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Beyond the Horizon

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The scent of meat wafting out of the tavern is enough to make her mouth water. It’s been weeks since they’ve set foot on land, and Lena hurries toward the establishment, eager to sink her teeth into some of the greasy, meaty ribs slowly cooking over the fire. Luke grumbles next to her, but Lena ignores him and pushes the door of the tavern open. The aroma is overpowering. It fills up her nose and warms her insides. Eli groans at the smell, making her smile despite the abrupt silence falling over the tavern at their entrance.

 

The establishment is full. The scents of rosemary, basil and a hint of garlic blend seamlessly with the stench of body odor and stale ale. The tendrils of smoke released from the kitchen dull the light coming from the lanterns dispersed around the establishment, as if a spell had been cast over the dining room. She can feel dozens of eyes on her as she swaggers toward a table. The occupants scramble away and the general chatter resumes around the room.

 

“I’m going to order us some food.” Eli leaves, bouncing on his feet as he approaches the bar and points at their table while he talks to the hostess.

 

“It’s dangerous for us to be here,” Luke mutters, eyeing the people around them as a waitress clears the table.

 

Lena acknowledges his assessment but remains otherwise silent. She has taken the spot at the end of the table, where she has the doors in her line of sight. Luke takes the seat on her right, closest to the wall, with a view of the whole floor. The gleam of candlelight on blonde hair catches the corner of her eye just as she is sitting down, but it disappears when she looks for it.

 

“We can’t ignore the call of a Silver Banshee. You know that.”

 

“But calling us here? Feels like too much of a coincidence to me. National City might be on the fringe of the Federation but it’s still the Federation’s territory…”

 

“I know,” Lena acquiesces, tilting her hat to hide her scar better. She was hoping that keeping to the seedier part of National City’s port would dissuade any Federation blue-coats from coming after her. She was hoping that the messenger would find her quickly, before anything happened. “It’s not the first time I’ve had warrants against me. I think I might have one from every country in the Federation.”

 

Eli comes back, taking the seat on her left as a waitress gives them tankards of ale. Another soon follows, bringing with her the hearty, rich scent of meat Lena got a whiff of when they were outside. It’s a feast, and Eli digs in immediately, to Lena’s amusement. She sips at her ale, glancing briefly at the entrance, and takes a rib before Eli and Luke finish them all.

 

“It’s the first time the Girl of Steel is after you though,” Luke says, in between bites.

 

“I heard she took out Vartox and his crew on her own,” Eli chimes in, wiping the grease off of his chin with the back of his hand. “That bastard had it coming anyway. Who calls their ship The Scorching Axe?”

 

Lena puffs out a laugh.

 

“You shouldn’t take her so lightly,” Luke mutters, pointing his meatless bone at her, revealing to the light the white scars on his calloused hands and arms, testament to a decade spent protecting her. “In the two years she’s been active no one has been able to even describe her.”

 

“Yeah, I heard that all who could, finish at the gallows.”

 

Lena turns toward Eli, skeptic. “If they all finished at the gallows, how could you have stumbled on this piece of information?”

 

“I mean- You know…” He shrugs, blushing slightly, and looks at Luke for support but finds none. “That’s what they all say. She’s like a legend.”

 

Luke guffaws, slapping his hand on the table, making everything on it tremble. “Well, Captain, looks like our sailing master here might have a crush.”

 

Eli chokes on his ale.

 

Lena pats his back as he coughs. “I’ll be sure to throw in a word for you when she tries to arrest me.”

 

“That’s not funny,” Eli grumbles, batting her hand away as she ruffles his hair. “You have to be careful. She’s the only one who has ever been to the Phantom Zone and come out alive. The only one,” he emphasizes with a swing of his tankard. Luke leans over the table and grabs Eli’s arm just before it hits another patron and instigates an all-out brawl.

 

Lena sighs. They were right, of course. Pirates have made themselves scarcer ever since the Girl of Steel has been on the hunt. She is a threat Lena can’t ignore, and yet Lena can’t help but be intrigued. The Last Daughter of Krypton… Her record was definitely impressive… She’d heard the rumors like everybody else but the more she listened, the more Lena was convinced that it was some made-up tale to scare children and give them nightmares. Lena knew all about those…

 

The atmosphere in the tavern gets more and more rowdy as the night goes on. Lena loves it; the noise, the drunken laughter, and the men and women coming down the stairs to pick their flavor of the night. It’s a drastic change from the peaceful sounds of the waves crashing against the hull of her ship. The potent smell of spice mixed with the sound of crackling firewood and the overwhelming heat of bodies pressed closely together is a nice change from the scent of seaweed, the immensity of the sea, and the burning sun on her cheeks. Lena sees some members of her crew come into the tavern and she motions them over, ordering another tray of food for them. They cheer their captain as more ale is poured and more meat is served. A general hush falls over the table when a man comes close to Luke, running his fingertips lightly across his shoulder while a woman grabs his hand. Together they guide her quartermaster up from the wooden table and up the stairs. Lena rolls her eyes as Luke shrugs at her with a small smile, and follows them to the cheers of her crew. For someone so concerned for her well-being he sure was easily distracted… not that she wouldn’t have gone if it had been her. Lucky bastard.

 

Jess joins them shortly after, having finished her inventory of the ship. She pushes Eli to the side to take a seat at the overcrowded table. It’s easy to forget, surrounded by warm laughter. It’s easy to forget in the buzz of ale and greasy food.

 

Something catches her eye again. A glimpse. Blonde hair moving at the edge of her vision.

 

Lena startles, looking around, only to rub her eyes when she finds nothing. She sighs, staring back at the amber liquid sloshing quietly in her tankard, and wonders if she hasn’t had too much to drink already. She sees Eli fall over the table in laughter, clapped on the back by another crew member while more ale is being served, and notices that Jess has now a woman sitting on her lap, feeding her. Lena chuckles and tips her hat to her.

 

Her vision blurs slightly as she finishes her ale. The call was making her nervous. The first and only time Lena met a Silver Banshee, she’d had to leave her home and her life behind. Flee on a boat and never look back. Take to the sea with only Luke for company. She had only been fourteen, a gangly teenager, used to the lavish and comfortable life her family provided. Old enough to understand why she had to leave and yet too young to really realize what she was leaving behind.

 

A laugh catches her attention. Lena doesn’t know why her senses are tinkling or why the hair at the back of her neck bristles at the view of blonde hair, laughing eyes and rosy lips. The woman is gorgeous. She is giving her apron back to a nice looking lady behind the bar who looks more of a mother-hen than the owner of a frowned-upon establishment in the Federation’s jurisdiction. The waitress laughs and Lena might be slightly intoxicated, but the entrancement is very real. Too real. The way the light reflects on that cascading golden mane as she unties her hair is quite marvelous. Worthy of being painted by the best artists in the Luthorian Islands, or sculpted in marble so that it would never suffer the torments of time. Sailors have all been warned about sirens, about the call of the sea, that could draw a person further and further toward the end of the world, until they just couldn’t find their way back home anymore.

 

She might be a siren, Lena thinks in awe before shaking the thought away. She shouldn’t. She’s waiting for the Silver Banshee’s messenger. She can’t be distracted… and yet Lena itches to go to her and lose herself in her eyes, the color of which she can only imagine.

 

Her heart stops when the woman locks eyes with her. Seeing her was nothing compared to being seen by her. Having those stormy blue eyes pierce her soul feels like a religious experience.

 

“You okay there, Captain?” Lena blinks slowly as Jess stares at her from between the breasts of the woman on her lap. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

 

“No, I’m good. Just tired.” Lena rubs her eyes slightly and glances back toward the bar, noticing with a bit of sadness that the waitress has left.

 

The night goes on and the messenger has yet to arrive. A waitress refills her tankard. Lena sips at it, waving goodbye to some of her crew members hauling a drunkenly singing Eli out of the tavern and back to the ship, while others still celebrate and enjoy the kitchen’s delicacies and the people calling for their attention. The noise keeps her from falling asleep. The rowdy crowd keeps her entertained, but Lena can’t stop herself from drumming her fingers on the table as she waits. She cracks her neck and takes another sip of her ale, glancing back at the doors. Her foot hits the wooden leg of the table rhythmically. Some men and women try to catch her eyes, but Lena always glances away, back toward the doors.

 

She’s getting antsy and she hates it.

 

“I’ll be right back,” she says pointing toward the bar. Jess nods, waving her away.

 

Lena passes the bar; pursing her lips at the odd look the hostess gives her. The noise gets a bit less overwhelming the further she goes into the winding halls of the tavern. Feeling restless and slightly drunk, she bypasses drunken patrons and entwined bodies hiding in corners. The hardwood floor creaks under her boots and Lena runs her fingertips along the wooden planks of the walls. She hears giggles and moans coming down from the floor above, and dull thuds reverberating on the wood, but the air is fresher in here and Lena breathes deeply. There must be an open window somewhere letting in the cool night air.

 

She walks aimlessly.

 

Until she finds her.

 

The blonde waitress lets out a gasp of surprise when they knock into each other. Lena is surprised too by the hard, sinewy muscles she can feel under the woman’s clothes. She is surprised by the awkward smile, the twinkling blue eyes and the way all of her senses scream at her to run away.

 

“I’m sorry,” the waitress whispers with a slight blush coloring her cheeks, and steadies herself by grabbing Lena’s forearms before running her palms along her sleeves. Lena squirms a bit, trying to hide the blades she has strapped to her arms. “I wasn’t looking where I was going I- uh, hi!” Her blue eyes runs all over Lena’s face as if committing it to memory, lingering on the top of her nose where Lena knows a hint of her scar is still visible despite the hat sitting atop of her head. “Your eyes are really green,” the woman blurts out, making Lena laugh.

 

“And who are you exactly?”

 

“Just- just a waitress,” she shrugs with a small smile. “How did you like Noonan’s? We serve the best food in National City.”

 

“I liked the view.”

 

The waitress blushes and takes a step forward, invading Lena’s space with a bite on her lip. “I saw you look at me earlier.”

 

“You were quite the sight...” Lena trails off, rendered mute by the hesitant fingers running up her sides, pressing fine lines into the leather. Lena stares at the nimble fingers exploring every inch of her ribcage, and jolts a bit at feeling the warm fingers suddenly caress her throat, tilting her head up into searching blue eyes.

 

The distant sound of giggles break her out of her trance, and Lena steps back, confused and suddenly wary of the woman before her.

 

“I- I was being too forward,” the woman apologizes, face falling, and retreats quickly back in the shadows. “Please, don’t say anything to Noonan. I- I’ll just go.”

 

Lena grabs her wrist before she can leave. The waitress turns back toward her with wide blue eyes and Lena gulps, slightly confused at her own reaction. There’s something weird going on. Lena can feel it in her bones. Her instinct is going all haywire in the presence of this woman and yet she can’t let her go… Lena feels like she might regret it if she does.

 

She is guided deeper into the tavern, far away from the raucous laughter and stomping feet. The permanent smokiness lingering in the air seems to fade away the further they walk and Lena feels anticipation and some kind of nervousness twisting her insides. She is intrigued. With a flick from her wrist, the pommel of her small dagger falls into the inside of her palm as she is lead by the hand further and further into the tavern.

 

They stop by a flimsy wooden door. The waitress gives her a small, hesitant smile before opening the door. It’s dark inside except for a window letting the moonlight into the room, and a single candle flickering on a table. Lena tenses as the door shuts loudly behind her and shadows flank her on both sides.

 

“Kinky,” Lena quips, flicking her other wrist, and feels the pommel of her second dagger fall in the palm of her hand. She sees the glint of two spadroons coming at her. Their tips press to the sides of her neck. Lena chuckles seeing the waitress turn around and change before her eyes. The skirt is discarded only to reveal white breeches underneath. Another man appears from the shadows and holds out a blue frock coat with gold laced buttons that tells Lena all she needs to know. The woman puts it on with practiced ease and faces her again, nearly unrecognizable. Gone was the air of innocence Lena had seen earlier. It was replaced by a gravitas, an intensity, and an acuteness - especially in the way her eyes darted to Lena’s hands, as if she knew what Lena was up to. “You’re her,” Lena chuckles, genuinely enjoying herself. She’s always liked a challenge and this one felt like the biggest she would ever have. “You’re the Girl of Steel.”

 

“Commodore Kara Zor-El,” she rectifies with a flitting grimace at hearing the title Lena gave her. “Lena Luthor, you are under arrest-”

 

“Captain Lena Luthor,” Lena interrupts with an insolent smile at the annoyed look the Commodore gives her. She feels the tip of a spadroon pierce the skin of her neck, drawing the slightest drop of blood. A sharp look from the Commodore is enough to make the man on her left relieve the pressure from her neck. “Well,” Lena trails off, her eyes darting around the room and her body tensing just as the Commodore makes a move toward her. “Looks like you’ve got me, Commodore.”

 

She throws her first dagger into the chest of the man on her right. His arm falters. With a flick of her wrist the dagger is yanked back out from his chest and gets back into her hand. Lena uses the small moment of surprise to grab the arm of the man on her left, slide around his back, and use him as a shield as the Commodore rushes toward her, spadroon unsheathed, and ready to strike. Lena presses her dagger to the man’s throat.

 

Kara Zor-El tightens her grip on her sword with cold fury in her eyes. “There’s nowhere for you to run.”

 

“I beg to differ.” Lena retreats back toward the window she has seen earlier, dragging the officer with her. “I hope this isn’t the last time we talk,” she winks and slashes the man’s throat before throwing his body to the furious Commodore. She dives off of the window as a bullet whizzes past her head. Lena lands among bushes and runs.

 

***

 

Luke will surely tease her when she tells him how she got tricked by big blue eyes and an even nicer smile. Lena chuckles derisively at her luck, now forced to run through the seedy part of National City’s port, chased like a dog by those bloody blue coats. It certainly made the night more entertaining than it had been so far.

 

The bullets whizzing past her are part of the fun, as are the yells and the rattle the Federation officers make when running after her. Her boots hit the cobblestones with soft, light thumps, and the cold night air chases away the slight fog of drunkenness that had overtaken her mind back in the tavern. The shouts resonate in the night, people grumble from the windows, and Lena chuckles as ten blue-coats run past her without seeing her. No wonder they waited for her to be alone to make their move. Lena can already picture the chaos they would have caused by attacking her in the tavern surrounded by her crew and patrons of all sorts. Either Kara Zor-El didn’t want to make a scene, or she knew she would have never won in an establishment filled to the brim with characters that didn’t need excuses to join in on a fight.

 

She can’t believe she fell for another pretty face…

 

Lena veers off in a small street where the stench of human waste permeates the air. There’s not a lot of space in between the buildings. The ground is littered with filth, pieces of wood and lumpy shapes unrecognizable in the dark, but the many twists and turns are enough for her to outrun the blue-coats.

 

She runs, light on her feet, out of the city and into the silent port. The night plays in her favor and Lena blends in with the shadows beside a fisherman’s hut, smelling the remnants of fish entrails wafting in the air. She needs to get back to her ship. She needs to retrieve her weapons. She would have never parted with them if it weren’t for the damned Silver Banshees and their stupid rules!

 

Lena wonders if it had been a trap all along… If Commodore Zor-El somehow forced Maggie to give her the information in the first place just to lure her into Federation waters. Lena hopes not. She and Maggie had their differences but Maggie wouldn’t betray her like that, would she?

 

She follows the sound of the surf and the smell of salt water. Lena tries to be careful, but the wooden quay creaks under her feet, making her flinch and scrutinize the shadows. It feels weird to be the one being chased. Lena was used to it being the other way around. Despite all the warrants issued against her, she had never really been in danger of being captured. They knew to leave her alone. The display she had made of John Corben and his crew had been enough to ward off any Federation officers or other mercenaries from coming after her ship.

 

But the Federation sending The Girl of Steel after her was quite flattering, even though it’s been awhile since she’s crossed swords with them… For the past two years Lena has solely been focused on Daxam’s merchant ships, and she can only wonder what she’s done now to piss off the Federation enough for them to send in their best asset after her. A woman known mostly from terrified, drunken rumors whispered over a pint of ale in the darkened rooms of dusty taverns, as the news of more and more pirates finishing at the gallows reached their ears. A woman rumored to have accomplished exploits and atrocities worthy of legend before even joining the rank of the Federation.

 

Lena is intrigued, but she’d rather stay alive. She jumps down onto a large slab of stone, and from there to the beach. The sand is soft under her feet, muffling the sound of her running. A long stretch of sand lies before her, highlighted by the moonlight. She peers over her shoulder and realizes that she is finally free of her pursuers and as far away from the city as she can be. She might have to spend the night outside until the activity at the port picks up again, enough for her to blend in with the masses and escape, or steal a barque and row back to her ship. Lena sighs, breathing the cold night air, with the scent of salt water sticking to her skin. The sand is soft and wet under her boots. The waves sing the familiar song Lena would hear back home, when their gentle lapping would lull her to sleep just outside of her window. Lena sighs and stares at the horizon where the dark sky blends in with the sea. She misses home. She misses her brother…

 

Her peaceful reflections come to an abrupt end when someone tackles her to the ground. Her hat flies off and Lena splutters as she gets a mouthful of sand. Mayhem ensues. There’s scuffle in the sand, a few grunts and a few punches, and then Lena is on her back, both of her wrists encased in strong hands, and her body trapped as her assailant sits heavily on top of her.

 

Commodore Zor-El pants above her. Tendrils of blonde hair fall over Lena’s face, caressing her cheeks to the rhythm of their breathing.

 

“Hi, love,” Lena grins. The scrunched look the Commodore gives her is enough to make her smile despite her predicament. “I guess you really wanted us to talk…”

 

The Girl of Steel gives her an odd look, as if she was trying to dissect her mind and understand something that was eluding her. “I’ll admit I’ve underestimated you,” she finally says with narrowed eyes, and she presses harder against Lena’s wrists, before taking the daggers out from under her sleeves and storing them in her belt. “But I’ve still got you.”

 

“Wait,” Lena grunts, laughing slightly at the Commodore severe expression as she examines the straps and wires Lena has on her forearms. “If- If I have to be hanged because of you… I- I have one request,” Lena says, catching her breath. She needs to buy herself some time. Just enough for her to figure something out. But having Kara Zor-El on top of her, looking at her with those insanely intense blue eyes, and at the same time being immersed in the barely-there scent of honey and mint wafting off of her skin makes it quite difficult for Lena to concentrate.

 

The Commodore frowns, looking back at her with sadness filling her eyes briefly. “I’m listening,” she says, loosening her grip slightly.

 

“A kiss,” Lena blurts, cursing herself for getting sidetracked again. But realizing that the waitress was really The Girl of Steel only increased her infatuation, and Lena knows that being so clearly helpless under her is just making it worse.

 

The demand isn’t received the way she thought it would be. Lena would have expected a clear refusal or for her to be hauled away and dragged to the gallows immediately… and she would have been okay with it. What she hadn’t expected was the blush coloring the Commodore’s cheeks or for her to look down at her lips fleetingly, hesitatingly. Lena hadn’t expected to see the innocence she saw in the waitress reappear in the Commodore’s eyes. After what had happened in the tavern, she had thought it had been an act.

 

“From me?”

 

Lena shrugs, faking nonchalance, floored at seeing Kara Zor-El actually considering it. “Do you see anyone else?”

 

“Right now?”

 

“Well, if I have to die… I’d like to have the memory of someone else’s lips before kissing those of death…” Lena says in mock seriousness.

 

There’s a slight pause where the both of them just stare at each other, incredibly close and yet not close enough, until Lena grins at seeing the corner of Commodore Zor-El’s lips tug into a smile.

 

“You’re not dying yet,” she says, with a slight roll of her eyes. “We still have two weeks before we get back to Metropolis.”

 

Lena is hauled up to her feet. Her hands are quickly tied with thick rope. “Was that a yes?” She gives an experimental tug at her bonds, only to have the Commodore tighten them even more, and drag her across the sand by her wrists.

 

“Behave.”

 

Lena chuckles, escorted back to where she was sure the Commodore’s officers would be waiting for them.

 

***

 

There are shadows hiding in between the rocks bordering the beach. Lena trudges in the sand, distracted, and tries hard to determine if those shadows are friends or foes, because judging by the stiffness in the Commodore’s shoulders, and the sharp tug she gives to her bound hands, Lena knows they are definitely not Commodore Zor-El’s officers.

 

Lena whistles twice. Sharp and short. She is grabbed by the coat by the Commodore, her angry blue eyes looking at her warily, and asked what she’s doing. But Lena doesn’t answer, waiting anxiously for the hoped-for answer to her signal. Nothing… It wasn’t her crew either, Lena realizes with dread.

 

“They aren’t with you,” the Commodore states, seeing her perplexed expression.

 

Lena shakes her head. “Cut these off,” she says, shoving her bound hands at the Commodore.

 

“No.”

 

“They aren’t with me and they aren’t with you,” Lena hisses as she is tugged forward and forced to follow behind the Commodore. “But they followed us here and something tells me it’s not to have a talk.” Her protests go unnoticed until she is tugged and shoved hard behind driftwood just as a bullet whizzes past her head. Lena stares at the Commodore incredulously. “You saved me…”

 

Her comment goes unanswered once again.

 

“There are five of them,” Commodore Zor-El says, nostrils flaring and completely focused. “They are scattered among the rocks but I saw two hiding behind the big boulder on the right, the one who is shooting at us is crouched in the sand on the left and there are two others waiting for us on the other side of the pier.”

 

Lena would have been impressed if the Commodore wasn’t being so stubborn. “Cut the rope off,” Lena asks again as bullets poke holes in the driftwood.

 

“Quiet!”

 

Lena glowers at being ignored again. “I hope you’re as good as the rumors say,” she growls, and shoves the Commodore out of their cover. The look of pure outrage the woman give her makes Lena think that her death will be long and painful if the Commodore ever has the chance to capture her again. But there is something that Lena needs to know and she runs out from behind the driftwood too, as bullets rain down around the Commodore while she tries to find something else to take cover behind.

 

A bullet hits the sand just next to her feet and Lena understands that they are after her, too.

 

She changes the course of her run and heads straight for the boulder their attackers were hiding behind. Two pirates come out of the shadow and rush toward her with their cutlasses. Lena dodges a wild swing and elbows the first one in the gut, hearing the distinct crack of a rib, before tripping him. There’s not a lot she can do with her hands still bound and her daggers taken away, but when the second comes at her, Lena kicks some sand into his eyes and runs toward him, shoving her weight into his chest as they both topple to the sand.

 

She brings her hands down into his face, once, twice until she feels his nose break under her fist and his head loll to the side, unconscious. Lena barely rolls away in time from the next attack. She should have killed the first one when she had the chance, Lena thinks, sidestepping from another sharp swing. Her back hits the rock and Lena ducks just in time to avoid having her head cut off, only to be kneed in the face. She groans, feeling blood rush from her nose as she is grabbed by the throat. She gags a bit as his rotten breath plays over her face, and in the moonlight Lena sees that it is not just a pirate pressing his cutlass to her throat, but a Maaldorian, a slave trader from Slaver’s Bay, recognizable by the small metal protruding horns he has stuck on his shaven head.

 

“What are you doing so far from your wretched island?” Lena hisses as he presses the cutlass harder into her throat. “Not enough poor souls to sell? You venture into Federation territory now?”

 

“Someone has paid a lot for you. Enough for us to co-”

 

His reply remains unfinished as a spadroon pierces his chest. The tip stops just shy of stabbing Lena too. His body falls to the ground, revealing Commodore Zor-El just behind, blood splattered on her face and neck, nearly drenching the white of her clothes. Blood that didn’t seem to belong to her, as she stands before Lena, her eyes wild and barely winded. If Lena didn’t believe the rumors about the Girl of Steel before, she is certainly more inclined to believe them now…

 

“You and I need to talk-” The Commodore tells her only to be interrupted by a dozen pirates circling them with pistols aimed and ready to fire.

 

“Well, well… Look who we have here…”

 

Lena tenses. She would recognize that drawl and breathy voice anywhere.

 

The sea of pistols parts to reveal Roulette grinning at them.

 

“Take them!”

 

Lena huffs as a Maaldorian grabs her by the arm and push her forward. Commodore Zor-El grunts and thrashes around as they confiscate her weapons. A Maaldorian is thrown in the air while another crashes against a boulder. Lena hears the click of a pistol and she reaches for the Commodore’s arm, stopping her from getting herself killed. Maaldorians weren’t known for their patience, and Lena knows that if she wants to get out of this alive, she’ll need Commodore Zor-El with her.

 

Roulette gives Lena a small smile, her gun still aimed at them in warning, and then walks away. The Commodore’s arm is tensed, hard as steel in between her hands, clearly ready to fight, but Lena squeezes it, imploring her slightly to stop or she’ll get the both of them killed. Lena grunts as they are pushed forward again, made to follow after Roulette but Commodore Zor-El doesn’t budge. There’s wariness and defiance in her blue eyes and Lena shakes her head cautiously, clenching her jaw at seeing the Commodore’s stubbornness. They are surrounded. There is just no way for them to survive if a fight breaks out.

 

“Move,” a Maaldorian grunts.

 

Lena sees the barrel of a pistol aiming at blonde hair and by the way the Commodore steels herself, Lena knows she is preparing for a fight. Ready to fight them with reckless abandon and fresh blood still dripping down her face. Roulette stops, glancing over her shoulder, and Lena raises her arms, passing her bound wrists over the Commodore’s head to hold her waist tightly in her arms.

 

“What are you doing?” Commodore Zor-El hisses, trying to get her arms out of Lena’s grip.

 

“Saving your life,” Lena grunts as the pistol is now pressed hard into the small of her back.

 

Roulette gives a sharp nod to her minions and Lena is pushed forward with a seething Commodore in her arms. They walk quickly until Lena sees five barques on the beach. The waves lap at their hull. They are shoved into one of them, immediately followed by seven Maaldorians with their pistols aimed at them. Lena releases Commodore Zor-El from her hold and she feels her shudder as they leave the shore. There’s a flash of unease across her face when water splashes them a bit, a dark storm clouding her blue eyes before it disappears, her expression schooled away with practiced breathing. Lena frowns, storing that information away.

 

She doesn’t know what is going on but there was someone out there, hell-bent on capturing her, and as Roulette’s ship looms over them, Lena swears to get to the bottom of it, with her dagger lodged deep in their heart if she has to.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

There’s something mesmerizing in the undulating dance of a flame. Something dangerous and elusive. Something beautiful… That’s what Lena thinks about when she watches Commodore Zor-El pace around their cell. A wild restless flame in a blue frock coat with gold laced buttons, and blood smeared down her face. A furious flame dancing along the floorboards as if her impatient pacing could somehow burn through the wood.

 

Watching the Commodore distracts her from the simmering urge to strangle Roulette to death. It nearly makes her forget about the throbbing pain on her cheek and the way her clothes stick to her skin. Lena shudders as rivulets of water slides down her neck. Her wet hair clings to her temples, tickling her cheeks, and Lena huffs, trying to brush the damp tendrils off of her face with her forearm. Her shackles rattle. Lena grimaces as her hand grazes her bruise.

 

She will kill Roulette. Slowly. Painfully. Skin her alive and let her tattooed skin dry in the sun. Lena still feels her blood boil at Roulette’s petty provocation. She can’t believe that snake pushed her in the water… But she should have expected it. She should’ve known Roulette would use this occasion to try and humiliate her. Their years of rivalries should’ve made Lena a little bit more wary of that small smug smile Roulette gave her as they were about to board the Sea Serpent. But Roulette pushing her in the water isn’t what infuriates her the most. Lena clenches her jaw and breathes deeply through her nose. She could’ve tried to escape. She could’ve… But she had been too stunned to react. Roulette’s crew had fished her out of the water, wet and disgruntled, before she could think of escaping. The crew’s sneers and whistles still resonate in her mind, making her itch for blood. It makes her even more appreciative for what the Commodore did for her and the way she put a stop to their mocking laughter by pushing one of the crew members overboard.

 

Lena doesn’t know what to think of this woman. She’s been pacing in their humid and stuffy cell ever since they’ve been thrown in it. It was hard to determinate how long they’ve been copped up in here, but Lena would say it had been at least a few hours and the Commodore hasn’t yet showed any sign of fatigue. It was… fascinating. The rumors, while accurate on certain points, have clearly neglected other points that Lena would have appreciated knowing beforehand. The Commodore’s propensity to switch between a sweet and innocent young maiden to a cold and impassive killer is one of them. Lena would have never believed it if she hadn’t seen it herself. It was… disconcerting and it has only increased her curiosity. Looking at her pacing in the cell with that barely controlled violence, Lena would have never guessed the Commodore was the same woman who blushed and stuttered when she had asked for a kiss, or that the waitress who lured her with a pretty smile was the same woman who tackled her to the ground and restrained her in matter of seconds. It was hard to get her mind around it, and Lena can’t believe she’s been tricked so easily…

 

Lena watches the tension get locked tight in the set of the Commodore’s shoulders. It makes her think of cold nights when she would huddle near the fireplace as a child, fascinated by the dancing flames ravaging the logs and splintering the wood. Lex had often reprimanded her when she’d gotten too close. He would warn her not to play with the fire, but Lena was too enthralled by the heat burning her cheek to listen to his warnings.

 

The Girl of Steel was nothing like she expected.

 

A muffled scream startles her from her musings.

 

Chains rattle.

 

Lena sighs at the determined look she sees on the woman’s face. Commodore Zor-El breathes deeply and then rams her shoulder for the umpteenth time in the door. Lena is impressed. The metal bars rattle violently at the impact and the clanging sound seems to be just a bit louder than the previous ones.

 

The ships sways and the hinges are still intact.

 

Lena shifts a bit to peer at the wooden door separating them from the rest of the crew. Nothing. The Commodore grumbles, rolling her shoulders, and resumes her pacing with a frown marring her face. A flame, Lena muses. Sinister and poignant, like the wildfires ravaging Infernia every few years. She’s got to see one of those wildfires on her very first voyage on a pirate ship.

 

After months of running, hiding, and stealing, Luke had finally found a Captain who had agreed to hire him despite the inexperienced youngster glued to his side. She had stuck to Luke’s side, helping him in his duties to the best of her abilities, despite the mocking laughs of the crew every time she’d lose her footing with the wild swaying of the ship. She’d always glare at the Captain’s kind and penetrating gaze, hiding just shy of Luke’s shadow. Lena had been wary and afraid. The Captain didn’t speak much but her orders were clear and succinct when she did. She had this quiet authority and this elegant confidence that made Lena stare at her every time she would stroll down the deck or inspect their work. One look from her was enough to make any members of the crew behave when things would get too rowdy on the ship. Captain Madi Coptaire was nothing like how she had pictured pirates to be.

 

They weren’t planning to stop by Infernia but when black voluptuous smoke darkened the sky around the massive island, Captain Coptaire decided to stop and lend assistance. Lena still remembers being terrified by the giant beasts of fire and smoke rising up to the sky. Terrified, as she saw them hurtle down the hills and ravage the verdant forests. Barely fifteen, and used to another way of life, Lena had watched Captain Coptaire and the crew join Infernians at the bonfires they were lighting on the beach in honor to their gods. Lena had remained still, burying her feet in the sand and feeling safe with the water up to her knees, even when her Captain beckoned her closer. It had only been Luke’s light push on her back that made her move forward. It had only been his reassuring hand on her shoulder that made her sit next to the Captain and listen to the songs the Infernians sang and the stories they told around the bonfire, sharing grilled fish and drinks.

 

They had stayed for days, lending a hand in the reconstruction of a few homes and catching fish in the turquoise water. They stayed until the taste of ashes settled in the back of her throat and the smoke clung to her skin and permeated every strand of her hair.

 

Lena had loved every second of it.

 

Another loud clunk, followed by a barely muffled scream, resonates in their cell, starling Lena out of her memories. She blinks, trying hard to forget or keep – Lena isn’t sure – the memory of her Captain’s smile. The Commodore’s harsh muttering makes her think of the smoke rising over Infernia. Her obvious frustration and restlessness heralds the destruction she’s capable of…

 

“Relax,” Lena mutters.

 

The rattling ceases.

 

Lena stands her ground when the Commodore glares at her.

 

The light in the holding cell flicker with the slow, monotonous rocking of the ship.

 

Lena feels like time has become meaningless. Only measured by the waves crashing on the hull as the ship sails far away from National City. They were going quite fast. Lena can feel it. The Sea Serpent wasn’t the toughest ship around, but it was easily the fastest. They might only have a few days left before they arrive at Slaver’s Bay and Lena doesn’t know if she can take anymore of the Commodore’s restlessness without feeling anxious herself.

 

“Have a seat,” Lena insists, patting the spot next to her, and sighs heavily when the Commodore ignores her. Again.

 

The pacing resumes. The floorboard creaks. The ship sways. The light flickers around them.

 

Being trapped with the Commodore is less fun than Lena had imagined it would be. Lex’s warning echoes in her mind but the temptation to poke at the fire is too irresistible for Lena to resist and the Girl of Steel was a fire she’d never encountered before.

 

“Are you mad at me?” She asks, partly teasing and partly curious.

 

The rattling ceases.

 

Commodore Zor-El focuses back on her, making Lena feel rebellious and slightly impudent. It does feel like playing with fire, Lena muses, hiding her smile with the raise of an eyebrow when the seething flame stalks toward her with narrowed eyes.

 

“Mad at you?” Commodore Zor-El scoffs, hovering over her. “Why would I be mad at you? Certainly not for the fact that you got us captured and chained!”

 

“The sarcasm is duly noted,” Lena drawls and rises up to her feet with deliberate flippancy just to annoy the Commodore a bit more. “They would have riddled your body with bullets. Only to keep you alive long enough to survive the trip if it weren’t for me. People usually say thank you when someone saves their life.”

 

Confusion flashes in the Commodore’s eyes. Confusion and surprise before it turns into a scowl, making Lena frown when she recognizes the same cold and guarded look she was given back at the tavern.

 

“I don’t need your protection,” the Girl of Steel utters quietly and distinctively. Each syllable meant to remind Lena who they were and which side they were on. “Make no mistake. After this is over I'll bring you in. You'll face a trial like every other pirate I’ve caught before you... ”

 

Lena huffs in disbelief and eyes the blue frock coat critically. “You wear that fancy coat to make everyone think you’re good, but we both know that’s not why you wear it,” Lena taunts. “Does it make you feel better to be in control? I can see it. You-”

 

“You don’t know me,” Kara Zor-El hisses, steeping even closer, enough for Lena to feel the heat of her glare burn her cheek. The straining cords in the Commodore’s neck, the clench of her jaw, and the tension in the set of her shoulders are all signs telling Lena to back off before she burns herself on the barely contained rage hiding behind those blue eyes. Lena stands her ground and observes the Commodore quietly.

 

“But I know you,” Commodore Zor-El continues, looking at Lena with an arrogance of her own. “You fled the Luthorian Islands at fourteen, helped by a Federation officer turned rogue. Your brother even halted his war against the Federation just to look for you, and yet you never went back. You became a pirate and took command of The Singing Nightmare after the death of your Capt-”

 

“You’ve done your research,” Lena sneers, hiding her surprise and unease with contempt. Lex’s warning echoes in her mind, but Lena disregards it, clenching her jaw instead, and glares right back. “Go on. What else do you know about me?”

 

“Your first action as a Captain was to kill John Corben, the mercenary paid by your brother to find you and bring you back home. You hanged his crew from the mast of his ship just to show anyone who dared come after you how cold and ruthless you were. You wanted to make people fear you. Make them whisper your name as if you were their worst nightmare...”

 

“I’ve already killed two of your officers. Aren’t you afraid I might do the same to the rest of your crew?”

 

The Commodore doesn’t even flinch at her threat. She looks at Lena with that same curiosity that made her feel like she was being dissected.

 

“We both know that underneath all of that confidence… that sass and brutality,” Commodore Zor-El says with that knowing look in her eyes that makes Lena fear her more than any tales of her exploits ever can, “we both know you’re still the scared fourteen-year-old who fled her home. What happened, Lena? What are you running away from?”

 

Lena bristles at hearing the Commodore use her name so casually. She hates how her carefully crafted persona has been so easily deconstructed in just a few sentences. She hates how the Commodore seems genuinely curious and she hates the quiet understanding she sees in those blue eyes. It makes her feel naked and raw, and the Girl of Steel knows it.

 

“Looks like you’ve got me all figured out, Girl of Steel” Lena jeers, masking her turmoil and discomfort with a derisive smile. Commodore Zor-El looks at her with something akin to pity, and Lena hates it even more. She huffs, fleeing the small corner Commodore Zor-El has trapped her in. Her shackles rattle and she tries to ignore the curious gaze burning a hole in the back of her neck. It’s not something she can win. There’s nothing for her to contest. Everything the Commodore said was true, and if Lena can’t win, she might as well torpedo the conversation altogether. “You might not need my protection but I need yours.” She walks to the other end of the cell, as far away from the Commodore as their small cell allows her, and sits, making herself comfortable. “Someone paid Roulette to capture us. I don’t know who and I don’t know why,” she says, cutting off the Commodore’s question before she can speak. “All I know is that I need you alive and kicking when they’ll take us to Slaver’s Bay. So, please, stop pacing.” Lena chuckles derisively because now she’s the one feeling restless. She’s the one feeling like she might jump out of her skin. “You’re giving me a headache,” she lies and closes her eyes in an attempt to forget the ache that has bloomed in her chest.

 

“Well, you’re still my prisoner,” Commodore Zor-El concedes after a while. “It’s my duty to protect you until I release you to the custody of the High Council in Metropolis.”

 

“Lucky me,” Lena grumbles and clenches her jaw when she hears a soft chuckle come from the Commodore.

 

The wood creaks. Commodore Zor-El finally listens to her and sits on the floor.

 

Lena tries to relax and let go of the fight or flight response thrumming in her veins. It wasn’t how she saw their conversation going. Lena hadn’t expected the Commodore to know so much about her and to use that knowledge so efficiently. It makes her feel unbalanced and uneasy, and so Lena feigns sleep when the Commodore tries to talk to her, unwilling to reveal anything more about herself than she meant to.

 

Kara Zor-El might be a flame but her flame feels too much like wildfire for Lena’s taste, and while Infernians saw immolation as an honorable death, Lena isn’t too keen on trying it.

 

Kara Zor-El wouldn’t be worth the pain.

 

***

 

“Are you awake?”

 

Lena keeps her eyes closed, making sure to keep her breathing even. Commodore Zor-El shuffles closer to her. It makes Lena regret ever asking her to relax. She’d rather have the Commodore pacing and huffing angrily than staring at her.

 

“Lena?”

 

Lena ignores her.

 

“I know you’re awake…”

 

“What?” Lena opens her eyes reluctantly to see the Commodore looking at her.

 

“I’m bored.”

 

Lena gapes at the Commodore and frowns when a small sheepish smile appears on those infuriating lips. Lena huffs and rolls her eyes. It doesn’t stop Commodore Zor-El telling her every minute thing that has happened while Lena had been asleep – more like ignoring the Commodore – and diverse observations she’s made. That’s how Lena learns that Kara Zor-El can estimate the number of a crew by the thumping of their boots. That’s also how Lena learns that the guard posted at their door has a weak left knee because the Commodore can distinguish a person from another just by listening to them walk.

 

There has been little to no interaction with the Sea Serpent’s crew. Lena suspects they’ve been warned by their Captain. Roulette knew her too well to let her crew spend any more time than necessary in her vicinity. Everyone wants something. Lena has a knack for guessing those wants and desires and playing them in her favor… It would be a mistake to underestimate the lengths people would go to attain them, and Roulette knew her too well to take the risk of Lena causing an uprising with her crew.

 

But as hard as she tries to, Lena hasn’t been able to break through Commodore Zor-El’s defenses. It seems to change with the masks she seems to wear and it surprises Lena every time. It was bewildering… It fascinated Lena as much as it terrified her. Especially when Commodore Zor-El begins to tell her how she befriended the rat Lena heard running past their cell from time to time... Lena had thought about escaping before docking in Slaver’s Bay. She had run every possible scenario she could think of while pretending to be asleep but she had disregarded them one by one. The Commodore was a wild card she didn’t how to use and that made her more dangerous than useful. Despite the Commodore’s assurance that she would protect Lena as long as she was in her custody, it still made her unpredictable. Lena doesn’t plan an escape with an interrogation mark, especially when that interrogation mark wants to drag her back to Metropolis to be hanged. She’d rather take her chances with Roulette, the enemy she knows, than spent any more time with Kara Zor-El. Besides, escaping now would prevent her from knowing who paid Roulette to capture her.

 

Lena doesn’t know for sure who that could be. She’s made more enemies than friends in the past decade. It would be hard to accuse anyone for sure… Lena nods here and there, feigning to listen to whatever the Commodore is saying. She should have listened to Luke... She’d been too distracted by the Silver Banshee’s call to think through her actions before she sailed toward National City… Lena doesn’t know what to expect once they’ll dock to Slaver’s Bay, but she isn’t worried. Her crew will find her and they’ll regret messing with her… Lena just has to be patient and wait for the right opportunity.

 

“Lena?”

 

But first, she has to survive the Commodore’s endless chatter.

 

“What are you thinking about?”

 

“Nothing. Close your eyes and sleep,” Lena grumbles, closing her eyes once again. Intent on getting all the rest she can before they arrive in Slaver’s Bay.

 

“I’m not tired.”

 

Lena groans, rubbing the bridge of her nose, only to wince when her hand bumps against her bruise.

 

“Wait, let me see...”

 

“No.” Lena bats the eager hand away and ignores the Commodore’s slight pout. Lena freezes when warm fingers slide over her jaw and forces her to remain still. She gulps at the way those intense blue eyes roam over her face. Deprived of any other activity, Commodore Zor-El has decided to solely focus her attention on her and Lena isn’t sure how to feel about it.

 

“It’s not broken, and it looks like the swelling has gone down a bit.”

 

“How would you know, Commodore?” Lena tries to get away, but she is stopped by another set of fingers curling at the back of her neck.

 

“Kara…” Commodore Zor-El whispers, looking at Lena intently. It sounds like an apology and a truce. Lena only nods, trapped inside blue eyes, liking how the name sounds inside her mind. Sharp and melodic. Familiar and soothing. A name she could see herself whisper tenderly, lovingly, ardently… “My sister is a surgeon and a Captain in my fleet. I’ve picked up a few things here and there.”

 

“Sister?” Lena blinks, trying hard to remain in the conversation and not stray into dangerous territories despite having Kara stand so close to her.

 

“Adopted,” Kara explains with a soft smile.

 

“Are you worried she might not find you?”

 

“I know she will. I’m more worried about what she’s going to say when she does. This wasn’t exactly what we had planned,” she chuckles. “It seems that I’ve underestimated the situation,” Kara adds, looking at her with that same curious, hesitant gaze Lena saw at the beach. It makes her feel warm, and her body tenses with another kind of tension, some kind of anticipation as she watches blue eyes flick down to her lips. Lena doesn’t know what motivates Kara Zor-El and that confusion is as unsettling as it is arousing… Until Lena sees her gaze stray toward her scar.

 

“What do you think you are doing?” Lena grabs the offending hand, just shy from her forehead, and flicks it away, with a slight clench of her jaw.

 

Kara looks at her, surprised and a bit shocked, as if she wasn’t aware of what she had been about to do. “How- how did you get that scar?”

 

“How did you get out of the Phantom Zone?” Lena ripostes, snarling just a bit at the sudden vertigo overtaking her, and sees the flinch and painful smile stretch on Kara’s lips before she can take her words back.

 

Kara scoots away from her, taking all of the heat with her.

 

They don’t talk for hours. Maybe days. It’s hard to tell. The water they are given is foul and doesn’t quench the thirst Lena feels burning her throat. Kara has been silent, withdrawn and cold. Her gaze so far away Lena doesn’t know how to reach her without making it worse.

 

“You were right,” Kara whispers after awhile, shedding her steel-like skin. She heaves a breath and looks down to her lap. Her shackles rattle with the fidgeting of her hands. “You were right earlier. I don’t like not being in control,” she confesses, trapping Lena in her gaze, and gives her a small smile. “I don’t like… feeling confined.”

 

Lena doesn’t know what to think of this blonde enigma locked up with her. Lena doesn’t know what to think of this stranger who somehow managed to see through her with so much ease it was terrifying. Despite all the rumors she’s heard about the Girl of Steel, Lena knows now how terribly wrong they were. They depicted this godlike persona. Invulnerable, unyielding and powerful, but all Lena sees is how human Kara Zor-El really is. Lena has seen the anger and the fear. She has seen the restlessness and the desperate will to survive simmering just behind those blue eyes and it scares her more than the Girl of Steel ever could, because looking into Kara Zor-El’s eyes feels strangely like looking into her own.

 

The silence following the Commodore’s confession hangs heavily in between them. It grows heavier as time passes until Lena finally breaks, unable to take any longer the way the Commodore has withdrawn into the corner of their cell.

 

“Kara Zor-El…” Lena says, slowly, deliberately, tasting the name on her lips. “Any relation to Admiral Kal El?”

 

“He’s my cousin.”

 

“My brother hates his guts.”

 

“I know.”

 

Lena chuckles, wondering if that was one of the reasons that got her arrested on top of the piracy… “How much did you pay Lieutenant Sawyer to convince her to lie to me?”

 

Kara blinks. “Who?”

 

“Lieutenant Maggie Sawyer of the Federation Armed Forces,” Lena adds, growing more hesitant at the blank look the Commodore gives her. “She’s stationed at a Durlan outpost. You gave her false information about the Silver Banshee so that you could find me, right?”

 

“No,” Kara frowns. “I’ve been tailing you ever since you left Sedenach.” Lena tenses. That was two weeks before she even went to Durla and learned about the Silver Banshee’s call and got wind of the Girl of Steel being after her. Lena hadn’t even been aware she was being followed… “I was just waiting for you to lower your guard. See if you planned anything else… You going to National City surprised me. It made everything easier and yet not,” Kara says, jiggling her shackles, and sighs. “We don’t interact much with the Armed Forces. General Lane and Admiral El don’t get along,” Kara adds, making Lena rethink everything she thought she knew so far about their situation. “Wait. Doesn’t Durla have a warrant against you?”

 

“They do,” Lena answers distractedly. Durla just like the four other nations constituting the Federation, had issued a warrant against her as soon as word got around that she had become a pirate. Lena doesn’t know if it was done in order to piss off her brother even more by using her as leverage in their war. Kara looks at her, surprised. Lena shrugs. “Everything’s not black and white, Commodore.” She thought it had been the Commodore all along. The coincidence of the Silver Banshee wanting to meet her in National City was just too good to be anyone else. It had felt like a well-organized trap the Commodore made her fall into but now… “I have to hand it to you... You really are a good liar. Pretending to be a waitress…”

 

“It wasn’t all a lie. I really worked at Noonan’s once,” Kara says, surprising Lena again. “She’s an old friend of mine.” Something cold and dark clouds her blue eyes as she looks back at Lena. “Noonan was more than willing to help when I told her what you had done.”

 

Lena ponders back on that night, tensing even more when everything seems to lock into place. The way Luke had been quickly picked out from her table, how strong the drinks had been and how it had made her feel slightly woozy even though she only had a few… It had all been a distraction. A way to get her away from the watchful eyes of her protective crew. No wonder Eli got drunk so quickly. No wonder Jess got so distracted she barely grunted when Lena left… What the hell was going on? If it wasn’t for plain old piracy why was the Federation after her? “What am I accused of?”

 

The Commodore growls. Actually growls. Looking at her with incredulity and indignation. “You plundered a Phorian village under the Federation protection two months ago!”

 

“That’s ridiculous,” Lena scoffs. She hasn’t been to Phoria in years. “What proof do you have?”

 

The Commodore tenses, rising up on her feet, and advances dangerously toward Lena. Lena stands up steeling herself from the fire burning in Kara’s eyes. “Are you serious? My fleet went there after the alert was given. The few survivors we found all described a woman with a scar and green eyes. Just like yours. Your ship was identified leaving the Phorian sea!” Kara insists, sounding more and more indignant with every accusation. “I’ve been trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, you know. I’ve observed you and you were nothing like I expected, but this? This is too much! You can’t even own up to your- your atrocities!”

 

“By whom?”

 

“What?”

 

“By whom?” Lena repeats, standing her ground, and clenches her jaw at the disappointed look the Commodore gives her.

 

“A Daxamite merchant ship gave the alert.”

 

“Daxam?” Lena frowns. Had Daxam elaborated this incredibly convoluted plan just to get her? It didn’t make sense. Why take the risk to involve the Commodore in this? They had to know that the Federation would retaliate… “Did you believe them?” Lena asks, feeling confused and overwhelmed by the whole situation. What had appeared like a simple, unfortunate chain of events was turning out to be much more complex, with many more players than she first thought.

 

“The Federa-”

 

“I’m not asking about them! I’m asking about you,” Lena snarls. Kara doesn’t answer. Lena chuckles derisively. “Of course, you would rather believe a kingdom of slave traders than a pirate.”

 

A flicker of hesitation appears in Kara’s eyes before she steels herself and Lena sees the Girl of Steel stare her down again. “The High Council cannot intervene in other nation’s domestic policy if they are not a part of the Federation.”

 

Lena scoffs at the rehearsed speech. “And yet, you are allied with them.”

 

“We have a pact of non-aggression,” Kara corrects. It sounds forced, even a bit contrite and Lena can just guess that the Commodore isn’t too pleased with Daxam either, but politics was a game they both had practically no weight in, and what they thought mattered even less in international diplomacy. Kara looks at her, frowning slightly, seeming unsure. “Lena, are yo-”

 

The door opens. Five Maaldorians step in to the sound of jingling keys.

 

“It wasn’t me,” Lena says to Kara while they unlock the door. “I think it’s Da-” Lena grunts as she is pushed against the bars while her shackles are taken off, hoping Kara has heard her.

 

“Hey! Where are you taking her?” Kara growls before she is restrained against the wall. “Hey! Stop! Let go of me!”

 

“Patience, doll. It’ll be your turn soon,” one of them drawls to the Commodore only to grunt in pain.

 

Lena is free from her shackles only to bend over when they punch her in the stomach. They drag her away from the cell and Lena locks eyes with the Commodore. “They are framing me,” Lena wheezes. “I don’t know why! But I didn’t do it!”

 

Roulette looms over her and Lena glares at her only to slump forward when she gets hit again.

 

***

 

The sun hits her face as they drag her by the arms. Her boots scrapes along the dark wooden dock. Lena gulps for air as Roulette lets up on the rope she has tied to her neck to make sure she behaves.

 

Roulette hums contentedly as they approach the bustling part of the Maaldorian port. Lena sees lines upon lines of people walking out of other ships, subdued and chained, some looking ready to crumble on their feet as their emaciated faces turn hungrily toward the sun after what must have been a long and horrendous trip across the sea.

 

“I envied you for a long time, you know,” Roulette says suddenly, making Lena stumble as she tugs on the rope. The two Maaldorians pull her up roughly and push her forward. “You were always Captain Coptaire’s favorite. You’d mess up and you’d still be her favorite. I couldn’t understand it.”

 

“You sound jealous.”

 

Roulette chuckles and tugs harder. Lena is propelled forward until Roulette grabs her by the throat and squeezes. “I used to envy you but not anymore. You are just as weak and pathetic as when I first saw you and Luke onboard of the Singing Night-”

 

“She’d be ashamed if she could see you now,” Lena spits with the little bit of air still left in her lungs.

 

“But she can’t,” Roulette retorts with a twisted, condescending smile. “She isn’t here anymore, Lena. Because you are and always will be a coward!”

 

Lena gulps for air as Roulette throws her to the ground. She grits her teeth as black spots appear before her eyes. Her body tenses and coils in anger, ready to jump at Roulette only to be pushed back on the ground by a foot landing hard in the middle of her back. Lena grunts. Blood fills her mouth. They pick her up again and drag her into a dark, wet, cavernous tunnel. Roulette lights up a torch and illuminates the way. The sound of their footsteps echoes from the walls as they walk deeper. Lena wonders what they are going to do to the Commodore now. She hopes Kara will somehow manage to escape now that Roulette wasn’t commanding her crew anymore.

 

The walls open up to an enormous chamber. Stalactites in various shades of brown hang dangerously from the ceiling, and stalagmites seem to spring from the ground as if awakened by Roulette’s torch. Lena stumbles a few times, her feet getting caught in holes and tripping over protruding rocks she can’t see. They leave the chamber by another tunnel. It eventually opens up to a smaller chamber where Lena can see several shadows moving along the walls. Roulette tugs her toward a beam where embers from a small fire still burn bright red. Lena stumbles on dry, crackling white bones scattered across the floor. She looks to Roulette, feeling her pulse pick up.

 

“What- what are you going to do to me?”

 

Roulette ignores her and plants the torch in the ground. Lena looks at the shadows all around the room, just shy of the circle of light, when Roulette walks toward one of them. They talk quietly before she hands over something wrapped in a cloth.

 

“Veronica!” Lena hisses, throat dry, thrashing around as the Maaldorians tie her to the beam. “Ve-” She groans as Roulette comes back and punches her.

 

“It’s too late for you now,” Roulette whispers and leaves.

 

Their footsteps break the small bones scattered on the ground until Lena can’t hear them anymore. The light flickers and Lena tenses when one of the shadows begins to move.

 

“Captain Lena Luthor,” a female voice drawls, stepping slowly into the light. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

 

Lena squints as a black robe appears in the torchlight and then a face Lena has never seen before, and then a crown and a very familiar crest. Lena tenses, tugging on her restraints as the Queen of Daxam strolls toward her with a warm smile. Several pikes glisten in the light when she manages to undo the rope tying her to the beam. Lena stops moving when one presses into her neck.

 

“Now, now… This isn’t how we welcome a guest,” the Queen says, chuckling softly, and looks at her guards before turning toward her. Lena gulps when cold, calculating eyes stare her down. “She wouldn’t do anything that would justify the use of such threat now would she?”

 

Lena shakes her head, eyeing the spears warily, and rubs her wrists.

 

“See,” the Queen smiles, motioning her guards to step back. “She is no threat to me.”

 

Lena tries hard not to flinch when the Queen places a hand on her cheek in a mocking gesture of affection.

 

“My name is Rhea, and you, Lena, have been a thorn in my side for many, many months now when we could have been the greatest of allies.” The hand on her cheek hardens slightly before Queen Rhea removes it and starts pacing around her. Lena doesn’t dare move, her back still pressed against the beam. She glances at the pikes glistening in the room all around her, just beyond the ring of light.

 

“Are you here to kill me then?”

 

“No, no, my dear,” Queen Rhea coos, cupping her cheeks, and smiles at her. “We still can be allies of course,” Queen Rhea says in a honeyed tone that makes Lena’s skin crawl. “As a token of my benevolence, I’m willing to pardon you and your crew for all the crimes you’ve committed against Daxam. You’ll be free to do as you please, and I’ll even get the Federation off of your back.” The Queen takes the bundle from one the shadowy guards’ hands. She unwraps it, and Lena sees the light glint on her daggers. “Did you know that Daxamites came from generations of hunters, Lena? We’ve been hunting since before our land even had a name. We crossed the sea from Krypton in search of better meat, better land, and a better life. We sacrificed everything to get what we wanted, and we succeeded. I saw that same drive in you. You are not afraid of doing what needs to be done.” The Queen hands her daggers back to her. “It is not you that I want.”

 

Lena tenses, piecing the puzzle back together. She stares at the flame dancing along the blades. Queen Rhea framed her for the plunder and massacre of a Phorian village. She pointed the Federation in her direction and tricked Maggie to lure her to National City. Not because the Queen wanted her, Lena realizes, she was only another pawn in her game. The Queen had been hunting, and hunters sometimes preyed on smaller animals in order to use them as bait to lure in bigger ones. Lena clenches her jaw as the guards move as one toward her. She takes her daggers from the Queen’s hands. “What do you want me to do?”

 

Queen Rhea smiles brightly at her. “I want you to kill Commodore Kara Zor-El.”

 

The flame flickers around them, feeble and alone.

 

Lena nods.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Dried brown leaves litter the ground instead of small white bones. Trees replace the walls of stone as Lena steps out of the cave. She has no idea where they are taking her. The Queen didn’t say anything before she left, expecting Lena to follow her directives without questions. A Daxamite pushes her shoulder, urging her to keep moving. Lena grumbles, made to follow after her escort.

 

The warm, humid air barely manages to shake away the disturbing chill she has felt since Roulette made her meet with the Queen. It makes Lena wonder if Roulette is aware of this conspiracy. They were in Maaldoria after all. In Roulette’s turf. It wouldn’t surprise Lena if she was… It wouldn’t surprise her if Roulette was in on it… But something was bothering her, preventing her from completely adhering to this theory. Back in the cave, Lena had the distinct impression that Roulette had expected Queen Rhea to kill her… which didn’t happen.

 

They break through the tree line. The noise of the city port floods her senses as people haggle over prices. Slave traders praise the quality of their slaves, displayed on a wooden platform, to the passing visitors. The city is jam-packed with people. Maaldorians and Daxamites stop to inspect the fresh batch of slaves coming from the docks. The colors of a Valeronian noble house stand out in the crowd. Draggans, Hellgrammites and K’Hunds shout prices to the slave traders, and Lena tears her eyes away from the resigned faces waiting on the platform as the banners of a Thanagarian retinue makes the crowd part in two. Her guard grabs her arm and pushes her out of the way. He doesn’t let go of her arm after that. Despite the five guards surrounding her, Lena feels in his threatening grip the fear and suspicion they have that she might find a way to escape.

 

Lena sighs.

 

It would be foolish for her to escape. Ever since Roulette became the Ringmaster of the Maaldorian Royal Arena, Lena had become pretty much fair game to any Maaldorians and bounty-hunters wanting to please her, and it was only her reputation that kept them from attacking her directly. Lena had no allies in Maaldoria, and without her crew, her ship and the few alliances she had forged, she was quite powerless. The mistreatment and the days without food on Roulette’s ship didn’t help either…

 

The overpowering reek of fish makes her gag. Her stomach grumbles and her throat burns for water. Stalls selling food, trinkets, and clothes line the main streets of the city port. The grip around her arm tightens in warning when Lena stops in front of a stall filled with dried meat of all kinds. Her mouth waters at seeing the strings of meat hanging from the silver hooks. She stumbles on her feet when the guard pushes her forward.

 

The bustling sound of the city slowly fades as they walk up the hill. Lena stiffens as she sees the Royal Arena peek out from behind its ramparts. Lena blinks as the sun reflects on the diamonds adorning the walls of the Arena. This ostentatious display of wealth could be seen from miles away across the sea. The diamond mines on the island made Maaldoria untouchable. It’s in every nation’s best interest that the island stays out of any conflict when the royal family pays so much for their immunity. It’s no secret that Maaldoria even pays the oh-so-righteous Federation to turn a blind eye to their slave trading activities. Lena clenches her jaw as she sees Maaldorian soldiers waiting for them at the gates and prepares herself for the worst. The gates open, giving Lena a view of Roulette’s turf for the first time. The high marbled archways and the diamond dust sprinkled on the cobblestones would have made her laugh if they didn’t lead her straight toward the Arena.

 

They stop at a door with a diamond serpent inlaid in the wood. The Maaldorian official knocks twice before ushering Lena inside in answer to Roulette’s demand. The door closes behind her.

 

The tension is palpable as Lena stares at a beaming Daxamite Queen and a seething Ringmaster. The lavish plates of meat and fruits displayed on the small mahogany table between them seem to act as a poor and futile attempt at diplomacy.

 

“My champion!” Queen Rhea struts toward Lena and takes her by the hand. She makes her sit on the sofa next to her, much to Roulette’s disgust. Her stiff smile falters when Lena’s dirtied clothes come into contact with the pristine fabric draped across the sofa. Lena smiles and runs her dirtied hands across the cloth. “You must be hungry after this long and horrendous trip,” Queen Rhea exclaims in a motherly fashion. It would have made Lena cringe if it hadn’t been for the barely-controlled rage shining in Roulette’s eyes. The Queen picks up a cloth, fancier than anything Lena owns, and soaks it in water before handing it to her. “Clean up and eat. There’s plenty of food for the three of us.”

