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The fortress in the desert is gone when Kara goes to look for it.

Alex insists on assembling a team of agents to bring as backup, so they don’t set out until midmorning. By the time they reach the spot where Sam swerved off the dirt trail, they’re all sweating in the summer afternoon heat, crowding around the van’s air-conditioning unit and throwing frightened looks at Sam’s broken-down car. Alex makes a brave show of staying in the passenger seat, occasionally tugging at the neck of her jet-black tactical suit and ignoring Kara’s laughter in her earpiece.

Kara likes it here. It’s warm and sunny, the sky cloudless and beautiful above her, a canvas of blue interrupted only by the yellow sun. But it’s also lonely, too arid to support any plant or animal life; Kara peers down at the DEO van streaking across the cracked earth, a black dot kicking up plumes of dust and dirt, and imagines Sam, alone, a single speck in the desert.

The Fortress of Sanctuary―Sam had described it to her when Kara came to collect the crystal beacon that led her there last time―was made up of a mass of crisscrossing stone, like immense thorns extending from the ground to cradle the sun, alien and totally unmistakable against the featureless landscape.

And yet, it’s nowhere to be found now. At least, not by Kara, and Sam won’t go near the desert, not anymore. She only remembers it now because they had painstakingly drawn the information out of her, after hours and hours of interrogation – something that Sam had willingly submitted herself to.

A being designed for one purpose, she’d recited, shuddering, and then she went silent and Kara knew not to ask anything more.

On the ghost of a suspicion, Kara flies the beacon to the Fortress of Solitude. The Arctic mountain ranges are worlds away from the desert wasteland, but, in a way, not so dissimilar, either. Sanctuary and solitude, Kara thinks. Stronger together. The House of El had never been very good at that.

“Hello, Kara,” the projection of her father says when she calls him up. “What do you wish to know?”

For a moment, Kara lets herself live by his image alone, greedily taking in the lines framing his eyes and mouth and remembering the kind smile he gave her when she cried to him about the wings on the sculpture she’d made for him, the weight of his hand on her shoulder when he was proud. She steels herself.

“What is this?” Kara asks, holding up the beacon.

“It appears to be old Kryptonian technology,” Zor-El answers, “that which I have no knowledge of.”

Kara frowns. Sam had said the beacon projected a hologram. She looks down at the crystal from which the hologram of her father is being emitted, and then her eyes catch on an innocuous divot in the console, just the correct shape and size for the beacon.

Zor-El doesn’t say anything as Kara inserts the device and watches it melt into the rest of the technology, like a shard of black ice in a sweeping sprawl of white and blue. It begins to shine a dull crimson, its light scattering inside the crystal and casting the entire fortress in shades of red, creating shadows where there were none before. Kara wonders if this is how the Fortress of Sanctuary looked when Sam had been in it: like the Fortress of Solitude after it’s been transformed, denuded and stripped bare.

Kara taps the jagged head of the beacon, peaking out of the otherwise smooth crystal surface of the console. “What is this?” she tries again.

“Old Kryptonian technology,” Zor-El says this time. “I designed it hundreds of years ago on the planet Krypton, during the early days of my tenure in the Science Guild. It is multifunctional, but its primary purpose is to serve as a key.”

“A key?”

“A key for several Kryptonian space pod models,” Zor-El clarifies, “a key to knowledge. The knowledge about Project Worldkiller stored in the holocrystals I designed may only be accessed with keys such as this one.”

Kara’s heart sinks. She should have known, she should have known. “Tell me about Project Worldkiller.”

Immediately, Zor-El launches into a dispassionate explanation. “Soon after your mother rose to prominence in the Council,” he says, “we approached a Kryptonian priestess named Ana Rak-Is. We wished to know more about the old religions observed in Urrika, the Kryptonian continent where life began. Ana Rak-Is told us about Worldkiller, and the End of Days. In Worldkiller, we saw the potential to do more. To be better.”

“Better,” Kara repeats in croaky disbelief, her voice just barely whispering past the lump in her throat. Her mind flashes back to the destruction Reign brought upon National City, the smoke of burning buildings, the screams of innocent people. Zor-El continues without acknowledging Kara’s interruption.

“The inhabitants of other worlds were slowly destroying themselves and their own planets. We determined that, under the guidance of the people of Krypton, these cultures could flourish. And so, I created the first Worldkillers. Developed over hundreds of years, they were designed to be the perfect warriors, righteous judges and executors – leaders capable of wresting control of entire planets on their own.”

Kara listens on in silence. The even timbre of her father’s voice, the ease with which he could get his ideas across, always used to soothe her, to inspire awe; now, it horrifies her.

“However, we lost control of the experiments,” he goes on. “When the Worldkillers came of age and manifested powers, they became unruly, and the project was scrapped. All traces of its existence were erased. Ana Rak-Is was sent to Fort Rozz, the immature experiments were destroyed, and the site of the project―already situated near the ruins of Urrika―was demolished.”

“Wait, wait―” Kara interjects, shaking her head. “‘Immature experiments’?”

“The children,” Zor-El answers readily.

Kara jams a hand to her mouth and swallows down the revulsion clawing up her throat. Her legs buckle underneath her, and she falls to the ground, mindless of the snow, eyes watering and lungs heaving with the effort to stay composed.

After a while, she whispers shakily, “And Reign?”

“An unfortunate error,” Zor-El answers.

“Oh Rao,” Kara chokes out, on her knees and clutching her chest. Her fingers slip between the ridges of the crest there, and she’s drowning in the sea of red light surrounding her. “Oh Rao.” Kara’s mind races wildly with the implications, her thoughts clashing, then weaving together and resolving into a clear picture. She thinks of Sam and Ruby, alive only because of a miscalculation. She thinks of the events between Reign’s arrival and her fall. She thinks of Zor-El and Alura, playing at god.

“How did the Fortress of Sanctuary come to be?” Kara implores, light-headed with dread. “Here on Earth.”

“It was built long ago, grown from an artificially intelligent crystal we planted during the onset of Project Worldkiller. Fortresses of Sanctuary exist all over the twenty-eight galaxies, meant to serve as strongholds and to help aid the Worldkillers in their callings.”

“And the Fortress of Solitude?” Kara asks.

“It was built during the events leading up to the destruction of Krypton, intended to be ready by the time you and your cousin, Kal-El, arrived on Earth.”

Kara nods along to his words, echoing again and again in her ears, and then she throws up.

