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i will make you queen of everything you see

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SNAPSHOT (KARA). No one knows who the person who will save them is; not their name, not how they'll look, or what they'll mean to you. You hadn't imagined her when you were shot across the galaxy; you hadn't imagined green eyes and sharp words. But now you can't imagine life without her. Without your own personal salvation. // Prompt from maggiemerc

You wake up with crumbling worlds behind your eyelids. The red dust of Krypton caught in your eyelashes, the dry air clambering like tumbling stones in your lungs. You have no words in this language, or any other, to describe how exactly a planet sounds when it dies. The groan of shifting plates, and brittle atmospheres—how it shivers beneath your feet, how it whines and whimpers. Living in all the same ways as the people who will share its grave; left in the emptiness of space, forgotten, adrift. You carry an apology in your chest, a silent unspoken I’m sorry that has somehow stitched itself into your spine, into your heart; into the strongest parts of you, because whenever you wonder where you came from, why you’re here, you think of that apology. Of what you had promised a dying world.

You’d be one amongst millions at home, just a girl who wanted to hug a star, who dreamed of faraway places that would be wonderful, and warm, and bright. You’d traced constellations against your father’s chest while he named them—he’d always been so good, had always known, even when you’d cheated a little and didn’t draw them properly. Straying a little too far between stars, curving them when they should be straight—he’d laugh and hoist you up, spinning before setting you down.

“Clever girl,” he’d smile, not like he did for your mother, or any of his friends, it was his smallest, most genuine, smile—just for you. He’d press his finger to your nose, and then pull you into his arms. A hug more comforting than any a star could offer.

On the nights you remember your dying home, you can almost feel his arms engulfing you.

“Kar?” Clarke asks, his small hand tucked into the strap of your backpack, his other hand swinging back and forth, fingers clutching tightly to the stuffed guinea pig he’d “won” at the carnival over the summer. (He really had just thrown himself to the ground and cried until the carnies felt bad and offered him the stuffed rodent.)

“Yeah, bub?” You’re looking at the bus schedule, because you’re not familiar with this side of town. You know the sixteen brings you closest to the upper-west, but that transit wouldn’t dream of coming this far south in the city.

“We gonna see Kitty?” Blue eyes wide, innocent, still so full of things you can only hope to keep in him—things you’ll always protect him from. Not because you promised your mother, though you had, but because your cousin is your whole world—no, universe.

Your world was dead.

You are just borrowing this one.

“We are.” You trail of, tracing the red line until you find where it stops two blocks over.

“Kitty has popcorn, and candy, and movies!” The enthusiasm is infections, because all he can do is babble about how much fun they’re going to have the whole ride there—he’s too young to see how you’re down to your last dollar, that the juice box you gave him is your last. You’ll always protect him from these things. The hard truths out there that he doesn’t need to know—just yet.

The buildings become larger, more glass and chrome; the cheap neon signs from pawn shops changes into the inlet ambient lighting of the avenue—drugged out prostitutes in cheap pleather, turning into old money in sleek fur. You’ve never been particularly comfortable in this side of town; you feel somehow more out of place than an alien from the other side of the galaxy should.

Which is saying a lot.

You don’t realize you’ve pressed your forehead against the cool window, closing your eyes and basking in the warm light of the yellow sun—it digs into you in ways you’ll never be able to describe. Like forever promises and tight hugs; it makes you stronger than the I’m sorry you hold inside, at least physically.

“Kar! Kar! It's Kitty!” Opening your eyes, he’s already getting up, and you just snag him by the back of his pants before he sprints off the landing; two passengers pass by with upturned noses and scoffs, but they’re immediately cowed when you hear excuse you in a sharp, commanding tone. No seventeen year old should have that much authority laced into their bones—but this one manages like she was born to conquer worlds with nothing more than impeccable posture and a silver tongue.

“Kitty!” He shakes free, showing some of that yellow sun strength he still doesn’t know separates him from everyone else, and throws his small body at the girl waiting at the bus stop. You stumble behind him, utterly graceless, pushing your glasses up your nose, looking everywhere but at the reunion happening before you.

It isn’t until the bus chugs away that you can feel her eyes on you—burning in ways the yellow sun can’t touch. Swallowing, you look up to catch her eyes—green, but not just green. Seafoam, or emerald, or celadon—or—you don’t know, she’s always been the writer. They’re just green, and wonderful.

“Take a breath, supergirl,” Cat drawls, lips turning up into something that is mostly a smirk—but could be mistaken for a smile if you know where to look. And you do. “Who’ll save us if you give yourself a concussion getting off a bus?” Clark has wrapped himself around the girl’s legs, his face pressed inter her stomach, but Cat’s always seemed—at ease with Clark.

From the very first time she prevented him from sprinting out into traffic; becoming the boy’s hero in turn.

You can bench press a car, fly, melt things with your eyes, but you’re old news—Cat Grant? She’s where it’s at.


“You didn’t have to meet us,” the words tumble free, before you can tuck them away, “I know it’s a long walk, and your mother must—,”

“Mommy dearest is out of town this weekend,” definitely a smirk now, “Something about a French fashion show—and the models to go with it.” Clark has finally separated enough so that he’s only tethered to Cat’s hand, his cheek pressed into her arm. But she’s looking at you, and her eyes have to be emerald, because you’ll swear until the yellow sun explodes that they sparkle.

Her voice is so quiet you can only just make out her words, and the smile to go with it, “It’s just us, and the little heathen here.”

Three years ago, you crashed on earth with only the knowledge that you would protect your cousin with your dying breath. You’d keep him safe, and out of harm; from horrible truths, and ruining lies. You’d do your best. Whatever that was.

Three years ago, all you had was an apology in your chest and a promise on your tongue. You’d protect him; but who’d protect you?

The answer then, is the same as it is now—you’re protector doesn’t have super strength, or freeze breath, or heat vision. She’s made of hard edges, and a brilliant mind—she’s no-nonsense, and seems to have a soft spot just large enough for you and your cousin.

On the nights you remember Krypton, you sometimes wake up to worried green eyes, and it’s so much easier to keep that I’m sorry inside when Cat pushes your blonde hair away from your face, and whispers quietly, “it’s just a dream, supergirl.”

It isn’t, but on those nights it’s almost alright.

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SNAP SHOT (CAT). But Kara—oh, Kara. She tumbled into your life gracelessly, a thousand and a half apologies on the tip of her tongue, but you’d been snared by the skylines in her eyes. Carefully crafted constellations and imploding stars had nothing on the blue of Kara’ eyes.

The boy who you have by the hand is oblivious, prying at the gold of your rings while carelessly shoving his free thumb into his mouth. The dark haired boy had been sprinting toward the rushing traffic, and you’d only just caught him by the hand at the curb. Dropping your purse to the street with the effort.

“I-I’m so sorry—so, I’m—he—I looked away for one—zhehd awuhkh, iheKal-El—Clark.” She’d gone to her knees, clasping the boy—Clark—at the cheeks, rubbing the little spot of dirt that he’d gotten from rubbing his face. You don’t know what language she’d been speaking—you have a tutor in three, and none of the words ping as familiar. She’s tall—easily a head taller than you—but there’s something young about the curve of her cheeks, how her glasses sit large and slightly crooked on the bridge of her nose. And yet—something infinite about her eyes.

“You should mind your child better,” it’s easy to look down your nose at people; they simper and skitter away, downturn their eyes and slump their shoulders. But if anything, acknowledging her seemed to straighten that malleable spine of hers—looking up at you with the boy’s head tucked under her chin. That was when you’d seen her eyes—behind thick lenses, yes—and you’d tripped like a drunken star through the interstellar dust caught in her lashes.

“Thank you,” earnest, sincere, so—genuine. It was something you aren’t familiar with in the environment you live within, filled with liars of opportunity. You’d seen men and women bend over backwards with falsehoods on their tongues, simply because it made their already easy lives easier. “He—the sounds—he likes—how cars sound.” The way she clutches at the boy—Clark, you remind yourself again—makes it seem as though she believes he will vanish. Simply peter off into the afternoon pollution of National City. She still hasn’t gotten up, but you have to look away because the reason you’d been in such a rush is currently marching down the street with his Aeropostel swagger and accompaniment of mindless minions.

You’d been dating Jack Ellis for the better part of the school year—even if you are terribly annoyed at clichés, it had made sense at the time. His father was your mother’s editor, Jack was in Future business leaders with you, and was the star on the track team—varsity three years early. You’d been able to overlook his self-involved personality because he was charming just often enough that you felt like it would be more effort to break his fragile ego, and his black little heart. That is, until he thought it prudent to boast to his friends about sexual relations that had not happened—and now, never would.

You’d promptly upturned your iced tea into his lap, and stormed out of the restaurant, ignoring the flustered maître de, and slapping your palm against the frosted glass door. Furious, would probably be accurate a description for how you felt—but your face never registered more than vaguely annoyed; a lesson taught by your mother. Women have to be careful, dear; be too emotional and you’ll be labeled a bitch. Jack has a sneer pulled across his lips, you can see where his knuckles have gone white at his sides, and you take an involuntary step back—his temper something else you’d been able to overlook.

Until now.

“Get back here, Cat.” Even with the loud traffic, and the bustle of people, you can hear the teenage boy’s anger, “We’re gonna have a talk about manners.” You don’t have a chance to take another step away, even if it would have brought you into the street, because his hand clamps down like iron around your upper arm.

“Your lack thereof?” You snipe, trying in vain to pull your arm free. “Let go, Jack.”

“You think you’re so high and mighty,” you feel the press of his fingers, and the hiss of his warm breath against your ear—smelling just faintly like scotch; he’d obviously tucked into his father’s stash before going out. “Someone needs to take you down a peg.” His little minions are snickering—four oddly shaped boys with unfortunate faces—and you feel a flush of humiliation hook into the fury and fear lingering in your blood.

But he’s pushed away—his fingers loosening with surprise as he stumbles back four or five steps—unable to get his footing from the shock. If anything he looks angrier, but your vision is blocked by golden hair and slouched shoulders. The shirt is actually just a Hanes undershirt, a few holes lingering near the collar, letting little slips of tanned skin peak through—it is too large, and sits awkwardly, nearly hanging off one shoulder.

“I don’t think she wants to talk,” soft, unsure, but there’s something—tensile about her voice. Like a tuned violin string—plucked and vibrating, getting higher, and higher until it’s just right. Her hands are opened—fingers stretched wide, like she’s afraid to make a fist—like it might be her undoing. Where Jack is tense with anger, vibrating with it—this golden girl is tense with something else—not fear, not exactly—but something.

“And if I cared about your opinion, I would have asked,” angrier, spitting the words, “This is why I don’t come to this side of town; too many low-lifes.” Jack’s stepping closer again, leaning those broad shoulders forward, like somehow the momentum will carry him straight through this girl. You want to pull her away, tell her that you can take care of yourself—and you can—but she doesn’t give you the chance. Half a step—barely anything at all, and Jack stops—five small fingers spread wide against his chest, holding him back, and he stumbles like he’s walked into a brick wall.

He goes to swipe the girl’s hand away, but she doesn’t move—doesn’t flinch. You feel something to your side, and it’s the boy—Clark—watching with wide blue eyes, his thumb still in his mouth. He’s pressed into your side, his ruddy little face resting on your hip, while his free hand curls into your shirt.

“Please,” this girl of iron says, voice still too soft, free hands still spread wide, though it is slowly curling—fingers tucking in one, by one, by one, until she’s made a fist. You can almost see the vibration now, how it starts in her forearm, and trips up her arm and into her shoulders—and finally back down her spine. “Walk away.” A plea, even though Jack’s still pawing at the hand against his chest like a child would a parent—unable to remove the restraint.

“You’re not worth it, Cat.” He spits, leaning back and away, slapping at the hand that had stopped him as he does—this time the arm gives, and falls back to her side. “Not even for a pity fuck,” As he storms off, your eyes haven’t left the girl—how she breaths deep, settling back into her bones, before turning around. She starts at your toes—working her gaze up until she settles on the boy wrapped around your legs—but the time it takes her to make eye contact let’s you observe her more thoroughly.

She’s not dirty, but there’s something rumpled about her appearance, something worn and faded about her Walmart blue jeans, knock off Converse and undershirt. The knapsack you hadn’t seen before at her feet is bare thread and stained, the arm of a stuffed animal sticking haphazardly out of the half-zipped compartment. You know what homeless looks like—though this girl pulls it off well—but you see it in the dirt under her nails, and the limp look to golden hair. She’s your age—maybe younger by a year or two.

You hadn’t really paid much mind to the boy before, but you see the hints lingering on him too—but there’s the scent of soap to his hair, and a meticulous shine to his nails. This girl’s obviously determined to care for him, even if she can’t for herself. Mother and son? It isn’t unheard of, but it still seems wrong. You’re intrigued.

“I didn’t ask you to do that,” you say, sounding affronted, and the girl flinches. Like she’s afraid of you, and not the two-hundred pound boy she’d just stopped.

“You didn’t—I—,” she stumbles, rubbing the back of her neck, glancing away, before seeming to find herself, and looking back at you. Meeting your eyes for the first time on purpose. “You didn’t have to ask. He was being a—being a jerk.” She says the words like a fluent foreigner might—slowly, and carefully.

She says something quietly in that language—“Zhgam ukep, Kal-El.”—her words smoother, stronger, and you know this—whatever it is—is her native tongue. The boy takes a moment, before nodding tiredly and leaning away from you—flowing toward this girl like she is the sun, and he is simply caught by her gravitational pull. His face presses into her legs, and tan fingers immediately start carding through his hair.

“I’m Cat,” you don’t know why you introduce yourself, you don’t know why you extend your hand, why you ignore the people tossing dirty looks your way for standing in the middle of the sidewalk unmoving—but you do. And you’re Cat Grant—no one can second guess you—not even yourself.

“Kara—,” she’s taken your hand, and stumbles, but then smiles—and God her smile—small, and slight, but so warm. So genuine. She’s deciding something, before lifting slumped shoulders in something of a shrug, “Just Kara, I guess.”

No last name—interesting.

Kara lets go of your hand, and you stop yourself from wiping it on your skirt, as she put it on the boy’s lower back. “This is Clark.”

You can’t help yourself, “Your son?”

She blinks, blue eyes wide, and shakes her head—vehemently—all the while pressing the boy closer. “My cousin.”


“I’m going to buy you, and your cousin, dinner.” You say—because Cat Grant doesn’t ask.

“You don’t have to—really—I was just—,” Kara says, her feet nearly shuffling with uncertainty. You just look at her, quietly, impassively, and it takes only moments before she’s swallowed her words, stopped her stuttering, and is simply nodding.

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SNAP SHOT (CAT). If anyone could count all the stars in the sky; it’d be Kara. One by one, and then a million at a time.  // Prompt from randomthingsthatilike123.

Your mother stops asking about the juice in the fridge, and the takeout bags in the garbage—she’s a baleful wind sweeping through the house once in a while; bringing a chill with her that has nothing to do with the weather. Just often enough to comment on your weight—or hair—or pronunciation. She’d speak only in French, knowing it was your worst language, and then deride you for your lack of conjugation—you want to write in English, you could care less about how bad your French is.

But it’s the weeks she vanishes to Europe—or the Hamptons—or Fiji—that you cherish, because that means you can shrug out of tight skirts and unnecessarily laced shirts, and wear what you want. The shirt Kara had gotten you for your birthday is your favorite—some cotton blend that is softer than it should be, but she’d gotten it from New York City—and she’d smiled shyly when handing it over, murmuring how she didn’t get a chance to wrap it. It was maroon, faded and soft, with Hell’s Kitchen scrawled across the front—a small fist logo on the back near the collar, with a neatly printed address and phone number.

But the real gift had been what was inside the shirt—the cotton edges folded delicately and with thought around a journal. The edges crisp, but the binding and cover pliant—soft leather, with a string to pull around it to keep it closed. It was weathered, and old, and perfect. She was apologizing, and looking at the ground, and you would swear your heart had tripped and fallen, because you’d never—it was perfect. She’d squeaked when you pulled her into a hug—stammering and willowy—and it makes it hard to remember that she’d stopped a grown boy with a single hand, because for you Kara’s so soft. Bending into you and around you without words.

It's weeks like this one, when your mother has been gone all weekend—she’ll be gone until Thursday—and you’re prepping for Advanced Placement mathematics. Your teacher is a Harvard alcoholic, and your private school had gotten him cheap—smart men do stupid things sometimes—but he couldn’t seem to grasp that high-schoolers weren’t as fascinated by mathematical theorems as he was. He talked about algebra like it could solve world hunger, or stop the refugee crisis—when in fact, all it did, was give you a headache.

Kara sits across from you—her chin resting in her palm, one of your pencils grasped between her fingers—doodling ideally in one of your notebooks. It looked like the Emerald City from Wizard of Oz—large monolithic spires of fractured crystal, springing upward toward an overcast sky. Though—you don’t think Oz had fissures—the ground of her doodled world looked like it was going to shake itself apart. Plates shifting, mountains crumbling—you look up to see how her eyes are dark, and her brows furrowed.

“Kara?” And like that it’s gone—that intensity, that shiver in her fingers—it pulls back like the tide, spilling back into the ocean, mixing and sinking, and floating. She looks at you like no one else—like she’s always seeing you for the first time—like she can’t believe it. She looks at Clark the same way—the boy currently running around the house with a red sheet tied around his neck, making absurd whooshing noises and pew pew laser sounds. “What’re you drawing?”

Because whatever she’s drawing has to be more interesting than your ridiculously difficult maths homework; you’ve only done three problems, and you know they’re wrong.

“Nothing important,” she surmises, tucking the pencil into her fist and carefully closing the notebook, sliding it back toward you—you don’t think she realizes that you don’t use that notebook; that you only bring it out so that she has someplace to draw. Kara looks at your maths like it’s just marks on the page—no recognition—until there is. She’s absently chewing on a carrot stick, pointing toward the page with the eraser.

“You’re solving for angular distance, not hausdorff distance,” she demurs, still reaching far enough that her eraser can just barely remove your dark marks—you’d been pressing a little hard—and then turning it about, and lightly tracing letters and numbers with the point—they’re wobbly, and shaking, but you can make out what they are.

“The what and the who?” Slouching back, you press the balls of your palms into your eyes until you see colored dots. “I want to write, Kara; why is this hedonistic troglodyte torturing me? I don’t need to know how to triangle a square, or how to find the angular distance.” You know your whining—but you don’t understand maths, you don’t connect with numbers and circles, and little crooked x’s. But Kara does—and she always explains it to you.

And that’s why you always wait until she’s sitting at the table to bring it out; not because she helps you—though that helps—but because it seems to be the only thing that can get her around the table. To have her sit directly next to you, leaning in so that she could explain what you were missing—you didn’t always get it; alright, you very rarely got it—but she never loses patience with you. She nudges her shoulder against yours when you do get a right answer all on your own—and that small something lingering in your chest swells and expands, and hooks warm little fingers into your bones and blood.

“Do you understand, bysh?” You don’t know what it means, but you like it when she calls you that. She’s leaning forward, her cheek resting on her bicep, curled toward you while she explains some concept or another—she knows you’re only half listening, but she does it anyway.


“Want me to explain again?”


She smiles, “Alright.” Pushing the little blue booklet around, she looks up, “Is this part of your homework?”

Kara’s writing little symbols and notes on the extra pamphlet of paper that the teacher had given to everyone in the class—it looked like nothing you’d learned, and it hadn’t been mandatory, so you’d planned on ignoring it. “Extra credit,” which you could use, “A fact or something.”

“A proof,” she’s writing—and writing—and writing, and looking at what she’d scrawled. It was symbols, and markers, and numbers—even a picture or two—and you can only blink. “This is a mathematical proof.” Sliding the booklet over to you—pencil and all—you marvel at the awkward little letters, the misspelled words in the margin, and the double circled answer.


You hand in your assignment at the beginning of class before everyone sits down to take their midterm—you can’t help glancing up every few moments to see how the teacher reactions; not that you can tell which one’s yours, but there’s only four or five blue booklets with the assignments. You don’t hear his small gasp twenty minutes later, because you’d decided to focus your mathematically challenged brain on your test—you’d studied for weeks, to pass this test. It was truly ruining your GPA.

“Miss Grant?” Your teacher asks, quietly, but with a hint of annoyance; “when you’re finished, please come speak to me.” Swallowing, you duck your head and continue the text—until you’ve decided that you’ve double guessed yourself often enough. Dropping the test onto his podium, you move to stand in front of his large mahogany desk—little trinkets and bric-a-brac scattered about. An African mask, a golden globe, and a marble Dove. His desk is far enough away that even the best eavesdropper wouldn’t be able to hear. Your blue book is open, and his fingers are laced on top of it.

“Miss Grant,” he begins, “I know what the student body thinks of me; I know.” Alcoholic, dead beat, drunk. You remain unflinching, stoic—something else you’d learned from your mother. “And just as I know you didn’t solve this—it took five men two years to solve this equation.” Your eyes go wide now, your eyebrows hiking—and for the moment you don’t worry about forehead wrinkles.

Scoffing, sitting down on the edge of one of his guest chairs, arms folding unflappably over your stomach. He’s back to looking at the weird math in front of him.

The \sum_{n} x^n = (1-x)^{-1} for the summation of a geometric series holds also for matrices: f(z) = \sum_{n=0}^{\infty} [L^n]_{ij} z^n = [\sum_{n=0}^{\infty} L^n z^n)]_{ij} =  [(1-Lz)^{-1}]_{ij}. Cramer's rule for the inverse of a matrix is A-1 = det(Adj(A)ij)/det(A) leads to det( Adj(1-z L)ij)/det(1-z L) which can also be written as det( Adj(L-z)ij)/det(L-z).

Something light, and airy, and genuine flickers to life inside you.

“My friend did it,” he’s looking at you like he’d both caught you, and is amazed by you. When he stands up, he towers over your, but there’s nothing intimidating about him, just unsteady, with a crooked smile. You’re getting an idea that this was a difficult problem—one that consumed lives, and ruined careers—and you’d watched Kara casually work through it with no effort. You hadn’t realized how astonishing it was until right now.

Five men? Two years?

“She did it over breakfast,” Pancakes with blueberries and chocolate.

Carrot sticks for a snack.

“Impossible,” he scoffs, thumbing through the pages again; the confidence melts from his face like wax in the summer, one hand raised to his brow to wipe away the perspiration there. The way he looked made it seem very possible, but you just wanted to leave—to walk away, and go home.

“The school has a scholarship open,” he’s musing, out loud, and not really to you. “Where does she go to school?

You blink—you don’t know? “I don’t believe she does.” The impossibilities that surround Kara grow, and grow, and grow by the day, until they’re suddenly vines around neck and throat.

“Bring her in,” he says with finality, “I want to meet her.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). Cat isn’t stupid—she isn’t oblivious—she sees the things you wish she didn’t. But that is what makes her so—special. She doesn’t push, doesn’t demand, even when that inner journalist trips out into a conversation, she reins herself in with class. You admire so much about her—this human. // Prompt from randomthingsthatilike123 and redwolfone. (companion piece to snap shot 03 (cat).

You have to remind yourself that Cat’s hand is a fragile thing—that if you lose yourself for even a moment, there’s the chance that you’ll curl your fingers and shatter her bones. She’d reached under the table to tap your kneecap when you’d started bouncing your leg, jostling the whole table until she’d stopped you. Your senses spilled through the whole school, plowing down hallways and into classrooms—swallowing every vibration with savagery. You hear them all—the volleyball practice in the gymnasium, the pool pump from the basement, the pigeons on the roof, the track team behind the school in the woods.

So many people, so close together—and yet, there’s a stillness, and that is what unbalances you. In the bustle of the city, you lose yourself to the noise, it passes through you, blinks off the edges of your senses and keeps going. In a cacophony, nothing stands out. It is all buzzing white noise—but here, the sounds filter and wait, and lurk in every empty hallway. The clocks, the squeaking wheel on a janitor’s cart, a loose door hinge, the pipes in the walls.

The only things keeping you present are Clark and Cat—you clench your jaw and focus on them, push away those empty spots and the noise that seems to live within them. Clark has pulled books off the shelves, and you’re too consumed with noise to realize he’s carrying way too many—too many for a small human boy, that is—but thankfully Cat sees him before he can drag them off the shelf, and helps him arrange them on the floor in a semi-circle of knowledge. He’d spent ten minutes pointing at pictures, his thumb tucked back behind his teeth while he leaned against Cat’s side. You focus on the soft whisper of breath against her lips when she speaks, the slightly faster thump of Clark’s heart—their hearts grounded you, they keep you in this room.

After, apparently, deciding that Clark was settled enough to amuse himself, Cat had returned to you, sitting beside you with her hands folded in her lap. Her chair squeaked, and her hard soled shoes scuffed.

“Why’re we here?” You ask again, for what feels like the thousandth time, but you need that clarification to stay. That excitement that lives inside Cat, even if it never finds its way fully to the surface—but you know it’s there. Not because of whatever abilities your genetics allows you, but because you know Cat.

“Kara,” she says instead of answering, not looking at you, but at Clark instead, “Do you go to school?” She asks things sometimes—offhanded questions that come from out of nowhere, and you know it is because Cat Grant is smart. Looking down, you pick at the shirt you’d chosen for today—your neatest one; a pale blue button down with no holes, starched enough at the collar that it hugs the edges of your neck uncomfortably.

“Not anymore,” you’ll never lie to her, never, but you dance around the truth like you were born for it—it sits like meteorites in your blood, like bombshells in your brain. You tell yourself it is because it doesn’t matter—that you can push away your planet’s death, and your unblinking journey through space, and you can start over. You can be Kara—whoever that is. You’d like to find out.

“Why?” Her fingers are wringing, wrapping around themselves as she finally does turn to you, and like a fool you’re snared—a rabbit in a trap, a shuttle in the asteroid belt. You’re on a collision course, and you’re ready to embrace destruction.

“I—can’t,” you have no documentation, you have no one to look after Clark, you have no family—all the things you lack pile upon your shoulders like boulders sliding off the edge of a cliff. You hold them, but they’re getting heavier, and heavier, and heavier. “Who’ll watch Clark?”

She exhales through her nose, nostrils flaring, letting the point settle, “We’re here because my drunk professor thinks you should get a scholarship,”

You pause, “Drunk?”

Waving her hand through the air like she’s simply wiping that point away, properly arrogant—absolutely Cat, “That’s beside the point,” smiling, cheek pressing to her shoulder while looking at you, blinking large green eyes. “Apparently that fact—proof—whatever—you did was impressive, the smarmy bastard gave it to us just so that we felt stupid. Imagine his surprise when I walk in with the answer wrapped up all nice and cozy.”

Blinking, you can vaguely remember the proof you’d solved for her—it hadn’t been anything particularly difficult—simple linear formulas—it had seemed like any of the other homework Cat brought home every week. The aspiring writer wasn’t good at math, so you hadn’t thought anything unusual about her needing help. It just wasn’t her strong suit, just like language wasn’t yours—knowing a language clinically was different than speaking it comfortably. You knew definitions, and grammatical notes, but putting them together baffled you—the little things people said that made them sound right.

No—made them sound human.

You had the same trouble with French and German—there was just something off about how it sounded when you spoke.

“So he just wants me to,” you pause, “do mathematics?” Click, click, click—a metal tipped shoe clipping down the hall, you’d heard it for the last ten minutes, but you’d ignored it—but it’s close now, right outside the door. You hear a man whisper keep it together to himself, before pushing the double doors open brashly—letting them spring away and bounce against the precariously filled book shelves. He smells harshly of alcohol, and it burns the inside of your nostrils, and only the quick retreat of Cat’s hand keeps you from reacting worse.

“You’re the girl then?” You can only nod—more a bobble, but your fingers are too busy straitening your already straight shirt. “Alright,” A large leaflet of paper is tossed onto the table before you—in smacks down with a bang, that sounds like a gunshot going off inside your ear. Scaling back your senses, you look between him and the paper, and the confusion must settle easily on your face

“Well, go on then,” he dismisses you, eyes narrowed, breath feral, “Solve it.”

You feel dreadfully like a performing monkey, something on display, something unnatural and wrong—it is the way he looks at you, hazy eyes bright and hungry. You can’t bring yourself to look away, it is that feral itch at the back of your neck that warms you before even your ears pick up danger—it tingles and pricks, and keeps to steady.

“Can you explain it?” It is Cat that tears you away from the staring contest—she’s pulled the paper around in front of her, and confiscated the only pencil on the table. “You know how I am with math.” Flipping the front page over carelessly, she huffs and looks to you—green eyes steady, smile small and sure—she’s breathing carefully, and deliberately until you’ve matched her.

In, out, in, out.

Nodding, you murmur to her quietly, keeping an ear out for the professor, who has relegated himself to his high backed chair across the room, looking wiltingly at Clark playing on the floor. This isn’t any harder than the last—it is just different—you work through the formulas like one might a knot of rope. Working it gently at first, until the loops simply unravel themselves. Cat’s eyes brighten, but there’s nothing wrong or hungry about them—they’re gentle, and soft, and warm; a whole dictionary of words she would never tolerate you calling her out loud.

So when you’re finished, instead of leaning away from her, instead of looking to the man tapping his finger against the table, you ask, “Do you understand?”

Cat’s eyes crinkle at the edges, “No.”

“Want me to explain again?”

She closes the book softly, “No, bysh.”

Hearing the Kryptonian fall off her tongue is a slip of quicksilver down your spine, like being punched in the chest and knocked flat—her tongue doesn’t wrap around it right, there’s a hiss of forgotten air missing. Or maybe Krypton’s density just made the words seem heavier. But you’re smiling—a fool undoubtedly—but you feel lighter than even Earths measly gravity can explain.

“Why’re we here?”

Cat looks at you this time like she really understands the question—you have no trouble ignoring the professor thumbing through your work loudly—because something inside this whip smart girl wilts, and you ache for her.

“He said there was a scholarship,” she explains, smoothing down her skirt, clearing her throat so that she is the picture of good breeding, “You could come to school with me; we could—,”

You blink—Cat Grant does not stumble over her words.

“—we could spend more time together.” She’s not looking at you, and you see her jaw tense, and release, surely grinding her teeth together as she tends to do. “We wouldn’t have to wait for mother to go away, or loiter at the library all day.”

Your heart beats, and swells, and bleeds colors into the cavern of your chest—drowning you in delight, suffocating you in mirth. She refuses to look at you with those too green eyes, but you can’t stop the smile on your face—you realize you hadn’t stopped smiling since she’d spoken Kryptonian.

But as little children do—Clark takes it upon himself to flop against Cat’s side—his red sheet half tucked around his dark head. Blinking bright blue eyes up at his favorite human. “Bysh,” he chirps, “Kitty, I didn’t know you know.” He’s whispering, because you’d told him it was a secret—he doesn’t know what the language is called, he doesn’t know he’s from a dead planet, but he knows that he’s different—special—you’re only a child yourself, and you don’t have the words yet to tell him the truths that will hurt.

He’ll never be alone, because he’ll have you. When you do tell him about Krypton, he’ll be able to burrow into your shoulder, and feel your arms hold him tight—he’ll never have this hollow place inside, like you do. An echo chamber that lives in your dreams, parroting back the groans of a dying planet, the cut off shriek of rocket boosters, the crack of glass as spires of crystal shatter.

While you’d been looking inward, Clark has clambered up into Cat’s lap, sat comfortably across her, his finger twirling through her blonde hair. She’s not like this with other children—you’ve seen her face of annoyance when she passes parks—but it aches so good when you see her with your cousin.

“Of course, I know,” she’s warding away his second hand—the one that had been in his mouth—and is only mildly successful, because it curls into her shirt. “But we’re keeping it a secret,”

You suppose she isn’t just Clark’s favorite human.

There’s a slap of a moist hand against wood, and you jolt upward—chair kicked back, while Cat just cocks an eyebrow. The professor—you really should know his name—is pointing at you, a little spittle on his bottom lip, but intelligence in his eyes. There’s wonder stretched across his face, and you remember how Cat spoke of him—a man in a love affair with numbers—and settle a little. He’s harmless, if ravenous with excitement.

“This is splendid,” he gasps, his hand raising to push at his thick dark hair, “Superb.” He is breathing like he’s run somewhere, even though he’s only been seated—his chest gulping down big gulps of oxygen, until he calms. Until something calms, and he’s falling back into his chair—leaving you the only person standing. The tips of Cat’s fingers brush your back, and you relax.

“I—thank you?” Biting your lip, and pushing your glasses a little higher up your nose—you started wearing them from almost the beginning. Thinking they would hide whatever differences people might notice—you’d hardly known what to make of humanity then. “It really isn’t anything—hard. Not that it isn’t hard—you should—I mean—I’ll.”

Sit down. You’ll sit down.

But he just smiles, seeming more human, more kind, more something—and you hear Cat murmuring to Clark 'see, little heathen? No one can resist your cousin’s charm.' And now he’s giggling, Cat’s smirking smugly and the professor’s smiling.

Rao. This girl was going to ruin you.

“I have a colleague that would be very interested in this,”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). Some lost boys don’t live in Neverland; their jungles are made of cement and chrome, their villain more vague than pirates and crocodiles. // Prompt by quakekru.

At night, you lay in the mess of blankets you’ve collected, enough that you’re both drowning in fabric, Clark giggling and tossing, not minding it in the least—every night is a sleepover. His little ear pressed against the bird’s wing of your collarbones, listening to the quick beat of your martian heart. Quicker than a human’s, louder, firmer. It knocks against the insides of your ribs with assurance that you’re still alive. His little hand curls into the fabric of your shirt, keeping you close, like he’s afraid you might go, even though he’d hardly known a day without you. You’re his mother, his playmate, his caretaker, his cousin, his sister—you’re his everything, and what you’re truly worried for is the day he might no longer need you.

But that day isn’t today.

“P’pan?” He asks sleepily, his eyes already closing, bricks on his lids, but he shakes his little head vehemently when you don’t move immediately. Promising that he won’t go to sleep until he had his bedtime story—regardless of the fact that he’s nearly asleep already. Shuffling back against the cement wall, you reach into your knapsack for the ratty children’s book that you’ve had since the very beginning of your life on this planet. Peter Pan and Wendy. The corner is torn apart, but the binding has been pieced back together carefully. Creaking it open, you open to the first page; this one has no pictures, though you’ve found those versions too—this is his favorite.

You know it is the vibration in your chest—the valve in your lungs that humans lack, that whoosh that lingers in your Kryptonian, that bleeds into your English if you aren’t careful. Like air being let out of a balloon, the slow—methodical—release of air, which never ends. He listens for it in your chest when you read, closes his eyes and waits. You’d spent an entire evening with your ear pressed to his chest because he was worried his whoosh didn’t work because his accent wasn't like yours—he sounded human, no, he sounded American. It was the slight differences that even you had trouble picking up on, but Clark knew—he saw them as glaring differences that unsettled him.

So you read to him—slowly, all night—even when you grew tired, you’d keep reading to him as he slept. Letting that familiar whoosh lull his dreams, keep them peaceful and deep. You say it is for Clark, for his peace of mind—but you are selfish at your core, you read because when you’re focused on the words, you don’t have to think of red skies and craggy crumbling mountains. You don’t have to think of what a planet sounds like when it dies—like nothing—how quiet space is as everything that you are shatters into unsalvageable pieces.

In the morning, he’ll stretch—elbow you hard in the ribs, knee you in the hip—and roll on top of you, press his little face against yours. You’ll wipe the little crusties away from the corners of his eyes as he yammers away about what he wants to do that day—where he wants to go. You bring him to work with you—you have no choice—but your employer knows that he doesn’t slow you down at all, that he skips happily at your side as long as you hum or sing for him. Watching Clark climb up the pipes that line one of the basement’s walls makes you roll your eyes—if you had to worry about tetanus shots you’d be a nervous wreck with him.

Stretching while walking into the small washroom, you look at yourself in the mirror—you’ve been on earth for only a year and you hardly recognize yourself. The yellow sun has lightened your hair, bleached the darkness from your curls, bleached away one of the few things you have to remember your mother by. Your eyes are hollowed at the edges, but bright—flitting with thing that simply hadn’t existed on Krypton. Squeezing your eyes shut, yelling for Clark to hurry up and get ready—you couldn’t’ be late, again—and then shoved your toothbrush in your mouth, brutalizing your molars a little more vigorously than usual.

It only takes twenty minutes to get your cousin squared away and hopping up the stairs into the bookstore above—the Bruised Apple—the owner, Mr. Callaghan, had hired you a few months ago to keep an eye on the store, a reminder of the woman he loved, and lost. He allowed you to sleep in the basement—there’s even been a bed with a frame before Clark had bounced it to pieces. Stacked on the floor are all the books you have to put away for the morning—there is no order, but you don’t mind wandering up and down the aisles, scanning all the titles. Clark putters behind you, a stack of books in his arms while he hops, and balances on one foot—almost tipping over, before he catches himself.

When the last book from the stack is put away, you look down to see your cousin looking up at you with those big blue eyes of his. Blinking sweetly while he lifts his arms to be picked up. Hoisting him up onto your hip, he curls against you, thumb already in his mouth. “Fly?” He murmurs around his thumb, tucked under your chin.

“I have to go get my fairy dust,” the glitter that you’d picked up at the dime store on the corner last week. The purple and gold glitter fine and probably toxic.

When Clark had woken up from a nightmare a few months ago, floating a foot above the bed, he’d panicked—and so had you. You’d grown comfortable with your abilities, you folded them into who you are now, and didn’t worry too much beyond that. But Clark didn’t understand why he was different—just that he was—so you’d told him that you were both lost boys. Cradling that scared boy to your chest—only a child yourself—you had felt suffocated with what had been expected of you.

Your parents had folded you away and shot you into oblivion.

“We’re lost boys, Clark,” you’d murmured that night, lips lost in the dark of his hair, “Every lost boy can fly in Neverland.” He’d pulled the book against his chest and blinked up at you, fingering the pages he couldn’t read yet. Running little fingers across them and nodding—solemn in a way that made him look like your uncle. He’d grow into being a handsome man.

“Peter Pan?” Was all he had asked, pointing at you with those doe eyes. And you’d nodded, a shattered mirror’s smile cracking along the edges because sometimes you wished it was true—that you held storybooks inside your heart and not a dead planet.

So you played pretend with him—you were Peter Pan, and he was your lost boy. He couldn’t tell because Captain Hook could be anywhere, chasing down the streets in slick black sports car or walking through the park in a bright blue wind breaker. An orphan by whatever flavor you chose. You’d almost weened him off the storybook life, until he’d met Cat Grant—the perfect Wendy Darling, the girl who would keep Peter Pan in Neverland forever.

Reaching down under the counter, you picked up the little velvet pouch that you’d put the glitter in—it had originally been Mr. Callaghan’s dice bag, but he’d relinquished it. Opening it enough so that Clark could reach his little hand in, could grab a pinch of glitter—just a little, because you told him how far you had to travel to get more—and he held it excitedly in his fist. Cinching the bag, you tuck it back into its hiding place.

“Mr. Callaghan,” you call into the office behind the counter, and hear a soft yes? In response, “I’ll be back in a few; need anything to be picked up?” A man—seventy-three years old and smiling frailly—walked out with a folded piece of notepaper that he promptly handed to you. Address scrawled on another slip, though you knew this place by heart. Nodding with a wave, you tuck the note into your pocket, and wait for Clark to grab your satchel from the hat rack and loop it over your head.

Stepping into the alleyway behind the bookstore, you let the steel door shut slowly and glance both ways—making sure no one was taking out trash at the Thai place, or the bodega. Clearing your throat, you look down at Clark who can hardly contain himself, “Alright, lost boy, air’s all clear?” He bobs his head enthusiastically before tossing the glitter into the air—you make sure not to breath for a few seconds while it settles over you. In your hair, in the folds of your clothes, but Clark’s giggling and thrashing in your arms.

Tensing, saying goodbye to the ground, you throw yourself into the sky—breathing out the weight you keep inside that keeps your feet on the ground. Your satchel flaps against your side as you chase through the clouds, dancing through the nimbus with the sound of a laughing toddler in one ear, and the howl of the wind in your other. National City looks different from the sky—small and sprawling—insignificant in ways that you know it isn’t. Rolling your shoulders and shifting your spine to curve into a spiral—you know you’re high enough that no one will see; dipping in and out of clouds swiftly, pushing forward and plunging quickly through the clouds and back toward. You scanned the ground, making sure no heads were upturned, and landed three-point in another alley clear across National City.

Your cousin breaks free, flinging his arms out wide and spinning in circles, making whoosh sounds, and the red cape he always had tied around his neck flaps dramatically behind him. Two fists forward, he zooms past you twice while you push fingers through your hair, tucking the fly aways back into your curls. Snagging him by the cape as you walk out of the building toward the prestigious publishing house Mr. Callaghan’s brother owned—you unrumpled the note you’d shoved haphazardly into your pocket. The writing was fragile and light, but you could make it out easy enough.

Pick up the newest releases; and whatever the kid wants.

Smiling, and breathing deep, pulling National City into your lung, you swat at your jacket once more, making sure all the glitter had been smacked away, not even bothering to try and catch Clark. The publishing house was pretty familiar with the two first-name-only children that were sent once or twice a week to the business side of National City. All the biggest authors were published out of this building—it bolstered some of the brightest awards there were to give. You don’t know exactly what half of them were for, but you figured idols in gold were pretty unanimous.

“Hey, Kara,” the front desk secretary says, “Hello to you too, sweetheart.” Clark tucks his face shyly against your leg, but reaches out a hand for the high-five that was being offered.

“Mr. Callaghan sent me over to pick up some releases?”

She sighs, “I don’t know how I feel about a small girl like you carry all those books clear across the city.”

You smile.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT)Everyone has that person that crosses their mind during the darkest nights, during the hardest times, when everything is crumbling faster, and faster, and faster, and you have no way of slowing time. No way of stopping the slow decent. You lie to yourself, the hardest of things, saying you don’t need help, that you can do it all on your own. The truth is? You can’t.

“Yeah, Grant, keep convincing yourself of that.” Kristopher Arnold—one part douche bag, one part journalist, and his two remaining parts were curse words that you don’t like to use as often as you find yourself using them. He’s leaning over his raised knee, foot on his chair, tie at half-mast; it is around noon, and there is nothing appealing about Iraq in the summer—you can feel sweat in places you try to pretend you can't sweat. But there is nothing glamorous about this hole in the wall—five desks, covered in papers and photographs, two oscillating fans in the corners blowing hot air like it would help. It didn’t.

“I don’t have to convince myself of anything,” you’re putting your camera in the bag, buffering it with papers—the soft leader bound notebook Kara had given you ages ago—ten years?—tucked firmly along the side, as it always was. Lifting a boot onto your own chair, you tuck your recorder into the side, sitting it flush against your ankle. “Saabiq reached out to me; he could clearly see which one of us was worth his time.” You’re smirking, you know you are, but the exhalation of anger that consumes Kristopher is worth every drop of sweat dripping down your spine.

“He’s poaching you, Grant,” there’s something smug about him now, something off-setting and utterly male. “He’s not going to be meeting you at the Shatt al-Arab, because he’s meeting me here to give me an exclusive.” Your heart drops like a stone in a clear pond—plunk—and it was gone. Dropping your bag on your desk, you turn to face him, shoving hands against the solid width of his chest.

“You imbicile,” you hiss, “You did not give a dodgy, amoral unknown our set up.” Another shove, and you’re not the only one bearing down on him now; your colleagues are moving closer, concern flickering across their faces. You’ve been here since the bombs started dropping—slipping across the border with a few questionable caravans, anything to get the story to the people back home. To the broadcasters salivating for the warzone footage.

You’ve been here since the girl who was your—something—had turned out to be the biggest liar on this planet, and you’d walked away. She hadn’t chased you, your name sitting in her mouth in ways you’ll never forget—she’d said your name so quietly, like it ached in her very teeth to say it—but she’d given you room, given you space. Sent anonymous letters, and lunches, and flower to your job because she wasn’t brave enough to show up at your apartment—and you hadn’t been able to stomach the distance, not when the only thing up holding it had been your anger, and her fear.

So you volunteered to go to a warzone—dramatic—and you’d been here since; slipping in and out under cover of darkness, and wrapped shawls. This converted shop had acted like a home away from home; four cots in the back offices, shutters over the windows, and you had managed to keep it off anyone’s radar for months. Been able to meet up with informants across the river, in old palaces and besides thousands of years of history—and this idiot had given that away to sooth his ego, to be a salve to his male pride.

You are rather aware that stringing someone up from their thumbs is perfectly normal on this side of the world, but you aren’t given the chance because something with such concussive force that the from wall simple bows pushes you away. The front wall is crumbling, windows shattering like candy glass as you groan from where you’ve landed in the back. You try to move, and wince—touching your side, your fingertips come away red, and you feel another stone drop in your stomach—plunk—the sunlight is pouring in from the now open window front, and there’s men with assault rifles. Shouting to each other, aiming down the road and firing.

You want to pull the damned filing cabinet slider out of your side, but you know—from the rudimentary emergency medicine you learned to come here—that it is currently the only thing keeping your blood inside. Wrapping your hand around the bottom, you shuffle up the wall until you can clearly see over the upturned desk—see the men in dark colors, their faces shrouded, rifle butts rocking against their shoulders as they duck behind road side planters and cement walls. More shudders rock the building, making cement flakes and paint chips cough into the air—hanging there like a warning.

So much is happening—time drones on and away—because you’re too busy pressing your fingers against the pulse points of colleagues, breathing a sigh of relief whenever you find one. One girl—her name Rebecca, you know it even if you never called her it—isn’t so lucky. She’s crumpled oddly against the wall, and when you feel how cool she is to the touch—your hand jerks away, and you feel sickness burn the back of your throat. Dead. Her eyes are foggy, looking up like chipped glass, and you have to turn away, have to press yourself against the side of a divider, the palm of one hand pressing into your eye sockets.

There’s so much gunfire happening, but you can only feel the rumble of dropped mortar shells, and the distant tinny echo of military radios. The world is slanted, and crooked, and wrong. Different men now are filtering in from alley ways and from darkened businesses. Their bodies angling along the sides of building and looking to move down the street—but a mortar must hit directly in front of them, because they stumble backwards, one even rolling over his shoulders and onto his stomach. Chips of concrete and gravel kicking up into the air.

And then—someone’s just suddenly there.

They are shorter than all those gathered, their face obscured by black cloth, their head covered in a charcoal gray hood; hands spread wide at their sides as they look between the armed men gathered. People are shouting, in at least three languages—and you can’t keep track of it all—but you have just enough mind to find your camera, just beside your cherished notebook, and as your fingers touch it you freeze. Those hands—fingers pressed wide—shoulders curled inward like the person wished to simply curl in on themselves. Lifting the camera free, you find the eye piece and twist the lenses—cosmic blue eyes are shadowed, but unmistakable.

It is without question Kara—the girl who you had run across the world from, because you couldn’t trust yourself to simply stay away. The need itching inside your bones was necessary and unquestionable—whenever you’d see Clark, he’d hint and plead without words—cheeks rosy, and that hint of teenage attitude clinging to him when you walked him home from school—never going inside, but seeing Kara at the window anyway. You had left—because after a few weeks, there was nothing but a stubborn need keeping you from following him in.

And here she is.

Across the globe, dressed in her Brooklyn chic wardrobe.

Click—you take her picture before you can stop yourself, having pulled the focus back enough to see the men surrounding her. Rifles aimed, faces set in anger—but Kara isn’t moving, her eyebrows pinched in worry, her mouth moving beneath the black cloth, but you can’t hear her. Two men step from a back room—startling you, and making you drop the camera—and the thud of it seems to be like snapping a rubber band. Everyone starts moving. You want to tell Kara to go away, a knife might not hurt her—apparently—but that was leagues different than an AK-47.

Pop, pause, pop. The muzzle flashes, and you’re screaming, and its wrong. Blue eyes snap to you just as the first round smacks her in the shoulder, spinning her enough that the second misses. You're crying—stupid, ugly tears—and you can’t stop the sob; Kara is curled over one hand on the ground, nearly lifted out of her untied light brown hipster boots. Her free hand is pressed to her shoulder, shoulders tense, and then she’s standing—something small and metallic dropped from between her fingers. Glittering in the mid-day sun—in her sweatshirt, there’s a neat little hole where the bullet had hit. But no blood.

Before the bullet she’d pried free hits the ground—she’s moving.

A curled fist going wide, like she still can’t bring herself to hitting these men, instead she wraps fingers around the barrel of his gun and bends it upward. Pushing it out, and away, her elbow hits a second man in the jaw, before turning and hitting a third with the freshly liberated ruined-rifle. They all tumble away like they’ve been hit with something much more impressive than a girl weighing maybe a hundred and twenty pounds. Pop, pop; more gunfire, and this time when they hit her, she doesn’t flinch, doesn’t move with the motion. Takes them quietly, and presses forward—a flash, and blur, and she has another man by the arm.

You don’t realize you’ve moved closer, until you feel the cold metal of a gun barrel against your jaw, urging you to your feet, pushing you back against one of the dividing walls. You don’t make a noise, but the gunman’s attention is more focused on the girl rendering his whole unit useless. They are all either knocked out, or running away—more impressive than the apparent bulletproof aspect, is actually how controlled the violence is. None of the men look dead—their chests rising and falling—but there was something worse about tossing them around like they were simply toys.

Simply not worth more effort.

When Kara sees the gunman behind you, there’s something you’ve never seen in her before—it brings you back to the night that had sent you running—the flicker of something other inside her that was like a switch being tossed. Below the black fabric, her jaw works itself, and then—before you blink—there is no man beside you. He’s being held in place by a curled hand in his uniform, his feet not touching the ground—they kick at the air like’s he’s nothing more than a child, fingers wrapping around the grip on his collar. When he tries to swing the automatic rifle around at a hooded head, it dents and bends, bouncing harmlessly away into what is left of the room.

She hits him once in the jaw, the hold on his collar gone, allowing him to crumble to the floor, a barely booted foot hitting him in the stomach, lifting him off the ground, though his arm seems to have taken the worst of it. He’s at Kara’s feet now, broken, and bleeding, and she’s just—standing there.

You aren’t a proprietor of violence, not in the least, but there is something enthralling about the brutality of the whole thing—dust hanging in the air like a smoke. You’d recognize this person anywhere—the lopsided posture that was both endearing and maddening both, the fingers spread wide like she was afraid to make a fist, and feet that shuffled and shifted more than a stationary person should. You hadn’t seen her in months, hadn’t heard her voice in longer—that knowledge hurts you more than the metal dug into your side. You see how she’s barely holding herself together—shoulders lifting and falling dramatically as you know she’s breathing deeply through her nose, and out through her mouth.

The man who had been thrown away groans on the ground and struggles to stand, his face splashed red with blood, his jaw hanging a little oddly. All this is typical of warzones, you no longer flinch at the sight of blood, no longer look away at the aftermath, but it is the look in his eyes is new—it makes them particularly bright, or maybe that’s just the mask of crimson he wears. He’s afraid, and that fear embodies him in ways you have never encountered. He’s tucking his bad arm against his chest, and scrambling backwards; mindless of the rubble, headless of the damage he’s causing himself.

He just wants to get away from her.

Kara walks forward slowly, her boots worn and untied—like she’d been in a rush—she doesn’t stumble, doesn’t look away. Even with her back facing you, you can see how her head it lowered, the hood cast low across her face. But you can’t look away from her hands, how the fingers curl—one, by one, by one—into tight fists with whitened knuckles. Her entire body is shaking, and she doesn’t seem to notice, doesn’t seem to care. There’s a single minded determination to her pace, an absence of thought when you know Kara is full of them; mindful, and careful, and kind.

This person is none of those things.

There’s a wild menace about how she steps slowly over the last pile of rubble, the man having backed himself against a shaking wall. She doesn’t move closer, doesn’t reach to touch him, and you can see how her hands have flexed again—fingers spread wide, reminding herself that she isn’t clenched fists, isn’t anger and hate, isn’t whoever is standing in front of you.

“Walk away.” You can hardly hear her words, but like a vibration down your spine you remember how she had pressed a deceptively small hand against Jack Ellis’ chest, taut and shaking, fingers beginning to curl. Walk away, she had asked him—and he had. Now, the only thing keeping Kara from doing further damage—is Kara. The man scrambles, pushing along the wall until he’s standing and stumbling from the building, falling into the noon sun, squinting and pulling himself back to his feet. It is impossible to reconcile this man with the firm soldier who had stalked into the building what seemed like only minutes prior.

Pressing a shaking hand against the wall your against, you heave yourself to your feet—little pieces of debris falling from the folds in your shirt, clattering against the ground. It gets her attention. You don’t know how she knows it’s you—you hadn’t given her a chance to explain that night—but suddenly you find familiar blue eyes peering at you from behind golden hair. A black bandana has been pulled up over her nose, leaving what little of her face is exposed shadowed and hard to make out. At least she was careful—as angry as you are, you don’t want some secret government agency to scoop her up and dissect her—if they even could.

Eyes that had always been stardust and skylines are suddenly the surface of the moon—luminous, cold, and beautiful. She isn’t blinking, and she hasn’t looked away from you—unmoving from where she stands, half her body cast into the light, the rest swallowed by shadow. More of your co-workers are shaking themselves awake, groaning from where they are pressed under stone, and against walls. The distant drip of the water cooler is your second hand—a measure of time it takes Kara to show life. Even though she looks at you, she’s not seeing anything.

Her hands have gone slack at her sides, boneless and motionless, as she slowly looks back to where the man had last been seen—stumbling away, afraid and broken.

Kara had done that—sweet, kind, genuine Kara.

You see the shake before she realizes, how her arms quiver and her pupils spill outward—wide and afraid—you’d held her through too many nightmares to not see the signs of panic. The kind that closed her throat and wet her eyes. You’re angry—you don’t like that you have to keep reminding yourself—but Kara’s gulping down greedy breaths from behind her mask, her fingers twitching ,and you know she’s about to try and rip it off her face to get a full breath in.

Pushing against the wall, you step over a pile of boxes and books, around a thrown desk, and just as you’re about to reach her, you trip—your movement too sluggish to catch yourself, your world spinning too quickly to brace for the fall—but hands of iron have you by the biceps, are righting you before you can even close your eyes.

And then there’s only Kara.

From this close, you can see the little flecks of gold around her pupils—you’d swear to any judge that you could trace the constellation Cygnus in her eyes—they’re far too wide, pupils threatening to swallow the blue. The black fabric is pulling inward as she gulps for breath, tries to fill her lungs. There’s no fear in your chest, no instinctive flinch—because you know Kara would never hurt you, would never let anything happen to you, which would even explain why she was here—if not the how.

“Calm down,” you say firmly, your voice too low for the just rousing reporters to hear; just Kara. “You need to calm down.” You’re counting in your head—keeping a flow to your words, something she could follow, something she could tether herself to—something other than her lack of easy oxygen, and the blood splashed across small shaking hands.

She’s looking at you like you’re the sunrise—blinking owlishly as her shoulders shrug upward to protect her neck, almost shying away from your touch, which is impressive considering it is her hands bracketing your biceps. You relax, or try to, but the pressure of the metal lodged in your side bares its damned teeth and you’re reminded of how much you hate the sight of your own blood. Everyone else can bleed until the end of the world, but you were never meant to see your own blood. You must make some kind of sound—a gasp, or groan, or God help you, a whimper—because her hands have removed themselves, and you miss their warmth for only a moment until they’re pressed into your side.

“Are you alright?” Her voice is muffled by the mask, and as much as you want to hook a finger and pull it down, you know you can’t—a ridiculous hooded sweatshirt, and a flimsy black bandana are the only thing keeping Kara safe. “This looks bad.” She’s on one knee before you, her crown of escaping golden hair even with your stomach as her fingers gently press around the sliding metal in your side—some piece of filing cabinet that hadn’t been too fond of you. Kara’s pupils have constricted, making them look too blue—or maybe that’s just the hazy warble in the air—maybe that’s another one of her super abilities.

Warble-y air.

You’re suddenly on the ground, but you never felt the fall, cradled in arms you feel safe in—color spreading out, and then narrowing down viciously until there’s only the noon sun spilling through shattered windows. “I’m getting you to a hospital,” her voice is in your ear, pressed into your hair like she does with Clark, holding you against her chest, her knee brought up on your other side to keep you secure. “Don’t worry, Cat, don’t worry.” She’s mumbling while hoisting you up into her arms—how had you never noticed how strong she is—your head lulling limply onto her shoulder, your nose pressed into the line of her neck inside the hood.

Your harmlessly egotistical co-worker Kristopher—with a K, he always makes sure to specify—takes that moment upon himself to be unnecessarily dramatic.

Bully for him.

“Hey, stop, put her down!” You thought he was smarter, thought he knew a losing battle when she saw one, but he’s pulling himself to his feet, intent on stopping Kara from taking you. “You can’t just take her!” Your brain rolls on, sending signals down your arm, but nothing happens—only the twitch of a finger, until you can only look up at her with eyes that say no, don’t. Not a plea, a warning—super abilities or not, you are Cat Grant, and Kara would be wise to heed your warning.

“She needs a hospital,” her words are coming from someplace in her chest, somewhere deep, because you can feel them vibrate in your cheek where it is pressed into her shoulder. Her arms tighten around you, and it jostles the metal piercing you—you must hiss—because her grip is loosening, and you feel fabric as her cheek presses into yours. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” it’s a quick whisper, a rushed apology filled with apprehension and fear.

“Everything’s fine, Christian,” you chew out, having released the inside of your cheek from where you had been biting it to stay quiet, “Do continue to remain useless.”

“Listen, Grant, I don’t know where you’re getting off being all high and mighty,” he’s talking, but you can only focus on how Kara tenses—you know she doesn’t like how he’s talking, you know how it dig into her skin, and you can only press your nose more firmly against her neck, no other part of your body willing to move, “But that—that—thing just decimated eight guys, and now it’s taking you off to God knows where?”

You hear a crunch as he steps closer—he’s brave, stupid, but brave—and you have no hope of responding, because air is slapping against your cheek, the groan of wind in your ears. Cracking your eyes open, you only see sky, and sun—and far below—ground.

You really wished you had allowed Kara to explain that night.

Apparently she can fly.


The next—however long—is a blinking hazy of voices and bright lights—beep, beep—you wonder if there really was a point when someone’s life flashes before their eyes. What would you see? What moment would parade just behind closed eyelids when you felt your heart slow, and your skin grow cold. Beep, beep. You’d see Clark’s smile—how he laughed the hardest at the worst jokes; horses, and bars. Chickens, and roads. How he’d press into your side when you sat on the couch to watch television—your arm around his shoulders, his cheek on your arm. Beep, beep. You’d see Kara’s eyes—too blue, and too bright. Looking at you like some once in a lifetime astrological event. Stardust and comets. The traced lines between constellations that kept the stars together. The bright fleck of Jupiter or Mars in the sky. Beep, beep. You’d feel her lips, how they’d been tentative and chaste, a moment that had been a million moments in the making—a moment that had been torn asunder by haste and fear. By worry and anger.

Beep, beep.

Blinking rapidly, what you see isn’t precious moments, or fluffy clouds—it isn’t eternal damnation, either, so you suppose that’s a plus—but it is the cheap plaster of a hospital ceiling. The monitors beside you chirp and whir with every shift of your body, and when you try to struggle to sit up, there are gentle strong hands there to help you slid back. Lulling your head to the side, Kara looks ridiculous as she is—hood still up, black fabric still across the bridge of her nose. It had seemed menacing in the bright light of day, in the rubble of destruction, but somehow seeing her folded into the uncomfortable chair beside the bed makes it laughable.

So you laugh.

Until the pain in your side is enough to make you stop, you paw at the pain until you feel the thick bandages under your ugly hospital gown. Gentle fingers tangle through yours and remove your hand, pressing it to the mattress you lay on.

“You’ve been out for a while,” Kara murmurs, looking at you, while somehow also being able to look like a frightened-puppy, eyes averted.

You untangle your hand from hers, and without prompting, curl a finger in the top of the black bandana and pull it down to rest around her neck. “I won’t talk to you when you look like you’re about to rob me,” you intone, letting your hand flop down, and she shuffles a little forward. Elbows on her knees, hooded sweatshirt partially unzipped; the top of her face is covered in dirt and soot—likely from the bombs and debris, but the bottom half of her face is devoid of dirt. It’s almost comical.

“Sorry,” you see how her jaw is working, and you know she has more to saw; so you wait. “I was so scared, Cat. That I wouldn’t get to you in time,”

Your lips purse, and your brow furrows—your head hurts, but you can look beyond that, because even though the IV drip seems capable of pain medication, you’re holing out—you want all your faculties for this conversation. “Is that one of your abilities? Knowing where I am?” You say it seriously, and parts of you are rebelling against this ridiculous conversation. Kara only starts, before shaking her head rapidly.

“No, no,” she’s denying, fingers twisting in her lap, “We—the satellites picked up on the bombs before the news did. I—may have illegally filtered through some military channels to figure out you were involved.” Like this is the worst thing she could do—something illegal—when she is a—is a—you don’t even know.

Settling against your pillows, you allow the smallest of smirks, “You nerds still playing with the sky?” You don’t know what she’s up to over at Lorde Technologies—the word classified came up way too often—but anything involving that pompous asshole is bad news. You know that Kara and Max seem to have developed some kind of brain trust together when they went all in starting the company, but you had never been able to completely accept the idea that he’d be part of your life—if only through her. “Can’t you do something useful with your ridiculous IQs and money?”

Kara looks down, and consciously separates her hands. “You almost died, Cat.” Quietly, like you aren’t supposed to be able to hear her, but she looks up, and her too blue eyes are wet, and her jaw trembles, and there is nothing in common with the creature that had torn into those men like they were nonentities. “I made you run—and you almost died.” Like the sky was splitting, like every hurricane and tornado lived just below her skin, she trembled, hands worrying, because she didn’t want to reach out—didn’t want the chance that you’d reject her touch.

“You didn’t make me do anything,” it comes out harsher than you mean, and you try to soften the words by reaching toward her—you can’t reach, but she meets your half-way after some effort. “And while I concede it might look like running, to a laymen, this job posting was quiet exclusive.” It had also been quiet exclusive the two months you’d declined the offer—until you’d seen Kara in the window of her apartment when dropping Clark off at home, and you realized you couldn’t trust yourself to stay away. Not without half the world between you.

She’s smiling, that stupid watery smile that makes your heart skip a beat. The room your in is dark, and the blinds are pulled down, you can’t see into the hall, but the open window gives you an idea of how she got in here unnoticed—you know, since she can apparently fly. Swallowing, you exhale and settle a little more into the pillows.

“We should probably talk,”

“Can we talk?”

You both speak at the same time, and it makes Kara laugh, the tears that had been building in her eyes are shaken from her lashes and roll down her cheeks. This girl—this damned girl—with her laugh, and her smile. She’s right—you’d run to a warzone, because it had been the only thing that would have kept you from her—your resolve would have buckled and dissolved eventually, sooner than you wanted.

“Not now, not here,” you say, because this isn’t the time, nor the place, “When I come home—and I am coming home, we can go to that Chinese place you like. You can—you can tell me all about it.”

There’s only a bit of hesitation before you continue, “Alright?”

Beep, beep. You can only hear the whir of machines, before she exhales a word, “Alright.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CLARK). Wendy Darling was everything the Lost Boys couldn’t remember having; someone who cared about them, would take care of them. They only knew how to survive in Neverland alone—until Peter Pan had brought Wendy into their timeless world. // Prompt by toobookishtohandle (tumblr).

James Nidor's birthday party is coming up; he’d given out nerf darts with his address on them, and while he had handed them out to everyone else—he’d thrown yours, and it bounced off your cheek, landing in your upturned palms. This wasn’t the first birthday party you’d been invited to, but this was the first one Kara had agreed to let you go to—she’d tried to pretend she didn’t hear you, and then she’d tried to go on a delivery, but you caught her at the door. Your small back pressed against the solid wood, looking up the impossible distance between you and your cousin—she’d seemed nervous, and you didn’t know why. Like Cat was mad at her and she had to make it right.

“I wanna go,” you said.

“Clark, we’ll talk later,” she’d tried, “I have to go.”

“I wanna go,” you said again.

“Clark,” she trailed off, looking behind her like someone would try to help her, when you know your cousin can take care of herself—you’ve seen what she can do.

“There’s gonna be a pony; I’ve never seen a pony before,” you don’t like guilting your cousin, you don’t like poking at the things that you know make her eyes sad. Because that’s where she lives—in her eyes. “Everyone talks about Sarah’s birthday, and how they had fireworks, and a magic show—no one talks to me, ‘cause I wasn’t there.”

And her eyes were sad then—as she looked down at you, and chewed at her bottom lip, eyebrows pinching like something hurt, but she’s never been sick before—not that you can remember. And she’d hugged you—pulled you close, her fingers pressing into your arms, and you can always feel her hugs best—like she knows just the right amount of pressure to apply.

“Alright, bud, you can go,” she’d said quietly into your hair, “I’ll have to take off work, but—,” you had cut her off quickly, because you had another request.

“Can Cat take me?” You’d asked, “She promised to take me for ice cream Saturday anyway.” She had, and you knew your cousin wouldn’t look into it too much, wouldn’t question why you wanted to spend time with Cat, but the secret you had buried down under all that was something unforgivable—shame.

Your cousin is—off. She wasn’t like other parents, even the ones that weren’t a mother or a father, there was just something that didn’t fit. Like she didn’t know how to be a person. Your classmates had picked up on it, and had teased you relentlessly—she’d brought cupcakes in for your birthday, and when the bell had rung, she’d tripped and dropped the whole set on the ground. You hadn’t been mad—the bell is loud, and it had taken you a few days to get used to it—but Kara seemed unable to get used to anything. Like this world would always be too much—she’d promised to get you more cupcakes, but you’d asked her to save them for home.

You’d celebrate with her and Cat; you didn’t need to do it at school.

James had been the one who teased you the most, pretending to trip and spilling paint on your shirt, knocking things out of your hands, but he stopped the day Cat had come to pick you up—she’d walked in, sunglasses still on, a note given to the teacher, and she must have seen James knock your colored pencils to the ground, because she’d walked over—the same way she walked toward Kara when she was in trouble—and just—stood there.

“Ready to go?” She’d asked, look at James, who seemed just as nervous as Kara did whenever she was in trouble—Cat still hadn’t taken her sunglasses off, and when you picked your backpack up, she’d wrapped an arm around your shoulders. “Clark, you didn’t tell me the boys in your class were so small and—oddly shaped.”

You managed not to laugh until you were out into the hall—Cat didn’t laugh until she’d buckled into the car.

Sitting on the curb to the bookstore, Kara’s across the city at the university campus—she had her black notebooks which meant she was doing research, her shirt was buttoned wrong, and she’d forgotten her glasses until you’d pulled them out of your pocket and presented them to her. She’d ruffled your hair—you’d tried to duck away—and kissed your crown, making you promise to be good for Cat. You’d offered her nothing more than a flat look, before she’d backpedaled with an alright, alright and run off in the opposite direction.

Cat’s car pulls up along the curb—the nicest car you’ve ever seen—and she rolls down the window, sunglasses already tipped to the edge of her nose. “Just going to sit there, heathen?” she drawls, “I thought we had a birthday party to grace with our presence.”

You wish you hadn’t come. James’ party doesn’t have a pony, and none of the nice kids from the class showed up—it was just James and his friends. They’re fine enough while the parents are outside, but when Benjamin’s mother asks Cat about something called Feng sui and they go inside, it all changes.

“Alright, loser,” James says, smiling, “We’re playing cops and robbers; we’re the cops, and you’re the robber.” He’s loading a nerf gun with darts—there’s something menacing about your classmate, something in the set of his face. You know you could do—something, but Kara always looked so scared who you did anything beyond normal. It was in her eyes, even if she always kept her voice even. You don’t want to play this game, but you don’t want to wuss out, so you’re nodding and squaring your shoulders.

Like Cat does when she’s shoving her finger into someone’s chest—and they’re usually so much bigger than the small blonde.

“Go,” James says, already firing—you can’t feel the darts, but there’s a lot of them, and you’re turning away to run—at a normal speed, at a normal speed you think—but there’s a box that hadn’t been there before, and you trip, falling to the ground. Covering your face from the darts, you hear James demanding things.

“Say your cousin is a freak,” he’s demanding, “say it, cry baby!”

You want to cry, because every muscle in your body is demanding that you stand up and make James back away—make him scared—but you see Kara’s eyes, and how she always stops herself, how she clenches her jaw and inhales through her nose. She never fights back, she never loses her temper—but she doesn’t have to, because Cat loses it for her.

For you too, apparently.

“Excuse you, Gap Kids,” you hear her sneer, before you can look through your fingers and spot her red four inch heels. “As lovely as it is to see your fine breeding in action, I’d suggest you knock it off, before I make a few inquiries about mommy dear’s prison issue anklet.” She’s kneeling at your side, helping you up, pushing your bangs out of your eyes, and smoothing hands down your cheeks—her face is tight in anger, but when she looks at you everything softens, and she smiles.

“Let’s get out of here,” she whispers, letting you help her to her feet once you’re standing. Cat’s wrapped a slight arm around your shoulders, and you don’t feel even slightly embarrassed when you press into her side. “I promised you ice cream, right?” Smiling, she motions for her bag, which she had dropped on the ground; picking it up, you follow her out to the car, not before looking down at James’ mother’s ankle and seeing the black box strapped there, cracked open and exposed.

Nothing gets past Cat Grant.

“That’s why you didn’t want Kara to come,” she says, walking down the block to the garage when she’d parked her car, refusing to leave the expensive vehicle on the street. “They’re still picking on you.”

You shrug, still holding her purse, “Only sometimes.”

Scoffing through her nose, “Sometimes is unacceptable; we’ll talk to your teacher.”

We’ll. It makes you smile, makes you hold her hand and wrap it back around your shoulders—you may have been too old to believe in the storybook reasons Kara gave you. But Cat will always be your Wendy Darling—the only girl capable of saving the lost boys. Especially Peter Pan.

You don’t know if your cousin knows how much she needs Cat; that she can’t stay in Neverland forever, no matter how she tries to keep it so. 

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). When something is inevitable, is it better to close your eyes and pretend it is a million years away? Something so far off that when it does happen you won’t be around to feel the waves in the foundation? Or should you wait on baited breaths, counting down the minutes until everything is flipped end over end? You could never decide, and maybe that is worse—to have a clambering fear in your chest you refuse to name, refuse to stencil words and meanings to.

You haven’t been able to step away from the television all night—the same story playing over and over, the crawl at the bottom getting harder and harder to read—you thought it was because the words were getting small, were slanting and blurring, but it is the tears in your eyes. The halos of red and blue, flashes from the muted television screen—a three story building was on fire, the flames pushing out of windows, and through the roof. It was being wrangled now, easily being smothered by fire hoses and sand, unable to spread to the other houses on the block. But this isn’t what is flickering across the screen—no what has everyone’s attention is the blurry footage from an hour earlier. Nearly impossible to make out from all the smoke, from all the lights and flickers of fire.

The owner of the house had fallen asleep while smoking—surrounded by empty beer cans—and when his cigarette had rolled form his fingertips, he’d caught the alcohol soaked carpet on fire. The blaze had crawled across the carpet, had pulled itself up the curtains, and from there the whole house had gone up in flames. No one had been able to hear the man crying inside, screaming for help, no one had heard how he banged against the floor and coughed into the smoke—no human, at least. The cameras had been pointed in just the right place to see how the living room wall had been destroyed, sharp cut red light bursting through—splinters of flaming wood shooting off into the night, and the fire poured through.

Viciously at first, and when it breathed in—when it calmed just enough to see the smoke inside—a silhouette appeared. Oddly shaped, a large body tossed over the shoulder of—a boy, no older than thirteen or fourteen. His hair dark and thick, the smoke clinging to his skin, part of his shirt on fire. A wet blanket had been thrown over the man, and when the authorities had rounded the house and converged on the man—no one had been with him. But the cameras—well, the cameras saw glowing red eyes as the boy looked up and then run away. Slipping away into the night, the smoldering white of his shirt lost after a few moments.

“Who is this boy?” The reporter asks over the still frame of the boy with glowing eyes, “This hero.” Your jaw has been clenched for over an hour, pressed harshly together, you can hear the groan of your molars as you squeeze your eyes shut. “Why hasn’t he stepped forward? We’re left with more questions, than answers.” You’ve waited for Clark to come home, fear gripping your heart, digging into fears you aren’t ready to face—aren’t ready to give names. All you have is the continuous footage across the screen—meaningless words and blurry images.

But how long until someone recognizes him? How long until a classmate gets their mother or father’s attention and say, “That’s Clark, I go to school with him.” How long until black vans and SUVs are pulled along the curb, and your doorman’s politely asked to evacuate the building? How long until you have to bundle Clark away, change his name, and move to the other side of the country—how long until you had to show up to Cat’s penthouse in the middle of the night, and have to say goodbye. Because she’s human, and this is her world, and you can’t drag her into this. Can’t disrupt her life any more than you already have.

The front door bangs open, and you hear jackets and bags being carelessly thrown to the ground—his booted feet thundering down the hall, checking in every room, because he doesn’t know how to sharpen his senses—he can bleed out the noise, he can dull everything, but he doesn’t know how to listen yet. He doesn’t know how to push everything away, except the quick beat of a Kryptonian heart. His is thundering inside his chest, galloping as he flits through the house looking for you—trying to find you, and when he does throw the door open, you can’t turn around to look at him. You can’t see the char marks on the shirt you bought him at the beginning of the semester, or the soot on his favorite denims. You can’t see the smile on his face, because it’ll make you cry.

This boy—this beautiful boy—that you had promised to protect, is doing what you always knew he would. He is everything good about humanity, he is their golden heart, and their bravery, he is their self-sacrifice and their nobility; but he can’t see the darker edges, he can’t see the hate, and anger, and bleak sadness that lives in the world too, because you haven’t let him see it. You’ve protected him from the hardest things, beyond childhood bullies and lame Christmas gifts. He doesn’t understand how humans sneer at things they fear, how the writhe and fight.

“Did’ja see?” He asks, skipping around until he’s side by side with the television, and you can’t stop yourself from looking. Fourteen years old, and he’s taller than you already, broad across the shoulder, young in the face. His eyes a shade of blue that had never existed on Krypton—maybe the lights of Argo, maybe the glow of Pyrold’s third moon. But there’s so much blue on Earth—the sky, and the oceans—so much color, and life, so much to cherish and love. But this isn’t your home—not like it is Clark’s, not like it is Cat’s—and your love affair with Earth is a conditional one.

You hadn’t thought of the conditions until now, until Clark stands before you with a knit shirt that he thought made him look older—there was a girl in his class he wanted to ask out—and Timberland boots that made him an inch taller—too tall in your opinion, he’s your baby cousin—and you just want him to be that kid again. The one who nuzzled into your stomach, and demanded you read him bedtime stories, and called you Peter Pan, and didn’t want to save this world of his. You love Earth, but on the condition that it doesn’t take Clark from you—doesn’t consume him and leave him sad, and weary. Doesn’t disappoint him like worlds are want to do—leave him disenchanted and just another person on a planet of billions.

“I saw.”

His grin is wide, stretched across his young face, where his youth still sits in his cheeks, in his dimpled chin, and before you can say anything else, he’s turning to the television—closing a hand into a fist and making a sound of excitement.

“Oh man,” he breaths out in excitement, and you know he’s not reading the crawl at the bottom, he doesn’t know what the muted reporter is saying, he doesn’t know the fear lingering like a haze around those who had witness his feat. “I heard him yelling—Mr. Tippard, he’s Ashley’s uncle—no one could hear him over the fire, the alarm was going off, that’s what called the fire department.” He’s almost talking too fast to follow, going through the story without really getting a full breath. He’s just watching the repeated footage—jabbing a finger toward the eighty inch screen, before turning to you.

“I saved him, Kar,” he says with glee, and you can only see the soot on his cheeks, the smell of smoke in his hair, “He was going to die, and I saved him.” Rao, did your parents know what they were asking you to do when they sent you into space? Across lightyears and through constellations? Did they know you were going to have to choose one boy, over a whole planet—over dreams, and hope, and all those silly little things orphans can’t afford.

“You shouldn’t’ve.” You say, looking only at him, because you can’t look at the television—can’t look at where your phone is vibrating across the kitchen table two rooms over. You know Cat saw the news reel, you know she’s calling you from her office, waiting for you to respond—waiting for you to tell her what you’re going to do about this. What she can do.

“How do you not do this all the time, it feels amazing—I couldn’t even feel the fire—…” The way his voice trails off is when you know he hears you, when he understands what you’re saying. On this planet you are not from the most noble house El, you are not the daughter of one of the greatest minds in the universe. Your family wasn’t descendants from the first pioneers to travel out into the stars. “What do you mean?” His eyes are blue—the kind of blue that didn’t exist on Krypton—like cracked ice and winter mornings; and he looks at you with the shadowed veil of humanity. Like you are somehow other.

“You can’t show yourself like that, Clark,” you’re imploring him, keeping your voice low, quiet and contained, because you want to pull him close and make him promise. Like he did as a child, without question, without argument, because he believed that you knew best. “You can’t just—do things like this. It’s dangerous.”

Dangerous—you see the spark in his Earth blue eyes now. The fight that is all human.

“I don’t know what it’s like where you’re from,” he says, voice pitched low, and it cracks, but that doesn’t stop him, “But here, in America? You help someone if you can.” Rao. Your heart is breaking, because where you’re from is gone—it is little pieces of planet drifting harmlessly through the black of space. “You don’t just hide away ‘cause you’re scared.”

“There’s more to this than just hiding, Clark,” breath deep, breath through it, “They won’t understand what you are—and people don’t like what they don’t understand.” Fear of the unknown, it is a tale as old as time, from the first languages of the world—back in the Fertile Crescent, when the pyramids were built. When they used titans and mythical entities to explain the seasons, and the weather—to put meaning to why rivers would overflow and drown whole fields of crops. To explain away death, and disease, and famine.

“Then tell me what I am!” Boyish anger in the face of an almost-man, “Tell me what you are!”

“I will, Clark, I will,” and you have to, there’s no more dancing around these truths, “But you have to promise me you won’t do this anymore—you won’t be so reckless.” You’re crying, but he isn’t deflating, if anything he gets angrier.

“And why should I listen to you?” The scent of smoke stronger as he walks past you, toward the door, and you reach out to snag his arm, to hold him in place, and you’ve never had to actually hold him like another Kryptonian, but he’s trying to remove your hand, prying at your fingers—but he can’t, because your cells are older, more mature, and you absorb the radiation of the yellow sun so much better. “You’re not my mother—you’re probably not even my cousin.”

He can’t remove you, but he’s like a molten core now, and his words make you release him, make you step back, because his eyes are glowing, and they look horrible through the veil of your tears. Settled in the center of his wobbling face. “This world, Clark,” he needs to listen, he needs to see reason, “They’re so small, but they think they’re so large—that the universe was built for them, and only them.” How could they understand a galactic empire that had imploded? A people who were stretched across planetary systems, whole quadrants of space?

“How would they react to being wrong? What would they do to someone who could do what we do?” Licking your lips, because they’re dry, even while you’re drowning in tears, your throat thick with them. “I love this place, Clark, I do—but they don’t get to have you. They don’t get to ruin all the good inside you, because they’re scared.”

You never want them to look at him in fear—never want him to worry if he’s doing the right thing—if he should do more, or less. This world will be what this world has always been—unfair, and progressive, and so close-minded—until they suddenly aren’t. Just as they got over so many fallacies of their mind, they will eventually look to the stars and wonder about what is out there—maybe they’ll be ready someday.

Today is not that day.

“You’re selfish, Kara,” he says it so firmly, his young face firm with resolve, and his Earth blue eyes betrayed, like you’d ruined something he hadn’t been ready to stop believing in—maybe it’s you. Maybe he wished he could still believe in Peter Pan, in Neverland and the lost boys. “You can save the world, but you won’t. I hope you really aren’t my cousin, because I don’t want to be related to anyone so cowardly.”

And he walks out the door.

You have no words in this language, or any other, to describe what a planet sounds like when it dies. But the closest you could probably get is heartbreak—something so without mark or definition, something that lives in the blood, and burrows into the bones. Can swallow whole selves whole and leave nothing behind—you survived the death of Krypton, you had watched through clear glass as your home chewed itself in half, the core expanding and cracking through the surface.

Krypton had died quietly—because there is no sound in space, no molecules to ripple with screams, no atoms to shiver with pain. You had sobbed, and clawed, as the stasis pulled at your senses, you’d been young and afraid, and the artificial numb that was crawling inside you didn’t belong. You had cried yourself to sleep, and however many nights later, you woke up in Earth's orbit—you’d watched a planet so much more blue than your own crest the edge of your ship. Smaller, brighter, and younger than Krypton.

You’d hated Earth—lingering up in orbit—falling in and out of the its shadow. You hated Earth because it was alive, and your home was dead.

A half hour later, when your mobile phone vibrates, you look down, hoping to see Clark’s name, but instead see Cat’s—not a call, this time—it’s a text. “Clark’s here. He’s upset. He’s asking to stay the night.” There’s a question somewhere in there, even if she isn’t asking it—and whatever you feel for this little blue planet, you’re thankful for Cat. You’re thankful for all that she is and everything she will be. Looking out your window at the lights of National City, you start typing.

Keep him safe?” You text back, your fingers shaking, your ridiculously large apartment seems impossibly empty—and you feel impossibly alone.

Fifteen years later—you’re still just a girl locked away alone behind a pane of glass.

The response is immediate, “Don’t be stupid.

Smiling, you let your arm fall to your side, the cheap metal warping under the pressure of your fingertips. It vibrates again; another text, “Will you be by tonight?

Exhaling, you type without looking down, “Not tonight.

You can imagine Clark curled against Cat’s much small body, head on her shoulder, pretending he doesn’t notice that she’s texting you—his not-cousin—and you’re so happy he has her. Has a human so precious to him that he doesn’t have to trust the world, not yet. You can be other, you can be the strangeness in the dark, as long as he has Cat.

Another text. “Want me to come over after he’s asleep?

National City’s so beautiful at night—windows bright with families having dinner, store fronts illuminated with the dreams that had made them, tower tops pulsing like beacons in the dark. So much life, so much activity, and none of them know what a gift they have. To live on this planet of theirs. You respond, “Not tonight.

Walking out the door, letting it shut quietly behind you, all the lights out—no one home—you walk down the twenty nine flights of stairs and out onto the street, away from Lord Technologies, away from CatCo—you walk to the darker part of town, where the metal is older, and the lights are more neon, and less LED. The Bruised Apple had closed an hour earlier, but you find the key on your ring that opens the front door, punch in the code to the security system.

The room in the basement hasn’t changed much from when you’d been young—when you’d had a toddler pressed against your chest—when you’d read him stories of impossible islands and eternal boys who never grew up.

Lowering yourself into the pile of blankets, you only have to search for a moment before you find the book tucked into the old knapsack. You can feel the little rips in the cover, the wrinkles in the pages—the page in the back that had come out completely, and you’d taped it back in. You felt more at home in this dark basement, than you ever had in your glass and chrome apartment in the sky.

You start reading.

“All children, except one, grow up.” Your voice echoes in the dark, and you can remember how wide Clark had always smiled when you got to start at the beginning, “They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this forever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”

Clark was never your lost boy, and you were never his Peter Pan.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT).  It was supposed to be a quick weekend trip to the theme park, two hours in the car, but when the exit comes and goes, and Kara starts asking you where you’re taking them, you only smile. “I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon.” Something about the way her face relaxes, the way she leans low into the passenger seat lets you know you’ve done something right—whatever it is. // Prompt from anonymous.

“Do you know how this was made?” You’re leaning over the iron red gating, the metal scalding under your fingertips but you refuse to let go. Clark is pressed against your leg, having latched onto you when Kara deemed it necessary to find some kind of vendor who sold water—having forgotten to pack any when gathering the hotel room this morning. The ridges and canyons stretch for miles, beyond where you can see, and it is impossible not to feel small. To realize you are only a speck of person on this large rotating globe of life; just one person in a race of billions.

You almost give up on an answer, ready to loop around back toward the information plaque so you could read some important man’s interpretation of what was before you. But Clark does answer, “Aliens.”

Squinting against the sun, you look down at the boy shadowed by his ridiculously floppy hat, only the longest strands of his dark hair visible. “Aliens?” You inquire, tapping the top of his head, and when he looks up—blue eyes nearly squinted shut—he nods.

“Where’d you hear that?”


“Who’s Chris?”

“My friend.”

“Your friend? Is he an alien?”

And Clark looks alarmed, like this thought had never occurred to him, and you feel bad for all of five seconds before Kara is spilling through the human traffic around you, wearing a ugly mustard yellow shirt that is two sizes too big, with what appeared to be a stenciled outline of the state, filled with campy tourist photos. Grand Canyon written above, and Arizona written below the horrible little picture. But she’s smiling widely, equally ugly yellow shirts in her right hand, a soft top cooler with the tag still on in her left.

“I got the last three of these.” She’s grinning, and you’re just about to tell her there’s no way you are going to be caught dead in that cotton blend monstrosity, when her eyes do that thing they do—get all soft and sentimental, and you know you’re fucked. “I thought we could match and, like, take pictures.”

Yeah, fucked.

“Gim’me!” Clark’s already disengaging, little hands grappling for the shirt that is appropriately sized for him—kind of. It is a little large, but he doesn’t seem to care, because it allows him to yank it on with his hat still in place. You try to be a little more delicate, but the material is cheap, and stiff, and when you do have it on, it sits awkwardly.

But Clark’s laughing, pressing the bottle of water Kara gives him against his cheek, and then tucking it under his hat to sit comically underneath it. And Kara’s eyes are like crystals in the sunlight, and your heart thumps, and your mouth is dry in ways water won’t help, and there’s a cloistering feeling of something that you won’t be putting any kind of name to.

But it starts with L, and ends in a whole lot of something.

“Here,” she offers a bottle that’s already been cracked open, a gulp of water removed, and her bottom lip glistens with your stolen liquid. Acquisition, you think, remembering the term from your business class, and that water she so rudely drank was yours—that might be what you were thinking, you aren’t positive, not once you’ve wrapped fingers in her ugly yellow shirt and pulled her into a kiss. Stealing her gasp like a thief, she melts into you and your back presses against the rust red fence.

“It’s rude to drink someone’s water,” you murmur against her lips, looking at her—having never closed your eyes—because you love how Kara looks when she’s being kissed. Like it invigorates her, somehow sustains her; sucking her lower lip into her mouth, you’re tempted to coax it free again, but she’s shaking herself in place, opening sparkling eyes to watch you.

Skylines and constellations.

“Who says it’s your water?” She extends the bottle away, like the slight distance somehow made it any less yours.

“I said I was thirsty, and you got water,”

She hums under her breath, you feel it along the bird’s wings of her collarbones, “Just sounds like I’m a nice person.” Sighing the words while looking at the boy currently toying around with a much too expensive camera, “Right, bud?”

“So nice,” he agrees, before jumping slightly too close and almost knocking the water from Kara’s hand, and when she pulls it close, water splashes up onto her face. You can’t help laughing, pressing your forehead against her shoulder while you shake. “Kar, Kar,” he’s jostling against your side, “Did you know aliens made the Great Canyon?”

Kara tenses—not the slight flinch she does from loud noises or bright lights, but this one is body wide, starting at her fingertips and crawling up her spine. Rubbing small circles on her back, underneath the ugly shirt, her smooth skin tense, hard, and all her muscles clenched.

“Grand Canyon,” you correct gently, not adding anything else until you know why she’s so worried; why water is spilling out of the bottle in her hand, the plastic crinkling and bending within her grip.

Grand Canyon,” he drawls with emphasis, “Chris told me aliens fired laser beams from their eyes and if you looked at it from space it’d look like a big butt.”


Like a balloon with a pin prick in it, Kara begins to deflate, laughing as he continues on, and her hand stops crushing the poor bottle. She’s soft again, your fingers can press into her skin, and she curves around you until your back is to her chest, and you’re both facing Clark.

“A butt?” She asks, her voice light and brushing against the shell of your ear.

“A big butt.” He reiterates, like she’s forgotten the most important part. And she’s laughing again, her arms pulling you close, until you can feel the stuttering leveling of her breaths, the way she laughs through her nose because she’s closed her mouth.

“That’s silly, Clark.”

He looks like he’s about to argue, but you lace your fingers through her, whispering, “What, supergirl, don’t believe in aliens?” She bristles at the nickname—the same thing you’ve been calling her since she bravely stood between you and Jack Ellis that first time—but she exhales, and nuzzles back behind your ear. You decide you like her here—halfway across the country from National City—where she doesn’t retract like someone of import with catch her touching you.

“Of course I believe in aliens,” she sounds cowed, and presses an open mouth kiss along your jaw, you tilt to give her more room, watching as Clark takes poorly angled photographs of the rock in the center of the lookout, back facing you, and the entirety of the Grand Canyon. Nope, has to have enough pictures of that slightly larger than average rock. “It’d be arrogant to assume humanity is the only life in the universe, wouldn’t you think?”

God, she must know what her voice does to you when it hums along your jaw like that, lower, rougher than her usual sunny disposition. Luckily, everyone else seems to be equally as disinterested in you as Clark is—because there is no grand outcry of PDA, no scandalized children having their eyes covered.


Kara’s manually pivoting you, and you smile at the dramatic huffing she does—she’s lifted you before, and you’d been properly impressed—and after a moment your hips are pressing against the railing, and you can feel Kara’s smile against your shoulder.


“It doesn’t look like a butt,” Clark pipes up, camera lifted, looking through the view finder, even if the digital screen shows what he’s taking a picture of.

“Well,” Kara drawls, breath cooling against the moist skin of your shoulder where her mouth had just been, “That’s ‘cause you’re not in space.” She supplies, and Clark nods vigorously—like this is obviously legitimate reasoning. That feeling is building in your chest again, that ridiculous warmth that crawls through you and lives in every one of your cells. The silly mechanical click of Clark hitting the button over and over, the slow rise and fall of Kara’s chest against your back, the scalding heat of the sun hitting the top of your head.

This could be your forever, and you don’t think you could ask for more.

Twenty minutes later, when Kara snags a passing couple, and asks them to take a picture or two, you act begrudging—like you’re doing this just for her—but you’ve already picked out a frame in your mind. The copper one that your grandmother had given your father, the one that you’d had his picture in until your mother had gone through the whole house and put his pictures in storage. Something—someone—you love goes in that frame.

Kara slings Clark up onto her shoulders, wobbling to keep her balance, and the boy doesn’t help by grabbing at her head and covering her eyes. You wonder if you’re going to have to step in, but she keeps them balanced and carefully steps over toward you. Wrapping an arm around her waist, you don’t move when she presses her cheek against yours and smiles—you know you’re smiling like a fool, that this photograph can only live in the privacy of your apartment—but you can’t stop yourself.

“Everyone say cheese,” the young woman holding your camera is smiling.

Maybe you’re just as bad as them, maybe it was somehow meant to be, because without thinking, without conferring—your little family of three says, while producing equally ridiculous grins, “Aliens!”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA).  There’s a million and one reasons why people keep things to themselves—you try on each justification whenever you swallow the truth. It’s best for them. It’s to keep them safe. It isn’t worth mentioning. But the truth is, you’re just selfish. You don’t want them to see this side of you. The side that lingers below your skin—built on anger, and justice, and something even you can’t define.

The first time it happens, you’re thirteen. Walking home from the market eight blocks over, because the one on the corner was closed after burning to the ground. Apparently no one enforced fire codes on this side of town. You’d gotten paid the day before, Mr. Callaghan said it was a bonus for working the weekend—you’d tried to give it back, but he was old, and insistent. Clark had eaten the last of the cereal this morning, so you had to go buy more—along with a gallon of milk, and juice boxes. The man at the market had watched you warily, but you hadn’t taken offense—no one in this neighborhood seemed particularly forth coming.

Walking down the street, it is impossible to bleed out all the noise—they slip through carelessly, wiggling into your ears until you can hardly separate them from one another. Charles, you know you can’t do—tonight at eleven, National City police found a dead—Timmy, it’s too late, you should be in bed—Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do. Televisions, and conversations slicing together, you can’t tell where one ends, and the other starts—but one feels closer, like it’s breathing down your neck, digging into the shell of your ear. Don’t make this hard, kid; don’t feel much like killing someone today.

You stop.

You can’t feel the weight of the milk in the bag, you can’t feel the cool autumn wind against your cheeks, you can only hear how the faceless voice whimpers in the night—how fabric scratches against brick, and a weight dropped to the ground, papers and something hard with glass. You hear two heartbeats, and they thunder inside your skull, pushing out all the voices, the whole city, you focus on them, threading through the beats until you can make out their individual pattern. One is calm, steady—the other frantic and frightened.

Stepping into the dark of the alley, you have no trouble spotting the man towering over the boy—how his shoulders hunch and his fingers curl menacingly. Placing your groceries on the ground, you don’t need to look at him to hear how gravel pivots under his boot as he turns toward you.