 

Lena thanks the Queen and cleans her face and hands with the luxurious fabric, to Roulette’s mounting horror and frustration. Lena doesn’t hesitate to ravenously make a large dent in the hard cheese, cold meat and bread. She washes it down by gulping the wine from Roulette’s fancy goblet, making the Ringmaster bristle visibly.

 

“That wasn’t part of our deal,” Roulette hisses, her smile still in place, shaking her head in disgust when Lena gives the goblet back to her. Lena shrugs and finishes the wine, chuckling to herself. She wouldn’t be surprised if Roulette were to burn every piece of furniture Lena has touched.

 

Queen Rhea waves away Roulette’s protest like someone would bat away a fly. “I changed my mind, Miss Sinclair...” Lena watches Roulette’s smile widen dangerously as Queen Rhea gets up and walks around the office, examining the furniture and decoration. “And I understand your reluctance, but I assure you Captain Luthor will be a great addition to this entertainment of yours.”

 

Roulette’s jaw clenches, not bothering to hide her anger anymore. “The Girl of Steel is enough entertainment as it is. You had what you paid me to do.” A rictus of contempt trembles on her cheek before Roulette turns toward Lena with murderous eyes. “I don’t want her anywhere near my arena.”

 

Lena looks back at Roulette impassively despite the million thoughts running through her head. When Queen Rhea told her to trust her and follow her directives, Lena had no idea it would lead her back to Roulette and from the bits and pieces the two women had let out… It was frighteningly easy to picture what kind of deal they must have made. Queen Rhea offered Roulette the Girl of Steel in exchange for the pirate that has been attacking Daxam’s merchant ships. Lena doesn’t even blame Roulette for jumping on the occasion. It would have been foolish of her to miss a chance to be the one to capture the elusive and deadly Girl of Steel. It explained why Queen Rhea framed Lena for what happened in Phoria… By making the Commodore chase after Lena, Queen Rhea had made Commodore Zor-El visible and thus vulnerable to those chasing after her.

 

“Consider it as…” Queen Rhea pauses. She scrunches her nose in barely concealed distaste as she looks around the office and runs her fingers through the red silk curtain framing the large windows and nearly every other surface of the room. “… extra flavor.”

 

Impressed and terrified, Lena watches Queen Rhea’s intricate plan unfold before her eyes. A game of smoke and mirrors, ensuring that Daxam is never linked directly to Commodore Zor-El’s death. Hiding behind Maaldoria’s invulnerability and using the Royal Arena as props and background for her murder. No wonder the streets were packed. The Girl of Steel was being served on a silver platter and Lena participating was only more of a commodity, some kind of insurance that the Commodore will die in the Arena if all things failed.

 

Roulette scoffs, sensing that she is being pulled into a game of which she has yet to learn the rules. And judging by the look she gives her, Lena is now pretty sure Veronica doesn’t even know what she is being dragged into… Not to the full extent. A prospective war against the Federation? A shift in power between Daxam and the Federation? It was hard to tell. The ramifications of Kara’s death seem endless and all terrible.

 

Veronica is uncharacteristically silent. Her jaw clenched tight. They all know that she can’t refuse Queen Rhea’s demand. Not without causing an international conflict with Maaldorian royalty and Daxam’s. But silence is her only power right now and Lena sees the impatience simmering in the Queen’s eyes.

 

Queen Rhea catches her eyes meaningfully.

 

Lena nods.

 

“Afraid of me, Veronica?” She taunts, forcing Roulette to focus back on her. Lena reaches for a grape and pops a few into her mouth. Veronica’s eyebrow twitches in annoyance as Lena chews with added insolence. “Come on. You’ve wanted me dead ever since I beat you to the Captaincy of The Singing Nightmare. Now’s your chance...”

 

“I didn’t know you had a death wish.”

 

Lena shrugs. “Let’s just say I’m up for a challenge.” Admittedly, it was a weird game Lena was playing. It feels like walking on a plank, drunk, knowing that the slightest mistake on her part will get her killed.

 

Veronica senses it. She must sense a bit of Lena’s reluctance from the open look of distrust she gives her.

 

Lena chuckles. It makes her think of the days when they had sailed under the same flag. Of the rivalry they had for years under Captain Coptaire’s command. They didn’t get along most of the time but they had trusted each other. They had watched each other’s back as crew mates and sometimes as something more… but trusting Veronica is not a mistake Lena will make twice. Done with the grapes, Lena reaches for an apple and bites into it with deliberate smugness when Veronica doesn’t find what she is looking for. Veronica is unable to see past the contempt and hatred she has for Lena. Unable to see the bigger picture, Roulette falls back in familiar patterns and it makes her blind to the Queen’s schemes.

 

“I will crush you.”

 

“Bring it.”

 

“Wonderful,” Queen Rhea says, clapping her hands.

 

“My arena. My rules,” Veronica grumbles.

 

“Of course, dear.” The Queen says in that condescending tone that makes Roulette clench her jaw every time.

 

“I won’t make her your champion,” Roulette growls. “The bets have already been placed… She can take part in the Grand Melee if the Girl of Steel survives long enough…”

 

“Of course,” Queen Rhea nods, smiling widely. Not at all offended by the slight affront Veronica made by not allowing Daxam a champion in the upcoming fights. “I wouldn’t want to disrupt your establishment’s impeccable organization with my last-minute addition.”

 

Roulette scoffs and calls for the Maaldorian official to open the door. Queen Rhea tolerates the abrupt dismissal with a smile and a departing nod. She motions for Lena to follow her and Lena does so, but not without stealing a few more fruits under Veronica’s nose. She walks quietly behind the Queen, surrounded once again by Daxamite guards.

 

“We’ll get you cleaned up. Make you presentable before the fight.”

 

“Aren’t you pissed she didn’t make me your champion?”

 

“Not at all, I don’t care who kills the Girl of Steel as long as she is dead. But I doubt the champions those unrefined barbarian nations have chosen to go up against the Girl of Steel will be enough to bring her down. If anything, being in the Melee will give you more chances to kill her.” Queen Rhea chuckles, visibly delighted. “Not that you wouldn’t be able to do it on your own, my dear, but the Girl of Steel is a formidable opponent and I’d rather not take any chances. She certainly won’t expect you.”

 

They stop in front of a wooden door through which Lena can feel the humid air of a hot bath.

 

“As promised, once it’s done you’ll walk out free and all of this will be like a dream. I’ll make sure to point the Federation in Miss Sinclair’s direction,” Queen Rhea says with a wink.

 

“Why?” Lena asks before she can leave. “Why are you doing all of this?”

 

Queen Rhea stops. Her eyes flash with mad anger before she looks back at Lena with that same disturbing smile.

 

“A child for a child….”

 

Lena isn’t sure what it means but under the layers of madness and anger she sees something akin to honesty for the first time. Whatever it was, it is enough for Lena to understand that the Queen’s motivations were personal, and it suddenly changes everything.

 

“I’ll avenge your child,” Lena promises, playing along. The genuine look of surprise the Queen gives her is nearly enough to make her feel bad for the deception.

 

“We have a few hours before the fights begin,” Queen Rhea says, cupping Lena’s cheeks with the same motherly affection that made Lena uncomfortable back in the cave. “Make me proud.”

 

Lena nods, accepting the gesture, and latches on the Queen’s weakness by taking her hands in hers. “I will.”

 

Queen Rhea smiles and squeezes her hands gratefully. “I’ll be watching.”

 

Lena watches her leave, hearing loud and clear the underlining threat in her departing words. The guards remaining with her push her through the door. Women look at her - slaves judging by the black cuffs on their wrists – ready to scrub her clean.

 

Escaping Maaldoria was not enough. Not anymore. Lena knows that much now. She’d never be able to fight against the Federation, Daxam, and Roulette if she were to escape and find her crew. Lena knows too much to be spared… The most likely scenario would be that the Queen will kill her as soon as Kara Zor-El is dead and she will let the Singing Nightmare’s crew be hunted down by the Federation… if they weren’t already taken… Lena is not naïve enough to believe in the Queen’s promises, she knows she and her crew will be killed as soon as the Queen has no use for her. It would be ridiculous for Queen Rhea to have gone through all of this trouble only to let a loose end like Lena live. But what Queen Rhea didn’t take into account is Lena’s propensity for recklessness and her absolute hatred of being played like a pawn.

 

The threat resonates in her mind on repeat as she gets cleaned up and fed, her wounds taken cared of. Her range of motion is limited but Lena is confident she’ll be able to cook up something when the time comes. They give her new clothes, but Lena snatches her old jacket before they can throw it away. She already lost her hat. She wasn’t going to part with her jacket too… Unease and fear settle at the pit of her stomach as she shrugs her jacket on, finding comfort in the worn-out leather, and straps her daggers back to her wrists, checking the contraption twice before being satisfied.

 

She will die today. The realization weighs heavily in the pit of her stomach, leaving her momentarily breathless. Roulette will make sure she doesn’t live another day, especially after the little stunt Lena pulled in her office, and if Roulette fails, Queen Rhea will gladly step in to finish her off… There is only one thing she could do, Lena realizes, as guards escort her toward the cell where she’ll be waiting until the Grand Melee begins. She has to save the Commodore and get her the hell out of Maaldoria… If only to give her crew a fighting chance…

 

The crowd begins to cheer above her. The sound reverberates on the cold grey stones as they open the door of a cell and Lena looks at the dozen pairs of eyes staring back at her.

 

Save Commodore Zor-El, Lena repeats to herself, inhaling deeply as the door closes behind her. Her chance of surviving this might actually increase with Kara Zor-El by her side… Lena doesn’t get her hopes up. Only a god would be able to protect her from the Queen’s wrath once she wrecks those plans of hers.

 

***

 

“Anyone else?” Lena snarls, catching her breath, and looks around the cell, gripping her daggers tighter.

 

Blood drops from her blades.

 

The horde of desperate souls slinks back toward the walls as Lena stares them down one by one. Roulette sure didn’t wait long to try to murder her. She looks down to the bodies of her attackers. The first two had been too vigorous and definitely too well-fed not to be Roulette’s minions. Lena couldn’t say the same for the other three.

 

She sighs.

 

Veronica was enabling a perverse game here in Maaldoria. The Grand Melee was nothing but a gratuitous bloodbath where the last one standing was permitted to walk away, free. Slaves, convicts, prisoners of war were all thrown into the pit against one another under the cheers of a bloodthirsty crowd. Despair made people fight harder and kill without blinking. It made them disregard their moral values in order to survive, especially in a place where integrity and virtue only got them killed. Opportunists, Lena deduces, looking at the three bodies, sidestepping the blood beginning to pool around her boots. It wasn’t uncommon for fights to break out before the gates to the pit even opened. It reduced the number of participants from each cell and increased the chance of winning for those surviving the first purge.

 

Kill or be killed.

 

That’s what Captain Coptaire had told her one night on the deck of the Singing Nightmare. The waves had sung a song of freedom as Madi recounted her fight for independence. She told Lena about the shaky beginnings of the Federation and how, at first they didn’t have the means to protect all of the cities and villages in the alliance. She told Lena how her village had been destroyed by Alcorians despite the warnings and call for help they had sent to the Federation. She told Lena about her teenage years working as a slave in a diamond mine in Maaldoria and how she would train secretly every night to participate one day in the Grand Melee. Madi told her the lengths she had gone to in order to win back her freedom. Lena had shuddered then, chilled by the impassive look Madi gave her when Lena asked if she felt remorse.

 

Kill or be killed…

 

Lena wonders if she shouldn’t go ahead and wipe out those in her cell now to give the Commodore a better chance at surviving…

 

Screams break out in the arena as the second fight ends. Lena looks to the ceiling as a chant of Kill, Kill, Kill resonates against the cold stone and finishes in boos when Kara refuses like she did for the first fight. Jeers flow down to the cell as several roars fill the arena amid the clinking of chains and the munching of ravenous beasts on the fallen champion. A much crueler fate. Lena gulps, as cries of agony slowly abate replaced by utter silence before Roulette announces the beginning of the third fight.

 

A man curled up in the corner of the cell begins to pray, chanting quietly, fervently when clangs of metal thunder once again around them, followed by grunts, screams of rage, and the usual chorus of cheers and laughter.

 

Lena wipes the blood off of her daggers and sits against the wall, waiting. She wasn’t here to win. She was here to make sure her crew lived another day, and the chaos of multiple fights and opponents might just be what she needs to liberate the Commodore.

 

Lena startles as the chant of Kill, Kill, Kill resonates again, so quickly after the beginning of the fight. The crowd is fueled by the performance, by Kara’s reputation and prowess, delighting in Kara’s moral struggles as the chant gets louder and more perverse as the seconds pass. The tell-tale sound of trap doors opening makes the man in the corner pray harder and Lena waits for the roars of beasts and for the choked cries of the fallen champion… that never come. Lena slams her eyes shut as a hush suddenly falls over the arena and her heart breaks when the crowd goes wild with approval at Kara’s surrender, granting her opponent a quick death. The only mercy the Arena allowed.

 

Roulette announces the beginning of the fourth fight and the fifth and the sixth and Lena’s heart break every time the chants of Kill, Kill, Kill shake the Arena, growing louder and more persistent now that Kara has already faltered once, until Kara gives in. Again and again…

 

The cell door opens and Maaldorian guards usher in several people. Lena scrambles to her feet, tense and wary, expecting another of Roulette’s ploys to assassinate her, only to freeze in shock when she sees Maggie stumble into the cell among the bedraggled group of people, looking like she’s been through hell and back.

 

As soon as the door closes Lena rushes toward the Lieutenant only to barely dodge a punch to the face.

 

“It’s me! Maggie ! It’s me!” Lena says, backing away as Maggie breathes heavily, squinting in the dark cell.

 

“Lena?” The tension seeps away from Maggie’s shoulders. “What- what are you doing here?”

 

“I could ask you the same thing,” Lena retorts, quick to steady the Lieutenant as she sways from exhaustion.

 

“The outpost was attacked three days after you left,” Maggie says, nodding her thanks as Lena guides her in a corner, isolated from everyone else, and makes her sit. “It was… It was a massacre. I- I tried to give the alert but... I got knocked out and woke up here…”

 

“Daxam? Was it Daxam?”

 

Maggie shakes her head. Her stomach grumbles at seeing the apple in Lena’s hand. She reaches for it with trembling fingers and closes her eyes at the first bite. The sound resonates against the walls, awakening the desperate souls as they all turn toward them. Lena stands protectively next to her sometimes ally and glares at anyone who would even dare step toward them, but the glint of her daggers and the five lifeless bodies are enough dissuasion. “They- they had red skulls...” Maggie mumbles, eating the core of the apple, and flings away the stalk once she is finished. “On their face. Like masks. I don’t know… I’ve never seen that before.”

 

“Are- Are you sure?”

 

“Why? Do you know them?”

 

Lena clenches her jaw as memories of blood, screams, and despair flood her mind. Pirates knew of them. Wanderers who killed for fun. The Singing Nightmare had crossed their path once, and it had been enough for the Dominators to kill their Captain...

 

“Lena, what the hell is going on?”

 

Lena isn’t sure, to be honest. The more she learns the more confused she is. The attack at the Durlan outpost could be linked to Queen Rhea’s schemes or it could be a stroke of bad luck. Lena hopes for the latter. She doesn’t want to imagine the possibility of an alliance between Daxam and the Dominators. It would be catastrophic.

 

“The Girl of Steel is here.” Lena slides one of her daggers into Maggie’s hand, who takes it gratefully. “She’s the one fighting in the Arena against the Champions,” Lena continues in a hushed tone as the cheers of the crowd boom all around the cell. “It will be our turn when she’s defeated them all. I need you to help me get her out of here.”

 

Maggie nods, eyes wide, as Lena tells her everything she’s learned so far. Putting Maggie in the same cell as her is the first mistake the Queen and Roulette have made. Lena will be damned if she doesn’t make the most of it. Lena tells the Lieutenant about Queen Rhea’s deal with Roulette, and then about the deal the Queen made with her. Maggie doesn’t need more information to understand the political repercussions it would have when words got out that the Girl of Steel, the Federation’s very best, was killed in the Arena. It would destabilize the Federation and create a shift in the power dynamic. The invulnerability of the Federation would waver, inviting anyone to challenge its supremacy.

 

“I need you to get the Federation off of their backs,” Lena pleads, thinking of her crew. The thought bring tears to her eyes but Lena blinks them away. “Tell them to hide. Luke will know what to do.”

 

“We’re getting out of here together, you know that, right?”

 

Lena isn’t so sure about that. She has an inkling why Queen Rhea chose her to carry out her plan. She was easy prey despite the reputation she had built for herself. She had no significant support in a fight involving a whole nation. She was isolated and ostracized for being a pirate… and yet, Lena knows her brother would avenge her if he learned of her death. With a bit of manipulation, Queen Rhea could push her brother to fight once again against the Federation…

 

The first gate leading to the Arena opens. Guards flood the cell, pushing them all into the long ascending corridor, where Lena can see just a tiny bit of light. The screams are deafening the closer they get to the last gate. Someone pukes somewhere in front of her. The dry-heaves and the smell fill Lena with dread.

 

“Do you have a plan?” Maggie whispers, knocking in Lena’s shoulder as the mass of desperate souls waits by the gate, bathed in sunlight for the first time since the fights had begun.

 

“Not yet.”

 

The gate slides open to the cheers of the crowd. The clapping of hands and stomping of feet have joined the endless screeching. Lena grunts as the guards behind them push them forward and into the pit where Kara stands, jaw clenched so tight her spadroon trembles in her hand with barely contained rage as the other gates open all around her. Lena recognizes the tension locked tight in Kara’s shoulders and also the sheer anger, restlessness, and desperate will to survive emanating like a dark cloud from the woman. An inferno trapped in a cage. Dirty, bloody, and mesmerizing.

 

“And the Grand Finale!” Roulette announces. “The Melee against the Girl of Steel.”

 

The cheers explode around them as Kara finally sees her and freezes, eyes widening slightly, thrown off balance. Lena sees the emotional toll the fights took on her and the sadness and helplessness reflecting in her eyes as blood drops down from the blade of her spadroon.

 

“Fight!”

 

The order resounds like a death sentence. Elbows knock into her ribcage as a few make a mad dash toward the weapons the guards drop into the pit. Lena sees an unorganized mass rush toward Kara from all around the pit.

 

“Don’t die!” Lena screams over her shoulder at Maggie before she sprints into the horde. She dives into the cloud of dust that has risen after the desperate mob and slashes her way toward Kara, blocking out the screams of pain, the sound of people choking on their own blood, and the fallen bodies she stumbles on.

 

It is chaos and Lena has lost sight of Kara.

 

“Do you see her?”

 

“No!” Maggie replies over the screaming.

 

“Find her!” Lena growls as in-fighting break out all around them. It should reassure her that the Commodore is no longer the center of attention. She’ll have a better chance at fighting them off if she isn’t being overwhelmed. The image of Kara being surrounded and alone flash in her mind only to be interrupted by the wild swing of a cutlass. Lena rolls away from the swing of another coming from behind her. The two Maaldorians grin at her, backed up by four others. Roulette’s minions.

 

Lena curses and grips the hilt of her dagger tighter as they encircle her.

 

The six of them run toward her, raising their weapons in the air and adding their screams to those of the crowd. She throws her dagger. It pierces the soft skin of a neck before coming back to her with the flick of her wrist.

 

Five.

 

She rolls away from the first slash made at her. A boot slams down near her head. Lena jumps on her feet and takes advantage of the raised arms of her attacker to stab the inside of their armpit. The sword falls to the ground. The body follows soon after.

 

Four.

 

Lena grabs the sword and slashes into the next one. Blood spurts out of his throat.

 

Three.

 

“Lena!”

 

The warning comes just in time for Lena to duck away from the axe coming down at her. But it is still too close and the momentum makes her fall on her back. Winded, Lena rolls away to avoid the slash of a sword. She grimaces as it cuts into her shoulder and a bit into her back. Lena sees Maggie fight the axe wielder before she focuses back on the remaining two. They run toward her with blood lust in their eyes. Lena parries the sword and sidesteps the cutlass. Her dagger finds tender skin, buried deep behind a collarbone. The body crumbles to the ground.

 

Two.

 

The sun reflects on the blade of the cutlass. Lena waits. He screams and charges forward. She throws her dagger and watches it sink deep into his eye. Lena clenches her jaw as she dislodges the blade out of the man’s skull.

 

One.

 

The axe-wielder lies dead at Maggie’s feet. Lena breathes deeply, nodding her thanks. The number of fighters has dwindled exponentially. The cheers of the crowd becomes louder than the grunts of pain, and Lena sees Queen Rhea look at her from the Royal seats next to others Kings and Queens. Lena notices the sunlight glinting off of a few crossbows in the crowd, and the archers all looking at her…

 

Kill or be killed…

 

A ringing sound blares in her ears as her heart thunders in her chest. The iron taste of blood fills her mouth as her arms begin to tremble. The screams of agony jolts Lena back to the pit as she sees Maggie slash someone’s shins.

 

Kill or be killed…

 

The trap doors open from under the pit. The roars of voracious beasts herald the massacre about to take place to the enjoyment of the crowd. Lena sees blonde hair whip in the air as Kara slashes and blocks multiple attackers, dangerously close to one of the trap doors. Beasts begin to prey on those standing closest them, their range controlled by the workers pulling on the chain.

 

The axe glints in the sun.

 

Lena runs, catching Maggie’s eyes, and points to the axe. Maggie picks it up and follows her wordlessly.

 

Kara kicks away one of her opponents, giving Lena the perfect opening to barrel into her back. Kara grunts in surprise as they roll in the dirt, out of range of the beast and of Kara’s previous attackers.

 

Kill or be killed…

 

She lands on top of the Commodore and winces in pain at the steel-like grip Kara has on her wrist. The look of utter betrayal Kara gives her is enough to chill Lena to the bone. She knows how it must look like. The dagger just shy of Kara’s face doesn’t exactly play in her favor, but she has to make it believable if she wants her plan to work.

 

“Trust me.” Lena winces as her wrist threatens to snap in half. “Please.” Kara’s indecision seems to last forever. Lena sees the conflict, the anger and the fear shine so clearly in the blue of her eyes before it is blinked away. Lena breathes in relief when Kara nods at her, relaxing the grip she has on her wrist. “Throw me next to the trap door and distract that beast for m-”

 

She is projected in the air before she can even finish her sentence. Lena lands heavily on her back, exactly where she wanted to be, while Kara fends off multiple attackers with a shield. Lena scrambles back to her feet, slightly winded, and sees Maggie dislodge her axe from someone’s chest not too far away.

 

“Maggie! The axe!”

 

The weapon arcs in the air. Lena grabs it, tightening her grip on the handle, and runs toward the trap door. The beast roars toward her only to change direction, angered by the poke of Kara’s spadroon as Maggie backs her up.

 

An arrow flies by her. It grazes her cheek. A warning. A reminder that the Queen is still watching. Lena clenches her jaw at the threat. The chain shines on the ground. Lena cleaves it. Kara and Maggie dive out of the way as the beast is propelled forward, no longer hindered by its restraint, to the gasps of the Arena.

 

Kara and Maggie turn back toward Lena, completely stunned.

 

“Go!” Lena screams, pointing at the trap door. “Go!”

 

It is chaos. The beast jumps on the first person it sees. The crowd screams in terror, abandoning their seat to get to safety in fear that the beast will come after them.

 

An arrow whistles past her head. Maggie runs past her and slides down the slope and into the elevator. The Commodore follows after Maggie and grabs the back of Lena’s jacket, urging her to follow them. Another arrow sinks in the ground next to their feet. Another makes Lena lose her breath as it pierces her back. The tip pokes out of her shoulder. Lena stumbles and falls, screaming in pain.

 

Kill or be killed… There was no way Queen Rhea was going to let her live.

 

“I’ve got you! I’ve got you!” Lena hears Kara say into her ear. “Come on! Come on!” Kara grunts as she drags Lena down the slope, making her scream as white hot pain spreads down her arm.

 

Lena sees an arrow whistle past Kara’s head. “Let me go! Just go!”

 

“I’m not letting you go!” Kara growls back.

 

Another pair of hands joins Kara’s and Lena is hauled in the elevator as an arrow misses her thigh by an inch. Kara snaps the tip of the arrow that pierced Lena and slides it out of her body. Lena grunts as Kara applies pressure on both wounds.

 

“Brace yourself!” Maggie screams. Lena hears the sound of a cord tearing above their head before the elevator plummets to the bottom of the shaft.

 

***

 

The underground of the Arena is a maze of corridors. Corridors surprisingly empty of soldiers and guards. Baffled stage hands watch them flee as pandemonium can be heard from above. Lena doesn’t know what is happening above them but whatever it is… It’s enough to distract anyone from chasing after them. They make the most of it, exiting the underground of the Arena and making their way into the tunnels under the city. Lena doesn’t know how they are still alive but they are.

 

“That was a bad idea…” Maggie grumbles, limping next to her, the side of her face bloodied ever since their fall.

 

“I got you out,” Lena wheezes.

 

“Not yet.”

 

Lena rolls her eyes. They had been lucky. It’s all Lena can think of as they run through the winding corridors, past the torches lining the walls. Her ribs don’t agree with the pace the Commodore has set, but Kara doesn’t seem to be hurt at all. She didn’t question Maggie’s presence either, following Lena’s lead wordlessly, and took it upon herself to clear out the way as they fled. The surprised guards they have encountered are all dead, struck down before they can give the alert. There’s blood dripping down the Commodore’s frock blue coat. It’s hard to tell if it’s hers or that of her enemies, because Kara is never still. She’s completely focused on getting them out and she never stops long enough for Lena to find out…

 

An explosion shakes the foundation of the ramparts.

 

“What was that?” Kara asks.

 

Another explosion rings out much closer. The wall next to them shakes and conjures a cloud of dust so thick that it makes them cough and cover their eyes. Amid the chaos, Lena hears pained cries and angry stomping of feet coming right at them… until she hears someone whistling. Twice. One short and one long. And her legs nearly give out in relief at hearing Luke’s signal.

 

She whistles twice in response. Sharp and short and grabs Kara’s arm as Luke whistles again. “They’re here.”

 

They run toward the sound, chased by angry stomping and clangs of metal. Her ribs protest under the effort. Her lungs burn as she inhales more dust than air. Maggie isn’t faring much better. Her limp worsens even more until Lena sees Kara grab her by the arm and nearly haul her over her shoulders.

 

“Get them!”

 

Lena whips around and sees Maaldorian soldiers running after them. She whistles twice, urging Luke to answer quickly until he finally replies back with a wall blasting open close to them.

 

The small opening to the outside world is like a godsend shinning its light in the dark, musty corridor of the ramparts. Luke’s scarred arm shoots out from the hole above.

 

“I’ll hold them off,” Kara says, urging Maggie to go first, and acts as a shield toward the oncoming threat. “Go!”

 

Maggie grabs Luke’s hand and is pulled up as the first soldiers reach them.

 

It is the first time Lena witnesses Commodore Zor-El fight up close with the intent to kill and it is enough for her to understand how the legend of the Girl of Steel came to be. Kara Zor-El is deadly. A whirlwind of kicks and slashes as her spadroon split the air like lightning. The slain Maaldorians become a warning to the ten or so remaining soldiers who step back as one.

 

“Lena!” Luke’s arm shoots out of the hole. His broad shoulder hindering him from reaching further down. Gunshots resound as her crew is being attacked above.

 

Another wave of Maaldorian’s soldiers arrives as back-up. Kara steels herself as they move as one.

 

“Do you have more grenades?” Lena asks him instead. A belt full of grenades slithers down the hole. “Go! I’ll find you!”

 

“Go west!” Luke grunts out and retracts his arm.

 

Lena doesn’t wait more than she needs to. She grabs one of the many torches still lining the wall and shouts a warning at Kara. The grenade arcs in the air. It falls among the soldiers. Kara grabs her arm and pushes her at the corner of another corridor as the grenade explodes.

 

The cloud of dust is thicker than it was before. It seems like chaos has struck Veronica’s fortress and Lena can’t help but smile at the rage Veronica and the Queen must feel right now. Lena coughs, wincing as the wound on her shoulder flair up again with white hot pain. Kara hauls her back up on her feet, unwavering and steers her away from the chaos they’ve just caused. Lena follows, mute. She doesn’t know how Kara does it. How she just seems to shake away the pain and stay focused despite the blood and numerous wounds Lena sees on her body.

 

“Are you okay?” Kara asks, to Lena’s astonishment.

 

“Me? Yeah! Are you?”

 

Kara waves away her concern and moves with purpose to the outer wall.

 

“They nearly cut you in half,” Lena points out.

 

“What?” Kara looks down at the red blossoming on her abdomen and shrugs. “It’s nothing. I’m fine. It doesn’t hurt.”

 

Lena has a hard time believing it but she doesn’t get to call out the Commodore on it as they find the same kind of opening Luke must have blasted open to gain access to the lower levels of the ramparts from the outside.

 

They intertwine the belt of grenade to the bars. Kara grabs a torch nearby.

 

“It doesn’t hurt now but it will,” Kara says, looking at Lena intently, in a tone reminiscent to the time they spent locked up in Roulette’s ship. “And- And I’ll need your help then.”

 

Lena nods, not sure what she is agreeing to but it seems to be enough for the Commodore’s peace of mind. Kara lights the grenades and they run for cover.

 

The wall blasts open.

 

They slither out of the hole. The saline air is a relief as the wind blows on them, indicating that they are not far from the sea. The tall grass and rough terrains face the setting sun, comforting Lena that they are on the right track to find her crew.

 

Kara gives her a small smile and they run.

 

Lena is struck by this feeling of déjà vu when she sees Kara’s hair move with the wind. She can’t explain it, but it suddenly feels… right.

 

A gunshot thunders. Kara grabs her arm and urges her to run faster as a black mass of soldiers runs after them and corners them at the edge of a cliff.

 

“I'm afraid of height,” Lena confesses, refusing to peek over the edge. Her mind provides her enough horrible images as it is.

 

“I'm afraid of water.”

 

“What?”

 

Kara shrugs and Lena closes her eyes, inhaling deeply.

 

They were screwed. The black mass of soldiers is nearly at range, making Lena panic with an order her feet refuse to obey to. Her legs tremble and her hand tighten around her dagger as she faces the oncoming soldiers.

 

“You really should consider giving me that kiss Commodore.”

 

Kara chuckles. “We're not dying here.” She takes a few steps toward the soldiers to Lena’s protests as they begin to shoot at them. Lena doesn’t know what the plan is. They could try to use the rough terrain to their advantage… Make them split up. Kara seems like she knows what to do, and so far it has got them out from Roulette’s stronghold. “Do you trust me?”

 

“Yes,” Lena replies, surprising herself with how much she means it.

 

Kara beams at her and sprints toward her.

 

Lena regrets ever saying yes, as she’s grabbed by the waist and propelled backward. She slams her eyes shut and tightens her grip around Kara’s shoulders as they dive into the sea.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Lena had been fourteen years-old when she left the Luthorian Islands.

 

The fear. The sadness. The crippling sense of loss had felt like lead in her legs, travelling through her veins like those slow-killing poisons described in Lex’s books; suffocating their victims from the inside and making them feel weaker with every heartbeat.

 

She had dragged her feet through the rocks and pebbles while walking toward the small boat, memorizing the gravelly beach with the soles of her boots. She had – naively maybe – hoped that the Island would hold her back; prevent her from leaving by wrapping those pebbles around her ankles to keep her home and safe. It didn’t. The night had been cold and windy, and her homeland had been indifferent to her voiceless plea; silent to the goodbyes she wasn’t ready to say.

 

The cold water lapping at her ankles had brought her to a harsh realization: no one would hold her back. No one would ask her to stay, because she was the villain of the story.

 

“You know what to do,” Lillian had said to the guard, with her face hidden by the dark hood of her cloak.

 

The guard had nodded, taking the gold Lillian handed to him, and had walked toward the boat in a way that felt much too fast for Lena’s taste. Too final. She ran back toward Lillian - this woman who had never hidden her contempt for her since the day Lionel had taken her in after her mother’s death - and she held on to her as hard as she could, whispering goodbyes and apologies into the cold, stiff fabric of Lillian’s coat. Unflinching arms had wrapped around her waist and had wrenched her away from the woman she had seen as a second mother. Lena had tried to hold on, even though she had never been worthy of her love.

 

“Will you tell Lex that I’m sorry? That I’m so, so sorry! Will you tell him I didn’t want to leave?” Lena had screamed, thrashing in the guard’s arms, hoping to hear Lillian’s response or see her nod… Something… Anything… “Will you tell him I love him?” Lena had screamed as the boat left the shore, squinting to see Lillian’s response. A response inevitably lost in the dark, twisting clouds shrouding the shore of her beloved home. The only shore she’d known.

 

“I’m Luke,” the guard had muttered, pretending not to see the tear tracks on her cheeks and not to hear the sobs Lena couldn’t contain anymore. She had ignored him, crushed by the darkness surrounding her. He had rowed into the fog, steadfast and stony, like Death’s messenger carrying lost souls far away from home...

 

Somewhere beyond the horizon…

 

Air bubbles out of Lena’s mouth.

 

Water seeps inside her nose, in triggering an instinctive need for air, making her head spin and her lungs burn before she can even register where she is. Her legs kick the water as she desperately tries to break through the surface. Lena inhales and coughs, treading water to stay afloat.

 

It hurts. Her whole body hurts and her head pounds with a headache that make her wince and groan in pain. Lena looks around, blinking the water out of her eyes, as her body sways with the waves. There’s blonde hair disappearing into the water, as if pulled into the deep end, and it jolts Lena out of her stupor, making her swim toward Kara. Her shoulder feels like it is tearing itself apart but Lena pushes through the pain and dives back into the darkening water.

 

She grabs the back of Kara’s coat and brings her back up to the surface.

 

“Commodore!” Lena calls but chokes in surprise when Kara stares back at her with a blank look. The flame Lena had always seen burning in Kara’s eyes has completely been snuffed out and the shock is enough to make her lose her grip.

 

Kara sinks back into the water like dead weight. She pulls Lena in with her, giving Lena barely enough time to take a breath. Her grip tightens on the Commodore’s coat, and Lena pulls. She pulls and pulls, swimming back to the surface, her shoulder screaming in agony. Blonde hair finally breaks through the surface once again, blue eyes wide open, lost somewhere Lena cannot reach.

 

“Kara?” Lena slides her arm around the Commodore’s waist and turns Kara’s face toward hers. “Kara!”

 

Lena grunts when she is pushed away violently. Kara gulps for air, swimming on her own, looking lost and disoriented, but finally out of whatever stupor had overcome her mind.

 

“I’m fine,” the woman says. She repeats over and over again, while trying to control her breathing. “I’m okay.”

 

Lena doesn’t know what to do. The words of reassurance Kara keeps repeating aren’t meant for her and so Lena waits, keeping watch over her in case she lapses back into another crippling stupor.

 

Someone whistling cuts the litany short. Lena whips around to look for the source. One short and one long. Strong and sharp across the water. It makes Lena smile and breathe in relief. She tries to whistle back but chokes with laughter when she realizes that she can’t. She doesn’t have enough air in her lungs. Too tired to give that second-nature signal Luke had taught her years ago, but it has the effect of making Kara focus back on her.

 

Blue eyes watch her with confusion and then a slow, steady realization as Kara remembers why they are here in the first place. Lena smiles tentatively, before turning back around to scrutinize their surroundings. A shadow appears. It hides the setting sun in the horizon.

 

“Over here!” Lena calls, hoping that Luke will hear her.

 

He does.

 

Voices bounce on the water, getting closer, until Lena sees Eli row the ship’s boat toward them while Jess stands guard with her musket.

 

“Steady, steady…” Luke orders as the boat stops next to her.

 

Lena grabs Luke’s arms and holds on to his shoulders as he hoists her up. His sure grip around her waist is enough for Lena to know that he had been worried. She lets him ruffle her hair begrudgingly. She wouldn’t let him get away with it any other day, but right now the annoying gesture is a welcomed comfort. She doesn’t protest either when Eli grabs her in a one-armed hug and makes the barque sways dangerously. Jess curses loudly, scrambling to retrieve the oar slipping out into the water. Lena forgets the pain and the fear to hold on to this moment. This familiar dynamic she nearly lost… Jess makes Eli sit back down, making Lena smile. She tears up when Jess gives her the hat she thought she’d lost.

 

“Welcome back, Captain.”

 

A million questions fuse in her mind at seeing the worn-out hat Luke had bought her so long ago. Her hand trembles when Lena reaches for it and smiles at feeling the comforting fabric between her fingertips. After days of being constantly on edge, the sight of the smiling faces of her crew feels like coming home… She’s about to asks them why they are dressed in K’Hunds armor before Luke clears his throat and looks to her, unsure of what to do as Kara stays in the water, watching Luke’s offered hand warily.

 

Lena sighs, kneeling down next to him. She doesn’t think she has enough strength to pull Kara toward them but she holds out her hand as a gesture of goodwill. “Come on.”

 

Kara grips her hand with hesitation. A tentative trust, but it was also Kara’s guarantee against a boat full of pirates. Pirates she had been tasked to hunt down not so long ago. Lena doesn’t mind being held hostage if it convinces the Commodore to get into the boat so they can get the hell out of here. Luke and Eli grab Kara and hoist her up. Lena winces at the iron grip the Commodore has on her hand and huffs at the Commodore’s stubbornness. Her crew gasps at seeing the characteristic blue coat slowly emerge out of the water. They immediately drop Kara at the bow.

 

The tension is palpable.

 

Her crew is uncharacteristically silent. Kara’s blue coat with gold-laced buttons immediately betrays her as a high-ranking officer of the Federation. Jess looks to Lena and then to Luke, not knowing whether she has to aim her musket at the new addition or not, while Lena sees Luke’s hand move toward his waist where he keeps his daggers. Knuckles white from gripping the edge of the boat, Kara tenses even more, nose flaring and ready to pounce.

 

It prompts Lena into action. Heart pounding, she interposes herself between Kara and her crew, holding up her hand at Luke so that he backs away.

 

“Let’s go.” Lena whispers, looking at Luke pointedly. His hand falls back onto his side and he sighs, nodding to her before giving orders to the crew in a calm and quiet tone.

 

The boat glides across the water. Jess resumes her watch while Eli rows them back toward the ship.

 

Cornered and anxious, Commodore Zor-El watches them warily. Her gaze flees past Lena, as she gathers information with those blue eyes of hers. The days they had spent in captivity have given Lena enough insight into the Commodore’s mind to know that Kara was assessing her crew’s strengths and weaknesses… She had done the same with Roulette’s crew, giving Lena an impressive sample of what she could do, but Lena hadn’t cared to listen back then… She had been too busy with her own thoughts to care about what Kara had learned about Roulette’s crew by listening to them walk on the deck… Lena clears her throat loudly, bringing the Commodore’s attention back to her, now worried Kara’s sharp mind might be coming up with a way to dispose of her crew. Outnumbered and injured, Commodore Zor-El was still a force to be reckoned with and Lena would be a fool to let her guard down.

 

Their eyes meet. The simmering energy Lena knows lies under the Commodore’s skin is visible, palpable… waiting to explode. Lena can only hope that her presence is enough to prevent any confrontation before they can even get to her ship. Luke’s warm back pressed against hers comforts her in the knowledge that if a confrontation is to break out, it won’t come from her crew. All Lena has to do is make sure that Kara’s restlessness remains under control and that she doesn’t find any reasons to revert back into her Girl of Steel alter ego…

 

Held captive in the blue of Kara’s eyes, the tension is enough to make Lena breathless.

 

A drop of water slides from Kara’s hairline down to her lips. It makes the Girl of Steel grimace and flinch with unspoken torment. Lena is released from whatever glaring match they were having as Kara wipes the droplet away with a jerk of her hand, breathing deeply and steadily…

 

It prompts Lena to breathe in some much needed air too, blinking away the daze Kara had plunged her into. Lena doesn’t know how Kara does it. How she can hold such intensity within herself and not break under the pressure. It’s overwhelming to watch and Lena presses her back harder against Luke’s, seeking comfort and support.

 

The sight of the familiar masts hiding behind a cliff is a relief. A reprieve from the tension pulsing in the boat. The familiar sound of her deck creaking under her boots makes Lena smile despite the pounding headache she has. It nearly makes her forget about the Commodore standing rigidly behind her.

 

But the hush falling over the deck acts as a reminder and Lena sees her remaining crew freeze in mid-shout of victory, and some about to clap her in the back stop short. Kara isn’t helping the situation at all. Chin held high, eyes defiant, and spine ramrod straight, she is the embodiment of the Federation’s arrogance and superiority, despite the small tick Lena can see in her cheek and something like discomfort flashing in her eyes.

 

The atmosphere onboard The Singing Nightmare crackles with hostility.

 

“Your orders?” Luke asks her, snapping the crews’ attention back onto her.

 

“Get us the hell out of here,” Lena orders, giving Luke a small, relieved smile. “I want the Singing Nightmare ready for combat. Expect to be attacked.”

 

“Aye Captain!”

 

Her crew rushes into position, making a wide berth around her and the Commodore. It would have made Lena laugh if she wasn’t feeling so damn dizzy and about to faint. She grabs Kara’s arm, no longer preoccupied with personal space, and rushes her toward her cabin. Luke catches her gaze from across the deck. She motions him to follow her once he’s done. He nods, shouting orders as the crew fasten their pace and the Singing Nightmare begins to set sail.

 

It is a hunch. Something she isn’t really sure about, but as stoic and unreachable as Kara has seemed to be, Lena saw the strain it put on Kara’s body to pretend and to hide under the authority her blue coat and gold-laced buttons granted her, especially after everything they’ve been through. Another telling sign is the Commodore’s lack of protest at being dragged across the deck and into the Captain’s cabin.

 

As predicted, Kara crumbles in her arms as soon as Lena closes the door behind her. It’s like the strings holding the Commodore together have snapped one by one, leaving her boneless, breathless, and vulnerable.

 

“It hurts,” Kara hisses, gritting her teeth, and holds on to Lena’s shoulders as her legs gives out from under her. “It hurts now.”

 

“Okay,” Lena whispers, holding Kara tightly against her. Her shoulder flares up in pain. Black spots appear before her eyes. “Work with me. Just-” Lena groans as she drags Kara toward her bed on the other end of the cabin. Kara’s boots scrape across the wood in a long drawn-out screech and Lena pushes through the pain, supporting Kara’s body, intent on upholding the promise she made. “Just a little more,” she grunts, listening to Kara’s shallow breaths.

 

Lena’s vision sways dangerously and they both crash on the bed.

 

“What the hell!”

 

Lena blinks, draped over Kara with her head pressed against the skin of a burning neck, and she hears Luke slams the door behind him. He rushes toward them with the medicine chest. She pushes with her good arm to get off of Kara and groans in pain when she rolls on her side.

 

Luke drops the chest on the bed.

 

Kara trembles next to her with sweat pearling over her brow. A fold of her soaked coat is now wide open and Lena sees the red hues blossoming on her once white uniform.

 

Lena protests when Luke examines her and she pushes him toward Kara. “Her first. I’m okay. You take care of her first.”

 

Luke swallows back his protest and nods. Lena tries to smile but it quickly morphs into shock when Kara kicks Luke away and sends him sprawling on his back a few feet away.

 

“For fuck’s sake,” he grumbles, rubbing at his chest.

 

Lena looks at him apologetically before focusing back on Kara who has jumped on her feet, looking disoriented and delirious. Lena grabs her from behind. Her arms wrap around Kara’s upper body and Lena immobilizes her as they fall back on the bed. Lena scoots back toward the headboard with Kara’s back firmly pressed against her chest.

 

“It’s okay,” she whispers amidst Kara’s screams. She presses her temple against Kara’s and holds her tight as the Commodore thrashes around. “I’ll take care of you. I promised… Just relax…” Kara doesn’t and Lena holds on, stopping Luke from getting any closer, whispering reassurances in Kara’s ear.

 

It wasn’t some kind of divine power that made Kara resistant to pain like the legends had led them to believe. Kara wasn’t immune nor was she a god. Her reputation was solely based on an iron will. A will so strong and tenacious that Lena saw her take hit after hit without flinching and remain absolutely focused until the threat was gone. Under the ramparts, Kara had been unrelenting. It had been chilling to watch and nearly mystical. It would have made her believe the legends surrounding Kara Zor-El if she hadn’t known any better. Kara truly was a terrifying force of nature, armed with a hair-trigger instinct that has suddenly flared back to life with Luke’s proximity; ready to lash out despite her wounds, her fever, and the tremors running all over her body.

 

“I trust him,” Lena repeats relentlessly. “Please, Kara. He’s going to help…”

 

Kara twists in her arms and stares at her. Lena doesn’t know what is happening behind those blue eyes but the fevered fog of pain clears and Kara slumps in her arms, nodding her understanding. Lena sighs in relief because she doesn’t think she could have immobilized the Commodore any longer. Her arms tremble from the sheer pressure she had to use just to hold her down.

 

Luke raises an eyebrow at her. Lena rolls her eyes, too tired to explain. He gives her a half-empty bottle and points at Kara. “Make her drink this.”

 

Lena tips the bottle gently to Kara’s lips.

 

The liquid sprays out of her mouth.

 

“Hey, don’t go wasting the rum now,” Luke grumbles, opening the medicine chest. “It’s the best we’ve got.”

 

Lena chuckles and takes a swing herself. The liquid burns down her throat and warms her insides. It dulls her senses enough that Lena can finally ignore the pain pulsing in her body. She tips the bottle back to red fevered lips and Kara drinks more carefully now that she knows what to expect.

 

“Can I?” Luke asks, pointing at Kara’s clothes, voice low and gentle.

 

“Yes,” Kara croaks. Her body melts against Lena’s chest as the alcohol begins to take effect on Kara’s frayed nerves. Lena makes Kara finish the last of the rum as Luke unbuttons Kara’s bloodied uniform and exposes her abdomen.

 

The gash is long. It runs down to her waist and still oozes blood. It isn’t the only one they find. Luke catches Lena’s eyes and they both follow the path of other wounds running down Kara’s breeches and up her chest. Fresh gashes and stab wounds overlapping over old scars. Kara’s blue coat and gold laced-buttons was more than just a show of authority. It hid a lifetime’s worth of pain…

 

Kara’s breathing evens out. She finally passes out from pure exhaustion and settles over Lena’s chest. Luke gets to work immediately. His movements are too fast for Lena to follow but she does help him undress the Commodore as gently as possible. They discover small bruises on her back and over her legs. A painting in shades of red and blue. Bandages are passed around. Wounds are sewn closed. Lena helps as best as she can, but her head begins to spin and her vision isn’t getting any clearer.

 

“Is she our prisoner or...?”

 

Lena scoffs at the teasing lilt she hears in his voice. He looks pointedly at the way she holds Kara close to her even though the Commodore has not been moving for awhile. Lena blushes and leans back against the headboard with Kara’s head resting on her stomach. “She saved me. More times than I can count in the short time I've known her.”

 

“Good to know.”

 

“Where’s Maggie?”

 

“At the infirmary. She’s okay but her ankle is badly sprained. She’s sleeping it off. You know how she gets on boats.” They share a look, chuckling at how sick Maggie gets every time she gets on board The Singing Nightmare. Eli does make a point of making the experience worse for the Lieutenant every time... “Jess’ watching over her…” Luke adds, reading her mind. “They’re managing the ship while I take care of you both.”

 

Lena hums, brushing away a strand of hair that has fallen over Kara’s face.

 

“She is either very lucky or very skilled,” Luke mutters and sighs. He cracks his neck and throws another bloodied rag into the bucket at his feet. The rag thuds with a wet sound in the silent cabin. “None of her wounds are too serious. It’s like-”

 

Lena freezes, as he looks pointedly at her hand lingering on the slope of Kara’s cheek. “She has a fever,” she states lamely, clearing her throat. She hates the way his lips tug into a smile.

 

“Are you going to tell me who this woman is?” Though nothing on Kara revealed her identity besides her coat, which only betrayed her high-ranking position, Lena knows that he knows. Luke is just waiting for her to confirm his suspicion.

 

“It’s her,” Lena nods. “It’s the Girl of Steel. Commodore Kara Zor-El…”

 

Luke pauses in the middle of closing a wound on Kara’s thigh. “Well fuck,” he breathes and resumes his work.

 

“Yeah.” Lena chuckles and coughs when her ribs shake painfully.

 

She doesn’t know if it is the rum flowing in her veins, the exhaustion, or the stress taking a toll on her mind, but she is unable, reluctant even to let go of the trembling body burning up in her arms. Besides the few grunts and twitches Kara doesn’t move anymore and Lena can’t explain the overwhelming desire to protect this woman who frightens her as much as she fascinates her. Someone who isn’t fooled or made afraid by the layers of deception Lena hid behind to protect herself. Someone who has trusted her enough to be vulnerable and rely on her to be protected… Lena can’t explain it nor does she want to; afraid of the answers she might find…

 

“Who would have thought?” Her fingertips run along an old scar on Kara’s shoulder. “Protecting each other… Fleeing aboard the same ship… A Luthor and a-” The raised flesh calls upon some kind of images of them laughing in a trashed room, bloodied but alive. Hazy memories of her mapping Kara’s skin for invisible scars…

 

Lena blinks and gasps for breath.

 

“Lena?”

 

The room sways dangerously to the side. Lena hears Luke curse before she passes out.

 

***

 

The first weeks on the run had been hard.

 

Lena had to grow accustomed to sleeping on the ground, in damp caves, and sometimes high-up in tree branches, tied to the trunk. Her clothes had a perpetual dampness to them and a layer of grit had settled over her skin, refusing to let go of her no matter how many times she would scrub it clean. Lena was longing for a warm meal and a nice bed, or any semblance of civilization other than the gruff, silent guardian Lillian had given her. A guardian who always left her for hours to go to the nearest port or city. Furious with his constant refusal to let her tag along, but secretly terrified that one day, he would never come back.

 

Grief turned into anger and resentment, and Lena had hated Luke with every fiber of her being.

 

She couldn’t understand why Lillian had entrusted her to his care. He was the same age as Lex, and he used to be a surgeon in the Federation’s Marine Corp. He rarely talked except to tell her what not to do, which had been frustrating beyond belief because it turned out that Lena wasn’t allowed to do anything. He’d try to teach her how to fish and how to hunt, which Lena had been happy about, but that had quickly changed when he showed her how to gut a fish and skin a rabbit... His cooking skills were beyond abysmal. The meat he would give her was either still raw or completely charred. Lena had refused to eat fish after he gave her one that had been still partially uncooked one night. The taste had stuck to her tongue and it had made her dry-heave for weeks.

 

It was easy to scream at him when he would only look at her with a calm expression and ignore her tantrums with a scoff or a scratch of his chin. It only made her want to scream even more. It was easier to blame Luke, to rage against his silences and his numerous flaws than to let herself think about what the Silver Banshee had told her, about the prophecy that had broken her heart and had made her flee as far as she could in order to protect her brother. Protect him from her.

 

With the blood of your blood on your hands, you will be the last sunrise he’ll see, the Silver Banshee had said in a voice that had come straight out of the abyss. Cavernous and rich with echoes and ironclad truths. Lena had wondered, looking at the stars, what would have happened if she had talked to Lex about it rather than Lillian. Would he have handled the situation differently? Or would the prophecy have realized itself as soon as she saw her brother?

 

On those nights when the guilt had felt too heavy for her heart, Lena would challenge Luke to a sparring match. She wanted to hurt him. She wanted him to feel as much pain as she was feeling, but none of her kicks and punches had ever landed. Her vision would always blur with tears.

 

“You wouldn’t survive out there without me,” Luke had told her one night and Lena had hated the fact that he was right.

 

He was right…

 

Lena opens her eyes and inhales deeply. A lingering feeling of panic and fear hammers in her chest only to abate when she feels an arm, strong and warm, tighten around her waist, and burning lips nuzzle the back of her neck.

 

Lena stiffens.

 

“Don’t move,” Luke grumbles from behind her desk. “I’ve tried to pry her away but she kept latching on to you. I gave up after the third time when she managed to tear up her stitches…”

 

“How long did I sleep?” Lena asks, looking behind her to see a mop of blonde hair pressed against her back.

 

“A couple of hours.”

 

Lena tries to extricate herself from under Kara’s arm but it’s no use. It only makes the Commodore tighten her grip even more and mumble in a language Lena remembers hearing when Lex and Kal-El were still allies. She does manage to turn herself onto her back, making Kara move, following her movement, and settle back against her. Lena rolls her eyes at seeing Luke’s amused expression.

 

“Help me?”

 

He chuckles and helps her lean back against the headboard. Kara presses her feverish face into her stomach, grumbling in Kryptonese, only to quiet down when Lena hesitantly runs her fingers through messy blonde waves. The movement makes her shoulder ache but Lena notices the fresh bandages over her wounds and the dry clothes keeping her body warm under the black woolen blanket.

 

“Thank you,” Lena hisses, breathing through the pain. Those two words are too simple to convey everything she wants to say. They felt too common and too inadequate compared to all the things Luke has done for her, but she says them anyway, knowing that he’ll understand. He ruffles her hair. “Fuck off,” Lena laughs and bats his hand away.

 

“Glad you’re feeling better. I put her in some of your clothes,” he says dragging a chair next to the bed and looks at Kara who is still firmly pressed into Lena’s side. “Looks like it was the right call,” he finishes with a teasing smile.

 

“Can you stop with the teasing?” Lena grumbles, rolling her eyes. “I got my ass kicked. Repeatedly. And I jumped off of a cliff.”

 

“We saw you,” Luke nods. “We were monitoring the west coast. Jess and Eli bet you wouldn’t jump...”

 

Lena sighs. Of course they would make a bet… “I’m glad I made you win.” In all the bets the Singing Nightmare’s crew has made over the years, Luke had never bet against her. He always put his money on her. He always believed that she would succeed, that she would make it…

 

“It was a tie.” He shrugs at Lena’s frown. “You did jump off of the cliff but only because of her…”

 

Lena looks down at Kara who has claimed Lena’s stomach as her pillow. “You’re lucky she was there. You would have definitely lost otherwise.” Luke frowns at her remark and gives her some water when her voice falters. Lena blinks away the tears, the what-ifs, and grimaces at the water’s bad taste.

 

“More rum?”

 

Lena gives him the bottle back. “How did you find me?”

 

“We heard the commotion outside of Noonan’s,” he says, walking toward the cabinet to mix the water with some more rum in order to mask the stagnant taste. “We couldn’t find you, so I figured you were the one causing it…” Lena snorts. He looks back at her, challenging her to deny it. Lena doesn’t. “We shadowed the blue-coats through the port… until we heard gunshots and went to investigate.” He comes back next to her and hands her the bottle again. Lena drinks several mouthfuls. “We found your hat on the beach, half-buried in the sand, and a few Maaldorian bodies. I figured Roulette was involved. We left for Maaldoria before the Federation came to the same conclusion.”

 

“Were you followed?” She tips her head back, draining the last of the watered down rum.

 

“By whom? The Federation?”

 

Lena nods, giving him the empty bottle back.

 

“I don’t think so.” He gives her another bottle and motions to Kara. They prop her up against Lena’s chest, making Kara groan in Kryptonese, much to their amusement. “I sent Hector to Slaver’s Bay first to get some information. He heard about the big event that was going to take place in the Arena, so I figured you’d be there…”

 

Lena tips the bottle to Kara’s lips and watches her drink, slightly concerned at the heat emanating from her skin. “Is that why you were wearing K’Hund’s armor?”

 

Luke nods. “We had to find a way in… Hector and the crew wreaked havoc in the port while we infiltrated the city. We only got through the first gate before we heard that someone had escaped through the lion’s trap doors. The Maaldorians mistook us for K’Hund reinforcements and gave us information on your whereabouts…”

 

Lena snorts, not believing their luck. Water seeps past Kara’s lips and runs down her chin as she stops drinking. Luke takes the bottle back and gives Lena a cloth to wipe Kara’s chin. It’s all very surreal, Lena thinks and wipes the perspiration on Kara’s brow and neck as well. If Kara hadn’t been in her arms, trembling with fever, Lena would think that she had made the whole thing up in a rum-induced dream. It wouldn’t be the first time… “It was a trap,” Lena says, feeling Luke’s gaze on her, waiting… Lena doesn’t meet his eyes, overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, by this familiar feeling of hopelessness when faced with insurmountable obstacles… A feeling that had latched onto her ever since she was forced to leave the Luthorian Islands… “Everything. The Silver Banshee’s call… Us going to National City… It was all part of a trap-”

 

“By her?” Luke asks, taking the cloth back, and looks at Kara warily.

 

“She’s the target,” Lena says, shaking her head. “The Daxam Queen wants her dead and she used me to make the Commodore come out and play…” Her fingertips brush over Kara’s forehead and she startles, blushing slightly when Luke clears his throat and looks at her with a teasing smile. Lena rolls her eyes. “Do you remember anything about Krypton? Before the disaster? A reason why the Queen would want her dead?”

 

“Well, she is an El,” Luke ponders, scratching his chin. “That would already be incentive enough for Daxam. They’ve had a feud for centuries. And with Admiral El, she would be the heir of the last ruling family.”

 

“The Queen talked about a child. I had the feeling that it was about… I don’t know, revenge? Could Kryptonians have killed him?” She doesn’t know much about Krypton’s history except that it was a land known for its numerous volcanoes and luxurious forests, as described in Lex’s books, in sharp contrast with the cold, windy Luthorian landscape. All Lena remembers is seeing the sky darken dramatically one day with thick, grey smoke plunging them in an early night for several days. Lena remembers Lex’s grave expression when he told her that it was all that was left of Krypton.

 

Luke shrugs. “You would have to ask her,” he says, looking at Kara.

 

Lena nods, signing heavily, and tells him about Queen Rhea’s deal, what happened at the Arena, and everything she understood so far of the Queen’s plan. “The Durlan outpost was attacked by the Dominators. I fear they might be Queen Rhea’s allies,” Lena adds. “Is Maggie awake?”

 

Luke shakes his head. “She woke up but only to throw up, and then she went back to sleep.”

 

“Any sightings of any ships?”

 

He shakes his head again. “Should we tell Eli about the Dominators?”

 

Lena bites her lips, looking up to the ceilings. “He’s not ready.” They both know it is a lie.

 

“If they allied themselves with Daxam, we might not have a choice… I doubt the Queen will forget what you did…”

 

She knew it was only a matter of time. Lena had beaten Veronica to the Captaincy of The Singing Nightmare only so that Eli would one day follow in his mother’s footsteps. She and Luke had been training him without his knowledge for years as per Captain Coptaire’s last request, but the mere thought of him fighting the Dominators to avenge his mother paralyzes her with fear.

 

Lena startles when she feels Kara trace small, soothing circles above her heart. Feverish and injured, Kara was still protecting her, even from sadness… “We need a plan…”

 

“Do you think she can help with that?”

 

Lena looks down at Kara. She was a wild card and now that they were out of immediate danger, Lena wasn’t sure how Kara would react or how she would fit into this… “Maybe…”

 

“The crew heard her screaming and they saw me with bloodied rags… They think we’re torturing her for information.” Luke laughs. “If only they knew…”

 

“She’s scary when she’s not… when she’s not sleeping,” Lena says, trying hard not to smile as Kara snores softly. “She is,” Lena insists, seeing Luke’s eyes twinkle with amusement. “She’s terrifying,” Lena whispers, running her fingers along Kara’s back. Still undecided whether she is more terrified of the Girl of Steel or of Kara Zor-El… “No one can see her like this,” Lena finally says, locking eyes with Luke. Everything was about reputation and intimidation in their world, especially for pirates, and they both knew that destroying the Girl of Steel image might as well be a death sentence for Kara.

 

“Her secret is safe with me,” Luke promises. He gets up and rolls his eyes when Lena puffs out a laugh at hearing his knees crack. “We’re sailing toward Starling…”

 

“Luke!” Lena calls as he is about to leave, asking for reassurance…

 

“Don’t worry. We’ll get through this. Like we always do,” he smiles. Calm and confident. “You get some rest now.”