-

Sometimes Sam is Sam: wonderful, sweet Sam, and sometimes she isn’t Sam at all.

On some days, she’s Lena’s and Alex’s and Ruby’s Sam, the friend that picks up Lena’s favourite red for game night, brings only half-empty bottles of scotch, the mom who goes to every single soccer game at National City Middle School.

On some days, she’s Kara’s Sam―the Sam Kara knows―kind and a little graceless and thoughtful, who brings her takeout from Kara’s favourite Ethiopian place when she’s had a bad day at work and Lena has let Sam know. She’s the Sam who snaps pictures of art projects dedicated to Supergirl that she finds at parent-teacher conferences to show Kara later. She’s the Sam who carefully steers conversations away from talk of exes, the Sam who brings Kara rugelach from the bakery down her street because she knows it reminds Kara of the shpahgh rolls they used to eat on Krypton, where the scent like cinnamon and roasted nuts would curl all the way up to Kara’s room from the kitchens, heavy and cloying and sweet.

Sometimes, Sam will remember the taste of cinnamon and walnuts herself.

Kara has to wonder whether her father had thought to give his experiments, the children, such kind memories, or if they just slipped in, ultimately inconsequential.

The shpahgh is one of the things, more like an afterthought than a crucial ingredient for the perfect conqueror, that made it alongside the Kryptonese, and Rao’s scriptures and verses, the perfect battle forms – and oh, how Kara had ached fighting her, ached and rejoiced a little, too, so overwhelmingly reminded of Astra that she’d almost wanted the battle to never end.

Almost.

Sam is a little awkward and not the best at talking to people who aren’t Ruby, Lena, or business people, and Kara is very awkward – but not, she has to remind herself, for the same reasons. Even though Kara told Sam that she’s one of the best friends Kara has ever had―it was true then, and it is, now, more than ever―there’s been a distance between them, sometimes bridged more by Alex, and Lena, and Ruby, than anything that now stretches between them.

Sam gets that Kara doesn’t want too much to do with her after Reign―Sam went right up to Kara, after, and said so in that awkward, honest way that she has―but sometimes, she’ll look over at Kara with a frown, like there’s a puzzle she’s trying to figure out in Kara’s face. And Kara does a lot of it, too, the staring. She stares and stares and stares, and the answer is that what Kara really wants is the exact opposite, but she’ll never be allowed to have it.

Every once in a while, Sam’s eyes will lose focus, turn glassy and flash a bright, familiar red; she’ll say, apropos of nothing, all pristine vowels and perfect intonation, something strange like Rao is in mourning, and Kara wonders whether Sam remembers the acidic smell of Krypton’s rain, too, the way it pattered against the crystal facades of Krypton’s spires and towers in a symphony of sounds, terrible and vengeful and so, so beautiful.

-

“Can you believe it?” Kara groans. “Actually, don’t answer that.”

The almost noiseless sound of teeth digging into flesh tells Kara that Alex is biting her lip, which she only does when she’s unsure about what she’s about to say. Kara burrows deeper into the couch, pulling her blanket tighter around her.

Alex strokes it approximately where Kara’s head is to soften her next words. “I mean ... yeah,” she admits with a heavy sigh. Kara issues a long, piteous moan, muffled by the blanket covering her mouth. “There were sort-of signs. Stuff that made me and J’onn think.”

Kara scrunches her eyes shut. Of course, J’onn would recognize the signs. “Then you know my parents better than I did,” Kara mutters. “What stuff?”

“I don’t know. The things Alura would say to you. Medusa. And ...” Alex hesitates, shifting on the other seat cushion, which Kara happens to know is the less lumpy one, “... Myriad.”

“That’s another thing!” Kara pops up from under her blanket, hair flying all around her. “My mom sent Astra to Fort Rozz for the exact same thing! Like, what? Hers wasn’t the right kind of world domination for them? Not when it was Kryptonians being controlled? Not when it was her?” Angrily, she presses fistfuls of fabric to her eyes, hard enough she sees stars. Alex scoots closer, placing an arm around Kara.

“They deserved it,” Kara says viciously, “all of it.”

“You don’t really mean that,” Alex murmurs.

“Yes, I do.” It’s unfair, that Kara lost Krypton, and her old life, and Kal-El, all because her parents were too arrogant, too caught up in their visions of grandeur to care for their own planet. That they’d been so busy trying to colonize half of the known universe that they neglected to look inward and notice how Krypton was being rent to pieces.

It’s unfair that all Supergirl is―all Kara has tried to do and be in this life―is based on a lie.

After a minute of silence, Alex says, “Kara. Your eyes.”

Kara looks up. “Shoot! Shoot, shoot, shoot!” She breathes frost onto the blanket, but the damage has been done: a large patch has already been singed away from the fabric. Alex reaches over to wipe the tears from under Kara’s eyes, careless of the heat they’d held only moments ago.

“I hate them,” Kara says wetly, sinking into Alex’s arms.

Alex strokes her hair. “You don’t mean that, either.”

Kara laughs into her shoulder, tears falling in earnest.

“How am I going to tell Sam, Alex? How am I going to tell Clark?”

Alex pulls away so that she can look at Kara properly in her arms. An odd expression crosses her face.

“Kara,” Alex says, “I really don’t think they care to know.”

-

Usually, Sam doesn’t remember the sprawling periods of time she spends outside of her own body.

Reign is separate from her, like a whole other living being that lies dormant alongside the Sam that attends school talent shows and drinks her cream with a dash of coffee. Reign isn’t the same as she was when Kara fought her, is mostly no longer interested in taking over the world and killing anyone who will stand in her way – namely, Kara. Sam has a hold of that part of her, has managed to rein herself in, so that the monitors Winn and the DEO have set up on her activity and the eye Kara keeps on her aren’t wholly necessary; Sam’s personality bleeds into her Reign episodes, shines in little ways like it has since that first time she’d antagonized Morgan Edge for going after Lena.

Reign seeps into Sam sometimes, too, her untapped rage and anger manifesting in shattered paperweights and the rigid, immovable set of her shoulders, so that even Ruby has trouble getting her to unwind.

But Sam doesn’t know Reign, doesn’t remember how she almost killed Kara once, how Lena had to talk her down from burning National City to the ground last spring, doesn’t remember just disappearing for hours at a time and coming back to herself in her office with gun powder dusting her hands and the local news reporting that the masked alien Supergirl fought last year has just stopped a robbery. It’s the one thing she really seems to regret.

