quietly and consider the blonde’s words.

“That’s— fair,” she settles on after a long moment. Doesn’t miss the look of surprise on Kara’s face at the acquiescence. “If we want to move forward, we need honesty. On both sides.”

“Do you?” Kara asks, voice small. Lena quirks a questioning brow. “Do you want to move forward? With— with us?”

Lena sucks in a deep breath, lets it out in a huff. Compromise, she reasons. It’s all about compromise. “Yeah,” she breathes, and it feels like a lead weight lifts from her chest. “I think so. Yeah.”

Kara’s face breaks into a smile so blinding it almost hurts to look at it. The blonde clenches her fingers, tucks her hands underneath her thighs like she’s preventing herself from reaching out. “Okay. Yeah, okay. Me too.”

Lena swallows hard. “I want to move forward with Lena and Kara,” she says. “Not Supergirl.”

The blonde’s face drops.

“Not, I mean—” Lena rushes to clarify. “I— I’ve accepted that part of you. I don’t have a problem with Supergirl, truly. But lately, that’s the only side of you I’ve seen.” She shakes her head. “You’ve been treating me like you’re the hero and I’m a damsel waiting to be rescued. Can’t you see how fucked up that is?”

Kara looks so small in this moment, so hurt, that something in Lena’s chest shatters.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she soldiers on, “the next time I’m plummeting off a cliff, feel free to put on the cape and swoop right in. But Kara—” Unconsciously, she shifts on the couch. Closes the distance between them the tiniest bit.

“I’ve never wanted a hero. I just wanted my best friend. I just wanted you.”

Kara is silent for a long time. Lena chews on the inside of her cheek, feeling vulnerable. Feeling like she’s said too much. But slowly, achingly slowly, Kara nods. “Okay,” she says, voice cracking a little. “I get that. I can do that.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Kara nods again, firmer now. “Kara and Lena. Honesty. Deal.”

Lena nudges a mug of tea over to the blonde, takes a sip of her own. “Deal.”

 

They’re getting better. She really thinks they’re getting better.

Kara is still distant and Lena is still wary but at least they’re being civil now. The new foundation they’re laying over the cracked bedrock of their past relationship feels like it has the potential to be strong. To bear weight.

They still don’t see each other much but they text, sometimes. It’s factual stuff; meeting times and tech suggestions and short little updates. But if their interactions are a little formal, a little stilted, at least they’re no longer drenched in anger and resentment. Lena decides to take the win for what it is.

Things aren’t suddenly perfect. One diplomatic conversation in the face of the countless hours of screaming and crying and fury between them is no magic elixir.

But it’s a start. And Lena realises that the space in her chest that she’d believed for so long to be occupied by nothing more than anger and anguish has actually been housing something that looks a lot more like longing. The desire to escape pain, to have her friend back. The yearning for peace.

Now, after their promise to one another, she can feel something nudging up through that chasm of longing like a shoot just waiting to blossom. It’s something that feels like hope.

 

They’re getting better, until they’re not.

It’s already been a very long day, full of lab explosions and accounting crises and failed prototypes and myriad other things Lena would rather not deal with, when Kara texts and asks to visit her.

All Lena really wants to do is go home. To crawl into bed with a carton of ice cream and season two of Blue Planet on her laptop, to let David Attenborough’s calming narrative on the life and times of the South African pyjama shark soothe away her woes.

But this is still a big step for them, Kara texting her. An even bigger one when Lena texts back yes.

The message has barely sent when there’s a quiet knock at her window. “Hi,” Kara says, tentative and shy. At Lena’s gesture, she takes a seat. “I was wondering if you’d— if you could help. Me. Help me.”

Lena swallows. “Of course. What can I do?”

Kara’s account of the latest alien thug terrorising the city rambles so much that her nerves shine through clearly. Lena’s heart hurts. Kara is anxious around her. Kara is afraid to come to her for help.

“So I just thought you might have some tech or some, some idea of what we could try next? With your genius brain and all,” the blonde finishes with a nervous chuckle.

Lena clears her throat. This is a big step, she reminds herself. Working together again is a big deal. “Well, I— my brother, um, developed a lot of weapons that could destabilise alien physiology. There might be some that you haven’t tried yet.” She chews on her bottom lip. “There are still— Lex had caches, bunkers. He kept all sorts of awful things in them.”

The blonde nods. “He even had a Black Mercy,” she says, shivering slightly.

“How do you know about that?”

Lena’s suddenly sharp tone has Kara’s brow furrowing. “I… saw it? When I was there?”

“I’ve never taken you to—”

Oh, fuck. Lena screws her eyes shut as realisation slams into her, presses a shaky hand over them. Kara Danvers had never seen Lex’s bunkers, sure. Supergirl, on the other hand—

She digs her teeth hard into her bottom lip against the sudden hot sting of tears. Every experience, every memory she has to rework in her mind to consolidate the two very separate people she’d thought she’d known is like ripping off the scab of Kara’s betrayal all over again.

“Lena?” comes Kara’s quiet, nervous voice. “Are, are you okay?”

She sucks in a shuddering breath. Winces as she tries to convince her amygdalae not to produce any more weak, traitorous tears.

“I’m sorry,” Kara says at the lack of response. “Rao, I’ve upset you again. Just, just tell me what I did and I’ll—"

“I could have just had Kara,” Lena cuts her off. The release of long-held pressure is obvious in the sudden force of her outburst. “I could have just known Kara. I didn’t need to know Supergirl as well, except maybe in an emergency. I didn’t need to know both sides of you. Why did you have to—”

“What do you— Lena?” Kara is half out of her chair, hand reaching across the desk separating them.

“How am I supposed to do this?” Lena asks around a sob she tries very hard to mask. “How can I reconcile two completely different people, two completely different relationships, into one? Into you?” She digs her fingernails hard into her palms. “I can’t— I still don’t understand, Kara. Why did you put me in that position?”

“I, I didn’t— I never meant—”

“But you did.” It’s loud enough to be a shout but it’s not anger that propels the words. It’s pain. “As Kara Danvers and as Supergirl, you pursued me. Not just to work together— you wanted us to be friends. You made me have you, as both of them. Why?”

“I wanted to be around you,” Kara blurts, eyes wide, fingers twisting together in her lap. “All the time. I— I wanted you to like both parts of me. Every part of me.”

Lena blinks hard against the gathering tears. “I would have,” she whispers as the first one falls. “I would have, if only I’d known. Why couldn’t you tell me? Why couldn’t you trust me?”

“I did, I do trust you.” Quick and earnest and heart-breaking. It’s not enough. Lena’s eyes slip closed, two tears tracking twin paths down her cheeks.

“I couldn’t risk losing you,” Kara whispers into the void between them.

Lena shakes her head. Presses tear-slick fingertips to her temples. “Everyone else knew. Everyone. And you didn’t lose them because of it.”

“That’s not— they were different,” Kara says, fidgeting. “With you, it’s different.”

Lena laughs, a broken sound that turns into a hiccup that morphs into a sob. “Different how? Because of my brother? Because I’m a Luthor?”

“Of course not,” Kara says. “I’ve never seen you like that.”

Lena tugs a hand through her hair. “Then what? Tell me, Kara. Make it make sense.”

“I— I can’t.”

They stare at each other for an interminable moment. Kara breaks first, eyes falling to her lap. Lena sags back against her chair, pinching her fingers at the bridge of her nose. Her energy feels utterly sapped; it’s an effort to even form the words now.

“Honesty, Kara. We promised each other honesty.” She lets the statement linger, suspended in the air between them. Gives the blonde one last chance.

Kara doesn’t take it. Lena sighs. “If you can’t give me that, then I don’t think we have anything more to say to one another.”

Kara nods once, swallows hard. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, and then she’s gone.

 

She can’t stay in her office.

The stark white walls feel like they’re pressing in around her, forcing all the air from her lungs. If they don’t have honesty they can’t have trust and without trust, they can’t have anything. They’ve proven that once already.

She pushes back from her chair with trembling hands. Murmurs to Jess that she’s going to get a coffee, ignores her assistant’s look of pointed concern.

The fresh air outside L-Corp is cold and bracing, exactly what she needs to remember to inhale, to exhale again. She walks quickly, attention more focused on the whirling cloud of sadness in her chest than her surroundings. It takes longer than it should for her to react to the sound of tyres squealing to a stop beside her, and that ends up being her downfall.

She’s too slow to fight off the figure that pulls a black bag over her head and pins her arms, thrashing uselessly in their strong grip as a door slides open to her right. She’s manhandled roughly into the vehicle, the heavy smell of petrol choking even through the cloth as she’s pinned to the hard floor.

She kicks wildly at her assailants, cursing herself for leaving her taser in the office until suddenly she feels a sharp pinprick at her jugular and it’s like all the strength leaches from her muscles in one long pull, taking her consciousness with it.

Chapter Text

Lena wakes slowly.

Her mind is dragging heavy, limbs leaden and unresponsive. She blinks a few times, swallowing past the dryness of her throat. She’s in a chair, she realises, and an uncomfortable one at that.

“Miss Luthor,” comes a voice at her back. “Apologies for your unconventional arrival. You’re at a secure facility whose location had to be protected.”

Lena squints against the darkness of the room, trying to make out the bustling shapes silhouetted against various blinking lights. “Who are you?” she manages, voice hoarse.

A man steps into the circle of light illuminating her chair. Heavy set and strong, his muscles strain against his army fatigues. So does his beer belly.

“My name is General Sam Lane, of the United States military.”

“Lane?” A small smile works its way onto Lena’s lips, her faculties returning. “Give my best to Lois, won’t you?”

She watches in satisfaction as a muscle in his jaw flickers.

But Lane recovers quickly, positioning himself directly in her line of sight as he leans back heavily on a table. His voice is calm, conversational. “What can you tell me about Mount Norquay?”

“Great skiing, or so I’ve heard.” Lena lets her eyes drag slowly down Lane’s frame. “And I’m sure they can arrange beginner’s lessons if you’re thinking of taking a trip.”

Lane narrows his eyes. “And what about the bunker beneath the mountain?”

Lena plasters on her best angelic expression. “Bunker?”

“It belonged to your brother, who I can only imagine left it to you when he died.”

“You must not know much about the Luthor family, General Lane,” Lena smiles. “I’d be far more likely to receive a bullet to the head from my brother than the keys to one of his properties.”

A small growl works its way up the back of the general’s throat. “I know it’s yours now. And I know the sorts of heinous things you’ve been using it for. You Luthors are all the same.”

“I take offence at that,” Lena says primly. “still have all my hair.”

“Enough joking around,” Lane snaps, slamming his fist on the table beside him. Lena forces herself not to flinch. “On September 16th, the US military satellite Claymore 3 was deployed to destroy Lex Luthor’s bunker at Mount Norquay. Only, Lex Luthor is long dead. So you see—” he takes a few heavy steps closer, “—I’m rather interested in finding out who the intended target actually was.”

Lena purses her lips. “If the US military has blown someone up, wouldn’t you be better off asking them who it was?”

Lane grinds his teeth. “The agency responsible for Claymore’s deployment was the DEO.”

“Ah,” Lena smirks. “Over whom you have no jurisdiction.”

“Perhaps not.” His voice is gruff. “But I do oversee the entire government military budget. Every deployment of Claymore 3 costs the American taxpayer close to a billion dollars. Not to mention recovery and clean-up, the efforts to keep it quiet…”

Lane has recovered his composure now, cutting an intimidating figure as his fingers tap absently over the holster at his side. “In two days’ time I am going to have to sit down with the President of the United States at the annual budget briefing and justify this extraordinary use of our resources. So you see, Miss Luthor,” he smiles, stepping closer. “I need to prove that it was a success. That a threat was averted and, most importantly, that somebody is rotting in jail as a result.”

 

The questions continue for what feels like hours. Lena parries each blow as best she can despite the heavy, numbing feeling still shrouding her body.

“The technology in use at Norquay which prompted the satellite’s deployment was very advanced,” Lane says, tapping his fingers against his handgun. “The kind of thing you and your company have a reputation for.”

Lena tilts her head sweetly. “You flatter me, General Lane. At least buy me dinner first.”

Soldiers bustle around them as the interrogation continues. Lane mainlines enough coffee that Lena deduces it must be getting late, though no one ever offers her a refreshment.

The hard chair she’s occupying digs painfully into her back. She’s not restrained, but the lingering sluggishness of her muscles combined with the fact that she’s surrounded by soldiers in the middle of some unknown black ops base has her thinking twice about attempting escape. What she wouldn’t give to see a friendly face right about now.

After the eighth time running through Lane’s list of inane questions, Lena’s beginning to lose her patience.

“If you literally blew up the mountain, presumably whoever you’re looking for is already dead?”

