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She’s twelve, but her growth spurt is a little late. Either that, or she’s peaked (god, she hopes not), as she works her stumpy legs faster to keep up with Lex. He’s already paces ahead of her, shot off like a bullet the moment Lionel had given them the go ahead.

 

Being the daughter of a business magnate has its perks. A few strong handshakes and low tones, accompanied with promised favours usually gets her and Lex whatever they want. It also helps that Lionel is partial to Lena. Lex had wanted to feed the lions, or something equally dangerous and exciting, but as they pass the restricted access door, closely followed by the tank staff, Lena is glad to have the big watery eyes that Lionel seems to favour.

 

She’s in diving gear already, even if she doesn’t quite remember changing into it. It’s a private pool, she’d vaguely heard. A few young dolphins that are still rather shy and would prefer a more intimate crowd instead of the roaring stadium of onlookers. And Lex and her get to swim with them. Lena’s heart is racing, and she can’t keep the grin off her face.


A dolphin breaks the surface of the water, splashes water onto them, and laughs at her. It’s close enough that she can run her hands on its skin, tickles it under its beak. She brings both hands to it now, feeling water run off its body, droplets not sticking to its rubbery-like skin.

 

She turns to Lex and he’s looking at her intently, as the dolphin’s laugh turns a little loud, the cackling going on for a little too long. Something spikes in her chest.

 

“There’s bodies there,” Lex says, deadpanned, and he doesn’t look like a teenager. He looks older, haggard, hair falling off his head unevenly, an unkempt stubble lining his jaw. Lena opens her mouth, but she can’t seem to find her voice. There’s a bewildering moment where she wonders what her voice sounds like.

 

He points toward the water, at the pool, and it’s flooded with bodies. Bloated, drowned bodies that have turned a ghastly shade of bluish-green, and their mouths are open in a silent scream. Their eyes are an ugly bloodshot hue, wide open and staring. They’re all looking at Lena. Suddenly her hands aren’t on a dolphin, they’re on a corpse, and she’s scrambling, trying to get away, and the corpse reaches out to grab her wrist, bones peeking out from under rotted skin and Lena is trying to scream.

 

And Lex is getting up from his half crouch position, Lex is getting up and walking away, and Lena is screaming at his back, noiselessly, terrified. She tries to get up but her feet are wet and she slips, almost slides into the pool of bodies. The awful laugh distorts, warps in her head.

 

“I’m going away now. Away. No bodies there,” Lex points at somewhere in the distance, turns around to stare vacantly at her. At an instant he’s right there beside her, in her ear, menacing, harsh, intoning deeply.

 

“Don’t worry Lena, nobody’s there.”

 

Lena jerks awake, distantly hearing a loud clanking and a crash. It takes a few moments to orientate herself. It’s bright. She blinks rapidly, swallows. It’s bright, and white. Office. She’s in the office. She’s fallen asleep, but she’s in the office. She’s not drowning in a sea of-

 

She’d kicked the desk, and knocked her glass of water on the floor. It’s shattered, but there wasn’t much water left in the glass to begin with, so Lena leaves it.

 

She brings a palm to her neck, rubs where her collarbones meet. She’s sweating, and her throat is dry. Something is beeping incessantly. She fumbles for the intercom, clicks down the button.

 

“An Alex Danvers to see you, Miss Luthor.”

 

It takes a good clearing of her throat, and she finally responds with what she hopes is a passable authoritative tone. “Give it a minute, then send her in.”

 

Lena licks her lips, almost runs a hair through her hair before remembering that it took her twenty seven minutes to perfect the bun so she gathers the papers at her desk, pushes them into a pile. Her hands shake as she uncaps the tiny orange bottle on her desk, pops two pills back. It feels rough and slightly ungraceful without the help of water, but she manages.

 

Alex Danvers enters her office, not waiting the full minute. It’s fine, Lena is fine. She’s not iffy about specificity when it came to the clock at all. Alex is huffing a little, impatient-like, opens her mouth to say something before she takes in the scene before her- Lena’s eyes a little strained, a little red (she’s assuming), and the shattered glass on the floor.

 

“Miss Danvers,” Lena says, distracting Alex, diverting her attention back to her. “What can I do for you today?”

 

“Is this room secure?”