“I was so excited, when I found out,” Sam tells Kara, once, standing in her own kitchen, her voice a trembling whisper, soft and fragile in the space between them. Alex and Lena had been held up at work, Ruby was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and these were the only times they could speak like this, the only times Sam felt comfortable enough to talk about it: Kara sitting in a stool in front of her and Sam’s hands braced on either side of the kitchen sink. “I thought ... I thought I could be a hero. Like Supergirl.” She rolled her eyes playfully at Kara.

“But you can! You can still be a hero!” Kara had said, though even she didn’t know how much she meant it.

Sam gave her a dubious look, and said, “You know I can’t, Kara. I’m not like you.”

And that was the problem, wasn’t it?

-

(J’onn comes alive, with his father beside him – another green Martian, to keep him company, to help him feel less alone in this world.

Kara isn’t the last Kryptonian, not with Clark just a few minutes’ flying away, but, sometimes, it feels that way.

So, when Reign comes to her, wearing the traditional warrior’s garb of old and spouting the ancient words of Rao, her Kryptonese weighted and crisp and clear, Kara’s heart stumbles on a beat.

Not the last, she thinks, not the last.

Not yet.)

-

The school year starts on a Thursday.

Sam goes with Ruby on her first day to sort out some administrative things, so Lena’s at L-Corp for the morning. The next few weeks follow in much the same way.

Going into the new quarter, Kara gets a promotion. Lena assures her she has nothing to do with it at the celebration she throws for Kara, which isn’t that hard to believe, except sometimes Kara still has trouble acknowledging that Snapper approves of anything she writes, so it’s kind of nice. Things at CatCo start to get busier because of her new position, which means things also start to get busier at the DEO.

Game nights and gatherings and lunch plans start to get pushed back week after week. By November, Alex is getting antsy because she hasn’t seen Ruby in three weeks, and Ruby wants to see Alex more than ever, now that she knows Alex really knows Supergirl, who is really Kara.

Eliza comes into town to celebrate Thanksgiving at Kara’s apartment with everyone, except J’onn and M’yrnn, who are observing an eight-day Martian holiday off-planet with M’gann and some of the other White Martians. He’d been so excited the entire week leading up to it, despite all the work he’d had to do to arrange his leave, both on Mars and on Earth.

The night before he left, J’onn pulled Alex and Kara aside to hand them both carefully wrapped packages, “Because,” he’d said, “it is our tradition to give our children gifts to usher in the holiday.”

Kara had promptly burst into tears, and J’onn had steered the two of them into a hug, and they all pretended not to notice the moisture gathering in his eyes or Alex sniffling quietly into his shoulder.

On Thanksgiving Day, Sam and Ruby come early in the afternoon with the cookies from the Italian bakery Sam had talked about last Christmas. She insists on helping Eliza and Kara in the kitchen to make up for that occasion; it’s a mark of how great a cook Sam is that Eliza doesn’t politely banish her after an hour – Kara is only allowed to stay because she speeds up the baking process so much.

“If you had your heat vision, you’d be the perfect cook, dear,” Eliza throws over her shoulder, standing at the stove and stirring the cranberry sauce.

“Too bad,” Sam says, laughing. Kara watches her subtly pull her shoulders back a few times, before Sam resumes kneading the dough her hands are stuck in.

“I wonder if it’s a mental block,” Eliza continues without turning around, voice taking on the interested tone it does when she’s discussing her research with Alex. “Obviously it’s not physical, because your body is still impervious to most stimuli, and your strength still emerges during stressful situations. I’m sure knowing could come in handy for you, Kara, and other aliens trying to stay concealed. Perhaps even Ruby―”

“I think she’s the perfect cook already!” Kara interrupts eagerly without taking her eyes off Sam. “Heat vision included!”

Eliza finally twists away from what she’s doing. Her eyes flicker between the two of them, settling on Sam, who is decidedly less obvious than Kara. For an instant, guilt washes across Eliza’s face, before she arranges it into a smile and says, “Certainly, she’s much better than Alex.”

“Hey! I heard that,” Alex shouts from the living room.

“You were meant to!” Eliza calls back.

“Moms,” Alex mutters to Ruby beside her, who laughs.

I heard that!”

“You were meant to!”

While Alex and Eliza bicker, Sam sends Kara a grateful look.

James, Winn, and Lena arrive just before Kara finishes the turkey up. All of them, Kara and Sam included, still forget sometimes that Sam can’t get tipsy on human alcohol anymore, and Kara doesn’t keep any alien alcohol at her apartment, not since Mon-El left; as the night progresses, the others dissolve into wine-drunk laughter while Sam and Kara remain sober, exchanging grins at their friends’ expense.

Sam eats at least two times the amount that a regular human does now – not as much as Kara, but enough that Alex notices and complains with Lena about it. When Ruby overhears, she piles more food onto her plate and shovels it into her mouth so that, by the end of dinner, she’s sunk low in her seat and groaning louder than anyone else at the table. The lights hanging above the dining table flicker white on something hanging around Ruby’s neck.

“What’s that, Ruby?” Kara asks.

Ruby blushes, a little embarrassed as she pulls a pendant out from under the neck of her shirt to show them. “It’s a Supergirl necklace. Mom got it for me last Christmas. I mean,” she adds quickly, “before I knew you were Supergirl, obviously.”

“Oh.” Kara glances at Sam, who shrugs and smiles. “Did she tell you what it means?”

“‘Stronger together’!” Ruby quotes enthusiastically.

El mayarah,” Kara agrees.

Practically vibrating at the new information, Ruby copies her. “‘El mayarah’,” she says quickly, stumbling only barely on the last syllable.

“Right.” Kara clears her throat and carefully does not look in Sam’s direction.

“That’s your family’s coat of arms, right?”

Finally, Kara looks up. Across the table, Ruby is sitting bolt upright in her seat, leaning forward with an excited expression on her face. The necklace dangles from her neck, pendant revolving in midair and catching the candle light.

“Yup!” Before Ruby can even open her mouth again, Kara flashes around the table, gathering everyone’s empty plates and carrying them to the kitchen, yelling, “Everyone relax, I’m going to clean up!”

She piles all the dishes up in one side of the sink, turning the tap on to full blast and letting it fill up the basin, focusing intently on the sound of rushing water and trying to calm her breathing.

That’s how Sam finds her a couple minutes later: hunched over the counter, muscles unlocking inch by inch. She gently scoots Kara over to the other basin and plugs that one to let it fill up, too, but not quite so high as the one she’s standing at, and starts washing the dishes, handing them to Kara to rinse and studiously ignoring her trembling hands.