Lane huffs out a breath. “No bodies were recovered from the scene. Whoever was operating the technology must have escaped.”

Irritation rises in Lena like a tide. “Good for them.”

“Your facetiousness won’t protect you, Miss Luthor,” Lane snaps.

“And your insistence that I’ve committed a crime won’t make it true,” she shoots back, trying to quell the growing sense of dread deep in her chest. Lane isn’t backing down, isn’t giving up, and the lingering fuzziness of her mind from whatever they’d used to knock her out is only getting worse as she grows more fatigued. She might slip up soon, might make a mistake, and that will be it.

She can see the general’s irritation growing to match her own. “I know you were Claymore’s target,” Lane hisses. “I know you’ve escaped justice for whatever you were doing in that bunker. And I am going to make sure that you spend the rest of your life in a prison cell for it.”

“And yet you have no proof,” Lena returns, voice steady despite the pounding of her heart. “Or we wouldn’t be here.”

Lane turns his sidearm over in his hands, flicking the safety rhythmically on and off. “Not yet, maybe.”

Lena pretends to consider the situation for a long moment, surreptitiously pressing her clammy palms against her pants. “September 16th, you said?” she asks innocently. “And yet it’s taken you almost two months to bring me in. Why is that?”

Lane narrows his eyes. “Our— our intelligence had to ascertain the ownership of the bunker.”

“It took them seven weeks to find that Mount Norquay was registered as an old Luthor Corp holding under my brother’s name? Wow.” Lena smirks. “Maybe you need to give your intelligence a pay rise. Or dental.” She inspects her nails casually. “Forbes named me CEO of the Year, you know. I’d be more than happy to chat to you about employee incentive programmes. They really can boost performance.”

Lane growls, advancing on her too quickly for Lena to back away. Bracing his hands on the arms of her chair he shoves his face in front of hers, stale breath assaulting her senses.

“You might be a big shot in National City, Miss Luthor. You might have friends in high places,” he sneers. “But unfortunately for you, none of them are as high up as me.”

A new voice at Lena’s back, and Lane’s head snaps up so fast she hears the joints in his neck crack.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”

 

Lena has never in her life been happier to hear Alex Danvers’ voice.

“Director Danvers,” Lane stutters, backing away from Lena so quickly he almost trips over his own boots. “What are you doing here?”

“I might ask you the same question,” Alex says coolly, eyebrow arched. “Since when is the military in the habit of abducting Fortune 500 CEOs off the street in broad daylight?”

“I’m— I’m conducting an investigation—”

“You were,” Alex says firmly. “It’s over now. Miss Luthor is coming with me.”

“You have no authority—”

“No, you have no authority,” Alex snaps. “Claymore was a DEO operation. That puts it squarely outside your purview, General.”

“You may not answer to me but you do answer to the President, Director. I’m sure he’ll be very interested to hear that the DEO refused to disclose the result of a multi-billion dollar operation to the budget coordinator,” Lane says acidly. “I’m sure he’ll be quite happy to authorise a full investigation into whatever it is you’re covering up.”

Alex grits her teeth, nudging Lena to standing with a hand on her shoulder. Lena’s head spins as she rises, legs almost buckling as her vision whites out. Alex steadies her, tilts Lena’s face to the light to examine her as she presses two fingers to her pulse.

“I’m sure he’ll also be interested to hear about his general’s liberal administration of barbiturates to unarmed civilians without probable cause,” the redhead shoots back. “You’d better hope she doesn’t suffer any side effects or you’ll have a murder indictment on your hands.”

Alex hooks an arm around Lena’s waist, gesturing to the agents who had followed her in as she turns towards the door.

“This isn’t over, Director Danvers,” Lane shouts after them. “I’m not going to stop. I’ll find the son of a bitch that escaped Claymore and I’ll make sure they die in prison. And if you try to stop me, I’ll make sure you join them.”

Alex doesn’t turn, keeps walking Lena slowly towards the exit as she flutters her fingers over her shoulder. “Always a pleasure, General,” she calls. “Looking forward to catching up at the Christmas party. Maybe you’ll go easier on the eggnog this year.”

The furious growl that echoes through the cavernous space is one of the most satisfying sounds Lena’s heard in a long, long time.

 

Lena is deposited into the back of a windowless van, strapped in shoulder to shoulder with Alex as the other two agents climb into the front.

“What drug did they give me?” she asks, willing down nausea as the vehicle bumps over uneven ground. “Am I really at risk of dying?”

“No,” Alex sighs from her side, sounding like she’d aged a hundred years since they’d left the general. “I just said that to scare him. I’ll check you out once we get back to the DEO, but I should think you’ll sleep off the rest of it and be just fine.”

Lena sucks in a sharp breath. “We’re going to the DEO?”

“You heard Lane,” Alex says tiredly. “He’s not going to stop. We need to figure out a plan, a story. If you go home he’ll only come after you again, and next time I might not be able to find you.”

“How did you know he’d taken me?” she asks curiously. “Have you been monitoring me?”

Alex’s eyes cut to her face. “I agreed I wouldn’t track you and I haven’t,” she says sharply. A moment later, her shoulders sag. “Kara realised you were missing. She thought we’d taken you so she came storming into the DEO, guns blazing.”

Lena presses her lips together, assimilating this new information. “Where is she, then?”

She knows it’s not entirely rational, this longing for Kara that tugs in her chest. The memory of the blonde’s refusal to be honest with her still stings, and yet— and yet she’d trade a considerable portion of her fortune to have the other Danvers next to her right now.

“Out searching for you, I guess.” Alex presses the heels of her palms against her closed eyelids. “She left as soon as she realised you weren’t there. Haven’t seen her since.”

It’s silent for a long time beyond the rumble of the van’s engine. Lethargy tugs at Lena and her head drops back to rest against the van’s wall, thudding hard against the metal every time they hit a bump.

“I should have known you were alive from the start.”

Lena blinks her eyes open slowly. “What?”

Alex’s voice is quiet, exhausted. “I should have been able to tell. Kara was— after Claymore she just disappeared. But seeing her today, once she realised you were missing… I haven’t seen her like that since she first landed on Earth.” Alex sighs. “I should have known the satellite hadn’t really killed you. She would have ripped National City apart at the seams.”

 

No guns are trained on Lena as she enters the DEO, which means it’s already a marked improvement on her last visit.

Alex examines her in the med bay. Brings her a bottle of water and a plastic-wrapped sandwich and declares her healthy as a horse. Lena eats slowly, mindful of J’onn’s lurking presence watching her through the glass.

Once she’s finished, Alex presses a DEO-issue sweatsuit into her arms and leads her to a bathroom to change. Lena slips out of her tight suit with a groan of relief, tugs the bun out of her hair and finger-combs her curls back into a manageable state.

It's nearing three am when Alex leads her to the cribs, a large room filled with rows of bunk beds for the agents to crash in between shifts. It’s empty, but the beds look clean and the longing to slide between the sheets is so strong that Lena doesn’t even have the strength to argue about staying here for the night.

“Get some rest,” Alex mutters, nodding towards a made-up bed. “Let your body recover. We’ll figure out everything else in the morning.”

“Not gonna try and kill me in my sleep, are you?” Lena says, tiredness slurring her words slightly as she pulls back the blankets.

Alex stands silent in the doorway as she climbs into the bunk. “I am sorry, Lena,” she says, so quiet Lena almost doesn’t catch it over the rustling of sheets. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“Yeah?” Lena hums, eyes already sliding closed. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

The second her cheek hits the pillow, she’s gone.

 

“Where is she?”

Kara’s voice is so loud, so urgent, that it pulls Lena abruptly from the dreamless sleep it feels like she’d only just dropped into. She pushes herself tiredly up to sitting on the bunk, blinking the sleep dust from her eyes as voices come closer.

“She’s in the cribs, she’s resting.” Alex’s words are interspersed with hurried footsteps. “She’s fine.”

“Why didn’t you tell me right away?”

“I tried. You haven’t answered my calls in weeks.”

A low growl echoes through the half-open door. “Why didn’t you use the watch? I can’t believe you brought her here, Alex. To keep her in the DEO after everything it’s done to her?” Kara says, incredulous. “She shouldn’t be anywhere near this fucking organisation. She should be with me.”

“Kara, you’re part of this organisation.” The footsteps stop. “You, you agreed to our partnership.”

“I agreed to work with you because it was the only leverage I had. But if you think I’m comfortable partnering with an organisation, with a director that uses satellite cannons to blow up civilians with impunity, you don’t know me at all.” The bite to Kara’s tone raises goosebumps on Lena’s arms.

“That’s not— we don’t—” Alex sighs. “I don’t know how many more times I can apologise.”

Once was a start, Lena thinks bitterly.

“I can’t do shit with sorry.” That’s Lena’s line, and she almost wants to laugh. But Kara’s words are laced with such desolate anger that she doesn’t. The blonde’s voice is soft and dangerous. “Sorry doesn’t change the fact that if I hadn’t gone against you, Lena would be dead right now.”

She can practically hear Alex wince. “It was an impossible choice, Kara, you know that. One life for the rest of the world. You’ve faced those odds before, you’ve sacrificed people—”

“Not her. Not when she’s the one being offered up.”

Alex sighs heavily. “It was awful. It was an awful choice and I hated making it. And maybe, maybe I chose wrong. But I was doing the best I could.” The redhead’s tone is imploring. “In that moment you would have been forced to make the same decision—”

Kara scoffs. “I wouldn’t. I didn’t.” Her tone is adamant, leaves absolutely no room for argument or misinterpretation. “Not her.

The footsteps start again, Alex’s tone becoming breathless like she’s chasing after her sister. “Kara, I couldn’t be emotional about it. I had to—”

“What if it had been Kelly?” Kara snaps. A sharp thud accompanies the words, like a fist on concrete. “What if she’d done something bad and I’d killed her for it?”

A brief moment of hesitation. “That’s— it’s not the same thing.”

“How is it different?”

“It’s— Kelly would never do something like that.”

Kara growls again, low in her throat. “What she did or didn’t do doesn’t matter. I am asking you—” quiet and controlled, the calm preceding the oncoming storm, “—how you would feel if she was accused of something and I killed her because of it. Would you be emotional then?”

Alex’s sigh is defeated. “I— of course I would. Kelly’s my partner, Kara. I love her.”

The pair are close enough now to the door of the cribs that Lena can clearly hear the squeak of her boots as Kara spins around. The creak of her heavy suit as she folds her arms across her chest. Her firm, certain voice. “Exactly.”

She thinks she hears Alex gasp, but she can’t be sure over her own sharp intake of breath. She manages to school her features back into neutrality a split second before the door slams open.

 

“Lena?”

Kara is across the room and kneeling in front of her faster than her eyes can track the movement.

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Kara’s hands map her body, push her hair back from her face and tilt her chin up to look into her eyes. Lena’s recently healed hand is cupped in Kara’s own, the blonde staring intently down at it – x-ray vision, Lena realises with a stab of awe – until she lets out a relieved breath, stroking her thumb over Lena’s knuckles.

“I’m fine,” Lena says quietly, refusing to let the wave of overwhelming relief she feels at Kara’s presence translate into her voice. Heat spreads up her neck and into her cheeks as she feels Alex’s heavy, searching gaze watching the two of them closely.

Kara seems oblivious to their audience. “Let’s go,” she says, pulling Lena gently to her feet with the hand still clasped in hers. “I’m getting you out of here.”

“Kara, she can’t leave.”

The blonde blinks as though she’d just remembered they weren’t alone in the room. She turns to her sister, who shrinks back a little beneath her stare. “Like hell she can’t. How are you gonna stop me?”

If the unabashed challenge in her voice weren’t bad enough, Lena can feel the Kryptonian physically starting to square up to her sister. Watching Alex step back in shock, sadness and fear written clearly on her face, it’s too much. It’s too painful.

“Kara,” Lena murmurs, tugging at the hand in hers. “Maybe I should stay, until all this has been sorted out.”

The blonde turns back to her and it takes Lena’s breath away for a second, how quickly her entire demeanour changes. The tense set of her body relaxes, the defiance in her eyes giving way to deep concern. She shouldn’t be surprised, she supposes. Kara’s long perfected the art of showing only the part of herself the situation calls for.

“Lena,” she says, breathy and imploring. “You don’t have to stay here. Let me take you somewhere safe. Let me take you to the cabin.”

“You can’t just—” Alex starts but Lena cuts her eyes to the redhead hard over Kara’s shoulder, the wordless I got this clear in the delicate arch of her brow.

“We can’t hide out there forever, Kara,” she says quietly, though the idea is becoming more appealing by the second. “We have lives to live here. Better to get this cleared up so we can move on.”