 

Lena nods, reassured, and watches him close the door firmly behind him. She looks back at Kara, not really knowing what to feel about the cuddly Commodore… It does feel nice to be held so tightly... It feels warm, calming… Intimate. Kara mumbles again in her sleep. The Kryptonese feels softer, sweeter this time around. It is beautiful and entrancing in its strangeness and the way it flows so easily past her lips. It makes Lena wants to soak the words in. It makes her want to-

 

She touches Kara's cheek, slightly red from the fever, until her fingers stop at the corner of red, chapped lips... and startles when a puff of heated air hits her fingertips. Her heart is beating too hard and too fast and Lena removes her fingers, gulping slightly at the haze, and some kind of pull that made her want to-

 

Lena stops her train of thought right there and winces as she detaches herself from the Commodore, not caring about the protests Kara mumbles in her sleep. Lena tries to scoot away, bringing the blanket with her to palliate the sudden chill that has settled over her body now that Kara is no longer pressed against her. She closes her eyes and listens to the waves rocking the ship, trying hard to calm her racing heart. Kara's arm snakes around her waist and brings her back into her chest, making Lena heave a sigh.

 

There was no escaping this. Luke has tried and Lena is too tired to deny that she does like the comfort of Kara's embrace. Hot breath hits the back of her neck and Lena holds Kara's hand in hers. Her thumb rubs Kara's ring finger, in search of…

 

It still eludes her as she falls asleep.

 

***

 

Lena had been naïve. Being from the Chancellor’s family had given her incredible privileges in the Luthorian Islands, but those privileges had proven to be useless out there in the world. It had been jarring to feel small, to be seen as nothing but a girl. A girl who had no business dawdling in the port on her own. She had wanted to prove Luke wrong. She had wanted to prove to him she could survive without his protection. She only wanted a bath and a warm meal… but the world only saw her as a girl, easy prey, lost somewhere she should never have wandered on her own…

 

There was nothing more terrifying than to feel like prey. To feel like the world was slowly closing in on her…

 

The pungent smell of blood filling the dark alley had made her gag, watching Luke crush the skulls of the men who had cornered her, beaten her because she wouldn’t shut up and submit. It had filled her eyes with tears. Luke, always gentle, never screaming, had wiped away the blood that had splattered across his cheek when the last man had stopped screaming, dead.

 

“Did they-” Luke had whispered, voice breaking as he had looked at her tattered clothes. “Did they touch you?”

 

Lena had shaken her head, understanding what he was really asking, leaving the terrifying almost unsaid because it didn’t happen. Because Luke had found her first… She hadn’t known how but he had found her and that was all that mattered.

 

Lena had been naïve. So, so naïve. At fourteen years old, she knew nothing of the world, of other people’s motivations, or of their darkness…

 

“Lillian didn’t pay you to protect me,” Lena had whispered one night, looking at Luke dead in the eyes, finally connecting the dots together, finally understanding why he wouldn’t let her be seen by anyone… “She wanted you to kill me, right?”

 

The fire he had lit had crackled in between them. The flames had been bright enough to see the confirmation on Luke’s face but not strong enough to warm her frozen heart.

 

“Why didn’t you?” Lena had asked with a lump in her throat.

 

Luke had looked at her with that same unruffled expression that she used to hate so much and he had shrugged, giving her a fish much too charred to be edible. “You’re only a kid.”

 

“You should have,” Lena had rasped, ignoring the burned fish he handed to her. Lena had been fourteen years old when she realized that she’d never get back the life she used to have, and it had killed her from the inside because all she wanted was to go home… and she couldn’t. She couldn’t. “You should leave! You should go! I’m cursed! I’m a fucking demon!” Lena had cried, screaming herself hoarse, but secretly hoping Luke would not believe any of her words. Hoping he wouldn’t leave her alone.

 

“I’m not leaving,” he had said in that non-nonsense tone he always used when she would throw a fit, and it had made Lena choke mid-sob. “You have to be crueler, more perseverant, and more cunning than anyone else if you want to survive. I’ll show you how, okay? You’re going to be fine. I’ll teach you how to protect yourself.” His arm had draped over her shoulders and Lena had nodded, tired and sad, holding on to the only person still in her corner. “Everyone’s already betting against you, but not me, okay? I believe in you.”

 

I believe in you…

 

Lena wakes up to the sound of a gunshot.

 

Her body reacts before her mind can even register what’s going on. She’s out of the door, fully armed, and inhales deeply when the chilly air grips her body. It’s dark, pitch black, not even dawn. The moon has disappeared from the sky and the sun has yet to rise. She sees Luke’s silhouette at the helm and joins him.

 

“Jess said she saw something… over there,” Eli tells her as she gets closer.

 

Lena doesn’t need to look up to know that Jess is up there in the crow’s nest with Hector as they keep an eye over the horizon with their muskets ready. Lena squints in the darkness, where she feels like she can see the water moving, but it’s no use. Lena doesn’t see anything.

 

“They know we’re here,” Luke grumbles.

 

Lena nods. The enemy was using the advantage of the darkness to sneak up on them. “They’ll try to board the ship. Have the swivel cannons ready. Signal Jess to mark the target. Be ready for an attack,” Lena orders, letting Luke and Eli pass the orders to the crew.

 

Lena hates as much as she loves the anticipation. The waiting. A moment filled with silent tension.

 

Jess’s musket blares into the night, revealing the target by the body that drops into the water. The swivel cannons don’t wait to sink the ship’s boat down and its crew with it. Another shot rings out but on the other side of their ship this time and the boom of the swivel cannons immediately follows. They are being boxed in… Lena looks to Luke who nods and runs back toward the helm.

 

“Disengage!” Lena screams. They need to get the hell out of here, fast. Those ship’s boats were only the first wave, meant to stall them till the heavier ships arrived.

 

The ship makes a sharp turn to find the wind and catch it in the sails. The sun rises slowly over the horizon, coloring the water with deep red hues, and allowing Lena to see the three menacing Frigates behind them.

 

“What’s their affiliation?”

 

“No flags,” Luke grumbles, looking through his spyglass.

 

Lena growls as she watches them get closer. They only had a few hours left before those ships closed in on them. Lena can’t let that happen. It could be either Roulette or Queen Rhea… and both were equally bad. Three against one, Lena didn’t like their odds at all. There would have no chance of surviving an attack.

 

“Captain!” Hector screams from the crow’s nest. He points to the left of the bow.

 

Luke hands her his spyglass and Lena gulps at seeing five imposing ships sailing right at them, intent to cut off their path. The Federation’s flag billows proudly in the wind.

 

“What do we do?” Eli asks.

 

Lena feels the eyes of her crew land on her, anxious as the odds keep stacking against them. All of their lives depended on her, but after examining all her options, there’s only one thing Lena can do. Choose her poison… “Set sail toward the Federation fleet.”

 

A shocked murmur swells over the deck.

 

“You heard the Captain!” Luke scolds, at their sudden inertia. The crew scrambles over the deck as Lena walks purposely toward the Captain’s cabin with Luke on her heels. “What’s the plan?”

 

Lena opens the door and snatches the blue coat with gold laced buttons lying on the floor. Kara is still out cold and Lena has no choice. “The Commodore is our way out. Have someone wave that for the Federation to see.” Luke looks at her, surprised and a bit intrigued. “We’ll use them as a shield and they’ll get rid of the Frigates for us,” Lena adds, giving him the coat. “If they know we have one of their own aboard the ship, they’ll think twice before gunning us down.”

 

Luke looks at her and chuckles with something like pride in his eyes. “Let’s do this!”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“That was close…” Lena mutters, watching the schooner that had been close to boarding them go up in flames and drift away. A billowing cloud of black smoke rises in swirling columns before it spreads across the water like a fog, blackening the horizon, and concealing them from view. But the smoke isn’t thick enough to allow Lena to forget the three Frigates lurking behind. She checks their position with her spyglass and exhales in relief at the distance still separating them. Her nose scrunches at the acrid scent of burning pitch and tar, and Lena looks down, distracted by the screaming coming up from the water. She touches her forehead and clenches her jaw, feeling the raised scar burn hot under her fingertips. “A small price to pay,” she tells herself, watching bodies being pulled under the waves. She repeats it quietly as the memory of the Silver Banshee’s messenger telling her the same thing echoes in her mind.

 

There was no refusing the call of a Silver Banshee. These apparitions of women, rumored to have offered their souls to the Gods, were rare and sacred. It was common knowledge that ignoring their call of fate was to be crueler than fate itself, and in the few encounters people had with a Silver Banshee that Lena had read about when she was young, no one had yet dared to refuse. But while Silver Banshees were easily recognizable, their features described at length in records and stories, their companions weren’t. The companion was the Silver Banshee’s link to the world. It served as a messenger, finding the unfortunate soul the Silver Banshee was searching for… and Lena hadn’t hesitated in following her. She had been entranced by the woman, by her white hair, jet-black eyes, and wicked grin. Amused by her mocking tone and wild, unrefined state. It was a dramatic change from the people Lena was used to seeing. It promised relief from the stale life she had in the Luthors’ mansion, and so Lena didn’t ask how the Messenger had managed to bypass the guards or how she had gotten into her room. She had let the Messenger search her for weapons and then Lena had followed her out of the mansion in the middle of the night.

 

It had felt surreal, and in hindsight Lena realized she should have known to be more cautious and not let herself be blinded by a pretty face and the excitement of a legend coming true…

 

A small price to pay, the Messenger had told her, making Lena recoil in fear when the Silver Banshee had grabbed her face. Lena had screamed upon seeing the woman’s white eyes. Her skin, covered with black and white ash, and silver hair streaked with black had been a haunting vision. A vision that still haunts her dreams, plagued by memories of the Silver Banshee’s open mouth descending upon hers, only to stop mere inches away from Lena’s lips, her mouth frozen in a perpetual scream. A small price to pay, the Messenger had repeated while putting a hand over Lena’s mouth and around her body to keep her still and silent while the Silver Banshee had marked her forehead with her claw-like fingers.

 

Lena shudders, nauseous, wanting to claw her scar off of her skin. A mark that would always remind her of the reason why she got it in the first place… Lena puffs out a laugh at the irony, feeling her nails make small indentations around the puckered skin.

 

Shame was a small price to pay to protect her brother.

 

The nameless faces of those in the Arena and the two officers she’s killed resurface, only to drown alongside her newest victims. “A small price to pay,” Lena hisses through gritted teeth, her throat clogging up with guilt, as only a few shapes still scream, their bodies breaking through the water only to be pulled under again.

 

Guilt was small price to pay to protect her people.

 

Luke comes up behind Lena with a surprisingly loud gait, making her aware of his presence long before he reaches her. The wooden boards of the quarterdeck creak beneath him. The familiar sound grows louder until it stops behind her.

 

“You know, I thought-” Lena pauses and smiles self-deprecatingly, rubbing at her forehead, smoothing out any marks she may have left, and focuses back on the horizon, unable to meet his eyes. “When Maggie told me she’d had a Messenger come to her, I thought a Silver Banshee had summoned me to- to-” Lena chuckles, scrunching her eyes shut at the absurd idea, and wipe away the tears that gather at the corner of her eyes. “To break the curse. To tell me that my fate had changed…” she lets out a breath and faces Luke. Palm pressed against her scar, she gives him a half-hearted shrug. “That maybe… Maybe I could finally go home… But you were right. We should have never gone to National City.”

 

He pries her hand away from her scar. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go home.”

 

Her hand tenses in his grip. Luke doesn’t break the hold, gripping her hand harder in a familiar battle of will as Lena tries to shrug him off. Unable to accept the comfort he gives her so willingly. She doesn’t deserve it because what he said wasn’t true. It wasn’t true at all. There’s everything wrong with her wanting to go back home. Because going home means causing her brother’s downfall. It means watching three Frigates make their way through the smoke, intent on sinking the Singing Nightmare, just because she had the ridiculous hope her fate might have changed...

 

Luke lets go of her hand. Lena crosses her arms over her chest, blinking away the treacherous tears that have gathered at the corner of her eyes. Going to National City had been a mistake. A mistake with consequences that she’ll have to bear.

 

“It won’t be long before they’ll be able to fire at us…” he says after a while, letting her have a moment to compose herself.

 

Lena sighs, acknowledging his assessment with a small nod and a slight clench of her jaw. The three Frigates still sail toward them, partially hidden by the smoke. A confrontation was inevitable. It was now just a waiting game… Lena walks over to the railings overlooking the deck.

 

“Jess is ready,” Luke says, following behind her. “I gave her the coat and Hector went back up with her to check the ropes. He might stay up there to help her...”

 

Lena looks up to the ratlines and sees Jess and Hector argue as they climb toward the crow’s nest. She swallows around the familiar lump forming in her throat. “Tell them to come down if the mast is hit. I won’t fish them out of the water again,” Lena finishes with a trembling smile.

 

Luke relays her order. His voice, loud and firm, carries over the distance, betraying none of her doubts, none of her guilt, and manages to infuse her words with that lilt of teasing she has failed to deliver. Her words get passed along the ratlines and up the crow’s nest. Hector leans over the railing and shouts an aye, Captain before Jess shouts back that she’d rather have a monkey watch her back than him. Lena snorts, turning back toward the Frigates. They cut across the waves with ease, appearing through the smoke like some kind of monster breathing black fumes and fire. She turns back toward her crew as she hears them laugh. Hector and Jess’ bickering flows down the mast, unaffected by the tension Lena can feel seeping into her body.

 

Luke chuckles, his arms crossed over his chest and looking at them. “He’s trying too hard. I don’t think she’s interested…” Lena shrugs, tight-lipped, making Luke look back at her. “You know something that I don’t?”

 

“Rum might have loosened her lips.” Lena grins as he raises an eyebrow at her, clearly expecting her to elaborate. “But I don’t think she’ll act on it. He’ll be insufferable if she does… and he talks too much for her taste.”

 

Luke hums, agreeing with her.

 

A determined set of boots thumps up the quarterdeck toward them, announcing Eli’s arrival. Always eager to prove himself, he puffs his chest out a little before addressing them. “It’s done. No more cannons on board and the buckets are brimming with water,” he reports, looking at her, and wrings the bottom of his shirt. Water pools down at their feet, making him smile sheepishly. “We’ve nearly finished wetting the sails. We’ll be ready if a fire breaks out.”

 

“Good work.”

 

Eli’s smile turns into a full-blown grin before Lena dismisses him with a small smile. He leaves the quarterdeck with an extra spring in his step, resuming his inspection.

 

“It will increase our speed but not by much,” Luke points out, eyeing the sails distend with the wind. “With all of our cannons gone…”

 

“We’ll have no way to defend ourselves. I know.” She looks at him and feels a pinch to the chest at seeing the scowl on his face. Letting go of her cannons hadn’t been an easy decision to make but there was no turning back now. Fighting the three Frigates on their own was suicide and while they might have a better chance to outrun the Frigates now, they will be defenseless when surrounded by the Federation… “It’ll work. Trust me.”

 

“It’s them I don’t trust,” he says looking toward the Federation, both remembering the length the Federation went to in order to capture her in the early days of her escape from Lillian’s killing order. In the heat of the battle between Lex and Kal-El, she had become a primary target to anyone who wanted Lex weakened. Even with the war coming to a sort of standstill for the past few years, her name was still on their wanted list. Wanted for piracy and other crimes... But Lena knew why they really wanted her. She was a still a Luthor after all, and if they couldn’t get to Lex, they’ll capture her… which Kara did…

 

“How is she?” Her gaze fleets down at the wooden boards, imagining Kara just below.

 

“Out cold and feverish. She won’t wake up anytime soon.” Luke looks back at her with worry in his eyes. He had no doubt that her plan would work to get them away from the Frigates. His worry was motivated by what happens next. What happens after they are in the clutch of the Federation?

 

“I figured,” Lena mutters, not surprised in the least. She knew Veronica enough to know that she had done everything to push Kara to her limits. The Girl of Steel was never meant to survive the Arena and the three Frigates pursuing them were there to correct that mistake… They both knew that Kara was a key element to the plan and it was in their best interest that she should remain well and alive.

 

“I made sure to put her in a safe spot for when we’ll be under attack.”

 

Lena chuckles, relaxing a bit, and wonders what Luke mean by safe spot. Kara could be tied up to a wooden beam in her quarters for all she knows… because Lena recalls him telling her that same bullshit when he made her sleep in trees, tied to the trunk. She points her spyglass toward the Federation. “They’re forming a blockade. I don’t think they’ll get any closer.”

 

“That’s not good for us.”

 

“No, it’s not.”

 

It was definitely not good for them. It added more distance for her ship to cross if she wanted to use the Federation’s cannons to intimidate the Frigates pursuing them. But now that the Federation has taken position, the Singing Nightmare would be on her own to withstand the attacks of the three Frigates until she’s in range of the Federation… Lena bites her lip in worry, estimating the distance separating them from the Federation and comparing it to the distance separating them from the Frigates. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good at all…

 

“You remember the first battle we had on this ship?”

 

Lena nods distractedly, grabbing the railing, and breathes deeply. She doesn’t remember much of the details but she does remember feeling her heart pound in her chest, so much so that it had paralyzed her body and had left her breathless. Lena remembers the blood… So much blood… and Luke standing at her back, joining in on the screaming, and the singing as the crew had stomped their boots in a frightening display of intimidation. Madi had led the charge and all Lena remembers is slipping on the bloodstained deck while trying to sidestep dead bodies and pools of blood… with Veronica snickering at her when she…

 

“I threw up,” Lena grumbles, wondering why Luke would want her to think back on her not-so glorious first year on the Singing Nightmare.

 

“And then you had to mop it off of the deck…” Luke adds with a laugh, making Lena roll her eyes.

 

“Is there a point to this story?”

 

“None.”

 

She socks him in the shoulder and feels the tension ease up with Luke’s booming laugh. It has the desired effect of taking her mind away from the battle to come, but the comfort doesn’t last long. Not long enough for Lena to forget the past few days and the toll it had taken on her mind and body. Lena feels the guilt she usually manages to keep at bay resurface and dull her senses. Her body throbs with pain. Even phantom pain, making her rub absentmindedly at her scar again, beyond exhausted… Lena rolls her shoulders, loosening the tension that had settled in the back of her neck, and breathes deeply.

 

Their survival depended solely on the hope that Kara’s sister was in one of the Federation’s vessels and that she intended to get her sister back. Enough to save a pirate ship. Enough to cut her some slack for having saved the life of her sister… That was what Lena was hoping for. It was crazy and kind of reckless. Gambling the life of her crew on something she had read in Kara’s eyes. If she were to be wrong… If her assumptions were incorrect… The Singing Nightmare would be blown to smithereens, trapped in a three-way crossfire.

 

Lena startles when a warm hand grips her forearm, prying her hand away from her scar, again.

 

“Do you want me to take the helm?”

 

Lena shakes her head and pats his hand gratefully. “Eli will. I want you to stay on deck. There will be injured.”

 

“Alright, I’ll check again on our… guest.” He looks at her with a hint of mischief in his eyes. Lena laughs, watching him call Eli and then point toward her.

 

Eli runs up the stairs, looking at her with a question in his eyes. Lena points at the helm, making him freeze.

 

“At the helm, Master Coptaire.”

 

His eyes widen, flicking to the helm, back to her, and then back to the helm. “Really? I mean…” Eli clears his throat. “Aye!” He replaces the tired helmsman who gets back onto the deck and begins to help in another station. Eli takes the helm with reverence, his hands caressing the dark wood, standing exactly where Madi used to be.

 

Lena shakes the memory away, forcing herself to stay focused. She checks the progress of the Frigates with her spyglass and sighs. She doesn’t think they’ll wait to catch up to them to attack. Now with the Federation so close, they’ll want to sink her ship hard and fast. The spyglass trembles in her hand. It won’t be long now, an hour maybe, before her ship is inside their firing range.

 

“So…” Eli trails off, grabbing her attention. “Are we… allied with the blue-coats now?”

 

Lena shrugs, checking the Federation’s position. “If it keeps us alive…”

 

“There’s a rumor that-”

 

“It’s the Girl of Steel…” Lena cuts him off, looking back at Eli who freezes again. He snorts and then sputters mid-laugh when Lena raises an eyebrow at him, utterly serious.

 

“Holy shit! You’re not kidding… We- We tortured the Girl of Steel?” His eyes widen even more. “She’s here? In your quarters?” He curses under his breath and grips the helm harder, nearly hyperventilating as Lena can see the gears turning in his head. Surely replaying the encounter he’s had with Kara on the small boat. “Holy shit!”

 

“Don’t be scared now,” Lena teases, keeping track of the Frigates’ movements.

 

Eli scoffs, looking at her nervously. “Me? No way.” The tone of his voice suggests otherwise but Lena doesn’t call him out on it. “I mean, she can’t be scarier than the three warships pursuing us, right?”

 

Lena shrugs, not affirming or denying it. Eli gulps, making her lips twitch in a smile, but she quickly hides it, turning her attention back onto their pursuers. Her smile vanishes when the first Frigate maneuvers to broadside.

 

“They will fire at our stern,” Lena growls, clenching her jaw, as the Frigates slowly change positions. Eli gives her a determined nod, before Lena runs to the railing. “Beat to quarters!” Her crew scurries across deck, below deck and up the ratlines, taking back their positions with practiced ease. Lena shouts a warning before rattling off directions to Eli in order to keep the stern off of the firing line.

 

The ship turns.

 

Lena sees a flash of bright light before the booming sound of cannons reaches her ears.

 

The Singing Nightmare screeches. Its old wooden boards creak in protest at the maneuver until the first cannonball hits them. Lena has barely the time to protect her head before splinters of wood fly in the air and the concussion knocks her backward. She scrambles to her feet, in chaos and confusion, and again instructs Eli to change the ship’s direction as she watches the second Frigate prepare to fire a salvo.

 

Bright light flashes behind the smoke gliding over the water. Lena shouts another warning. It comes off as a growl that scrapes the inside of her throat as the Singing Nightmare makes a sharp turn as per her instruction. Screams of man overboard are shouted amidst the noise, making Lena glance toward the deck only to see several of her crew members launched in the air by the impact of a cannonball. The wooden boards splinter. Lena watches helplessly as several crew members fall into the water. She runs down the deck and to the half-broken railings, seeing the dark shapes of people she’s spent years with slowly drift away. Lena grabs a rope, ties it to a sturdy part of the ship, intent on-

 

“They’re gone!” Luke screams, slamming into her before she can throw the other end of the rope into the water.

 

The ships rocks forward.

 

“Let me try!” Lena screams and pushes him away before a wave crashes over them, making them lose balance and crash into the mizzen-mast.

 

“It’s too late! They’re gone!”

 

Lena scrambles back to her feet, rope in hands, only to see dark shapes disappear in the water, left behind with no grave but the sea. Anonymous until she checks the registry and finds who’s missing… Add them to the tally of people she’s killed.

 

“You can’t save everyone,” Luke shouts, grabbing her shoulder, intent on making her see reason. Lena doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want to lose any more of her people… The whistling of another cannonball coming at them makes her snap out of her thoughts, and she has just enough time to push Luke out of the way before the wood shatters beneath their feet. The ship rocks forward and screams fills the air. Luke helps her to her feet with blood flowing down from his forehead and locks eyes with her. It wasn’t their first close call. If anything, Lena feels like their lives have been a succession of close calls. It snaps her out of the guilt that threatens to swallow her whole, and soon enough Lena is back giving orders. Her voice rises above the sound of cannons and splintering wood as she gives shape to the chaos. Her crew moves as one with her orders, putting out fires, fixing holes, tying ropes; while Luke tends to the injured, showing them how to stop the blood pouring out of their own wounds.

 

They had to hold on till they reached the Federation’s perimeter.

 

Lena sees Maggie hobbling on the deck, looking greener than she’s ever seen her on a ship, but still helping even through gritted teeth, bandaging wounds the best she can with ropes and rags that Luke gives her.

 

A few caskets tumble around when the ship tilts to the side. The hull has been hit, Lena can feel it. Her carpenter feels it too and she gives Lena a nod before going down the steps with a few deck-hands to repair the hole.

 

A cannonball grazes the ship and sends water all over the deck. The ship tilts abruptly, making her run back aft to the quarter deck. Eli is cursing up a storm at the helm. His arms strain under the effort to keep the ship stable and he lets out a frustrated scream as more water rains down on them.

 

“Who did you piss off again?”

 

“Everyone!” Lena shouts, helping him stabilize the ship. She observes the sails to see if the wind has changed direction, and is relieved to see Jess still up there in the crow’s nest with Hector.

 

“Do you think they’ve seen it? The coat? ” Eli shouts.

 

“I hope so!” It was too late to go back now. “Keep that position!” She widens her stance, letting go of the helm to look toward the Federation with her spyglass. They are nearly at firing distance of their cannons. “We’re-”

 

The rest of her sentence vanishes with the booms of cannons. The waves push against the hull in an infernal dance, threatening to capsize them with every wave. Lena holds on to a rope, not sure if the liquid she feels running down her temple is water or blood. The booms of cannons go on. Untiringly. Trapping them in a perpetual chaos. Her orders get lost in the chaos. Bodies get thrown around and gore and missing limbs paint her ship in red.

 

“Hold on!” Lena orders, watching the first Frigate reload while the two others give chase, now aiming to catch up to them and attack on their side, not expecting the Singing Nightmare to last under so many salvos. “Steady!” Lena instructs, hearing Eli grunt as the ship begins to tilt again pushed by the wind blowing into the sails. “Now!” Eli lets go of the helm. It rolls, keeping the stern out of the direct line of fire as cannons boom in the distance. The sound of screaming picks up again as the ship makes an abrupt turn and splinters of wood fly in the air as the foremast breaks under the pressure. Ropes whip around no longer tethered. Man overboard is screamed, once, twice... Eli catches her eyes and with a bit of blood running down his nose and neck, he closes his eyes briefly, mourning the lives lost.

 

A small price to pay…

 

Out of breath, her arms straining under the effort, Lena bites her lip so hard it bleeds, and focuses on stabilizing the ship; on sailing toward the Federation… until the cannons stop. The absence of sound is jarring enough that it makes her sag in relief against the helm.

 

“Captain,” Eli whispers, voice hoarse. “I- I think we’re within range of the Federation’s cannons.”

 

Lena looks to the horizon. “We are,” she confirms, tucking a damp strand of hair behind her ear. She looks up and sees Jess, looking somewhat the worse for wear, wave Kara’s coat with even more vigor, while Hector has an arm wrap around her waist and the other around the mast. Lena waits with bated breath, observing the Federation’s vessels through her spyglass. Their hatches open, revealing the muzzles of cannons at gun ports.

 

A loud, thunderous shot rings out.

 

The Singing Nightmare stop breathing at the flash of bright light before them, waiting, waiting… and cheers when the cannonball sinks in between the Singing Nightmare and the Frigates as a warning shot, giving Lena confirmation that her plan has worked.

 

Eli looks back at her with wide misty eyes. “You’re the freaking best!”

 

Lena chokes on a laugh, barely wincing at the sting when her tongue wets her cracked lip. “It’s not over. Keep an eye out,” Lena rasps, pointing at their pursuers, fast-approaching. “They will fire with their bow cannons.”

 

“Aye, Captain!”

 

The Federation fires a second warning shot that goes ignored again. As she predicted, the Frigates fire at them with their bow cannons but they are still too far and the cannonballs don’t reach them.

 

Lena allows herself a small smile of victory as the Frigates ignore the Federation’s third, final warning shot. It prompts the five vessels to fire all at once.

 

Flashes of light blind the remaining crew of the Singing Nightmare. Eli winces next to her, clutching at his ears, grinding his teeth, as the booms of cannons shake them to the very core.

 

They sail into a cloud of smoke. Lena coughs, feeling dizzy. She hears the sound of an explosion in the distance and from the corner of her eyes, she sees a Frigate catch fire.

 

She barely has time to rejoice before Luke appears out of nowhere and grabs her arm. She frowns, confused and lost, unable to process what is going on as everything around her seems hazy, the sound distorted and muffled. Lena grunts when Luke finally shoves her against the door of the Captain’s cabin.

 

Lena pushes him out of the way only to see her crew standing in between her and the wave of blue-coats appearing from behind the thick curtain of smoke and boarding the Singing Nightmare.

 

***

 

The tingling sense of danger jolts her senses back to life after being dulled by the success of her plan, the disbelief, the chaos, and the assault of sound still going on around her. Her ship rocks forward, immobilized. Adrenaline courses through her veins, making her hands and heart tremble with increased anxiety, as the first thump of a pair of boots lands on her deck and is immediately followed by a dozen others.

 

Lena feels the impacts reverberate through the wooden boards.

 

Her crew immediately forms a wall until the smoke clears and they draw out their guns at the sight of the blue-coats standing in formation, ready to gun them down.

 

Bloodshed. That’s all Lena sees as she makes her way through the wall of bodies, bloody but compact, that her crew has formed and stops them from attacking. “Don’t!” Lena shouts, the words sounding weak to her ears. She shouts it again, more forcefully, as a few heads turn toward her looking for guidance despite the fear shining in their eyes. Outnumbered and injured, there was no way they’d survive an all out fight.

 

A hand closes around her biceps, stopping Lena slightly in her track.

 

“I can help,” Maggie splutters, her forms hunched in pain. The rough sailing has visibly taken a toll on her, making her gasps for breath while slurring her words slightly. “I’m a Federation officer. I’ll tell them what’s going on…”

 

Lena pursues her lips, about to protest seeing as the Lieutenant can barely stand on her feet until Luke sweeps in and grabs Maggie’s arm, shouldering most of her weight.

 

“What do we do,” he hisses, as the crew parts to let them pass.

 

“We wait,” Lena whispers, eyeing the blue-coats warily. They stand in formation, perfectly still in their fancy uniforms and with their muskets trained at them.

 

This was her doing. It was her plan and Lena is going to make damn sure they get out of this alive. All she needed now was to see the one in charge…

 

Lena doesn’t have to wait long before a wiry frame parts the formation of officers in two. Steps made loud by the sudden silence, spine ramrod straight, and with a brown piercing glare, Lena watches the woman sweep the deck in one long look before settling on her.

 

“Where is she?” Lena expels a breath, not realizing she was holding it in, as the woman glares at her. “Where is she?” The woman asks again, or rather commands her, crossing the distance separating them in two long strides and gripping Lena’s collar in her fists.

 

Lena holds out a hand, stopping her crew from reacting, and chuckles without meaning to. It angers the woman even more, her grip tightens around Lena’s clothes, but Lena can’t help but smile at the fact that she was right. This woman standing before her and threatening her was none other than the adopted sister Kara had talked about. Lena sees it in the scowl on her brow, in the purple bags sitting heavily under her brown glaring eyes, and in the naked worry exuding from her. So worried that she bypasses protocols and safety measures just to regain some sort of control, shaken by emotions she tries to hide with a clench of her jaw.

 

But Lena sees them; those emotions that can make people act irrationally just to protect those they hold dear. Lena feels them and she wonders, fueled by the goodbyes she’d never had the chance to say… She wonders if that was what Lex had felt. If those emotions had been why he had sent hundreds of mercenaries to find her over the years in order to get her back… unknowing that among those mercenaries Lillian had paid a few of them to finish the work Luke hadn’t… unknowing that she was trying to protect him from her and that she could never go home, even if she wanted to. Lena wonders if those emotions had been what had led Lex to issue a kill order on Luke, sending bounty hunters on the former Federation officer, turned rogue after his brief service to the Luthorian Islands, until Lena had to kill them, one by one, beginning by John Corben and his crew so that Lex would stop looking for her… so that in his desperation to get her back, he’d stopped endangering the new family she’d found along the way… Lena had to… She had to make him stop… until he eventually did …

 

“She’s here,” Lena whispers, swallowing around the lump that has formed in her throat and feeling hollowed out by the love and protectiveness she can’t help but project onto Kara’s sister. “She’s here. She’s safe.”

 

The grip around her collar slackens, visibly shocked at the lack of resistance. Lena has the distinct impression that Kara’s sister had been so high strung on saving Kara that she hadn’t considered the possibility of getting her back without a fight. Heart beating loudly, Lena sees the realization settle with a wary kind of surprise in her brown eyes, no longer glaring but observing, gauging her with an intense silence.

 

The cannons have stopped around them. The tension mounts with the sound of a few raindrops pit pattering on wood and Lena lets her arms go limp at her sides, appearing as non-threatening as possible, and intent to defuse the tension as quickly as she can so that they can focus on the real threat lurking behind them. A threat even the Federation was unaware of.

 

Kara’s sister looks past Lena’s shoulder, focusing on the rest of her crew, not unlike how Kara did on the small boat back when Luke, Eli, and Jess had come to get them after they had jumped off of the cliff, and steps back.

 

“Show me-”

 

“Captain Danvers!” A voice interrupts, making Kara’ sister spin around with silent fury. “I forgot how exciting working with you was. It feels like fighting against those pirates of the Black Mercy all over again-” The man pauses, his eyes widening slightly at seeing her behind Captain Danvers. He glances at her forehead. Lena feels her scar prickle under the scrutiny. “Lena Luthor,” the man says with clear interest shining in his eyes. It makes Lena even warier than she was with Captain Danvers. At least with Kara’s sister, she knew what the woman wanted. She knew how to play the situation in her favor. But this new addition was throwing her for a loop and it seemed like she wasn’t the only one not wanting him here. Captain Danvers fully turns toward him with clear disapproval.

 

“I’ve got this, Lord. Get back on your ship.”

 

“Maxwell Lord. Owner of this fleet,” the man introduces himself, bypassing Captain Danvers to stand right in front of her with confidence and haughtiness as he scrunches his nose at the state of her ship. He isn’t wearing anything like what an officer of the Federation would wear. His clothes looked expensive, tailored to his figure, made of fine fabrics that would make any pirates jealous. A quick glance toward the ship where he came from makes Lena question Captain Danvers’ choice to sail with him. Upon closer look, there was no doubt that the ship on her right was a Federation vessel. The design was familiar to a standard reconnaissance ship from the Marine Corp. A three masts ship built for speed and swift attacks… The ship on her left however, the one Maxwell Lord was coming from, looked more like a refitted merchant ship and with a crew far less disciplined than how a Federation crew would behave. Lena can hear them hollering in the distance while a few begin to board the Singing Nightmare, much to her disgust.

 

A privateer, Lena deduces, looking at Lord once again. A man wealthy enough to invest in four vessels and convert them into war ships, successful enough to recruit a complete crew for each of them, and act as he pleased, protected by the contract binding him to the Federation. Lena tenses, unsure as to how this situation will play out.

 

“It’s such a shame, really.” He hits her deck with the heel of his boot. The wooden boards groan in protest after the beating they just took. “Such a beautiful ship.” He looks back at her, his gaze fleeting once again on her scar, making her regret forgetting to put on her hat in her haste, and walks right up in her space. “I’ve heard so much about you…”

 

Whatever he was thinking of, Lena didn’t like it one bit. Luke apparently didn’t like it either as she suddenly feels his presence at her back.

 

“I can’t say the same about you.”

 

Lord gives her a tight smile before he turns back toward Kara’s sister and huffs. “Well? What are you waiting for? Kill them.” Lena tenses, looking back at Captain Danvers who glares at Lord. The tension increases as Luke grabs the back of her jacket, ready to haul her away, and Lena can feel her crew grow antsy behind her as a battle of authority breaks out between Lord and Captain Danvers. “They are pirates! We’ll find the Girl of Steel without them. We already have their ship-”

 

“You’ll be making a mistake!” Maggie steps in, shielding Lena with her body, unafraid. “Lieutenant Maggie Sawyer of the Federation Armed Forces,” Maggie continues as they both turn toward her, and promptly lists the chain of command under which she is obeying too.

 

“And what are you doing here?” Lord asks. “Have you turned to the other side, Lieutenant?”

 

Maggie doesn’t let the accusation intimidate her and despite her injuries, her small frame, and the motion sickness, Lena doesn’t think she’s ever seen her as intimidating as she is now, shutting down Lord’s own intimidation tactic with a glare and focusing back onto Captain Danvers. “She saved the Girl of Steel from Maaldoria’s Arena. She is the only one who knows what’s going on,” Maggie says, pointing back at Lena. “If you want the Girl of Steel to stay alive in the next few days, you’ll need her…”

 

“Nonsense,” Lord scoffs. “Maaldoria wouldn’t dare attack us so overtly.” Lord turns back toward Captain Danvers. “I believe she took the lives of two of your officers back in National City, Alex. Justice needs to be done.”

 

Lena stopped breathing as she sees Captain Danvers look at her with a hard expression. She did. Lena killed those men without a second thought and her action is costing her dearly as she sees the hesitation in Captain Danvers’ eyes. The rain stops. The sun breaks out from the grey clouds and Lena feels the guilt weight heavily inside of her. The guilt of those she killed and those she couldn’t protect. A small price to pay, Lena repeats to herself.

 

After much hesitation, which most of it is spent between Maggie and Captain Danvers seeming to carry a whole conversation in a simple glance, Lena breathes in relief when Kara’s sister shakes her head.

 

“This isn’t how we operate, Lord. And you know it. We’ll escort them until they face trial before the High-Council.”

 

Luke’s hand tightens around her jacket. But Lena can work with that. She can work with the amount of time it would take to get them back to Metropolis to convince Captain Danvers to work with her… Like she did with Maggie and the Durlan government a few years ago. The information Lena has is earth-shattering enough to make Kara’s sister reconsider putting her in the brig… But Lord decides otherwise, he hand-signals his crew who turns their muskets at the Singing Nightmare’s crew, much to Lena’s horror.

 

“Don’t!” Maggie shouts.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” Captain Danvers growls.

 

“Fuckin’ hell,” Lena hears Luke whispers.

 

Bloodshed. That’s what Lena sees as Captain Danvers grabs Lord’s collar and tells him to lift his command. That’s what Lena sees as she feels the tension about to snap with everyone standing on edge. Lord’s crew looks eager to shoot, the Federation officers wait for Captain Danvers’ order, and her crew fidgets behind her like animals in cages, ready to defend themselves. With guns pointed in every other direction, Lena takes out hers and points it straight to Lord’s head.

 

“You’ll be dead before you can pull the trigger.” He tells her with that same arrogance Lena has come to hate.

 

“Wanna bet?”

 

Lord gulps. Captain Danvers tries to defuse the tension by ordering them to drop their weapons, but it’s too late. It’s too late. All Lena sees is bloodshed and she doesn’t know how to stop it.

 

She doesn’t know how-

 

“That’s enough! Everybody stand down!” A voice shouts from behind her. Lena nearly crumbles with relief at hearing Kara’s voice thunder in the sudden silence and break the tension. Eyes never leaving Lord’s stupid self-satisfied smile, she hears her crew move behind her until she can feel Kara’s presence at her back. “That’s enough. Lower your weapon, Lena.”

 

Lena does. She puts her pistol back into its holster and hides her trembling hands by clutching her leather belt.

 

The relief is palpable. Lena isn’t the only one feeling it as she sees all the officers become less rigid, Lord’s men nearly cower at seeing Kara suddenly take the center of the stage, commanding fear and respect, even in her allies. They leave the ship with a look from Kara.

 

It is the first time Lena sees Captain Danvers smile and the sight is enough to make Lena think they might actually make it out of this alive.

 

“Ah! The Girl of Steel! Spoiling all the fun as always.”

 

“Lord.” Kara acknowledges him briefly as she looks all around her, taking in the situation at hand, without any apparent sign of pain, unperturbed by the blood of her freshly reopened wounds staining the clothes Luke had dressed her in last night. “Captain Lena Luthor and her crew are under my protection,” Kara declares, voice loud enough for the crew on the two other ships to hear her. The Girl of Steel proclaiming the Singing Nightmare’s crew and its captain under her protection spreads like wildfire and Lena hears her crew gasp in shock behind her. They mutter and speculate as the muskets trained on them lift at Kara’s order.

 

“You and your bleeding heart,” Lord says with contempt, low enough that Lena has a hard time catching every word. “It’s weakness. I thought we showed no mercy to pirates.”

 

Kara doesn’t seem fazed by the long tirade Lord is giving her. If anything, she seems bored as Lord goes on, viewing Kara honoring the deal she had made with Lena as hypocrisy. Lena hates it. She watches them argue over her fate and that of her crew and she absolutely hates it. She hates the feeling of having her life in the hands of another. Of not being able to do anything. Of having surrendered the minute she took the decision to sail toward the Federation. Who was she kidding? She had surrendered the minute she decided to save the Commodore’s life. A small price to pay, Lena repeats to herself, but watching them talking about her, about the lives of her people, debating if they were worth saving or not, makes her blood boil. It makes her clutch her belt harder as she can sense her crew growing restless and Luke tighten his grip on the back of her jacket. Her crew trusted her to have a plan. They trusted her to look after them… and Lena trusts Kara. She trusts her even though a part of her tells her to look for an escape route. She trusts her even though she begins to doubt as Lord looks at her crew with barely concealed disdain.

 

“Are you done?” Kara asks.

 

Lord scoffs. “It’ll take us weeks before we arrive in Metropolis. We all know the sentence given to pirates. We should just get on with it and kill them. Most of them are dying anyway. Look at the state of this ship,” Lord says to Kara. “It’s barely standing.”

 

“Captain Danvers,” Kara says, stoic, faced with Lord’s insubordination. “Make sure to give them the medical attention they need.”

 

Captain Danvers nods and looks toward Lena as she gestures at a team of surgeons to board the Singing Nightmare. Lena lets them. Looking back at her people, at the blood on their faces and clothes, hearing the whimpers of pain of those hidden behind the ones still standing, Lena has no choice but to let them take care of her crew.

 

More than half of her people are transported onto the Federation vessel. Blood splatters on the deck as they are moved. Weapons are dropped. The saline air reeks of defeat. Jess refuses medical attention despite the large gash on her cheek and stands behind Lena with Kara’s coat trembling in her hand until an officer takes it and gives it back to the Girl of Steel.

 

“Pirates are a plague that needs to be eradicated...” Lord continues, watching the flurry of movements around him.

 

“Need I remind you who’s in charge?” Kara says, shrugging on her coat with practiced ease.

 

“This is my fleet.”

 

“You only have one because the Federation forgave you for your crimes, Lord.”

 

Lena doesn’t know what is going on but Kara’s reminder makes Lord back off.

 

“Alright, but I’m stripping down this ship.”

 

Lena tenses.

 

“The hell you are!” Eli roars from behind her. She sees him try to jump at Lord before he is tackled to the ground by several officers.

 

It stuns everyone into silence until her crew begins to protest loudly behind her. Lena looks to Kara, holding her gaze, trying to understand what the plan was here, or what Kara’s next move was… Surely she wouldn’t… she wouldn’t take away her ship…

 

“It’s a wreck,” Lord continues despite the rising hostility of Lena’s crew. “It’ll only slow us down.”

 

“Wait,” Lena utters, dazed, watching it all happen as if she was underwater and drowning. She grabs Kara’s arm and makes her turn toward her despite the officers now raising their gun back at her. “It can be repaired! We’ve had damage worse than this and she’s still standing.” Lena catches Kara’s gaze, pleading. And yeah, her ship is looking pretty rough. Well, more than pretty rough if she is honest with herself. But she sees the wheels turning in Kara’s head as she looks at her critically and Lena doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like it at all as she sees what Kara sees: a ship with a missing mast and another threatening to snap in two. Half of the deck destroyed and holes everywhere that must be filling the hull with water as they speak while nothing is being done to repair it.

 

They could repair the Singing Nightmare. They only needed a bit of time. Stop at an island… and just…

 

Lena looks to Maggie for support but Lena can see that Maggie doesn’t understand. Lena sees the logic prevail in her eyes as the Lieutenant looks at the state of her ship and only sees broken timber.

 

“He’s right,” Captain Danvers says. “The damage is too consequential. The ship won’t make it to the meeting point.”

 

Her grip tightens around Kara’s arm. Kara looks at her apologetically. But Lena doesn’t care about how sorry Kara is. She only cares about her ship. About the memories imbued in the old, creaking wood. About Eli who’s still screaming as the threat of losing the Singing Nightmare hangs heavily over their head. Enraged, Lena grips the lapels of Kara’s respected coat and shoves her against the mast. Her hands tremble around the blue fabric as Kara looks at her with an apology on her lips.

 

It gives the signal to her crew to start fighting.

 

Someone shoves her away from the Commodore. Lena fights them off. Not letting the Commodore out of her sight, she elbows someone in the nose and kicks someone else in the groin. Lena sees Hector get tackled to the ground as he tries to help Eli. Jess takes out her two pistols aiming them at two officers before she is subdued. Luke tackles an officer to the ground before he can get to Lena and punches him into a pulp. Lena turns back toward Kara until Captain Danvers, with blood running down her nose as Lena realizes that she had been the one she had struck earlier, points her pistol at the back of Luke’s head.

 

Lena looks back to Kara, frozen and out of breath with her heart squeezing painfully in her chest.

 

“Put them in the brig,” the Commodore orders, gaze hard and unforgiving.

 

“No! Kara! No!” Lena shouts as she is restrained by two officers and sees Eli hold on to the half broken timber of his mother’s ship, crestfallen, before he is hauled away. “Please don’t,” Lena begs.

 

Kara looks at her with her jaw clenched, impassive, while Lord smiles behind her.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kara says. “Strip down the Singing Nightmare.”

 

***

 

It’s been three days since the Singing Nightmare has been destroyed by the Commodore’s order. Two days since Lena has been separated from her crew after another altercation broke out on the Federation vessel. Locked up in the brig of Lord’s ship for security measures, Lena remembers the Commodore, flanked by her sister and another officer, watch her be escorted out of the ship by Lord’s crewmen with a frown on her face.

 

It has been two days since she’s been put behind bars, manacled. Two days since she’s seen the light of day with only the guards’ rotating shifts to measure time. Two days of Lord pestering her with questions and trying to bribe her for information.

 

He smiles at her from the other side of the bars.

 

“I know your brother found a mine of kryptonite. What surprises me is that he has yet to make use of it against the Federation… Come on, Captain Luthor. Tell me what he is hiding and where I can find this mine. I’ll let you out. I’ll even give you a boat and you could go back to him if you wanted to…”

 

Lena laughs and laughs, unable to stop.

 

Lord seems disgruntled by it. He looks to his second in command, a woman looking strangely a bit like Kara, but at this point Lena doesn’t really care anymore.

 

He finally leaves, not getting any answers from her, and taking the only source of light with him.

 

A small price to pay, huh?

 

Lena laughs at the darkness closing down on her. What a fool she’s been.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Divide and conquer.

 

It was clever what the Federation was doing: subduing her crew by isolating her from them, breaking their spirit to stop them from resisting… It was clever. Lena knows she would have done the same if she had been in their position. She wouldn’t have hesitated in dismantling the chain of command. She would have isolated anyone with an ounce of authority from the group.

 

Control. That’s what it was all boiling down to.

 

It’s safe to assume that Luke is probably separated from the crew too, maybe even Eli and Jess. The Commodore had seen enough of their interactions to know the inner workings of the Singing Nightmare and she had seen enough to cripple them with one move. One decision.

 

Lena finds it funny.

 

Wasn’t it ironic that the one good deed she has done as a pirate was also going to be the reason she found herself at the gallows? Wasn’t it funny that she had doomed all of her crew just by saving one person? One. Person.

 

It makes her laugh, alone in her dark, damp cell, so much so that the echo of her laughter reverberates in the brig like thousands of voices cackling around her. What a fool she’s been. If only her brother could see her now. What would he think of her? Lex had always been better than her at playing mind games, more paranoid maybe. If he were here, he would have shaken his head at her and maybe sighed a little for her not seeing that one coming, for not keeping her guard up. Lillian probably wouldn’t be surprised at her predicament. Lena can already see her mother’s shape take form in the shadows to glare at her and tell her that it’s what she deserves. It’s what she’s always deserved. Lena laughs at that even more, and the laughter echoing around her makes the suffocating darkness feel wider, deeper, as if there was no end to the despair beating inside her chest.

 

“She’s crazy…” Lena hears the two shadows mumble just outside, fidgeting. Their silhouettes move within Lena’s only source of light shinning under the door. They think she can’t hear them. They call her a monster, a demon, and other names Lena is all too familiar with for having already been referred to as such over the years. It’s no surprise. Her reputation has travelled well over the oceans and Lena chuckles at hearing the fear in their voices.

 

Good. Let them fear you, the rage whispers, coalescing from the darkness into a tangible, savory taste in her mouth.

 

Blood.

 

Blood fills her mouth and her veins begin to burn with an immeasurable rage. She lets it grow. She lets it consume her as it spreads from within her body and twists her insides. It numbs everything. The pain. The hunger. The sadness too. Lena doesn’t feel a thing as the rage whispers to her, telling her to burn it all to the ground. To make them pay. Make them hurt. Make them fear.

 

The laughter dies down and a cold clarity overtakes her mind. She’ll wait to strike, and when she does; they’ll see the monster within.

 

*

 

The door to the brig opens. Lord swaggers in with a lantern and so much bravado it makes Lena scrunch her nose in distaste. Flanked by two men, Lord hooks the lantern to the wall, and walks to her cell. His eyes shine with interest.

 

“So? Have you thought about my deal? You see, I’m getting a little bit… impatient.” His two goons chuckle behind him. “No hard feelings but I’m a businessman and we’re on a clock, so if we could skip the whole big, bad pirate persona shtick and go right where you tell me what I want to know, you’ll find that I can be a very, very benevolent man, Captain Luthor.”

 

Lena doesn’t dignify his little tirade with an answer.

 

As expected, Lord opens the door of her cell and lets his goons in. Lena gets up. The chains hanging from her manacles jangle in the silence and her hands twitch with exhilarated anticipation. Their twisted smiles and confident strides make the anticipation even more delectable as Lena cannot wait to watch them choke on their own blood.

 

She lets one punch her in the jaw. Lena doesn’t feel it but she groans as if it did hurt. They snicker. She lets the other punch her in the abdomen. Lena bends over, catching her breath, and holds on to the side of the man’s jacket.

 

“One more.” Lord orders.

 

His goon moves to punch her in the guts again but Lena grins. Her grip tightens over his jacket and she pulls him toward her. The momentum is enough to distract him and allows her to snatch the small blade hanging from his belt. The blade cuts through his throat like a hot knife through butter. Blood sprays on her face and the rage usually held within her so tightly bursts into the light. The body drops to the ground and the blade finds its next victim. Lena throws it at the other goon. It sinks into his chest. Surprised, he crumbles to the ground, silent and unmoving.

 

A beat.

 

The light flickers.

 

Lord clenches his jaw, paralyzed, until Lena rushes forward. He closes the door. It clangs shut. The key is turned and pocketed away but Lena manages to grab the front of his expensive coat and yanks it to slam his face into the iron bars.

 

He laughs, groans, and staggers away. “Very well.” He puts his hand over his face and looks at the blood staining his fingers. “You should know that I’m not the bad guy here, Captain Luthor. But I can be. I can be your worst nightmare.”

 

Lena tilts her head at that. There’s a reason why her ship is called the Singing Nightmare, and Lena is curious to see what Lord can do to think he deserves that title...

 

Was. Was called the Singing Nightmare… The rage increases tenfold.

 

The commotion has alerted his crew and Lena sees a dozen crew members fill the brig with guns all pointed at her. She curls her blood-stained fingers on the iron bars and smiles. A few gulp loudly.

 

“I guess you’ve made your choice.” Lord waves away a woman who tries to check on his nose and walks out the door. “I’ll see you in hell, sweetheart.”

 

“We’re already there.”

 

That makes him pause. He chuckles and leaves with his crew following behind him.

 

The door closes, leaving her in the dark once more and with only the dead for company.

 

*

 

Blood has soaked her clothes and the wooden boards beneath her. The smell of death isn’t too bad yet but it is persistent, pungent. It makes her believes that maybe it is what she deserves. That it had been her fate all along. Blood on her hands and surrounded by the dead.

 

Frantic steps thud over the deck. Voices are raised and Lena looks to the ceiling in confusion. Were they being attacked? She searches the bodies for the thousandth time in hope to find anything that would help her open the door of her cell, but to no avail. For the thousandth time, Lena finds nothing. Her hand closes around the small blade protruding from the man’s chest and she waits, clutching at the small blade, her eyes fixed on the door of the brig. Pairs of boots storm down the stairs. Her hands tremble from the hard and painful grip. Lena breathes deeply.

 

The door burst open. The light of several lanterns blinds her. Lena hears a few gasps. A woman shouts for someone to get the keys. Someone else calls for a medical chest… The door of her cell unlocks. Lena dashes out, barreling into the first person standing in the way. Her arm arcs upward, aiming for the belly, but her blade doesn’t meet its target. Her wrist is stopped short, enclosed in a strong grip, which triggers a memory. Lena sees sand. She hears screams and the roar of a beast before she looks up and finds who the hand belongs to.

 

Blue eyes. Blonde hair. A blue frock coat with gold laced buttons.

 

Lena sees red and she lashes out again but she’s countered easily. The blade is slapped away from her hand and Lena is restrained in a familiar embrace.

 

“I’ve got you,” Commodore Zor-El says. “You’re safe now.”

 

Lena tries to break free but the hold is solid. It feels all-encompassing and Lena screams as the arms restraining her feel exactly like the shadows surrounding her. Lena pushes again and again until she hears a gasp and sees the Girl of Steel crash into the bars of the opposite cell.

 

“Don’t touch me,” Lena hisses, breathing hard and fast. Ignoring the guns pointed in her direction, she only sees the wide-eyed Commodore looking back at her.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kara says, looking at her with her palms raised in a placating manner.

 

Lena tries to focus on what she is saying, but the Commodore’s voice becomes muffled and Lena’s legs buckle from under her. She falls onto her knees, weak from hunger, and feverish. Her gaze falls onto her hands, bloody and bruised, made heavy by the manacles hanging from her wrists. Her nails sink into the hard, wooden floor in an attempt to keep herself grounded, in a vain effort to stop herself from succumbing to the shadows, but the ship tilts and the fall feels inevitable.

 

Familiar arms wrap around her, and Lena is too tired to fight against them this time. She falls into the warm embrace and finds comfort in the scent of honey and mint wafting off the skin of Kara’s neck.

 

*

 

When Lena wakes up, she is still in a cell, lying inside a hammock, but without manacles around her wrists. A few lanterns have been lit around the brig and Lena can finally see a bit more of her surroundings. It seems like she has been moved to the far end of the brig. A wooden panel has been propped up against her old cell, hiding everything past that, including the door leading up to the stairs. Her wounds have been tended to and her clothes replaced with new, cleaner ones. There’s even a bucket of rain water at her disposal, to clean herself if she wishes to.

 

There are two officers standing guard on both side of her cell. They don’t seem to have any ill-will toward her and they give her food and water as soon as they see her awake. After a few hours of quiet observations, Lena sees one slouch a bit against the bars of the opposite cell while the other takes away his tricorne and fans himself.

 

Gently, candidly, Lena begins to ask them questions. Her voice feels a bit weird from disuse but they answer her easily enough and give her a general estimation of the time that has passed. It’s been five days since the Federation destroyed the Frigates and a day and a half since she’d been found, delirious and covered in blood.

 

So, barely a week… Lena doesn’t know how to feel about that. Her sense of time has been completely disrupted and she could have sworn it had been months.

 

Hours pass and Lena becomes bolder.

 

Under the guise of boredom, she manages to make the officers talk a bit more about their lives and how they came to serve under Captain Danvers. With a bit of hesitation, they tell her that they used to be under James Olsen’s command, Captain of the Guardian - the third warship in the Commodore’s fleet - and have been transferred to the Intrepid to offset the shortage of officers who had fallen sick prior to the Commodore’s abduction. Lena learns that their section had been on one of Lord’s ships when everything went down, and had then been tasked to recover any survivors or remains left from the Frigates.

 

After a few more hours, helped by the heat and a costrel of rum the two officers had snuck in, they become comfortable enough to gossip in her presence. Lena doesn’t intervene. She doesn’t try to steer the conversation either. She soaks up every bit of information they give out while lying down in her hammock, and making herself as small as possible.

 

The officers talk. And talk. They weren’t there for most of what happened, busy fishing out remains in the water, but they had lots and lots of gossip. Apparently, Lord was never supposed to interrogate her. He was only meant to keep her away from the mess she had created on board the Intrepid. There were rumors that it had been a huge fight; more than twenty officers injured and maybe five dead, and that because of it all the surgeons have been working relentlessly to care after all the injured… Lena frowns at that, unable to match her memories of the altercation on board Captain Danvers’ ship with their account of the event. Lena takes the information in stride, still skeptical, and tries to remember what happened that day, but her memories are hazy, tainted by rage and despair… It makes her realize that the last week is a complete blur and all she really remembers is the Commodore giving Lord permission to strip the Singing Nightmare.

 

The more the officers talk, the more her memories come back to her. Eli sitting absolutely still in the cell facing hers. Luke agreeing to her plan. Calling the officer standing guard and smashing his head against the iron bars. Stealing his keys, sword, and gun… Lena remembers opening the cells one by one, the officers hesitant to harm them because of the Commodore’s order, and Kara’s face when she had stopped them just short of getting into the armory. Surprised, disappointed maybe, the Commodore had subdued her in a blink and had ordered for them to be put back in their cells. Memories refreshed and stripped away from the rage-induced haze, Lena realizes that what she had thought had been a small altercation on board the Intrepid, had in fact been an uprising resulting in many casualties.

 

Guilt slowly worms its way back into her heart.

 

They gush over the Girl of Steel next. The officers talk of resilience, strength, and determination when talking about her. They praise her for her kindness when dealing with the pirates who had captured her – Lena scoffs at that - and commend her for all the work she has done since they’ve gotten her back, making sure to check on every one who’s been injured, either by the Frigates or the uprising of the Singing Nightmare’s crew. The Commodore seemed to be everywhere at once, investigating the Frigates’ attack, keeping morale high, and ruling over Lord’s fleet in a quiet but unquestionable way.

 

“You should’ve seen the look on her face when she saw Lord with that massive black eye and broken nose,” one of the officers says, laughing unabashedly as the late hour and the rum loosens their tongues even more. “It’s like she immediately knew what happened! I could have sworn her eyes turned red… Like she wanted to burn him alive…”

 

The other officer scoffs and they begin to argue among themselves, clearly unaware of the soft thuds made by several pairs of boots walking down the stairs. The officers remain oblivious, not even hearing the door open at the other end of the corridor.

 

“I heard Kryptonians-”

 

Someone clears their throat. Lena cranes her neck to see the person making the two officers gulp loudly, but the angle is wrong and Lena can’t see anything.

 

“Cap- Captain Danvers. Lieutenant Vasquez.” The two officers salute awkwardly. The costrel of rum falls onto the ground. “I- We-”

 

“I don’t want to hear it.” Captain Danvers cuts in and walks up to Lena’s cell. “Send another team after I’m done, Lieutenant.”

 

“Aye!”

 

Head down and shoulders slumped, the two officers follow after Lieutenant Vasquez. Lena listens to them go past the door, not closing it, and up the stairs, leaving Captain Danvers alone with her. Lena sits up in her hammock and faces the undecipherable look the Captain is giving her.

 

An uncomfortable feeling creeps up along her spine as the tension mounts and the silence lingers. Lena maintains eye contact, feeling tired and removed from her own body. She hadn’t expected a visit from Captain Danvers but the surprise isn’t enough to shake the apathy out of her.

 

“I apologize for the treatment you’ve received under Lord’s command,” Captain Danvers says suddenly. “I misjudged his self-discipline and desire for revenge...”

 

Lena frowns, wondering what convoluted tale Lord had told them to justify interrogating her. You wait and you observe. That’s what Luke would tell her. You let them come to you. You let them think they’ve won… The voice fades in a distant echo only she can hear.

 

“You’ve made quite a mess…” Captain Danvers continues, crossing her arms over her chest. The silence settles in between them once again like an insurmountable wall built with first impressions and lingering hostility. Everything is stiff when Lena looks at the woman standing before her. Everything is locked tight somewhere at the back of her shoulders. Protective and wary are the first words that come into her mind to describe Alex Danvers. Dangerous is the third. It feels like being confronted by a wall. A wall Lena is sure wouldn’t hesitate to hit back.