“Was I that obvious?” Kara asks after a while, mumbling so as not to be overheard.

“Only extremely,” Sam teases. “This is an open-plan apartment, Kara.” Kara cringes. “It’s okay, I convinced Alex to leave you alone and, if it means anything, I don’t think Ruby noticed.”

Thank you.” Kara lets the last of the tension seep out of her shoulders with a relieved sigh. They work together in silence for a few minutes.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Sam says, once the others have moved to the couches in the living room, “I can ask her to stop wearing it.”

“What?” Sam waits patiently for Kara to find her bearings. “Oh, no, no, it’s fine. I totally get it, I felt the same way about Superman before I came out as Supergirl.”

She neglects to mention that there are probably only four people left on this planet with any reason to wear that symbol anymore, and three of them are in this apartment.

Sam laughs at that. “I think she’s got it in her head that she’s going to be a superhero when she grows up,” she says. Neither of them voice the obvious question: if Ruby does get powers eventually, how will they manifest?

Once again, the image of Ruby, joyful and innocent, with the House of El’s symbol hovering in front of her chest, pops up in Kara’s mind. Her stomach churns.

“Would you want her to be?” she asks.

Sam thinks the question over, scrubbing the plate in her hand methodically with a sponge; Kara has noticed before that Sam never uses the dishwasher in her own home.

“I just want her to live a full and happy life,” Sam says. “I think that’s all we can ask of our children. Whether she achieves that by moonlighting as a superhero, or by working a desk job ...” Sam lifts a shoulder.

Kara hums, focusing on her side of the sink and the bowl she’s rinsing, pursing her lips and wondering at how decent, how good Sam turned out, in spite of Alura’s and Zor-El’s best efforts.

“You know,” Sam begins casually, and the atmosphere in the kitchen lightens by a few degrees, “before I met you guys, Ruby and I used to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving alone. For the longest time, it was just the two of us. I didn’t have time for friends at college because I was so busy with schoolwork and taking care of her. That was when I met Lena, but―” Sam grins, “―you know her, I don’t think she really let herself have friends, not until she met you, and ...” Sam lets her hands fall into the soapy water, elbow skimming past Kara’s. Her expression softens. “... I don’t think I really let myself have friends, either.”

With only a few centimetres separating them, Sam doesn’t have to move at all to bump her shoulder against Kara’s. Their arms line up, and where Kara’s skin touches Sam’s, it’s―it’s warm, like the touch of her own skin. The sensation soothes her and makes her ache in equal measure.

“So, this? Belonging somewhere? Is kind of new, and really nice. For Ruby and for me. Thank you for having us.” Sam smiles down at Kara, utterly sincere in her gratitude. The heady scent of her perfume lingers on her hair, mixing with the smells of nutmeg and cinnamon and thyme already swirling around the apartment.

“Oh.” Something warm sticks in Kara’s throat, and then that warmth streaks down her face and, oh, she’s crying, and her arms are ten inches deep in sink water and this would be really, really mortifying if Sam’s eyes weren’t also filling with tears. “Sam, of―of course, you’re welcome any time at all. You guys have lifetime passes. I mean, you’ve seen me go to town on an entire supermarket sheet cake, it’s kind of a package deal – you’re stuck with me,” Kara jokes weakly, but Sam laughs all the same.

They finish the rest of the dishes like that, arms pressed together and angled toward each other, listening to Ruby’s happy voice and their friends’ laughter on its tail end, ringing out from the other room.

It’s as they’re drying their hands that Sam says, “You can come by any time, too, you know. If you ever need to talk.” She scratches her left eyebrow, shy. “I mean, I don’t know why you would want―with Alex and Lena, and I’m not really―”

“I do,” Kara interjects fervently, before Sam can suggest Kara doesn’t want her company, or say something the both of them will resent. “I really want that.”

In the golden candle light, Sam’s cheeks flush a warm red, and she looks younger, like Ruby had when she’d blushed, embarrassed and a little pleased. She clears her throat. “I’m always here for you, is what I mean.”

Kara smiles a little at her awkwardness. She gathers up all the warmth she can muster and says, “Thanks, Sam.”

-

Kara doesn’t take her up on her offer until the new year.

They all spend Christmas Eve at Sam’s. James and Winn do a good job of pretending things are normal where the rest of them fail: Kara spends the entire first half of the evening trying not to notice how aware and conscious of her Alex and Lena seem to be. It’s stifling; they’re all surrounded by the evidence of their triumph, their fortune, the very mundane picture Sam makes, taking gingerbread shaped like people out of the oven, wearing gloves she put on out of habit – Kara doesn’t need the reminder that, a year ago, she almost lost the privilege to have any of this ever again.

The subtle clattering of glass against marble makes Kara look up, and she watches Sam set up a line of crystal tumblers and an unopened bottle of whiskey on the kitchen island. Sam notices her watching and then, with a sharp grin, she flashes her a glimpse of what looks like a bottle of Galadorian gin. The night gets better after that.

The weekend before school starts again, Sam invites Kara over to finish the bottle.

“They’re just worried because they care,” Sam tells her, while pouring Kara her third drink.

“Is that a mom line? ‘Cause that―sounds like a mom line,” Kara gets out between giggles. Sam performs an exaggerated eye roll, head lolling on her neck and falling into her palm.

They’re drinking on the floor at the coffee table in front of the couch in the living room. Sam’s tolerance for alcohol has gone way down since she switched to alien drinks and started eating more, and she’s already devolved into loud slurring and jumping sporadically between conversations.

“Seriously,” Sam continues, “a year ago you were―” Abruptly, she reaches out to press a hand to Kara’s chest, where the emblem on her uniform usually sits. She misses, the soft part of her palm landing an inch to the left of Kara’s heart. Kara sobers instantly; Sam’s meaning is clear. “You can’t expect them to just―just jump back from that without worrying a little.” She stares intently at Kara, eyes bright and unclouded, and Kara’s breath catches. “I worry.”

This isn’t the first time Kara and Sam have discussed the events of the last year, or even of last Christmas, but it’s the first time they’ve discussed it―discussed what Reign did to Kara―in such plain terms.

“I worry. I worry that, eventually, you and Lena and Alex and Ruby,” Sam drawls, wide-eyed, her fingers digging into her temple, “Ruby – you’ll all remember that I’ve hurt people, that I’ve killed people. That I hurt you.”

“Sam ...”