Kara’s eyes bore into hers for a long moment, the rest of the world quieting down to a dull hum around them. But then the blonde seems to find what she’s searching for and she lets out a slow breath as reality resumes. She turns back to her sister. “Fine. She’ll stay until you’ve fixed this.” Kara’s fingers tighten around Lena’s. “But you’d better believe I’m staying too.”

 

Lena drops back down onto the bunk once Alex leaves, enduring tiredness and relief at averting yet another fight tugging at her bones. Kara hesitates for a moment before sinking down next to her.

Her heavy cape creaks as she tries to get comfortable, tangling under her body and around her legs. Kara sighs in frustration, pushes off from the bed and disappears for a split second before she’s back, supersuit traded in for a DEO-issue hoodie and sweats identical to Lena’s own. She hops back up beside Lena, their backs against the wall. Rests her folded arms on her bent knees.

“You sure you’re okay?” the blonde asks quietly. Lena hums in assent, lets her head tilt back against the wall as her eyes slide closed.

“Sam freakin’ Lane,” Kara grumbles at her side. “I could punch him into oblivion.”

Lena huffs out a chuckle. “You could. Bet you’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Sure have,” Kara says in satisfaction. “No one punches as hard as me.” She sucks in a sharp breath. “Well. Almost no one.”

Lena’s eyes snap open. “Oh my God,” she mutters, pushing away from the wall to face the blonde. “That was you. When Reign punched you into a coma. That was Supergirl but— that was you.”

Kara is staring at her, eyes wide. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t have to.

“Oh God,” Lena says again. “I was there. I was right there. I almost watched you die, and I had no idea.” The memory of Supergirl’s— Kara’s broken, bleeding body rises up like it was just yesterday.

Lena starts to tremble. “What if you had died?” she gasps. “What would they have told me? Supergirl gets defeated and Kara Danvers, what? Disappears? Car crash? Freak accident?” Her whole body is shaking in earnest now. “I never would have known, even though I’d watched it happen.”

Kara’s face contorts. She looks like she’s about to say something, but thinks better of it. Reaches out instead and pulls Lena into her arms. Lena holds herself stiff for a moment, but Kara feels so warm and solid and good against her that it only takes a second before she gives in.

She collapses into the embrace, half in Kara’s lap as she sobs into her shoulder. How many more of these realisations is she going to have to endure, she wonders. How many separate wounds can the same weapon inflict? “Don’t you ever fucking do that to me again,” she mumbles through tears.

Kara tugs her closer, presses her face into Lena’s hair. “Honesty,” she whispers. “We promised each other honesty, right? I won’t.” Her hands stroke gently over Lena’s back, her ribs, her waist. Steady and sure against her shuddering frame. “I swear I won’t.”

 

Lena wakes with her head pillowed in a warm lap, gentle fingers carding through her hair.

It feels nice, and the harsh fluorescent lights are far too bright when she cracks her eyes open so she huffs, rolls her head to the side and presses her face into cotton softness.

The memories of the previous day, the previous night, filter back into her awareness and Lena sighs. Forces herself to stop nuzzling her face against Kara’s stomach and pushes herself to sitting. She can’t be weak and sleepy and soft anymore. It’s a new day; she has to be strong again.

“Morning,” Kara says with a tentative smile, her voice the sleep-thick kind of rough that makes Lena’s stomach clench. “How are you feeling?”

Lena takes stock of her body. “Better,” she says eventually.

“Good.” Kara takes a deep breath. “Lena, I wanted to say— I’m sorry for what happened in your office yesterday. I was going to come back so we could talk some more but then you were, you know. Missing. So.”

Lena nods. “These abductions are so inconvenient.”

Kara huffs out a chuckle. Her socked foot shifts on the bed, toes wiggling until they nudge against Lena’s own. Are we okay, her wide eyes seem to ask. Lena nudges her toes right back.

Kara grins. “Oh!” she says. “I brought breakfast.” She produces a paper bag of croissants, offering it out to Lena who graciously accepts.

“One for you, eight for me,” the blonde sing-songs, wiggling happily in the blankets as she inhales an entire croissant in one bite.

“Only eight?” Lena quirks an eyebrow, nibbling delicately at the pastry.

“Pfft, what? I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have eaten some while you were sleeping, Lena! That would be, that would be rude.”

Lena licks a stray flake of pastry off her fingertip. “Mmhmm.”

“Okay, okay! Fine. Man, you’re good. One for you, twenty-three for me,” Kara admits, mouth full, sprinkling crumbs all over the sheets. “But who’s counting?”

 

“Supergirl.”

The voice from the doorway causes them to jolt apart on the narrow bed.

“There’s a fire at the port,” Alex says, eyes carefully averted. “They need you.”

Kara’s gaze darts back and forth between Lena and her sister, conflict written all over her face.

Lena decides to put her out of her misery. “Go,” she says quietly. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” Blue eyes are uncertain. At Lena’s nod she sighs, extracting herself from the tangle of blankets. “Okay,” she says gently. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

On her way out the door Kara pauses, turns her head to level a hard stare at her sister. “I’ll be listening,” she warns, making no attempt to cloak the threat in her words. Alex flips a mock salute.

“What was that about?” Lena asks after the Kryptonian has shot away. “Listening for what?”

“Your heartbeat,” Alex sighs, producing a coffee from behind her back and holding it out to Lena. “To make sure I don’t try and pop you off again.”

Lena pauses, halfway through remaking her bed. “Oh, we’ve reached the point where we can joke about it, have we?” she asks, raising a sardonic eyebrow. “Thanks for the memo.”

Alex sobers immediately. “No,” she says, contrite. “No. Sorry.”

The redhead approaches tentatively. She passes Lena the coffee and takes a seat on the bunk opposite. “I suppose we should… talk?” she asks. Lena stares at her flatly. “I mean—” Alex amends. “I suppose should talk. I owe you an explanation.”

You owe me a damn sight more than that, Lena barely manages to not say.

Alex takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Lena.” She presses her palms flat against her thighs. “I’m sorry about Claymore, and I’m sorry that Lane’s after you now. And whatever our differences of opinion about your project—”

Lena quirks a challenging eyebrow, daring the redhead to continue that particular tangent.

Alex gulps. “—I want you to know that using Claymore was not a decision I took lightly. I didn’t want to do it but as the director of the DEO, in that moment I didn’t feel I had another option.”

Lena clenches her jaw. Her dentist is going to have a field day with the amount of grinding she’s been doing lately.

Alex seems to take her silence as a green light to keep talking. “I wouldn’t wish that situation on anyone, Lena. That kind of responsibility, it’s too much. It’s crippling. You’re damned either way.”

The redhead tugs a hand through her hair. “I replay it constantly in my head,” she says quietly. “I can’t sleep. It’s driving me crazy.”

Lena stays silent. It’s a little difficult to discuss her own almost-murder so casually, so rationally. But Alex is making an effort here, so she supposes she should at least be civil. After all, she thinks bitterly, what’s one little assassination attempt between friends?

“I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the kind of toll it takes, playing God. Not until I had to do it myself.” Alex huffs out a humourless chuckle. “Trading one life for the rest of the world. That’s normally more of my sister’s trick than mine. She did it, with Mon-El. But with you—”

Lena bites the inside of her cheek hard. It’s silent for too long, the redhead lost in contemplation. Lena clears her throat, tries to steer them back into safer territory.

“I heard you with Kara last night,” she starts. Alex’s eyes flash to her face for a split second before skittering away, a muscle in her jaw twitching. Lena forges on. “You said you might have made the wrong choice, using Claymore. You might have? Really, Alex?”

“Of course I did,” Alex snaps immediately. “Of course I made the wrong choice. But how can I admit that? If I made the wrong choice then I’ve lost you, I’ve lost my sister, for nothing.”

The redhead is breathing hard, hands clenching and unclenching into tight fists against her thighs.

Lena is silent for a long moment. “The more firmly you stand by your decision, the less chance you have of ever getting Kara back,” she says finally. “At least, from what I’ve seen.”

Alex is quiet, considering. “You don’t have to give me advice, you know. You don’t have to be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”

Lena shrugs. “I know you don’t.”

“Huh.” A corner of Alex’s mouth quirks up in a wry smile. “This probably sounds strange given the circumstances but I’ve missed you, Luthor. Nobody snarks quite like you.”

“Oh, no,” Lena cuts in, shaking her head. “No, no, no. You’ve said your piece, you’ve apologised, and I appreciate that. But make no mistake, Agent Danvers—” she levels Alex with a chilling look. “We are not okay. Quite apart from the insignificance of one apology compared to literally blowing me up, we haven’t even gone near the four years you spent lying to my face.”

Lena takes a long, calming drink of coffee. Fights the urge to wrinkle her nose at its bitter taste. “You and I both need Lane to stop sniffing around this,” she says, taking another sip anyway because, hey. Caffeine is caffeine. “The enemy of my enemy, and all that. But don’t for one second delude yourself into thinking we’re friends.”

Alex’s gaze drops to her lap and Lena doesn’t think of unbeaten trivia teams, of working shoulder to shoulder to save the world or pulling a trigger to save a life, of drunken karaoke duets and the sister she never had.

Her heart doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t.

Alex’s eyes are sad, her voice hoarse. “Understood.”

 

Lena hasn’t set foot in the DEO command centre since she’d tricked Kara into taking her to the Fortress of Solitude and everything had imploded from there. She sincerely hopes that this day ends better than that one had.

“Alright.” Alex flattens her palms against the desk. “Where are we at?”

Brainy materialises seemingly from nowhere and Lena jumps. “General Lane’s intelligence team has been trying to hack into our system for days,” he says, steepling his fingers together in front of his body. “They haven’t yet cracked our security, but they’re not giving up. Director, with your permission I was thinking of sending a Trojan horse. Something to distract them.”

Lena perks up. “I think I have something that might work.” She glances at Alex. “May I?”

At the redhead’s nod she leans over the nearest keyboard, fingers flying until she hits the return key with a resounding thud. Brainy hovers right behind her, observing. “What have you done?”

Lena smirks. “Every time they try to access your systems they’ll be automatically rerouted to the Mount Norquay ski rental website.” She bites her lip. “Something of an inside joke between the general and myself.”

“You’ve been sorely missed around here, Lena,” Brainy says earnestly. “No one else possesses your flair for the dramatic in a crisis.”

Alex clears her throat. “So. What are our next steps?”

“I know Lane. He won’t give up,” J’onn says, appearing at Alex’s shoulder with no warning. Lena jumps again, pressing a hand over her thudding heart. Apparently, the ability to pop up in any situation in the creepiest way possible is a staple of the DEO’s recruitment requirements.

“He’s got his sights set on Lena, but he won’t stop until we give him someone to throw in jail for Claymore’s use.” J’onn side-eyes her as he speaks. Lena side-eyes right back. 

“And we can’t give him the truth, or we lose Supergirl,” Alex says.

Brainy nods. “That is correct. If you hand Lena to General Lane, the odds of any positive future relationship between you and Kara Danvers are less than 3%.”

Alex sighs. “Perfect.”

Brainy continues unperturbed. “Indeed, even if you clear Lena’s name entirely, the odds are still alarmingly low—”

“Yep, thank you Brainy, I got it,” Alex cuts him off, her face scrunching.

“So we need a scapegoat for Non Nocere,” J’onn says diplomatically, resting a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “A way to satisfy Lane that doesn’t end with any of us in prison.”

Alex shrugs him off, scrubs a hand over her face. “Great. No pressure.” She glances at each of them in turn, slaps her hand on the desk with a sigh. “Go team.”

 

They’re getting nowhere.

Between them, Alex and Lena have probably ingested 90% of the DEO’s coffee supply. At one point the redhead sends one of her agents out to pick up burgers for them all, but Lena can’t stomach it. Her fries sit untouched next to the stacks of transcripts and satellite photos they’ve been pouring fruitlessly over for hours.

“We can’t blame my mother?” she asks, tugging at a loose thread on the cuff of her DEO sweatshirt.

“Still very much locked up, I’m afraid,” Alex sighs as Brainy pulls up a live feed of Lillian’s prison cell. Her mother is lying on her bunk, slices of cucumber over her eyes while a young man in a guard’s uniform files her nails. Lena smirks. Some things never change.

“And you don’t know of any of Lex’s associates that we could claim had access to Norquay?” J’onn asks for the fourth time in under an hour.

Lena huffs. “Oddly enough, I didn’t keep in contact with many of my brother’s cronies once he started down the path of genocidal world domination.” Her lip curls. “Suddenly the group chats just weren’t as much fun.”

A sudden gust of wind cuts off J’onn’s retort. Alex throws herself down on the desk, arms spread to pin down their meticulously stacked papers before they can be blown in every direction. “Hey,” she says sharply. “No superspeed when we’ve got documents out. You know the rules.”