 

Lena cocks her head, slowly nods, brings her elbows away from the desk and onto her lap as she leans back into her chair.

 

“Well, look, I don’t know if this is overstepping any boundary. It’s about Kara.” Alex bites her lip, looking unsure, as though expecting Lena to turn her away and bar her from entry into her office ever again.

 

“I know Kara and you haven’t been in contact for years.” –years?- “but something’s happened to her. I can’t explain it here. I have a secure location. Will you come?”

 

Lena stands as steadily as she can manage, tucks the orange bottle into her palm, and moves to shove it into her work bag without drawing attention to it, before going to grab her coat.

 

“Lead the way, Miss Danvers.”

 


 

 

“How long has she been in stasis?” Lena asks, not wanting to overthink how easily she slips back into this headspace, her looking at tablet screens and Kara lying still on a lab table.

 

“We’re not sure. We found her a few hours ago, but judging from the last time she replied my message… Probably ten hours?” Lena has seen Supergirl on news, but it’s another thing entirely to see Kara in her superhero costume lying on the table, attached to a breathing aid. Lena runs a hand through Kara’s hair. It’s soft, and wavy. Its texture is slightly different from how she remembers designing it.

 

“I wouldn’t have called on you if I knew how to fix this.” Alex says, wrings her hands together. “Her positronic brain activity is still normal, as though she’s awake, so we think she’s been hacked.”

 

Lena extracts her hand.

 

“By a cyber-terrorist, or something. We’re not sure. We’ve tried several things, but nothing’s worked so far. And J’onn,” Alex gestures to him to indicate who he is to Lena, “thinks you’re our best bet right now, seeing as how you’re the one who programmed her originally. You know her coding and her software better than anyone else, and we can… orchestrate a temporary mind-meld.”

 

“You want me to go inside her brain?”

 

Alex looks at her strangely, and her eyes flick over to J’onn before coming back to rest on Lena’s.

 

“I mean for us to mind-meld into her software. We have the cybernetic technology available, and there’s no other way for us to pull her out. She’s not responding to external stimuli. As far as I can tell, we’ve got to fight the virus from the inside.”

 

“I programmed her thirteen years ago. And I gave her full autonomy. I don’t think she’s kept much of the original line of code.”

 

“I can’t risk anything hooking up to her to fight the hack. The virus will infect any other machinery linked up to her. It’s got to be fully human, this trip.” Alex rounds on her, touches her on the forearm. Lena doesn’t mean to jerk back at the foreign sensation of Alex’s fingertips, but she does, and Alex tightens her grip just slightly.

 

“Please, Lena. I need my sister. And you’re the best assist I’ve got at this point. I won’t be able to navigate her cyberspace without you.” And Lena sees the same fierceness in Kara in Alex Danvers’ hazel eyes. Lena takes a breath, politely detaches her arm from Alex’s grip, and excuses herself to the toilet.

 

She fumbles in her bag, takes two more pills, washes them down with tap water and stares at her reflection in the mirror for exactly one minute and thirty seconds.

 

Very carefully, she re-applies her lipstick.

 

“Got lost?” Alex says, a little too casually, squares her shoulders at Lena when she walks back into the room past the fully transparent glass doors.

 

“It is my first time in your secret underground base,” Lena says. That little break to the bathroom was helpful in helping her regain some sense of composure. Alex crosses her arms, looks at her expectantly.

 

“If I say that it’s too dangerous, that we are going to get fucked, I want to be able to pull the plug at any moment-”

 

“I’m not coming back without Kara,” Alex interrupts fiercely.

 

“And I’m no stranger to a corrupted vessel. Diving in blindly isn’t going to save Kara. You could damage both her system and our minds. If I don’t think it’s safe anymore, I want to be able to give a cognitive signal, which J’onn can receive and pull us out. We can always try again, but there will be no point if we lose our minds in there.” Lena ends off gently, reassuringly, and wills Alex to understand that she won’t want to return without Kara either.

 

“Okay,” Alex finally concedes, makes a flicking motion with her wrist as several agents push two more tables in and sets up the operation. Lena turns to J’onn.

 

“You can… you have the ability to intercept cognitive brain and electronic waves? Read minds, so to speak?”

 

“I cannot enter. I’m enhanced too much in that manner. If I connect my software to hers, the virus would infect me in no time. I would not be able to control it. It would be… too much for me.”