“I worry that I’ll lose control one day. That I’ll hurt you again.”

There’s a selfish part of Kara that lights up hearing Sam talk about Reign, but it dims at that – she’s not sure how to respond. Kara isn’t even sure what would come out of her mouth right now if she opened it. She should tell Sam that she didn’t do any of those things, that Reign isn’t her. A good friend would say that.

But the selfish part of Kara is burning to say, I wish you would.

-

It doesn’t occur to Kara how little she and Sam know about each other until nights at Sam’s become a regular thing. Sam was her last friend that knew her only as Kara Danvers, knew her only as the reporter at CatCo and the friend of a friend.

(Kara supposes she was one of the last people to know Sam only as Sam Arias, too, the CFO of L-Corp who also happens to be adopted.)

When asked by a stranger, Sam isn’t shy about answering questions pertaining to Ruby’s father. He’s completely out of the picture, she’s sure to make clear, and it’s just her and Ruby, now.

In the privacy of her own home, Sam tells Kara that her adoptive mother is out of the picture, too. It’s part of why she’s so intense when it comes to Ruby: Sam is determined that at least Ruby should be allowed to grow up happy and loved and supported in everything she does.

They both know Lena, but Sam’s known her for almost a decade, since they met at an advanced digital systems seminar at MIT, when Lena was just seventeen and Ruby was already four. Although they hadn’t become friends until recently, Sam owes everything to Lena, who ensured there was always a place for her at LuthorCorp from the moment she graduated.

It seems to Kara that Sam’s life so far has been made up of chance encounters and fortunate meetings. At least, until she met Kara. And then, by some terrible twist of fate, Reign awoke inside Sam, and Sam had―Sam had almost died. And, like that, it all would have been for nothing: the work, and the hardships, and the friendship, and the love.

But―and it’s awful―it allows Kara to hope, too. She lets herself believe she―Sam, or Reign, or both―had recognized Kara, or recognized something in her that was familiar. Some final piece of their planet.

She lets herself believe it means something when the cookies from Sam’s favourite bakery have cinnamon in them.

Sometimes, Kara half-expects Sam to come up to her and ask about Krypton, about her culture, and her home – about how the dragons used to come out at Rao’s descent and wrap themselves tight around the buildings in Argo City to keep warm, about how she would light the Shesurzeht candles with her mother every week to help guide their souls to Rao.

About how, years and years ago, Zor-El had created the Worldkillers, created them, then decimated their homes and covered up all traces of the experiment, so that his House might escape the shame.

About how Krypton had looked that final light, when all the dragons had gone, dark and red, red, red.

Then, Kara will catch herself, and remember that Sam’s home isn’t Krypton. That her home is here, with Ruby, and Lena, and Alex, and Kara Danvers. That it’s never been Krypton.

(That Clark used to ask Kara about his parents and his heritage almost every day, until his questions dried up, like his curiosity had been sated, or he’d found the answer to some problem he’d had and didn’t think he needed to know any more about a planet he would never love.

And then the phone calls stopped coming, stopped all together, like he was done with Kara, too. At least, up until he thought she could be of use to Earth.)

But Reign.

Reign already seemed to know everything. J’onn had checked Sam over once the battle was won; it was then he’d announced that, although the threat had passed, Reign had been retained in Sam’s mind, that Sam would never quite be rid of her. Afterward, he’d taken Kara aside and told her that Sam was a Kryptonian, through and through: he could read Ruby’s mind, even Clark’s, but he couldn’t read Sam’s mind any more than he could Kara’s.

Somewhere in there lived the remnants of an entire culture, a culture Kara used to think she was the very last vestige of.

And yet, here Reign was.

-

Here’s how you defeat an enemy who’s a tyrant, and a Kryptonian, and someone you’ve had over for Christmas dinner: you do what’s right for Earth.

What seems like a thousand years ago now, Kara had given her necklace to Alex, just as her mother had given it to her, and left this Earth having made Alex promise that she would live a good, full life. Alura had done no such thing when Krypton died. Kara supposes this is the difference between them.

At Christmas, the time she almost died fighting Reign, Kara had lost the battle the moment she took Alex’s advice and denied herself the side of her that cared, the human part of her that loves her sister and her life and the people of Earth. She’d lost her way, so sure that it was Kara Danvers which made her weak, when really, all that Kara Danvers is and has and loves is what makes her strong.

Stronger together. Gods, the House of El had never been very good at that.

But that final night in the summer, it was what saved them all. It was what caused Reign to fall, what let Sam prevail. What enabled Sam, at the end of the day, to return home to her daughter, more human than ever.

Sam couldn’t die, couldn’t be allowed to die, so she lived.

Here’s how you win when your friend is a Kryptonian and someone you and the people you love can’t live without: you don’t.

You only lose.

-

Kara spends her time in Sam’s company suffering and reveling in equal parts:

Reveling in the sweet way Sam pays her attention, watchful but not suffocating. Luxuriating in the small gestures, in the Ethiopian take out on her bad days, and the rugelach just because.

Suffering and despairing at the way she loves Sam more and more every moment she spends with her, loves her, and misses Reign all the same. Misses her despite the fact that Sam exists only at Reign’s expense, and that Reign can only exist at hers.

The fuller Kara’s life gets, the lonelier Kara Zor-El, last daughter of Krypton, becomes.

-

That’s how Kara meets her one night.

It’s almost twelve, but Sam opens her front door only ten seconds after Kara knocks, which is about two seconds before Kara was going to lose her nerve.

If Sam is confused to see her, she doesn’t show it, and she asks Kara to come in without a moment’s hesitation.

Kara slips past her like a ghost, silent and drunk on misery. A part of her is vaguely aware of a sleeping Ruby’s heartbeat on the level above them, but the rest of Kara is entirely focused on Sam, who’s still dressed in her work clothes. Judging by the darkness, she’s just finished turning off all the lights and was making her way upstairs.

Sam makes to move toward the kitchen, like they’ve done every other time Kara has visited, but when Kara doesn’t follow, she stops and turns around.

Sam frowns. “Kara? Are you okay?”

And how can Kara say this, without sounding completely and utterly selfish? Without asking everything and more of Sam? How can she even think of ruining such an entirely good thing? This is stupid, so, so stupid and terrible and selfish on so many levels.

What will Sam think of her, Rao, what will Sam think of her?

Kara moves, colliding with Sam, all sun and skin and indestructible bones, and they crash into the wall; it shudders and groans under the combined weight of their bodies. To her credit, Sam doesn’t scream, letting herself be moved without protest, eyes wide and startled.