“Get out of here, kid,” he growls, “this ain’t got nothing to do with you.” But it does, and you don’t know why—something inside you is writhing, and demanding, and you’re walking forward, still not looking up. How many boys had died on Krypton? How many? You can’t count that high, you can’t remember the great houses as easily as you once did—they’re abstract, and other, and there’s no one to remind you, because you’re the last daughter of Krypton. You are their legacy. You have a boy at home with martian blood, and a human heart, and you can’t be that, can’t be both—not like him.

So you’ll be this.

“You don’t have to do this,” you say, looking up into this man’s bloodshot brown eyes, the way the vein bulges in his neck, the way his face scrunches in something close to pain. Pupils blown wide, his hands shaking. “Just let him go.”

He doesn’t—why doesn’t he?

You don’t know how to throw a punch, not really, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because when he turns towards you, when he throws a punch, his body leaning into the swing—he breaks his hand against your shoulder. The bones crack like twigs, brittle little things only held inside by the give of muscle and skin. He screams, his body sharpening at the edges, jolting away as his hand is curled against his chest—he’s cursing in two languages, and you hardly know English, and the other sounds too foreign, and you’re scared—confused—but the boy is whimpering, and you don’t know if he’s scared of you, or this man.

“You bitch,” he seethes, his ruined hand held up between you like a warning, and when he steps forward, it is like an earthquake, you feel the vibration up his leg—into the muscles tense with anger, into the density of his bones, and the torque of his muscle. You feel it all, you see it all—and when he throws his whole hand forward, you catch it—your much smaller fingers wrapping around the curve of his fist, and you feel how he pushes forward, but you can barely feel him, barely notice the pressure.

He’s groaning, and you don’t realize your fingers are pressing inward until his bones chirp and crack, his joints pop and tear—you try to make heads or tails of the sounds, but none of them connect to anything you know. It isn’t until blood weeps through a split in his skin, the white of his bone noticeable, that you gasp and back away. The sharp metallic tang of copper in the air, staining your fingers, thick in your nostrils, and you feel like you’re going to be sick—because all you can hear it the wet pop of his joint rupturing. The man doesn’t react, because he’s passed out from the pain, he’s crumped to his side, ruined paws pulled against his chest. You’re left with the scared boy, older than you by a few years, his hair dark and his glasses missing a lens. He’s blinking at you like he can’t really see you; you see the faded bruise on his cheek, and the nervous tap of his fingers.

“You’re safe,” you say, but your voice is wavering, your fists are clenched, and you don’t think this world feels particularly safe—not if boys like this couldn’t walk home in the night, not if men like this lurk in the shadows. What kind of place is Earth if this was—common.

“Who are you?” The boy asks, scrambling to his feet, tossing his bag over his shoulder, pushing his half-ruined glasses further up his nose.

Who are you? That’s a good question—you’re Kara Zor-El, of the house El, but that means nothing on Earth, you’re not that person. Not anymore. “No one,” you settle on, shoulders sagging, “I’m no one.”

The boy smiles, like he knows exactly what you’re feeling; it isn’t a happy smile, but it is understanding, “Thanks, No One.” He walks past you, stepping over the limp man on the ground, and just before he steps into the hazy dark of the city, you find yourself speaking up.

“I’ll walk you home.”

You skip two or three steps until you’re shoulder to shoulder with him—grabbing your bag on the way. You don’t plan on talking—you have nothing to say—so he starts talking instead; you just listen.

You manage not to do it for a few weeks—you filter out the garbage—everything too far away, everything that has nothing to do with you, but you can’t remove everything. Not without turning it all off, so you try to stop the voices—you tuck them into the drone of the television, into the news blasting from the center of the city, into car radios and commercial breaks—you hide the words into the silence of a documentary and you try not to pick it apart. You pretend it is all some illusion, that the words belong to sit-coms and dramas.

But you can’t do that forever, you can’t ignore the pleas—it is a Sunday afternoon, you’re walking home through the dark at the south end of National City. The trees thick, and the paths well hidden—it isn’t nice like the ones on the north end, but it’s decent enough. Tucking your hands into the pockets of your cream colored jumper, you shrug your shoulders until the scratchy fabric is bunched around your neck—it is winter, and the air hold the promise of the first snow.

Please, stop—a woman’s voice, cracking in the middle, and you stop. Looking through the green, it takes no effort to release the strain you always keep—that stops you from looking through walls and trees and whole sections of city. A woman in jogging gear, one shoe thrown away, forgotten near the base of a tree trunk, and a man wearing too many layers to be comfortable—he has fingers wrapped into her hair, her body bowing away from him, even if you can see how her scalp pulls.

You tell yourself it has nothing to do with you, even as you’re already pushing through branches, even as you’re pulling your sweater’s hood over your head. It covers your eyes, hanging to the center of your nose, but you’re already looking through it, the fabric barrier means nothing to you—when you step into the clearing, you make no noise. You want to walk away, want to dissolve into the afternoon oblivion like everyone else in the city, but you can’t ignore this—you can’t ignore how the woman’s breathing hiccups inside her lungs, how her heart thunders, how the hairs on the back of her arms raise and her skin pebbles.

You have too many ghosts inside of you from a dead planet, you have no space for humanity, no empty places in your heart for their dead. Even with your superior senses, and your x-ray vision, you can’t see the arbitrary line drawn in the sand—the distance between good and evil, between right and wrong. How are you supposed to understand anything if no one can explain it? If no one can definitively say what is, and isn’t, alright.

But what’s happening in front of you now—this is wrong. Whatever side of the line it is on, you don’t abide by it.

Kicking forward, you hit his shin, hard enough that he releases his hold on the woman’s hair, arms pin wheeling for balance as he clambers to the side. A flailing fist hits your shoulder, and you step backward, watching as he hits the ground and rolls back up onto his feet—at night, you curl your fingers inward, tucking all four under your thumb, feeling the pressure of making a fist. It feels good, like you’re given some kind of control that you hadn’t had since you’d been shot from Krypton; since you’d watched it implode.

You hear the schik of a knife, and the weight of steps before he’s on you—his weight hits the ground oddly, his left ankle wobbles, his shin buckles—it hurts him. You can hear the rattle in his bone. Ducking below his swing, how his hand chewed through the air, how his shoulder groaned—stepping back, he follows. Swallowing whatever distance you try to allow, whatever breathing room you create—your hands are clenched into fists, your wrists hurt—no, they don’t hurt, they ache, and you don’t know how to make it stop.

He swings again, and you step back once more, the grass incline goes downward and you almost trip, but when he lunges again, you press gently on the inside of his wrist and he stumbles. Hips over shoulders, his knife falling into the grass, his body rolling down the hill; his momentum slowing when the ground begins to get marshy at the pond’s edge. He’s thrashing at the ground, ripping through the longer grass, the reeds, and you’re walking down the hill—it’s easy to keep your balance, you don’t even have to think about it.

He’s cursing, and just as he’s beginning to stand up, you snap a foot forward—toes pointed, not how you’re supposed to kick, but then again, you don’t have to worry about breaking your toes, do you? You catch him just under the chin, and his teeth clack together and he falls backwards into the pond—the air in his thick coat bubbling free, the fabric getting heavy, dragging him below the water—you hear how his heels drag as he’s pulled down. How his air escapes in bubbles from below—the water sloshes over his ankles, sinking into his boots, and you wait.

He’s going to drown—and you can hear how his heart thunders, how his lungs are just about to inflate—the creak in his ribs as his diaphragm is about to inflate.

You realize you’ve had your eyes closed this whole time—that you had retreated into the darkness, and when you do crack your lids. You see a man under two feet of water, blood filtering from his mouth, clouding the water—and you’re horrified. You can see him now, actually see him as he’s about to drown. Grabbing his ankle before he has a chance to slip further into the water, you pull him onto the mossy grass, you leave him there as his lungs fill with air, as his chest lifts and falls.

He’s alive—but he almost wasn’t.

It is a strange realization to make—you had almost killed this man, had almost let him die, and it feels—horrible. But you’d watched million die when Krypton exploded—you’d watched a whole planet die. And this feels—different. You thought it’d feel the same, somehow it would linger in your blood the same way, at home and permanent, but this is poisonous. A toxic taste to the edge of your tongue that feels like razorblades; feels wrong.

“Call an ambulance,” you say to the girl at the top of the grassy knoll, the jogger with one shoe—you don’t look at her, keep your chin down and against your chest. You can hear how her toes dig into the dirt, how her mobile phone creaks in her fist. Turning on your heel, you walk away, ignoring how she chases three steps, how she calls for you to wait—you can’t, you don’t know why, but you can’t.

You don’t fight it anymore. You don’t tell yourself you won’t do it, or that you shouldn’t—when you hear someone in distress, you just—go. Pull your hood low, and tuck your chin. You don’t know how to throw a proper punch, not the first few times—but you can’t break your thumb, so you don’t worry. You pick it up as you go, you watch them as much as they seem to watch you—how their weight shifts, how their bodies lower. Its absurd how easy it is after a while; how natural the movements become.

You always thought you’d become a scientist—like your father, or uncle—or maybe you’d go into politics like you mother. It had seemed easy enough to follow the trajectory—but maybe you’re more like your aunt. A soldier. Someone who protects, someone who serves. Maybe that is what lives in your martian blood now—maybe that is what you have to aspire you. Your mother did tell you to protect your cousin—to keep him safe in the golden light of this much younger sun. On this little blue planet thousands of lightyears from home.

When you go for a walk at night, you always wear something with a hood, a flimsy infinity scarf around your neck. You tell yourself you’ll stop when you can go for a walk without hearing trouble—without hearing someone cry out for help—you say you’ll stop when National City is safe. But safe is such an abstract concept, you don’t think you’ll be able to notice it when you do see it.

But that day never comes, because someone always needs help. You must remind yourself to ease up, to hold back, to keep your fists outside their bodies, and with time, you get better. More fluid. They are able to hit you less; you know the only reason you’ve managed for so long is because their feeble human fists have nothing on your solid Kryptonian body. They break bones on you when they are able to hit you—their knuckles pop and their flanges crumble.

It helps you concentrate, helps you calm the hard beat of your heart—that subtle boiling just below your skin you can almost pretend isn’t there. That simmering something that lives only inside you. Clark doesn’t know it exists, and Cat can’t know—it’s an anger you never want to name, because that will give it a power over you. A power that you simply can’t let it have. Because you’re trying to be a good person, and there is nothing good about that anger. Nothing good in what it’s capable of.

You’re eighteen the first time a reporter catches you—he’s older, graying at the temples, and you’d just stopped one of the local gangs from dashing his skull against the wall. They’re unconscious, the black fabric of your gloves wet with their blood, but you reassure yourself that all their hearts are beating. Their lungs fill with air. Your hood is pulled low, covering the top half of your face, your x-ray vision allowing you to peer through the thick fabric—your scarf is pulled up over your nose, and you’re looking as the man rights himself. Checking the camera around his neck for damage—the lens is cracked, and the flash dangles by two wires.

“Word was National City had itself their own Batman,” he says, looking at you with bright eyes, he’s let the camera drop against his chest, taking a step toward you—and you take a step back. “You’re kind of small; thought you’d be bigger.” He takes another step forward—and you take another step back.

You don’t say anything, you weren’t prepared for this, you hadn’t even thought of the day someone with clout would catch onto what you’re doing. Your hands begin to curl into fists, but this isn’t a situation you can fight your way out of.

“Nothing to say? You’d think I’d realize you lot tend to be the strong silent types.” He’s smiling, wide and charming, and you feel something in your shoulders loosen, but you know you should be weary. “Name’s Perry White; I’m from Metropolis. A few of my colleagues have gotten some interesting stories about a pint-sized crime fighter making some headway in National City, so I thought I’d swing by to see for myself.” He’s in his thirties, his clothes looked rumpled from a day at the office, and you see a pencil stuck behind his ear. How is hasn’t fallen out, you’ll never know.

“I’ve had to get myself out of a few tight spots trying to find you; my plan was thought out up until the general gang violence, but not what to do if you didn’t show.” He’s stopped walking toward you, so you stop backing up—one of the bodies on the ground groans and starts moving, you hit him once in the stomach, and he goes still again. Alive, but unconscious.

“Go back to Metropolis, Mr. White.” Your voice is hoarse, cracking, but not nearly as low as you want to make it, but enough that you can’t readily pin it down as your own. His eyebrows perk up, and his smile grows.

“Thanks, but no thanks. Think I’m going to be spending a little more time in National City, just something about the people is inviting.” He’s shrugging his bag onto his shoulder, a small notebook already in hand, writing—whatever it is he’s writing. “You have a name? Articles get pretty hairy if no proper-nouns are involved.”

“Everyone has a name, Mr. White.”

He smiles wider, “Witty, I like it.” Tucking the pencil back behind his ear, he watches you walk toward the furthest end of the alley. Hands tucked into the pockets of your sweatshirt. “How about the Spectre?”

“For what?”

“Your name, of course. Unless you already have one picked out—I always figured you vigilante types spend a while on the name.” You’ve never seen someone so blasé about being surrounded by unconscious bodies—but you figure you shouldn’t be surprised. Cat Grant wants to be a journalist; there has to be some kind of personality type enthralled by the idea of digging for the truth.

“Can’t say I’ve thought too much about it,” you admit.

“Excellent,” he grins, “Have a good night, Spectre.”

You kick the metal lead for the fire escape, and the ladder falls, you could just fly away—or blink out of his sight, but you’ve done your best to keep your abilities hidden. To be as human as possible—outside of the impenetrable skin, and how men tend to break their fists on your skull. “That sounds ridiculous.”

“Give me your real name, and I’ll print that instead.”

Shaking your head, you press your feet on the rail and jump to the next landing—and then the next—and next, until you’re on the edge of the roof. Spectre; it does have a ring to it. A ridiculous ring, but nonetheless.

Apparently Perry White was able to take a single photograph—poor lighting, and it’s from the back. The moon washing out half the image, but your silhouette is framed against the moon. It’s properly dynamic, even if it’s impossible to see anything concrete. The Daily Planet runs the article two nights past, the headline National City’s own hero is above the picture, and the center fold is beautifully written, but lacking anything of substance.

The Spectre doesn’t ask for gratitude, but this reporter finds themselves thankful nonetheless—it was no easy feat, confronting six hardened criminals from the darkest part of National City, but the Spectre didn’t back down. They dealt with them swiftly, with skill and care, and only asked for the authorities to be called…

Clark reads the article twice, spilling milk on the front page as he’s eating breakfast. You try to tell him that being a vigilante isn’t something he should be striving toward—the authorities are there for a reason. He nods, but when you see the front page pinned to his wall later that night, after he’s gone to sleep, you can’t help but feel some kind of pride.

After that first article, Perry White never writes another.

You’ve gotten better at avoiding reporters.

Well, all of them except one.

You’re twenty five when Cat grant figures you out.

She’s none too pleased with you, and when she shoves her hands against your shoulders, you comply and take a step backwards, because it doesn’t matter that she couldn’t physically move you if you didn’t wish to be—she’s Cat, and you’ll always be pliant to her. She shoves you again, and you’re worried that she hasn’t said anything yet, hasn’t demanded explanations—because you’d given her enough answers to satisfy after she’d come home from Iraq. You’d been amiable with distance, and you’d allowed her the time she needed—and when she did show up, it was with a list of questions, and no patience for lies.

So you’d answered them.

Somehow it had never come up, because she was looking for extraordinary things—you’d showed her more than Perry White had seen that night. She fingered the hole in your sweatshirt where bullets had burrowed through—she’d felt your stomach where the knife should have killed you. She asked about genetics, and abilities, and what you are—and you’d told her the truth. Most of it. Enough of it.

But she’s here now, and she’s pressed against you, and her face is flushed, starting at her neck, and her fingers have curled into the dark fabric of your sweatshirt. She’s beautiful when she’s mad—and you realize that probably is no help, because nothing good ever comes from Cat Grant being mad at you. The last time it happened, she’d gone half-way across the world, and had hid herself in a war zone.

You’re the Spectre?” She’s incredulous, and her grip tightens, knuckles going white with how firmly she’s keeping you in place. You place your hands over her clenching fingers, her hands cool against your martian hot palms.

“I am.”

“And why didn’t you tell me?” She demands, and you would shrug is she didn’t have such a grip on you. Her eyes are bright, alight with anger, and sparkling with something you know too well—worry—because Cat Grant is at her angriest when you make her worry about you. She gets snappy, and hot under the collar, and her lip curls in a sneer—this anger burns hot, and you prefer it to her more common form of fury. A cold calculating thing that has more in common with frost bite and winter than anything hot.

“You didn’t ask,” not specifically, but the justification seems weak now, as she bears down on you. Shorter, and more slight, but that’s never stopped her before.

“Don’t start arguing semantics with me, Kara,” she warns, eyebrows perking, “You won’t like the outcome.”

So you loosen, wilting at your edges, because you just want to go back to before she knew any of this—before that night with the knife, before your intervention in Iraq—before there was a lurking doubt in her green eyes. When she didn’t know about this worst version of you—the kind that thrills at the violence, that needs the adrenaline to stay sane, because you’re restless any other way. Work keeps your mind satisfied, it lets you tuck into intellectual problems and solve them—but you are a physical being as much as you are an intellectual one.

“So much had changed already—I wasn’t…ready for this to change too. For you to see this side of me.” The side with blood soaked into the sleeves of your sweatshirt, where your fists clench and your spine hardens. She goes soft at the eyes, but her grip doesn’t loosen—her stance doesn’t change.

“So you lied,”

“I omitted the truth,” you try, but the glint in her gaze makes you recant, “I lied.”

She steps back, looking at you, her sleeves rolled to her elbows, an ink stain on her jaw where she’d probably itched her cheek while holding a pen. Her bag is forgotten by the door, the key you’d given her left on the table beside it. You wonder when she’s going to leave for good—if she’d planned to do that before you’d intervened, if last time was supposed to be…the last time. It is a fear that lingers in your chest, it hurts in ways that knives and bullets couldn’t hope to manage.

“When you want to tell me the truth,” cool, inward, she’s walking toward the door, picking up her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. “You know where to find me.” The doorknob turns, the hinges creaking as she opens the door, and you can’t stop yourself; whatever hope you’ve had of keeping these two entities separate, you’ve given up on, because they’ve already crashed together. At least Clark didn’t know.

“Cat,” you call, “Wait.”

You’re thirty one when Cat Grant writes her first article in three years.


Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CLARK). What happens when a lost boy grows up? Stepping out of Neverland for the first time, no pixie dust in his pocket; oh, Peter and Wendy will visit. But this world isn’t for them. It’s for lost boys who want to find their own way, make their own compass and define their own true north. Neverland will always be—will always be waiting to welcome the lost boy back, but for now. For now—reality awaits.

“Bro, you won’t believe what’s up over at Garland hall,” your roommate has constructed a tower of boxes that may, or may not, tumble without provocation. You don’t know how it is even maintaining any sense of structural soundness. Luck, probably. You almost don’t know what to do with yourself now that you’re actually here—you’d spent the whole summer doing research on what freshman should do before moving into their dorm, but what you’re feeling right now wasn’t on any of the check lists you’d compiled. It wasn’t in the orientation guide, or the campus tour. This lingering in your bones hadn’t showed up until your last box was placed; until you had nothing more to get from the car, no more odds and ends.

You were officially moved in.

“What’s up, Trev?” You flop onto your bed, picking up the camera Cat had gotten you for your eighteenth birthday—you hadn’t mentioned it, but nothing gets past Cat Grant. Kara is convinced she hires private investigators to figure out what to buy people for their birthday—you don’t have the heart to tell your cousin that she’s pretty easy to shop for. The media mogul had probably seen you looking at its specs when you were in Best Buy over last summer; you’d planned to save up money to buy it before college, but it’d been waiting for you in February for your birthday. No card, and wrapped poorly—and that was how you knew Cat had wrapped it herself, that she hadn’t hired a professional to do it.

“Free concert, little screamo for my taste, man, but word is there’s a keg.” Trevor is grinning from ear to ear, his dark eyes bright and his purposefully slouched posture endearing—you’d met him a few times before the semester started, once you’d gotten your room assignment. He was an absolute bro—in his own words—from Smallville, Kansas; some mile by mile town where there was more farm animals than people. Word was they’d gotten some notoriety almost two decades ago when some meteors crashed in their corn fields, and when the authorities rolled out to investigate, there was nothing to recover. But strange marks that looked like something had been dragged clear of the site.

You knew nothing about that; wink.

“We’re only eighteen,” eyebrow raised, Trevor has the shine to grin wider—if possible.

“Come on, man; we’re college bound now, it’d be a crime not to drink free beer,” you’ve never met someone so amiable with casual rule breaking. He’s disarmingly charming, and you understand why he’s going into journalism—you know the kind of person it takes to get information out of people who may not want to share it.

“An absolute travesty,” you drawl, smiling nonetheless.

Still fiddling with the camera, turning the focus this way and that, you glance at the inside of your wrist to see what time it was—Kara said she’d be here by five, but when you turn your mobile on, there’s no missed calls or messages. Any number of things could have come up, and you understand—you do—but that lingering in your bones feels heavier, and the tethers keeping you to the ground feel weak and absent. You feel alone for the first time—in your whole life, like maybe this is what life really is. Standing under only your own weight, with nothing promising solid ground.

“Let’s go,” you decide, tucking your camera up onto the shelf above your bed, “don’t want to miss the free beer.” Trevor practically clicks his heels as you slip your feet into your shoes, and tug a University of Metropolis sweatshirt over your head. Cat’d tried to get you to get a haircut before you left, but you’d maintained that shaggy was in—you didn’t care what her fashion section had to say about it. She’d only made five comments afterward, and you were proud of her restraint—you’d said as much when kissing her cheek when you’d hugged her goodbye.

Hands shoved in your pockets, you smile and greet everyone you pass—the wing in primarily students going into communications—radio, journalism, television—and you’d yet to iron out exactly what you wanted to take. You were leaning toward photo journalism, but knew you’d never hear the end of it if your writing lagged—a double major? It was just another thing you had to figure out, and you had no idea how to. How people made these choices about life when they were only eighteen—you can’t imagine the next five months, let alone five years.

“Oh yeah,” your friend cheers, slicking back his hair—which is completely irrelevant, because he tugs his snap-back over his hair—and smooths out his eyebrows. “Hotties at six o’clock.” Rolling your eyes, you look behind you, and try to find aforementioned hotties—but there’s only a forty year old maintenance man, and a statue.

“Trev, while I’m not one to cast judgement on other’s proclivities,” you start, “I honestly didn’t know this about you, man.”

Trevor looks where you are still staring and gags, curling fingers around your shoulder and pointing you to face the opposite direction--he must not understand the spotting method. You search for a moment—small Hispanic man, elderly woman, child, and—oh. They’re standing shoulder to shoulder, just under the shade of the large tree in front of the building. A campus map is forgotten in one hand, crumpled like they’d given up on using it—the shorter of the two dressed like she didn’t realize it was still ninety something degrees. Smooth black silk, with white piping at the collars, heels that were ridiculous, and still didn’t allow her to be equal in height to her companion. She’s making a gesture with one hand, and you can’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses—but her companion doesn’t seem to need eye contact to know.

Your cousin has both hands shoved in her pockets, hair tucked back behind her ear, while lifting her shoulders in a graceless shrug you know she’s being yelled at for—another lecture about posture that you can almost hear before it’s said. It had your own spine straightening, and hands removed from pockets. Neither one of them see you; Kara must not be paying attention—but that isn’t surprising. For as long as you can remember, she’s only ever had eyes for Cat—baleful, pitiful eyes, at times—but it was like the world slipped away for a little while and she wasn’t a woman with a dead planet on her shoulders. She was just another hapless fool in love.

You’ve never seen two people orbit each other like them—always passing by, like gravity simply wouldn’t let them slip away. Just maintain parallel paths until the end of days. You didn’t know the whole story, you didn’t even know most of it—if you’re being honest—but there’d never been a question in your mind who they belonged with.

Not that they ever asked you.

“Knock it off, man,” you elbow him, a little harder than you probably should have but—seriously, boundaries, “Those’re my parents.”

Blue eyes have found you from across the lawn, sunglasses perched on the top of her head, making sure her blonde hair stays out of her eyes. Seeing Kara here, it is impossible not to notice how young she is; slouching in a CatCo tank top, a familiar knapsack over one shoulder—she looks like any other college student, fresh faced and clambering for the day. She’s smiling softly at you, lifting a hand to curl around Cat’s shoulder so that she’s facing your direction. Parents. It is a term a lot of your classmates takes for granted—to them, it usually means mother and father, or hey, even mother and mother. But it is something—intangible to you.

Its two children themselves, who raised you the best way they knew how—with fairy tales and juice boxes, carnivals in the summer and Christmas lights in the winter. You’d tried calling Kara mom a few times, but it had never stuck—she’d shake her head gently, and comb her fingers through your hair. When you were older, you found out it was because you had a mother—who had loved you dearly, who had sent you away to save you—and Kara hadn’t wanted to take that, hadn’t felt comfortable stepping into those shoes. Cousin doesn’t mean too many what it does to you—to many, it isn’t synonymous with your whole world.

And Cat—no one could understand how fondly a woman could say my heathen, and how it lived so intimately in your heart. She’d made no promise to parents and a dead race, she hadn’t travelled thousands of lightyears. But she’d pulled you out of the road by your hand, and never let go. She was the humanity between the three of you—she gave you the talk when you were thirteen, and had made it so that Kara wouldn’t look at a banana for a whole year after. She’d taught you how to drive, and had made you swear to secrecy how she’d screamed when you almost forgot how to stop—she had an image to keep up. She raised you in the ways too human for Kara; the things that your cousin knew of in theory, but no one had been there to show her how, so she’d needed the help.

Cat has walked up to you, and you’ve lost Kara for the moment—the blonde reaches your shoulder, at best. The Queen of all Media is peering up at you through dark lenses, and her hands have settled firmly on her hips. You make no comment how her chin wobbles for a moment, before she exhales. “I still don’t see why you have to go to college here—National City has a perfectly fine university.” Her voice is peckish, and her jaw clenches, and when she sniffs it seems arrogant, but you can hear the swallowed tears.

So you hug her.

Wrap her small human frame in your arms, and curl around her like you’ve been able to do for so long now. There’s a token protest, a stop it now, before she gives in and tucks her head under your chin and wraps her thin arms around your chest—she almost can’t make it all the way around, but she squeezes as hard as she can. Making sure, even with your Kryptonian DNA, you can feel it.

“You know why,” you murmur, “Doing it on my own, remember?” You’d sat them down when the acceptance letters had started coming in; pretending you didn’t notice how they kept putting the one from the University of National City on top. Between the two of them, they owned the city—media magnate, and technology tycoon power couple, that wasn’t a couple, but still was.

Yeah, it even gives you a headache sometimes.

“You could’ve done it on your own closer to home.” She insists, leaning back, and fixing her shirt, like the two wrinkles would really kill her.

“How much do you donate to UNC every year?” You ask with a grin, eyebrow arched—Kara calls it your Grant Brow. Properly arrogant, and equally as condescending—no, she never says that within Cat’s earshot.

The blonde waves away the comment, but doesn’t answer—no answer might as well be an answer.

“—‘Lark! ‘Lark!” You don’t need to turn around to know the sound of wobbling toddler feet, and just as they’re about to reach you, you swoop down and pluck the child off the ground. Carter giggles while cramming his dirty hands against your cheeks—bits of grass still half curled into his fingers. “Home grass!” He’s declaring, even while Kara ambles up with a hand already rubbing the back of her neck, looking at everything but Cat—who is glaring, with her own Grant Brow raised.

“Thanks, buddy.” You’re plucking grass from the collar of your sweatshirt, setting them down gently in his extended palms. “That was real thoughtful. Want to find a safe place to keep it? You can see my room.” Carter is thrashing his little body around in your arms, and you only need to look once at your parents, before starting to walk inside, shrugging to Trevor who is walking backwards slowly toward the free concert and beer. There’s be more parties in your future; you’d much rather spend time with your family.

Little Carter Grant had come out of nowhere, but you can’t imagine life without your younger brother—familial relations as crooked as they are, there’s no question who everyone is to him. You will always be his older brother, his protector. Cat will always be mommy—soother of fevers, maker of soup, scolder of punishments. Kara will always be mama—procurer of secret ice cream, knower of every song, partner in crime. None of it has anything to do with blood; family rarely does. You don’t know how they make it work—how they can orbit so closely, but it works. They love each other, to the yellow sun and beyond—you wonder if they waited too long, or if their story is too convoluted.

You hope they figure it out.

Everyone else has.

Turning around at the door to see if they’re behind you, they haven’t moved, their heads ducked close; Cat’s hands still on her hips, Kara’s tucking blonde hair behind the CEO’s ear. You can hear whispers of he’s going to be fine, as your cousin wipes a stray tear off Cat’s cheek, before pulling her into a hug. They fit together—not like a puzzle, not so perfectly, not like they were made for each other. But like they’d simply molded together—that, over time, they curved and twisted, until the patterns up their sides and across their hearts could only be matched by the other. A life lived had made them perfect for each other.

“Mommy? Mama?” Carter mumbles against your neck, thumb tucked behind his front teeth, and you hoist him a little higher.

“They’ll be right in, buddy,” you assure, and turn to walk inside, giving them some privacy.

Yeah, you really hope they figure it out.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). Nothing happens how you expect; she slips silently into your life, and winds herself around your bones, and through your heart. Until, one day, you realize you can’t breathe without her. That she’s tangled herself through your lungs, and filled your chest. And you can’t regret it—can’t regret her—because without her, you have no idea who you’d become. What your life would be. Maybe there’s a world out there where you didn’t have her; where you struggled through life alone. You don’t wish to see that life.

Some nights you stand on the roof of your building, past the no trespassing sign that had been there longer than you’ve leased the high rise apartment—a corner unit, with floor to ceiling windows. The view is virtually the same from your living room, but the barrier of glass takes something away from the thrill of being so high. The feeling of air rushing through your hair, and tugging at your clothes—goading you closer and closer to the edge, until only the sight of the pavement below will satisfy that something in your chest.

It was years ago now that you’d tugged Kara up here for the first time—coaxing and coercing the nervous girl past the no trespassing sign, and up the questionable stairs that didn’t groan, so much as scream when you put any weight on them. You’d thought she was scared—nervous about the height, about falling. A lot seemed to make Kara nervous, and it was a hitch in your heart when she trusted you to lead—when you’d feel her fingers curl firmly around your own, and she’d just smile—trust, curiosity, and something like awe.

You’d tugged her free of the stairwell, and a storm was snapping at the edge of the city—lightning flashing along the harbor, thunder sounding in the distance, counting the miles until landfall. The crawling dark clouds tugged themselves across the sky quickly—riding the brisk night wind. The stars were being swallowed—not that you could see many due to the lights, but the brightest ones always shone through the light pollution—being smoothed away in a black haze.

She’d looked at you then, blue eyes catching every flash of lightning, features pulled into something like uncertainty, “Are you sure?” she’d asked you, stepping close enough that you could feel the heat of her skin through both your clothes. Sometimes you forget you can’t simply stop everything and tell her that she’s beautiful—that she wore the elements of the storm artistically across her face. The slant of shadow cast off the sharp line of her cheeks, and down the blade of her jaw—sometimes you wished you could make a picture with paint and charcoal, instead of just words.

Kara deserved to be drawn—preserved in some museum with an obscure highbrow name; so that five centuries from now, when the world looked back on your empire—media empire, definitely, but if actual imperial rule came your way, you wouldn’t decline—they’d see why anything was worth it. The same as when Troy sent their fleet forth for Helena, the same as Cleopatra bent a patriarchy—you know deep down it’s the deluded thoughts of an in-love twenty-something. But that doesn’t make the thoughts—the desires—vanish, just kept them in your mind where they belonged.

Existing, but unspoken.

“Am I ever anything but sure?” You’d responded, walking backwards away from the door to the stairwell, catching her other hand so that you were leading her by both. “Do you trust me?” Utter sincerity had bled into your bones, pumped free of your blood by your galloping heart.

The next snap of thunder made the ground shiver.

“You know I do,” she’d smiled, and tugged a little, because the edge of the building was nothing more than a slight lip of cement, a waist high railing, and then a sixty foot drop.

Turning, you’d looked out at National City—this chrome and glass jungle you wished to rule—and inhaled deep. When you opened your eyes again, you felt that thrill in your spine, a current that tripped across your fingertips and tightened the muscles in your calves. “Do you ever get that split-second urge to jump?” You’d pressed your hands against the railing, leaning in until your stomach touched the top, and you could look down at the pavement below—the people threading through each other in a mad dash of movement.

“What?” She’d sputtered, in the middle of fixing her glasses, before she’d wrapped a surprisingly tight grip around your elbow to pull you back. “Cat, no.”

“I’m not suicidal, supergirl,” you’d drawled, delighted with her panic, though you’d soothed fingers softly up her forearms until her grip loosened. Watching at the white marks left from her fingers faded away to nothing. “The urge to jump—that little voice tittering softly about oblivion at the back of your mind.”

You’d been struck by the look on her face—a snap shot of a tucked brow, before everything flitted away and she was—someone else. Her blue eyes grew darker, pulling in whispers of the night, and her chin had tipped—it was nothing you could describe, even with the litany of words at your disposal, but it was something. Like Kara had stepped away for a moment and left someone else in her place—someone darker, or older, or simply—other.

“Call of the void,” she’d supplied, soft as a feather, nearly lost to a groan of thunder, “l’appel du vide. Poe called it the imp of the perverse, and Freud, death drive.” Eyebrow raised, you’d been prepared to snipe something about not realizing you’d been dating Google, but it was that something that had stayed your tongue. Nothing silly like fear, or uncertainty, but the journalist in you—the watcher of humanity—wanted to keep your fingerprints off this moment. The unnoticed observer.

“The urge to step away, battling the desire to step forward. People say it’s a natural human instinct,” And like she was blinking awake, she stepped away from the rail, and closer to the center of the roof, leaving you at the edge. She’d smiled, wide and dopey—and that tingle at the back of your neck went away—Kara was back, and she was shrugging gracelessly, “Nope, can’t say I have.”

Sitting now, in that very same high rise apartment, under that very same roof, you know you’re watching that other Kara—that replacement that seems to slip into her skin without warning. She’s miles away in a poorly lit television studio—shoulder to shoulder with Maxwell Lorde, as he leans over and whispers something in her ear. She smiles, wide and off, and you wonder if she’s been like this long—like a marionette without strings—you’d seen her only once in almost nine months, and that’d been on the other side of the world in a warzone.

You’ve been home for five weeks now, and you’d seen neither hide nor hair from her since your plane had landed—your mother had fawned over you loudly, and to the cameras, at the airport, and Clark had been dropped off only an hour later. He’d crawled through your luggage, finding every gift intended for him, and you’d almost been able to forget about his absent cousin—the one you were sure was sitting on the roof waiting for him to finish. You’d wanted to march out and snag her by the ear—but Cat Grant does not go to those who are in the wrong. No, you would wait her out—you’d win this imaginary war, with your battered hurting heart as prize.

“I’m sitting in tonight, with two of this generation’s sharpest minds—Maxwell Lorde, CEO of Lorde Technologies, and his chief of staff, K. A. Callaghan.” And dashing millennials they are. Lorde cuts a good figure—square in the shoulders, suit cut perfectly to his frame, no seams or snags as her perches on the stool. Pensive brow, light eyes, expensive haircut—just enough stubble to be mistaken as rugged. The same frat-house wet-napkin that had chased you through college; who’d instead coupled up with your nicer, and more understanding half—intellectually, of course.

It throws you for a moment to hear Kara’s last name said so casually—it’d been something of a hiccup in your youth, something that had seemed wrong, but you’d brushed it under the carpet like you’d done many things about the blonde. Callaghan had been the owner of the store Kara’d inherited—the relationship had never been cold, but it had warmed over time. Maybe you had let yourself forget those earlier years; knowing she's going by his name now, almost strictly, seems right.

“Cal’s more than my chief of staff,” Lorde laughs, clasping Kara by the shoulder and giving her a friendly jiggle; the nickname makes her eyes fall further out of focus, “She’s my better half, honestly—at least that’s what my wife calls her.” He’s charm, and excitement, and beside him Kara straightens—shoulders falling backward and out of that habitual slouch, burnished blonde hair tucked behind her ear.

“Your wife also calls me your common sense, and baby sitter,” all white teeth, and nervously adjusted glasses. There’s something avian about Kara now—something flighty and nervous, but it’s endearing, and wholesome, and it makes you miss her—makes you want to un-see that imposter sitting in her cosmic blue eyes.

The host laughs, genuinely, “Now, I’ve heard a few different things, from a few different people—but word is that you started Lorde Technologies before you graduated college?”

Lorde smiles, “Which college? I’ve gone to a few,”

Kara rolls blue eyes behind thick lenses, “The first one, Max; you’re being obtuse on purpose.”

“So I am,” leaning away, almost out of frame, before leaning forward again, an elbow on his knee. “Yes, my junior year. A hefty loan, but I’d say it paid off.” Cue that dashing smile.

You almost groan at how predictable he is. You know what makes it intolerable to you is watching how he and Kara nudge shoulders, how she even loosens a little—hands still clasped in her lap, but less tight, her knuckles gaining back some color. You close your eyes, leaning your head back and only half listen to the rest of the interview—you’d been present when Lorde Technologies had gotten their first government contract, when they’d sold their electric car design, when Kara had designed some alien looking communication shell that had been promptly sold to the highest bidder. Their stock had been on a steady upward climb since that first breakthrough—and you couldn’t be prouder of her, even if you had to be proud of Maxwell by proxy.

Distance, and realizations, didn’t change that warm feeling in your chest.

Just made you feel the fool when it inevitably drums to life.

The drone of the television lulls you to sleep, the show kicking over to the news, which only makes you slap at the remote until something mindless and foreign comes on. You don’t know how long you sleep for, but it feels like a thousand years, and only a second, at the same time. Your head throbs because your neck hurts, and the few glasses of wine you’d had earlier slosh away in your empty stomach. You can’t tolerate the quiet anymore, it sits anxiously in your stomach, perpetually waiting—you’d grown too comfortable falling asleep to the sounds of dropping bombs and fly-bys.

Eons, and moments, later you open your eyes—blinking until your living room ceiling comes into focus, until the small chip in the paint grates on your nerves. Lulling your head to the side, your gaze tracks across the empty wine glass on the side table, the dark hallway leading to your bedroom, and—Kara sitting on the railing of your balcony. The wind snarls her hair, pulling it away from her face, and she’s not even watching you—she’s looking up. Eyes narrowed like she’s trying to see the stars through the light pollution of the city. Her shoulders are rounded and her hands only loosely clasp the railing—this must be a dream, because she’s barefoot, wearing pajama pants and the University of National City sweatshirt she’d stolen from you ages ago.

This isn’t the creature that had torn through armed men like they were children, cracking knuckles like spent bullets and shattering cement without a thought. Who’d made men crawl over themselves to get away, who had thrown themselves—and you—into the sky with no fear of falling. No, this isn’t that. Nor is it the carefully crafted millennial who had powder across her nose and cheeks, with a shirt pressed, and a collar starched. Who was a billboard version of the actual human underneath—human? Maybe not. Clearing your throat quietly, you’re about to move, but that small sound seems to be all that’s needed to snare the attention of otherworldly eyes.

Kara’s looking at you, lip tucked between her teeth, fingers spreading wide, before loosely curling around the top of the railing again. She sits carelessly, no waver in her balance, no fear of the fifty-six story fall—it’s almost child-like, the way her spine undulates, before she settles back into her habitual slouch. Her lips have pulled into the smallest of smiles—soft and genuine—and that warmth in your chest spreads and conquers—melting the coldest edges of your heart.

Standing up, your shoulders crack, and you push your hands down your front—smoothing out wrinkles that have no hope of being removed without an iron, and steam. Walking toward the balcony, it’s silly to think all the stands between you, and her, is an inch of glass—and a thousand lies. Those seem impossible to surmount, but you want to—you want Kara to make you understand, to tell you things that will exonerate her wrongs. You’ve never wanted to forgive someone as readily as you do now—the world could have everyone else, you just wanted Kara.

Sliding the glass open, the chill in the air is only amplified by the height and wind, but you only wrap your arms around your stomach and step forward. The chill of cement against the bare soles of your feet. She watches you, baleful doe eyes refusing to blink—looking at you like she always has. Like you might blink out of existence if she looks away for even a moment.

“Lurking like a peeper is not how one should reacquaint themselves to someone,” you sniff, frowning and looking down your nose at her. You don’t appreciate how she smiles a little wider at the barb.

“I miss you.”

God, she says it so simply—so earnestly, like it lived on the tip of her tongue for months, and she’d only waited for you to appear so that she could say it. This close you can see the tired glaze to her eyes, even behind the glasses she insists on wearing, how her slouch is messier—more burnt out—than usual. You think again of a marionette without strings—cut and left sprawled on stage.

She says miss, not missed, like you’re not standing in front of her—like you’re still three thousand miles away.

“Whose fault is that?” Bitter now, displeased with yourself that you want to say I miss you too, because your heart is a treacherous thing.


Frowning, you rub your hands up and down your arms—trying to stay warm, but really, you just need to do something with them. Otherwise you’ll do something stupid like reach for her; to see if her cheeks fit your palms as perfectly as they used to, to remember how she’d nose at your wrist and press her lips against your pulse.

You don’t know what to say—a strange sensation for a journalist.

“You asked me once if I ever heard that little voice—the one telling you to jump,” she leans back on the rail, and you can’t stop the startled step forward you take—like she had when she thought you would jump—but gravity doesn’t seem to hold any sway over her like it does you. She’s nearly flat, her hair falling down behind her, toward the ground—but she just…remains.

“I was being honest—I don’t,” she continues, leaning up like she wasn’t just defying physics, “It’s a human instinct—and I’m not human.”

You’d known, you can’t say you haven’t known—because humans can’t bend knives with their stomach, or pluck bullets from their shoulder—or, hell, throw themselves into the sky. But having it said so plainly, was startling, but you see how Kara looks at you—afraid. Like this bulletproof girl had anything to fear from you—no, but Kara? You see that same foolish warmth in her eyes, the match to the sweltering in your chest—fools, the both of you.

Your jaw unlocks, and you exhale loudly through your nose, “What are you?”

In your mind, you’re writing an article—something sensational, something eye-catching. The Truth is Amongst Us!

Kryptonian.” She looks hapless, floundering—saying words in that looping accent you haven’t heard in ages. That swallow tail lilt to her words that was half-song, half-declaration. She looks lost, but that tone is ancient—it’s imperial.

“That sounds like a clinical disease.” You say, nonplussed, “Try again.”

She heaves herself forward—somehow managing to shuffle even with her feet off the ground. When she’s standing, her shoulder lop up into a shrug, before she speaks. “I’m Kryptonian,” as if repetition will force it to make sense, “I’m from the planet Krypton.”

Planet—Krypton. The words slot next to each other easily enough, but their meaning is somehow lost in translation—like the definition had been erased out of the dictionary, and you were left with only the fundamentals. Krypton, proper-noun. Swallowing, you exhale—trying to ignore how your heart hammers—how your palms sweat.

“You’re an alien,” you surmise, like this is just—a chat, something that came out naturally, just a silly quirk to the girl you’d been having sex with for the last few years. Hey, she’s an alien—no big deal.

Her lips press together, nervous, “I am.”

You growl in frustration, and when you step forward—she steps back, but she has nowhere to go, lower back hitting the railing. Your hands curl into the fabric of her stolen sweatshirt, her eyes widen, and when you press against her—she’s as hot blooded as you remember—her warmth bleeding through both layers while you keep her snared.

“I am not accepting this noncommittal bullshit, Kara,” you hiss, watching how her pupils dilate, spilling wide and black, swallowing the blue. You’re breathing hard through your nose, her lips have parted, her tongue running along the sharp line of her bottom teeth. Even fuming, some part of you wants to take that bottom lip between your teeth, to sooth your tongue over the petal and forget this nonsense was even happening.

“I was twelve,” she hushes, her breath on your cheek, her eyes set to yours, “My planet was dying, and there was—no one could do anything.” It was something in the way she said my; as if the whole planet had indeed belonged to her. An aching ownership that throbs somewhere inside her—a bloodless wound.

You continue for her, “So your people left, and came to earth.” Following the implied trail, your fingers are loosening, fingers uncurling until your palms are just flat against her collarbones. You can feel how her breathing shakes, how her bones vibrate. Like you could rewrite history; could smooth over truths with a cult of personality. Make reality bend to your will.

But you’re a journalist—you should know the truth always comes out.

“No.” The word is sharp—the crack of thunder from all those years ago, miles off shore, a warning. “There wasn’t enough time.” Her jaw is working, her throat bobbing as she swallows, blue eyes nearly black, but glassy and distant. Like she was watching something far away—a hundred thousand light years for all you know—and you’re just...another witness.

You’re someone watching the recording of a tragedy—some horrible moment, which was captured and will live forever. Something you can’t touch, can’t change—but something that had its fingerprint on every aspect of your life, even if you didn’t know it. You watch it unfold across the smooth beautiful lines of Kara’s face—watch as it sinks into the shadows of her eyes, and the tense line of her lips.

“My cousin was sent away, a small stasis pod—small enough to escape Krypton’s unstable gravity.” Her pupils flicker back and forth, like she’s reading something you can’t see. “And—I was sent. To protect him—everyone else—no one—,” could a voice echo? Hollow and tinny like the vibrations in a can—she’s swallowing compulsively, a tear falling down her cheek. Her words aren’t making sense—not really—you catch only me, somewhere in there, but nothing else. You don’t even think she’s speaking English anymore—the words are beautiful, and floating into each other, like the language itself doesn’t believe in gravity. Throaty and from the bottom of her chest—she’s hiccupping, her nose running.

You’re pawing at her cheeks like a dying man at an oasis in the desert—fingers tangling into her hair to try and force her to look at you—to see you. But she’s looking inside herself, and you’re left whispering against her cheek—Kara, come back, Kara—like your voice could be heard in space, where she surely is in her mind. “I saw it,” she’s hoarse, clenching her jaw, shifting her shoulders like they’re impossibly heavy; you wonder how much a planet weighs. “The core fissured—the centrifugal force—it—there was—like a firecracker in a closed fist.”

Snap. The railing yelps as the metal bends and tears, a finger punched right through the steel, the rest seeming to whimper as Kara refuses to move her hand. The other hovers near your hip, fingers twitching, spread wide like she isn’t sure she has control of it. Removing one hand from her upper chest, you curl your fingers around her wrist, and guide her to your waist—holding her there firmly until she understands and grips onto you. The pressure is tight—painful, even—but she’s finally looking at you, and not through you.

Like you’re keeping her here on Earth.

Refusing to let her drift amongst the stars around her dead planet.

“Kara,” you say her name softly, hitting each letter carefully, and her lips pinch, like she’s trying to keep her chin from wobbling—like she’s trying to swallow this down, push it back inside. But you’ve seen it now, she’s allowed your fingers inside her heart, and there’s nothing cold and unfeeling in her. She’s everything good about this world—and she isn’t even from it. She’s some wayward star walker, who’d drifted through the black until happening upon a little ball of blue on the other side of the galaxy—what were the chances? How small was the percentage that she would find herself here—that she would consume your life, and mark it with careful, loving fingers?

“Cat,” she sobs, your name a hiccup, the hand on your hip tightening, and you stop yourself from wincing, you feel the impossible force of her grip, but you don’t turn her away—she’s shattering before you, the cracks just below her skin splitting wide until she’s only pieces of herself. “I—I wanted to tell you; but—I—I was pretending.” There’s nothing pretty in how she’s crying now—nose running, eyes blurry and wet, her checks blotching with red marks—but she’s beautiful. “To be human—that—that I wasn’t...”

You swallow the last word with your lips, pressing against hers with a tender pressure, curling your fingers tighter in the burnished gold of her crown. She leans into you greedily, pressing against you like you’ve given her some kind of salvation—scooped her out of space yourself, and brought her home. Her tears are wetting your cheeks—or you’re crying too—and she’s opening her mouth, delving into yours with a sure tongue. Absent mewls are vibrating at the back of her throat, and you’re murmuring against her lips with every half-thought breath you take.

You have no words for her—no promises, no assurances, not even a forgiveness—because forgiveness is not something you could give her now. When you ache and bleed for her—when you see only sadness in her eyes, and desperation in her grip. Forgiveness is what happens sometime later—in all the moments after this one—when you’re both level headed, and not clambering to feel a part of something you miss. There’s a voice saying you need this, and it pulses starved and wanting in your whole being—up your spine and through your chest. But you need to think about Kara—you need to slow, and step back—need to do…something. Even if it’s nearly impossible to think with how she’s pressing open mouthed kisses along your jaw, your head tipped back.

“Kara,” you hush, chewing on your bottom lip when a particularly enthusiastic kiss involves some teeth, you groan, but breath deep and guide her up to look at you. Her eyes are black, her lips swollen, and you need a moment to remember your intent. “We shouldn’t; we still need to talk.” About lies, and truths, and whatever comes between them—but she’s stepping into you, eyes wide, mouth murmuring words in that language you don’t understand. Trilling and soft, from the back of her throat.

“I need you,” she gasps, raw nerves and hunger, tripping over herself to get out of her own way, “I need to feel you.” Her hands are smoothing up your sides, rounding across your shoulders, before tripping back down—setting low on your hips, pulling you in. There’s a tensile strength in those fingers, but you know if you tried to move—you’d be able to. That she’d never keep you here against your will—that truth has nothing to do with humanity, or Krypton, but with Kara. The gentlest soul you know.

“I’m here.” Your hands are on her cheeks, fingers behind her ears, thumbs running along the moist skin below her eyes. You’re searching for something in blistering blue—you aren’t sure what yet—but it is important, and you need to understand. This girl had lost everything—it is a fact you haven’t really wrapped your mind around, you’re unable to, because it is so impossibly sad. So catastrophic—but she doesn’t need placations, she doesn’t need forgiveness—not right now. You see the doubt, the self-loathing, it lurks like a dark passenger in her eyes. She needs an assurance.

“What are you?” You ask; fingers hooking almost painfully into her hair, tilting her chin forcefully down to keep eye contact; she’s pliant and soft in your hands, as she always has been.

She blinks, mouth forming a word—the right word, her first instinct—before she swallows it, and says instead, “An alien?”

“Wrong,” you say, grip tightening on her jaw, pulling her down until her forehead is against yours—it’s a command, and the tone in your voice makes her shiver. “What are you?”

She’s breathing heavily, her nostrils flaring while she mouths around a word—it whispers against your lips, but you don’t actually hear it—you see it in her eyes, see it lingering, but you need to hear it.

“Kara,” firm, leaning your body into hers, you hear the railing groan as she leans heavily back on it, “Say it, don’t mumble.”

And she breaks—trusting you to pick up her pieces, to collect her shards of self carefully in your hands—that you’ll hold onto her until she can begin slotting them back into place. It isn’t forgiveness—it’s something bone deep and intimate, beyond something so rudimentary. She’s kissing you again, hard enough that teeth click, hands quick and desperate down your sides as she grips the back of your thighs and hoists you up until you’re aching against the firm curve of her stomach, your ankles locked at her lower back. Kissing gets messier as you rest elbows on her shoulders, and curl your arm around her neck.

You don’t have to ask again—don’t have to whisper what are you—because she’s whimpering the word into your mouth, “Yours.”

So simple, so emphatic—so profound—like some weight has been removed from her shoulders. Blue eyes go soft and hazy, hands pawing mindlessly at your thighs, rocking your hips against her stomach. You catch a moan at the back of your throat, lulling your head back to allow her lips an uninhibited path up your neck. Kara mouths your skin carefully, keening quietly from her chest, nipping at your pulse—laving attention to the dip of your shoulder, where she catches the tendon between her teeth, press just enough to you feel a prick of pain.

She is a conquered titan beneath your hands, gazing up at the peak of mount Olympus, supplicating herself before you; and you can’t find it in yourself to feel deserving of that devotion. It live in her beautiful face like phantom touches, traced across the line of her brow, and down the straight line of her nose. You feel how her body moves—the muscles ripples like waves beneath her skin, prowling with strength, struck through with power—but grace has never been her strongest quality. Her bare foot catches the raised divider for the sliding glass door—tipping her forward, which in turn made you tense and curl against her chest, waiting for the fall.

But you only feel the roll of her hips against you; gently set against the carpet, you open your eyes to see how she’s caught both your bodies with one hand on the ground—shoulders slanted, muscles playing beneath your fingers.

Kara doesn’t seem to care, she’s pushing your shirt up, fingers working twice as hard as needed to clumsily smooth over your stomach, followed by an eager mouth. She’s half hunched, your knees along her sides as you curl fingers in her hair—directing her absently, tugging, and scratching at her scalp. She’s humming in her chest as teeth nip and bite their way down to your navel, pressing her cheek to your hip while nosing the top of your pants. Slipping her tongue just below to slick across the sensitive skin there. Raising slightly to bite gently at your belly button, circling it with her tongue, before insisting again at the soft curve at the bottom of your belly.

Silently—desperately—asking for permission.

You growl, lifting hips off the ground as your only answer, so she can hastily pull them down your thighs, not even being able to wait until they’re off before kissing the wet spot on your underwear—she moans plaintively, lapping hungrily at your center, forgetting that she wants your pants off, leaving them bunched lewdly at your knees.

The hand you have in her hair is possessive—and the feeling in your chest is like a spreading forest fire, no hope to corral it, to find some tucked away strand of control. Your body responds to her touches like it always has—eagerly, without thought—you’re rocking your hips against her, even though she still hasn’t removed the thin barrier of silk between her mouth and where you need her. You are burning alive, sweat pooling at the dip of your collarbones, and beading at your temples—not seeming to mind the chilly air filtering into the room. No, you’re a house fire, and she is your foundation—the cement stones that will remain after everything had charred away.

There’s something visceral about the sound of tearing silk—something satisfying and salacious—you feel the press of the fabric against your skin, before it’s torn away, curled between strong fingers, before it is cast to the side, and left on the floor. Something shamefully close to a scream erupts from your throat, head thrown back, writhing against the carpet, legs splayed carnally open. Hands kneading into the give of your hips, lifting you just enough toward a ravenous mouth—tongue coaxing and sumptuous, laving attention indiscriminately. There’s something primal in how she groans into your heat, mouth wet, nose bumping against your clit—animal and consuming.

You’re breathing ardently through your nose, gasping for full breaths, but you have no hope of holding out, no hope of keeping any thoughts about you—it has been months, and you’d been able to pretend you didn’t miss this when you’d been a world away, when the restless energy in your bones could be relegated to adrenaline and sleepless night. But here, shamelessly being taken on the floor of your living room—feeling how hands dig, and press, like they simply need the assurance that you are not going to spill through her fingers. That you are solid, and real.

You tug, guiding her up your body until she’s holding herself over you; Kara’s eyes are blue, bright and otherworldly, and she looks at you like someone who has seen the stars—has danced through their gravitational pull and went on her way. But you’ve caught her—with a hand curled around the back of her neck, she blinks slowly at you—you’d seen what she was capable on. The impossible feats, the strength lining her bones, but under your hand she is pliant, easily directed—yours. Fingers slick, pressing against you intimately, before curling inside you—two fingers, and then three. You keen, gasping on a lost breath, burning inside—you know it won’t take long, only a moment.

Your body knows her weight on top of you, how she fits perfectly into the cradle of your hips, thrusting against the back of her hand to go deeper—she’s huffing against your lips, out of breath, even if you’re certain that shouldn’t be the case, that it takes much more to wind her. Blue eyes wild, and soft, and there’s a comet tail’s version of love there—lingering in the almost golden ring around her blown pupils. Something low in your stomach tightens, crawling out into every nerve in your body, you can’t get a full breath in—or out—your hung untouched in the sky like a star.

“I love you,” Kara’s voice is a whisper, cracking and frail, brittle at the edges—like this admission with shatter her—but she can’t keep it inside, can’t let it live unsaid in her chest. This isn’t the first time she’s said it—not even close—but you haven’t heard those words in months, almost a year. And like a rubber band; that feeling in the pit of your stomach snaps, and you shudder. Desperately clinging to her, fingers digging and pulling at the solid line of her shoulder, curling into the fabric of her stolen sweatshirt. You see a kaleidoscope of color against the lids of your eyes, and her name spills like a prayer off your tongue. Kara holds you as you come down from your high—as the electricity runs like live wires over the tips of your fingers. She’s mouthing words against the side of your neck—I love you, I love you, I love you—and for a moment, time stops.

You don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow—or any of the days after—but for right now, you have her here. Have Kara safely under your palms, even if you’re half-dressed on the floor, with her shaking frame bracketing you to the carpet. Cradling her head against the side of your neck, you hum low in your throat, coaxing her to relax until all her weight is on you—pressing you down, but it’s a comforting weight. Secure and familiar.

“I love you too,” you assure, lips light against the shell of her ear, tucking your nose into the golden strands behind it, “I always will.” It’s a promise—a vow—and you have no doubts in its truth. You’ll always love her; until the stars go dark, and the world stops turning. But the manner might change—you can’t go back to how you were a year ago, ignorant and happy. Because the world has suddenly gotten so much bigger—so much more complicated. So much still needs to be said, so much needs definition and meaning, but—you're tired, and loved, and comfortable. You can define this—


You’ll think about it tomorrow.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (ALEX). The world’s always struck you as a big place—impossibly large—but when you think about it; it’s only a tiny speck of blue in the expanding black of the universe. A hint of something, in the resounding nothingness of space. But she found her way here—and you’re glad for it while it lasted. She became family, filled a hole in your heart you didn't realize existed.

You’re fifteen when the sky falls.

Well, when the largest recorded meteor shower hits the mid-west.

Your father had gotten you a telescope for your eleventh birthday; when you’d asked him the difference between the sun and any of the other stars in the sky. He’d told you distance, and the next day there was a telescope in the attic. No one at school knows you still have glow-in-the-dark stars on your bedroom ceiling, or a sliding glass map of the constellations you bring out every night. You tell yourself it isn’t a secret, because nothing so stupid should be as such, but you still don’t tell anyone.

You’re captain of the junior varsity track team, deciding to stay even when the coach had wanted to promote you to varsity—you were the biggest fish in a small pond, you weren’t going to change anything until you knew the same would be true for the next pond you found yourself in. Your boyfriend dumped you for one of the cheerleaders, saying you weren’t soft enough—that girls were supposed to have give, and you hadn’t been too keen on that. Your boyfriend dumped you for a cheerleader—and you’d given him a bloody nose to remember that by.

No, you weren’t soft—no, you didn’t have give.

Tucking your legs, your father had told you about a meteor shower—it’d been in the dark spot behind the moon until the very last minute; he’d only known about it because of a colleague at work who said NASA was astounded by the sheer number of meteors. Thousands were blanketing the horizon, tripping in and out of shadows, orbiting like planets in the snare of the sun. Orbiting around what, they didn’t seem to know. Your father had promised he’d be here to watch for it with you—the trajectory made it impossible to judge where it would land—but he’d gotten stuck at work, and when he’d called, you’d refused to say anything. Leaving your mother to inform him of your self-imposed silence.

Its three o’clock in the morning when the first flash rockets across the sky—too far away, too quick—but so many follow. They swarm and scream across the black of night, toss themselves into the distance, most burning up before they have hope of landing—but the largest seems to only fall faster, to burn hotter. And it is streaking through the dark and over the roof of your house. You see how it heats—not rock, at least it doesn’t look like rock—it looks almost...metallic. Getting up, you rush across the attic and see how it shudders, dropping strangely—not like how a meteorite should. It stops abruptly, losing altitude, before going forward much slower, lowering into the forest at the edge of the property.

Throwing on your track jacket, and slipping into your sneakers, you rush as quietly as you can down the stairs—making sure to avoid the creaking fourth step so you don’t wake your mother. Locking the screen door, and making sure your flashlight works, you take off through the field behind your house—uneven and barren, since your family wasn’t one of the farming homesteads. The meteorites still fall overhead, screaming across the sky, illuminating your path until you get to the edge of the property—the forest is chained away from most edges, due to the deep tangle of swamps inside. Three children had drowned over the last few years, and the town had decided it was best to black off the area; since filling it would cost far too much money.

Hooking fingers in the fence, you scale it without much effort, passing the large red sign that’d been worn away from the sun—DANGER: NO TRESSPASSING. Landing heavily on the other side, you wait until you pass the first line of trees before clicking your flashlight on. Pushing through hanging foliage, there’s no path to be spoken of, but you find what could have been one years ago—worn in dirt, and a bow of branches above it. You see no signs of the meteorite—if that was what it was—and after a half hour of looking, you’re about to turn back when you hear it—sobbing. It sounds wrong coupled with the chirp of cicadas, and it pulls you further into the swamp—sloshing through knee deep bog water, and clambering up onto the other bank before you see it.

A ship.

A space ship.

When you get close enough—you see the last fading light from the intricately whorled end, the gleaming sides cooling, steam hissing into the air. There’s a glass cover popped open, the inside a flicker of lights—very dull, no noise—but when you walk around the edge, still giving it wide berth, you see her.

She’s young—younger than you—hands slapped over her ears, sobbing into the moss. She doesn’t seem to realize that she’s half in the bog water—her dark blonde, almost red hair floating in the murky water. Her body shudders like her very bones are popping out of place—a girl in your English class had had a seizure once, and you’d ever been more terrified. The school nurse had come in the next day to tell everyone what to do in that situation—you don’t think that lesson applies here.

She’s wearing all white—though most of it is muddy and brown now—and when she releases her head, you see—a glow. Two burning ambers where eyes are supposed to be—her face is rounded, chin pointed and cheekbones defined, but she’s just so—so young. Her face is wet with tears, and you realize the sobbing isn’t just crying—she’s saying something. In a language you don’t understand. It sounds—you can’t even place it—but it’s haunting. Beautiful, and sad. She’s looking directly at you, but those burning ret dots where eyes are supposed to be seem to look right through you.

She’s shuddering, pushing the palms of her hands against her eyes while screaming—it’s shattering, and before you realize it—you’re stepping back and tripping into the swamp. Water splashes up and swallows you, your foot getting tangled in the reeds and vines at the bottom—you panic. You hadn’t been able to take a full breath before you’d fallen under—your lungs already burning, and it had only been a moment. Thrashing only tangles you in the jacket half falling off your shoulders; as dots burst against the inside of your eyelids, as your eyes open in some desperate bid to see something. There’s only graying murky water—it whorls in your ears, little dots, almost like static, swim in the dark.

Before everything goes dark, you see two burning red dots.

When your mind crashing back into focus, you’re gasping for breath on the ground—moss soft and moist under your clenching palms, disgusting water slicking through your hair. When it gets easier to breath, you look up to see the girl—her eyes have dimmed, only the faintest glow behind her irises, and she’s looking at you—at you, not through you. Her white clothes are soaked through, and she had a fist full of reeds in one hand. She looks devastated, like some horrible truth has dug itself into her bones—spilled like poison in her blood. Her back is pressed against the spaceship, and the hand not clenched around reeds is clutching a necklace.

“Thank you,” you say, bracing yourself on your forearms—tense, ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. She isn’t the type of alien you were expecting—she just looks like a girl; a girl with impossibly sad blue eyes. Her jaw works, and she’s clenching her eyes shut—shaking her head, like she’s trying to dislodge something.

Klarh ke,” she murmurs, and you squint.

“What?” Your voice is hoarse, the strain of nearly drowning tightening your air way.

Klarh ke,” she says again, her own brows tucking, as she presses a hand against the side of the ship, pushing herself to her feet—you follow, but don’t get any closer.

“Clark?” You ask, and she looks at you like you’d done something interesting—chin lifting, blinking rapidly, and ignoring the tears still slipping unhindered from reddening blue eyes. “Who’s Clark?”

She swipes hair out of her eyes, and you notice now that she’s standing that she’s barefoot—she reaches only to your shoulder, and her frame is slight. She’s not a very impressive alien. “Klarh ke, Kal-el.” She’s leaning over the edge of the ship, into what appears to be the cockpit; hitting the dashboard, and the lights grow brighter—splash across the slant of her cheeks, where her face is mottled with dirt and rotting leaves.

She must find whatever she’s looking for because she turns to look at you—squinting, like it’s hard to see you, like it takes all her concentration—it would be kind of lame to meet an alien that needed glasses. She’s shaking her head, but something tells you she doesn’t realize it—her frame swaying rhythmically, and her finger tapping against the necklace around her neck—tap, ta-tap, tap, ta-tap—it isn’t for almost a minute that you realize her tapping matches your heartbeat perfectly. You’ve learned how to measure your heartrate while running—and the rhythm is unmistakable.

The realization kicks your heartrate faster, you can feel it gallop at the back of your throat—her tapping gets faster. “I’m Alex—Alex Danvers,” you try, hoping the shake in your voice isn’t obvious, the way your skin pebbles and your muscles tense. Her chin tips, and she’s stepping away from you—and suddenly you feel the monster. She’d saved you from drowning, but now she looks like you might very well devour her whole.

She stops when her barefoot sinks into swamp water, and glances at you, “Kara,” it’s lilting and floating, like everything else she’s said, but it feels like a name—so you smile. She watches you, and after a moment, something of a smile flits across her face—it’s clenched and unsure, but adorable nonetheless.

And then she’s gone.

The leaves bristle like something impossibly fast has passed them, and where she’d been standing there is up churned moss. Like her foot had dug in before she’d disappeared—you lingered for an hour, sitting cross legged in the dark until the spaceship yawns, the hatch closing and the lights flickered off. It wasn’t expecting her back—you probably shouldn’t either.

You never told anyone about the alien in the swamp—about the girl and her ship. You went back every night, and the ship sat there—untouched, growing into the swamp. Almost a year later, it vanished—and you recognized the small indent in the ground—the same as the girl had left when she fled. “I hope she found Clark,” you murmur, while clicking your flashlight off and heading back home.

You’re nineteen when you return for your junior year of university; dodging around all the parents settling their children in for freshman year, ignoring the pamphlets and posters being handed out by frat houses and sororities. Your mother had headed back home when you told her you were just going to be spending the night in your dorm—getting ready for the beginning of classes next week, knowing your schedule was loaded heavier than you probably should have done. You wanted to get out of school as soon as possible; you didn’t have the luxury of lingering around to dabble in rhetorics with new-age thinking hipsters.

Your father had died three years ago—the government hadn’t been particularly forthcoming, but they’d delivered a flag to your mother, and apologized sincerely. You’d cried yourself to sleep for a week, before you’d squared your shoulders and asked to GED out of high school—eager to start your trek through the rest of school so you could find the answers you were looking for. Double majoring in biological engineering, and astrophysics, National City University had been the best option still close enough to home for your mother to visit occasionally. You’d been accepted to colleges further away—on either coast—but you decided to stay closer to home.

You don’t recognize her at first because she’s laughing—eyes hidden behind thick framed glasses, and her lips pulled into a wide grin—she’s lopping down the path backwards, staying one step ahead of the small boy chasing her. She almost knocks into two people before you hear the whip sharp Kara that makes her stop immediately in place—the boy plowing into her legs and wrapping himself around them. She’d grown up, her hair lightening to blonde, her bangs gone, but you could recognize her anywhere—you dream of her sometimes—of where she was, if she ever found Clark. She’s taller than you now, lithe and wearing a hideous amount of pastel—the print seems to be baby ducks—but the smile is the biggest difference.

You don’t realize you’re walking closer until you can see the blonde that has approached the giggling pair—she’s short, only reaching the alien’s nose, but she way she jabs a fingers against a pastel yellow covered sternum lets you know who exactly is keeping this extraterrestrial in line. The little boy is hoisted up onto the shorter woman’s hip, his hands already mashed into perfectly coiffed blonde hair, and no one seems to care about stopping him. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but they’ve pressed together; the little boy making gagging sounds while covering his eyes.

If you didn’t recognize her, they would be indistinguishable from any other pair on campus—the way a hand lights around the other’s back and hips, lips pulled into a soft smile. They’re murmuring, standing in the middle of the path, heedless of the human traffic they’re forcing to step around them. The alien presses lips against the small blonde’s temple, eyes closed, but when they open—she sees you. Blue eyes widen, and lips fall open slightly; before her nose tucks further into her companion’s hair, and you see her lips moving. Her eyes never leaving you—you remain standing, hand loosely clasped around the strap of your satchel.

The smaller blonde glances in your direction, and you meet the shrewdest green eyes you’ve ever encountered—a nervous shiver tripping up your spine—before she nods curtly, and puts the boy on the ground, walking toward the cafeteria. Don’t be long, supergirl, is called over her shoulder while the small boy pulls the wheeled suitcase behind him, the blonde’s hand on his back to keep him in a straight line. The alien watches them go—her face soft and open, loving—and you’re left swallowing back all those nerves you’d built in your bones for years. Somehow you knew you’d see her again—but it had never occurred to you that it would be like this. You’d expected labs and soldiers—something involving national security.

Not orientation week.

When she’s standing before you, you’re looking for differences—things that separate her from humanity, that place her properly amongst the stars, but there’s nothing. Her arms are curled across her stomach, like she’s trying to protect herself, fingers toying with a stray piece of fabric that was coming free from her sweater. She’s blinking owlish blue eyes at you from behind thick lenses—and you can only think about how lame you’d thought a near-sighted alien was—all the while chewing on her lip. There’s a fear in those eyes, a nervous twitch in her finger, like she’s ready for the world to tumble down upon her head.

“Did you ever find Clark?” You ask, to break the silence—to swallow the jackrabbit pace of your heart—and her eyes widen, almost taking a step back.

“I—yeah,” she breaths out—in English this time, and you can’t find any hint of an accent. She sounds like a National City native—a little quick, rushing through the words like there were so many more to say. You wonder how long it took her to adopt it—how long to learn English. “Yeah, I found him.”


She’s chewing her lip, looking quickly in the direction of the cafeteria, like her rescue will come from that way—and you can’t understand why she’s afraid. She’s the alien. She must settle on something because she shoves a hand in your direction, “Kara.” She says, lips tripping into a smile—it’s a pretty smile, soft at the edges, and kind.

Accepting her hand, you feel how her skin is hotter than a human’s—not by much, nothing noticeable, unless you’re looking; and you are—and she has the loosest grip you’ve ever encountered. Barely holding your hand at all, “I remember,” you remind, making sure she understands that this wasn’t some hazy recollection, some displaced face. “Alex Danvers.”

She lets go, and a tongue peaks out to wet her bottom lip, “I remember.”

You didn’t imagine it would be this awkward; but she’s looking at you like she has no idea how to proceed, her finger tapping along the back of her forearm—and it takes you only a moment to realize it is your heartbeat. A nervous tick, you realize.

“I never told anyone,”

She does smile now—wider, more genuine—and it’s beautiful, it warms something in your chest, and you want to make her smile more—her eyes have dark edges to them, the haunted look you remember from that night lives in your dreams still. You’re glad she can smile—regardless of what she is.

“I know,” she looks down, and then back up to meet your eyes, “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.” She’s so achingly genuine, but she blinks and looks off to the side—the blonde from before is outside the cafeteria, a tray balanced in her hand, while trying to corral the boy skipping around her legs, two bottle of water in his hands. Her smile is small, but full of love.

“I mean—” you wheedle, “You aren’t a very impressive looking alien.”

She frowns—a pout—and shakes her head, “I’m very impressive!” She’s incredulous, and huffing, and it’s adorable, but you can tell that isn’t what she’s going for. Like watching a puppy bark.

“I don’t know,” exhale, shrug, “You even need glasses.”

The frames were pulled from her nose, dramatically flared in your direction, “Ha!” She grins, “I don’t really need these.”

“Oh no, help me; she has 20/20 vision.” You arch an eyebrow, showing her how unimpressed you are; she’s shoving the glasses back on her nose and scuffing a shoe against the ground, hands smoothing down her pastel green skirt. You don’t know why you’re provoking her, but the way she’s floundering about makes it worthwhile. She’s just a kid—it’s in the way she keeps glance to the seated blonde and the dark haired boy with her, keeping them in sight even while defending her absolutely stellar ‘alienness’.

“I could destroy this whole city,” huffing, arms crossed, before her eyes blow wide, and she’s scrambling, “Not that I would—or—or—want to, but I—no, this came out wrong—”

She’s fumbling, tripping over herself to explain, wide puppy eyes imploring, and you can only laugh—you can’t tell if that makes her more, or less, nervous, but you can’t stop.

This confrontation had been sitting in your stomach like an ulcer since you were fifteen—the knowledge that you had met a legitimate extraterrestrial. You’d gone home that night, waiting for some kind of catastrophe in the morning—city burning to the ground, massive ships in the sky. But there’d been nothing—only the briefest mentions of the meteor shower with the weather.

“Kara,” you sooth, touching her shoulder—she’s solid, like touching a wall, and you suddenly take her claim into consideration—you’d seen how her eyes burned, how fast she left. But—Kara doesn’t strike you as the world ending type. “Relax.”

Her shoulders slump, and she wilts only slightly, before blinking down at you—searching for something, blue eyes flickering before she nods. “You’re not scared,” she says it like she’s confused.

“No,” you begin, slowly, “I’m not; but, how would you know?”

Her finger taps the back of your hand slowly—tap, tap, tap, tap— she smiles, “Your heart’s beating slowly,” she stops tapping, “and you don’t— smell afraid.”

You see it now—that little hitch it takes her to translate whatever she’s thinking, into words—into explanations.

“I’m glad I don’t—smell.” You follow slowly, and she has the decency to blush, and you take note of that—she’s so damned human, but—not. Something must snag her attention, because she looks back toward her companions—the boy is running with the bottle of water open, and the blonde is watching him lazily, chin in hand, obviously having given up trying to keep him seated.

“I have to go,” looking at you, she bites her lip, before smiling, “It’s good to see you, Alex. I’ll—see you around?”

Sniffing, you smile, “I’m sure you will, ET.”

You don’t talk to her again that semester—only see her once, the as of yet nameless blonde that was with her seems determined to not bowl at the bowling alley just off campus. Kara’s helping the boy—you assume, Clark—roll a bright orange ball down the lane—bracketing him between her knees and cheering when his manages to hit more than one of the pins. She twirls him around and sets him back on the ground, where he bolts toward the blonde whole doesn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t just as excited. He clambers on top of her, and wraps his little arms around her neck, kissing her on the cheek.

Kara glances your way once, but only offers a small finger wave before wrapping herself around her family.

So when you’re twenty-four, and Kara’s escorted into the Department of Extra-Normal Operations with a bag over her head; wrists held by zip ties behind her back—you panic. You think of the little boy that’s going to miss her, and the small blonde that looks at her so tenderly, and suddenly you’re questioning this whole endeavor—this whole agency.

“Sir?” You ask Hank Henshaw, the man in charge of the entire operation—he looks at you sideways, hands settled on his hips, tipped forward slightly with the weight of his belt. His eyes are impossibly dark as always, and you get the feeling you always do—like he’s plucking around in your mind—like he knows what you’re thinking. You’re thinking nothing now—a splash of color, and a speck of fear.

“That’s our newest consultant—we bought a contract from Lorde Technologies,” he explains, slowly, carefully, picking each word with all the thought he’s capable of. “They’ve shown a lot of advancement in the areas we’re interested in.”

You hedge, “And she’s being restrained because?”

Hank smiles, “Her backgrounds a little suspect; they’re vetting her as we speak. Most think she’s an immigrant that was sent to an older relative, and her paperwork’s a little questionable because of it.” He’s just looking at you—like he wants to know what you think about this—like he knows what you think about this.

“Agent Danvers, why don’t you make sure they’re treating our newest recruit with all due respect.” You nod abruptly, and turn on your heel, stalking down the hall with enough determination to send soldiers skittering out of your way. You find her in one of the interview rooms at the end of the hall; wrists now zip-tied in front of her, the bag removed and she’s left blinking up at the bright light in the ceiling. The walls are foot thick cement, and you’re behind the one two-way mirror.

You watch her, how she picks at her thumb nail, twisting uncomfortably, and one shoe sliding off her foot over and over, until she just leaves it off. She fidgets and huffs, before something makes her look at the mirror. She blinks, slowly, and then her finger starts tapping—ta-tap, ta-tap, ta-tap—and you smile. She knows you’re here—how, you have no idea, but you see how she tilts her chin down and then she’s making direct eye contact with you.

Opening the door, you step inside, with the file you’d plucked off the table from the other room—sitting down, you watch her slowly—how she rolls her shoulders, and looks at the mirror again—staring, and you know someone is on the other side. She blinks and looks back at you—those big blue eyes imploring, scared, but determined.

“Sorry for all the cloak and dagger, Miss Callaghan.,” you begin, opening the file, and spreading it out in front of you, “but you must understand how important discretion is; especially for those we haven’t finished looking into yet.”

Nodding, she lifts her wrists, “But handcuffs?” She smiles, uncomfortable, “I mean—I’ll just—okay. No, no—this is fine.” Like she’s talked herself out of whatever she’s about to ask. You sign, and with a snap have your knife open—a flick of the wrist has the ties cut. She grins, “Thanks.”

“Your grandfather—Thompson Julian Callaghan, he is deceased, correct?” You watch how her eyes dim, just slightly, and she sniffs—looking down at the picture from her college identification card. She’s impossibly young in the picture.

“Yeah—um, yes.” She stutters, chin threatening to wobble, and you want to stop—but you can’t, “Two years ago.”

“Do you have any living relatives?”

“Yes,” she surmises, breathing in deep and exhaling, “My grandfather’s brother—Percival Callaghan, he runs Enforce Publishing.” You recognize the name just because of how often you’ve seen in on textbook bindings—but when you glance down at her file, the name is printed there in neat letters, with a confirmation that someone had indeed approached Percival Callaghan, and he’d confirmed this girl’s identity. “And—my cousin. I have a young cousin.”

Clark Callaghan, nine years of age. Flipping the paper over, you see pictures of the two people mentioned; a distinguished elderly gentleman, gray hair and blue eyes, with a no-nonsense air about him, and a young boy with dark hair. The same blue eyes as the girl sitting across from you. Kara was born to Thompson Callaghan’s son, and Clark, to his daughter—they’d both died in a fire in Alberta ten years ago. There’s a photocopy of four Canadian passports—all expired by five years, at least. You scan the names, and wonder how long this took to fabricate—Calvin J. Callaghan, Samantha R. Callaghan, Kara A. Callaghan, Clark G. Callaghan.

“Do you, or have you ever, participated in a group that intends to overthrown, or otherwise negatively affect, the United States government?” Kara looks flabbergasted, brow tucking, and you’re glad you cut the tie holding her wrists together because she might have ripped them when her hands shifted abruptly—taken aback by the question.


You sigh, closing your eyes to hide the fact that you’re rolling them, “Answer the question, Miss Callaghan.”

She’s slow on the uptake, two questions behind, it seems—until she’s suddenly on board. “No, no—of course not; why—who does that?”

“You’d be surprised.”

She presses her lips together, “Am I in trouble?”

It’s the way she asks it—the genuine concern in her eyes, that has your fingers curling—you want to protect her, this girl who seems to flit in and out of your life without mention. You grew used to seeing her around campus; at the cafeteria, in the drama department, at the labs—she’d always wave slightly, smiling, and you’d watched her go about her life. Always with the diminutive sharp eyed blonde, and the dark haired boy who grew taller, and taller, every time you saw him.

“There’s been a few concerns raised with your citizenship papers,” you exhale, calming your heart—or, trying too, because Kara’s hand is still tapping away swiftly at the table. Breathing out through your nose, you pull out the birth certificate that the investigation unit unearthed. “This is your birth certificate, yes?”

She reaches to pick it up—information typed neatly on the pink and blue sheet, date and hour of birth, her full name, town, and her parents’ names. Kara Ainsley Callaghan large across the top, and she places it down on the table, jaw clenching, and you think you almost see a light behind her blue eyes—a very faint flicker of red.

“It is, yes,” she exhales.

“Were you born in the United States?” You ask, and your eyes say to tell the truth, or whatever version of the truth goes with this lie—the file already established that the birth certificate and social security card were fake—impossibly good ones, but fake nonetheless. “I implore you to tell the truth.”

Swallowing, her hands press against the table—you watch as Kara spreads her fingers wide, and she looks once again at the two-way glass. Her brows furrowing, before nodding slightly—absently—like someone had just told her something important. “No.” Shoulders rounding with a slump, she leans back in her chair, fingers fiddling with the corner of her glasses—a nervous habit, “Canada.”

That agrees with what was in her file—you don’t know how they determined this, but Hank Henshaw’s signature is at the bottom—signing off on this file, as long as Kara corroborates it. As long as she didn’t lie. You are astounded, and it must show somehow, because Kara gives a small shrug—you know she’s not from Canada, but somehow, that’s what has become the truth. The stipulation of a six month probationary period, where she will be blindfolded when taken to headquarters is mandatory.

“Well, let me be the first to say. Welcome to the DEO, Miss Callaghan.”

Kara grins, “He turned off the recording, Alex; and left.” Leaning forward, hands folded over each other as she swipes at the hair falling in her eyes, “Can you believe it?”

“That you are working for the DEO?” She has to understand the irony in this.

“No,” faltering, “Well—yes, but no,” another smile, “That we’re work buddies now!”

Kara has half the department wrapped around her finger by the end of the first month—practically skipping in with the bag over her head—they stopped zip-tying her wrists after the second day. She’s sharp—quick to solve problems, and able to cobble together solutions with an almost MacGyver resourcefulness. The first time she witnessed an alien being captured—she cried, quietly at the back of the operations room—and she’s followed the pale green skinned extraterrestrial with sad blue eyes. She looks at you with a renewed fear, something saying—that could be me—but she keeps her mouth shut.

Hank has taken to the blonde alien—you’re pretty sure you’re the only one to notice, since they’re never seen together, but it’s just something in the way they catch each other’s eyes. From across rooms, down halls—the first day after the probationary period, Hank is the one who drives her. He asks you one afternoon to get in contact with immigration—about going about documentation for the Canadian scientist on their payroll. He knows something you don’t—or, maybe, he knows something that you do—but in so many ways that doesn’t make sense.

When you hand Kara a United States passport with no preamble, it’s worth it—the way her eyes light up, the way she smiles. Throwing her arms around your neck and pressing her cheek against yours—she’s strong, her grip bordering on painful, but you hug her back. She’s wormed her way into your heart, found a nice little spot in there to stay a while.

You’re thirty four when you attend Kara’s funeral.

You tell yourself not to cry, but you can't help it; it feels like you've lost a sister.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT)Would your younger self recognize you? Would they look up at where you’ve settled yourself at the top of the world, and wondered what you were willing to give up to get there. You say nothing—but things slip through the crack. Important moments that you can’t buy back with all the money, and all the influence you’ve amassed. 

You’re exhausted when you finally get the key in the door, practically falling over yourself to get inside—and promptly to bed. The projector that Kara and Clark had “installed” is still duct taped to the ceiling—they cancelled every maintenance appointment you made; scowling at the idea that some human could do a better job than them. You always were skeptical when they started getting xenophobic about it; you estimated that you had another week or two before they washed their hands of the whole thing and decide it wasn’t worth their time. You’d seen Kara piece together a brain scanner with paperclips and some tin foil, and yet Samsung had her number.

Right now, the projector was splashing SpongeBob SquarePants across the far wall; the colors a little saturated, because along with the duct taped projector—they needed to decide on a screen. From the doorway, you look down the hall toward the bedrooms, and all the lights are out—much the same way with every other room. Turning around the corner into the kitchen, you grab a bottle of water and lean against the cool metal of the fridge.

It was almost midnight, and you were just getting home; you could’ve been home hours ago, but you were always the last out the door, and sweeps was coming up. Your staff pitching ideas for segments until almost eleven—and then working on licensing prospects and schedules. It had been a mess—and it will still be waiting for you when you walk in the door tomorrow at the crack of dawn. You tell yourself it will only be like this for now—CatCo is getting to where it has to be, getting recognition, and when that happens—what? You’ll stop? No, you’ll move forward, to the next biggest thing—the next best thing.

Opening your eyes from where they’ve rolled shut, you see the single cupcake on the counter—chocolate, with blue frosting. Furrowing your brow, you glance toward the calendar and curse—Kara’s birthday. Your alarm had been going off all throughout the meeting—reminding you of the dinner reservation’s you’d made at Mihai’s, and you’d shut it off without looking each time. Burying your face in your hands, and rubbing hard, you feel like an asshole—which is true a fair amount of the time, but never to Kara—never knowingly at least. Swiping the lock open on your mobile, you go to your messages—you’d talked to Kara earlier, and you look to see if you missed something.

Supergirl: Hey, zrhueiao. Working hard?

Cat: Trying too, but the overwhelming presence of stupidity makes it hard.

Supergirl: :)

Supergirl: Cartericous Maximus misses his mommy.

Cat: I miss him too; did he take his nap?

Supergirl: I’m such a good mama, he took two naps.

Cat: Somehow I think that has more to do with you, than him.

Supergirl: I can neither confirm, nor deny, that statement.

Cat: I’m a journalist, supergirl; I don’t accept those types of answers.

Supergirl: :)

Supergirl: When do you think you’ll be home?

Supergirl: Someone other than Carter might miss you.

Supergirl: Clark; I meant Clark.

Supergirl: Not that I don’t—I do, but Clark does to.

Supergirl: By the way, Clark’s here.

Supergirl: You know, in case you didn’t—get that.

Supergirl: I’m going to stop—you haven’t stopped me.

You remember how the quick fire texts had made you smile—you could imagine Kara on the other end, clarifying something that didn’t warrant clarification. Fingers blurring over the touch keyboard too quick to follow, face drawn into concentration. That pulsing warmth in your chest had grown, seeping into your blood and giving you the second wind you’d needed to finish the schedules for the next three shows. You remember how you’d written back slowly—trying to imagine that you were leaving now, and that you were heading home. But—no one builds an empire by not putting in the time. It had made you frown, tugging your smile away and stashing it back inside your heart where it belonged.

You’d make it up to them, you always did—a trip to the zoo, a weekend long marathon of the Harry Potter movies that Clark said he was too old for.

Cat: Not for a while; I have to do damage control for all the incompetence I seem to employ.

Kara hadn’t responded right away—you figured because she was otherwise occupied, but now you feel the proper fool.

Supergirl: Alright—don’t work too hard; you need to take care of yourself.

God, Kara was going to do irreparable damage to your reputation if she kept making you smile. No one would scramble out of your way at this rate, if they kept seeing you smile to yourself, whenever you looked at your mobile.

Cat: That’s what I have you for. I’ll see you when I get home?

This response was immediate.

Supergirl: Absolutely.

Looking at the exchange—you want to kick yourself—you want to go back in time and fix this. You don’t want to be that person—the one who misses birthdays, and anniversaries, and holidays. You don’t want to be your mother—self-possessed with the idea of greatness. Whittling down everything that didn’t fit comfortably on the shelf in her office. You don’t even have to ask the reasons why Kara wasn’t reminding you—you know she’ll tell you it’s alright, that she understands, and that it’s no big deal. She'll tell you that Krypton had a different calendar, and even though she'd done the math, it was a cold comfort; plotting the orbit of a dead planet, counting its seconds. Converting them, as if that would bring them back to life.

Putting your bottle of water on the counter, you walk across the kitchen and through the doorway leading to the living room—the whole room is illuminated by the projector, awash with primary colors, but none of that holds your attention. The scene on the couch makes your heart clench.

Clark is sitting upright on one edge of the couch, hand dangling over the arm rest, head thrown back as he snores quietly. He looks like a walking University of Metropolis bulletin board—navy blue sweatpants with the logo on the hip, and a matching sweatshirt with the college name emblazoned across the front—feet thrown up on the coffee table, crossed at the ankle. Kara takes up the rest of the couch—head sitting uncomfortably against the farthest arm rest, an arm thrown over it to dangle limply beside the couch. She’s wearing her Spectre getup—askew and ruffled from sleeping bunched up on the couch; one foot sitting in Clark’s lap, the other balanced precariously on his shoulder, against his face—he definitely won’t like that when he wakes up.

And on Kara’s chest—is a slumbering toddler. Carter’s head is tucked up under the Kryptonian’s chin, his body laying completely on top of her, fingers curled into her half-unzipped jacket, wearing the New England Patriot’s jersey Kara had gotten him for Christmas—mainly because she knows you hate them, and that just delights her. They look perfect together—peaceful, like they had nothing in the world to worry about. That might be true for Carter—and you’ll make sure it stays true for as long as possible—but you cherish these moments for Kara. When she isn’t lung deep in the weight of her responsibility—when she doesn’t take it upon herself to save humanity, because they can’t save themselves half the time.

Kneeling down beside the couch, as quietly as possible, you smooth your thumb between her pale brows, trying to coax away the little furrow that lived there—the only sign that her dreams may not be as peaceful as she was. Kara grumbles, huffing through her nose, and tucking it into Carter’s dark hair—never one easily woken up. You’d seen her alarm regiment—a different song every five minutes. Cupping her cheek, you sooth your thumb below her eye until she’s blinking blearily up at you—blue eyes hazy, and still lightyears away, but she smiles widely; dopey and content.

“Mm,” she hums, turning into your palm now, and closing her eyes again, “—missed you.”

Her eyes close again, and she’s holding Carter closer—the boy seems determined to snuggle as close as possible. You see where her mobile has slid off her stomach and tumbled below the coffee table; the screen blank—the Bluetooth in her ear silent. You like these days; the quiet ones that you have everyone you love here. Safe and warm. Pushing golden curls behind her ear, you smile down at her while settling on your knees beside the couch.

“Happy birthday, beautiful.”

She blinks up at you, like she doesn’t understand, before smiling, “D’ja eat your cupcake?” You see soot on her cheek from the fire she’d stopped earlier—a little singe at her shoulder—you’d watched the whole thing on the screens behind your desk, chewing on your lip the whole while. You know she’s perfectly capable—that this is almost nothing—but it hadn’t stopped you from worrying. You swallow down the urge you have every time—to tell her National City can save itself, that she doesn’t owe them anything—but you don’t want to have that argument again. Especially not tonight.

“Not yet,” smoothing a hand over her crown, you tell her to scooch, and when she shuffles down on the couch so that you can sit, with her head settled comfortably in your lap. Kara’s turned toward you so that she’s pressed against your stomach, and you can only imagine that the buttons of your shirt are jabbing into her, but she doesn’t seem to care. “I’m sorry,” as if it could be said quietly enough, as if that could take it back. “The days got away from me—but that’s—it’s not an excuse.” You’re combing fingers through her hair, scratching behind her ear so that she hums deep in her chest. Carter coos in his sleep, and one of his little hands uncurls from Kara’s jacket to slap lightly at her chin—obviously not pleased with the movement. Kara catching his fingers in a kiss, and they go limp against her cheek—the boy obviously asleep again.

“I forgive you,” is all she says, eyes closed, settling into your lap.

Sometimes you wished she wouldn’t—that she would get angry, push you, something, anything—but she sees the best in you, and as much as you want reality to fold in and exist, you don’t want to give that up. Don’t want to take any of the light out of her eyes when she looks at you, because sometimes that’s all that gets you through the day. She must feel some kind of tension in your body, because blue eyes are suddenly open, and awake. She watches you quietly, the blue slash of color from the projector slipping across her cheeks and into her eyes. She isn’t saying anything—and then you hear the beep from the digital clock in the kitchen—signaling midnight.

“See, zrhueiao?” She whispers, lifting a hand to ghost fingers down your cheek and coming to rest on your collarbone. “You got home just in time. You didn’t miss it.”

“How about breakfast? It’s not dinner at Mihai’s, but…” You trail off, because she’s looking at you with that look on her face. Soft at the eyes, and pursed at the lips; like she’s trying not to smile.

“Me, you, and the boys?”

“Absolutely,” you agree, because you can’t think of anything you’d want more—you make a mental note to yourself to get an assistant. Someone who could follow you around and save you from yourself—because apparently you can’t be trusted to keep priorities in line on your own. The shuffling of fabric has you looking over and seeing Clark blink away the last of sleep. He watches you with a quiet appraisal—some of the condemnation you deserve sitting there. You know you’d disappointed him—you’ve been doing that more now—but he doesn’t say anything, his lips just press together while glancing down at Kara—who’s already closed her eyes again, leaning into the hand you have tangled in her hair.

I’m sorry, you mouth.

He frowns, pulling his cousin’s foot from where it is shoved into his face, placing it beside her other one and holding them in his lap. He just says, “You’re always sorry,” very quietly, and you can hardly hear him, before he’s turning back to the screen. Reaching across, you touch his wrist, and even though he doesn’t look at you—you know you have his attention.

“I’ll do better,” you swear, your heart clenching, because you don’t want to ruin this—more, some voice inside whispers—because you were too focused on your career. “I promise, Clark.” That makes him look at you, because you very rarely call him by his name—very rarely—and he weighs your sincerity. And you know—really know—that he’ll protect Kara with everything he has. He’s older now—tall and broad—and he hugs his blonde cousin like she’s delicate, and not unbreakable.

The set of his jaw says you’d better, but he just nods—rubbing Kara’s feet absently.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CLARK). You'd been a junior in high school when your teacher had chosen you to read Hamlet's soliloquy—and you’d slouched to the front of the class, brittle paged book in hand, and you’d gone through the whole thing. She’d commented on how you’d been a little lackluster about it—but you’d never been much of a Shakespeare fan. To be, or not to be—it didn’t seem like much of a question to you. When you’d gotten home that night, your cousin had listened and shrugged, that smile on her face, “Dying’s easy, living is hard; I think that’s what he’s trying to say.” You don’t think so, but you’d nodded and asked what was for dinner.