 

“No, I didn’t mean-… I just meant, my signal,” Lena says, licking her lips. “You don’t have to immerse yourself in my head. I’ll call your name, if I think we’re done.” Lean focuses her attention on an agent fumbling with wires, hooking up machinery to device, doesn’t look at J’onn or Alex in the eye, even as she feels the intensity of their gaze burning the hairs at the base of her neck.

 

And then Lena is shifting herself onto the table, pressing heart monitors onto her chest and the inside of her elbows. Beside her, Alex is doing the same. She pulls her hair out of her bun, runs her hand through it before settling her head down. An agent fits a BCI headset designed like a visor over her eyes. She feels fingers press onto her temples, linking her cerebrum up to the mainframe of their closed network. Someone is slapping the inside of her elbow, and she feels a needle slide in.

 

“Just a sedative, to bring the mind down to Delta state. Ready, Luthor?” Alex says, somewhere to her left, a forced jocularity in her voice. Lena swallows, feels her brain going slightly groggy and fights off the initial wave of panic at the disorientation that usually accompanies a sedative shot.

 

She counts down for ten seconds, and goes into the drift, not quite asleep and not quite awake. Her mind goes dark, but she can still distantly feel the coldness of the makeshift lab gurney at her back.

 

Lena opens her eyes mentally, and she’s in a dark cellar. No, not quite a cellar… A box. She’s in a box. Okay. Alex is beside her, tense, fists clenched, ready to fight off an invisible enemy.

 

“Okay… what’s happening?” Alex asks, presses a palm against a wall. Lena scans the four dark blue walls.

 

“We’re foreign to her system. Your tech has placed us inside for sure… but I think her software hasn’t quite figured out where we go…” Lena is running her hands along the walls now too, looking for any point that gives.

 

“I think… we’re in an elevator,” Lena says quite suddenly, realising the swooping feeling low in her stomach is a manifestation of falling, tumbling downward.

 

“An elevator?”

 

“I think the more pertinent question is, what floor are we getting off?” Lena murmurs when the elevator stalls and halts to a gentle stop.

 


 

 

They’re walking through hallways, long hallways that go on forever and leads to nowhere. Lena wonders if they’re walking in circles. She kind of regrets wearing heels. Why didn’t she change before jumping into Kara’s software?

 

Alex has her gun and torchlight out, and she leads the way, barely a step ahead of Lena, sticking close.

 

“What do you know of this virus?”

 

“Not much, only that it’s called the Black Mercy, and it’s one of the hardest to crack. If we don’t pull her out before the virus consumes her, she won’t be coming back.”

 

“This is a maze- oh,” Lena says finally, comes to a stop and Alex turns around to face her. “I think this is her... firewall. It’s not letting us near any sensitive information. Okay, we need to think how we’re going to bypass it… There should be an entry point. The first wall should be packet filtering…” At this point Lena is just thinking aloud, not quite addressing Alex. “And there should be a…” She waves her hands, looking for the right word.

 

“Guard,” Lena finishes, the same time that Alex says-

 

“That’s a dog.”

 

A pixelated, two dimensional on the X plane beast that looks more like a hellhound than anything else is watching them. It glints slightly.

 

“Okay, we’re going to walk right past it, because we’re not carrying any packet. We’re not carrying any sort of code, so- fully human mission, right? This should be totally, totally un-eventful.”

 

“You sound unsure.”

 

“I am unsure.”

 

“I don’t know if you’re seeing this but… I notice there are now two dogs,” Alex says tersely, and Lena is nodding jerkily with all the grace of a person doing the robot dance as a second, larger hellhound appears. The pixels had just materialised out of nowhere, piling on top of one another haphazardly and forming the beasts.

 

“The second one is guarding the circuit level gateway, I’m guessing,” Lena licks her lips. “That one, we might have a problem.”

 

“Care to elaborate?” Alex raises her gun above her torchlight.

 

“That one checks our identity. See if we’re friend or foe.”

 

“Is non-robotically enhanced friend or foe?”

 

“I have a feeling we’re going to find out.”

 

The dogs don’t snarl, but they don’t wag their tails either. They just stare, watchful, guarding the archway that they need to pass.

 

“Alex,” Lena blurts out, strained, “I’m going to pet the dog.”