Kara glances at her guiltily. “Sorry.”

The blonde turns to Lena as Alex huffs, peeling herself off the table. “How’re you doing?” Kara asks quietly, for Lena’s hearing alone. She smells like smoke, her hair and suit streaked with ash.

“Fine,” Lena murmurs back. “It’s been fine.” She lifts her hand, fingertips gently brushing a smear of soot from Kara’s cheek.

Someone clears their throat loudly and Lena forces her eyes away from Kara’s to find Alex and J’onn staring at them intently. Brainy at least seems oblivious as a flush burns high on Lena’s cheeks.

Kara turns to stand next to her at the table, resting her forearms on it as she surveys the scene. She’s pressed herself against the length of Lena’s side, shoulders and elbows and hips touching and Lena would be lying if she tried to claim it wasn’t comforting after the morning’s hostility, this show of support. This declaration of allegiance.

“So,” the blonde says cheerfully, laying her palms on the table. Either she’s oblivious to the tension in the room or she has an astonishing poker face. Lena suspects the latter. “Catch me up. Where are we at?”

Alex tugs a hand through her hair. One of these days she’s going to pull a handful of it clean off her scalp. “We’re trying to come up with a story to feed to Lane, to justify Claymore’s use while keeping Lena out of it.”

“We have not succeeded,” Brainy chimes in. Alex rolls her eyes.

“Okay,” Kara says, examining the papers in front of her. “And we can’t claim it was some kind of autonomous thing? That some of Lex’s technology fired up in the bunker automatically?”

Brainy presses his fingertips together. “Unfortunately not. While DEO agents were responsible for recovery at the scene, Claymore itself is a military-owned satellite whose transmissions are relayed through army servers.” He stops, apparently content that he’d sufficiently answered the question.

Four sets of eyebrows furrow around the desk. “So?” Kara says, head tilting. “What does that mean?”

Brainy stares at them all with an expression that shoots Lena right back to her own school days, to being unable to comprehend why the other kids in her class seemed unable to keep up. The Coluan clears his throat.

“It means,” he says impatiently, “that Lane has already seen all the data transmitted by Claymore.” At their blank looks, he huffs. “He knows there was a human heat signature inside the bunker operating the equipment.”

J’onn sighs. Alex tugs another rough hand through her hair.

“Wait, wait,” Kara says slowly. “There was only one signature?”

Brainy looks at her like she’s grown another head. “Yes. Lena was working alone.”

“No, she wasn’t.” Kara’s voice rises. She turns to Lena, bouncing on her toes. “You weren’t!”

“Hope,” they say at the same time. Lena can’t stop the smile that breaks over her face, feels a tug of heat in her stomach when it’s mirrored on Kara’s lips.

Alex holds up a hand. “Sorry. What?”

“Lena’s AI assistant,” Kara gabbles. “She was there too.” The blonde is practically vibrating against Lena’s side, her excitement infectious.

Brainy wrings his hands. “No, the scans were very clear. One human heat signature, and one alone.”

“Hope isn’t human!” Kara says. “But she does look like one.” She turns so they’re toe to toe. “Lena, this could work,” she says, bright and hopeful and beautiful.

“Sorry,” J’onn says in a tone that implies he’s anything but. “She looks like one?”

Lena takes a deep breath. “I put Hope in the body of Eve Teschmacher.”

 

It’s relatively simple, after that.

By simple, she means that she only has to endure a solid twenty minutes of unbroken lectures from Alex and J’onn about the various ethical violations of transplanting AI consciousness into a human body. Even if it was one as deceitful as Eve’s.

By simple, she means that Brainy volunteers unprompted to wipe the DEO servers of all records of Lena’s involvement with Non Nocere, to replace them with interactions with ‘Eve’.

“Brainy,” Alex says, shocked. “Doesn’t that go against your, like, core code? Isn’t your basic function the pursuit and preservation of the truth? Can you even lie?”

Kara’s eyes are equally wide. “Brainy, you would do that?” she asks quietly, awestruck.

The Coluan steeples his fingers. “That is what one does for one’s friends, is it not?” he asks, serious as ever. His eyes fall on Kara. “I wish to protect Lena, as you do.”

Lena’s embarrassed to admit that she tears up a little, forcing a cough to have an excuse to wipe surreptitiously at her brimming eyes.

By simple, she means that they spend a further two hours making sure their new story is airtight and watertight and bulletproof to boot before Alex puts in a call to Lane.

And then Kara’s shepherding her up to the cribs again. “Lane shouldn’t see you, Lena,” she says, her hand burning hot on the small of Lena’s back. “If you’re innocent, there’s no reason why you would still be here.”

Lena spins to face her. “Wait, he’s coming here?”

Kara nods. “But—” Lena stammers. “Wait. He knows no bodies were recovered at Norquay. He’s going to start a manhunt for Eve Teschmacher.” She can’t understand why the blonde isn’t as concerned by this as she is. “Eve Teschmacher, whose AI body disintegrated when Claymore struck, Kara. He won’t be able to find her. He’ll figure out she wasn’t really behind Non Nocere.”

Kara just smiles, guiding Lena to her bunk. “Oh, he’s going to find her.”

She presses a tablet into Lena’s hands before she can question the words. “Here,” she says. “You can watch what’s happening through the CCTV. Just, don’t come out, okay? Promise?” She cocks her head to the side, listening. “He’s almost here. I have to go. D’you promise, Lena?”

Lena nods mutely, sinking down onto the bunk. Kara reaches out, gently tucks a wild curl behind Lena’s ear. Then she’s gone.

 

Lena watches the tiny figures of Alex and Kara greet Lane on the tablet screen. Watches Alex hand him the binder they’d put together of falsified records, watches her pull up screen after screen on the monitors. Watches, mouth dropping open, as two DEO agents enter the room with a handcuffed Eve Teschmacher between them.

Lena can’t believe her eyes. Seeing what looks like Eve in the flesh, even through a tiny screen, still stirs a hot stab of fury in her gut. She watches in sceptical confusion as Lane speaks to Eve, flicks through the binder in his arms, and turns back to the Danvers sisters.

There’s no sound on the CCTV feed, but a moment later Kara’s angry voice shouts loud enough to echo up into the cribs unaided. “She is nothing like the Luthor name!”

Lena holds her breath as on the screen, Alex puts a firm hand on Kara’s shoulder. Tilts her head to mutter in her sister’s ear. A second later the door to the cribs slams open and shut again; Kara drops onto the bunk beside her with a huff. “Alex kicked me out,” she says petulantly, pressing close to watch the feed over Lena’s shoulder.

“Kara,” Lena says, the screen forgotten in her lap. “Who the hell is down there in handcuffs?”

“Oh. Right.” Kara’s cheeks pinken, a hand coming up to tug at her ear. “Yeah. Right. So, um. J’onn is kind of a shapeshifter?”

Lena huffs out a breath, shakes her head. “Of course he is. Right. Of course.”

“This is good though,” Kara rushes to say. “Alex told Lane that the DEO arrested Eve – J’onn-Eve, y’know – and that they’ll handle the punishment, since it’s their case. So Eve—” Kara’s air quotes around the words are comically big, “—will stay here in prison forever, and Lane will never see her again. Problem solved.”

“Huh,” Lena says, still a little shell-shocked. “Perks of having a shapeshifter around, I guess.”

The room falls silent, both of them fixated on the screen. Kara has tucked herself against Lena’s side, warm and solid. After a while, the blonde’s chin drops to rest over Lena’s shoulder. Their faces are side by side, millimetres apart, and Lena can feel her own cheeks heating up at the proximity. She hopes Kara doesn’t notice.

“Wow,” she says instead, to distract the both of them from her traitorous body. “He looks exactly like her. Is it possible to tell him apart from the person he’s shifted into?”

“Nope,” Kara says, her breath tickling Lena’s neck. “They’re indistinguishable. It’s pretty neat.”

Lena hums, and Kara presses a little harder against her.

Suddenly, a thought occurs to her. Lena’s stomach drops. She pulls away from the blonde abruptly, who whines a little at the loss of contact. “Did he ever do that to me?”

Kara blinks. “What?”

“Did he ever— shapeshift with me? Was I ever talking to J’onn when I thought it was someone else?”

Kara bites her lip, eyes wide, and Lena can feel her face start to crumple. “Kara.”

“It was only one time!” the blonde rushes out. “I promise. One time. Only ever once.”

Lena kneads her knuckles against her closed eyelids. “When?”

Kara sighs. “When— when I was in the Reign-coma. When James told you I had the flu.”

The memory crashes over Lena like a tidal wave. “Oh God,” she says desperately, digging her teeth into her bottom lip. “Oh, God. I talked to him about kissing! I talked to J’onn about kissing James Olsen.”

Kara winces. Her voice is very, very small. “I know.”

Lena’s eyes shoot open. “You know?” she says, voice low and dangerous. “What, did you talk about it afterwards? So you could all have a good laugh? Fuck.” She shoves herself away from the blonde entirely, kneeling at the opposite end of the bed.

“Do you have any idea what a violation that is?” she spits. “An invasion of my privacy? A complete breach of my trust?”

Kara’s eyes are wide, fingers twisting together. “I— yeah,” she says quietly. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

Lena tugs her fingers through her hair. “And I had no idea,” she says, near-hysterical laughter bubbling up in her throat. “How can I trust it was only the once? How many more times have I poured my heart out to J’onn J’onzz wearing my best friend’s face?”

“I swear,” Kara says imploringly, nudging forward on her knees. Lena flinches away. “It was only then. Only that one time. Honesty, right? It was only once.”

Lena presses her fingertips to her temples. This feels like a crossroads, a pivotal moment. If she forces herself to trust Kara now when she promises honesty, then this becomes yet another wound to heal from. If she doesn’t, well. That will be it.

She clenches both hands into fists, pressing them against her forehead. “swear,” she mutters through gritted teeth. “I feel like I want to kill you sometimes, Kara Zor-El.”

Kara takes her statement for the capitulation that it is. “I know,” she whispers, edging slowly closer on the mattress. “I don’t blame you. Sometimes I want to kill me too. I’ve fucked up so much, Lena. I’m so sorry you have to pay the price.”

She’s right in front of Lena now but she doesn’t touch. Lena pulls her hands away from her face to see Kara’s fingers balling and unballing on the mattress beside her knee, as if she wants to reach out but is afraid to. “Maybe, maybe this is what we have to do,” Kara murmurs. “Whenever something like this comes up, whenever you have questions, you can say whatever you need to say and I promise I’ll give you the truth back.”

Her brow creases in sadness at Lena’s pained expression. “It’s the least I can do,” Kara continues. “I’d, I’d let you punch me – God knows I deserve it – but I don’t want you to break your hand. Again.”

Lena huffs out a chuckle at Kara’s sheepish expression. She sighs, shaking her head. “You do deserve it,” she says pointedly and Kara drops her chin, nodding. Lena nudges Kara’s fingers with her knee as her voice softens. “But I don’t want to hurt you. Even if I could.”

Kara tackles her into a hug then, bowling them both over on the bed. “Lena Luthor, you are the best person I know,” she whispers against Lena’s jaw. “And on this planet or any other, I will never deserve you.”

 

Alex finds them tucked together on the bunk, heads close.

“It’s over,” she says from the doorway. “He’s gone.”

“Did he buy it?” Kara asks as they push themselves up to sitting.

“Think so,” Alex shrugs. “Brainy’s very good at falsifying records when he wants to be.” She pauses, blinks. “I wonder if I should be concerned about that?”

Kara shrugs, unperturbed. Lena clears her throat. “So… can I go home, then?”

“Yep,” the redhead nods. “Your name’s been cleared with Lane, cleared with the DEO. There’s no record of you ever setting foot in Mount Norquay. You’re good to go.”

“Thank you,” Kara says quietly to her sister. Alex just nods as the blonde turns to Lena, grinning. Lena huffs out a relieved sigh as she gathers up her belongings.

She’s following Kara out the door when she’s stopped by a gentle hand on her arm. “Lena,” Alex says quietly, haltingly. Lena watches Kara’s shoulders tense but the blonde keeps walking away, giving them at least the illusion of privacy.

“I want you to know—” Alex starts. “I didn’t do this just because Kara would’ve hated me more if I hadn’t.” She screws up her face, sighing. “What I mean is, I wanted to help youTo protect you, too.”

It takes the redhead a moment to continue. “And if you really thought you were going to stop people hurting each other through your project, well.” Lena braces herself, but the assault doesn’t come. Alex bites her lip. “I suppose after what we’ve done to you, I can’t really blame you for that.”

Lena nods, throat tight.