You’d been packing up your apartment when you found it; behind the living room couch, where it had probably been tossed when you’d been carrying in boxes. You’d lost a lot of things during the move, though most of them didn’t cross your mind ever again—this certainly hadn’t. It’d been years since you’d seen it last, the proof was how the cover creaked when you opened it. The kind o thing that makes you reevaluate memories—like your past self couldn’t help being biased about what was going on around them, and it was your present self’s job to fix that. To sift through the events and really find the truth that had been lurking underneath.

You’d been doing that a lot the last two months—the school semester winding down, and the classes becoming glorified study sessions. You’d sit in the back of the room, and tap your fingers, lost in thoughts that you’d assumed you’d forgotten over the years. The stupid things that you don’t write about in birthday cards, or letters—the simple small things that mean almost nothing at the time, but build, and build, and build years later, making the tower almost too tall to climb on your own. You’d find a way, you always did—Kara said it was the Grant in you—but for now, you just wanted to sit in the quiet and ponder that tilting tower of gratitude that will exist forever more.

The spring was gracefully beginning to bow to summer, and you think this might be one of the few cool days left—the sun bright and high, the sky crisp and blue, but the breeze was all west coast. You could smell salt from the ocean, thick in your nostrils whenever you pulled too much air in. Pulled it too deep. A lot of other people were walking past you on the paths, huddled together—shoulder to shoulder—no one, but you, was alone. You’d considered stopping by Cat’s office to retrieve her—but from the text conversations you’d gotten the last few days, she was buried under enough work to kill a lesser human. Carter was with his father for the weekend—a pompous man who seemed to buckle under the expectations of what someone should do with their child. You wonder how long Cat will tolerate it before the man is read the riot act—you know Kara’d been the one whispering her off the edge of confrontation in the past—but, things change.

It felt good to get away from the city center—away from the cement and chrome, away from the mad rush of people and the sights and sounds of what living in National City means. The construction going on downtown—easily seen outside CatCo’s eastern windows—was chaos, and had been for the better part of a year—sifting through the demolished properties and trying to salvage what they could from the mess. The city board proclaimed that it would be ready for new buildings by the end of the following year—Cat’d been muttering about leaking funds and tax breaks during dinner two months ago, and you’d only been able to shrug, because you didn’t know anything about it. She’d promptly called her assistant—some meek little college graduate that shakes softly twenty-four hours a day—you don’t think that’s healthy.

Looking up at the sun, you let the warmth and heat fill you—it chases like dragons down your spine and into your blood, basking quietly in the afternoon light. You've always been an afternoon guy. It’d been raining for three weeks before today—cloudy and dark, too much winter for April—you’d been feeling more sluggish, knowing it was the lack of sun, but it’d made you feel so damned human that you hadn’t minded. It made you slog through the rain like every other college student, hunched under a hood, eyes on the ground. It made you feel normal, and that was the greatest gift of all.

When you’d woken up this morning—face on your open textbook, the apartment too quiet, you’d felt the sun slipping in through the open window and it had coaxed you outside. You’d thrown on whatever clothes you could find easily—a shirt off the back of a chair, and pants hat had a slight syrup stain from pancake night—and you’d been into the city. Dodging between wary people, and their skittish eyes. You see so much now, things you’d never noticed until last year—things you’d probably tried so hard not to notice, because you’d wanted to be normal. Whatever that meant.

You don’t realize you’ve wandered as far as you have until you’re in the right spot—at the top of the hill, facing the city—so you sling your back off your shoulder, and sit with your back against the stone. The grass is thick and green, and smells like it had just gotten cut—flower poking up all over the place, finally answering the call of spring. It’s beautiful, and you find yourself here at least once a month—when you can slip out of Metropolis unnoticed, and back home—you can only think of how Kara’s face had looked the first time she’d called National City home. So scared, and guilty, and unsure—but Cat had wrapped small arms around your cousin and tucked her blonde crown under Kara’s chin—home had never been a place. It was people.

Your pilfered knapsack sat between your knees, the top loop caught in your finger while you just looked up at the sky—bright, and happy, and clear. It pulled a smile from somewhere in you, because you’d never known why the sunlight lived inside you like campfire—how it warmed and invigorated you, at least, not until you were fourteen and your cousin had explained why it was so. That you are an alien from another planet, a thousand and a half light years away—a planet that had died. Relics of that planet seemed to show up with surprising frequency, but Kara had never balked—she’d gritted her teeth and stepped forward. National City’s hero—the Spectre—and done her best to save this little slice of the universe she’d managed to keep for herself.

Unzipping the bag, you root around until you find it—plucking it free of the papers and textbooks from class, and settling it in your lap. Careful with the edges—you’d almost cried when you’d been a little too rough and nearly tore a page out—you crack it open, and search for where you’d left off. You’d been near the end, and you read slowly now because you don’t want to finish—but everything ends, you suppose. As much as you’d like something else to be true. It was the heartbreaking part of the book—it had never really seemed as such when you were young---but it folds into you like the edge of a kryptonite blade, somewhere thick and painful in your chest. Not enough to kill, but enough to pulse with pain—to melt into the edges of your alien heart.

Breathing slowly through your nose, you begin—reading out loud quietly in the afternoon.     

Wendy looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.

“Who is Captain Hook?” he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.

“Don’t you remember?” She asked, amazed, “how you killed him and saved all our lives?”

“I forget them after I kill them,” he replied carelessly.

When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her, he said, “Who is Tinker Bell?”

“Oh Peter,” Wendy said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.

Wendy expect he was right, for fairies don’t live long, but they are so little that a short time seems a while to them. Wendy was pained to find that the past year was but a yesterday to Peter—it had seemed such a long year of waiting to her—but, Peter was exactly as fascinating as ever, and they had a lovely spring in the little house on the tree tops.

Next year, he did not come for her.

Breathing through your nose, and shuffling slightly, you glance up from your worn out book at the people wandering together across the open grounds—there’s many of them, but you suppose it is the proper day for such a thing. A lot of people end up here in the middle of April—weather permitting—but, you’ve been here in the darkest, hardest storms, and seem the same faces drawn tight and sad, not caring about the world around them—because their individual worlds had crumbled. Letting your head thump backwards, you pull your mobile from your pocket, and settle it in the crease of the open book. You have a notification for a few messages—most from friends who wanted to hang out this weekend—but you focus on one smack dap in the middle.

From Cat.

It was nothing long winded, nothing particularly involved, but it clenched something fierce around your heart. You could imagine her—sitting in front of her media empire, clicking away at her mobile, sending you a message in the middle of a board meeting—one she couldn’t reschedule, because she’d kept that part of her removed from work. The smiles, and the hardships—Cat Grant, Queen of All Media—did not flounder for anything. Not even for anniversaries—maybe especially for anniversaries. Clicking on her name, the message is only three words.

C. Grant: Are you home?

It is even, and simple—but you bite your lip and clench your jaw. You’d gone through your mobile with your most recent upgrade and made your contact list more adult; putting everyone in by their last name, with their e-mails attached. But it looks wrong. So wrong. Because Cat has always been Wendy in your address book, just as Kara had always been Peter Pan. But not any longer—now, they’re all grown. You’d sprinted out of Neverland, in a hurry to grow up, and they’d chased after you—mindless of themselves, and what would become of them in this real world. But, they couldn’t very well abandon their lost boy, could they?

C. Callaghan: I am. I was going to pick up Carter from school; if that’s alright?

C. Grant: You know you don’t have to ask; your brother misses you.

C. Grant: I miss you.

Your heart clenches—harder, fiercer—and you wonder if this is what a heart attack feels like. A throbbing pain that flits out to your finger tips and shoots back up your bones and into your lungs. Pinching, and squeezing, until oxygen means nothing, and air is just an illusion. Exhaling loudly, you look across the open grounds toward National City—seeing the tower cranes from the construction zone slipping into the skyline of the other buildings. If you squint, and lower your glasses, you can see CatCo—tall, and impressive, a beacon of light in the chrome of mid-town.

C. Callaghan: I miss you both too. I’ll see you later.

Shuffling through the other messages from friends, you ward off invites to end of the year parties, and plans for road trips. They all mean well, and you don’t fault them their enthusiasm for life, but you don’t have the energy to smile for them. Not right now—not today. Letting your mobile rest on your thigh, you stretch your legs out in front of you, crossed at the ankle, and you try to remember how Kara used to read this—she had voices for all the characters. Distinct and easily distinguished—you’d never been too good at reading out loud, but Carter never seemed to mind—you feel he isn’t as picky as you used to be when you were his age.     

Peter came the next spring; and the strange thing was that he never knew he had missed a year.

That was the last time the girl Wendy ever saw him. For a little longer she tried for his sake not to have growing pains; and she felt she was untrue to him when she got a prize for general knowledge. But the years came and went without bringing the careless boy; and when they met again, Wendy was a married woman, and Peter was no more to her than a little dust in the box in which she kept her toys. Wendy had grown up. You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than other girls.

All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worthwhile saying anything more about them. You may see the twins, and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine driver—a train engineer—and slightly married a lady of title, and so he became a lord. You see that judge in a wig coming out at the iron door? That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children, was once John.

Wendy was married in white with a pink sash. It is strange to think that Peter did not alight in the church and forbid the banns.

You don’t realize your voice has gotten heavy and thick with tears until they splash onto the open book in your lap—rolling down the worn pages to sit in the binding. You panic and invert it, making the water drip away so that you can dry the words with your sleeve pulled over your palm—they smudge. You hiccup, shoulders shaking, and you stare at the streak of black across the page—wet and ruined. You’re hoarsely whispering no, no, no, no, but the damage is done, and your heart has shattered in two.

No, not two. A million pieces. A billion. A trillion.

As many pieces as there are stars in the sky.

You’re trying to calm down—trying to suck in air through your nose, and force it out through your mouth—but it’s like you’ve forgotten how to breath, how to exist. The book tumbles off your lap, Peter Pan and Wendy looking at you from the grass as you grab your mobile—slapping in your lock code, and finding the message right in the middle. It still has a blue dot saying you never opened it—that is it unread—and the date is right—April 23rd—but, the year is wrong. The year has been wrong for too long—the message is from two years ago. The last message sent from a mobile that you know is tucked away in Cat’s bedside table—always charged, waiting for its owner who will never come back.

K. Callaghan: I’ll see you this weekend, bud. I love you.

Kara had sent you that message while you’d been studying—your professor was a hard ass, and you were positive you were going to fail—so you hadn’t answered. You told yourself you’d text her back in the morning, that you’d tell her you love her in the morning—but then everything had fallen apart. National City was besieged by a creature that seemed to live only for destruction—tearing through buildings, and people, shrugging off anything that had been thrown at it. Swallowing missiles like a hungry child, it had grown and sneered—and then your cousin had shown up. Just in time to catch a bone spired fist—to match the creature punch for punch; and throw themselves into the sky.

Looking at the message, you pretend like you’ll always see her the following weekend—like you’ve just somehow missed her the last few, but it’s getting late, and you’re getting tired.

Tired of pretending that Kara is coming back.

National City had erected a massive statue to the Spectre in their square, and you know Cat can see it from her window—can see the people gathering to thank the hero, to mourn those lost. You’ve never gone, never wanted to see the caricature of your cousin expressed so simply—she wasn’t just the Spectre, she was more than that. She was a person who had smiled at you before wrapping her arms around the creature and rocketed off into the sky—both of them glowing green with Kryptonite, their bodies getting smaller and smaller, until they seemed to be swallowed by the stars. You should have been able to follow them for longer—but it was like they simply ceased to exist. You swear you hear her say your name—say Cat and Carter’s name—before she vanished, but you can hardly remember. You’d been weak with Kryptonite—that Kara herself had locked around your wrist to keep you from the fight—and your ears had been ringing like a church bell.

When Cat had produced the key from her shaking fist, you’d looked at her betrayed—she’d been able to unlock it, been able to let you help, and she’d done nothing—but the look in her eyes had been all Kara. Soft, and broken, and sad—and you knew she’d made a promise. That Kara had held her close, and made her promise to do this for her. And even if it had taken you months to forgive her—you understand.

You read the message over, and over, and over, until your breathing has slowed—until your heart was steady and calm—no, calmer, never calm—and you stand up. Peter Pan and Wendy goes back into your knapsack, beside the guinea pig stuffed animal you’d had forever, and your term paper for class. Looking at the stone you’d been sitting against, it’s simple, and sedate, and nothing you would have figured Cat Grant would decide on—but it is absolutely Kara. The grave marker is one amongst thousands in the cemetery outside National City; at the top of the hill overlooking the man made sky line of buildings. No trees, no shade—always in the sunlight, from the moment the sun slips over the horizon, until the moment it goes to sleep.


You trace the letters quietly, trying to remember what her signature looked like—on failed tests, and student loans, on Christmas cards and diner receipts.


Is, not was.

No dates—because hope is a brittle thing, that seems unable to shatter.

Sometimes you wish it would, so you can move on.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT)Peter Pan had the right idea. Keep the lost boys in Neverland so that they never would grow up—never go out on their own, and live their own lives. Where Clark was going, you couldn’t follow—because he wanted to do it on his own. Out of your shadow, without your fingerprints on his achievements—you could understand that. No, you do understand—but that doesn’t mean you like it.

“You’re an idiot,” you begin the conversation, glancing up for only a moment to make sure your office doors are closed. Not a single set of eyes strays your way—like they’re afraid that if they’re caught, they’ll be forced to run some inhuman gauntlet. you like the fear, its better than an energy drink to keep you going. Satisfied that your privacy is assured, you go back to your conversation—momentarily forgetting where you were, so you start again. “You’re an idiot.”

A long suffering sigh, “So you said already,” he grouses, and you can hear the bustle from his end of the conversation—the loud pandemonium of a news office. You remember what the Daily Planet had been like—barely organized chaos. Thesaurus loving blood hounds tripping over each other for any story with a hint of spice at its edges. You’d been the best there—inarguably, in your opinion—and now, you play golf with Perry White four times a year. He wins, because you don’t know how to play golf—regardless of how many times you actually have played it.

“I thought it warranted repeating,” you glibly reply, twirling a pair of glasses between your fingertips while you recline in your desk chair. You can see a litany of freshly constructed buildings outside your window—where destruction had been before. National City was finally back on its feet—fully and absolutely.

“Did you call for any reason other than telling me I’m an idiot?”

It’s hard to talk to someone when it feels like you’re talking to yourself—Clark has definitely gotten some undesirable traits from you. Undesirable on him—on you they’re nothing, but wonderful. But sometimes you do wish he’d taken after Kara more—oh, he has her golden heart and easy smile—but those sharp edges are all yours.

You can think about her now without crumbling into tears—you can picture her dopey smile and brilliant eyes without knocking back half a bottle of expensive scotch to forget her. You don’t know if that’s an improvement—living so comfortably with a ghost that you no longer flinch.

“I also called to tell you that despite how much of a blowhard fool you are, I love you.” God, he’s such an idiot, and you wish you had seen this coming—but you thought he was smarter than this, more careful.

“I love you too,” you hear the smile in his voice, and you frown because it makes you feel light and dopey. This grown man who was still your little heathen. The toddler who refused to dance unless he was balanced on your toes—you’d sashay across the kitchen and he’d giggle up a storm. Now he’s a hot shot journalist—a center piece in Perry’s roster, second only to—

“But Lois Lane?” You drawl, exasperated, your voice tipping up into that shrill pitch that you pretend doesn’t make you sound like your mother. “What, did she finish her article about the puppy parade early, and had some time to kill?”

He sighs, not saying anything—still not saying anything—and after an eternity of silence (maybe forty five seconds) you concede, huffing while rubbing your temple, “Alright, alright—I’m sorry.”

Clark laughs, “You used to take longer,”

“I’m getting older, I don’t have time to waste placating your delicate china doll feelings; I might as well get it over with so that I can go back to managing my impressive, and decorated, media empire.”

A pause.

“You’re upset I didn’t ask you,” he deduces, and you scoff—loudly, so he knows how wrong he is.

But he isn’t wrong—not in the slightest—leaning back in your chair, you look at the Daily Planet newspaper your assistant had brought in at the beginning of the morning. You like to see what sub-par reporting they’re doing over in Metropolis, but it had been a rather big surprise to see Clark splashed across the front page—in full color, flying off into the quite literal sunset. The name James Olsen written small below it, but the predominate name on the article is Lois Lane—the consummate thorn in your patent black leather Manolo’s. It’s a coming out piece about the man of steel, last son of Krypton—Superman. You’d listened to how your assistant has twittered about the article—she’d read it on the elevator ride up—and wasn’t it just amazing that someone like this existed? You’d stared—waited—and she’d deposited the paper without another comment and left your office.

“I’m upset, that you’re not being more careful,” was it too early to start drinking? No, you decide, there’s no such thing as too early. Leaning your mobile between your chin and your shoulder, you walk over to the bar and open the decanter, pouring much more than two fingers worth, you carry it back over to your desk with a coaster—you’re not a savage. “Just because she looks cute in a skirt, and bats her eyelashes, doesn’t mean you should start telling her the gristly details of your eviscerated race, and doomed planet.”

Clark’s never had the same visceral connection with the tragedy that Kara did—he grew up in National City, he had a family that supported him, he didn’t even know about his people until he was fourteen—and by then he could only connect with them on the most fundamental of levels. You never had to search the silence for what to say, how to approach the subject—he was Kryptonian, it was in his very blood, but he was American—he was homegrown National City.

“Cat,” he hedges, the end of your name hooking like it should be a question, but you clear your throat like you’re waiting. “Can you give me a little more credit than that?”

“No,” you deadpan, “I will give you just as much credit as you deserve. Which is maybe a skosh above absolutely none.” Flattening the paper out on your desk, you look at the picture—you can make out the atrocious outfit he’d taken to wearing. “Heathen, at the very least, do you have to look like a color wheel has vomited on you?” The sigil on his chest makes your own heart clench—because you feel the burn of metal against your sternum where your own symbol of the House of El rests. Kara had given it to you over a decade ago, when she’d explained what it was.

You’re as much a part of my family as anyone back on Krypton, she’d said, I couldn’t have done this without you.

Fingering the necklace, hidden now that Clark has gone public with the symbol, you drink some of the scotch you’d gotten yourself. It isn’t even noon yet, but you can already feel the pulsing headache drumming away in your temples.

“Petty isn’t a good look for you,” you can imagine him leaning back in his chair—button-down shirt, and one of the ten ties you’d forced him to buy after college.

“I beg to differ,” you insist, “Petty looks just as good on me as everything else.”

After Kara had died—disappeared, vanished, died—it was like you’d become a single parent of two boys—one in grammar school, and one graduating college. Carter would ask about Kara every day, and Clark never would—you’d ping pong back and forth between the two until Carter no longer asked, and Clark brought her up every other conversation. Your heart is broken—shattered, really—and you’d stopped trying to repair the damage. What was the point? There was nothing strong enough to keep the pieces together—no Kryptonian hands to keep you whole.

“It was—it’s from home,” he settles, and you wonder who’s leaning over his cubical wall and eavesdropping on his conversation. But you understand—from home. It was probably from that ice hell that Kara had taken you to once—you are not a cold weather person—you’d snooped around as much as you were able, she hadn’t stopped you, but you don’t remember blue spandex anywhere in the place. “To remember her.”

Fuck. You almost curse out loud, but you stop yourself, because you’re a damn adult—and you don’t curse indiscriminately to yourself. You curse at other people, and traffic, and the weather, and inanimate objects—but not yourself. Closing your eyes, and pressing your fingers into the sockets, like you could chase away the ache in you pressed hard enough. Go figure, thirty years later it still doesn’t work.

“I suppose it could find itself on the same horrendous level of fashion choices that she made,” you concede, hiding your aching heart behind vitriol and sarcasm, “Though if you’d really wanted to remember her, it would have been in a garish shade of pastel.”

He snorts, laughing, and it sounds a little wet, and you feel like an ass for upsetting him, even if he’ll never admit it. “She did like pastel a little too much, didn’t she?”

Snorting, you’re laughing now too, “Far too much; do you remember that—I don’t even have a proper word for it—that frock?”

“The one that made her look like Laura from Little House on the Prairie?”

“Yes! That’s the one.” You see a few eyes lifting to look at you slightly, like you were some grand animal on display, but you’re looking down at your desk, smiling because that’s what Clark makes you do. Both your boys make you smile.

You’re both just sitting in amiable silence—remembering—and you can picture Kara perfectly. You don’t know where she’d gotten the dress, but it was garish—a level of ugly that you had difficulty comprehending at the young age of twenty six. She’d smoothed hands down the front of her dress, blinking at you from behind thick frames, and you’d only been able to think one thing—beautiful. She could have been dressed in a burlap sack, and you would have been enamored; she had some unflinching grip on your heart, and nothing would have been able to change that. Not even her abandon with the color wheel when shopping.

Do you like it? She’d asked quietly, blinking bright blue eyes at you—you swore to the heaven’s she had the tail of a comet glittering in her eyes.

You’d found yourself saying, I love it, with more sincerity than you felt, but God how she smiled. She’d wrapped her arms around your neck, and pulled you close—her skin hot through both layers of clothes, her nose tucked into your hair, and your lungs had been filled with her. Sunlight, stardust and cedar—you can still remember it so vividly. Like she’s just waiting on the other side of your closed lids.

But she’s not.

It’s been four years, and your limping heart has hardened at the edges.

“Clark,” you say, shattering the quiet with a warbling plea, “Be careful?” You want to say don’t do this, to forbid it and demand he stop; but he won’t. That’s what he’d inherited from Kara; a selfless streak a mile wide, and it had cost her. She’d sacrificed herself for the planet, and on your darkest nights, it doesn’t seem like a fair trade.

“I will,” he promises, “Just petty crime, nothing major.”

What did they say about famous last words?

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). It's strange how you think someone fills your whole heart—and then someone else tumbles into your life, and you realize they’ve always been there too, you just hadn’t realized. It happens over, and over, and over, and you wonder when your heart will be full. When there will be no more room to carry around the people you love. Though—you’ve been carrying a dead planet around in your heart for a decade, you suppose you have a little room left yet.

He’s so small. Impossibly so. He fits into the crook of your elbow, and you can’t even feel the weight of him—only the warmth of him. Hotter than the average human, like it lived below his skin. Ghosting fingertips across his forehead, you can’t stop the worry that lives inside you now. You’d raised Clark—but he was like you, unbreakable—you didn’t have to worry about how easily his skin could bruise, or how simply his bones could break. And this was a newborn. There was nothing solid to him, nothing firm—just soft pliant chub, and shivering little fingers.

All the names that had been thrown out over the last eight months have left your mind; fluttering away on the summer breeze you hear galling outside, shaking the storm windows of the fifth floor maternity room in place. The weather was supposed to be clear all week, so the storm had been a surprise—unseasonably chilly weather howling in from the north, bringing with it the occasional flurry of snow. You can hardly believe it, but you suppose you should leave a lot of room for belief—considering you are in fact an alien from another planet.

“Hey there, littlest Grant,” you coo softly, tracing the baby’s eyebrow, smoothing fingertips through his hair. He smells like talcum powder and antiseptic, but you couldn’t find it in you to flinch at the clinical smell. Because he also smells like Cat—not her shampoo, or her perfume. The scent that exists under all of that; on her skin, and in her pores. You’d tried a few times to describe it—but it was impossible. Warm, and crisp, and soothing—it was more a feeling than anything. And this newborn had it—seamlessly falling into a category of people that meant the world to you. Granted, he’d been there for almost six months, but the affirmation felt good.

A flailing fist caught your pinky, and held it in a firm grip—tight enough that you could almost feel it, and it made you smile. “You’re gonna be a fighter, aren’t you?” You sooth, pressing your nose against the soft crown of his head, watching the full head of wisps flutter as you breathe out. “Just like your mommy.” He snuffs, turning into the crook of your arm, and your face almost hurts with how wide you’re grinning—you don’t think you’ve stopped smiling since the nurses and doctors left, since the panic and chaos was over. And it was just you, Cat—and this beautiful boy.

“That’s a good thing, aonah. You’ll grow up big, and strong,” wiggling your finger only makes him hold tighter, “Well, maybe not too big; have you seen your mommy? She is the littlest human I’ve ever seen. Except you.” You swear he smiles—he does something—and it makes your heart flutter, because you’ve never loved something as much as you love this boy right now. He’s utterly defenseless, vulnerable and small, and you want to protect him with everything you have. To make this planet the best there has ever been in any of the galaxies.

“Who’re you calling little?” The voice startles you, and you whirl around, to blink owlishly at Cat—she’s still lying flat on her back, and you can’t see her face behind the mount of blankets that you’d gotten her. Even the hint of a shiver had sent you scurrying down the hall to find more warmed blankets. Walking up alongside the bed, you push enough of the blankets down to make out her face. Eyes still firmly closed, lips trying their hardest to frown—but she can’t manage it for even a moment. Sitting on the edge of the bed, the dip from your weight must convince her to wake up fully, because you’re greeted by warm green eyes. Glittering and bright, they possess you like nothing has ever been able to touch.

“No one, zrhueiao.” She doesn’t look convinced, not in the least, but that doesn’t seem to matter because her hand lifts to smooth through the baby’s dark curls. Trailing down his forehead, and to the tip of his nose, which makes his whole face bunch up, like he’s about to sneeze. “Do you want him?” It was one thing to hold him while Cat was asleep—when you could almost sense his need for comfort, his little fists balling tight and shaking—but now that she’s awake, you don’t want to step over the line.

Ever since she’d showed up at your apartment with tears in her eyes, you hadn’t known where you fit into this situation—you’d played it by ear—flowing around Cat like a nervous storm, cracking and static. You’d fallen into something of a routine, and nothing was ever mentioned about it—you’d always take care of her, until this sun collapsed, and the oceans ran dry. But you’d been too nervous to ask for clarification—for what this meant, because things have been different since she’d come back from the war zone. Not horribly different, but enough so that you were redefining edges.

She still trailed her hands up your arms, and through your hair—but she doesn’t end it with a kiss. She still fits into your side, and falls asleep on your shoulder—but half the time now, she’s gone when you wake up. You’re just as guilty—the comforting and familiar touches you have gotten so used to, you can’t live without now. But she doesn’t balk—doesn’t step away. You live in some place too intimate for friends, but neither of you are willing to mention it.

“No,” she says finally, and you’re shaken from your thoughts, “He looks perfect right where he is.” Rao. She breaks your heart with her eyes, with her words, everything about her knots you up inside, but it is a pain that you’ll accept a thousand times over, because if it means Cat Grant will look at you even once like she is right now. It is worth it. “What does it mean?” She’s shifting, and you turn so that you can guide her into a half recline, sliding in beside her so that she can lean on your arm, hand limp on your thigh.

“What?” You murmur without really thinking about it, too busy making soothing sounds to the boy who looks like he might start crying without any prompting.

“Ah-O-nah.” She drawls, taking extra time on each syllable, and you may look at her a little too quickly, because her eyes inadvertently cross and she shakes her head. Lips pursing, and she’s snared you, and she knows it. “Well?” Grant Brow raised.

Aonah,” you repeat, listening to her say it again—and then again, trying to duplicate the way the sounds flit and curl. There is no break in the word, no syllables, just a single changing sound—you’d never be able to properly explain it, because so much of it in folded into your cells. In the extra chamber in your lungs, and the quick trilling cord in your throat. The unseen differences between humans and Kryptonians. You hear Kryptonese so infrequently that it tightens your chest to hear her speak it. Especially this word. You want her to say this every day, until the day you die. “It’s Kryptonian for—you see—what it means is—,”

You’re stuttering like an idiot, floundering for something to grasp onto, and she just settles her small palm on your collarbone. You feel how her fingers press hard, making sure you know she’s there. “Kara,” Rao, how she says your name, “What does it mean?” She knows, it is in the tilt of her chin, the half-squint of her eyes.

“Son,” you supply, the word escaping without your consideration, “It means son.”

Aonah,” she doesn’t trip over it this time, exhaling the word like it’s her native tongue, and your stomach burn for the sound of it—how it snares in the teeth of her smile, and off the petals of her lips. “How do you say mother?”

Ieiu,” you’re a moth drifting closer to a flame—your wings catching the flickers of fire flitting off into the dark. There’s no hope for you anymore—no salvation, because you’ve already found yours—barely five feet tall, with a crown of gold. You listen to her deconstruct the word, mull over the feeling of it before she smiles at you. Eyes bristling with delight, even as their lined in exhaustion. You see how her lids droop, how the fatigue is pulling her back under.

“Carter,” the name startles you, because you could only think of him as the littlest Grant, but you like Carter—how it feels and sits in your chest. “Meet your ieiu; she’s rather silly,” you hear the words, but the way her fingers trip over your collarbone and around your neck has you lulled—you, she was calling you his mother—the rush of blood in your ears, the drop in your stomach that should surely make you dizzy. “But she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”

Cat kisses Carter’s forehead, like she hasn’t just shattered your world—and rebuilt it into something bigger, and more beautiful. She lays back down, shifting every blanket until it is properly smothering her, one small hand still sticking out and touching your elbow with the lightest brush of a fingertip. “Darling,” she hushes, already half-asleep, “could you get me another blanket?” You’re up before she even finishes, tucking Carter into the small basinet that the nurses had brought in for him. Brushing sweat slicked hair away from her forehead, to press a kiss there and leave the room—knowing she’ll definitely be asleep by the time you get back.

The afternoon staff likes you a lot better than the night staff—who you had driven mad with your incessant need to worry, you’d been at the nurses station every five minutes convinced the world was ending—and a nurse happily gives you two blankets to bring back to Cat. You feel ridiculous for how proud you are of your acquisition—it wasn’t like you’d gone out to hunt for food, just asked someone paid to help for blankets. You’re so lost in thought—filtering out everything except the sound of Carter and Cat’s heart, they thump away behind your ears, and you only see her at the last second. Manicured claws curled over the knob to open the door and disturb your humans’ peace.

Using a little burst of inhuman speed, you place your hand over her’s and stop her from opening the door, listening inside to make sure they’re both alright and asleep—you turn your attention to the unwanted party. Katherine Grant Sr. You know there’s a spelling difference, but the arrogance needed deserves the acknowledgement—you’ve always thought so. She should be beautiful—the high cheekbones, and the perfect posture, how her make up is perfectly set and even. But there’s always a chill that flickers up your spine when you come across the elder Grant. It’s how her dark blue eyes track you—toe to head, toe to head—and how she settles somewhere half an inch below your eyes. Like it isn’t the effort to look up to meet your gaze.

“Keira,” she demurs, flicking her wrist to the boy-man behind her who steps forward with an antibacterial wipe, which she promptly uses—like you’ve given her something by touching her hand. “I thought my daughter traded you in.”

Ignoring the barb, you smile slightly—you feel fake, but you want her gone, and away from Cat. “Miss Grant,” you begin, clearing your throat and folding your arms across your stomach, hugging the blankets to you. “Cat’s sleeping right now; the doctors really would like her to rest.” Placation, and you see the reptilian shift in dark blue eyes that lets you know she knows, “I’ll let her know you stopped by, and she can call you when she’s up to visitors.”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” It isn’t a sneer, but it is the polite version of it—like a rusty fence painted in bright red. A brilliant warning. “Visiting her.” The way she drawls the word makes it sound lewd—like the time she came home early to find you and Cat asleep in her bed; nothing had happened, but you’d had a nightmare and she’d tangled her fingers in your hair to coax you back asleep.

“I’m not, actually.” You stress the meaning, hardening your face, clenching your jaw, “Visiting would imply I leave.” Many things could be said about you—a million and one, you’re sure—but you’ll never leave Cat Grant. She’s ingrained in you, part of you—the family you chose—and this woman will not sour this day. Cat always told you to leave it be, that it wasn’t worth the effort—but Cat isn’t here, and you are. “And I’m asking you, politely, to leave.”

“And you believe the hospital will side with a vagrant over the patient’s own mother?”

“I believe the hospital will side with the patient’s medical proxy and power of attorney,” you demur, matching her down with a hooded tip of your chin; you feel the anger you bottle up licking at the bottom of your feet. Far enough away from your heart that you don’t burn with it, that is doesn’t consume you. “On your way out, you should really look at the plaque by the elevators.”

You’d been embarrassed by it, but Cat has cooed and laughed at you the first time you’d taken her to an appointment—when she told you she was pregnant, you may have overreacted—and donated a sizable amount to their effort to renovate the maternity wing. There was a blatant and ostentatious plaque with K. Callaghan chipped out. Cat had made you pose next to it, laughing at your flushed face all the while. The staff seemed to know you on sight and were falling over themselves to help you.

“You’ll never have her,” Kathrine says quietly, like a secret just for the two of you, “Not in the way you want.”

“You’re wrong,” the fluttering in your chest is Carter’s heartbeat, is Cat’s breathing, even and soft, “I have everything I could ever want.”

“So,” she smiles, “the fact that she’s having another man’s child is what you want?”

The anger nips at your heels, tripping up your legs, and settling low in your stomach like a warning. You feel the burn behind your eyes, and you close them softly for a moment—pulling back the desire, tucking it back inside where it belongs.

“Your daughter is an amazing person; she’s smart, and kind, and compassionate,” opening your eyes, you don’t realize you’ve taken a step forward, until the elder Grant has taken one back, the three shaking assistants behind her falling over themselves to get out of the way. “And she’s going to be an amazing mom. And the fact that I can see that? That she wants me here? Means the world to me. Nothing you say will change that.”

She opens her mouth to say something, you see the flint in her eyes, but you hold up a hand—something Cat usually does to you when you start babbling, “I’m going to go inside, and give her the blankets she asked for—and then I’m going to hold Carter, because I can.” Smiling, and you know it isn’t friendly, “That’s your grandson’s name, by the way; Carter.” Named after the man this woman had belittled and insulted until the day he died—the man who Cat had gotten her compassion from.

“Take care of yourself, Miss Grant.” You exhale, shrugging, and like that—the anger melts away, because on the other side of this door is your son. And the woman you'll always love with everything you are. “It’s raining something fierce outside.”

And when you close the door in her face, she doesn’t try to open it—she curls a lip and pivots on the heel of a thousand dollar shoe. You watch through the little window in the door, and then follow her with your x-ray vision until you see her get into the back of a town car. Soaking wet and furious.

“I didn’t realize banishing demons was one of your abilities,” Cat wise cracks from the bed, and you see how she’s rolled slightly into her side, her face holding a little twinge of pain. But she looks happy—relieved, and happy. You bundle her with the two blankets you’d gotten—apologizing softly for the fact that they weren’t warm anymore—but she just covers your hand with hers and tugs you down.

She presses her lips against yours softly—chaste, and light—and her eyes are a kaleidoscope of emotion when they open, “Thank you, Kara,” she’s still close enough that her lips brush yours, but while it’s intimate—it isn’t romantic—and you’re alright with that. Because Carter snuffles a little and you’re both smiling dopey grins. Because he’s beautiful, and perfect. When Cat shifts over, and places Carter on her chest, intent on feeding him, you make a move to leave, but she catches your arm.

“Stay?” She whispers, and you see the fear in her eyes, something she’ll never mention, never acknowledge, but she doesn’t have anything to worry about. But she’ll never believe words—but actions? Those she can’t contest.

Curling an arm around her slight shoulders, you press your nose to her temple, “Nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (ALEX, MAX, CLARK, CAT)You can count on one hand the number of people it takes to save the world. The queen who possesses your heart, the boy whose blood you share, the man who’s mind you match, and the woman whose soul you mirror. You’re a martian orphan, and you’ve taken these things from them without asking—you hope they don’t mind, because after tonight, you don’t think you’ll be able to give them back. You’ll take them to your grave—you hope you’ll see Krypton in your dreams after you save this borrowed home.

It has only been eight hours—only eight.

How can the world end in less than a day?

Standing in the quiet after all the decisions have been made is the worst feeling—of knowing all the possibilities, of lining up the risk factors and deciding who was expendable. That was how the military functioned, risk against reward—and the price for failure was obliteration. A pretty steep buy in at this particular table. Kara stands beside you, wearing a ridiculous yellow shirt and cream pants—her face is dirty, and her nose bloody—it is the first time you’ve seen her marred. See her look so human. Her arms are crossed over her stomach while she stares at the configuration on the screen—you see how her eyes flicker, how her jaw clenches.

You only realize you’ve set your hand on her shoulder when she reaches up and places hers over it—squeezing lightly, but not taking her eyes off the schematics. On the monitor was a gutted nuclear warhead, the shell casing peeled away, the innards repurposed and resituated so that they can sit on the shoulders of a human. Granted—no actual human would be able to hold up the weight, but Kara was no human. The scientists were clambering over themselves to work faster—to accomplish more. Kara’s foot was tapping quickly on the ground, causing the slightest of tremors.

She’d given up a lot to get to this point—standing in the middle of the department, outed. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t know what she was, and it hurts your heart how it affects her—how she flickers her eyes to each person who passes, assessing them, and then turning away. Like she doesn’t know anyone anymore—like she’s alone.

Alone at the end of the world.

“Go over the plan again,” she says, quiet enough that you almost miss it, but you see her lips moving—blue eyes turning to you for a moment, before turning back to the screen.

“Five kilotons of radioactive material will be piped through a fractured particle rotation, and slowly broken down—when the timer on your wrist hits zero, the half-life of the waste will begin leaking.” Its suicide. Absolute suicide. But you’d standing next to an impenetrable extraterrestrial. She assured you that the particular type of radiation she would be leaking was good for her—something about how her cells absorbed it. “You will force a piece of kryptonite—”

“That is a ridiculous name,” she softly adds, turning to you with an exasperated scoff.

You continue like she didn’t interrupt, “—kryptonite into the creature, and attempt to remove it from the atmosphere.” A pause, and she waits—and waits—and only when she looks back at you, do you continue—soft, and shuddering. “And then you detonate the unstable warhead.”

She’s smiling, chewing on her lower lip, “Seems fool proof.”

This morning—at zero nine hundred, an earthquake hit the desert outside National City. No houses were damages, no building toppled—the world just kept moving. Until a creature appeared—gray, and large, and shot through with bone spikes. Another alien, you’d thought, pressing your lips together and assembling your team. Fifteen in total, armed to the tooth—the beast didn’t seem to have much mind about it, tearing through whatever it could get its hands on. Houses, cars, schools—an entire mall. People strewn across the street, bloody and broken.

Your team gutted; not a single person left alive. Except you.

And then Kara showed up.

Kara to you—the Spectre to everyone else.

Her clothes snapping in the wind, face hidden, she’d hit the beast head on—their punches cracked together, sound pushing out and away, the ground cracking under their feet. The department knew that the vigilante was strong—impossibly so—and that they could leap far distances. Mortals watched on as the gods fought, tossing each other into rock ledges—into the sky—through the ground. They staggered and clashed, but in the end—the Spectre was set out. Creaking bones and weeping wounds, the department retrieved her, and unmasked her—many flinching away from their liaison.

Except you—except Hank.

She told you a story—about a monster from her planet—a hundred thousand years ago. That had grown up in hell, killed, and born, and killed—until it didn’t know how to die any longer. The creature killed its creator and escaped into the black of space—there it slashed bloody lines through planets and civilizations. Until it was captured; stabbed through and buried in a cage far below the ground, where the yellow sun couldn’t touch it. Where it took a millennia to heal—in the dark, alone.

“We called it the Ultimate, or—that’s what my father called it,” she exhales, face scrunching slightly, “I always figured it was a story—to scare us to staying out of trouble.” She watched the recordings over and over—how her body was clasped in large gray hands and thrown through buildings and into the ocean. The beast had gotten to National City, bringing whole sky scrapers down—they’d had warning, much of the city evacuated—and Kara had lured it back to the desert for now.

Its favorite toy—a girl who didn’t break.

“You’ll die, Kara.”

“I know,” she says, with the tip lipped expression of a martyr. It fits perfectly to the slopes of her face, the line of her brow—and you don’t want it to.

“Don’t do it.”

“I have to, Alex. I can’t let another planet die—I just can’t.” Exhaling, she turns to you, falling into the spread of your arms and pressing her forehead against your shoulder.

“There has to be another way—it was trapped before, can’t we trap it again?”

She’s shaking her head against your shoulder, and your pressing against the back of her head, hand lost in her gold curls. And then she stiffened—moving away from you with bright eyes—intelligent and fractured, flickering like she’s reading something.

“I have an idea, but I need to see a friend.”

She’s moving back, moving away, “What’s the plan?”

She laughs, “I couldn’t even begin explaining it—trust me?”

There’s no question, “Always.”

The laboratory is dark when you press your palm against the scanner—the blue light tracking across your retina and over the curve of your cheek—this was the deepest part of your building, where your most valuable projects are housed. Your wife had called this your secret layer, asking if mustache twirling was a prerequisite for entrance—you’d scoffed, crossing your arms and steadfastly not answering. She’d sooth your wounded ego, and smooth hands over your shoulders, pressing your button down properly in place. It had been a cheap suit then—bought at the mall, because you hadn’t even gotten your first contract yet—you were up to your eyes in loan payments, and your company was little more than a brain trust of ideas.

“You were supposed to turn your credentials in upon termination,” you intone to the silent darkness around you—your voice going tinny and far away as it bounces through the lab. “I’m pretty sure that’s covered in the severance package.” Standing beside the large vat of translucent orange liquid that bubbles and then shoots through the pipes to a large tank in the far back, you try to find the intruder. The security terminal had been accessed, a hand scanned and a retina logged. You have no doubt who it is, and the first rumblings of anger begin leaking into your blood, slipping into your veins and colonizing your heart—turning it black, and rotten, and bad.

“I was never actually fired,” a voice returns, light and far away, and you can’t pin down where it’s coming from. “I don’t think there’s a section in the paperwork for extraterrestrial discovery. I can check with HR if you’d like?” Gritting your teeth, you stop walking, standing in the dash of light given off by the refrigerated cabinet of specimens. The text message you’d received had been a familiar one, because you’d gotten it half a thousand times before. When Kara had stayed late to finish some project or another, and you’d long since thrown your hands up and moved on. You were a frantic mind—you dipped and dashed on projects, flitting from one too another. You couldn’t stall on a conclusion, couldn’t be bogged down with dead ends. You’d work through it eventually—but you would be productive while doing it.

Cal: Guess who has two thumbs and a solution? This guy.

Unlike in the past there’s no follow up messages.

Cal: Well, this girl. But like—you know what I mean.

Cal: Just come here.

Cal: Please. I meant to say please.

It’s the messages that always made your wife laugh when she slapped at your phone to see what had woken her up—she’d squint at the screen, and chuckle. “Cal’s got something figured out. You’d better go see what, before she hurts herself in excitement.” You’d press a kiss to her cheek—already throwing on a jacket, and then she’d reel you in by the collar and whisper a real kiss against your lips before claiming said kiss.

There was no kiss tonight—because your wife is dead. She’s dead, and it was Kara’s fault. Looking down at your phone, at the innocuous message sent, you frown because the last time you got such a message was almost three years ago. The same night she’d looked at you with those sad eyes and begged you to understand. Your wife’s blood still on her hands, splashed across her cheeks—and how her eyes glowed. Inhuman and far away, like she’d tucked into herself; the lab had been in shambles, everything shatters, and dented.

Shaking away the memory, you curl your lip in distaste, cracking your neck. “I’m fairly certain even a green card wouldn’t cover that,” you hedge, leaning back against the rail keeping wandering scientists from tipping head first into the vat below. “Come on out, Cal, I don’t have time for this—haven’t you heard? It’s the end of the world outside.” A vicious monster crashing through the heart of National City; people fleeing scared, the military lining the border of town.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” and there she is. You don’t know what you were expecting; maybe some promise of the truths you know about her now. As if she should be someone completely different now that you’ve pulled away the façade of humanity. But she’s—the girl who you’ve known for ten years. Pastel yellow shirt tucked neatly into a cream pair of slacks, thin suspenders that she wore ever since you’d convinced her they were in—you’d gotten an earful from Cat Grant when Kara had shown up to a gala sporting the suspenders. You and your wife had giggled in the hall outside while Cat plucked at them, pretending they weren’t utterly endearing—you should have known then. No human could make Cat Grant’s eyes that soft. Her shoes are soft flats, and her hands are tucked into her pockets. On her breast pocket is her Lorde Technologies badge—K. Callaghan, chief of staff—the bottom a reflective blue color, the highest clearance in the building.

“From what I saw, you seemed pretty good at hitting buildings at terminal velocity,”

“Max,” she’s imploring you, pushing the glasses just an inch higher on her nose. “I need to get into the vault.” And there is why she’s here. You’d changed the security locks on the vault, line the door with lead, and hints of meteorite. The green rock unsurprisingly hard to find, but you managed to get a few grams. There was still a section you couldn't access; a door made of a metal you still couldn't identify, locked tight forever more. You'd tried prying it open, you'd tried burning through it, but an alarm triggered for a bio-hazard breach had blared and you'd stopped everything. It was tethered to a worm in your computers, you'd found the backdoor months ago, but your best programmars could do nothing. So you'd decided it wasn't worth it.

Kara wasn't worth it.

“Whatever for, Spectre?” Drawling the name with a crisp lilt, you cross your arms and arch a brow.

“This isn’t a game!” She’s angry now, that flicker in her eyes that used to thrill you because it was productivity in the making, now makes your stomach knot, and your hands to tense. She’s not the girl who had corrected you in physics—not seeming to care that you were her TA. She’s not the girl who loved Chinese better than any gourmet meal. She’s not the girl who had been bestperson at your wedding, who had looked uncomfortable and unsure, but had smiled wide the whole while.

No, she’s the creature that decided who lived and who died. Who took those choices away from you, because she thought she knew what was better.

But she doesn’t, and because of it, she ruined your life.

“What do you want, Kara?” You’re frowning, leaning forward and away from your perch, stepping toward her.

“I need the reactor I was working on, Max. It’s in the vault.” She’s walking forward too, until she’s close enough that you can see the blue of her eyes. You always thought her eyes were trustworthy—bright, and clear, and good. And you wonder if you’d just been wrong, or she was just such a good liar.

“And I’ll just hand it over—because?”

“Because it’s mine,” she finishes, jaw tight, “You’re angry at me—I get that—but that doesn’t change who I am.”

“And who are you, Kara?” You’re toe to toe now, and she only has to look up an inch or two to match your gaze. “Because honestly, I don’t know anymore. You’re a liar—I know that much. An alien—know that too. And one of two titans breaking my city to pieces.” You’re hissing the words into her face, and some small little voice at the back of your mind is shouting a warning—that she could shatter every bone in your body before you realized she’d moved. But the part of you that missed her—missed the girl who snorted chocolate milk out her nose because it would make you laugh—didn’t worry at all. And that was the dangerous part of you—the blind faith you shoved deep down. “So, tell me. Who are you?”

“I’m your friend, Max.” She’s whispering, and shrugging, like she’s at a loss; and you’d only seen her like this a few times before. When Cat had flown across the world and left her alone—she’s simpered and slouched through life with a general dispassion. When the New England Patriots managed to ruin a perfect season and she’d wallowed for almost a month. And when she’d attended your wife’s funeral, and you’d asked her—told her—to leave. I loved her too, she’d whispered, scuffing a shoe and walking out of the cemetery.

“With friends like you,” you’re sneering, but you swallow it, smooth your edges and shake your shoulders—it isn’t worth it, “Who needs enemies?”

“You’re a good man,” her hands have pulled free from her pockets, “Hate me—that’s fine. Don’t make National City suffer because of it. Don’t change because of it.” Her face pinches, and her shoulders life—utterly human, in her inhumanity. “And, hey. If my plan works, you won’t have to worry about me anymore. I'll be far, far away.”

Her eyes are wet, “Bonus, you know?”

Your cousin is the strongest person you know—not because she can carry mountains on her back, or because she deflects bullets with her skin. No, not because of that—but it helps—it’s because she has an unflinching resolve. The kind you read about in the epic fantasy books she read to you when you were young. Of knights, and wizards, dragons and ogres. The hero never balks at adversity, never turns away from the mission—and you should have known. You should have known. If you’d been thinking about those heroes—brave, and selfless, and true—you would have remembered what happens to those they love.

“She’ll be here soon.” Cat says, rubbing a hand up and down your arm; nothing really was left on this floor, including a west facing wall—Kara’s body had gone straight through the level without much fanfare. “She has a plan.” Looking out past the limits of the city, you see the creature tearing through the empty desert—the Ultimate, Kara had called it. A shiver had chewed down your spine, and a strange sensation in your chest—like you’d heard of it. Or maybe just that a fear lived in the very blood of your people. There isn’t much time left—and you’re breathing deep, getting ready to help your cousin save the world.

As if summoned by a thought—Kara appears.

Her suit is worn and dirty, and she’s holding a large lead case in one hand—it thumps heavily when she sets it down. Pulling her hood down, and the face mask around her neck, she walks toward you and tugs you into a hug—tight enough that even your Kryptonian bones groan. She’s shaking her head against your shoulder, and you hold her back—wrap her tight and squeeze like you can keep her together on your own. She isn’t unbreakable, you’ve known this for a while now—but there’s something tensile and sure about her in this moment. Like she’s simply taking a deep breath before diving back under.

“I have something to tell you,” she murmurs, brushing her fingertips against Cat’s wrist, and getting a nod in return. You follow her to the center of the building, an abandoned office with all its walls intact—surprise. She closes the door and wrings her hands together, cracking knuckles—the joints popping like gunshots. Following her with your eyes, she’s close to making you dizzy when she spins and exhales. “I have a plan—a crazy plan, but—it could work. It could really work.”

“What’s the plan?” There’s an excitement in your chest because she’s never asked you to help before—always said she was supposed to protect you, and you were supposed to be normal.

“Well—they’re from Krypton, so the rocks from our meteor shower will hurt it. Make it weak.” She blinks blue eyes up at you, and she’s smiling, not wide—or particularly large—and it aches inside you. “I’m going to fly it out of the atmosphere; the military was nice enough to lend me a pretty big bomb. I’ll be bleeding UV radiation which will protect me for a little while from the meteorites, and when we get high enough. I’m going to detonate it.” You’re nodding along, following her plan—makes sense, the green rocks from the shower, throwing it into space—and before you can realize what she’s saying—

Detonate it.

—she’s locked your wrists in thick silver cuffs, they’re tight and groan when you tug, but she toggles a switch on her belt, and they glow green. Your strength simpers and cries, pulling out of you, and your skin suddenly feels two sizes too tight—like it’s retracting around your muscles and bones. Kara’s face is awash with green, and she’s flinching too, her entire face screwed up with pain, hands shaking where she holds your face between her palms.

“I’m so proud of you, Kal-El.” She only calls you Kal-El when she’s flicking through thoughts too quickly, that the translation doesn’t stick, “So very proud. You’ve grown into such a strong, compassionate man—you are the best of our people, Kal, the very best. And it means the world to me that I was able to watch you grow up.” She’s smoothing her clammy hands over your cheeks, and presses her forehead against yours—she’s trembling from the meteorite, breathing hard and choppy.

“Kar—don’t—do this.”

“I have to, baby cousin.” She whispers, “I promised to protect you—but I also have to protect your home.” She makes those slips sometimes—saying your instead of our. Like earth wasn’t her home—and you never mentioned it, never thought much about it. How long has she felt like that? How long has she looked to the stars? Searching for a dead planet, thinking home.

“Your home—too.”

“Only for a little while longer,” her lips are hot against your forehead, and you feel her slipping a necklace over your head—it’s the one you know her mother had given her. When she’d been a child, sent away from a dying planet. “I wouldn’t change a thing—I love you so much, so much. And my only regret is that I won’t see what’s yet to come—watching you graduate, get a job, get married.” She’s sniffling, and blood is dripping from her nostril—from the damage already done by the beast ravaging National City. “And like I made my mother a promise—can you make me one?”

You’re shaking your head, thrashing in her hold, but she firms her grip and meets your eyes. “Take care of our family, Kal-El. Your brother’s so young; I want you to read him Peter Pan, and take him to his first day of school, and talk to him about girls, and—and.” She’s sobbing, large uncontrollable tears, while kissing the top of your head. “And Cat—please, understand what I asked of her. Please? She loves her darling boy, and you’ll understand. What you’ll do to protect those you love.”

She’s released you, staggering away, the bruises blossom and worsen across her cheeks, the white of one eyes having burst—but you know it’ll heal when she leaves the room. “I love you,” she whispers, before leaving the room and closing the door. You try to stagger to your feet, to chase after her—to stop her, but you can hardly move. Your bones are heavy, and your muscles are jam. You sob, your forehead rubbing against the carpet.

Kara.” You scream, her name garbling in your throat, wet with tears and anguish.

Kara looks like a fallen angel like this—standing at the gaping maw of the sixty-fourth floor, the wall that used to exist in the news room. The sun is finally kissing the horizon after what seems like an eternity, lighting the sky on fire—you wish, not for the first time, that you knew how to paint, because there’s a finality in how she’s looking at you. A chiseled tip of her jaw that lets you know she’s clenching it tight, grinding those indomitable teeth together until even they had to give. Hands bracketed by pockets, you’re reminded of what she looked like when you first saw her—a scrappy youth of thirteen, in a too large shirt and with skyline eyes. If you knew then, what you do now, would you have taken her to dinner? Would you have played tick-tack-toe with a toddler who didn’t know the rules, and declared himself a winner every time?

Would you have fallen in love?

Was the pain worth it?

A million times yes.

“I tried to think of something to say on my way over here,” her lips are moving, but it’s like the words float in the air unheard for a moment. Her blood is red—like yours—and her bruises are dark—like yours—and yet. She still doesn’t look human—like a statue brought to life and told humanity awaited on the other side. She’s dressed for the cameras, the Spectre in full form—however, at the moment, her hood was pulled back now, and mask removed. She’s just a girl, pretending at being a savior—how did earth get so lucky? How did this little speck of blue catch such a beacon of hope? Stepping toward her, she watches you with baleful eyes. “The hero is supposed to have something—I don’t know—inspiring to say.” She’s rocking her weight away, like she’ll tip off the building without a tether, and you’re worried this time she won’t stick the landing.

“Who says you’re the hero?” You ask with a smile—because you have to smile, anything else will shatter your resolve to let her go—will crush the stubborn determination keeping your fingers from curling into her collar.

“I’d guess that it’s the five kiloton nuclear weapon, and the box of toxic space rocks,” she jests, and steps forward, off the ruined ledge and toward you. She’s standing so close you can feel the sun bleeding off her—it breaths into the air, and trembles across her skin. Plucking at the hairs on the back of your arm, standing them on end.

“Pretty theory,” you return, “still circumstantial though; I wouldn’t put it in print.”

She’s grinning, dopey and wide, and your heart clenches, because this girl is going to save the world—she’s going to strap a bomb to her back, and fly away into the sunset. She looks so impossibly young—you’ve always thought it, but she always shrugged and dismissed it as good genetics—she hasn’t aged a day since college. Cheeks still smooth and clear, eyes bright and wide—she’s perfect. And you’re about to lose her. And you’ve wasted so much time. So much.

“Not wasted! Never wasted.” She’s firm, and you don’t realize you’ve said that last part out loud—the truth slipping from your lips as she catches your cheeks between her palms. She’s impossibly hot, and her skin is buzzing audibly, and you can’t help leaning into her touch—even if her grip is a little tight, and the vibration trembling from her bones rattles your ear drums. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing. Because—we have Clark, and Carter—they’re ours and beautiful, and—a-and—you have to watch after them now, alright?” She’s crying—and you want to drawl some hero—but she’s damned heroic, the perfect martyr and her forehead is pressed against yours. The world going blurry, and the sun kissing the sky goodnight.

“I made Carter a dentist appointment, it’s written in your planner—and Clark won’t ask, but he’s been saving for a car, and I wanted—I wanted to pay for half.” Her words are slippery and sobbing, and she’s pressing wet lips to yours, and you can’t help returning the kiss. “I know you lost your glasses and have been wearing old ones, so I ordered you another pair—they’re coming in next week.” The way you melt into her is without question, and absolute. “Your assistant’s birthday is next month—get her a gift, she likes flowers—you’ve been pretty intolerable lately with the Tribune launching.” Her inhumanly strong hands are pawing at your soot stained shirt, and she’s lifting you until you’re able to wrap legs around her waist. To feel the solid lines of her sides against your thighs, and the strength of her arms holding you.

“You don’t have to do this,” it’s a chipped and shattered sentence, and it feels hollow, because—if she doesn’t who will? “We’ll find another way.”

“My home, zrhueiao—it crumbled to pieces, and everyone I loved died—I won’t let that happen again. This time—I can stop it,” how can someone survive such an impossible weight? How could they carry it around with them like an unmentionable burden—Kara holds it with grace. A torch for her lost world, pride of being it’s last daughter—she called herself that in jest some nights—when the television was muted, and Clark had texted them goodnight, and Carter was asleep down the hall. Your head would be on her shoulder, and she’d laugh her way through another silent episode of I love Lucy.

“The indomitable Cat Grant, media mogul, and Kara Zor-El, the last daughter of Krypton,” you could remember how her soft lips had felt against your temple, “We should have our own television show.”

“Oh? And what genre are you looking to delve into, darling?” You’d drawled, shifting slightly so that you could slot into the curve below her arm, nose against her neck.

“I was thinking—buddy cop show,” her free hand would throw out dramatically, “The Queen of All Media is hot on the trail of crime, who better to call than—,” she’d leap up from the couch, zipping away down the hall and would return with a crimson blanket knotted around her neck, hands on her hips. You recognize the red cape and ridiculous pose from when Clark had been young, “—Supergirl!”

You’ve hurt so much in your life—the small pains that prick until you suddenly realize you haven’t felt them in forever, but you can’t pin down the exact moment they left. And the agonizing knots that sit like stones in your stomach and make you heavy with regret, and anger, and sadness. You know them both intimately—but Kara makes your heart hurt, because it’s warm, and throbbing, and overtaxed with love. She’s precious and consuming, and if you forgot yourself for even half a moment, she’d devour you and you aren’t sure you wouldn’t love it.

“I was going to ask you to marry me, Catherine Jane Grant, some day, when I stopped being a coward—and even if you said no, I’d keep asking.” You both are breathing heavily, wheezing through the tears, and your fingers are tight in her hair—because she’s an idiot, an absolute idiot. And you want to tell her how stupid she is, and how stupid you are, but you can’t because she’s so damned beautiful like this. Ruined, and torn, and shaking apart—but she’s exquisite. “I’d keep asking, because you’re it for me—I travelled half a galaxy to find you, and I told myself I’d never lose you. I’d never let you slip away. That'd I'd stay; until the stars go dark.”

“And now I’m losing you,” you whisper, because this is goodbye—even if you refuse to say the actual word.

All those little cracks that splinter through her are showing now, they widen and fissure—and she has no smiles to plaster over them like papier-mâché. She’s reached her breaking point, and you have to be strong for her; you have to kiss her goodbye, and watch as she does the stupidly heroic things she’s capable of.

“But, what did I expect when I fell in love with a comet?” Pressing your lips to hers, wet with tears and resolute. She’s clutching at you, strong hands gripping, and then releasing—lighting up your sides like she’s afraid she’ll hurt you. Unhooking your ankles, you slide down the front of her body, rucking up your clothes even more. “Go be the hero, Kara.” You murmur, tracing a thumb across her cheek, through the track of tears dripping off her jaw, you plunge your fingers into her hair, and tug her in for one last kiss. “Chop chop, supergirl,” God, you voice cracks, and you simper against her lips. “We’ve got a schedule to keep.”

The timer on her wrist is down to seconds now—chipping away at her time here with you until it’s at forty-three seconds. Forty-two. Forty-one. Kara presses something into your hands—a key—and you don’t have to ask what it’s for—you nod. Thirty-two. Thirty one.


Kara doesn’t look back when she pivots and swan dives off the building—the containment on the nuclear reactor strapped to her back fissures when you mentally get to zero. It is a snap through the crumbling silence, and far below you see the sickening glow of green—the meteorites. The beast throws a haymaker that just misses Kara as she swings around and throws a shoulder at its back—knocking it forward and off balance. There’s a shattering roar, and this time it does catch her—wrapping her in a massive fist and then throwing her through what remained of a parking garage.

Is this what the Greeks imagined when they thought of their gods and titans? Monstrous creatures and golden cherubs alighting across the ground, no mind for the lands they changed in their wake. Figures beyond morality, and mortality—shaking the very earth beneath their feet. There’s a strange silence, and then a crack in the air as Kara breaks the sound barrier—too close to properly direct, but she hurls herself into the beast. Catching it in the sternum and then pressing upward—both of them glowing green. The color distorts around Kara, shimmering through a few different hues the further up she got.

Something stumbles behind you, and you turn to find Clark—face pale, dark hair slicked to his forehead, hands bound in silver cuffs—glowing green and bright. His blue eyes—the exact same shade as Kara’s—implore you to help him—but then he’s looking beyond you, out into the city, up into the sky. At the pulsing shimmer of light and color so far away. “Kara,” he whispers, tripping forward and catching himself on a half destroyed wall. “What’s she doing? She won’t be able to survive that.” He’s looking at you—that flutter in his eyes causing you pain because—because—he actually think you can do something. That you can be his hero, in the same way Kara is—strong, and unbreakable. Mighty and true.

“She’s saving us.” But your only power is going to be picking up his pieces—slotting them carefully back into place, and making him whole again. Your job with be nurturing that empty place inside him that matches the hole in you—a gap in your heart, just about Kara’s size.

And the sky explodes—flashes of green, and flickers of light, like the atmosphere has set itself on fire. It crawls toward the horizon, jumping from atom to atom, until it’s a streak across the sky. Bright, and blinding, and you have to raise your hand to shield your eyes—it looks like another sun. Spilling daylight into the darkness—and just like that. It’s gone. Like some deity breathed in and swallowed the explosion—such light. And then darkness.

Clark is searching the sky, wincing blue eyes trying to find some proof of life—anything—but nothing falls. Not the beast, not the shell of the reactor, no flickering green comets of Krypton—and certainly not its last daughter. They’re lost to the dark, somewhere out there—but you watch his face, because you still have some twisting kind of hope in your chest. It’s a bastardized version of hope—worn thin and useless, but you hold firm to it nonetheless.

“She’s gone,” Clark sobs, his face crumpling, his breathing going erratic, and you go to him—cradle his head against your stomach, combing fingers through his hair. He’s sweaty and shivering—you have the key in your palm, a way to release him, but you’re selfish, and you take this moment. You need to feel how real he is under your hands, so that when he hates you—you’ll be able to bear it. He’ll hate you—but he’ll be alive. And that’s fine. Because he’ll be alive.

“Shh,” you sooth, crouching down, curling over his hunched frame, pressing your nose into his hair—he smells like poorly chosen cologne, axe shampoo, and something unnamed below that—a scent he shares with his cousin. You imagine it is what Krypton smelled like. Like the smell after rain, there's a word for it—petrichor, you remind yourself—like stardust and comet tails. “We’ll make it through this, starling.” He’s the only falling star you have left—your pair is no more, and you’re desperate to keep this last one. “I promise.”

You’re a liar.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA)You think about writing it all down sometimes—not in the beginning, but later, when events start to pile up, and up, and up, and you can’t see the beginning anymore. You don’t want to forget the important moments—the ones that you cherish, but have no control over. The people who made it possible. // prompt from daystarsearcher, fixwolves.

Mister Callaghan loves the Fourth of July, there is no question that it is his favorite—he said it was because you celebrated something bigger than yourself, something tangible. You had made some face, and he deduced that you had to be Canadian, but it was alright—he liked you anyway. You would carry boxes out of the basement of his home, and pile them into his station wagon to bring to the bookstore, he’d prattle on the whole while about George Washington, and the Vietnam War—and the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which seemed unusually specific, but he would wave away the question, and keep talking.

“Invite that girl you like,” he rasps at you when sorting through his fireworks.

You guffaw, face burning, “I don’t like her.”

He took a moment, looking at you with squinting blue eyes behind thick lenses and shook his head, “Oh, I didn’t realize you fawned over people you don’t like. Invite that girl you don’t like.”

You throw your hands up, flopping backwards onto the picnic table in the small courtyard behind the store—arm tossed over your eyes, because you didn’t like Cat—not like that. Or, did you? Still laying on your back head turned to the side so you could watch Clark twirl himself into a strand of red, white, and blue lights, that Mister Callaghan’s nephew was supposed to be stringing up along the rafters, but he’d since left to go make out with his girlfriend. The whole gathering was a patch work of half-thought decorations—all the extended relatives already three or four beers in.

Clark took it upon himself to throw his small body on top of you and pull at your cheeks, “Kitty?” His chin rested on your sternum, and his hands pawed at your cheeks like grubby little—feelers, and exhaling loudly, there was a sudden clatter in your chest because—did you like her? It was a stupid distinction to make, you’re deciding, because of course you like her. You wouldn’t spend so much time with her if you didn’t; you didn’t understand. Catching Clark under his arms, you toss him up—a little higher than you should be able to, but Mister Callaghan just shakes his head and tell you to stop messing around.

You toss him once more for good measure, before setting the wiggling toddler back on the ground.

“I’m going to go get Cat,” you tell Mister Callaghan unnecessarily, and he just blinks at you—eyebrow raised.

His thin lips twist a little, “The girl you don’t like.”

“I—well—I thought about it—and maybe—I do.” You supply, hands shoved in your pockets, looking at his moccasins; you’d gotten them for him for Christmas, and he’d worn them faithfully since. “Like her—that is.”

Deep breath, deep breath, “What should I do?”

Setting down all his barbeque utensils, he sits on the wooden picnic bench, and slaps the spot next to him for you to sit. “Did I ever tell you how I met Eleanor?” You’d never met the woman, but you’d heard enough stories to know she was warm, and loving, and smiled for everyone. Oh, you’d also heard about how she didn’t tolerate any nonsense, and ran both store and house with a silken iron fist.


He smiles, “Well, I’d just gotten out of the service, and my father wanted me to get steady work—working in my uncle’s shop as a mechanic. Eleanor knew my brother, schmuck that he is, and he was mighty keen on her—she was a beauty. Dark hair, gorgeous eyes—and smart as a whip. Way out of my league.” No one embodies love like Mister Callaghan. It settles into every line of his face, into the thin crack of his lips, and the crinkles at the corner of his eyes. Making a stern looking man soft and lovely.

You think your father would have worn love the same way if he’d been given the chance.

“Well—my brother thought himself entitled to such a fine woman, thought it was his proper right given he was book smart and graduating college with a fancy degree in Literature.” The way he upturns his palms on his knees, looking at the crater deep lines across—you know they have distinctions. Heart, head, life and fate. It was one of the only things you know that set you apart from humanity—your smooth fingertips and creaseless palms.

No line to trace, no indication of where to go from here.

“And fool told her as such—Eleanor, you can do no better than me. So why try?” His voice warbles as he imitates his brother—who you’ve met a handful of times, and you know he doesn’t sound that high pitched. “You know what he got for his efforts?”

You shrug, but television has taught you this, “A slap?”

“Oh no! Eleanor wasn’t the slapping type—curled that dainty little fist of her’s real right, and broke my brother’s nose. Damned fool was left nursing his nose—and his pride.” You’re blinking because—you don’t want to punch anyone, and—you don’t think Cat will punch you. Mister Callaghan’s smiling, and it is slightly crooked on one side, drooping a little, because of the stroke he had last winter—you’d spent most of January in the ICU reading him the Dwight Eisenhower biography he was in the middle of.

“And—then she married you?” You feel like you’re missing something, but he just nudges your shoulder with his.

“Oh, heaven’s no. Told her though—next time, she shouldn’t tuck her thumb into her fist, chances are she might break it. And, she’ll be able to hit the next schmuck twice as hard for daring to assume her worth.” His wide hand lands on the top of your head, and when he musses up your hair, you don’t shy away like you used to. He’s an affectionate old man, even if he’s ornery most of the time—he never makes you feel the burden for asking him these questions. The things that don’t line up properly in your mind.

“Listen, kiddo.” He’s whispering, like it’s a secret he’s giving to just you. “Your girl? She’s like Eleanor—she doesn’t want you fighting her battles for her, and she sure as hell doesn’t need you to. You just got to be there to remind her to untuck her thumb, because she liable to hurt herself. Alright?” Nodding, you think you understand, tucking your hands into pockets as you stand to leave, pressing a kiss to Clark’s head before you go, making him promise to be good—and helpful.

Cat’s mother had gone out of the country spur of the moment—you’d both watched her with quiet eyes as she paced the foyer with her phone pressed against her ear, hand thrashing through the air wildly. One of her clients—some haughty author—was pitching a fit about their exposure in Europe, and was demanding a different deal. Cat had translated for you the whole while—whispering in your ear, while trying not to laugh. Kathrine Grant is a battle axe of a woman—it’s a phrase Mister Callaghan uses to describe his late wife—her nose narrow, and her eyes shrewd. You’d shaken in your scuffed sneakers the first time you’d met her—the first time those lingering blue eyes assessed you.

“You’re the ruffian leaving black marks on my polished floors,” she’d hummed, while flicking lint off her shoulder, like your mere presence had put it there. You’d swallowed, and promised to not wear your boots anymore—and she’d simply replied, “See that you do,” and left. Cat had a shadow in her eyes that night—like a cloud passing overhead, and you’d done your best to cheer her up.

Hours later, you’re sitting side by side on the roof of the Bruised Apple, kicking your heels out and away, until they swing back and hit the bricks. The night is balmy, spring having already tripped into summer, and the wail of sirens is too close—because Cat is on your side of town. She’s stepped away from the chrome and glass of the west side, and found herself here; across the street from a pawn shop, and down the road from a crack den. It isn’t a bad neighborhood, but no one parks their cars on the street here—well, no one who wants to still have their car in the morning. But Cat never worries about it—there’s a fearlessness to her that you cherish. Oh, her heart jackhammers when someone steps too close, and her palms go clammy when it’s just a little too dark—but she’s unflinching. If anything her chin raises just a little higher, and her jaw clenches just a little tighter.

Cat was comfortable around the Callaghans—a loud, affectionate bunch that had accepted two orphans into their midst without much fanfare. They danced, and sang—and Cat had tugged you onto the makeshift dance floor to watch you flail your limbs in a litany of directions. Clark stood on her feet as she slow danced them around the circle, and Mister Callaghan’s niece had tried to teach you how to do a two-step. No. You didn’t care how many steps it involved; you were bad at it.

Sitting above the quieting clan, you realize you haven’t thought of Krypton all day.

You thought about Cat—and how you’d like very much to kiss her.

“When you punch someone,” you break the silence, peering down off the ledge to the courtyard below where Mister Callaghan’s brother—Percy—is bickering with his daughter about fire ordinances. “You shouldn’t put—your thumb shouldn’t be—in it. Tucked in.” The sentence comes out a garbled mess, and you frown, because you haven’t been this bad at English in over a year.

“O—kay?” Cat drawls, blinking at you slightly, lips pursed, and “Are we fighting someone?”

“No, no.” You exhale all the air in your lungs, hoping Cat doesn’t notice how the air cools and frosts, before you inhale. “I’m trying—what I wanted to say—I.” You’re glancing at her lips, and you don’t mean to—but they’re light pink, and glossy, and soft—you groan in frustration. Because you know what you want to say—you want to tell her she’s amazing, and she could do so much better than you, and be anything she wants to be—but despite that, despite being able to have anyone she wants…

Did she want you?

She’s looking at you with eyes green as bottled glass, you’d seen it at the beach—a tiny ship trapped in a bottle, masts white and unfurled—the glass sharp and green. You’re about to abort your attempt, to wave away what you’d been saying—because you don’t know why Cat would want—

Her lips are as soft as they look. Softer.

Her hand is light on your cheek, and you don’t know when you’ve closed your eyes, but suddenly there’s only the warm breeze, Cat’s lips against yours—and the first firework of the night. Dashing colored sparks across the black sky. Your lips are a little sticky from her lip gloss, and when you open your eyes, her cheeks are a little red, and her eyes dance. Her hand is still against your cheek, and your heart is thundering in your chest.

“I figured I’d help you out.” She’s smiling at you, softer than how she smiles at school—and smaller than how she smiles for Clark. A smile just for you. Before you lose whatever nerve you have, you lean forward and kiss her—leaning a little too far forward, your teeth clank with her’s, but you can only grin as she laughs. Lighter, airier.

“I was getting there,” you huff, still close enough that the tip of your nose brushes hers.

“I didn’t have all summer, supergirl.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CARTER).  In first grade you were asked to draw your family tree. You’d drawn a cloud instead, because most of your family came from the sky—your teacher called your mother and asked if she’d allow you to be tested. When you bring the picture home your mother smiles and looks at it, “it’s beautiful, baby,” you point to the pictures, “Mama’s the sun, Clark’s the moon, and you’re the sky.” She blinked quickly, that usually meant she was crying—but you don’t want her to be sad. “Where’re you, baby?” You smile, “I’m the air.”

You’re three when she dies.

You can’t remember much, can’t parse out the facts from the fabrications—your mother says you need to sort your thoughts, set them into boxes, and label each. You’re three and staying with your father in New York City. He works most of the time, but turns the television on for you—you don’t know what show it is, but that’s not the type of thing that bothers you. You turn the volume all the way down until you can’t hear it—your mama usually narrates them for you, in the language that she taught you, the one with the dipping vowels and the curled consonants. When it is just the two of you, she only speaks that—murmuring the sounds in your ear while touching just the tip of her finger against something.

Ghozh—clothes. Riz—yellow.

You didn’t want to talk—not because you couldn’t, you decided not to.

When your mother comes home, mama stands behind her and puts hands on both shoulders—grinning wide, and curling her tongue around another word, “Bythgr.” Your mother would scowl, slapping hands and shrugging them off, before walking over to pick you up—slinging you onto her hip. Pushing your hair out of your eyes, and you know she wants to give you a haircut—but mama say you could be in a rock band if you kept it long.

She’s the singer—you get to be the drummer.

“Should I be concerned about what you’re teaching our son?”

You chirp, “Queen! Bythgr means queen!” And mother would get soft around the eyes, like she’s smiling, but her lips never move. She knows parts of the language, but she doesn’t have mama’s accent—the echo that buzzes at the edges of her words, through the middle of the sounds. Clark can almost do it—but even his is off, like he has taken too large a breath and air leaks out unintentionally when he opens his mouth.

You haven’t heard mama’s language in six days.

Ehk—water.” So you say it out loud to yourself—touching the screen that wiggles around your fingertip. There are four fish on screen—the orange one is anxious, his face tells you so. He’s missing the smaller orange one. “Ten—four.” You’re too close to the television, but your father never tells you to move back—your mother says you will go cross eyed.

You don’t believe you’re cross eyed.

The screen goes blank, and then a face appears—you recognize her from the news that your mother watches in the morning. She’s pretty—you try to remember the name for her hair. “Iahr,” red. She blinks away and there is a city splashed across the screen—you know it is a city, but it is not one you recognize. No city has so many buildings laying down—but you recognize the large CATCO logo in the background. The A has gone dark—CTCO. You suppose it’s the same.

“The creature seems to have stopped in mid-town, tearing through much of the banking district in National City.” You can’t see whose talking, but you know you live in National City—you’re in New York City, but you live in National City. “The Spectre was last seen going into CatCo headquarters, but nothing has been seen since—the military has quarantined the city, and any effort on their part has been easily negated.” The monster is gray, and pointy, and seems to enjoy tearing cars in half. Maybe this is why your mother refuses to park her car on the street—because of this monster.

Your father has come into the room to stand behind you—his work shirt ruffled, and his sleeves rolled. He’s not wearing a tie today, but that was because he spilled mustard on it—because that son of a bitch put too much on. He looks concerned, and you watch him instead of the television—his eyes are dark, “Ehkov—blue.” He looks at you, lips pinching, before he’s cursing and scratching at the top of his head. The monster is fighting now—a small figure hitting it over, and over, the glow of them, “Ehshov—green.”

You recognize the second figure—she had been wearing it when she’d kissed you goodbye, before your mother drove you to the airport to meet your father. The dark clothing, and the raised hood—your mama has let you tug at each layer, and her eyes were very ehkov. “They call me the Spectre,” she had been saying, not flinching when you tug her—jrizynj, gold—hair. “Dokhahsh—that’s how we say it.” We—she always said we; because Clark didn’t want to spend the time to learn, and your mother was married to English.

Dokhahsh,” you tell your father, jabbing your finger at the screen, the colors warping, and he grabs your wrist to pull it away. Snatching it from him, you frown.

“Knock it off, Carter,” he isn’t mean, no—he’s stern—he doesn’t know what to do with you, so he puts you in front of the television. But now he’s here—in front of your television. He’s jabbing at his phone, and you can faintly hear how it rings—and rings—and rings. No one answers. He tries again. And again.

And again.

Your mama has wrapped around the monster and they go up—and up—and up. The blonde woman is talking still, but her words have started to buzz, every fourth word dropping. The screen is all dark sky, and nothing else—until there’s an explosion. Red, and yellow, and orange—and it breathes, but it ripples, and wavers, and then—

It’s gone.

“Shit,” your father says, and you know it’s a bad word, but he says it again and rubs his hand over his face. You’re watching the screen, but nothing is moving—the sky is black, and colorless, and nothing is moving. They give me cat scratch fever—Cat scratch fever—the first time I got it I was just ten years old, got it from—his phone is ringing, and he drops it in surprise before swiping it up and taking the call.

“Jesus Christ, Grant.” He’s hissing, standing up and walking out of the room—but not before messing up your hair. Getting up, you follow—too far behind that he notices, but he never notices much. “Are you alright? I saw your building on the news—of course I care, you’re the mother of my fucking kid.” He’s rubbing his face again, and you know it’s because he didn’t sleep last night—his girlfriend was over, and then his office light was on. You didn’t sleep either, but that was because mama said you’d be able to see Jupiter with just your eyes.

She can always see Jupiter, but she always tells you when you'll be able to too.

“I’m sorry—I’m sorry, okay?” He’s sighing, and leaning against the wall, “I’m just glad you’re alright—understandable, I’ll pick you up from the airport.” A long pause, he’s just nodding—and you can’t hear anything, but he turns and stops upon seeing you. “He’s right here—yeah, he saw. Hey, big man, your mom wants to talk to you.” She’s talking before it’s even against your ear.

“Carter—baby, I’m coming to get you early, okay?”


“Were—did you see anything, baby?”

“Mama went up.”

“I know, baby, I know.”

You’re seven when Clark explains things to you.

You’re in Metropolis, because your mother had to go away for work—she’d complained the whole time it took her to get dressed, asking you multiple times if you wanted her to cancel—Honestly, sweetheart, you’re more important than Barbara Walters—but you wouldn’t give her an excuse. She pouted, kissed your forehead, and said your brother was coming to pick you up—but, were you sure you didn’t want her to stay? You’d been firm—because someone has to be—and she kissed you again, and left. You had been able to hear yelling at the driver who was parked in the back lot of the building—instead of out from, and knew she’d be calling you from Atlanta with a migraine.

You made sure to pack her Treximet. She always forgets.

Clark was on the balcony five minutes later, and he’s rubbing a smudge of red off his cheek—a matching one to the mark on your forehead. Your mother’s lipstick a staple of your brotherhood. “She got you too?” You grin, while he grouses, nearly tripping on the bunched up rug in the living room, because your mother had flipped it trying to find her missing earing. He matches you grin for grin, and catches your head in his armpit to rub his knuckles across your skull. Telling you to say uncle, and you refuse—and refuse—until you give in and he releases you.

“Ready to go, bud? Just me and you for the weekend.” You love spending time with Clark; he lives in Metropolis, and it would be an inordinate distance if he couldn’t break the sound barrier. He flies here, and takes the plane back with you—and she’d meet you in Metropolis and fly back with you. It would be chaos, if you hadn’t done this half a dozen times before.

Clark apartment in Metropolis is nice—you think—but he has too much stuff, that he just piles it in the cupboard on the far side of the kitchen. They’re neat piles, you’ll give him that, but all it takes in one thing to unbalance and it all comes crashing down. He’s made you a grilled cheese sandwich, and promised to not try cooking anything beyond that—the spaghetti incident that shall never be mentioned, is enough to encourage take out.

“So,” he’s rubbing his head, hair too shaggy, “I was—I thought we could talk.” He puts two binders on the table, and lets them sit there; his finger tapping on them, until he sums up whatever courage he’s looking for. “So—you know me and Kara. We’re—we’re different, right?” You nod, and he pushes the first binder toward you. It is one of the cheap ones from Office Max, a soft cover, and crack in the corner. There’s notes, and notes, and notes—and you recognize it as the language your ieiu wrote in. Circles, and boxes, and lines. They look like pictures, and there’s a little curl at the edge of each one, that links them together, almost like cursive.

“You’re an alien,” you supply.

“I’m an al—wait, you know?” His blue eyes widen, and you shrug, flipping another page.

Looking at him between pages, “Mom calls you ET, Clark. I’m seven, not stupid.”

His lips purse, the same way your mother does when she’s trying not to smile or laugh at something you’ve done that is inappropriate. But he fails just as readily as her, and he grins—shoving your head lightly to one side with an exhale. “Man, this just got a lot easier.” Shoulders slouching, he reaches across and flips to a page close to the back—it looks like a city of spires. Tall and thin, like shards off ice out of a desert—the land is barren and cracked. “This is Argo City, where Kara was from—it was the largest city on Krypton, though the capital was Kandor.” You turn the page, and another city unfolds—smaller, shorter, but the ground crumbling.

“What happened?”

He clears his throat, and another page turned, and it was a circle of destruction—like the planet had chewed inward on itself, and throws itself outward. “When I was just a baby, Krypton’s core destabilized—there was no way to reverse the effects. So my parents sent me away on a small pod—and Kara was sent to protect me. She was twelve.” The way the picture sits—the delicate angle, the particular spread of destruction. She must have seen it—seen her world blow up. Your eyes are getting wet, but you clench your jaw like you do at school when the older kids pick on you—breathing deep through your nose.

“Did you—have powers on Krypton?”

“I don’t think so—the way it was explained to me was that I get my abilities from the yellow sun—Krypton’s sun was a red star. So, I guess, as long as the sun shines, I’ll be—you know, super.” He lets you take your time, flipping through the pages—looking at each picture, each line of symbols. You could speak the language, but you had never learned to write in it. Clark’s Kryptonese is rusty, and he fumbles over words—your mother’s is even worse, she mainly only knows how to curse—so having this knowledge in your hands, you ask Clark if you can take them home.

“Absolutely, bud.” His eyes are a little glossy too, and you know he’s clenching his jaw and breathing out, “Kara’d want you to have them.”

When he walks by, you pretend not to notice him wiping at his eyes—he returns with a box, and a notebook. Putting them on the table, he’s smiling now. “Can you keep a secret?” Leaning forward, “A real secret, Carter—pinky promise.” He extends his pinky, and you wrap your’s around it and shake. He pops the lid open, and there’s a mess of blue and red fabric. “When Kara was being a superhero, she didn’t want to draw attention to her—to us—but, she deserves it. People should know. We can’t go back—but we can go forward.”

You have to stand up to start unfolding the fabric—it’s a royal blue, and the draped fabric is crimson. You don’t know what it is until you see the crest—a crimson ‘S’, lined in gold. You know it isn’t just a letter, because ieiu used to draw it on things. She called it the crest of her house—the sigil of House El. Rubbing your fingers across the edge, it was harder than the rest, stiff and almost metallic. “I’m going to make ieiu proud, bud. Make sure this planet she saved—stays that way. And they’re going to know who’s doing it.” She’d always been very close to the chest about things—cagey, your mother called it.

“I won’t tell,” definitely not; you don’t want to even be in the same room when your mother finds out.

You’re nine when your mother starts to date again.

You’d think she’s going to see Barbara Walters again, because she’s complaining the whole while—lining her eyes in the mirror, and spraying too much hair spray. You munch on pretzels while she paces barefoot in the living room, holding two dresses up. One is a midnight blue, the other a deep purple—they’re both nice, but she’s shifting them to and fro in the light, like that should make much of a difference. You can tell it isn’t because she wants to look her best—she’s already said she looks amazing in anything, and you happily nod. But she’s stalling, because she’s asking you every five minutes if you’re alright with this.

“Purple,” you pick, because you like the gold edge, it just looks fancy. She squints at it, before nodding and walking down the hall and getting dressed—leaving the door open so she can talk to you while you slouch on the couch. It’s winter break, and this is the first year Clark won’t be home for Christmas—he Skyped every day to apologize, but he was in Central America covering the relief efforts for the Earthquake. Superman made a few appearances, and your mother had just rolled her eyes.

“Miss Juniper from downstairs will be watching you,” she’s shimmying down the hall, tugging one side of the dress, and then turning so you can zip up the back. Giving her two thumbs up, she starts slipping shoes on—easily five inches, because you’re getting taller, and she grouses about it.

“I thought you hated Miss Juniper?”

“Hate implies I have any feeling toward her at all,” she snuffs, “she’s just a brown nosing republican band wagoner.” Standing up, there’s a knock on the door, and she frowns—she’d only agreed to this date because she didn’t want to go stag—according to Clark—to Lorde Technologies’ gala. She’d run into Maxwell Lorde last week while you were at the museum, and he was thrilled to explain the new exhibit he was opening—and how eye opening it would be. You don’t understand them, because they smile at each other, and laugh together—but their eyes go flat. Like there’s something sitting behind their teeth that neither of them will acknowledge.

She’d said, “I’d love to go,” with a tone that implied a few curse words.

When she opens the door there’s a man with thick dark hair, and a plastic smile—he has a well-trimmed black tuxedo, but the piping clashes with purple, and you can see the moment your mother starts scratching away at her impression of him. His second mistake is trying to kiss her hand before she even says anything; she pulls away with little more than a hello and walks back over to you.

“I’ll be home earlier than I thought,” she doesn’t kiss your cheek, because she just reapplied, but she noses your hair, “Why don’t you pick out a movie, and we’ll watch it when I get home.”

Miss Juniper spent much of the night going through the cabinets in the kitchen like your mother had said she would—and you texted with Clark. He was sending you pictures of the rain forest, and of the ruins that were just outside the village he was in. It is just over an hour later when your mother returns, her hair mussed and her lips frowning—apparently her date owned a convertible, and saw no reason they shouldn’t ride with the top down in the middle of December.

When Miss Juniper is gone—with a few things pilfered from your cabinets, your mother had only sighed—you sit side by side watching Oliver and Company. The heavy blanket from your bed is spread across the couch, and you’re tucked into her side, her cheek on the top of your head. When the castle flickers on the screen and Once Upon a Time in New York City starts to play she starts whispering—like someone other than you could hear.

“You know I’m not trying to replace your mama, right?” Her finger is tapping on the blanket over your knee, grabbing her arm and making sure it’s completely wrapped around you. You can hardly remember what your ieiu looked like anymore—you have dreams about blue eyes, and sometimes when you walk past someone with gold hair you have to pause, especially if the sun is starting to fall. There are no pictures in the main hall, and you stopped seeking them out in your mother’s room—there’s one you have on your nightstand. A woman sprawled across a couch with a hood and mask on, one boot off, and an infant on their chest.

“I know.”

“Good,” she pauses, scratching fingers through your hair like she did when you were much younger, when the world was loud, and every room impossibly large. She’d fill the bathtub with blankets, and would hold you against her—humming a song you know she got from your ieiu. She doesn’t know all the words to the Kryptonian lullaby, but she knows enough, and once every quiets a little—and your words fit on your tongue again. You’d translate them for her; shahrrehth—faith, tahvot—reach, mish—ahead. You’d do it over and over, until your skin stopped crawling, and your eyes no longer ached. It happened infrequently now, and you haven’t needed her to hum for a while—but sometimes you hear her while she washes dishes, or does paperwork.

“I want you to be happy, mom,” you say quietly, eyes on the screen—you both do this, look ahead because it’s easier to say what you feel without looking for a reaction. “You shouldn’t have to be alone.”

“I’m not alone,” her arm pulls you closer, your head under her chin, “I have you—and your brother. And the unwashed masses practically grovel at my feet—it’s rather exhilarating.” You don’t even have to look at her to know she’s smiling, but that isn’t what you mean, and she knows it.

“Maybe you should get a girlfriend—instead of a boyfriend?”

She clucks her tongue, “Well, aren’t we open minded tonight.”

“Mom,” you groan.

She laughs, “I’ll think about it.” Huey Lewis is still singing about new beginning, and dreams, and yesterdays. Your mother’s humming along, and your eyes are already drooping, but you’re determined to make it to at least Georgette. “I love you, baby.”

Maybe you won’t, “Love you too, mom.”

You’re thirteen when National City Airlines flight 237 is saved.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). You always said you'd never become your mother, and in so many ways you've failed—you see it sometimes when you look in the mirror—something beyond her nice cheekbones and arched brows. But you hope, in your heart of hearts, that the ways that you are different are what really matters—that they are the true definition of your character.

Your mother—while rather intoxicated—told you love wasn’t forever. It was a fickle broken thing that sat like shards of glass in the heart, waiting for one pump to settle wrong so that it could twist those shards like razors—carve out pieces of you, until there was only a bloody maw left in your chest. You’d been young, and the graphic description had been enough so that you didn’t sleep for two days—dreaming of bloody hearts tumbling across the floor, broken mirrors stuck through them, reflecting back your face—your face, except your eyes had been blackened out, burned and festering.

You thought of it every so often—what your mother had said—when your father had died, and your best friend’s parents got a divorce. Your mother had just shaken her head, lips pursed, like she was the only person not foolish enough to fall in love. You asked her after your father’s funeral if her heart was broken. If there was glass sitting in it and she’d smiled, not happy—never happy—but like she knew some great secret you wouldn’t be privy to.

Jokes on her; you always knew she didn’t love your father.

So why are you here—nine years later—wounded so imperatively? If love wasn’t forever, why had the burn never gone away? Why had that thawing cold never slipped anywhere other than into your bones and joints, into the pumping edges of your aging heart. It’s something you should really look into, because there has to be an explanation somewhere. People fall in and out of love all the time; hell, you don’t think a single couple whose wedding you’d attended, were still married. Granted—a select few of them were because of extenuating circumstances, but still.

So why did your heart still hurt?

“Why do you put me through this?” You grouse, tipping back the inordinately expensive scotch you’d filled your glass with a half hour ago, when you were forced to begin this ridiculous endeavor.

“Because all my other friends are in love with the idea of love,” Alexandra Danvers has her hands on her hips—weighed down by at least twenty pounds of tactical gear—and you can only roll your eyes, because friends is code for fellow agents. “You are bitter, brutally honest, and decent company once you’ve hit tipsy—oh, not to mention, you made the profile.”

You wave off her point, “Watching you pine was worse than an ASPCA commercial, and you know how emotional Sarah McLachlan makes me.” So you may have made her a Tinder profile—and spent the last week swiping for her—without her knowledge.

“I don’t pine,” she insists.

“You do; it’s sad. You do this—” you gesture vaguely to her face, which makes her tuck her brows and frown, “—thing with your face; see? You’re doing it right now. That pensive look.”

She exhales, still glaring, hands still on hips, but you’ve moved on and she’s learned that you will not participate in her attempts at intimidation if she doesn’t make it worth your while.

“You’re one to talk,”

“Pensive isn’t one of my staple expressions—though I do give brooding a try now and again. I really feel it sits well on my brow line.” You know what she’s doing—and again, you will not engage. Tipping back a little more scotch, the warmth spills into your chest and sits there around your heart. Alex has since moved from her stance in the middle of the room, and loosened the rigid flex of her arms. “Now, you should really pick something to wear that doesn’t accent your biceps, because you’re going to dinner at that place you wanted to go, not an iron man competition.”

“You got us a table at Yekong? The waiting list is something like eight months,” and now there’s that ridiculous brightness in her eyes. Not that you care, or are trying to make her feel better—no, never.

“The proprietor is the husband to one of the women in my poker game,” you dismiss, and finish your drink—jingling it so that the ice rattles, until Alex takes it and gets you a refill. “She owed me for not exposing their weird sexual fetishes—which really was for my own peace of mind, but let her think otherwise.”

How exactly you ended up having drinks regularly with Alex Danvers is not something you can trace the roots back to—though you have your suspicions. After the incident with Doomsday—you’d tugged yourself up by your boot straps in just enough time to tell the story your way—you’d been tumbling through day to day life. Your building was under construction, the city was trembling, and nothing made sense—or as much sense as a battle between titans can be. When the vigilantes were just slipping through the dark knocking out drug dealers, and ending petty gang wars it had been easy enough to accept them.

But the simple amount of destruction they were capable of had shocked the masses—had spurred humanity to splinter into their number of sects. Some flung themselves to the right and swore Earth belong to only humanity—that they would not stand martian feet on their good green mother nature. And others had accept these battles as biblical messages of beings greater than humanity with untold power—of gods walking amongst them. You want to tell them that one of their gods cried at the end of Homeward Bound every single time—and that she had once gotten her head stuck in the banister of your mother’s house.