 

“Seven hells-”

 

“And you’re going to put your hand on my shoulder.” Alex stares at her like she’s grown a second head, but Lena inches forward determinedly, an arm outstretched, and Alex places a hand on her shoulder.

 

“We need to pretend we’re the same entity,” Lena says lowly, motioning for Alex to come closer. She can feel Alex’s breath on her hair.

 

“Biometric authentication,” Lena whispers. “I did give Kara full autonomy, complete access to her own systems, but I didn’t remove my clearance. If my fingerprints are still somewhere in her cache as a record, then it should recognise me-”

 

She’s sweating a little now, a little hot under the collar. Perhaps Kara has deleted it all, removed her completely. Her palm stretches out, opens in an invitation and the larger dog sniffs her.

 

Abruptly it opens its jaws and clamps down, and Lena jolts.

 

Alex swears, reacts behind her, and Lena’s other hand reaches back to close tightly around Alex’s wrist, preventing her from raising her gun.

 

They still for a long moment. Lena’s hand tingles in the dog’s jaw, and very slowly, very mechanically, the dog releases the pressure on her hand, and wags its tail, a swirl of pixels.

 

“Thank god I brought you along,” Alex says finally, swallowing.

 


 

 

The walls aren’t solid anymore. They’re made up of vertical lines of running data. Numbers and alphabets, in overlapping layers. Very two dimensional. Lena almost touches them, but she doesn’t know if she’ll topple over into vacuum, or find them tangible and mess up their order. They run from bottom up, until they disappear from her eyesight.

 

“Mmm, this way,” Lena says, recognising some of the coding, turning abruptly into a corridor. They’re on sequences not far from her core heuristics.

 

“Luthor, is that supposed to happen?” Alex says uncertainly, and Lena turns around and her eyes go wide.

 

Four surreal, long strings of glitchy pixels, blinking in and out of frame, approach them, writhing on the floor, curling up. They hiss at them, loud static sounds, an elegant sway to their sliding pattern.

 

“Snakes,” Lena says, partly in surprise.

 

“Maybe you could admire them later?” Alex says, whipping her gun in front of her, shoving Lena behind her, edging backwards.

 

“Wait,” Lena warns, as Alex’s uniquely enhanced gun glows blue, charging up. Alex gives her a face of disbelief. Lena shakes her head slowly. The shape and formation of the pixels doesn’t match the guard dogs they’d passed.

 

“That’s not her system. That’s the virus. It sees us as a threat.”

 

“Well how do we fight them off?” Alex whispers, tense, wary of startling the pixel snakes. They slither in closer, and Lena takes more steps backwards, Alex following suit. Lena reaches out beside her, finally lays a hand on one string of running alphabets on the wall. It glitches and twitches in her hand, but it’s solid enough. It blinks in and outside her hand.

 

“Okay Alex, don’t fire,” Lena says as carefully as she can, and then she yanks on the string, and the floor audibly groans and tremble. Alex makes a noise of surprise and trips a little, startled. And the snakes hiss at them again.

 

“Don’t move, Agent Danvers,” Lena grits out, close to her ear, close enough that she can see the sweat on Alex’s neck, can see the tension in her shoulders as she holds up the torchlight and the gun lined up at the wrist. Lena digs her nails into the string, yanks a little harder. Sparks and static fly from where she’s damaged Kara, and the snakes move closer, rears up.

 

Lena holds her breath and goes still. Her hand burns slightly, tingles from the sparks.

 

It’s exactly seven seconds and the snakes glide past them, hissing wildly at nothing in particular.

 

“I think they think we’re on their side,” Lena whispers, lets out a shuddering breath, feels the same release coming from Alex. Lena steps back then, unused to the physical proximity. Lena eyes the snakes as they slink farther away.

 

“We’re going in the same direction.” Lena stares at the twitching string of data in her palm, looking like it had been rudely circuit bent.

 

“C’mon, let’s see where they’re going then, shall we?” Alex says, gun parallel to the ground again, trailing a safe distance behind the pixel snakes and Lena follows.

 


 

 

Lena had made a good guess. The snakes seem to be tasked with monitoring, meaning they are on patrol, and consequently meaning that they are following a particular route. By all those counts, if they just follow…

 

“There, that door,” Lena says, hooking fingers into Alex’s jacket and tugging her into an alcove as the snakes make a turn and disappear from view. Alex makes a disgruntled sound, but it is an acknowledgement all the same. Alex peeks her head out.