“So, if you ever need anything, I’m here,” Alex continues. Her expression is uncomfortable but there’s no mistaking the earnestness in her eyes. “Not just because of what you mean to my sister, but because of what you mean to me.”

Lena doesn’t trust herself to speak. Alex drops her chin, removing her hand from Lena’s arm. “Okay. Cool. No pressure,” she says, awkward. “Just wanted you to know.”

Lena’s struggling to breathe around her increasingly constricted airway but she manages to meet Alex’s eyes for one brief second, just long enough to nod.

 

Kara flies her home.

The ride is quiet, soothing. Lena watches National City unfurl beneath them, enjoys the wind on her face after the oppressive atmosphere of the DEO.

The Kryptonian is quiet but Lena can feel her tangible relief in the way she loops gracefully between the skyscrapers, hands soft and sure as they hold Lena close to her chest.

“Hey,” Lena murmurs as her penthouse rises up to meet them. “I realised I’ve never actually said thank you.” She swallows hard. “For pulling me out of the bunker. For not letting Claymore kill me.”

Kara hums as she sets Lena’s feet gently on her balcony. “As if there were any other option.”

Lena swats the blonde’s shoulder lightly once they’ve disentangled. “Don’t joke, I’m being serious.”

“Lena.” Blue eyes meet hers, aching in their sincerity. “So am I.”

 

The first thing Lena does on her return to normal life is to pay a visit to Catco. There are still some friendly faces; the security guard waves her through the metal detectors with a smile, and a few of the more seasoned journalists greet her by name as she strides through the office.

Andrea seems surprised to see her. Her mouth actually drops open when Lena, straight to the point, asks her to give Kara her old job back.

Well.” She leans back in her chair, eyebrows raised. “I didn’t realise you two were so close.”

“Kara Danvers is an asset to Catco,” Lena says calmly. “Our relationship is irrelevant.”

Andrea clicks her tongue. “I’m not sure it is.”

When Lena refuses to take the bait the redhead crosses her arms, foot tapping against the side of her desk. “Let me get this straight. You want me to hire back someone I recently fired for professional misconduct—”

“A Pulitzer prize-winning someone.”

Andrea raises an eyebrow. Lena shrugs. “Continue.”

“—into one of the top positions in my newsroom? Just because you asked nicely?”

Lena gazes at her with a level expression. “That’s about the size of it, yes.”

Andrea’s head tilts. Her stare is inquisitive, curious. “Tell me, Lena. Why would I do that for you?”

Lena purses her lips slightly, smiles back. “Why wouldn’t you?”

 

She decides to throw herself back into life at L-Corp. Gives Jess yet another raise for keeping her company afloat while Lena’s personal life had been sinking faster than the Titanic.

She gets back into R&D, gets back into the lab. Carries her leather-bound notebook, the one Kara had given her, everywhere. Gets to work on the projects she’d spent weeks dreaming up.

She’s deep in an experiment, hair scraped back and goggles etching a permanent dent into the bridge of her nose when her phone vibrates rapidly in the pocket of her lab coat.

Lena turns off the Bunsen burner, rolls the kinks out of her stiff neck as she unlocks the device.

Kara [9.47pm]: i don’t know what you said to andrea but THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lena smiles down at the screen as seven more texts buzz in in quick succession, increasingly elaborate and colourful combinations of every love heart emoji known to mankind.

She bites her lip as she texts back a single red heart, and turns back to her research.

 

Things don’t go straight back to how they were before— before.

It’s a delicate dance, clearing the smoke and lies from their past friendship while still keeping them moving forward in the present.

For a time, it seems Lena can’t make it through a single day without yet another realisation of the ways Kara had deceived her slamming the breath from her lungs.

It’s unpleasant and painful and it goes against every one of Lena’s self-preservation instincts to not let it destroy them. To not cut her losses and run, to turn away from Kara for good.

Instead, she forces herself to talk to the Kryptonian. Kara winces, she cringes and she apologises and sometimes she even cries, but she always listens and she always explains. She always meets Lena with honesty. At least, Lena believes – has to believe – that’s what she’s doing.

And slowly, it gets easier. Slowly, the gut-churning moments of dawning comprehension are fewer and farther between.

Lena is still hesitant, unsure of what constitutes an acceptable level of interaction in this new phase of their relationship. Kara seems just as tentative, both of them tiptoeing around the other as they try desperately not to make a wrong move.

But it grows. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the nebulous thing between them gathers momentum and intensity quicker and quicker, and Lena finds she doesn’t want to resist.

 

Kara invites her, hesitantly, to coffee.

They sit in Noonan’s and make slightly stilted conversation, both trying to avoid the landmines of uncomfortable topics by which they’re surrounded.

But coffee turns into lunch, which turns into early-afternoon drinks, which turns into Lena smiling and discreetly sliding her platinum credit card to the waiter while Kara orders every single appetiser on the menu as a mid-afternoon snack.

Lena thinks back to their first lunch here, to the start of it all, and marvels at how everything can change so completely yet not at all.

A week after their full-day occupation of Noonan’s, Lena gathers her courage and invites Kara to try out the new donut place near the bay. Hopped up on far more sugar than anyone with abs like hers has any right to consume, Kara bounces happily at her side as they meander along the sea wall, marvelling at the coloured lights reflecting off the water.

Kara buys them both hot chocolate to warm Lena’s fingers when it starts to get dark, pulls her maroon beanie off her head and tugs it low over Lena’s curls when she notices her shivering.

They talk about Catco and L-Corp and articles and experiments. They talk about horrible bosses and horrible board members, about N*Sync and the new jellyfish documentary on Netflix and what kind of French fry they’d pick if they could only eat one variety for the rest of their lives.

They talk like they used to, like Kara and Lena, and Lena feels the rawest parts of her bleeding heart slowly begin to think about knitting back together.

 

Though things are finally back on the upwards climb towards normal rather than spiralling in the opposite direction, one thing is markedly different.

Kara, tactile Kara, Kara-the-human-koala, has barely touched her since their night in the DEO cribs.

She seems nervous, almost. Fumbling and blushing and keeping a solid foot between them whenever they’re together. Lena watches long fingers twitch unconsciously towards her time and again, only to be pulled back and balled into fists by their flustered owner.

Lena thinks it’s funny, really. Given everything that’s gone down between them over the course of the past few months, given the liberties Kara’s taken for her and the various half-confessions she’s almost just-barely admitted, Lena can’t help but find it amusing that suddenly physical contact is apparently a step too far.

But she enjoys Kara’s pink cheeks and stumbling words, and honestly she’s still afraid to push too hard on the foundation of the new them. Not confident enough yet to test its strength.

So Lena bites her tongue, and she bites her lip every time Kara reflexively throws herself at Lena for an embrace only to trip over her own feet with the effort of holding herself back. She decides to keep things light, keep them easy. Keep giving the both of them time to re-adjust.

 

All her good intentions go out the window, of course, the second she’s had a drink.

It’s well past midnight and Lena is, true to form, the better part of a bottle of scotch down as she stumbles out of her favourite discreet drinking establishment onto the frosty sidewalk. She’d just endured a simply delicious phone call from her mother during which they’d traversed a wealth of topics, from Lena’s failings as a daughter and sole remaining heir to the Luthor name through to her ill-advised fratricide.

Every black thought, every shortcoming and flaw and regret she’s ever so much as considered are whirling through her mind in her mother’s dulcet tones. Between the self-hatred bubbling up behind her teeth and the booze curdling in her stomach, she’s paying absolutely no attention to her feet until the heel of one of her damn Louboutins decides to take up permanent residence in the grate of a storm drain.

Lena pitches forward, her face preparing itself for an imminent introduction to the cold hard concrete when it hits something else instead. A smooth juncture of lean muscle, honey curls tickling her cheek, rain and moondust assaulting her nostrils.

“Woah, okay.” She’s scooped up before she can fully register what’s happening. Kara’s nose wrinkles slightly, probably due to the alcohol fumes wafting out of Lena’s every pore. “I’ll take you home.”

By the time Lena’s mouth manages to follow her brain’s instruction to speak, the city is falling away from her feet. “Kara, I’m a Luthor,” she slurs, squirming in the strong bridal carry.

The blonde chuckles. “Yeah, I’m aware. You’re Lena Luthor.”

“No,” Lena huffs, arching her back in some misguided attempt at making her point, at getting the blonde’s attention. Her head drops backwards from where it had been resting against Kara’s shoulder and she immediately regrets it as the massive force of Kara’s speed bears down on her unsupported neck.

Her head spins and that scotch is a split second from making a reappearance when a warm hand slides up into her hair, cupping the back of her skull and pulling her head back against Kara’s chest. “Stop wriggling,” Kara murmurs over the wind. “You’re only making it worse for yourself.”

She almost snorts. Yeah. She has been known to do that.

“I know it’s my name,” she announces once Kara’s boots touch down on her balcony and Lena feels a little more confident about not dying as a result. “But I wasn’t, wasn’t really a Luthor before. But now I think, maybe I am.’

The blonde doesn’t reply as she props one foot on a wicker armchair, balances most of Lena’s weight on her bent thigh. One of her hands extracts Lena’s phone from her bag, holds Lena’s limp thumb against the biometric scanner and taps through her home security app to unlock the balcony door.

“I think—” Lena only half-slurs as she’s carried through her dark living room. “I think maybe I can’t escape it.” The hand supporting her head stills where it had been lightly scratching over Lena’s scalp. Lena carries on regardless. “Think I’ve ticked all the awful boxes now. Even tried to kill a Super. Can’t get more Luthor than that.”

“You’re nothing like your family. And you’ve never tried to kill me, Lena.” Kara’s voice is quiet and sure and Lena so wants to fall into it, be wrapped up in it forever. Increasingly, she’s struggling to remember why she shouldn’t. “Unless you and my cousin have some dark history you’ve managed to keep remarkably quiet.”

“Mmm, but the Kryptonite,” she murmurs, eyes sliding closed as the fingertips resume their gentle ministrations in her hair.

“There wasn’t enough in that cage to kill me, you know that,” Kara says quietly, nudging open Lena’s bedroom door. “You were trying to contain me. It didn’t do me any damage.”

“Not that,” she mutters, one eye cracking open to aim a poorly judged swat at the blonde’s cheek. “Mount Norquay. My stupid brother’s stupid cannons.”

Kara stills in the middle of the room and for a moment, not one single thing in the universe exists outside of the two of them. It’s like a sensory deprivation tank except that when the rest of the world falls away, what’s left is not emptiness but Kara.

“But you didn’t use them,” Kara says after a long moment of just them. “You stopped them firing.”

“I almost didn’t,” Lena sighs as she’s set gently on the bed, as warm hands lift her head onto the pillow, slip her one remaining heel from her foot. “I almost couldn’t.”

Kara doesn’t respond. Lena’s eyes slide closed again, her mind soothed by the quiet sounds of Kara setting her bag on the armchair, fetching a glass of water and some painkillers for the morning.

When the blonde returns to her side Lena reaches out blindly, fingers closing around a slim wrist.

“You didn’t move.”

Even with her eyes closed she can hear Kara smile. “I— what? I’m right here, Lena.”

Lena tightens her grip. “No, you didn’t move. Those cannons, I could have killed you. You didn’t get out of the way. You were going to let me.”

“Let’s not—” Kara’s pulse thunders beneath Lena’s fingertips. “Let’s not talk about this now.”

It’s quiet for a long moment, but. “Were you?” Lena asks when she can’t not ask anymore.

“Hmm?”

“Were you going to let me kill you, Kara?”

It’s quiet for so long, and Lena’s so drunk, that she almost forgets she even asked a question. The silence stretches out between them, laid flat like Lena’s flopping limbs on her bedspread, pulled tight like the tension creasing Kara’s brow.

“I— I don’t know.”

“Mmmph, honesty, please,” Lena grumbles, face smooshed against her pillow.

It takes Kara a very long time to respond. “Maybe,” she says eventually, barely more than an exhale. “Probably. If you’d— if you’d really wanted to.”

“Pfft.” Lena rolls over to curl up on her side, Kara’s wrist still snagged between her fingers. “That’s dumb. That’s a dumb thing to almost do.”

Kara sighs. “I know.”

Lena’s eyes are fully shut now, the scotch well and truly catching up to her. “I didn’t want to,” she manages with concerted effort. “I’ve never wanted to.”

Kara extracts her wrist gently, tucks Lena’s grasping fingers under her own chin and pulls the quilt up around her shoulders. The blonde smooths Lena’s hair out of her eyes, cups a hand around her cheek. Presses the pad of her thumb lightly against Lena’s lips for one brief second. “I know.”

When Lena wakes in the morning with a pounding headache and a memory of the night before that’s foggy at best, there’s no sign the blonde had ever been there at all.