Alex had shown up at CatCo, had limped her way through the chaos, and she’d been red eyed and haunted—she’d told you that there had been no other way, that they had tried everything, done everything. You had been numb at the time; Clark wouldn’t speak to you after you’d unlocked the meteorite cuffs from his wrists. His eyes had been sad and angry, and there’d been the telltale flicker of light behind his skyline blue eyes—before he’d shot from the floor and off into the darkness of night.

You’d called Carter, and your heart had dropped because he’d been watching the news—mama went up—and the simple obliviousness in his tone shattered you. Because Kara had promised to take him to see the Polar Bears—not at the zoo, but in the arctic, but after his week with his father. After would now be never. And there was Alex, cracking in ways that—while not identical to you—was fucking similar. She was shattering for the girl, not the titan—not the god. But for the girl who had still had nightmares, and liked pistachio ice cream best, and blushes easily, and smiled even easier. Who loved, and loved, and loved this planet that she asked so very little from—just for it to simply continue to be there for those she cherishes.

And hugging her had seemed the only course of action—curling fingers into the black starched fabric of her shirt, and sobbing into the strong line of her shoulders. There was no pretense to uphold—no public to fool—and you had been able to crumble together. And when you’d gone dry, and your fingers were painfully tight, she’d offered you a military transport to New York City, to collect your wayward youngest, because your oldest was probably in the fortress, and all commercial flights had been grounded.

“Go get your boy,” she’d cracked, rubbing fiercely at her cheek, while you’d wiped your tears away with the wet naps every mother has in bulk, “Kara’s boy.”

You suppose that was the beginning—or maybe just some deciding middle.

Now, you’re stuck as her shackled sense of fashion because she couldn’t dress herself on her own if she had the entirety of Vera Wang’s collection at her disposal. It really is a lesson in humility, because even you can only do so much.

“When’re you going to go on a date?” She calls from the other room, while you glance at your watch—twenty minutes, one of her longer times to asking about your love life.

“I date.”

“Oh, is that what you call it—from where I’m standing it looks more like a blood sport.” Alex walks out of the room, wearing a dark maroon dress that hugs in all the right places, and really accentuates those body builder shoulders in a way that doesn’t suggest recreational drug use. “I read an article the other day in a rather reputable magazine; they have compiled a list of criteria one has to have, to keep dating Cat Grant. It’s a really impressive list—did you really break up with someone because they pronounced it cold slaw?”

You snort—gracefully, of course, “It’s unacceptable.”

“And because they hold their fork over handed?”

“You can’t take people like that anywhere.”

“And because they eat their vegetables one at a time?”

“Not just any vegetable—peas. He ate peas one at a time.”

You’re waving away the rest of her points, because you usually didn’t have to work too hard about finding a habit that you were willing to break up with someone over. Both Carter and Clark tried to reason with you, but a few minutes of the silent treatment usually persuaded them not to keep digging that particular hole.

Standing up, and tipping back your glass, you set it on the table and walk toward her; she doesn’t shuffle awkwardly like Kara used to, but there’s a certain air—if you knew her well—that says she’s more comfortable in a nice pant suit Straightening how it sits, you inspect her closer and nod. “This one doesn’t look horrible,” which is glowing recommendation from you. “Your face is rather symmetrical, so you don’t need much make up.”

“Isn’t everyone’s face symmetrical?

“You’d be surprised, Agent Scully.” You intone while ushering her toward the en suite where you push her into a chair with two fingers against her sternum. “Alright, let’s clean you up, and find you a wife.”

She sputters, “Wait, I’m going out with a woman?”

“Did I not mention that? Don’t worry, she’s lovely—tall, bendy, likes mysteries. You got along with her wonderfully.”

Frowning, Alex bats your hand away again, “You talked to her—as me.”

“Well, we got along swimmingly, and I have wonderful taste in women.”

“You dated an alien.”

Grinning, “See? High standards, there’s only a few of those about.”

You eventually take matters into your own hands and grab her chin, turning it this way and that, and you will admit there’s a kind of power that courses through you when she gives up and her arms fall limply to her lap. It’s the small things really.

“Did you ask her if she eats peas one at a time?”

Clicking your tongue, while lining her eye, “Didn’t come up. Though she does believe in holistic medicine and has some very interesting opinions on astrology that you might enjoy. Aren’t you an astrologist?” You know damn well she isn’t.

Alex begins to frown, but you tap her lip and she tucks her brow instead, “I’m an astrophysicist.”

Grinning, “Oops.” Finishing a layer of gloss, you tell her to blot and pucker and scrutinizing your work, you’re pleased with the result. “Just remember, when she’s blathering on about the sun dancing with mercury, or whatever—she’s bendy, very bendy.”

How do you not have more friends?

You’re such a good friend.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CALLAGHAN)You wish you had a few more years—but you’d gotten eight more than your mother had, and fifteen more than your father. You suppose you shouldn’t get greedy. // Prompt from anonymous.

The world you’re leaving is very different than the one you entered—in some ways you love it, the progression, the change, but in other ways, you still don’t understand. It’s like watching the sun rise without knowing the exact time—five or six, it doesn’t really matter, because that doesn’t change the fact that it’s morning, and the day has started. National City had been much smaller when you’d moved here—you are a Boston man, born and raised, but you’d made the sleepy little city your home back in the fifties, before businesses moved in and the districts were drawn up.

At seventy-nine years old, you don’t wonder anymore if you’ll make it to eighty—it sits like a soft truth in your chest, and you’re alright with that—in most ways. You’ve lived a full life, you’ve done so many things that you promised yourself you would—you’d married a beautiful, kind woman, and had two wonderful children—even if you’d outlived them by almost a decade. Tragedy happens to everyone—and the way you deal with it is how you can define yourself as a person. Your children had been bright spots in your life, little joys that you hadn’t realized you needed until they happened—your son was a soft heart like your wife, kind and good, and always looking out for others. And your daughter was a sharp set of eyes and fast pumping blood; she would forcibly change the world if it didn’t bend of its own volition.

They’ve all passed on, and at each funeral you promised them you’d be on your way—soon, Ellie, you’d whispered when they lowered your wife into the cold ground. The grounds-men had taken ages to dig the grave—the ground hard and frozen from the blizzard the week prior. And not long after you’d cried quietly to yourself when you’d taken the plane ride over the border to the north—to the arrangements for your children, perished together in a fire that took nearly a block with it. You’d had shoulders to lean on—families mourning with you—but you’d promised them the same thing. Soon, Cal; soon, Sammy.

You’d gone home with a dark cloud over your head, to a shop your family loved, which you only tolerated—you were never a book learned man, you weren’t particularly invested in what could be learned between hard covers and soft feeling pages. But your wife was a complex book herself—she loved the creaking stairs in the back, and the tilted shelves just inside the windows. Your daughter’s school awards still hung in the office, and your son’s baseball trophies lined the shelves over the cash register. Stenciled beside the large sign—the Bruised Apple—was a little mark that said, family owned. The pillar beside the basement stairs was a measurement of growth—Sam’s height, and Cal’s height, etched into the wood.

But they were all gone—and you were just a sad, lonely old man who didn’t know what to do about that. Percy had promised he’d buy the store, take proper care of it, and you’d be able to make good on those promises you’d made. Soon. You had every intent of joining your family.

And then there was a young girl—no more than twelve or thirteen, eyes bright as a candle, face drawn delicate and sad. She’d wandered in with a boy on her hip—no more than a toddler, if even that. She had a bag over her shoulder, scuffed and stuffed with what seemed to be all her worldly possessions—the types of things no one would carry with them everywhere, if they didn’t have to. She took out a book—torn and ruined at the binding, the pages faded and nearly wiped clean.

“I—kao-rrup fardhogh—this book—” She looked upset, like she’d practiced what to say, and lost it somewhere along the line in her mind—you understand her frustration; Eleanor had tried to teach you her native French, but you seemed to garble it up properly somewhere before it left your mouth.

“Why don’t you let me see that, kiddo?” She’d looked at you skeptically, same sharp eyes as your daughter, and she weighed you—no doubt about that—and then passed over her book. Careful, like it meant a lot to her, and you handled it just as carefully. You can never say what something means to someone, until they tell you. The book was Peter Pan and Wendy—old, copyright around 1935. It was ruined in every way imaginable, the pictures bled together, the words were smudged and illegible. You knew you had a copy on one of the back shelves, up near the top of the children’s stories—there wasn’t much demand for impossibly out dated children’s book that had movie adaptions. “Yeah, I have a copy; way in the back.” You’d looked at her—the serious set of her face, like she was paying close attention to your words—so you made sure to talk slower, and articulate properly, like your brother said you’re incapable of. She focused on your lips, and when her brows furrowed, lips pressing tighter, almost going white—you repeated yourself until she gave a single, certain nod.

You’d hazarded an attempt—wrote the shelf number, and the placement on a small index card, and handed it toward her. The boy was standing on his own now, spinning contentedly in small circles, making what sounded like car noises. This little blonde thing, she glowered at the index card, and just when you’re about to take it back and go find the book yourself—she nodded firmly, and said something to the boy in that language—definitely not French, definitely not anything you recognized. She set off into the back, quick as an eastern wind—you stepped around the counter, and saw how she climbed the shelves like they were just steps. Hanging by two fingers, and then one as she trailed another across the bindings. She’d murmured the names to herself—butchering a good many of them—but eventually she’d returned with two books.

One was Echo Boy, by R. Barre, and the other was Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie—you had been able to see that, but she’d held them both. Like she didn’t wish to ask for assistance, didn’t want to ask which one was right—so you waited. You raised two stubborn children, and you had been the patient one—Eleanor had been a child herself in that regard, flitted off with them when the time came—but you? You were their foundation, their reminder that reality awaited. The girl sat on the floor, on the other side of the shop, and it wasn’t until closing that you watched how she walked to the back—put them both in their spots, and collected the boy—and left. It was the middle of February, and neither of them had coats—tee-shirts and thin denims, and you worried the whole night.

Nightmares twisted and turned, of little bodies found frozen together somewhere in the streets.

But she had been back the next day—bright eyed and strong. No worry for the cold, no fear of the dark; she simply climbed the shelf in the back and sat on the floor. Flipped through the two books, furrowed those little blonde brows and murmured to herself—you could hear her every so often, when you’d walk down another isle, and she’d stumble over a word. You’d correct her softly—pretending; irritating; occasionally—she’d go quiet, and then you’d hear her wind-chime voice repeat. She usually got it right, but if she stumbled again, she’d wait—and when you repeated yourself, she’d follow suit.

And like the day before—when it was time to close, she put the books away, collected her boy, and left.

It went on for about two weeks, until she approached the register. Only one book in hand, she placed it gently on the counter; you got a proper look at her this time. Not flitting and side eyed—she was small for her age, it seemed, thin, and all elbows and knees—but there was a strength to her jaw, a weight to those blue eyes sitting just under the blades of her auburn bangs. You could tell she’d be blonde—the dark hair of a child who’d be lighter later in life—your son had been the same way, kept some of the red into his thirties.

“This one,” for the life of you, you couldn’t place her accent—curled at the edges, almost abrupt and improper—like it didn’t fit with the words she was saying. Like it didn’t like English. She had conviction though, the nervous flicker of her eyes had worried you—street children tended to bolt if you tried to say anything to them, but this one seemed firm. Sturdy. She’d tried to pay you, and you declined, slipped the book into a bag and handed it over. She tried again; small hand holding crumpled bills—much more than the book was worth—but you declined.

“Do you have someplace to stay?”

Her brow furrowed, and you repeated yourself—slower, more articulated—and she seemed skeptical. Glanced at her boy like she was about to grab him and go. “I have a room; you can stay if you’d like. Much warmed than outside, I reckon.”

It hadn’t been instantaneous—but it was the first step in acquiring yourself a grandchild.

That first year was fickle and unsure—she’d flit in and out, but she’d always come back. Always return with the boy, and she’d give you bags of potato chips, or pounds of coffee. Like she didn’t understand currency, like she didn’t know what something was worth. Like she didn't know what you would want for your help; what the price. She started helping out around the shop—putting books away, ringing up customers once you let her watch you use the cash register. She was quick—intelligent, without fault—and it wasn’t long before you had practically nothing to do yourself. The boy—Clark, though she called him something else, something like Cal, like your boy—would lumber through the place, usually causing trouble, but she minded him well enough.

Now, years later, she sits curled at your bedside—the ICU lights glaring harshly off the lenses of her glasses, throwing her face into shadow where she’s hunched over her notebook. One of those multiple subject ones that had the little folders. She’d been here since she left class four hours ago, making dutiful trips down the hall to the nurses’ station, and to the vending machine when they weren’t watching. She hasn’t moved in a while, and you’re worried about her developing a kink in her neck, but you know that isn’t possible—how you know, you wouldn’t be able to say. But Kara—she’s never so much as stubbed a toe in the near decade you’ve had her. Hardy, you would’ve said before, but you know it goes beyond that.

She doesn’t hide it anymore, not like she used to, but there’s never any conversation about it—never any dialog acknowledging that an eighteen year old girl shouldn’t be able to move the pallet in the basement without a pallet-jack. It just gets folded in with the other truths that you’ve picked up over the years when it comes to Kara, and Clark.

“Grandpa,” she scolds, glancing up at you because you’d shifted too much, and the twinge in your chest makes you gasp. You asked her once if she had a grandfather—from wherever she’s from—and she’d said no. No one to replace, no one to forget. She had gained something when you asked, and it had been the brightest smile you’d seen to date. “You are supposed to be resting.” Closing the notebook in her lap, Kara uncurls and starts fixing your blankets—bringing them up to your chin, then remembering that it makes you feel claustrophobic, and then patting them gently against your chest. “Can I get you anything?”

“A hole in the head, and a handle of whiskey?”

She scowls, though her face is too sweet, and her eyes too kind—it does absolutely nothing. “How about some water? And it’s almost time for another pain killer; I can chase down the nurse.”

Patting her hand, you coax her into sitting down again—she is always sitting on the edge of her seat, ready to fly down the hall if it will help. But you have a feeling she knows—in the same way you do. You can feel it like a punctuation mark in your bones, a pause in your blood—how does it seem to her. This child-God who has chosen to tuck herself away into the dusty isles of books.

“Did you and that rabble-rouser decide what you’re doing?” She’d asked your opinion a few weeks back; glasses up on the crown of her head, palms rubbing at her eyes. She’d had soot on her cheek, and you made no mention of that vigilante that saved a family from a fire. Just rubbed at it until she ducked away and complained—you’d gotten a wet paper towel and wiped it clean.

“We filed yesterday,” she’s digging through her pocket, and you cough into the tissue she extends before you even begin to. Tucking it into your palm, as if she can’t see the red. There’s a moment, a pause, before Kara’s extending a piece of paper, eyes dark. It’s pressed with the state seal, and looks mighty official—K. A. Callaghan, and Maxwell J. Lorde IV, filers. Corporation name; Lorde Technologies, Corp. There’s an address at the cheaper end of the business district, and behind that is the business loan taken out. You whistle, because that is a healthy number of zeroes.

“You didn’t let him bully you, did you?” You check, though from the roll of her eyes that she tries to hide behind her glasses, you know she can stand her own ground.

“No, he didn’t bully me. I mean—he’s pretty insistent, but he’s—it’s a personality type. It doesn’t bother me.” She’s smiling, a tick to her lip, and then a full grin—like she doesn’t want to, but can’t help herself. She’s looking at you like she wants to ask you something, but she’s always had trouble asking—always had difficulty seeking help, instead of giving it.

“Well, in any case. I’m proud of you, kiddo.” You reach out and muss up her hair, ignoring the fact that she leans in close enough to allow you to do so—you can hardly move anymore, and she’s too damned accommodating. “You’re gonna change the world—I can see it now.” You’re smiling, and your jaw aches—it always aches—and the pressure behind your eyes is hard to ignore anymore. “Tell me how.”

She frowns, “What?”

“Tell me how you’re gonna change the world,” blinking, she’s kind of blurry, but not too bad, “I want to see it.”

“You will,” she promises, leaning forward until her chin is resting on the railing of your hospital bed, and her too-hot hands wrapped around yours. Kara doesn’t say anything for a while, and you know she has that look in her eye—dark, and far away—the kind you’d seen at war. In fellow soldiers, and the children you couldn’t help, the ones that got left behind—with their burned villages, and piles of dead. Those who had holes inside them that would never go away, regardless of how much love you filled them with—and damn if you didn’t try to fix that empty place in her heart.

“We’re going into communications—there’s so much out there that no one’s touching, frequencies and waves that just—drift through unnoticed.” She talking quietly, “I want people to be able to say I love you from different sides of the galaxy; I can hear the empty places, and I’ll make it so you can hear them too.” You don’t know if she means you personally, or humanity as a whole. Tapping her hand, you nod, slightly, and encourage her to keep going.

“I just finished Atlas Shrugged,” Kara goes on, “I want to build a train.” She talks for a while—filling the quiet around you, and you must fall asleep once or twice because you are suddenly in the middle of an explanation for an electric car, and a wireless network. She’s talking, and talking, and talking—and you know she’ll keep going until you stop her. Until you’ve gone cold, and your fingers slack.

“Kiddo,” you interrupt.

She goes quiet, blinking at you, and she’s a little clearer, even if her color has washed away—you know it’s your vision, but that’s alright. Your heart is sluggish and limping.

“If you were any of your cousins, I’d make you promise to be good.” You don’t just mean Clark—you mean your brother’s children, and grandchildren—the kids that needed no prompting to accept the unusual blonde into their family. Another person to celebrate life with. “But you’re as good as they come; knew that from the day I first saw you. You’d do anything for your boy, and you were nothing more than a kid yourself. That’s in your bones, you can’t unlearn that.”

She sniffs, and you chuck her chin with your finger, “None of that now,” you say, and she nods, but sniffles again.

“Forgive this old man a little advice, alright?” Kara’s nodding absurdly, up and down, her chin hitting your knuckles with each pass, and you stop her with only the slightest shift—holding her chin, so that she’s looking at you properly. She’s good—this girl of yours—best there’s been, too sweet for this world she’s found herself in. “You’re gonna get mad—you have that in you too, I’ve seen it. And you can’t swallow that down forever—I’ve seen boys do it until they’re men, and it eats them alive inside. Alright? It chews on them until they can’t right recognize themselves, and then they don’t know what to do.”

You don’t want that for her—don’t want her to see some warped version of herself because she’s got something of a temper. You see it boiling, a reflection of your own youth—after the war, before Eleanor.

“You keep it in line, I’ve seen you choke it back—but there’s gonna come a time when that little voice inside has got nothing to say, nothing to justify not taking someone’s head off their shoulders.” You’re getting raspy, and you want to cough, but you want to finish, “Just remember; it’s easy to be angry, but to direct that anger? Right amount, at the right person, in the right way? That’s hard.” For so long you’d been angry at the wrong people, about the wrong things—your parents, then the government, then the soldiers on the other side, then the oblivious people back home. It was an endless loop you couldn’t find an end to—until Eleanor made you realize you weren’t angry—you were sad, and sometimes it’s easier to mask it with rage.

“What if—what if that isn’t enough?”

“Then you own it. You’re gonna make mistakes, kiddo, everyone does. It’s what makes us human.” You smile, “Even you.”

Kara hesitates not at all, “The truth is—,”

“The truth is it doesn’t matter,” you interrupt, because—it doesn’t. “You could damn well be the devil himself, and it wouldn’t change a damned thing. You, Kara—are a Callaghan, doesn’t make you any less the person you were before, but it damn well makes you who you are now. We’re all made of pieces, kiddo—all sizes and kinds, and the whole picture? It’s a lot more complicated than people like to remember. So a few of your pieces may be a little hard to translate—the people that matter, won’t mind.”

She looks down, and you see how she deflates a little—it’s in the shoulders, how she folds in on herself, like it makes her smaller.

“That girl of yours? She seems like the type that picks up on languages—”

She laughs, brightening at the mere mention of Catherine Grant, “Cat? Oh no, she’s terrible at languages.”

“Metaphorically, kid. Jesus, I was trying to be deep, and you’re ruining it.”

But you’re smiling, and she’s smiling, and you wished this could be it. That the hard stuff after—for her, not you, dying is pretty easy on the one kicking the bucket—didn’t have to happen, that she could go on smiling and add nothing to that empty place inside, where the years you don’t know about sit like stones.

“I saw those magazines you had the other day,” you hint, and Kara gets the wide eyed look you hope she grows out of, because she won’t be able to keep much a secret is she flounders at the briefest mention of something. “You planning something you may have forgotten to mention?”

“I—no—I’m not—planning—well, maybe—I want to—but I wouldn’t. I don’t even know—,” and you can only think of how she’d stumbled over asking you what to do about asking this girl out. “I’m thinking about it. The future. Maybe.”

You smile, “Tell me.”

Because you’re going to miss so many important moments in her life—things that you know will define generations, and humanity as a whole. You have a person capable of that kind of change, twiddling her thumbs beside your bed, and that’s how you know she’ll do right by it. She doesn’t want it, which means she should have it.

“I got the magazine in the mail, and I was just looking, but I—” She’s pulling something out of her bag, it’s crumpled, and ear marked, and when she presents it—they’re all gorgeous rings. Diamonds, and gold, and colored gems, and Kara’s looking at you like her little heart might explode—and you can only smile. A tired, loving smile, because this girl—she doesn’t realize how precious she is.

“How about I do you one better?” Lifting a tired hand to paw at your necklace, the one you keep below your shirt, pressed against your heart—the chain loops over your head, and then slips free, and you dangle them in front of her. Three rings—a bridal set, and your own wedding ring. You’d used much of a year’s pay to buy the rings. Eleanor had gasped at their size, hardly concerned with something like that herself—but it was a statement to you. These clear little rocks—what exactly that statement is anymore, you’re long to forget.

Maybe that she was worth it.

“Mister Callaghan,” Kara murmurs in something like awe, fingering the rings, balancing them on her fingertip.

“Haven’t been that to you in years, kiddo.”

She blinks, very clearly crying, and trying hard not to—and then you suddenly have arms full of teenage girl. She’s holding herself carefully, but her face is tucked into your neck, and her sniffles are loud in your ears—and you can only raise your hands high enough to touch her elbows. “There, there,” you sooth, pressing your cheek against hers, and then struggling that last few inches, to loop the chain around her neck, to settle beside the one she never takes off. The one she mentioned once—years ago—was from her mother.

“She’ll say yes, whenever you ask—would be a fool not to.” Kara’s leaning back, and she’s blotchy, and her blue eyes shimmer, and you feel lighter somehow—like things have just begun to drift away. Everything reverberates in your skull, like you’re hearing an echo, and that’s—that’s how you know. Your pulse lives in your jaw, and your lungs rattle like a toddler’s toy.

“Hey, kiddo, why don’t you go chase me down that nurse? Think they forgot about me,” you have to remind her now, while she’s shuffling through things—before she can focus and realize. But she’s always too helpful, too quick to do as asked. She presses a kiss to your cheek and is already stepping away, rubbing at her cheeks with the back of her hand, and clearing her voice.

“Sure thing, grandpa.”

Your eyes are closed, but you can hear the door open, “Love you, kiddo.”

The hinges groan while it begins to drift shut, her words drifting toward you in the dark while you listen to her steps chase down the hall. Everything echoes, and drones, pulsing in your bones, but you can’t really feel it anymore. It’s a strange sensation, but you’re glad to hear her before you go.

“Love you too.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). You could carry this planet upon your shoulders, could flatten cities, and conquer continents. But she consumes you; she brings you to your knees without any thought or effort. People put too much thought behind "powerful", as if it mattered what you could do, when you're wrapped like a red cord around her finger. // Prompt by theeggplantavenger.

The windows are never closed here in the summer; the curtains are thrown back and the breeze from the beach falls in cool and salty—it fills your nose, drapes itself over your skin, and saturates your clothes. The refreshing scent lingers inside you like a reminder that you weren’t in the high rise in National City—yours, or Cat’s—but that you’d taken the time to go to the edges of the city limits. To where the houses are further apart, and the gates nearly a miles from the front door—there’s almost no noise pollution here, just the comforting sound of waves, and the occasional gull skimming the surface of the ocean.

Cat had led you through the front door with fingers curled around yours, looking at you with a concern that seemed to linger in her eyes despite how her lips were curled into the smallest smile. She’d asked you if you were alright every fifteen minutes, but you’d been fairly unresponsive—jerky mechanical nods, and tightly pressed lips. There had been no struggle when she pulled you down the hall, and up the stairs to the master bedroom—shucking the jacket off your shoulders, and unbuttoning the clasp to your pants. It was soft, sweet—tender—and she was handing you like you might break at any moment. One rough touch, and you’ll shatter in front of her without warning.

“We’ll go to sleep,” she’d murmured, nose tucked against your neck while your hands settled thoughtlessly on her hips, “We’ll talk in the morning.” She knew you needed time to process—to think—to sort all the things you feel into categories and lists. Pros and cons. And you know she’s scared—you can hear it in the jack rabbit beat of her heart, and the sharp twist to her scent—you don’t like how Cat smells when she’s scared. Bitter, and metallic, and wrong—you want to bundle her against you and sooth away that fear, but it’s abstract and unable to be smoothed.

She’s afraid how you’ll react—when you finally do.

It can’t be more than five or six in the morning, the sun just beginning to peak out from below the horizon, landing hot and bright on your half exposed back—the tank top you’d been wearing under your work clothes having rucked up in the night, snagging just below your breasts in the front. The yellow sun slinks into your skin, sinking into your very cells until you’re vibrating with the life it’s forcing into you. Better than any cup of coffee. You struggle up from under the black weight of your dreamless sleep, and the only thing that exists is the weight of the sun at your back, and the press of a body to your front.

Cat Grant has curled into your body at some point in the night—you’d gone to sleep on opposite edges of the bed, but in all honestly you both know how you gravitate toward each other once unconscious. Her legs are tangled through yours, and your nose is tucked to the short soft hairs behind her ear—right where her scent is strongest. Not the cedar and lavender shampoo she’s been using recently—or the spice of her perfume—but the natural scent of her skin below that. Soothing, and warm, and addicting. Filling your lungs instinctively, you leave a little press of lips there—until you realize her scent is different.

Only slightly, and you can only notice it now because you’re so close—but it’s unmistakable. Like autumn, and sunlight, and afternoons—you feel something constrict in your chest, twisting tighter and tighter until you exhale. You hadn’t been able to notice her pregnancy before now—you’d had only her words, heavy with tears, thick with fear, but you—you didn’t think she’d lie, not about something like this, but you hadn’t known.

But now there’s no mistaking it.

You’re still half asleep when your ears settle on the beat of Cat’s heart—sluggish and unaware. Thumping along sedately while you nose closer to her jaw—her skin is sleep warm, but pebbles where the breeze brushes over her. You kiss them away, lulled by this new scent—this warmth in your chest, and heaviness in your limbs. An addiction you weren’t aware you had until it was in your very veins, pumping through you and lingering in your bones. She murmurs, lifting a limp hand to shove at you when you kiss the ticklish spot below her jaw, but that very same hand is quickly curling into your hair and pressing you closer when you part lips and press teeth gently into the junction of where her neck and shoulder meet.

“Darling,” her voice is raspy, and it sends a shiver down your spine, her lips part like she might have something else to say—but her eyes never open, and her hand never leaves your hair.

“You smell different,” you whisper into her warm skin, pressing another kiss to her shoulder, along her collarbone, “Warmer—sweeter.” You couldn’t put into words how her very essence is crawling inside you and settling somewhere primal, and inhuman, in your brain. Someplace truly alien, because there was no one from Krypton to explain how your skin plucked and your heart tripped. How Cat became abstract and addicting, more so than because she is simply the girl you love—but beyond that. More than that. These thoughts seem to bypass your brain and live in your fingers—where you knead the skin at her hip, smoothing down the outside of her thigh until she rolls onto her back; you hovering half over her from the side.

“Kara,” you don’t catch how her eyes open, her hand curling along your cheek, smoothing along the socket of your eye, up to your tucked brow. You’re too busy nuzzling the hollow at the front of her throat, testing the pliant skin there with your teeth; vulnerable and soft. Yours. “Hey, lovely, look at me a second.” Like her words have some type of tether to your actions, a string laced down your spine, from the top of your head, to the tips of your toes. Her eyes are hazy and green, unfocused and bright—little flecks of the sunrise snared in the color, setting them ablaze.

Cat’s smoothing hands down your cheeks, looking for something in your eyes; eyes flickering back and forth, up the line of your nose, and down to rest on your lips—you're possessed, inhaling deep lungful of her impossibly sweeter scent, and she’s just—smiling at you. You know you should really understand what she’s smiling about, it lingers somewhere in your mind, but that place is dark and tucked away in lieu of this instinctive need to be closer. Maybe it is the hot seed of jealousy you pretend you don’t feel, the one that lingers in your veins like a smoldering coal—igniting your blood, making it rush hot and vicious through you.

Your face still clasped between her palms, you cast out the world, throw its sound and light, and noise away until there is only Cat Grant. Like walking down a tunnel, focusing on the light at the end—a bright spot in the dark. Everything that she is consumes you, and you’re drowning—a willing sacrifice, inhaling water deep. Tha-tha, you don’t know what the sound is—chasing Cat’s heartbeat like a song—her’s drums strong and sure in your jaw where her thumbs are pressed. Thump thump, tha-thump thump, tha-tha-thump thump. Closing your eyes, and stopping your breath—you cast out even her scent and eyes. Drifting out of her hold and lower until you can feel the sleep warmth of her stomach through her shirt. Thin cotton the only thing separating you from her skin.

Tha-tha thump, tha-thump thump, tha-thump thump.

It is soft, and quick, and irregular—missing every sixth beat like it forgot what it was supposed to be doing. Pushing her shirt up until it bunch under her breasts you press your lips to the soft curve of her belly. The very fine blonde hairs tickle your nose as you press closer. Tha-thump. Even here you cannot ignore Cat’s heart—but the faint echo, the soft little stutter is originating right under your lips. You can feel the buzz faintly, hypersensitive since you’d shut out most of the world. You exist here, with Cat’s heartbeat mingling with that of the baby. You know—logically—that it isn’t much more than a cluster of cells, splitting rapidly, but that logical part of you is still asleep. Still tucked away for the night weighing pros and cons.

“I can hear the baby’s heart,” you slur, lips warm and mouthing kisses against Cat’s stomach, both of her hands have tangled into your hair, and her nails scratch tenderly at your scalp. Some little part of you that knows better says this shouldn’t be happening, that you’d managed so well to be friend, and confidant, and protector—but intimacy happened too easily between you. So you encouraged her to date, set her up with eligible men who you know she’ll hate—because you don’t want to lose her. She gripes, and complains, and when she shows up at your apartment at midnight in a little black dress, dangling heels from her fingers, you act like you hadn’t been waiting.

“I didn’t—it hasn’t been that long.” But she’s smiling wide, and she’s beautiful. No one radiates happiness like Catherine Grant—it lives just under her skin like a secret, spilling like light through her pores. Her fingers are scrunching a little tighter in your hair unconsciously, and you nip at her belly button, something low in your stomach igniting when she releases a tiny breathless whimper, holding tighter yet and scratching encouragingly behind your ear. The baby’s heartbeat is drumming against your chin where you have it resting on her stomach, looking up beyond the rucked up fabric of her shirt to wide impossibly dark green eyes. Landscapes and hurricanes clambering in that shade of green, and you don’t want to pretend right now that you aren’t absolutely, irrevocably in love with her.

You can see in the bow of her soft lips that she isn’t thinking about what will happen tomorrow, or the day after—the lines drawn in the sand that she’s too stubborn, and you’re too afraid, of erasing. She’s tugging you up her body, and you happily press her into the mattress with your weight, settling in the cradle of her hips, the barest scrape of lace the only thing keeping her center from pressing into the ridges of your stomach. Your fingers are tapping the rhythm of the baby’s heartbeat—a quick flurry of your fingertip—and her eyes are squinting in happiness, sparkling and hazy both, somehow.

Your limbs are tangled with her with how you’re leaning, rocking your hips against her, catching the plaintive moan slipping from her lips until you’re rolling on your side, and taking her with you. Her hands press against your sternum when she sits astride your stomach, hair a messy golden halo around her eyes, eyes dark and pupils blown. Nails digging hard into your skin—hard enough that you can feel it, even if no mark will be left. There is nothing sexier than Cat looking down like she might very well devour you; swallow you whole and keep all of you for herself. You want to tell her that she has you, she’s always had you, but your words are thick, and unwieldy on your tongue.

Your hands grip her thighs, leaving faint red trails with your nails while you move to grip her thighs and sit up until she’s settled in your lap. You twine together, her ankles digging into your lower back, her hands pushing down between you until she’s inside your underwear and palming you possessively. You might whimper yours into her mouth, but you can’t focus on anything other than how her fingers dance through your wetness, sliding and pressing, playing you easy as any instrument.

You lighten your hold when she murmurs, “Kara, love,” in your ear like a reminder, coaxing a finger across your knuckles until you’re only palming her hips; careful of your strength.

The tight circles she’s rubbing are catching reedy little whines that hiss from your throat, each one bleeding into the next. You find her mouth—messy, desperate—and don’t even flinch when teeth click, and a lip is caught. Her heart beat is thundering inside your jaw, fast and sure, and you’re gasping half-hitched versions of her name into her mouth. Sharing hot air as she coaxes you further, rocking against the back of her own hand, making little involuntary sounds.

“Ca—Ca—,” you aren’t breathing out, simply filling your chest with more, and more, and more, air until the tension in your muscles and bone bleed away with a shudder. You come with her name on your tongue—heavy, and loud, and spilling through every part of you; she follows you soon after, gasping against your collarbones when she rocks just right against your stomach.

Her weight is negligible, draped over you, face tucked into the slick curve of where your neck meets your shoulder, her hot breath fanning out against your collarbones. Cat’s hand has found its way under your shirt that is hardly on at all—palm warm against your breast, but you know she’s really tracking the heavy beat of your heart. How it thumps against her palm—alien, and strong—she’s always liked how your heart beats, even before she knew what it was exactly.

“You’re having a baby,” the silence doesn’t snap around your words, your voice is quiet, and soft, and raspy at the edges. Cat stirs, but only kisses your shoulder, and humming against your skin. Now that you’re aware of the differences, you can’t ignore them—the baby’s heart drums where her stomach presses against yours, her scent—warmer, sweeter—fills your lungs, and she bleeds warmth like she never has before.

You want to say you’ll be there, if she’ll have you—when she’s dragged her stubborn reasoning back around her shoulders, and stiffened her jaw. When she looks at the world like a battle to be won—you want to say you’re not going anywhere. That you don’t care about labels, and technicalities; that having even some of her makes you happier than you’ll ever be without her. Some nights, you feel like love is a condition—some state you’d happened into, without being aware. Something that will never change, and when you think that feels like a weight you want lifted—she looks at you with tender eyes, and holds you close because you need the contact.

“You’ll be here?” It is almost silent, utterly quiet against your neck, and her heart thumps quicker, jumping harshly in her chest. “You’ll stay?”

Smiling at oblivion should never feel so wonderful. Wrapping arms around her, holding her close until you can’t feel where she begins, and you end. Just the soothing tap of a baby’s heart between you. “Of course, zrhueiao.” Tucking your nose into her golden curls, breathing her scent deep, and letting it settle in your very cells. “Until the stars go dark.” You promise.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). Time passes like snap shots you don't remember taking from some trip years ago; the smiles are caught forever more, but you can no longer remember what had made you laugh. What had made you cry. Like your feelings have been laminated and preserved inside you. No, you don't suppose that's right. Kara; well, you've always felt Kara.

There’s a power in walking through a room of downturned eyes; they all instinctively lower their chin and stare through their screens like salvation could be found on the other side. The screens around the room were plastered with the news surrounding Metropolis—it was being besieged by aliens, as seemed the be the bi-weekly problem—but these were giving Superman a run for his money—you’d been watching the screens in the conference room on the forty-seventh floor. The accountants had been going over fiscal year evaluations, and percentages up, and area of concern—and you heard probably every fifth word, and that is being generous.

You’d been too concerned with watching Clark get punched through store fronts, and down deserted streets—there was no definitive shot of what exactly was doing the damage. After the first few moments, they shot out of the center of the city and went in to the sleepier areas to the west. Your phone was in your hand before you could even reasonably understand that he wouldn’t be able to answer, but you’d almost lower yourself to texting, or calling—god forbid—Lois. You know Clark—being the damned idiot that he is—would tell you not to worry, that he has it all under control.

But it doesn’t look like it.

So you make another call.

“Perry, would you thank your camera crews for me,” you begin the conversation without any greeting or announcement of who it is—he should know. And based upon the inhalation on his end, he’s well aware.

Slapping a palm against the frosted glass door to your office, you turn toward the bar on the side, pouring yourself a generous amount of bourbon, before plucking it up with your fingertips and keeping your stride toward the conference room behind your office. Much smaller than the one downstairs—and the three, two floors below that one, and the six, twenty floor below that one. You don’t think you’d ever even been in those; who’s been having conferences in them? There must be someone who knows.


“While I know this is a disparaging comment,” Perry is how you like him best—resigned—and you can hear how he covers his mouth piece and yells something across the vaguely organized chaos that is the Daily Planet. You’d been a big part of that chaos when you’d finally made it to a desk—after your column, and before Iraq. Perry comes back on the phone, a little out of breath, and you want to make another comment about smoking so many cigars, “I haven’t exactly pieced together why it is disparaging.”

Sitting in the large backed chair on the end of the long table, there’s no glass walls here, no eyes taking tentative glances in. Smacking at buttons on the remote a few times until the curved television on the wall goes through an inordinate amount of input screens, and then the news coverage of Metropolis is up on the screen. A slash of lasers bisect the sky, and then into a hillside—thankfully void of people.

“Well,” you intone, “Any concern I may have had about epilepsy has been handedly rectified by your cameraman.” The camera swings upward once again, easily five seconds behind the blur of red and blur that is Clark—the sun glaring into the screen for a moment, before you had the clear view of an empty green field. There was specks clashing in the distance, but it was too out of focus.

“Listen, Grant.” He has that tone that says he’s being serious, that this is a line they will step back from, and you can appreciate that. You afford him this courtesy, because he reflects it back to you in kind. “The big guy’s having trouble with this one—they came out of nowhere. Don’t seem too concerned with much more than knocking him around like a pin ball. Haven’t seen anything like it—,”

You have; he has too.

He finishes his thought in a rasp, “—not since Doomsday, at least.” The creature that had carved through National City like a buzz saw; had demolished the city center with little more effort than it took a child to stomp on a sand castle. Watching as Clark snaps past the sound barrier, a clap of sound filtering behind him, his opponent does the same, but it sent spinning into the lake behind them. There’s two more shadows, flickering through the gaps in the buildings, moving away from the hero, and closer to the city again.

There’s a strange stillness that flickers over the city, the shadows going higher, and higher, and higher until they’re just smudges against the afternoon. Clark bolts after them, a spot of color to match them—and they just remain. The minutes tick by, and Perry is breathing deeply and purposely in your ear—and you’re quiet, because your oldest boy is outnumbered four to one, and it hadn’t been going too well for him. He would fight until he couldn’t anymore—he got that from his damned cousin—and it left you on the edge of your chair. Watching as shadows conversed.

You know Carter is at school, so he isn’t watching this, he won’t know until after he gets home, and he’ll look at you with quiet blue eyes that always seem to wonder who isn’t coming home next. You blame his father, the flickering disappointment he is—a man without malice, simply too involved with himself—but you know the deeper wound was the woman who would never come home. He’d hear about how Superman limped and staggered, and he’ll watch you with eyes asking him too, and you’ll have no answer. You’ll only be able to bundle him close, and tell him Clark—as stupid as he is—is made of tougher stuff than that. Nothing to do with alien genetics, and bulletproof skin—he was raised right, wasn’t he?

The dark marks drift further apart, and then—vanish.

“What just happened?” Perry exhales, clearly watching the same feed—of Superman drifting lower, and lower, and lower, until the camera could make out the smudges of dirt on his cheeks, and the blood dripping from his nostril. It was dashed away by a quick hand, but no award winning smile could do anything about the dent made today.

“Nothing good.” You reply, while hanging up without prompt, immediately dialing Clark’s number and watching as Superman touches his ear, already making a face.

“Cat!” he chirps, while drifting in place, “I was just about to call you. Work’s crazy.”

“I’m watching you, heathen; don’t think I didn’t see that grimace.” You chide, and lean forward, really looking at him now—nothing to do with the hero, everything to do with the boy you helped raise. “What was that?”

“I have no idea; they seemed like they were looking for me. Seemed pretty intent on putting me into the ground as many times as they could.” Frowning, you lean back in your chair, tipping some of the bourbon back with a quick swallow, before exhaling through your nose.


“Definitely. No chance those guys were meta-humans.” While you weren’t the keenest on the name, there was no question that more, and more, were clambering up from the dark hole they were hidden in. “Actually, it was weird.”

You don’t like how he’s trailing off, his voice dipping low and away.

“Weird how? Besides the beating you senseless part,” you snipe to mask your worry, because watching him flounder was like watching the Spectre all those years ago.

“They were—they were speaking Kryptonese.” Your blood runs cold, and your heart hammers, you’re standing before you can even process that you’ve tossed back the rest of your drink. It burns, and all the conflicting feelings in your chest chase through you with a kind of dread you don’t experience often.

“Clark, you spoke to them—at the end. What did they want?” That had to be what it was, that had to be why they simply flitted off into the afternoon without any more of a fight.

“The leader, he wasn’t really a chatty guy, real stern face.” Clark grouses, and you can simply tell by his tone that he’s found someplace to change—back in his cheap shirt and half-mast tie. “He just said I wasn’t who he was looking for, and took off.” Who could they be looking for? Clark’s still talking in your ear, but you’ve walked out of the small backroom and into your office proper. The glass door is still shut, and you can hardly make out the clacking sounds of decent productivity—the balcony door is open and—

There’s a woman standing on your balcony.

She’s facing away from you, hands spread wide on the wall, and there’s no obvious sign that she’s aware you are watching her. She’s about average height, and there’s something in the way she’s standing that keeps your attention. She’s wearing dark pressed slacks that look like they’re off a Target hanger, but they fit well enough, and if she wasn’t blatantly infringing on your space, you’d probably let it slide. The white shirt is rumpled and tucked improperly, and that is simply unacceptable.

“Unless I’m interrupting some poorly planned suicide attempt,” you drawl, listening to how Clark quiets on the phone, and mumbles something like, come on, cat, and you’re not finished. “Which might seem much more plausible after I learn an approximation of your name, fire you, and then promptly forget said name—”

Whatever the end of that thought is swallowed because the woman whips around quicker than you can see—one second she’s out on the balcony, then she’s suddenly half a foot in front of you. Her eyes are green—or gray—some mix of the two, and she’s looking at you with recognition. Her hair is dark, tangled gracefully around her face—which is all royal slopes. Cheekbones and nose, lips and chin. She’s beautiful, and even with your heart tripping like a child, you can appreciate that. There’s something off, and yet familiar. And you sure as hell know it isn’t that gaudy white streak in her hair.

“I’m hazarding a guess that you don’t work for me.” Tone flat, to make up for your jack rabbit heart.

“Cat?” Clark’s asking, his tone pitched low—serious, and you don’t like that he’s picked that up from Perry, you’re going to have to talk to him about that. “Cat? What’s going on?” The woman’s brows furrow, eyes tightening for a moment before she leans forward, if that was even possible, and it takes everything in you to not lean away. To not concede ground.

“Cat?” Her accent is unusual, and you recognize it instantly, because your youngest son is constantly trying to perfect his pronunciation—even without the help of the only native speaker you’ve known. “Catherine Grant?” But no one has ever said your name like that—not even Kara—and it seems wrong, and improper, and you don’t want to hear it again from this woman’s lips. Because it isn’t who should be saying it, and it hits you right in that empty place in your chest. Like an anvil sitting on your heart.

“Only two people call me by my full name,” you growl, stepping forward, and when she takes a step back, not seeming to mind herself, you feel a thrill—though you understand this woman could probably smash you into human flavored jelly. “You are neither one of them.”

Clark’s still talking in your ear, and the howl of wind lets you know he’s flying—probably the few thousand miles from Metropolis to National City. And you want to tell him to stay away, to not risk himself—to get Carter and go far away. But you don’t want to give this woman anything, and you know Clark won’t listen to any word of caution coming out of your mouth.

“You’re coming with me,” she isn’t asking, and she isn’t happy—there’s a dark dangerous tilt to her expression, and you know this isn’t some docile martian like the two you’d adopted almost thirty years ago. Her shoulders are set, and her jaw clenched. Her hand has settled on your upper arm, and her fingers clench with just enough warning that you can feel that inhuman strength you know she’ll possess.

“We haven’t time for this nonsense,” she is harsh, and enthralling, “Kara needs you.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). Some people defy definition, and you consider yourself lucky to have such a person in your life. Sometimes you label her in your mind, with little things that never seem to do her justice. But in the end, you're a coward, because they don't make the trip past your lips. You trust too much in what isn't said, in her belief that she speaks you fluently, just like she does her starbound language.

Kassidy O’Doherty was the jet setting agent to the East coast’s biggest public relations firm—he could count on one hand the people who were higher than him on the chain of command, and knew how to keep all of them happy. With dark hair, and dazzling blue eyes, it wasn’t hard to believe that he’d caught your attention—you’d met him a number of times over the years, rolling your eyes at his over-whitened teeth and tweezed eyebrows. He tried too hard to make people like him, and while it usually succeeded for him, it was that exertion of effort that had always turned you away from him when he asked you out. “Come on, Grant,” he’d leer, in that too obvious way that just made you roll your eyes harder, he was a harmless flirt that had no shame of having his advances buffed, “Aren’t you curious?”

You weren’t, but then Kara had finally relented and gone on a date with one of the anthropologists at the National City museum, and you’d been unable to focus for the entire two months they went out. No, it wasn’t logical, no it wasn’t fair—to anyone involved—and when you ran into him again at the Lorde Technologies gala, Kara across the room struggling through the laser pointed argument of nerds and their ancestries, and you’d caved. Slipping your arm through his and stationing yourself at the bar for most of the night—he was charming, and snide, and too much like yourself to justify anything more than the night.

Or maybe a week; you’ve always had a certain narcissism. It was like dating a more pompous version of yourself, with—surprisingly—better taste in shoes, and worse taste in wine.

That month—however—had ended with him giving you a smile and a wave goodbye at the airport while you went to Paris, and he went to Washington DC. “See you around, Grant,” he’d grinned, swerving his practical little suitcase to a stop, and unshouldering your bag, that he’d been carrying. “Go talk to idiots about floral patterns, and seasonal colors.” You’d smacked him—hard—in the shoulder, and muttered how it wasn’t a fashion meeting, and he’d laughed, and left.

It had also ended with you unknowingly pregnant from a night of maybe too much partaking in tequila, and too many “adult” games of Trivial Pursuit. You’d lost, miserably, because both you and Kassidy were hopeless with history, and science, and the team you’d been playing had been—well, Kara and an anthropologist. That damned alien brain was something to behold, and Kassidy had escorted you home a little clobbered in the ego—you’d been pretty used to losing trivia games and had taken your tequila shots like a champ, until the winners had taken pity on your team and called it a night.

Losers had to comfort themselves somehow, right? (Especially when you thought about what winners might do once they got home.)

Now, six months later, he’s the reason your ankles are swollen, and your back hurts, and you’re always hungry, and that the sun hurts your eyes, and that your hair is greasy, and—there are other things, but you’re tired of keeping lists of his utter incompetence, and he’s only in town for a few more hours, and you need to make him properly regret his life choices. All of them—you might call his mother and make her regret her choices as well. Asking her to kill her son now, would that be considered extremely late term abortion?

“Aren’t pregnant women not supposed to eat fish?” He asks after a sip of water—he’d ordered wine, until you’d taken the glass and dumped it into the vase in the middle of the table, and the waitress had nervously asked if he wanted another. He didn’t. “I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re an idiot,” you reply sweetly, while popping another piece of sushi into your mouth.

“I’m pretty sure you’re fucking immature,” he returns, and reaches over to take something off your plate, and you stab him with a single chop stick. “And fucking savage—were you raised by Goddamn wolves?”

“Satan incarnate,” you supply, while rolling your eyes, and putting one of your delicious morsels on his plate, ignoring his smile. You just didn’t want his damned hands anywhere near you—or your food.

“Well that explains the glaring, and general derision.”

He continues, “But, no, seriously—the fish thing. I’ve read that.” You roll your eyes and stretch your back, and he mimics you, like that will somehow get him out of range for this argument.

“Were you even at that appointment? Because I’m pretty sure the doctor explained it—I even had him use small words so you’d understand.”

Kassidy frowns, and you’re struck by how young he is—not that you aren’t, you’re actually younger—but it’s in his mannerisms. The way he looks off to the side and hunches his shoulders when he thinks no one is looking—he’s too selfish to want children, too self-involved. Didn’t want to stop the life he had—the different continent every quarter, galas and no strings. And when you’d told him you had no such devises on him, he had tried to be the good guy—tried, because Kassidy was only ever a decent guy. Whenever he’s in North America he tries to stop by—and he’d brought up the idea of getting married once or twice, and you’d both looked equally as appalled by the idea.

You suppose you’re friends. Maybe.

“I really hope our son takes after me,” you gripe, after having explain to him the difference between oily fish and non-oily fish. And which ones were alright, and good sources of protein. Son. You’d found out the baby’s gender today, and it still sent a thrill through you.

“You don’t want him to get anything from me?” He’s grinning, and leaning forward, and his stupid dimpled chin is sitting in his hand. You consider him a long moment, let him just wait—and wait—and wait—before sighing and conceding.

“Your hair, I suppose. It’s thick, and your father has very few grays.” He just keeps grinning, and you roll your eyes, pretending you’re eating alone for the next half hour, until he’s cut through your silence with snide comments about the people sitting in the park outside the restaurant’s window. You ignore him for five whole comments, until one particularly garish individual walks by, and you both snort in disgust.

Later that afternoon, when he walks you to the door of your apartment, your purse in his hand, his suitcase over his shoulder, telling you about the corporate executive that had gotten caught with an intern in the copy machine, because the prints had been forwarded to corporate, you forget your supposed to be disliking him because that is just perfect. When you’re standing outside, you snap irritably for your purse which he hands over with a pursed brow—you dig for a moment before unearthing a sonogram from the few you had printed, and handed it over.

“Please try not to be insufferable about this,” you intone when his eyes brighten and his mouth turns up into a smile. Looking at the sonogram he had already seen at the doctor’s office.

“We’re gonna make a fucking great kid, right?” He asks, and you see that nervous little twitch in his cheek you try to ignore. “I mean; I’m giving the handsome genetics, and you’re gonna be a great mom, right? I mean—Satan incarnate aside, and Callaghan won’t let you be a bitch.” He’s babbling, and means well—and usually he actually means it when he calls you a bitch, so this is just pathetic.

He’d taken to Kara as your better half pretty well—it had been something of a surprise to him when you’d called him out of the blue to inform him that you had a situation you’d have to speak to him about. He’d joked, “What’re you pregnant?” and the silence had been enough to make him assure you that he’d find a flight to National City as soon as possible. Kara had met him at the airport, and you had no idea what had transpired in the following four hours—other than knowing it does not take four hours to get to mid-town from the air-port.

Neither one of them have ever elaborated.

“I’m going to take all that in the vein it was intended, and say have a nice flight,” you present a cheek, and he exhales in relief while pressing a kiss there. You watch him walk down the hall without rolling your eyes, ignoring the tell Callaghan bye hollered after you, and open the door to your apartment. None of the lights are on, but all of the windows are open, letting in a ridiculous amount of natural light. You suppose you should really get some kind of paintings for the walls, because they just look tall and white and empty. Huffing out through your nose, you leave your purse on the couch and pull out your mobile, shooting a message to Kara because you haven’t heard from her all day, and you know she’d had some kind of investor meeting with Maxwell across the country. She hated having to do meetings, not realizing how utterly charming she was capable of being without effort.

Cat: Just got back from the appointment, Kass is off to Alberta. Asshole says bye.

Leaving it on the counter, and opening the fridge for some kind of juice—probably apple because you could at least pour it into a tumbler and pretend it was bourbon. You expect her to reply in a few minutes, but instead of the chirp of your mobile, it’s a voice from the end of the hall.

“Down here, zrhueiao.” She calls, and it really does echo off all the empty walls. You smile because you weren’t sure if you’d be able to see her today, but it didn’t seem to matter that her meeting was in New York City—being a super powered alien seemed to have perks you really were beginning to love. Rubbing your back, and using your heel to knock off either of your shoes, and leaving them uncharacteristically in the middle of the hall. You check your room first—pushing the door open and finding the same thing as the living room. Windows all open, and empty. The two “guest” rooms that Clark and Kara stay in—though she stayed in yours just as often—were both in the same state, which left the one at the end of the hall—what you had started calling the nursery.

Ironically, it had been your mother who had first brought up what you were going to do for the baby’s room—it was like the whole thing had slipped your mind—which had then sent you into a panicked spiral of concerns and catalogs, and for two weeks no one had been able to look you in the eye without flinching. Eventually, it had all begun to come together—dark colored woods, hypoallergenic fabrics, and some neutral color. You were going to have a professional do it, but Clark had cancelled the appointment and said that it was already being taken care of. Which had started the weekend of Kryptonians v. baby crib. You’ve never heard Kara curse as much as she had those few days.

After the furniture had been put together, and you’d been assured that it wouldn’t fall apart, the white walls had really seemed glaringly out of place, which Kara had promised she’d take care of. After you had said no pink, no blue, and nothing cutesy. Which had all been taken with firm nods of understanding. She hadn’t gotten around to it yet, and you hadn’t brought it up since. Pushing the door open with two fingers, you’re talking before you can see her, “You didn’t have to fly back tonight, and you know Marion won’t forgive you if you leave her with Max alo—.”

You see her over-all clad back, and backwards tipped painter’s hat first, but what’s if front of her steals your breath. The largest wall of the room is a splash of color from baseboard to ceiling, even spilling up across the ceiling is curls and swirls of color. Crystal spires clustered together on one side, clear and bright and proud, cast high into the pastel pink sky, the color blended and spread across the wall—purple and blue, and as it hit the edge of the wall and beginning of the ceiling, it darkened, and darkened, until it was the black of space, and the splash of stars in formations you didn’t recognize.

Krypton’s sky.

The city of glass was illuminated from the inside, spilling reflections across the sprawling green grass of the mountain range you know from outside National City, sloping low into the blue lake Kara had convinced you to go skinny dipping in once when you were teenagers. There was still something martian about them, maybe it was the red dust below the green bushes and the dark brown of the tree trunks, maybe it was the crystal stones, and flickering lights that seemed to delve deep into the colors. At the base of one of the trees was a large shaggy creature you knew wasn’t indigenous to earth—it looked something like a lion.

She’d blended her two planets together; mixing and matching their attributes to form something new, and lovely. The paint is splattered over her clothes, and skin, and all the covered furniture was surprisingly clear of splashes. Walking closer, you see that the paint is still wet on the walls, and the scent of paint thinner almost enough to make you pass out. Stepping around her, and opening the window glass so that there was some fume release.

You can see Kara’s face now, how she’s still not looking at you, still just looking at the drying paint on the wall. There’s little slashes of red and blue on her cheeks, and black through her eyebrow—her glasses have managed to fair a little better. But her blonde hair is mixed through with too many colors and shades to track.

“I’m pretty sure this is gender neutral,” she says, unblinking and just tracing her gaze up the spires on the wall, “If you don’t like it I can paint it over, no big deal, I have the eggshell in the car. I got green just in case—light green, because you don’t like green-green. But when I told the woman at Home Depot that, she didn’t know what green-green was, and I had to explain it—it was harder than you thin—.”

You need to stop her, before even her Kryptonian lungs give out.

“It’s a boy.”


She turns to look at you, and she’s a mess, but awe is a beautiful emotion on Kara—because it lives everywhere inside her. The blue, blue of her eyes, the crinkles just at their corners, and the curl of her lips—the slight hitching of her shoulders that said it burrowed into her muscles and bones already. You swear she crosses the distance between you without her feet on the floor. You’re in her arms, and she’s spinning, and you can only hear her laugh—wind chimes and sunlight—while you clench your eyes shut, and cling to the strong line of her shoulders.

“A boy!” She laughs, while putting your feet back on the ground, one hand at the side of your neck, the other on the almost comical curve of your stomach. She’s warm, and soft, and you know she probably shouldn’t be—but for you she always is, and it cracks something inside you that probably should stay whole. But you can’t regret it, and you won’t change it—because she’s clasping your cheeks to wipe at the tears spilling form your eyes. You don’t like crying, it makes you hiccup, and unsure, and everything is unsteady.

Except Kara.

She’s sturdy, and present, and waits for your eyes to become less blurry, but she’s been murmuring in your ear quietly. Stupid little nonsense that just makes you sob, or maybe laugh, and she’s bundling you close, and carding fingers through your hair, and you feel like a stupid, massive, idiot. And you can’t exactly place your finger on why—but it’s true, and you want to tell her so, but she’s being so damned understanding. And you don’t deserve her, but your son—your son—does, and it’s idiotic, and confusing and—


She said she would stay, and you don’t doubt her, not one bit. Never. Kassidy is flying to Alberta, and he’ll probably text you some picture of something idiotic, and you’ll laugh and—show Kara. Who is here, who is always here. She flew back, wihtout aid from a plane, from New York to have this finished by the end of your appointment. She did that for you. The picture is crumpled from where you had it in your pocket, it is the first one printed, the one you’d stashed away before thinking to ask for another copy. Unrumpling the edges you press your forehead against her shoulder, and breath. She matches you, breathing long and slow with you.

“It’s perfect,” you whisper, because it is, and there aren’t words to describe how perfect, but you think you can get pretty close. Pressing the sonogram picture into her paint spattered hands, her brow tucks, but her smile widens. “Your boy.” Brows furrow further, but when the words register those blue, blue eyes get wet and glassy, and her cheeks redden slightly. She’s stroking painter’s fingers over the white curve lovingly, while tears spill down her cheeks, and you’re in awe.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). You always thought you'd like the quiet. That if all the sound that Earth is capable of bled away, you'd bask in the silence. You'd simply exist for a while in a place that isn't clambering to be it's loudest self. It isn't until the nothingness of space starts to bleed into your bones, that you realize how much you define yourself by that noise. You're the distant thunder, and the child's laughter. The argument down the hall, and the soft proclamations of love. Earth isn't quiet, because it has so much to say. You miss that. 

You’re thirty-one when you commit yourself to suicide.

Well. That had been the initial plan, at least, but you’re a scientist, and a little too intelligent for that. Around your arm is strapped the reactor that you’d taken from the vault at Lorde Technologies. Green tipped prongs dig through your skin below it—the mineral from your home planet weakening your skin just enough to allow the invasion. The poison bleeds into you, but the hollowed tubes swallow the red of your blood and spin it quickly inside—a centrifuge—causing the low beeping that had started. It is locked to your genetic code—a failsafe you had made sure to enact because you had only one living relative, and that was small enough odds that this technology felt safe to play around with on earth.

And more importantly—beyond earth.

Your father had brought you to work with him often, to push buttons and absorb information—he was adamant you’d be a scientist, even when your mother had brought home law books and penal codes. You’d never been particularly invested in the judicial system; your aunt said it was because you had a soft heart, that your insides were good, and true, and had no place for the rigidity of law. Your father agreed—one of the few things he agreed with your aunt about—and because of it, she’d sneak you away and drop you off at his place of work.

Your uncle Jor would show you how to splice atoms, and shift elements, how to deconstruct the building blocks of life, and make them whatever you wanted. Build a new world. “But uncle,” you’d asked one evening, when he’d been filing through chemical compounds that would make the soil fertile again—maybe, “if we can make everything we want—why can’t we—why is the planet broken?” He’d looked impossibly sad that night, sighing, and sitting down beside where you’d stopped to eat dinner. Probably not safely, because there were dishes of toxic chemicals all around you, spilled on the metal table.

“Because, kri-ehl, some things are beyond even us. And—it is something we realized much too late.” He’d smiled, sad and kind, and you’d nodded—like you understood. He showed you that science isn’t always right, and beautiful—that sometimes it is necessary and dark. He’d found a pocket of space that existed outside the normal plane of existence. The Phantom Zone, they called it. That there was a way to temporarily rip a window to the fabric of space, and the worst of the worst got jettisoned there to wait out their sentence in nothingness.

You have seconds now, they’re ticking slowly away, and there is no way to stop it.

“But, what did I expect when I fell in love with a comet?” You want to tell her you’ll be her star, her gravitational pull, her black of space—anything that is absolute and timeless, but you can’t do that, because you’re letting her go. She’s smoothing careful fingers over your cheeks, wiping tears away like it will make you presentable. “Go be the hero, Kara.” She’s kissing you like goodbye, and your holding onto her elbows like you’ll never uncurl your fingers, but she’s licking desperately into your mouth, and her nose bumps against yours.

“Chop chop, supergirl.” She’s trying not to sob, and she’s always been the stronger of the two of you, because you’re openly bawling. “We’ve got a schedule to keep.”

You leave without looking back, because if you did, there was no way you’d go through with this. The nuclear weapon on your back breaks the containment that had been only just keeping it contained—bleeding UV radiation directly into you while the lead box is cracked open. Green pulses and hums along your skin, putting the hairs on edge, but you palm it anyway. Your grip wilts and softens, but you have to keep strong, have to fight the effects—the radiation is helping, pushing the green from your blood, and the red from your bones.

Catching the creature is harder than you thought it’d be, but you have to do it now before it has any more time to get used to this yellow star. Curling fingers around the sharpened meteorite like you’d been trying to teach Carter with a baseball, you do one jab toward the soft skin below the creature’s protrusions of bone and rock. It howls, digging fingers into your shoulders and breaking skin, because you’re both weakening. With the last of your strength, knowing the bleeding radiation is about to finish, and you only have moments—you go up. Taking the creature with your shoulders, curving so that it can’t fight your momentum.

Beep, beep—the reactor on your wrist digs further into your arm, and the low oxygen levels kicks it into action, circling through frequencies with an alarming rate. Tripping up and down the spectrum until it finds the proper one—that thin little veil that keeps the Phantom Zone away. Boom. Your brain supplies the sound for the explosion at your back when the atmosphere ignites it, but there really isn’t any noise—maybe that’s because your ear drums have been destroyed, or maybe it is because it is space. But it chases from horizon to horizon like a wave spilling onto a beach.

You’re treated to an unfettered view of the planet you saved—impossibly large, and blue, and beautiful. And you’re glad you could do this, even if your heart is tripping and breaking. Even if you can only remember how Cat’s voice cracked, and how Clark screamed. Fingers numb and useless paw at the part of your chest where you know you’re keeping them—near your heart—and then the reactor on your wrist tightens, and the beeping gets louder and—suddenly space has opened up. There’s lights, and ships, and chaos—but the explosion had ripped it open violently and everything was breathed in like a giant taking a breath.

The Phantom Zone doesn’t discriminate—but the fissure is only open for a moment, before it slams shut.

And you fall into darkness.

You’re thirty-one, and have been in jail for two years.

They’d fished you out of the murky depths of the Phantom Zone with little more than opened bay doors and a careful angle. Your skin had been cracking, and the behemoth you’d been lugging along with you had thrashed, and fought, and when they had promptly jettisoned him back into the thick milky dark, they kept you. Had pried the warhead off your back, and peeled you out of the bloody black fabrics of your costume—because that is what it felt like now. Some kind of masquerade.

They tried to pry the reactor off your arm, but it began beeping loudly—shrilly—and the idiots who’d been sent to decontaminate you flinched away and left it. Smarter men and women had turned it this way and that, and couldn’t understand how it was imbedded so integrally into your arm. The metal rods that had dug deep and deeper the higher into the atmosphere you went—they were through the bone now, through the muscle and skin. It had fused to your skin in the explosion, and when the cracks started to paper over, and the pain started to go away—it stayed.

The pieces of the yellow sun still lingering in your blood and cells making themselves apparent. The slow leak of radiation from the meteorite tips of the reactor—funny how the rocks from your home had become cancerous to you, but this foreign sun’s radiation kept you strong.

You’d been folded into dark fabrics, and shoved into the darkest cell on the ship—in the bowels, where pipes leaked, and the hum of the engines gave you a headache. No one of consequence ever saw you, ever involved themselves with you—who are you—you were sneered at for the first few months, in languages from every corner of the galaxy. You recognized some of them—Galorian, and Vintrekese, and you’re certain one speaks a dialect of Salvahazian that your father had been fluent in—they are all languages you never thought you’d encounter again.

Because you promised yourself to this darkness, you somehow thought being alive, but untouchable, was preferable to death. You thought yourself clever, as if you could find some true way out of here. The reactor on your arm still leaks radiation into you, it feeds your cells like a martian IV, and you know you can bend these bars outward and away, that you can punch fingers through the walls like whispers and promises.

“Your name,” the master jailor asks, pressing an electric baton to the backs of your knees, and making you collapse forward, you grit your teeth, and swallow the scream. You aren’t invulnerable anymore, there’s isn’t enough radiation in you, and you blink blood from your eyes. “Someone sent you here, little girl, and there’s a sentence waiting for your name.” He thinks you’re a criminal, that you should be at home here, and he doesn’t know how long he’s been without leadership. How long Krypton’s been dead.

He tortures you for three hundred sixty one days—tugging you up from your cell, and lashing you to a chair. His eyes dark, his smile darker, and you try to remember what Cat looks like when she smiles—or how Clark would blush when you did something embarrassing, or how Carter said ieiu perfectly. The memories sizzle, like they’re being forcibly removed from your brain, but you hold them dear—hold them close, so that when he peels your finger nails off, you scream, but don’t say anything.

You promised yourself to this place. You thought yourself clever.

It isn’t until you’re locked into this basement hell for seven hundred and four earth days, that you hear voices speaking your mother tongue—the looping, tilted phasing of Krypton have always endeavored to be elegant. Better than the blue collar races that they surrounded themselves with—somehow justified by their illumination, and spiraling crystal cities. It is a man and woman, and just the way their words curl and curve, you know they’re not the same kind of rabble that had been making their way down to you.

Curling in on yourself in the corner, knees brought up, arms folded in the little space between them and your body, and you rest your cheek against the wall, biding your time. The man is stern looking, his brow defined, and his light features drawn, like this place has taxed all the kindness from him—eyes sharp and blue, lips turned down into a frown. You recognize him, somehow, but you can’t properly place him until you see the woman by his side—

You’re mother.

But it takes only a moment to realize your mistake, and you have to squeeze your eyes shut and shake your head to understand what is happening. You’ve been on Fort Rozz, the penal colony that had been launched into the Phantom Zone before you’d been born—where the worst of the worst went. The jailers had scuffed you as some terminal breach to their sovereign space, and had tossed you into the bowels to rot away for your undetermined sentence.

They’re both handcuffed, but their jailor seems less than involved with leading them, too busy chattering away with them like old friends—you know that happens here. The younger guards try to make their lives easier by building dialog with the inmates. Especially the ones from this deepest, darkest basement hell—the worst of the worst. The ones who could be trouble if they wished to be.

Your aunt’s eye is swollen shut, but she doesn’t seem bothered by it in the least, it is in the perfect square of her shoulders, and the lift of the edge of perfectly red lips. Cheekbones, and eyes, and nose all how you remember—but not—because like the man, something has been leached from her, pulled from her eyes and skin, and very bones. And it has you uncurling, because she’s familiar, and you need that—and you don’t understand how she got here, why she’s here. You’re dragging yourself up onto tired limbs before you realize and are standing just before the grate of your cell.

She looks at you, and she doesn’t recognize you. It pulls at something inside you, the thing that stopped you from crying when they were cutting into your skin, which stopped you from talking when they said they could give you anything you asked for—if you just cooperated. But Astra doesn’t recognize you, she looks your way when you shuffle forward, and she looks through you. It seizes something in your chest, and it causes you pain that isn’t superficial, that is deeper, and harder to navigate.

“They picked this one up two-thousand fifty eight Rune cycles ago,” the jailor supplies when he sees you have their attention, “Rocketed in here with the Ultimate, and they decided to keep her when they send it to the blackest parts of the Zone.”

That gets the man’s attention, “The Ultimate?”

The jailor snuffs, “One and only, thing decided to resurface after a few millennia, it seems—warden couldn’t decide if she’s its captor, or its partner.”

Astra smiles, and it’s your mother’s smile—the thing that was always the same between them, no matter how far they grew apart, “Seems small for a captor,” her eyes cut toward the jailor that reaches only your shoulder, and he knows the slight when he hears it.

“In any case, hasn’t talked a word since they started interrogating her—stubborn thing. Can’t even determine her origin, some kind of radiation is mucking up the sensors whenever they try to process her.”

“Krypton.” You say, and your voice is hoarse, and brittle, and shaking—because your throat is dry, and raw from screaming. “I’m from Krypton.” It feels strange to speak in your mother tongue, but you never lost your fluency—not like Clark. It was the piece of your world you’d always keep, even when you tried to forget everything else.

Like how crystal cities shattered.

Astra steps closer, and you’re shaking, hardly the paragon of strength you wanted to show her you’ve become—hardly the hero. But she isn’t looking through you anymore, those eyes trip over your face and along your jaw, and it must be hard to recognize the twelve year old girl in your thirty-one year old face. You’re nearly the same age, but something must register, because she steps closer, and her handcuffed hands are raised to touch your face through the bars. She can’t quiet reach, because they snag in the confinement, and you step closer so that she can cradle your cheek. She’s warm, and familiar, and you’re crying—shuddering sobs that make you lean forward until the bars dig into your forehead, but she’s murmuring softly to you.

“Little one,” you’d forgotten that she called you that, how her voice would soften, and her eyes would melt.

“Aunt Astra,” you keen, breaking down after so long alone.

You’re thirty-one when the prisoners revolt.

They’ve been without contact with the actual galaxy for decades; you’re the only addition in that time, and that makes the prisoners agitated. Astra has appointed herself your guard, though you never asked, and when you sit together in the harrowing halls of the basement mess, Non begins his predictable preaching of injustice—his audience the darkest of the dark, the cruelest of the cruel—and you. You chew through the mottled food from your home world, no longer having the palette for it, but it’s been six earth years, and you’ve stopped noticing what you don’t have the stomach for anymore.

The list is getting shorter, and you don’t like that.

“Little one,” she still calls you that, even though you’re hardly little any longer, and her eyes slide over your face the same as they had when you were younger, like she’s looking for something, “Non and his—disciples—have found themselves in possession of information I feel you must be made aware of.” That’s what she calls them, disciples, like this madness really deserved a name.

“Non hasn’t had anything enlightened to say since he started raving to the masses,” you imagine Cat in your place sometimes, not because you want to see her rot here, but because her dry wit makes it bearable—you imagine what she’d say, how she’d react. Because she’s always been the stronger of the two of you—she’s had a spine of steel, when yours seems to be made of tinder.

“While true,” she concedes, and steeples her fingers under her chin, you sit shoulder to shoulder, because it is a comfort to feel her against you—warm, and solid, and family, and she never comments. “This one could cause—unrest.”

You turn away as she purses her lips, and you turn to watch him, and find his blue eyes already on you—like he hasn’t looked away in a while, and you’re just now noticing. The energy in the room is turning volatile, rumbling low, and tearing at the seams. The prisoners are banging their fists against tables, and smashing their shoulders into the walls. And he’s just—standing there—watching you.

“He found the readings for the device on your arm—the one they’ve been afraid to remove.” She’s talking low, but your hearing is just enhanced enough to hear her. She’s standing up, shoulders squaring, and you find yourself mimicking her—you feel like the Spectre again, even if you have no mask, and no hood to protect your identity. But here, you don’t need one—you are Kara Zor-El, eldest member of the great House of El, who rode into the Phantom Zone on the back of the Ultimate.

There are stories about you.

“It’s nothing important.” You say instead of the truth, because you’ve learned to keep everything close, even from those you want to trust—the people you trust implicitly aren’t here. And they’ll never be here.

“It’s very important.”

The way she says it makes you turn to look at her, at how her lips turn into a frown, and how her eyes darken—but there’s an apology there, an unspoken I’m sorry, like the one you keep in your chest for your dying planet. Some sad little truth that will never see the light of day, because you can’t imagine the world falling off your tongue.

“Aunt Astra,” you don’t know if it’s a warning, or a plea, but it somehow becomes both, and she’s stepping toward you, and you’re stepping backwards—conceding ground while the energy in the room explodes. Prisoners tearing into guards, taking their electric batons and spilling blood. The chaos somehow folds around you and Astra, as if they don’t wish to get too close, but you are stepping away, closer to the locked door—the one that’ll lead you upstairs.

“Non knows it can open the rift,” six years you’ve kept this secret, you’ve shouldered the knowledge that you could get out at any time, if you were willing to take the worst of the worst with you. But—but the frequencies stored in the drives would bring you back to earth, would release these hell spawns upon your borrowed home, and you couldn’t allow that. “He wants it.” There is a kind of madness in her, but so many years in this place could do that to anyone—could suck the goodness out of anyone.

“He won’t be able to use it,” no, it was coded to your genetics, and even though he’s one of the few Kryptonian’s left, he’s not close enough. Not by a long shot—but Astra. Astra is. And that makes you back up more, because you’d gotten complacent, and too comfortable—you’d forgotten that you aren’t a criminal, even though you’ve been locked up like one. Gritting your teeth, a body hits you from the side, and you tense, turning to press fingers into his shoulder, and the bone snaps under your grip. The reactor on your arm beeps, and the rods going through your muscles heats—almost scalding as the radiation fizzles along the back of your arm.

Astra’s eyes widen, because you’ve kept this to yourself too—the abilities you get from th yellow sun, the ones you’ve been borrowing for years in this blackness by way of improper containment and radiation leaks. You’re still so weak compared to what you’re used to, but you’re still astounding to the natives of your home world. Who are used to red stars, and impossible gravity.

“Don’t do this, Astra.” You are pleading, because you don’t want to lose her too—you can’t—but there’s a firmness in here, the need to escape and be rid of this place. And you want to tell her that it isn’t worth it—that you’d rot here for a thousand years, if it meant keeping your family safe. She steps toward you, and you back pedal, shoving through a woman who has green skin and horns, flipping her over your back and across the room.

The guards open the door just long enough to let you through, and once again you’re looking at her from behind bars.

You’re thirty-one, and you’re tired.

The prisoners—though can they be called that if there’s no one keeping them in line—have taken over half the ship; the warfare in the corridors have gone beyond savage, and you spend most nights with your head between your hands because you can hear the faintest echoes of suffering far below. It has been three earth years since you last spoke to Astra—and when you see her in the hall, some new fleck of blood on her cheek, something inside you breaks, because you know she isn’t all gone—you see how her eyes soften, and how her mouth dips into a frown and you want to forgive her.

Want to tell her you understand, and some part of you does.

The part of you that thinks you can crack open the Phantom Zone and there will be no casualties—that you can ask nicely for them to leave earth be, and go and pillage some other section of the galaxy. And while that part grows bigger every day, it still hasn’t eclipsed the moral center you have tether so firmly to the people you love—to Clark, and Carter, and Cat. To the people who mean everything to you. Some nights, when the reactor on your arm whirs a little louder, and the buzz across your skin is scalding and uncomfortable, you try to tell yourself it isn’t even a possibility; that it wouldn’t work. That they’re no way to escape.

But you know that’s a lie—you’re a scientist, after all, and a little too intelligent for that.

“They’ve breached the botanical gardens,” the helmsman says, frowning while tapping on keys and dragging finger tips across the curved displays. You’re in a flight jumpsuit, and the master jailor has come to understand that you aren’t the menace he proposed you to be—Alura’s daughter? Why didn’t you say anything—and while you sit on their bridge, you keep to yourself; because you’re not a warrior, not like this. You’re a vigilante that has never had to be accountable for a hierarchy, who has never had to ask—because you’d been the most powerful person on the planet. And it is an intoxicating knowledge, even if you aren’t utterly enamored like some might be.

“Oh no,” you drone, unable to stop yourself, “Fresh veggies.” The translations gets a bit clunky when your English sarcasm—the little voice that’s Cat in your head—gets transposed to Kryptonese. You haven’t spoken English in a decade, and sometimes the little voice that is Cat, or Clark, or Carter is in your mother tongue, and while it seems wrong—you can’t remember what it is supposed to sound like. Like they’ve been dubbed poorly, and the original has been lost.

“Not the food stores, Zor-El,” the maser jailor sneers, and you still get the impression he doesn’t like you very much. “The parasitic gardens.” He’s cursing in Trombusian and you understand most of it, because he’s really has only been cursing at you since you’ve been on this side of the bars. He’s determined to keep Fort Rozz in the Phantom Zone; dons his armor and his snarl and paints the hallways bright with blood—not just red, you’ve learned, because the Calorians bleed green, and the Byzaniums bleed yellow.

“They’ve unlocked the Black Mercy,” the lieutenant at the security terminal gasps, and you frown—because it sounds familiar, but you can’t remember from where.

“What’s the Black Mercy?” You ask hesitantly.

You’re—you’re thirty-one. Or are you—no, no you are.

“Mm,” you hear the blare of the alarm from beside the bed, and only the first rays of light against your bare shoulder blades. “Do you have to get up before the sun?” You murmur, unhappy that you have to be part of this nonsense, but smiling all the while because your bed partner is just as groggy. Cat’s hand is tangled in your hair, nudging your head away, but you’re unmoving, pressing kisses to the bare line of her shoulder, to the warmth just below her chin.

“Unlike some of us,” she grouses, voice low and raspy, which does something delightful to you; a drop down your spine, and a tightening low in your stomach while you hum against her collarbone. “I’m human, and need to work out if I want to look even moderately presentable when I’m older.” Her hand slaps out fitfully at first, missing the alarm horribly, and you have to laugh against her shoulder, shaking your head when she grins in victory—the alarm silenced.

“You’re beautiful,” you murmur, nosing along her jaw, and lifting yourself up onto your forearms so that you can meet her eyes. Still a little cloudy from sleep, with little crusties at the corners, and a crinkle between her brows as Cat blinks against the morning sun.

“Flattery won’t get you anywhere,” she smiles, before she remembers that she’s annoyed by you, and your unfair alien genetics, and when she raises a hand to shove at your shoulder, you catch her by the wrist and curl your fingers through hers, pinning it to the pillow beside her head.

“You’re beautiful.” You repeat, lowering slightly so that the bare length of you presses into her, her lips tipping up into a smile, and the fogginess of sleep goes hazy and warm. “Now, yesterday, tomorrow—and until the stars go dark.” Leaning down, you steal her breath with a kiss, pressing into her, and tipping her chin so that you can delve into her mouth and taste this beautiful woman that is yours. Until the stars go dark.

You’ve made her that promise before—but when?

She moans, and rolls her hips up into you, wet and wanting already, and that thrill that always lives inside you bleeds into every one of your cells. Kissing along her jaw, and down the soft side of her throat, catching her pulse between your teeth until you go further—your lips around a tight nipple, her hand clawing insistently at your hair, and chanting some approximation of your name. There’s a wet line up the tense muscles of your stomach from where she’s grinding into you as you go down, nipping along the proud bow of her ribs, and then the soft curve of her belly.

Hands that may have been trying to stave off this waste of time are now shoving insistently at your shoulders, encouraging you lower. Cat whines when you spend too long at her hipbone, nosing along the definitions. “Kara.” You don’t know what you’d give to hear her say your name like that every morning; pleading, and sure, and desperate. Like you’re the only think she can think to ask for—the only thing she knows she’s always have.

Sliding her thighs onto your shoulders you waste no time swiping your tongue through her wetness, gathering it on your tongue and humming in appreciation. Her ankles have hooked behind your head, pulling you in, and you find no reason not to abide, wrapping your lips around her clit and sucking gently, scraping your teeth just a bit over the tip which had Cat arching off the bed and curling fingers into the headboard. Which is already broken from your grip last night, but maybe she’s forget and when this is over you can blame her.

It doesn’t take long before she’s keening desperate at the back of her throat, head tossed into the pillows and blinding grabbing for anything to hold onto—the headboard, and your hair, it seems. Delving into her deeper, taking her wholly in your mouth, it is her tipping point as she tightens around your tongue, and screams your name, the end tripping into a little yelp and you gather more of her taste swiftly and nose along her stomach. Cat’s panting, and her legs have splayed open in a decidingly graceless way that just makes you love her more. She’s scratching at your scalp listlessly, and you catch her left hand, pressing kisses to her fingertips, and along the curve of her palms. Stopping at the ring on her finger—Callaghan’s rings look like they were meant to rest against the bottom most knuckle of this woman.

“Kara Grant,” she demands hoarsely, though the hand in your hair just keeps lulling you with delightful scratches, “Come up here and kiss me.”

“We never agreed on a last name,” you whisper against her belly, pressing kisses in a line up between her breasts, until you’re looking down at her. “You could be Cat Callaghan.”

“That sounds like the damsel from a trashy romance novel, I will not be your maiden fair.” She’s frowning, but her eyes are smiling, and you can’t stop yourself from giving her the kiss she demanded. It gets a little heavier than you intended, before she’s unceremoniously shoving you up and away, leaving you to flop dramatically into the rucked up bed sheet. “I need to work out, and I won’t let you distract me anymore you—distractor.”

You grin, watching her walk naked around the room, pale and perfect, and yours. And something feels off in your chest, but it’s easy to shove down and away when she’s right here, peaking at you out of the corner of her eye. Tugging on a tank top and shorts, leaning over you to give you another kiss, “Good morning,” she rubs her nose against yours, and you lean up for another kiss, snagging one hand behind her neck to keep her for a third—and fourth—and fifth, and just when her knee is back on the bed, and it looks like maybe you’ve won this round she plucks at your wrist with two fingers, and removes your hand.

You grin, “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“I can,” she says sternly, “and I will.” Taking a few steps back and away, she’s all the way down the hall before she calls for you again, “Don’t think I don’t know about that meeting you have this morning—Max’ll have your head if you’re late again.” Groaning, you press a pillow against your face and scream loud enough that she’s laughing over the sound of the treadmill. Tossing the pillow to the side, you look toward the field beside the country house, and appreciate how the sun dips from over the far ridges—bright, and warm, and perfect.

Your life is perfect.

Closing your eyes, sinking into the bed that smells Cat—and you—and if there is anything you like better than how she smells, it is when you can catch faint traces of yourself on her. It is a possessive side you try not to acknowledge too often, but it warms something inside you—sates some unmentioned beast that lingers like a captured dragon in the cage of your ribs. Inhaling deeply, you let the sun warm your skin, rolling over onto your stomach so you can maybe get another hour or two of sleep, before Cat stops her ridiculously exhausting work out, and pushes you awake.

Your senses are shutting down, one by one tucking themselves away so that you can go back to sleep, but you hear something unusual just before you tip into oblivion—Cat’s heartbeat has doubled. Like it has begun to chase itself tirelessly, one getting faster, and faster—the other slow and sedate, which doesn’t match the sound of feet on the treadmill you can also make out from down the hall. Slinging legs over the edge of the bed, you blinking open your eyes and listen—searching for the other source, and it is—looking out the window. You see her, standing at the crest of the hill just barely hiding National City. Tha thump, tha thump, tha thump. The heart beat is right, but something—is wrong—it sits like a weight in your stomach. Quickly pulling on pants and a sweatshirt, you make sure Cat—your Cat—is still on the treadmill before flying out the window and hovering above the imposter.

It’s Cat Grant—but not—she’s looking at you like she’s seen a ghost, a picture of someone who died long ago, and you don’t like it—not how her eyes water and spill down her cheeks. There’s crinkles there you don’t recognize, laugh lines around her mouth that are just beginning to form, and a dip between her brows that is deeper and more concerned. She’s pressing a hand to her mouth, fingers curls along the blade of her jaw, and what hits you hardest is that she isn’t wearing any rings—her left hand is empty, and her eyes are sad.

“What—,” you start desperately, but then stop and frown, floating a little lower, and crossing your arms. Whatever this is, you won’t allow them closer to your family—Carter is still asleep, and Cat is...Cat is inside. She’s getting ready for work. “Who are you?” You ask firmly, jaw clenched, that burning in your chest that has always felt wrong is spilling into your blood like an overflowing cup.

“Kara,” your name is a sob, leaking into the morning air and seeping into your skin, “Kara.” She says again, and your brow tucks, and your lips purse. Your heart is racing, and your head hurts, and you don’t want her to say your name anymore because it makes things get fuzzy at the edges, makes the colors fade a little. This fake Cat—this not-Cat—is bleeding the life from your world, and you need her to stop.

“Stop!” You grit out, cupping hands over your ears, and shaking your head—dropping gracelessly to the ground, you clench a fist and hit your temple, trying to knock the pain out and away.

“Kara! Kara, stop, you’re hurting yourself.” She’s suddenly in front of you, closer than before, wrapping delicate little hands around your wrists and trying in vain to pull them from your head. You fight her, and her grunt is familiar, and the way her eyes squint in concern, and her mouth dips with worry. “You’re hurting yourself, lovely. You need to stop.” You can’t hear her, but it is like her voice vibrates in your bones, right into your heart.

Your heart is beating too fast, it’s at the back of your throat.

Scrambling away from her, raising your hands like a defense, she tries to step closer, but you back away, tripping over your own feet to put more distance between you. “You’re not my wife!” You declare, pointing at her, and she swallows—eyes widening, and mouth opening like she can’t think of what she’s supposed to say. “She’s—she’s in the living room, she’s—I hear her on the treadmill.” You’re getting dizzy, and the murmur in your ears isn’t voices, but like traffic, and noise pollution. “She has a meeting this morning—the—the tribune’s anniversary—they need her go-ahead on—something. I—I can’t remember.”

Not-Cat is approaching you with hands out, raised like she means you no harm, but her mere presence is hurting—and you scramble backwards, away from her, and it cracks something in her eyes. Standing up on shaking legs, you spin to go back to the house but—your Cat is standing right behind you. She’s not wearing her work out clothes, she’s wearing the cream colored dress you like, the belt at her waist making her seem small and soft, and she’s smiling at you—and her eyes aren’t cracked, and you relax because her warm hands are cupping your cheeks, wearing her wedding rings, and you’re safe, and she’s here—and everything is perfect.

“Here you are,” she sooths, tucking hair behind your ears, “you need to go get in the shower, Carter’s going to be up soon.” Inhaling deep, trying to fill your lungs with her—but she has no scent, no smell. And your brows furrows, and you can feel the weight of not-Cat’s eyes on your back. Fingers are hooking almost painfully into your cheeks, but she’s smiling softly at you, solid green eyes bright like gems.

“Who is she, Cat?” you ask, because none of this is making sense, and your throat feels scratchy and raw, like you’ve been screaming.

“No one, love, no one. I’ll get her to leave; don’t you worry.” Cat promises, leaning forward to kiss your forehead, but her lips are cool, and wrong, but that something in your chest is telling you to agree. Nodding, you stand, and walk toward the house, listening to the sound of sirens getting closer. You can only hear one heartbeat—and it is strong, and quick, and you can taste it on your tongue.

“This isn’t real, Kara!” The voice cuts through you like a green blade, right into your chest and through your heart—you stagger and stop, but don’t turn around. “This is perfect, and lovely—but it isn’t real. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry that we didn’t have this, but—but Kara. I need you.” Her voice cracks, and shatters, and you’re half turned before you realize it—because it is an instinctive response you have no control over. To go to Cat when she’s in pain.

“She’s lying,” Cat says, and her voice is smooth, and soft, and her hand is cool against your shoulder, and you—she laughs wrong, it pops into your mind without preamble, but you remember that Cat doesn’t cover her mouth when she laughs, because it always surprises her. She never expects it—this cat—your Cat, covers her mouth. Like she’s ashamed about it, like she doesn’t want you to see.

“I need you,” not-Cat shouts over the buzzing in your ears, until you realize it isn’t your ears—but the whole world, like static and thunder storms, “you’d be so proud of our boys—both of them. Clark’s working for the Planet, and he’s dating the most obnoxious woman, and I hate her—and—and you’d like her. You’d say she’s genuine. And Carter—he’s gotten so big, Kara—he’s thirteen, but it’s like sometimes he’s the parent, and—and sometimes I feel like I’m messing everything up, and that’s when I miss you most.”

The sounds of her sobbing is like bolts of electricity through you, it burns, and shocks, and hurts, but you’re turning back to her, and reclaiming the steps between you—like you’re just a satellite caught in her orbit. “I miss you most then, because you’d tell me that everything is fine, and that I’m doing my best, and—and I need you. I can’t do it alone anymore.” She’s older, and sadder, and there’s a sharpness to her that you don’t recognize, that is tucked into all the edges she isn’t showing you—but she’s familiar, and when you pull her into you, she wraps around you perfectly. Her head under your chin, her tear soaking into the fabric of your sweatshirt—and you feel her.

“Zrhueiao,” you murmur, and the word is one you haven’t said in what feels like forever—and yet, it lives inside you. “What’s happening?” The world is cracking apart, and the color is bleeding away, and everything hurts, and you can’t breathe. But Cat is warm, and strong, and feels right against you, and suddenly that means more than morning kisses, and perfect lives. Because this feels real. It is messy, and imperfect.

“Darling,” but even though this Cat feels perfectly settled in your arms, that little looping note at the end of the endearment has you half turned, just to see—just to make sure. And Cat’s in the white she wore on your wedding day, lace, and silk, and beautiful trails of fabric that she’d laughed—covering her mouth—about when you’d gotten tangled up in them trying to get the garter. The veil of thin white lace covers the top half of her face, and your body is releasing the older, sadder woman in your arms because this is—this is everything you ever wanted.

“Darling,” this brighter, happier, younger Cat whispers again, twirling a finger through a curl of your hair, tugging you a step closer, and then another, and you feel how fingers dig into your arms from behind like they’ll be able to keep you, but no one can keep you if you don’t want to stay. You’ve always wanted to stay for Cat—and now there’s two. “You asked me to marry you—I didn’t make you hang those rings around your neck like an albatross. I said yes.”

You remember asking her, remember how she’d gotten home late one night, and Carter was with Clark, and you’d made dinner—and ruined it—and had ordered pizza instead, and everything had gone wrong, and you’d scrapped the idea. But you forgot to take the ring box off the dresser in the bedroom, and she’d wandered out with them on her knuckle, and a smile on her face. “The answer’s yes, since you forgot to ask,” you’d gaped, and stuttered, and she’d quieted you with a kiss.

Carter and Clark are behind her, and some part of your mind recognizes that they shouldn’t also be dressed in the tuxedos they wore to your wedding—or that Carter shouldn’t be a teenager, and Clark shouldn’t be only fifteen—the ages are all wrong, and warble at the edges, but your heart is pattering loudly in your chest, and your throat hurts like you’re screaming again. She’s pressing against your front, curling fingers like claws into the divets of your shoulders, when she presses her nose against the bottom of your jaw, she feels like black smoke and vapor.

“This isn’t real,” they’re from the bottom of your chest, and the back of your mind, and like they’re able to crumble kingdoms and shatter truths, this younger, happier, white-clad Cat flinches away, and you chase her for one step, before you stop—turning to watch how Carter and Clark dissolve into colored mist. They splash away, and the ground cracks open, the fissures of Krypton before it imploded—the spouts of fire and molten rock splashing up into the air. “I—why isn’t this real?” You can’t understand what’s happening, why your perfect life has to shatter before your eyes, but it is—and you can’t justify it.

“I can be real,” happier, younger Cat says from her distance, reaching up with hands that are too thin, and shaking—her skin splitting like dried rock, little flecks of molten light falling through and rolling down her fingers to drip off the tips. “Just stay, and we can be happy.” But you don’t think happiness should taste like the ash in your mouth, or the sulfur in your nose. She’s pleading you, but her eyes have gone black, and her smile is cracking and it hurts you to step away, it shatters your heart and digs awareness from your blood.

Squeezing your eyes shut as the world thunders around you, everything falls away.

You’re thirty-one when the Black Mercy releases you.

Small, warm delicate hands feel strangely right on your cheeks, “Welcome back, supergirl.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). You don't think about a lot of things; you tell yourself its a choice, but really you don't like who you can be when you're sad. So you ignore the sadness. As if ignoring it will simply make it flutter away with the wind. That isn't the case; but you've never stopped trying. You're tenacious, if nothing else. But with Kara, remembering those things was like taking a deep breath for the first time in years. Filling your lungs, and closing your eyes. Listening to the quiet, and knowing there are other people out there too. In the silence.

The boy has no fear, he clambers under the table, and into your lap without much worry on the fact that he just met you today—the girl, on the other hand, shivers and shakes like she’s barely holding herself together. Eyes wide and unsure behind thick, smudged lenses—frames crooked and taped at one corner. She’s every stereotype your mother warned you about growing up—the unwashed masses who saw the world in shades of fool’s gold, and forgotten green. You’ve taken her to the restaurant a few blocks over; quieter, and cheaper, but with food leagues better than the pompous café you’d just stormed out of.

“So, Keira,” you begin, tapping your finger against the rim of your glass, the boy giggles in your lap, and smacks a hand on the table—and the workmanship must be awfully shoddy, because it shudders and cracks a little. You catch him by his tiny fingers, and he gleefully leans back into you. You’ve never been partial to children, they’re loud, and dirty, and—loud. But this little boy hasn’t set off those particular annoyances—yet.