 

Lena tries to think of reasons that could lead Captain Danvers to visit her, and her first thoughts are for her crew. She knows that being the lead Surgeon and the Commodore’s right hand, Captain Danvers is likely to be the one overseeing the pirates’ recovery while at the same time keeping a watchful eye on them.

 

The memory of a crackling fire comes forth and brings along with it the strong scent of grilled fish and herbs. You’ve got to add spices! That’s what makes all the difference, Eli says to Luke who shrugs and tends to the fire. Hector is playing a tune somewhere in her memory. It’s playful and jovial, like him. Her crew is talking, laughing, dancing; some wandered off to fuck, and the sky is clear. The air is warm and Lena finds Jess, lying on the beach, nursing a bottle of rum on her own. You think it’ll ever get old, she asks pointing at the stars. Lena sits next to her and looks up, admiring the view. Never. They drink till morning and the rum tastes like freedom.

 

“Luthor?”

 

Another memory creeps in. It seizes her heart and burns the back of her neck as an image of bodies, lined up in a row, waiting to be offered to the ocean. Madi sings an old, haunting tune. Lifeless eyes look up from the deck, staring at the sky and yet blind to the sun shining overhead. The song rises with the waves and Luke joins in, followed by the rest of the crew… Feeling her lungs constrict, her stomach spasms, and her eyes begin to sting, but Lena still helps push the bodies overboard…

 

“Lena!” A voice shouts. It pulls her away from the abyss her memories have dragged her into. Her heart pounds inside her chest. Her hands tremble and there’s not enough air to breathe… Lena would like to get out of this cell. She’d like to get the fuck out of this damn cell but there are iron bars, a ship full of officers, and water separating her from her crew. There’s Captain Danvers looking at her with worry and confusion and her mind feels like it’s all scrambled up. The shadows take the form of people from her past and every noise sounds like the voice of someone long gone.

 

Wooden boards creak in the silence.

 

Captain Danvers looks toward the door and then back to Lena. “You and your crew injured twenty-five of my officers and killed seven of them in the attack. Plus two back in National City, so nine. Nine officers in less than two weeks,” she says with her jaw clenched so tight Lena can hear it grind from where she is. Captain Danvers paces around before she takes a calming breath and looks at her. “But Lieutenant Sawyer told us what happened in Maaldoria. She told us what you told her about Daxam… Thank you for saving my sister’s life.”

 

And yet, here she is. Locked behind bars. Lena finds it pretty ironic. She adds the nine officers to the tally of people she’s killed and chuckles and she wonders why she bothers anymore. Captain Danvers huffs with indignation at seeing Lena’s smile.

 

“I don’t know why my sister thinks you are worth saving…” Captain Danvers hisses, furious. Lena sighs, feeling too tired to clear the misunderstanding. “I don’t know why she believes in you…”

 

A creak is heard at the end of the hall. Loud enough that Lena is aware of it and Captain Danvers tenses before crossing her arms over her chest. She sighs, her brows furrowed and Lena is now sure that they are not alone. Someone else is by the door, witnessing this conversation... Someone with enough influence to stop the Captain from leaving. Even with Lena’s lack of tact.

 

“You can come back to the Intrepid if you promise not to resist. If you promise not to harm any more of my officers…”

 

Lena mulls over the proposition, knowing that Commodore Zor-El is waiting and listening at the other end of the hall. For reasons unknown to her, the Commodore has chosen to stay hidden. Was she scared to face her? Did she think the outcome would change if she were to manifest herself? Did she feel bad for taking away the only home Lena’s known for the last ten years after everything she’s done for her? She’s the Girl of Steel after all. Isn’t that what she usually does? Surely, Kara had no reasons to feel bad…

 

The rage builds back up again and Lena feels it mend every crack of her broken heart. “I promise. I won’t harm any of your officers.”

 

Captain Danvers exhales, looking relieved. She throws a fleeting look back toward the door, before facing Lena again, face hard. “Nice lie. Lieutenant Vasquez will supervise your stay here from now on. You are safe,” Captain Danvers adds, making Lena scoff. “We will reach our meeting point in about a week. You’ll be allowed to visit your crew then.” Captain Danvers gives Lena one last look and leaves.

 

“You misjudged his greed,” Lena calls out, making Captain Danvers stop. The wooden boards creak again as another pair of boots stop, making Lena smile derisively. “Lord. He wasn’t thinking about revenge when he was interrogating me. He wanted Kryptonite.”

 

A long silence stretches after Lena’s revelation. She sees Captain Danvers curse under her breath and then glance toward the door, locked in a silent conversation Lena isn’t a part of. “Thank you,” the Captain finally mumbles before she resumes her walk out of the brig. The door closes and Lena hears two pairs of boots go up the stairs.

 

Divide and conquer.

 

Lena can do it too.

 

***

 

It has been a day since Captain Danvers left and the information Lena gave her has cranked the tension higher than Lena would have expected. From her hammock, Lena has listened to the careless gossiping between the deck-hands in charge of cleaning the brig, and it seems like Lord’s fleet has officially been requisitioned by the Federation. The Commodore was fully asserting her dominance and crushing Lord under her thumb. Lena can’t help but smile at that.

 

It has played to her advantage. Lord was removed and the Federation was spreading its forces thin.

 

Lena only has a week to figure out a way to escape.

 

Sitting in the far back corner of her cell, she sighs and glances at Lieutenant Vasquez who has done nothing but clean and sharpen her blade since she replaced the officer who had the night shift.

 

The silence doesn’t bother her.

 

It doesn’t.

 

Lena has grown up with it, for it had filled every room of the Luthor Manor. Silence had been a friend Lena had learned to play with. She had chased it with her laughter, scared it away with the thumping of her tiny feet running down the halls, or challenged it with the sound of pages turning, pencils drawing, and twirling dresses until Lillian would snap and Lena would go back in her room, grounded for the evening, for having made too much noise, for being too loud, for not being Luthor enough. The silence would creep back in, find her hiding spot, and jump on her.

 

Lena would never win. Silence always found her even when she wasn’t playing…

 

She has grown used to the silence; to its whispers keeping her company when Luke would leave for hours and leave her alone and hidden but protected. Every rustling of leaves, every drop of water, and every heartbeat had been too loud, and the silence never failed to remind her. Lena would listen to its advice and she would muffle any sobs that tried to come out of her mouth until everything went back to silence, until she could forget she even existed.

 

Luke would always come back and Lena would snap and scream at him. She would talk his ears off to ignore all the things the silence had whispered into her heart to terrify her…

 

The silence doesn’t bother her.

 

It doesn’t even if Lieutenant Vasquez hasn’t said a word since she came into the brig. Not a word. It’s not like it made Lena feels like something was crawling all over her skin, up to her neck, and into her ears… The silence doesn’t bother her.

 

“What time is it?”

 

Vasquez shrugs.

 

Lena sighs.

 

Her shoulder still aches, sending tingling sensations down to her fingers. She clenches her fist in an effort to stop the numbness from spreading. She almost misses the manacles around her wrists. It had been a tangible proof of her imprisonment. Feeling the cold metal chafing her skin had helped her keep the rage burning. It had helped her focus on one task only: to escape. Without them, lying comfortably in a hammock, and with her wounds tended to, Lena has a hard time remembering to keep her guard up, inclined to lean into the comfort the Federation is providing her. Lena grimaces at the thought and presses her thumb hard into the bruised skin of her wrist. Hard enough that spots of blood blossom on the bandages and her fist trembles and her vision blurs. A feeling of helplessness submerges her and a scream of frustration nearly tumbles out of her throat despite the violent clench of her jaw.

 

Blood fills her mouth.

 

“Hey!” Lieutenant Vasquez squints toward her, about to stand. “What are you doing?”

 

Lena knows Vasquez can’t see her. Not properly at least. It’s late and there’s only one lantern shining by the Lieutenant, the flame flickering with the sway of the ship, allowing the shadows at the back of the cell to hide the tension Lena feels growing inside of her. Lieutenant Vasquez stands, making the keys to Lena’s freedom jingle softly.

 

“My bandages need changing,” Lena says with a careless shrug.

 

Vasquez scowls, watching her warily, and then sighs. She sheathes her blade back, takes items out of the medical chest, and motions Lena to step forward.

 

It is a half-baked plan but time is of the essence and Lena really needs to get out of this cell. She takes her time getting out of the hammock, dusts off her pants, readjusts her jacket, and watches the scowl on the Lieutenant’s face deepen with mirth. Now, if only Vasquez could just get a little closer… She holds out her hands, just out of reach of the Lieutenant. Her muscles coil in anticipation as Vasquez grumbles and makes the first step toward the iron bars.

 

“I can do it.”

 

Lena startles at the interruption as a figure walks out of the shadows. She isn’t the only one surprised, because Vasquez whirls around with her hand going for her blade only to relax when she sees Commodore Zor-El reach the circle of light.

 

“Commodore! I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

Neither did Lena and it infuriates her to no end. The rage she had kept under wraps slowly threatens to explode.

 

“I can do it,” the Commodore repeats, holding out her hand for the medical supplies in Vasquez’s hands.

 

“I’d rather Vasquez does it,” Lena says, coldly.

 

Her tone makes the Commodore falter. Her arms fall back at her sides, kind of limply, before she puts her hands behind her back, looking as impassive as usual.

 

A wave of unbridled resentment swallows Lena whole now that she has the Commodore in front of her, now that she can see her brand new coat, her clean, pressed clothes, and her hair falling perfectly over her shoulders. It makes Lena mad to see how composed the Commodore is. It unnerves her that none of the agony, none of the pain she feels seem to be reflected in the Commodore’s eyes despite the healing bruises on her face. Kara is every bit the Girl of Steel Lena had seen back at Noonan’s. Confident posture. Chin held high. Lena seethes, longing to grab that forsaken coat and shaking that stoic faraway gaze out of Kara’s face.

 

Why? Lena wonders. Why now? Why come to her in the middle of the night after days of silence. Days when the rage has festered and poisoned her veins. All Lena feels is hate.

 

Vasquez clears her throat.

 

It makes Lena blink. She gives her wrist to Vasquez who thankfully doesn’t comment on her trembling hand. She focuses on the Lieutenant’s movements, on the way she slowly unwraps the bandages around her wrist, clean off the blood and wraps new bandages around the pink, raw skin. The Commodore’s long, heavy stare burns the side of her face but Lena ignores it. She ignores her, focusing solely on Vasquez to keep herself in check. Keep herself from lashing out.

 

Vasquez finishes and Lena nearly protests when Commodore Zor-El asks the Lieutenant to leave the room. Vasquez leaves, taking the keys to Lena’s freedom with her…

 

It doesn’t matter. She’ll find another way. Lena sits back in her hammock and ignores the Commodore.

 

The light flickers, dancing across the room without a care. It twirls and swirls, illuminating the Commodore in a harsh, unforgiving light…

 

They don’t talk.

 

Lena is used to the silence. To the shadows. To that cold and quiet anger Luthors are known for. Lena holds on to it, feeling her chest inflate with insurmountable pressure as the cause of it stands before her, standing rigidly still and tall, her hands still behind her back, her coat fitting snugly around her form. It takes everything Lena has to contain herself, to stop the pain from spilling out of her and revealing how much it hurts. How much everything hurts.

 

Silence doesn’t bother her. She knows how to play its game, and she’s willing to wait. She’ll wait for Kara to break first because she sure as hell won’t.

 

The night passes.

 

Lena doesn’t talk. Kara doesn’t either.

 

The Commodore leaves in the morning without a word.

 

*

 

Lena tries.

 

She tries to hold on to the anger, to the rage, but she trudges through the day in a sort of daze, confused.

 

In the morning, Captain Danvers gives her small updates on her crew while examining her shoulder. It doesn’t feel like much but it’s enough to make the pressure in her chest lessen. She is given food, new clothes; she is even allowed to walk on deck for an hour.

 

Lena doesn’t know how to feel about this newfound freedom.

 

The walk up the stairs is quiet. The crew makes a wide berth at her arrival, and the sun blinds her as soon as she walks on deck. The fresh, saline air burns her lungs, and when her eyes adjust to the bright sunshine, Lena sees the sails distend with the wind. Lieutenant Vasquez is glued to her side. Three other officers stand at the ready, alert to her movements, but Lena doesn’t care. She can finally walk more than five steps before having to turn around, and it feels good. More than good. It feels heavenly.

 

It is clever in its cruelty.

 

It takes a lot to stay strong. Every second of every day. After so many days spent in her dark, damp cell, to be finally outside, even still as a prisoner, Lena feels like she might cry. She hates to admit it but Commodore Zor-El has won. Lena doesn’t know if the Commodore has planned it all along; stripping her of everything, isolating her from everyone, making her think she could win against Lord… only to break her with kindness. It had been a war of attrition Lena hadn’t known she was fighting, and now that she has regained some normalcy and quietness, her nerves are frayed and raw. Every brush of wind against her skin feels like a blessing. The isolation has made the care she has received feel like kindness, and even Vasquez’s silence begins to feel like companionship.

 

Lena tries to be angry. She tries to hold on to the resentment, to the injustice, but all she feels is the exhaustion grinding on her bones. She’s tired, and when the Commodore visits her again after the night has fallen, Lena surrenders. A bit. The officer guarding her cell vacates his chair and leaves the brig without a word. Lena isn’t surprised. She even expected it. Commodore Zor-El has won the war, and she knows Lena is weak and at her mercy. She has all the power on her side and Lena is locked behind bars…

 

Striding through the brig, Commodore Zor-El looks anything but victorious. Her steps are hesitant, her shoulders look crushed under an invisible weight, and a sigh escapes her lips, betraying the turmoil the Commodore doesn’t let anyone see. Kara slides down against the iron bars of the opposite cell. Her coat flops ungracefully around her and the light accentuates the stress lines over her face.

 

Lena watches it all happen with a kind of bewilderment.

 

In the silence that follows, hiding in the shadows, the lingering rage Lena has been trying to hold on to fizzles out, leaving her only with raw wounds that never seem to heal.

 

Not meeting her eyes, Kara stays motionless on the floor. “The water,” she whispers, looking at her hands as they twist and intertwine in an anxious embrace. “I used to love the water. Argo City wasn’t far from the ocean and… my father used to take me to the beach whenever he could get away from the Science Guild. He-”

 

Regal. Tired. Kara smiles as she recounts a day spent under the sun, collecting shells, and exploring the reef with her father. Other memories are shared and Lena listens in silence, caught off guard, feeling her walls crumble one by one as Kara fills the silence with memories of a time when she was happy, when the weight of the world wasn’t crushing her shoulders, when her parents were still heroes she admired.

 

It could be a ploy, Lena thinks. The Commodore might just be dealing the last attack against her walls to leave her weak and easier to interrogate, but just as Lena’s paranoia gets a hold of her, Kara’s voice breaks. It trembles and deepens, and her eyes shine with unshed tears as she looks to the ceiling but keeps talking with a brave and resilient smile.

 

It’s unfair.

 

It’s unfair because Lena is able to read between the lines. She understands the pain behind the silences and sees the truth beyond Kara’s smile. It’s unfair because morning comes and Kara is still the Commodore and Lena’s heart still beats with traitorous affection and the world goes on. Indifferent.

 

The door opens.

 

“Commodore.” Lieutenant Vasquez greets with a respectful nod.

 

Commodore Zor-El nods back, stands up, looking as composed as ever, and leaves. Lena is left with more questions than she had before. Bewildered and unsure what Kara’s endgame is.

 

Nothing has changed in her new routine.

 

Captain Danvers still checks on her wound. They give her food, and permission to walk on deck for an hour. The dizziness abates. The loneliness too. Vasquez is still a silent presence at her side and the Intrepid sails close enough for Lena to see officers on its deck and sailors up the ratlines. She takes note of the position of all the ships. She tries to estimate the number of crewmembers around her, but she’s distracted. The Intrepid is close enough for Lena to see Captain Danvers at the helm, talking with Commodore Zor-El.

 

Kara looks up as if feeling Lena’s gaze on her, and Lena feels like maybe something did change.

 

*

 

“We had the best sailors, mathematicians, scientists…” Kara says with pride tainted with bitterness on the third night.

 

Lena is getting used to these nightly visits. To Kara flopping down to the floor unceremoniously and opening up to her in a way that feels too vulnerable to be a ploy, talking about Krypton in a way no history books could ever do.

 

It fascinates her.

 

Lena had read about Krypton when she was younger. It had been part of her education to understand the geopolitics of the world she lives in. According to the books Lex had given her, Krypton was nothing like the Luthorian Islands. From its climate, lands, and culture Krypton sounded like it could be coming from a completely different world.

 

“It’s funny,” Kara continues, mumbling to herself. “We were the best, and it destroyed us. We created our own destruction…”

 

“Kryptonite?” Lena asks. She remembers reading about naval battles Krypton had won with the bright green flash of their cannons. The Kryptonian fleet had been thought to be invincible after the invention of Kryptonite: a green gunpowder that could sink a warship with one well-aimed cannon shot. Krypton’s pride. It had given them supremacy over the countries in the Southern regions and Lex had told her that Kryptonite had been the reason Krypton had refused to join the Federation, believing themselves to be far more powerful than a coalition ever could be, while keeping the secrets of their green gunpowder hidden from the rest of the world.

 

Kara turns toward her, looking surprised at the sudden participation. Lena is surprised too. She hadn’t meant to speak. She had meant to stay silent during all of Kara’s visits. To wait and observe like Luke taught her… Lena bites her lip, reprimanding herself for being too curious.

 

“Decades of mining had made the ground unstable. The production of Kryptonite caused Krypton’s greatest wealth and its destruction,” Kara says, sounding detached and clinical, but scooting closer to Lena’s cell, until her side is pressed against the iron bars. “A lot of mistakes were made leading up to the destruction of Krypton, and by the time we began evacuating, it was already too late…” Kara finishes, downplaying the event with a shrug when Lena knows it had been terrible, cataclysmic – she had even felt the rippling effect of Krypton’s destruction all the way up in the Luthorian Islands.

 

“My parents…” Kara hesitates, looking more vulnerable than Lena has ever seen her. “They put me on a ship too full to even breathe and I… I don’t think I realized what was actually happening. I… I didn’t know that I was saying goodbye to them forever.”

 

Lena exhales, feeling the tears come up to her eyes, as another scene flashes in her mind. Of her and Lex, quietly reading in the library, unknowing that it would be the last time she would see him.

 

“The waves,” Kara continues, looking to the ceiling as if looking for answers or remembering... Lena isn’t sure because her gaze is now fixed on Kara’s throat, bobbing with emotion. “They were… I’d never seen- Waves that could reach the sky.” Kara falls silent, but it’s enough for Lena to have a clear picture of what happened. To imagine a young Kara in a state of confusion and panic, trapped in a ship with hundreds of people, as giant waves rose in the distance and obscured the sky.

 

“Is that-” Lena clears her throat and swallows past the lump forming in her throat, finding no other reason to persist in her silence but her own bitterness. “Is that how you found yourself in the Phantom Zone?”

 

Kara nods, pressing her shoulder into the iron bar, and gives her a small, broken smile. “Yeah. I… I remember the wave coming toward us and then…” Blue eyes become clouded with another nightmare, even more haunting and horrendous than the last one, judging by the way Kara bites into her lip.

 

Lena doesn’t push further. The silence falling over them feels like a respite. A breath. The beginning of a truce.

 

“All I wanted was to help people,” Kara says after awhile, her voice made soft with exhaustion. “During the Luthorian War, pirates took advantage of the chaos to terrorize Federation cities. The Marine Corps needed people to enlist, and so I did… People needed someone to give them hope. They needed someone they could turn to… They needed someone to fight for them. So I pushed away my fear of the ocean and I became the Girl of Steel.” The slow exhale Lena hears coming from the other side of the cell is so heavy, so charged… It makes the resulting silence become thick with unspoken consequences and sacrifices. “My country died. My culture. My home. My parents. Everything was just wiped from the sea. How could I let that happen again? People depend on me now. They look up to me and… and I can’t… I can’t make mistakes,” Kara says with regrets shining in her eyes.

 

In the silence, cut off from the roles they have to play, Lena understands. It’s not enough to make her forget the raging storm brewing inside her. It’s not enough to make her forgive – Lena doesn’t think she ever will - but she does understand the weight of leadership and the sacrifices it requires.

 

Morning comes and Kara has to leave.

 

The lines blur.

 

And Lena finds herself wishing for the night to stretch just a little bit longer.

 

*

 

On the fourth night, Kara drinks out of a leather costrel. She had come into the brig later than usual, and Lena had feared she wouldn’t come at all. But now that she’s here, Lena finds herself breathing more easily.

 

“Is that rum?” she asks, walking to the iron bars where Kara has flopped down.

 

“Water,” Kara replies and hands her the water container.

 

“You’re no fun.” Lena flops down against the wall, feeling Kara’s shoulder press against hers through the bars. She takes the costrel and drinks. “Liar,” she wheezes out, coughing at the strong taste of alcohol.

 

Kara’s smile grows wide with mischief, giggling a bit as her head lolls to the side from fatigue and rum. “Sorry. It was just- too easy. You should have seen your face.”

 

Lena rolls her eyes and hides her smile by taking another swing of the watered-down rum. The warmth settling down her throat and deep in her stomach loosens her muscles and makes her close her eyes with relief as the pain in her shoulder begins to dull. It’s easy indeed. This companionship. This truce. The rum is passed around in silence and Lena finds that the silence doesn’t bother her as much anymore. It doesn’t feel as oppressing. Feeling Kara’s shoulder press against hers, their fingers brushing together as they share the rum, the silence suddenly makes her feel… safe.

 

“When I-” Lena’s voice breaks. She closes her eyes tightly and gulps a mouthful of the burning liquid. Corking it back up, Lena feels the costrel being pried away from her fingers gently while a pain that just won’t go away presses heavily on her chest. “When I left the Luthorian Islands… I felt like… like I was set adrift, with no purpose, with nothing to hold me back… I felt…” Lena pauses, finding herself at a loss for words. She racks her brain for an image, a metaphor, a description she could use to make Kara see, to make Kara feel what she felt, but she comes up empty. She sighs and rubs her forehead, feeling the raised flesh of her scar against her fingertips. “And the world felt so, so-”

 

“Big?”

 

“Yeah,” Lena chuckles and looks into Kara’s eyes. “The world felt so fucking big.”

 

Kara sighs, pressing her forehead against the iron bar. “No matter where you go… the people you meet… you still feel… lost.” Lena nods, noticing the tight grip Kara has on one of the bars. The iron groans inside her fist, a vein bulges at the back of her hand, until Kara lets out a breath and the tension disappears. Kara smiles at her. “How did you find yourself on a pirate ship?”

 

“Oh…” Lena laughs, remembering the day Luke first took her to the docks to meet Madi. “I would still be sleeping in trees if it weren’t for Madi. The first Captain of the Singing Nightmare,” Lena adds at Kara’s look of confusion. “She stole the ship years ago from the Thanagarians while they were having a drink at the local tavern,” she says with a fond smile, remembering the many times the story was told to her by the first crewmembers of the Singing Nightmare. “It was already old and creaky when I worked there as a deck-hand.” Lena smiles and looks to the ceiling, feeling her heart about to crack open. “I… I didn’t have any experience sailing on a ship like this, you know. I had no idea of the maintenance it required… But Madi made me scrub the deck every day and work at all stations until it was ingrained in me. Well, except for the work up the ratlines,” Lena tells Kara, sharing a smile.

 

Hundreds of memories suddenly awaken, begging to be brought out to the surface, countless of days spent in the sun, days feeling the back of her neck burn and her cheeks redden, and Lena slowly opens up, encouraged by Kara’s patient gaze. The rum is shared again, unaffected by the iron bars separating them, and Lena tells Kara about the first time she met Eli, Madi’s nine-year-old son, who liked to hide onboard the Singing Nightmare before they had to set sail. They laughs as Lena recounts the time when Eli hid inside one of the empty barrels that were meant to be discharged and had let out a panicked string of help, help, help when the deck-hands had begun to roll the barrels out of the ship.

 

“Was he-”

 

“The one who jumped at Lord? Yes.”

 

Kara nods, looking pained. “How- How did you meet the woman who had my coat?” She asks, voice quiet, and Lena exhales, taking a gulp of rum.

 

“Jess…” she croaks, handing the rum back to Kara who takes a mouthful, and Lena smiles at the memory. It had only been two weeks since they had joined the crew of the Singing Nightmare. The crew had dared her to climb up the mast, and Lena had been too proud to tell them that she was afraid of heights. Luke had watched on, his arms crossed over his chest in silent support while they had all laughed at her. Lena had climbed the mast up to the crow’s nest and hadn’t moved from there until a woman with her hair held back with a bandana had climbed up there to congratulate her. “We waited for everyone to go to sleep so that I could hold on to her back while she climbed down,” Lena finishes, laughing with Kara. Lena continues with how she met Hector during her first year as Captain, when she had found him hiding in one of her boats to escape the wrath of another pirate crew he had fleeced in a game of cards.

 

Time passes and Kara shares anecdotes of her own. Lena learns that Alex had no idea Kara had enlisted until she gave assistance to a warship that had caught on fire and discovered her sister amongst the crew. Kara recounts the days Alex was mad at her until something clicked and she made sure to teach Kara everything she knew about sailing. In no time, they’d made a reputation for themselves and became Captains in Admiral J’onn J’onzz’s fleet.

 

“Kal gave me my own ship when I became Captain… One of the last Kryptonian ships in the world.” Kara says wistfully. “Kal has the other one… They sometimes call me the Last Daughter of Krypton, but it’s not true. There were other survivors. My aunt and uncle survived the disaster… but they didn’t survive in the new world. They couldn’t adapt…”

 

“What happened?”

 

Kara sighs heavily and rubs her eyes. “They tried to create a new Kryptonian society by converting the population of National City and wiping them out if they refused…” she breathes deeply, her gaze lost faraway. “We stopped them. J’onn became a member of the High Council and I became Commodore. It was also the year people began to call me the Girl of Steel...”

 

Lena nods, understanding the flinch now every time she called her that. A constant reminder of what Kara had had to lose to become the hero everybody revered and every pirate feared.

 

“Have you ever crossed paths with the Dominators?”

 

“Once.” Kara pulls at her collar to show Lena the beginning of a scar on her shoulder. “Nearly lost my arm.”

 

Lena hums, observing the jagged line, and takes comfort in the warm press of Kara’s shoulder. “That’s how I became Captain,” Lena whispers, feeling her chest tighten just thinking about it. She presses her temple against the cold, iron bar until Kara shuffles next to her, makes her move a bit, and then presses her temple against hers. Lena shudders, exhaling loudly. “We were leaving Infernia. Two or three days after we set sail, a storm broke out. It drove us off course and we had to stop to make some small repairs.” Lena closes her eyes as the memory submerges her and every detail suddenly seems to pop out. The green of the trees. Her clothes soaked with sweat and salt water. The sound of their laughter as they all rejoiced at being alive. Madi’s small smile despite her stern demeanor. “We didn’t stay for long. A week or two at the most. We were set to leave the following day when they stormed our camp in the middle of the night. They killed a third of our crew in one attack.”

 

It had been a true nightmare to wake up and see the light of their bonfire reflected in crazed eyes and a face hidden by a skull dripping with blood before the first scream was even uttered. Lena remembers staring back into those crazed, empty eyes, in shock, before Luke had barreled into the Dominator standing over her.

 

“They chased us through the forest. Picked us off one by one. Just for fun. Madi and I got separated from the rest of the crew. We tried to circle the island to get back to the beach but they got to us first,” Lena hisses, trying to hold in all of the pain, the guilt, the fear, and the rage about to burst open and burning her eyes… but Kara’s breath puffs against her cheek and Lena breaks. She breaks and doesn’t know how to stop it from destroying her utterly. “She told me to… to take care of her boy and to run. I… I didn’t understand… I didn’t…” A sob breaks out of her mouth as she feels Kara’s hand cup the back of her neck, pressing their foreheads together, as Lena crumples and shakes. “I ran and… and when I looked back… She wasn’t there anymore.” She remembers searching for Madi, disoriented, her thoughts completely muddled with the lack of sleep and hunger, until an enormous explosion rang out from where she had come from. “I ran back but there was nothing left,” Lena whispers, leaning into the warm, kind hand wiping at her cheek. “Luke found me and brought me back to the ship.” The embrace is awkward and uncomfortable what with the iron bars separating them but it’s enough to soothe Lena. She presses her cheek against Kara’s shoulder and inhales the lingering scent of honey and mint wafting off of her skin. “It wasn’t always easy but the Singing Nightmare was home.”

 

“I’m sorry, Lena. I’m so sorry,” Kara croaks, tightening her arms over Lena’s shoulders, and apologizing for more than the pain caused by the memory.

 

“I know. I’m sorry too,” Lena says, apologizing for the escalation of violence she had caused, the seven more lives she’d taken, and accepting Kara’s apology for what it was. Words meant to comfort. Words meant to lessen the hurt caused. Words meant to find some kind of peace but that do nothing to absolve them of their guilt. A downward spiral Lena doesn’t think she is strong enough to come back from. “I can’t forgive you.”

 

“I know.” Kara shudders, exhales, and nods. “I understand.”

 

In the silence, with Kara’s hand at the back of her neck, and her breath brushing against the skin of her cheek, Lena pretends she isn’t a prisoner and Kara isn’t her jailor. Lena pretends they aren’t enemies, holding on to each other despite the iron bars and a world pitting them relentlessly against each other. Morning hasn’t come yet and Lena allows herself the peace she finds in that quiet moment.

 

Divide and conquer.

 

Both pressed against the bars, united by shared pain and painful memories, the illusion shatters when they hear Lieutenant Vasquez come down the stairs.

 

***

 

Two days.

 

Lena only has two days left before they are to be reunited with the Commodore’s fleet, before her chance of escaping becomes naught. It is crazy but the more Lena thinks about it, the more certain she is that her only way out is to convince Commodore Zor-El herself to let her escape.

 

They had rehashed everything that had happened since they had been abducted by Roulette. Every detail had been discussed at length, every theory had been debated. Lena has recounted her talk with Rhea several times already and the most surprising maybe was finding out that Kara had no clue why Rhea would want her dead… Kara doesn’t remember any conflicts with Daxam over a child prior to Krypton’s destruction and to her knowledge, the pact of non-aggression between the Federation and Daxam hadn’t been violated in the years it had been put in place. Queen Rhea was still in good diplomatic relationship with the High Council. So, besides the feud between Krypton and Daxam – a conflict that had ceased to exist with Krypton’s destruction – they had no clue on what was going on.

 

Hence, Lena’s repeated request for Kara to let her go.

 

“The Frigates were Maaldorian,” Kara says with her hands on her hips, shaking her head determinedly after rejecting her demand for the hundredth time. Kara had laughed when Lena first proposed it so it was definitively improvement. “No involvement of Daxam has been found.”

 

“Queen Rhea wouldn’t be stupid enough to let any proof point toward her,” Lena lets out, exasperated as they circle around the same argument again. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she stole those Frigates from the Maaldorians to attack us with them.”

 

“Then you understand that you are my only witness!”

 

Lena huffs as Kara maintains her pose. A pose clearly meant to intimidate her. “So I really am your prisoner…”

 

“What? You know that’s not true…”

 

“I’m in a damn cell!”

 

The exclamation makes Kara roll her eyes. “Well, if you had agreed to stop resisting-”

 

“I did!”

 

“You lied!”

 

Lena did lie, and if asked again, she would still lie. Her priority was her crew and she would do anything to get them out. Kara bites her lip, clearly frustrated, and Lena can’t help but admire her optimism and strong will. They’ve been arguing for most of the night. Kara wanted her to testify before the High Council, tell them everything she saw, everything Queen Rhea told her, but Lena knows better. Despite Kara believing in a good and kind system in which the Federation would go easy on her for helping them, Lena knows this isn’t how it works. This isn’t the world she lives in. “It won’t work.” Kara tries to protest for the umpteenth time but Lena stops her and continues. “I’m guilty of most of the things they are accusing me of, and the things I didn’t do? Well, they’ll pin it on me anyway because it’s more convenient. Because it’s the narrative everyone expects, and no one will question it. You can’t just parade me through Metropolis and hope the High Council and the public will spare me.”

 

“J’onn will listen! Kal will too! And didn’t Councilwoman Marsdin work with you? Maggie told us-”

 

Lena shakes her head. “Those were unauthorized missions. Councilwoman Marsdin calls for my help only when politics and diplomacy prevent the Durlan government from meddling in other nation’s affairs. If it were to be known, the High Council would demote her. She won’t help me, and I need our past collaborations to stay hidden as much as they can be.” Kara frowns, clearly displeased and Lena doesn’t know how to feel about Kara still pushing for her to stay. Still trying to find a solution within the rules fixed by society when all of Lena’s life has been about defying them. She is the child Lionel never planned to have. She is the heir Lillian wished never existed. She is the sister Lex took under his wing despite her being illegitimate. She is Lena Luthor, once Captain of the Singing Nightmare, enemy of the world like all pirates were declared to be, and surprisingly Commodore Kara Zor-El refuses to adopt the view the world has of her. “As soon as I set foot in the Federation, I’ll be as good as dead,” Lena insists.

 

“You make us sound like we’re the bad guys. Like the High Council can’t be reasoned with.”

 

Lena shrugs. “I’m a pirate. You kill pirates.”

 

“We both know you are so much more than a pirate.”

 

“Yeah,” Lena scoffs. “I’m a Luthor.”

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Kara hisses through her teeth, clearly frustrated at this point. Her hand rubs her forehead in a sign of aggravation and Lena can’t help but sigh a little.

 

“No, but that’s how the High Council will see me. We both know it, Kara. You might be able to convince some of them but not all.”

 

Kara paces angrily, looking at her and then looking back to the floor, obviously thinking and trying to come up with new ways to shoot down her arguments. “Why aren’t you fighting?” Kara asks, stopping before her. “You are the only one who really knows what happened in Maaldoria! By helping us, you’ll prove everyone that they were wrong about you!” She says, looking at Lena with a look of incomprehension. “I don’t understand why-”

 

“I am. I’m fighting. But not like you. I can’t win a fight in which the rules are set for me to lose. You have to let me go,” Lena interrupts her, calm and assured. Kara glares at her but Lena stands her ground. It was the only way for her crew to get out of this mess alive.

 

Kara clenches her jaw and crosses her arms over her chest, looking defiant. “I can’t.”

 

“Why?” Lena asks for what feels like the hundredth time. Why can’t Kara let her go? Why can’t Kara let her leave when they both know what’s going to happen? Why make her stay in a fight they both know Lena can’t win? “Why?” Lena asks again, walking closer to the iron bars, not letting her frustration get the best of her, and reaches out for Kara’s tensed arm. Kara tries to resist but Lena pries the arm away from its defensive stance and brings the Commodore closer to her. “Tell me why. I want the truth this time.”

 

Silence falls over the brig and it feels intimate. It feels like a shared space where everything around them suddenly doesn’t matter as much as the pain Lena sees in Kara’s eyes or the desperation Lena feels in the grip Kara suddenly has on her.

 

“It’s my fault,” Kara finally lets out in a painful breath. “Everything that has happened is my fault. She wants me. I don’t even know why she wants me, but she’s dragged you into this and-” Tears shine in Kara’s eyes and Lena gulps as she is close enough to feel Kara’s stuttering breaths hit her lips. “It’s my fault and I can’t protect you from her or from Maaldoria if you leave.”

 

Lena exhales, feeling Kara’s arms tentatively close around her waist. “You won’t be able to protect me once we’re in the Federation, either. We both know that my being a Luthor changes everything. They won’t care about a threat we can’t prove. They’ll go after the Luthorian Islands and they’ll use me as bait. You know it’s true. You have to let me go.” Kara’s grip tightens around her. Ignoring the cold press of the iron bars against her body, Lena allows herself the small comfort of holding on to Kara too. “I won’t- I won’t be a pawn in anyone else’s game. You understand that…”

 

Commodore Zor-El nods, finally surrendering after hours, days of a subtle war waged between them. The Commodore surrenders but Kara smiles as she presses her forehead against Lena’s. “You are stubborn.”

 

“Speak for yourself.”

 

Kara laughs and Lena feels it echo against her lips with giddy and unbearable lightness.

 

It’s selfish the way she clings a little bit more to Kara. It’s selfish and yet Lena can’t stop herself from pressing a little closer to the warmth Kara gives off despite the coldness of the iron bars. "In another life,” Lena whispers, breathing deeply as she feels Kara’s lips brush against her ear. “We could have been friends," Lena says with a laugh. The idea sounds absurd but Lena can see it. She can picture them being friends if the circumstances had been different. She can picture them sharing a meal, and silences… She can picture them existing side by side and doing things that friends do…

 

"The best of friends," Kara agrees with a small trembling smile that sears a burning path onto Lena’s cheek. Her back becomes molten wax under the press of Kara’s fingers and Lena is a fool. She’s a fool for thinking they’d only be friends when she yearns for so much more.

 

"Maybe something more," Lena can’t help but say, breathing in Kara’s small and rapid exhalations as they hit Lena’s open lips.

 

"Yeah," Kara agrees again. Her hands find their way to the back of Lena’s neck in a sure and yet trembling grip.

 

It feels inevitable. In the silence, with both of them hiding from the world, Lena pictures them kissing like it is the most natural thing to do. She’s joked about it, asking playfully for Kara to kiss her in moments full of action and adrenaline, but Lena knows she wouldn’t have done it if she had known how terrified it would make her feel. More terrified than jumping off of a cliff. Every shared breath feels like it’s leaving an imprint somewhere in her soul that resonates within her, transcending worlds and any life beyond this one -- if there were any. Every shared breath feels like echoes of past hellos and goodbyes and Lena is suddenly overwhelmed by the impossibility of them and the goodbyes she can’t bring herself to say.

 

“I can’t,” Lena croaks, jerking away from Kara’s embrace and heated breaths. “I can’t,” Lena repeats, trying to find her breath back as Kara looks at her with confusion and then pained horror.

 

"I'm sorry. Oh no, I’m so sorry.”

 

"It's okay. It's fine. I… I-" I’m sorry, Lena tries to say but Kara apologizes again with each apology bordering a little bit more on panic.

 

"No. I'm sorry. It’s me. I shouldn't have- I shouldn't have done that... I don’t know what came over me. I-"

 

Lena wishes she could turn back time. Lena wishes she could rewrite the last twenty minutes to keep them from leaning over the edge and flirting with the idea of falling. She should have put a stop to it when she felt her heart began to drum in her chest just because of Kara’s proximity. She should have stopped it because now, away from Kara’s arms, Lena feels the cold bite at her skin while Kara struggles to regain her composure and hide behind the Girl of Steel.

 

"Kara, I-" Lena tries to apologize again but unable to meet her eyes, Kara leaves with one last apology.

 

The resulting silence doesn’t make Lena feel like she might have broken both of their hearts.

 

It doesn’t.

 

*

 

She waits for the day to break to see if what happened between them has made Kara change her mind. Lena listens closely to the gossip she can hear from the deck-hands and from the officers guarding her while she feigns sleep. Kara hadn’t seemed to change her mind. If anything, from the gossip Lena hears, it looks like Kara has even made it easier for her to escape.

 

Lena is transferred back to the Intrepid around noon. They don’t place her in the brig with the rest of her crew, but in a small room purposed for storage. Apparently, the Commodore was to leave on reconnaissance of the meeting-point later in the day, leaving Lieutenant Vasquez in command of the Intrepid and the remaining ships while reinstating Lord at the command of his.

 

Night falls and the Commodore had left a few hours ago on board of one of Lord’s ships, with Captain Danvers by her side. The Intrepid is silent except for the few officers standing guard on deck. Escaping from the storage room they locked her in is quite easy. She is used to breaking out from the bonds people want to chain her with, she is used to life on the run, and she is used to running away. Breaking a lock is hardly a challenge for her.

 

She blends in to the shadows and the few officers and crewmen she finds are fast asleep, believing themselves to be safe in the protection of their own ship. Lena makes her way toward the brig and knocks out the officer guarding the door. She steals his keys, opens the door, and smiles as she finds her crew waiting behind the bars.

 

“Where’s Luke?” Lena whispers as Jess gets out and begins to open the other cells.

 

“He was with us but she took him,” Eli replies with a deep frown. “The Commodore took him this morning and he hasn’t come back.”

 

Lena had expected it. She had expected for him to be separated from the group but not… not taken away on another ship… Lena curses, feeling her heart turn to stone.

 

Escaping is easy. Her crew has perfected the art over the years, so much so that they don’t make a noise leaving the brig, subduing everyone they find on their way to the deck. Lena sees Vasquez talking with the helmsman on the quarterdeck. They hide in the shadows, using the darkness as an ally, and Lieutenant Vasquez gasps when she finds herself staring down the barrel of a gun Lena has borrowed from one of the officers below deck.

 

“You have five minutes to gather your people and jump overboard before I start killing them one by one.”

 

Vasquez looks around and seeing her crew held at gunpoint, she nods.

 

“Give them two boats,” Lena instructs Jess as the rest of her crew gathers the Intrepid’s crew toward the railings. If they take turns, it’ll be enough to keep them from drowning. “Prepare the cannons,” Lena orders Eli next, eyeing Lord’s ship anchored in the distance ahead of them. Bodies hit the water one by one and Lena orders for her crew to cut the anchor and set sail.

 

“Captain,” Hector calls her, from the stairs leading to quarterdeck and points toward the Captain’s Cabin. “We found Luke.”

 

Lena runs there and finds Luke in the process of being unchained from one of the beams.

 

“Hey,” he greets her to Lena’s astonishment.

 

“What the fuck? Are you okay?” Lena tries to ask, looking for injuries, anything that would explain why he has been held away from the others but her heart slowly beats through the protective layer she had put around it and all Lena feels is relief. The last of her fear cracks and crumbles to pieces as Luke takes her in his arms.

 

“I’m fine. Nothing happened.”

 

Lena breathes in relief.

 

“No blue-coats on board,” Jess announces. “It seemed like the Commodore has taken all the injured officers with her. Including Maggie.”

 

Eli appears behind Jess, out of breath and determined. “We’re ready.”

 

Lena stops indulging herself and quickly makes her way to the helm.

 

“Kill the lights.”

 

Every light around the deck is snuffed out.

 

The Intrepid sails toward Lord’s ship, ignoring the intermittent flashes of light the crew is sending them as messages. They finally get close enough for Lena to see Lord staring back at her, terrified.

 

“Fire!” Lena orders.

 

Lord shouts for a riposte. Too late. Much too late. The booms of cannons detonate in the night. His ship groans, crippled by cannonballs and his crew screams unable to defend themselves. Lena sees some jump overboard in despair and at such a close range, Lena sees the exact moment Lord realizes that he is about to die.

 

Cannons boom. Screams echo on the water. Lord dies among the splintering of wood and a mast falls and destroys most of the deck. In the darkness, the fire engulfing Lord’s ship is the only thing Lena sees and the only thing Lena cares about.

 

Two of Lord’s ships try to help, and Lena destroys them too. The only one left remains in the distance, helping anyone they can find in the water.

 

The nightmare ends only when the sun begins to rise. Two fires burns brightly over the water and in the distance, beyond the smoke and the fire, Lena sees the deep red sails of a ship stand out among the several white sails coming toward them.

 

“Let’s go!”

 

The Intrepid sails away.

 

Divide and conquer.

 

Lena has won, but it brings her no joy. With her spyglass, she can just make out from beyond the flame, a lonely figure with blonde hair billowing in the wind, standing still at the prow of the ship with the deep red sails.

 

“She asked me to give you this.” Luke hands her a folded scrap of paper and leaves the quarterdeck without a word.

 

Lena opens it with trembling hands.

 

Stay alive.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

There’s smoke invading her nostrils and screams resonating outside of her window; faint at first, like a distant echo or a rumbling storm. Something bad. Kara can feel it. The walls begin to shake and she finds herself staring at the ceiling of her bedroom.

 

Her last memory of Krypton resurfaces as she falls asleep.

 

The heaviness of sleep settles over her mind like chains anchoring her to the memory. Awake and yet not. Conscious but unable to wake up, Kara watches helplessly as the door slams open and her mother appears at the threshold of her bedroom.

 

“Come, Kara! We don’t have much time!” Alura says, looking winded but oh so beautiful. Kara drinks in the vision of her mother; still alive, still breathing. Her last memory of her still intact despite the passing of time and the resentment she feels deep inside. Hi, Kara stutters instead, feeling her throat close up and her chest hurt. I’ve missed you. Her mother doesn’t react, unmoved by the plea of a daughter who has already spent thirteen years without her. “Kara! Come quickly! Your father is waiting for us! We have to go!”

 

“Wh- where? What’s happening?” Kara hears herself say, dragged out of the bed and into the hallway within seconds. The air is unbearably hot and suffocating. It feels thick in her lungs. Thick and scorching. The house servants run from room to room, buzzing around her like bees, their arms laden with food, blankets, and heirlooms of the House of El. “Where are we going?”

 

Her question remains unanswered, but Kara now knows where her mother is taking her. She knows what’s about to happen. And like the hundreds other times that the memory has invaded her dreams, Kara can’t help but hold on to her mother’s hand just a little bit tighter before the dream ends, before she’ll have to let go.

 

“Leave it! Leave it! We don’t have much time!” Her mother screams, guiding everyone out in the courtyard where several carriages await. The horses whine, hitting the ground with their hoofs and breathing heavily. Something bad is happening. Kara looks toward where everyone is pointing, and far in the distance she sees Rao spitting fireballs into the sky hanging low above their head. The volcanoes around him spew thick, red smoke that gives the atmosphere of Argo City this strange red glow.

 

Kara is pushed into a carriage. Her mother and their housekeeper follow closely behind.

 

“Here.” Alura wraps her scarf around Kara’s mouth as the carriage sets off. “My sweet, brave girl. You’re going to be alright.” Her mother smiles and cups her cheeks with clammy hands. “Your father isn’t far. Everything is going to be fine, I promise.”

 

Liar, Kara breathes. Liar… Sometimes Kara would scream at the memory of her to make herself feel better. Sometimes she’d forgive her, but her mother would never reply. She’d always stay frozen in that half-smile that’d never reach her eyes and Kara can only wonder why her mother did nothing to save Krypton. You let everyone that I love die… Kara would scream. You left me alone. You sent me away. How could you do that? She’d scrutinize her mother’s face for an answer but would find none.

 

Alura stares out of the window, talking rapidly to the driver while Kelex, their housekeeper, looks back toward her and slips a biscuit into her hand, making Kara smile. Her favorite. The kind she’d steal from the kitchen early in the morning when the baker wasn’t looking. “Don’t you worry, Miss. Don’t you worry,” Kelex adds with a wink.

 

“I know.”

 

Kara scoffs at the youthful bravado she hears in her voice.

 

“I’m not afraid. Stronger together.”

 

The pride she sees in his eyes makes her feel nauseous, makes her wish she had looked away. I’m sorry, she whispers, looking at him and feeling her lips form a smile around a biscuit she can no longer taste. I’m sorry, she repeats, waiting with dread filling her heart. Wake up, Kara urges herself again. Come on! Come on! Wake up! Kara screams, frustrated by her powerlessness; angry at not being able to change anything, forced to watch them die over and over again. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…

 

The carriage topples over, falling on its side. The horses neigh in agony and Kelex helps her mother out of the carriage before grabbing her waist and lifting her up through the opening where the driver grabs her by the armpits.

 

“Run! Run, Miss Kara!” he shouts as her thirteen-year-old self tries to reach for him. “Go!”

 

I’m sorry, Kara cries as she is dropped on the ground. Her mother grabs her hand and they are running away with the crowd.

 

“Don’t let go!” Her mother screams. “Don’t look back!”

 

Kara does. She did thirteen years ago and to this day she wished she hadn’t because there’s a rift separating them from the procession of carriages that had followed them from the El household, and when Kara looks back, the rift widens and swallows their carriage before Kelex can get out.

 

I’m sorry…

 

The screams around them get more intense. Dire. Bodies run into one another in a state of absolute panic and Kara holds on to her mother’s hand. Desperately.

 

“Alura! Kara!”

 

Her father scoops her in his arms out of nowhere and Kara breathes in the ashes sprinkled in his hair. Hi Dad, she whispers in his ear before she is rushed toward the end of the dock where a ship, brimming with people, prepares to leave…

 

Kara always hates this part. The goodbyes. Knowing that Krypton will die and she will survive…

 

Her father sends her off with reassuring words before she is told that she is sailing toward the Federation to find Kal. Her mother promises her the beginning of a new adventure with a small, teary smile and Kara just feels… tired-- tired of wondering if they could have done anything more to save Krypton… What would have happened if her mother had listened to Astra? Could they have prevented it? Could they have saved more lives?

 

“I love you, Kara.” Her mother says and the ship sails away.

 

I love you… Kara shouts back. Too late. Thirteen years too late.

 

Pressed by the hundreds of people huddled on the deck, Kara leans over the railing, watching as Krypton becomes a red dot in the distance and explodes before her eyes. People screams and points toward the prow of the ship. A wave the likes of which Kara had never seen before rises to the sky and plunges them into darkness…

 

…making her jolt awake.

 

Nauseous, Kara stumbles out of bed and falls on her knees. The blanket has wrapped itself around her legs and it’s only her quick reflexes that save her from planting face first onto the wooden floor. Bracing herself on her arms, she pinches her lips to stop herself from throwing up.

 

Everything’s fine. You’re fine. You’re safe. Her heart doesn’t seem to think so. It pounds inside her chest with no signs of slowing down. Her lungs burn from the lack of air and her vision blackens. She pounds her fist repeatedly into the floorboards, feeling the pain radiate through her arm, but Kara doesn’t care, she needs to burn the excess of energy coursing through her veins, the sadness, the despair, simmering just inside her chest like burning embers.

 

Her fist breaks through the floor, making her gasp and stare at the hole she’s made. The patrons below look up in surprise. “Sorry,” she utters, voice breaking and raspy, before cradling her hand against her chest and scooting back toward the bed.

 

You’re fine. You’re safe. Everything’s fine… Breathing through her nose, feeling her hand become numb, Kara swallows back a whimper.

 

The sound resumes below. The clinking of glass, the laughter, and the drunken singing wells up once more as if nothing had happened. Time goes on and Kara feels like it’s moving without her. Closing her eyes, she begins to pray and repeats the mantra her mother had taught her years ago. The sound of patrons enjoying their night in the rooms next to hers doesn’t break her meditation. The Kryptonese flows easily past her lips and more than the words themselves it is the sound of them that soothes her the most. The familiarity of it. This feeling of home that Kara doesn’t feel anywhere but in the small Kryptonian communities dispersed throughout the Federation. But even there the language has been replaced by the common tongue just to fit in with the rest of the population… and so, Kara fills the room with soft Kryptonese as it becomes her last stand against oblivion.

 

Her heart rate slows down and her mind becomes steel again.

 

Kara shakes away the last of her haze and looks around the sparse room she rented just a few hours ago. After a few deep breaths, she gathers the papers she had been poring over and shoves them into her bag. Plunging her hand into the basin of water, she scrubs the blood off. The water darkens. It stings a little, but Kara shakes it off with two deep breaths. Her silhouette reflected on the mirror makes her pause. Her hair is in disarray, deep purple bags sit under her eyes, and the various cuts and the bruise on her jaw have yet to completely heal. The bruise has become a yellowish color, and her sweat-drenched clothes hang awkwardly over her frame. Hunched over the basin of water, Kara realizes that she looks like a mess. She feels like a mess and she wishes she had brought her blue frock coat with her instead of the plain brown one she used to avoid being recognized…

 

It’s not even dawn, as Kara fixes her hair in a different style than the one she came in with. She lets it hang around her face, fixing a few strands to hide the healing bruise on her jaw. She puts on glasses next, a hat, and the brown coat she burrowed earlier in the day. She checks over the last details of her disguise, and looking around the room one last time she makes a mental note to tip the owner handsomely to pay for the repair before leaving the room and going down the stairs. She is greeted by the sound of raucous laughter, loud music, and the strong smells of sweat and meat. No one pays her any mind, and she makes her way easily toward the bar to talk to the owner. He grumbles when she points to the hole in his ceiling with a sheepish smile. He mutters under his breath, not really angry, but Kara still slides an extra four gold pieces across the bar, much to his delight. Boisterous, he invites her to come back anytime as she waves her goodbyes. Once out the door, Kara sighs, readjusting the strap of her bag over her shoulder while looking at her bruised hand and wondering just how she’s going to explain that one…

 

“Commodore…”

 

Kara looks up and her face darkens at seeing Vasquez with five other officers, who all look at her with wide eyes.

 

“Didn’t I tell you to head back to headquarters?” Kara tells the Lieutenant. “I don’t need a chaperone.”

 

“Captain Danvers was adamant that we shouldn’t leave you on your own.”

 

“I’m her superior! My orders trump hers.”

 

Vasquez shrugs while the five other officers stare at her, looking uncomfortable.

 

“We’re sorry, Commodore.” One of them says with a bit of color on her cheeks. She looks back at the establishment Kara came out off and then back at her, at the glasses and the hat and flimsy coat too big for her frame. The scrutiny makes Kara stands taller, shedding the disguise from her demeanor, and meet their curious gaze heads on. “But… But we hope you enjoyed your night.”

 

Kara sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose, and ignores the wary look Vasquez is giving her. Ever since Lena’s escape, her relation with the Lieutenant has been somewhat strained. Vasquez had seen her interact with Lena and somehow it had been enough for her to come to certain conclusions… Kara can feel it. She knows she took a risk when she let Lena go. She gambled with the life of those who had remained behind and Vasquez now looks at her with that knowing gaze, with that cool confidence someone has when they have been proven right… But Vasquez hasn’t said anything. Not to Alex, not even to her… Kara doesn’t know what to make of it. She doesn’t know what Vasquez’ silence will mean for her when she is brought to testify before the High Council in a few hours…

 

Looking back at the uneasy officers standing behind the Lieutenant, Kara feels her irritation fade as quickly as it came. They’ve been waiting outside, mindful of her privacy, and it wasn’t their fault if she thought she could escape Alex’s watchful eye by pretending to need time to herself. Alex’s protective streak has been through the roof ever since her abduction. Not hesitating to threaten their officers with unimaginable pain if they were to leave her unprotected on the rare occasions she wasn’t glued to her side.

 

“I did enjoy my night. Thank you,” Kara lies, grinning, and making the officers chuckle while she bashfully looks away. “Anyway… since you’re all here. How about a race?”

 

Kara doesn’t wait for an answer. She takes off through the silent streets of Metropolis and hears only five pairs of boots run after her. Looking over her shoulder, she sees Vasquez at the far back, following them at her own pace, examining her surroundings with her hand wrapped around the pommel of her sword, not caring that she’s being left behind, making Kara wonder just what Vasquez is hoping to find… But Kara doesn’t linger on the Lieutenant because her attention is quickly diverted by the officers who ask her to wait and protest that it isn’t fair while they try to keep up.

 

Kara laughs loudly at their efforts and looks back toward Vasquez, feeling her chest tighten just a little bit.

 

***

 

Alex doesn’t say anything when Kara reaches for her hand. Looking out of the window of their carriage, the High Tower looms over them, and Alex’s presence is enough to reassure her. Carving their way through the bustling streets of Metropolis, Kara smiles and waves at those who stop in their tracks at the sight of her carriage, engraved with the crest of the House of El on its sides. Her smile falls when the carriage picks up speed and makes its way up the winding road leading to the top of the highest hill in Metropolis. She feels Alex rub her arm, but Kara can only muster a fleeting smile before looking back toward the window. The heart of the Federation sprawls under them, and through the trees, off in the distance beyond the Centennial Park and the grey ramparts, Kara watches the sun rise over the Metropolis Harbor.

 

Alex goes back to reading reports and statements dealing with the aftermath of Lena’s escape, or of her current whereabouts… Information Kara has already checked over that have proven to be useless. Ever since her escape, Lena Luthor has been sighted in five different locations in much too short of a time to be plausible. It’s been more than a month since her escape and the trail has gone cold. Kara had given the priority to the injured officers and she doesn’t regret it. She’s heard the gossip, it began long before Lena even escaped, but since reaching the Federation’s waters it has grown and has been given a life of its own; reaching the High Tower before Kara could get there.

 

They call it The Nightmare’s Bloodbath. The Girl of Steel’s first major failure to date. The deadliest attack made by pirates on the Federation Marine Corps since the end of the Luthorian War… Pressed against the side of the carriage, Kara clenches her fist and feels the pain in her knuckles as Metropolis becomes smaller the further up they go…

 

The road fills up with soldiers in red coats, patrolling the areas around the High Tower. Kara also sees those hiding among the trees, some more visible than others despite their camouflage… Leaning out of the window, the white ramparts of the High Tower stand before her, twice the size of National City’s but pitiful compared to the High Tower itself. Craning her neck, Kara doesn’t even see the top of the Tower as it goes on and on into the sky.

 

It was just like in her memories when Kal brought her here for the first time after he had found her drifting in the ocean, after her escape from the Phantom Zone… Kara feels as small and uneasy as she had been then.

 

“Have you heard anything from Maggie?”

 

“Nothing new,” Alex says, her nose buried in her papers. “The attack on the Durlan outpost has been ruled as an unrelated attack.”

 

“And Councilwoman Marsdin?”

 

“She’s waiting to see how the hearing will go before making a decision… It’s going to be alright,” Alex adds, looking up and facing her. “There’s nothing to be worried about. Hearings like this happen sometimes.”

 

“I know… I’m just- you know… Peachy.” Kara smiles but the concern is still there, in the crease of Alex’s brows and her piercing brown eyes. “I’m fine,” Kara adds. “Promise.”

 

Alex doesn’t get to call her out on it because a soldier stops their carriage, making her sister grumble next to her and look out of the window.

 

After a brief discussion with the driver, they are let through the first gate.

 

Kara nods at the soldiers saluting her as they pass them by. The gate closes and the sound of wooden wheels thundering on cobblestones is nearly enough to muffle the whisperings Kara hears rising around them, but certainly not enough to mask the blatant looks she receives once inside the High Tower’s compound. She sighs as they are stopped again at the second gate and smiles as they nod at her, her jaw clenching slightly when their eyes linger on the fading bruises on her face. Soldiers check the carriage, opening the door and making Alex’s papers fly around. The frown on Alex’s face is enough for the red coat to take a step back and scramble around for the flying papers.

 

“This is ridiculous,” Alex growls. “The High Council is waiting for us.”

 

“This- This is just standard procedure,” the foot soldier stammers, gathering the papers as best as he can before handing them back to Alex with trembling hands.

 

“Stop terrorizing them, Danvers.” Lucy appears behind the soldier who salutes her with a strong and confident Colonel Lane, before stepping away. Taking a seat opposite from them, Lucy looks at her with a severe expression; one Kara has come to associate with her being in trouble. Again. “You’ve been the talk of the High Tower.”

 

“It’s good to see you too,” Kara grumbles.

 

“They won’t go easy on you,” Lucy continues, ignoring Kara’s bad mood.

 

“I don’t need them to go easy on me,” Kara scoffs, feeling defensive all of sudden, threatened by the assurance in Lucy’s tone. “I just need them to listen to me.”

 

“You might not get what you wish this time.”

 

Kara frowns, trying to keep her anger at bay as Lucy turns her attention toward Alex. The carriage stops before the steps leading to the doors of the High Tower. A massive oaken double door that makes her inside vibrates with the first signs of anxiety. Kara squashes it down immediately, following behind Lucy with determined steps.

 

“Don’t worry.” Alex winks, walking beside her. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

 

Kara nods, drawing strength from her sister’s confidence, and breathes deeply before stepping inside the High Tower.

 

*

 

Her steps are loud in the vast chamber. No other sound can be heard as the whole room watches her walk up to the stand. A crowd composed of senior officers from both the Marine Corps and the Armed Forces, here to attend the hearing… Kara recognizes a few faces among the crowd: James, Winn, M’Gann, Maggie, Lucy to name a few, most of whom will be asked to testify today. She smiles at seeing the thumbs up Alex gives her before she has to turn away from them and face the High Council.