It’s nearly pitch-black tonight, only a sliver of moonlight shining its way into their lonely corner. Kara has a forearm braced against Sam’s collarbone, the other wrapped behind her neck, and if Sam weren’t Kryptonian, if she were anything less than she is, it probably would have collapsed already with the force with which Kara is pinning her to the wall. As it is, Sam is silent and unmoving; she doesn’t have her powers like this, the strength to resist Kara, and she’s watching Kara carefully, her surprise fading away, concern beginning to etch little lines in her forehead.

And this is Sam, always so thoughtful and compassionate and concerned, eyes flitting around Kara’s face and quietly fretting over the laboured way Kara’s breaths puff against her neck, as if Kara coming into her home in the middle of the night to attack her is a normal occurrence. She can almost hear Sam’s mind racing desperately to think of a way to help her; Kara lets her head tip forward to rest against the wall, chin digging into her own arm, just so she doesn’t have to look at Sam for a second longer. From the outside, they might look like they’re embracing.

Sam doesn’t remember this, only knows what she’s been told in stilted conversations with Lena and Alex, but Kara has had Sam in a position like this before. Forced to the ground, Kara on top of her, her knees bracketing Sam’s hips, an arm against her throat, and Kara’s eyes shining with tears.

(Shining with the heat of the sun, and it was something horrible and awful and not unlike the position Kara had over Astra once, except with Sam it’s her, it’s Kara who’s holding the sword, Kara’s eyes and Kara’s power and Kara, who could send her off to be with Rao.)

It had taken Lena’s pleading, and Kara’s tears, and, finally, Alex with Ruby in tow, for Sam to gather the strength to push Reign out. Kara had felt the resistance under her give out, and the sudden absence of it had startled Kara so much that she’d panicked, thinking for one, brief moment that Reign was dead, that Sam was―Sam was gone. And they’d all cried when she resurfaced, Lena and Ruby because they’d almost lost Sam for good, but Kara had stumbled away and broken down into wretched, hysterical sobs as Sam reached out for her and the others, trembling violently, her breath rattling in her lungs and throat, and Alex couldn’t figure out what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?

Kara hadn’t known how to explain that the loss of Reign, Worldkiller, murderer, the very last true Kryptonian besides herself, had hit her harder than even the loss of one of her dearest friends.

Sobs wrack Kara’s body now, loud and horrible and echoing in the cavernous expanse of Sam’s foyer. Upstairs, Ruby turns over in her sleep.

“Please, just―” Kara takes a shuddering breath through her tears, “―just―” Sam places a palm on the curve of Kara’s shoulder blade. “No, no, no, no, no,” Kara mumbles nonsensically. Sam takes her hand away immediately.

“Please just ... push back,” Kara says finally. “Push back. You can, I know you can.”

“Kara,” Sam says slowly. “What’s wrong?”

Everything, Kara thinks, everything. “I just―I just―”

“Kara,” Sam repeats as Kara’s breath comes quicker and quicker, her voice calm and just a little strained, “do you want me to call Alex? Lena?”

She should, she really should – Lena is best at pulling Kara out of her own head, and Alex always knows how to calm her down when she gets like this, but it doesn’t feel right. It’s not what Kara needs in this moment, not what she―what she wants.

When Kara doesn’t respond, Sam raises her hand to stroke Kara’s cheek, then the underside of her chin; a suggestion.

Dazedly, Kara obeys. She separates from the wall, angles her head toward Sam’s. Sam ducks a little to examine her, worried eyes jumping around her face and looking once more for the answer to the puzzle in it. It’s terribly lovely, and so very Sam.

Kara’s chest constricts, and suddenly the blouse she’s wearing―her favourite, a beautiful button-down Alex got her for Christmas when Kara first took her assistant’s job at CatCo that she’d never had the confidence to wear until last year―feels too tight, too rough against her skin. “I―” Kara gasps, shaking her head and choking on the collar of her shirt, her words sticking in her throat. Distantly, she registers Sam speaking anxiously to her over the loud sound of her own desperate breathing, something indistinguishable, and then the world is closing in around her, until she’s alone, so alone, so lonely.

The wall behind Sam creaks with the burden of Kara’s hold, and then, for one, awful second, Sam’s sternum seems to completely crumple under her arm and―

Kara finds herself flat on her back, spine digging into the hardwood floor of the Arias home. Sam kneels above Kara, hand clenched around a fistful of the fabric at Kara’s chest; at some point, Sam must have undone the first button of Kara’s shirt.

In the silence that follows, Kara’s frantic breathing is loud. Gradually, the blood coursing through her veins slows, and then the panic gripping her heart uncoils. She relaxes, steadying her breath, appreciating the solid weight of the heel of Sam’s palm pressing down against her chest as she inhales.

Then, there is nothing except the faraway heat of the sun in the sky and the warmth of the body above her.

Sam grins down at her, her hair falling like a dark curtain around her strong shoulders, the blazer stretching across them suddenly incongruous, out of place. Her eyes flash a brilliant, crimson red.

Come now, Kara,” Reign says, her tongue curling perfectly around the second syllable in Kara’s name, “surely the House of El has shouldered shame enough.”

-

Two days later, Sam comes to game night acting like nothing happened.

Kara acts weird around her all evening, so jumpy and distracted that even Winn, who got used to her antics over the years working alongside her at CatCo while she was still pretending to be normal around him, notices and raises an eyebrow at her. She puts on a nervous smile that feels more like a grimace on her mouth and ignores Alex’s pointed stare.

And Sam notices, too. She sends Kara worried looks and whispered are-you-okays, and at one point even discreetly asks Lena if something happened at work.

Maybe Kara’s freaking out over nothing. Maybe it was just another one of Sam’s Reign episodes, or maybe she felt threatened and her powers kicked in out of self-preservation. Kara had been nonsensical and had clearly been on the verge of a breakdown; she’d been using her powers on a very human Sam who didn’t have the strength to protect herself. Kara should be apologizing, and Sam shouldn’t even want to look at her right now.

But it had felt so real. As if Reign was really there, of her own accord, and not like when Sam did something alien out of the blue, or went off with the single-minded purpose of delivering justice. Two nights ago, in Sam’s home: that was Reign, in control and speaking to Kara, Kara Zor-El, like she really saw her. Like it had been before the summer.

Halfway into game night, Kara excuses herself to the bathroom, closing the door behind her, and sits down on the toilet seat, holding her head in her hands.