“Kara,” she interrupts, swallowing and looking away, before looking back—the gravel in her tone makes her sound older, or maybe it is the accent flavoring her words. Middle eastern perhaps? In any case, her blue, blue eyes blink and burn, before she once again focuses on her glass of water.

“Yes, yes—Keira,” flitting the words away with a wave of your fingers, a move you’d picked up from your mother—she called it steamrolling a conversation. “Where do you go to school?”

She blinks, listing her head to one side in a manner that seems distinctly canine—how a puppy tips their head. “I don’t,” she says simply, and reaches to pick up the glass of water. Just the fingertips, barely a sip.

“A delinquent, lovely.” You drawl, looking down at the boy—Clark—like you’re speaking to him, “Can I assume you are a deviant as well?” He cheers, clapping, and when he grabs your glass of water, you don’t stop him—he gulps it down and spills it down the front of his shirt.

“I’m not,” she purses her lips, leaning forward, investing herself for the first time, “I’m not a delin—I’m not that.” The furrow in her brow says she doesn’t like how she tripped over the word, eyes sad, but bright, and it’s the strangest thing. “Kal-El—Klahrk—fidh podh ahmpahr shod. Edhyv kluv. Gem rth.” The boy wiggles, and you put your hands up like that somehow proves that it wasn’t your doing.

Clark clears his throat, and sets your water down on the table, pivoting in your lap so that he can face you properly—your hands still hovering awkward in the air near him, but not touching. “Thank you,” he says, clear English, the faintest hint of his cousin’s gravel, “For—ehk, Kara.”

“Water,” his cousin supplies.

“For the water.” His grin—is chub, and little nugget teeth. He seems a little young to be able to mash together decently coherent sentences, but there’s an intelligence in him—in his dark blue, almost black eyes, and pudgy little face.

“You’re very welcome, little heathen.” You can’t stop yourself from pushing his curls out of his eyes, but he doesn’t seem to mind, and when he throws himself off your lap, and toward what was supposed to be his chair, you try not to flinch. Kara says something quicker in whatever language she prefers, but then exhales and slouches.

Horrible posture.

“Where’re you from?” You ask, because you’re curious, and there are pieces you aren’t putting together properly, and you don’t like that—don’t like not knowing.

She shrugs, but those blue, blue eyes are haunted, and hollow, and you can only think of the beginning of Dream-Land—bottomless vales and boundless floods, and chasms, and caves, and Titan woods. Your creative writing teacher had a certain obsession with Edgar Allen Poe, and while you were never one thrilled with the idea of written angst—you understood it to a point.

“Was the shrug my answer,” you drawl, “Or are you thinking about a lie?”

She looks at you then, really looks at you, and she’s young—it is in the curve of her cheek, and the breadth of her eyes. “Here.” She settles on, “I’m from here.”

“I don’t think anyone’s actually from National City, people just end up here.” It is the strangest thing—none of the girls from your school were born in this zip code—a little further up the coast, in other well to-do areas with vineyards and sprawling mansions. “I’m from Metropolis; moved here last year.”

When your father died.

You had cried whenever you walked through the halls of the third floor, and the scent of sick and antiseptic made you nauseous—you know it wasn’t actually there, but it lingered in your mind. Like some kind of bloodless wound.

Kara takes a sip of water, and when the waitress comes to take your order, you don’t even bother to give her the chance to fumble—she hasn’t touched the menu, and she looks like a deer about to be barreled over by a hummer. Chicken tenders, or whatever masticates poultry they have on the menu—you even go so far as to order it in nugget form for the boy.

He’s ecstatic.

“I’m from here,” she says again, “Now. I’m from here now.” And something about the set of her shoulders, and chin, lets you know this is her new truth. And it’s one you can respect, because you know what running away feels like—even if you don’t call it that in your mind. You call it moving forward, or moving on. But the truth is much simpler, and much harder to admit.

“Me too,” you agree.

And she smiles—and it’s a pretty smile. Makes up for her atrocious bangs and ill-fitting glasses, but what you like best about it is how soft it is. Unlike her crumbling diamond eyes, that are carved out and set upon—her smile is delicate and fragile, and you’re afraid to break it. Afraid to be at fault for it’s lose.

“Well, since we’re both from National City now,” leaning forward, elbows on the table in a way you mother would smack you for, “That makes us practically neighbors.” Looking out the tackily painted window, and to the poorly paved street beyond—this wasn’t the red light district, but it wasn’t far. And you think about how you’ll be taking a town car service back over the imaginary border—where the lights get brighter, and the buildings newer. “So, neighbor, tell me something about yourself.” Kara leans away, and you smile—if you were inclined toward feline puns, you’d endeavor to use one, “Something you’ve never told anyone.”

It’s interesting how she blinks, like you can see the thoughts flicker across her gaze, before they get tucked away—does she think in English? Or that other language? Is that why she takes so long to answer, all those thoughts being broken down and repurposed like different shapes than what they’re supposed to be.

“I don’t like birds.” You laugh, because that isn’t what you’d been expecting, but Kara leans forward now. Pushing poorly cut bangs out of her eyes, and inhaling, setting her shoulders back. “My home—where I’m from—we didn’t have bird. Many birds. You couldn’t hear them—so when I hear the birds…”

She trails off, and something in your chest pangs—harder than a heartbeat, and softer than an anvil. Just an ache, because you don’t hear the beep beep of your father’s respirator when you wake up for school—the wheeze of the machines working, plugging away when you were asleep. You don’t like the quiet of morning.

She must not either.

“You remember you’re not home.” You finish for her, and the relief in her face is palpable—that she doesn’t have to explain, that she doesn’t have to dig deeper. This fellow new age National City native. The waitress shows up, and puts down your salad, Clark’s nuggets, and Kara’s chicken sandwich—and when she leave, you tap a nail on the table—smiling slightly when she looks up.

“I agree—birds are dicks.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (WINN). When you were young, you liked to people watch. Sit in the park by your house, and watch them walk through from one street to the next. You'd make up whole lives for them in the few minutes they were in your life. Happiness, sadness, and everything in between. You've since grown out of it, but sometimes, you can't help wondering what lives behind someone's eyes.

No one knows who she is; she just appears one day in the middle of the afternoon, sunglasses perched on her nose, hands shoved in her pockets.

She initially stays in the break room, but after an hour or two, she migrates to the empty desk outside Cat Grant’s office; sitting in the ergonomic chair with her arms folded across her chest, and feet barely skimming the ground. You’ve worked at CatCo Worldwide Media for three years now, longer than anyone else on this floor—and you’ve never seen anyone adapt so quietly to the organized chaos of the news-floor. There were places for people who didn’t talk—the thirty eighth floor where everyone had a text-based roleplay counterpart that they talked to each other as. Or the fifty-second floor where everyone talked in the third person, which made talking awkward—and thus, no one talked.

But no—she appears one day in the middle of the week, and leaves not long after lunch.

No one says anything.

You aren’t surprised your boss doesn’t notice, because she doesn’t notice much outside the frosted glass of her office—unless it is something she’s supposed to notice, then everything seems to be subject to scrutiny. You’ve seen her notice someone playing solitary from the other side of the room, glasses off, eyes still on her terminal—you swear she has spies, or is psychic.

Psychic spies?

The fact that she doesn’t notice the blonde rolling a rubber band ball across the desk right outside her office, says something very important to you—Cat Grant is choosing to not notice, and that sits strangely on your nerves for the rest of the day. There’s a million and one explanations that could be made from that, but you haven’t lasted three years by involving yourself in situations that don’t involve you.

She doesn’t show back up the next day.

Or the next.

You’re in the middle of carrying three boxes of hard drives down the stairs when you see her again—see, is a relative term—you run into her, and man, is she solid. The top two boxes shuffle and tip, and you’re already planning on where to send your resume when they’re caught. Tan fingers are looped into the holes in the side of the bottom box, and she’s looking at you through dark lenses. Her face isn’t unfriendly—if anything, it is soft and kind, despite the fact that she isn’t smiling—but she isn’t frowning either.

She looks like she’s waiting—you didn’t know waiting could be an expression.

“Boy, you’re solid, aren’t ya!?” You begin, and curse yourself silently for the obnoxiously loud volume, “In a—in a good way, a very good way. Working out, it’s important.” She’s just looking at you, and nothing about her face has changed, and you’re about to stutter out an apology and just get out of her way—when she smiles. It isn’t big, or wide, but it’s genuine, and nice. A soft smile. She tilts her head in the direction you were walking and shifts so that you can walk past her in the stairwell; grinning yourself, you flit past and take them two at a time. Maybe showing off, but with only one box it’s easy. She walks sedately behind you—with two boxes—slowly taking the stairs, and you wait on the landing for her.

You haven’t said anything else, and she hasn’t said anything at all, but you walk back up to the news-floor together, and when she holds the door open with her back, you smile, “Thanks.”

You’re glad you can see her smile again.

Not as glad when she returns to the desk just outside Cat Grant’s office, and you find yourself subject to shrewd green eyes—the media magnate is watching you like her namesake, and you are her mouse. The arm of her glasses perched between her lips while she considers you, and for some reason, you think staying absolutely still will make her attention shift away from you. Hands flat on the desk, eyes straight ahead—she eventually scoffs and looks back at the papers on her desk, shuffling them loudly before turning to her monitor and clicking loudly on her keyboard.

You catch the sunglass wearing blonde out of the corner of your eye, and her smile is wider, and her hand has raised to cover her mouth like she’s trying to hide her laugh. She sees you watching and you can make out the grin behind her fingers—you snort and shrug your shoulders in a, what are you gonna do, type of way. She shakes her head and leans forward over the desk, still rolling the rubber band ball from the other day.

She doesn’t show up again for two weeks.

And this time she doesn’t settle—she moves around the room, going in and out of the stairwells, and when she does return, she has two cups of coffee. She’s sipping one, making a little bit of a face, and then tries the other, and seems to decide that’s her cup. You’re only watching her out of the corner of your eye, because you’re currently balancing the bottom left screen in the display behind Cat Grant’s desk—who has moved to the couches across from you so that she can ignore you, and properly glower at you at the same time—it’s impressive really.

Today is the first day she crosses the threshold of glass that encases Cat Grant’s office—walks in like it isn’t the hardest decision everyone in this building has to make a few times in their life. The door’s open already, so she just steps through and sits on the arm of the couch beside Cat Grant—who doesn’t even so much as look up from her paperwork. She just reaches blindly beside her, like she expects a cup to be placed in it—which is it. They haven’t said anything, haven’t made eye contact, but when she takes a sip, her face makes that—that face—that says someone’s about to get fired.

“This isn’t my latte,” she says evenly, but you’ve heard terminations begin with the same blasé tone, “That is my latte.” The blonde doesn’t accept the coffee back—the wrong coffee—and just keeps sipping the latte in her hold. Foot tapping on the ground, one hand in her pocket—and Cat Grant finally does look up. Sharp eyes skirting the room, passing over you without much intention of noticing you—you’re looking very busy in the corner—and settles her eyes on the blonde.

From behind dark lenses, the nameless blonde stops drinking, and turns to look at the business woman currently tapping manicured nails against a financial report. There’s no conversation for a while, and you’re too busy pretending to not exist that you don’t know what they’re doing—you’re pretty sure your boss doesn’t have laser vision like Superman, but you also aren’t leaving it up to chance. After a minute or two, you’re feeling a little braver, and chance a glance upward.

The young blonde is still perched on the arm of the chair, one leg straight out to keep her balance, the other crooked and—oh no, resting against Cat Grant’s arm. You can see where her thousand dollar blazer crinkles and depresses from what can, only, be Old Navy denims. You can almost see the depreciation of value happening before your eyes. You don’t know if this woman works here, but she won’t be for long. But surprisingly, your boss doesn’t seem to notice the unintentional touching—she must notice, you’re certain she must notice.

She doesn’t care?

“I suppose,” She drawls, “If you wish to get technical, they’re both my latte.” There’s nothing unique in the tone, nothing special or soft, but its how her eyes curve, and her mouth tips slightly into a smile, before evening back out and going back to ignoring everyone in the room, and beyond. Saying, “This one’ll do,” almost to herself, before drinking the wrong coffee. Whoever this woman is, she must have some kind of magic—because you’re certain sorcery it at play here. The screen in your hands is booting up, and the splash screen illuminates—you’re awesome.

Just as you are amidst your self-congratulation, there’s the sudden reflection of someone in the screen, and you yell—okay, maybe closer to a yelp—and let go. It swings by two ribbon cords, and just as it’s about to shatter on the ground, tan fingers are holding it aloft, pinched together on the plastic on the corner. The woman—so close now you can see that her eyes are blue behind the sunglasses, a beautiful blue—is leaning over you. One hand on the desk, her latte carefully placed beside her palm—and the other keeping the screen from dying a cruel death on the floor.

“Dear,” Cat Grant sighs, and you hear the shift of fabric as she leans back on the couch, papers in her lap, “Please don’t rattle the help—Wilbert is very fragile. Like a small child, or a piece of furniture from Walmart.” At least she was calling you a name that started with W; last week she thought your name was Lysander, and while it made you feel like a Game of Thrones character, you also hadn’t known it was you until too late.

“Thanks; that was really—you’re kind of quick.” You think it’s pretty smooth, at the very least, she smiles slightly, and when you take the screen back she sits on the edge of the massive desk occupying most of this side of the room. Content to watch, it seems. You can feel your bosses’ eyes, but you’re doing your best to focus on slotting the screen into the display port, and locking it in with hinges. When you pop it back up and wait for it to sync up with the rest of the displays, you turn to talk to the nameless blonde—

But she’s sitting on the couch beside Cat Grant, who is once again joyfully marking an article with red pen, a small little smirk curling her lips. The woman isn’t leaning on her shoulder, but has curled into her couch companion’s side, one knee brought up, pressing against the body beside her, the other extended and weaved somehow through your boss’ calves, which have shifted to accommodate the unusual posture. Her latte is nearly untouched and getting cold on the desk right beside you, but Cat Grant is mindlessly drinking from the one that she’d commandeered; frowning a little with each sip.

“Quintan, if you’re done gawking,” straightening, you fold your hands in front of you—and then behind you—and the blonde’s shoulders are shaking silently, and—she’s laughing at you. Face pressed into Cat Grant’s back like the media magnate was just—some person. “There’s a litany of things you can do out of my sight. That glaring shade of yellow you’ve cocooned yourself in is giving me a migraine.” You cannot leave fast enough—nearly tripping over yourself to get out of the office; you look around the room, but no one is aware of the weirdness happening in the office. No one is willing to look up on the off chance that they’ll be snared by maybe-laser-firing green eyes.

You decide they’re onto something, and avoid looking into the fishbowl of an office for the rest of the day.

You do, however, have to collect the old screen and bring it down to requisitions, and you’ve managed to put it off until the end of hours. The door is still open, and when you knock, there’s a disinterested hmm that is your answer. Quickly stepping around the desk, eyes down, you collect the broken screen, and the accompanying cords, and you are about to escape when—

“Where’re my glasses?” It’s haughty, and annoyed, and said with the effect of someone who wasn’t expecting an answer—you need to leave now. Tucking the screen against your chest and dashing for the door, you mentally congratulate yourself for another day unscathed—for the most part. Everyone else has left, and some of the auxiliary lights are going off.

You can see Cat Grant stalking from one side of her office to the other—hands on hips, frown in place. And the nameless blonde is unfurling from the couch, hair tousled, and yawning. She pads across the floor, and the fact that she’s barefoot seems the least strange thing about the encounter. She’s taller than your boss, even in her heels, and she’s smiling—wider than any you’ve gotten, and that little flutter in your chest dims because you know that look.

She lifts both hands, and plucks the glasses off the top of your boss’ head, and gently places them on her nose, looking at a face that is quickly tilting and morphing into one you’ve seen on Cat Grant’s face only when her son’s in the office.

Yeah, you know that look.


Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (LOIS). Life for a journalist can be daunting; the world is both impossibly big, and infinitely small at the same time. You pick people apart to their smallest mannerisms, and try to define them by things nearly no one else would notice. You're guilty of this. You carve through the characteristics of the world, and try to find fault in everything; not because you're a pessimist, but because you don't like surprises. You don't like the moment everything is pulled back, and you're made the fool.

In the three years you’ve known Clark Callaghan, you’ve noticed a few things—occupational hazard, really. You notice that his socks never match, and you know this, because he has the habit of taking his shoes off without the slightest provocation. You know he hates Oreos, but loves Nutter Butters; because of the texture of the cookie, not the filling or taste. You know he responds to most text messages with GIFs, and that you used to hate it—but now you kind of look forward to what he has in store.

You know he has the nicest smile you’ve even seen; and you’ve traveled the world, and have seen your fair share of smiles. You know he has Legos on his desk because he has to keep his hands busy when he’s thinking—that stillness is almost impossible with him.

You’ve been desk buddies with Clark Callaghan for over two years, even since you’d returned from North Africa with a broken arm, and a healing concussion. You’d met him a few times before, but it had been fleeting—he was an intern, and then a junior writer, a desk jockey following on the coattails of the other journalist. He hadn’t warranted any special kind of attention—other than thinking about that smile while on fourteen hour plane rides.

You rarely work together, but sometimes when Perry wants charm and aggression, he puts you together. You’re tight lipped sneer, and Clark’s good ol’ boy charm. This is one of those particular cases; a corruption in the research facility on the edge of the city, guards going missing, orders being forged. You have a meeting with the night foreman, a skittish older man who might just be insane. You’d brought the meeting to Clark, and he’d lifted his shoulders in a shrug and said he wasn’t about to go. That he had plans already.

“I’m all yours after, Lou,” he assured, “Promise.”

If only.

You’re seated at one of the few booths left in the rather nice restaurant; the afternoon clatter of the lunch crowd loud enough that you can only hear the fringes of conversation. Except the closest one to you; low voices that are too clear to ignore—

“—he misses you,” you recognize the voice—lower, serious, but curved with a delicate, careful power. It’s from the booth directly behind you, and you’re curious for a moment, but decide it isn’t worth the awkward possibility of eye contact. You’ll see who it is when they leave—you’re source isn’t due for an hour.

“I’m sorry about last weekend,” sincere, sighing, and—you recognize this voice too. A little too nice, a little too soft spoken, like he was afraid to raise his voice—the voice of a man you’ve known for three years. Who pawned off this lead because he had prior engagements that were more important.

Clark Callaghan.

You hadn’t mentioned where you’d be meeting your source, but this restaurant is clear across town—it took two subway rides, a cab, and walking two blocks to get here. Of course, it is one of the classiest restaurants in the city.

“You don’t have to apologize to me,” the second voice drawls—a woman, articulate, mature, and confident—you swear you know that voice. Maybe someone else from the Planet? “I wasn’t the one waiting until midnight in Superman pajamas.”

“Now that isn’t fair,” Clark grouses, huffing, but you hear that hint of guilt—the one that tucks itself into his words without his permission. That makes his blue eyes sad and pinched—you’re a journalist, you’re supposed to notice these things. It’s not like you think his eyes are gorgeous. “It wasn’t my fault; I had to,” there’s a pause, long and swallowing, “Work happened. You know that.”

“Which is why I promised him you were coming this weekend—the whole weekend. I know you have off.”

“How the hell would you know that?”

“Do you really think three thousand miles has removed the fear I invoke in the below-average camera monkeys at the Planet?” Blithe, and nearly sing-song. “I have reach, not-so-little heathen. Far and wide.”

A long moment, then a droll, “You asked Perry.”

“I asked Perry,” the voice confirms, and you can hear the smile. Someone that expressive must take phenomenal pictures—if the emotion lives that vibrantly in words, imagine eyes. You’re painting their picture with your mind, but it is making your chest hurt because you picture them as young, and beautiful, and perfect for Clark.

“You know I want to see him; it’s just—harder than I thought. Balancing everything.” A moment, heavy and wide. “Being so far from home.”

“Then move back,” simple, relieved, and this woman would give lives to have him closer—you can read that between the actually spoken words. The way those words lived on the tip of her tongue. “You know there’s always a job waiting for you. You’re being the stubborn one, not me.”

“You know why I can’t,” there’s a exhale, like these are words said before—to someone who matters, someone who means much to him, but there’s—reasoning, and that is always the case with the people that matter. You’ve seen it a thousand times in the could have beens that you’ve chased around the world, the stories of people who would shoulder the sun if it meant another sunrise with those they cared for. “I have a life here now, and—and that’s being human, right? Learning how to balance it all. To, despite everything, become your—”

“I didn’t stop by for the hope speech,” the interruption is more effective than most against Clark’s speeches—rousing as they are.

“It wasn’t a hope speech.”

“It was, you had that look in your eye. If I wanted to cry about the human condition, I’d watch Beaches. Or talk to my therapist.”

“You’re going to therapy again?” Concerned, serious.

“That wasn’t the point of the statement.”

“Might not’ve been the point, but that doesn’t change the question.”

“If you must know,” a long exhale, and the clink of ice cubes; some expensive liquor being tossed back. “Mother was in town for a month; I’m still getting the scent of decay, ash, and misery from the upholstery. Therapy provides an outlet that won’t have you visiting me in a maximum security penitentiary.”

“Come on,” Clark sooths, “You’ve got enough clout to get one of those ritzy minimum security joints; you can weave baskets with Martha Stewart.”

“I’d rather do time at Shawshank.” You have to know who it is—there’s simply no getting around it now. The clues are piling up, and the portrait in your mind is nearly complete—a name on the tip of your tongue. Sliding out of the booth, and walking the long way around the room to sit at the bar, you don’t try to actually face them—but the mirrored back behind the ostentatious display of expensive hard liquor gives you the perfect angle.

You can find Clark easily enough—his bright red plaid shirt does not belong in the upscale restaurant. Hair tussled, and messy—sticking up in nearly every direction—and somehow still mostly hanging in his eyes. His—not gorgeous—blue eyes. He’d tapping a fork against a plate that looks like it had been a steak of some kind, and his knee is bouncing quickly—he does that after sitting for too long. You’ve noticed.

The woman across from him is tiny in comparison—then again, Clark is six foot three, most people are at least small in comparison—and she’s blond. A honey blonde, lighter than the color people usually dye—so it must be natural. She’s wearing cream and beige—someone who is aware of seasonal colors—and her plate has the remnants of some kind of salad. She isn’t facing you straight on, so you can’t see her face—or her age—but that bitter toxicity that burns in your chest is swelling.

That little crumble of insanity that pecks away at your thoughts whenever Clark goes on a date, or sighs romantically over some girl—you’d been relegated to desk buddy pretty quickly. But you blame that firmly on your habitual shoulder punching—hazards of being raised by a military man, sometimes you were worse than a frat boy.

Even though they’re across the table, the way they lean toward each other is telling—you can’t hear them anymore, but something the woman says makes him laugh. The loud surprised laughter you don’t hear often; usually replaced by that close mouthed snicker that made him sound like Gargamel’s cat.

Not a flattering laugh.

You get a text message, and it is your source—cancelling your meeting, for reasons that can’t be discussed on the phone, and you can only roll your eyes. The easily spooked conspiracy types are more slippery than a goddamned fish.

Good thing you have something else to keep you occupied.

You’ve ordered four Long Island iced teas in the time it takes for them to leave; and the bartender is a little heavy handed with the rum. You watch as the strategically dimmed lights swim in your vision, swirling and dipping away, and you’re watching them so closely that you almost miss how his blonde companion turned down the hall toward the bathrooms. Clark watches her go, and then begins frantically flagging down their waiter—obviously trying to pay before she gets back.

Smooth move, Callaghan. Paying for the hot blonde with clout.

You don’t know if she’s hot, but her hair was dazzling, and you hate her. Whoever she is. Amidst sipping the last hints of liquid from your fourth Long Island, you suddenly remember you can solve this mystery—something on par with your true journalistic integrity.

You can stalk her into the bathroom.

Clark’s still trying to get the waiter’s attention—resorting to whistling through his teeth—and you’ve tripped over the bottom rung of your stool, and are on your way down the darkened hallway. Past eight pastel colored flower arrangements. You want to tell them that too many is possible, but maybe this is just what rich, well off people with clout like to dine around. Half a thousand pastel colored flowers.

A graveyard of fauna.

Pushing open the bathroom door—she’s right in front of you, using her pinky to fix the edge of her eyeliner. And God, you were right—she’s hot. And then the whole set of features swims into focus—sharp green eyes, attractive mouth, lovely cheekbones. A perpetually cocked eyebrow that always somehow hints that you’re both an idiot, and not completely wrong.

Not just a hot blonde.

Cat fucking Grant.

She doesn’t notice you walk in, and you’re not surprised, because you aren’t reflected in the mirror yet. You’d been present when she’d been given the Selden Ring last year—Clark had been present too, and he’d said nothing. You’d been shoved forward by Perry on behalf on the Planet, and Cat had that glint in her eye, that just made you feel like a mouse. You’d had a quick, snide conversation through smiles—for the photo op—and had sighed and hoped for next year.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” you work your jaw a little, and the words sound firm—and most importantly, sober. She starts, and nearly slashes across her cheek with her lipstick, before she’s spinning to stare you down. Lips pursed—has her mouth always been that attractive?—and eyes blazing.

“Lane,” drawling your name brings one corner of her lip up into a smirk, “I didn’t—you’re drunk.” She interrupts herself, and you don’t like how she’s looking at you—with that eyebrow raised. She looks positively gleeful, and that is never a good sign.

“I don’t know what you’re after, but Clark’s a nice guy—he doesn’t—he doesn’t need someone like you—,” you’ve stepped close enough to poke a finger into her chest, and her eyes are bright and lidded, and—she’s smiling, that quirked little smirk that used to drive you crazy. “Just because you have really nice cheekbones—and your eyes are like—and lips—I don’t care if you’re hot, Clark deserves better than that.”

“Better than hot?” She drawls, and even drunk—tipsy, you correct yourself—you’re surprised she hasn’t pushed you away.

“Yes,” you agree, and somehow your jabbing finger has just flattened against her collarbone, and your frown has gone slightly lopsided, and—her eyes are really green.

The door opens quickly, banging against the wall, and you flinch away a step or two.

Clark looks horrified, and Cat looks amused, both eyebrows up now while she skirts her eyes between the two of you. He steps in hesitantly. They’re even standing together, some kind of unified front that makes you grit your teeth, and you don’t think they make a good couple at all.

“Heathen, I’m leaving, otherwise I’ll miss my flight.”

“You have a private jet; it doesn’t leave without you.”

“Yes, but your girlfriend is drunk, and hitting on me, and she’s not really my type.” She crooks a finger and he obligingly bends down to present—a cheek? “Come next weekend, your brother misses you.” She kisses him twice on the cheek, leaving lipstick impressions both times, before casting a glance your way—shrewd eyes, taking you in, and you shiver. Because it is different than what you’re used to—not hard, or angry. But—cautious.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Clark protests, and when you catch his eyes, he glances away; only for Cat to catch him by the chin.

“Well, take your not-girlfriend home,” chucking his chin, you can just make out her whisper of, “untuck your thumb, kid,” before she pats his cheek and walks out of the bathroom. Leaving you both standing in the ladies room. Clark’s eyes have gone soft and round, a little wet at the edges; even if he’s a little blurry.

You’re confused, “brother?”

Clark is rubbing a hand over his face, knocking his glasses askew slightly, before righting them and cupping your shoulder, leading you out of the bathroom, and down the hall toward the entrance.

“Yeah, brother.” He smiles, and it’s such a nice smile, soft and kind, and it couples so nicely with the blue of his eyes. You’d swear they sparkle. “You’ve met him—I brought him to the Christmas party last year.”

“Carter?” The boy had been a darling; considerate, happy, shy. It had taken you nearly the whole night to win him over. You’d seen then together, how Clark hovered and worried; orbiting around his little brother like a protective satellite. They wore matching Christmas sweaters with ducks in antlers and glowing noses; you had at least a dozen pictures, because it was far too priceless.

“Yeah, Carter.” A pause, and the hand he’s guiding you with flexes a little. “Carter Grant.”

You stop one foot from the door, and Clark nearly trips over you in his attempt to not bring you crashing to the ground. “Cat Grant—the bane of my existence—is your mother?” You don’t see the resemblance—not even a little—maybe the cheekbones, and the perfect nose. But beyond that—they both have pretty eyes—

“Sort of.” He sidesteps, and finally gets you outside—the air isn’t fresh, but it’s cool, and you breathe deep because your head hurts. And none of this is really making sense. “She raised me though. Her and my cousin.”

You don’t like how his eyes get sad, they tip at the edges, and he fiddles with his glasses because he doesn’t know what to do with his hand. So you lace your fingers through his and pull him a little closer, “Your cousin—have I met him?” You’re trying to remember, but you’re fairly certain you would remember if he’d introduced you to someone that important in his life.

Then again, Cat fucking Grant, had been a surprise.

“No—uh, no.” He swallows, and his fingers hold tighter—almost too tight—to yours, before loosening. He clears his throat, and his shoulders lift with a sigh, “My cousin died before we met—in the attack on National City.”

The attack on National City.

It was the only National City Tribune article that was hanging on the walls of the Daily Planet—Spectre Dead, by Cat Grant. It hung just beside the article that Perry had written years earlier, naming the masked vigilante—the hero he had met more than handful of times, that he still mourned. Who he was constantly comparing Superman to. What had happened in National City was a tragedy, and knowing that Clark’s been sitting beside you this whole time hurting, is a sobering thought.

“I’m sorry,” you say, squeezing his hand.

“Don’t be,” he says, still hurting, but smiling faintly and keeping his hold on your hand tight, “Last time I checked you weren’t a hulking gray space monster.” The walk to the closest subway is ten more blocks

Neither one of you let go.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CLARK). Anger is a cold comfort after a few months; it sits like ice in your chest, turning your blood frigid and slow. It feeds your stubborn nature and closes your eyes to other perspectives. It takes you so long to unravel the intricacies of your feelings, to pull them apart and analyze what remains true in this still. It takes so long; almost too long.

The National City Police Department calls you at three in the morning—if your alien heart could be stopped by words alone, the severe and low rumble of a beat cop asking, are you Catherine Grant's next of kin, would be near the top of the list.

You’d been asleep, Trevor had stumbled in an hour earlier smelling of marijuana and cheap beer—slurring about how he was being responsible, and that the party was still in full swing. You’d folded in on yourself since Kara’s—disappearance—and he had been pretty good about it. Always inviting you, always accepting that you didn’t want to be dragged to some frat house in the middle of the night for March Madness betting, and wet tee-shirt contests. You’d stared at your ceiling for most of the night, listening to the distance thrum of music, and trying to sort the constellations through the ceiling.

You knew them all—Kara had taught them to you young. When she’d hoist you up onto her back and twirl through the sky; your red bedsheet tied around your neck so that it rippled in the wind. You liked watching the stars from the Hollywood sign; sat right down in the middle of the W without a care in the world. You’d trace constellations on her back, and make her guess—she was always right. It wasn’t until you were a little older than you realized that the glassy look in her eye during those trips was—she was remembering home. Her home, because you had no real connection to Krypton—other than Kara.

“Where to next, superboy?” She’d ask while flinging you in to air, catching you under the arms and twirling until you were properly settled on her back. You always giggled when Cat would call Kara supergirl, because there was always a glitter in green eyes when she did. You’d snort, and rub your small face against the back of her shoulder—adamant and serious.

Man, Kar. Superman.” Because you weren’t a boy.

She’d laugh and jet off into the night faster than before, spiraling through clouds and so far into the sky you’d reached little arms out, trying to touch the moon.

That had been what you were dreaming about when your phone jolted you awake—the battery was low, at 04%, and the screen dim, but it was impossibly loud from where you had fallen asleep with it on your chest. The police had been concise, and prompt—asking your name, your relation to Cat, and if you would be stopping by the hospital to fill out paperwork. They hadn’t the most up to date information, but what they did know had sent you into a panic—a three car pile-up on one of the highways, a black town car caught between two larger vehicles, and up-righting onto its roof.

“It has your address as in Metropolis; will you be able to come to down to NC General?”

You hadn’t even thought about anything that had transpired before this moment, “I’m in town, actually. I’ll be there within the hour.”

Which is how you found yourself alone in the waiting room outside the operating rooms—your cheeks are wet, and there’s a three year old asleep in your lap, because the babysitter had to go home, and Carter didn’t understand what was going on. He thought his mother was working late, that you had stopped by because you missed him, and when you’d started rocking in the uncomfortable chair, it had lulled him to sleep. His dark head of hair tucked under your chin, his small fingers curled into the stained Henley you’d been wearing to sleep.

You cry quietly, because you don’t want to wake him up—don’t want to explain that his mother is so damned breakable, and that there was nothing you could do. You could just sit here with the clipboard with Cat’s medical information—Catherine Jane Grant, January 30th, 1975, A+—it was the biographical information that the medical profession used to dehumanize patients, not because they were cold and heartless, but because they cared so much. Flipping the page, you see a section that was filled out already, typed in neatly, and Cat’s signature perfectly scrawled across the bottom—much more legible than her actual handwriting, which was atrocious. Kara’s name is first, but there was a mark beside in red pen that indicated there might be a change in the works—this was how someone went about being deleted from the world.

One form at a time.

But just below her name, is yours—Clark G. Callaghan, medical proxy (secondary agent), son.

It is something you’ve always known—never questioned—but to have it written so plainly in black ink, it twists something fragile and warm in your chest. It hurts you too, because you haven’t spoken to Cat in six months—you missed Thanksgiving, and were a week away from missing Christmas, because you couldn’t determine how you were supposed to dig down into your alien marrow, and forgive her. She’d let you watch your cousin die—the key in her hand that would have given you the chance to help, to do something.

She’d unlocked you when the sky had gone dark and quiet, snapping the handcuffs from your wrist and tossing them into the office on the other side of the room. Her eyes had been bright and hollow, and she’d been shaking—but you hadn’t been able to see it then, because you’re world had imploded. Had fallen down around your head and left you shaken and numb. You’d blasted off into the night faster than any news camera could catch, and had retreated to Metropolis—ignoring every attempt at communication that had been made.

You’d stopped by for Carter—picking him up from the lobby, and taking him for the weekend. Cat had never forced the issue, and some part of you had taken that as confirmation that she didn’t want anything to do with you now that Kara was gone—no, dead. To see son written beside your name was like a fist closing around the hammering beat of your heart—trying to slowly squeeze the blood free, so that you would fill to the brim, and drown in crimson.

“Grant?” A doctor asks to the room, his eyes tired, and his face drawn, and you snap to your feet so quickly Carter mumbles and tucks closer to your neck. You walk closer carefully, a hand pressed to the back of his head, carding through his hair.

“Is she going to be alright?” The words pour free like gravity has wrapped tightly around them and dragged them forth. The doctor begins explaining what had taken place in the operation room—bones that had been set, blood that had been transfused, and nerves that had been repaired. But there was the slightest smile, wan and barely there that gave you hope.

“Barring unforeseen circumstances, your mother should be just fine.”

You are Kryptonian, and you live in the light of a yellow star—this means very little of this planet’s physics apply to you. You’ve known this for nearly your whole life, even if you hadn’t known the particulars. Your mother should be fine, is like an impossible weight has been taken off your martian shoulders—planet sized and threatening to crush you. You bark something that is half-laugh, and half-sob, and press Carter closer to you because feeling the warmth of his skin through his shirt stops your hand from shaking.

He smells like Cat—something human, and natural and just under his skin.

“Can I see her?” You ask quickly, because the doctor looks like he’s about to stumble away.

His lips purse, while looking down at Carter, before nodding tightly, “She’s in recovery; there’s a good chance she won’t wake up for a good while.”

And with that you’re left in the care of a nurse with a kind face saying she’ll show you the way to your mother. It is a word you’ve never really used to Cat—not out loud, never out loud—but when you were young you had called her that in your mind. Her and Kara both. Having people acknowledge what she is to you so openly makes your heart thunder, and your eyes to wet—you’re going to shake yourself apart soon if you don’t see her.

And when you do—the part of you that’s a little boy wishes you hadn’t.

Because she’s small, and pale, and broken—her arm in a cast, small delicate fingers stick out of the end—slightly crooked and purpling. Her face is hindered by a nasal cannula, and little metal tipped stickers at her temples. The beep and whir of machines is a sickening soundtrack, but you are grateful for them—because they match the lazy beat of her heart. Hampered by sedatives and painkillers. Her face is bruised, her nose swollen and the bags that usually were under her eyes had darkened like someone had hit her hard in the face and given her two black eyes.

Pulling a chair closer, making sure not to jostle your brother, you hesitate before reaching out for her hand—cool and clammy, and the oxygen monitor on her middle finger almost slips, before you fix it. Swallowing back the sobs that want to break free, you breathe deep, and press your head back against the creaking vinyl of the chair.

“You don’t get to leave me,” you whisper, hoarse and ragged at the edges, “It doesn’t matter how angry I am—you can’t—I can’t lose you too.” Nothing in her face moves, but the slow rise and fall of her chest is a comfort. Smoothing your thumb across the back of her slightly prominent knuckles, you swallow and scoot your seat a little closer.

“I’m sorry I missed Thanksgiving,” you don’t raise your voice, because you’ll be consumed with shame. The ache building in you will fill your lungs and smother you. “I was just so—I was so mad, and I thought you had stopped me from—that I could have done something to help.” It’s so easy to tell the truth when Cat’s unconscious, when you don’t have to sort through the hurt in green eyes. “To save her.”

But—you’re older now, only by a few months, but it feels like whole decades have rushed by without you noticing.

“I shouldn’t have run; I know that—I do.” Pressing your lips together, you lift her hand, to press a kiss there—you’d lean over to put one on her forehead, if you didn’t have a boy cuddled against your chest.

Closing your eyes, you listen to the machines—beep, whirr.

“You get that from me,” the voice is like sandpaper and glass, rough and bloody, and your eyes snap open to find mottled green looking at you through a haze of medication and pain. Foggy and unfocused. “Running from your problems. Guess nurture won in this case, heathen.” The smile that spreads across your face is shaking, because another weight has been lifted—you feel no gravity, and you’re sure if you weren’t tethered by the hand to Cat, you’d float away.

“At least Metropolis isn’t a warzone,” you joke, because humor is the only thing keeping you from folding over her and holding her to make sure she’s real.

Cat laughs, but winces like it hurts, eyes going dark and fuzzy at the edges, her face loosening and slackening slightly at the lips. She’s slipping back to sleep, “What can I say,” she murmurs, eyes already closing, “I commit to my decisions ten-fold.”

And she slips back into unconsciousness.

You remain for the rest of the night, coaxing Carter back to sleep every time he starts shuffling around in your lap. Two nurses tried to coax you into leaving, saying they’d call if anything happened that deserved your attention. But you weren’t leaving; you’d sit vigil, because you need to know she’s here. That her heart beats, and her lungs fill with air.

For now, that’s enough.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CARTER). Sometimes it's possible to carry a ghost that doesn't belong to you; they're woven through your heart, but they aren't yours. They're crafted by the stories told to you, and the emotions in the eyes of others, and through this, you tell yourself who this person is to you. They're both larger than life, and impossible to measure. She's your ghost, and you love her so much.

Your mother isn’t secretive—not with you, at least—but she’s usually better about keeping things out of your sight that will give her away. Like where exactly she hides your Christmas and birthday presents, or when your father has gotten her mad enough to call the lawyer—it happens more often than you’d like, but they always reconcile over insults and bourbon—or when she’s upset enough to not fold away her tells. The clench of her jaw, the curl of her fingers, the way her foot bounces when she’s sitting down—they’re all indications that something has upended her calm and she’s trying to regain her ground.

She never says it to you explicitly; she smiles, ushering you upstairs to wash your hands before dinner, not letting you leave before she’s kissed you twice on the crown of your head. She tells you that she loves you more often when she’s upset, like she’s reminding herself that whatever is going on—this much is true.

But—this is somehow different.

You hadn’t seen her all day—you’d gotten home from school and there’d only been a message on the answering machine saying she’d be late, that someone was going to be by to watch you—but she hadn’t sounded right. Breathy, and quiet, like she was afraid someone might wake up. She’d told you she loved you three times—you couldn’t see her clenched jaw, but you could almost hear her teeth grind when she spoke.

You figured it had something to do with Clark—with the aliens that had been plaguing Metropolis while you were in school. But you’d already texted your brother, and he’d already told you he was fine—or, in his words, no stupid alien ain’t got nothing on me. You’d reminded him that he’s a writer and that he should really mind his double negatives, and he’d just filled your screen with mindless emojis. Your aunt had stopped by not long after eight, with dark eyes and a pensive press to her lips—Alex Danvers wasn’t known for her small talk, but even she usually kept up more of a dialog than what she managed all night.

She’d snagged your mother the moment she walked in the next morning, still wearing the same clothes as the last morning, eyes sunken and red, and you’d pressed against the wall trying to listen. You couldn’t catch most of it, but certain words slipped through—calm for now, tonight, and won’t sleep. There was no context, no description, but when your mother had pulled you into her arms, pressing her cheek against yours—since you were too tall to fit under her chin anymore—she’d breathed you in, not hiding it as well as she usually did, but you didn’t squirm, didn’t complain, because the tension in her shoulders eased.

You could do this for her.

“I love you, mom,” you reminded her, because you knew she needed it, and she clasped you between her palms, thumbs brushing under your eyes, before she walked down the hall toward her bedroom. When the shower turned on, you knew she was going to work despite the fact that she obviously had gotten no sleep last night. Sat at the kitchen counter, you spotted her keys—door key, elevator key, lobby key, mailbox key, and—a key you hadn’t seen since last year.

The one that shows up every April around the anniversary of Doomsday’s rampage.

The anniversary of, mama went up.

The key to your ieiu’s apartment.

Your mother goes over there to clean, and to think, and keep the world away if only for a moment—you’ve been there a few times, when you’d asked where she went. And she’d brought you. Appliances that were constantly being updated and replaced, furniture that still had slight dents from use, and carpets that were one shade too dark for the light colored walls. It’s March, so you shouldn’t see that key—a knowledge that sits heavily in your chest. You finish your cereal, and when the driver buzzes for you to come down, you don’t think about the out-of-season key again until you get home—and the whole keyset is gone, and your mother’s gone to work.

You don’t think about it until you find the spare key in the drawer in the kitchen, and tell the driver that’s always on call that you’re supposed to go to the mid-town apartment. That you’d left something there. He’s new—only a month or two—and doesn’t question your directions, because your mother has obviously already put the fear of God into him. It isn’t far, distance wise, but the buildings get more modern—more glass and steel—than the old-money feel of your own building, which is all architecture and sculpting. Ridiculous lion statues and flying buttresses.

The security guard is new, but the lobby is the same—the elevator still groans on the twelfth floor, and shimmies on the twenty third. The apartment isn’t the penthouse, its three floors below that—but one of two doors in the hallway you step out onto, the quiet is buffeting, but even this high up you can hear the sounds of mid-town in spring. Fingering the key you had shoved into your pocket, the double doors seem much worse a hurdle than they are in actuality—just a twist of the key, and entering the passcode—013075.

Your mother’s birthday.

The door clicks open with no fanfare, the central air humming softly in the walls, and chilling the apartment—too cold for March. All the windows are dark, which is unusual because you’re used to the lack of curtains that this space usually flaunts—floor to ceiling windows from the edge of the living room through the open concept kitchen and breakfast nook. They’re all hidden behind thick curtains that don’t match—browns, and dark blues—and you recognize them from the last two remodels of your mother’s bedroom.

Stepping through the living room is like walking over a grave—there’s paintings on the wall of sunsets and red planets, and there’s empty frames scattered on nearly every surface. You’d asked Clark once about them—and he’d said that your mother hadn’t been able to look at them that first year—and the year after either. And then, she’d never gotten around to putting them back. They’re like invisible reminders of the life that had been lived here—the poorly spackled hole in the wall, the splintering frame to the kitchen pantry.

All the doors are open—to bedrooms and bathrooms, storage closets and offices—and when you walk up the stairs, there’s only two rooms. One is closed right, and the other is—laying haphazardly in the hallway, the wood splintering, little slivers dashed through the plush carpet. There’s a profound violence in the carelessly forgotten door, the ruin of wood, and forgetful placement. Swallowing deep, you step through the dark and come abreast the door, something glittering catching your eye—your name stenciled in large letters across the glossed side of the door.

This had been your room, once upon a time.

There’s no light inside the room, and the first thing you can make out is shattered glass on the floor—from the sun that had been hanging above the bed. Shards of red and yellow dusting the dark gray carpet, like broken teeth and bottle edges. The first one crunches under your sneaker, and you can see how the bookshelf has been tipped onto the spaceship frame holding the bed. You realize this is the only room that hasn’t been subject to your mother’s updates—everything looks like it is from 2005, you can date it by the cartoonish representations of the planets on the wall. Including Pluto.

You can’t remember this room, there’s colorful blurs in your memory where it properly belonged; the places that get fuzzy because you can’t quite track your way back through your mind to find the original memory. You’ve forgotten how to get there. Some nights the fallacy of the human brain cripples you, because one of the most important people in your life is nothing more than empathic stories and colorful blurs. The person who lives in every wall of this apartment, in every empty frame and every curtained window. The person who—

Is standing against the far wall.

You hadn’t noticed her because she is deathly still, the dark of her clothing matching the dark blue of the walls, just as readily as her halo of gold hair mixed to the cartoonish sun grinning from the corner. Her frame is narrow and willowy, like she might simply crack in halves if you turned your eyes away for just a moment—but there’s a presence about her, a weight. Like now that you’ve noticed her, the air has thickened and gained density. You know—logically—that this isn’t the case, but your mother and brother are literary snobs and they can’t just tell a story, they have to describe it. And all the feelings. And all the metaphorics.

She’s looking right at you, eyes at half-mast and face slack, and you can’t help seeing Clark in her face—the brow, and the chin, definitely. The wide radius of her orbital sockets, and the strong line of her mandible, but there are differences too—she’s smooth curves and gentle slopes, where Clark is angles and edges. Lean, and thin, and slender. The clothes she’s wearing are baggy and—your mother's. The reindeer sweatshirt she wore the Christmas you bought it, and then swore would never see the light of day. And silk black pants that are supposed to be “casual” clothes, but your mother usually forgot what that meant in the middle of sweeps week.

“Mama,” you say, and your voice shudders, tripping and splashing from your mouth because your heart is picking up, the ache in your jaw saying you’d already started clenching your teeth even though you didn’t realize it. She doesn’t react—and you realize she isn’t looking at you, she’s looking through you. You don’t know how you can tell, it’s impossible to say, but she’s unmoving and unblinking, and it’s unnerving. This woman has lived inside you your whole life, she frames choices, and influenced outcomes, but you can’t really remember her.

She’s watercolors and symphonies.

She was an idea more than anything—Clark’s whole world, and the love of your mother’s life—and she was your mama, your ieiu, even if you hadn’t been able to draw her face for art class, or describe the exact shade of her hair. In your family portraits growing up, she was the sun—bright, and present, and watchful. She was the language that lives in your lungs and heart, the slow exhale of words because they were so much calmer and thoughtful than English, or French. Whenever your nerves would blister, and the world would throb, you’d sit in your room—the lights off—and begin the slow dissection of the world.

Giv—ball. Divih—light. Tahseg—bed. Kahril—door.


Ieiu,” you say instead, words already quivering with tears that you can’t stop, because you don’t know when they started. She doesn’t move, but she’s suddenly looking at you—and you don’t know how you simply know that. Nothing about her changes, no movement, no shift of person or fabric—but she’s suddenly present. “Rraop nahn otem,” you’re mad at yourself because you can’t remember the feminine version of you, so you resort to using the formal gender neutral one.

Rraop—you. Nahn—are. Otem—back.

Maybe she is the sun, and you’re just a satellite that’s drifted far too close—because you’re walking into the room, crunching through shattered glass, past ruined shelves and splintering wood—until your arms are wrapped around her middle. Your cheek pressed to her chest, and when you squeeze there’s no give—she’s solid, and firm, and there’s no human softness to her. Not like hugging your mother, or even hugging Clark, which is when you realize what a fundamental difference there is between what your brother—and this woman—are, and humanity. Something universal, and subjective both.

Maybe she’s just forgotten how?

When you pull away, you can only go so far because two of her fingers have curled into the fabric of your shirt—you hadn’t even felt her move—but you smile, because even if she’s still looking at the doorway, she’s holding onto you. Keeping you close. “I don’t know where you’ve been,” you whisper, nearly inaudible, even to your own ears, “But I’m glad you’re home. Zehdh,” You’d seen the news clip every year on the anniversary of the tragedy—the Spectre wrapped around the monster, glowing green and atomic, until they’d both vanished in a blaze of nuclear power in the atmosphere. Scientists put out a new documentary every few years on what could have happened, and each one was drastically different than the one before it.


Taking a step back—or trying—you can’t go far until the fabric of your shirt starts to tear, her hand still loosely at her side—but just the half curl of two fingers is enough to rend the cotton of your shirt. Reaching down and wrapping your hand around hers, it’s startling to realize her hand isn’t much bigger than yours. The palm narrow, but the fingers long—sinewy and thin—you mother would call them pianist hands.

“We’re gonna go over there,” you tip your head toward the doorway opposite the one to the hallway, but she isn’t even facing it—this time when you move away, her arm is slack and moves with yours, and when you step away, she follows. It is an unsure shuddering step, jolting and knob kneed, and you can’t help frowning when her foot crunches through glass. “Krop nahn kehgier vav ehkwetahn,” you know you’re butchering the language’s grammar, but the sentiment is pretty solid—steamroll on, as your mother would say.

The bathroom is smaller than the others in the apartment, but it’s all dark marble and solid walls—a bathtub takes up much of the room, and when you leave her standing in the middle of the bathroom, you know exactly what you’re going to do. You don’t know where the linen closet is, or where the spare blankets are—so you strip beds of their quilts, and pillows. When you step back into the bathroom, she’s moved—turned to face the door, like she’d been waiting for you to come back, even though her eyes are far away—can she even see you? Or is she drifting through the stars?

Piling the blankets in the bathtub, you coax her forward until she’s sitting against the corner. It took a lot of tugging and pushing, but eventually she’d just folded in on herself, arms and legs curling until she was nothing more than a ball of poorly made sweater, and silk pants.

“Ehkov,” you press two fingers below the curve of her eye, “blue.” They remind you of the sky painted on your ceiling, dark, and distant—alien. She doesn’t blink, doesn’t move, but you know she’s following you—it is in the shiver of her pupils. Know she’s returned from the stars.

“Remember?” You ask because her eyes have lived in your dreams for years—not when you’re falling asleep, and not through the night. But just as you’re waking up. When the world is foggy, and the years bleed together like a painting left out in the rain—you’re three, and five, and thirteen all at once—and you remember her eyes. Like Clark’s, but older—sadder—full to the brim in a way you don’t think there’s a word for.

Your mother would have a word for it.

You thought she’d be bigger—considering how Clark describes her—but she’s small in the corner of the bathtub, and you’ve piled every blanket in the house on, and around, her. She doesn’t move when you’re folding and tucking them, and just watches you quietly. This is what your mother would do for you—when the world seemed big, and bright, and loud. The only light is the reflections of the city through the small window—splashes of blue, and red, and gold against the back of the door. She’s leaning her cheek against the wall, ear pressed flat against the dark marble, and she’s simply following you with her eyes, even though they aren’t moving—and that would usually bother you. Dig under your skin and make you itch, but there’s something—serene about her.

Something that feels like home.

“Thron,” you say, pressing your hands against the blankets above her feet, “Blanket.” She doesn’t even blink, not once—but beneath your hand, her foot moves. Shifts until the sole is pressed against your leg—untucking the covers just enough that you can feel the alien heat of her skin. She lowers her chin just slightly, nose against the fabric, and inhales—it isn’t as simple as breathing, it’s long and slow. Like she’s trying to pull something inside herself, to keep it there where it can’t escape.

“Mom doesn’t know I’m here,” you are still whispering, because you want her to stay here, want her to be present, and with each word you’re afraid she’ll slip away. “So if you can, like, not tell her? That’d be pretty cool.” You’re speaking in English, but she’s still looking at you, and she actually blinks—it’s too slow, like she knows what it’s supposed to look like, but it’s awkward and unfamiliar. Half her face is obscured by the blankets over her knees, but you’re still piling in the pillows from the beds like somehow it’ll keep her safe.

“She does this for me when—when I’m nervous,” you’re explaining, even though she hasn’t asked, filling the silence, “I like feeling secure, and—and I thought you might like it too.” Like being hugged, but with none of the crawl that came with skin contact; none of the itch that came with someone being too close. The weight and warmth help you come back to yourself, it lets you sort through your thoughts—tuck them away into the appropriate boxes. You wonder if she puts her thoughts in boxes too—you’re sure she’s the one who showed you how. Explained it softly and quietly when you were young; and your mother had just caught on, had embrace it wholly.

You don’t know how long you’ve been sitting with your back against the opposite side of the tub when she moves—it’s slow and careful, like she’s worried what will happen if she moves too much. Half the blankets are pushed away, folding in and over themselves until there’s a spot clear of them—you’re worried she doesn’t like it, that it’s making her claustrophobic. And when you shift to help pull them away, she just looks at you—stares, and it’s the most engaging look she’s given you. Like she recognizes you suddenly when she hadn’t been able to before. You sit back a little, and when you seem to settle, she shifts her un-blanketed shoulder slightly and settles back.

You don’t understand.

Until you do.

“Otem?” You ask, though you don’t expect her to answer, and she blinks—and smiles. Slow, like each millimeter takes a thought to translate onto her face. Like she’s remembering what it looks like. She has a pretty smile; small, and soft, and unsure. And you don’t need any more invitation before you’re climbing over the mountain of pillows and blankets, and tuck yourself into her side. She’s not warm—she’s hot, like she has a fever—and you think it must simply be biology, because Clark runs hot too. Pulling the blankets back up, you’re able to warm off the chill from the central air, and the ridiculously cold March weather.

She moves so slowly, and you’re so tired, that you don’t realize she’s pressed her nose into your hair, inhaling deep like she had the blanket—like it’ll help her remember—her arm wraps around your shoulder, keeping you against her torso, like she’s trying to curl around you, to keep you close. You’re losing minutes, your eyes heavy and determined to fall—and you are warm, and comfortable, and your heart sluggish.

You’re home, because she’s home.

“I love you, ieiu.” You murmur into her shoulder, words long and drawling because you’re not sure which language you say them in—and you’re asleep a moment later.

In the morning, she hasn’t moved—eyes still half-open, the strangest purpling bruising below them, but no more tired than before. When you see the sun through the bathroom window your heart drops because you weren’t supposed to stay all night—your mother must have already called the cops, sent out a search party, burning the city to the ground, but when you jerk awake, something clatters off you and onto the floor—your mobile. She doesn’t move when you lean away to grab it, and wonder how it had gotten out of your pocket—it’s ten o’clock in the morning, and swiping the screen, the first thing that pops up in a text message conversation.

With your mother.

The last text is from you, and it’s a picture—you’re asleep, your head tucked under your ieiu’s chin, her eyes diverted, your hand curling in the cheap fabric of her bright red sweater. It doesn’t look like a selfie, but she must have taken it while you were asleep—to let your mother know where you are. Turning to look at her, she’s carefully looking forward, like she isn’t aware that you’re moving around, that you’re even there. You don’t take the far-away look in her eyes personally, she’s someplace else right now—she’ll come back eventually.

The sounds of a pot clattering in the kitchen does worry you.


Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CLARK). You’d inherited Cat’s temper. Quick to burn, and quick to extinguish. You didn’t have the ability to hold a grudge like she does, but you stew in your anger—the sold and distant kind it turns into after the flash in the pan moment that ignites it. You’re stubborn and difficult, and when you think you’re right—you’re right. Even when you’re wrong.

“Sulking isn’t going to make anything better,” you hadn’t heart her come in, and it startles you, because you aren’t used to being surprised. Cat puts her purse down on the counter, it thunks because she doesn’t seem to be unable to keep her work at work. Every notebook, paper, and reference guide mindlessly shoved into the depths at the end of her shift—you can hear it shift and crinkle when she releases it and the bag immediately topples over onto the counter. “And honestly, heathen, you have too sweet a face to brood.”

Cat’s hair is piled on the top of her head, held there by a clip that was missing two prongs—her pale blue button down shirt is wrinkled and the sleeves rolled hastily to her elbows. You think she might be losing weight, but you can’t say for sure—it’s in how thin her wrists are, how slender her forearms. There’s smudges of ink on her fingertips, and one along her jaw you know is from the ink on her thumb; from how she holds her chin while thinking. You know she left the house earlier with at least another layer of clothing on, but you know they’ve probably been relegated to the bottom drawer of her desk at work.

“I’m not brooding,” you insist, chin on your fist, arms folded on the island counter, “And my face isn’t too sweet.”

“Ah, ‘fraid it is, baby boy. Sweet—bordering on adorable,” she exhales like this is some horrible discovery, “A shame, I had such high expectation for you; and now the world won’t be able to look past your good looks and pensive brow. You’ll dye your hair blonde, pick up surfing, and work at Hollister.” She’s not even looking at you, too busy routing through the fridge for something to drink—you’d drank the last of the bottled water, which she’s just finding out, and the only thing left was Cranberry Juice which she insisted she loved, but in reality, hated.

You didn’t get it.

“Sorry,” you say preemptively, as she closes the door and puts the cranberry juice bottle on the island between you.

“You’re the worst roommate,” she gripes, and shoves your head, green eyes going serious, and lips pinching like when she gets her headaches—the ones that make her squint, that make her blink rapidly and dim the lights. “It’s been three weeks; when are you going to talk to her?” She’s cornered you a few times—made your skin itch and crawl because you don’t want to think about it. Like if you ignore it, everything with just go away—it’s childish, and untrue, but it doesn’t make you want to believe it any less.

“Never,” you return.

“Stop being a child,” sterner, softer, Cat Grant is her most dangerous when she’s speaking softly. “She asks about you every day.”

Like a javelin to the heart. “That isn’t fair.”

“And neither is punishing her for something you don’t understand,”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Clark.” Her saying your actual name is your first warning, the finger she’s tapping against the counter is your second. “You haven’t given her a chance to explain, you’ve been mopping around my apartment for the last month with the proverbial black cloud above your head. Which I’ve allowed, but I’m reaching the end of my patience.”

“Are you kicking me out?” You can’t keep the hurt from your voice, and she even flinches, rubbing at her face for a moment before sighing and coming around the counter. There’s more black ink of her face from the edge of her palm, but she’s looking up at you like she’s trying to tell you something with her eyes alone.

“No, I’m not.” She presses a palm to your cheek and smiles, the one that isn’t particularly wide, that’s slightly crooked because there’s no one to impress—it’s the smile just for you. Even Kara doesn’t get it too often because you know it makes Cat uneasy; she thinks it makes her lips look too thin. “You know you can stay as long as you need; you’ll always have a room here.” She’s talking softly, and the danger with Cat isn’t always anger and sneers, it’s how damned pliant she makes you when she’s caring; it makes you feel too good, that you fold without thinking. “But your cousin is hurting, and she won’t force the issue.”

“She’s a liar, Cat.”

“She’s only human, Clark.”

You frown, and lean away, “She really isn’t.”

“In the ways that really matter? She is.” Her forehead is pressing against yours, and usually you would shy away from the contact, because you’re fourteen and almost an adult, and don’t need your parents getting all emotional and touchy. But her eyes are soft, and she’s breathing slowly, and it helps calm the tripping jitter in your muscles. “She’s afraid, heathen. She’s trying her damned best, and deep down she doesn’t think it’s ever good enough. If that doesn’t sound human, I don’t know what does.”

“Do you know?”

She sighs, leaning away to smile sadly at you, “Enough. Not everything.”

Looking down at where your hands are curled in your lap, you try to stoke the anger inside of you that had existed that night after the fire—when you’d looked at Kara and had convinced yourself you couldn’t recognize her. That she was some stranger inhabiting the body of the person who meant so much to you—the person you tried to be, but always felt like you fell short.

“Listen, baby boy, ‘cause I’m only going to say this once.” Patting your cheek, and sliding away, sock covered feet padding against the tile, heel barely touching the floor—but that isn’t unusual in someone used to wearing heels. “When I found out? I did not react—well. Imagine the worst reaction, and then add seven-thousand miles.” You knew Cat’s impromptu relocation to the Middle East wasn’t just because it was an amazing job opportunity. They’d both played it off as no big deal—separately, because they hadn’t been able to look each other in the eye. You’d asked Kara once or twice, and she’d shuffled the point off base with awkward questions about girls in your class and who broke the banister.

“I knew it,”

“Yeah, yeah.” She snarks, “But it wasn’t because of what the truth actually was—I didn’t love your cousin any less when I found out. I didn’t love you any less.” There’s that faraway look in her eye, the one that seems to exist despite her best attempts at abolishing it. Like she’s justifying things to herself, things she wouldn’t ordinarily consider, but for some reason—now, she was. “It was because I felt like an idiot—all the things I’d noticed over the years, all the questions I had; I pushed them all down deep, because I thought I knew some fundamental truth that superseded all the facts and theories piling up.”

Maybe you don’t want to know, but you can’t stop now, “What truth?”

“That I was special, that I had some piece of her that no one else did.” Cat clears her throat, and her arms cross loosely across her chest, chin tipped slightly upward—the stance she gets when she’s considering throwing a punch. “And I did—just not that piece. Didn’t make what I had any less important—just different. But our situations aren’t the same—”

You interrupt, “Because you two have sex”

“Yes—no.” She looks appalled, and horrified, and glowers at you for a moment. “Remember that nice thing I said about not loving you any less? I take it back.” Leaning her neck this way and that, her neck pops and her shoulders roll forward, “Moral of the story—go talk to your cousin. You’re not really angry at her,”

“I think I kind of am.”

“No, you’re not. I’ve seen you angry, Clark. This moping about with sad music and closed curtains? That isn’t anger. So, why don’t you turn off the Evanescence, open a window, and go for a walk across town? I know she’s at the Apple today. Something about a book fair for the underprivileged, or whatever—you know how she gets with charity.” You know Cat is just as involved in charity—you know she’s probably purchased half the books for whatever Kara has planned, but she doesn’t like admitting how big her heart is. How much she cares.

“And if I don’t like what she has to say?”

“You can come back here and wallow in your teenage angst, unhindered. As long you bring a case of water with you,” she points out, turning on her heel and walking down the hall toward the shower. “And really listen, please.” She says over her shoulder before her bedroom door closes, leaving it up to you whether or not you’re going to leave.

It isn’t that far of a walk.

And it is nice outside.

The security guard in Cat’s building offers to call you a car service to bring you across town, but you wave it away. You need to clear your head. It is warm out, and you can finally justify being outside in a tee-shirt—Kara usually tackles you with a jacket, because it didn’t matter that you couldn’t feel the cold, you had to pretend anyway. The sun is bright, and you feel how it sink into your skin—warm, and comforting—you’ve always been an afternoon guy. When the breeze is cool, and the sun high, still just a little bit of day left before the quiet of night.

The Bruised Apple is on the harder side of town—where cars have mismatching doors, and there’s always the distant yelp of sirens. Friends gather on stoops and along curbs instead of food courts and cafes. You’d never noticed until Kara had enrolled you into the private school on the other side of town—one too many close calls with James Nidor, the mouth-breather that tormented you when you were six—and eight—and ten. When you had been about to make the transition to middle school, Cat had suggested—brow beat—that you transfer to the school she’d gone to.

“What’s good, New Balance?” One of the curb dwellers ask with that crooked smirk curling the edge of his lip—just enough stubble to make him look older, though you know he’s only a year or two your senior. He steps off the stoop five buildings down from the bookstore; his three friends fall in behind him and you sigh while shoving your hands in your pockets. Rich was one of the more well-known troublemakers in the neighborhood, a boy-almost-man clambering to make headway with the gangs infesting this side of town. “Haven’t seen you in a day.”

“I’ve been pretty busy, Rich. School work and all; which I know is a totally novel concept.” Exhaling, and glancing past him at the storefront—you can see the book cart that gets left outside during business hours, a hand written sign proclaiming 2 for 5.

“Too busy for your cousin?” He asks, stepping a little closer, and the smell of his cologne is nauseating—but his words surprise you enough that you can talk around the noxious fumes wafting off him.

“What?” You want to laugh at the obvious joke, but his dark eyes are serious—his pose closing in around him. “What does she have to do with anything?”

“Got me a part time job at the Apple, marking off my community hours—she’s a real nice lady, New Balance.” He’s pressing two fingers to your shoulder and shoves—and you have to remind yourself to take a step backwards. “She been real down recent-like; and it got me noticing that my favorite walking-blazer ain’t been seen ‘round here. Coincidence, right?”

They’re—protective? And it throws you off, because while you know the Bruised Apple has been something of a neutral grounds to all the mischief and chaos—thanks to mister Callaghan—you hadn’t really thought too much into it since he’d passed away. You spent most of your time in mid-town, only making the trip here when Kara was settling the order, or helping with stock. Maybe a few times a month? But the way the teenagers bristle and look at you expectantly lets you know how much happens just out of your attention.

You’d been too busy thinking about electives, and essays—about girlfriends and homecoming. All the while your cousin has been slowly reaching out to the down and out.

“Richard,” you don’t notice her until she’d standing only feet away, arms crossed loosely across her stomach, face puckered into a frown of disappointment. Rich looks like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and smoothly slides away from you and toward your cousin. “You promised,” she reminds softly, and he looks—embarrassed.

“I know, miss Callaghan.” He mumbles, shuffling his Nikes with an aw shucks mentality, before brightening and grinning at her, “Was just gonna knock some sense into your boy; keep him honest, you know? Defend your honor?” Kara smiles, and it’s the kind of smile that makes you want to do better—be better. And it suddenly doesn’t seem at all unusual that she’s helping these lost boys.

That’s what Peter Pan does, right?

“While that’s really very noble of you, my honor will live to see another day.” Fist extended, the teenager knocks knuckles with her in what is really a pretty complicated fist-bump—there is palm slapping, and finger locking, and when it was over she demurs, “I expect you bright and early tomorrow, the summer stock came in.” She taps his cheek with a knuckle, and starts to turn back to the store. Her eyes landing on you—she’s chewing on her bottom lip, and she’s shoving the glasses that’ve slid to the edge of her nose further up until she scrunches her face and they settle properly. “Do you—do you want to come in?”

You can only nod—because you feel drained of words. Not because of Rich, or because of anger—they’re just…not there. You feel lighter than air, and empty in a way that wasn’t good, or bad. Just kind of—is. It’s the strangest feeling, and you can’t recall ever feeling like this before. Like pieces of you aren’t exactly part of you—that your heart thunders, and your muscles shake—and none of it is in your control.

There are boxes and stacks of books everywhere, and the bubble wrap and peanuts from the shipment litter the floor in a messy line toward the basement stairs beside the counter. Kara’s standing off to the side, arms crossing and uncrossing, and you’re not used to her being unsure around you. She’d dressed for the office, though she’s already started picking apart the costume—because that’s what it feels like sometimes, a costume. The starched collar, and pressed skirt. The laminated security badge shoved in her pocket instead of clipped to her lapel. The heels you know she’d been wearing at work have been replaced by flip flops, the kind she bought in bulk from Old Navy.

“Are we vampires?”


You hadn’t actually meant to say anything, but it had just—tripped out of your mouth. Kara blinks, face settling somewhere between confusion and surprise. You’d been thinking about it—the things you knew, the truths that you’d accepted as normal without actual explanation—strength, speed, unbreakable skin. Google had only been so helpful, and it wasn’t like you had any kind of ancient mystical texts to check your facts in—this wasn’t Buffy, it was real life.

So—you made an educated guess.

“What?” She asks, chin tipping, “Vampires?”

“I like werewolves better, but that doesn’t make sense.”

“But, vampires do?”

“As much sense as any of this can manage,”


“No, it doesn’t make sense?” You’re confused.

“No, we’re not vampires?” She’s confused.

Both of you huff and cross your arms, looking away into the dark of the isles, as if the answers to this conversation lurk there somewhere. You can hear how her finger taps against her forearm, how she shifts and tilts her weight to lean against the counter, the quiet groan of wood. She’s cast into shadow, and you can only just make out the contour of her face—cheekbones and nose, lips and eyes. And it’s like she’s shaking something from her shoulders, like she’s stepping away from whatever she’s pretending to be.

It was easier to notice when you were younger—all those stupid little differences that no one else was looking for, that seemed impossibly important at the age of six. How her finger always tapped against her arm—matching some nearby heartbeat—how her eyes would get hazy and far-away, because she wasn’t exactly present. She forgot more when you were young—like the disguise wasn’t as good—and it had seemed horribly embarrassing then. When classmates would mock and joke, when they’d whisper freak and shove your chair—it didn’t take much to make children cruel.

“I was watching a documentary the other day—all about what would happen to civilization after humanity. To the tallest buildings, and the bridges, and the baseball stadiums.” She’s uncrossing her arms, fingers extending and flexing before pressing them down against her thighs. “How they’d all just crumble, and break, and—and the planet would take everything back, you know?” You don’t know why her brows are furrowing, or why her fingers are rucking up the fabric of her skirt into her fists.

Knuckles going white.

“It was all about how nature always wins—in the end, a century or two down the line, it doesn’t matter about over-population, or fossil fuels. It’ll all just fall apart and the world will fix itself. Humanity the sickness that just needs to be burned away with a global fever.” You take a step closer, because you feel a severity in the air you don’t like—that you’re not used to feeling around Kara—but her eyes are sad. Bright, and glossy—but sad. And even when you had been angry that night, something inside you had shuddered at the look of pain in her face when you’d said you wished she wasn’t your cousin. She takes a deep breath, and on the exhale, she continues.

“We’re from Krypton.”

You blink, “The element?”

“No, it’s—,”

You interrupt, a bad habit you don’t often admit to having, “Is that a country?”

“No, it’s—,”

Again, “A city? That doesn’t explain how we can—,”


You stop. You’re standing maybe two feet from her, and she’s leaned forward and away from the counter, her hands spread, her jaw clenched, but her eyes are hidden by the reflection of her glasses. “Nature doesn’t always win, Clark. Sometimes—sometimes too much has happened, too much has been chipped, and ruined, and broken down, and there’s nothing left to take back. Nothing left to salvage after the fever,” The slightest shift of her weight reveals her eyes, slants her back into the shadows, but that has never been a concern for you. You see the wetness in her eyes, and the determined flare of her nostrils. “Krypton is a planet.”

How jaw works, and she whispers the next words, “Was, a planet.”

Planet. Bigger than a city, or a country. And you watch her for the signature signs of her lies—she’s really pretty bad at them—there’s nothing there. No jittery twitch in her fingers, no flicker of her eyes—nothing. She’s firm, and present, and sad.

“I held you for the first time on Krypton, you were heavier there—you were so small, and you wouldn’t stop wiggling around, and I was worried I was going to drop you.” She’s set her hands in front of her like she’s remembering something—remembering holding you as an infant. You’re trying to digest the information she’s telling you—and you aren’t—you don’t feel upended. Because you’d spent the last month looking up myths, and legends, crawling through the darkest edges of the internet looking at pictures of Chupacabras and Big Foots.

Alien—well, alien hadn’t made the list.

“But your father sat me down, showed me how to hold you—told me I was going to be the best cousin there’s ever been. In any of the worlds; and there are a lot.” She’s swallowing, and smiling, and while it isn’t happy, it isn’t sad either. Like she’s accepting this open aching part of her long ago, this wound that won’t scab over because there will never be enough time to sooth the ache of losing a planet. “And—two days later, Krypton was gone. Just like that.” There isn’t anything just about what she’s saying, about the obliteration of a whole planet—a whole people.

Your people.

“But this is your home—our home, and I love it. I really do, and I’ll do everything I can to protect it,” She steps closer, and when her arms open slightly you don’t stop how your body gravitates toward her—falling into her embrace like you’ve always done. As a child she had felt like the only solid thing in this brittle world—the one thing you could wrap your arms around and squeeze. And it’s still true now. “I lost so much that day—so much—but I gained you. And I can’t regret that, I can’t say I’ll take it back, and that makes me so selfish.”

Kara’s sobbing into your hair, and her arms are tight across your back, you can hear the rattling hiccup of that valve in her lungs—the thing that makes her different than any other person on this planet. Except you. Kryptonian. You don’t know what that means, but right now it just feel like a name to the truths you’ve known for a while—to the sadness in Kara’s eyes. The title card to the tragedy she carries in her bones like marrow.

“It’s why you never let me call you mom,” you murmur into her shoulder, and she only squeezes you tighter, “you feel guilty. But Kara,” you pull away slightly, just enough to see her face, “you’re only twelve years older than me. You—you were just a kid when it happened.”

The way she snuffs a laugh makes you wonder how many times she’d reminded herself this exact fact—that she was a child. And you’re—a child too. You hadn’t been able to think beyond saving Ashley’s uncle in that house fire—hadn’t been able to think about what would have happened if you’d have been wrong. If you hadn’t come out. What would’ve Kara done if you hadn’t come home? Or Cat? Sniffling yourself, you press your eyes into her shoulder and hug her tighter.

“I just wanted to help,” you whisper.

She replies, just as softly, “I know. Me too.”

Extending you out with both hands on your shoulders, she wipes at her face with the sleeve of her shirt, awkwardly rolling her shoulder until her face is generally void of tear tracks. Putting her glasses on the counter behind her, she grins slightly—and in a gust of wind, she’s gone—dust kicking up and papers howling through the air.

You bracket a forearm across your eyes, and when you lower it Kara’s gone, and someone—something—is in her place. The Spectre. You’ve seen glimpses on television, and the occasional photo printed in magazines. Dark grays and pale grays, rough fabrics meeting solid looking metals and plastics. Kara’s only an inch or two taller than you, but she’s thin, but somehow the slant of fabric makes her look more intimidating. Dangerous. There’s a thick fabric pulled up over her nose and mouth, and you can catch a flash of blue eyes before they sink into some artificial looking darkness where the top half of her face should be. When she walks forward, she’s still absolutely silent—no creak in the board, no groan in the wood. You realize she’s floating, ever so slightly, just above the ground.

Your heart skips a beat, and your muscles tense on instinct—you can’t even fathom what is happening in front of you. Kara—is the Spectre. Kara—your cousin—the grinning scientist, slash bookstore owner, is a vigilante. The vigilante. Who hung out with Batman, and Wonder Woman, and—you can’t even think. You must take a step back, because she does too—and the sudden groan in the wood lets you know she’s subjected herself to gravity once more. While you’re aware you can fly, you aren’t good at it—it isn’t second nature to you like it is to your cousin.

“No one was born on Krypton—flirting with destruction meant nothing could be left to chance. So children were made, hatched—the bloodlines of the great houses continued—and each child had a purpose. To be a judge, or a scientist, or a teacher, or—or a soldier.” The way her shoulders straighten out, roll back and settle easily into alignment makes you frown, because you didn’t know Kara had posture like that. She curls in on herself, fumbles and demurs. But this one screams authority, it sneers power.  “You were the first, Clark; the first child born naturally with no—no predestined purpose. You were free to be whatever you wanted to be.”

Gloved fingers move to lower the hood over her crown of gold hair, the mask pulled off her face—and below her masks, she’s smiling softly at you. Wide, and bright, and broken, and you love her so damned much. “You’re so young, Clark. And I’m—I’m scared. Because in this way you’re more like humans than you are me—because they choose every day, and—and sometimes they choose wrong.” Her shoulders lift in a shrug, and her smile is kind of a grimace, and you want to hug her—even despite the armor she is wearing. “Whatever it is, I’ll support you. I will. But—can you give me a little while? You’re my—you’re my—I worry, and when I worry I itch, and get unreasonable, and—

“I love you, mom.”

Kara blinks, startled, but responds, “I love you too. But I’m not—”

“Just this once,” you are hugging her now, and it’s awkward, and plastic is jabbing into your ribs, and the fabric is rough, but she’s still Kara.  She still knows exactly where to put her hand on your back to make you feel better, “I don’t know my parents—and I want to—but you raised me. I was a douche, and I’m sorry. And I love you.”

Even you strain under the pressure of how her arms tighten. “I love you too.” There’s something in the way she says it this time, a weight or placement of emphasis. It means something different than what she says when you leave for school in the morning, or go to the movies with Cat. Its chest deep and solid; far away and present all at the same time.

“What are you?”


“You said everyone on Krypton was predestined to be something. What are you?”

Her smile is a spilling glass—like watching a tragedy unfold—and seeing your cousin’s face surrounded by the harsh thick fabric of the Spectre’s uniform is still startling. “I don’t know.” A gloved hand raises to tap over her heart, her fingernails clicking against the hard material lined into the fabric. “I wasn’t old enough when I left for my parents to explain everything to me—I just…I have this feeling in my chest. This need, and I can only guess. But it’ll only ever be that—a guess. I don’t know what I am.”

She may only have a guess.

But you know.

“A hero,” your smile makes her frown, and it’s the awkward expression that makes Cat poke her in the forehead, “You were destined to be a hero.” She laughs, and a tear escapes, rolling quickly down her chin until it’s gotten lost in the fabric around her neck.

“I don’t think that we had heroes on Krypton,” her voice is thick, but she’s smiling.

“Well, here on earth? We’ve got this pretty awesome one in National City—maybe you’ve heard of them. The Spectre?” You grab the most recent National City Tribune, and the front cover is what’s usually on the front cover—a gang bust made possible by the Spectre. There’s a grainy image at the corner, small because it’s of such bad quality.

Flipping the page around to look at, you consider the article—the good that your cousin is doing. And while before you might have felt like you were still falling short somehow—now, you only feel pride. “Personally, I think they need a cape.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA)You have to remind yourself that impossible is a construct of the mind, that there is no clear division of what is and isn't possible. Living amongst humans has edged your expectations some, because their lives are so self-involved and forward. The world around them is defined by their place in it. The impossible; well, very rarely does it happen when you expect it to.

You can still feel Cat’s lips like a brush against your own—she’s snagged you before you’d run off, had curled fingers into your lapels and kept you captive if only for the time it took to uproot all the need you felt to leave—the prick at the back of your neck that said something was wrong. The sting in your nostrils. Your disaster of a first date had gone off with every hitch attached, and still you’d gotten your goodnight kiss—it lingers in your chest like a supernova, expanding and growing more dense. Hot and hotter.

You’d kiss Cat Grant until the end of time if you were able.

But right now, you’re across town in the busiest part of the art district.

You feel the air vibrate—it’s a strange sensation, because it feels like it’s coming from inside you. Spattering like a little storm inside your chest, miniscule jolts of electricity lining your bones, and plunging into your muscles and through your skin. The insides of your nostrils tingle, and you’ve never sneezed before, but you imagine this is what it must feel like. Uncomfortable, tingling, and abrupt. The energy coughs through the air, and you narrow your eyes, following the molecules that thrash and spin—quicker and quicker—like the area around them was heating rapidly—while somehow staying the same temperature.

Whirr—whirr—whirr. Like the particles are trying to get out of their own way, like a great machine is just beginning to spin into life—around, and around, and around. You feel it press in along your skin, shiver along the hair on the back of your arm and to the soft hairs at the back of your neck. Everything prickles—each one of your senses—and you can only firm yourself for whatever is coming your way—you taste metal on the back of your tongue, and something acidic in the air. Petrichor—the smell following a thunderstorm. That was what had originally pulled you from your date—had snagged your nostrils like two brutal fingers, yanking you around and to this side of town.

The crackle is your first clue that whatever is going to happen—is going to happen in the middle of the street on a Saturday night—the cars blink and swerve around each other, an intricate dance of two-thousand pound vehicles that humans don’t seem to realize is literally their lives in a precarious balance. A balance about to be interrupted by—something. The night splits and sneers, little blue splinters of lightening spidering across the dark—so thin, and so fast, you know the human eye can’t see them. They are originating form one particular place—right on the double yellow line. The lightening circles, and circles, and circles, and when it folds in on itself—expanding.

It’s here—whatever it is.

Like a memory, or a phantom touch, you’re zipping your jacket up over your dress, tugging the collar high enough to hide your mouth and chin, snagging a pair of wayfarer sunglasses off a display at Mach 1—dropping the five dollar bill from your pocket in its place—and toward the phenomenon you go. Properly disguised, shoulders hunching below the sizzle and snap of energy—there’s something red, and crackling, a bright spot of color in the almost colorless expanse of burning something. You feel your skin heat and hiss under the pressure, like it is trying to melt through your skin—to combust your molecules and scatter them mindlessly into the dark—or this strange out of sync void.

Everything is moving slower—inching along, and you see how whatever is coming out of the fissure is about to collide head on with a Pepsi Cola tractor-trailer; the headlights mismatching, flickering on one side, the driver none-the-wiser. You have the idea that no one even realizes this is happening—that the material fabric of the city is splitting open and something is spilling through. It’s fast, ridiculously so, and even with your senses, you’re half a millisecond behind it—trailing in its wake—but you can cut it off, catch it at the pass, as it were. Throwing your body forward, a blur of faded black and gray, you lodge your frame into the side of whoever is coming through.

They’re solid—and fast, did you mention fast? They buckle quickly though, and there’s something of a oh geeze wheezed past your ear as you wrap an arm around their chest and propel yourself—and them—further out of the way, and into the dark on an alley. It’s only been seconds—barely that—and the life happening out on the street doesn’t even pause. You’re disoriented—you don’t do disoriented, but your ears are ringing, and your nose is bleeding, and—it hurts. Your bones are rattling inside like they’ve been put under the pressure of Krypton’s gravity once more—heavy, and slow, and weighted.

Swallowing back the popping sensation in your ears, you look at what you—for lack of a better word—caught when it came through. It looks like it’s wearing the autumn leather jacket Cat had wanted to buy last year before she decided it was tacky, and the tan leather looked better with her complexion anyway. Red leather from head to toe, little whooshes of gold, and when you get closer you can hear very human groaning. Little fires sprouting up on the garbage strewn across the alley floor. It’s hard to hear them over the ringing, but you can make out another groan, and another oh geeze.

“That was a pretty big traffic violation you just pulled.” You say, though your voice warbles in the middle, and the pitch fluctuates too much. Your ears are settling down, and your nose has stopped bleeding, leaving a smear of red below your nostrils. The figure rights themselves—quick—and you step forward, instead of back, fists clenching tight, brow tucking behind the sunglasses that hide half your face. It’s a man—tall, slim—and he has a mask covering the majority of his face. Lightning bolts over both ears, matching the one on his chest—the one circles by a bracket of metal, the faint pulse of blue crackling at its edges.

“This—this isn’t where I was aiming for.” He says, his voice airy and incredulous, his eyes light, and bright, and squinting as he shields them from the glint of street lights. Looking past you, and then at you, “You’re—a kid. A strong kid—and fast—and—” He seems to stop himself, and you can see how his brow crinkles even under his rubber looking red cowl.

“Who are you?” You ask, because men in red leather jumpsuits and masks typically have names—or at least backup dancers. And he seems fresh out of those.

He smiles, a nice wide smile, “the Flash.” Like that should mean something to you.

“The who-now?” You know Batman, the caped crusader all the way over in Gotham; and his array of problems. Catwoman, the Joker, the Penguin—then there was that sorcerer, Sargon, who was spending his time in New York; and you swear you felt the buzz of a power ring when you were in Central City last—you couldn’t determine the color, but you’d encountered them once or twice in Krypton.

“The Fl—wait—do you not know who I am?”

“Should I?”

“What about the Green Arr—I’ve done this before—I just did this. I—,” he stops, rubbing the back of his head, frowning, and the expression doesn’t look comfortable on his face. Obviously someone more accustomed to smiling. “Where did Supergirl throw me?” That gets your attention, because that’s something only Cat calls you—something that Cat calls Kara—not whoever you pretend to be at night, with a collar across your face and sunglasses over your eyes.

You don’t realize you’ve stepped toward him until he takes a step back and his back hits the alley wall; he doesn’t look afraid, but as he’s already pointed out—you’re a kid. But you don’t like the feeling settling in your chest, it feels like an ache, but like the phantom of it. Like this should mean something more to you, but it doesn’t, and you don’t like that feeling. “How do you know that name?” You ask, voice pitched lower, going for huskier, but all you manage to do is rasp unattractively against the inside of your collar.

“Supergirl? Ugh—you know—National City’s alien superhero? I mean—I didn’t think—it wasn’t a secret.” He doesn’t sound sure, “I—she isn’t really subtle about the—alien…ness.” Both of his hands are raised, and he looks sorry, but you don’t know what exactly he’s apologizing for.

“National City doesn’t have a superhero.” You don’t say—it has me.

He’s pulling his mask off, and he looks lost—a little off kilter, and you wonder how far from home he is. You can see it in the lines of his face—the worry there—and as someone two-thousand lightyears from your home, you feel a kinship. His hair is messy, and his light eyes squint against the street lights. He’s unmasked himself, so you unzip your collar, and drag the sunglasses up to the crown of your head.

“Barry Allen, fastest man alive.” He smiles, but the worry doesn’t fade, but he extends a hand.

You clasp it, “Kara—,” he stiffens, and you don’t notice because you’d fumbling with the same dilemma you do every time. “Just Kara, I guess.”

“Kara—Kara Danvers,” he’s brightening, and you’re frowning—shaking your head, “Kara Zor-El?” You haven’t heard that name in three years—outside your own head, at least. It’s like listening to a recording of something you loved once—something you thought dead and gone. But his accent is wrong, and he emphasizes the wrong parts, and it doesn’t whistle through his teeth like it’s supposed to.

But it’s your name, there’s no question to that.

“I—how do you know that name?” Your voice in pinched, and there’s a moisture in your eyes, because you can feel the creak of your planet beneath your feet once more, it rumbles and shifts, and you feel unbalanced. He looks worried, and concerned, and when he reaches to touch your shoulder, you realize you actually have become unbalanced—whatever inner-ear problem the fissure caused lingering like a bloodless wound.

“You—you told me, Kara.” There’s a lingering sadness, a phantom film over his expression that say he’s seen things vanish before his eyes before—that he’s seen the impossible, and you want to know what he means.

“I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t tell anyone. You—you’re lying.”

“I’m not,” he assures, and his fingers squeeze—hard enough that you can feel it, which means he’s gripping with enough pressure to harm a human. He knows. “Geeze—you’re just a kid.” The realization spiders across his face, and his free hand rubs at his eyes. “This is—this is getting messy. I was supposed to go home; I must have been thinking about something else, and ended up here. Wherever here is.”

He looks at you, “But—but you helped me before, even if you don’t remember—maybe you can help me again?” You see the itch under his skin, the need to be home, to see those you love—you get it if Clark or Cat’s out of your senses for even an hour. You don’t trust that they won’t simply vanish when you aren’t looking. Something tells you Barry’s telling the truth, that he’s just a soul lost to—time and space.

“I—sure, Barry.” You say, chewing on your bottom lip—maybe you won’t be able to catch Cat before she goes to sleep tonight. “Might need a better explanation though.”

“Absolutely,” you feel like you’re in for a long night.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT)You like control—you wrap it around yourself like a shawl in winter, you let it seep into every aspect of your life. But Kara—she crashed back into your life like a silent comet, and control went out the window. Dissolved, and you couldn’t miss it too much, because you had her back. And eventually, eventually, she had you too; it only took her a while to realize it. // Prompt from whatiwork4.

Kara had sat at the desk outside your office for the better part of the afternoon—bouncing her rubber band ball, and drawing on computer paper. She’d glance up every sixth minute to make sure you hadn’t gone anywhere. Even considering the dark sunglasses, you didn’t need to see her blue eyes, to know how she’d be squinting—sorting through layers of molecules and depths. She’d explained it to you one night, when Carter had still been nothing more than a babe—how everything mixes and meshes together, and it was so hard to stay in the here and now. How she struggled for years to not lose herself in the black spaces between stars. That the quiet called to her in tongues you couldn’t even begin to understand—a lost starling who had made earth her home, who could still hear the call from somewhere on the other side of the galaxy.

She slips past the open doorway and into the fishbowl of your office without you noticing—perching carefully on the edge of the uncomfortable chair directly in front of your desk. You’d spun abruptly, ready to slam your phone down, and had been startled to see—blue eyes. The sunglasses carefully placed on your desk for the first time in weeks. She’s squinting, and her lips press together tightly enough that they begin to go white; but it was the way she blinks that tells you where she is—slow, measured actions you know she’s reminding herself to do, determined to act the part of human—or painfully more, like how she used to be. She leans over your work space, and begins plucking at papers—some you’d discarded, some you were still working with—and begins stacking them in neat piles at the far side of your desk. Fingers shivering slightly with each motion—almost impossible to notice, but you’re always looking now.

“I was editing those,” you say quietly, low and from your chest, and Kara blinks again, and smiles. A wide silly smile that makes your heart ache and expand, and she simply continues to put away your work—close your laptop, cap your pens, and put your glasses in their case. “I suppose I’m done for the day?” Kara doesn’t immediately look at you, she glances down and away—and you see how her eyes go foggy, before they sharpen, and she turns her attention on you. Smile a little smaller, eyes a little dimmer, but her chin lowers to touch her chest for a moment, before lifting. A nod.

Kara doesn’t move, doesn’t shift, just looks at you—and through you for a moment, but you wait for her to return. You’ve learned to wait from Carter—you’ve seen how he is with Kara, and it both mends and breaks your heart. He’s patient, and considerate, and so many things you aren’t—but you’re learning. Sometimes—less now, than in the beginning—Kara will lose focus, and her mind will drift away. After you see the life fill blue eyes again, you stand, and Kara follows—like her actions are intimately tethered to yours. And you suppose in many ways they are.

She’s dressed in a shirt that looks suspiciously like one of Carter’s button downs, and a vest you know is Clark’s—it hangs off her shoulders almost comically, and her hands twist in the loose ends. You’ve seen how her lips move sometimes—like she’s saying things silently to herself—when fingertips are tracing over the thousand-count bedsheets on your bed. Like she’s counting. Keeping a running tally in her mind—Carter does that sometimes, when he’s nervous, or overwhelmed. He likes finite things—a box of cookies can have only so many cookies, a tiled wall can have only so many tiles. He breaths, and counts, and by the end, he is sure of one more thing than he had been before.

How many things does Kara need to be sure of before she speaks?

It’s frightening to know you’ll wait forever.

Until the stars go dark.

It’s a rare moment that the office is still full when you leave—still twenty bodies easily spread across the floor, all shoving through papers and typing madly at their computers. You’ve just donned your sunglasses when inordinately hot fingers curl around your own loosely, and pull you forward and out of your office. Her grip tightens when eyes turn to watch—most unsure, some shocked, but you have spent years ignoring looks and opinions you don’t care about. Kara doesn’t like the attention, you know that—she doesn’t like feeling all those eyes, so you grip her hand a little and when she looks at you, you shift your eyes to the shaking little computer gnome she’d befriended.

You know his name is Winslow Schott junior, he went to college on a scholarship—merit based—and had in inordinate fascination with extraterrestrials. Superman, in particular. He is good at his job, knew when to keep his head down, and never tried to make eye contact—all personality traits that endear someone to you, not that he knew that. What truly endeared him to you, was how Kara took to him—it should stand to reason that awkward would attract awkward. The little gnome had made Kara smile, had sat quietly with her at lunch, and helped her carry boxes—even if she didn’t need the help.

Sometimes it’s just the sentiment that matters.

You know it was because the programmer had developed something of a crush on the blonde, and while you can’t blame him—you didn’t appreciate it. As much as you had wanted to sneer and snarl, you’d held your tongue, and let Kara figure it out herself. You couldn’t very well have every harmless nerd who fell in love with her sentenced to some remote data center in middle-America. The awkward hovering had lasted only a week or two, before it resolved—sometime around the time the hobbit was replacing the screen in your display wall.

Now, the sight of her friend makes your alien loosen the drawn press of her shoulders, release the painful grip she had on your fingers, and smile. He jumps up from his desk, approaching in a way he wouldn’t have even two weeks ago, falling in beside Kara and yammering on about—something, you don’t pay attention, making a show of scrolling through your mobile. And slowly the attention of everyone else in the office fades—when you’ve reached your private elevator, and he excuses himself with a cheerful, “Have fun tonight, Kar!” And you know he’s gotten her name from when you’ve said it, but the fact that he knows anything about what she’s doing tonight doesn’t sit well with you.

“Are you doing something fun tonight, darling?” You ask slowly, and she turns that ridiculously bright smile in your direction—and that prideful little devil in your chest relishes how it brightens further yet when she’s looking at you—nodding an affirmative, and that’s it. You don’t pout—it’s a known fact—but you’re close, and the entire elevator ride is punctuated by your chosen silence. Kara hums, and nudges you, and you pointedly ignore her—to which she responds by plopping her bony chin on your shoulder and pressing a kiss to your cheek.

It isn’t fair—you don’t stand a chance.

Your town car is already waiting at the curb, and you open the door for her, waiting as she slides in and across the leather seat, settling against the far door with her heels balancing on the edge of the seat. Usually you’d tell her to sit like a civilized human being, but tonight you’re feeling oddly charitable—maybe it’s the happy squint to the corner of her eyes. Sitting beside her, you toy with the idea of continuing your charade, but you miss the feel of her heat, so you saddle up close, and sling your arm across the back of the seat, twirling a curl of her hair around your finger. “I’m a very intelligent woman, love,” you begin somberly, tugging lightly at the strand around your digit, “And with this intelligence—I’ve deduced with utter certainty—that you are up to something.”