 

The details of their conversation may be hazy once the hangover subsides but one thing that is not at all blurred is the feeling of Kara’s fingers through her hair, Kara’s skin against her lips.

Those sensations appear not to have escaped the blonde’s recollection either, because the next time they see one another it’s like a switch has flipped.

Suddenly Kara is more touchy, more warm and persistent and snuggly than she ever had been even before everything went to hell. She dishes out physical affection as if she’s testing the boundaries, looking to find out how much Lena will allow. It’s like she’s trying to make up for lost time, for the months of cold distance between them, and who is Lena to get in the way of her mission?

Suddenly there’s hugs every time they say hello and lingering embraces every time they say goodbye. Suddenly there’s kisses on cheeks and hands held across tables and cuddles on couches. There’s fingers through hair and heads resting in laps and toes rubbing up calves, and it’s doing wonderful and terrible things to Lena’s heart.

 

“Did you really never suspect?”

Lena tugs her eyes away from Cher Horowitz’s iconic yellow blazer on the TV to focus on the way Kara’s fidgeting against her side.

“You mean about you being—?”

Kara nods. Lena swallows, cocooning herself deeper into their blanket nest. The room is dimly lit, both of them still facing the screen so at least she doesn’t have to meet Kara’s eyes as they do this.

Lena purses her lips, thinks honesty, and takes a deep breath.

“I think— I think on some level, I knew. Or at least suspected.” She chuckles. “It was hard enough for me to believe that one person would like and support and protect me like you did. Never mind two.”

Kara grumbles in that adorably irritated way she has whenever Lena’s being particularly self-deprecating and the blonde doesn’t approve. Her hand drops to Lena’s bent leg beneath the blankets, long fingers circling her kneecap. Lena focuses on the sight, the sensation, on not flinching away.

“But I also think I was in denial,” she says quietly. “I didn’t want to believe it.”

Kara hums, grip tightening on Lena’s knee for a moment. But then her hand relaxes as she shifts her attention back to the screen, though it doesn’t leave its perch. Lena spends the rest of the movie trying to control her thundering heartbeat as Kara’s fingers trace airy patterns higher and higher up her thigh.

As Alicia Silverstone catches the on-screen bouquet, the blonde’s stomach growls. “Wanna go get dinner?” Kara asks casually even as her wandering hand slides round, dangerously high, dangerously close to Lena’s inner thigh. She squeezes once, deliberate and unmistakeable, before pulling away.

Lena tries her hardest not to choke on air. Kara is up and collecting their mugs, folding Lena’s blankets on the couch and stacking the dishwasher by the time Lena has regained enough of her faculties to speak again.

“Sure,” she manages, tone teasing despite her flaming cheeks. “Are we gonna fly there on a bus?”

 

Kara invites Lena over on Friday night, which isn’t unusual.

Kara also invites Brainy and Nia over on Friday night, which is more unusual. Lena is informed that it is less formal than a dinner party and smaller than a game night, definitely not a big deal and certainly not a double date – pfft, no, why would you even, no one ever said, because we’re not, that’s just crazy, Lena – and none of these assurances do anything to deter Lena from practically hyperventilating at her desk at the mere prospect of such a gathering.

Jess, upon hearing of her boss’ totally chill and not at all anxiety-inducing Friday night plans, forces Lena to vacate her office at the tender hour of five pm with strict instructions to go home, take a bath, have a glass or two of wine and get it together.

Lena, too much of a wreck to argue, does exactly that.

Brainy is his usual odd self, which comforts Lena immensely as she shrugs off her coat. Kara hovers anxiously by her side, eyes darting warily between the two women in her living room as though she’s preparing to break up an imminent physical brawl.

But Nia is as sweet as she’s always been. Far sweeter than Lena had given her credit for when she’d practically commando-rolled out of a coffee shop to avoid interacting with the young woman. There’s no hesitation in Nia’s eyes as she reaches out and pulls Lena into a warm hug. “Missed you round here,” she murmurs into Lena’s ear, pulling back to pour a glass of Lena’s favourite red and handing it to her without needing to ask.

The evening wears on and Lena finds herself genuinely relaxing. They laugh and they joke and Kara teaches them all to tie cherry stems into knots with their tongues. They chat about the superhero stuff that used to be so hush-hush when Lena was around and she can’t deny that it shoots a little spark of pleasure through her to be included, now.

They get through eight family-sized packets of chips (Kara) and three bottles of wine (Lena and Nia) and they manage to avoid the elephant in the room that is Alex’s absence, and Lena is truly and honestly enjoying herself. Kara has positioned herself on the floor next to her feet, leaning back against Lena’s armchair and every time she throws her head back with laughter she also wraps her fingers around Lena’s ankle and squeezes.

Eventually Brainy and Nia leave and Kara tilts her head back to rest in Lena’s lap, gazes at her upside-down and asks tentatively if she’d like to stay over because she still has Lena’s toothbrush in her bathroom.

Lena ignores the painful squeeze of her heart, focuses instead on the silky softness of Kara’s curls through her fingers, and agrees without a second thought.

 

She wakes to a warm bed and soft breaths tickling her cheek.

Kara’s face is close to her own, practically sharing the same pillow. Blue eyes are open and staring at her with a look Lena can’t decipher but that shoots a hot flare through her stomach regardless.

“Mmm, how long have you been creeping on me?” she mumbles sleepily.

“None of your business,” Kara whispers back primly. “I can creep as much as I want in my own bed.” Lena chuckles into the pillow as Kara breaks into a smile, eyes softening further. “Hi.”

Lena’s lips quirk up. “Hi.”

She takes a moment to soak it in. Kara is backlit by the early-morning sunlight, fresh-faced and unguarded, loose golden curls sprawling across the pillow between them. It’s funny, Lena thinks, that no glasses and no ponytail used to only mean Supergirl, yet the woman in front of her has never felt more fundamentally Kara than in this very moment.

“Spend Christmas with me,” Kara whispers, immediately looking as surprised as Lena feels that the words have slipped past her lips. Lena blinks.

“I just mean, if you want to,” Kara rushes to add. “If you don’t have other plans. I was thinking of having people over on Christmas Eve like normal anyway and then we could, you know, cook a meal, drink cocoa, watch Christmas movies. But no pressure,” she says hastily, knotting her fingers together anxiously between their bodies. “Only if you want to.”

“Kara,” she interrupts, laying a hand over the blonde’s fidgeting ones. “I want to.”

“Really?” Kara stops tugging at her own fingers to grasp Lena’s instead, face breaking into a blinding smile.

Lena nods and Kara’s grin widens. She plays absently with Lena’s fingers as they lie there quietly, breathing the same air. “So,” Lena starts tentatively, loathe to break the easy peace. “Who else were you thinking of inviting?”

“Oh, you know, Brainy, Nia,” Kara says with an air of forced casualness. She keeps her gaze fixed on where her own hands are mindlessly bending and unbending Lena’s fingers over and over, stroking at tendons and joints. “Don’t worry, Alex won’t be there.”

“I wasn’t worried,” Lena says gently. “I think— I think maybe she should be there.”

Kara stiffens, fingers stilling against the sensitive skin of Lena’s inner wrist. Lena forges ahead.

“I know there’s issues between you. Bad ones. But I hate seeing you hurting like this, Kara. Alex is your family.” Sure, Lena might have her own mixed feelings about the woman, but the famed Danvers sister-bond is far bigger than anything so trivial as a little attempted murder. “You two are like—” Like I wish Lex and I could have been.

But Kara cuts her off before she can finish the thought, pushing away from Lena to sit on the edge of the bed. “It’s not that simple,” she says, voice clipped. “She knew, she should have known. You were non-negotiable.”

Lena sits up too, staring at the tense lines of Kara’s shoulders. “What do you mean?”

Kara twists to meet her gaze, blue eyes holding all the sadness of a universe set ablaze. “I’ve lost so many people. So many people, Lena. They die, or they leave, or they find out who I am and our relationship is never the same again.” Her fingers twist into the rumpled sheets.

“So the people that are left, I hold on to. I hold on so tight. If I even think about losing them, I can’t get out of bed in the morning. I have to keep them, keep them safe. It’s non-negotiable.”

Lena feels like her heart has migrated all the way up into her throat, like it’s fighting to rip out of her body entirely. The crushing weight of Kara’s silent, constant agony finally put into words between them is so crippling that she cannot begin to fathom how the blonde bears it every day.

“You are non-negotiable for me,” Kara whispers. “Alex knew that, and she tried to hurt you anyway.”

Lena can’t stop herself, then. She crawls forward until she can wrap herself around Kara, mould herself to the blonde’s back and hold tight with everything she has. “I hear you,” she murmurs against the nape of Kara’s neck. “And I’m so sorry for all the pain you’ve suffered. I can’t begin to imagine what that feels like, and I will support you however you need to deal with it.”

Kara’s hands come up then, covering Lena’s where they’re clasped against her chest. Lena pretends not to notice the hot tears dripping steadily onto their entwined fingers.

“But you’ve lost so many people, Kara,” she whispers, lips brushing golden skin. “I don’t want you to lose your sister, too. Not if you don’t want to.”

 

She doesn’t know how it happens, the steps taken and words exchanged that lead up to it, but Alex knocks on Kara’s door on Christmas Eve.

Lena hasn’t pried, hasn’t brought it up since Kara had cried silently in her arms weeks ago. She’s already spent far too much time, inadvertent or not, in the middle of the Danvers sisters’ relationship. She’s more than happy to take a back seat for a while.

Alex isn’t alone. There’s Brainy and Nia and Eliza, of course, but there’s also Kelly and J’onn, looking hesitant and unsure in a place they once treated like home. Lena’s heart hurts for the tremors that have rocked this little family, for the part she’s played in causing them.

But it hurts too in a sweet way, a delicious ache as she’s reminded again how ineffably overflowing with love Kara Zor-El is. How willing she is to open herself up to the universe over and over, to take the hits and rise again, to never stop sharing the boundless light in her soul.

Kara is magic. Lena doesn’t deserve her, she knows it in her bones. Really, none of them do.

That’s not to say the evening is a resounding triumph. Kara sticks close to Lena, keeps to the opposite end of the room from Alex and J’onn. The others try to bridge the gap, making valiant efforts to coax the two sides from their trenches with little success.

But though tense, it is at least relatively peaceful. Kara and Alex don’t interact at all beyond a nod of greeting and thankfully there are enough other guests to keep things flowing.

Lena’s refreshing drinks when she overhears Alex’s conversation. “I’m actually thinking of stepping down from the DEO,” the redhead says quietly to Eliza. Kara’s fingers tense hard around the glasses she’s holding out for Lena to fill; Lena plucks them from her grasp before they can shatter.

“You can’t do that,” Kara says. Her words are quiet but it’s enough to kill the other conversations in the room, Hall & Oates’ merry jingles contrasting starkly with the suddenly tense atmosphere.

But Alex remains calm. She seems older than she used to and very, very tired. “I don’t think I want to do it anymore,” she says levelly, meeting her sister’s gaze. “There’s so much that’s wrong there and I don’t think I can fix it. I’m not good enough and it’s, it’s costing me too much.”

Kara shakes her head. “If you’re not happy with it, make it better,” she says softly. “If your policies are wrong or immoral, change them. If you make a mistake, learn from it. If you step down, it’ll only be taken over by someone else.” She looks up from her fidgeting fingers to meet her sister’s eyes. “Someone who won’t be half as good as you.”

Alex looks as surprised as Lena’s sure the rest of them feel, but she nods slowly at her sister’s words. Kara nods back, turns away, and the room lets out a collective sigh of relief. Lena presses herself to Kara’s side for a moment, leans in to nudge a soft kiss against her cheek. Smiles when Kara’s fingers snag on her belt loop, tension shuddering out of her as she anchors their bodies together.

The rest of the evening passes without incident. They make small talk and eat nibbles and consume enough alcohol – human and alien – that by the time everyone is saying their goodbyes, Lena feels almost confident enough to declare the event a success.

At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction.

 

After the others have gone home, Kara flops down on the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table from Lena and pours them both another drink. Lena gratefully accepts, the stress of the party leaching out of her as she sprawls against an assortment of throw pillows.

She knows instinctively that now is not the time to discuss the evening’s events, is just about to suggest bed or maybe a movie to wind down when Kara beats her to the punch.

“Hey, I have a question,” the blonde says after she’s taken a long swig of Maldovian ale, fingers tearing at a corner of the label. “You don’t have to answer, but please don’t lie.”

Lena feels her heartbeat tick upwards, knows the Kryptonian’s heard it too. But tonight hasn’t been easy for Kara, and Lena will give her whatever she can in this moment. “Okay.”