 

“That doesn’t look like a door,” Alex squints. “How do you know that’s a door?”

 

“The rest of the walls- the coding travels down to up. That one is flowing from top down,” Lena smirks, raises an eyebrow at Alex and heads toward the waterfall of code. Lena scrunches her nose at the noisy rush of the stream.

 

“It’s corrupted,” Lena says, because the noise sounds aggressively compressed, and its made the water gushing sound warbled and distorted. “You don’t want to touch anything here. It’s designed to keep things in.”

 

“Or out,” Alex supplies.

 

“Either way, touch the steam flowing down and you’re probably going to get an electric shock.”

 

“This feels like laser security. And I feel like I’m in a jewel heist movie.”

 

“This is exactly like that, Agent Danvers. But lucky you, I recognise the coding. The rivulets flowing down isn’t random. I know exactly where the next… laser, as you say, hits.”

 

“Come on,” she says gamely, gesturing, and Alex sticks close. Lena is counting now, as usual. She counts the seconds, and counts the steps, and counts the paces left. She’s at sixteen when she hears Alex yelp behind her once, and she turns around, makes a sceptical face.

 

“I told you not to touch-”

 

“Yes, because I wanted an electric shock-”

 

Lena has counted up till thirty-eight with no more grumbling or sarcastic comments behind her when she knows that she’s passed the gantry, because without warning, she’s suddenly in a clearing, in sunny skies. Behind her, the doorway and path that led them here no longer exists.

 

It starts raining, abruptly. It’s very musical, the rain, and Lena looks up, confused. It’s raining 1s and 0s, the pitter-patter of them lightly tapping all around. The 0s make a duller sound as they hit the ground, a more round accent and the 1s lilt more like a chime from a glockenspiel. Alex scowls, shakes off a bunch of 1s from her shoulder and 0s fall from her hair.

 

“Marvelous,” Lena says, unable to help the grin that spreads across her face. She holds out a hand, catches shimmering 1s and 0s, tiny like the letters in alphabet soup. They’re slippery, and most of them glide off her hand.

 

“This is weird,” Alex says, scrunching up her nose.

 

“Oh, we’re definitely in the right place,” Lena says, pointing up ahead. They’re in some sort of meadow, and there’s multiple flowing rivulets that don’t make any sense direction-wise, seemingly flowing in circles. There’s a pixelated rainbow in the sky, brought to life by the glittering refractions of the light shower. The different colours aren’t on the same plane, but vary in depth perception. It flickers, glitch-y like, in and out of being.

 

“Oh, this is definitely Kara,” Lena says, chortling a little.

 

“There’s butterflies,” Alex says in incredulity. And there were, little strange fluttering balls of pixels wandering around, resembling a traditional data bend, creating odd green and purple gradient patterns.

 

The grass in the meadow crunches like static as they trudge through, flickering from clear to grainy resolution. Lena glances at Alex and sees a tear through the black fabric of her uniform on her left arm. It looks a little wet, and she realises that Alex is covered in sweat. She frowns.

 

“You haven’t told me the plan here, Agent Danvers.”

 

“The plan?”

 

“If Kara’s been infected with malware… how are we supposed to kill it when we get to her?”

 

Alex takes a breath, and seem to measure her words carefully.

 

“The Black Mercy is kind of a unique virus. It’s… Its unhackable, and it doesn’t die. It’s designed to trap. It keeps the host or the running program in an interminable loop, so the software doesn’t ever find the exit point. It thinks it’s still running the application. That’s why Kara’s CPU reads normal activity.” Alex slows down a little, and trails off. Lena looks up and her throat goes a little dry.

 

Just a little up ahead, in a twisted and distorted sequence of images that don’t quite blend or make sense, is an awkward mesh and amalgamation of Lena’s old laboratory, the inside of an apartment with a very home-y feel, and the sky seems to be… a dome? It curls around the warped planes, creating a protective shield-like canopy. There’s no door or walls either, the meadow simply bends around the interior of Lena’s old lab and the subdued warm colour themed apartment.