She leans into you, her head resting on your shoulder, her nose pressed into the crook of your neck—something low in your stomach coils when she inhales deeply. A heat bleeding into the rest of you that ignites your nerve endings and boils your blood; but you keep it at a simmer, knowing the action is born of a need for succor, not anything overtly sexual. Your scent comforts her—the same with Clark and Carter’s, which is why she’s taken to wearing their clothing. It grounds her, and keeps her here. Shifting just enough that you can press a kiss to her temple, you’re so lost in your own comfort that you don’t realize for fifteen minutes that your car is driving in the wrong direction—you straighten slightly, pulling away, and just as you’re about to lower the divider and read the driver the riot act, a solid scalding hand stops you—fingers curled over your knee.

Looking at Kara, she’s smiling—suddenly bared blue eyes dancing with a brightness you haven’t seen in a while. It lights up her whole face, and you melt—whatever defenses you thought you still had are annihilated, and you simply can’t find it in yourself to miss them. She’s reaching into a bag at her feet that you hadn’t noticed before—you see a flash of blue—before something is forced onto your head. You frown and pull away, reaching up to grab the bill of the hat now ruining your perfectly curled hair—and it’s…

A Vancouver Canucks’ hat.

Primary color blue, with a white and green rounded edge box, and an intersecting hockey stick. You’re very familiar with the logo, seeing as it had adorned every wall of your father’s den growing up. He was a rabid Canucks fan, had flown clear across the country more than once to watch them play—and he’d passed that rabid fandom onto you, much to your chagrin most of the time. They weren’t a particularly good team, and you’d learned to accept that readily—still hopelessly devoted to their struggle—something only a handful of people knew about you.

You mother had stripped every ounce of the team from the house when she’d moved you from Metropolis to National City at the age of fourteen. You had pretended like it didn’t matter that she was auctioning off your father’s memorabilia without care what it meant to you—sold the season ticket box for admission to some country club or another. You’d taken the whole event in stony silence, and in all honesty—it was the first of many nails in the coffin that was your relationship to Katherine Grant.

When you’d moved out, the first thing you had done was paint the spare bedroom Canuck blue—it was God awful, and clashed with everything, but it was a satisfying kind of ugly. Kara had painted the logo on the wall, careful and understanding, never questioning why the rest of the apartment looked like a Good Home’s photoshoot, and this one small bedroom was a hodge-podge of bright color and garish sports paraphernalia. Sinking with her into the comfortable couch, you’d told her about a man who loved a team more than most things—certainly your mother, probably his job, but never you—and how pieces of him had been shipped away in neat little packages.

His picture had hung on the wall, just beside your signed jersey.

Now that you’re older—now that the public dogs your every step, looking for fault—you don’t allow yourself to partake in the mindless enjoyment of sports—publically. Paul Allen—who you call Paulie, because he hates it—owns two of your father’s favorite teams—the Portland Trailblazers, and the Seattle Seahawks. He cordially invites you to games throughout the season, and you let him explain the rules to you each time—pretending you don’t know why you’re should always go at 4th and 1. You contained the expletives when Russel Wilson threw instead of handing it off to Beast Mode at the Super Bowl—bitter sweet, because Carter was beside you in his Patriots’ jersey shouting with joy, louder than he’s ever done in public.

He’d gloated the whole plane ride home, cradling his Tom Brady signed football.

Still, you’re confused, and when you look at her, she’s smiling—a proud smile—and turns on the screen of her mobile, displaying e-tickets. You remain confused for only a moment, until you realize they’re tickets for tonight’s finals game—rink side, but not in the ice box, but right beside the penalty box. The stadium for the National City Imperials is fairly new—only two years old—and you haven’t been to a hockey game in—decades. At least. The confusion must show on your face, because she rolls her eyes, and reaches over to grab your mobile—putting in the passcode quickly, and dragging her thumb to show the notifications you may have been cruising while you were supposed to be listening to the idiots in financial debating on where they should be buying reams of computer paper from.

ETA for Every Team to Contend for the Stanley Cup.

Pros, Cons, Each Top Prospect Ahead of NHL Draft.

Canucks Know They Must Be Better, Confident of Comeback.

Beauty of Gudbranson’s Defense in the Details.

You flush, slightly, and raise your eyebrows—but that only last a moment because—well, because this is new. This is wonderful. Kara has been trying to reclaim aspects of her life—the things she could remember doing. Getting coffee, hanging around the office, picking Carter up from school—the bigger pictures were there, but the details got lost. Your coffee order was never right—though you always drank it, and she’d gone to the wrong school to pick Carter up—though he’d waited patiently on the front steps for her. She tried to seamlessly fold back into the lives of the people most important to her, and she stumbled more often than not.

But this—this was a wonderful development. She remembered your favorite team, she correctly procured the tickets, and she seamlessly corralled you into attending. It is the kind of focus that she’d been lacking in the recent weeks—oddly intent on something, until her mind drifted, and it was forgotten utterly. You don’t realize you’re grinning until it reflects on her own face, joy crinkling the edges of her eyes, and her face fits perfectly in your hands when you lean in to kiss her. You can’t help yourself. Soft as a feather, chaste by all means—making sure the contact wasn’t startling, or overwhelming—she shifts uncomfortably for a moment, and then melts into you, her fingers lacing over yours on her face, before they slid up your forearms, and settle near your elbows.

Hands strong enough to crush diamonds, and lips softer than silk—she’s a juxtaposition of herself, and you love it.

You love her.

She makes a low sound into your mouth, a rumble from her chest, and you can only press closer, teasing her lower lip with both of yours until she opens her mouth. Kara’s shifted until she’s nearly on top, you can feel her body heat through the thin layer of your shirt, and the slight bulk of your blazer—hands tentative and light as they skirt up your arms and splay wide across your collarbones, her inordinately smooth fingertips the only part of her touching bare skin. She almost crushes the hat that she’d put on your head earlier when she slides just that much closer, and settles herself in your lap.

It’s intoxicating, the way her knees bracket your hips, her hands sliding up your neck to dig into your hair and tighten—you moan, you can’t help it. Kara pulls away just enough that you can trace the line of her songbird collarbones, and long to dip your tongue into the hollows just above. The ache in your teeth, and the thrill in your blood is a rush; you’re an addict. You’ve been clean for a decade—through circumstance, not desire to be—and now that temptation has fallen quite literally into your lap, you can’t find an ounce of yourself that doesn’t want to delve deep and wholly.

A strong finger trails up your throat, and along the underside of your chin, tilting your head back until you’re snared by blistering blue eyes. There’s nothing disoriented, or confused, or unsure about Kara right now—blonde hair falls in sinful curls around her angelic face, and the smile across swollen lips is consuming. If she was a fire, you would gladly burn. Some unrepentant little sound tumbles from the back of your throat—something horribly pathetic, and shamelessly needy. You’re leaning forward, hands curled into the soft fabric of her pants, searching for purchase, but her hand presses against your chest—palm flat to your sternum between your breasts. You tell yourself the sound that comes out of you this time isn’t a whine.

Kara’s fingers begin the careful task of slipping the buttons of your blouse free, a single finger seeming to linger just slightly behind the parting fabric—causing you to shiver and inhale deeply through your nostrils. She arches a brow, and finally finishes, smoothing palms up your stomach, avoiding your tightened nipples, and over your shoulders—pushing the fabric free until it is only snagged around your wrists. You struggle for a moment, but cease all effort when scalding lips press against the curve of your breast, open mouthed and wet, and it’s ungainly, but you manage to lift a constricted hand to curl into her hair at the back of her head, arching into her mouth.

Kara takes her time—leaving a cool wet trail in her wake as she trails her tongue across the lace edge of your bra, nipping delicately at your collarbones, and dipping her tongue into the hollow just above them. Sucking on your pulse point, hard enough that it borders on pain—delicious pain. You’re keening, and can’t quiet remember why you can’t get your hands to move properly—tangled as you are in discarded clothing. Head lulling back against the car seat, lips caught between your teeth while you drown in the feeling of her—the familiar heat, the soft insistence of knowing hands. It’s like she’s suddenly remembered how easily she could map your body—where exactly to press to make you compliant, and eager.

At some point you’d closed your eyes, so all you had was the feel of Kara—smooth hands and knowing lips, speaking a language that had no need for words. She told you how much she loved you in how she nuzzled her nose behind your ear. She explained how hard it was to be away with how her cheek pressed against your own. She alleviated your fears, and worries, with how her hands smoothed down the bare skin of your sides and settled at the low slung set of your pants. The fire still burned in your stomach, hot and consuming, but the energy had drifted and changed—calming, where it had been invigorating. Soothing, where it had burned.

Opening your eyes, you can see the cement pillars, and wan light, of a parking garage; the car still purrs, but it isn’t moving. But all you have a mind for in the woman curled against your chest. Ear pressed to your sternum, listening to the quick thump of your heart. Kara’s hand rubs light shapes against your stomach and side, her nose against the lace of your bra—but it’s…it’s soft, and calm. Like the storm that has become your life might just pass by, might dissipate and leave you with sunshine and warmth. It’s a silly thought, young and unrealistic, but in this moment you’re willing believe it because you’re happy. She’s practically purring in your lap, and you’re simply running hands up and down her back, scratching at the nape of her neck mindlessly.

The car rocks vibrates with the sound of a few thousand people walking into the stadium—easy able to sit seventeen-thousand people—chanting, and hollering. You can just make out grown men wrapped in a green skin-suit, wearing a familiar blue jersey, through the dark tinted glass of the town car. Kara’s stirring, sitting up—still straddling your lap—and she’s looking over your head out the back window, hands on either of your shoulders. You watch her eyes—they always give her away. You search for any uncertainty, nervousness, the foggy distance that says she’s pulling away from you—but she’s alright. Her eyes flicker quickly, like she’s trying to keep track of who passes the car, but her body stays loose and relaxed.

You’re content for now; having her warm hips in your hands, feeling the weight of her in your lap, and against your shoulders.

But eventually, she slides off you, and sits properly in the car, facing forward and leaning down to pull something from the bag at her feet—vest discarded, button down following quickly, and you lick your lips. Gold skin, taut and smooth on display. Before you can forget the game even more, she’s haphazardly tugging something over her head, and then turning to you with a smile. It’s your Kesler jersey from home—well worn, and dwarfing her, because it was ridiculously large on you to begin with. A bright blue beanie completes the look, and she’s ready for a hockey game.

“Go Canucks go?” Your voice is raspy, and you realize—sans when you first sat down—you haven’t said anything for the majority of the trip. Kara smiles again, kneeling on the seat to hook a blue scarf behind your neck, to pull you into a long, deep kiss. You get a little lost in it, hand curled behind her head, lost in gold curls—before she leans away and drops a jersey, sunglasses, hat, and the scarf on your lap. Holding up face paint with a perked brow—which you promptly dismiss with a miniscule shake of your head. This isn’t college—you will not be painting your face anymore.

Your driver nods in your direction, while you’re straightening the jersey—it had rucked up a little in the back from being put on in a cramped place. Brimmed hat and scarf properly set, sunglasses perched on the tip of your nose. Kara walks one step to your side, and behind—her fingers brushing yours with every sway of your arm, and at one point she snags your hand and hooks two fingers around two of yours.

“Thank you,” you squeeze her fingers, and look at her, the sunglasses tipped just enough that you can look over them—she blinks, and tips her head slightly, stepping a little closer. “Thank you for noticing.” For fighting whatever pull kept pulling her into the stars, for ignoring the comfort of retreating, for—for being here. In the chaos of a finals match, dressing in ridiculous blue; just because it was something she knew you’d enjoy. Something you wouldn’t have allowed yourself otherwise. You’re—you’re Cat Grant, media magnate, proclaimed media royalty—you’re not supposed to like cursing at players who hog the puck and leave the net because of sheer arrogance.

You’re not supposed to—but you do.

Kara rubs her thumb across your knuckles and tugs you behind her toward the stadium entrance—you can already hear the jeers and chants, the stomping of feet in an odd perfectly synched rhythm. She inhales slowly through her mouth, and out though her nose and nods once—smiling, robin egg blue eyes bright, glittering like nebulas and spring afternoons. So wholesome, and cosmic, at the same time.

And she’s dragging you toward her, catching your lips in a decidingly chaste kiss compared to the ones you’d had in the backseat. Your hands are clasped to the front of her jersey, and she slowly takes your hands in hers, folding her fingers into the inadvertent fists you’d made. Folding her fingers through yours, she’s stepping back again, pulling you along, smiling when she sees the tension leave your body again.

Her lips are moving—slightly, barely at all, and you wonder what she’s counting. Cars or fans, bricks or cracks. She presses a kiss to your thumb, and you can feel the vibration of her voice—low, raspy with disuse—like a jolt through your system.

“Untuck your thumbs,” she murmurs.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (ALEX). You didn't sign up for this, and no one is expecting it of you, and maybe that's why you do it in the beginning. Because there was no one else; an incompetent man-boy ex, and a college student holding a grudge aren't really decent choices. So you answer your phone that first time, and the time after that; and somewhere along the like it stops being some self-proclaimed obligation, and turns into just caring about someone.

You don’t know how to help broken people, not well enough, at least. When your father died, you’d been numb at the funeral—cold and empty—and you’d watched how you mother shattered. She’d sobbed into her brother’s shoulder, and clutched at her own mother’s waist, allowing them to keep her together. You’d wanted to step into the circle of her arms, to hold her and have her hold you in return—but you didn’t—it didn’t hurt. Not like that. It was like someone have carved out a piece of you, some integral corner of self—and expected you to be fine. To keep on going like nothing had changed.

Pulled the air from your lungs.

Or the blood from your veins.

Your mother got better with time—and you tried your hardest to not remind her of your father. You took the stars off the ceiling, and hid your telescope away. You focused on track, and orchestra, and told her you weren’t interested in science anymore—it had been a lie, you both knew it. You’d tried your hardest to be your best self, so that she never worried, never looked at you and wondered if she wasn’t enough on her own—the parent that had never understood you the best. You were your father’s daughter, and she’d been delighted about that while he was alive—her two scientists, her lovely family. And sudden you became half a whole that she couldn’t unsee, and you felt lacking.

It took you years to remember that you weren’t.

Walking into the bar for the third time this week, the bartender gives you a small smile that you return. You’d been sleeping hard when he’d called, and it hadn’t occurred to you for even a moment to not come. The only clothes you’d had within grasp had been your work clothes from the day—a little dusty, and probably not the best smelling—so you don’t really look like the type to be spending the night at Ecstasy, the hottest gay bar in town. It was the kind of high-energy place you couldn’t imagine yourself after work. You just wanted peace, quiet, and something mindless to watch on television.

You see her on the dancefloor—dancing with a smartly dressed college boy who is being far too considerate with his hands. They’re both smiling, but only he’s having a good time—and you feel the weight again. The one that comes with being the person left standing. The world has no idea that the person masquerading as Cat Grant is only a shell of the real woman—that she’s tottering between sleepless nights and alcoholic binges on the sharpest of blade tips. She dolls up her edges with hundred-dollar foundation, and slides birdwing shoulders into silk blazers and sheath dresses.

“Would you mind?” You ask when tapping the fantastically dressed gay boy, he smiles at you slyly and unhooks Cat’s hand from the back of his neck, before stepping away. She must feel his movement, because she’s turning into you, and looping arms around your shoulders, cinching them behind your neck. She’s around your height, but she’s small, and it’s a strange distinction to make—because there’s just something delicate about Cat right now. It’s how her eyes are glassy, and her smile brittle, and the lines of her face corner darkly at the edges in ways only you can see, because you aren’t fooled by the perfect wing to her eyeliner.

Alex,” she drawls, voice hot and sharp against your chin, and you bare a smile, all teeth—mostly discomfort. She’s pressed into you, all soft slinking curves of temptation—that tempt others, not you, because she’s Kara’s. And you’re not gay—more likely than not. She doesn’t seem to care that her dance partner had abandoned her and left you as his less coordinated stand-in; because Cat hasn’t lost the rhythm and is dragging you into her sway.

She’s deceptively strong.

A pointed chin hits your shoulder, and you try to shift your hold on her, to make it less like you’re grabbing a bag of potatoes, and more like she’s a person. “Cat,” you say loudly, close to her ear because the music has kicked up, “I’m here to take you home.” You can feel her hmm against your neck, but she’s not really minding what you’re saying; still swaying, and gyrating to the song you couldn’t even name, even if your life depended on it. She doesn’t say any actual words, but that isn’t unusual.

When Carter left to spend a week with his father at Cat’s behest, you knew it was going to be a rough few days. Ever since Kara’s disappearance, you’d kept a closer eye on her family—the little boy with bright blue eyes, the college student with a perfected frown, and the woman who wanted the world to know she was alright. A million dollar smile, and an anecdote for every occasion. Cat Grant went on air every afternoon as scheduled, and wooed the nation with her charm, and relatability. You’d watched a few times, but you couldn’t not see the space between her words were the pain lingered—where the hurt showed—no one else saw it, but it didn’t mean it wasn't there.

The first time that the bartender had called, he’d only said he could see the hurt too—that he was a fan of the show and he didn’t want her to try fixing herself this way. You’d been having a nice dream for once—you couldn’t remember what exactly it was about—and had just stared at your ceiling in the dark, wondering why this was your problem. Sure, you and Cat were something like friends—Kara brought her around for game night every now and again, and when you saw her at the store, you waved—but you weren’t the pick her up drunk from a bar kind of friend.

Except, apparently you are, because you’d gotten dressed and drove down. Sliding her almost unresponsive arm over your shoulder and holding her around the waist. She’d mumbled the whole drive to her apartment, most of it incoherent, as she drifted in and out. It wasn’t until you slipped her shoes off, and coaxed her under the covers of her bed that she’d woken long enough to snag your wrist. Green eyes usually sharp as a knife were dull and foggy, “Don’t leave,” she’d asked, but everything in her face said she expected to be ignored—worse, she’d understand being left.

At first you assumed she thought you were someone else, that she was seeing Kara, or Clark, or even Kassidy—but there was a settled sadness about her that had made you kick off your jogging shoes, and walk around to the other side of the ridiculously large bed. Lying down on top of the blankets, you sank into the most comfortable mattress you’ve ever felt. She never rolled over to face you, never shifted closer, but the tremble that had lived in her shoulders since the ride home stopped. “Thanks Alex,” she’d said quietly, voice a whisper, words muffled by the pillow.

“Any time,” you’d replied, and it was strange to know you meant it.

That incident had been two months ago, and ever since then you’d get the wayward call every other weekend, or sometimes in the middle of the week, to pick up your new blonde self-made obligation. Cat was always in various stages of intoxicated, and the bartender always called before things got embarrassing; had even asked once, in confidence, what the situation was. “She lost someone,” you’d replied before you thought better of it, and when you’d turned to threaten the bartender within an inch of his life—he’d only smiled sadly and mimed locking his mouth.

Tonight, she’s feisty. Blonde curls sticking to the back of her neck, hips promising things that none of these men were probably interested in cashing in on. She’s turned so that her back is pressed against your chest, one of her hands hooked behind your neck, and you’ve cemented your boots to the ground, so that she can’t coax you into movement. She huffs, her head falling back on your shoulder, before blinking mosaic green eyes up at you.

“We’re at a night club,” she insists with far too much husk for comfort, dropping a little too low, before dragging her body up yours, “You’re supposed to be dancing.”

“No,” you say a little more firmly than you intend, “I’m supposed to be sleeping.”

You feel the stiffness that jolts through her, before she relaxes again, moving away from you like she intends to go find her college boy, because he was willing to dance. But your fingers are wrapped around her wrist, and your other hand is steady on her shoulder—she weavers on her heels, and you keep her firmly on her feet. There’s a hurt in the edges of her face, little pinches of pain, and she’s blinking too rapidly. You notice all these things in the blink of an eye, and you’re so glad you’re a trained federal agent, because you need to be to understand Cat. All those delicate hurt feelings are folding away for the woman’s personal brand of anger.

“I didn’t ask you to come,” she sneers, eyes still blinking quickly, spitting angry to hide her embarrassment, “So go right on back to sleep, Agent Danvers. I’m fine.” You’ve always been a little envious of how put together Cat is, even when she’s crumbling apart and drunk. Her words are hazy all around, but somehow still crisp. She goes to pull her wrist away, and you tighten your hold—and when you realize it might border on painful, you loosen, and then release her completely.

But now that she’s free, she doesn’t walk away.

“I didn’t mean it like that, and you damn well know it,” you say, frowning at her, and dropping both arms to your sides. The two of you must look incredibly awkward—standing absolutely still in the middle of the thrumming dancefloor.

“And how did you mean it?”

Rubbing a hand over your face, you step closer so that you don’t have to scream over the music, and she holds her ground, like you knew she would.

“If I didn’t want to be here, I would’ve ignored the call,” you say, softer now, keeping eye contact, “This’s what friends do, Cat; they show up at—,” you pause to look the watch on the inside of your wrist, “—two-fifteen in the morning to pick you up, and take you home.” There’s something impossibly vulnerable about Cat; she’s hard, and smart, and no-nonsense, but she’s so tender inside. Where she guards a heart you know is aching something horrible.

She still hasn’t said anything, so you continue, “So will you let me take you home?”

It’s a gamble, because she is known her for stubbornness, but you’ll be leaving here with her, even if you have to throw her over your shoulder. You’d just prefer to do it without all the drama.

Cat swallows, and she’s fallen back into a slight sway, like the music simply refuses to leave her entirely, but she breathes in deep, and gives you a slight nod. Almost imperceptible. Her eyes flinty and light in the dark of the club, looking at you, and through you, at the same time. When you wrap an arm around her shoulders, she doesn’t lean into you, which makes walking difficult, but you don’t say anything—you look straight ahead, and hold the door open with one final nod to the bartender.

The ride to Cat’s building in quiet, the radio dial sitting somewhere in the mid-nineties playing country music a little louder than necessary because the west coast is firmly entrenched in their denial how good it is. Hello, mid-west. I’m going to aim my headlights into your bedroom window, throw empty beer cans at both your shadows. I didn’t come here to start a fight, but I’m up for anything now. You pretend not to notice that Cat’s humming along, even if she might not know the words, she doesn’t hate your country music as much as she says. But you won’t call her on it tonight, you’ll do it in a few days when she invites you over for dinner—a silent apology that she knows isn’t necessary, when she’s pointedly drinking water with dinner, and not wine.

You always accept, because you miss Carter.

Her living room is cold, and the balcony door is open—you know she’s waiting for some monumental moment when a spectre—the Spectre—will flit back into her life. So that she doesn’t have to feel this hurt inside. At this point she’ll usually shuffle down the hall in silence, and when the bedroom light clicks on you’ll punch in the security code and go home—but tonight she doesn’t make it further than the foyer. Heeled shoes kicked off, purse left on the table in the hall, hair curling and disheveled from a night of dancing and drinking—you can see how her shoulders are lifting as she breathes deep.

“I don’t know who I am without her,” she says finally, looking down the hall to the guestroom that’s door is firmly shut—the room you know is filled with Kara’s things. “It’s crazy—I’m Cat Grant, the Times just named me one of the ten most influential women in the country, and—and I don’t know who I am.” It’s said with all the calm of the eye of a hurricane, placid and smooth, and merely a warning for what’s to come. You’re form the mid-west—you don’t do hurricanes, but you damned well know how to handle a twister or two.

“You already said it—you’re Cat Grant,” because binge drinking and dancing until three in the morning can only help escape the pain for so long before there’s more broken parts than there are whole ones. No, you couldn’t tell her who Cat Grant was, not perfectly—but you have an idea. It is the little things you notice just because you’d wanted to know why this blonde had snared Kara so completely. You’d encouraged the kryptonian to date after the messy split—had told her she deserved better, that she had to move on, and that Cat wasn’t worth it.

Kara had looked you in the eye, and smiled like you simply couldn’t understand.

Maybe she was right.

“I feel like half a person,” you can hardly hear the words, she’s whispering softly and staring down the hall at the closed door. You wonder if the Kara in her mind is the bloody vigilante at the end of the world, or someone softer, and happier. A teenager bright with love. “Like pieces of me were torn away when she left, and I have no hope of getting them back.”

She pauses for only a moment, “And I’m not even sure I’d want them back.”

Because the numb makes it possible to be alright, even if it’s just masking tape over the mortal wounds in her heart. Band aids for bullet holes.

“Do you regret loving her?”

Now, she turns, and she’s squinting at you a little harshly—but you know it’s also because you must be rather blurry. Her lips are pinched together, and hands tucked across her stomach. Defensive in every mannerism. She’s taken a step away, toward the hallway, shadows falling along the slope of her cheeks, darkening the light color of her eyes.

“I wish I could,” she says eventually, “This would be so much easier if I could regret her.”

You exhale loudly through your nose, and tuck your thumbs into your belt loops, you feel impossibly out of your depth, because she just looks sad, and you can’t handle that. If she’d been angry, you would’ve been fine. But the way her eyes glisten, but the tears never fall? It is a solid punch to the chest.

“Easier, not better.” You surmise, and she breathes deep, and nods.

“Not better,” she agrees.

Cat sighs, looking to the side, out the open balcony door, like the answer might be somewhere in the sky. “I tell myself every morning that she isn’t coming back; that this isn’t a movie—and hope isn’t some prerequisite for getting through the day.” Her words are half-mumbled, and sliding together at the edges, the listless blink of her eyes lets you know she’s close to falling asleep—even standing rigidly as she is.

“There’s places in my life that I can’t fill, because I’m saving them for a ghost, how fucked up is that?” She spits the word, and clenches her jaw, turning back to look at you and the tears are falling now—silent, her face unmoving. Like she doesn’t know she’s falling apart. Cat’s beseeching you with shards of green obfuscated by sorrow, holding herself together stalwartly, hands clasping opposite elbows, and teeth meshed together tightly.

“You know when it’s hardest?” She’s smiling, but not like anything is happy, or funny, “When I go shopping, and I get yogurt only she likes, or cereal only she eats—and it isn’t until I’m putting it away that I remember that I don’t need to buy it anymore.” You know what she means—your mother bought soy milk for three months after your father died; she would sit it on the shelf where it’s always been, and pretend she doesn’t cry a little when it goes sour without ever being opened.

“It’s alright to not be okay,” you say, knowing you’re being next to no help, but she does offer you something of a smile. It’s more bared teeth, but it’s genuine, and that’s more precious than the thousand watt grin she gives on-air. “No one expects you to be.”

“No, they do,” she laughs, pressing her knuckles against her temples and swaying backwards until she’s leaning against the wall, “Because I was a stubborn ass, who just—didn’t want to admit I was wrong. No one knows that the girl I’ve loved since I was fifteen years old is—is gone.” The trip over is gone seems to upset her, and she frowns—a kaleidoscope of emotion. “Gone—gone. I keep saying that like it’ll change something—she’s not gone, she’s dead.”

You want to do something stupid like hug her, or hold her, but she’s Cat Grant, and she pulls herself together. Brushing hands down the front of her rumpled clothes, and straightening shoulders that are still a little slumped. “She’s dead,” she says it like a nail being hammered into a coffin, the finality lingering on each word. “And I’m not. That’s just how it is; and I have to live with it.” You wonder if she’ll remember all this in the morning, when she’s cloudy and tired.

She’s turning to walk down the hall, toes dragging on the carpet because she can’t quite lift her feet completely, swaying a little with each step. You’re not even sure she’s aware that you’re still here, but she stop, cast completely in shadow, “Thank you,” you can hardly hear the words, but the quiet holds onto them like they’re gospel, “Just—thank you.” And then her bedroom door is shutting with a nearly silent click.

You’re left standing in the cool dark, and when you’re turning to leave, you see the couch—a blanket already there from when Cat inevitably fell asleep while reading. Kicking off your boots and throwing yourself down onto the ridiculously comfortable couch, laying down while tugging the blanket over your shoulder.

“You owe me, Kar,” you murmur to the darkness, already falling asleep—you told yourself in the beginning that you were doing this for Kara, to keep her family safe, but somewhere along the line you genuinely started to care, and now you don’t know how to stop. So, you’ll be here in the morning when Cat pretends tonight didn’t happen, when she invites you to dinner, and cries while throwing out strawberry banana yogurt.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (ASTRA). It is so much easier to love someone else more than yourself; but despite how it seems, there's something innately selfish about it. You cherish them, and expect them to never change, to be who you wish them to be; even if you'll love them for not being that person. Kara is the center of your universe,, the one bright spot in the dark of this liquid black of hell you've found yourself in. And you've ruined her. You've spun madness around, and around, until the impossible had had too much merit. And now you seek redemption; a hollow journey, you know. You love her, even if she may not love you in return, any longer.

She’s quiet, and still, and the pale of her cheeks has nothing to do with her actual complexion, and everything to do with the fate fostered upon her by madness and circumstance. You’d convinced Non to leave her with you—and by convinced, you’d simply asked him if he wished to make you choose. You pretend to not know what the outcome would be, and he pretends as well—because the dark fosters bonds that have nothing to do with marriage, or promises of grandeur. The black foundation beneath your feet is sifting and unsure, and you balance as softly at you can on the edge of sanity—a blade’s edge width between you and oblivion.

“Have your girl, Astra,” he says, a sneer on his lips, but you can fish through the cold blue of his eyes to find the tenderness that had been there before the dark. When he’d happily hoist your niece up onto his shoulders and listen to her inane child’s chatter. You see that he recognizes her, even despite the slopes and curves of her adult face—the line of her brow is still the same, as is the blue of her eyes—brighter than any O-Type star. “But what’s done is done, and we’ve committed ourselves to this path.” He keeps his gaze on you, and you’re imperious—because he is your husband, yes, but he is also your soldier.

“Don’t question my commitment, lieutenant.” You warn, from somewhere deep in your chest where that flint sharp anger lives. “I haven’t forgotten myself.” No—you’d promised yourself an escape from this liquid madness, from this living nightmare, and you are going to stay true to that. But—Kara—you don’t wish her to be your casualty. You can’t imagine a future paved in the red of her blood. You see Non press a hand against his stomach, differing quietly—as he always does—and bows his head.

“Of course not, general.” And he leaves—the door hissing closed behind him quietly.

Walking up to her side, you listen to how the door clicks—locking—your hand covering hers, but she’s cool to the touch below your smooth fingertips. You don’t look at the other person in the room—the clattering martian with chittering teeth, and long dangerous fingers. The telepath had taken a lot of wrangling, but he’d eventually seen reason—with much violent suggestion attached.

“Are you certain this will work?” You ask the shadows, because you won’t allow this horror to continue—your fingers trace over the mangled remains of Kara’s left arm. Where the rods that had been drilled deep enough to hit bone had been carelessly removed. Needles circulating chemicals and blood torn free, and the resistance had cheered with revelry while hoisting the bloody device over their heads—pieces of Kara still stuck to the molten metal, blood, and skin, and muscle tethered intimately to the machinery. Your niece had been none the wiser, lost to the dreams of the Black Mercy—not a single flinch while the facsimile of surgery had carved the reactor from her.

You’ve wrapped her arm, binding the open wounds with medical gel, numbing the extremity carefully so that it would not get infected—she’ll heal, you know she will, but how much of that was because of the reactor? Her frightening strength and speed, her ability to take pain and damage that none of your soldiers could tolerate. How was that solid frame of defiance this small girl? So fragile and delicate under the vicious fauna of the Black Mercy—her chest rises and falls, but there’s no more life in her than there had been a four months ago—or seven months ago.

“I will be able to bridge your minds,” the wheezing hiss of the algradian promises, his thin probing fingers smooth over Kara’s forehead, before they melt through her skin and settle somewhere in her mind. Kara’s face twitches, and then smooths. “What is done with that is up to you—you must make her wish to return.” Where is she, you wonder? What world has she been locked away in that she would wish to remain—you can imagine the places. The crystal beaches outside Argo City, where the calluria burrow—Kara had always loved to chase them, even if she’d never been able to catch them. The vermin were impossibly fast, but it had never deterred her. Or maybe the markets of Evinaqu, the planet that existed in a perpetual twilight—she’d loved their fine clothes, and had twirled herself tightly into the yards of fabric she’d found.

You feel how his mind reaches for yours—slithers in through your ears, and nose, and the corners of your eyes, and infests the madness of your mind. Takes up residence in the hollow corners where the things you’d once thought important had lived—mercy, and compassion, and justice. Fool’s errands, in the end. He plucks at your memories, digging phantom teeth into your thoughts until they tear and shred at the edges—just enough that he can tether Kara’s mind-scape to you. You’re stumbling backward until you’re against the cold metal of the wall—your eyes are opening, but you can’t see anything. Only black, and color, and in the distance the harsh red of Krypton’s surface—it’s a familiar view, and you squint to make it out.

But nothing becomes clearer—if anything, the harder you focus on it, the more out of focus it gets.

So you walk closer—your mind sliding out of your body, and into the ether, traveling along the delicate spirals of the algradian’s hold; the silver threads he’d used to stitch your mind to Kara’s—to the Black Mercy’s ruse. You know your body remains slumped on the floor, breathing shallowly, and growing cold—but you’re walking as well, getting further and further away from the safe madness of your own mindscape. You recognize the view—it’s the one from Kara’s window, looking out over the trade route to the west, where Rao would rise every morning.

An eagerness fills you, crawling inside your chest, because its home, and you can’t wait to breath in Krypton’s air once more—you want it so badly, that for a moment you forget that it’s a lie. A conjured untruth to keep your niece pliant and unaware. Just as you step off the vibrating silver cord, it sings sharply, and the window of black shuts behind you—a pop, and snap, and you’re home. Your hand is closed around something, cool and metal—even despite the heat in the air, and humid breath of smoldering weight that is Krypton.

“Aunt Astra, you came!” A voice shatters your resolve, and a body collides with you—it is Kara, so different from how you left her in Fort Rozz—there’s a brightening happiness about her. She glows, and her hair curls perfectly—no spires of sharp unforgiving metal on her arm, no shadows in the blue of her eyes. She smiles so easily; white teeth and mirth.

“Little one,” you breathe out, and clutch her to your chest—carding fingers through the strands of her hair, darker than it was on Fort Rozz—more red-brown than blonde, closer to her mother’s, closer to yours. You imagine it must have been the influence of this yellow sun she speaks of rarely that caused her golden halo. “I have missed you dearly.” Tucking your nose into her hair, you inhale the smell of home—electric, and charged, and sweet. Like spun sugar.

Kara laughs—bells and chimes.

“It’s only been a day, Aunt Astra,” she reminds, and when she pulls away—you refuse to let her go, because you’ve been hovering over her inert body for eight months, while Non and his scientists try to remove the reactor from Kara’s arm. You’d haunted her room like a wraith, making sure you could do this one thing for her—keep her safe while she dreams. No one dies in the Phantom Zone—the Black Mercy could have her for eternity, and would never drain her. So you’d watch over her until the end of days—or until Non figured out how to open the rift.

You smile, and play along, “It feels so much longer.”

Years, and decades, and eternities. Smoothing your hands down the smooth white of her dress, perfectly tailored for the eldest heir of the great house of El. She’s gorgeous, with Rao’s light skipping through her darker hair, catching the blue of her eyes—she looks happy, and you have to ruin that. Because none of this is real.

“Kara, do you trust me?”

Blinking, she steps back—forcing your hands to drop to your sides, “Of course.”

But there is a shiver in the air—ions and electricity—and you know the Black Mercy’s aware of your presence. The fabric of this place stretches and rotates, but Kara doesn’t seem to notice it. Doesn’t seem t feel the shift of perception. Her lips are pressed into a smile, but some of the shrewdness you’d witness in Fort Rozz flickers into her eyes—little pieces of the person she had been without Krypton, the person she’d became on the other side of the galaxy.

“You need to come with me,” you ask softly, coaxing her away from the shifting reality around her, and when you step toward her, everything weavers. Like a ripple leaking into the color of the world—Krypton seems less red outside the window, the crystals less blue. “We have to go, because something horrible will happen if we don’t.” Kara will be lost here, in this perfectly constructed world of hers—she’ll live on a dead planet, and her soul will die slowly—carve out the dark of her mind, and leave her a living husk.

“No,” she’s firm, shaking her head slightly while placing the spy beacon down on the clear table set before her. “No, everything’s alright. Mother made sure of it.” Absolute certainly, conviction you’re envious of, but there are flickers at the edges of her eyes. Little shadows of doubt, and it makes you wonder if the Black Mercy even knows what Kara really wants—your darling girl had grown bright, and hard, and good, in your absence, but there’s a mystique to her. An edged truth in her heart that is double bladed and noble.

“The planet’s dying, little one,” you start, and stop, because you take another step—and the world shudders, like it’s buckling under the weight of your added mind, “Our planet died; I’m so sorry I couldn’t save it—I’m sorry you had to grow up alone.” You’re talking to her softly, the spy beacon glowing and clutched in your hand, and you’re saying all the things you can’t say in reality—where she looks at you with shuttered eyes, having lived whole lives away from you. And the things you couldn’t prevent.

“No,” she’s still saying, over and over, squinting against the brightening sun, and steady despite the shaking ground beneath her.

“Yes,” you counter, “This is wonderful, and I wish it was true—but our home is no more. You’ve lived more of your life on Earth, than you ever did Krypton—I’m so sorry.” Your eyes are wet, and Kara’s face crumbles—but only for a moment, only for a second before something settles. The red sky bleeds to purple, and then to blue—streaking across the horizon as the house around you shatters into a million pieces.

“—Earth,” she says slowly, blinking around like she’s just noticing that something is wrong. That this mindscape is collapsing, and you’re filled with hope, because she’s looking at you like she understands what’s happening. “Aunt Astra—what’s happening?” Her voice is hoarse, like she’s suddenly remembering that she hasn’t spoken in months.

“You’ve succumbed to the Black Mercy, little one—Non has the reactor.” You’re standing directly in front of her, and have grabbed both of her hands, pulling her along with you, back toward the silver cords stitching together the dream behind you—where you try to drag her back to reality.

Her laugh is sharp, and odd, and her eyes are glossy, “He won’t be able to use it,” she says gleefully, “No one can, but me.” She gets a considering look, and something clears a little in her eyes, “Well—” The ground rumbles, and the fissures in the red valley behind the house burst with sharp energy you know is coming from the core, and you don’t know what’s happening—Kara can’t die in the Phantom Zone, and this dream is supposed to exist until she does. Why is it deteriorating?

You hear footsteps, and spin to find a woman standing at the top of the stairs—she’s diminutive, but there’s something regal in her bearing. The way she has her shoulders rolled back, the easy authority laced through her frame. She’s wearing the strangest clothing—light colored, and tight, and it simply must restrict her movement, but it doesn’t bother her in the least as she takes the stairs confidently. Curls of blonde brushing her shoulders, lips painted red and curled into a smile.

“This isn’t the home you long for most,” the woman says, her green eyes bleeding black—color and white swallowed by the dark. “It was buried under the pain of your lost world—but now I’ve found it.” You don’t understand—the illusion is crumpling, why isn’t Kara being released? Why does it feel like her mind is drifting further and further away from you? Kara’s hands growing cold in your grasp, like she’s whole quadrants away even though she’s right in front of you.

“Cat,” your niece breathes the name like it’s made of star systems and precious gems, and she’s pulling away from you—crossing the distance to catch the blonde woman by the cheeks. They lean together like they’re two stars spiraling around each other, caught in the gravitational pull, and unwilling to shake themselves free. The red-brown is bleeding from Kara’s hair, turning burnished gold—the white gown of house El melting into something loose, and mismatching, with strange yellow creatures pressed into the light green fabric.

“Where’re the boys?” Kara asks, suddenly seeming older, and so far away.

The blonde woman—Cat—smiles, and tips her lips to touch Kara’s, “Right here.”

And Krypton dies for a second time—shattered into splinters of white.

When you blink your eyes open again, Kara’s standing in front of a teenage boy—he’s taller than your niece, with shaggy dark hair and thick glasses. The way he shoves hands into his pockets and slouches reminds you of Kara—it’s in how he tries to make himself smaller. She’s shifting just enough, that you can see the small boy on her hip—dark of hair, and blue of eye as well—but there’s something that brings the blonde woman to mind, the woman who had been able to shatter one illusion, and coax Kara into this new one.

One that feels so much sturdier than Krypton—there’s no ripple when you walk closer, no doubt when you look into Kara’s eyes. They’re a little family of three, in a lab that looks suspiciously like Zor El’s—advanced, and messy, and unorganized. Notes everywhere in Kryptonese, with gadgets forgotten on counters, and devices thrown to the corners of the desks. But one in particular stands one—a device that looks almost unfinished, but you’d always seen tethered to your niece’s arm.

“What’s that?” The teenage boy asks, and Kara pushing his bangs out of his eyes—smiling when he shies away.

“That’s a temporal reactor—it breaks through the fabric of this reality, and lets you enter the next.” The way Kara is explaining seems mechanical, and out of character, and you swear her eyes catch yours while she looks through the laboratory—they’re clear for a moment, before they cloud over and soften with this new truth of hers. “Our people called it the phantom zone.”

The boy whistles, “Sounds pretty damn dangerous.”

Kara scowls, “Language, Clark.” Before she shuffles the baby on her hip and gently untangles fingers from her blonde curls, he giggles—she giggles, and then turns to look back at the reactor. “Well, it would be dangerous if anyone other than me, could activate it. I bound the sequencer to my genetic code—so, actually, I suppose you’d be able to use it too.” His slow, sly, grin make her shove him in the shoulder, “Don’t get any ideas.”

Their little moment is broken when the door slides open behind you and they are all suddenly looking at you—no, through you—it’s like you don’t even exist in this world. This reality where her family is bright, and happy, and she smiles more genuinely. Now that he’s looking at you, you can see Lara’s nose, and Jor El’s bright blue eyes—those eyes that every member of the house of El, seems to have. They’re cousins standing shoulder to shoulder, and you suddenly understand what had been asked of Kara—the secrets she’d been keeping from you when you asked after her life.

The blanks in the stories—this is Clark, you know that much, but he is also Kal El, son of Jor El.

Everything suddenly makes so much more sense.

“You said this little stop would only take a minute,” someone behind you grouses, and the clink of heels makes you turn to watch as the blonde woman—Cat—who had dragged Kara to this illusion sashays past. She’s dressed in perfectly tailored clothing, and the little boy gurgles and half throws himself at the woman—only to be caught by expectant arms. “How’s my baby boy? Is your mama boring you with all this science?” She coos, tickling under the boy’s jaw, while Kara huffs in exasperation.

“Zrhueiao,” she whines, and it’s the final piece sliding perfectly into place—Kara calls this woman lovely with such care. Like this little martian could build whole worlds with her delicate seeming hands. They fold together, the boy between them, while Jor El’s son gags dramatically—they don’t pay him any mind, linking hands with matching rings, and pressing their foreheads together. “Catherine Grant, you make me the happiest Kryptonian in the galaxy.”

This blonde—Catherine Grant—smiles, “I’m not so sure about that, supergirl.” She demurs, but she’s smiling, and happy—and Kara’s happy—and this world is strong, where Krypton had been weak and brittle. Your home world had been remembered from dreams and nightmares only—but this one is where her life has been lived. “Have you seen the heathen look at a meat lover’s pizza? Now that’s true happiness.”

As if on cue, Kal El’s—Clark’s—stomach rumbles.

You feel your own stomach roil, and whatever had been allowing you to stay is pulling you back—little silver cords stitching into your wrists and shoulders, pulling you backward—away from Kara. But she looks at you once, like she can finally see you, tilting her chin down, lips pressed against her son’s forehead—hands laced through with her Zrhueiao—she raises her eyebrows, and blinks slowly. Her free hand raises like she’s saying goodbye—but halfway through the motion, recognition dissolves, and she’s blinking away your memory.

You have no place in this world—no grasp strong enough to bring her out of the illusion.

You feel the cords tug you away, and close your eyes.

When you open them, you’re back in Fort Rozz—the dim flickering light making your pupils shrink, the toxic air threatening to choke you. The silence buffering in on all sides. You’re looking at Kara’s hand on the table—how it’s curled like fingers are slotting between hers.

“Seems you didn’t manage to snag our legend killer,” the algradian laughs, coughing as he pulls his fingers from Kara’s forehead—the tips rusty like they’ve been sitting in old blood, and the aches in your body makes you wonder how long you’ve been slouched on the ground.

“Someone else has a firmer grip on her,” you say, jaw clenched as you stand to your full height. Shoulders back, a plan spinning to life in your mind—pieces and facts, and secrets finally told piecing together like a puzzle you hadn’t realized you were doing.

“And what’re we going to do about that?” You’d promised him freedom, and after months of watching Non flounder away his disciples loyalty, he’d agreed to go fishing in Kara’s mind. You want to escape this hellish prison, the madness clattering away inside your mind aches for it—but you are going to do this for Kara, it’s the part of you that doesn’t want to be selfish. But you know you are—you allowed her to be snared, because for a moment, freedom had seemed more important.

And you have to live with that—with the sickness in your stomach that says maybe Kara is lost to you forever.

“We’re going to find someone to release that grip.” The numbness in your veins at your failure is chilling, but walking up beside Kara’s bed, you trace a knuckle down the angle of her cheek. Seeing the smile that has settled on her face unconsciously—as harrowing as it was, you learned something that Non has been searching for. The device can only be used by Kara—or Kal El, who is unreachable.

And you.

“But first, we need to cause a rather large explosion,” the pieces slot together too easily, the chaos and destruction almost second nature by now, “The nuclear cell in the aft engines is overdue for a cleaning—we should probably start there.”

After you steal Kara’s reactor back from Non, that is.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). Trying to put value to the future is impossible. There’s nothing tangible, nothing to weigh and measure. But you like to pretend you can see the writing on the wall. That every choice you make is sound, and logical, and right. But—but you’re still young, and you’re handled readily by your emotion. Anger, and fear, and love. Who are you without these things? You hope to never find out.

The ring of the doorbell splits the silence of your mother’s three story manor.

Not a mansion—because, according to her, only pretentious new-money housewives had mansions.

Not your manor—because, well, you’re already packing up all your belongings to leave.

You know who it is going to be before you even open the door—because your mother had told you who to expect. Of course, she’d told you as she slung a bag over her shoulder and left for some ostentatious gala in Metropolis—not a care for how you felt about it, but that was business as usual. She’d been in a particularly bitter mood the last few weeks, and you’d been wondering what had caused it—not that there had to be a reasoning. She tended to be a bitch just because she felt like it, half the time.

“Don’t think about going with that girl,” she’d hissed with fingers clenched tight around your arm—nails digging in, but you’d refused to show her any pain. Gritting your teeth and squaring your jaw had been your only response, and you’d looked for something in her cool gray eyes—there was just bristling consideration in her, and her grip had tightened. You knew you’d have another bruise—the faint mark of fingers around your arm, and you internally curse your pale thin skin.

“You might be going to college in the fall, Kitty, but I believe she’s still here for a little while yet.” She knew she had you, that the only way you would have stayed home tonight was to protect Kara. Your mother had enough sway with the board of the school to make Kara’s life hell—academically, and you know how much going to college would mean to Kara’s grandfather. The old man couldn’t hide how proud he was of his grandchildren, even if Clark was only just learning to color inside the lines—you’d spent enough afternoons with mister Callaghan framing poorly colored pictures, and good report cards.

Sometimes even bad ones.

“I get it, mother.” You had ground out between gritted teeth, “I won’t leave the property,” and she’d flashed you a smile that was hardly happy, just smug. She released your arm, and swept through the house gathering her bags so that she could throw them at the driver who had been waiting patiently in the driveway.

“Oh, I’ve already arranged an alternative for you,” nostrils flared, and sunglasses perched on a hawkish nose, “No proper girl should miss her prom.”

And she’d left.

Walking down the stairs, you’re in no rush to answer the door, because you’re dreading the confrontation. You aren’t in the mood—you’d spent the whole afternoon crying, face pressed into your pillows because you knew there was no one to hear you sob. You’d called Kara, and told her that you weren’t feeling well—that you weren’t able to go—and she’d been too understanding. After all, you had been the one to make a big deal out of tonight—it would be your first official outing together. You thought you were ready for that, for the spotlight and the whispers. It was something of the worst kept secret in Yeux Clairs Academy, but you’d always vehemently denied it. You had never been ready before.

You hate that some small, scared part of you is relieved.

Unlocking and pulling the door open with a little more force than absolutely necessarily—you meet Jack Ellis’ eyes.

“Cat,” he says, eyes squinting a little at the light now pouring through the open front door. He’s conventionally handsome—dark hair combed back perfectly, liquid brown eyes, and a dimpled chin. His cheekbones would probably give Greek deities self-esteem issues—he’d definitely grown into his face since you’d dated briefly freshman year. His suit is black, and his vest a soft green that would match the gown hanging on the back of your bedroom door precisely. It’s upstairs because you have no intention of going.

Jack immediately notices.

“You aren’t dressed,” he observes, hands still in front of him, holding onto an intricately wrapped box that you can only assume is a corsage. You’re dressed in black leggings and a Seattle Seahawks shirt. Usually you wouldn’t let anyone other than Kara see you like this—but you were making a statement.

“That’s because I’m not going.”

Jack’s brow pinches, like he’s confused, because it smooths out and he smiles—it’s a nice smile, so much softer than the ones he gives at school, or when out with his friends. You’d never thought of him as human—he was an arrogant bastard, and mindless blow-hard.

“I should have known that this wasn’t your idea,” arms drop to him sides, the box clutched in one hand and he licks his lips. “Your mother can be damned persuasive.”

You laugh, “Try living with her.”

His dark, dark eyes glance down to the bruise you know is just hinted at from beneath your sleeve—you tug it down to cover it, even though you know it’s too late. “I don’t think I’d want to.”

You don’t know if you should invite him in, or just send him away, and you’re both left standing awkwardly in the door like there’s more to be said, even if neither of you knows exactly what that would be. Word was he got accepted to Columbia University for pre-med, even though he had no desire to be a doctor. It was the kind of things spoiled rich kids told each other in the dark of high school hallways—no matter the animosity. Because the weight was a spectacularly unique one—to have all the opportunity, and all the chances, but to be limited by the expectation of others. To be fed guilt, and shame, and remorse like supplements to your health until you simply couldn’t buck the pressure anymore.

“I heard you got accepted into Wellesley,” he says, breaking the silence, fishing for something to say, “Congratulations, that’s great.” The stranger at the door isn’t the boy who smirks through the halls at school, or who clambered to the top of the class by any means necessary. He’s softer, and considerate, and you feel a kind of discomfort that goes hand in hand with not expecting a situation.

“Yeah, thanks,” inhaling, you make the choice, and step to the side, allowing him to walk past you into the foyer. Not any further, but you don’t want to keep standing at the door like an idiot. “Brown, too, but I’m enrolling at the university here in National City.” That was something your mother didn’t know yet—she’d gotten the acceptance letters from Wellesley, Brown, and Yale—as well as the University of California, and Williams College. Had fawned over them to her co-workers like they were her child—you just happened to be attached to their achievement—these great institutes of learning. She’d emphasized at dinners how it would be so difficult to narrow it down, when there were so many superior options.

You’d put in your admissions application at the second deadline—because you’d been carrying the papers around for two months, but couldn’t bring yourself to committing the act. Then, you’d lost them—and whatever courage you’d had to even think about it, had dissolved and you’d relegated yourself to going wherever your mother decided. Only for them to show back up a day or two later, on the back table at the Bruised Apple, certain places filled out.

“You left these on the counter last night,” mister Callaghan had said, leaning beside the cash register, catching his breath from walking up the basement stairs without his oxygen mask. “Figured I’d start it for you, deadline’s tomorrow, after all.” He’d filled out mailing address—putting in the Bruised Apple’s address—and non-related reference; himself. He’d just patted your shoulder, and went back to doing stock—which was really just sitting on a chair and listening to Clark try to explain what was happening on his favorite television show—which usually involved a lot of explosion noises, and rapid hand gestures.

The University of National City wasn’t a bad school, it was actually pretty damned decent—but it’s wasn’t lauded for any particular subject, and its alumni weren’t very well known—two professional athletes, and one junior Senator from Rhode Island. Their English and Journalism departments were pretty new, but were all very promising—two speakers had praised the curriculum, and said it was a good alternative. If you went to the particular private academy you went to and didn’t have a perfect GPA, and influential parents, and too many extra-curricular activities.

The fantasy you had growing up of moving across the country to escape your mother had been clipped at the wings when you met Kara—the girl with eyes too blue, and a smile just this side of goofy. She’s contorted herself seamlessly through the cracks in your life, keeping all the pieces together so much easier than you had ever managed alone—and you couldn’t imagine a world without her. Where she’d be three-thousand miles away, and a tinny crackling voice through a telephone. You didn’t want to come home on holidays to Clark being half a foot taller, and suddenly liking girls—or mister Callaghan succumbing to the cough that rocked through his chest when he thought they weren’t paying attention.

This family you’d adopted was here, and you suddenly wanted to be here too.

So you’d applied in spring—and been promptly accepted.

The acceptance letter was framed beside Kara’s first report card (atrocious grades in everything, but math, and science) from Yeux Clairs Academy, and Clark’s tee-ball jersey, that mister Callaghan had the boy sign for when he was a famous baseball player one day.

But no one outside the Callaghans know this, so Jack looks surprised when you tell him—something in his jaw clenches, and his eyes squint. You’ve surprised him, and while that usually brings with it the burn of satisfaction, there’s only a warmth in your chest, because you’ve finally said it out loud to someone not in your little safe world. You’ve shattered the bubble, and you can’t imagine looking back.

“Don’t want to go far from home?” he asks, the corsage box being exchanged between his hand, like he isn’t sure what to do with it, so you snatch it from him, and set it down on the table. You don’t like when people fidget.

“Home can go fuck itself,” you say blithely, “but there are some things here I don’t want to be far from.”

Jack smiles, “Some things? Or someone?”

Now it’s your turn to squint, and try to discern what he’s trying to get at—you truly don’t know what to do, since this hasn’t dissolved into senseless snide remarks and cruel smiles like any interaction between you two at school. People give any meeting of Ellis and Grant wide berth if they can.

“Maybe, what’s it to you?”

You’re trying to make him mad, because this just feels weird, but Jack seems determined to be cordial. You hate cordial people. So, instead of snapping back—like he usually does—he reaches into his wallet and starts rifting through it. Ridiculously crisp bills, and platinum cards that has his father’s name on them, and all the way at the back is a picture. A boy—around your age, maybe a little older—smiling wide for the camera. He’s wearing a cowboy hat, and the hotdog and mustard walking in the background lets you know it was taken during Halloween. He has light eyes, and blond hair, and the kind of tan that would make the Jersey Shore blush.

“That’s Jordan,” he says, and you don’t understand; but you look a little harder like maybe the solution is in the well-stitch sequins on his western style vest. You don’t see the sparkle in Jack’s eye, “My boyfriend.”

Blinking, you look up, and Jack is looking away—pale cheeks a little red, eyes shifting too much to really be seeing. His hands have shoved into his pockets, and he’s leaning back against the door and you’re trying to process—he’s dated nearly every girl in the school, there’s more than one rumor about illicit affairs in bathrooms and broom closets. But then again—there’s rumors about you, as well, and none of those had ever happened. “Excuse me?” You say instead, because it bears repeating, but there’s something cool and strange in your bones now.

A knowledge.

“My boyfriend,” stronger now, more firm, like he’s decided he isn’t running from this, “Like how Kara is your girlfriend.”

“She’s not—I don’t—,” but you stop, because in his dark eyes is the same uncertainty you feel every time you think someone’s seen you curl your fingers around Kara’s, or you’re standing too close because you like feeling the heat of her at your side. He looks afraid, and no one should look afraid for admitting something like this.

Slow breathing, “how long’ve you been together?”

“Three months. You?

Now you smile, “Ten months—or since the day we met.”

He laughs, and raises a hand to press against his forehead, “when I chased you down the street and she almost fed me my own fist?” His face turns, morphing and sliding, and becoming something more familiar. A little of the cold that lives in him, the anger and the remembered sneers—they’re part of him, as they are part of you too, but—but love is softer. It makes you softer—maybe it does that to him too.

“You’re lucky you stopped being a douche bag,” you return, humming under your breath, “I’ve seen her fold someone in halves.” It was a playful wrestling match between cousins—but Clark had promptly tapped out, didn’t matter that he was four. There’s a moment—then two, and then you have to ask, “So what are we doing?”

Jack Ellis—the home coming king, to your home coming queen, the sneering bully at every corner—shrugs, and takes back the picture he’d offered you. What does he tell himself when he looks at the mirror? What does he say to justify everything he’s willing to do to hide? The same things you say? “Well, I’m going to go meet Jordan downtown, and give him this lovely corsage,” he tips the box, “and you have to make your way to the back yard.”

You’re left confused, and unsure—but he smiles, and says something slowly about how rumors will take care of the rest, but you’re already turning in place to look out the back windows. There’s nothing in sight, just darkness, and the occasional flicker of light from some vehicle down the road. The front door closes, and the kitchen floor is cold beneath your feet as you unlock the sliding glass door and open it, stepping out onto the back porch.

And everything comes to life.

White lights strung from the corners of the porch, spiraling up into the branches of the tree just behind your window, and stretching out across the back lawn to curl around the gazebo. They’re swaying slightly in the breeze, but they’re everywhere. Another cord is tangled up into the branches you would tell Clark to not climb, even though he always did. There’s the gurgle of the in-ground pool—water sloshing and slapping against the filter, but just slightly louder, is music. We’ll do it all, everything. On our own. It’s coming from the speakers nestled in the garden, in faux rocks, and fountain spigots. The song you can recognize by the first bar of music. We don’t need, anything, or anyone. One that Kara’s always humming under her breath when you’re trying to take a nap, and she just has too much energy.

The motion sensor flickers on—bright and makes you squint.

And suddenly, Kara’s standing there.

She’s wearing a suit—no, a tuxedo—and you recognize it as the one you’d pointed out in passing when you’d been out. Thin lapels, and a slim tie hugging curves you know Kara’s uncertain about—you most certainly aren’t unsure. The pale, pale celadon green shirt mixed well with the dark green vest. She’s a vision, even though she’s wearing scuffed Converse, that have more than a little mud on them—and the bottoms of her pants. And you can see that one of her jacket sleeves are dripping slightly, but she’s gorgeous. Golden curls in ringlet, and a swooping French braid that looks positively artisan.

Your eyes are wet, and you don’t notice that you’ve stepped down two of the porch steps until she’s walking toward you. I don’t quite know, how to say—how I feel.

“What’re you doing here?”

She smiles, eyes squinting just a little, “No one should miss prom.”

“You didn’t even want to go,” You sniffle, and you must look like an idiot—but you’d never know it looking at her. She looks at you like you’re her world; cheeks a little flushed, eyes widening, and tongue peeking out over her bottom lip.

“When’re you gonna realize, Cat?” One step up, and your nose to nose. You can feel how the warmth bleeds through her clothes, and you shiver—putting it down to late-June breezes. If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lay with me and just forget the world? Her hands land on your hips, and you’re reminded that while she’s dressed to the nines, you’re in what amount to pajamas. Not that she seems to notice.

Kara finishes her thought, “I’d do anything for you.”

You can’t help yourself from kissing her—cupping her cheeks and pressing your lips against hers. It tastes like salt and love, and you’re five tear drops in before you even realize you’re crying. She’s laughing softly into your mouth and curling fingers into your hair, keeping you close—sharing air. All that I am, all that I ever was, is here in your perfect eyes, they’re all I can see. “I don’t deserve you,” you murmur, because she’s perfect. She’s kind, and beautiful, and patient. And you're—you. Whatever that is. You’re a girl who totters on the edge of oblivion like it’s a lifestyle, because you can’t bring yourself to upsetting the people in your life who don’t matter.

“You deserve everything,” she replies, shifting to wrap her arms around your waist and hoisting you up against her body. You steady yourself on her shoulders, feeling them flex dramatically below your fingers—you bury your face in her neck until there wet grass between your bare toes. “I’m not going anywhere—you’re stuck with me.” Her breath caresses the curve of your ear, and you’re swaying together to the music; barely moving, because you know Kara’s worried about stepping on your feet.

“How did you know?”

How did Kara know you needed her reassurance? How did she know you were crumbling and trying to convince yourself you weren’t? You’d wanted to keep your mother’s cruelties and threats from her; wanted her to stay happy, and content. You didn’t want her to run—but here she is. Wrapping your house in lights, and chasing away the darkness that lingers in the halls like ghosts.

“I nursed you through that bout of the flu you had last year,” she reminds, while you laugh—she’d been inconsolable. A shaking mess, always wondering if your next breath would be your last. She’d been entertaining enough that you’d been able to mostly ignore the fact that she was seeing you in such a state. “I know what you sound like when you aren’t feeling well—and what I heard on the phone? That was sadness, not sickness.”

Kara’s warm and wrapped around you—her heart thundering in your ear, fast and strong—and this feels better than any school organized function could hope. She’s humming along to the song, and turning you this way and that, and your toes are on the tips of her shoes, to make sure she doesn’t crush them. You think about what your mother would say if she saw this; what vitriol would spill out of her, but you do feel a little smug.

Technically, you hadn’t lied—you didn’t leave the property. But that brought you to something else.

“How did Jack know?”

She flushes, “He may have seen me walking down the driveway with the boxes.”

You’re startled into laughter, and she flushes further.

“I love you, Kara Callaghan.”

A chaste kiss—a promise, “I love you too, Catherine Grant.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (MARTHA). Your favorite constellation is the stars you’d held in your hands for only a moment, before they’d fallen away, and back up into the sky. // Prompt from, anonymous.

You’re thirty-five when you find your second starling.

She’s small—no older than twelve or thirteen, but something about the jut of her chin and the round of her eyes makes you think her ancient. Her jaw's clenched, you can see it even from this far away; a pretty little thing. Auburn hair a snarl of strands around her face, tangled and matted, but it doesn’t—detract, oddly enough. Because there’s something alive about her, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. You can only make out the right side of her face, but what you can see is tanned skin dark with dirt, caked deep, and smudged like she’d rubbed at it with her fingers.

“You lost, dear?” She’s looking right at you, but the way her chin snaps would make you think she hadn’t seen you—like she’d been looking right through you. She takes a running step back—impressive for someone who’d been standing still—and trips over the edge of the driveway, falling down onto gravel and rock. You’re half-way down the steps before you realize, and she’s pushing little palms through the jittering rocks like she could make them disappear if she tried hard enough.

“No, no, sweetheart,” you try soothing, “You’re gonna hurt yourself,” but when you get close enough to touch, she goes still—laying half on her stomach, fists full of rocks, she’s peering at you through tangles of hair, and she’s stopped breathing—going completely still like she’ll vanish if she doesn’t catch your eye. Closer now, you see she still has the chub of youth, childish and endearing. You look for any blood, any way she’d hurt herself while trashing—and there’s nothing. Just dust settling into the moist dirt covering most of her body.

She’s shuffling back—away from you—and you didn’t realize there was any sand in the gravel, because from between her fingers is whole fistfuls of dust—fine and white. Her eyes are blue—bright and scared, and her pupils only pinpricks, which sits oddly in your stomach—there’s almost no light out, they should be a little wider. You’re worried she might’ve hit her head, but those worries won’t do you any good until she lets you get a little closer.

“Why don’t I take you inside,” slow, and soft, like you’re talking down a skittish colt, demur eye contact, fingers open and raised only slightly. Her eyebrows tuck, and she moves a little further away, but you don’t move, “We can get you cleaned up, and we’ll help you get home.” She’s still, jaw clenched, but there’s a flinch, a widening of eyes—home. “That what you want, sweetheart? Home?” She leans closer, chin lowered, and little nostrils flare—tears are welling in her eyes, they fill in a moment, and when they fall, you can’t stop yourself from catching her dirty little face in your hands and cooing softly.

“No, no, baby,” you sooth, pushing away tears, and she’s not really seeing you through the wet—not really giving you much mind, because she’s shuddering and sobbing, and it’s sad because it’s soundless—silent whole-body shakes quiet as the dark as she crumbles before you. Her fingers spread wide, dropping nearly crushed rocks, and she’s swaying, and only pauses when her forehead comes in contact with your shoulder—presses into the denim of your shirt and freezes, before curling closer and sucking in deep breaths. “It’s okay—everything’s okay.” But it clearly isn’t, even if you don’t know what it is—the screen door opens, and Jonathan walks out—your little starling tucked into the crook of his arm.

The boy had fallen from the sky, skipped right through the clouds and landed in the field behind the house; it’d taken near a week to put his ship down below the barn. You’d both been waiting on baited breaths for some otherwise unnamed government agency to roll through the property and claim the ship—and the boy—as their property. You’d spent whole nights waiting up by the window, your finger held in the shockingly tight grip of the infant boy—scanning the horizon for headlights.

No one ever came.

Except this girl.

The sound of the door clattering shut makes the girl thrust herself backwards abruptly, which really seems to mean you’re pushed a good ten feet away, elbows and knees churning up grass and gravel. You blink through the skipping colored dots, and see Jonathan’s face above yours—he’s talking, or at least his lips are moving, but you’re worried about the girl. You find her—halfway across the yard, back pressed into the side of Jonathan’s truck—she’s pressed into the truck, quite literally. The metal and frame warping around her tiny body, the groan and creak of solid metal whines as she digs her bare heels in a little harder, and the wheels rock up on one side until it’s balanced delicately on the two remaining wheels.

“Martha,” your husband whispers, a cautious warning in his words, pressing your little starling into his shoulder tightly, fingers flexing like he very much intends to find the rifle you’d forbidden him to keep anywhere but the safe in the basement.

“She’s just a girl, Jonathan,” you sooth, keeping your voice light and soft, even though you know she shouldn’t be able to hear you properly, you somehow know she can. “Scared out of her mind.” She’s trembling, a quiver in every part of her, and the mess that she is just makes it all that much sadder. Your hip protests when you step forward, and your elbow smarts, but you’re determined—and your father had said you’d be able to weigh yourself in tenacity alone. Something you’d gotten from your mother.

“It’s alright, sweetheart.” She’s watching you with back burning eyes, blue—but somehow other colors too—red, and gold, and just bright. “No one’s mad; everything’s alright.” She’s leaning forward, allowing the truck to sit on all four wheels again, though she’s still shivering violently. Scared, and alone, and confused. She’s watching you like she might understand, but there’s the skittish nature of a cat about her. Like any sudden movement will cause her to bolt away into the dark. The burn in her eyes fades, leaving them blistering and wet, a blue you could probably only find on your sister’s paint palette. Her lips are pressed tightly together, and her chin wobbles silently while she regards you.

And then your little starling takes a deep breath, and cries.

She bolts like you expect her to—but not away into the dark, and further into the side of your husband’s ruined Silverado—no, she’s at the base of the porch, before your husband before you can blink. A flash, a snap, and when the sound follows her you are left with a dry mouth and wide eyes. Jonathan pinwheels one arm, startled, and falls back against the porch. The movement jostles the boy, and he screams again, two little fists clenched and waving in front of him.

And the girl—the girl is fuming.

The glow is back in her bright blue eyes, hot and sharp, the air tasting like metal and ozone, and you’re afraid. For the first time. She’s walking slowly, stepping carefully around Jonathan’s extended leg until she can get a proper look at the boy. “Klarh ke,” she breathes, and her voice is wind chimes and fresh linen, the kind of voice your mother’d give the angels when she read you stories about them. “Klarh ke, Kal-El.” And the damnedest thing—with angels and cherubs flittering about in your mind—the girl’s feet lift from the ground like she’s simply forgotten she’s supposed to be on it. Only a foot, maybe two, and she’s looking down at your starling—and he’s looking up at her, blinking eyes all dark pupil, little hands tucking close. Until they reach out again.

To her.

Khap ahvig rrup, klarh ke.” She’s crying again, the big drops rolling down curved cheeks; her smile—it’s beautiful. She’s laughing through her tears, and the boy’s giggling, making a sound in his chest almost like a chirp—half whistle, half bird call. The girl makes one in turn—a little softer, lower, and you’re not sure, but you feel like they’re communicating with the sounds. Jonathan’s trying to slide away, to move out of the corner he’s wedged himself—the stairs on one side, the porch at his back, and the girl just before him. But a small hand clamps down on his arm, and he hisses—which makes the girl release him, the boy to giggle, and your husband stay still.

“She was the other one,” you realize.

Jonathan watches her carefully, “That one wasn’t landing for a good few hundred miles the rate it was going.”

Your starling had crashed, but there’d be another—a faster, larger meteorite—that had cruised low overhead and disappeared off into the distance. You’d thought about it up until the point that you’d lifted your little boy up from his celestial bassinet, and felt the weight of him in your arms. You wonder who had been there to greet her—was she lifted from the pod into safe arms, were there black vans and spot lights waiting for her on the ground.

It doesn’t seem to matter, because she’s crying through a smile, and Jonathan only resists her attempt to grab the boy for a few moments before she has him cradled close. Feet two feet off the ground, small body curling around him like she can protect him from everything. Little fingers are twirling through her hair, tugging them, but she only laughs. She’s saying something, garbled little half words, but you can’t make them out—not through the sobbing hiccups that are wracking her body.

Two little starlings that had fallen out of the sky.

She spends the night on the porch with the boy—not your boy, because you see the relation in their features, even as young as they are. You leave her blankets, and books, and a knapsack full of juice and crackers.

When you’d gone to check on her, she’d been crying silently, the tears falling off her dimpled chin, and she’d blinked at you like you were only just swimming into focus. So you’d stay on the far side of the porch, grabbing the first book you could reach, and cracked the spine. Speaking softly, and slowly, you know she has no idea what you’re saying, but maybe it only matters that you’re saying something.

“All children, except one, grow up—,”

In the morning, when you wake from your uncomfortable sleep on the porch chair—she’s gone.

As is the knapsack full of juice and crackers—and your worn copy of Peter Pan and Wendy.

You’re forty when you learn of her life.

You don’t see her again for years. There’s stretches of time when you almost forget about the little starlings you’d caught once upon a time. Farms are hard work, and small towns make lingering on secrets kind of difficult—like space ships in basements, and aliens amongst us. You don’t like to think about them, because you remember how that boy had felt in your arms—light enough to barely be anything at all, but so heavy in your heart. He’d been an answer to a prayer you hadn’t realized you’d been asking. For a child, someone to call your own.

There’s no spaceships, or tears, or bolts of speed—she knocks on your door like every other person. You don’t recognize her at first—her hair is lighter, golden blonde, and her skin is tanned. The only thing that remains are those eyes—blue as blue can be, and she doesn’t flinch when the door bangs open. Doesn’t dash away when you open arms wide, and remains still when you wrap her up tight—squeezing just this side of painful. But this girl had totaled a Chevy Silverado with little more than her body, and a head start.

There’s a little undignified squawk, but she wraps her arms around you slowly; hands lighting carefully on your back, like she’s afraid to make too much contact. Stepping back, and holding her at arm’s length, you see she’s growing tall. Almost your height, and thin as a stick—all arms and legs, with a set of shoulders on her, despite the fact that they’re slumped and curled.

“Little starling,” you say happily, and she licks her lips, looking unsure, “That’s what I’ve been calling you all these years—you and the boy.”

The way her eyes list to the side, makes you realize that skittish little creature is still in there, just pressed down inside. “Clark—uhm, his name is Clark.” She supplies, and then awkwardly—in the way children do when they’re trying to be an adult—juts her hand out between your bodies, for a handshake, “I’m Kara.”

You accept the handshake, “A pleasure to meet you, Kara.”

She smiles, and you have no idea what’s happened in her life, but she looks happy—though, you suppose you don’t know what happiness is supposed to look like on fallen stars. Maybe this is absolute depression, and it manifests in grins and cheer. “Why don’t we go for a walk?” You say instead, and she bobbles a nod, and follows in your wake. Hands tucked in pockets, shoes completely unsuited for farm land, she hobbles ungracefully over dirt and grass that has been freshly churned by tractor wheels—you expected her to be more—otherworldly.

But she’s just a teenage girl.

She laughs a little too loudly, and fiddles with a curl of her hair when she’s distracted—she runs her finger tips along the roses in your garden, and smiles wide when you tell her she can pick one. She’s just a girl. And it’s humbling, and enlightening, and you wonder what a girl should be like wherever she’s from—the clouds, or stars, of galaxies.

You learn that she works at a bookstore, and Clark’s going to school—and she has a best friend. She doesn’t tell you exactly where she lives now, but the image she paints makes you imagine New York City, or Metropolis. Someplace with mile high buildings, and a million people. She’s seventeen, and she’s already graduated high school, “I tested out, because—because there was no reason to stay anymore,” and had promptly been accepted to the University of National City.

You want to ask her the whole time why she’s here, what made her come back after so many years; but she just seems to like walking in the fresh air and sunlight. You don’t ask what she is—how she can fly, or dent trucks—and she doesn’t offer anything up. You plan on bringing her to the ship still nestled underneath the barn, but she doesn’t seem concerned with it. And you realize you’ve been keeping her secret for years—you’ve had the evidence hidden this whole time, and—and she knows that.

“I wonder a lot,” she says with her feet dipped into the pond, “What would’ve happened if I had left him with you that night.” She swirls them around when a catfish gets a little too close, and you lean forward in the chair that’s nailed to the dock. “If I’d made a mistake—if he’d be happier if I had left him here to grow up with an actual family. A mother, and father.”

The dock creaks as the wind picks up, “What makes your family not—actual?”

She shrugs, and you wait, because teenagers are thoughtful things, even ones from wherever she’s from apparently, “He asks to call me mom sometimes; not a lot. And I’m so happy, because he’s—he’s everything. But—but I know—knew his mother. My aunt was beautiful, and kind, and smart—and—he has a mother. And I’m not her.”

Your bones creak when you lift yourself out of the chair, and dip your bare feet in the water beside her, “You’re not her,” you agree, and she looks at you a little startled, but you smooth a hand up her arm and along her shoulder. Pulling so slightly she could easily resist, until she’s tucked to your side, this starling you couldn’t keep, “But you don’t need to be. Do you love him?”

You know the answer.

She does too.

“Of course,” it’s immediate, her eyebrows perking up, “Until the stars go dark.”

“Then I don’t see how you can think you made a mistake—loving someone is the hardest thing a person can do. It’s not something you deserve, not something that’s automatic. You love that boy, and you do right by him; that makes you a hero in my books, Kara.” She’s flushing, but smiling, and leaning into you like she’s asking you to hold her—without words—and you do. Because this girl has been on your mind for years, and you’re so glad she’s alright—her and her starling boy, Clark.

When the sun starts to set, you see her out to the porch, and there sitting where it had been five years ago—is the knapsack full of juice and crackers, and a worn ruined copy of Peter Pan. “This book might’ve saved me,” she whispers, fingering the spine reverently, and biting her lip when she looks up at you. “Would it be alright if I brought Clark next time? He’d love the pond.”

You don’t think you can agree any faster.

She wants to give to the book back—some kind of thank you—but you insist she keeps it, because you can’t imagine taking something that someone holds so carefully. She’s gone by the time Jonathan comes home, and you only tell him after you’ve developed the film role of the pictures you’d taken. Most of them are of cattle going to auction, but toward the end are tilted pictures of ducks, and a close up of a rose—and you standing proudly, with a golden haired cherub tucked under your arm.

You’re forty-two when you’ve learned how her heart breaks.

It’s only two years until the next time—it’s raining harder than you can remember in recent memory, slates of rain, the little pings of hail on the tin roof of the barn, but it’s the green, green sky that worries you. Science tells you there’s no discernable reason to assume a green sky means a tornado—but fifty eight years in Kansas trumps any amount of science. You’re tacking down the barn doors, roping all the supplies into place, making sure if a wind spigot was to happen, nothing would be a danger to the horses.

There’s a crash and clatter, the back door slamming against the side—wood screaming and splintering, and with how swiftly the wind is yelling past, you can’t muster up enough strength to pull it against the force, and securely latch it. You’re soaked through in moments, lightning cracking across the sky, your clothing ripping against you—the wind snarling the fabric around your shoulders and legs, nearly tripping you with the force.

And she appears.

Quiet as distant thunder, the sound seems to snap around her like it’s an opening fist. Rippling out from her suddenly there frame. The wind tugs at her, gripping her clothes and pulling them—but she isn’t budging, her eyes lost to snarls of dark blonde hair, tangled around her face. She’s wearing a beautiful black dress—it was probably even more beautiful before it had become sodden with water. Lace, and trim, and cut just to the knees—at the back of her head is something that looks like it couldn’t been a veil, but it succumbs to the wind she’s apparently unaware of. Slipping off and into the distant green darkness.

“Kara,” you say her name, but you can’t even hear yourself over the scream and sneer of wind, but she looks at you. Blue, blue eyes that look black and hard, like diamonds, or the night sky—her face set sternly like chiseled marble, and you can only think how wrong it looks. She’s meant for smiles and cheer, for laughter and mirth. For the first time she looks truly alien—an all-powerful deity sprinkled with star dust and the kicked up color of the constellations.

She moves forward and curls deceptive fingers around the barn door, taking the weight from you—walking slowly, and casually forward, heedless of the destructive wind. Still like she isn’t sure it’s there—knowing it doesn’t apply to her. When it’s closed, you latch it firmly, and turn to see her. Kara hasn’t moved any of the hair out of her eyes, and there’s the slightest hint of black at the corners—it’s draining down her cheeks, the running eyeliner looks like pitch colored tears.

But, it’s the rain, right?

“Kara?” Now her name’s a question, and she snaps out of it.

“He’s dead,” for a moment your heart stops, and it must show because she continues, “Mister Callaghan—he died.”

The man who Kara adores—who had been able to chip through her skittish paranoia and had been able to keep her. You’d seen a picture once—an elderly gentleman between two grinning angels, dimpled and blue eyed and happy. He’d made that possible.

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” She doesn’t fight you when you pull her in, collapsing against your chest and winding thin arms around your waist, and pressing her face into your chest. She’s absolutely quiet, not a sound coming from her—but she’s also gone still. Holding her breath, because she’s worried what’ll come out if she allows it. “Let it out, dear.”

And she does.

Large hiccupping sobs that shake her body hard enough to make you worry about if she’ll be able to keep herself together—her arms tighten, and her fingers scrabble for purchase on your rain jacket. She’s almost screaming, but the sound is warbling and low, and you can barely hear it against where she’s hiding her face on your shoulder. And you hold her. Because maybe right now she’s can’t keep herself together alone—this otherworldly girl who was so scared, and brave, and good.

You realize you’re crying too—for this man you never met—and you wish you could tell her it would all be alright. But this hurt will live inside her, will mark her and remind her of all the things that had been different only days ago. How whole worlds live inside a person, and all those who orbit in their gravitational pull. Planets, and comets snared by the pull of a collapsed star when it finally dies.

“I thought I couldn’t hurt any more than I already did,” she whispers, arms going loose, her weight just resting on you, and you’re worried that she’s getting thin—working herself too hard, minding herself too little. “That this would just—get lost in the old hurt, and I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t have to feel it.”

When you move her away to rub your thumbs across her cheeks to clear the tears away, she’d hollow eyed and frowning. “But it hurts, Martha. It hurts.” Like a child who suddenly realized there was still fresh pain, that there would always be new pain, because it never hurts the same way. It’s a blow that has never been struck, or sometimes just salt to an existing wound.

“It’s going to hurt, baby,” you sooth, combing her wet hair out of her face so you can really look at her—there’s very little physically wrong, but it lives in her eyes. Cracked and shattered blue curls of color, that beseech you to explain why this is happening. “I wish it didn’t, but it does. It’s a part of life, unfortunately, and all we can do is remember everything they gave us before they left.”

You feel how her jaw clenches, and unclenches, and how she seems to sway ever so slightly on her feet, “It isn’t fair, you’re so—so breakable,” the words are wet, and somehow the you know she isn’t speaking about you—but about everyone. The billions, upon billions, of people tottering through life. “How can you love someone, when you know they’re going to—they’re going to die?”

She isn’t sad right now, the flicker and burn of her eyes is back, filling in the hollow edges, and flooding the blue with a glowing ember. She’s angry—at humanity, and fragility, at death. And you imagine a child that had tripped through the stars might feel such a way. Affronted by death.

“Because it’s worth it,” you say, because—because it’s the truth, “Because when the hurt has abated, even a little. You’ll remember all the wonderful things you did with them. After days, or weeks, or months of feeling like you’ll never smile again—you’ll remember a horrible joke they liked to tell, or when they washed the clothes wrong, turning everything in the washer pink. Small little moments that you never thought of while they were alive—and you’ll laugh.”

Your father had never had the patience for the family dog when you’d been young—he’d go to the door and call the dog’s name for a minute, maybe two, but eventually he’d give up. “I’ll just leave the door open,” he’d say, only on nights that your mother was working late, because she’d tell him he’d let all manner of animal into the house that way. Sure enough, he’d fallen asleep on the couch, and in the morning you’d acquired three baby raccoons. All filling themselves with M&M’s and dry cat food.

It had been a month after the funeral when you’d thought of that night—triggered by a family size bag of M&M’s at the store.

Kara’ll have those moments, but not now, when the hurt is debilitating, and raw, and new.

“I don’t want to remember him,” she says, loudly, “I want him.” But she’s deflating, shoulders falling out of their confrontational stance. Slouching, and curling, and stepping back—and back—and back, until her back is against a post.

And she stays there for the longest—curled up on the floor, wrapped around herself with her face buried in her arms. You sit beside her, every bone in your body protesting the poor posture and you know you probably won’t be getting up anytime soon. The wind makes the wood groan and bow inward, the nails almost vibrating out of the planks. Kara doesn’t seem to notice—

Until the tornado sirens start.

Splitting even the deafening rumble of thunder and patter of hail, they’re unmistakable, and you wonder how bad it’s going to be this time. It’s the season for it—and everyone you know has a storm cellar, but coming up in the morning to the destruction wrought is devastating. Picking through rubble looking for precious things; you volunteer, you donate, but just once you wish you could help before the damage was done.

Kara’s standing up, not even bothering to brush the hay and dirt from her knees, or the black of her still wet dress. “I have to help,” she murmurs, dragging a forearm across her eyes and starting toward the door—you’re up faster than your body enjoyed, and swiping Jonathan’s sweatshirt from the hook next to the stall, extending it toward her.

“It’s cold outside,” it doesn’t seem to bother her, and as useless as the gesture is, you can’t help making it.

Her fingers are ice cold when they brush yours, but she’s pulling the oversized sweatshirt on, zipping it up the front, and pulling the hood over her head, tucking all her blonde hair away. “Thanks,” a little bluer in the eyes, a little more strength in her posture—she’s not alright, and there’s no reason she should be, but she has something to do now. Something to focus on. “You and Jonathan should head down to the cellar, sounds like a bad one.”

And with a snap—she was gone, the door still closed.

It was the biggest tornado Smallville had seen in the last fifty years—mile and a half wide, winds up to two-hundred miles an hour. It had hit the center of town head-on. Ripping through farms, and houses, and stores—but just as it had reached the places of highest population, it began to weaken for no discernable reason. Slowing, and getting choppy, the winds lowering and sputtering at the edges until the vapor simply trailed off and the residents of Smallville could see the person floating high above the town—soaked to the bone, tangles of blonde hair. No one—not a single news source—had gotten a picture, but Smallville’s “Angel” became something of urban legend.

Not a single person died.

You’re fifty-nine when you show her son what she left behind.

Clark’s a handsome boy—no, you suppose he’s a handsome man now—at twenty-four years old, he’s tall, and strong, and you’re sure all the ladies fall for his dimpled smile and blue eyes. He’s come by a few times over the years—mostly with Kara, when she’d take him for a walk to the pond to feed the ducks, or asked Jonathan to teach him to drive because Cat didn’t have the heart for his atrocious ability behind the wheel. Jonathan had needed something to focus on that autumn after his knee surgery—unable to work the fields or tend to the livestock, he’d quizzed the sixteen year old starling about the rules of the road.

“You are waiting in the intersection to complete a left turn. You should?” The boy had been devouring the practice tests just so that he’d get a chance behind the wheel of your husband’s brand new Silverado—Kara had been content helping you wash dishes. She’d offered to help with dinner, but one incident with burning soup had made sure you never left the beautiful alien alone in your kitchen.

It had made your house feel like a home.

Kara hasn’t been by in years.

Clark’s come by himself the last half-dozen times, or so. He’d been tight lipped at first, sullen and quiet about what had happened—but you’d been able to guess. The news of what had been happening in National City had been—well, national. The footage of the monster tearing through buildings, ripping cars in halves—and the hero that had shot into the sky with it, exploding in the atmosphere. After that first visit, he’d wander through the property—fixing fences, and feeding the ducks.

You never asked, because you’d learned to give these vagrant starlings their space. They’d open up eventually, or they’d settle themselves without help.

It wasn’t until he’d brought a little boy with him that you’d cracked—Kara’s son. Carter was well mannered, and curious, and though he was shy, he didn’t mind your presence. You asked him about home—after a while he wouldn’t quiet down. He was telling you about his mother, who ruled the world—or maybe just most of it, he conceded after some goading on Clark’s behalf—and that he was going to school soon, and he liked spaghetti best, and—the list was endless. He chatted and chirped through dinner, and well into the night—until he’d fallen asleep in the cradle of Clark’s arms.

That same little boy stands before you at nine years old, more reserved, more polite, and you see enough of Kara in him that you don’t worry for him—but you see someone else too. Cat, his other mother. You’ve never met the woman, never spoken to her, but you can feel who she is from how her sons speak of her. Warm, and caring, and understanding—but hot tempered, and drastic, and human. You’ve seen pictures—Carter had loved showing you the pictures he took with him digital camera.

A small blonde that only seemed to smile when she was looking at the camera—looking at Carter—otherwise, her face was set in a carefully neutral curl of lip, to match the business attire she seems to be in every single picture.

Except one.

It is of all three of them. Carter’s seven, maybe eight, and is leaning heavily into the woman’s side—both of them dressed in pajamas, and behind the couch is Clark. Both of his muscular arms looped over their shoulders as he smiled for the camera. Kara had always had worries about real families—like she’d been told something young, and the haunt had simply never gone away.

She’d built herself a beautiful family.

“Martha,” Clark says warmly, as he joins you on the front porch—where you’d read two starlings to sleep with Peter Pan—giving you a quick hug. “I wanted to show Carter what you have below the barn.” That gets a raised eyebrow from you, because Clark had never really shown much interest in his ship, had never been keen on fiddling with it, or seeing what could be done with it. Kara had dismantled it when she was in her early twenties—pulling it apart and putting it back together, before tossing a switch and pressing something to turn it on. You knew she'd had her hidden somewhere, then locked away in a vault at her company where no one could reach it.

“Really now?”

“Yeah, he’s—he’s closer to it than I am.” Large hands shoved in pockets, and you can see how he’s watching Carter—like Kara used to watch him. Worrying that he was doing everything wrong, that maybe a real family would make this easier for the boy. He’ll learn what Kara learned—family is what you make of it. And theirs—well, you envy the love they’re capable of. “It’s all he has of her, and I want to encourage him. This may have been my ship, but it was Kara’s culture—more than it was ever mine.”

“You were just a babe, Clark.”

“Even when I got older, even when I knew, I wasn’t interested. Deep down, I liked to pretend I wasn’t exactly what I was—it was easy because Kara never forced me to acknowledge it.” And then she’d died, and that night you’d found him below the barn—sobbing, and slamming his fist against the panel of controls. The ship had remained dormant, had sat there silently under the abuse. “I need to find her!” He’d yelled, like the words would make it sputter to life, “She needs me!”

Nothing had happened, and he’d simply sobbed—gulping violently, and shuddering.

Leading them both to the stilted ship under the car cover Jonathan had bought for it, you watch as human fingers caress the whorls at the edge of the ship. Tracing symbols, and lines, and curves—and with a careful press of a finger to four very deliberate spots. The glass popped open. He was saying something in the language you’d heard Kara use a handful of times—usually to curse to herself. Clark just watched—pride, and guilt in his eyes.

“It has a slipstream stasis axillary,” the nine year old says while half hanging in the cockpit, one shoe clad foot stretched out into the air to keep his balance. “It’s what kept you dormant while you travelled here. It probably took a while, in reality.” You don’t really understand what he’s saying, but he seems thrilled.

With a few muttered words, and a rhythm of pressed buttons, the ship roars to life—though, roars would be the wrong word to use. It is quiet, like the softest of breaths. Light pouring from below, and you recognize that awe inspiring shade of blue that is emitted. It is what had made Jonathan stop that night—to search the landing site.

It was the longest either of your starlings had ever stayed—Carter puttered around with the ship for nearly a week, before Clark was fielding calls from Cat—he maintained that he wasn’t in trouble, but the quiver you saw in fingers was proof enough hto you that he was at least in a little hot water.

“Would it be alright if I came back?” Carter asked, unsure and timid.

You smile, “Absolutely, after all—it’s your mother’s ship, isn’t it?” Clark didn’t want ownership of it, and you knew he felt more comfortable with it being Kara’s—so you accept the lie. “Maybe you should bring your mother next time? She must be able to get vacation at her own media conglomerate.” You suggested, while they gaped—they’d never given Cat a last name, or Carter—but you weren’t an idiot.

Clark inserted himself then, laughing, “She’s not really a fan of farms. Too rural.”

You dream of the hum of a spaceship for the first time in a quarter-century.

You’re sixty-four when you see her again.

You know she’s back, because Clark had let that slip the last time he was here—actually passing through on business, the Planet sending him to record the stories of people from the most recent tornado. “She’s back,” he’d said, with a splitting grin, eyes brighter than they had been in years, “She’s really back.” It had been months ago, and it was auction season, so you’d convinced yourself that being busy was reason enough to not expect her—to not fold in on yourself and purchase a ticket to National City.

An urge you’ve never had before, because they aren’t your starlings, no matter how you think of them—because they’d made their own places in the world without you. You were their pit stop, their break from reality, where they could settle, and mend, and act like the world wasn’t impossibly heavy on their shoulders. So you don’t expect her to remember you, after all, she has her family around her—to keep her grounded and safe.

So it is a surprise when you walk out the front door and see her curled at the corner of the porch.

She’s wrapped in too many layers for the muggy spring night, and her feet are bare where they curl against the dark wood. Her golden crown is down, so that you can’t see much of her face—just the slightest slip of eyebrow and the curve of her cheek. Her fingers tap against her knee, keeping some unnamed beat in mind. Kara doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t move when you sit down in the chair across from her—just looking at her.

And you sit on something.

A worn and faded copy of a book you haven’t read in years. It’s familiar, because it’s the one you’d given a lost little girl decades ago. Running your fingertips along the cover, you can barely make out the words that are etched into the ancient cover. Little golden leaves curving along the edges, and the slightest figure of a boy—tossed up into the sky, floating above a girl with outstretched hands.

You know this hadn’t been here this afternoon, so when you open the binding, and smoothed fingers over the first page, you watch how dull blue eyes turn to regard you. Careful, and considerate. She doesn’t move other than the slight shift of her head, but she’s paying attention, so, without any prompting, you put your reading glasses on the tip of your nose, and begin.

“All children, except one, grow up—,”

She’s asleep by the second chapter.

You’re sixty-nine when worlds collide.

“Mrs. Kent?” She asks—so young, too young. Her eyes are bright blue, and her face too clear of shadow, and that cousin of hers must have finally convinced her to wear his color scheme. Red, and blue, with a golden crest—and that cape.

“Yes, Miss Callaghan?” You reply—because she hasn’t called you Mrs. Kent in decades.

She frowns, “Callaghan?”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). Very few people in your life really know you; you could count these people on your fingers alone, not even needing all ten digits. The people who won't sell you out for a story, or ask for money, or care about what's written in the gossip column. You've been oddly lucky, that even for missteps have garnered you some of these important people.

“So,” the voice is tinny, and echoes from where you’ve depressed the speaker phone button, “anything you wanna tell me, Grant?” It is one forty in the morning, and the ache behind your eyes had reached a whole new extreme. You feel it throb every time you blink. This call was supposed to be a very quick one—a few words exchanged, a reminder of all the threats made in the past, and then you would go about your business. Fixing the gross incompetence that seems to filter upward in this company—there’s a sports page that uses the world awesome too many times, which is to say once, and a fashion column that seems to have some misconstrued notion that you wanted zany and off beat options on color palettes.

“You’re new girlfriend looks like she’s your daughter?” You supply sweetly, “it isn’t even the age difference, it’s the jawline—you two have the exact same jawline. And chin.” Kassidy had picked Carter up from school on Friday—he was in the city for the next half week, and had promised to take Carter to the astronomy expo in Los Angeles.  He’d tried to convince Carter that he was thrilled about the idea of going to some science thing about heavenly bodies—but his last minute Wikipedia binge had only gotten him so far with someone as smart as your son.

Carter was under no illusion that his father was actually interested at all about what fantastic new discoveries were made on the other side of the galaxy—let alone what close by planet had frozen hydrogen in their crust. But the fact that his father would still go, and try to care, was what mattered. Father and son were most awkward around each other—Kassidy, a man determined to make everyone like him, and Carter who didn’t know how to start a conversation with anyone other than his primary family. Namely you and Clark—and now, by extension, Kara.