There’s a knock on the door a few minutes later, and Kara gets up so fast she shoots several feet into the air, thanking the stars for the high ceilings in her apartment. “I’ll be out in a minute!” she shouts, touching down in front of the sink and turning the taps on as a pretence.

The door opens, and Kara freezes up when Sam ends up being the person on the other side instead of Alex.

Sam notices. “Believe me, the others wanted to be here, too,” she says, stepping inside and tipping her head back toward the living room where their friends sit, just beyond the bend. When Kara X-Rays the wall, she can see the others still playing games and talking, but they keep throwing looks over in their direction. “I only get to be here because I said I needed to use the bathroom.”

“Oh, let me get out of your way!” Kara says quickly, stepping around her and almost making it out, before Sam grabs her arm, holding her back.

“Kara.” Kara doesn’t move, standing just past the doorway, her torso twisted to the side and the arm Sam’s holding thrust out behind her. “Can you look at me, please?”

After a beat, Kara turns, fixating on a point just above Sam’s right shoulder. Still, Sam doesn’t let go, instead letting her hand slide down and over Kara’s wrist, until Kara’s fingers slip into it. She squeezes them, a tiny, fluttering pressure. Human.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing is going on,” Kara answers.

“Then why won’t you look at me?”

Another beat passes, until, finally, Kara drags her eyes over to Sam’s. They’re brown as ever, wide under her furrowed brow. Kara purses her lips, afraid to speak.

“Kara,” Sam pleads.

“It’s about the other night,” Kara blurts out, capitulating under Sam's sad gaze and averting her eyes again, wildly looking all around the room except at Sam.

“Oh,” she says, and Kara cringes, bracing herself for whatever comes next, knowing that she deserves it. Sam should be angry. She should yell and scream at Kara, and demand to know what Kara had been doing at her house. But then, Kara doesn’t know if she even remembers what happened.

Suddenly, Sam takes a step closer to Kara, her hold tightening on Kara’s fingers, enough that they hurt, and bends down, mouth to her ear, to whisper in a voice like smoke, “You should have said, Kara.”

She straightens immediately, stepping past Kara just as Alex comes around the corner. As Sam rounds the bend to join the others, she smiles back at them.

“What happened?” Alex asks after she’s left.

Kara opens her mouth and closes it several times before, lost and unable to focus on anything past her throbbing fingers, she says, “I have no idea.”

-

For a brief few days, Kara wonders if Sam is playing with her.

Perhaps she’s learned how to control her powers, and now she can use them whenever she pleases, and ‘whenever she pleases’ just means whenever she’s with Kara.

If that’s the case, then Sam is a much better study than Kara, who had been on Earth for at least five years before she felt even remotely comfortable with hers.

It seems improbable, too, that Sam’s entire personality would change, and it has: every once in a while, when she’s with Kara, she turns―harder, somehow. Not mean, but firm – like raw sugar instead of honey. One minute, she’ll be joking and playing the fun mom with Ruby, or the loving friend with Lena, and the next she’s this whole other person with Kara. Not quite not-fun, not quite unloving, just―other.

Like Reign.

Very like Reign, because on top of the powers, and the firmness―which, Rao, somehow reminds Kara of Alura and Astra all at once―there’s the conversations about Kara, too. They used to talk only about Ruby, and their friends, and their lives, and now, Kara’s life on Krypton enters the mix. Not often, just intermittently. And, at least when the others aren’t around―because Sam doesn’t let any of them in on the joke―sometimes, they even speak in Kryptonese.

And then she’s Sam again, Kara’s Sam, good and warm and sweet Sam, and they don’t talk about it.

So, Kara thinks Sam is playing with her, for a while. And she doesn’t tell anybody, doesn’t ask Sam to stop, because Kara kind of likes it. A lot.

It’s all she’s wanted since Reign’s symbol started popping up in National City, all she’s wanted since she first caught sight of Reign standing on CatCo’s rooftop, all Kryptonian silhouette against a human backdrop. Kara had felt the same way, when she met Astra in the sky: wonderful, heart-stopping joy, mixed in with the knowledge that, eventually, she would have to stop her.

But now Kara has her; not just this Kryptonian Sam, but human Sam, too, and it’s perfect, and Sam is perfect, and she always seems to know when Kara needs one or the other.

That’s how Kara knows something isn’t right. Because Sam wouldn’t just use her powers for Kara, to play this game with her. She would use them to save people, to protect them, to help others. From time to time, she’ll still go out to stop a car chase or a robbery, but Kara thinks Sam still doesn’t remember when it happens, and she’s almost cruel when she’s exacting her punishment, and that’s not Sam.

That’s Reign.

The next time Kara knocks on Sam’s door and it isn’t her Sam that answers it, she pushes her inside, closing the door and slamming Reign up against it, pinning her wrists by her head.

“What have you done to Sam?” Kara bites out.

Reign tests the hold Kara has on her, pressing forward against her palms. She could probably get out from under Kara, if she tried. Instead, she raises an eyebrow and says, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“How did you get control again?” Kara asks, glaring at her. “Where is Sam?”

“Oh, do you want her now?” Reign says coolly.

“I―what?” Kara’s hands go slack for a moment in confusion, before she shakes herself, readjusting her grip. “What do you mean?”

“I can bring her out now.”

“No, wait. But where ... I mean―” Kara pauses to think, frowning. This conversation isn’t going at all how she thought it would. “She isn’t the one who brings you out?”

“It’s a two-way street,” Reign says dismissively. “It isn’t as if Kara Danvers brings out Supergirl. Is it?”

“I―” Kara doesn’t answer, electing to ignore whatever Reign is insinuating. “So, you let go? Willingly?”

“‘Willingly’,” Reign scoffs. “Nothing I do is done willingly. Not since she took over. She could take back control right now, if she wanted.”

Kara blinks. “Then why are you ... how are you here?”

Reign rolls her eyes to the ceiling. “I was told the House of El was an intelligent bloodline. Kara Zor-El, why do you think I’m here?”

“I ...” Kara lets her gaze fall, her eyes trailing over Sam’s clothes and Sam’s neck and Sam’s face, and then she looks back at Reign.

“Do you want her now?” Reign asks again, and the slant of her mouth is almost kind. Kara nods, disoriented.

She sees the exact moment Reign disappears and the person in front of her turns into Sam; Kara lets go of her wrists and backs away a step.