 

Kara is seated at a warped table that exists in both the lab and the apartment simultaneously and stuffing her face with potstickers. Most disconcerting of all, there is an odd flickering version of a rather young looking Lena seated beside her, grinning lazily. Young Lena has her messy bun and a white lab coat on, a displaced image in time beside Kara. There’s a couch and a television on, playing Casablanca, and another Alex sits there, her posture relaxed, back to them.

 

Lena grips Alex’s collar. Alex seems equally startled at seeing another of herself and it takes Lena two shakes to get Alex’s attention.

 

“What are you not telling me?” She growls, horrified. Alex clenches her jaw, looks her dead set in the eyes.

 

“The Black Mercy creates an illusion for the… robot or AI in question. It creates a world they want. To answer your question from earlier, the only way to kill this worm is kind of… to make Kara choose to. She’s got to reject the fantasy. That’s the back door to the virus. The exit. It stops the loop.”

 

Lena stares at her, unblinking, digesting Alex’s words. Fantasy. That explains why the other Lena and Alex appear less pixelated than everything else, in higher focus, and Lena guesses they’re at the heart of the virus, where more effort is put into the maintenance of the mirage.

 

“That’s why you brought me along.”

 

“I needed the help anyway. But it seemed a good idea to bring you in, because I knew- Lena, listen to me, I know, that Kara needs to see you.” Alex takes a breath, “Lena, I know it’s been many years-”

 

“You idiot, it’s been two months,” Lena growls. “Oh my god, we’re fucked. Your plan isn’t going to work.” Alex is the surprised one now, and she works her jaw, calculating her next move. She narrows her eyes at Lena.

 

“Kara isn’t going to choose this. Her fantasy?” Lena spits, pointing wildly, “it’s me thirteen years ago, and it’s not because she doesn’t have new memories of me. It’s not because I haven’t seen her since. She knows who I am now, and if you notice, I’m not the person in her fantasy realm.” Her heart is pounding fiercely. Her nape feels cold. “Oh my god, we’re fucked.”

 

“She didn’t- Impossible- she didn’t tell me-”

 

“Alex?”

 

They both whip around, and Kara is staring at them, a little dazed, eyebrows furrowed in the middle. She nervously brings a hand up to adjust her glasses, but she’s still seated. Fantasy-Alex and Fantasy-Lena both frown at them, and straighten up, tense and concerned. Kara looks confused.

 

“Kara,” Lena sighs, moves closer, resists the urge to runs toward her.

 

Fantasy-Alex is in front of Kara in a heartbeat, whipping out the exact same unique gun, with its tell-tale blue glow charge-up, and Lena freezes. Fantasy-Lena brings a protective arm around Kara’s shoulders.

 

“Kara, I’m here to take you home,” Alex says resolutely, beside her, and Lena is impressed with the steadiness of her voice.

 

“I am home,” Kara says, staring at them warily, but a note wavers in her voice. She stares at the both of them like they’re aliens, and Lena’s chest goes tight. She stares at Fantasy-Lena instead, wonders when she changed so much. Wonders when she started spending twenty-seven minutes a day perfecting a bun, using make up as war paint, and expensive clothes in replacement of skin. Nonsensically, Lena is suddenly convinced that Kara may have the correct version of her. Maybe she is the one who isn’t real?

 

Her chest feels impossibly constricted and her palms feel clammy. She rubs her fingers along the inside of her palm erratically.

 

“Kara, this isn’t real. You know this isn’t real-” Alex ducks as Fantasy-Alex fires at them, as protective of Kara as the real one. It misses Alex, but Lena is still frozen.

 

Alex barrels into her side, knocks the wind out of her as Fantasy-Alex fires again. Lena blinks, stares at her hands. They feel numb. “Lena, what are you doing-”

 

“Alex, stop-” Kara is not talking to Alex, she’s talking to Fantasy-Alex, and Alex uses the distraction to pull Lena up. Fantasy-Lena is frowning at her, as though confused. And Lena recognises that look, it’s the look she wears when she’s trying to figure out a particularly troubling mathematical equation. She looks jarringly real, and genuinely confused. Alex is saying something to her, but Lena doesn’t seem to register any of that right now.

 

Her hands are covered in oil. Black sludge. She swallows and looks down, and there’s sludge coming up from the ground, coiling around her legs. It’s thick, heavy.