“First of all, kindly fuck off.” He seems far too happy, and it worries you, because whatever makes him happy is sure to ruin your day. “Second, that’s the best you can do? You haven’t attacked my manhood in months, I’m really starting to worry you’ve caught a nasty case of humanity. If you don’t watch yourself, Grant, it might be terminal.”

You scoff, “When will you realize you’re the only person who finds you amusing?”

“When will you realize I’m conceited enough for that to be perfectly fine?” You’ve leaned back in your chair, pen forgotten on the desk, heels pressed into your eyes. You’ll take a five minute break, and then you’ll finish the work you have to do, and go home. Carter isn’t there, and Clark’s off in some third-world country doing something with some indigenous tribe—but, there’s a blonde angel in your bed. Well, you’d left her there with a note when you’d started reading the atrocities of what would be going to print if you didn’t fix them.

It’d been a struggle to leave—a true fight against every desire and need in your body. Kara was curled, dressed only in the longest of your nightshirts—which on her barely covered the curve of her ass. The intent had been to watch a movie, and then go to sleep—you both felt infinitely better sleeping within arm’s reach of each other. Somehow, Kara had convinced you to watch some mumbled documentary about photosynthesis, or something—well, you know exactly how she’d convinced you. A hand tracing fingers very high on your thigh, under the hem of your own nightshirt, and warm wet lips mouthing against your pulse.

You were disgustingly pliant.

She’d fallen asleep a quarter of the way into the fantastically boring documentary, and you’d played Candy Crush on your mobile—volume off, victory laughs kept to a minimum—and then you’d gotten the message. The final copies of the articles that would be going to print the next day—and your primary editor was out for some ridiculous reason—his daughter born, or something—and the fill in had given the okay to all of them, only then thinking to inform you. You’ve peeled Kara off your body, wrapping her in blankets, and putting the pillow from your side of the bed in her arms.


Apparently I employ someone by the name of Harold, and apparently he deserves to be fired for incompetence that even I cannot put into words. And as you know, I have quite the vocabulary. I shouldn’t be long, and intend to be back in bed before you’re even aware I was away.

Love Always, C.

You’re brought back to the present, having not realized you were drifting, until Kassidy’s voice gets louder.

“So, back to what I was saying,” he drawls, and you can just imagine him kicking his damned feet up on his desk. The savage, “There I was, minding my own business, eating breakfast, watching DVRed ESPN, and what bombards my sweet innocent eyes? Why, the mother of my son, sticking her tongue down someone’s throat.” Now, he has your attention, because you’d already been on your way to drifting—ignoring Kassidy was second nature at this point.

“What?” You hiss.

“Didn’t know they caught you on the kiss cam? Yeah, I thought that might’ve been the case, you looked pretty busy.” The Canuck’s game last week. You’d been abuzz with the excitement of the game, with the feeling of Kara against your side—with the way her hands wandered, and strayed. You hadn’t been able to mind yourself very well—but no one cares what the person beside them were doing at a hockey game. You’d snagged her once or twice in the back, on your way back to your seats—against a support beam, and in the shadow of the last row.

“If what you’re saying is the case, I’d know,” you stress, making sure to swallow any uncertainty you might have, because you had possessed Kara’s mouth quite a few times during the game. “Kind of my area of expertise.”

“Ah, but Grant, the public doesn’t know that thing you do with your hand when you kiss someone,” so much glee, in such a smug tone, “I do—been on the receiving end, once or twice. You know what I’m talking about—that tap, tap, scratch.” You’d both been wearing hats, and ridiculous sunglasses—you remember because they’d clicked and scrapped against each other every time you’d tilted your chin to capture her mouth.

“Circumstantial at best,” you return, because you are now booting up your desktop, and combing through the by-lines that you usually ignore when they cross your desk. Gossip, and rumors, and speculation. None of them have mention of CatCo’s CEO—you then, reluctantly, turn to the Daily Planet. Nothing. Somehow, you truly had dodged a bullet—carelessly, maybe, but it seemed the only person in the know was the smug bastard who was the father of your youngest son.

You’re the one who has to worry about proof; I don’t mind sitting pretty in my party of one, celebrating my complete, and utter, rightness.”

“You’re insufferable,”

“One of the reasons why we didn’t work—I mean, besides the fact that we both loved another.” He says mournfully, like your romance from fourteen years prior had been a staple in his life—a true moment of clarity for his character. But you don’t even bother responding, because you know where he’s going with this. “You—and Kara. Me—and myself.”

You snort—wishing you didn’t laugh.

“But in all seriousness, Grant,” he talks low, quiet enough that you are actually leaning forward to look at the speakerphone on the desk. “You looked happy. I’m glad.” And you hate when he makes it difficult to remember he’s an asshole, because he can sound so damned genuine sometimes. He usually isn’t—but for brief moments, he’s a real human being. He hadn’t noticed who you were kissing, but you knew you’d been smiling like an idiot the whole time. Grinning like a fool in love.

You’re about to respond, but there’s a flutter of fabric, and then a blonde is descending onto the balcony. Kara had put on a small pair of shorts under the gray nightshirt, but it was negligible really. Her hair is still mussed, and her eyes a little cloudy—you wonder if she’d already been moving to find you before she’d woken up completely. That little tug in her chest you know she must feel—it exists too readily inside you. That little squeeze of your heart when she’s too far away—you’d felt that tightness for a decade, before it had abated.

She’s beautiful. Cast bright in the moonlight, golden hair a halo around her crown, and she’s walking right toward you, leaning down to clasp you by the jaw, and tilt your chin up to capture your lips. You hum at the back of your throat, and she smiles against your mouth. Blue, blue eyes cut over to the speaker phone, and an eyebrow raises—and you have to remind yourself that she’d spoken last night—three little words.

Three important words.

“I am happy,” you reply—feeling the truth of it in your chest like a warmth.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA). You wonder if the world would be better without you—if the decisions should be in someone else’s hands. You wonder when you’re wiping the warm blood off your face, and the soot from horrors off your hands. You feel it, even when the sun sinks into you and chases the aches away—you feel them deeper. In the red of your heart, and the black hidden away within.

You follow the destruction—it isn’t hard. It’s been dormant and you know the ring has finally swallowed her mind, burned away her humanity, and snared her soul. That’s what they do—you’ve never seen one in person, but a blue lantern had loved telling stories when they were planet side. Had loved the singing crystals, and had never been able to deny you the tale. It had started at the hospital, the explosion in the basement—gas main, the staff said—but there was melted glass and cement turned to ash. Even you had been able to feel the residual heat.

And then a little girl had died—the room boiling away, walls peeling, and metal curling, and the fabric of her blankets had caught on fire. She’d been gone before any of that had happened—the coroner had said it would have been instantons, that the sedatives she was already on made sure no pain happened. All of this speculative, because there'd been no body. You’d stood stock still, unable to feel anything for the longest, unable to feel the beat of your heart, or the heat of whatever had done this.

And then you’d felt it—like a plucking songbird, the chirp of power and the whistle of destruction.

Two men crushed to death in a bowling alley in the middle of the afternoon, a car full of college students crushed like it had gone into a compactor. You’re following the scent of burning ozone, of sulfur and metal. It winds through National City, digging into the dark alleys and leaving bodies in its wake—you feel helpless, and angry, and so very sad. Standing on the edge of the tallest building in town, you feel the brush of power, the touch of the ring’s presence at the edges of your mind, a caress. Want, it croons, tasting your anger like it is desperate for it.

“Then come and get me,” you growl to yourself, slipping deep into the building, past security check points and solid walls. No one is here this late at night, even security is far enough above the laboratories that you don’t worry for them. Its clawing at your mind, digging and digging—and in the dark basement of Lorde Technologies, she appears.

She’s a blaze of energy, whirling and cruel, it circuits through the air and bleeds through the very cement of the laboratory. The sleek curves of her body have finished melting away, oily and black, a blazing red crest upon her chest. Marion’s stunning. The power spills through her, and around her, and there is no discernable point that she isn’t united with it. Fingers spread wide, to admire the bright red ring upon her finger—it dazzles and glints, and you have to close your eyes to not be blinded. Its radiance bleeds through all of your filters and leaves you bare—you feel it pulsing along your bones, sinking into your muscles, asking to be let in.

“Kara, Kara, Kara,” Marion grins, as she walks up beside you, her oozing black feet sliding across the floor, until her toes wedge themselves into your chest, and you’re sent flying. A trail of red energy wrapping around you and rocketing you into the centrifuge. Glass shatters and rains around you, you’re pawing at the ground, watching with interest the red marks that you’re leaving behind.

Blood—you’re bleeding.

How are you bleeding?

“Always trying to be the hero,” she mocks, “Maybe I don’t want to be saved this time? Did you think of that?” You can hear the sedate footsteps as she strolls toward you—the power buffering hotter, and hotter, the closer she gets.

“This isn’t you, Marion,” you grit out, stumbling to your feet, wavering for a moment, before you find your balance and cement yourself. “It’s the ring talking; it tethered itself to you when you were at your lowest. You can overcome it.”

A wave of heat spills through you, and you don’t move—you can’t—you’re being boiled from every side, and it peels at your skin, molten and horrible.

You scream.

The power ring cards through your filters, pushing them down and away, shucking them from your bones until you’re only raw nerves and burning skin. You can smell how your skin sizzles, roasting under the pressure.

“I don’t want to overcome it!” Your best friend’s wife sneers, grabbing your face in her mortal hands, digging nails in to the apples of your cheeks. “Because when I do, I’ll feel everything.” There is a spot on your face that is scalding, melting through your skin, and muscle, until it touches bleaches bone. The power is speaking clearer now—it is digging through your emotions, searching for something specific.

Your anger. It hisses, latching onto that oily black anger that lives at the center of you—like molten tar that roils and simmers, and never extinguishes. It lives below every smile, and every laugh. It is fed by the deaths of millions of your people—you hear them at night, you see them in the dark just beyond the lights of the city. Festering, waiting—demanding retribution because you had cheated your fate.

Your anger is delicious. The ring purrs, forked through your mind, tearing pieces of you to shreds to feel the anger it knows you have—Marion’s laughing, but it’s the power puppeteering her. Wearing her like a flesh mask, pulling her red simmering lips into the caricature of a smile. I’ll give her back, if I can have you. The rings lie, the power lies. You’d known enough of the Lantern Corps to hear whispers of the red power ring—how it boils everything good inside you.

This power couldn’t have your anger—even if so much of you wanted the numbness it promised.

Clenching a fist and lodging it into Marion’s stomach, the power flickers and rolls, angry like a buzzing nest of hornets—flowing up to catch it’s bearer before she hit the wall. “I’m not going to kill you, Marion,” you say, breathy and weak, blood pouring from between your teeth, over your lip and off your chin. “I love you.” You shudder as a wave of red closes like a fist and hits you into the solid vault door.

“You’re a fool if you think love matters,” she’s laughing, and straight faced—but you see glimpses of Marion in the dark of her eyes. Soft, sad eyes. “I loved my daughter, and she died.” A weight hits you, images of your goddaughter, and suddenly you’re pressed roughly into the ground, the air pushed from your struggling lungs.

“I love you,” you cough again, pushing up against the ground, “And Max loves you.” Your shoulders protest when the power tries to force you down again, but you refuse—locking your martian body into place, you can’t get up, but it also can’t force you down. “Even if you kill me, I’ll love you.” There’s a flicker through the red again, a crackle as it goes dark for a moment, allowing you to find your feet.

“When Cat forced us to the beach, and I told you that I was afraid of the ocean—you told them you were scared, so that Max wouldn’t make fun of me,” a blow to the side, making your ribs protest—at least one lodging itself in your lung, you feel the suction through your massacred filters. “You held me the night Cat left for Iraq, because I couldn’t stop crying; I felt like I was falling apart, but you kept me together.” A new pain splintering up your legs, like your bones were being crushed by powerful fingers.

“Max can’t lose you too, Mar. He can’t.” You’re crying, crawling toward her, because your legs refuse to hold your weight. Her thighs are too smooth under your hands, slippery and molten—burning the printless pads of your fingers. “He’s hurting too, but he tried to hold it together for you. He tried.” Max had broken—had raged, and swore and sobbed—and you’d been able to do nothing but hold him. Rocking together on the floor of his bathroom, amidst the bloody shards of his broken mirror, and the curved edge of a whiskey bottle

“He didn’t do well enough.” Marion growls, but there’s too much sadness in her dark eyes, too much hurt, and not enough anger. You’re clawing up her body, and even though her fingers are wrapped around your biceps, squeezing until they throbbed and creaked, you had her. Lifting fingers to trace her jaw, and smooth over the apple of her cheek, before burying in her dark hair, pulling her into you. Embracing her felt like hugging a fire—heat chewing through your ruined body, devouring pieces of you—but you refuse to let go.

“I won’t let you be alone with your anger, Marion—I won’t.” Because no one should be alone with that toxic darkness. No one should sip down the hate and fill themselves with it, because all it did was ruin, and sneer, and growl. “If you burn, I burn with you.” The black of her body is slicking away, little burning bolts of tar that flick into the hazy wind of energy. Spilling across the floor like it’s melting off her body, the hands gripping your arms tighten, and her body draws taut like she’s about to throw herself away from you.

But you hold on.

“I love you,” you whisper, gurgling and wet because the blood is clawing its way up your throat, filling the space below your tongue with the taste of copper. The power flickers again, it sizzles, and sputters.

And then Marion sags, the red howls, clawing at your face and hair, pushing into you like it’s trying to control the beat of your heart. It digs into you and you hear how it sneers, I’ll have you, over and over, a phantom in the drum of your ears. I’ll have you, I’ll have you, I’ll have you. It’s pulling and tugging at your anger, trying to pull it over your senses, trying to drown you in the tar inside your heart. But you’re full of love—for the shuddering woman in your arms, for the broken man across town, for the boy you’d raised and the girl you love.

You have a dead planet’s worth of anger, but the love you feel for them is enough to balance it—to smother it.

“I got you,” you croak, holding more of her weight than she is herself, which means you collapse to the ground because your legs are cracked and ruined. She’s across your lap, her clothes smoldering, smoke flickering into the air, and you smell burning hair and skin. “I got you.”

Sad, sad dark eyes look at you from your shoulder, her hand pawing helplessly at your collar, slick with blood, weak. “You’ll take care of him?” She shudders, coughing blood onto your cheek, and there’s no way to know what red is yours, and what red is hers.

There’s a clatter, and the ring falls from her finger, rolling harmlessly across the ground—you hear it loud in your ears, knowing it’s just for you. I’ll wait for you, before snapping away, disappearing in a howl of power.

 “Of course, Mar.”

She smiles, tucking against your neck, and you lean back against the wall you’d been thrown through, “I—I killed her, I was so angry, and I couldn’t stop. I just wanted to see her, I needed to see her.” She’s sobbing, cracking apart, you feel how she’s going cold, how her chest is seizing, “How could I kill her; Max will hate me, he should.”

Soothing her, you press a bloody kiss to her forehead, “It wasn’t you, it wasn’t you. No one’ll blame you.” But you can feel the life leaking out of her, can feel the cold bleeding into her like a breath of death. You know she doesn’t have any time left, know that the ring swallowed her blood and burned her heart at both ends.

“They will—and I deserve it.” she’s succumbed to this, and you hurt for her. Your tears mixing through the blood on your face, making it watery and pink.

“Then no one will know.” You murmur, “I promise.”

The ring didn’t know that humanity is a sad species—that sorrow lives in them, it embodies them, and anger bleeds away too swiftly for it to have them for long. She’s still trying to protest, still trying to pull this shame and sorrow inside her, but there’s no heart left to shoulder it—no blood to carry it. And when she goes still, you bite your lip to keep your own sorrow inside. She’s heavy, and unwieldy, so you sit there under her weight, looking blankly out at the ruined laboratory.

It isn’t until you see the reflection of your face in the cracked glass that you realize your eyes are boiling—red, and glowing, brighter than usual, and you know it’s the brush of the ring’s power. It awoke something inside you that couldn’t settle because you didn’t feel your powers—they weren’t connected to your mind, like layers that had been peeled away, while still tethered to you.

This woman who was so brave, and strong—who had been weak for one moment, and her whole life was upended. She’d walked away, basked in the rage of how unfair it was that her daughter was sick, that there was nothing she could do—and the ring had snared that. It had dug into that anger, and the relief of not having to hold it alone anymore had made her succumb. Had folded away her reservations, and left her at the mercy of rage. But—but humanity is sad, and humanity is love, and she’d wanted to see her little girl—even with the hate, and sneering raging filtering through her.

She’d wanted to see Caroline.

And the rage hadn’t liked that—the ring had felt how much its host loved this girl, down before the red, so it had flared bright in her room. Burning away everything while Marion banged away inside, unable to stop the animalistic fury spilling forth. And then there was nothing to keep her present, nothing to keep the anger away—and she’d burned her heart out, and boiled her blood.

The door crashes open, and you look up—standing in the doorway is Maxwell Lorde, his blue eyes tired, and hazy, and his hands shaking. You can see the shadows below his eyes, you can see the sadness lining his bones—he didn’t fall to anger, he fell into depression. He holed up in his house, mourning his girl, and missing his wife—you can’t tell him the truth, you can’t break him like that.

So, you’ll let him keep the memory of Marion.

Who would always be his strength, even now—especially now.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (JASON). It—was a Thursday. You were supposed to be going to your school's talent show, your friend Sarah had invited you—but you’d told her you had prior engagements with your brother. It was a Thursday that your life changed.

You’re not sure this was the best idea—not sure at all. Your brother had told you there was no other way to get what you want—what you need. “Listen, Jason,” he’d said with all the gravitas and authority of a seventeen year old high school dropout, “This is just how it is for people like us—no one cares, until we make them care.” He’d had that kind of passion growing up, but it had always been focused on something academic, or artistic—he’d confided that if he’d been able to have things his way, he’d be restorer—you’d seen the recreation of famous paintings he’d done at school. Prolific duplicates of Rembrandt, and Picasso—and then your mother was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, and everything had fallen apart.

All the things that had seemed abstract, or situational, now suddenly was front and center—the bills were going into collections, and you never picked up the phone anymore because it was always debt collectors. And then your brother had come home with a fist full of crisp twenty dollar bills, and a bag full of medicine, “I got a solution.” He’d said that night, closing his door so that your mother wouldn’t overhear—your sweet, sweet mother who didn’t deserve the cards she was regularly dealt. So you listened to your brother—about people who could help, who wanted to help, and they didn’t ask much in return. Didn’t ask much at all.

Which doesn’t explain how you’ve become an accomplice to kidnapping.

She’s small, and struggles more violently than you thought a woman of that size should be able—then again, you didn’t imagine delicate women like her should know so many curse words. She’s practically foaming at the mouth with obscenities—you can’t see her expression because of the black bag that was put over her head. She’s tied to a chair, forearms through the bars in the back, twisting her arms out at a strange angle. She’s wearing a nice dress, black and slinky—the type you’re used to seeing on the Oscars, or in tabloid magazines. You can’t stop how your gaze lingers on the amount of thigh she’s flashing with her struggles.

You advert your eyes, because—because you’re a thief, and now a kidnapper—

But you’re not that.

“Listen,” she pinches out between obviously clenched teeth, going still, “You’re after money, right? There’s half a thousand more intelligent ways to get money.” She jerks at her hands pointedly, and they’re raw, and red—blood soaking into the rope. One ruby droplet sliding down her hand, and dripping to the disgusting warehouse floor.

“I know you’re there,” she continues, “I can hear your shaky breathing. First kidnapping?” She sounds so—so casual. So conversational, you feel the wire tightness to your shoulders slackening. She’s just a woman—a reporter who had been snooping around someplace she wasn’t supposed to, with people she wasn’t supposed to. She’s just a girl, damn it.

“Yeah,” you breathe out, and then clamp your mouth shut, because your brother had been very clear—no talking, no anything. Just watch. You fiddle with the trigger of your automatic weapon again, methodical—careful—the safety is still on, even though all the other guys had eagerly flipped theirs off. You can—you don’t want to go that far.

“Word of advice?” She offers, shoulders too relaxed, voice too soft.

“From your years of kidnapping experience?” You snipe back, the nerves chewing your ankles, biting up your legs to settle in your stomach where they churn and whirl and sour. You feel like you’re going to be sick—but you’ve already broken your silence, and maybe—maybe—this will be over soon.

“Very funny,” she drawls, leaning back so that she can crane her covered head to look in your direction—not directly at you, but close enough to make you tense. “I’m not worth it. However much money they told you that I’m fetching on the black market these days—it isn’t worth it.” So serious, so careful, and she exhales, like she knows some heavy burden that you aren’t aware of.

“You’re worth a lot of zeros—more than I’ve ever seen,” you begin, “Ever.” You end lamely.

“You seem like a good kid—kidnapping and automatic weapons aside; untie me, and just go home.” Like she’s pleading with you for your own sake; and that’s what makes you angry. She’s one of the people your brother talks about at night—who take, and take, and take, and never look at who they’re taking from. With her thousand dollar dress, and black market price tag, and her advice. Clenching your thirteen year old jaw hard, you step closer and she’s still turned toward you—looking at you, but seeing nothing through the black bag.

“No more talking,” you warn, pressing the muzzle of your rifle against her cheek, forcibly turning her head to look forward, and she slumps. More of her weight resting against the bindings on her wrist, and you can hear the softest fuck you’ve ever head as you snap to look at the door—gun raised, safety still on—and your brother plows through.

“The safety’s still on, fuck-face,” he laughs at you, shoving your shoulder, and clicking the little tab on the side of your rifle—and it is suddenly a weapon, not just a heavy weight in your hands. “I got in contact with some rich motherfucker, willing to pay a king’s ransom for this bitch. Idiot’s coming themself.” He’s gleeful, and the stretched happiness looks strange with the paint of his face—wide red lips crawling up his cheeks, a pale, pale foundation that makes the shadows under his eyes dramatic.

“So, they’re gonna give us the money, and we let her go?” You ask hopefully, as more of your brother’s friends pour into the warehouse—they’re anywhere from your age, to their thirties. They call themselves Mad Waghaltersyou’re positive none of the other members knew what a waghalter was, otherwise they probably wouldn’t be thrilled to being one. Your brother had been determined to get noticed by the underbelly, to one of the crime syndicates—and this was his move.

Gotham is a cesspool of corruption, and the Batman has cracked down on so much of it—but your brother is confident his methods are going to keep the Waghalters off his radar, until he got on someone else’s’ radar. The Joker, the clown prince himself. It’s what all the make-up was, all the grandiose statements, and downright speeches—trying to impress a mad man who would elevate them.

“Na’w, little brother,” he says, slapping you on the back again, “Dumb fuck’s going to show up, beg us nice and proper, and then we’re going to put so many holes in them the blood’s gonna pour out.” He grins, and there’s a redness in his eyes, a twitch to his lips—and you wonder what happened to the quiet boy who’d liked to paint landscapes, who marveled at brush strokes, and not murder scenes.

When he walks away, you’re left standing at the woman’s side, she’s impossibly tense, and you’re looking at where her hands are clenched tightly into fists. She must be so scared—you never even learned her name—or saw her face. You’re halfway through thinking about how to untie her, and get her out of here when she speaks. Softly, and when you look around, you realize you’re the only one who can hear her.

“Listen to me,” she says, chin against her chest, swallowing thickly, “You need to leave; forget this ever happened. You don’t have much time before—,” Before what, you never learn, because there’s a scream from the other room, and then it’s like a crowd’s worth of sound punches you in the chest. Wind pushes you backward, and your shoulder slam into the wall—there’s a hole in the ceiling, letting in moonlight and rain, and there’s—a figure crouched in the middle of the room. Dark fabric soaked through, face obscured by a hood and mask.

At first you think it’s the Batman—but they’re too small to be Gotham’s Caped Crusader. They stand up, and their body glints and slants with metal and tightly woven fabric. Someone yells, and then there’s the loud report of guns—you see them blister and sing through the air, and—bounce off. The metal armor hardly dings and you have to wonder who the hell this super soldier is.

Because they’re grabbing grown men by the face—a hand that is tiny, and hardly large enough to do the damage it manages. Bodies are lobbed across the room, sailing into concrete walls, and over metal railings. Two men attack from the sides, landing solid punches to kidneys and spine—but the person doesn’t flinch, they swing out an arm, and you hear the audible crack of bones, and the hiccupping wheeze of pain. Knee to the stomach, fist to the shoulder—bodies spine away like they’re barely people at all. Bullets pinging and sounding through the air, but nothing seems to work.

Fifteen Waghalters go down like they’re children playing an adults game, and then they turn to you—two coal burn in the dark of that facemask. Haunting, and demonic. Brighter than bright. And they look at you like you’re confounding—head tilted—but not confounding enough, because when you start to raise your automatic rifle—they disappear in the time it takes you to blink, and then the barrel of your gun is bent upward, and those glowing eyes are only half a foot in front of you.

“I—I’m sorry,” you stammer, the words falling out of you, “P-please.” A hand rests on your collarbones, small fingers touching the side of your neck, and they’re tapping their fingers—tap, tap tap, tap, tap tap—and you realize it matches the jack rabbit of your heart.

“Stop,” the woman tied to the chair says, “Stop it.” There’s authority, there’s confidence—and you wish you’d untied her, so that she can get away from this monster. But she’s looking in your direction again, head still covered, and she’s utterly relaxed. “He’s just a kid.” Like she’s trying to convince someone of something; a justification. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Jason,” you stammer, as the monster exhales loudly.

“A kid that kidnapped you, and wanted to riddle us with bullets.” The monster sneers, the fabric over their mouth moves—their voice is rasping, and husky, and you want to say it’s male, it seems very male, but there’s a note to it that seems off. That matches the delicate fingers around your neck, than the broad armored shoulders. “Don’t think I didn’t hear that.”

“I know, I know,” your hostage—former hostage?—says with what you can only assume is rolled eyes, “He’s not the one that wanted to riddle us with bullets. His psychotic brother did; speaking of, did you get him good? Because he broke the heel to my favorite shoe.” The monster growls, low in their throat, and turns to look toward the woman—and you’re pleased to see the red glow vanish.

“Really? Your shoe? Do you know how worried I was when Br—Batman told me you were missing?” It seems you are forgotten in lue of allowing this monster, and your hostage to argue, “He almost couldn’t reach me, and what would have happened then?”

The woman scoffs, and it’s really a little ridiculous how she still has the bag on her head, “I would have figured it out.” There’s a shaky confidence, and you wonder if she really would have been able to figure it out.

“That isn’t the point!” The monster says, throwing their hands up in the air, little flecks of blood spinning off into the dark, and they have to pause to slam a foot into the chin of one of the Waghalters who were reaching for their gun. “You keep throwing yourself into these situations—when are you going to forgive me?”

That isn’t the right thing to say, you muse, because the woman tied to the chair visibly bristles, and you can feel the anger spilling off her.

“Oh, I get it, you think this is about you. Like everything in my life revolves around you.” She’s struggling again, and this time you don’t want to untie her, because this isn’t fueled by fear, but by anger. “Did you ever stop to think that this has nothing to do with you? That maybe, just maybe, I was doing something on my own, for my own reasons.”

“Testing the waters with the Joker isn’t something you should be doing for any reasons,” the monster says, gritted and low, but—can you really call them a monster, because they’re gesturing wildly, and huffing, their shoulders somehow slumping under armor. “He’s dangerous; too dangerous.” They turn around, and growl under their breath, looking up toward the hole they’d come from, and just when you see them breath in, like they’re calming themselves—there’s a click.

“Don’t move, motherfucker,” your brother says, from where he’s standing behind the tied woman, a handgun pressed against the curve of her head. The woman has gone absolutely still, and the monster has turned slowly—too slowly—to regard the scene happening before them. You see hands clenching, and unclenching, fingers extending wide, and you want to beg your brother not to do this. The glow in back—to burning coals, to pits from hell.

“Take one step, and I’ll blow her pretty fucking face clear the fuck off.” He rips the bag off, and the woman is lost in her own waves of pale blonde hair, but when it settles, she looks at your with the sharpest green eyes you’ll ever see. Everglades and spring valleys. The monster is snared by her eyes too, and goes loose—the woman is mouthing something, and you can see the words after the fourth or fifth time she does it. Calm down, calm down.

“I’m giving you the opportunity to walk away,” the monster says, “This one chance, take it.” Seconds tick by, whole long moments—and you see how your brother considers it, see it in the sweat streaked paint on his face, and the brimming redness in his eyes. He hasn’t been right in a while—not really. He’s grinning, wider, and wider, and when you see his finger shift just enough that it’s resting on the trigger, you’re moving to stop hip—you’re closer, you can stop him.

He looks at you, his eyes widening—and there’s something that looks like betrayal there, your gut twists—and he’s throwing his arm out, to point it at you like he has no control of it. His arm spasms, there’s a rush of movement beneath his skin, and he’s squeezing the trigger—you clench your eyes shut, and wait for the pain. For whatever comes after this.

Nothing happens.

Opening your eyes, there’s a hand just before your face—small and delicate, and when those fingers uncurl, the bullet clatters out onto the ground. You stare at it in amazement, like you can’t believe what just happened—and then your brother is hoisted up by the collar, and throws clear through the wooden work wall, and you have to wait a moment to hear his body hit the floor. Obviously he’d gone over the bannister.

The monster’s knelt behind the woman and they’re talking in hushed tones. This creature that has torn through over a dozen men, works so delicately on the ropes—carefully untying them, carefully taking the woman’s chaffed wrists like they’re the most precious thing in the world. Maybe your hearing is coming back, maybe the shock is receding, because you can suddenly hear them.

“I’m sorry I worried you,” the woman says using one of her free hands to smooth over the hood on the monster’s head. “Thank you—for coming.”

“I’ll always come,” the words sound tired, but soft, and felt, “I’ll always worry about you—I worry when you have to meet your mother alone.”

The woman smiles, “Well, that is direr than Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime,”

“Don’t joke about that,” Armored shoulders take the woman’s weight, as they both stand up. “I’m not going to dissuade you, am I?” The not-so-monstrous monster says, hands alighting upon the woman’s hips to keep her steady. The woman doesn’t seem at all concerned about hands that can stop bullets.

“This truth needs to be given a voice,” she’s passion—like the kind your brother used to have for Rembrandt and Da Vinci—and she’s smiling up at her savior, smoothing fingers over an armored chest. Tracing around the little dips where bullets had pinged off—but you’re beginning to wonder if the armor is even necessary. “I’m that voice; I have a responsibility to the people. I may not be able to save them from gangs, and terrorists, but I can tell their story.”

They’re walking away, the woman walking awkwardly—one shoe missing its four inch heel—and as they are about to reach the door, it burst open and a wide frame and a wiping cape appear. The Batman. He comes up short when he looks down at the two figures before him, and then the copious bodies littering the floor. The two masked vigilante’s regard each other, and you swear Batman smiles—it is too far for actual proof.

“Seems I’m a little late,” his voice is grit, and echo, and too severe to be real.

“Took your damned time,” the woman grouses, reaching out to shove at the Caped Crusader, but he shifted and she missed him. “You would’ve been scratching my brains off the damned walls.”

“I knew you were in good hands,” he says, amiable, despite the harrowing tone of his voice.

“Well, good hands, is going to get her home. It’s storming something nasty outside, and I’m not looking forward to the flight back.” The shorter vigilante walks past Batman, hitting his shoulder with theirs, and then stopping. “The kid—over there? He’s a good one, was willing to take a bullet for Cat—can you—I don’t know—look after him?”

“I don’t run an orphanage,” the Batman grouses, and it was grousing.

“Orphans love orphans,” the monster says far too cheerfully, and you don’t know where the blistering red eyes and rage went. Because they seem downright—lovely now. “S’why we’re buddies. Plus, he could totally have parents—which you should find out, when you talk to him. His name’s Jason.”

And then they’re gone, and you’re left with the Batman.

He’s looking at you, the cowl of his mask slanting dramatically in the shadows, and the flashes of light from outside. He’s walking across the room, leveraging a kick to the gut of anyone who moved—and you realize all of the Waghalters are alive. Not a single one is dead. When the Caped Crusader is standing in front of you, he’s extending a hand, and you wonder what he’s asking for—until you realize your hands are still clenched tightly around the barrel of the assault rifle—fingers white, and numb.

You hand it over.

“I don’t like guns.” He says, while popping out the magazine, and splintering the barrel and stock, clicking them into the multiple parts that make it up, while thumbing all the bullets out of the magazine. “So, Jason, have a last name? Since I’ve apparently been relegated to crime fighting babysitter by a bleeding heart.”

You swallow, folding your hands into your elbows. “Todd. Jason Todd.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CAT). You make a living out of saying who a person is—by putting together a trail to defined characteristics that are unquestionable. Not flukes, or because of circumstance. But when you sit at home, you wonder what these people are like behind closed doors—with the people they love most. Because Cat Grant, CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media, is not who you are when it’s just you and your boys.


Inhalation. By Clark G. Callaghan.

It isn’t always the important moments you remember when everything is said and done—those fundamental moments that build and break people. Those are there, they always will be, but sometimes when you peel them away and set them off to the side, you can find something more integral than those big clunky blocks. You can find the blood, and breathe, of a person; the life that comes from those moments—but isn’t defined by them. I was asked to write about something that inspires me, or someone that makes me to be the person I am today—and tomorrow, and every day after.

My cousin told me—when the world is loud, and heavy, and impossible to move from my shoulders—to take a breath. To close my eyes, and let it all fall away for just a moment, because it’ll be there when I’m ready, when I’m able to heft it onto my shoulders once again. It isn’t going any place, because the world will always be exactly what the world has always been. Just close my eyes, and breathe—because that’s inspiration. Beyond influence, and impel. Words have so many definitions—and so do people. Inspiration is to breathe deep, and fill your lungs—and sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Imagine yourself at fourteen—I can remember how I was. I was angry, and misinformed, and everything was someone else’s fault. I looked at the world like a battle to be fought, because I felt like my problems were unique, and special, and no one could ever feel the way I did. I was an individual, and at that age, that is what being an individual meant. I was the first to ever have that cluster of anger, and sadness, and confusion bundled close to my heart; hugging it from all sides until sense and sensibility were distant thoughts. My words were blades, and I used them liberally on those who I knew would take the blows—those, who even in my teenage angst, I knew would never leave me.

Now imagine a girl of twelve, who lost everything she’s ever known, whose world burned, and crumbled, and she was asked the impossible. To care for a child who was hers in no way other than blood—who was shipped to what felt like the other side of the galaxy, with a heart impossibly heavy with sadness. With images of people scorched to the backs of her eyes like ghosts waiting to haunt her; unable to know when she’s crying, because it seems she always is, and that is how she makes it through the day. Standing in a burning house, and saying it is alright—because the flames have never touched her before, they simply took, and took, and took.

Imagine this same girl—

You put the essay down, because you can’t read anymore—again—without the tears gathering in your lashes falling down your cheeks, and you don’t want Clark to think you’re upset, because you aren’t. You’re leagues away from upset, but that hurt that will always be a part of you has slotted back into your bones. Settling like an anchor keeping you out at sea, even when you can spot shore just on the horizon. You’ve only read the first two pages, and there’s six more, but you aren’t sure you’ll be able to stomach the emotions put so starkly in black and white.

Clark is yours in this regard—he always has been. His emotions don’t sit clearly on his sleeves to be dissected and dissolved. They sit inside him, beside his alien heart, and his human soul—in all those metaphorical places that have no place in science. No place in the knowledge that love is a chemical reaction, and family is an instinctual behavior. No, he lives in your world of prose, and poetry—where beating organs ache, and souls rend, and everything throbs, and twists, and ruins. He’s a writer after your own heart, this boy of yours, and he’s swiftly, and surely, grabbed it with this piece.

“What do you think?” He asks, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, his hair wet from the shower, and his brother tossed carelessly over his shoulder. You can hear your youngest demanding to be put back on the floor, little fists pounding on his captor’s shoulders, and feet catching Clark on every fourth pin wheel—though he hardly shows any reaction. He’s all earnest blue eyes, and half-cocked smile—more shy than anything, though it was hard to notice beyond those damned dimples of his.

He looks down to the paper in your hands, stapled haphazardly at the corner, smudged with ketchup, and what looks like Clark’s secret sauce—Thousand Island dressing, and mayonnaise mixed together. It is crumpled, and crooked, and there’s a suspicious corner missing from the bottom that you don’t even want to get into. It is so unassuming from every other piece of paper you’re handed on a daily basis—articles, and layouts, and proofs, all slanting across your desk, and through your e-mail, at any given moment of the day.

But this one has weight.

You don’t realize you’ve been staring at him unblinking until Carter is thumped onto the ground, and he skitters across the kitchen to launch himself under the table. The six-year-old is giggling, and his chubby face is pressed into the bare skin of your knee where yoga pants have been rucked up because of an itch. Clark is still standing in the arch of the doorway, broad in the shoulders, taller than you by a foot, and his eyes are so—so breakable. Especially for a boy who has impenetrable skin.

You should tell him that this isn’t acceptable—that it skirts a line too close to the truth that someone might dig out the facts, that it paints a picture too accurate, and too true. But—you can’t take this from him, you can’t tell him that he can’t try to heal the hollow place in his chest that you know exists there. Where his cousin will always exist—his hero, even if she’d never died saving the world.

“What kind of class is this for?” You ask instead.

His eyes shutter, and his chin tips—all you there too, none of Kara’s baleful eyes—while taking a barefooted step closer. “Creative writing.”

“Good,” you supply, setting the papers down and smoothing your fingertips over the title page. “The grammar is too stylized for anything but creative writing.”

“I got my oxford commas from you,” he volleys back.

“Yes, well,” clearing your throat, and lifting a foot to push out the chair opposite you so that he’ll sit down. “You’re welcome. They really do help with clarification.”

“They’re pretentious.”

You scowl at him, reaching down to card fingers through Carter’s hair from where he’s given up clinging to your leg for dear life and is simply picking at the already chipping nail polish on your toes. It’s gross, and you wiggle your toes once or twice to get him to stop—but you don’t really put the effort in. “Keep being a brat and I won’t feed you,” you caution.

“That’s child abuse.”

“You’re an adult, heathen.”

And with that, you’re promptly encircled in a large set of arms, and it’s easy to understand how he dwarfs you from across the room, but when he bundles you close, it’s hard to remember this is the same boy you’d hold on your hip because he had the tendency to wander. “Come on,” he wheedles. He smells like pilfered shampoo—cedar and vanilla—and that distinct scent that belongs to him—and his cousin. Sharp ozone, and lingering petrichor. He’s too old for you to coddle and inhale—it had become weird somewhere in his teenage years—so you coax Carter up from his place on the floor and encircle him in your own arms.

Nose buried in Carter’s hair, dark and curly, you inhale the scent of children’s shampoo and laundry softener. He’s all too happy to join in on the family hug, and Clark unclasps his arms enough for his brother to nestle against your chest, and then be firmly ensconced. This is your family. Sometimes, at night, you imagine everyone in your life is a puzzle piece—you’re something classic and bold, Clark is something modern and sleek, and Carter is bright and happy. The other pieces to each respective puzzle have gone missing—lost to the black of your dreams, but it never seems to matter, because your edges fit perfectly with theirs.

The images may not match, but it doesn’t matter when you close your eyes and just feel Clark’s arms, or Carter’s bony chin. There is a gap—a place that had belonged to another puzzle piece. One that was curved, and velvet—all blues and soft shades of dark—that had slotted right in the center. Now, there’s just an empty place that cannot be filled. Some nights, when you dream, there isn’t a name to the piece splashed liberally with constellations and star dust—even if your mind can only picture comet tails of blue.

“It’s beautiful,” you say quietly, and you’re looking at his rumpled, crumpled mess of a paper. So unassuming under the header—Inhalation, by Clark G. Callaghan. It’s such a simple thing, such a silly thing—to reach out a finger to trace that G. Kara and Clark had surprised you one evening during his Winter break—you’d been bone tired from work, and even the idea of thoughts had made you shudder. And they’d piled in—Carter asleep in Kara’s arms, Clark bright with a smile, hands filled with paperwork. Kara had plopped down beside you, and Carter had only snuffled and shifted closer to the heat she poured out.

“Don’t you look like a motley crew,” you’d said wryly, and Clark just grinned wider, handing you a packet of papers—you were expecting one of his college essays, or something from his internship at the Daily Planet. But it was from the National City District Court—a name change petition. I, Clark Gardner Callaghan, petition to assume the name of, Clark Grant Callaghan, with no intent to provide false witness, or avoid prosecution. There were a litany of stamps, and signatures—but the sentiment was pretty clear. The first date was upwards of three months ago, toward the beginning of the autumn semester.

“I couldn’t think of something to get you for Christmas,” he said, nervous, and you’d gawked at the paper. “So—well,” and you hadn’t let him finish. Catching him in an awkward hug over his shoulders, and he’d obligingly stooped down so that your feet could stay on the ground. You’d cried—it had been ugly crying too—and he’d cried as well. Kara had taken pictures, and you’d both dragged wrists against your cheeks like it had never happened.

He got that from you too.

“Really?” He asks, pulling you from the memory, though your finger still lingers on that unassuming G.

“Really, really,” you say, and it’s childish, but Carter chirps happily, pushing up so that his bony feet balance on your thighs—it hurts—and his face is, presumably, smashed against Clark’s where it rests on your head.

Really, really,” he repeats firmly, balancing his weight in such a way that a nerve pinches, and your left leg goes numb.

“You can’t even read,” Clark replies, lifting Carter off you—he must see the twinge at your brow.

“Can too,” your youngest declares, thrashing, and wiggling, and bucking until he’s returned to the ground. He dashes into the hallway, a little faster than you’d usually allow, and with the great emphasis of a six year old, he snaps the morning’s paper open and reads the headlines with utter severity. Punctuating the words with much emotion, “Right ‘ere, it says; Clark. Is. Stupid.

And he’s off—giggling, and skittering around corners before you can even form the reprimand on your tongue. Clark’s already in hot pursuit, and you’re left in the kitchen alone—wondering when your life became a three ring circus. You imagine it was at the age of fifteen when you’d unknowingly adopted two wayward aliens.

Because isn’t that just how everyone’s story goes?

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (LOIS). Sometimes it takes a little distance to see the forest for the trees; it's hard when you're squinting, trying to make out all the minute little details and fine edges. You think you've gotten better over the years, but sometimes that inability to find space hits you right between the eyes.

The world crawls to a standstill once a year—on October Fifteenth.

Not the actual world, that would be a horrible catastrophe—no, what stops for one night, is the world of legitimate journalism. Blood hounds always out for the freshest scent of truth, and some simply trying to find the rust colored promises of that white whale from their bright, and eager, rookie days. Every reporter has a white whale—that story that got away, despite doing everything right. That soul inspiring piece that wove like lacquer through your bones, and flitted as warmth through your veins—you don’t like to think of yours anymore, because it plucks at something youthful and malcontent in your heart.

And really, these days, you’re rather content.

“Would you stop moving?” You grit out, using all your strength to coax your companion into standing still for one fucking minute. Clark frowns at you, shifting just enough to show that you couldn’t make him stay—which is firmly, and swiftly, rectified with a glare. He’s all but mangled his tie, and you’re not even sure you’ll be able to salvage the sailor’s knot he’s encircled his collar in. “How?” You sigh, “How did you even manage this?”

“It’s kind of hard to tie a tie while flying,” he grouses, ducking his eyes and batting ridiculously long lashes at you. You’re a goddamned sucker, because your heart flutters a little, and you find yourself smiling even if you’re still annoyed. Thumping him on the chest, you work at the knot carefully, not allowing his large hands anywhere near it, because that’s why it’s so cinched to begin with.

“Did it occur to you to wait until you were—I don’t know—not flying?” You offer, and suck your tooth in concentration—a disgusting habit, really, but you were an army brat—and you nearly cheer when the first loop starts to loosen.

“It might’ve,” he concedes, sheepishly, “But you told me if I was late we weren’t gonna—you know.” It astounds you that this man-boy saves Metropolis on a fairly regular basis—you’ve seen him wrestle alien armadillos, and fire lasers out of his eyes. Hell, he’d held a bridge on his back for four hours until there were enough cranes in place to keep it in place. And yet, when all is said and done, he balks over saying have sex.

“I did say that, didn’t I?” Teasing him is too easy, and you can see in his bright, bright blue eyes that you have him for half a second before he frowns.

You’ve finally unknotted his tie, and from where you’re standing in the upper levels of the Low Library you can see the tabloids and internet blogs snapping photographs of the more well-known journalists. Anderson Cooper, and Barbara Walters—the ones who had made the seamless transition to television. They stopped and struck poses at the lines of paparazzi—the journalists that had no appreciation for the chaos ducked their heads and headed quickly inside.

Remember—legitimate journalism.

You were waiting for the preening blonde megalomaniac that was set to accept two Pulitzers this year. You’d bit your tongue when Catco Worldwide Media was announced as the winner for the Breaking News Reporting Pulitzer—and Cat herself claiming possession of yet another Editorial Writing one. You’d grit your teeth, and tell yourself you’d been too busy this year—Perry had developed something of a wet cough, and had taken too much personal time, leaving you as de facto editor of the Daily Planet.

It had been a big transition.

“She said she was running late,” Clark says, knowing immediately who you’re looking for.

“She didn’t say it like that,” you know there was a dig in there somewhere. Cat had been the bane of your existence for far too long now—but finding out she basically raised your boyfriend, was really a dowsing of cold water. Especially when that revelation came after a drunken confrontation in the bathroom of a posh restaurant—you’d woken up the next morning to the sweetest message from Clark, and the rudest one from Cat. You don’t understand how such a sweet, sweet boy had anything to do with that narcissistic maniac.

He grins, taking over on his tie, and pulling it from his neck, “She didn’t.”

“Do I want to know?”

“Nope,” he pops, while rolling the ruined tie up and shoving it in his pocket—which you promptly pull out and toss in the trash. If he’s going to go for the rogue with an open collar, he can’t have miscellaneous bulges in his pocket. It simply wouldn’t do.

Clark extends an arm, and you loop yours through it, feeling properly escorted as he guides you through the people trailing from other nooks in the library to the large banquet hall that you’re positive isn’t used most other days of the year. You do the appropriate amount of smoozing—oh, the article you wrote on the—Clark whispers the subject of people’s articles before they get too close, and you’re too grateful for him. That dimpled smile and blue, blue eyes charms even the most hostile of hearts.

When you come across Anderson Cooper, you exchange the customary cheek kisses, and pull him into a hug, “Anderson, I wasn’t sure if you were going to be able to make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he assures, straightening his obviously tailor made suit. Extending a hand to Clark, you turn to watch the front door was they chit-chat—you still haven’t been able to get eyes on Cat, and everyone’s already starting to get seated.

“—something about traffic on the Queens Borough.” You rejoin the conversation, apparently, in the middle of the traffic report, because both men are hovering over Anderson’s iPhone with furrowed brows, looking at the News 12 broadcast of traffic in the city. Shaking your head, you sigh and smack Clark in the arm, head tipping toward the arched doors that will lead to the makeshift dining hall for the ceremony.

Columbia put a little more dazzle into the ceremony this year—maybe it’s because of the brand names that they’re getting more and more recognition—but there’s actual wait staff, and the reminder to dress accordingly sent out a few weeks before the ceremony was new. You usually wore a pretty decent dress, but this year you’d gone shopping for the event. Slate gray fabric, clingy yet fairly conservative, but you’d gone with your higher heels with the intent of being as close to Clark’s six foot three as you could manage.

Your table is toward the back of the room, a prestigious spot that had been afforded to the New York Times last year—and every year prior—but had been summarily stripped when the editor of the Times had lost at the annual poker game in Vegas. You’re pretty sure your victory there had sealed the deal with Perry about you acting in his stead. You’d come back from Vegas, hung over, sun burnt, and with a shiny new place at the Pulitzers—and a pair of Dean Baquet’s underwear you don’t remember winning. Watching one grown man cackle over another grown man’s underwear was disconcerting—you’re even pretty positive he snap chatted it to someone.

You work for actual children.

The table is full of your editorial board, and a few exemplary journalists that you hope to encourage with this experience—Clark loves the Pulitzers, even if he doesn’t have any himself yet. But, then again, you suppose being a superhero in your free time would make it difficult to really settle down with a story. He’d been nominated three times, and you’d been so astoundingly proud, and it really got your goat how damned humble he was—until you’d caught the late night conversation he’d been having with the woman who raised him. “I’m letting you grow comfortable in your old age—yes, fourteen years makes all the difference—hold on,” a photo was taken, “—oh yeah, it’s on. That’s the shelf I’m going to put them on.” And the next morning, there had been three Pulitzers that distinctly had Cat Grant written on the plaque—you washed your hands of that situation.

They had been promptly returned within the week.

By the tail end of the ceremony, you’re on your third Long Island iced tea, and you finally find the Catco table—mainly because Jimmy Olsen is trying to low-key wave from two tables over, and one back. You don’t know how you missed them. Maybe it’s because Cat’s nearly hidden by the taller blonde woman at her side—the one she’s…leaning into. Cat’s wearing something obviously expensive, gold and cream and to die for. Not enough sleeve for an event taking place at night in October, the plunge in the backline making you cold just looking at it, but it’s the smile that startles you.

Cat Grant does not smile like that.

You’ve even witnessed how she smiles at Clark a few times since that embarrassing first time. Genuine, and warm, and a little mischievous—like she’s plotting ways to embarrassing him, which she does admirably. It’s when she smiles like that that you see the similarities between them; the mischief, the brightness, and that damned golden heart—that you pretend you don’t recognize in Cat, because she’s a shallow harpy of a woman with no redeemable qualities.

But she’s leaning into the woman like she’s pulled by gravity, like it can’t be helped; something celestial, and so much larger than them. You’re bereft of a reason not to creep on them, because they’re going into sports categories, and you don’t know how to touchdown a hockey puck, or homerun a football. The taller blonde hasn’t spoken at all, but Cat is rife with commentary, which only seems to make her companion dissolve into silent giggles. They’re positively teenage in how disgusting they are, and it makes something in your chest tighten, because you hadn’t realized that was why Cat Grant always seemed a little sad in recent years.

She was missing this kind of love.

Her companion is hugged by expensive dark fabric, a designer suit meant to accentuate her slender frame, and the impressive breadth of her shoulders. She’s young—looking to be in her early, or mid, twenties—and you wonder when the bane of your existence decided to start robbing the cradle. Loose golden ringlets, and eyes that are light—though you can’t decide their color from here. She’s finally turning to look in your direction so you can see her face full on—

“There a reason you’re rubbernecking?” Clark asks, making you turn abruptly to him, missing the blonde’s face.

“Cat has a date,” you whisper, like he could have possibly missed it.

He glances over your head, brightening. “She does.” Apparently, he’d missed them too, but then again, he knew something about sports. Obsessed, was a word for it. If you have to sit through one more conversation about the Seahawks, you were going to walk into traffic and hope for the worst.

“Aren’t you—I don’t know—curious?” Because Clark had always ruminated on how perfect his cousin was with Cat, the rare times that he spoke of him. It was wistful, and full of the kind of adoration people have for childhood heroes who never lost the illusion of being able to hang the stars in the sky each night.

“Not really,” he surmises, leaning in so that you don’t have to talk too loudly, “Though, I didn’t think public dates were happening already.”

“How do you—are you alright with it?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You know,” now you’re sounding like Clark—you know, is such a teenage boy way of talking about something, “Because of your cousin.”

And he gets that look on his face you hate—because it’s so fucking genuine, and his eyes widen, and his mouth turns into a little o of surprise. It’s the face he makes when he realizes he’s forgotten to tell you something important. It happens infrequently, but enough that it’s recognizable—it’s his honey, I forgot to tell you the laundry was contagious, or his, did I not mention the intergalactic poohbah of the chubby hubby asteroid belt was stopping by for drinks out of infant skulls?

“Oh, shit,” and there’s the audible moment of realization, “So, don’t get mad,” you’re already forgiving him, because he’s so fucking adorable when he’s fumbling like a good natured asshole—though you keep your annoyed frown up with admirable effort. “That is my cousin.” And then there’s the required amount of silence following his declaration—but really, this one might take the cake. You look back at the couple in question—grinning fools in love,  hands interlaced under the table on Cat’s knee—and nope, you are not watching wandering fingers, and that thousand dollar skirt hiking up any higher.

Turning abruptly to face Clark, his cheeks are red, and you know he saw them being handsy too.

“Your cousin,” you confirm, allowing him to nod, “The one you said died around ten years ago?” Another nod. “Who you always led me to believe was male?” A third, much more hesitant, nod. “This is the aforementioned cousin; about to get to third base at an award ceremony?” A wince, and nod. Leading you to properly punch him in the arm, appreciating his wince of effect, if not pain.

“Cat asked me to keep it to myself!” He insists, and he almost has you with those baby blues, but you’re staying firm. “She was adjusting. I didn’t want to intrude like; hey, cous, how’re you after being sucked into the armpit of the universe for a decade? By the way, this is Lois, the love of my life. I was going to tell you, I swear.” He’s talking too quickly for you to really catch all of the words, they kind of buzz and flit together, but you do catch them, and when you finish parsing them out, you freeze.

Love of his life.

He must realize around the same time, because his eyes go wide—hilariously so—and he leans back, and then forward—rocking, until he settles and firms his lips. An inaudible you heard me setting firm in his jawline and his eyes.

Damn him, and his beautiful impossible body, and genuine golden heart, and adorable rambling idiocy—you’re so fucking in love with Clark Callaghan, you don’t even know what to do with yourself. It’s like a silver lining of each, and every one of your days—good and bad. Something that is unequivocal, and solid, and—so damned real.

“I believe you,” you smile. Because love of my life, is still plinking around in your mind.

Clark puts his hand over yours, “I was going to tell you.”

“At least this slip up didn’t involve dying your skin red,” that had been a difficult forty-eight hours.

“It was blood orange,” he insists.

So you return, “It was fucking red, Clark.”

He’s smiling, rubbing his thumb over your knuckles, and there’s an intermission for dinner—you didn’t realize the waiters were coming around with plates until food was being placed on the table. Clark’s looking at the Catco table, and it has emptied at some point in the last few minutes, and the blonde couple is sitting alone, Cat talking quietly—rubbing her thumb over Clark’s cousin’s knuckles. Fuck, he got his charm from Cat fucking Grant.

“Come on,” Clark says suddenly, standing up and pulling you with him. You want to retract your statements, because you are not ready for introductions—but, you’ve set this ball in motion, and now they’re both looking at you. Clark’s cousin is beautiful—and oddly familiar—a strong jaw, and brilliant eyes which you can see are definitely genetic. There’s a weight to her, that you recognize from some of the people you’ve interviewed over the years—guerrilla fighters, protesters, and tribal councils. Something consuming, and intangible.

“Hey,” he says quietly, leaning down to kiss his cousin’s cheek, and—after making sure no one’s looking—pressing one to Cat’s cheek too. “I’d say congratulations, but you’ve been pretty intolerable.” Cat just looks pleased, basking in her self-proclaimed glory, and you really want to comment.

“Intolerable is a strong word,” Cat parses, leaning back and slinging her arm across the back of Clark’s cousin’s chair. Who is quietly watching, hand still under the running thumb of the intolerable media magnate, considering you gently.

Clark is fiddling with his phone, and you know he’s debating on pulling up the conversation they’d been having throughout the week—it was positively juvenile, and had more emojis than words. There were also copious amounts of snap chats that had involved rude hand gestures and cleverly chosen songs.

“We’ve never been introduced,” you hedge, extending a hand, determined to make a good impression on Clark’s cousin. “I’m Lois Lane.” And you can gather from the widening of eyes, and the slow crawl of a grin that she wasn’t aware of just how convoluted this knot has become. So you continue, “yes, that Lois Lane. Don’t believe anything Cat has to say, and only believe about half of what Clark says.”

People believe being a journalist is just about the sound bites—the interviews, and the slipped confessions—but you’ve gotten more from body language than you have any verbal conversation. She’s absolutely still—an eerie kind of stillness of windless nights—and she’s made no attempt to grasp your hand; one still sitting forgotten in her lap, the other trapped below Cat’s tightening fingers. Just as you’re about to drop your hand awkwardly, and call this the utter failure that it is—there’s a scalding hot hand loosely clasping around yours.

“Kara,” she offers, voice a little rough, and a lot quiet. You can’t help noticing how Cat’s smile widens, and her eyes get all soft and distant, and Clark’s positively beaming—and you don’t understand what’s so phenomenal. The hand shake is more of a too-gentle hold, and when she retracts, you can still feel the heat of her skin against your palm.

“Nice to meet you, Kara,” and it is, because you know almost nothing about her. This person who was such an important figure in Clark’s life, that he did his damnedest to not talk about, and you’d always respected that. She just smiles, eyes squinting a little behind thick lenses, and you like her already. It’s one of those gut feelings that very rarely steer you wrong. Kara’s looking at Clark intently, eyebrow raised, making your boyfriend squirm, and Cat just looks weary, like she’s ready to step in at any moment. You’re about to make some excuse to get back to the Planet’s table when Cat interrupts.

“Dinner, next weekend.” She asks—maybe closer to a demand—while finally turning her attention fully to you, green eyes intense. Like she’s waiting for you to mess this up.

“Perfect,” you return, a little too quickly, a little too confrontationally.

It’s the cousins turn to look weary.

“Good,” Cat snaps.

Chin tipping, “Good.”

And that, apparently, is that.

The wait staff are doing their best to walk around you, too professional to tell you to get the fuck out of the way, so you’re smiling, biding Kara goodbye, and offering Cat the most subtle of rude hand gestures—when it strikes you. Where you recognize this blonde from; you’d put it down to looking for the similarities to Clark in her face, but as she ducks forward, eyes going into shadow—you recognize her.

From two decades ago in a shoddy hospital room in Kuwait. The Planet had pulled you off assignment in Afghanistan to meet up with the shell shocked crew doing war correspondence—apparently they’d been compromised and besieged. Kristopher Arnold had spun the tale of a mysterious vigilante that had swooped in and decimated the soldiers threatening their lives—before kidnapping Cat, and flying away. You’d put it down to war madness, but it was true that Cat was miles, and miles, away in a hospital.

It had taken you two days to track her down, and when you had, she was recovering from surgery on her abdomen—from some kind of metal shrapnel—and beside her in a rather uncomfortable looking chair, was a slumped and sleeping figure. Hood up, mask loosely pulled over a slender nose—the mysterious vigilante, apparently. She’d woken up for only a moment—a moment—locking blistering blue eyes with yours, before she vanished in the time it took you to blink. Cat hadn’t been forth coming when she woke up hours later, and you’d somehow convinced yourself that Kristopher’s tall tales were messing with your jet lagged mind.

But no—here she is, in a designer suit, at Cat Grant’s side again.

Clark’s guiding you back into your seat, but you’re miles away in your mind—thinking of white whales, and hallucinations. Of blondes, and battle zones.

Next weekend was going to be very interesting.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CARTER). Sometimes when you see your classmates with their perfectly nuclear families, you yearn for that—only for a moment, only for the time it takes your brother to swoop you into a hug, or for your mother to kiss your forehead. Only until you realize you wouldn’t give them up for all the statistically perfect families in the world—no, the galaxy.

Your mother pretends she doesn’t know, which is pretty impressive considering she has the car service always waiting in the underground parking garage every Tuesday and Thursday to take you across town. Kara’s apartment looks lived in for the first time in a decade—your sweatshirt on the hook near the door, you mother’s discarded shoes in the hallway, and Clark’s extra cape forgotten on the back of the guest bathroom door. There’s food in the fridge—none of it healthy because this apartment has become something of an escape from reality. Instead of granola, you eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, even your mother doesn’t eat her usual salad or salmon—she eats cheeseburgers or bad Chinese food.

Every Tuesday and Thursday you sit at the dining room table, hoping Kara will make her way down the hall and join you—she never does, but some nights you can hear the groan of the bedroom door, knowing she’s sitting against it, listening to you. You notice how her finger taps against her thigh, keeping perfectly in time with your heart, keeping her present—and then her finger will slow, and stop, and you know she’s stepped away mentally for a little while. To wherever it is she goes.

This Thursday, you’re running a little late, because your school had a special guest lecturer you’d been waiting all year for—Chris Hadfield, from the International Space Station. You have a picture signed tucked away inside your backpack, and you leave it in the car because you’re worried about creasing it. You’re texting your mother while punching in the code for the apartment, here safe, followed by half a dozen emojis. Your mother pretends she hates them—that they’re childish—but you’ve seen her conversations with Clark and know that there isn’t a grammatically sound sentence in the entire conversation.

This evening Kara’s on the balcony attached to what had been her bedroom, even though the bed’s been stripped of linens for almost as long as you’ve been alive. She isn’t sitting on the expensive furniture, but tucked into the corner against the side of the building. Legs extended, feet bare, and when you sit down beside her, she doesn’t acknowledge you—that’s fine. You put the tablet with your textbooks on your lap, and start reading about the Reconstruction Act of 1867—you’re alright with history, but it’s a lot of reading about things that seem slanted. Like how water bends light—you wonder how things had really happened, if history hadn’t been written by the victor.

You’ve been doing nothing but staring at the chapter header when Kara leans into you, so you turn toward her, shifting the tablet just enough that she’d be able to see the screen if she chose to—which she won’t—and her cheek rests on the top of your head. She doesn’t move other than that, but that’s alright—she’s impossibly warm against your side, which is good because the air is still a little chilly. Spring hasn’t gone into full swing yet, and you’d forgotten your jacket in the car—like your mother said you would, but she isn’t here, and Kara’s warm.

You start reading.

“The end of the Civil War brought profound changes—,” you keep reading, even when her head gets a little heavier about a quarter of the way through, and she starts snoring toward the middle of the chapter. Her hand has been resting on yours since she fell asleep, fingers curled loosely around yours, tightening ever so slightly every time you shift even a little—like she’s always checking that you’re still there.

And you are—there, that is—for about another hour, until your ears go numb from the breeze, and your legs have fallen asleep from sitting on the ground for so long. Sliding out from underneath her inordinately heavy head is hard, and takes about ten minutes longer than you thought it would—but when you’re free she remains leaning precariously, but gravity seems to have no hold on her, so she doesn’t slump. Her fingers are still around yours, and you have to peel them off one by one—hazy blue eyes open, blinking owlishly, and her pupils are so wide, you know she can’t see you.

That she isn’t fully here.

“I’m heading inside, ieiu. Ukiem rrip.” Whispering, because you don’t want her to align herself with you right now—pull herself back from whatever peaceful place she’s found that has allowed her to fall asleep. Still, she blinks, leaning toward you sluggishly. So you press a kiss to her cheek, firm enough that she’ll be able to feel it, and fleeting enough that she won’t rouse too much. She—smiles, that’s what you’ve come to equate that twitch of her lips to—and then settles back, and closes her eyes.

Looking tired, even though she’s already asleep.

The apartment is unsettling in the dark, and there’s no discernable reason that should be true—maybe it’s the quiet. You can hear the city outside and a few hundred feet down, the wind buffering against the side of the building—making triple ply storm window shiver. The balcony to the living room is open, and the room is kind of chilly, but you’ve grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch to wrap around yourself. Sitting at the kitchen table, your binder open, your phone plinks, and you read the text message from your mother. Saying she was on her way home, and that she’d stop by the apartment to pick you up.

There’s a snap of fabric, like wind being pulled through a sheet, and when you look up—there’s a woman in front of the couch. She’s wearing a black flight suit, a crimson patch on her chest—it looks like it could be in the same vein as Clark’s family crest. Her hair is dark, but even in the shadows of the apartment, the white streak is stark against the curve of her cheek. You know who she is by the description your mother gave—this is Kara’s aunt. She’d been who brought Kara back, or—brought your mother to Kara.

She’s looking at you with a solid stare, and you can’t hold it for more than a second before you duck your gaze and focus on your binder. Focus on calming the patter of your heart, because you know it is what will pull Kara back. She’s always listening for your heartbeat. You have no reason to fear this woman, but there’s something inside you that does. Not because she could lift a car, or melt metal with her eyes—but because she’s something to you, and you don’t know what.

Uncertainty unnerves you.

“You are Kara’s human’s progeny,” she says, calm and dry.

“That's a lot of possessives in one sentence,” you reply, swallowing your nerves, not moving from where you’re sitting at the table. “I’m Carter.”

“Carter,” she repeats like the name doesn’t sit properly in her mouth—her accent is strange, almost like she’s talking without opening her mouth. Somehow soft, and bold at the same time. The clench of her jaw, and the stiffness of her posture is positively militaristic, but her face is all consideration. “A strong name,” she finally decides.

“I was named after my grandfather,”

Another nod, “Family is important, smaller Grant.”


“As it stands, your mother seems to be small as well.”

Then there’s silence. It’s stifling and awkward at first, but eventually Kara’s aunt stops hovering, and sits delicately on the edge of the couch. Her arms still folded rigidly in her lap, like she’s afraid to touch anything; fingers laced tightly together until even her martian knuckles are turning white with stress.

“Don’t say that to her face,” you advise, picking at the nonsense buttons at the bottom of the remote—the buttons that you have no idea what they do. “My dad did, and she had all six of his cars towed across the country.”

“I do not have any cars,” flat, curious.

“She’d think of something.”

She doesn’t seem concerned, but then again you can’t imagine why she would be. She’s—an alien, not like your brother, but an actual alien. Sitting beside Clark a few days ago, playing Mario Kart, you’d quietly told him how you felt—eyes on the screen, it is always easier to talk that way. Clark had kept racing, turning the wheel this way and that, and he’d shrugged heavily when flying into the winner’s circle in 10th place. “I’m from National City,” he’d said, fiddling with the buttons, “It was easier to believe I was from Neverland, than the truth that I was an alien.”

And that was that. You’d both grit your teeth and concentrated on rainbow road, and fawned over your mother when she walked in with takeout food. You, your mother, and your west coast raised—if not born—alien brother.

“Do you have a spaceship?” You ask.

You don’t even know her name, but you’re too afraid to ask for it now—is the social expectation the same with an alien? Is it rude to ask now? Will she be offended? She hadn’t asked your name—you’d given it to her. “A temporal maximum security prison,” she offers, “I imagine it’s too large to be towed.”

“How large?”

“Seven thousand and twelve tons.”

“That’s—kind of big.”



And more silence.

So you break it, “I’m Kara’s too.” Because she needs to know that too, needs to understand who Kara is to you—even if it’s hard to call her ieiu, or mama, anywhere other than your mind. She’s no longer the idea of a person, the story of some time when you were small, or before you were born. She’s here, and real, and still so far away—you love her, so much, but you call her Kara. You mother looks like she wishes to ask you sometimes, but never does—trusting you to broach the subject when it gets too heavy for you. But this woman—Kara’s aunt—she needs to know who her niece is to you.

Confused, she asks, “her what?”

“Progeny. I’m her progeny.”


Instead of explaining, you pull out the picture that you mother had unearthed once Kara returned—you’d walked into her bedroom, and had found the boxes torn through. There were albums all over the place, and there seemed to be no real order—Clark as a baby, your mom and Kara pressed together at the cheek in college, and you—your first steps, and your first ice cream, and your first trip to the zoo. And in each of them is Kara. Sometimes it’s obvious the picture was intended to be taken—family trips, and celebrations—but some of them are at dawn, with cheerios tossed across the table, and crust still at the edges of sleepy eyes.

Turning the picture around, you slide it toward the edge, and keep your eyes on the table, even when you hear the couch groan and the deliberate sound of her steps. You’re looking at the picture—unable to help tracing the edge with your finger. In it you’re maybe two and held up on Kara’s shoulders, your fingers dug through her blonde hair—she’s laughing, mimicking you by pressing her face and hands comically against the glass. Your mother’s at her side, in the middle of shaking her head, palm against her face—you’re pretty familiar with that pose. There’s a large striped cat on the other side of the glass—a tiger—and you know they’re your favorite animal. They always have been.

Maybe they were hers too.

“I was three when she went away, but I watched it—I can remember that. The monster was crashing through buildings, and then—ieiu grabbed it, and they went up. And up, until they were gone.” Your father doesn’t know that’s why you have nightmares of that moment, even years later. He thinks it’s the Catco building in the middle off all the rubble, the knowledge of who exactly was in that building—not who exactly you lost that day.

Mama went up.

Kara’s aunt is holding the picture, tracing it like you had—except she’s tracing the edge of Kara’s face. Eyes that are bleu, or gray, or something in the middle lighten and she smiles. She looks human when she smiles—the air of heavy weight recedes for just a moment.

“She still smiles like she did as a girl.” She’s reverent, awe and joy flickering like dying lights in every corner of her face. She’s pretty. When the sadness, and the anger peel away, she’s very pretty. And you can see Kara in her chin, and in her brow—like the soft parts of Kara are shared with this woman, while the edges and lines belong with Clark.

Blinking, like she’s trying to chase away tears, she inhales and speaks to distract herself, “You speak Kryptonese.”

This you can answer.

Kryptahniuo non I chahvehd ju.o, non ieiu ashum ahahp.” you say, more slowly and carefully than you would Clark, because this woman speaks Kara’s language. And this woman smiles, wide and pleased, like you’ve done something wonderful. You know you used the wrong my, but you couldn’t remember the masculine manner of saying it—so you went gender neutral—and you’re conscious of your accent, and that they don’t hiss and slope like they should. Lacking the extra chambers in your lungs is to blame for that.

You skim and translate two, or three, more times before she answers—kryptonese was my first language, my mother taught me.

Khuhtiv, zha non” she corrects, gently, like your mother does, and she’s placing the picture on the table, and turns in the direction that you know Kara is. You wonder if she’s looking through the walls, seeking out her niece. “I am Astra, smaller Grant. It pleases me to meet Kara’s—aonah.”


Extending her hand, a very human gesture, and you wonder where she picked it up—you don’t imagine many people are offering to shake her hand. You take it. Her grip is loose, and hardly anything at all, but you shake firmly. How your mother taught you when she’d bring you to work and you’d pretend to be Carter Grant, CEO of Carterco Worldwide Media—trademark pending. “Are you planning on destroying our planet?” You ask bluntly, and it isn’t until after the words escape that you wince—you’d forgotten tact, and to be less blunt.

She only laughs, a rumbling chuckle, “I hadn’t planned on it.”

“Is that something people plan to do?” You ask, incredulously.

She tips her head slightly, “I imagine so.”

The handshake has stopped, and you’ve forgotten to remove your hand, but she isn’t pulling away—simply letting it rest in your hold. You’re both taken out of the moment by the door opening, and your mother walking through—Astra steps back, away from you like she doesn’t wish to be seen standing so close. She watches your mother wearily, but the subject of her focus is glowering down at her screen too intensely to notice.

“Carter, we might have to swing back to the office, apparently I can’t leave for a moment without—,” now she’s looking at you, and her eyes narrow on Astra, who still has the picture in her hold. Caught red handed. “Darling, what did I tell you about talking to known intergalactic criminals when I’m not around?”

You shrug, “Nothing.”

Her lips purse, “Yes, well, that’s about to change on the way to the office. Get your things.”

It could have gone worse, you suppose.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (CLARK) There’s some things in your life that just make you feel undeniably human, despite everything alien about you. You’ve known that you’ll always think of Earth as your home, because Krypton is just something your cousin talks about late at night like it’s some fairytale, like Peter Pan.

You’re used to coming home from school and finding Kara laying on the couch asleep in the sunlight—but that isn’t who you find there today. No, Cat is still in her pajamas at three in the afternoon, and every single curtain is drawn closed. There’s a little sliver of light that bisects the living room and kitchen, and you can see from the litany of toys on the floor that your younger brother has been keeping her busy. You can hear him breathing slow and deep in the other room, obviously asleep as well. The heartbeat of the two Grants ping along your bones, and it’s more comforting than almost anything else—strong, and human, and constant.

These are your humans.

Cat’s definitely not ready to see the world, and you consider yourself lucky you’re one of the handful allowed to see her in socks that have holes, and pajama pants with little scottie dogs. You’d gotten them for her birthday earlier in the year, and she’d scowled at them the whole rest of the afternoon, only to wear them that night. Saying they were all that was clean—but she’s stopped the pretenses since. She’s wearing a dark unzipped sweatshirt, and the bright yellow shirt that was from the trip to the Grand Canyon when you were six. It seems like lifetimes ago, but you can distinctly remember the blaze of the sun, and how Kara had hoisted you up onto her shoulders for the family picture that sits proudly on Cat’s desk, and Kara’s work bench.

“Cat,” you whisper, even though you’re trying to wake her up.

She groans, and rolls over, pushing her face into the wedge of space at the back of the couch where the cushions meet.

“Cat,” now you poke her in the back, right when she’s ticklish, which means she nearly beheads you with a knee. Bleary green eyes wince open and she growls—legitimately growls—and frowns.


“You said you’d take me driving.”

Eyes closed again, “don’t remember saying that.”

“You promised,” you remind, leaning forward so that your shadow blocks the sun.

“Well, life lesson, heathen,” she grunts, while rolling over—again—to burrow into the slightly starchy couch cushion. “People lie.”

“You promised.” You stress, talking a little louder.

She is hardly moved by your emotional manipulation.

“You’re young, you’ll get over it.” Her words are muffled, and even with your superior hearing it’s hard to make out exactly what she’s saying. So you stare, right at the back of her head where you know she’ll feel it. She does. “Stop looking at me like that.” She might be human, but you know she has some strange acute sense for when people are watching her—you’d think she hated being the center of attention if she didn’t preen so damned much. “This isn’t working.” She growls, but her foot has started thumping against the opposite couch arm, in agitation and you begin the count down in your mind—three, two¸ one.

“Fine! Once around the block.”

Pumping a fist in the air, “yes!”

Cat huffs while throwing her body into a sitting position—the crease marks from the firm throw-pillow line her cheeks, and there’s a little speck of drool at the corner of her mouth that she hastily swipes away with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. No—Kara’s sweatshirt. She’s glowering at you while finger combing her blonde hair back into some fashion of presentable; and failing pretty badly.

“You look like the front man for a Flock of Seagulls cover band,” you muse, once safely out of arms reach.

Cat scoffs, “you can’t name one Flock of Seagulls song.”

“Can you?”

“Of course I can,” standing up she’s still pawing at her hair and scowling at the single line of light daring to enter the living room. “The running one—and I ran, I ran so far away.” You’re skeptical, but you don’t want to try your luck, she’s walking across the living room and into the kitchen, stretching out her lower back.

The keys to her Mercedes are on the counter, and when you go to reach for them, she’s quick enough to snatch them up. “Keys?” You ask hopefully, batting eyelashes you know she’s a sucker for, but somewhere in her exaggerated frown, you know you’re in for a rude awakening.

“Oh, you thought you were driving my car?” She’s grinning widely, and twirling the keys around her index finger—you could get the keys away, but that isn’t playing fair, and if anything you’ve learned a little something about restraint. “Absolutely not—I don’t let your cousin drive my car.”

“That’s because Kara’s a shitty driver,” you supply helpfully, and her eyes narrow.


Crappy driver.”

She sighs, and tosses her keys into her abandoned purse, knowing you’re too much of a chicken shit to go for them against her say so—one day. Cat walks past you, patting you ruefully on the shoulder while she makes her way toward Carter’s room. “I’m fairly certain that isn’t much better, but regardless.”

The nursery is spilled twilight—the windows perfectly framed and slanting light in, but away from the scrunching face of your baby brother. He’s tiny—only four months old—and every time you see him you want to pick him up and hold him close—protect him with everything you are, from anything this world, or any other, has to offer. You know Cat feels the same, because she still presses a hand against her stomach when she sees him—protecting a boy who no longer exists inside her.

Carter’s snuffling, little fists beginning to ball and shake, and his eyes haven’t opened yet, but you can hear how his little hummingbird heart chitters and chirps awake. You know Cat can’t hear his heart, but somehow she knows too, leaning over the edge of the crib to trace a light finger against him cheek, encouraging a coo and another shaking fist. Small chubby fingers wrap around her finger, and the smile on her face is awful—not the modern definition of it, but the archaic one. Full of wonder, inspiring awe. It makes your heart flutter because you can recall—hazily—that she used to smile at you like that, and sometimes—very rarely—she still does.

There’s a bang, and thunk, from the front door, and it isn’t a second later that your cousin is breezing in with her jacket half off and nearly tripping over an untied shoe lace. There’s smudges of grease and soot on her cheeks, and Cat rolls her eyes at the sight of Kara—pale yellow cardigan, white oxford, and beige pants. She’s smoothing out the front of her clothes, like that will somehow remove the black smudges from the fabric, and the tips of her fingers.

“I know, I know! I’m late.” She says, already striding across the room to scope up Carter, who is wide awake now and giggling—she presses a wet kiss to the bit of tummy that is exposed by his shirt, and his fingers find themselves tightly coiled into her hair.

“I’ll never understand how you manage to be late as often as you are, when you can break the sound barrier at will.” Cat grouses, arms crossed, but that soft smile is still on her face—it’s changed though, and you call this her Kara Smile. It is a special smile that you wouldn’t be able to properly define with words, but you know it when you see it.

“Superpowers or not, National City traffic always wins.” Kara says, tucking your brother into the crook of her arm, though he’s still high enough for her to blow raspberries against his cheeks. “Isn’t that right, buddy?” Carter’s howling with laugher, little face scrunching up with delight while Kara spins until she’s pressed against Cat’s side—who is still pretending to be annoyed.

“And you think we should encourage the chaos by letting the heathen behind the wheel?”

“Come on, Cat, we talked about this. He’s sixteen, he doesn’t want us to drive him everywhere. It’s not cool.” Kara is very invested in cool, maybe it’s because she still only has a permit, and her driving encourages no confidence.

“Until I see that poor driving isn’t genetic,” Cat grouses, and presses a kiss to Carter’s forehead, and another to Kara’s cheek, “He’s not getting anywhere near Stella. He can drive Chuck.”

You can’t help frowning, because Chuck is your grandfather’s 1987 VW station wagon, a boat sized vehicle that is somehow still driving a thousand and a half years later. You’d much rather drive Stella, Cat’s brand new Mercedes lease.

“What?” You groan, “That car’s older than I am.”

Cat pats your cheek while she walks by, “I have shoes older than you are.”

“You know, you’re only fourteen years older than me.”

“Age gaps mean nothing if I’ve changed your diaper.”

Suddenly Kara’s laughed good luck seems sarcastic.

“Seatbelt, and adjust the seat.” Cat’s in the passenger seat, put together like she might be going into the office—though the large sunglasses on her face did their best to obscure her face. Buckling yourself in, and making sure to push the seat as far back as it would go. “Find your shifter, and make sure you know what gear you’re in—we don’t need another instance of a car going through a wall.”

“She apologized for that,” you point out, while fiddling with the shifter behind the steering wheel, none of the cars you’ve seen your friends drive had them here, but it must be practically the same thing.

Cat just looks at you quietly for a second with an expression that suggests that you might be an idiot, “apologies don’t remove cars from walls, expensive contractors and back-hoes do.”

“She offered to do it herself?”

Again, that are you stupid look flits across her face, but she busies herself with making sure she is firmly strapped into the seat, and inhaling dramatically like she’s about to walk down death row. The keys are dangling from the ignition, heavy with keychains with family pictures—there’s one for nearly every year you and Kara lived with mister Callaghan, all those awkward grammar school pictures. There’s one new one—a picture Kara had convinced Cat to pose for, taken at the Sears in the local mall. Cat’s sitting on a stool, Carter balanced on her lap, Kara’s standing just to her side, finger caught by your brothers fist, and you’re standing behind them. One hand on Cat’s shoulder, the other wrapped around Kara’s.

Your cousin hadn’t cared that Cat said they could go to someplace more reputable, she wanted to do it how mister Callaghan always did. You don’t point out that Cat had gotten all misty eyed when mister Callaghan asked her to join them at Sears for the first time—the proof tethered to these very keys.

Turning the key, and listening to the station wagon stammer to a start, you feel the vibration acutely through the frame and seat. Cat’s already white knuckled on the window, but her clenched jaw says she’s trying to keep her snappy comments to herself. Shifting into drive, you turn on your blinker, look over your shoulder, and pull away from the curb when traffic has passed.

The traffic wasn’t too bad this far from the sprawling city scape, but the cars that were on the road were ridiculously expensive, which made you nervous. You can practically hear the creak in Cat’s knuckles as her grip on the door handle tightens. The car in front of you swerves a little, and slams on their breaks—you’re a good fifty feet away, so it’s no big deal.

But try telling Cat that.

“Stop! Stop!” You are.

Somewhere around the fourth stop there’s an insistent slap to your bicep. You’re stopped, with a good ten feet to spare but Cat’s eyes are squeezed shut behind her sunglasses, and her nails are trying their hardest to dig into your arm.

“I’ve been stopped for the last two stops!”

That has her opening her eyes, and exhaling like she’d seen her whole life flash before them—the grip on your arm lessens, and she tucks back into the passenger seat. Arms crossing like she wasn’t just praying to whatever deity she chose in what she thought were her last moments.

“Well, don’t just park in the middle of the street,” she says gruffly, while looking out the window, “Go.”

“He’s turning!” Your ears are ringing from how often she’s yelling, “Turning!”

“I see the blinker!” She’s making you panic, even if nothing is going wrong.

“Stop yelling!”

“You’re yelling!”

“So,” just one word from your cousin seems sarcastic, while you walk in with an arm around Cat’s shoulders, and three cups of froyo balanced in your other hand. Cat huffs, and you feel her shoulders lift and fall.

“I’ve hired a driving instructor to teach him,” she’d made the call while trying to calm her heart after the near death experience she’d just had—you’d dared to make a left hand turn with a car within half a mile of you. “He needs professional help.”

You front, “You need professional help.”

Sharp nails pinch your side, and while it didn’t hurt, it was the principle of the thing. “Ow!”

“I heard that,” she says, while grabbing the top two cups of froyo, and walking over to Kara, handing her the half-gallon of toppings.

Kara’s laughing like she’s having the time of her life, eyes bright, “That bad?”

You and Cat respond at the same time, “That bad.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (MARION). There’s a lot of beginnings in life, an impossibly long list of firsts. But some of them are monumental, they’re castles and skyscrapers in towns that have never come close to touching the sky. The first time you kissed the man who would be your husband, the first novel you got published, the first—and only—time you say “I do”.

“When I was a freshman, I had a teaching assistant in my renewable energy elective that thought he would change the world—not just a little slice of it, but the whole global landscape.” Kara’s standing up on Max’s other side, champagne flute raised just enough that the soft lighting glints through the bubbles. “Now, said assistant didn’t appreciate me correcting his mathematics in front of the class, but I think we’ve moved past that. Haven’t we, buddy?”

Kara’s grin makes Max laugh, and pipe up, “you think so; I’m playing the long game, pal. Just you wait.”

“Oh, I’m waiting, Max—everyone is, because with Marion at your side, there’s nothing you can’t do.” You adore her; that warm place in your chest that belongs to your husband’s best friend grows, because it’s impossible not to love Kara Callaghan. “Be it getting back at me, or changing the world like you promised. I can’t wait to see it, and it means so much to be by your side when it happens. We’ve made it out of the minor leagues; but I plan to keep swinging for the fences.” She punches Max in the shoulder, and he gives her a vaguely awkward half-hug at the waist.

“And Marion—Mar.” She looks at you like you’re precious; you’d held this girl sobbing against your shoulder when Cat had moved across the world, you’d kept her insignificant little secrets—like a fear of water, and a hatred for watermelon—to yourself like they were classified. “You’re the best of us, girl, and I know you’ll argue, but we’ve got you beat on the majority. Three to one.” Her, Max and Cat— who sits at your side—are all nodding, raising their glasses slightly, and you feel like a dopy fool with how wide you’re smiling.

“You’ve managed to keep us grounded through it all, and I promise you,” now she’s addressing the crowd—business partners, and friends, and family alike, “That is no small feat; we can get pretty rowdy.”

Tapping her index finger against the glass, and raising it high, “I guess what I’m trying to say is—you guys made falling in love look easy. And even if we’re all secretly jealous—we’re happy for you, you guys deserve it. Cheers.”

There’s an echo of cheers through the room, and you can see Cat making moon eyes at Kara, who’s already bickering with Max like they’re two children who have slipped the chaperone—you’ll let them have this moment of bonding. The music is starting up in the back of the hall, couples pairing off and stepping onto the dance floor—everything’s been done a little backwards, but Max never was a fan of tradition.

He’d been twirling you around the dance floor for the better part of an hour before you had to sit back down, a little out of breath—thankfully your feet are settled comfortably in sneakers below the dramatic flair of fabric that is your dress. Cat has finally managed to coax Kara onto the dancefloor, fingers curled around the lapel of her jacket, eyebrows arched in challenge.

You want so much for them.

“They’re beautifully tragic,” you say to your husband—husband, after what feels like an eternity, you can finally call the man at your side husband.

Max scoffs, “They’re idiots.”

“Idiots in love; that makes it romantic,” you hit him in the shoulder with the back of your fingers, he catches them and presses a kiss to your knuckles.

“I don’t see how.”

No, Max wouldn’t, because he grabbed life by the stinger, and dared it to poison him. It was a special brand of brazen that seems to inhabit only a select few. When he wants something, he reaches out with both hands and damns the consequence—it’s something you love, and loath, about him. You’re sitting side by side at the table on the dais—watching Max’s best-man and your maid of honor twirl on the dancefloor. Cat is significantly more coordinated, deftly moving bare toes mere milliseconds before they’d be crushed by Kara’s careless feet.

“They orbit each other,” you say while leaning into him, you’re speaking in low tones, because more than a few people are watching your friends dance. There’s something ethereal about them—how they shift, and step, and breathe together. Oh, you’ve seen how they can splinter and bend, but never break—how they tax the edges where one ends, and the other begins. But there’s a strength to them—they’re a bone that only gets stronger for every micro fracture that heals.

“Like they can’t fight the gravity that pulls them together,” two stars going super nova—spitting out ropes of stardust that wraps like celestial bows around them both, tethering them eternally together. Until their solar systems crash, and their stars burn themselves dark. “Helpless against the attraction, but still struggling with the depth of it.” You watch how Cat rests her head on Kara’s shoulder, fingers plucking absently at the back of her well-fitted tuxedo—nails bright and red against the black fabric.

The wedding is a lot larger than you’d imagined as a little girl—there’s nearly as many business associates as there are friends and family. But Lorde Technologies is still young, and you’d allowed Max to convince you that it wouldn’t infringe on anything—the more the merrier, he’d said, with a completely straight face that you know cost him a little of his dignity. The banquet hall is spun through with floral arrangements, wrapped and tethered to cold metal and curved glass—a marriage of natural beauty, and modern minimalism.

“I don’t care how poetic you make it seem, Mar,” Max starts, pausing for only a moment to sip some ginger ale—you're so proud of him. “They’re still morons.”

Rolling your eyes, “And have you told them your opinion on the subject?”

“You try telling Cat she’s an idiot—see how long you last,” he scoffs, rolling shoulders, before slinging one along the back of your chair; you’re both watching them, how they’re barely even swaying anymore. No consideration for the actual tempo of the music, their mouths moving close to each other’s ear—existing in their own world, inside the one everyone else occupies. “And Cal—she just looks like a kicked puppy when you say things like that to her. I’m pragmatic, Mar, not a monster.”

“You big softie,” you jest.

Max just huffs and tangles a finger in the curls just behind your ear that no amount of straight ironing would tame—he’s being gruff because you’ve been onto him for years now, and he doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like knowing there’s people out there that can see past his frat boy smile and air of arrogance. When you’d first met him, you’d loathed every narcissistic bone in his body—you’d dreamed of how satisfying it would be to slap the smile straight off his beautiful face.

It had been seeing him with Kara that had made it possible to change your mind—how they’d lean over hastily scribbled papers with bright eyes and eager grins—brilliant minds that would shape a generation. How they scratched, and clawed, and balanced their academics with their dreams—ones that became more, and more, and more solid as the months went by. Max had confided in you one night, after a party thrown by his particular section of the Greek alphabet had gotten out of control, and the police had been called. You’d sat beside each other on the curb, hands cuffed behind your backs, leaning against each other laughing because—because, it was all ridiculous.

“Did you have to start a fight?” You remember how your face had hurt from smiling, and how his had probably hurt from the solid right hook he’d taken before Kara had wrestled the assailant to the floor. It’d been comical watching the two-hundred pound lacrosse player being restrained by a girl half his size—there’d been some logistical problems, but the boy had eventually knocked himself out with a flailing fist.

“He was getting handsy,” Max had defended, scrunching his face because his left cheek was already swollen to twice its size.

“I can take care of myself.”

“I know,” he’d confided, leaning his shoulder against yours and blinking his one good baby blue eye, before looking across the parking lot where the more responsible—and less rowdy—students were giving their statements. “But—I didn’t like it. And maybe I want to help.”

You’d frowned, “Help what?”

He’d smiled. “Take care of you.”

And you were a goner.

You had no idea that night in lock up would lead directly to your wedding, but it’ll definitely be a story to tell your children. Smiling, you rest a hand against your stomach where a flutter stirs. You haven’t gotten a bump yet, surprising, considering how far along you are. Max sees where your hand rests, and lays his upon yours—his smile wide and soft and all the things so many people miss because they’re too busy listening to his five-syllable words and grandiose plans for the future. Which usually entailed him shepherding the dull and witless masses into a new golden age.

“Why did you say beautifully tragic?” He asks after a long pause, and you’re pulled out of your memories, he’s chewing slightly on his bottom lip—a habit no one knows he has—and tapping his newly acquired wedding ring against the stem of his champagne flute. “I’m hardly an English major, but doesn’t it usually go the other way around—tragically beautiful.”

You hadn’t done it consciously, but you mull his point, because whenever Max is willing to pay any mind to literary devices, you’re willing to sit down and discuss it. It’s the reason why Cat had always been your closest ally—while Max and Kara toiled the night away with their science and technology, you’d have dinner with Cat and talk. About ancient customs, and novels, and the stories she’s writing. The written word is your life blood, and she got it, so much easier than those who thought with their left side brain.

“They’re the perfect tragedy,” you exhale, watching Kara smile wide, and stepping away as Clark sweeps Cat into his arms. “Saddening, meaningful.” She stands at the edge of the dance floor, hands loosely curled at her sides—and she turns to look at you, blue eyes glittering with the opaque white lighting, her lips pressed together like she might’ve been about to say something. “A tragic hero,” Max’s eyes find Kara without prompting, and your husband’s chief of staff just watches you in return—chin lifting and shoulders squaring.

“A beautiful muse,” Cat’s dwarfed by Clark’s awkward teenage frame, but the way he’s hand alight carefully at her hip make you smile. Kara’s turned back to watch them, smiling from whatever place in her heart burns for them—the whole thing, you’re sure. You know the blonde exudes love, which rushes through her veins like blood does yours. What does she usually say? When those blue eyes of hers get hazy and the lines of her face soften.

Until the stars go dark?

They break your heart.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (WINN). You grew up a toy maker's son, imagination was practically a prerequisite for childhood. You played Dungeons and Dragons, and imagined whole worlds to have adventures. You feel like nothing should surprise you anymore; you're shocked at what still does.


You don’t realize you’re not alone in the employee breakroom until it’s too late—the door has been closed, and by the snap click, it has also been locked. Cat grant doesn’t fit the backdrop of Black and Decker appliances that are long overdue for replacement, and event fliers posted to the front of the fridge—baby showers and birthday parties. You haven’t seen her at all today, which is unusual, but the entire floor knows she’s been down town with the outside law firm that deals with all insider knowledge impartially. The thirty-first floor—legal—is usually sour for a day or two afterward, like their integrity has been somehow challenged.

Security always sends up a Grant Warning when the CEO returns—you must have missed it because of your late lunch, caught up in cyber space and the litany of programming caches you’d been sifting through for the last two hours. The tribune had stumbled somewhere this morning, and you’d been chancing through the code ever since—and finally were successful about twenty minutes ago.

Blinking owlishly, you don’t even know what to do now, confronted with the imposingly tiny woman who towers two inches shorter than you in impressively tall heels. You don’t understand how she doesn’t twist her delicate ankles—you imagine steel bones and blood made strong with the tears of employees has something to do with it.

“M-miss Grant!” You don’t mean to stammer, but you can’t help it. She makes your teeth chip together just by glaring, though she isn’t doing it too openly right now.

“Winifred, I have a problem,” problem is accompanied by the most fickle of wrist rolls, like she can simply wave it off without minding it too much. You don’t think she’s even noticed that she’s not staying to the same wrong name.

Swallowing, “I—uh—I’d be happy to help, if I can.”

Cat Grant sits in plastic chairs like she’s on a throne—arm tossed over the back, fingers rubbing together like she’s removing the dirt of peasants from her hands. “Carter has found himself enamored in some cultural phenom or another,” her mobile phone is set on the counter from somewhere—you have no idea where she had to stashed, considering the sheath she’s wearing is tight, and there are—no pockets, or—not that you’re looking.

You’re looking.

“He wishes for me to partake, and try as I might, I don’t grasp the importance, or significance, of each—thing.” The screen is bright, and then dark—it isn’t until the big red exclamation point and Gyarados appears that you realize. Pokémon Go. She must have already made an avatar, because there’s a blonde haired blue clad trainer standing in mid-town National City—surrounded on three sides by pidgeys and eevees. She’s level one, and there’s only a quarter of the bar filled to reach level two.