 

Despite Alex’s reassurance, it was very rare for the High Council to hold hearings in such a formal and public manner. Kara had thought she would get to meet with a few members, namely J’onn, Kal and maybe Marsdin, to speak about her abduction, Lena’s implication and her subsequently proven innocence, and from that meeting, the High Council would deliberate and come to a decision… That’s how it has always been. Rarely did all members of the High Council attended to one specific case. The Federation was too vast for that. Fragmented in states, Kara always had to answer to only a few of them at a time and only when their states were concerned. Looking at the crowded chamber, at the ten empty seats before her, Kara realizes that Lena had been right…

 

We both know that my being a Luthor changes everything…

 

Lena being a Luthor did change everything, and Kara can finally it see now.

 

Everything’s going to be fine, Kara repeats under her breath, staring at the seats arranged in a semi-circle around her and desperately trying to think of a strategy. Of a way to make them understand that Lena wasn’t the threat, that she wasn’t the evil pirate the world painted her to be. No, Lena Luthor was only trying to survive with the means at her disposition… How was that different from what she had done in the Phantom Zone or in the Arena?

 

You might not get what you wish this time… Lucy had said and gripping at the handrails, Kara takes a deep breath to stay focused. Kal will listen to her. He’ll see the truth. He’ll help her find who are truly behind this, and if Daxam is proven to be guilty like Lena claims them to be then he’ll help her bring them to justice… Kal is here. Everything is going to be alright, Kara tells herself. She hasn’t seen her cousin for awhile now but she knows he has her back.

 

And yet her heart begins to race and an uncomfortable sensation crawls up her spine. Kara doesn’t know why she feels like her body is readying for a fight… The bad feeling sits heavily at the bottom of her stomach and Kara can’t help but liken it to the same feeling she felt the night Kal decided to send her away to the Danvers. To that night when he brought her to the High Tower and made her wait while he talked to his peers in a language she didn’t understand, in a world in which everything she thought she had was lost, in a life that didn’t feel like her own anymore…

 

“All rise!” The herald announces.

 

The members of the High Council trickle inside the Chamber one by one, wearing their ceremonial white cloaks over their clothes. J’onn gives her a nod of acknowledgement as he takes his seat. His Martian black frock coat contrasts greatly with the white of his cape but Kara can’t help but smile back, seeing her friend in one of the seats, fighting for justice, in a position well suited for him. Other members gives her a brief look of acknowledgement before taking their seats, members Kara has only met once or twice or knew only by name. General Lane comes in next and the cold look he gives her does nothing to shake her confidence, but it does make her stand taller with the burning desire of proving him wrong. Again.

 

Chin held high, confident and ready, Kara falters when the door closes and Kal isn’t here. His seat remains empty along with those of Bruce Wayne of Gotham and Diana Pierce of Themyscira…

 

Kara waits, breathless, staring at the door, uncomprehending. She was told that he would be here. She was told the whole Council would attend the hearing… The shock slams into her quickly and suddenly. Her heart sinks. That… That wasn’t the plan. Kal was supposed to be here. And yet the door stays shut and the other council members don’t act any differently. The wooden railing creaks in her grip. She can’t let it bring her down. General Lane gives her a look as he whispers to the Councilman seated next to him. Kara looks behind her and catches her sister’s gaze. Alex smiles at her encouragingly and it only makes Kara more defiant, turning back to look at the General straight in the eyes, not backing down from the stare-off until someone clears their throat and Kara’s attention is brought back toward the members of the High Council, and more particularly a woman with calculating eyes and a warm smile.

 

“Thank you. Take a seat,” she says warmly. Kara sees Marsdin’s attention lingers toward someone behind her back, on her right, and she knows, for having memorized the faces of those seated behind her that she is staring at Maggie. “I, Councilwoman Olivia Marsdin, will preside over this hearing.”

 

There’s a shuffling sound around the room as everyone except her takes their seat, Kara chances a look toward J’onn. He shakes his head minutely, apologetically, guessing the question on her mind.

 

“Commodore Zor-El, I would like to open this hearing by telling you that we are all glad that you are now safe and well. What happened to you will not go unpunished and the High Council will do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“However,” Councilwoman Marsdin continues, her eyes becoming colder and her tone more severe, “understand that this incident is of extreme gravity and has left a trail of deaths, chaos, and many unanswered questions. What occurred will receive the investigation it deserves to bring justice to the officers no longer here with us and to those injured. Commodore, if you would please walk us through the event that took place in National City seven weeks ago, during the arrest of the pirate named Lena Luthor.”

 

Nodding her understanding, feeling her tongue become like lead inside her mouth, Kara feels like the whole room has shifted its attention onto her. A part of her wishes Lena were here… but seeing the cold, nearly hostile reaction in the whole chamber just from the mention of Lena’s name, Kara knows it is better that Lena isn’t. As maddening as it was, even the High Council wasn’t partial on certain matters. Looking at them, Kara already knows their minds have been made up.

 

But that she can change. She’s not afraid to fight. She’s going to prove them wrong and she’s going to give them all she’s got.

 

“On order of Councilman J’onzz, my fleet and I went to investigate the incident in Phoria where Captain Lena Luthor was supposedly identified as the one attacking the villages along the coast,” Kara utters, strong and assured, as certain Council members looks at her dubiously for her choice of her words. There was no doubt in their minds that Lena Luthor was the one behind the attacks in Phoria. That’s what Kara had thought too at the time… “We did not find her anywhere near the Phorian coast. We had no trace of her presence save for the testimony given by the Daxamite merchant ship which had given the alert and the survivors of the ordeal, but with time I gathered enough information to know that I could find her in Sedenach. We-”

 

Kara pauses as General Lane stops her with a slight raise of his hand.

 

“Commodore, are you implying that Lena Luthor was not behind the attacks?”

 

A heavy silence falls upon the chamber. Kara can feel the tension in the air as everyone looks at her and waits for her answer.

 

“Yes,” Kara finally says. “Lena Luthor had nothing to do with the attacks in Phoria.”

 

A gasp resonates in the chamber. A murmur begins to swell behind her and Kara doesn’t back away from her claim despite some indignant shouts she hears floating around or the way some of the Council members are now looking at her with suspicion in their eyes.

 

“Silence!” Marsdin orders.

 

The room falls quiet once more.

 

“Commodore, please go on.”

 

“There were a number of dead and wounded in Phoria,” Kara continues. “I ordered Captain James Olsen and Captain Alex Danvers to stay behind and assist the population while I gave chase on board the El Mayarah. Captain Luthor wasn’t difficult to find. She wasn’t actively hiding or escaping authority when I found her in Sedenach… I believe she had no idea of what was going on.”

 

“But you didn’t apprehend her then?” Councilwoman Marsdin asks, her hand supporting her chin in a thoughtful manner. “Why’s that?”

 

It had been Lena’s attitude. That was what had made Kara pause the first time she saw Lena Luthor among the crowded market of Sedenach. She had been carefree then, laughing with her crew, drinking, haggling on prices with locals… Having no clue that she was being watched. Her attitude didn’t match the crime committed in Phoria but Kara had put it on account of Lena being a pirate and maybe not feeling remorse, but that had been the first sign that made her suspect that something might be off.

 

“I wanted to know…” Kara catches the fleeting look the Councilwoman give to Maggie. It’s quick. Nearly insignificant. An eye-twitch for any casual observers but to Kara it was as good as Marsdin showing fear. Despite having Maggie act as a go-between, Marsdin had never granted them a private hearing to discuss what had happened the day of Lena’s escape. Kara had thought it was Marsdin’s way to protect herself from being associated with her but now Kara knows it is not the case. The hearing was the true test. “I wanted to know where she would go next before making a move.”

 

“And where did she go?”

 

Olivia Marsdin shows all the signs of someone who is ready to pounce. It makes Kara thinks of those reptilians that do not move, do not blink, letting their prey get closer and closer, only to tear into them when they least expect it. They both knew they could destroy the other right at this moment and Kara is sure that Marsdin will stop at nothing to remain in the position she’s in. This was a test of loyalty, a leap of faith on both of their parts. This was the deciding factor to know if she could be trusted or not, if Kara was willing to lie in front of the High Council for them, because they both knew that after Sedenach, Lena went straight to the Durlan outpost where she talked to Maggie.

 

“She was heading straight toward National City,” Kara lies without missing a beat and sees the relieved breath Councilwoman Marsdin lets out.

 

“Straight toward National City…” General Lane repeats slowly, mockingly even. “No detours… no side trips?”

 

“None,” Kara lies boldly, inwardly cringing at the fact that this could be verified by interrogating the crew of the El Mayarah whom she had led on Lena’s trail.

 

“Did you know that a Durlan outpost had been destroyed and its officers killed just before your attempted arrest of Lena Luthor in National City? Surely Lieutenant Sawyer told you everything about that,” the General says, pointing dismissively toward Maggie, “since I was told you were both found on board the Singing Nightmare…”

 

“I did not know it at the time,” Kara answers, threading carefully. She had the feeling a trap was closing in on her as General Lane implied some kind of duplicity on their parts with that last statement. It has definitely made the audience react because the murmurs behind her swell once again and Kara can’t help but feel defensive.

 

“Let me jump in on that,” Councilwoman June Finch cuts in, interrupting the General before he can ask another question. “During your surveillance, did Lena Luthor have any contacts whatsoever with anyone within the Federation?”

 

And it is with that one question, garnering the interest of most of the High Council members, that Kara realizes they aren’t just attempting to link Lena to the attack on the outpost. They are trying to weed out any moles or traitors left within their ranks. Lex Luthor’s scission with the Federation had revealed many, many dissidents even in the highest positions. Calling themselves Cadmus, they had continued to operate inside the Federation while answering to Lex and Lillian Luthor. It had been a blow the High Council had snuffed out before it got to the public. Names the likes of Jim Harper and Hank Henshaw disappeared from public records when every officer with enough clearance knew they had been moles for the Luthorian Islands…

 

Whatever deal Councilwoman Marsdin and Lena made couldn’t be related to Lex Luthor, could it?

 

“The attack, while tragic and unfortunate, has already been ruled as an unrelated incident by my government,” Marsdin intervenes suddenly, answering for her. “Evidence of Dominators has been found and the testimony Lieutenant Sawyer gave us was the last proof we needed.”

 

“Don’t you find this convenient, Olivia? That there’s an attack practically at the same time a Luthor is inside our territory? I think not,” General Lane says, looking at other Council members who slowly nod their heads.

 

“I believe we are here to bring justice, not pin crimes on others on the sole suspicion that they might have done it, which is something you have a record of…” J’onn jabs at the General, who clenches his jaw so hard Kara feels the tension in her own.

 

“Anyone with half a mind would know that a Luthor is never innocent!”

 

“You said that she went straight to National City,” Councilwoman Finch cuts in, focusing back on Kara. “Do you know why?”

 

“I do not know,” Kara answers truthfully. Despite all the information Lena has given her about what had happened with Roulette and Rhea; the reason of her visit to National City was still a mystery to her.

 

“Very well…” Councilwoman Finch says. She motions toward Councilwoman Marsdin who calls James up to the stand.

 

Kara smiles at him but he gives her a strange look as he passes her by before answering the questions the High Council has for him, his tone detached and his focus solely on the members of the High Council. Alex is called next and the bad feeling she’s had ever since she woke up feels even more pronounced now despite the fact that they both corroborates her version of events till she left for Sedenach. The High Council calls up her acting lieutenant next to verify her testimony and Kara feels like her heart is thundering inside her chest. So loud that it mutes everything around her. Kenny walks up to the stand. He doesn’t look at her before he lies to the High Council about the El Mayarah’s trajectory, omitting following the Singing Nightmare to the Durlan outpost. Dismissed, he gives her a small nod before walking back to his seat.

 

“That will be all for now,” Councilwoman Marsdin announces. “We will take a recess.”

 

The seven members of the High Council stand as one and exit by the door they came from. Kara finally lets go of the railing, feeling her arms shake from the sheer pressure she had been exerting on it.

 

She faces the crowd and feels dozens pair of eyes train of her. James appears skeptical and stony with Winn by his side, Lucy is talking with Colonel Cameron Chase off to the side, and Maggie is nowhere to be seen. Kenny stays away, knowing they are being watched, and Kara can only thank him with a small nod before she is startled by a hand clasping her shoulder.

 

“You did good,” Alex says. “It‘ll be over soon. I’ll even pay for the food tonight. Anything you like.”

 

“And you won’t complain about the amount of food I order?”

 

“I won’t complain.”

 

Kara chuckles at the slight scrunch of Alex’s nose.

 

“He isn’t here,” Kara remarks, trying to sound casual. Alex looks at her with that kind, understanding look and Kara tries hard not to let it get to her. “I just- you know… I thought he’d be here.”

 

“I was just notified that something happened up north. It might involve Lex Luthor… I’m sure he would have wanted to be here…”

 

Kara nods, used to having to share her cousin, the only relative she had, with the rest of the world. It makes her feel selfish to wish Kal would put her first before the rest of the world… “What’s up with James,” Kara whispers, looking at the Captain who all but frowns at her.

 

“Come on,” Alex says instead, guiding her out of the chamber and away from prying eyes. “James doesn’t believe Lena is innocent.”

 

“Wha-” Alex catches her arm before she can go back into the chamber and have a talk with him. “After everything we told him? Everything Maggie told us? He still sees her as…” Kara stops herself as she is led further away and reminded to keep her voice down. “He was there! He saw-”

 

“What he saw was us going back to the meeting point with a ship full of injured officers and reporting seven dead.”

 

Kara frowns at the vehemence she hears in Alex’s voice, at the harshness lingering behind her words, and at the impassive look on her face.

 

“But you believe me, right? When I tell you that Lena is innocent.”

 

Alex stays silent.

 

“You believe me, right?” Kara pleads. It was one thing to lose James’ support, but Kara doesn’t think she can continue on with confidence if she loses her sister’s. Alex shoves her into an empty office and finally asks the question Kara knows has been on the tip of her tongue ever since she had convinced her to talk Lena back into coming on board the Intrepid.

 

“What happened between you and her?”

 

“I told you, she saved my life…”

 

Alex snorts. “I saw how you were around her when she was unconscious…”

 

Kara remains silent, trying hard not to think of Lena, covered in blood and passing out in her arms. Looking so frail, so breakable, and so different from the bold woman who had asked her for a kiss while subdued…

 

“Did you let her escape?”

 

“I did.”

 

Alex curses under her breath, hands on her hips, and turns her back on her while she takes a few calming breath. “I knew it…” Alex chuckles darkly. “Do you understand what you’ve done? It’s treason,” she hisses, facing her again and glaring at her. “If they find out, Kara! People have been sentenced to death for less!”

 

“I know, Alex. I know!” Kara hastens to say but Alex begins to pace and Kara knows she screwed up. But it was the least she could do after giving the order to strip the Singing Nightmare. She still sees their anguished faces every time she closes her eyes. She still dreams of Lena covered in blood inside Lord’s brig, halfway out of her mind, and begging for the voices to stop… “I just- She had a choice. Back there in Maaldoria and she chose to save me! That has to count for something!” Alex doesn’t seem think so. Kara can see it and it unnerves her because it had been the first time in a while that Kara had feared for her life. “I- I didn’t think I was going to get out of the Arena alive,” Kara finally confesses, stopping Alex before she can interrupt her. “I fought and- and I didn’t think it would end… I couldn’t see a way out and they kept sending me these people to kill and- I did, Alex. I killed them.”

 

“You did what you needed to do to survive.”

 

“But was it right?” Kara shouts, frustrated, feeling the rage and the fear rise up just thinking of their laughter and their encouragements as she had to sink her spadroon inside chests and throats to spare them from worse death. “I did horrible things. And I- I think a part of me enjoyed it. I felt strong even though I was powerless. All I needed to do was kill them and I’m good… at that...” Kara finishes, keeping her clenched fists rooted to her sides and feeling dull pain travel up through her arms. She locks eyes with her sister and it’s nearly enough to make the dam break, to make the pent-up feeling building inside her chest break out in uncontrollable sobs.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me…”

 

“There was so much going on, I just-” Kara shrugs, looking away, hiding all the anguish safely back inside. “Lord was dead and what remained of his crew needed to be taken care of… I couldn’t-”

 

“You don’t have to be so damn strong all the time,” Alex says, engulfing her in a hug. “I’m here. No more hiding.”

 

Kara hugs her sister back, craving reassurance and safety and finding it in one Alex Danvers.

 

“And you’re not a bad person,” Alex says, looking at her in the eyes to make her point across. “Far from it.”

 

“Lena isn’t one either.”

 

Alex groans. “Who else knows about you letting her escape? Tell me there isn’t anyone else.”

 

“Vasquez might,” Kara answers with a grimace.

 

“I’ll speak with her before she testifies.”

 

“You’re not going to kill her, are you?” Kara asks, only to wince when she is poked in the forehead.

 

“Of course not! She’s my Lieutenant!”

 

“Just checking…”

 

Alex rolls her eyes, walks back toward the door, but pauses. “You might need to think of ways for us to escape if it all goes south.”

 

“It’s all worked out. You, me, and an island somewhere in the Titanian Sea…”

 

“Perfect. But if we get caught, I get to tell you I told you so!”

 

“Deal.”

 

Alex smiles and Kara can’t help but feel an outpouring of love for her found sister.

 

“I don’t know if Lena’s innocent but I trust you and that’s enough for me. Come on,” Alex says, opening the door. “Let’s go get some fresh air before they lock us up for another five hours.”

 

“It was just four. Maybe three and half,” Kara jokes.

 

“Urgh, don’t remind me. Wanna grab a bite? I’m sure we can find something to eat in this fancy tower… Do you think Maggie would like something too?”

 

“You should just ask her out...”

 

“What?” Alex scoffs, blushing. “What are you- Maggie and me? No…” Alex walks away, making Kara laughs out loud at the blatant evasiveness.

 

*

 

It is not going well.

 

Kara can see it as she talks and doesn’t elicit the reactions she’s hoping for from the High Council members. She details in length what went down in Noonan’s, in the Arena, the rescue by the Singing Nightmare’s crew, making sure to be precise and concise, making sure not to show any signs that she is defending Lena even though she is. Lena was innocent. She didn’t have anything to do with her abduction. That was what Kara was sure of, but Alex had told her to keep her support of Lena to herself, make it seems like the High Council was still in control; but the more she talks the more Kara feels like she’s not getting through to them, and it is frustrating her to no end.

 

“So,” Councilwoman Finch says, stopping her in her statement, “let me just summarize this very quickly, Commodore, to see if I understand clearly. On the night of your abduction, Lena Luthor went to Noonan’s where you laid a trap for her.” Kara nods. “And of the three officers accompanying you that night. Two are dead. Is that correct?”

 

“It is correct.”

 

“How would you explain that?”

 

“I…” Kara pauses, feeling the eyes of everyone in the room on her. “I failed to notice the blades under her sleeves during my initial search.”

 

A low murmur buzzes in the room.

 

“You? The Girl of Steel?” General Lane asks with a sneer.

 

Kara bristles, glares at him, and just as she is about to retort another Councilmember asks her a question.

 

“She came to National City with the intention of killing, then?”

 

“That is not what I said.”

 

“But that is what happened,” he insists.

 

“I- uh, well,” Kara scoffs. “I cannot presume of her intentions when she arrived in National City but-”

 

“Two officers dead in Noonan’s. Seven other’s on board the Intrepid which was stolen from us,” another Councilmember lists off. “Dozens of injured officers and the slaughter of Lord and his crew… And you still maintain that Lena Luthor isn’t behind your abduction? That she is innocent?”

 

His expression is clearly one of incredulity and aversion and Kara can feel how the line of questioning has affected the room. Kara can feel them questioning her and her judgment, and looking at J’onn she doesn’t find any clue or hint from him as to how she could win back the audience’s favor.

 

“Not of the killings,” Kara amends, quick to rectify her first statement that has launched this barrel of veiled attacks. “But she didn’t have anything to do with my abduction. When I gave chase and caught up to her on the beach…”

 

“Where she was hiding from authority…”

 

“I… Yes,” Kara answers glaring at the General. “She was but-”

 

“Were you alone then?” Councilwoman Finch asks, not letting her finish.

 

“We were-”

 

“You had the whole garrison of the National City’s guards at your disposal-”

 

“I had the upper hand,” Kara states, cutting her off, as her hand slams on the wooden railing. The back and forth ceases and Kara glares right back at them. “I had her restrained and ready to be locked away if it weren’t for the Maaldorian slavers who attacked us.”

 

“Not pirates?” Marsdin asks.

 

“No, it was Maaldorian slavers.”

 

“Is there a possibility,” General Lane begins, “that Luthor’s crew might have fooled you into thinking they were Maaldorian?”

 

“I know what I saw,” Kara says, unwavering. “They were Maaldorian.”

 

“Hired perhaps?” Another Councilmember pipes up, addressing the General rather than Kara. “Luthors are known to play their cards exceptionally well. We’ve had our own experience of it…”

 

Several Councilmember voices their agreement and Kara can’t believe her ears. They weren’t listening to her.

 

“If you’re looking for a culprit, summon Veronica Sinclair to the High Tower!” Kara faintly hears Alex call her name from behind her but she ignores it as their prejudice blinds them from seeing the threat and it absolutely infuriates her. “If there’s anyone who should be standing here right now, it’s Veronica Sinclair and the Maaldorian Royal Court!”

 

The chamber is absolutely silent after her outburst. Kara doesn’t back down from the intense, unpleasant feeling burning at the back of her neck nor from the glares most of the council members direct at her.

 

“You do know that making such accusations can have heavy consequences.”

 

“I’m just stating the truth.”

 

“That will be all for now, Commodore,” J’onn says, cutting through the silence with one appeasing voice. “Lieutenant Sawyer. Please come forward.”

 

The questioning shifts toward Maggie. Kara uses the respite to take a breath, to calm her racing heart. It’s not going well… Kara scoffs, that would be an understatement. It was a disaster. Lena was right. They weren’t here to get the facts. They were here to establish Lena’s culpability and despite Maggie’s side of the events, it seems like they have already decided that Lena was guilty.

 

Kara perks up when Alex is called forward.

 

“It is our understanding that you were the one who lead the rescue party after Commodore Zor-El disappeared?”

 

Alex tells them how she found the Maaldorian bodies in the morning, confirming that they were in fact Maaldorian. Kara zones out at one point, trying to find an anchor, but finding none. Feeling her skin burn up and an urge to flee the room. To fly. Fly far away as sound meshes together and the room seems to spiral away.

 

“Commodore? Commodore!”

 

Kara startles, seeing Alex give her a look as Marsdin repeats her question.

 

“Where were you when Captain Danvers boarded the ship? She claims you weren’t on deck…”

 

Kara shakes her head.

 

“So, where were you?” General Lane adds.

 

“I- I was recovering. In the Captain’s Cabin.”

 

The satisfied look the General gives her makes Kara feels like the trap has closed in on her.

 

*

 

“How bad is it?” Kara asks, accepting the cup of water handed to her.

 

“Very bad,” Maggie says, not mincing her words.

 

“They are trying to discredit you in front of the audience…” Alex clarifies, rubbing her back. Kara lets the cool water slide down her throat.

 

“Why?”

 

“You told everyone that Lena was innocent,” Alex says with a slight grimace. “She’s the devil incarnate to them. They think she’s working with her brother.”

 

“Is she?” Kara asks, turning toward Maggie who hasn’t moved from the wall she’s been leaning on. “What’s happening between Marsdin and Lena?”

 

“You know I can’t tell you that.”

 

The calming presence of her sister is not enough to stop Kara from advancing toward the Lieutenant. “Listen, I’m fighting out there and I’m losing! I need her help! You need to talk to Marsdin!”

 

“She can’t do anything from inside the High Council.”

 

“Not every decision has to go through the High Council!” Maggie looks back at her, impassible, and Kara scoffs, turning away to hide her tears of frustration. “So, I’m on my own?”

 

“For now…”

 

Kara ignores the whispered conversation happening behind her back. If only Kal were here… He would have… Kara closes her eyes, frustrated and sad, and wishes she could have something she could obliterate with her bare hands to make herself feel better. To make the feeling of failure weigh less inside her chest.

 

“Lena is the perfect scapegoat,” Maggie finally says, surely having reached a compromise with her sister.

 

Kara still doesn’t know why Alex hasn’t asked the woman out what with all their secret smiles and meaningful looks… They’d be great together. Kara can’t help but feel like Alex should enjoy it before it becomes too late. Before times runs out and being together is no longer enough. Before circumstances have a chance to make their relationship impossible… Touching her lips, Kara chases the ghost of what could have been with her fingertips, feeling guilty for wanting that kiss, for wanting to feel so close to another person that she could forget their situation, who they were, and what they had to do… And Lena had made it so easy. Effortless. To fall inside those green eyes and feel like her soul has found resonance within someone else. To feel like even though their experience has been different, their pain has felt the same. Lena’s resilience and desire to protect had found an echo inside her and Kara doesn’t know what to do with what she is feeling, with the knowledge of her heart skipping a beat every time Lena gave her that cheeky, teasing smile. It’s confusing and impossible, and maybe, like Lena said, in another life they could’ve-

 

“They are not going to risk a war with Maaldoria when they have the perfect culprit. You need to be prepared.”

 

“For what?” Kara asks, feeling tired all of sudden.

 

“Anything. If you keep defending Lena…” Maggie trails off, looking at Alex and then looking back at her, her face grim. “They might demote you.”

 

*

 

When Vasquez is called to testify, Kara has no hope for the hearing to ever turn back in her favor. The questions asked have been more about her than about the incident itself. What state of mind was she in when she was rescued? Every order she has given while in command of Lord’s fleet has been reviewed… Every move, every word has been questioned and seeing Vasquez walk up next to the stand to testify, Kara can’t help but let doubt seep through her resolve.

 

“Lieutenant Vasquez, you were the one in charge of guarding Captain Luthor. Did anything unusual occur?”

 

“You’ll have to be more precise, sir.”

 

General Lane looks up from his note and chuckles before clarifying. “Did Commodore Zor-El entertain any type of relationship with Lena Luthor that would be unfit of her position? Or that would suggest treason?”

 

A loud collective gasp resonates in the room. Kara feels her heart plummet in her stomach.

 

“Lane!” J’onn growls. “Commodore Zor-El is not one of your witch hunts. If you want to find the moles within the Federation, you’re looking the wrong way!”

 

“I understand she is your protégé and if you’re so confident in her loyalty maybe we should let her officers answer for her. Lieutenant Vasquez, please continue.”

 

“As per my orders, I didn’t leave Lena Luthor’s side and I have not witnessed anything that would deem Commodore Zor-El unfit of her position or that would suggest treason.”

 

General Lane frowns, the downturn of his lips showing clear disappointment at Vasquez’ answer. Kara remains absolutely still, not breathing, not looking toward Vasquez, and only fixing on a point past Marsdin’s shoulder as her heart hammers inside her chest and blood floods to her head.

 

“Did you agree with the Commodore’s decision to split your forces, leaving you behind while she and Captain Danvers sailed toward the meeting point?”

 

“I do not have the authority to agree or disagree with an order.”

 

“Of course,” General Lane amends. “But they still left you on your own. Vastly outnumbered by the pirate’s crew.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” Kara cuts in angrily. “What are you insinuating!”

 

“One more interruption Commodore and you will be escorted outside,” Councilwoman Marsdin says.

 

“I guess what I’m asking is: how do you explain the fact that you’re still alive?”

 

“I-” Vasquez looks back at her with something akin to doubt in her eyes and Kara clenches her jaw at the question she reads in Vasquez’s eyes.

 

Did you know? Did you know that Lena would spare me? Was it part of the plan?

 

“We all know pirates like Lena Luthor need survivors to tell the tale…” Councilwoman Marsdin cuts in. “We will deliberate and give our decision shortly.”

 

The High Council members leave their seat one by one and Kara cannot tear her attention away from the vulnerability she sees in Vasquez’s eyes. “You didn’t know, did you?” Vasquez whispers among the noise behind them. “You had no idea if she would spare us or not…”

 

“I made a choice,” Kara whispers back, stopping Vasquez from leaving.

 

“To sacrifice us?”

 

“To trust her.”

 

Vasquez jerks her arm away and says, “I hope she’s worth all the trouble you’re getting into,” before walking away.

 

When the High Council comes back into the room, Kara knows she shouldn’t be surprised at the kill on sight order, but she is. She’s also surprised to hear that James will be the one to lead the hunt for Lena and that she is to be waiting for a re-assignment in the next few weeks. To put it mildly, she is being sidelined, ousted from the command of her own fleet in the belief that the ordeal she went through might have impaired her judgment.

 

Back in National City, Kara takes time away from everything to think about what she is going to do. She can’t do nothing. She’s seen what doing nothing has done to Krypton. They have let the problem fester until it destroyed everything and Kara can’t let this happen again. There is something bigger going on and Kara needs to find out what it is. She won’t wait around until it falls onto them with no way to defend themselves.

 

Walking among the crowd in the market of National City, Kara spots the woman she’s been looking for. Dressed in simple clothing, she makes her way to her without being noticed.

 

“Would you like a flower?” The woman asks her, gesturing to her stand.

 

“Plumerias,” Kara says, looking the woman straight in the eyes.

 

The brunette startles for a second, and then smiles with ease.

 

“Those are pretty rare this time of the year. I might have them in a week… But here’s a lily for making you wait.”

 

Kara takes the flower handed to her and walks away, wondering if Alex will forgive her for this.

 

***

 

Noonan’s is quiet in the wee hours of the morning. A few patrons have collapsed onto their tables, tankards still in hand, while waitresses hasten to clean the place up. The usual sound coming from the kitchen has ceased but the scent of grilled meat still lingers in the air. Noonan opens the windows wide, letting the morning air in, and huffs as one resists her. Kara steps in and pushes the window open.

 

“Thank you, child.” She pats her cheek with that wide, affectionate grin, and Kara can’t help but return the smile. “No more gentle soul like you to help an old lady like me.”

 

“You’re not old.”

 

“It sure feels like it.” Noonan grunts as she tries to reach for a pot from the shelves only for Kara to step behind her and grab it for her. “My own hero.”

 

Kara chuckles, watching the woman put the vegetables she has cut into the pot and onto the stove. “It already smells delicious.”

 

“I sure hope so! It takes me hours to make this stew… It’ll be ready just in time for tonight. Someone gave me a flower last night.” She stirs the contents of the pot, adding a few spices here and then. “Beautiful too. Told me they were called plumerias.”

 

Kara freezes, looking up from the cutting board.

 

“I knew you weren’t here just to see me. I won’t complain, I had a wonderful week,” Noonan says with a wink. “Whatever’s happening, promise me to be careful?”

 

“I promise.”

 

“Alright. Last room on the second floor,” Noonan tells her and shoos her away. “Off you go. Can’t have you in my kitchen while I cook. You’ll finish everything before the service.”

 

Kara saunters away from the table, swallowing the last bit of carrot still in her mouth and kisses the graying hair on Noonan’s temple. “Thank you.”

 

Putting her hood back on, Kara slithers up the stairs and feels her heart hammer inside her chest as she reaches the last door on the second floor. Opening it, she immediately sees the figure sitting by the table with their face barely illuminated by the morning light, enjoying a plate of Noonan’s cuisine.

 

Kara locks the door behind her, scanning every inch of the room and finding nothing. They were alone.

 

The figure pushes the plate away and faces her.

 

“They’re her favorites, you know. Plumerias,” Luke clarifies. “Hard to find this time of the year. More dangerous for those looking for them. You can put the blade away,” he says, making Kara realize that she was clutching one in her hand, pointed at him. “I have no desire to harm you. After all, you summoned me.”

 

“Does Lena know you’re here?”

 

“She knows.”

 

“Where is she?”

 

Luke chuckles. “I can’t tell you that.”

 

Kara puts her blade back into her belt and takes a seat at the table. Luke has changed from the last time she had seen him onboard the Intrepid nearly two months ago. He still looks at her with wariness, guarded, but his wounds have healed and his cheeks have filled a bit more, surely due to proper rest and better food. Freckles on his cheekbones have become more apparent with exposure to the sun. His beard has grown into a wild reddish mane, framing perfectly his cold, tight-lipped smile. Wherever they were hiding Kara knows they are being well-taken care of.

 

“What can I do for you, Commodore?”

 

“I’m to wait for my re-assignment. There have been talks of sending the El Mayarah to the Gulf of Mars to monitor the peace treaty between the Green and White Martians.”

 

Luke nods, waiting. Kara sighs.

 

“They’ve put Captain James Olsen in charge of finding Lena. He is good, very good.”

 

“Better than you?”

 

That makes her scoff. “No.”

 

“Then we have nothing to worry about.”

 

Kara frowns at his confidence. “You don’t understand…There is a kill on sight order on her now. They won’t ask questions they’ll just- What’s so funny?”

 

Luke doesn’t bother repressing his laughter now that she has called him out on it. The smile on his face transforms him completely. It makes him look younger, more carefree… “Nothing…” He keeps chuckling softly to himself much to Kara’s disgruntlement. “You’re just full of surprises.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Luke shakes his head and gets ups. “Lena is safe. For now. You don’t have to worry about her.”

 

He walks toward the door and Kara feels like her time is running out. She didn’t know what to expect when summoning him. It had been her failsafe before she let them go. Give Luke a message for Lena and ask for a way for her to contact them. It had made her feel like she was still in control. It had made her feel like she was still doing something…

 

“I just want to help!” Kara says, stopping him from leaving. “I- I don’t know how. They are going to send me away and-”

 

“Two weeks ago a ship from the Luthorian Islands was destroyed. The cargo stolen,” he says suddenly, letting go of the doorknob and looking back at her with a thoughtful expression. “It is rumored to be Kryptonite.”

 

“Do you know who’s behind it?” Kara asks, processing the information as Luke walks back toward her and sits back on his chair. It must have been the reason why Kal didn’t attend her hearing.

 

“There are rumors running around... But Lena is pretty sure it’s Morgan Edge. He received a shipment not too long after the attack…

 

“Yes, he’s been commission by the High Council to deliver goods to the Phorian villages.”

 

“That’s what he wants you to believe. Every pirate, warlord, and every other scrooge with a desire of power are going to Hellgram as we speak. Phoria is three weeks away from Hellgram but only one week from the nearest Daxamite outpost.”

 

“He’s going to sell it to the highest bidder,” Kara realizes. “Rhea is in on it?”

 

“That’s what we believe.”

 

“And she will get her hands on the Kryptonite.”

 

Luke nods.

 

“Where is Lena?” Kara asked again, feeling her body readying itself for action.

 

“Not far.”

 

“What is she going to do?”

 

“Well, as long as Edge is still within the Federation she cannot do anything, but her patience is wearing thin and she has every intention to sink this ship to the bottom of the ocean.”

 

“I can help. I can flag him to the authorities and have him stopped before he can even leave our territory. She won’t have to do anything,” Kara rattles off, already several steps ahead as she makes plan inside her head. Luke nods, looking satisfied. It makes her pause and watch him curiously. “Did she want you to give me this information?”

 

He laughs. “No, she’d rather not see you again.”

 

Kara tries not to flinch.

 

“But like I said. As long as our goals are aligned, I consider ourselves to be… allies. Do you know why the Queen is after you?”

 

Kara shakes her head. “But I’m working on it.” He nods, looking thoughtful, but Kara knows that his help solely lies on the fact that she agreed to protect Lena from the Federation. “It might be a trap. Edge and the Kryptonite, it might be a trap to lure Lena out. It wouldn’t be the first time Rhea does something like that…”

 

“Lena is well aware but she’ll go after him anyway.”

 

“Convince her otherwise. Tell her I’m taking care of it.”

 

“You might have to convince her yourself…”

 

Kara freezes, looking at Luke and wondering if this wasn’t a trap. Lena didn’t want to see her. That’s what he said just seconds ago and now he’s asking her to go see her? What was he playing at?

 

“She can be pretty stubborn,” he adds with a half smile. He gets up and looks at her, obviously waiting for an answer, but Kara stays frozen and watches him walk to the door. “She’s waiting for me to come back and then we’ll leave to intercept Edge.”

 

Luke is leaving. If he leaves, Lena will go after Edge even if he’s still within the Federation territory, and Lena will be killed.

 

Birds are chirping outside. The streets have become livelier and her time is running out. The command of her fleet has been stripped away from her, but she can still do something. She can still help. She’s not the scared thirteen-years-old girl anymore. She doesn’t have to be powerless if she doesn’t want to be. She doesn’t have to stand there and watch while nothing is done to defuse the situation.

 

“Wait! Give me till sundown,” Kara says. If the Federation doesn’t support her then she’ll have to take matters into her own hands.

 

“And then?”

 

“And then you’ll take me to her…”

 

Luke smiles.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The port is already buzzing with activity by the time Kara leaves Noonan’s. Vendors are setting up their stalls around the docks, the fresh smell of bread wafts out of bakeries, and warmth radiates from the rising sun. She tilts her head up toward the sky and closes her eyes, delighted by the sunlight caressing her skin. Kara can tell it’s going to be a nice day. A man shouts in the distance - something about his wagon being stuck - Kara sighs, a bit disappointed at being brought back from her contemplation. She blinks as her vision adjusts to the light and carries on. She doesn’t have time to linger today.

 

Bypassing the many delicious food stalls, Kara keeps her head down, ruminating over thoughts dark enough to cloud the blue sky. She’s lost the command of her fleet. She’s been sent back to National City like a disobedient subordinate, and it makes her feel something she hasn’t felt for a while. It makes her feel weak.

 

Who is she if she isn’t the Girl of Steel? Sometimes Kara doesn’t know. She takes comfort in that infallible alter-ego. It fits her like a glove, makes her feel strong despite the sacrifices it has required – her aunt being one of them – and has earned her the respect of her peers. It makes her feel like she has a purpose, like she isn’t just some orphan sent away on her own to battle the world, armed only with hope and empty promises… Being the Girl of Steel feels right, like a second skin, even when it feels too tight; even when the sadness and anger threaten to break her at the seams. And now that she’s been dismissed, Kara feels aimless, alone, and crushed by the weight of her scars. Who is she but a body in movement? A body fighting to protect others. A body fighting to survive… Kara fears that if she were to keep still, if she stops for a second; the loss, the loneliness, and the confusion she feels might just submerge her whole and drown her in the process.

 

All she knows is that she needs to act quickly before Lena does something reckless and gets herself killed in her vendetta against Queen Rhea. That’s why Kara knocks on Cat Grant’s door at seven in the morning. That’s why she breezes past Eve as soon as she opens the door.

 

“Commodore! You can’t just-”

 

Kara pays her no mind, focused as she is on her mission, on not feeling like the world she lives in spins out of control. “Miss Grant! I need your help!” Kara shouts, unmoved by the shouts of indignation from domestics trying to stop her as she crosses hallways, climbs up stairs, and opens door after door. “Miss Grant!” She finally finds the famous town columnist in a parlor, dressed in a simple waking robe and a shawl.

 

Domestics, having finally caught up to her, press into her back and apologize profusely to their mistress.

 

“Please! We are in company…” With an impatient movement of her hands, the domestics scatter away, throwing Kara disapproving looks before leaving the parlor. Miss Grant tightens the shawl over her shoulders and faces her with all the poise and confidence Kara has known her to have despite the impromptu visit. “What can I do for you, Kiera? Or should I call you Commodore now?”

 

“I- I apologize-”

 

“For what? Interrupting my morning or for not visiting me for the past year?”

 

“Both?” Miss Grant stares her down, unimpressed, and Kara chuckles uneasily, adjusting the glasses she uses as a disguise.

 

“Sending an underling to do your errands in my home,” Cat tsks. “I expected better from you… I do hope you made good use of the information I gave you on that Luthor pirate-” Miss Grant stops, eyeing Kara’s outfit with an expression of distaste. “I’m surprised the Federation let you out in these clothes. Where’s that dashing coat you officers like to flaunt so much, parading through the streets like you own the city…”

 

“I… I need your help,” Kara deflects, made uncomfortable by the piercing look given to her. “I need information.”

 

“Ha! Doesn’t everyone?” Sitting at the table, she rings a bell, and several servants come through the door, their arms laden with foods and refreshment. She motions toward the chair opposite her and Kara dutifully takes the seat, as a servant puts a plate in front of her and pours tea into her cup. They wait in silence until the door closes and they are left alone once again. “What about? I’ve heard you’ve been busy.”

 

“I need all the information you have about Queen Rhea of Daxam. Everything.” Miss Grant sips her tea, mutters under her breath, and adds a sugar cube. As she stirs the liquid, the silver spoon clinks against the porcelain. Steam rises from the cup and the plate of pastries remains untouched. The morning breeze moves past the curtains, letting the sunlight into the chamber, and they can hear the sounds of the bustling street below. Miss Grant does not speak, and Kara understands that she’ll need to trade to get the information she needs. “I was abducted,” Kara grits through her teeth, not even swayed by the plate of pastries Miss Grant pushes toward her. “Sent to Maaldoria to fight in the Arena.”

 

“You survived. Not many have.”

 

Kara nods, swallowing past the lump forming inside her throat.

 

Miss Grant plucks a pastry out of the plate and takes a delicate bite. “Queen Rhea has been sitting on the throne for more than thirty years now, with her husband King Lar-Gand. They have six daughters and a son.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“Do you think a kingdom known for its isolationism would be so forthcoming as to provide information about the royal family or the Queen herself? Little is known about Daxam, especially after Krypton’s destruction, most of that region has gone dark for years. I would have thought you’d know more about them than I do…”

 

Kara shakes her head, hiding her agitation by sipping her tea, and barely flinching when it scalds her tongue. She hasn’t kept up with Krypton’s neighbors after the disaster. She couldn’t. She had been paralyzed for years at the idea of ever going back out at sea, of stepping on a boat and being crushed again by the waves… Years of pretending that she was fine and that the smell of the sea didn’t make her sick. Years spent in fear. Years pretending that the ashes of Krypton weren’t still clogging up her throat. She couldn’t think of her home without feeling like she didn’t belong in the Danvers’. She couldn’t think of her home without feeling ungrateful for being alive… and so she didn’t. She stopped thinking about Krypton to be able to move on… Kara wonders if that was a mistake. Daxam is now after her and she has no idea why. Besides history lessons she had as a child, centuries of bad blood and wars, Kara has no idea why Queen Rhea would want her dead… Krypton was no more. Wasn’t that enough?

 

“Queen Rhea asked Lena Luthor to kill me,” Kara lets out, setting the cup back onto its saucer, careful not to break anything. She meets the woman’s calculating eyes with rare honesty. Kara doesn’t want to hide anymore. She doesn’t want to pretend that what happened during her abduction hasn’t shaken her to the core and awakened a fear she kept buried for years. A fear of the unknown, of losing control, of being powerless… Miss Grant had already helped her save National City once against the propaganda spread by Astra and the menace of the Myriad, commanded by her uncle. Kara has to believe she would help her now too. “I only have Lena’s words to back this up, but I believe her. The High Council were wrong in declaring her guilty. They didn’t summon the Maaldorian Royal Court to explain why they threw me in the pit, despite them knowing I was from the Federation. There’s more to this, and the High Council has refused to dig any further.”

 

“Luthors sure know how to make life interesting…” Miss Grant hums, sipping at her tea. “It will be done.”

 

“Really?” Kara asks, dumbfounded at not having to explain any further, or even beg for help. After what happened at the hearing, Kara hadn’t dared get her hopes up in fear of being disappointed again.

 

“You do know that conspiracies, assassination attempts, and corrupt government are my bread and butter?”

 

Kara laughs, feeling so relieved at being believed. “Yeah, I remember. Thank you.”

 

Miss Grant waves the thanks away. “I heard you’ve had a little disagreement with Olivia? I’ll take care of that too. She needs a little bit of coaxing sometimes. Now, chop, chop! I have a morning routine to get to.” Eve appears at the door as if knowing the visit had come to an end. “Go save the world, Girl of Steel.”

 

Kara doesn’t flinch at the title this time, she smiles, nods, and follows Eve out of the door, breathing deeply in the morning air, and feeling like she’s finally making progress.

 

Knocking at her sister’s door, Kara keeps that small victory close to her chest as Alex opens the door and stares at her expectantly when she makes no moves to come inside.

 

“Please, don’t be mad…”

 

***

 

Mad would be an understatement. Her ears are still ringing with the amount of shouting and berating Alex has done. Add that to the look of utter disapproval J’onn gave her when Alex dragged her down to headquarters where they had both taken turns telling her how reckless she had been. Kara doesn’t mind. J’onn has agreed to look deeper into Edge’s shipments himself as a way to amend for what had happened at the hearing. Things were finally moving forward and if she gets the cold shoulder from Alex for it, then so be it.

 

Sundown finally comes, coloring the water in dark red hues. She hitches her bag up over her shoulder and stares at the ocean, standing where it all had begun. Exactly where she and Lena killed the Maaldorian slavers…

 

The coat she has picked out feels too big for her frame. She’s already rolled up the sleeves, readjusted the collar several times; but this coat doesn’t fit like her uniform does. Alex doesn’t seem bothered by her new clothes: trousers and a brown jacket over a linen shirt. It doesn’t make her less intimidating. The frown on her face doesn’t make her more approachable…

 

“You didn’t have to come with me if you didn’t want to.”

 

Alex scoffs and stays silent.

 

“Fine!” Throwing her hands up in the air, Kara stalks toward the edge of the water, watching the surf lap over the sand and nearly reaching her boots. The salty air becomes stronger somehow, making her feel faint, but Kara doesn’t give in to the panic. She fights it off.

 

Who is she but a body fighting to protect? A body fighting to survive?

 

Kara doesn’t have to wonder long before she sees a boat rowing toward them. Alex appears at her side, tense, and ready to attack. Squinting, Kara sees Luke among the rowers and to her surprise, the flower girl. She looks younger than when Kara had sought her out in the market to carry her message to Luke. Her devil-may-care attitude can be heard from the shore as she harangues the rowers, looking absolutely delighted at being on the boat. Alex gives her a look and Kara only shrugs in response.

 

The boat stops and Lena’s second jumps out of it, his boots sinking into the water as he trudges toward them. The flower girl follows after him and Kara still can’t believe how wrong she has been in her first impression of her. Looking at the person, following behind Luke, asking him to wait up, it is clear that she is no older than fifteen or sixteen. Her clothes hang a bit more from her frame than the ones she wore at the market, her brown hair - freed from its severe bun - sways around her cheeks, red with exertion and youthfulness.

 

“Commodore. Captain Danvers,” Luke greets them.

 

“Master Perec,” Alex replies, with her hand still on the pommel of her sword.

 

“I’m Ruby!” The outburst is enough to cut the tension that has been building up. “Have- Have I seen you before?”

 

Kara shakes her head.

 

“Oh, okay.” Ruby says, looking perplexed and then turns back toward Luke. “I thought we were waiting for your friends. Does mom know they’re blue-coats?” Luke grumbles besides her, too quiet for Kara to hear, but Ruby laughs. “You’re gonna be in so much trouble.”

 

“Our secret,” Luke sighs, before motioning toward the boat. “Ladies…”

 

Alex gets onto the boat, followed by Ruby. Feeling her boots sink in the soft sand, Kara helps Luke push the boat out to deeper water before climbing in.

 

“So, how do you two know aunt Lena?”

 

Luke throws Ruby a warning look at the same time Alex mouths aunt Lena at her. Kara sees the wheels turning in Alex’s head before her sister focuses her attention on the young girl.

 

“Well, that is a long story.” Alex says. “Your aunt Lena gave us a bit of trouble a few months ago but it’s all good now. We’re all friends, aren’t we?”

 

Luke glares at her from the bow of the boat.

 

Alex smiles and begins to work at gaining the trust of the young girl. She engages her in conversations while trying to winnow out information about where they were going, who they were meeting, and how big is Ruby’s mom’s ship... Luke shuts some down before Ruby can even answer and it is clear that despite Ruby’s excitement, Luke is in charge. Alex’s line of questioning is only tolerated due to their shared goal: Lena’s protection. But his censure is not enough to stop them from understanding that whoever Ruby’s mom was, she definitely had access to a ship that could cross long distances.

 

“It’s my first big trip,” Ruby lets out with a big smile, “mom stopped sailing after I was born, but I always wanted to know what it felt like.”

 

“It’s the best,” Kara says, feeling her cheeks hurt from the smile she’s trying to muster. Droplets of seawater splash on her cheek, making her wipe them off. “It’s like having the world at your feet.”

 

Ruby smiles wide and turns her attention back toward Luke, asking him about sea creatures and other tales... Alex catches her eyes, asking her if she’s okay.

 

Kara answers with a resolute nod and a small, sad smile.

 

*

 

Nothing prepares her for the imposing sight of a ship cutting through the fog. It makes Kara pause for a second as she recognizes the Kryptonian designs etched onto the metal surrounding the figurehead: a masked woman with dark lips, bright rubies for eyes, and her arm reaching out to the open sea in a commanding, possessive manner. A shiver runs up Kara’s spine as she remembers old Kryptonian tales of women roaming the ocean to put in place their own brand of justice. Worldkillers. It happened before she was born. Worldkillers were banished from Krypton when the Council discovered that their brand of justice consisted of mass murder, and they have never been heard of since. Feeling dread clog up her throat, Kara climbs up first, ready to assess the threat.

 

The sun has been long gone by the time Kara sets foot aboard the ship. Thick fog slithers over the deck and lingers around her boots, like phantom fingers ready to grab her ankles. Kara stops dead, paralyzed by the aura of death oozing from the black timber and by the silence weighing down on her and crushing her back in a bow.

 

Shadows move around the deck and announce their arrival in successive shouts until the door to the Captain’s cabin slams open. Ruby runs off before Kara can process what is going on.

 

She grabs Luke by the arm.

 

“A Worldkiller? What are you playing at?”

 

He doesn’t seem surprised that she knows. He looks at her hand gripping his biceps, only to wince when she tightens her grip. “Lena has made some interesting allies over the years. This is Sam,” he says, jutting his chin toward the shadow emerging from the cabin. A woman appears in a flowing white dress, her chest covered with black leather armor. Her gaze immediately zeroes in on them.

 

Kara curses, feeling like any control of the situation she might have had has just slipped out of her hands. Again. Her lungs are being suffocated by her own ribs, her muscles strain with so much tension Kara fears they might snap at any given moment. Her fingers tighten even more over Luke’s arm as she feels like she might drown…

 

“No one is going to harm you here,” he says with a hiss of pain that makes Kara immediately release her hold.

 

“Kara?” She turns around and sees Alex, looking ready to fight at any moment. “Is everything okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Kara hastens to say and gives Luke an apology that he waves away with a slight grumble.

 

“No harm done.” The subtle shake of his arm makes Kara feel even worse at the lie he tells her.

 

“Luke!” Sam crosses the deck, looking at the three of them with suspicion in her eyes. “I thought they were your friends!”

 

“I might have been too enthusiastic,” he mutters under his breath before the woman closes in on him. “We are! We’re friends!”

 

Kara grimaces in sympathy as the Captain pokes him in the chest. “You promised me that there would be no trouble on this trip! No bloodshed! No fistfights!”

 

“Technically-”

 

It was a misunderstanding,” Kara cuts in, seeing the woman about to rip the poor man apart. The Kryptonese flowing past her lips surprises her as much as it surprises the woman who deflates before her eyes.

 

You are Kryptonian?” Kara nods, feeling her heart soar at the soft intonations, not broken like Kal’s, but melodic, a little bit harsher at the beginning of each word like those hailing from the North of Krypton used to speak. “My grand-mother was from Kryptonopolis before she was banished. This is just an heirloom,” she says, gesturing to the black sails and dark wood. “I’m not following in her footsteps nor do I intend to…

 

I’m sorry for assuming…

 

Sam sighs and nods. “No fights aboard this ship,” she insists, reverting back to common tongue, and glares at the three of them. They all nod, not wanting to alienate the woman any further. “I’m Samantha Arias by the way. Captain of the Reign. And this is my daughter.” She points to Ruby who zips her lips with a small cheeky smile and a wink from behind her mother’s back. “I’ll expect you to lend a hand during this trip… Let’s go!”

 

Luke heaves a sigh of relief before they are led away toward different stations.

 

*

 

Not a day after they left shore, she and her sister are put on cooking duty. Confined below decks, they are tasked with peeling hundreds of potatoes as the crew bustle around them; some ready to take a nap, others just passing by to tend to another station.

 

“I didn’t become Captain to peel potatoes!” Alex grits between her teeth, cutting more of the vegetable itself than the skin.

 

“I find it relaxing.”

 

“You shush! I’m still mad at you.”

 

Kara sighs.

 

“You lied to me,” Alex whispers, her voice darkening with gravity. “We promised no more secrets. No more hiding!”

 

“I told you where I was going,” Kara whispers back.

 

“Yeah, after you failed to mention you had a way to contact them!”

 

Kara frowns, not understanding where Alex’s anger is coming from. It’s not like she knew she was going to contact them. It’s not like she wanted to seek them out. The High Council had left her no choice and she had to do something. She was Rhea’s target for Rao’s sake! She can’t wait around and-

 

“We’re a team,” Alex continues, glaring at her.

 

“I know.”

 

“Then act like it!” The potato Alex has been holding splatters on the floor as she throws it in anger. The crew turns toward them, surprised. Alex stands up, looking at her with anger and disappointment. “I need some air.”

 

Kara watches her leave with a lump in her throat. She resumes her task despite her trembling hands and the tears in her eyes.

 

It’s dark out when she goes to look for her sister. The day spent below deck isn't enough to disorient her. Looking at the stars, Kara knows they are sailing east of National City. She smiles, feeling the breeze cool the sweat on her back. Clutching at the handrail, Kara still can’t believe she is on board one of the Worldkillers. She sees the Captain at the prow of the ship, pointing at the stars to her daughter. Ruby’s excited voice flows down to where she stands.

 

It doesn’t take her long to find Alex. What surprises her most is to find her with Luke, both of them leaning over the rails, facing away from her.

 

Kara hides behind the mizzenmast.

 

“Kara trusts too easily sometimes. She always sees the best in people,” Alex says. “It has burned her before…”

 

“You fear I might be abusing her trust?”

 

“You. Lena… I don’t know what games you are playing at but I’ll figure it out.”

 

“I admire your loyalty.”

 

She hears Alex scoff, and can picture her crossing her arms over her chest. “You’ve worked for the Federation, the Luthorian Islands, and now for a pirate. What do you know of loyalty?”

 

Kara tenses, fearing an altercation only to freeze when Luke laughs.

 

“You’re right. What do I know of loyalty?” The silence hangs over the deck, cut from time to time by the crew moving around and Ruby’s laughter. “I enrolled in the Marine for the money,” Luke finally says. Kara closes her eyes and concentrates on him. “I sided with Lex Luthor for the money… and I…” She hears a slight hitch in his voice. A break masked by the deepening of his voice. “I took Lena under my wing for the money… I promised myself that I would leave once she became strong enough. She would look at me as if she expected me to leave and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that one day I would. Years passed and she became stronger than she already was, harsher too. She had found a home with the Singing Nightmare. With the crew. She didn’t need me anymore…”

 

“But you stayed.”

 

“I did,” he says with a chuckle. “In the end, it was me who couldn’t leave. Wouldn’t you do anything for your family, Captain Danvers? Even things that go against who you thought you were?”

 

“I would,” Alex answers immediately. “I believe family makes you become the person you never thought you could be.”

 

“Cheers to that.”

 

Kara hears the clink of glass against glass.

 

“I was wrong about you,” Alex finally says. “You do know of loyalty.”

 

Kara leaves quietly.

 

Lying in her hammock, she closes her eyes, hearing Alex creep toward her. Alex gives her a sloppy kiss on the forehead, making Kara smiles as her sister crash in the hammock next to hers.

 

*

 

It’s fascinating how every beam of the Reign is finely carved with passages from the Book of Rao. Kara presses her fingers over the indentations, reading and remembering lessons she had as a child. She’s dying to ask Sam more about the ship, about where the Worldkillers were before the disaster, what they’ve been doing all this time away from Krypton… if they watched it burn from afar. But Sam doesn’t seem to be interested in talking about Krypton. Every time Kara has tried to strike a conversation with her, the Captain had respectfully excused herself. Kara doesn’t insist, content with the freedom she has been given to examine every part of the Reign. Her curiosity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Kara often sees Ruby looking at her, following her – though she tries to be subtle about it – around the ship with questions in her eyes.

 

“I did not become Captain to be a swabbie,” Alex grumbles and while mopping the floor somewhere behind her.

 

Kara hastens to resume her task before Alex rounds the corner. “I-”

 

“If you say you find it relaxing… I swear I’ll hit you with this mop!”

 

Alex brandishes the mop to her face, making it hard for Kara not to crack a smile at the ridiculousness of it all. She takes a few steps back and finishes what she was going to say despite Alex’s groans. “It reminds me of the first months I spent at sea. That’s all.”

 

“You mean when I had no idea you enrolled in the Marine?”

 

Kara winces at the jab. “I- Yeah…” And she focuses back on mopping the floor.

 

“You don’t have to prove anything. That’s what I meant yesterday. Not to me, not to anyone.”

 

“That’s not-”

 

“What you are doing? Yes, it is. You try to fix everything-”

 

“Because I can!” Kara argues, mopping a spot on the floor with focused attention. “I am the Girl of Steel! Everyone expects me to fix their problems! Well,” Kara laughs, walking back toward the bucket and crushing the head of the mop into it. “Not anymore since they stripped me of the command of my own fleet.”

 

“Temporarily.”

 

“That does not make me feel better.”

 

“Sorry.” Alex shrugs sheepishly.

 

It’s enough to make Kara crack a genuine smile.

 

Ruby comes down, bringing drinks and food. Kara sees her linger on the stairs before rushing off when she sees Kara’s eyes on her.

 

“What do you think will happen once we’re there?” Alex asks, setting the mop against one of the beams and rinsing her hands with a bit of water.

 

“I stop her from going after Edge,” Kara answers, doing the same. “We go back to National City.”

 

“What happens if she doesn’t listen to you?”

 

Kara shrugs, munching on the piece of bread Alex hands to her. “We’ll improvise.”

 

“I’m good with that…” Alex wipes her brow, takes a gulp of water, and stretches. Kara hears the joints in her back and neck pop one by one. “But we should have brought Maggie with us. To smooth things out…”

 

“Have you asked her out yet?”

 

A shadow settles over her sister’s face. Alex doesn’t answer but the resulting silence is telling enough.

 

They resume their task in silence, having not even done half of what they were supposed to do.

 

The rest of the late afternoon is spent among the crew. They drink, eat, and laugh; shaking away the tiredness from the day to enjoy the last bit of sunlight. Despite Kara’s first impression, the crew has warmed up to them pretty quickly. They act nothing like she had expected them to. Nothing like the way the tales had described them. Kara is sure it has to do with their Captain, who commands the ship with kindness and humility, apparent in the way Sam watches from afar and smiles every time Ruby succeeds in making the different knots Alex is teaching her.

 

Making her way toward the bow of the ship, Kara finds Luke nursing a bottle of rum while looking toward the horizon. She stands by his side and stares quietly ahead.

 

“You should enjoy the peace while it lasts,” he mumbles and passes over his bottle.

 

Kara takes a swing, grimacing at the weird taste. “How bad is it going to be?”

 

“Bad.”

 

Kara frowns, wondering if the alcohol has rendered him monosyllabic. But something tells her there’s more. There’s sadness in the hunch of his shoulders and in his faraway gaze. Something that makes her want to reach out to him. “Why take me there then?” Kara asks instead.

 

He smiles and pats her shoulder. “Hope,” he says before leaving her on her own to reflect on that brief, but confusing conversation.

 

***

 

Kara wakes up with a pounding headache, a dry mouth, and hazy memories. Her wrists are tied behind her back and a bag has been put over her head, rendering her blind to her surroundings. All she knows is that she is lying in a moving cart and her weapons are gone.

 

“Alex!” She tries to move around, hissing as her head pound with pain, and hears a groan as her foot connects with something soft. “Alex?”