“When you got me to steal Lex’s journals out of Fort Summit—”

Lena sucks in a sharp breath, swallows hard. Kara won’t meet her eyes. “Was there any truth to what you told me? Did they help you to heal?”

Lena screws her eyes shut, presses her lips together. Thinks goddamn motherfucking honesty, and takes the plunge. “No. I wanted them to help with Non Nocere, nothing else. And I think that maybe I wanted to see what you would do, for me. How far you would go.”

Thinking back on it now, armed with the intimate knowledge of exactly the lengths the blonde would go to for her, Lena feels sick to her very core. “I’m sorry. Manipulating you like that is one of the worst things I’ve ever done. I regret it every day.”

Kara nods, absorbing. “Okay. Thank you for being honest.” She takes a deep breath. “Your turn.”

Lena quirks an eyebrow. “Your turn to ask a question,” Kara clarifies. “An answer for an answer.”

She stays quiet for a moment, considering. “Why didn’t my alien detection device work on you?”

Kara blinks big and angelic, the heavy atmosphere around them easing as she gazes at Lena with puppy-dog eyes. “I might have accidentally-on-purpose, ah, fried it. With my laser vision.”

Lena slaps her hand against her thigh, vindicated. “I knew it. I knew my prototype worked.”

“Oh, it worked alright,” Kara chuckles. “Okay, my turn again.”

Lena takes another sip of wine. “This is like the world’s shittiest game of truth or dare.”

“Truth or pain,” Kara agrees. “Or truth and pain.” She grimaces a little. “We can stop if you want.”

“No, no.” Lena wafts her hand lazily between them. “I’ve always had a bit of a masochistic streak. Wouldn’t want to break the unhealthy habits of a lifetime now.”

Kara chuckles, shaking her head. She rips another piece of the label off her beer bottle, eyes down. “Why did you buy Catco?”

Lena clicks her tongue, shaking her head as her cheeks heat up. Trust Kara not to beat around the bush. “To piss off Morgan Edge,” she says after a long moment, examining her own fingernails with great interest. “And so that you and I could work together. And because— because I could see how upset you were, and I wanted to help.”

Kara’s voice is quiet. “So you bought it for me?”

“Nuh-uh,” she says, shifting till she’s cross-legged on a cushion and wagging her finger at the blonde. “One question at a time. It’s my turn.”

Kara gives a little bow of acquiescence and almost smashes the coffee table in half with her forehead. Lena can’t hold back her laughter but she sobers quickly, thinking about what she really wants to ask.

“Red Daughter, she was a clone of you. She was you, just without the influence of your upbringing.”

Kara screws one eye shut, nose crinkling cutely. “Is that your question?”

“Nice try,” Lena says, reaching out to flick Kara’s extended foot with her finger. “My question is, why did she pretend to be you to come and see me? If she didn’t have knowledge of your life, your friends, what interest was I to her?”

“That’s like a question and a half,” Kara grumbles. “But I suppose I’ll allow it.” She sighs, tugging her fingers through her curls. “Well, I can’t say with certainty, but it seems like she retained some of my strongest memories from who I was when I touched the Harun-El and created her. She didn’t remember much, but she had some of the core parts of what made me me.”

Kara’s shredded the entire beer label now, a neat pile of paper shavings lying on the edge of the coffee table. “She remembered Alex, and— and she remembered you,” she says quietly, eyes flicking up to meet Lena’s gaze shyly. Lena forgets how to breathe.

“Plus, she broke into my loft,” Kara continues and the heaviness of the moment passes without comment. “And stole my journal. She probably read about you. Guess she wanted to see what all the fuss was about.” She winks, flicking a stray peanut to hit Lena squarely on the nose.

Lena huffs, flicking it back with far less precision. “Well, I hope I didn’t disappoint,” she mutters. Pauses, replaying the blonde’s words. “Wait. You’ve written about me in your journal?”

“Oh no, lady,” Kara says immediately. “You’ve had your question and a half. Respect the game.”

Lena holds her hands up in surrender. Kara nods approvingly. The blonde is back to not meeting her gaze and Lena’s heartbeat quickens in nervous anticipation.

“When we were in the Fortress,” Kara starts, arranging her pile of paper shavings into an intricate spiral on the tabletop, “you said there wasn’t a single honest moment in our friendship. Do you— do you really believe that?”

Fucking hell. At the time, Lena had fervently wished that she did, but— “No. I wanted to. It would have made it easier for me if it had all been a lie. It was too hard, to know that what you felt for me was real and you could hurt me like that anyway.”

Kara is silent. Lena digs her fingernails into her palms, watches the half-moon imprints fade slowly from her flesh. “I’d never known pain like that,” she whispers. “I wanted to break your heart for it. Like— like you broke mine.”

It’s quiet, the ticking of the clock the only sound in the low-lit room. The wine sours in Lena’s stomach, chest tightening at the memory of their fight, of the betrayal that caused it, of her brother’s dying words that plunged a dagger into Lena’s soul and twisted until there was nothing left but a bloody mangled mess. Until Lena was a bitter shell who wanted nothing more than to ruin the way she’d been ruined.

“I have one more question,” the blonde says eventually, pulling her from her brooding.

Lena presses her fingertips to her temples. “Kara, I’m not sure I can take much more of this game,” she says, voice strained. “Can we call it a night?”

“No, you’ll like this one,” the blonde insists, pulling up on her knees and reaching out a hand to rest on Lena’s shin. “Here it is,” she says dramatically and Lena braces herself. Kara’s fingers dance along her calf. “What are you doing on New Year’s Eve?”

Lena squints at the abrupt change of tone. “What? I— I don’t know. Haven’t thought about it.”

“I have!” Kara croons. “You’re gonna spend it with me. I have a plan.”

“A plan.”

“Yep!” she says happily, both hands now skimming up and down the length of Lena’s crossed legs. “And it’s a good one. You should get excited now. And you should get excited because tomorrow—” she glances at the clock on the wall, amends, “—or actually, today, is Christmas!”

The blonde’s energy is contagious, and Lena’s never been very good at resisting Kara’s pull. Has long been happy to follow in whatever direction the Kryptonian sees fit to lead her. She digs around until she finds a smile. “Merry Christmas, Kara.”

Kara jumps to her feet, pulling Lena up too. She’s barely made it to standing when she’s lifted off the ground in a tight hug, Kara’s hands splayed wide and greedy against her body. “Merry Christmas, Lena,” the blonde whispers. She nudges closer, lips brushing the shell of Lena’s ear. “I already got my Christmas wish, because you’re here,” she breathes, and Lena shivers.

She swallows hard against the all too familiar prickle of tears as Kara sets her back on her feet. “But we still have to go to bed or Santa won’t come and deliver all the other goodies,” Kara says, so solemn that Lena can’t help the laughter that bubbles up in her throat.

They set up their stockings and slide between the sheets and when Kara presses close to her back and wraps a warm arm securely around Lena’s waist, hand rubbing gentle circles over her stomach, Lena forgets about feeling bitter or broken entirely.

 

Lena’s never had a Christmas like this.

Christmas in the Luthor household had always been a cold affair, physically and emotionally. A time of endless benefit galas and posed photos with their charity-case adopted child, a time of extra-high alcohol intake and increased irritability, hours upon hours hiding out from her parents in an unheated treehouse with her only ally in the world.

Christmas in Kara’s loft is gingerbread lattes in bed as soon as she wakes, a bulging stocking overflowing with little goodies and trinkets that just made me think of you, Lena. It’s watching Christmas movies in their pyjamas and the matching fluffy socks Kara bought them that say ho ho ho on the soles, it’s cooking and only very slightly burning a Christmas dinner for two and collapsing into a food coma onto the couch.

It's almost tearing up as she watches someone open a gift she’s given them and react with so much genuine happiness and appreciation that she feels warm all over. Kara bounces on the couch cushions as she opens the vintage record player that had been sitting wrapped and ready in Lena’s closet for weeks, sets it up immediately and proceeds to play a snippet from each of the twenty records Lena had bought to start her off, complete with accompanying dance routines.

“How did you know?” Kara gasps, finally allowing them both to drop panting onto the couch after an impromptu Backstreet Boys dance party. “Did you go through my music library? You’re a genius,” she says, dropping a quick noisy kiss on each of Lena’s cheeks and one on the tip of her nose. “This is so much better than my iPod.”

Lena, breathless from more than just the dancing and trying her hardest to contain the blush now surely covering her entire body, doesn’t even notice the other package beneath the Christmas tree until Kara is nudging it shyly into her lap. She carefully peels back the polar bear wrapping paper to find a leather-bound notebook identical to her own. “You know you already gave me one of these, right?” she smiles, nudging Kara in the ribs.

Kara smiles back, but her eyes are apprehensive. “Open it.”

Lena does. She gasps. Every page of the thick notebook is already filled, covered in sketch after sketch in Kara’s practiced hand. There’s drawings of the log cabin, of the mountain vista from the clifftop. Of thick pine forests and birds dancing overhead, of chipmunks and marmots and the lynx they’d once seen stalking past the cabin windows.

But beautiful as they are, what makes Lena’s breath catch in her throat and tears sting in her eyes are all the other drawings. In and amongst the views and the wildlife, outnumbering them at least three to one, are sketches of her.

There’s Lena, deep in thought at the dining table, pen lid caught between her teeth as she writes. There’s Lena curled up on the cliff-edge, wrapped in a blanket with her coffee cup at her side. There’s Lena with her nose in a book, there’s Lena chopping onions in the kitchen, there’s Lena staring out of the window with an expression so sad that she feels her heart twist now in sympathy, in remembrance.

The very last drawing shows a scene from high above, a bird’s eye view. There’s the cabin on its plateau, the vast valleys and mountain ranges sprawling out before it and on its roof, two tiny figures side by side, staring out at the setting sun.

Lena trails her fingertips feather-light over the delicate pencil strokes, blinks back tears that would fall and ruin the masterpiece in her hands. “Kara,” she breathes. “This— this is—”

She doesn’t have the words for what this is. This is memory. This is truth. This is a physical manifestation of their time in the cabin; this is a piece of Kara’s heart.

Lena has spent the last six months of her life taking stock of all the ways Kara has hurt her. Tallying each new lie, each new betrayal, stacking them into a pile to be dug up and sifted through over and over. Living in the shadow of that mountain of pain, never seeing the light obscured by its hulking mass.

But if she’d only stepped back far enough to be able to tell the wood from the trees, she might have seen the bigger picture. She might have seen the intention behind every lunch date and movie night and Big Belly Burger takeout that had arrived unsolicited in her office over the past four years. She might have seen the meaning in every hug and rescue and sacrifice, might have noticed that all the promises and half-confessions and the endless fumbling words between them could probably be better said in just three.

She might have stacked all these things up, might have chosen to bask at their summit rather than cower at their base.

It’s suddenly, blissfully, abundantly clear to her which of the two piles is bigger.

“Do you, do you not like it?” Kara whispers, twisting her fingers together in her lap. “Rao, I knew I should have gone with the pasta maker.”

Lena realises she’s been silent far too long. “God, Kara,” she breathes, and then she does something she hasn’t done in a very long time. She throws herself at the blonde and wraps her arms around her, knocking them sideways on the couch. Kara huffs out a surprised chuckle, pulls Lena more firmly against her chest. “So, you like it?” she asks around a smile she presses into Lena’s hair.

“I love it,” Lena whispers, imagines switching out one of those three words for something else.

Kara hums contentedly, wriggling until she’s laid out more comfortably with Lena on top of her. Lena rests her head on the Kryptonian’s chest, over her heart. Presses her ear to the steady beat as gentle fingertips map constellations over her ribcage and a reindeer-socked foot strokes up her calf.

“Thank you for giving me a second chance,” Kara whispers after a long moment, nuzzling her warm nose against Lena’s hairline.

Lena smiles, tracing a finger over the curve of Kara’s ribs. “We’ve given each other second chances.”

“Still,” Kara says quietly, tightening her arms around her. “Thanks.”

“Let’s see if we can get it right this time,” is what Lena says then. What she thinks she’s starting to actually mean is, always. What she really means is, as many as it takes.

 

The week between Christmas and New Year’s passes in that liminal, abstract way it does every year.

Lena spends her days going over launch plans for L-Corp’s new range of biodegradable plastics, eating leftover Christmas dinner for lunch in Tupperwares packed by Kara. Spends one evening at their favourite alien bar getting thoroughly hustled by Nia at pool while everyone else looks on in unhelpful amusement. Spends all the other evenings on her couch or Kara’s, eating takeout and catching up on six months’ worth of Netflix documentaries under a shared blanket.