“Pokémon,” you say dumbly.

She frowns, “Yes, do keep up.”

“You want to play pokémon,” dumber, if possible.

Cat Grant frowns harder, and there’s something in her eye that warns you away from further numb idiocy. Looking at her while very slowly turning the mobile with the tip of your finger, you tap the pokeball at the bottom and bring up her pokémon. She seems to have five weedle, and eight pidgeys, all below thirty CP. “You want to catch ‘em all,” as if the tag line will get you any further away from the awkward hesitance in your bones, “All the Pokémon.”

“And how many are there?”

“One hundred fifty-one—but, I think you can only get one hundred forty-two at the moment.” There’s rumors going around about exclusives, but the game is less than a week old, and you’ve been too busy playing to really hunt down the truths.

“What about the remaining nine?”

“They’re—exclusive?” You don’t know how to explain legendary to someone who is a literal billionaire, and probably has her own definition to the word.

“To whom?” She’s tapping her screen rather aggressively, and an eevee pops up, it’s only 14CP, but you watch as the media magnate wastes five pokeballs trying to catch it, and shooting wide each time.

“To events? In the future—I mean, that’s the rumor going around.” She’s nodding like she understands this, and you imagine she must—publicity is kind of her area of expertise.

Somehow you spend the next hour with Cat Grant, playing Pokémon Go—she mangles every single name, and sometimes you can tell she does it purposely. She says pokemans instead of pokémon, and oddly enough—it’s endearing, and you don’t know how to feel about that. She’s determined to get each of the eevee evolutions, and you tell her about the theory that you can pick which one you get by naming them after the trainers from the show—Rainer, Pyro, and Sparky.

“There’s a show?” She asks, eyes lifting from the mobile in her hand for the first time in twenty minutes.

“Oh yeah,” you say, forgetting for a moment who exactly you’re speaking to. “It’s been on since the nineties.”

Cat Grant hums noncommittally, and you both fall back into mutual silence—she doesn’t show you when she evolves an eevee into a flareon, but she happens to put her mobile down on the table, and you glance over.

If your “that’s a pretty good CP,” has anything to do with her predominately smug smile, there’s nothing you can really do about it.

This is the longest you’ve ever been in the same room as her—bar that time you’d been fixing her display screens. Kara had intervened after all; there’s no one here to save you if the calm silence begins to crumble. Your boss seems to have adapted to multitasking—stylus in one hand, making red digital marks on her iPad, while her other tosses pokeball after pokeball at unsuspecting pokémon.

The moment you realize you’ve gotten too comfortable is when the door jiggles—the metal of the handle chittering, and you jump—preparing to throw yourself up and out of your chair, like you could somehow vacate the room in a manner beside the singular door. There must be some sign that you’re freaking out, because there’s suddenly cool fingertips against the side of your wrist. The touch impossibly light, yet still somehow enough to keep you cemented to your chair.

“It’s Kara,” the media magnate supplies, fingers tapping absently against your wrist before retracting and going back to her tablet—eyes never even turning in your direction, never acting like that was out of the ordinary.

You don’t know what to make of it—Cat Grant does not do casual touching, she has her own elevator, for Christ’s sake. There’s only a handful of people that she seems to be unable to help herself around—her sons, and Kara.

The door clicks and opens, and it is Kara that walks in—she’s wearing a sweater vest you’re positive isn’t hers, and a salmon colored shirt you’re pretty sure your boss wore last week. The sleeves are unbuttoned and rolled to the elbow, her slacks are tight and no, you aren’t looking—you’re looking—with…flip flops. You’re positive there is a building wide ban on flip flops after the incident from the summer three years ago, but you know it doesn’t apply to Kara.

Not much seems to apply to Kara.

She sits down beside the business woman, who is marking up another article on her iPad, mobile open to a growlithe jumping and dodging. Kara slides it slightly in her direction, and flicks the pokeball on the bottom carefully—a perfect curve ball, and great flashes across the screen, and after three rumbles, it’s captured. The silent blonde is rubbing fingers methodically up the bare arm of your boss, there’s no sign that she’s even been noticed, but you know she has been.

“Carter plays,” the silence is broken, “Whitney was embellishing on the hows and whys.” You notice how she dodges around the word help, like it’s a sin—but it doesn’t bother you because it is the highest praise you’ve ever gotten from the CEO. You don’t know if you’re supposed to be looking away from them—you always feel like you should—you don’t know why you’ve been accepted into whatever weird alternate reality that exists around Kara; but the media powerhouse is different around her.

Green eyes always find you moments before you flee, seconds before you stutter out an excuse and remove yourself—because you only started noticing a few time in, that when you tensed to flee, so did Kara. She’d look nervous, hands retracting inward, pulling away—and you wonder how much she bases her actions off others. You wonder each time why she never talks. You wonder who exactly she is to Cat Grant.

This time, you don’t try to flee, you relax more if anything.

Kara doesn’t frown, but she stops the methodical caress of her hands—and your boss finally looks up, blasé and eyebrow arched. Kara just stares. You don’t think there should be anything frightening about the look—she’s even still smiling, but there’s apparently something that makes Cat Grant—Cat freaking Grant—sigh and look back at her tablet, making a particularly harsh swipe of her stylus, and them turning the document page with a finger against the screen.


You don’t mean to choke on the little bit of saliva that was apparently gathering in your mouth, but you can’t help yourself, and a little bit of spittle ends up on the table. Kara is laughing silently, pressing her forehead against her companion’s shoulder, and even the CEO seems a little amused, though it’s gone before you can even properly assign an emotion to her twitching lip.

The moment is shattered when the mobile on the table rings, and it is promptly swiped up—the lawyer on the other end of the line being read the riot act, and you can’t follow along. You can only watch how manicured nail knead absently at the back of Kara’s neck, and the blonde’s eyes slid shut. With a caress of fingers through hair Cat Grant is out the door, and across the bullpen.

“She’s—never actually gotten my name right.” You say, because you don’t know what you’re supposed to say in this scenario. Kara’s holding the forgotten iPad against her chest, and her smile widens a little. She stands up, quiet as always, and on her way to walk out—probably back to the desk she’s since commandeered just outside the fishbowl office of the CEO—she hip checks your shoulder and closes the door behind her.

You don’t know what weird alternate world this is.

But you don’t mind it.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (BARRY). The differences don't surprise you, there's a million billion different realities out there, and you've only touched a handful. What surprises you is how much carries over; the little things that seem to stick around despite the differences in time, or place, or circumstances. The people they need to be who they are. These small truths that defy the vibrations of the universe that keeps everything else apart.

You stay the night.

Two trips to alternate worlds has worn on you, and after a lot of pinched lipped consideration, Kara offers to give you a place to stay. She’s careful, this teenager that’s found you, she is open, and friendly, and willing to help—but the idea of bringing you to someplace that’s hers makes her nervous. You offer to find a hotel room, sure that there’s a ton available in such a large city, but she clamps down a hand on your bicep and you see something foreign in her eyes—something that you definitely hadn’t seen in Kara Danvers—a warning.

“No, you can stay with me,” she’d said slowly, like even she isn’t sure why she’s insisting, but there’s just enough pressure from small fingers to remind you that this human looking girl is hardly human at all.

She stops at some kind of tenement house and whisks away upstairs to retrieve—a child? He’s a toddler, his thumb in his mouth while his head nuzzles under her chin and against her shoulder. You aren’t surprised by how she hefts him easily like he weighs nothing—but big doe blue eyes settle on you quietly, and you’re struck with how exactly they match Kara’s. A son? You hadn’t pried that much into the alien hero’s life, but you think it would have been mentioned if she had a son.

Maybe not.

She brings you to a book store.

Kara seems to have a ridiculous amount of blankets that she’s pulling from basements, and closets, and attics; by the time she’s finished the entire floor of the bookstore she brought you to is covered in linen and pillows. You’re wearing a sweatshirt that is worn and across the front is I suffer from CFD; compulsive fishing disorder, and sweatpants that are five inches too short—and light blue. At any moment you’re going to feel like the adult in this situation—any moment, because it hasn’t happened yet, and Kara’s looking at you like you’re an idiot.

All the ways that this just Kara is different than Kara Danvers startles you, because they’re essentially the same person—doppelgangers that aren’t horribly out of sync, or opposites, or toxic. You wonder how many other similarities this Earth has to the one you’d just left—because the skyline looks awfully similar—sans the large CATCO Worldwide Media you’d spent most of your time there in. There’s a much shorter building in it’s place with massive amounts of construction going on.

This Kara—just Kara—settles a little differently in your stomach; her eyes are more cautious, and she uses her abilities more liberally. Like they’re too much a part of her to ignore—Kara Danvers had seemed almost unsure of what she was capable of. This Kara—well, this Kara you can believe is an alien; it is the intangible undefined things you wouldn’t be able to put into words of someone asked. Because the way she blinks isn’t a good reason, but it is a reason. Somehow.

She wants to know everything about her doppelganger—like the information will unlock some important piece of information she’s been looking for. Like this other version of herself could clue her in on what she’s supposed to be doing with her life—you know what thoughts like that can do. How they can mess with your mind when you see how the other side lives—what it feels like to see your face on someone else, see how their eyes dull and their smile widens. It’s a strange feeling that doesn’t get any stranger the more often it happens.

Strange is strange, even for the Impossible.

“Where does she work?” Kara asks, splitting oranges into slices, and handing them off mindlessly to the toddler who’s cramming them messily into his mouth without regard for the blankets he’s wrapped in. The boy hasn’t spoken to you yet, but he’d been yammering on and on to Kara about what he’d done at the baby sitter—asking about kitty, and Kara promising that the aforementioned feline would be by soon.

“A media company,” you hedge, because you know how messy it is when world’s collide.

“What does she do?” Blue alien eyes are watching you, though fingers are still dividing up oranges—the kids had to have had at least five of them by now.


She doesn’t look impressed, even though her face is just as sweet as Kara Danvers—the narrowed eyes and pursed lips just make her cute. Even cuter now that she’s a kid; her cheeks a bit rounder, and eyes a little wider. She’s all leg and arm—elbow and knee—but you know she’ll grow into it.

“How old is she?” Eyebrow raised, and it’s familiar somehow, but it isn’t from the Kara you left behind in the other world.

Where do you remember it from?


Kara looks like she’s about to jump on you with a thousand and a half ore questions, but the front door jangles. You’re up and in front of her before you can think better of it, even if the teenager behind you and the toddler are still wrapped up in blankets on the floor. She blinks up at you like you’re finally doing something interesting, and the boy’s oohing and aahing. “Stay behind me,” you say, lowering your voice to a whisper. You don’t care that she’s a super strong flying alien, she’s just a kid and nothing is happening to her on your watch.

“It’s Kitty!” The boy hollers suddenly, springing up from his mess of blankets faster than humanly possible, and he’s across the room and launching himself at the figure bracketed on all sides by street lighting. You can’t make out any of their features until Kara flicks two of the lights on and casts a soft glow into the bookstore. The boy is wrapped around—a girl, not much older than Kara, if older at all. She’s wearing a summer dress and a light jacket, slip on shoes pretty quiet against the ground.

“Miss me, itty bitty heathen?” The teenager coos, and the boy giggles in delight. Something about her is familiar—it’s the sharp line of her jaw, and the green of her eyes. But you’ve never been in this world before, and you aren’t really on a first name basis with the teenage population—except Kara, but she’s an alien, and that’s different, and not creepy.

Right? Right.

Kara walks over at a completely human pace, her eyes bright, and a smile on her face wider than any you’d been treated to in the few hours you’ve been here—she glances at you nervously, like she doesn’t know is she can do something in front of you. So you smile, wide and warm, and the kind that Iris said was your winning feature. She presses her lips together and nods, more to herself than you.

“Hey Cat,” she whispers, and leans in for a kiss. It’s all kinds of skittish, like she isn’t sure she isn’t supposed to—but the blonde has her snagged by the collar of her sweatshirt, and pulls her in for a firmer kiss.


Oh, they’re—


You now know where you recognize the girl from—she’s young, really young, but there’s no question that this is Cat Grant—CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media, and Kara’s clever, too intuitive, and frankly frightening, boss. She isn’t that here, she’s smiling softly, their noses bumping, and it’s sweet—and you don’t even realize you’re smiling too until she speaks.

“Hey back, supergirl,” Cat says, while leaning away, and releasing the struggling toddler who throws himself dramatically into the blankets, rolling around like it’s what he’s supposed to be doing. “And hello to you, strange man in girl’s sweatpants.”

You blush, itching at the back of your neck—not liking that she can make you nervous here too. She’s glaring at you, and you really wished you had gotten a hotel room. “I—didn’t have anything. So, Kara let me borrow some.”

“Wonderful, a previously pants-less stranger.”

“He’s not a stranger!” Kara pipes up, and now Cat’s interested, chin cocked, hand on hip. “He’s my cousin; uh—uncle Percy’s son, he’s back from college.”

“Yeah, I—uh—I’m back?” What is with people making you their cousin?

“Joy, I didn’t know you were gone,” she’s assessing you, and you don’t think it’s a good opinion she’s forming, but Kara’s tugging her by the fingers toward the counter and sliding down until she’s sitting with her back against it. Cat stands firmly, glaring at you until she also sits—more carefully—and finds an unpeeled orange. “How long will you be staying—?”

“Barry!” You supply, “My name’s Barry, nice to meet you.” Again.


“I’m leaving in the morning. Going to drop by and, you know, say hey to my uncle, and then—head off.”

“Back to college,” she says coyly, watching you carefully.

“Back to college,” you agree, trying not to fidget.

Maybe you’d been reading the whole situation in the other National City wrong—maybe Kara Danvers hadn’t been pining after James, maybe she’d had eyes for another. Seeing these two teenagers shuffle closer and sit shoulder to shoulder, you suddenly can’t help thinking about moments in that other world. They’d seemed perfectly innocent there, but—maybe they weren’t. They’re murmuring to each other, smiling and laughing quietly, and it warms your heart because all those ridiculous little intangible things that you’d been trying to put into words smooth away when Cat’s near Kara.

She blinks just right, and the warning leaves her eyes, and she’s just a teenage girl in love.

Something hits your leg.

“They’re gross,” the boy says, peering up at you from where he’s shuffled his little body across the ground on his back, his head pressed into your thigh.

“One day maybe you’ll find someone you want to kiss,”

“Never,” he intones solemnly, shaking his head and glaring up at you. But much like Kara, his face is too sweet, and it really loses something in the translation.

“Why’s that?

He huffs, like you’re an idiot, and he’s humoring you. “Duh, ‘cause it’s gross.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT. (CARTER) Your mother taught you forgiveness. Not because she thought everyone deserved it, or because she was particularly forgiving herself; but because she knew what held grudges could do to a person. To a relationship. She taught you to always keep an open mind, to say what you mean, and to mean what you say. Sometimes it's hard, to look past all the details, and all the feelings, to what the real problem is.

Clark: The throw down is happening right now. Bets?

Carter: No question; Mom.

Clark: I don’t know Lois’s been watching Rocky and pounding Red Bulls.

Carter: Mom just started a cleanse.

Clark: Fuck.

Clark: Don’t tell her I sent that.

Clark: We’re doomed.

Carter: Yep.

Your mother has been in Metropolis for the better part of the week, but she’s been too busy to really involve herself in Clark and Lois’ life. Your brother had sent you a text at—in his words—stupid o’clock in the morning, because your mother was there bright and early for “activities”. Which no one seemed to have a clear idea of what they entailed, until they were four activities in—there was meals, and sightseeing, and bonding. You know Lois and your mother get along, and that their bickering is some weird form of affection, but no one really seems to get that beside them—and you and Clark.

You’ve been home all week with Kara, who has tried to plan each day like she was the chaperone of a sleep away camp. Arts and crafts, a legitimate baseball game, amusement park—luckily today was just going to be the museum. There was a new exhibit about dark matter, and she’d offered to take you. It still astounds you that you have someone to go to these with—your mother and father try hard, but you know they aren’t science people, and Clark doesn’t even attempt to understand. Just makes rude snap chat jokes and takes selfies.

 Kara’s been doing so well recently, she’d been so present that it wasn’t even a question of who’d watch you while your mother was out of town. It had been months since she needed to go to her apartment for the quiet, or that she’d simply zone out and forget what was happening around her. Clark said it was the first time it really felt like she was back—that she was acting like herself. You didn’t know what that meant, but knew it was a good thing.

When you’d woken up, she’d already been at the counter, tucking into what had to be at least her second bowl of cereal. Still in your pajamas, you sit down and make a bowl. She’s fidgeting for whatever reason, bare foot kicking the side of the island, and you wait—you’re good at waiting. She’ll eventually say what she wants to—

“Would it be alright—you know—if I took your mom out on a date?”


That isn’t what you expected.

Kara’s shuffling, and you blink, “Aren’t you two, like, married?”

Now she blinks, “No.”

Pursing your lips, you go back to eating your cereal, you can positively feel her vibrating next to you, her spoon tapping against the edge of her bowl. “You know, ieiu,” you say, “I think you did this whole thing a little backwards. You’re supposed to date before you have children together.”

The tapping stops, and just before you look up, she’s shoving your head to the side lightly. “You’re being a smart ass, aonah,”

You grin, “Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

Sighing, very put upon, while looking at Kara, “Yes, it’d be alright.”

She looks at you quietly, in that way that makes you think she’s sliding away, but her eyes never go hazy, the blue never fogs, and the slight smile on her face doesn’t lessen. The cereal in her bowl is soggy and disgusting, which is a first, because you’re used to her going through a whole box of cereal before you even finish your first. Your mother would probably kill Kara is she knew that you were being fed Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner, but there was a firm promise of silence from all parties involved.

“You don’t have to be alright with it,” she hedges, “if you aren’t actually. You’re the most important person in your mom’s life.” She’s chewing on her lip, and has lost any pretense of eating. Hands lowering to fold in her lap, biceps pressed against the edge of the table as she leans forward.

“Do you—not want me to be alright with it?” You frown, suddenly nervous.

“No!” She all but shouts, pushing back from the table—which really means she’s pushing the table away, “I—no—I want you to be alright with this—but I—don’t want you to feel like you have to be…alright…with…this.” She’s losing steam, and after a moment her shoulders slump. She looks small in a way that has nothing to do with size—it’s in how her face scrunches, and her eyes squint.

“You can’t hurt her,” you tell her, serious because this is your mother you’re talking about—the woman you’d do anything for. You know Kara’s your mother too—your ieiu—but it’s still abstract and shaky at times, and sometimes she doesn’t remember that she’s supposed to be your parent, and not your best friend. She’ll let you skirt the rules, and never seems sure when you ask her for permission—always directing you toward your mother, who tells her every time she can made the little decisions on her own

“I won’t,” she promises quickly, looking just as serious.

“But you did.”

It isn’t that simple, you know that, but you can’t un-remember the little cracks in your mother’s armor that were linked to the woman sitting beside you. How she’d visit the Spectre’s memorial on the anniversary of the attack, how her cheeks would always be wet, and her eyes just a little more dim. She’d tell you it was alright, she’d read you stories that were bright and swirling with life, like they’d let you forget the empty bottles she sometimes forgot to tuck away in the recycling.

There’s a little weaseling doubt in the darkest part of your heart that you aren’t proud of—a part that you’ll never be able to explain to Clark, or to your mother, because it belongs to only you. It was hard to doubt a story—an idol crafted by the memories of others, but having her sit beside you—living, breathing, real—you wonder what truths were colored by fabricated memories. Not lies, not half-truths—but things that are misremembered. Good times made better, bad times going foggy and distant.

“Carter,” she says your name hesitantly, dragging out the syllables, and you notice how her eyes haze a little at the edges, pupils spilling a little wider—and you wonder if she’s going to slip away like she hasn’t done in months. But she focuses, and swallows, and reaches out tentative fingers to press against your wrist where you’ve started hitting the edge of your bowl with your spoon. “I wish I could tell you that I’ll never have to make that choice again—that it’s impossible, but…”

“But you can’t,” you finish, not pulling away, but not leaning into her because it isn’t fair. None of this is fair. Your family exists in a state of borrowed time, constantly lending and stealing moments because nothing is assured. “Because you’re a hero.”

“Because I love you,” she says instead, “and your mother, and your brother. Sometimes, way in the back of my mind, I think about how it’ll be alright if I just protected those who’re mine. But I won’t make your legacy the ashes I leave behind, Carter. I can’t be that selfish.” Her hand has turned to hold yours, her hand isn’t actually larger than yours—her fingers are thin, and her palm narrow, and there are no ridges on her fingertips. She’s watching you intently, and her eyes are wet, but she’s not crying.

But you are.

You feel stupid when you feel the first one drip off your chin, and then the second, but she’s holding your cheeks carefully, leaning forward until her forehead is pressed against yours. She’s whispering softly—English, Kryptonese, they melt together with the throbbing in your ears. But you hear your name over and over, like a prayer she can’t help—Carter, Carter, Carter. You hiccup, and cough out the words, “You left us.”

You left me.

You don’t know where the acid burn at the back of your throat comes from, but suddenly you can’t stop. You were never wanting growing up—you had your mother, your father, and Clark. You had aunt Alex, and Mrs. Kent. Your family was never conventional, but that had never mattered, because there was love. But each and every one of them had a spot in them that was empty, a place that belonged to a person that was gone, and you’d always felt somehow separated because you couldn’t never readily identify the emptiness inside you.

Kara was a ghost. A lingering presence that touched everything, but you could only ever understand so much by listening to stories, or watching home movies. You’d read about her in practically every science journal you’ve picked up—absolute strangers seem to have a clearer impression of the woman who was your ieiu. They’d talk about her infectious laugh, or her trademark suspenders, and you can only think about how you didn’t know her—your mother would say you had her smile, or her poor posture, but it was all just—just words.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. She’s saying it softly still, and you don’t know when she slid off her stool, or when you followed, half curled into her side, her nose pressed into your hair. She’s holding you tightly, her fingers clenched into the fabric of your sweater. You don’t mean to sob, but they’re wracking your body, and you can’t stop. Kara’s making soothing sound in your ear, and holding you closer, and you’ve never—she feels like home. Warm, and comfortable, and safe.

“I held you when you were born,” she whispers, “You were just this—this tiny little person who meant the world to me. I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone as much as I loved you in that moment.” Her heart beats fast, like a hummingbird against your cheek, and you don’t even know if that’s normal—Clark would know, your mother would know—but you don’t.

“Your mom was sleeping, and you just—you grabbed my finger, and I realized I would do anything to keep you safe.” You feel wetness on your cheek, and realize she’s crying too, holding you tightly. “Anything. That day that—when I went away—I wasn’t a hero, I was a mom. And I’m so sorry I left, Carter, I’m so sorry you grew up without me.” And it was like some valve inside you opened, swinging free and letting all the pain spill out. Out of your bones and blood, out of all the dark little places you hadn’t realized resentment and hurt were being stashed away.

You’re still crying, but it’s softer, and you can breathe more easily. Kara’s combing soothing fingers through your hair, and you breathe deeply when she asks. “Do you forgive me?” Like she isn’t sure about the answer, like she’s afraid of what you’ll say—nodding your head quickly against the solid line of her shoulder. It’s strange how her arms remind you of the blankets your mother used to wrap around you when you were young and the world seemed impossibly large.

“I love you,” you say, because you can’t not say it.

She tightens her hold, “I love you too, buddy. So much.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT. (J'ONN) There are spans of life that can't be defined with simple default words; childhood, adolescence, adulthood. There are moments that can be days, weeks, or years, that are defined by befores and afters. Events, and people, that define whole sections of your life, even if you never intended for them to. Whether they're at the periphery, or front and center. These people leave impressions. Good, bad, or otherwise.

The first time you see her is years before you ever meet her—little glimpses from Alexandra Danvers’ mind—they’re rare, and fleeting, but so strongly broadcast that you can’t ignore them. Almost as if the extraterrestrial has a thumb print on any thought of her—a phantom’s touch in the mind of those she’s encountered. It’s a strange occurrence, one that hints at only a few species in the galaxy—only a handful within a solar system or two. You’d approached the youngest Danvers with the intention on making good on your promise to her father—to keep her close in this world that has suddenly become leagues too small for the universe pressing down on it.

Jeremiah Danvers had died because he was a good man—a rare thing, truly—and you’d promised to watch over his family. To keep them in mind always while you safe guard this temporary home you’ve found. “My daughter,” he’d said, smile too wide for a man leaking blood between his teeth, your hands pressed against his chest—the red oddly complimentary to the green of your skin. It had glittered and slid, and it had made you uncomfortable. “She’s smarter than me, J’onn, so much smarter. If anyone can save this silly little dot of blue, it’s her.” He’d coughed, frothy red erupting from his mouth, and you know that means his fragile human lung has collapsed.

But he still smiled—good men do that, you’d come to realize, “Do you see her?”

You did—because his mind was filled with his daughter—bright, and clever, and good, like her father. And somehow little shards of his love for this human child delved into your martian biology, lodged itself in places you could not point out in medical scans, or examinations. Somewhere metaphorical and soft. Those places had never existed before you’d spent hours in a rainforest hovel with a dying man who insisted on dying—for the greater good. These little portions of Jeremiah made you feel human, even though you weren’t, because you could feel the emotion pouring into you as you sifted through his thoughts of this girl he loved wholly and completely.

So when you’d approached her between classes—organic biology, and advance calculus—you’d been prepared to tell her just enough secrets as it took to interest her into considering your offer. You’d parsed out the least damning truths to open her eyes, and you’d search for that same adventurer glint that had lived in her father’s eyes.

But instead, you’d been bombarded with recollections of intricately build spaceships in swamps, of little girls with burning blue eyes, and languages that you know, but could not recall. Alexandra Danvers had stared at you while you’d pressed fingers against your temple and sorted through the memory—because it was a memory, only to find another tethered to it. Woven together with links made recently, still fresh and bright in her mind—a young woman, blonde with blue eyes, who hid behind thick framed glasses, and tucked her hands away like they were dangerous. Of a smaller blonde, and a little dark haired boy—Kara, you hear the name in the whip sharp way the small blonde said it, and how the alien softly sighed it herself.

Alexandra Danvers got infinitely more interesting after that.

And you stop digging around her head, put the respectful distance between your mental intrusions and the slight field of energy that repels unwanted attention from her mind. It’s good for a human, not against you, but plenty to start with to succeed within this line of work. And succeed she does—flourishing with perfectly set marksmanship, and a mind that flattens problems like a steam roller. Smart, and quick, and unafraid to be wrong—an important trait, especially when there are other intelligent people to balance her ideas, to help mold and drive the progress.

A natural born leader.

You don’t tell her that you knew what Kara Callaghan was when she was escorted in handcuffed and unsure—you didn’t know exactly, but you knew enough. Knew she wasn’t any harm to this planet you promised to protect. Knew especially, that she wasn’t any harm to the girl—now a woman—you’d promised to protect.

And that was how this girl, who’d only been a figment in Alexandra Danvers’s mind—became a common fixture in your life. She’d walk into the DEO bag on head and handcuffs an afterthought, chatting away with the agents—asking after children and sick family pets. You wondered if it was some alien aptitude of hers—making humans feel at ease, making you feel at ease. But then you realized—no, that was just Kara. She cared, more than most, and there was really nothing preternatural about it.

And when she was gone—you felt it.

It wasn’t just because there was shades drawn in the small corner office she’d used when at the DEO, or because Alex had actually taken a week off for the first time since she’d been an agent to help square away Kara’s grieving family. No, it was a notable vacuum that you couldn’t define, because it was just—there. It lingers like a shadow, lost somewhere in high noon—but with the knowledge that it would always return. Eventually, the dark would stretch across the ground until it connected to the greater blackness of night.

A boy had become a man in her wake, had become a hero in his own right—telling the story of a planet you’d never gotten from Kara in all the years you’d known her. She’d sit beside you when an agent was lost in the field, quiet and unassuming, and something about her silence was comforting—you knew she wasn’t human, just as she knew you were human. It was a delicate balance that seemed to be made so much easier by comfortable silence. “There’s a lot worse reasons to die,” she’d said finally, hands twisting between her knees where she sat on the steps, “A lot worse than dying to protect the people you love.” There was a story there—of senseless loss, but you know too well.

You’d lost your whole world—and the senselessness of it still wore away at you.

Superman wanted nothing to do with the DEO, he condemned the whole organization—the people who’d given his cousin a nuclear warhead, who had strapped it to her back and allowed her to blow herself up. It was a dislike that was empty and vague—but one he had to keep to protect himself from really thinking about how his cousin had done that all on her own. She’d stripped the damned warhead down herself—wouldn’t have trusted anyone else to do it.

“They wouldn’t get it right,” she’d said, a smile that was wan and resigned both.

The smile of someone who knew they’d die—but knew there were worse reason to die than protecting the people they love.

All of that brought you here.

To the ruined shoebox apartment of Clark Grant Callaghan.

Carter Grant stands behind the chair his mother’s sitting in, frowning even though his mop of dark hair and still young face doesn’t scowl as easily as her—he’s tall and thin, and nearly a man. You have difficulty thinking of him as the boy Kara would go on about, who was the light of her life after so much dark, so much tragedy. The shirt he’s wearing is pressed and white, but there’s a splash of red at the shoulder—a splash of blood. You can smell the copper in the air, and even though it isn’t from these two humans, it is human. You see how he shifts, how his blue eyes stray to the streak of color on him.

“What happened to her?” Cat Grant asks, her face drawn, and her fists clenched.

A crack of noise in the silence.

You expect her to be angry, expect the sharp sizzle in the air that would let you know where she is emotionally, without having to slip into her mind. She’s projecting loudly—is she alright, it’s my fault, what happened, what happened, not again—but they’re disjointed and slanted, like even she can’t hear them. You hear it over and over—not again, not again, not again. She’s watching you like her namesake, quietly and with consideration.

Despite your martian capabilities—you feel very much the mouse.

“It was an—infection, of sorts.” An infection that devoured all her goodness, and locked it away somewhere hard and cold inside her. Something hot and red that pulsed through the Kryptonian’s veins and burned at the back of her tongue. She’d fought it valiantly; struggled and writhed until she was bleeding from the nose and ears, until she was screaming and thrashing. Until a few carefully utter words had caused her to snapped; had unlocked that gilded cage she used to hide away her anger, and her hate, and her fear—the door had swung open, and what had been released was truly terrifying.

“How does an infection do that to a person?” She demands, standing up and stepping toward you, whole hands shorter in her bare feet. “Infections don’t make a person raze half the city to the ground.” She’s gesticulating toward the ruined window to her left, and the smoking city beyond—millions of dollars’ worth of property damage, and a body count already in the double digits.

“It changed her, Miss Grant. It removed all those kind and good parts of Kara that made her safe for earth,” you’re talking louder than necessary—a horribly human trait you’ve picked up—as if the volume would make her understand easier. It wouldn’t, because so much of this was impossible to understand. “All it left behind? Was that little voice that she was so good at ignoring; the one that reminded her that she was a god amongst men.”

“She isn’t a god,” this is said with the vehemence of someone who knows a person, who can look past filters, and dive below façades. You’d never really been able to observe their relationship first hand, always a step removed—hearing second hand from Alex, or Kara—about bickering afternoons and quiet evenings. On how sharp edges wore away until they were safe to be held—about consistent light that eventually, with effort, chased away the worst of the dark, leaving only lingering shadows in its wake.

“I know that—you know that—even Kara knows that, under all that crap—but those people down there? They don’t understand how someone who can do what she does isn’t a god.” Alex says while stepping forward, the crinkle at the edge of her eyes as they narrow, the frown on her lips severe. She’s smudged with dirt on nearly every inch of exposed skin, her arm set in a sling across her chest—acting like it doesn’t hurt, but you’d heard how her bones groaned and snapped in Kara’s hand.

How she screamed.

Clenching your jaw, and resting hands on your waist, you can only watch the news on the television across the room—the Spectre returning from the grave is nearly poetic, but no one seems to be able to appreciate that when the obsidian cloaked vigilante curls a fist with a swing and launches Superman into the stratosphere. The man of steel returns, a blur of red and blue, and they both crash through a building across town, rubble tumbling down to the street below—the humans on the sidewalks give up their gawking, and scatter. There’s a news scrawl at the bottom of the screen—National City’s “hero” returns after fourteen years to wreak havoc in Metropolis—there’s more, but you can’t watch anymore, can’t stomach those quotation marks around hero.

You can’t look at what you hadn’t been able to stop.

You feel responsible.

“So what do we do?” It’s Carter Grant, who is every bit his mother’s son at the moment, jaw clenched, and blue eyes intense. But you see Kara in his posture, the rod down his spine, and the carful curve of his shoulders. Cat’s turning to look at him, her own face drawn, and eyebrows pinched—she takes the four steps needed to circle the chair, and rubs a hand up her son’s arm. They’re a unified front, a limping family that has two gaping holes in their sides—places held by their two Kryptonians, their orphaned aliens. You know Clark is somewhere in the city, nursing his hurts with Lois, or saving the people he promised to protect.

“We get her back.” This is from Cat, and said with all the certainty of someone who isn’t unaccustomed to fighting for what she wants. “Where is she?”

Where is she? It’s the consummate question of the moment, because you know where she is—you know exactly where she’d go once there. Even considering that, there’s no easy way to get her back. How much will this family have to shoulder to be happy? How many times will they stagger and bleed, only to be left alive with the knowledge of everything they’ve lost?

“It isn’t that easy, it’s—complicated.”

“Much in life is as such. You’ll find, Agent Henshaw, I don’t balk at complicated.” Cat Grant, proclaimed media royalty, stands before you in a borrowed black polo, and ill-fitted tactical pants. Her feet look small and delicate below the heavily cuffed hem of starched trousers—but she’s sure footed, all her weight angled toward you, balanced on the ball of her foot, toes curling into the plush carpet. “Where is she.”

It isn’t a question.

“Do you know what she was trying to accomplish? What all this—,” gesturing out the window with a hand, to the rubble and ruin of the city, “—was about?”

“The infection,” she waves the word away like it isn’t important, like she doesn’t necessarily want to call it that, but she’s acquiescing for simplicities sake. “You said it altered her mind somehow. More prone to violence.” Green eyes are hard, despite the tears that have long since gathered in her lashes—a few rebellious ones tripping silently down her soot stained cheeks. But there’s no acknowledgement of them, as if her eyes simply leaked without her permission, and there was no emotional tether to justify them—you’ve been studying humanity for decades, and still Cat Grant confounds you.

“Yes, amongst other things.” Looking at the shattered city, the distant howl of sirens was getting closer. After all, this apartment building had taken a rather severe beating. “She wanted something, and she no longer had the capacity to care what stood in her way.”

You watch as she deliberates, green eyes firm and lips pressed together—both hands in motion, though it is limited just to her fingers. One plucking at the hem of the borrowed polo, the other twisting the rings on her left hand with her thumb. You only realize now that she’s been doing it the entire time—twisting the golden rings around and around, stopping every so often to worry her thumb over the prominent diamond. A nervous tick, a symbol of her worry—as if the pinch to her brow wasn’t enough. She’s a vibration of potential energy, shivering too slightly for any human to notice, but you see how every muscle in her body is tense—waiting to react.

The source isn’t from you, thankfully.

“She wanted Krypton,” Carter isn’t looking at anyone in the room, “Said that there were universes out there that it was still—that it never died. She met someone when she was a teenager, someone from another universe. That he could—go between them, if he went fast enough. Something about vibrations, she wasn’t really making much sense.” He looks so much younger than his seventeen years sudden, smaller somehow, with blue eyes slightly wet, and lips pressed together. You can see the boy now Kara would describe with wistful detail. His fingers keep moving like they want to pluck at the rust colored stain on his shirt, but he always shies away at the last moment.

This day could have gone a thousand different ways if events hadn’t combusted like gasoline in a forest fire—if Kara hadn’t intercepted those LexCorp bullets meant for Superman, and if she hadn’t had to fight the urges rising in her mind and body. If Lois and Carter hadn’t been abducted by assailants while their protectors were distracted. All of that was too convenient, too well planned—someone knew who Superman was, someone knew where to hit him to hurt the most, somewhere deeper than bulletproof skin.

Kara had fought the foreign invasion in her system—she thrashed and writhed, but kept herself in check. Veins pulsing red, eyes flickering crimson. You had every confidence she could maintain herself until Maxwell Lorde worked out a cure—dragged there by Agent Danvers, who seemed far too thrilled with the idea of roughing the billionaire up. The man’s mind had been a combustion of hate, and love, and worry, and fear—twisting together until even you couldn’t work them through. He grit his teeth when he saw Kara, curled in the corner of a cell, a low Kryptonite pulse lining the walls.

It would have been enough if Maxwell Lorde hadn’t opened his mouth. If he hadn’t pressed a hand to the reinforced plexi-glass keeping the Kryptonian in place and frowned. Love, and worry, and fear swallowed his hate for a moment—it eclipsed the red, and pulsed bright and warm in his mind.

“How can you keep her here?” He’d asked, keeping his eyes on Kara as she pressed knuckles into her temples—but he had her attention, glowing red eyes were focused on him, despite the low rumble in her chest, and grit of her teeth. “They have her son—how can you keep her here.” All those hateful thoughts were smothered by the burning fact that this man had once been a father—he would have done anything to save his child. Anything.

He expected nothing less, even from one he considered an enemy.

The same things that make humanity a marvel, are what you cursed in that moment.

That had been all it took. That part of Kara that was fighting to stay put dissolved in seconds, it flitted away to the forgotten places in her mind, and there had been no time to react before the supercharged being was dismantling the DEO outpost from the inside out. Her Spectre uniform deflected half the Kryptonite bullets that were sent her way—but the two that had made it through were plucked out with blistering fingertips and a manic grin. Eyes that had been blue once were blazing a stark mad sanguine—and then she was gone.

Tearing apart Metropolis looking for a boy.

It isn’t known exactly what happened after that, because Carter had been tight lipped until now—Cat had scarcely moved more than a foot away from him at any given time. Carefully watching the battle between titans on the screen—Superman and the Spectre. Goliaths in their own right.

And then—

And then Maxwell Lorde said he had a cure; it was loaded into a double barreled weapon hoisted up against his shoulder, and no one had looked convinced. No one looked like they wished to pull that trigger. There was no time, because Kara had found what she was looking for—the sky crackled, and the debris and cars on the streets below were sparking and lifting off the ground. The whirr—whirr—whirr that permeated through Metropolis was getting louder. The particle accelerator in the bowels on LexCorp ready to tear itself apart. Everything dragging themselves toward the epicenter of energy.

There was no time to balk and fumble.

So you’d done it.

Had you’d said I’m sorry before you’d shot her in the chest? Had you apologies when she blinked horror filled eyes up at you and then looked at the humming crack below her. She’d been balanced on the upper most spire of LexCorp, teetering carefully on a wire thin edge.

“I’m sorry,” she’d said, “I’m—I’m—maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. Maybe I’m just not supposed to be…happy. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to leave Krypton.” There had been such a slack numbness to her face—pale and drawn—before turning the circular device on her chest, all the electricity rushed toward her, and tipped backwards off the edge of the building, plummeting into the fissure, and allowing it to snap closed behind her. All the cars had fallen, all the debris came to a rest—and Metropolis was left to mourn.

“She’s out there,” Carter says softly, hand falling from where he’d been fiddling with the sigil necklace around his neck—a relic from Krypton that Clark had made Carter from the metal of Kara's ship. “We just need to get her back.”

Alex steps toward him, uninjured hand lifting slightly, “…Carter.”

“No!” He’s louder now, eyes hot, “No! We left her for dead last time. We—we left her.” Nostrils flaring, and now his fingers do touch the dried rust on his shirt, rubbing a thumb against it until there are just a few flakes that sprinkle off and to the carpet. “I’m not accepting it. I’m not giving up just because it’ll be easier.” You can’t unhear we left her—you can’t stop imagining what might’ve been true if you had been as clever as Kara. If you had worked through the problem to the best possible solution. If you’d thought of—


You look out the ruined window and see a snap of blue and red streak past, the snap of a cape as it flourishes off into the distance. Diving into buildings on fire, toward sirens and the crackle of loud speakers—and then you’re looking at that too familiar crest—the House of El. But it isn’t Superman, it isn’t Clark—

—it’s Kara.

She’s more timid than you’re used to—it sits just below her skin in a way you aren’t familiar with. She’s not the most assertive, but there’s always an edge of other with the young Kryptonian, a bristle of caution at her corners. Blue eyes are unsure, and wide, lips looking like they’d been subject to a fair amount of nervous chewing, even if there wasn’t a single mark to speak of it. She looks like the perfect bookend to her cousin—red billowing cape, dark blue suit, with that symbolic crest—not gold like Superman, but red. Hope, she’d said one afternoon, hands shoved deep into the pockets of her sweatshirt. It means hope.

You have the benefit of distance—of having the fresh memory of watching this very woman tip over the edge, into a crack between worlds. You’d seen that her eyes were actually darker blue, and her cheeks a little hollower—giving her face a certain sharpness to it.

You have that benefit—but her family doesn’t.

They see familiar blue eyes, and whipping blonde hair through the blur of their tears and they lurch into motion. Cat has wrapped her in surprisingly strong human arms before the Kryptonian can move, a blonde head tucked under her chin, a warbling Kara breathed into her collarbones. Kara seems to have some instinct born in her, because she’s wrapping arms around Cat like she knows exactly how to hold her—one hand centered on her back, clenched slightly in the fabric, the other smoothing across shoulders carefully. Eye squeeze shut and you can just make out the whispered, Cat, that filters past her lips.


The women separate just long enough for Carter to cross the room in strides, he’s too tall now to press his face to her shoulder, and burrow into her chest, and she’s positively dwarfed as he wraps her in his arms, arms shaking for how tightly he’s holding her. He’s sobbing, and all the pretense he’d had dissolves easily with his mother in his arms. All those hard teenage edges, and those dark looks simply flitter away while he holds her to him. Cat places her left hand on her son’s back, rubbing along his spine, and when she find’s Kara’s she curls two fingers around hers—making a connection.

“You had us worried, supergirl.” She says, soft, and thick with the tears that she’s swiped from her cheeks and eyes. There’s the shadow of exhaustion her eyes, the crinkle of worry in her brow. Carter’s taken a step back, following in his mother’s footsteps and rubbing the back of his wrist across his eyes and cheeks—removing the moisture, but leave a haze of red in the whites. Kara smiles, an involuntary thing, before it shakes, and her own brow tucks—worried, afraid—and she crosses her arms across her stomach.

“Miss Grant,” she says, licking her lips and rolling her shoulders, trying to find that confidence that you’re so familiar with. She tenses then—eyes looking just beyond them, and you see she’s watching the recorded news footage of the Spectre throwing Superman through buildings. She doesn’t see how Cat has tensed, how she’s recoiled slightly and how green eyes are suddenly alert. You know Cat Grant doesn’t miss all the things you’ve already noticed, not now that that’s actually looking. She’s frowning, and eyes are wetting again, but she breaths deep enough that you can imagine how her chest burns.

Ieiu?” Kara’s looking at Carter like she’s never seen him before; eyes wide, lips parted, and posture rigid. Her arms have fallen to her sides, and she’s taken a tentative step backward. Carter looks like he’s been struck, and his mother coaxes him to sit down, turning her back on the superhero. Alex has made her way to your side, there’s that energy about her that makes her a good agent, an energy that she’s long since learned to harness.

Leagues, and miles, away from the scrawny girl you'd seen in Jeremiah Danvers's mind.

“These dimensions—realities—whatever you call them,” Cat’s looking at her son—ignoring the newest arrival—but she’s talking to you. “Is there a price?”

Frowning, “Price?”

“For opening the door to them; is there a price?” You understand what she’s asking—and you want to tell her not usually, and no, but there’d been something particularly reckless in how the suddenly amoral Kryptonian had gone about her task. It had been like hotwiring a car, a quick fix and a singed set of fingertips.

“An equal exchange.” You say finally.

She nods, like this somehow makes sense, and smooths Carter’s hair back once more, kissing his crown softly before turning and walking toward the kitchen, away from everyone gathered. But as she passes Alex, she pauses—looking down at the hand that your agent has curled around her arm. “What’s going on, Cat?”

Cat Grant smiles—but it isn’t happy, but neither is it anything else. Like her face is moving without her permission, like her body has taken over, and her mind has tucked itself away someplace.

“She isn’t wearing her ring, Alex.” She finally says, like that answers everything—and it does.

This Kara—whoever she is—has a bare left hand, where the familiar golden ring she always wears is absent.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT.  (KARA GRANT)  A day at the zoo; carefully crafted between two personal assistants, to make sure that two multi-billion dollar enterprises would be able to survive without their makers for a day. A whole day. From start, to finish.


You don’t want to wake up yet, the sun hasn’t even risen and the air is still chilly—moisture hanging in the breeze like a promise of autumn to come. You’re face down in a pillow that smells like cedar and eucalyptus, and you know who it belongs to—you’d been nosing along the crown of a head that smelled exactly like this last night before you’d fallen asleep upright on the couch. Cat had coaxed you to your feet and guided you to bed, you could remember warm lips against your temple, and the soft click of a door closing as she left. Beep.

There’s no noise in the house yet, no one up to begin puttering around, but you can’t get back to sleep because your phone won’t stop beeping. You know it’s because you haven’t looked at the message you’d gotten, but you can’t bring yourself to roll over and dig through the pair of pants you’d kicked off sometime in the night. Beep. Groaning and sluggishly rolling, an arm drops over the edge of the bed, and you paw through clothes, until you find the pocket you’re looking for. You strangle the next chirp from your mobile by tapping impatiently at the screen, and holding it up so that you can blearily glare at the message.

[07:43AM] Superboy: Are we still going to the zoo?”


[07:51AM] Superboy: I know you hear this.

Beep, beep.

[07:52AM] Superboy: I won’t stop.

[07:52AM] Superboy: Ever.

Groaning again, you ignore the insistent beeping of the many messages that you know he’s just sending to annoy you. They’re so close together the little warning chirp seems to interrupt itself over and over—Be-beep, be-beep, be-be-beep, be-be-beep—and then there’s quiet. And you can only smile because suddenly you feel like Jack Bauer, and you have thwarted the terrorists—they’ll never win on your watch. Opening your eyes to look at the ceiling, you get ready to force yourself out of bed and into motion. Usually it isn’t this hard to get up, but you’d had a trying last few days—a downright absurd amount of criminal activity, a dirty nuke in Ukraine, and a not so peaceful protest in Louisiana.

Sitting up and resting your elbows on your knees, you begin tapping a response to Clark, even though you know he knows the answer to his question.

[07:58AM] Supergirl: Yeah, I think we’re leaving at nine; traffic’s going to be horrible. Cat doesn’t want to take the town car—she wants to drive.

Tossing your mobile back onto the bed, you walk into the adjoining en suite to turn on the shower—as hot as it’ll go, hoping to rinse out the few lingering aches that you know are mostly in your head. Phantom pains that you’ve developed over the years because sometimes you can still remember growing up on Krypton—how pinches felt, and scrapped knees hurt. You remember that—unlike Clark who has only known Earth’s invulnerability—and sometimes you miss it.

Your shower is cut short when the half-closed door is thrown open with much gusto, and a small streaking two year old screams while scrambling through the shower curtain and into the basin of the tub. You scream—he screams, and from somewhere in the guest room, Cat laughs. Hardly at the age when nudity matters, your darling boy seems content to play with the shampoo bottle you dropped while screaming; he’s obviously gotten over the whole ordeal. Building a mound of suds on his head, and smacking little hands together to watch how the bubbles splat and float.

“He was clean and dry,” Cat comments from the doorway, you can see her hazy figure leaning against the door, and when you poke a head out you see that she’s fully dressed. “I wish he’d stay that way.” Denims that are from college, canvas flats, and a familiar shirt—Hell’s Kitchen in bold across the maroon fabric. She looks like the girl you’d falling in love with at fifteen; even that dimpled half-smile that seems to soften whenever her eyes meet yours. It gets downright mushy when Carter starts throwing handfuls of soap onto the bathroom floor, making noises that you can only really compare to a Velociraptor.

“If wishes were horses, we’d all own ranches.” You say, trying to capture small hands before they shovel every bit of foam from the bottom of the tub, and out onto the floor.

“I don’t think that’s how the proverb goes, dear,” she frowns, but not like she actually means it—you know the difference. And it is a very distinct difference.

You smile, ignoring the suds slipping down your forehead and into your eyes. These moments are a warmth in your chest, bleeding into every part of you like a bloodless gut wound—pouring into every fiber of marrow, and every pint of blood. Beep. Be-beep. Cat’s eyebrows perk, and you point behind her, saying “Can you get that and answer Clark?” before ducking back into the shower and rinsing the soap from your hair, having to stop twice to prevent Carter from drinking soapy water.

A few minutes of wrestling later has him clean from head to toe, and happily splashing in the—thankfully—soap-less water at your feet.

“The heathen had a few choice comments about my driving,” came her disembodied voice from the bedroom, and you can make out the click click of her typing a response, and can only sigh at what is going to be another text argument between the two most stubborn people in your life. Be-beep, be-be-beep. The sheer number of texts coming in make you roll your eyes while gathering Carter in a large towel and swaddling him so that he can’t wiggling free—doesn’t mean he doesn’t try. Cat is laying on her back in the middle of your unmade bed, mobile phone held directly above her face while she taps away a response.

“And the verdict?”

“We should have put him up for adoption,” she comments glancing your way, doing a double take when she realizing how ridiculously small your towel is—apparently you have only one full size towel in the actual bathroom, and yours is currently being commandeered by a two year old bucking like a bronco on your shoulder. “Clark—I—I’m—me—talking about Clark—not that—okay.” Cat Grant doesn’t stumble over words often, but when she does it’s like she goes for a Nobel Prize in it. Her eyebrows furrow, and her lips purse, and it’s like she’s decided that she’s pretending it never happened because she’s turning back to her conversation with Clark—cheeks a little redder than usual.

“But who would you have snappy conversations with if we had put him up for adoption?”

“Someone who doesn’t use your mom as a comeback to nearly everything?” She blithely responds, oofing when Carter vaults up the height of the bed and sprawls his all-elbows-and-knees body across her stomach.

“Your mom!” He chirps, and Cat groans.

“I can fly,” Clark wallows from his cramped place in the backseat, “does she remember I can fly? The zoo will be closed by the time we get there.” His face is pressed against the glass, having long since given up supporting his own weight. His six foot four frame doesn’t fit properly into the backseat, but you’d won the rock paper scissor game that determined the winner to simultaneous shotgun dibs. You make sure to make a show out of stretching your legs out into the ample room provided to the passenger seat, before turning to look at Cat—who is drumming her nails against the steering wheel.

“I think she’s aware,” you answer in her stead, because she was getting that twitch at the corner of her eye that said her temper was rising. It was your warning that she was spoiling for a fight, even if the fight she got wasn’t necessarily the reason she was mad. The only person who doesn’t seem to mind the ridiculous traffic if Carter, who is playing a game through his open window with the two children in the backseat of the car that seems to be keeping even pace. You’ve had the constant drone of I spy with my little eye for the last twenty minutes.

It had gotten to the point in traffic where everyone was honking their horn, a cacophony of noise that seemed to have no end in sight. Beep, be-beep, beeeeeep. You’d opened your window and basked in the morning sun, eyes closed and breathing deep. Rolling your head to your other shoulder and watching Cat from behind sunglasses that you don’t need. God, she’s beautiful. The thought sits in your chest like a hot stone, resting on your heart, making it burn and ache and smolder. You know there will never be a moment in life that you aren’t horribly, and impossibly, in love with this woman.

“You’re staring.” She says, bringing you back to yourself, and you smile because she isn’t even looking at you—still drumming her fingers in agitation against the steering wheel, then smoothing them across the leather and letting it fall onto the middle console between you. You hardly hesitate—just long enough to see her slight smile—before you curl your fingers into hers. Your palms fit together perfectly, they always have.

“I’m looking.”

“And how is that different than staring?” Cat can’t hide the smile now, even when the car behind her seems determined to lean on their horn indefinitely—beeeep—the little twitch at the corner of her eye remains, but it smooths away and she’s left only with that half-smile.

“Well, there are very distinct differences,” you begin, still looking while rubbing your thumb across her knuckles and then sliding back between her fingers. “Staring implies some kind of vacancy. I was having many thought—filled with thoughts, even. More than I knew what to do with. A Surplus of thoughts, if you will.” You’re putting your best Cat Grant burgeoning media magnate voice on; firm, direct, concise. It said I’m right, even if you don’t know it yet without actually having to waste the breath on the words themselves.

“And what thoughts would that be, supergirl? Because there was a pretty vapid look about you,” you can’t help smiling, because she’s not even trying to simmer the grin on her face. Maybe it’s just that the closest beep, beep is a few lanes away and they’re muffled and barely audible.

“Oh God,” Clark groans, rattling the car slightly when he thumps his head into the window frame. “They’re flirting.”

“Flirting! Flirting!” Carter’s rocking in his seat, banging his head on it, though doing no real damage due to the copious amounts of cushioning.

“Our children would prefer to give themselves brain damage, than watch us—allegedly—flirt.” Cat surmises, looking so very put-upon—not really—while finally allowing her hand to fall from her death grip on the wheel, and relaxing into her seat.

“I mean, we’re pretty disgusting.” You hum, cheek resting on your shoulder, watching as Cat stifles a laugh—her face settling into vague neutrality, though with how hard her lips are pressing together you know she won’t be able to fight the smile for long.

“Abhorrent,” she agrees.

God, her eyes. She’s slid her sunglasses to the crown of her head, squinting into the sun with the kind of stubbornness that can only be matched by Clark—she’d go blind before she conceded to nature. The light seems to seek out every fleck of golden-brown in the green of her eyes until they’re a kaleidoscope of color. When you’d been young, and still so new to Earth, you’d asked her what color her eyes were—she’d laughed and leaned forward, opening her lids a little wider than usual and allowed you to look yourself. You’d been snarled in the color of them, the brightness and vibrancy that lived inside her even at such a young age.

Young, and bright, and beautiful—just like the sun that now bathes you face in warmth.

“Can you guys just—I don’t know—not?” Clark asks from his small cramped corner of the car, and it’s the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back, because Cat’s laughing—and you’re laughing—and Carter’s…you’re not exactly sure what Carter’s doing, it’s some kind of hybrid between a squawk and a scream.

“Yeah, supergirl, can we not?” Hands linked, eyes snared—it’d been like this the last few months; you don’t want to say closer because you’d been practically attached at the hip for twenty years. You want to pull her aside some quiet nights as ask are we us again, but you don’t have that kind of bravery. The kind that bleeds out of you when you think that questioning this might cause another rift, another distance. But the intimacy is there—gravitating toward each other like the cosmos demands it; entwining fingers, and linking arms.

“The zoo’s closing.” You say, still standing shoulder to shoulder with her at the railing just outside the tiger exhibit. You can spy the faintest flashes of orange and white through the foliage, but there’s really nothing of interest to see—just the hum of cicadas, and the soft music playing over the loudspeakers.

“We have a little more time left,” she says, leaning her head against your shoulder.

You can only tuck your nose into her hair, inhaling everything that is her, everything that makes your heart skip faster, and thump harder. “The rest of our lives,” you promise her, because anything else would be a lie. And you try not to lie to Cat anymore, because it leave a sour taste on your tongue, and heaviness in your chest that clambers and clinks. It feels wrong. If there is anyone in this world—or any other—that can keep your secret safe, it is Cat Grant.

“I think the zookeepers might have something to say about that,” because she doesn’t want to assume you mean exactly what you mean—she steps closer, and around, fitting perfectly between your body and the railing. Her hands are on your chest, warm and soft, and her lips have the slightest curve of a smile—barely there, but so genuine, it makes you ache.

“I’d like to see them try to move us,” you say, as Cat shoves you slightly while laughing, you balk and huff, “No! Seriously. I don’t know if you’re aware Miss Grant, but I’m kind of a big deal.”

She blinks up at you, “Keep telling yourself that supergirl.”

“No, no. Other people tell me this,” you assure, stepping just that much closer until you can feel the entirety of her pressed into you. Her fingers are soft against the pulse of your neck before she combs up into the mess of your hair, “Just the other day a very well-spoken two year old told me I was—and I quote—the bestest everest. And he may, or may not, have told me his mother was smitten.”

“Smitten?” God, she’s beautiful. Leaning down until your forehead touches hers, she’s smiling wide, and you just need to feel the softness of her lips against yours—you need the heat of her palms on your cheeks, the scent of her filling you.

So you kiss her.

She hums into your mouth, no need to be on her toes since she’s on the curb beside the railing—you hold her to you, hand on her hip smoothing up until you can curl around her shoulder and down her back, pressing her into you. It’s chaste—sweet and soft—and you break away with a slight giggle, downright giddy.

“Who’s smitten now?” She asks, still close enough that her lips brush yours.

Rubbing the tip of your nose against hers, “Me.”

This feels like the moment; when lifetimes and cosmos aligned and everything seemed possible. You suddenly aren’t afraid of asking Cat what’s been on your mind for years now—since something had shifted in your relationship, and everything fell out of whack.

Are we us again?

You’re opening your mouth to ask her, but you’re interrupted by the loud and unnaturally high-pitched screech of Carter, “Mommy!” You need only glance over your shoulder for a second to see Clark hauling his younger brother over his shoulder and take off running in the opposite direction—toward the ice cream parlor and gift shops.

“Your well-spoken two year old is being offered in exchange for goods,” softly, carefully, fingers tracing over your cheeks, and down to cup the sides of your neck. “I believe I need to intervene.” You consider keeping her captive, keeping her here pressed against you, but your son screams again—laughing all the while—and you concede. Moving back one step, and accepting the kiss at the corner of your mouth—watching her walk away, you consider that sometimes it’s worth it with how she looks in those jeans.

She half-jogs toward the gift shop, disappearing behind the stream of people that pour out into the balmy twilight. You don’t realize you’re standing in the middle of the walk until one of the zoo’s trolley’s beep beep you out of the way. Raising a hand and half-laughing, you watch it cart on by—a seemingly endless stream of carts full of people going out to the far off lots of the zoo. A bunch of children are crawling over their parents, trying to see out the side.

You end up just waving endlessly at all the children who want to say goodbye to strangers, still amazed at how quick they’re flying by. Beep be-beep, you hear the far off horn of the driver, now around the bend and too far away to clearly make it out. By the time all the carts are gone, you can’t spot Cat or the boys, so you turn around and lean on the railing, deciding to wait for them to return.

This side of the exhibit is nothing like the other side—where the Plexiglas seemed to be a slight invisible barrier between you and the large jungle cat. Carter had sat on your shoulders thwacking the glass heartily. You’d eventually convinced him to leave his favorite part to go to the petting zoo, where he could personally terrorize animals—though you’d put Clark on monitoring duty. 

Clark had Carter on his shoulders, the little boy swayed and rocked like he was trying to dive bomb over the tiny wood fence and into the petting zoo. Little hands were knotted through dark strands, and you felt warm, and full, and happy—from the tips of your toes, to the top of your head. Cat was beside them, face contorted like she’d just stepped into a puddle of mud barefoot—hand extended so that a goat had been able to mush the pellets out of her palm. Clark was grinning, and Carter squealing in delight; you saw the small plastic bag of feed in a tiny hand that you’d bought when stepping into the gated off petting zoo.

“You have a beautiful family,” she’d been a matronly woman, her own bag of feed sitting beside her on the bench. She’d smiled kindly below the wide brim of her hat, something that would match perfectly for Sunday picnics and afternoons at the beach.

You turned to watch Clark put his brother carefully on the ground, but the boy seemed to have no regard for his own safety and churned his little legs until he hit the ground at a sprint, already chasing some poor goat.

“I do.”

Waiting for them now—you can only think how lucky you are.


Whipping around you search for who was calling you—probably Cat coming to gloat. There’s a few straggling families walking toward the front gates, but none of them are looking in your direction. Children waving their over-priced light sticks, and bouncing happily with their brand new stuffed animals. The night sits heavy in the air, like a blanket covering everything—the hazy fog that always seems to creep up just after twilight, when that last promise of day had slipped away and left the world in the moon’s embrace.

Leaning back against the railing of the tiger exhibit, you watch the families—laughing, and so alive—you need only spend a moment watching to remember why you do what you do. Why you done the black armor and concealing face mask—why the Spectre even exists. Alex always asks that—why—like she doesn’t save the world all on her own; like she can’t understand looking at these perfect smiles, and this bright happiness and think of all the horrible things that could happen if you didn’t stop it.

“This isn’t—this isn’t guilt, right?” Alex had asked one night, when you’d been tired, and sore, and so close to burning out that you could taste it on the back on your tongue. You’d wondered how long it had taken her to build up the courage to ask—if everything you’ve done, was some love letter to a dead world. A decade’s long apology for not being able to save them.

“Not guilt,” you remember saying, kicking off your boots, and stretching your toes out, “Just love.”

And like that—it was never mentioned again.

“Come on, Kara.” So much closer now, “come on!” Like it’s against the shell of your ear, you can feel the warm breath fanning over your cheek, but when you look—there’s still no one. Beep. Digging your phone out of your pocket, already figuring it was Clark texting to gloat about whatever victory he was claiming—Cat was probably in on it. Beep. Beep.

You’re staring at the screen, and there’s no notifications—no missed text messages, no missed calls. Beep. Beep. You’re staring at the screen goes black again, and your reflection is etched into the dark. The color of your face going waxy and pale, the hollows beneath your eyes dark and pronounced.

Beep. Beep.

“You don’t get to—,” whatever the sentence they’re saying is, you feel it in your chest—like someone is pressing down on your ribs, over, and over, and over. “This—isn’t—how.” Over, and over, and over. You can only hold yourself up against the railing, pressing a hand to your clavicles, trying to stop the pressure that’s building inside your lungs, threatening to bleed out violently into the rest of you. You can’t breathe, your fingers scrabble for purchase on your throat, like somehow you’ll find the phantom hands that are slowly choking the life from you. Everything is going black and hazy at the edge of your vision. 

Beep, be—. Then quiet.


Everything seizes inside you, your bones rattle, and your blood sparks—you’re on the ground without remembering how you got there. You can’t breathe any easier, but now everything smells sharp and tastes like copper. Like you’ve bitten your tongue. Your face scrapes against the concrete, mouth gaping without accomplishing anything—gasp, gasp.


The pain reverberates through you again, and you gasp—back arching like a drawn bow, your spine protesting, but there’s no other way for your body to move, no other way to ride through the jolts jittering along your suddenly sensitive nerve endings. Gasp. Blood pounding in your ears, throwing sound far away, like you’ve suddenly found yourself at the edge of a dark tunnel. Everything is tinny and distant, muffled by walls, and years, and whole solar systems.

Beep. Beep.

Blinking your eyes open you can see only the dark of night above you, not a single star in the sky—just black. There’s no sound around you other than the nauseating beep beep that’s been chasing you all day. You aren’t even trying to breathe anymore, it’s like you’ve finally given into everything you can’t do right now. You can’t breathe, you can’t stop the jumping pressure on your chest—crack, one broken rib, crack, two—and you’re...alright with that. Why are you alright with that?

“The zoo’s closing,” Cat’s standing over you, her face neutral, eyes settled. It isn’t the girl you’d spent all day walking arm and arm with—she looks years older, the little crawls of age at the edge of her squinting eyes. The weight of her posture—she’s wearing a dark polo, and pants that would probably look more comfortable on Alex. Tactical pants. It looks wrong, she looks pale—a shadow.

“I don’t want to leave.” You say, even though you can’t breathe—somehow the words don’t require air, they just fall out of your mouth.

“Too late.” It’s Clark—he’s standing just behind Cat, his arms crossed over his chest. His face is covered in soot, and there’s a bruise on his cheek, blood smeared on his face from temple to jaw on one side. He isn’t the teenager you’d been goading all day—he’s a man; tall, and broad, and wearing royal blue, the chest of your house emblazed upon his chest in gold. There’s the ripple of red behind him, a grand cape snapping in the sudden wind.

“Come on, sweet girl, come on.” The voice is wet, and cracking, so afraid, and you can recognize it—almost—it’s familiar and you suddenly want to do whatever that voice asks. The repetitive pressure in your chest begins throbbing again—a rhythm easily found, and then there’s just a weight, like someone has laid across you, pinning you down. Just the sound of sobbing, desperate wails. Looking up, Cat and Clark are looking down at you—older, and harder, and sadder—and there’s a horrible pain.

Like someone’s punched you horribly hard in the chest.

“You’re already gone.” Its Carter now—so much older, a white shirt splashed red with blood.

And suddenly—you gasp.


You lurch upright, everything screaming, eyes burning with the bright lights that are above you. There’s hands on your face, fingers combing into your hair, and you try to wrestle out of their hold, but for the first time in forever, they’re too strong, and they manage your flailing hands easily, keeping them down and away.

“Shh, Kara,” the voice whispers, warm lips pressing against your temple, tears dripping down your cheek—tears that aren’t yours. Everything burns, and you can’t feel your hands, even though you know they’re being held down by someone. “It’s okay now; I’ve got you.” You’re cold, not realizing until that exact moment that your teeth are chattering together, but the warmth of a cheek pressed against yours starts to register, starts to calm the jackhammering beat of your heart.

Beep. Beep.

You hear it now, so much clearer. The heart monitor just at the edge of the bed, attached to the little metal sensors stuck to your chest underneath the flimsy hospital gown that has been put on you. It is more a chirp than a beep, but you can hear everything mixed into it—text message notifications, beeping horns, zoo trolleys—all the miniscule little pieces of that memory that have been warped and dissected by your mind. It seems like a thousand years ago that you were walking through the zoo with your family—whole and happy—when you’d thought you’d hit the last bump in the road, that everything was mending and you finally had a chance.

But maybe what you’d told J’onn had been right; maybe I’m just not supposed to be happy. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to leave Krypton.

You can only see the crumbling buildings when you close your eyes. Can only see the shock of fear in the eyes of so many of Metropolis’ citizens, and the stubborn faith in Carter’s while he ignored the destruction and violence you’d caused around him, approaching you with a confident mama. Everything burns, and hurts, and you can’t breathe without having to try horribly hard, and you just can’t—you can’t—you don’t even know what.

“Is she—?” You can barely make out the curve of James Olsen against the bright lights—skin a dark blur, face open and fearful, his large hands spread like he could just simply grasp the problem and roll it to nothing between his palms. You’d always liked James—he’s a good friend to Clark, a good mentor. His shirt is rumpled, and his pants are covered in soot, little specks of dry wall still drifting off him when he steps further into the room.

“We got her back,” its Alex whose voice had snuck into your unconscious mind and hooked you; her warm hands still stroking over the curve of your cheek and into your hair. She handles you like you’re precious and delicate, something to be careful with. She sounds so relieved and you want to sob, because no one should be glad to see you—not after what you did. No one should curl themselves around you like she is right now—arms secure, chest firm, heart strong.

“What happened?” It isn’t James or Alex who asks this—it’s Winn, the ‘cardigan hobbit’ that Cat pretends she doesn’t accidentally have lunch with every few weeks so they can awkwardly and casually catch up. It is quite possibly the oddest friendship you’ve ever seen, but you know it somehow makes them both happy. They pretend that they aren’t friends because that would just be ridiculous, and it isn’t worth it—but you never mention that somehow Winn always has a ticket to CatCo’s best events, and any IT request that is even vaguely hinted at being for Cat gets fast-tracked—and there was that year of the mysterious Lord of the Rings limited edition set memorabilia, to both of them.

“We have no idea; from what our scientists can extrapolate; National City just started to…vibrate.”

You can’t talk because there’s an oxygen mask over your nose and mouth, forcing air into your lungs, which is very helpful considering it is impossible to breathe without the assistance. You’re crying now, because the feelings that had been kept at bay have begun to flood in—pouring into you without consideration for whether or not you want them. The pain is physical; everything throbs and cracks and aches, but worse than that—worse than the brittle bones and cloying blood in your veins—is the emotional pain.

The guilt, and horror, and hatred for what you’d done—it digs into you, and hollows you out, carving piece after piece after piece away until you’re just left with craters inside that have no hope of being filled with anything but disgust. Maybe it’s the device’s energy still splitting through your atoms, but you can feel how the air vibrates differently, you can feel it like a blanket resting on your base skin. Pressing down gently—negligible, but unmistakably there.

You know this isn't your National City.

If you just keep your eyes closed, if you just drift off, maybe you can return to that memory—of that family trip to the zoo, right before everything crumbled and crashed. Before Carter grew up without you, and Cat grew cold without you—before everything was ruined. You want to return to the outside of that tiger exhibit and feel Cat’s soft lips against yours, feel her pressed into you without question, without reproach. The scientist in you won’t let you ignore the facts—that your brain had been dying without oxygen, that it was flooding your system with endorphins, it was coaxing you alive, hoping for a response.

But your heart? Your heart cries, and sobs, and needs that promise of happiness; especially now that you don’t deserve it.

And like the crash of a judge’s gavel, Alex speaks, “Something’s wrong.”

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (MARION). College is one of those things that you imagined a lot when you were younger; it was a fantastical kind of freedom that you couldn't really put into words until you'd started getting acceptance letters from colleges. Nothing terribly prestigious, but still; this was your road to the rest of your life. Cheesy, but true.

“She’ll call.” You don’t know why you bother, because your roommate is completely ensconced in the quart of rocky road ice cream that she’d pilfered from the stoners at the end of the hall. She’s collapsed into the half-broken futon couch in the living room, sprawling in a way that has to be uncomfortable—she’s all twisted and limp, spoon now churning through half melted ice cream like it hold all the answers to the questions she wants to ask. You’re sitting in the most uncomfortable bean bag chair you’ve even had the misfortune of sitting in; a gift from some well-meaning ex-boyfriend, who probably really deserved the ex.

“I don’t care,” Cat lies.

You sigh, “Stop it. You care.”

“I don’t,” she continues, letting go and allowing her spoon sink into the cold soup of rocky road as she turns over to stare up on the ceiling, one arm draped over her forehead, the other on her stomach. You can practically taste the melodrama in the air. “Not even a little.” She’s been like this for the past hour; dressed to the nines, hair done, and waiting. Because her date—who was supposed to whisk her away—never showed up, and never called.

“I don’t believe you,” goading her has helped, it had dragged her back from her imminent wallowing just a little.

“But you do believe that knocking on wood cancels out bad juju—so excuse me for finding fault in your scale of belief.” Oh, she’s getting snarky. That’s a good sign. Its leagues better than the abject sighing that had taken place for the last twenty minutes. There was even some sarcastic air quotes—net positive. “We should go out—me and you.”


“I’m sorry,” you begin, standing up from—struggling out of, really—the bean bag chair, and placing hands on hips. “Not all of us are dressed to fucking kill, alright?” Your hair is still knotted from your run, you’ve washed your make up off ages ago, and the baggy shorts and shirt combination won’t be knocking anyone out of their socks anytime soon.

Cat on the other hand is stunning; you’re comfortable enough in your heterosexuality to know she’s banging—if you were going to pull an Ellen, it’d be with someone like Cat Grant. Hair curled and set, just loose enough to seem wild and untamed, even though you know half a bottle of hair spray had been involved. The slate gray dress wraps and clings and curls, and there’s enough skin on displace to make a nun blush—a tad too much thigh for your taste, but the tasteful amount of cleavage was positively inspired.

“Come on, we don’t have to go anywhere extravagant; just the bar on campus, or even that cesspool that Max is always going on about.” Davy’s was the bar just inside town that the few brave fraternities use as a meet up spot—there was usually enough douches present to stock a gynecologist’s office—and that was putting it mildly. Cat’s sitting up now, hair falling back into place carefully and without any prompting. You wished your own curls would manage the same without such a struggle.

You want to go to Davy’s?” You stress, because this is unprecedented.

“I want to go somewhere—anywhere.”

You’re sure there’s something in the roommate code that says it’s your responsibility to make sure she feels better about tonight—that you should take her out, and buy her a beer, and let her vent. But the problem is, she doesn’t vent—she wallows, and sighs, and then makes moon eyes at the damned door. You like Cat; you’ve only known her for a semester, but she has a good head on her shoulders, and doesn’t blast music at obscene hours in the morning. You even like her girlfriend—the whip thin blonde that flits in and out like she’s infinitely nervous, and impossibly confident at the same time. A real impressive feat.

You like her a little less right now, but still.

“Fine,” you give in; you’re a damned pushover, “But you’re buying me a beer, and if any guys hit on me, we are sweet sweet lesbian lovers. The fucking U-Haul’s parked outside type lesbians, capisce?” Because you’ll go, you’ll talk, and maybe even have a good time—but you will not dodge frat boys all night. Cat brightens, and you feel better for making her feel better—having friends is really inconvenient sometimes. She attempts to let you borrow a dress, but anything that looks good on her, will look horribly slutty on you, and to boot you aren’t looking for that kind of attention—so you settle for a snug set of jeans, and a UNC polo.

The walk across campus is harsh, the wind picking up whenever you step out from behind one of the buildings, it snarls your hair even more than it already was and your cheeks flush. Cat wobbles every little while on her heels, and you wonder if she pre-gamed while you were getting dressed; if there’s one thing you’ve learned about Cat Grant, it is that she holds her liquor like it’s her damned job.

Davy’s is all manner of unpleasant; it’s the type of dive you’d imagine to read about in modern gothic fantasy. Smoked out windows, and screw eyed townies glowering from behind chunky mugs and sweating beer bottles; they try to tuck themselves away into corners to avoid the polo wearing fraternity brothers that plague them at all hours. It’s a Saturday night, so you aren’t surprised to see Maxwell Lorde holding court at the darts board, his damned popped collar and khaki shorts—despite the fact that it is almost freezing outside—all he’s missing is a backward cap and sunglasses, and he’d be a walking stereotype.

“Maybe we can buy a handl—,” but Cat is already heading to the bar, hips swaying and chin up—sighing, you walk after her and sit down at the stool furthest from Max. The idiot is just finishing his beer, swigging the last few drops, before walking over and leaning both elbows on the counter, smirking widely at Cat.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” he coos, eyebrows perking.

“It certainly wasn’t wit and creativity—because you’re clearly lacking in both,” she drawls, and you sigh again, because listening to them argue got old weeks ago.

Max grins—Cat smiles—and you don’t speak this sub-language of barbed insults that they seem to be fluent in. “All dressed up and no place to go?” He asks, holding up three fingers for the bartender who doesn’t break stride to pop them open and put them on the counter.

Cat sneers, turning the cold beer in front of her around—and around—and around, before stopping and turning to face Max fully. “Are you here to pre-game an Aeropostel sale?”

You’re half finished with your beer, “I can’t tell if you guys want to fight, or fuck.”

“Fight,” Cat says.

At the same time Max says, “Fuck.”

Rolling your eyes, you turn away from their progressively worsening bickering—there’s an ow as Max is punched, and a hey as a slosh of beer is spilled on slate gray fabric. The divide in the room is clear; hunched townies holding hushed conversations over domestic beers, trying to ignore the copious amounts of dudes being thrown around. Its moments like these that make you want to write—that make you think up characters and plots, and spin them all together. Your creative writing professor told you that stories can be found anywhere—even disgusting bars at the edge of sane society.

You can picture the story now.

The struggling townie with a heart of gold, and a chip on their shoulder a country mile wide—they have that good ol’ type of smile, and say ma’am without prompting. And the city raised tornado that blows into town with a sharp wit and a sharper heel. Their unlikely romance balanced on the needle’s tip—two worlds colliding, and not always agreeing much on how everything should settle. In the end—in the end—

Kara walks in.

You can see her easily enough, how she goes out of her way to avoid walking into people, that it’s almost comical, how she apologizes and keeps doing it until people turn to walk away. She’s wearing a button down shirt that’s soaked through—it must’ve started raining at some point. Her hands are up, like she’s constantly warding people away, afraid of being knocked down, and when she smiles at the townies—they smile back.

A good ol’ type of smile.

You can pin point the exact moment that she sees Cat—the way her face goes slack, her eyes widen, and then she looks downright besotted. Swiping hair back behind her ears, she clenches her jaw and hesitates—you’re afraid that she might turn around and walk out the door and back into the rain. Before she’s given too much time to reconsider seeking Cat out, you push off the bar and weave through the crowd so that you can catch her by the elbow—she’s half way through an I’m sorry when she recognizes you.

“Where do you think you’re going, Cal?” You tease, grinning wide because you’ve had two beers and you’re amidst your story—you just need to get your struggling townie to go confront her tornado. “She missed you tonight.”

“I missed her,” she says like she can’t help it, hopelessly devoted as she is. You see the smudge of dirt at her jaw, the scent of sea water and gasoline clinging to her like she’d rolled around in a cracked oil tanker. “Someone said they saw her walking here.” If looks could kill, every frat boy near Cat would be a pile of ashes on the ground—for such a sweet face, she glares like it’s a degree she wants to major in.

“Wallowing and eating her weight in ice cream lost its appeal fast,” sighing, you tug her to follow, but she’s resolute—standing her ground, and she doesn’t even budge. “Go say you’re sorry; I haven’t been nauseated by how adorable you two are today. I’m going into withdrawal.” She inhales like a soldier getting ready for war, and it’s downright adorable when she squares her shoulders and walks up to the bar like a woman on a mission. You follow behind at a more sedate speed, and are stationed just on her other side when she gathers the courage.

“This seat taken?” Her voice cracks, and Cat’s facing away.

So she doesn’t realize who she’s answering, “As a matter of fact, it is.”

Kara tries again, “I don’t think she’ll mind if I borrow it.”

Oblivious, still, “Listen, I don’t know what you are hoping to acc—,” Cat spins around, and her eyes widen slightly—and then narrow. You see Cat’s nostrils flare as she rearranges herself so that she can properly glower—lips pinched together, finger tapping on the neck of her beer bottle. Max is finally showing some brain and hasn’t inserted himself into the pending argument—he’s downing the rest of his beer like there’s something impressive to be found at the bottom.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Cat says, haughty and light, taking a deliberate sip of her beer.

“Cat,” Kara hedges, rolling shoulders to unstick the wet shirt from her skin—it’s nearly see through, and you didn’t need to know what color bra she was wearing, or that she had unfairly impressive abdominal muscles.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” she says again, eyebrows doing that thing they do when she’s trying not to be particularly expressive—it really just makes her look worried. Which is probably the look she’s trying to keep off her face—the whole time she’d been moping, Cat had interspersed the hour with terse do you think she’s alights, clearly thinking the worst.

“Fine,” Kara relents, turning to lean against the bar, arms crossed over her stomach, lips pinched, “We don’t have to talk.” And just stands there, foot on the rung of the stool, back against the counter. The frat boys are chanting in the back, and Max has taken that as his cue to excuse himself—you wished you could claim being needed elsewhere, but you’d come here with Cat, and you’d brought Kara over.

“So,” you begin, exhaling with effort, “It started to rain, huh?”

Kara blinks, and Cat glares.

Not talking lasted all of five minutes.

“I’m sorry I made you worry,” you hear, so quiet you think you’re making it up, but you can see Kara out of the corner of your eye. She’s facing straight ahead, but her eyes are slanted toward Cat, “Something came up, and it wasn’t until I was in the middle of it that I realized my phone had gotten—.” There’s a clipped ending, but from a pocket is produced a sodden mobile phone. The screen is slightly warped, and all the pixels are shot—you can tell that with only half looking. “—a little wet.”

Cat doesn’t respond, not right away, but she’s not glaring as harshly, and her shoulders have relaxed a little.

“You look beautiful,” Kara says, leaving the sad pieces of technology on the counter and turning to lean toward Cat, “Whoever stood you up is a big idiot.” She’s blinking more, and sighing less, “The biggest. So big it’s probably a little impressive how stupid they are.” God, they’re disgusting. Cat’s trying not to smile, and you’ll give her an A for effort, but she has that little twitch in her cheek that gives her away.

“Where were you?” She asks finally, slowly and with begrudging pauses.

“Mister Callaghan’s water heater got a little ornery,” Kara explains, “I had to get as many boxes out of the basement as possible before they got ruined.” You’re pretty sure mister Callaghan is Kara’s grandfather, but she’s always only called him mister Callaghan—which, alright, is a little weird, but who’re you to judge? You glance at your watch, impressed it took them almost ten minutes to make you nauseous.

The static ridden television in the corner is silently telling a news story about some oil tanker that was somehow encased in ice just as it burst open—saving the harbor from an Eco-disaster. Beside the silent footage of dock workers, is a grainy image of a black silhouette; it’s all properly Hitchcockian. Dramatic, mysterious, and utterly unhelpful. The words nameless hero are emphasized, but then the clock strikes the next hour and some new story is garnering it’s fifteen minutes of fame.

Beside you they’re talking quietly, enough so that you can’t hear them over the murmur of the crowd—Cat still looks a little irked, but she’s smiling. Kara keeps waving off the bartender—apparently the only person concerned with underage drinking in the whole damned building. Kara’s leaning a forearm on the bar, her elbow crooked, finger twirling in Cat’s hair—it’s fucking adorable. Sighing, you drink the last of your beer, planning to go find Max and beat him at darts. The damned frat boy never learns.

Just as your about to lean over the bar to flag down the bartender, Cat’s stepping in front of you with a bottle in either hand, smile in place. You’re glad, it just doesn’t look right when she mopes—anger, you can appreciate, happiness, even better; but misery? No thank you.

“I promised to get you a beer,” she say, just loud enough that you can hear her, and when she presses it into your hands, she surprises you with a hug—it’s slanted, and awkward, and she doesn’t seem to know what to do with her hands, which is perfectly alright because you have no idea where to put yours. “Thanks, Mar.” She says into your shoulder, and pulls back just enough for you to see she’s embarrassed—eyes down, half turned away.

“No worries, I’m just glad you two are—,” being disgustingly cute again, doesn’t seem the right thing to say—so you just wave vaguely and raise the beer for cheers, stepping away.

“You don’t have to leave,” Kara tries, and Cat looks like she’s going to agree, and you know where she’s going with this.

“No, no. You two—do whatever you two do when the sock's on the door; preferably not in public, but hey, you crazy kids.” Another step away, “I’m going to go find Max—he can be my sweet sweet lesbian lover for the night; Lord knows he looks like Ellen DeGeneres with those frosted tips.” Pause, “no pun intended.”

Smile, pivot, and retreat.

The things you do for love—and it isn’t even yours.

Chapter Text

SNAP SHOT (KARA DANVERS). This world is so similar to yours that sometimes when you look out the window you don't remember that you're supposed to be missing him. It's the people that are wrong—no, not wrong—different. You see it in the very shade of their eyes, and you want to pain the differences. Try to really pin point every miniscule change. Because the small things like that are easy to focus on; safer to focus on.

Even a week later all the news can cover is the destruction of downtown Metropolis; the cleanup crews, the emergency services, all the people who are willing to reach out and lend a helping hand. There’s vigils and memorials, and with every face and name that scrolls across the screen, you feel a little sicker, because you should be out there. You should be helping. Instead, you’re locked away in a penthouse feeling sorry for yourself—no, worse, you’re burning with an anger for a version of yourself you’ve only ever seen in footage.

Side by side with the coverage of the recovery efforts, are documentaries dedicated to the rise and fall of National City’s former hero the Spectre. From the grainiest pictures of a young vigilante wrapped in store-bought sweatshirts and scarves—it’s hard not to notice the difference when the image is set side by side to the force of destruction that had plagued Metropolis last week. Glinting metal, charcoal gray mesh, the bright slant of lights. There’s dates on each picture slotted across the screen—it eclipses nearly thirty years.

How does something like this happen?

“You’re not her.”

Spinning around, you didn’t hear anyone walking in, didn’t hear the door or the elevator. Carter Grant—a much older Carter Grant—is standing in the doorway with shoulders slumped, hands shoved into the pockets of his sweatshirt. His hair is messy and carefully tousled, styled out to the side like it was wind swept and just ended up that way. He’s tall, you didn’t think he’d be so tall when he grew up—considering his mother isn’t exactly the optimum of height. You’d seen him every once in awhile, when he drifted in from wherever he spent most of his days—CatCo, school, Alex’s, away from you —but much like his mother, he’d tried to limit his interaction with you.

You don’t know why that hurts .

But it does.

“Aren’t I?” Because when you see her face, it’s your face; slightly older, and slightly harder, but there’s no mistaking the resemblance. Same blue eyes, same blonde hair—no, that isn’t right, her hair is more gold, more like the sun, maybe because she’d been here for decades longer—Earth’s young sun stealing the last hints of Krypton’s red dwarf from her strands.

“Nope,” he says while walking into the room, staying away and toward the wall.

“That’s it? Just—nope?”

“Yep,” he says, almost smiling.

“Where’s Miss Gr—your mom?”

“Around,” his hands are out of his pockets but he’s carelessly tilting the picture frames on the walls—pictures that boggle your mind. Clark and Carter—Cat and Clark and Carter—Clark and her —an elderly man and her and a boy—Cat and her . There’s marks on the wall like pictures have been removed but not many—only five or six. “She likes to stay busy when she’s fighting her worst impulses.”

“Worst impulses?”

“Taking over the world, making the masses bow—you know, the usual.” He’s watching you with eyes that are exactly like Cat’s—not in color, no, they’re very blue—but they are considering and quiet. The lull in them exactly like your boss’s before she decided enough was enough. You don’t know if he has Cat Grant’s spitting fire, but he has enough of her that you’re looking for the signs. Signs that you’ve gotten very good at noticing over the last two and a half years.

You’re almost smiling. “That isn’t funny.”

“It was, a little.” His eyebrows perk a little .

You don’t want to ask him why now , after a week of avoidance, because you don’t want to be left alone, and you realize it doesn’t matter why he’s suddenly decided to talk to you. Because—because he could decide he doesn’t want to anymore, and it would break you for that to happen.

“I’m sorry you’re cooped up here,” there’s something in the way he shuffles his sneakers and slouches his shoulders that reminds you of thirteen year old Carter Grant form your world. “I know it can’t be too fun.”

“Not really,” you agree, because honesty is the best policy.

He just smiles, and it’s understanding, and collected, and it makes him look older—which is insane , because Carter Grant is supposed to be thirteen years old, not seventeen. “Clark was going to have you stay with him, but mom wouldn’t have it.” He offers, and slouches closer, his posturing seeming to degrade the longer he’s here—slanted shoulders, curved spine, hands tucked in dipping pockets.

But you’re snared by something he’s said—Cat wanted you here? You haven’t seen her since you found them a week ago, since Alex had tried to explain, and Hank had kept you present—the Grants has walked into the other room, Cat laughing, and Carter frowning. You hear her coming home after midnight, feet near stumbling, and the scent of alcohol heavy in the air as she walks past the guest room to her bedroom—she mumbles to herself, and you want to open the door and see her. You want to do something , because the air is heavy and thick and hurtful, and you don’t want to cause that.

You don’t.

“Why—no, that can’t be right,” you try, “you mom doesn’t want anything to do with me.” It’s obvious .


“She wants you close, Kara,” he says, shrugging in a way you know Cat must hate, “not across the country feeling guilty about something you didn’t do.”

Your eyes cut back to the television—as the Spectre ’s eyes brighten red and flash across the screen, cutting through a building until it crumbles in on itself. Superman crashes into them and they spiral into a small park that is already a pile of churned earth. “I was infected once too,” you confide, because Carter’s face is open and kind, and his eyes feel like home .

“So you understand,” it feels like a statement, but somehow it lifts at the end like a question.

“I just—I wanted to be powerful, and I mean—I scared everyone, and said things I wish I didn’t but,” here you pause, because he’s watching the television too, and you can only hear how his voice had cracked just before you’d arrived— we left her . “I didn’t—do this.”

You feel the anger sometimes, down below everything else, but it’s so easy to keep it there. Most of the time. You know it’s because of your family, and your friends, and you try to imagine not having them. It doesn’t fit—not exactly, because everyone’s here. Clark and Alex, Winn and James—Cat and Carter.

“She just wanted to stop feeling lost.” He supplies, sitting down on the arm of the couch with a thud , and he holds his jacket closed with hands in the pockets.

“How—how does this ,” you gesture empathically to the crumbling city on the screen, “have anything to do with that?”

Carter shrugs again, like he doesn’t have the exact words to explain himself, so he’ll say nothing on the matter. But then something in his eyes dulls, just at the edges of the blue—but you see how it glosses over and goes opaque, before he’s blinking it away. “Someone knew who was important to Superman, knew that the way to get to him was to take Lois Lane. So they did—when Kara was getting hit with that—that disease —a group of a dozen soldiers were breaking down her door.”

You gasp, leaning forward with eyes wide.

“I was with her because I was waiting for Clark to get home from work—we were going to take him out to dinner because of a story he’d gotten published earlier in the week. Sniped right out from under mom’s nose—she couldn’t have been prouder. But then the door was breaking in, and there was gas in the room, and I passed out.” He’s retelling the story like he wasn’t part of it—like you can’t hear how his heart starts to jump faster and harder in his chest—like you can’t hear the creak of his bones as his fingers balled into fists in his pockets.

“I wish I could say I tried to help escape—but Lois was already spitting mad by the time I woke up.” Carter raises a hand to touch the edges of the socket of his eye, “they’d already—already hit her a few times to try and get her to stop, but you know Lois, it just made her louder.” Yes, you can imagine it perfectly—because that hasn’t changed with this new universe. Lois Lane does not take injustice lying down; she yells, and threatens, and cajoles.

“I—Kara was there so quickly. It was like all the sound drained away, and then was punched back into the room all at once. She killed them all—tore through the wall with just her hands, and Lois kept telling me to close my eyes—that I shouldn’t see my mo —shouldn’t see someone I knew do this.” He pauses, only a second, “But I watched.”

His bones rattle with the shake of his fists, but his face isn’t angry—it isn’t much of anything—his eyes have rolled up and you see how they flicker and shift. It is a constant shift, as if he’s counting something—looking up you see the nearly unnoticeable pattern on the ceiling. You hear how his heart settles a little, slows—even if it’s still too fast—and then he’s looking at you again.

“I watched, and I can’t unsee what she did but that’s how I can tell you it wasn’t her .” His hands emerge, and there isn’t a shake in them, they’re just spread like he’s trying to show you something—empty palms, and extended fingers. “We all have our worst selves, but they’re tempered by everything else. She didn’t—there was nothing else to stop her. And when they were dead, and Lois was getting us free, do you know what she was saying?”

You shake your head, murmuring a quiet, “no.”

“She was talking about Krypton—about how it was still out there somewhere, and she just had to find it . She could save so many people—including her family—she just had to figure it out.” He slumps, hands now slouched over his knees, “that was her worst self—she was trying to save a whole planet. She just didn’t—she didn’t have that part that could weigh the pros and cons. That which doesn’t make every decisions an end that justifies the means. She was lost, and angry, and trying to save people—including me—and when Superman got in the way. Well. She has a temper, she always has.”

He’s seventeen—he’s seventeen —and he’s explaining away homicide, he’s justifying destruction, even if he isn’t condoning it. He’s bright blue eyes, and curly hair, and you see so much depth and maturity, and he doesn’t seem at all like the Carter Grant you know—he’s hard at his edges, to hide away his brittle heart. He’s his mother’s son, and you don’t even know the whole of it, and you want to protect him. Want to tell him it isn’t his job to justify your doppelganger’s actions, he’s not responsible, even if he was the reason she’d broken free.

“Carter,” you say, because you can’t not say anything, “having a temper isn’t justification!” You don’t mean to yell, but your volume is raising—because you have a temper, you always have. And you don’t want that to be something the Carter from your world will understand in four years. You don’t want him to shrug and blink past the horror because—because, well, she has a temper .

“Not a justification,” he responds, “a reason.”

“It’s a bad reason.”

“But still one.” He slumps sideways, and slides into a sitting position on the couch, his jacket and clothes all slightly askew, but he’s smiling like his eyes hadn’t been darker and darker still only moments ago. “Reasons don’t have the luxury of always being good. Sometimes they’re bad. My reason for not eating peas is because there’s a boy in my class with the middle name Knife-fight and mine isn’t nearly as cool.” He’s smiling like he’s trying to physically pull one out of you, and you can’t help mirroring it—this wasn’t supposed to get depressing, it wasn’t supposed to make your bones heavy and your heart hurt.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

Carter shrugs, the lethargic lopping one that you know he didn’t get from his mother.

He doesn’t get much more of a chance to casually brush aside horrible scenarios, because the front door in creaking open, and slamming abruptly. You watch as Cat Grant sashays past the walk of a woman with a goal—you sink a little further in your chair, hoping that she doesn’t notice you—she’s done a pretty good job so far—but Carter’s here, and she always notices Carter. Green eyes swivel in your direction, and heat when they land on your—burning for a moment—before turning to her son.

“You’re home early,” she says, smiling, but it doesn’t reach her eyes, even as she bends down ot kiss the top of his head. She glances once more at you, a sharp hard look, before turning on her ridiculous heel and walking off down the hall.

“I’ll be right back,” he says sourly, before jumping to his feet and chasing his mother down the hall—chewing the distance easily with his much larger strides.

The door rattles when it’s slammed shut behind them.

“No,” Carter says, voi