 

“What the fuck-” Alex is shouting, but that’s not the sound that makes Lena’s blood run cold. She hears a small snicker, a tiny niggling cackle that’s looping in a continuous replay.

 

And suddenly they’re not in a meadow, they’re in a inaccurate replica of a private pool in a restricted area of a water theme park, and Lena’s sweating and sweating and sweating. The sky goes dark.

 

There’s multiple pools around them, scaled downwards instead of one giant swimming pool, small pockets of eerie blue water. They glitch in and out of existence, and Lena suddenly realises that she’d lost track of time. She can’t remember when the last time she took her pills was.

 

The pixels warp, and Lena has trouble focusing on the incoherence of the images. A dolphin is laughing. A dolphin covered in black sludge is dragging itself toward her from the floor-

 

Alex decks her across the face. A blinding pain shoots up her nose.

 

“What the fuck, Luthor! Work with me here!” And Alex fires at the dolphin, which isn’t a dolphin anymore, it’s a pixelated, young version of Lex- and he’s screaming as the hit connects-

 

“No!” Lena shoves Alex away, feels her stumble and hears her swear, but Lena is running toward Lex- he’s hurt- he’s bleeding from his gut, bleeding black sludge, viscous and oily-

 

Lena gets to him, dives to the ground, and then it is her turn to scream because he grabs her wrist, pulls her to his face, and his eyeballs are melting out of its sockets into that thick black sludge too, his skin pulls downward and sag, pixels flaking off as he rots in front of her. His nails are long and they claw at her, and it cackles with static and electricity on her skin-

 

Nobody’s here, Lena. Nobody’s coming back for you,” Lex snarls, even with his features grotesque and lopsided, black holes for eyes. She can see all the way into his skull. And the black sludge from the ground has almost enveloped Lena by now, and it’s climbing, still making its slick trek up her waist, over her chest- she can’t breathe- up her neck, and Lex is laughing and laughing, spitting out pixels and codes and Lena can’t move-

 

Another shot from Alex’s gun hits Lex straight in the face, and his face explodes in front of Lena, disintegrating it into nothing more than alphabets and symbols. She screams. Alex is shouting and Lena can see in the distance, Fantasy-Alex and Fantasy-Lena are being dragged into the ground as well, and Kara screams at the fantasy caricatures of her and Alex, at the complete opposite direction-

 

She sees the exact moment Kara chooses.

 

“Lena!” Kara is reaching for her, wide-eyed and distraught, distraught -

 

A black tendril, a tentacle rises from its lock around her neck, tugs her mouth open-

 

Kara is too far, and Lena loses focus, her eyes rolling up. She distantly hears Alex shouting for J’onn, and then lets the dark into her mouth.

 


 

Hands scramble at her and Lena rips off the BCI headset, plugs out the tubes at her temples. She heaves, dry retches, swallows for air.

 

“Luthor!” It’s J’onn. J’onn is shaking her, trying to calm her. “You should have told us you have some fucked up PTSD-”

 

She pushes at him blindly, searching wildly and there are agents scrambling at Alex on the lab table, and Alex wakes up the same way Lena did, gasping for air. Alex’s arm hits Lena and they both tumble, half on the lab gurneys, half on the ground, and they freeze, glaring at each other, breathing heavily.

 

They both turn to Kara and she’s getting up too, shakily pulling wires from her body, and she’s blinking, disorientated and movements jerky. Alex rushes to her, and Kara lurches away from her touch. She’s staring at Lena in horror. All three of them are trembling a little.

 

J’onn steps in, and Lena is grateful for his presence. Grateful for his commands, for making decisions for them. He orders all three of them bed rest, emphasizes on separate rooms, and no one is allowed to leave base. Alex protests but J’onn is having none of it.

 

Lena avoids Kara’s gaze as agents haul her up and take her away. She can still taste the dark in her mouth.

 


 

Lena wakes, coming out of yet another nightmare. This one slides off slowly, still ghosting along her subconscious as she comes to reality, and she forces herself to open her eyes and reach for the glass next to her. There’s no little orange bottle on the table and Lena rubs a palm on the back of her neck as she forces herself to drink the water.

 

“What was that?” Lena startles and looks up. Kara is leaning on one side of the doorway, arms crossed. She’s not wearing her Supergirl costume anymore. She looks put together, the very opposite of what Lena feels. Lena takes a breath.