 

“Watch your foot!” She hisses.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“I’m gonna kick their asses.”

 

Kara shares the sentiment, irked off by the deception. Luke had drugged them. They’ve been nothing but cooperative and he has drugged them. Kara can understand the need for secrecy or even the lack of trust, but she can’t forgive the duplicity. It makes her regret trusting him in the first place.

 

The cart slows down. People move around them, unloading barrels and crates from other carts, calling out to each other as they move things around.

 

“I thought they were your friends.” Kara hears Sam says as they get closer.

 

“They are. Sort of,” Luke grumbles. Alex tenses next to her. With a press of her shoulder, Kara stops her from reacting too overtly.

 

“Is that how you treat your friends?”

 

“Sometimes.” The flippancy in his voice makes Kara want to punch him across the face.

 

“And you! You knew about them but didn’t think to tell me?” Sam asks someone with reproach tainting her voice.

 

Ruby stammers something until Luke interrupts her. “I made her not tell you anything. You can be mad at me after we’re done with them.”

 

The bag is taken off of her head and Kara blinks as light floods her vision. She sees Alex squints beside her and then she looks at Luke with absolute fury in her eyes.

 

“Welcome back, Commodore.”

 

“You’ll pay for this,” Alex hisses. She slithers out of the cart and kicks Luke in the chest. Sam restrains her from behind before Alex can attack him again, giving Kara the perfect opportunity to turn the situation in their favor. She readies herself to jump on the brunette’s back only to stop herself when she catches Ruby’s wide, fearful eyes.

 

“Alex, stop.” Alex looks back at her, uncomprehending, but Kara shakes her head. She had agreed to follow him, thus accepting the consequences it entailed. “It’s not worth it. The quicker we finish this, the sooner we can get back to National City.” Kara turns toward Luke who is rubbing the spot on his chest where Alex kicked him.

 

He nods. “I apologize for the trickery but secrecy is how we’re still alive.”

 

“I understand.” Kara doesn’t. She wonders if her knowing their location was worth breaking her trust. Apparently yes… Still bound, Luke guides them into a series of caves and slippery tunnels. She can hear the bulk of the crew walking ahead of them, laughing, joking as the light of their torches dances over the walls. Ruby walks besides Alex, throwing her timid look every now and then, until Alex smiles at her and Ruby lightens up.

 

“I’ve never been to Krypton.” Kara looks behind her only to see Sam heave a breath. “I was taught its history and language by the women who helmed the ship before me but it’s not something I want to burden her with,” she says with her eyes trained on Ruby. “The weight of Reign’s legacy.” Kara nods, not sure what she ought to say. The torch flickers, making the light dance around Sam’s face as she gives her a small, apologetic smile at her lack of response. “I just want her to live a good, happy life.”

 

The rest of the walk is spent in silence. The sound of their footsteps echoes around them interspersed with droplets of water falling loudly onto the rocks on the ground. The effect of the drug is still clouding her mind, making her feel sluggish and a bit queasy. Kara only realizes how bad it is when Sam presses her hand on her back, not pushing, but guiding her gently forward. Ruby is doing the same for Alex and Kara curses Luke under her breath, glaring at his back as he walks purposely forward. Kara remembers him patching her up aboard the Singing Nightmare. She vaguely remembers Lena telling her that she trusted him, and yet Kara can’t help but feel like he’s walking them right into the lion’s cage.

 

They reach the surface after a few hours. The dark tunnel opens up to a large body of water, augmented by a waterfall. The effects of the drug have abated a bit, but Kara still has no clue where they are. Mist covers most of the area but she sees the crew already on board small boats and rowing down the river. They follow suit, Ruby volunteering to take a paddle while Alex takes the other one, trying to shake off the last bit of dizziness with exertion. Kara stares at her sister with envy, realizing she is the only one with her hands bound behind her back. Kara sighs, tries to loosen the rope around her wrists but it only chafed at her skin a bit more. A light chuckle makes Kara focus back on what’s happening on the rowboat and she sees Sam tease Alex on her technique. The boat does veer off too much the left due to the lack of coordination on Alex’s part, making Ruby mostly try to rectify their trajectory instead of moving forward. Alex argues that she still has her hands tied, which makes Sam roll her eyes and smile, and ultimately take her dagger to cut the rope around Alex’s wrists. Kara stares, bemused, asking to be freed too, only to for her demand to be shut down when Sam points out that she isn’t the one rowing the boat. Kara asks Ruby for the paddle, but the girl shakes her head, content as they are now moving down the river. Alex only shrugs at Kara’s offended look when she refuses to give up the paddle. The small banter has the benefit of cutting off the tension lingering in the air and making them forget how they came to be here, but Kara glances toward Luke and she readies herself for the worst upon seeing his closed-off expression.

 

The crew docks at the riverbank and is greeted with cheers and drunken laughter. Tents and makeshift shacks border the shore as the activity around the river rekindle with the arrival of fresh goods. To her surprise, pirates roam the land freely as if it was their own. Luke takes back the control of the paddles and steers the boat in another direction, somewhere quieter, somewhere no one can see them. Shaking her head at her daughter’s successive questions, Sam drags Ruby away as soon as they reach the riverbank. Luke ushers them through the woods, urging them to keep up, and to keep their bodies low to the ground. Kara doesn’t know what is happening but one thing is sure, she and Alex are not supposed to be here.

 

It makes her question why she’s doing this. Why did she willingly agree to step into a place in which most of the inhabitants would want her dead?

 

She doesn’t have time to wonder long, as Luke guides them into a large cabin, off-center from what appears to be a bustling village, and asks them to wait in the foyer while he darts off down the hallway.

 

Alex turns toward Kara as voices rise from the other side of the cabin, followed by a tense silence.

 

“We should run,” Alex mouths to her, as Kara feels trepidation beat inside her chest.

 

A door slams open. Footsteps hurry toward them, sounding furious, followed by another set of footsteps, and another. Alex tenses beside her and Kara readies herself for a fight until she sees Lena round the corner, her green eyes growing wide as she sees them, followed by a man with an impressively well-trimmed black beard and tattoos on both of his arms, and then by Luke who looks at her apologetically.

 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Lena breathes out.

 

“Hi…” Kara jerks her arm up, trying to wave only to be reminded of the rope binding her hands behind her back.

 

*

 

How have you been?

 

It’s good to see you.

 

I’m glad you’re well.

 

All good things for her to say to try to break the tension, but Kara can’t bring herself to utter a word, intimidated by the sheer aura of anger surrounding the pirate she had risked her reputation and status for. Alex has been led away by Jack, the man with the tattoos and easy smile. He had offered her a tour of the village while Lena and Kara talked. Kara had nearly protested but eventually caved in when Alex had assured her that she could take care of herself, while whispering that it was her chance to scout the place out. Luke had followed after them, not affected by the glare Lena had thrown his way.

 

She’s been left alone, her hands finally freed, to stare at the various paintings adorning the walls, at the mountains of books laid on nearly every surface available, at Lena who is standing still, arms crossed over her chest, looking at her and yet seemingly not seeing her.

 

Kara feels like staring at a wall. A high, impenetrable wall on which Lena would be standing, looking down at her with rage in her eyes and a longbow in her hands.

 

“You shouldn’t be here,” Lena finally says, glaring at her with all the detachment she can muster. Kara can feel it and it saddens her. “Whatever Luke told you, you are not needed here. I’ll make preparations for your departure,” Lena says before turning her back on her and walking toward the front door.

 

“You look well,” Kara croaks, her chest hurting with a pain she’s not sure she wants to name. Why was she here? Kara wonders if she has been fooling herself by believing it was only to stop Lena from going after Edge. She hadn’t known what had motivated her until she stood in the same room as the one she had inexplicably felt a connection with. Until she was staring at Lena, and felt such a vast sense of relief to see her well.

 

Lena stops in her tracks but doesn’t face her, and Kara can pretend. She can pretend that whatever she thought they had was just a figment of her imagination, that whatever happened inside the brig was just a fleeting moment meant to be nothing else but… a fleeting moment.

 

“I came here to tell you not to go after Edge,” Kara says, feeling her back become ramrod straight and her heart quiet down to near silence. “The High Council has found you guilty of all charges held against you. A kill on sight order has been issued. It would be wise for you to remain hidden.”

 

“Why?” Lena asks, whirling around to face her. The question is vague but Kara knows it doesn’t refer to what she just said. It refers to her seeking them out… To her standing here right now with nothing but things Lena could’ve figured out on her own…

 

It doesn’t matter, Kara wants to say. It’s only been two months and already the distance seems insurmountable despite the way Lena crosses the distance separating them and pushes her against the wall. Kara gasps in surprise, eyes wide, as she sees a myriad of emotions flash in the green of her eyes.

 

“You! You make it so hard!”

 

Kara doesn’t have time to think of what she might mean by that because shouts suddenly breaks out from outside. Running feet thunder toward them and Lena lets go of her but keeps her against the wall as she stands protectively in-between her and the door.

 

The door slams open and Kara sees a familiar face - Eli, if she remembers correctly – barrel into the cabin. He scans the room only to stare at her.

 

“Eli!” Lena warns, moving to stop him, but he pays her no mind and throws a sword at Kara’s feet.

 

“A fight to the death,” he shouts with rage lacing each of his words. He takes out his cutlass and brandishes it toward her, in full view of the crowd that has followed him. “For the Singing Nightmare!”

 

Kara looks at the sword lying at her feet, at the crowd screaming for revenge and blood… She sees Alex shaking her head, screaming her name, wanting to go inside the cabin despite Luke and Sam restraining her with grave looks on their faces as the situation sinks in. Kara sees Lena look at her with horror on her face, mouthing a litany of don’t, don’t but the challenge has already been given. Eli glares at her with all the fury and pain she has brought upon him by taking away his mother’s ship and the result of her action is staring right at her.

 

Kara grabs the sword, unable to deny him the closure he seeks. “I accept.”

 

A hush falls over the room and it makes her wonder… Who is she but a body fighting to protect? A body fighting to survive?

 

Sometimes Kara doesn’t know.

 

She doesn’t know…

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Some things feel inevitable – fated to happen, like it has been written in the stars.

 

Kara stares at the three figures ahead of her and wonders if all of her choices, good and bad, have led her to this. To this open field with knee-length grass and wild flowers. To wielding a poorly balanced sword in a fight her opponent will not win.

 

Laughter breaks out. The crowd has followed after them in a long, unruly procession, seeming eager to watch the fight that is about to take place. It’s not just pirates living on this island, Kara realizes, as children drag their parents behind them and farmers set their tools on the ground to join the ever-growing crowd. It’s a community in which being a pirate isn’t seen as a crime. It’s a community in which slaves aren’t treated as such despite the marks still etched onto their skin. Here, they all mingle with the crowd. In this land, Kara is the one sticking out. She is the one intruding as indicated by the whispers and the stares everyone throws at her.

 

Focusing ahead of her, Kara meets Lena’s eyes as the dark-haired pirate glances over her shoulder. Kara swallows with difficulty at the worry, unease, and helplessness she sees in Lena’s eyes. She turns back toward Eli and Kara breathes easier as the connection breaks. She hopes Lena knows she doesn’t want to do this. She hopes Lena knows that if she could stop this fight from happening; she would. In a heartbeat. But Eli seems determined. Flanked by both Luke and Lena, he keeps shaking his head at everything his guardians say; dead set on going through with this fight.

 

Observing her opponent, watching him listen to his Captain with cool detachment, Kara understands that this is more than just a matter of pride -- or even revenge. It’s about him. About his sense of self. About where he belongs now that the Singing Nightmare is no more, and Kara can only observe the anger and despair dueling with each other on Lena’s face as she tries to reason with Eli and fails. Kara doesn’t think Lena understands, blinded by her love for him and her fear of losing him. Kara doesn’t think Lena understands that she has already lost him. Eli has been lost ever since Kara took the decision to destroy the Singing Nightmare.

 

Alex calls for her attention and juts her chin at the crowd surrounding them.

 

Kara glances around them and tenses. It feels like the air has shifted. The laughter has quieted down to a low, nervous hum. It buzzes everywhere all at once. Children are now hiding behind their parents’ protective stance while a slow litany graces everyone else’s lips.

 

The Girl of Steel… It’s the Girl of Steel… Kara hears over and over again. The sound gains in volume and in reach and soon enough Kara is surrounded by a wall of wary individuals -- some openly hostile.

 

A few pirates grin at her with nothing but malice in their eyes.

 

Her identity has been revealed and despite knowing it was just a matter of time – what with Lord having outed her back onboard the Singing Nightmare – she has hoped it wouldn’t happen so soon and so publicly.

 

Kara tries not to flinch when the first insult pierces the silence. She keeps her head high despite the strings of curses and obscenities thrown at her and at everything she represents. To them she is now the face of the Federation. She is the face of a law which has sworn to punish every pirate sailing upon Federation waters. She is the face of a politic which has turned a blind eye on the misery of others for the sake of diplomacy.

 

She is the Girl of Steel, and to these people, she is no hero.

 

“Kara…” Alex hisses. Her body becoming taut with tension.

 

“I know…” Kara replies, gripping the hilt of her sword tighter. She doesn’t know what is going to happen once the fight is over. She doesn’t think she can count on Lena’s support to get out of here safely when Eli falls… Looking back at her sister, Kara wishes she hadn’t taken Alex with her. She would never forgive herself if something happened to her.

 

“The river,” Alex grits through her teeth. “When it’s over, run for the river…”

 

Kara nods stiffly. She glances at the body of water running along the field. It’ll be hard, but it’s nothing they haven’t done before…

 

Ahead of her, the three figures come to a halt. Kara remains still as the wave of people slowly closes in to form a circle all around them. Among the crowd, Kara spots Sam, and driven by a sudden powerlessness, she calls out to the fellow Kryptonian, who stops dead in her tracks.

 

My sister,” Kara whispers in Kryptonese, locking eyes with the Captain of the Reign. “No matter what happens here, she is to leave unharmed.” Sam glances back toward Lena and the Singing Nightmare’s crew, looking conflicted. “The blame is mine alone to bear. I won’t have her pay the price of my actions. Please,” Kara pleads, anxious at the numerous emotions she sees in the woman’s eyes, until a slight nod make her breathe out in relief.

 

She will be under my protection until she returns to the Federation.” And with that promise, Captain Arias grabs Alex by the arm despite her protests and incomprehension and drags her away into the circle that cuts Kara off from any escape route.

 

It reminds her of the Arena, and though the stage has been replaced with soft soil and swaying grass, the feeling is the same. It feels suffocating. It feels like the world is closing in on her, and Kara hates it.

 

With one hand, Lena silences the crowd around them. Her eyes are hard, devoid of any emotions, and Kara knows Lena is just putting on a front for the crowd, having done the same thing many times before.

 

“To the death.” Lena stares at Eli and waits… waits for him to change his mind, but Eli is resolute. “To the death,” Lena repeats with a nod, glancing at Kara with silent anger tinted with resignation.

 

They both know who is going to win. Looking at Eli, at his tensed frame and trembling hands, Kara understands that Eli knows it too.

 

He charges toward her with a scream, drawing his cutlass and slamming it down on her. Kara dodges out of the way and smacks his arm away with the back of her hand. She takes a step back, adding more distance in between them, but Eli closes the gap immediately by charging at her again. He swings his cutlass, forcing her to parry and sidesteps, and as soon as Kara sees an opportunity, she jams the pommel of her sword into his side.

 

Eli staggers back, gasping for breath, and lunges back at her.

 

Their swords clang. The crowd goes wild.

 

Kara hears them cheer for blood, for senseless violence. They all cheer, except for the people surrounding the one with heartbreak in her eyes. Those are quiet, wincing every time one of her blows land; waiting for the inevitable. Eli growls at seeing her distracted and unleashes a series of attacks with so much vehemence and focus that Kara has no choice but to cede ground as she blocks, dodges, and ducks away from his rapid strikes.

 

There’s a boldness to his movements that Kara finds familiar. Eli doesn’t hesitate to get into her space, striking at her with the tip of his cutlass in rapid thrusts, crowding her so that her range becomes limited and reduced to defensive moves. It reminds her of Lena, of the way she always fights up close and personal, not hesitating to tackle her opponent if need be, or to overwhelm them with sheer ferocity so that they don’t have the time to retaliate. She sees the same tenacity and cleverness in each of his moves, in the way he uses every bit of advantage he can find to deliver blow after blow. The strength in his strikes vibrates through her arm at every impact, but Kara bides her time, noticing the sweat pool over his brows. She evades and parries his strikes while watching the frustration build up in his eyes. His movements become stiffer, his attacks more reckless… His arm arcs wide, leaving his chest completely open. It’s all Kara needs to slip under his guard and ram the pommel of her sword under his chin.

 

Blood spurts out from his mouth. Eli staggers back, looking momentarily dazed by the blow.

 

The crowd is wild. Kara hears laughter, mixed with encouragements and insults. It’s a mess of angry sounds that transports her back to the Arena, to the crowd screaming every time her sword had sunk into soft flesh, to the sand soaking up the blood of her opponents, to the fear and grief that had siezed her body when she realized that she would have to kill them all.

 

Eli breathes heavily, looking winded, and in pain from the damage to his jaw.

 

Kara doesn’t want to do this, but he glares at her and charges toward her again. Kara ducks under his arm and elbows him in the side. They both feel his rib snap. Eli grunts, gasping for breath, before facing her again, and Kara sees nothing but acceptance in his eyes, immediately covered by cockiness.

 

“Is that all you can do, Girl of Steel?” He spits a mouthful of blood onto the grass and readies himself again, taunting her with a smile that Kara sees easily through. “Come on!” Kara doesn’t take the bait. “COME ON!” He rushes at her with a scream, laced with so much fury and despair it makes her heart quake with guilt. “COME ON! COME ON!”

 

Kara parries each of his blows, but that doesn’t stop him. His attacks are fueled with such hopelessness that his movements become erratic, wild even. One of his strikes manages to nick her cheek before she can fend him off.

 

Blood trickles down her face. Eli looks at her with wide eyes.

 

“You’re not… You’re not made of steel after all.”

 

The statement is delivered with arrogance but the effect is lost by the disbelief Kara hears in his voice. She doesn’t know how to respond to the awe she sees on his face as he comes to terms with his discovery. Kara wipes her cheek, feeling the thick liquid smear across her skin. Eli readies himself for another attack, emboldened by the revelation of her mortality.

 

She isn’t made of steel. She bleeds and hurts like everyone else, and feeling Alex’s gaze on her, hearing her scream her name amidst the crowd, Kara returns each of Eli’s blows with one of her own.

 

Kara doesn’t hold back.

 

It’s easy for her to tap into that unrestrained anger she hides deep inside. It is easy to let it out as Eli struggles to block her attacks and stumbles on his feet as he tries to evade her. She is not made of steel, and sometimes Kara wishes she was. Maybe it would hurt less…

 

Eli winces when her sword slices into his body, carving red lines into his forearms, his back, and his chest. Her sword pierces his shoulder. Blood spreads over his clothes and splatters over the grass and her skin… He grabs her sword in a last ditch effort, using his offhand to stop the blade from connecting with his chest again. He growls as he tries to push her blade away, but it quickly turns into a whimper. His arm begins to tremble. Blood soaks the green patch of grass between them.

 

Eli winces, breathless, his eyes shining with the kind of peace that comes with defeat.

 

Kara sees herself in him. She recognizes herself in the way he seems to sway between life and surrender. Not knowing if he has the strength to keep going. Not knowing if he’s ready to give up. Not knowing how to even fight anymore…

 

She had walked that same line when she had been lost at sea, drifting on the broken timber of a ship, and looking to the sky, wishing for rain to appease her burning throat. She had walked that same line when she had washed ashore in a barren land with no sign of life around her and the thick fog lingering around. She had walked that same line when she had sucked on the moisture off of the moss she’d found to quench her thirst, and ate mollusks and insects to survive. She had walked that fine line when she had heard screams piercing the fog, only to realize that they were her own… She had been close to giving up. So close… but she had built a raft instead. She had scoured the beach for broken pieces of the ship that had washed ashore with her and she went back at sea with the hope that she’d find Kal like her parents had asked her to. She had gone back with nothing but hope… and here she is...

 

Here she is.

 

Kara grabs Eli’s wrist and disarms him with ease. He barely resists, watching his cutlass be thrown away from him. Disarmed, hurt, defeated, he crumbles onto his knees. Kara takes a step back and points her sword toward him. Challenging her had been foolish, but grief makes people do foolish things. He hadn’t had the chance to fight for the Singing Nightmare back then, to defend what his mother had fought so hard to build and protect. She couldn’t refuse him the fight but she cannot bring herself to kill him either.

 

“You fought well,” Kara says, hoping it will give him the closure he seeks. Make him see that his future hasn’t ended with the loss of the Singing Nightmare. “Yield.”

 

Eli shakes his head, wincing as he does so. “Do it,” he whispers, struggling to breathe. His eyes dart toward her blade. “I lost… and I have nothing left to lose. Do it.” He closes his eyes and Kara tears up at seeing the fight leave him, at seeing the quiet resignation on his face. It feels like his light has been extinguished and Kara knows she is the one to blame.

 

“Yield,” Kara insists. “You don’t- It doesn’t have to end this way.”

 

He remains silent and Kara doesn’t know what to do.

 

A moment passes and Eli opens his eyes again. He stares at her, waiting, and frowns when her sword still doesn’t move. “What are you waiting for? Do it! DO IT!” He lunges at her but his injuries prevent him from putting any real force into the tackle. He falls against her legs instead and Kara gasps as his voice breaks. “I… I couldn’t protect her… I couldn’t protect her ship… I couldn’t-”

 

The crowd screams for her to kill him, but Kara looks up and the screams around her fade away as her vision zeroes in on the Captain of the Singing Nightmare. Lena stands still, barely breathing, and only tethered to the crowd by Luke who has stopped her from taking another step toward them. Their eyes meet and Kara’s heart breaks at the loss she sees on Lena’s face. A loss which clouds the pirate’s eyes so easily as if she was reliving a long lost memory.

 

Kara sinks her sword into the ground and kneels down before the broken man, cupping his cheeks as his head bows with grief and exhaustion. “I can’t bring the Singing Nightmare back,” Kara whispers as Eli fights against her grip. “I wish I could go back in time. I wish I had done things differently… I wish I hadn’t caused you pain.”

 

“It was… It was all I had left of her…”

 

“It’s not,” Kara says, shaking her head and making sure that he’s listening to her. “She’s still here. Everything she fought for still stands.” Eli scoffs, trying to push her away but Kara doesn’t let him. “It hurts! It might never stop hurting, but- but you have to hold on to the memories. The good. The bad. Her spirit lives on in every life she changed.” Eli fights against her grip, clawing at her arms as his lips tremble and his eyes squeeze shut. “Listen to me!” Kara orders. His eyes snap open and focus on her. “They are her legacy. Hold on to them. Protect them,” she whispers, jutting her chin toward his crew. “Hold on to the family she has given you, for they are everything your mother fought to protect.”

 

Kara waits with bated breath as the walls he had erected around himself crumble one by one. She sees the son, the orphan, and the screaming child hiding deep inside, and strangely, right at this moment, Kara feels like she’s the only thing keeping him from breaking apart.

 

“Damn you,” he mutters. His shoulders sag but a small smile lights up his face. It is brief, but in that instant, Kara recognizes the young boy Lena had talked so fondly of. The young boy who kept pushing and finding ways to get on board the Singing Nightmare despite his mother’s refusal. Eli gets up and looks toward the crowd. “I yield!” He staggers back toward his crew only to fall to the ground. Face down.

 

Kara turns him on his back…

 

“Ouch…” Eli breathes. He glances and smiles as tears stream down his face. He clutches at his chest, his hand lying just above his heart, and looks toward the sky. “It hurts. It fucking hurts.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Kara presses her hand over the open wound on his shoulder and squeezes the hand he had laid above his heart.

 

A clamor rises around them. A ripple of anger travels through the crowd and Kara tenses, sensing danger. She doesn’t understand what is going on until a pirate breaks out from the crowd and shoots at her. She is yanked to the ground. The bullet grazes her shoulder instead of piercing her chest.

 

“That’s the Bloodsport crew,” Eli hisses while he looks around them. He lets go of her coat and holds his ribs as he falls back on the ground.

 

“What do they want?”

 

Eli shrugs, grimacing as he does so. “They’re fucking assholes. No one died. That would be enough to piss them off.”

 

Kara crawls through the grass and grabs her sword. “So, definitely not friendly.”

 

“Nope,” Eli laughs. “Not even on a good day.”

 

“Good to know,” Kara mutters as she assesses the situation.

 

Infighting has begun among the crowd. Some people are running away while others happily join the fight. It is chaos, but Kara notices familiar faces around her. The Singing Nightmare and the Reign’s crew have formed a thick protective wall around her and Eli in matter of seconds. Kara sees Luke stab someone out of the corner of her eyes. Alex is fending off a mountain of a man while Sam fights the enemies at her sister’s back. In all this chaos, Kara is drawn to the scarred pirate freckled with blood, cutting down anyone foolish enough to break the protective wall.

 

A bullet whizzes past her.

 

“We have to go.” She looks around them and sees the stump of a tree not too far from where they are. “Can you move?”

 

Eli bursts out laughing, coughing as he does so. “No, not really.”

 

“It’s okay.” Kara grabs his arm, pulls him up, and puts all of his weight over her back. “Ready?” Eli nods and Kara sprints toward the stump as bullets whizz past them.

 

Amidst the confusion, a woman sporting a scar across her cheek has broken away from the wall and is running toward them. Kara tightens her grip on her sword.

 

“Don’t. It’s Jess,” Eli rasps in between groans of pain. The woman, Kara now recognizes as the one who had her coat back onboard the Singing Nightmare, helps her prop Eli against the stump and immediately tries to assess his injuries. “I got my ass kicked.” Eli babbles and winces when Jess probes his shoulder. “You- You think it’ll be enough to stop the Captain from killing me?”

 

“You’re an idiot,” Jess replies, rolling her eyes. She hands her musket to Kara and immediately uses her vest to press on Eli’s shoulder. “At least she made improvements to your face.”

 

Eli chokes on a laugh and smiles with bloody teeth.

 

Kara keeps an eye out, protecting them. Her throat tightens at how hurt he is.

 

A salvo of shots rings out, making them freeze and whirl around to see what’s going on. The fighting stops as a man steps away from the shadow of a tree, his face obscured by a dark green hood, and followed by several hooded people behind him with bows and muskets over their shoulders.

 

“The argument has been settled between Master Coptaire and the Girl of Steel. If anyone desires to challenge the Girl of Steel to one on one combat to the death, step forward.” The man waits but no one moves. “Then fuck off and get back to work.” He turns toward Lena. “She’s your responsibility Luthor…” Kara bristles when he points toward her. “And she better be gone quick.”

 

He walks away. The crowd disperses, gathering the injured and the dead.

 

“Who is he?” Kara asks, breathing in relief at seeing Alex running toward them, safe and sound.

 

Jess calls for Luke to hurry up, and sighs. “That’s Captain Oliver Queen.” There’s wariness but also something akin to begrudging respect in her eyes that surprises Kara. “Welcome to Lian Yu,” the pirate says before focusing back on her crewmate.

 

***

 

The tension in the room is nearly suffocating now that Eli’s screams have stopped. The cabin falls into a deadly silence and Kara tries hard not to squirm at the look everyone is giving her. It would be foolish to think that the duel’s outcome has put an end to the animosity some might still feel for her. The tension feels like needles pinpricking the back of her head, the uncomfortable sensation increasing with their pointed stare. The real outcome of this encounter is in Lena’s hands. Kara knows that whatever decision Lena takes –once she’s out of the dining room where Eli is being treated by both Alex and Luke –will decide the fates of both herself and Alex, here in Lian Yu.

 

Metal pots clang from beyond the dining room’s door. Footsteps creep closer until the door opens and Luke comes out, wearing a shirt covered in blood and a smile on his face.

 

“He’s okay.”

 

The collective shout of joy makes Kara smile with relief while her stomach still twists with unbearable guilt. She never wanted to hurt anyone, and yet it seemed like that was all she had done since she became Commodore. Kara expels a breath, an instinctive reaction to the pain stabbing through her heart, but immediately schools her features lest someone else sees the cracks chipping at her mask.

 

The Girl of Steel’s skin has never felt so tight…

 

Alex comes out of the dining room, giving Kara a view of Eli as the door opens wide. He lies, motionless, on a table as Lena wipes his forehead with a cloth. The door shuts. Alex walks up to her and smiles.

 

“He’s out cold, but I’m confident that he’ll make a full recovery with a few weeks of rest.”

 

“Thank you,” Kara whispers, falling back against the beam behind her. All around them, cheers erupt and laughter resumes now that the good news has been delivered. But Kara doesn’t want to take any chances anymore. She doesn’t want to make things worse or fuel the wrath of other inhabitants of this island by staying here. Maybe there is an irreconcilable gap between pirates and the Federation. A divide that can never be breached… Kara wonders if she’s been too naïve. If she’s been too trusting, like Alex had said. If meeting Lena has blinded her to the reality of their situation, of who they really were and what they could never be… Looking back toward Alex, her found sister who never even hesitated before following her into this madness, her mind is made up. “I think it would be best if we get out of here as soon as we can.”

 

“Agreed, but I think you should go in first,” Alex says, motioning toward the dining room’s door.

 

Kara balks at the idea. She doesn’t want to be confronted with what she did when backed into a corner, afraid of the power she wields and the pain she can inflict. Kara looks away, fleeing her sister’s inquisitive gaze as tears spring up to her eyes.

 

“I- I can’t,” she stammers, staring at her hands, stricken by the solid bones and unblemished flesh. “He should be with his loved ones. There’s a crowd waiting to see him.”

 

“Go,” Alex insists. “Besides, Lena wants to talk to you.”

 

Heart pounding inside her chest, Kara nods and opens the door.

 

Chaos is what Kara sees upon stepping into the dining room. Chairs are overturned. Buckets and pots are filled to the brim with water and cloths. Blood drips down from the table acting as a makeshift bed, and Lena watches her quietly from the other side.

 

Eli is still. Eyes closed. His chest moving. Rise and fall…

 

Kara finds it hard to breathe.

 

“Always picking fights with people stronger than him,” Lena whispers, breaking the silence. Kara looks away, unable to stare any longer at the bandages soaked in blood, at the bruises and the cuts she inflicted upon his body. She looks around the room but just the state of the room is enough to remind her of what happened, of what she did, and so Kara stares at Lena; at her hands, at the way they hover over Eli as if they could protect him somehow… just by being there. “The Coptaires and sacrifice….” Lena mutters and runs her fingers through Eli’s hair. Fondly. Hesitantly. “It seems like it runs in the family.”

 

Silence settles in between them and Kara finds herself tongue-tied, unable to utter a word, crushed by the guilt she feels.

 

Lena sighs, focused on Eli, until Kara can feel Lena’s gaze on her.

 

“He would have kept fighting until you killed him,” Lena continues. “He’s just like Madi. Stubborn. Loyal. Proud… I’m glad it was you,” Lena finally says, to Kara’s stupefaction, which quickly turns into anger.

 

“I could have killed him.” The words taste bitter on her tongue but it was true. She could have killed him. So easily. End the fight before it even started. Just like she did in the Arena. The crowd had cheered her for it. They had chanted her name. They had made her feel like a god. Like a monster. Someone who had the power to end someone else’s life. Turned her into something that went against everything she fought for. It still makes her feel sick. Repulsed by what she has become… Terrified by the void she feels and tries so hard to hide. “He was no match for me. I could have-”

 

“But you didn’t kill him,” Lena interrupts her. “Others wouldn’t have hesitated.”

 

Kara crosses her arms over her chest and frowns. She feels like Lena isn’t getting the point. “How did you know I wouldn’t have killed him? It’s what I do!” She was the one who did this to him. She pierced his skin and broke his bones, and yet there’s no resentment in those green eyes. No disgust. No rejection. And Kara doesn’t understand why. “He challenged me in front of your crew! And I’m the Girl of Steel! I never lose!” She clenches her jaw, feeling the bile trying to make its way up her throat. Kara doesn’t know what she’s trying to do or even the point she is trying to make. She just feels this unbearable guilt inside of her, and it’s eating her from the inside.

 

Lena doesn’t take the bait.

 

Kara crosses the room to the window and gulps a lungful of air.

 

“I trust you,” Lena answers simply. Kara hears the light footsteps make their way toward her and she resists the urge to face the presence at her back. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I- I just knew that I trusted you,” Lena says. Kara doesn’t resist this time when she feels Lena turn her around. Lena cups her cheek. Her thumb rubs the cut Kara sustained in the fight. Dried blood flakes off of Kara’s skin. “Thank you for saving him.”

 

Kara glances at Eli’s unconscious form and then at Lena, at her eyes, her nose, her scar, and feels her fingers itch with the urge to trace that jagged memory with her fingertips. To kiss the pain away…

 

“I- I’m sorry,” Kara says instead, feeling her mask crumble bit by bit, unable to move, unable to voice how she feels like she’s the one drowning. The one in need of saving.

 

“Are you hurt anywhere else?”

 

“I’m fine,” Kara replies immediately but the resistance begins to fray a little bit more, chipped away by Lena’s fingertips lingering on her cheek. The proximity doesn’t help. Kara is drawn to Lena as if she was being pulled by a rope connecting her to the warm, comforting body. Her hand reaches out timidly and holds onto leather and dark fabric. Kara pulls. Lena shows no resistance and engulfs her in her open arms, making Kara sigh and feel like she’s breathing again. “I’m tired,” Kara mumbles, muffling her confession into Lena’s skin so that the world doesn’t hear. “I didn’t want to hurt him. I’m sorry…”

 

“I know,” Lena whispers and holds her tight. “I know.”

 

“It hurts.”

 

Lena holds her tighter, making Kara feel like she can stay afloat just a little bit longer.

 

It doesn’t last long. The quiet. The peace.

 

A knock makes them spring apart.

 

The door opens and the world goes on.

 

Alex and Luke stand outside the door, looking apologetic, before they enter and check on Eli, giving instructions to several crewmates as they get ready to move him to another room. It’s the first time Kara sees Alex and Luke work together. It’s the first time Kara feels like her world is not only colliding with Lena’s, but beginning to merge, blend in... The gap between pirates and the Federation might not be as wide as she first thought. Looking at Lena, who gives her a small smile before going back to Eli’s side, Kara wonders… and longs for something their respective sides would never allow them to be. Just thinking about it makes her head spin.

 

Kara pictures sunrises and sharing the same bed. Laughing out loud. Skin against skin. Boneless. The two of them looking at the stars and flying above the city lights. The two of them-

 

A loud cheer erupts from outside the door as Eli is transported outside. Kara follows quietly behind but stops dead when she sees Lena engulfed in Jack’s arms, looking so small, so content… The embrace goes on and Lena is laughing, sounding so relieved, so carefree… in his arms.

 

Oh…

 

Kara looks away and breathes around the sudden weight that has begun to press over her chest. For once, she wishes she hadn’t noticed the little details so quickly. Like the way his hand lingers at the back of her neck and hers at his waist. Or the way they smile at each other. A hint at the intimacy they share… The back of her neck begins to heat up and Kara glances in their direction once more, just to make sure, just… just to know…

 

Lena is in Sam’s arms, hugging her tightly before letting her go. It doesn’t last as long. Jack looks on with a fond smile– Kara notices that too.

 

“You okay?” Alex asks her, appearing at her sides. Kara looks away once more before Alex can find the answer to her own question.

 

“I’m fine,” Kara replies, smiling and knowing it doesn’t sound sincere enough to fool her sister. “I’m fine,” Kara insists. “It’s been... It’s been a long day.”

 

“Tell me about it,” Alex huffs with a slight roll of her eyes. “I’m proud of you,” she says with a smile that makes Kara tear up and laugh and smile impossibly wide.

 

The guilt doesn’t go away completely, but it lessens. Just enough for Kara to take comfort in the joyous atmosphere reigning inside and reverberating outside the cabin, where the smell of several bonfires permeates the air. People come and go, their arms laden with meat and drinks. There might be some animosity left, but tonight, with the news of Eli’s wellbeing, the crew of the Singing Nightmare give Kara a short, respectful nod when they pass by her.

 

“We should talk,” Lena tells Kara and Alex before she guides them into a study at the end of a dimly-lit hallway. Luke, Sam, and Jack follow after them. Lena opens a chest and pulls out maps and papers, laying them all out on the desk in the middle of the room. “It’s all we have on Edge.”

 

“How?” Alex asks, peering through the papers, her eyebrows rising as she reads.

 

“Morgan Edge is not as smart as he thinks he is. He’s too much of a brute to be subtle in his affairs,” Jack says, standing beside Lena, and shows them several documents signed by Edge that would be enough to lock him up. “A man like him inspires no loyalty from his subordinates.”

 

“You bribed someone to steal from him…” Kara states.

 

“Well, the person was more than willing…” Jack says with a shrug. “I didn’t have to pay them that much,” he whispers cheekily to a grinning Lena.

 

“It’s certainly enough to have the High Council look into his business,” Alex lets out, impressed.

 

“I’m not sure how we’re going to explain how we got our hands on those documents,” Kara interjects.

 

“J’onn will help us out with it…”

 

Kara’s mood turns sour at the satisfied look on Jack’s face.

 

All gathered around the desk, Lena unfolds a map next. It’s a map of the eastern coast of the Federation. Kara would have been surprised to find the Durlan territory depicted with so many details if it weren’t for the alliance Lena has with Councilwoman Marsdin – which she has yet to learn the details of. But their point of interest seems to be the islands scattered across the ocean in between the Federation and Hellgram.

 

“This is where Edge will stop before he makes his way to Hellgram.” Lena points at a cluster of islands just outside the Federation territory. “We believe Rhea might have a convoy waiting for him there to protect the Kryptonite till delivery. If you are to arrest him, you’ll have to do it before he gets there.”

 

“We have him under surveillance for now,” Alex says. “We’ll arrest him as soon as we get back. Did you find anything on the Dominators?”

 

“They’ve been making their way north for the last month,” Luke tells them. “They’ve been destroying everything on their way.”

 

Kara leaves Alex to do the talking, listening to her talk with Sam and Luke while Jack gives some input. Kara absorbs all the information as she stares at the map… and nothing else.

 

Durlan outposts have gotten reinforcements since the one Maggie had been stationed in was destroyed. The High Council has mobilized warships to oversee the border. It has called upon the reserve stationed in National City in case of another attack. Kara stares at the map, at the different locations Sam and Lena point out where the Dominators have been sighted, and a sudden realization makes her go cold.

 

A small Kryptonian village is missing from Lena’s map. A modest city on the Durlan coast, named after Kandor, and just a month away from the last attack made by the Dominators. With all the focus turned toward the destroyed outpost, the route to the village had been cleared of any defenses… It couldn’t be…

 

“Well, is there anything else that warranted your visit Commodore?” Jack says, snapping Kara out of her thoughts. “You certainly made an entrance. The truce we have with the Bloodsport crew won’t last long despite Captain Queen’s intervention,” Jack continues with a smug smile before turning toward Lena. “I think it is best if the Commodore were to leave as soon as possible.”

 

Lena frowns.

 

“I agree,” Kara says, interrupting what Lena was about to say. “I’ll make sure to intercept the Kryptonite he is smuggling. I promise. How soon can we leave?” Kara asks Sam who looks surprised at the sudden turn in the conversation. Sam looks toward Lena and then back to Kara.

 

“We- we will have to wait till morning. The tide makes it hard to cross the tunnels and reach the coast.”

 

Kara nods, not pleased with having to wait for the tide before sailing again, but she keeps quiet as music swells outside and the thick, smoky scent of firewood begins to permeate the walls. The last details are finalized. Convincing Lena not to go after Edge has finally been easier than Kara expected, her efforts aided by Luke telling her that she would have to convince his Captain.

 

“I believe our crews have begun the festivities,” Jack says, pushing the curtains to the side and looking outside the window. The light of a fire dances over his face. “Why don’t we join in?”

 

Luke smiles and sheds his stern demeanor to invite Alex and Sam outside with the promise of good food and fresh ale.

 

Jack holds out his hand to Lena.

 

“You go ahead,” Lena replies with a slight shake of her head. “Make sure they don’t burn anything. The Commodore and I still have a few things to discuss.”

 

Jack nods with a bitter smile. “To unlikely allies, Commodore Zor-El.”

 

The door closes behind him.

 

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Lena immediately says, crossing her arms over her chest and frowning at her.

 

“What? No. What makes you say that?”

 

“I know when someone is lying to me.”

 

Kara gapes, rendered mute by the expectant look on Lena’s face. “It- It’s just a theory. I don’t know if… if it’s their plan or if they even know of its existence-”

 

“Wait! What are you talking about?”

 

“Here.” Kara points at the map. “There’s a small Kryptonian city named New Kandor. A group of refugees settled there two years after the disaster, and it might be where the Dominators are heading… Ever since the destruction of the Durlan outpost, the various fleets have been moved to the South-East of the border.”

 

“Where Maggie’s outpost was.”

 

“Yes. But now, that part of the territory,” Kara points to the north side of the Durlan coast. “Isn’t protected.”

 

“Do you think it was Rhea’s plan all along?”

 

“I don’t know,” Kara whispers, mulling over her theory. It would be terrifying if it was. That much foresight. That much knowledge on the positioning of the Federation’s defensive measures… It would have required months of planning… maybe years… “That’s why I have to go. I need to make sure.”

 

“Do you know why Rhea wants you dead?”

 

Kara shakes her head and wonders, with all the information she has now, if it’s just her or all the remaining Kryptonians that the Queen of Daxam wishes to kill.

 

***

 

The music swells into the night.

 

Their absence from the celebration had been noticed, and Lena’s crewmates had coaxed them both outside with drinks in hand.

 

It’s just one night, Kara tells herself, sitting by the fire and still nursing the rum that had been first given to her. One night before she needs to get moving. Before she needs to find out what Queen Rhea has against her…

 

There’s music and dancing. Rum and songs. Fire and juicy meat.

 

It feels like living on borrowed time. It doesn’t feel real, but Kara accepts the generous piece of meat Luke gives her and sinks her teeth into it, devouring it, even the charred bit, and cleaning it off the bone.

 

“Another one?” He asks, looking impressed. Kara nods sheepishly. He returns with another, the meat looking a little bit more red this time. “This one’s from the chef. Says it’s better with spice,” Luke says with a grumble and points to the fire where Kara sees Eli, sprawled on a long chair, holding onto his ribs and looking at them. Kara bites into the meat, her eyes widening at the faint note of thyme and rosemary blending in seamlessly with the smoky kiss of flame. “Which one was better? Mine right? I mean, you can’t do wrong with slapping a piece of meat onto a fire…”

 

“His,” Kara says without hesitation.

 

Luke grumbles in his beard before he shouts You win! back at Eli. Kara chuckles when she hears Eli laugh and shouts an I told you so in between groans of pain.

 

Luke flops down next to her. “Not enjoying the party?”

 

“A lot on my mind.”

 

He hums and they both stare at the partying crowd around them. Kara sees Alex with Ruby, engrossed in some kind of tale by another fire while Sam, never far behind, watches quietly from afar.

 

“I apologize,” Luke says, “for bringing you here… and not telling you.”

 

“You knew he would challenge me.”

 

Luke nods. “He would have sought you out otherwise and gotten himself killed before he even got to you. I also knew you would talk him out of it.”

 

“Because I’m the Girl of Steel?”

 

“Because of what you told me onboard the Intrepid,” Luke retorts, making Kara think back to that early morning when she had devised a plan to set Lena free despite the cost she would have to pay. “Hope. It might not feel like it right now but that’s what you gave us today. That’s what made me go along with your plan in the first place. That’s what you inspire in people. Thank you…”

 

Kara stares at the fire and blinks back her tears. “It was-”

 

“The right thing to do. You said that too.” He heaves a breath and adds with a teasing smile. “She’s not with Jack. Not like that. Not anymore.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kara retorts, making Luke laugh boisterously. She tries hard not to glance toward where she knows Lena is. “She’s not?”

 

Luke shakes his head. “Your call, Commodore!” And he leaves her to her own devices.

 

Suddenly, there seems to be too much air filling her lungs. Kara feels her chest expand with that newfound information, lightheaded and aflutter… She glances toward where Lena is and finds the pirate staring right back at her just beyond the dancing flames.

 

There might be thirty feet separating them. Thirty feet filled with a bright fire and things left unsaid.

 

Lena’s focus doesn’t waver even when Luke sits by her side and nudges her with his shoulder. He winks at Kara and engages Jack in a conversation. Kara takes a sip from her bottle and feels the burn travel straight down to her stomach. The rum tastes bitter compared to what Kara imagines Lena would taste like – her lips, her neck, the slope of her breast – Kara coughs, feeling parched despite the drink in her hand.

 

The night goes on. A gust of wind blows into the crackling wood. The embers spark with life, spitting thousands of tiny light into the air.

 

Lena gets up and hands her cup back to Luke. She whispers something in his ear. It seems to make him smile. Kara would even go as far as to say that he looks delighted, smug even, as he reacts to what Lena is telling him. They both look up, staring straight at Kara, who immediately tries to pretend she hasn’t been paying attention at all. But she’s not fooling anyone, especially not those two.

 

Lena hides a smile behind a lock of hair, kisses Luke on the forehead, and gives Jack a brief hug. Kara gulps, not sure of what is happening, but feeling the anticipation hammering through her chest all the same.

 

Beyond the fire, Lena motions for Kara to follow her and disappears in the dark night. Kara bolts after her, giving chase through the darkness and feeling intoxicated despite the bottle of rum spilling at her feet and falling onto the grass… She bypasses drunken people, the warmth of the fire, Alex who is whispering something in Sam’s ear before they burst out laughing… Everything is a blur. A mess of color and motion. Smudged. Unfocused. Everything except Lena, who Kara finds leaning against the door of the study they had been in earlier – it feels like ages ago.

 

“What- what are we doing?” Kara asks, out of breath and feeling like their breathing is the only sound echoing in the dark cabin.

 

Lena doesn’t give her any answers. She opens the door instead and with a bite of her lip, she invites Kara inside. The roles have been reversed. Kara is now the one being lured into a trap. A trap she’s all too willing to fall into.

 

The door closes behind them. The lock clicks shut.

 

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” Lena points out sounding calm and confident, nearly business like. She stalks toward the window and yanks the curtains closed, plunging them into darkness.

 

Kara nods, speechless, and hastens to say something as she realizes that Lena cannot see her. It comes out as a stutter, a mess of words and sounds as a match is lit and a candle brightens the room, followed by another one, and another, until all Kara sees is Lena moving about the room, illuminating the desk, a vanity, a bed…

 

“Do I get a kiss?” Lena asks once she’s done and takes a step forward.

 

Kara steps back, bumping into the door behind her.

 

“What?”

 

Something flickers in Lena’s eyes. A hint of insecurity. Something like vulnerability. It makes Kara shiver, chest tightening, fingers shaking, body moving with yearning, and Lena’s eyes are shining, looking away before she takes a gulp of breath and faces Kara again with resolve lighting up her face.

 

“As a goodbye… you did promise me one…”

 

“I didn’t,” Kara can’t help but counter back, reflecting back on that night at the beach, where it all began. On those few seconds spent at the edge of a cliff… “We’re not dying.”

 

“It feels like I am.”

 

It is uttered so quietly, Kara isn’t sure if Lena had meant for her to hear it or not, but Kara did and they both know it.

 

It feels forbidden: the promise of what is going to happen in this room. Decadent, carnal, and yet so raw and real. How could it ever be deemed wrong?

 

“I mean, I saved your life. Shouldn’t that get me at least a reward?” Lena asks with that challenging light in her eyes and leaning back against her desk with confidence… or for support, Kara isn’t sure but the resulting effect is all the same.

 

Kara steps closer, pulled by an invisible rope. A red thread connecting them.

 

“I saved your life too,” she quips, entranced by the smile on Lena’s lips, by the sight of sharp teeth peeking out and biting into a red bottom lip. “Shouldn’t that make us even?”

 

Lena shrugs. “It seems like we have a knack for saving each other.” She curls her hand in Kara’s shirt and brings her close. Closer. Until all Kara feels is Lena’s presence surrounding her. Her thighs parting as Kara closes the distance and presses her forehead against Lena’s. “One. Just one,” Lena breathes with cheekiness bordering on insolence, but to Kara it feels like a capitulation, a confession, or a plea…

 

“One kiss…” Kara concedes.

 

It’s a lie and they both know it.

 

Kara is not even sure why she’s even arguing, but Lena nods, whispers just one against her lips and Kara is done for. She grabs Lena’s thighs, hoists her up, and sits her on the desk.

 

Some things feel inevitable.

 

Kara gasps at feeling Lena’s hands in her hair and shudders at feeling Lena’s tongue trace over her lips.

 

Them together? It feels familiar.

 

Fated to happen as if it had been written in the stars...

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“That kiss doesn’t count,” Lena mumbles, breathing hard, and Kara is being kissed again. Held in an inescapable embrace, Lena nibbles on her lips, and it’s hot. It’s full-on. Kara doesn’t think she’s ever been kissed that way before –kissed like air isn’t necessary, like time doesn’t exist, like nothing else matters anymore.

 

“You are greedy…” Kara can’t help but mumble now that they’ve gone past that kiss they had agreed on, but Kara doesn’t mind. In fact, coming into this room she had hoped this would happen. She had been longing for it, wondering for months how it would feel like to be close to someone she has felt such a strong connection with. She’s delighted to find that her daydreaming pales in comparison to the reality. She could never have prepared herself for the mirth and cheekiness exuding from Lena. For the confidence with which Lena takes charge and grips her collar, making her lean over, and whispers can you blame me? I’m a pirate with that smug smile that makes Kara either want to roll her eyes or kiss her… Lena arches an eyebrow, tightening her legs over Kara’s waist, and Kara kisses her.

 

The desk scrapes against the floor. Papers and trinkets hit the ground, but Kara doesn’t care, overwhelmed by the new thrill of having Lena grind her hips against her abdomen. Right in this moment, Kara is free. Like jumping off of a cliff and trusting the wind to give her wings; she burns her lips with Lena’s breath and intoxicates herself with the faint taste of rum lingering on her tongue.

 

The party is still raging outside. Kara is vaguely aware of the drunken singing joining the beat of the drums and of the hoots and laughter detonating in the night. It is festive, chaotic, and loud, but all of her senses zero in on the soft whimper Lena lets out. On Lena's fingers grasping at her shoulders. On her eyes. Her lips. The puffs of air they keep sharing. It does feel like living on borrowed time, Kara muses, pressing her face into Lena’s neck and kissing the skin there. She moves Lena’s hips against her body and tries to remain in the moment. To remind herself that this is real. This is happening...

 

Lena exhales against her ear. Her fingers curl inside her hair. Her mouth scorches the skin of her cheek, and Kara feels lightheaded. Her heart is thumping inside her chest. It’s palpitating at seeing the beautiful flush coloring Lena’s cheeks. Her dazed look. At feeling her fingers twitching against her scalp. Kara is transfixed by the pull making them gravitate just inches away. Not touching. Barely breathing.

 

Until they finally collide with a kiss.

 

Kara kisses Lena harder, sucks on her tongue, and makes her moan, her heart filled to the brim with unnamed emotions.

 

“You,” Lena mutters. Her back arches. Her skin burns beneath Kara’s lips, but she sounds pained and frustrated and Kara frowns. “You make it so hard—” Lena curls her hand around Kara’s neck and pulls her closer “—to let you go.”

 

Lena kisses her again with that same passion and urgency that has strummed in the room ever since Lena had locked the door earlier, but Kara can’t bring herself to reciprocate. She’s paralyzed. Lena kisses her neck, pulls at her clothes, but Kara doesn't move; her eyes squeezed shut and petrified.

 

More than anything Kara hates goodbyes.

 

People come and go. Kara has made herself a reason but she always tries to create something good out of these encounters. No matter how brief they might be. Kara tries, in her own small ways, to show kindness and compassion so that everyone she meets leaves feeling better than when she first met them. Her work as the Girl of Steel has helped with that. She had seen the impact she could have on the world and on other peoples' lives. She had seen the hope she could inspire and the safety she could provide to those who no longer believed they were worth protecting. It’s what had kept her going all these years. Knowing she was doing good. Knowing she was making a difference for the better. Knowing that even in the wake of horrible tragedies there was still light to be found.

 

But the last few months have been harrowing. They have pushed her beyond the limits of what she could bear. It has brought forth a part of her she hadn’t wanted to acknowledge, and Kara no longer knows what she’s fighting for. She doesn’t know if following the Federation’s directives is right anymore. Every time she thinks back on what she did in the Arena or to the Singing Nightmare, her mind becomes wracked with guilt; shaken by all the blood she’s spilled and the pain she’s caused. Kara doesn’t know how to forgive herself for what she’s done or if there’s even any redemption to be found. But amidst all that fear and confusion, there had been one person she could lean on. One person she had used as an anchor when everything had spiraled out of control. One person who made her feel safe…

 

…And Lena is now letting her go.

 

She is saying goodbye like they had agreed they would and Kara is struck with panic. With a feeling of loss she hasn’t felt in a while. Sliding her hands beneath Lena’s thighs, Kara pulls her hard against her. Lena expels a breath, surprised, but Kara still feels the dark swirling void threatening to swallow her whole. She drowns in memories of hundreds of goodbyes she’d never been able to say, and clings onto the warm body before her. “Don’t let go. Don’t—let go…” she hisses, fighting against the sight of her parents waving her goodbye from Krypton’s shore, fighting against the waves pulling her deeper and deeper into the abyss, fighting against the hurt knotting inside her stomach as Kal leaves her at the Danvers’ estate with a well-meaning smile. Her lips latch onto skin, her teeth bite onto flesh, and her heart chokes on the loss and emptiness she’s usually so good at hiding.

 

Because it hurts. It hurts so much and it’s only Lena’s groan of pain that makes Kara come back to the candlelit room. She hears laughter resonating outside. The scent of firewood lingering on their clothes fills her nose and the glaring mark she’s left on Lena’s shoulder reddens before her eyes. Not deep enough to break the skin, but hard enough to leave a bruise. Kara stares and stares and her heart seizes with horror. She immediately tries to scramble away. Out of Lena’s embrace. Out of this room. But she can’t. Lena’s legs are wrapped tight around her waist and Kara is paralyzed by the vibrant laughter emanating from the woman she’s just hurt.

 

“Kinky,” Lena breathes and winks. “I knew it.”

 

The tension recedes. Kara giggles unexpectedly, uncontrollably; encouraged by the amusement shining in Lena’s eyes, and the warmth and fondness Kara sees so clearly now in the dim light.

 

“What am I going to do with you?” Lena whispers, cradling Kara’s cheeks, and runs her thumb over her bottom lip before kissing her. “I won’t,” Lena says, looking at her as if she was the most fragile thing she’s ever held in her arms. “I won’t let you go.”

 

The promise courses through her veins. She feels content, basking in Lena’s attention, enjoying the slow caresses at the back of her neck, coaxing her body to relax. To give in. Kara falls into Lena’s embrace without reserve. There’s no other way to love, really. And Kara doesn’t do anything without giving herself wholeheartedly.

 

She tugs on the lace of Lena’s corset and fumbles with the different knots.

 

The cord breaks.

 

Lena gives her a knowing smile. It does nothing to abate the impatience and desire governing her fingers. Lena is watching her, her hands propped back against the desk, waiting and smiling, and Kara battles with the complicated buckles and soft leather. There’s too much fabric and Kara doesn’t know where to look. Torn between looking at what she is doing or at the amused smile she so desperately wants to kiss. She settles for both. She leans in, capturing Lena’s lips, and tugs on the fabric blindly, forcefully, until Lena gives in and helps her take off the complicated top she's wearing.

 

The top is flung somewhere behind them, and Kara stares, breathless at the sight of Lena’s heaving chest.

 

“Take me to bed,” Lena demands. Her fingers slide back into Kara’s hair and Lena stops her before she can kiss her chest. “Now.”

 

Kara nods. She lifts Lena off of the desk and stumbles after a few steps, distracted by the sinful combination of tongue and lips sliding and stroking hers. They crash against the bookcase. Books fall to the ground. Their teeth bump with the shock. “Sorry,” Kara says, wincing as a wooden shelf digs into her back. "I wasn't-" Her train of thoughts is interrupted as cool fingers slide under her shirt and lift it up. She pins Lena against the bookcase, using her hips to press her against the wooden frame and she raises her arms up. Her shirt falls to the ground. Kara shivers.

 

“You’re hurt,” Lena says, causing Kara to blink and stare at the wound Lena is probing. It’s nothing. It has already begun to scab over – the bullet having only grazed her skin – but the concerned look on Lena’s face doesn’t go away. “You should have told me. Or at least Alex. She would have-”

 

Kara kisses her, muffling her words, and smiles at the huff escaping Lena’s lips.

 

“I’m fine.” She proves it by molding her chest against Lena’s, and guides Lena’s hips back into a grinding motion. The moan Lena makes wins out over the mild irritation flashing in her eyes and Kara smiles. Smug and carefree.

 

“Bed,” Lena reminds her with a growl, pushing against the bookcase to propel them toward the bed. Kara laughs, staggering backward. She tightens her grip on Lena’s backside and uses the opportunity to palm the flesh, squeeze it, until the momentum makes them fall into bed.

 

There’s nothing to hear, feel, or see but the woman sitting on her lap. Soft candlelight dances over skin, flickering between heartbeats. In those infinite seconds Kara is hit with disconcerting nostalgia and certainty: Lena is hers. Hers to hold and hers to love…

 

In those infinite seconds, different images of Lena overlap in her mind. It confuses her. It makes her wonder whether she drank more than she thought. The scar on Lena’s collarbone keeps appearing and disappearing before her eyes, and Kara blinks several times, pressing her fingertips over Lena’s skin, to chase the confusion away. The wispy images stop flashing in her mind and Kara gasps at seeing the ink on Lena’s ribcage.

 

Rage against the dying of the light

 

“What—” Kara traces over the black letters written like swirling waters “—it sounds familiar.”

 

“I’m not surprised,” Lena says, sighing under Kara's soft scrutiny. She pushes Kara down and black hair suddenly cut them off from the outside world. “It’s a well-known poem after all.” The weight of her presses Kara down into the mattress and all her thoughts screech to a halt as Lena begins her own exploration.

 

“That must be why,” Kara hisses as one of her nipples is engulfed in warm, wet heat and the other fondled by a firm hand. It’s all-consuming, like her senses are hit by a giant tidal wave. She slides her fingers through Lena’s hair, marveling as each strand caresses the inside of her palm, and watches with enraptured fascination Lena make her way down her chest. “Do- Do you like poems?” Kara asks, squirming a bit at feeling Lena’s breath tickle her ribcage. Lena smiles against her skin. She trails kisses down her stomach and Kara feels the urge to hold on to the headboard as Lena stops at the edge of her pants.

 

To everyone else, Captain Lena Luthor might be an evil pirate, a criminal, but to her she is a light. A light her gaze is inexorably attracted to. A light she can see herself coming home to…

 

Standing at the edge of the bed, Lena takes off the rest of her clothes. She grabs Kara’s foot and unlaces her boot with so much languor and intent that the lace seems to whip in the silence. The boot loosens around her foot and falls to the ground with a dull sound. The other follows soon after and Kara lifts her hips as Lena tugs on her pants.

 

Charmed, Kara meets Lena halfway as the woman crawls back to her, straddles her body, and kisses her with unbridled desire.

 

The beat of the drums outside thunders in the night, penetrating through the walls and making every second feel like the last...

 

Kara runs her hands all over Lena’s body. She fondles her breasts, runs her hands up her thighs, and kisses every inch of skin she can reach. Finding joy and pleasure in every sound she makes. They’re so close that she can’t help but feel drawn to Lena’s openness. In that moment, Kara sees everything. As if Lena had nothing left to hide. As if she was giving herself to her without question. Without fear. And Kara finds her to be utterly beautiful. She kisses the flush on Lena’s chest and the mole on her neck, while running her hands down her back. Lena bucks her hips, groaning into her ear, and Kara presses her fingers between Lena's thighs, making her groan in approval, making moves her hips against her hand, impatient, seeking for more. Kara sits them up and slides two of her fingers into her. Holding her waist, she watches Lena throw her head back and cry out as her fingers sink deeper with each passing seconds.