She gets coffee with Eliza while she’s still in town, very nearly breaks down in tears in the middle of Noonan’s when the older woman takes her hand and tells her she’s happy to have Lena back in the family. Manages to hold it together until she’s pulled into such a warm motherly hug that she can’t help sniffling a little against Eliza’s shoulder.

Kara tells her hesitantly that she and Alex have made an appointment for family counselling in the new year. Lena crashes into her with a hug that the blonde absorbs with ease, whispers I’m so proud of you against golden curls as Kara sways them back and forth, laughing. Later, after the Kryptonian has fallen asleep in Lena’s bed in a borrowed MIT sweatshirt, Lena pulls out her laptop and books herself in for an introductory meeting with a therapist on January 3rd.

The day before New Year’s Eve, Kara texts her and tells her to wear warm clothes and be ready to be picked up from her office at five pm sharp the next day so that they don’t hit traffic.

At 4.59 pm the next day, Lena is pulling on her coat and scarf when heeled boots touch down on her balcony. The blonde looks approvingly over her layers, produces her own maroon beanie from behind her back and slips it onto Lena’s head with a smile.

“Ready to go?” she asks, holding out both arms.

Lena smirks. “So when you said you didn’t want to hit traffic…”

“I saw a flock of starlings heading in our direction on my way over here,” Kara deadpans as she lifts Lena into her arms. “Terrible navigators. They snarl everything up.”

“We’d best get the jump on them then,” Lena says with mock sincerity, tucking her face against Kara’s neck and laughing when the blonde jumps at the press of her cold nose.

“My thoughts exactly,” is the last thing Lena hears before the wind drowns out everything else, National City falling away from their feet.

 

They land at the cabin.

It looks like a scene from a Christmas card; the peaks and forests are covered in a thick blanket of snow, windows glowing warm and inviting with firelight.

Inside, the woodstove is crackling. The small table is laid with candles and takeout from Lena’s favourite Asian noodle place in the city. Lena reaches down until she can clasp Kara’s fingers in her own, squeezing them tight against the sudden lump in her throat.

They eat and they laugh and Lena inhales a noodle directly into her lung when Kara sticks two chopsticks into her nostrils for her infamous walrus impression. The blonde picks all the broccoli out of her lo mein and deposits it on Lena’s plate without needing to ask; Lena hands Kara her fortune cookie once she’s cracked it open, to be devoured alongside the Kryptonian’s twelve others.

Lena wanders around the cabin while Kara insists on clearing the table. Traces her fingers over the nineteen notches in the wooden bedframe, the finger holes punched through the kitchen counter, the chunk missing from the front door courtesy of Kara’s mug and Lena’s overarm pitch. Thinks about the scars they’ve left on this place, on each other. Thinks about how beautiful the cabin remains regardless.

They curl up facing one another on the couch under Kara’s red blanket, legs tangled, socked feet rubbing and stroking over anything they can reach. Kara tells her about finding this place years ago, about painstakingly restoring it, making it habitable so she could have a bolt hole if she ever needed to get away. Lena talks about her turbulent childhood, about that same desire for safety, for peace.

Kara tells her about Krypton, eyes bright and shining in the glow of the flames. Talks about her parents, her childhood friends, her dreams of going into the science guild. Talks about the day Krypton died, of seeing her planet shake apart in her rear view mirror. Of the endless years alone in space, cold and trapped, unsure if she would survive. Unsure if she wanted to.

Lena thinks about confluence and the laws of probability, about empyrean balance and powers of attraction and the great unknowable expanse of all of time and space. And she thinks about the fact that despite, or maybe even because of every single force at work across the quantifiable cosmos, this woman from across the stars dropped out of the sky in front of her right when Lena needed her most.

She thinks about what a veridical crime it would be to let that slip through her fingers.

It’s getting late and the cabin is warm and Kara is warm and Lena is so comfortable that she might never need to move again. Her cheek drops to rest against the back of the couch, breath sighing out of her as her eyes slide closed.

The peace lasts all of half a second before Kara is pressing closer, crushing their entwined legs between their bodies and leaning in, fingers tickling gently at Lena’s ribs. “Oh no,” she laughs as Lena squeals and bats at her hands. “No falling asleep yet, lady. It’s almost midnight! And we haven’t even gotten to the best part of my plan.”

Lena pins Kara’s hands against her body in an effort to stop the assault, breathless and giggling. “Oh, really?” she asks, arching an eyebrow. “What else is on the cards?”

Kara grins, fingers stilling beneath Lena’s, the weight of her hands warm and heavy through the thin cotton of Lena’s shirt. Their faces are close together; one of Kara’s bent thighs has slipped between Lena’s, her knee pressing hot and insistent. It takes everything Lena possesses to stifle the gasp that rises in her throat at the contact, her hands dropping away from Kara’s to twist into the blanket.

Now freed, Kara’s hands shift against her, thumbs stroking wide arcs over Lena’s sides. Strong fingers frame her ribcage as if they’re holding something delicate, precious. Kara’s eyes drop heavy to Lena’s mouth as her tongue darts out to wet her own lips.

A log crackles loudly in the stove and Lena flinches involuntarily. Kara exhales, leans back a little. Her hands stop their slow climb up Lena’s chest, one dropping to rest warm on her hip while the other is tugged out of the blankets entirely. Kara glances at her watch, smiles. “Perfect timing,” she whispers as Lena tries to recall the physiological processes involved in breathing, struggles to remember how one might accomplish such a feat. “Let’s go see, shall we?”

 

Lena is bundled back up in innumerable layers and then bundled into Kara’s arms, warm and cocooned against her chest. “D’you trust me?” Kara grins. Lena nods without hesitation. “Then close your eyes.”

Lena does as she’s told, tucking herself tighter against the Kryptonian when the front door opens and a blast of frigid air assaults them. “Are they closed?” Kara prompts, pausing at the threshold.

Yes,” Lena huffs, pressing closer to Kara’s superheated body. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Always,” Kara murmurs as the door closes behind them.

She knows from the swoop of her stomach that they’re flying but Kara’s moving slower than usual, floating upwards almost lazily. Lena hums, content to wait even in the biting wind because every point at which their bodies touch feels like it’s on fire.

After a minute or two Kara pauses. The night air is cold and clear and it feels empty, somehow. Clean and unburdened. “Okay,” Kara whispers close to her temple. “You can look now.”

Lena opens her eyes. Then she opens her mouth, involuntarily, unable to pull it closed. They’re hovering high in the sky, higher even than the lofty summit of the mountain on which their cabin rests. All around them, the dark sky is illuminated by bright flares of green and blue and yellow and purple, the Northern Lights shimmering over the snow-blanketed wilderness.

They’re so high that the sky feels not like a flat roof above their heads but more like an overturned bowl, its sides bearing down and enveloping them entirely. Lena isn’t looking up at the wonder, she’s inside it, almost close enough to reach out and touch.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she manages at last, awestruck. Kara smiles at her then with such softness, shadow and colour shifting across the planes of her face and lighting up such a radiant blaze in her blue eyes that Lena internally amends her previous statement, bumping the aurora borealis down to a lowly second.

“Happy new year,” Kara whispers, nudging their foreheads together with a sigh.

“Kara,” Lena says because she can’t not say it. Because this has to be asked, because this place and this view and this feeling in her chest demand honesty, demand truth. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were? Why am I different from everyone else?”

Lena.” Kara’s voice is breathy and imploring, almost pained. “You know why.”

She does. Of course she does. It’s been there from the start, this unspoken thing driving everything they do. And it’s stayed unspoken even when it’s blatant, even when it pushes them to do things for one another that cannot possibly be explained any other way.

It's stayed unspoken because it’s easier like that, easier than facing up to the enormity of what it has meant, will mean, to feel this much. To be in this deep with no hope of escape.

Because, she realises, they’d follow one another to the ends of the earth without ever admitting that they’d moved at all.

Here, now, at the top of the world under a transcendental sky that she’s only alive to see because the woman pressed against her had refused against all odds to let her go, Lena thinks she might just be brave enough to make that kind of admission.

“I’m in love with you,” she whispers. “I am hopelessly, completely in love with you, Kara Zor-El.”

Blue eyes widen, tinted cyan then mauve under the shifting celestial lights. And then the sky flashes blinding bright and every single thing in the universe falls silent and the world itself stops spinning on its axis and Kara presses her lips to Lena’s.

It’s soft and certain and maybe undeserving of the flare that jolts through Lena’s body like a lightning strike. But then it’s firmer and heated and scorching, Kara’s hands digging delicious into Lena’s thigh, her waist where she’s holding her close. A tongue licks along the seam of her lips and Lena opens without a second thought, sucking at the wet heat of Kara’s tongue, panting hot against her lips over the slick sound of their mouths coming together again and again.

She can’t get close enough in this bridal carry, can’t feel the blissful press of Kara the way she craves so she nudges and shifts until they’re chest to chest, hooks both legs tight around the blonde’s waist. Kara’s hands slide down to her ass to anchor her, palming and squeezing until Lena’s moaning into her open mouth, fingers tightening to pull sharply where they’re buried in Kara’s hair.

The answering moan that drops helpless from the blonde’s lips is enough to pull them back to themselves, their frantic kisses slowing. Kara nudges her mouth across Lena’s cheekbone, peppers her brow and closed eyelids with kisses before travelling down, a light press of her lips on the tip of Lena’s nose and one more at each corner of her mouth. Lena smiles against her as the blonde presses their lips together one more gentle, lingering time, pulling back enough to drop her forehead against Lena’s as they both gasp for air.

When Lena opens her eyes again the world is a blur of blues and greens and purples and Kara, only Kara, always Kara.

“Oh,” Lena sighs.

Kara chuckles, nudging her nose against Lena’s cheek. “Just so we’re clear,” she murmurs, interspersing her words with feather-light kisses along Lena’s jaw. “I’m in love with you too. Like, completely. Unstoppably. World-shatteringly.”

“Your breadth of vocabulary is astonishing, darling,” Lena laughs, fingers twisting into the downy-soft curls at the nape of Kara’s neck. “No wonder you became a writer.”

“Shut up,” Kara grins, pressing her smile and then her lips against Lena’s temple. “I promised you honesty, didn’t I?”

“We promised each other,” Lena hums, eyes drifting shut as Kara presses kiss after kiss to her flushed face. “And I intend to keep it.”

“Good. Okay,” Kara whispers, tilting Lena’s head up so their eyes can meet in the soft shifting light of the blazing heavens. “Honesty. You and me. Forever.” Their lips meet again in a gentle press that feels like undoing and becoming all at once. “Deal.”

 

When she wakes, it’s with the feeling that she’s been out for a long time.

Her body is heavy and sated, head pillowed on a warm chest as bright winter sunlight streams down onto their single bed through the cabin windows. Reaching for her vibrating phone is a struggle, one made even more arduous when Kara grumbles sleepily beneath her, tightening her arms and anchoring their naked bodies together more firmly.

“See, this is why I banned technology here,” the blonde mumbles, fingertips skimming the length of Lena’s spine until she shivers. “No phones, just me n’you.”

“Shh, it’s just Sam,” Lena chuckles, pressing a kiss to Kara’s pouting jaw. “Go back to sleep.”

She unlocks her phone to a barrage of messages from her friend, various unintelligible combinations of letters and emojis undoubtedly meant to convey the desire to wish Lena a happy new year. The last text was received a minute ago, significantly more coherent and sober-sounding than its predecessors.

Sam [11.24am]: do me a favour and let me know you’re not passed out in a whiskey brewery somewhere. hope your new year’s was a good one

Lena smirks, trying not to jostle the body beneath her as she replies.

Lena [11.26am]: It was a good one. I told Kara I loved her.

She locks her phone and drops her cheek back to Kara’s chest, burying her nose against her neck and breathing in the comforting scent of rain and moondust. The blonde hums contentedly, slinging a leg up over Lena’s and mouthing sleepy kisses along her hairline.

They both jump when Lena’s phone vibrates again, the Facetime request loud and unavoidable.

“Oh my God,” Sam is gabbling the second Lena accepts the call, coffee cup clutched like a lifeline in one hand, hair sticking out at odd angles and mascara smudged beneath her eyes. “Oh my God, Lena. You dramatic bitch, you can’t just send a text like that and then— okay. Okay. Tell me everything. Start from the beginning. What did you say? What did she say?”

Lena smiles, tilting her phone up so the camera can capture Kara’s face pressed against her own. The blonde grumbles adorably at the disturbance, nudging a sleepy kiss automatically to Lena’s temple without even opening her eyes.

But Sam’s ear-splitting shriek through the phone has blue eyes snapping open, Kara’s heart pounding where their chests are pressed together as she blinks between Lena and the screen in shock.

Lena smirks, brushing a stray curl from Kara’s face before she turns her gaze back to the phone in her hand. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”