 

“I think the mind-meld brought some of Alex and my subconscious in as well. It wasn’t just your software that was open to manipulation-”

 

“I understand what happened, Lena. I mean, what was that?” Kara repeats, uncrosses her arms and approaches Lena’s bedside. She pulls a chair from the side, sits down slowly, her movements measured and delicate. Lena closes her eyes and swallows.

 

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

 

Kara places a hand on hers, rubs her thumb soothing along her skin.

 

“Does this have anything to do with why you’ve been avoiding me?”

 

“I- I haven’t-”

 

“I haven’t seen you in two months,” Kara cuts in smoothly, gently. “You’re always too busy.”

 

“I... You didn’t tell Alex that you found me.”

 

“I didn’t know if I did. You wouldn’t see me anymore, not after that first time.”

 

Lena opens her eyes then, aches for Kara, aches for something other than the small, sad voice Kara is using. She thinks of Fantasy-Lena, young and careless and ambitious, and wonders if she’ll ever be good for Kara ever again. She would fix the world if she could. She would fix every wrong that Lex had ever done, she would fix every wrong she’d ever done by Kara.

 

“I’m sorry,” Lena says then, sincere and fierce. “I’m so sorry, Kara.”

 

Kara is looking down at where their hands touch, her thumb never ceasing her comforting circles. Lena turns her palm upward, curls around Kara’s fingers.

 

“What are you afraid of, Lena?” And Kara is staring at her, and even though she’s wary, she’s earnest, always earnest, blue eyes boring into her and Lena almost trembles with the weight of her gaze.

 

“I thought I would make things right this time. I thought I wouldn’t keep getting this wrong- I saw you, and I wasn’t myself, and you looked so sad- And I wasn’t getting it right-”

 

“Hey, hey. It’s okay,” Kara says, as Lena starts to panic again, starts to derail again, eyes darting around against her will, searching for escape, and she’s just noticed that her hand is gripping Kara’s rather tightly.

 

“I was angry with you for so long… I guess I refused to see that you were alone too,” Kara says softly. “I refused to see that you were left behind too.” Kara shifts to sit beside her, gently nudges her over a little to make room. Kara rubs a thumb over her temple.

 

“You’ve had to make some choices. For me. For yourself. For your family. I’m sorry I thought leaving me was just, easier for you.” Kara tries to smile, and her eyes are a little wet. Lena tucks her lips into her mouth, takes a shuddering breath.

 

“In there- you- I…” Lena doesn’t know how to finish her sentence, lets it hang. She’s never been so unsure around Kara, wonders when Kara began being more capable of taking care of her instead of the other way around.

 

“I only dreamt her up because she was the version of you that didn’t not want me around.”

 

“I’m sorry I ever let you think that there would ever be a version of me that didn’t want you around.”

 

Kara smiles at her, a small one, but her eyes sparkle with promise and her thumb leaves Lena’s temple to trail down, tucking hair behind her ear.

 

“How about you stop saying sorry, or avoiding me?”

 

Lena lets out a breath, smiling back hesitantly. Kara tucks her fingers into Lena’s hair, rests at the base of her neck.

 

“How’s Alex?”

 

“Physically? Strong as a mule. She’s not allowed here yet, though. She’s also highly irritated. She thinks she should wallop your ass- her words, not mine- for not telling them about your mental… proclivities.” Kara nudges Lena more, and Lena shifts as Kara pauses for a moment, looks to Lena like she’s asking permission. Lena nods stiffly, clenches her fist so that Kara will not see it tremble, and Kara makes to lie down. She tugs Lena downward, tucking Lena under her chin, and runs a soothing hand through her hair. Lena squeezes her eyes shut, breathes in the warmness of Kara. Her perfume is fruity, like berries.

 

“She’s worried about you… As am I,” Kara breathes into her hairline, and Lena allows herself to sink into the feeling, shyly bring an arm around Kara’s waist, turning into her fully. Kara absently strokes her hair and Lena nuzzles further in.

 

“Want to stay like this, for a while?” Kara asks, and Lena nods drowsily, her eyes already sliding shut. She’s already dreaming of pixel butterflies, and a laughing Kara shovelling potstickers in her mouth. She grins lazily at Kara, her hands tucked into a white lab coat and her messy hair (that refuses to stay in her bun) falling around her face.