 

The bed squeaks. The air becomes thin, reduced to shared incandescent breaths, unwavering gazes, and the slow rocking of hips.

 

Kara’s shallow thrusts become faster, deeper; encouraged by the moans Lena lets out, the rapid rise and fall of her chest, and the muscles cord straining in her neck as she gulps for air. Beads of sweat pearl at the base of Lena’s neck and Kara watches them slide down her chest, entranced, as they end their course in dark curls, mixing with the wetness spreading over her fingers. It’s overwhelming in its intimacy, in its closeness, and Kara craves more. More of that. More of Lena. More of her warmth. More of the unconditional tenderness she sees in her eyes. She presses her face into Lena’s chest, feeling the woman’s heart pound against her cheek while her hips jerk against her fingers as Kara moves them relentlessly. Lena begins to tremble. Her cries and hitched breaths hitting Kara’s skin in short bursts of air as her mouth is pressed against Kara's shoulder.

 

“I wish… I wish…” Lena shudders, moving her hips frantically, making Kara grunt and hold on tighter as wet heat soaks her fingers. Nails sink into her skin. Teeth bite in to her shoulder. And Kara exhales, kissing Lena’s shoulder, neck, her cheek, before her eyes squeeze shut and her mouth open to let out a hoarse and beautiful breathless cry.

 

“I wish-” Lena says, after catching her breath. “I wish you were mine. God, I wish you were mine.”

 

The beat of the drums quickens outside. It's becoming ominous even. It swallows Kara’s answer and muffles the sound of rustling sheets, ragged breaths, and pounding hearts.

 

Lena rolls them over and Kara finds herself straddling the green-eyed woman. She is pushed up Lena’s body until all she has for support is the beam of the headboard in one hand and a handful of Lena’s hair in the other. She looks down and wow… Her heart skips a beat, unprepared at the sight of Lena laying underneath her, just between her thighs, and looking up at her with nothing but want and pure lust.

 

It’s like jumping off of a cliff and trusting the wind to give her wings… Kara stands over the edge, waiting to feel Lena’s heated breath cool the burning ache between her legs, and whimpers when Lena guides her hips down into her mouth. She shudders; moving her hips against Lena’s tongue, loosing herself in the rhythm, in the sensations, in Lena’s eyes, as the headboards knocks against the wall.

 

Breaking beautifully, Kara stands over the edge and wills herself to fall.

 

To fly…

 

***

 

A grayish light has begun to shine through the curtains. The morning breeze is making the dark fabric shift from its stillness. Goose bumps rise across Lena’s skin, making Kara shift and press her face between Lena’s shoulder blades. It's easier to pretend that way. Pretend that she hasn’t seen the morning light shine through the window. Lena sighs – awake as well – and Kara sneaks her arm around her waist. She draws Lena back into her chest and lets the warmth of their bodies chase the morning chill away.

 

“What are you thinking about,” Lena asks and grabs her hand to intertwine their fingers. “I’m usually the one over-thinking things.” Shifting in her arms, Lena kisses the underside of her jaw, her neck, making Kara smile and tilt her head back to offer more skin for her to kiss.

 

“I have my moments.”

 

Lena hums, discontent, until Kara tangles their legs under the cover. They both sigh in relief, in wonder, as they meet halfway into a kiss, their bodies locked in a tight embrace.

 

A bird chirps in the distance, isolated and faint enough that Kara dismisses it as a figment of her imagination. She lays atop of Lena, feeling her senses awaken once more, until another bird cry erupts, followed by another and another.

 

“It’s morning,” Lena says, her words muffled by Kara’s lips, and laughs when Kara manages to sneak another kiss. “You have to go,” Lena continues, pushing against Kara’s shoulders until they aren’t kissing anymore. Kara pouts, hovering over Lena, and watches the resolution fade from her eyes.

 

Lena brings her back down for a kiss.

 

Kara smiles against her lips.

 

“I could stay,” Kara ventures, even though she knows it is not reasonable. It just feels too good laying there in bed, with a beautiful woman in her arms and her body sore from last night's activities. “For an hour or two. I mean, how long does it take for the tides to reach the tunnels?”

 

"Minutes," Lena says, dead serious. Kara scoffs, loving the joy and lightness shining in Lena's eyes. But she isn't fooled. Her lips are already curling into a smile and Kara rolls her eyes at the laugh vibrating through Lena's chest. “Alright... Hours.”

 

“See,” she whispers, settling in Lena’s arms in victory, and hides against her lover’s neck. “We’ve still got time. We don’t have to move yet.”

 

They do. But it's easier to pretend there's not a war looming over them when all she hears is Lena’s heartbeat. It's even easier to forget when Lena is caressing her back with small lazy strokes. It makes everything existing beyond these walls seem insignificant. Kara breathes against Lena's skin and melts a little more into her arms. It feels too good and too peaceful to give it up so quickly. It feels too precious for her not to enjoy it.

 

“It’s not safe for you here," Lena murmurs. Her fingers lie on the back of Kara's neck and rub the tension residing there. Kara groans, not knowing if she will ever be able to leave if Lena keeps doing that. "I’ve had people on the lookout but it won’t be long before another crew comes looking for you.”

 

"They all know who I am..."

 

"They do."

 

"Aren't they afraid of me?"

 

Lena laughs. "They are. But there are hundreds of them and only one of you..."

 

Kara sighs, feeling Lena's arms tighten around her. Specks of dust sway in the early sunlight. They dance, suspended in the air, under the shy ray of light piercing between the curtains.

 

“I’m scared,” she whispers. Not of the pirates threatening her but of the unknown. Not knowing what is going on or what she has done to provoke Rhea’s vendetta against her. It’s that uncertainty that makes it hard for her to breathe, to speak, or be anything but the broken little thing she doesn't want the world to see. “Things are spinning out of control… And most of the time, I don’t even know what I’m doing. I just-” she presses her lips against Lena's collarbone to stop them from trembling. “I just do it. I charge headfirst and hope the fear goes away. I charge headfirst and hope it is enough...”

 

The sheets rustle.

 

“You’re going to be okay,” Lena says, throwing her leg over Kara's hip in a possessive clutch. Kara adjusts the warm, soft thigh over her, and closes her eyes, breathing deeply, when Lena kisses her cheek. “I’ll do everything I can to find what Rhea is up to. I’ll call in a few favors. I’ll help you in any way I can…”

 

“Is your crew going to be okay with that?” Lena doesn't answer. In fact, she has frozen in her arms, and Kara feels nothing but an underlying tension running through her body now. “You don’t have to do anything,” Kara whispers, backpedaling a bit, hoping to prolong the quiet morning. To stop the outside world from seeping in. “That’s not why I came here…” she says, kissing Lena’s forehead. “I didn’t come here to seek forgiveness. I- I just want you safe.” She stares at the light creeping further through the window and pushes a strand of hair behind Lena's ear. “So-”

 

"Stop."

 

Lena kisses her. Hard. She climbs over her and Kara squeaks in surprise, unable to speak. She kisses her back, holding her tight, and yet Lena is slipping away. Their joined lips have no effect against the distance Kara feels increasing between them.

 

“Lena!” Kara pants out as Lena tries to shush her again with a shake of her head. She mutters something under her breath before pressing her lips against Kara’s once more. “Whatever you do,” Kara insists, cradling Lena’s face, to make her stop and look at her. She gulps at the sudden impenetrable look Lena gives her. “Stay far away from the Federation. The Guardian is the one they sent after you. Its captain was in the thick of the Luthorian War. He-”

 

“Let me guess.” Lena interrupts her with a soft, distant laugh. It nearly sounds cruel to Kara’s ears now that she has become accustomed to the silence. “He has a grudge against the Luthor name?”

 

Kara frowns at seeing the smirk curling her lips. Something is happening. Something not quite right. She can't quite put her finger on it, but it makes her senses go all haywire as Lena extricates herself from her arms and sits at the edge of the bed. Her spine stiffens as she stares straight ahead.

 

“You’re right. I’ll stay far away.” She gets up and Kara watches her grab a shirt and put it on…

 

“Wait!” Kara tries to grab her arm, but Lena stalks to the window and yanks the curtains open.

 

The room lights up with bright yellow light.

 

“And you’ll have to stop defending me in front of the High Council.”

 

“What?” Kara asks, not sure if she has heard right. Everything is moving again. Too fast even. Lena is already three or four steps ahead, and Kara, sitting up in bed and bunching the cover inside her fists, hasn’t caught up yet.

 

“I heard what happened back in Metropolis,” Lena carries on, unperturbed. She stares outside the window. Regal. Unreachable. The distance separating them feels now like oceans. “They stripped you of the command of your fleet because you defended me. I’m not worth it.” Kara begins to protest. Her mind reeling from what Lena is telling her but the implacable resolution in Lena's eyes makes everything she says useless. “You can’t lose the power and influence appointed by your position now that you need it the most. You’ll need all the support you can get before Rhea decides she has waited long enough..."

 

Kara bites her lip, observing Lena and trying to understand what is going on. They never talked about cutting all ties after today. Sure, she had warned her to stay away from the Federation but that was only until she could prove her innocence. She never meant it as being something final. There's still a lot she can do to revoke Lena's death sentence. It won't happen right away, she is conscious of that, she first needs to prove that Maaldoria was guilty of her abduction – which with the bodies Alex had retrieved back on the beach was pretty much a done deal. She just needs for the High Council to stop ignoring the evidence and Kara is convinced that if Kal were to preside this time, Lena would be found innocent. Kara tries to explain that to Lena, feeling the words rush out of her mouth in a scrambled mess, but Lena doesn't want to hear any of it, stopping her with a slight raise of her hand and a shake of her head. Kara doesn't understand why Lena stands so rigidly by the window, looking already so defeated, when there’s still so much she could do. Kara doesn't understand why Lena is putting up walls – her jaw clenched tight, her arms crossed over her chest – even when she has vowed to protect her.

 

"What are you saying... exactly?"

 

Lena sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose and looks back at her with regrets in her eyes. "Out there, you are the Girl of Steel and I’m only a pirate. Out there—” Lena gestures to the two of them “—this cannot exist.”

 

"Oh," Kara whispers, finally understanding what Lena is getting at. "So when I leave this island, this—" she gestures the two of them, mimicking Lena with petty satisfaction when annoyance flashes in her eyes "—is over."

 

"Yes," Lena answers shortly, chin raised high.

 

Maybe she really is naive, Kara muses, pressing her back against the headboard and her knees against her chest. She had thought- She had thought that given more time they could have tried to make it work. She had hoped that once she had proven Lena’s innocence and stopped Rhea’s nefarious plan, maybe they could have had a shot at this. At being together. Their relationship would still have its challenges, Lena being still the feared pirate she is and her being the one who swore to stop them all, but Kara had hoped they’d find a way… Someday.

 

The room warms up, and a cold, hollow feeling fills her. Kara smiles, staring at the specks of dust turning gold in the sunlight. She can’t ignore the sound of footsteps shuffling around the cabin anymore nor the clanging of pots and the raised voices as everyone is getting ready for the Reign’s departure...

 

“Did you mean what you said?” She can’t help but ask, unable to look at Lena in case that promise had been a lie. Or worse, something only said in the heat of the moment. “Last night. Did you mean it?”

 

Lena sighs, and Kara hears her walk around the room and open cabinets. “I did," she finally whispers, making Kara's heart soar with relief. "But what difference does it make? You said it yourself. The Federation wants me dead and you’ll die if you stay here. There’s just no way...”

 

“There is," Kara insists, looking back at Lena and asking her to believe her. To believe that despite the challenges they’ll face, they could make it work. If only Lena would let her… "If you meant what you said last night then we'll find a way.”

 

“How?” Lena asks, looking at her expectantly. Not interested in intangible answers when she can only offer her hope. But by the hard, unforgiving look Lena gives her, Kara understands that hope isn't enough to convince her. “Unless we run away... Leave this all behind us…” Lena trails off, losing the derisive tone coloring her voice, and meets her gaze with gravity mixed with something more vulnerable. “The world is big enough for us to hide. We could live somewhere remote. With a view of the beach. Or the mountains. You would be tanned from spending long hours outside… And I could even build us an oven... to make us bread. Every morning." Lena's voice trembles, her eyes glistening in the sunlight. "We’d talk and kiss and- You’d be mine… What do you say?”

 

Kara sees the timid hope building in her eyes. She sees the eagerness and longing for escape, but she can’t. Because she knows they’ll spend their first years being tracked. They’ll live in fear of being discovered, of being rattled out to whoever offers the largest sum to capture them. They'll be removed from everyone and everything… And while Lena is already living that life, Kara doesn't think she can. She can’t abandon the family she’s made for herself... Not after already losing one.

 

“Lena…”

 

“Now who’s greedy…" Lena huffs with her walls slamming back up one by one. "You can’t have both! You can’t have me and be the Girl of Steel! It'll just get us killed!" Lena storms toward her desk and shoves papers into a leather bag. "Stop Morgan Edge from selling that Kryptonite and our collaboration will end here.”

 

Kara knows it is the hurt talking and motivating Lena's frantic movements. Kara knows there's no right answer here, but they are at a standstill. They have both rejected the other’s alternative and it might as well be a dead end... She clenches her jaw, lifts the blanket, and sets her feet on the floor. She winces as the cold hits her skin and as the weight on her shoulders anchors her back to the ground. She can't move. Her skin feels too thin, breakable still. Kara stares at the wall, at the lines and grooves running through the wood and-

 

“We can act like-”

 

“It’s not an act. It’s who we are,” Lena retorts, shutting down her last attempt to hold on to her. “It’s how we stay alive,” Lena adds with as much conviction as the defeat tainting her voice allows her.

 

Kara doesn't want to argue anymore.

 

She is the Girl of Steel. Being the Girl of Steel has been an answer to her fears. It has been a way for her to find purpose and embody the hope she thought she lost with the loss of her people. Helping the people of the Federation has made the loneliness she carries less crushing. It has made her feel like she belonged again… The Girl of Steel belongs to so many already, and focusing her time and effort on one person might be a mistake she can’t afford to make.

 

Looking for her clothes, Kara asks Rao to give her strength. To become steel again. She puts on her pants, shirt, and boots. Clenching her jaw as her fingers won't stop trembling and her eyes won't stop burning. And when she has a good enough handle on her emotions, Kara faces Lena again, her heart tightening at the redness she sees in her eyes.

 

“Tell me about Olivia Marsdin,” Kara demands, watching the pirate pour water into a small basin. She pretends she doesn’t notice the way the jug trembles in Lena’s hands, how the water splashes inside the basin, sloshing around and wetting the vanity. “How do I convince her to help me? How does she fit in all of this?”

 

Lena doesn't speak. She keeps pouring the water until there's no water left. Her hands trembling less with every breath she takes. Only weariness remains. Some kind of melancholy that clings to her skin and makes her vibrant eyes become somber and wistful.

 

Kara feels the urge to take Lena in her arms but Lena seems so distant, so out of reach. “Tell me,” she orders instead. The sudden defiance shining in Lena's eyes make Kara feel somewhat better.

 

Lena huffs, submerging a cloth in the water, and runs it across her face and body, her eyes trained on the water. Silent. She sets the cloth aside and offers her another one. Kara remains at the edge of the bed, confused, not knowing where the line is anymore...

 

“A Durlan merchant ship was attacked by pirates not a year after I became Captain of the Singing Nightmare,” Lena finally says, leaving the cloth next to the basin and looking about the room while tying her hair. “They looted the ship and killed everyone in it. Everyone but the daughter of a wealthy merchant who happened to be on board. That’s when Maggie began infiltrating pirates’ circles in hope of finding the girl. That’s how we met. One stormy night at the back of a smoky tavern,” Lena reminisces, putting on pants and boots as Kara finally trudges toward the basin. “I offered to help her and she said yes.”

 

“What did you get in return?” She asks, keeping Lena in her line of sight while running the cool cloth over her skin, erasing every trace of what happened last night.

 

“Information. I wanted to be updated on any news about my brother or the Luthorian Islands.”

 

The water drips down her arm as Lena looks away, fleeing her questioning gaze, and focuses back on lacing her boots. Kara knows Lena is not telling her the whole truth. Watching her rub her forehead, her fingers clawing at her scar, she understands it has something to do with the mark everyone knows her for. That scar had always made her curious, wondering if it had come from a blade or a projectile. There were rumors saying Lena got it at birth. A testament to how evil the Luthors are. Others speak of punishment, of a custom only practiced in the Luthorian Islands. But having seen it up close, Kara knows it is much more sinister than all the rumors she might have heard about Lena Luthor. Her heart aches at knowing that whoever carved that jagged line still holds power over her life. Making Lena a prisoner of her own past. Of a secret she hides so deep inside that she can't help but try to scratch it out of her own skin as if she could make it disappear. A reminder Lena can never forget. A warning for others when all Kara sees is a call for help.

 

Lena ties her sash around her waist with agitated fingers. Kara doesn't see her as the monster everyone paints her to be. All she sees is a woman who has traveled the world, but is still running away. Running away from the pain plaguing her. And Kara tries to understand what or who Lena is running away from. Why she would risk everything to work with Councilwoman Marsdin when for all she knows, the Luthorian Islands has always wanted Lena back. Genuinely. They had deployed impressive means to find her, and despite Lena’s mysterious departure, the Federation has always assumed the siblings were still in contact. Hence General Lane's desire to have her arrested and killed as soon as possible. But if that was not the case, she can only wonder what has happened all those years ago to make Lena flee the only home she knew?

 

A door bangs open somewhere inside the cabin.

 

“What do you do for her now that has her so paranoid?” Kara whispers, looking at Lena, at her scar, and wanting to reach out, to comfort… but freezes in place as Lena meets her gaze, her scar red from the scratching. Her eyes daring her to take another step. On the brink of lashing out.

 

“There’s a power struggle happening in the Well of Stars.”

 

“The ocean North of Krypton,” Kara mutters, remembering an endless expanse of clear blue water from when she visited Kryptonopolis with her father. She remembers watching the fishing ships leave the harbor in the early morning. There had been impressive war ships docked at the port, getting ready to get out at sea to patrol the natural border they shared with their closest neighbor: Daxam. It had been her understanding that the only things plaguing the Well of Stars now were the pirates who used the ocean as a hunting ground ever since Krypton’s demise.

 

Lena nods. “It had been under Krypton’s dominion for centuries, but ever since its destruction Alcoria, Durla and Daxam have all been trying to take control of those waters and of the islands within. Daxam nearly succeeded. They fought tooth and nail for it and struck an accord with the Alcorians. The only resistance remaining was the Durlan Government. I guess Marsdin knew she wouldn’t win against Daxam because of the good relationship Rhea has with the High Council…” Lena sighs and Kara berates herself for not keeping up on what has been happening in the Southern regions. “Two years ago, Marsdin asked me to make a few routes in the Well of Stars so unstable and dangerous that no one would take the risk passing through.”

 

“On your own?”

 

“No,” Lena says with a soft smile. “Jack is helping me.” Her heart plummets at hearing his name. Not able to stop herself from wondering, now that what they have is over, if Lena would find comfort back in his arms… “We both have our fleets patrol the Well of Stars. Durla has lost a bit of its export but… I guess it is the price to pay for the Well of Stars to remain neutral waters.”

 

“And… And in exchange for that you get all the information you want?”

 

“And everything I loot.”

 

Kara breathes deeply, trying to digest all that load of information and stopping herself from imagining what Lena will do once she goes back to National City. She doesn’t mean to be jealous. She doesn’t mean to dislike Jack despite him not doing anything to warrant it… but she does. She resents him for being the person Lena might be better suited for. Maybe the one Lena really needs… Chewing on her lip, she forces herself to focus back on task. Olivia Marsdin, one of the most influential members of the High Council, was the one behind the pirates’ increased activities in a region the Federation has always thought to be hostile. Olivia Marsdin, Councilwoman of a government with the harshest law on piracy, had in fact been enabling them. Had it been all a front? Her mind churns with that newfound information. It changes a lot more than she thought it would. No wonder Marsdin had been so reluctant to see her or be affiliated with her when she has been defending Lena so openly.

 

“Why not send the Marine Corps to the Well of Stars?” Kara asks, focusing on the thing she can solve and letting go of everything else.

 

Lena chuckles. “And declare war on Daxam? No. The High Council would have rather sacrificed the entirety of Durla’s maritime trade than risk another conflict so soon after the war Lex waged against the Federation. Trust me. It’s easier to blame it on piracy.”

 

Footsteps echo inside the cabin and Lena heaves a breath. She glances at the door before she gives Kara a small, sad smile.

 

Their time is running out. There’s nothing more left to say. Kara gulps around the lump in her throat and grabs the leather bag Lena gives her, containing all the information on Morgan Edge’s shady activities. Their time is running out and Lena is walking toward the door, her hand on the doorknob.

 

The door remains shut as Kara presses her hand against it.

 

Lena sighs, her shoulders tensing against Kara’s chest. “Don’t make it harder Kara.”

 

She doesn’t mean to. She just needs to… She needs to have something she can hold on to. Some kind of reassurance. Hope, maybe. Kara doesn’t know but she can’t leave without knowing… “If we weren’t who we are,” she says, begging Lena to face her. Lena lets out a harsh exhale and turns around, leaning back against the door. Kara bites her lip and takes a leap of faith. “Would we have had a chance?”

 

“No.”

 

Her shoulders sag, her chest becoming impossibly tight, her lip radiating with pain at the ruthless answer...

 

Until Lena wraps her arms around her neck.

 

Footsteps creep inside the corridor. They only have a few seconds left. Maybe less.

 

Kara melts into the embrace and shudders at the kiss Lena leaves on her jaw, on her cheek, on the corner of her lips…

 

“If we weren’t who we are, we wouldn’t have met.”

 

Kara nods, recognizing the logic and the fatalism, laced with sorrow, behind Lena’s words. It would hurt too much to linger on what-ifs. Lena had entertained it back in Lord’s brig, but Kara can understand why she refuses to do it now. It hurts too much to wonder how their life would've been now that they know everything they had to lose to get where they are.

 

They lock eyes. And it is that understanding that hurts the most. Knowing they’d choose each other if only they could.

 

The bell tolls for them when a knock thuds against the door.

 

“Lena. It’s time,” Luke grumbles before walking away.

 

Breathing for composure, Lena’s thumb running across Kara’s bottom lip becomes the goodbye they aren't willing to say.

 

The door opens.

 

The world seeps back into their bones.

 

Kara drowns in the sound of people rushing around, the clinking of cutlery against dishes, laughter and footsteps shaking the floor.

 

Straightening her back, Commodore Zor-El follows behind Captain Luthor, and wills herself to become steel again.

 

*

 

Looking around the room, it seems like Lena’s crew has converged in the dining room sometime in the early morning to prepare food. Kara finds Alex sitting at the dining table, her eyes hard and zeroing on her as soon as she sees her. It would have been intimidating if it weren’t for the hangover crushing her shoulders. She makes her way toward her sister and eyes the white glob slammed into Alex's metal plate.

 

“It's not so bad." The spoon Alex was holding clatters against the plate. "No more rum for me,” she mumbles with a grimace and offers her plate to her. Kara shakes her head, not feeling hungry for once. Alex wobbles on her feet and loops an arm over her shoulders while motioning toward the table. “This lot sure knows how to drink…”

 

A chorus of aye! resounds across the table. Groggy and nursing hangovers too. Kara chuckles as most of her sister’s weight falls on her shoulders. Lena gives her a questioning glance from the other side of the room, but Kara only shrugs, smiling softly.

 

Jess walks into the room, calling Lena’s attention. Kara watches them talk, and Lena nods.

 

“Come on,” Lena says, looking toward them. “Sam is waiting.”

 

They walk out of the door. The mist swirls around Kara's boots. It blankets the grass in a white, wet haze, and sticks to the fabric of her clothes. A chill runs through her body and each of her breaths merges with the fog surrounding them. Shadows slither around the fog, rifles in hands. They all give Lena a nod as they pass them by, trudging through the wet grass. Lena guides them to the riverbank while Luke stands at the rear. Kara hears him mumbling to himself, insulting the grass, the sunlight, even the little dip in the ground that makes him lose his balance, as he nurses a hangover of his own.

 

Several figures wait for them at the riverbank. The bulk of the Reign’s crew is already rowing up the river but there are still a few boats waiting to be loaded with various goods. Sam is throwing a warm blanket over her daughter's shoulders before she notices them.

 

“Here you are!”

 

“Not so loud,” Alex mutters, making Sam smile with mischief in her eyes.

 

“Come on, blue coat! I thought you could hold your own.”

 

Alex waves the Captain away, trudging toward the boat, and sits beside Ruby. She smiles when Ruby opens up her blanket and shares it with her. Sam rolls her eyes, the exasperation at being ignored softened by the smile tugging on her lips.

 

"Is everyone ready?"

 

Lena nods, standing quietly in the mist.

 

Sam walks over to Luke, and to everyone's surprise, she punches him in the face.

 

An ooh echoes among the crew as Luke massages his jaw, not even fazed.

 

“That’s for making my daughter lie to me, you bastard.”

 

He shrugs. “That’s fair.” And holds out his hand.

 

Sam shakes his hand despite the glare she gives him. She turns toward Lena and gives her a long, tight hug while whispering in her ear. Lena nods, tightening her arm around the Captain of the Reign before letting her go with a small smile.

 

Standing in the mist, her feet sinking in the wet earth of the riverbank, Kara can’t find the strength to move. She watches the world move around her, unable to become a part of it. Not yet.

 

One by one, the remaining boats leave the riverbank. Luke clears his throat, sharing a look with Lena, before he walks away. Sam glances back toward them. Kara sees her eyes dart between Lena and her before she climbs into the remaining boat and waits.

 

She shuffles close to Lena. No longer protected by the walls of Lena's room, Kara can only hold out her hand to the Captain who has burst into her life and changed it in ways she still has yet to comprehend.

 

“Don’t get yourself into trouble.”

 

“Trouble usually finds me,” Lena retorts with a smirk Kara easily see through. She shakes Kara’s hand, her skin so warm in the cold morning air. “Stay alive.”

 

Kara smiles at the throwback. Lena’s hand is trembling inside hers, her grip impossibly tight, and Kara strokes the back of Lena’s hand. In comfort. In understanding. In a last gesture of affection before she has to let her go.

 

“I will.”

 

Pushing the boat into the river with the help of another crew member, she feels Lena’s eyes burn the back of her neck before she climbs into the small boat.

 

Paddles hit the water.

 

Looking over her shoulder, Kara watches the shore disappear behind the mist, and the fog swallowing the figure standing at the edge of the water.

 

***

 

It's been two days since they left Lian Yu. Two days spent inside the Reign's brig after being blindfolded upon entering the tunnels leading to the coast. Kara hasn't had the heart to protest. She had sat inside the brig, her back against the wall, and avoided Alex's questioning gaze from the other side of the cell. Ruby has been visiting them, giving them food, updating them on the weather outside and on the things happening on board the ship. Not aware that every little detail she gave them was enough for them to make an approximation of where they were. Kara had left the subtle questioning to Alex, not interested in knowing where this pirate island was anymore. And when they are finally allowed outside the brig, Kara makes a beeline for the ratlines.

 

She climbs up the shrouds until she reaches the top platform and stares at the ocean. The wind blows into her hair, and just like the sails of the ship, her clothes distend with the wind. It pushes her forward, giving her the illusion of flying.

 

Alex has been worried. It was hard not to notice but her sister had been kind enough not to push, not to ask anything yet. Looking below, Kara sees her sister look up toward her before joining Sam at the helm. It's not that she doesn't want to talk about it. She desperately wants to, but she needs time. Time to think. Time to mourn and move on.

 

The sun sinks below the waves. Kara sighs, sliding down against the mast, and sits, watching the sky become red. She reaches out to the setting sun, her hand suspended in the air, and grasps at the sunlight before it fades beyond the horizon.

 

The wind blows. The rigging creaks around her. Music begins to fill the air.

 

Someone is playing the violin below. A soft, plaintive melody broken by the crew’s bursts of laughter. Someone huffs; sounding much closer than the people laughing on deck, and Kara sees Alex make her way up onto the platform, looking a little winded. She sits beside her, opening the bag slung over her back, and takes out two half-loaves of bread and some dried meat.

 

"You're missing out on the show. The guy with the peg-leg has been entertaining the crew with absurd stories. I haven't laughed that hard in a while."

 

Kara hums, accepting the food gratefully, and munches on a chunk of dried meat. The silence settles back atop the platform, occasionally interrupted by the joy resounding from below. Alex's shoulder knocks against hers, making her smile despite the pain weighing her down.

 

“A pirate, uh?” Alex gives her a smile before she looks toward the sky. “Do you love her?”

 

Kara snorts, denying it immediately despite the hollowness of her laughter and the sadness she feels. She's not in love with Lena Luthor. She can't be. It's just- Just...

 

"Curiosity," she finally says, unable to look at Alex lest she sees the truth in her eyes. "I was curious and Lena is an interesting person and I guess I was... Well, curious." Kara pauses, chancing a look toward her sister, and knows Alex isn't buying any of it. She shoves the chunk of meat in her mouth and chews. For a while.

 

Alex sighs. "I had my first inkling when you came out of the Captain's cabin and stepped in front of her back on the Singing Nightmare. My officers and Lord's crew were about to shoot her and I could see the panic in your eyes. The fear. I knew then that she was important. To you."

 

The dried meat tastes like ashes into her mouth. Kara swallows it, clenching her jaw as the memory of that day submerges her again. The confusion she felt at waking up in an empty cabin, her body tied to the bed, as the ship kept tilting from one side to another. The terror at hearing the detonations of the cannons and the screams and the cannonballs splintering the wood... But her bounds had been too tight and her body too weak. Kara remembers the relief she felt at hearing Alex and Lena talk beyond the door. And then horror when Lord made everything worse. She had tried to free herself, tugging on her bounds, bruising her wrists, and had felt so powerless, so scared of getting there too late.

 

"That's what I do," Kara croaks. "I protect."

 

"You did. You protected her even after the uprising she led inside the Intrepid. You put her in Lord's brig knowing that we couldn't risk another incident like that. My officers would have retaliated that time. They wouldn't have hesitated to kill them."

 

"Was that your second inkling?"

 

"More like the fifth,” Alex says with a slight scrunch of her nose and a teasing smile. “You brushing her hair out of her face while she slept totally sealed the deal though."

 

Kara blushes. "She was unconscious. I was just helping her."

 

Alex laughs. "Right... I also know you visited her every night..."

 

"It's not like that,” she hastens to say. “We talked. That's all." There’s no point in denying it anymore. Alex knows. She might have known it before Kara even knew it herself. "I didn't want her to feel alone."

 

Alex nods with quiet acceptance. "You can't help who you fall in love with," she whispers, sounding wistful. "Sometimes it happens even when you aren't looking for it." Kara looks at her sister and sees her smile as she heaves a breath. "Maggie and I... I mean, she's amazing. You were too caught up with Lena to notice but we’ve been talking and she made me understand a few things when I was being too stubborn to see." Alex looks away as the moon illuminates her face and smooths out the fatigue around her eyes. "I didn't want to understand why you kept defending Lena when pirates killed my father. To me, they were all the same. They all deserved to be judged for the crimes they've done. But before we left National City, Maggie told me how she met Lena and her crew. How they had helped her rescue a girl from being sold into slavery. I knew it wasn't all selfless. Maggie implied that it had been some sort of give and take, but she told me where to look if I wanted to know who Lena was. She told me to ask her crew how they came to be on board the Singing Nightmare…” Alex sighs and brushes her hair out of her face, looking far away in the distance. “Did you know that most of them had been slaves?" Kara shakes her head. "Me neither. But I got to talk to some of them at the party and apparently, it had been a life-long mission of their previous Captain. To free them. Lena has been honoring it ever since. It doesn’t forgive everything, but the things you told me about her began to make sense, I guess. I could finally see it."

 

"You aren’t mad?" Kara asks, leaning against her sister for comfort.

 

"I'm not," Alex reassures her, giving her nudge with her shoulder. "What happened?”

 

Kara breaks under her sister’s concerned gaze. Closing her eyes, she lets the cold night air carry her pain away. "We agreed to let each other go. It was the best solution."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"What about you and Maggie? Are you two together? I thought-"

 

"We aren't. A lot is happening right now. Her loyalty is to Durla and mine is to you..." Kara immediately tries to protest, horrified and feeling guilty at being a hindrance to her sister's happiness. But Alex shakes her head. "I chose to be here. I wanted to be here."

 

"But if she makes you happy, you should go for it. You- You shouldn't let her go," Kara says, feeling her throat close up with every word.

 

"The time's not right." The same shadow Kara had seen every time she asked Alex when she’d asked Maggie out settles over her features. "We decided to wait... To wait for the right time..." Alex adds, sounding as if she was trying to convince herself. It makes Kara wonder if the decision was shared equally. "I sometimes fear it might never come…” Alex finally confesses in a whisper. “But I’m okay with that. I can wait…”

 

She grabs her sister's hand and squeezes it. Tight. Hoping that it conveys everything she cannot say. Alex shudders besides her and Kara smiles as Alex kisses her temple.

 

A more jovial tune is played on the violin below. Boots thump the deck in a rhythmic dance and Kara hears Ruby laugh below. She smiles watching the moon rise among the stars.

 

"Sometimes I wish I could fly."

 

"Me too." Alex shifts beside her and offers her a slice of bread. “What do we do now?”

 

She takes the food and fills her lungs with the cold night air and her heart with resilience and tenacity. “We're going to stop Edge and then I’m going to get my fleet back. Are you in?”

 

“Always,” Alex answers without missing a beat.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Under Captain Arias’ watchful eyes, Kara throws herself into the work the boatswain asks of them. She helps clean the deck, set the sails… It’s mindless work. Something she hasn’t done since she became Captain herself, and Kara revels in the collective effort, in the easy camaraderie, and the insouciance.

 

Days pass, and the Reign still amazes her. From its structure to the innumerable details carved in the wood. Kara spends her nights reading every inscription she finds, whispering them under her breath and immersing herself in the purpose of the Reign’s creation, the weight of its history, and the comfort of its existence. She had always thought the Last Son and the El Mayarah were the last Kryptonian ships left in the world – the last evidence of Krypton’s ingenuity, craftsmanship, and mastery of the shipbuilding art. Two ships out of hundreds. But sailing on the Reign, Kara can’t help but smile at its resemblance to the El Mayarah. It makes her feel a little less alone, and hearing some of the crew speak Kryptonese so casually, Kara feels a little bit back home…

 

It isn’t long before Kara is tasked with shadowing the Reign’s carpenter: an old man with gray, messy hair, a hammer strapped to his belt, and a chewing stick hanging from his lips. They work in silence. Kara hears him curse in Kryptonese a few times, making her smile and blush at the dirtier ones, but there’s not much else to do and Kara is happy to use her strength to cut through the planks of wood the old man keeps sliding onto the table. Sweat pearls at the back of her neck and soon her coat is discarded, leaving her in a dark sleeveless shirt that clings to her skin in the stuffy room. She doesn’t let herself think about Lena or about the imprint of her lips now seared to her skin. Kara doesn’t think about Lena’s breathless cries every time she came undone. She doesn’t think about the way Lena had clung to her body; her hands, her lips, her eyes seeking hers in an all-consuming embrace. Nope, Kara doesn’t think about that at all. The mindless work doesn’t give her time to linger on what happened that night… She keeps sawing through the wood, hearing chunk after chunk fall to the floor, and Kara doesn’t think about the soft smile Lena gave her once they were both too tired to do anything else but breathe against each other’s skin and-

 

Kara startles as the old man clears his throat.

 

Uh… I think that’s enough…” He points to the pile of wood scattered around her and stops her when she hastens to pile them up. “You hungry?

 

Yes,” Kara croaks, the Kryptonese stumbling past her lips. She follows after him as he walks out the door, sidestepping the pieces of wood littering the floor.

 

They call me Mermon. Mermon Gentleheart,” the old man introduces himself in accented Kryptonese, giving her a bowl of fish and vegetables as they pass by the cook. He sees the puzzled look on her face and adds. “My grandpa lost the right to the House of Kann when he was banished, Miss Zor-El. He took another name and passed it on to my pa and then to me.” He motions toward a table, his voice muffled by the noise of a dozen spoons scraping against the bottom of metallic and wooden bowls. Most of the crew is there after having worked all day. Kara sees Alex amongst the crowd, waiting to get food, and Kara waves her over, pointing to where they are heading while keeping an eye on old Mermon who slips through the crowd. The atmosphere is more laid back than it was on their first trip. The wariness has abated on both sides and they now mingle below deck, all looking for a seat. Mermon finds a table at the far back, his seat nudged against the hull and a beam he caresses lovingly. “More than an hundred years,” Mermon says, showing her the carving above him, and gesturing toward the ship as a whole as he sits down. “And she’s still standing.” His knees crack as he sits down, making him laugh with a toothy grin. “Can’t say the same ‘bout me… Captain Arias is too kind to fire an old sea dog like me.

 

Kara chuckles as he winks at her. “Krypton is gone, Mermon.” She looks down to her food, pushing it around the bowl, and musters a smile. “No one is stopping you from reclaiming your name. I’m sure what remains of the House of Kann would be delighted to know they still have family members left...

 

The old man hums, chewing on his food, and Kara digs into hers, letting the silence linger, drown out by the bustling activity around them.

 

Being a Gentleheart is all I’ve ever known…” he mumbles after a while, his eyes lost in wishful thinking. “All I know of Krypton is from old Kas-Kann’s stories,” he says with a shrug before his eyes light up and he whistles. Sharp and strong. “Boy! Come here!” A lanky teenager makes his way toward them and Mermon smiles.”That’s my grandson. His pa would rather stay in Lian Yu than sail on this beauty,” he says, rolling his eyes. “He’s going to take after me once my knees finally crack under my weight.

 

That’s because your head’s too big.

 

Kara can’t help but puff out a laugh as the grandson gets chastised and threatened to be hurled overboard by the old man.

 

I have something you might like,” the old man tells her before sending his grandson off to make the thing… Kara has no idea what the thing is but by the joy radiating from Mermon’s face is enough to make her excited.

 

Alex finally finds her way toward them and settles next to her with a bowl of fish and some hardtack.

 

“Hi,” she says as Mermon introduces himself. “I’m Kara’s sister.”

 

“But not by blood,” the old man remarks, making Kara stiffen.

 

“She’s my sister,” she reiterates, sitting close to Alex. “Blood isn’t what makes us family. Love is.”

 

Mermon chuckles and tips his hat to them. “My apologies, Captain Danvers… Miss Zor-El… Age doesn’t make a fool any wiser.”

 

Kara nods, having already forgiven him before a smell invades her nostrils and immediately tugs at her heartstrings.

 

“Ah,” Mermon exclaims as his grandson makes his way toward them with two steaming cups, and startles as he sees Alex at the table. He blushes and apologizes, stumbling upon his words, for not making one for her…

 

Kara zones out as soon as the cup is set before her and the steam and aroma hits her fully.

 

“It’s… Is that Thoni tea? From the hills of Gorvan Shore?” She asks in disbelief as the aroma becomes more pronounced with each inhalation. Kara is transported back to late night spent with her father just outside their garden. To family gatherings and long dinners… To the open market of Argo City…

 

“Not quite. Someone saved a few seeds and brought them to Almerac. They managed to cultivate it on their land… it sells very well on the black market…” Mermon says. It makes Kara choke, full of memories as the heavenly smell surround her. “Might not taste like the original though…”

 

Kara brings the cup to her lips and sighs in relief, sipping the hot liquid and feeling her heart burst with the familiar taste hitting her taste buds. She laughs, her smile stretched wide as she looks back at Mermon. “It is. It tastes just like I remember it.”

 

The old man gives her a toothy grin. “This pleases me, Miss Zor-El.

 

Kara smiles even more at hearing the Kryptonian term. She eagerly shares her tea with Alex and feels elated as her sister sighs at how good it is. Footsteps creep closer toward them and Ruby shyly ask if she can try it too before Mermon invites her at their table.

 

“What was Krypton like?” Ruby asks, her eyes filled with curious wonder. The innocent question pierces through the room, imposing a sudden silence as everyone looks toward their table, making Kara aware that everyone here where one way or another attuned to what was happening at their table. “Sorry,” Ruby blushes, making herself small until Alex throws her arm over her shoulders and hugs her to her side while her other hand finds her way to Kara’s thigh and squeezes it in comfort.

 

“It’s okay… Everything’s fine,” Alex says to Ruby but Kara knows it is meant for her as well. She tries to let go of the sudden tension that has risen inside her body, but it’s dizzying. Overwhelming, even… the amount of memories living inside of her. A lump forms inside her throat as she meets Mermon’s gaze and sees the sincere curiosity in his brown eyes. Curiosity for a home his ancestor has been banished from and an avid hunger for a land he’d never seen. Looking all around her, Kara sees the same look Mermon and Ruby had given her, staring back at her. They all look at her, hoping and wanting to hear about Krypton. To share the memories and images Kara remembers as being home…

 

And after a long and suffocating silence, Kara does.

 

Steadying her breathing, Kara lets her voice give life to the sharp landscapes, the deep blue water, and the towering trees of her memories. Her voice carries over the room, and animals she hasn’t seen outside of Krypton begin to crawl on the floor once more. They fly through the room and run between the tables as her voice becomes stronger, louder.

 

The stairs creak and Kara sees Sam gauging the room as she walks down the last steps before her eyes settle on Ruby and then back on her. Captain Arias, a Kryptonian commandeering a ship built in blood and worship for an implacable justice, is looking at her straight in the eyes, her face stern and her lips pressed in a thin line as Kara feels the unease and anxiety radiating off of her at how fascinated her daughter is by Kara’s words, by a heritage she never got to know and understand, and Sam, a woman trying to protect her child from the ugliness of the past, stares at Kara, frozen, as history plays out inside her ship.

 

“Did I tell you how I got chased by a wild babootch?”

 

The room gasps, their eyes widening in delight, and begs her to tell the story. Sam takes a seat, not stopping her, and the crew breaks in laughter as Kara recounts in great details the chase that went on for more than two hours in the outskirts of Argo City, for having stolen the animal’s food without knowing.

 

Kara sees Mermon laugh at her expense with his grandson. Kara sees Ruby absorb each word with an impossibly wide grin while asking Alex if it’s true and Alex nods and smiles, but when she looks up, Kara sees the surprise and affection tinted with sadness shining in her eyes. They’ve never talked about this. Kara never shared what her life was like back in Krypton. Alex had only witnessed the nightmares, the screams, and the tears Kara couldn’t hide deep in the night. Talking about Krypton had been too painful. Kara didn’t have the strength then nor did she have the words… but she does now.

 

“More!” Alex yells, her eyes shining with pride and so much love as her voice cuts through the laughter. “Tell us more!”

 

The room chants it after her and Kara grins, ducking her head as she feels her cheeks burning.

 

“You just want the embarrassing stories!”

 

Alex shrugs as the crew asks for more. More. More. And Kara gives in.

 

She tells them about the Science Guild, about the incidents she witnessed during numerous experiments they conducted. She had been the only child in the room, surrounded by adults marveling at plants and rocks and stars, and Kara had never felt so happy, being in that room, staring at the world with wonder while her father worked not too far away.

 

The crew asks her about cities their ancestors had been from and Kara shares everything she remembers about them, smiling while keeping her tears at bay. Her heart feels full as the crew talks among themselves, asking her to shed light on rumors and stories they’ve heard. Kara talks for hours as each member of the crew introduces themselves to her, wondering if she heard of their House, of whom their ancestors were and what they were doing back in Krypton. They tell her every tidbit they know and remembered from stories told to them and passed down from generations. As much as Kara is sharing her past, the Reign’s crew is too, and Kara fully understands their pain and longing for not having the solid roots she’s had. A missing piece they could only wonder about… In that strange, wonderful night of sharing and joy and unity Kara feels like each and every one of them are becoming a part of her, and she of them.

 

Deep into the night as Kara describes the Seven Days Festival held every year in Argo City, the crowd falls silent, solemn at her description of Rao: of the charred trees, the black smoke obscuring the sky, the burning lava carving a path down toward the ocean, and the grumbling ground shaking the very foundation of their houses no matter the amount of praying and offerings they would lay at his feet… “I think the Elders knew,” Kara continues, her voice breaking. “The signs were hard to miss. But when it happened it took us all by surprise…” Kara pauses as tears begin to sting her eyes, her chest hurting so much it becomes hard to breathe. The Reign sways gently beneath her feet; its wood soaking the few droplets of water falling from her cheeks. Looking up, Kara realizes that she’s somehow found her way to the center of the room. Exposed for everyone to see. Vulnerable. Made of flesh and bones, and not steel. The night breeze swoops in from the stairs and Kara sees some crewmates – supposed to manage the night shift on deck – linger on the steps, repeating quietly each of her words to an unseen audience back on deck. Ruby has found her way back to her mother, crying softly as Sam holds her close, and all around her Kara sees the same look of pain and regret and grief she’s seen for years in the mirror, staring back at her. Among this group of people, Kara is no longer just the Girl of Steel – this image of hope and confidence. Invulnerable. Unafraid. Among this group of people, Kara is somehow more and it hurts. So much. To allow herself to feel the scope of her emotions. To be Kara Zor-El and stand before them as everything inside her is breaking and falling in pieces. She’s spent years hiding the pain, the confusion, the regrets, the anger, and the unfairness of it all, that to be allowed to feel all of that and be met with understanding and compassion, Kara finds the strength to speak about the nightmare plaguing her dreams and the goodbyes she never got to say…

 

“It happened in the middle of the night…” Every word scrapes against the inside of her soul, clawing at her throat, clinging to her lips, but Kara feels relief – some sort of salvation, when her demons come out, even as a whisper. Her voice shakes and breaks but she carries on, giving life to the last moments of Argo City. And when the ashes of Krypton settle back over the water and her demons lie at her feet, Kara falls silent, wobbly and weak but free.

 

The crew rises from their seats and raise their glasses.

 

Sam joins her at the center of the room, with a glass in her hand and watery eyes. “To Kara Zor-El. May the House of El live on with you.”

 

Kara takes the glass gratefully and raises it as well, locking eyes with fellow Kryptonians, wanderers of the seas, mourning with her… “To us,” she whispers, breaking the silence; feeling her heart crack and mend at the same time as she brings the glass to her trembling lips.

 

“To us!”

 

*

 

Days pass, and soon enough – too soon – the Reign stills outside National City’s harbor, far enough that the bright light of the lighthouse is still just a distant point in the horizon. The crew lowers a rowboat for them. The creaking sound of ropes going through the blocks is the only noise disrupting the quiet night, nearly dawn, until the rowboat hits the water below.

 

Kara heaves a breath, turns around, and watches Ruby still in Alex’s arms, hugging her tight as her sister strokes the teenager’s hair with a fond smile. Sam looks on from behind, her eyes darting from her daughter to Alex with a conflicted expression on her face; a look Kara recognizes as wonder, mixed in with affection and quiet longing as Sam stands rigidly to the side, her eyes trained on Alex until she looks up and startles when Kara locks eyes with her. Captain Arias clears her throat, calling Ruby back to her side, but that split second had been enough for Kara to understand… To recognize the feelings surfacing inside the Captain, only to be squashed down as Ruby makes her way back to her mother. Sam looks back at them with practiced composure.

 

“This is as far as we can go.”

 

Kara nods, glancing at the light flashing in the distance. “Thank you. For everything.”

 

“You have a hard road ahead of you,” Sam says, crossing the distance and holding out her hand for a handshake. Kara grabs it and Sam smiles as she tugs Kara closer and whispers. “Don’t give up on her. She wants everyone to think she’s tough, but she’s mush on the inside.” Sam pats her shoulder and moves away, leaving Kara in shock, until Ruby throws herself against her body and holds her tight, shocking Kara even more.

 

The surprise abates and Kara hugs Ruby just as tightly.

 

“Be good to your mother.”

 

“I will.”

 

Kara sees the crew linger behind Ruby, waiting for their turn, and as soon as Ruby steps back Mermon walks up to her and shoves a small bundle in her arms.

 

“Tea,” he says in a gruff with the chewing stick hanging limply from his lips. “Good for the heart.

 

Kara smiles and kisses his forehead, making him blush and the whole crew whistle behind them. “Thank you, Mermon Gentleheart. For reminding me of home.”

 

He grins, and Kara is suddenly reminded of Kelex, of his brown hair turning gray at his temples and kind smile and twinkling eyes… He would have been Mermon’s age. Or close to it… And Kara can’t help but take Mermon’s hand and hold it tight as she thanks him once more.

 

Don’t you make an old man cry, youngin!” Mermon huffs, making her laugh as he hobbles away.

 

One by one, the crew bids her farewell, shaking her hand, giving her gifts that Kara tries to refuse at first only to give in and accept with a grateful nod and a brilliant smile. Kara finds herself laden with small trinkets, food, and a beautiful red sash that she immediately ties around her waist.

 

She joins Alex back toward the railing where a rope ladder has been unfurled down to the rowboat and looks back toward the crew. “No matter our past, our differences or the banner under which we sail; hope, help, and compassion for all is what the El Mayarah has always stood for. Should you need any assistance the El Mayarah will stand by your side,” Kara vows, looking at them with nothing but determination and sincerity. “I will stand by your side.

 

Captain Arias gives her a nod as a low hum begins to rise from behind her. The crew begins to tap their foot on the deck, fist beating on their chest, and a low gravelly voice rises, followed by another and another.

 

A farewell. A blessing for a safe journey. A reminder of home…

 

The Kryptonese fills Kara’s heart as she climbs down the ladder. Tears spring from her eyes as the Kryptonian sea song swells into the night, bidding farewell to parents waiting by the warmth of a hearth, farewell to the worn-out paths from a sweet childhood, farewell to a predestined life… for the call of the horizon is too strong. For hope is already distending the sails and carrying the ship far away from home.

 

“Are you okay?” Alex asks, rowing the boat away from the Reign as the black sails blends in the night, but the song, carried by the wind, still echoes on the water and beats inside Kara’s heart.

 

And though the journey is long

 

And the wind batters our sails

 

Hope, keep us strong

 

Hope, ward off sirens’ call

 

For we sail past oceans. Past seasons

 

To find who we are, who we are

 

Beyond the horizon

 

“I’m okay,” Kara reassures her with a quick smile before turning her gaze back toward National City and the bright light of the lighthouse. Heaving a sigh, she takes the other set of paddles and rows away, singing under her breath as the Reign fades into the night. “Who we are… Who we are… Beyond the horizon…

 

***

 

Their return to headquarters doesn’t go unnoticed despite it being at the crack of dawn. Officers patrolling the city welcome them back, cracking jokes and repeating how much they’re glad to see them. It had been decided that J’onn would send the sisters back to Midvale for much needed rest after the ordeal Kara had been through, and now dressed in her full uniform Kara sees the visible relief it brings to her officers and the population of National City to see the Girl of Steel back in town. They find J’onn pacing back and forth in his office with dark circles under his eyes, his shoulders hunched, and his forehead creased in worry, until they walk past the door and see the relief on his face at their safe arrival. They’ve been gone for a little more than two weeks, most of it spent at sea, and J’onn had been ready to gather a search party, worried sick at the fate they might have befallen them while at the mercy of pirates.

 

“What did you learn?” J’onn asks, staring at them from behind his desk, his hands linked before him while his white cape rested on the back of his chair.

 

Alex steps up to make her report. It is concise and straight to the point. To Kara’s surprise, Alex doesn’t give any details about the Reign and its crew nor does she say anything about the place where they had been taken, despite her relentlessly questioning Ruby about it. J’onn sighs, giving in as they both remain tight-lipped, and the situation with Morgan Edge is finally discussed. J’onn informs them that the powerful merchant has been readying his ships for a long journey to Phoria in the upcoming days. They peruse the incriminating papers Lena gave them and as the sisters predicted, it is enough to warrant an arrest.

 

It is easy.

 

Edge is arrested. The cargo stolen from the Luthorian ship has been retrieved and the Kryptonite found in Edge’s warehouses is more than enough to sway the High Council to give Kara her fleet back…

 

Too easy.

 

And back on the El Mayarah, patrolling the north side of the Durlan coast, outside of New Kandor, Kara waits for the backlash.

 

They had set foot in the Kryptonian city three days ago, to the astonishment of the population, not expecting to see a fleet dock at their port, and so many officers from the Marine Corps rush into the city and post themselves at the ramparts overlooking the bay. The City Council had protested at first, not taking well to this tour de force. They had given in – giving Kara command of the city’s defenses, upon seeing the gorget – a gift from Kal – engraved with her House’s crest under the blue of her Federation uniform.

 

“What do you say, Streaky?” Kara asks, stroking the black cat purring in her arms, as she watches the moon reflecting on the inky water. “Am I being paranoid?” The black cat yawns, stretching his jaw and limbs. “Might just be a waste of time,” Kara muses, unable to let go of this feeling of impending danger she’s had ever since Lena showed her the trail of destruction left by the Dominators.

 

It leads here. Kara is certain of it. The city has been left unguarded ever since the attack on the outpost, and the Armed Forces constituting Durla’s defenses never had any reason to travel up north in this quiet and remote area. The city only has a few guards to protect its citizens, and even if Kara were to be wrong she still feels better knowing the people of New Kandor are safer than they had been three days ago.

 

Time passes.

 

From the top platform of the El Mayarah, Kara sees everything from the dark silhouette of the city to the lighthouse casting its beam over the distance. She discerns small prickling lights atop the mountains and reminds herself to talk to her officers about it. The defense of the City could be compromised if they weren’t careful. The El Mayarah stands on the front line with five other ships behind her, covering the entrance of the bay, lights out as per her orders, unmoved by the waves pushing against the hull. Beneath her, Kara hears Alex and a few other officers come up the stairs from below deck and relieve the officers from the night shift.

 

Streaky begins to knead against her forearm, his paws pushing in and out against the sleeves of her frock coat, and Kara smiles as the sun begins to rise and Streaky snuggles against her chest.

 

*

 

“You’d think they’d be used to it by now,” Alex whispers as the people of New Kandor part at her arrival, lowering their head in respect. To get to the Town Hall, they have to pass through the market that takes place every morning on the main street of the village, and Kara can’t help but smile and duck her head a bit at the reverence she is subjected to.

 

Her interaction with the people of New Kandor isn’t the same as the one she’s had with the crew of the Reign. They have more knowledge of Krypton. They know who she is and who her family was, and the weight of that knowledge colors every interaction she has with them. It makes her feel awkward and inadequate; as if they were thrusting a mantle upon her she didn’t know how to wear. All in all, Kara doesn’t know how to act around them. How to be.

 

She never had much of an interaction with Kryptonian refugees to begin with. She had visited a refugee camp once with her cousin outside of Metropolis before he sent her to live with the Danvers. Kara remembers hiding behind his much larger frame, watching as Kryptonians nearly bowed before him, their heads lowered in deep respect and gratitude, while Kal offered kind words and reassuring smiles. She had watched the world react to him. Her cousin lifted people up with his mere presence, and it had left Kara in awe at the confidence he projected, at the feeling of safety and gentleness he exuded despite his imposing frame, enhanced by the impeccable fall of his dress uniform and the golden gorget engraved with their House crest, and the sheer power fueling each of his steps. Kara had had just found her way out of the Phantom Zone’s tumultuous waters, and standing in Kal’s shadow made the world feel less hazardous; Kara had felt protected as she held on to the edge of his cape.

 

Her fingers bump against the back of her sister’s hand and Alex shoots her a reassuring smile as Kryptonians resume their day now that they’ve walked past them.

 

She hadn’t felt comfortable visiting another Kryptonian village without Kal. She would join him when he would tour the different villages spread out inside the Federation but she would remain in his shadow, feeling like an impostor, out of place, unable to share her own experience, her own pain, when Kal was so strong, so calm and unwavering. Unshakable. She had thought she ought to be the same.

 

Kara breathes shakily, feeling the rough edges of the cobblestones dig into the soles of her boots as she thinks back on what happened on the Reign. She had opened up so candidly; unafraid to expose all the feelings she kept hidden… And it had all started with Lena. With both of them chafing at the veneers they presented to the world. Wanting, seeking, and striving to find who hid behind the mask. Kara had found beauty in the cracks.

 

A little girl stands before her, staring at her with her wide brown eyes and missing front teeth, and Kara scoops her up without thinking, sitting her on her shoulders as the child squeals in delight. Children immediately flock to their side, peering up at them with hopeful eyes, and Alex gives in, kneeling beside a little boy who eagerly clambers onto her back while another jumps in her arms. Kara laughs as Alex nearly loses her balance. Her officers, following dutifully behind her, are now being attacked from all sides and Kara orders for them to stop. To let the children hang on from their legs and arms. To let laughter and joy ring loud inside the market place. To enjoy the light shining in their eyes.

 

Parents watch quietly from the sides. Kara feels the wariness and suspicion created by recent history.

 

Astra and her husband had toured the Kryptonian villages too. Astra, the one who had known about Krypton and the erosion created by the mining of Kryptonite. Astra, who had tried to seize power, had been arrested for it and sent away to the Phantom Zone. Astra, who got out thanks to the remnants of her ship being dispersed on the barren islands. Astra and her husband had taken advantage of the rising tension and the backlash sparked by the arrival of so many refugees, to lead an uprising from inside the Federation, galvanizing Kryptonians to seize power and gain independence. No matter the cost. Even if it meant killing half of the population of National City… It had taken them years to put that plan into motion; years that Kara spent with the Danvers and then at sea, fighting pirates and unaware that her aunt was still alive and so close. It broke her. The fight for National City. Astra’s death while her husband led the last charge… She became the Girl of Steel then, branded by Miss Grant and embraced by the citizens of the Federation. She, who fought against her own people and her own family to protect National City… Kara had not set foot in another Kryptonian city ever since.

 

The mother calls her child back to her and Kara sets her back on the ground. She smiles when the little girl hugs her leg before running back to her mother.

 

Kara signals her officers to move forward.

 

They walk to the Town Hall and are greeted by dozen officers in red uniform gathered around the building.

 

“Well, shit.” Alex whispers.

 

“Councilwoman Marsdin is here,” Lieutenant Vasquez announces, waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs and eyeing the red coats warily. “She wishes to speak to you.”

 

Kara nods and makes her way into the building. Finally. Finally! She had hoped that coming into the Durlan territory would spark the Councilwoman’s interest, and it worked. Seeing the impressive cortege the politician has surrounded herself with makes Kara smile with a little bit of petty satisfaction. They usher her inside a small office where the City Council’s members and Olivia Marsdin wait for her.

 

“Welcome to Durla,” Olivia Marsdin says, flanked by two of her Lieutenants – Maggie being one of them and fidgeting on her feet as the tension rises and Alex comes into the room. “I don’t recall giving you permission to anchor your fleet in my state.”

 

“That’s because I didn’t ask.”

 

Councilwoman Marsdin raises an eyebrow, pinching her lips, at Kara’s bold answer.

 

“I knew you were headstrong and stubborn but Cat didn’t tell me you were also foolish. I’ve admired your bravery and dedication from afar, but you ought to remember who you are talking to, Commodore.”

 

They have an audience. Kara is aware of it. She’s aware that undermining the Councilwoman’s influence in her own turf might be detrimental to her in the long haul. Kara crosses the distance separating them, not even reacting at the drawn swords of the Councilwoman’s guards, until she’s right in her face.

 

“I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. And I don’t care!” Kara growls, her words swallowed by the murmur rising in the chamber. “I’ve finally got your attention and I don’t intend to play games. I’m going to lay everything on the table. No hiding. I hope you will do the same.”

 

Councilwoman Marsdin stares her down, despite Kara being taller than her, but Kara stays firm, extending an olive branch, hoping the politician will finally work with her.

 

“You wouldn’t last long in politics.”

 

Kara scoffs and rolls her eyes. “I’d rather eat hardtack for the rest of my life than be a part of the High Council.”

 

Olivia Marsdin smiles, a rare sight, and Kara wonders if that’s what this resistance had been all along. A fear that Kara might replace her in the High Council…

 

“Very well.” The politician asks for privacy and her guards evacuate most of the chamber except for Alex and Maggie. “Tell me of this threat you speak of.”

 

And Kara does, exposing all the information Lena had given her about the Dominators and their trajectory. She tells of her suspicion that they work for Rhea, and how they may be seeking to destroy the remaining Kryptonians on her orders – as if their century-old feud had reawakened. It is a whole other conversation they are having, far away from the prying ears of Metropolis. Though tough and ambitious, Councilwoman Marsdin is a reasonable and highly intelligent woman, and if her wariness about Kara hadn’t been so high that she willingly ignored a threat just to secure her position, Kara might have taken a liking to her — especially now that she’s listening, really listening, to everything she is saying. Kara unloads everything she hadn’t been able to say back in the High Tower. It’s maddening as well as a relief to see that Councilwoman Marsdin agrees with her on all points. About her abduction. Maaldoria’s participation in it. Lena’s innocence. It makes Kara grind her teeth and bite back the resentment she feels at the Councilwoman’s cowardice.

 

“Cat Grant came to see me,” the woman says out of the blue, “and asked me to trust you.” She hands her a sealed parchment. Kara reads it immediately. The Prince of Daxam is missing. It makes Kara frown. How does the missing Prince have anything to do with her… She’s never met him… “Your priority is discovering what Queen Rhea is up to. We need to find something tangible to link her to all of this. I’m afraid that gut feelings and hearsay won’t be enough to confront the Queen of a nation that has been preparing itself for this confrontation.”

 

“What about Captain Lena Luthor’s innocence?” Kara asks, making Councilwoman Marsdin stare her down with a calculating look. “She has been working for you. Risking her life, subjecting herself to further condemnations with other nations... For you. What are you doing to protect her?”

 

“Careful, Commodore. This might lead me to believe General Lane’s suspicions were correct about you and the relationship you had with Captain Luthor. Were we anywhere else but in this remote area of my state with only our own trusted Captains and Lieutenant, you’d be accused of treason and thrown to jail.” Kara bristles at that and breathes deeply as Alex asks her to calm down. The lightness in the politician’s eyes makes it even more infuriating. “I won’t hold it against you. You have your secrets and I have mine, and regardless of what you might think of me, I do protect her. In the few ways I can.”

 

She claps her hands and the guards open the doors as the City Council makes its way back into the Chamber.

 

“The Durlan government would like to apologize to Commodore Zor-El for failing to recognize the threat our coast is facing,” Councilwoman Marsdin says. “I will call on a defensive force to protect our borders. I grant Commodore Zor-El executive powers over our defensive forces and strategy for as long as the threat remains. New Kandor is safe in her hands.”

 

The City Council’s members nod respectfully at the order, though their curiosity is piqued by the intrigue taking place in their remote city.

 

“Lieutenant Sawyer will coordinate the transition of power between the two forces.”

 

Councilwoman Marsdin leaves after that, leaving Kara slightly gaping at the responsibilities falling down on her so suddenly.

 

“Guess we’ll be working together for awhile,” Maggie says, looking at them sheepishly.

 

“I guess we will,” Alex echoes back, as the tension drops with the Councilwoman’s departure.

 

“Great!” Kara claps, breaking the new kind of tension happening between her sister and Maggie as they both struggle to find anything else to say. “Let’s go!” Kara walks out of the Chamber, and chancing a look behind her, she sees Alex and Maggie still frozen in place, smiling and stuttering. “Rao, this is gonna be awkward,” Kara mumbles under her breath.

 

***

 

It has been two days since Councilwoman Marsdin’s visit and Kara has yet to understand the meaning behind Miss Grant’s missive. She stares and stares and stares some more at the parchment. She stares at the flourished handwriting, at the elegant lines, and just at the sheer amount of space Miss Grant took to write that solitary sentence. It would have had the same effect if she had underlined it. Several times.

 

The Prince of Daxam is missing.

 

It couldn’t be any clearer that this information was capital. But for the life of her, Kara doesn’t know how it connects to her or what Miss Grant wants her to do with it. Is she to go look for him? How long has he been missing? Did she have anything to do with his disappearance? Alex had had no clue either and Maggie had been in the dark as well. Kara doesn’t know what’s happening between them, but if the both of them leaving to talk on the El Mayarah was a euphemism for sex then she’d gladly stay on her bar stool and stare at her piece of paper…

 

Lena might have more information, Kara muses, playing with her food and wishing she was here. Lena might have heard something about this prince, since she’s been terrorizing Daxam on behalf of Councilwoman Marsdin. Lena would have made the unknown less daunting. Less terrifying… Kara sighs, not knowing what to do, while the beautiful meal the barkeeper’s wife has prepared for her is getting cold next to her.

 

“Is it not to… to your liking? I’ll make one more. Another,” the woman immediately apologizes, stuttering in a mix of Kryptonese and common tongue as the vocabulary seems to just fail her to express what she really means to say. Kara feels so bad that she grabs her arm over the bar and reassures her in Kryptonese.

 

No. No, it’s perfect!” She shoves two spoonfuls in her mouth and her eyes widen at the blend of spices hitting her taste buds. Looking down at her meal, Kara recognizes a dish their cook used to make when she was sick. It’s just white rice in a thick like broth with dried meat, spices, and a few herbs. Something quick and easy and yet heavy enough to warm the belly. “It’s what they would make when I was sick back home…

 

The woman wipes her hands on her apron and smiles. “This pleases me. My name is Sevy, Commodore Zor-El. It’s an honor to cook for you.”

 

Sevy bows before her and disappears back inside the wooden doors of her kitchen. Kara stares, still not used to it, and eats, savoring each bite. She doesn’t think the tavern has ever been so busy – or New Kandor for that matter. Officers come and go, taking to-go meals already prepared for them and leaving silver pieces on the bar or trading the prepared meals for fresh fish caught at the bay. Kara knows they can’t stay long. A troop like hers could diminish the city’s food reserve in just a few weeks, and adding to that the upcoming arrival of the Durlan’s reinforcement, New Kandor could very well have a food crisis in a month. It had been one of the main concerns for the City Council. Kara could feel their reticence at welcoming such a huge number of people at their door despite their assurances that the city would feed them as long as the threat menacing them was there.

 

“Kenny!”

 

Her lieutenant perks up from one of the tables and treks toward the bar, sidestepping other patrons and waiters with hands full of plates.

 

“Aye, Commodore.”

 

“Do you know when-”

 

The sound of a horn, blaring so suddenly in the afternoon, makes Kara’s heart stop and the whole room freeze. The horn resounds again, immediately followed by a clatter of spoons and stools thudding on the floor.

 

“Everyone back in position!” Kara roars as she runs outside the establishment, shrugging on her coat and gripping her spadroon. Out in the streets, New Kandor has frozen in place. Kara sees the inhabitants as well as a few of her officers all stare at the big, voluminous cloud of black smoke rising beyond the bay.

 

They had devised a plan with the City Council this morning. The inhabitants were to take refuge up the mountain, protected by the City’s guards and Lieutenant Vasquez’s garrison. And Kara fears that the instructions in case of an attack hadn’t had time to reach everyone in the city yet. The horn blares for a third time and Kara sees Vasquez and her officers rush through the street, urging people to move, to walk toward the mountain in an orderly fashion, but the panic sets in. Kara feels it freeze her insides and weaken her legs as the rancid black smoke becomes Rao’s fumes and the streets of New Kandor, those of Argo City.

 

It is uncanny how the terror she felt so long ago worms its way so easily back into her heart…

 

The first scream is what rouses Kara out of her stupor. It is followed by another and another, and Kara watches the crowd break in chaos, running back into their houses, out of the main streets, screaming out names as they look around them in utter desperation. Kara takes out her gun and shoots toward the sky. The gunshot splits the air and the crowd stops dead, all looking at her.

 

“Lieutenant Vasquez!”

 

The Lieutenant run to her and Kara introduces her to the crowd. “You will follow her to-”

 

The crowd speaks among themselves, looking at the person next to them and whispering, asking, confused and terrified, and Kara suddenly understands. In this remote part of the Durlan territory, most of the Kryptonians here hadn’t been exposed to the common tongue spoken inside the Federation as she’s had been. They don’t understand what she is saying or only parts of it, and it is adding fuel to their panic.

 

Lieutenant Vasquez will guide you to safety!” Kara says again, grabbing everyone’s attention. “You will be escorted out of the city by the Sinde Pass and into the Bedden Highlands. You will be safe there. I promise,” Kara says, meeting their eyes as the gorget on her neck glints in the sunlight. “Please follow my officers calmly to safety.

 

The crowd nods, calling out to their loved ones and neighbors to get out of their house as the officers gather everyone in a line to guide them outside of the city.

 

“Thank you,” Lieutenant Vasquez breathes.

 

“You take care of them,” Kara says with a nod as Kenny comes back with their horses. Looking one last time at the growing crowd, Kara puts her leg in the stirrup and races toward the port.

 

The black smoke is even more ominous from the docks. It’s abnormally black and thick, making Kara think that something is fueling the fire out in the ocean. Boats are already out in the bay to join, her officers getting transported back on their ship, while others run toward the outposts up in the hills to man the cannons protecting the bay. Kara steps into a boat with Kenny and the five sailors waiting for her immediately begin to row the boat back to the El Mayarah. The boat goes fast, but it’s still not fast enough for the nervous energy thrumming through Kara’s veins as she grips the edge of the boat, her eyes fixed on the masts of her ship.

 

They bump against the hull and Kara climbs the rope ladder, assessing the situation as she reaches the deck.

 

“Where’s Captain Danvers!” she shouts, looking at her crew and only seeing the red of Maggie’s coat. Her crew points to the mizzenmast, exhaling in relief at her arrival, just as Alex swings down from the top platform, her hand letting go of the rope as soon as her feet hit the deck.

 

“Can’t see anything with that smoke.”

 

“Might be a trap,” Maggie says. “The source is stationary. They are waiting for us to get closer.”

 

The conversation comes to a lull and Kara sees everyone look at her, waiting for orders.

 

“The El Mayarah will go investigate. Kenny!” Her lieutenant stands to attention. “Signal the fleet to remain in defensive position. The protection of the harbor is the priority. They are to fire on any ship that isn’t us.” Kenny nods and runs off to relay the message. “Alex, you’ll take the helm and-” Kara stares at Maggie, hesitating to have her on board with how seasick she got back on their first trip.

 

“I’ll be fine,” Maggie tells her. “I feel like Lena’s crew purposely sailed on rough waters to mess with me.”

 

“It might get real bumpy.”

 

“I know,” Maggie glances at Alex’s retreating back, “but I’m never backing down from a fight.”

 

*

 

It is a trap, and Kara knows she is heading straight toward it, but when the El Mayarah sails into the smoke and closes the distance; all they find are burning ships, driftwood, and dead bodies floating on the water.

 

Three ships full of Dominators completely decimated without the detonation of a cannon… Kara frowns, confused.

 

“Keep an eye out! Cannons ready!”

 

Her crew shouts their assent as Kara makes her way toward the ratlines. The smoke is thinning by now and as Kara gets onto the top platform, she gets a clear view of the horizon. Kara checks the surface of the water, using her hand to protect her eyes from the late afternoon sun, until her eyes land on the back of several ships. Ten at least. From various sizes. All sailing away. She takes out her spyglass and her heart stop as she recognizes one ship in particular… Its sails and its masts, the length of its hull… So familiar… It couldn’t be- It couldn’t be-

 

“Commodore!”

 

Kara looks down as her officers all point to the water where a small boat is coming their way.

 

She curses, torn, and looks back into her spyglass. Lena is at the helm of the Intrepid, her profile only partially obscured by the hat she is wearing. “What the hell did you do?” Elated by her sudden appearance but also incredibly annoyed by the complete disregard of her safety, Kara makes her way down the ratlines, frowning and biting her lip to stop herself from smiling.

 

A figure with hands held up in surrender comes out from all the chaos and destruction. A woman. Alone and unarmed.

 

Kara orders her crew to bring her up.

 

As soon as the woman steps unto the El Mayarah, all of her officers point their muskets toward her.

 

Kara raises her hand, stopping any further action. She glances at Alex, who nods at her, and then back at the woman.

 

“Who are you?”

 

The woman with tattered clothes and mated hair heaves a breath and straightens her back, regal and proud. “I’m Princess Xalia, eldest child of Queen Rhea and King Lar-Gand. If you grant me asylum and your protection, I will tell you everything you need to know about my mother.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Grey clouds roll over the bay, casting a dark shadow onto the El Mayarah. The burning ships have all sunken into the water, leaving nothing but black, charred wood floating on the surface. The search party sent out to retrieve potential survivors comes back, loaded with evidence. The small boats bump against the hull of the ship and as Kara looks down, Kenny shakes his head.

 

“No survivors, Commodore.”

 

The crew helps the search party hoist the dead bodies onto the deck; dozens of bodies bloated with water. Bloody, heavy, and stiff. There is an instinctual fear at seeing Dominators up close. Even dead. Their shaved heads and the pieces of bones adorning their faces would have been an even more gruesome image if the red paint around their eyes hadn’t smeared and nearly faded. The next body hoisted onto the El Mayarah is a Daxamite one, Kenny tells her. He takes the corpse’s hand and shows her the ring Kara knows to be worn by the Royal Guards of Daxam. He points to another one, dressed like a Dominator if it weren’t for the tattoo on his shoulder identifying him as a soldier of Daxam.

 

“There are more of them,” Kenny whispers, eyes dark and lips set into a grim line. He shows her another Daxamite dressed like a Dominator with the word Valor carved into the skin of his shoulder. “There might have been more Daxamites disguised as Dominators than Dominators themselves. But wait, we found more…” He leans over the railing and shouts an order.

 

Kara glances at Princess Xalia who hasn’t uttered a word since she made her demands. Surrounded by four officers pointing their spadroon at her throat, the princess is still – except for her fists, clenching with the damning evidence brought on board the El Mayarah.

 

“We should bring her back to the coast,” Maggie says with a jut of her chin toward the woman standing rigidly on deck. “She’s everything we need to make a case to the High Council. Councilwoman Marsdin needs to be informed immediately.”

 

The mention of the High Council makes the princess tense even more. Kara meets her eyes and sees nothing but desperation veiled by a mask of careful indifference.

 

“Yes, Councilwoman Marsdin definitely needs to know…” Kara trails off, watching as a small chest is brought up.

 

“We found it in the wreckage. Had to dive in the water before it sunk.” Kenny opens the chest, already broken, and hands her a logbook. Wet but still readable. Kara leafs through it and finds the itinerary of the Tempest. It's written in a language that is close enough to Kryptonese for her to understand. An itinerary that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else here but her and Alex. Kara reads the coordinates of small islands and villages outside of the Federation and she remembers Luke pointing them out to her back in Lian-Yu. The same northward trail of destruction caused by Dominators. Officers tighten the security on the prisoner. Their spadroons inches away from the woman’s throat as her body begins to shake, with sweat dampening her temples, and her eyes flicking around, searching for a way out. Kara glances at Alex –who had looked at the logbook over her shoulder – before making her decision.

 

“Go back to the city. Send word to Councilwoman Marsdin. The prisoner will be kept in the El Mayarah’s brig until her arrival.”

 

“Why not bring her back now?”

 

Kara remains impassive despite the piercing look Maggie gives her. “I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to her.”

 

It is not a lie, but not the entire truth either, and Maggie sees right through it. Her eyes narrow, her jaw clenches ever so slightly – brown, intelligent eyes used to reading people like open books.

 

“I’ll go with you,” Alex says, stepping in, making Maggie break eye contact with Kara. “Kara is right. We need to go ahead and secure a way to get her to the city safely and without being seen. Rumors travel fast. If she’s Queen Rhea’s daughter, we can’t have anyone else know that she is in our custody yet. She might be our only chance to take the lead on this.”

 

“Alright,” Maggie relents. Still uneasy, but finally persuaded to go back to the city without their prisoner. Kara lets out a brief exhale as Maggie turns away and heads to the small boat awaiting them, followed by Alex. “Commodore, before I forget…” Maggie makes her way back to her. It makes Kara stand taller, intimidated by the sheer determination shinning in the lieutenant's face. “Don’t talk to the prisoner. We wouldn’t want this one to escape…”

 

The line is delivered quietly. Jokingly even. But Kara isn’t fooled. She hears loud and clear the warning Maggie gives her. Olivia Marsdin doesn’t trust her despite giving her executive powers over the Durlan’s defensive forces, and Maggie has been keeping an eye on her on the politician’s account.

 

“Lesson learned,” Kara retorts with a tight smile. A rumbling sound breaks the tension as everyone looks up to the sky. The clouds have become a dark gray and lightning can be seen on the horizon before another rumbling sound reaches them seconds later. “You should go before it starts to rain.”

 

Two small boats row back toward the city and disappear into the fog.

 

Rain begins to fall.

 

“Commodore?” Kenny waits for orders, his jet black hair sticking to his face and dripping with water.

 

“Bring her down to the brig, please.”

 

He nods and the officers move as one, leading the princess down the staircase below deck. The crew moves around her. They place buckets out in the open to collect the water and finish putting up tarps over the dead bodies. Kara waits until they all find refuge below deck, standing in the pouring rain, and represses a scream that would have blended with the thunder.

 

Her knuckles whiten, gripping the railing. Her arms tremble with all the tension she has accumulated since they heard the alarm go off and Kara exhales with unexpected relief at not having to fight.

 

It’s all she’s done. Fight, fight and fight. Pirates, prisoners on the run, the High Council, her own family… She fought for sheer survival. She battles the guilt and the memories and the nightmares, and deep down, if she’s honest with herself, Kara is tired. So very tired. Sometimes she wonders how life would be if she hadn’t had to struggle every step of the way. To feel like the struggles aren’t so heavy to bear… What kind of life would that be?

 

Kara grits her teeth as the railing trembles from all the tension coursing through her body. The regrets and the fear. She can’t believe she said no to Lena. No to sunsets and kisses. No to- The world would have been big enough, wouldn’t it? It would have been big enough for them to be free…

 

Heaving a breath, Kara looks to the sky and feels the rain fall on her face and into her eyes. She wishes, full of guilt, that she could run away, that she could leave it all behind and wishes –as foolish as it may sound – that she could travel back in time to be with her family again.

 

Startled by her own thought, Kara chases the water out of her eyes and watches the wind batter the shrouds. Looking out to the horizon, she feels a pang in her chest at what could have been – Lena laughing with her crew, her eyes shining with mirth even in the low light, and looking at her from over the fire… Lena pacing at her desk… Lena bundled in blankets and waiting for her to come back to bed…

 

Fighting is all Kara knows. Fighting is all Kara does.

 

But somehow, Lena has delivered her a gift on a silver platter.

 

And just like that, fighting becomes a little bit easier.

 

*

 

Her walk down to the brig is met with silence.

 

She is breaking the rules and her crew knows it.

 

Before she left, Maggie had made it clear that the prisoner was to be interrogated only in the presence of a member of the Armed Forces. It was implied that she should wait until their return to speak with the prisoner. It had been a jab at her authority that Kara would have put up with a few months ago. But not anymore. She cannot follow the High Council’s orders blindly, now that she knows that their interests might not coincide with the well-being of everyone involved. She has to act. And she has to do it quickly, before Councilwoman Marsdin gets her hands on the prisoner.

 

Officers stand at the door of the brig, guarding the entrance as per protocol, and they nod at her. Kenny opens the door. “We’ll stand watch,” he says, his eyes glancing up to the deck, and closes it behind her.

 

The light flickers, and Princess Xalia perks up from the cot she has been sitting on. The silence lingers, only broken by the pitter-patter of the rain and the creaks of a lantern swaying on its hook.

 

Kara is reminded of another prisoner, in another brig, with dark hair and sad, green eyes.

 

“I don’t want to die,” the woman says without preamble, making Kara come back to the present. “There are things you don’t know. Things you don’t understand. And I know it’s not looking so good for me… Not after you found-” Princess Xalia looks to the ceiling before shaking her head, gulping loudly. “I didn’t have a choice. None of us did. It’s no excuse but I was just- I was following orders.”

 

“What orders?” Kara demands, watching Princess Xalia deflate before her eyes, cowed in her dark cell as she begins to wring her hands.

 

“I was the Captain of the Tempest and Commander of the fleet sent to destroy New Kandor. I had to make it seem like a random Dominators attack.” The wind howls outside and slams against the hull. Princess Xalia startles and scoffs at her own reaction before she takes a fortifying breath. “I knew it was wrong. I knew it as soon as we made that alliance with the Dominators. But my mother- You don’t know what she’s like. What she’s capable of…”

 

The woman begins to pace, holding herself, while Kara takes it all in, trying to quell her own anger and horror at being proven right. Queen Rhea had indeed intended to destroy New Kandor. It’s terrifying how close she came to succeeding. Princess Xalia pushes a strand of damp, brown hair out of her face, and glances at Kara with resignation, as if waiting for judgment.

 

“How did you get that?” Kara asks instead, pointing to the purple bruise on the princess’ jaw.

 

“What?” Princess Xalia frowns, mirroring her movement. “Oh. That’s from your friends.”

 

“My officers?”

 

“No, the pirates...” Princess Xalia says as if it was obvious. “Well, their captain. She didn’t give me her name but I didn’t need one to know who she was.” She laughs, rubbing her eyes in sudden exhaustion. “She got us good. My mother thought she could use her and—” She laughs again, on the verge of hysterics, and slumps down onto the cot, haggard. “—turns out we got bit in the end.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“Do I have your protection?” Princess Xalia asks instead, looking up at her, resigned and yet adamant for a protection Kara isn’t sure she can provide anymore.

 

“Why mine?”

 

Princess Xalia takes out something from inside her pocket. A small pearl glinting in the light. Small enough that it has escaped the vigilance of her officers during their search. It now lays between the princess’s fingertips. Kara stiffens, alert, not sure of what that small bead might be and fearing the worst. “It’s lead. Poisonous and highly concentrated. The Queen doesn’t take kindly to failure. I was to swallow it if captured. My soldiers all did when we got overwhelmed by the pirates. We knew we couldn’t win. But I couldn’t…” Princess Xalia sighs and walks toward the bars, holding out the rounded pill to Kara. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it…” It falls into Kara’s palm. “I know the Federation won’t spare me either…” Kara stares at the pill and then at the woman staring dejectedly at the floor. Tidbits of information she had learned when she was a child come back to her mind, remembering the particular code of honor practiced in Daxam during wartime: a dead soldier is better than a captured one. It was meant to be the ultimate sacrifice to the crown. Kara remembers her mother judging the practice barbaric – among other Daxamite mores. Realization dawns upon her. Princess Xalia has already lost everything. There would be no life for her back in Daxam. She’d be considered a coward and killed for it. Her life was now in Kara’s hands. “You understand now, don’t you?” the princess asks, nearly imploring, her face crumpling with the shame of her decision. “Lena Luthor told me you would be my best chance at surviving this…”

 

The pill sits heavily inside Kara’s palm. If all the princess wants is a chance to live, Kara will give her that. She lets the pill fall on the floor and crushes it beneath her boot. “You have my protection,” Kara promises, watching the relief blossom in the woman’s eyes. “Why does Queen Rhea want me dead?”

 

“You don’t know?” Princess Xalia pauses, looking back at her, surprised by Kara’s ignorance. “My mother holds you responsible for my brother’s death.”

 

“What?”

 

“He died thirteen years ago in the Well of Stars.”

 

“When Krypton…”

 

The nod of confirmation is enough to make Kara feel seasick. The light flickers over the wall. Kara has to lean against the cell behind her to withstand the shock, the sudden understanding, and helplessness she feels. Was that Krypton's legacy? Death and destruction? The consequences stare right back at her, and Kara finds it hard to breathe as Princess Xalia keeps talking.

 

“He was to be the King of Daxam. My parents had groomed him since he was five to take on the throne. I was jealous,” she adds with a self-depreciating smile. “I was the eldest and I thought the throne was meant to be mine.” She touches her hair, frizzy from the rain, and combs through it with her fingers as if she was embarrassed by the mess sitting atop of her head. “But I’m no man… and when my brother was born the crown became his. We’ve had to keep our distance, my five sisters and I. You wouldn’t know we were of royal blood from the way we lived. My father would visit us sometimes but my mother only had eyes for Monel. And Monel…” the princess smiles as if recalling a fond memory but the sadness in her eyes makes it hard to believe. “He mistook us for the maid’s daughters. He didn’t know any better… and no one corrected him.”

 

“After his thirteenth birthday,” Princess Xalia continues while Kara struggles to listen. To bear the weight of another life lost from the event that already took everything from her. She doesn’t want to imagine a young boy, excited to go on his first diplomatic trip with his father across the sea. She doesn’t want to picture a boy with roguish charm, like her sister describes him, and a promising future ahead of him, being swallowed up by the ocean. His body battered and flung around in the safety of his cabin while the world was breaking outside.

 

“We were all watching from our windows,” Princess Xalia whispers, looking as lost as Kara feels. “We all saw the red light explode in the sky. It might have been seconds but it felt like it took us hours to understand that we were in danger. It was so quiet… But then the ground shook, the wind picked up, and before we knew it, we were under water.”

 

Kara chokes on her own breath, reliving that excruciating terror of being swallowed by the ocean, of being pulled in every direction, and not knowing where up and down were anymore. The loss of control as water got into her lungs and her screams only resonated inside her head. That terrifying sensation of weightlessness and the silence… the absolute silence…

 

“Most of our southern coast was hit, battered by the waves, flooded so far inland it destroyed most of our crops. And when it wasn’t the water, it was the cold. There were so many dead, so much destruction… but my mother didn’t care about any of that. She waited by the shore for my brother to come back. Day after day, we sent ship after ship scouring the Well of Stars to look for them, to no avail. I had to step up,” Princess Xalia says, her voice hardening. The first hint of resentment Kara sees shining through the defeat. “I took command of the reconstruction of the kingdom while my mother sank into despair. I watched her wither away while my sisters and I tried to bring the kingdom back to its feet. And then… And then we found them. Their ship had wrecked on the reef of an island not too far from where Krypton used to be. We brought what remained back to Daxam,” Princess Xalia whispers, her voice tight, “and we gave them a proper burial.”

 

Kara closes her eyes, feeling her throat close up with the loss of so many lives. She had hoped that once she learned the motivations’ behind Queen Rhea’s actions everything would be clearer, that she would know what to do. But she doesn’t, and as Princess Xalia tells her story, Kara knows it’s not something she can fix. She cannot bring Monel back to life. She cannot go back in time and stop Krypton’s destruction. Just like her nightmares of that night would never go away…

 

“My sisters and I watched my mother be consumed by rage and grief. She would lock herself into her chambers and we would hear her scream from behind the closed door. I had hoped that it would pass, that once she’d come to terms with Monel’s death she would come back to herself but…” Princess Xalia sighs and catches her gaze, making Kara feel as exhausted as the dark bruise sitting under the woman’s eyes. “But then we heard of you. Of your exploits. Of how you survived against all odds and climbed through the ranks of the Federation. It was the first time we saw her come out of her shell. Learning that an heir of the House of El had survived despite being in Krypton that day, it had jostled her back to life. I thought we had her back but she became obsessed. She took back control of the kingdom and we’ve been preparing for war ever since. She made us swear to avenge his death and she vowed to kill every remaining Kryptonian. You were to be the first…”

 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Kara says as the revelation hangs in the air, quiet and heavy. “I never meant for this to happen.”

 

“Who would?” She says with a sighs. There is no blame in the princess’ voice and no accusation in her eyes. Only a deep sadness Kara knows too well.

 

“How do I stop her?”

 

Princess Xalia shakes her head. “I don’t think you can. She won’t give up. She needs someone to blame and she chose you to pay the price of my brother’s death.”

 

*

 

Back in the Captain’s cabin, Kara stares at the broken porcelain lying at her feet and curses under her breath. It had been a gift given to her by Eliza when she got promoted captain, and it had also been the first thing in her reach when she had given in to her anger. She sighs, kneeling next to the broken vase, and picks up the pieces scattered on the floor. She hadn’t meant to throw it against the wall. She hadn’t even realized she had grabbed it until the sound of impact of porcelain on wood had reached her ears.

 

Her hands tremble and a scream dies inside her chest; nipped in the bud.

 

“I can fix this,” she mumbles, careful not to cut herself with the shards. She has to make several trips to get the entirety of the broken vase on her desk. She cups the shards like small birds fallen from the nest and hisses, surprised, when one bites her finger. A laugh bubbles out of her throat; sudden and strained. Like a sob or a cry if it weren’t for the smile on her face. She stares at the ridiculously thin cut and feels like she might cry, or scream, or pound her fists into her desk until the wood splinters and breaks, and there would be nothing left but her ragged breath and the pounding of her heart.

 

Kara does none of it. She brings her thumb to her lips and presses her tongue on the cut, swallowing down the anger simmering under her skin.

 

She goes to the balcony, her steps measured and steady, and she pushes the doors open, closing her eyes as a gust of wind blows on her face and makes the papers sitting on her desk fall on the floor. Rain soaks her hair and her clothes once more.

 

How can she fix this? How can she convince a grieving mother that her rage is misdirected when her own anger has blamed her parents for making her an orphan, for letting her go into the unknown with nothing but a necklace and words of hope? How can she convince Queen Rhea to find peace when Kara knows that Krypton could have saved more people? When she knows that her aunt had tried to alert the population but their government chose to ignore her warnings? Kara doesn’t think she can find peace, so why would Queen Rhea?

 

“Commodore?” The door of the Captain’s cabin opens wide. Kara closes the balcony’s doors as Kenny steps into the room. “I’ve knocked a few times, you weren’t answering.” The smile on his face turns into a frown as he glances at the broken vase on her desk.

 

“Sorry. I was lost in thoughts.”

 

His eyes flick back toward hers and he nods. “Councilwoman Marsdin has arrived. They are waiting for you in the Town Hall.”

 

Kara ties her hair in a loose ponytail. Droplets of water gather in her fist before it falls to the floor. “Prep the prisoner.” Kenny nods, leaving her quarters and Kara sighs. She puts on her coat and her tricorne as she joins her officers on deck.

 

Princess Xalia is brought out of the brig. Her eyes squint in the light. And Kara gives her a nod before they leave the El Mayarah and go back into the city surrounded by dozens of officers all keeping an eye on the prisoner, who doesn’t show any resistance. She keeps quiet, her head tipped back as she stares at the sky as if she would never see it again.

 

A carriage waits for them at the docks, guarded by a dozen red coats waiting in perfect formation. The display is ridiculous but the message couldn’t be any clearer. Councilwoman Marsdin is back in charge.

 

Kara sends her officers back to the ship, ordering them to stay vigilant and keep an eye on the horizon. It would be a waste of their time to have them escort her and the prisoner to the Town Hall, what with Armed Forces soldiers already filling the street.

 

Two officers of the Armed Forces sit in the carriage with them – their faces stern and serious, taking a seat on either side of the Princess and making her look small, trapped between their bulky frames. The ride is quiet and awfully long –the silence only broken by the wet slide of wheels on mud and the neighing of horses.

 

Princess Xalia is still as a statue, her back ramrod straight, except for the slight trembling of her lips. “We loved him, you know,” she says with a tearful smile, making Kara sympathizes with the sadness she sees in her eyes. She wishes she could tell her not to worry. She wishes she could reassure her and tell her that the story they will present before Councilwoman Marsdin will be enough to convince her and if it doesn’t- if it doesn’t Kara isn’t one to give up, but Princess Xalia lets out a sob, so sudden, so heart wrenching, Kara can only stare as the Princess crumbles before their eyes. “He used to play with his wooden sword in the garden with the guards, and he would put on a show for us, watching him from the tower. He liked to pretend they were dragons and we were the damsels in distress. It used to make us laugh because the guards couldn’t fight back.” The officers fidget next to them. Their hands going for their waists, watching the interaction. Princess Xalia takes in a deep breath, pinning Kara to her seat with her dark, brown eyes. “I don’t want you to think that my surrendering makes me love my brother any less.”

 

Kara reacts before her mind registers what is going on. She stops the dagger going for her throat by grabbing the officer’s wrist and twists it to make him drop the weapon. The dagger scatters on the floor, and he groans, his face grimacing in pain, as Kara slams him against the door and manages to kick him out of the carriage. He rolls into the mud and Kara is yanked back into the carriage by an arm wrapped around her throat. She jams her elbow in their side. Twice. She hears a cry of pain against her ear and turning around, she sees the other officer breathe heavily, his body ready to pounce on her, until the carriage comes to an abrupt halt, sending them flying into the front seat.

 

She can’t move. They are all in a tangled heap and Kara can feel someone’s knee dig into the small of her back. Their hand tangles in her hair, and Kara cries in pain when her forehead is slammed into the floor. What has happened? Has she been betrayed? Was this a trap? She tries to buck the person off of her back but they are heavy and her eyes are watering. Is Princess Xalia in on this? Was it Marsdin? Kara grunts and screams, sliding her elbow underneath her to get more leverage, her other hand feeling the floor for anything that could help her… Marsdin wouldn’t do this? Would she? Her hand closes around the dagger left by the previous officer and she jams it into the thigh pressing down on her. It gives her just enough time to slither out of the grapple and ward off the short sword coming straight down at her.

 

Kara kicks the officer in the chest, sending him stumbling back against the door as gunshots thunder in the air. The windows shatter. Kara curls up underneath the bench, her clothes wet from the bloodied carriage floor while bullets pellet against the metal frame and some pierce through the wood.

 

It stops.

 

All Kara hears is her own frantic breathing, her blood thrumming through her veins, and a wet exhale as she looks up and the officer stares at her, eyes wide, blood pouring out of his mouth, before he crumbles next to her.

 

“They’re Daxamites,” a small voice whispers, lying on the bench. Princess Xalia coughs and blood spurts out of her mouth. There is a dagger lodged deep into her abdomen. It has the same design as the one Kara took from the officer, who attacked her. Kara kneels next to the Princess, applying pressure on the wound, and feels the panic rise as bullet wounds blossom on the woman’s body as well… “I knew we had spies… I didn’t think… they’d be here so soon…”

 

“You’re going to be okay,” Kara says, frantic, as more blood soaks her hands. “I’m getting us out of here. You’re going to be okay,” she repeats as Xalia shakes and a tear falls down her cheek.

 

“Thank you… for trying.”

 

Kara watches her eyes flutter close and her head loll to the side. And she stares. In shock. What has happened? She doesn’t understand. Her hands are trembling and maybe Xalia isn’t dead. Maybe she has passed out. She might not be- Kara presses her fingers to the woman’s neck and doesn’t know if what she is feeling is a pulse or her own panic beating through her fingers.

 

Sound of boots trudging in the mud and getting closer to the carriage makes her tense-up. It’s not over. It’s not over and the world crashes down on her. The smell of blood is overwhelming. Kara feels the thick liquid run between her fingers and soaking her britches. Horses are whinnying outside, scared, their hoofs beating the muddy ground, and the rain keeps falling, beating on the carriage.

 

They are getting closer. Kara can feel it. She wipes her hands on her britches and takes out her pistol from inside her coat. She doesn’t like to use it. She never had to before, but Kara loads it as quickly as she can; crouched down inside the coach and hiding from the Daxamites.

 

She has one shot. One chance for her to get them out of this mess.

 

She waits as they approach, their steps slow and vigilant. They are surrounding the coach and Kara knows they are going to open the doors at any moment now.

 

Any moment…

 

The doors fling open. Kara fires at the officer on her right and dives out from the left door. She kicks a Daxamite in the head and uses his chest as a springboard to jump on the roof of the coach.

 

Kara doesn’t know what is going on, but several red coats lay dead in the mud around the carriage. Her escort has been cut down by half and Kara lays flat on the roof when the remaining red coats shoot at her.

 

Daxamites? Spies? That’s what Xalia had said… From within the Federation. That’s why Queen Rhea always had the upper hand…

 

Kara uses their reloading time to her advantage and crawls to the driver’s seat. She takes the reins from the driver’s dead hands, and cracks them in the air for the horses to run. The carriage jostles forward and picks up speed until another salvo of shots ring out. Kara shouts in pain. Her body slams into the dead one next to her, making him fall down the carriage, as the bullet pierces her shoulder.

 

One of the horses rears back, whinnying in agony, and sends the carriage toppling on its side as the other breaks free.

 

Kara is thrown off of the driver’s seat.

 

Rain keeps falling and it gets hard to breathe. The mud is anchoring her to the ground. It latches onto her arms and legs like a snare, and all Kara hears is the sound of her own breathing. Frantic and loud. Of her blood pounding inside her head.

 

“She’s here! Get her!”

 

Kara looks up and sees six Daxamites run toward her. The wheels of the carriage spin in the air and her spadroon lies five feet away from her, the hilt buried into the mud.

 

Rain keeps falling and it tastes like salt.

 

Like the ocean.

 

The endless ocean…

 

Her hand closes around the hilt of her spadroon and Kara gets up, facing the Daxamites head on.

 

They stop. A hundred feet away from her. Surprised. Afraid.

 

Kara doesn’t know.

 

She runs. She runs toward them and she doesn’t care that they are shooting at her. She doesn’t care that they are screaming while her spadroon sinks into a Daxamite chest, cuts off a hand, and becomes soaked in their blood. There’s only one word resonating inside her mind: survive…

 

It’s all she does. It’s all she thinks about.

 

Survive. Survive. Survive…

 

Until their bodies lay dead at her feet and Kara stands alone in the middle of the road.

 

Alive.

 

Soaked to the bones with rain that tastes just like tears.

 

*

 

“Kara?”

 

“Kara?”

 

She looks up as the voice gets louder.

 

Alex is calling her name with a look on her face Kara doesn’t know how to read. There are soldiers in red and blue coats around them. They are all looking at her. They are all looking at her as if they didn’t know if they were safe or not… Safe from who? Alex moves closer, her hand outstretched toward her, and Kara tilts her head, finding it odd that Alex’s hand is trembling.

 

“Kara?” Alex calls again, but all Kara feels is the sun tickling the back of her neck. It makes her wonder… It makes her wonder if she’s been standing here long. Her body feels stiff and her throat is dry. Her arm is throbbing, shaking, and her hand- Rao, her hands… They are coated in blood. There’s so much blood. From her wrists to her nails. From the hilt of her spadroon to the tip… Her eyes widen as Kara sees the tip of her spadroon pressed into Alex’s chest.

 

“Alex,” Kara croaks as if it was the first sound she ever uttered. “What- What have I done? What-”

 

“It’s okay,” Alex says, grabbing her wrist and taking her spadroon out of her hand. “You did what you had to do. You did everything you could. You…”

 

Oblivious to everything her sister is saying, Kara falls to her knees and stares at all the bodies lying around her. Alex holds her tight but all Kara can do is stare at the trail of destruction she has caused. And the panic rises. It overwhelms her in seconds as the memories resurface; the screams, the pain… Kara feels the bile makes it way up her throat. She pushes Alex away and turns to the side, retching in the mud.

 

“I… I nearly…” She had pressed her spadroon against her sister’s chest… She had… Kara digs into Alex’s coat, her fingers sliding against the blue fabric for any signs of blood, but her fingers leave red streaks everywhere and Kara doesn’t know whose blood it is… There is so much of it, she doesn’t know-

 

“Stop…” Alex grabs her hands and holds them tight. “You didn’t hurt me. I’m fine. You didn’t hurt me.”

 

And the words are a relief. They are. Kara breathes easier, but it is short-lived. Officers are climbing onto the carriage. They are getting inside the battered cabin and they lift Princess Xalia out of the wreckage. Her body is limp. And Kara is watching it all happen from a distance as if she was standing under water and everything around her has been rendered mute.

 

“You’re hurt but you are going to be okay,” Alex says. Kara sees her form the words. She sees her lips move and her eyes asking her something, but Kara doesn’t know how to speak anymore. The words get lodged in her throat and all she sees is Alex becoming more and more worried. “Kara? Kara?”

 

Kara stares and stares but she feels so, so far away.

 

The world is spinning.

 

They are moving her body toward a carriage.

 

She’s sitting in a room, surrounded by people who are all looking at her.

 

“Captain Danvers?” A man asks.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” Alex tells her, grabbing her chin and making her focus on her face. “You’ve been hurt. A lot. But you’re going to be okay.” There are tears in Alex’s eyes and she is looking at her as if she's waiting for something to happen, but Kara doesn’t know what Alex is waiting for. Alex sighs and her eyes shift away. “Put her to sleep.”

 

A cloth is pressed against her lips. Kara breathes in the chemicals. Her eyelids flutter close until there is nothing for her to see but the endless ocean.

 

***

 

The Girl of Steel is deadly. The Girl of Steel is fearless. To some she is hope, to others she is death. The rumors of her exploits travel as fast as the wind, reaching every corner of the world, and she is revered and feared by those she protects and those she tracks down. Invincible, some say. Not human, others whisper. Built up as a legend by hearsays and tragedies, Kara sometimes forgets that she is made of flesh and bones. That underneath all those stories there is a woman with too many scars to hide, too many losses to count, and too much sadness to bear…

 

But when she remembers, when the reminder hits her hard and fast, Kara never forgets to smile.

 

“I’m fine,” she says for what feels like the hundredth time as Alex scoffs and tries to keep her from leaving the bed. “I’m all healed up. You did a very good job.”

 

“You are far from fine. You’ve been awake for an hour and your wounds are already bleeding.” Alex points at the bandage around Kara’s torso and at the blood welling on the white fabric caused by her sudden movement. “See, you’ve just reopened your wounds.”

 

“Alex,” Kara begins but she is promptly cut off by the exhaustion and the worry shinning in Alex’s eyes. It looks like she hasn’t been sleeping for weeks and Kara feels a sudden pang of guilt at being the cause of it. “Alright,” she relents and wills her body to relax, to let go of that need to be in control of everything happening around her. “I’ll stay put.”

 

“Good. Now lay still so that I can see what damages you’ve done…” Alex grabs for new bandages and other medical supplies she needs. They are alone. In a cold room with a high ceiling and big bookshelves. A room Kara doesn’t recognize but feels like she should. The architecture is familiar. Kara thinks she recognizes the big beams and the grey walls… The Town Hall. They are in New Kandor’s Town Hall… They must be at the far back because Kara doesn’t hear the sound of the market place, usually so loud in the middle of the day. It’s so quiet Kara doesn’t even hear birds chirping. Nothing. Nothing but the sound of Alex’s boots tapping against the floor. “You’ve been in and out for a week. We didn’t know if you were going to make it.”

 

The guilt worsens, turning into embarrassment at being hurt, at being here – laying in a bed in the middle of the day while everyone is managing the crisis – at not having been strong enough, fast enough…

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“No,” Alex laughs wetly and sighs as a smile graces her lips. “It’s not- It’s not your fault. I’m just glad you’re okay.” Alex squeezes her hand and it takes a moment for Kara to realize that it might have been close this time. Whatever happened, it had scared Alex enough that even her scolding from earlier had felt half-hearted, uttered by force of habit. “Anyway, Councilwoman Mardin has established a gag order on what happened. We’re trying to keep the information contained in case we have more spies we don’t know about. You can rest. There won’t be anything for us to do until the next meeting.”

 

“What meeting?” Kara asks, trying to get comfortable now that she knows she’s going to stay here for awhile. Alex puts another pillow behind her back as Kara tries to mask the pain pulsing in her ribs from sitting.

 

“Councilwoman Marsdin has summoned the High Council,” Alex tells her, grabbing a jug of water and a cup from the nearby table. “Well, those she trusts the most at least. We are all set to meet in the mountains. Four days from now. It’s not far from here.”

 

Kara grabs the cup of water gratefully and takes a sip, feeling her throat burn a bit less. “Who is keeping an eye on the coast?”

 

“M’Gann has been sent as reinforcement,” Alex says to Kara’s relief. “All you can do is rest as much as you can before the meeting.”

 

Kara nods and startles when there is a knock at the door. Her body goes rigid, her senses in high alert, until Alex opens the door and it is only an officer bringing some food. She listens to the conversation happening at the door, to their voices whispering in the peaceful silence, and she tries to swallow the excess of saliva that has gathered so quickly inside her mouth. She wipes her clammy hands on the blanket, take a breath, and smiles when Alex closes the door and brings the plate of food to the bed.

 

“Dinner is served.”

 

They eat in silence. Kara doesn’t know what to say. Her body feels like a prison. Heavy. It’s not cooperating with her; every movement is a struggle and every breath a torture.

 

“Is Princess Xalia…” Kara doesn’t have to finish her sentence to know the answer. Alex’s face is telling enough. It’s something she had expected. Even then, being trapped inside the carriage. She looks at her hands, scrubbed clean and wrapped in bandages, and… There had been so much blood. She wouldn’t have survived even if Kara had managed to get them to safety. She wouldn’t have survived… Her eyes snap back toward the ceiling, her vision becoming blurry. She should have tried harder… She should have…

 

“You did everything you could…” Alex whispers, squeezing her hand, and but it doesn’t make Kara feel better.

 

“I still have the- The logbook. In my coat.”

 

“I have it,” Alex says, stopping her fretting. “I haven’t shown it to Marsdin but we wouldn’t even need it. This is it, Kara. We’re one step away from war.”

 

War. It’s been so long since the last war. Kara had only been an officer when the Luthorian War had ended. It had been so long ago… and she doesn’t think she’s ready for another one.

 

“Kara? Did you get to talk with the prisoner?”

 

Kara nods, her hands trembling. “Queen Rhea blames us for her son’s death. He died the night Krypton was destroyed,” Kara says, watching Alex frown and bite the inside of her cheek, outraged for her. Kara doesn’t think she has the strength to feel anything other than regret right now. “She has vowed to kill every survivor. No Kryptonian is safe.”

 

*

 

“With all due respect, Commodore. You look like shit.”

 

Kara snorts, as Lieutenant Vasquez opens the door. The sudden laughter hurts her rib and she coughs, groaning in pain, while Lieutenant Vasquez freezes in the doorway.

 

“Are you-”

 

Kara waves the Lieutenant’s concerns away and invites her to take Alex’s vacated seat. “She sent you to babysit me?”

 

Lieutenant Vasquez shrugs.

 

“What’s happening out there?”

 

Lieutenant Vasquez shrugs again. “Nothing we can’t handle ourselves.”

 

It’s been two days and Kara is going mad with boredom. She does need the rest. Kara had been made painfully aware of her body’s limitations when she had tried to stand up to go pee and had realized she wouldn’t reach the chamber pot without help to get there. She sometimes hears voices beyond her door, whispering, and pairs of boots patrolling the corridor, but she is kept in the dark. Alex being her only source of information. And Kara gets it. There is a sense of danger lingering in the air, a need for secrecy, and an added vigilance that cranks the tension to an untenable degree of paranoia. There are spies in their midst, and mistrust and secrecy might be their best weapons right now. But Kara is bored out of her mind and Lieutenant Vasquez is content with silence as they keep each other company.

 

It’s awkward.

 

Though she’s never been close to Susan Vasquez, Kara likes to believe that her sister’s second in command had liked her enough for staying in her fleet for so long. She’s always made a point to have a friendly relationship with everyone working in her fleet. From her top officers to the deck hands there’s no one Kara doesn’t know by name. But ever since the incident aboard the Intrepid, her relationship with Lieutenant Vasquez had been more than rocky. Kara had given her space, but the more she thinks on it the more she believes that all it did was create more distance between them.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kara says. It makes Susan freeze, before she resumes polishing her sword with a frown. “That’s what I should have said back then. At the trial. I got caught up in…” Kara sighs, rubbing her mouth as her lips become dry. It doesn’t matter why she took the decision she did in the end because what happened was that she lost the faith of those believing in her that day. “I should’ve trusted you. I should have given you a heads up. There are a lot of things I wish I had done that I didn’t do. And I should have apologized to you and every officer I put at risk that night.”

 

“Are you asking for forgiveness or for punishment?” Susan asks her, sheathing her sword and looking at her in the eyes. It’s bold, flippant, and definitely straight to the point like she knows her to be.

 

“I don’t know…” Kara answers. Caught in a lie, Susan scoffs with a slight roll of her eyes.

 

“Listen, I don’t need to be pampered. I knew what I signed up for coming in and I’m a damn good officer, Commodore Zor-El. A damn good officer!” Susan stands up, pacing the room and glaring at her, and it feels oddly healing to address the elephant in the room with no subtlety whatsoever. “We don’t need to know why you did what you did. You tell us to fight and we’ll fight. You tell us to hold a position until we die and we’ll hold that position for you. Not because you are our commanding officer. But because we trust you. We trust you to look after us. Like we look after you. It wasn’t just Captain Danvers. We- We were all worried about you. When you went missing. And when we were waiting for you at the Town Hall… We waited and we all knew something had gone wrong when you were twenty minutes late. And then we found you covered in blood and mud…”

 

Kara stares, eyes wide, as Susan clears her throat, a blush rising on her cheeks from her passionate outburst. She can’t imagine how she must have looked like to them. Kara barely remembers what happened but looking at the Lieutenant, Kara knows it’s going to be another one of those stories… The Girl of Steel… Standing victorious in the rain.

 

“We will follow you. You know that, right? You just have to ask,” Susan says, more subdued but as determined. “We’re stronger together. That’s what you always told us.”

 

“Yeah,” Kara whispers, biting her lip as tears spring to her eyes. She had forgotten. With everything that had happened lately – her abduction, the trial, meeting the Reign’s crew, it had made her miss her home and feel so removed and alien to what used to be her life. She had felt alone and misunderstood and it had made her push everyone away, to close in on herself, and feel like everything she did wasn’t enough. Like it never would be enough… She had found refuge with Lena, in her arms, in the quiet understanding they shared, in that same longing they have for a connection, for love… but that hadn’t lasted long enough… It had been fleeting and it had left her craving and lonely. And she had forgotten. She forgot she wasn’t alone… “Thank you for reminding me,” Kara croaks.

 

Susan nods, rubbing the back of her neck and sits back down. “It’s kind of our fault. I mean, you nearly got killed twice, right under our nose.”

 

Kara laughs, making Susan give her a rare smile before she has to hold her ribs and gasp from the pain. The stress and the guilt melt away, and Kara laughs even harder when Susan tries to make her stop laughing – panicked at having Alex murder her for making Kara reopen her wounds.

 

It will take time to rebuild that trust, on both sides, but Kara is confident they can get there.

 

*

 

Kara has to grit her teeth the entire ride to the mountain. Alex keeps throwing her concerned looks, while Maggie stays at the back, closing the path and making sure they aren’t being followed. Kara isn’t sure where they are going but it has all been prepared with the utmost secrecy. There are only the three of them and though Kara knows she doesn’t have to pretend, she muffles her cries of pain and discomfort all the way. She can’t risk them putting her on the sidelines again just because she’s been hurt. She’s been at the heart of this conflict since the beginning and they’ll have to fight her if they want to stop her from seeing it to the end.

 

J’onn waits for them at the entrance of the cavern. The atmosphere is solemn. Kara shakes his hand but is surprised when he engulfs her in a hug. She welcomes it, burying her face in the black of his coat.

 

“How are you?”

 

“Fine. I’m fine.”

 

Her quick reply doesn’t seem to fool him but they are called inside, and Kara exhales and gives him a quick smile.

 

The tunnel is narrow. Water drips from the ceiling and upon reaching the end of the tunnel Kara is surprised to see Kal standing in the cavern, talking with Councilwoman Mardin, and Miss Grant.

 

He smiles upon seeing her. Standing tall and confident, he makes his way toward her and rubs the back of his neck as he gives her an awkward smile.

 

“How are you doing? It’s been awhile.”

 

Stunned, Kara doesn’t know what to answer. After the trial, she had stopped waiting for Kal to appear. It’s not that she thought he wouldn’t ever come, it was just that it hurt less if he really did not. And seeing him, here – it’s surprising and comforting and bittersweet.

 

“What are you doing here? I mean, I’m glad to see you. I didn’t- I didn’t think-”

 

“It’s okay. I wished I’d been there. I heard what happened. Are you alright?”

 

“Don’t worry. I’m all good now.”

 

He smiles, about to rub the back of his neck again and Kara mourns the relationship she wished they’d had.

 

Miss Grant clears her throat from behind him. “Charming… Don’t get me wrong. I do like a good family reunion. It always has a sense of tension and drama that we don’t really need right now. Shall we begin? I’d like to get out of this musty place pronto.”

 

The meeting begins and Kara gives an account of the attacks, both the one led by Lena at sea and the one led by the Daxamite spies. She relates her talk with Princess Xalia, feeling Maggie’s stare turned into one of relief, afraid they had let an opportunity to learn what was going on pass through their fingers if Kara had effectively listened to her warning. Alex presents them the logbook and Kara reports what Luke had told her in Lian Yu. There is no point in lying now. Enough people had died trying to learn the truth…

 

There’s some kind of understanding floating inside the cavern. It feels refreshing to have everyone working toward a common goal, the threat Kara had known about for months finally being taken seriously, and Kara is heartbroken to learn that it’s taken seriously now because New Kandor hadn’t been Queen Rhea’s only target. There have been other attacks on Kryptonians. Queen Rhea had gone for the small villages cut off from the main cities, and though Kal has managed to thwart a few of the assaults, the number of victims is estimated to be in the thousands.

 

Kara blinks, breathing deeply, and feeling the ache inside her chest well up until tears slide down her cheeks.

 

“I told you she was a threat,” Kara says, failing to control the blame bleeding through her voice. She looks at Councilwoman Marsdin, J’onn, Kal. “Queen Rhea has been planning this for years and we could have prevented these attacks if you had listened to me! Instead you focused on Lena Luthor who for all intents and purpose has done more to stop this war than you did!”

 

“We were outnumbered,” J’onn says, “each member of the High Council cast a vote and we were outnumbered. They chose to focus on the Luthorian Islands instead.”

 

“Well, they were wrong!”

 

Kal sighs. “We all were, Kara. The Luthorian Islands hadn’t shown a sign of life since the War and when they did a few months ago, we were all focused on them… What they had planned couldn’t be anything good.”

 

“What were they planning?”

 

“We don’t know,” he says, looking wearier than she ever seen him. “A ship had been stolen from them. It had traced back to the Federation, and we thought it had been a set-up. A way for Lex to blame us and justify an attack on the Federation. I didn’t know it had a connection to what was happening to you. We were getting ready for a confrontation.”

 

“It was Edge.”

 

J’onn nods, making Kara scoff and close her eyes and she tries to calm down. It’s useless to get angry now. It didn’t move them forward and inaction has caused too much damage for Kara to waste her time on accusations and anger.

 

“So, what do we do?” Kara demands, putting her hands on the table, and waits for them to give her a plan of action. Anything that wouldn’t make her feel like she had failed. “We have to do something. We have to arrest her.”

 

“We are,” Miss Grant says with a small smile on her face. “Well, you are.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“I’ve learned that Queen Rhea has been calling for allies. She’s due to make an appearance at a party Queen Maxima is throwing. It’s supposed to be a huge event. Maxima owes me a favor and has been informed of our intention. She doesn’t mind a bit of chaos and more importantly, she won’t intervene.”

 

“Why aren’t they coming?” Kara asks, looking to the members of the High Council.

 

“They are not invited,” Miss Grant says, dismissing them with a wave. “But I am and I can get you in.”

 

“We’ll protect the Federation while you’re gone,” Kal promises and that’s good enough for her.

 

***

 

There’s an air of sin and luxurious indulgence emanating from Maxima’s reception. The music sways and twirls in the air, floating through the open windows and fading behind the bushes, like two lovers at a tryst. The lights inside the mansion are dim, obscured by the smoke and the scent of tobacco. Guests are sprawled on lounge chairs, calling for the attention of half-naked servants who play coy while carrying trays of fruits and wine from one room to another.

 

Fidgeting with the mask Miss Grant has given her, Kara tries to blend in with the crowd, stopping herself from fussing too much with her clothes. Her outfit definitely has a Durlan flair to it, the white waistcoat with gold embroidery doesn’t itch too much despite the lush texture, and the red court coat isn’t too warm or too heavy, but it’s not something she’s used to wearing and it does make her a bit uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s the mask, stopping at her nose but falling past her cheeks, just shy of her jaw. It takes her a little bit of time to get used to it, and Kara has to push it up her face every time she feels it sliding down.

 

Their mission is simple. All Kara has to do is find Queen Rhea and arrest her. She has been allowed to have twenty officers with her and they are already in the room, disguised too. Kara sees James and Winn talking on the balcony, joining her as reinforcements per J’onn’s request. Alex has been making rounds, faking sips from her glass, and feeding the various plotted plants with the beverage on her way back to the drinks area. She sees Vasquez lingering outside, sprawled on the grass, acting drunk, and keeping an eye on their surroundings. All Kara needs to do is wait for the Queen of Daxam to arrive and hope she’ll recognize her when she does.

 

Easier said than done.

 

They are all wearing masks. Even the guards patrolling around the palace are wearing a full-on white mask with different red symbols in lieu of their mouth. It’s creepy. It gives Kara chills despite the sweltering heat pulsing inside the palace. It makes her hyper vigilant of everything around her.

 

It makes her see things she can’t be seeing…

 

Like striking green eyes and blood red lips.

 

Kara stares, her breath gone, and blinks. The woman is gone. She is faced with a crowd of high-pitched laughter, frivolous masks, and expansive clothes, and Kara excuses herself from the conversation she was having with a gentleman whose name she has already forgotten and dives into the crowd, eyes searching for someone who shouldn’t be here – couldn’t be here.

 

There’s a lull in the music. The crowd falls silent, gathering at the center of the room where she is standing, and Kara suddenly feels trapped, smothered by the dancing crowd spinning around her. She tries to make her way out. She tries not to bump into any of the dancing couples and wonders if what she had seen had been real or not. Before she can slither out of the dance floor, Kara feels someone yank her back into the crowd.

 

Faced with a woman in a black mask with gold accents swirling around the outer edge and her eyes, Kara gasps. The mask might obscure most of the woman’s face but her eyes…

 

Rao, her eyes…

 

Kara would recognize them anywhere.

 

“What are you doing here?” Lena hisses, pulling her deeper into the crowd and guiding her into the push and pull of the dance. Angry eyes glare at her and all Kara can do is smile and push a lock of hair back behind Lena’s ear. It makes her falter. If she weren’t wearing a mask, Kara would say that Lena is frowning, nose crunched slightly, and her lips – Kara can see them, full and red and confused.

 

She wants to kiss her, but Lena looks away, bashful. A first for someone who had boldly asked for a kiss the first night they met.

 

“What are you doing here?” Lena asks again, quieter, taking a step closer as the dance demands it, intoxicating Kara with the smell of her hair, the taste of her breath, and the feel of her skin.

 

“I’m stopping a war,” Kara answers when the only war worth waging right now, would be the one stopping them from kissing. “What are you doing here?”

 

“Stopping a war,” Lena quips back with a smirk.

 

It raises a few red flags in Kara’s mind.

 

“How?” Lena doesn’t answer and scanning the room for her officers, Kara holds Lena tighter against her; wary of her unpredictability, worried for her safety. “I thought we were done saving each other?”

 

“I’m not doing it for you.”

 

“Liar.”

 

It makes Lena smile, her eyes softening as they keep dancing – existing. Following the music and feeling like they’re floating between worlds. The dance continues, making them change partners, tearing them apart, only for them to find their way back to each other, somewhere among the crowd, hidden from view.

 

“Stay close to me,” Kara whispers, knowing that Lena will try to leave. Knowing that there are officers inside the palace waiting to strike and Lena might get caught, trying to enact whatever plan she had. “Let’s pretend… until the song ends. And then I’ll stop you from doing whatever you came here to do.”

 

“Is that a threat, Commodore Zor-El?” Lena grins, nuzzling her cheek, making Kara smile and close her eyes. “I’d like to see you try, love.”

 

“Shhh…” Lena laughs and Kara gives in, kissing the corner of her lips before resuming their slight swaying. “Wait for the song to end.”