Sam lets her arms fall slowly, supporting herself on the door behind her and crossing her arms over her chest, her hair obscuring half her face. She looks shorter like this, small and vulnerable.

“Sam ...” Kara says.

“You were ...” Sam begins, before sighing and looking up. “You were sad. And I was the one making you sad. And I knew she could make you happy.”

“Sam, if this is about the other night, that was just―”

“It isn’t just that,” Sam interrupts, unlocking one of her arms to brush her hair out of her face and looking away again, focusing somewhere near the foot of the staircase leading to the upper level. She sighs, says, “You’ve been sad since the summer. You’re sad all the time. And you get especially sad when you’re with me.”

Kara sways on the spot, hand going to grip her neck. “I―” she says, but nothing else comes out, and she falls silent again.

“I couldn’t figure out why.” Sam props her chin up on her hand, her index finger tapping a slow rhythm against her jaw. “Because I was pretty sure you liked me, and that you considered me a friend.”

“I―I do,” Kara says desperately, fighting the tightening of her throat, “of course I do.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth turns up. Her finger continues its tapping. “And I was pretty sure you liked spending time with me, even when it made you sad. So I kept hanging out with you, and I kept trying to figure it out, and you kept ...”

She presses the tips of her fingers to her mouth, and doesn’t speak for a minute. Finally, waving her hand vaguely in Kara’s direction, she says, “Then you came over that night, and I thought you were finally going to tell me what it is about me that makes you so sad. And you did, sort of.”

“Sam,” Kara says, “I don’t want you to ...” She stops herself, and decides for once that she wants to be honest. To be as honest as Sam is being with her now. So, instead, she says, “You shouldn’t do anything that you―”

“You told me how to make it better, so I did.” Sam lifts her head to look steadily at Kara as she says, “And I want to.”

Kara takes in the unyielding line of her shoulders, the stubborn set of her mouth, and she’s not entirely in control of her own mouth when she says, “Okay.”

-

Things are good, for a while.

Reign doesn’t surface all the time. Nine times out of ten, it’s regular Sam who answers Kara, and sometimes weeks pass before she talks to Reign again.

Although Sam doesn’t remember the conversations Kara has with Reign, she seems to get glimpses of them, of Reign’s thoughts, like little notions that she couldn’t have had before.

Kara doesn’t know whether it’s Sam or Reign who starts lighting candles on Friday nights, doesn’t know whether the rose perfume she starts wearing is supposed to evoke the flowers Alura used to keep around the house, or if it just does because everything about Sam reminds Kara of home.

She begins pointing out the particular shade of red on one of Lena’s blouses, starts offering Kara bites of her food when they’re out to lunch with Alex, and they taste so much like things back on Krypton that the whiplash burns.

The others don’t notice, probably too relieved that Kara has gotten over whatever made her act so strange at game night. And she’s happier now, anyway, happier than she has been since the summer.

One day, they’re in Sam’s home, and Sam starts talking about Reign and why she’s on Earth, and it makes Kara’s stomach drop. Sam seems to know on some level why Reign was created, but instead of being horrified, or getting angry at Kara for keeping it a secret, she starts talking about Reign’s potential.

“I mean, it was wrong,” Sam says hurriedly, “but she could have done so much good.” She looks up. “You could do it. We could do it together. You would be fair, and selfless, and nice. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to be in control.” Something dark enters her voice, and it gives Kara pause. “We could stop them. We could change the world.”

“That isn’t for us to decide,” Kara says carefully. Sam looks up, face ablaze and surprised at her tone.

“But I’m―but we’re―” Sam cuts herself off abruptly, hands going to her eyes and palms pressing hard. “No,” she says finally through gritted teeth, “no, that’s not right.” She kneads her knuckles into her forehead, harsh and uncaring. “I’m not―I’m thinking like―”

“Like a Kryptonian?” Kara says. Like Alura, and Zor-El, and Astra.

“Like her,” Sam bites out, like it pains her. Her eyes go wide, and then she sprints so fast for the bathroom that for one, terrible and glorious second, Kara thinks she isn’t Sam at all anymore.

The sounds of retching call to Kara from the other side of the house, and she shakes herself, super-speeding her way over to help Sam keep her hair out of her face.

“Like a Kryptonian,” Kara says again, once Sam’s stomach has settled some, because she won’t let the House of El get away with its horrors any longer, not when she’s the only one left to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“No.” Sam lets her head tip back tiredly against the lip of the sink, eyes shut, and she looks so very human. “Not like you.”

Kara feels the phantom heat of power snake across her face, burning a fiery red, lightning path to her eyes and sinking deep there. Her vision turns blurry, and she lets her head fall back, too, so that the circular ceiling light in Sam’s bathroom looks a little like a wobbly sun above her.

Not when she’s the only one left to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“Yes,” Kara whispers, “like me.”

-

There was something Rhea said, during the Daxamite invasion: You need this planet to worship you, the last daughter of a failed world, because otherwise, your survival means nothing.

It isn’t true, not for Kara, but it makes her wonder. Makes her wonder about the centuries-old grudge the Kryptonians and the Daxamites shared. Makes her wonder about Alura, sending her to Earth, and Sam’s mother doing the same. What would they think of them, now?

Reign isn’t nice to her, but she’s sympathetic, and she accepts her situation with little complaint. Kara is certain a part of that is just Sam, influencing Reign the same way Reign influences her, but she wonders if Reign is lonely, too.

Sam is younger than Clark, so her pod must have been lost in space for several years before she made it to Earth – what does that do to a baby? And after; Kara wonders what it was like, growing up on a strange planet, hidden away in the recesses of Sam’s mind for over thirty years.

She wonders what has to happen to a person, to be able to look into the face of the enemy and find solace in it.

-

When Kara knocks on her door for movie night, it’s Sam who answers.

She spends the evening at Alex’s side, fielding questions from Ruby and trying to ignore Sam’s eyes on her from across the room. It’s cruel; Sam is probably wondering what she did wrong, what she did to deserve Kara’s ire, what she can do to fix it.

When the popcorn runs out, Kara is the first to get up and volunteer to make a new bowl. She all but vaults down the stairs, walking into Sam’s kitchen only to stand in front of the microwave, unmoving as a statue. She leans hard on her hands, until the countertop creaks under her weight.

“Kara?”

Kara jumps, spinning around to take in Sam, standing at the entranceway, worry crinkling her brow. She turns back around. “Sam! Sorry, let me just finish this up.”

As she’s ripping the cellophane from the popcorn bags, Sam comes up behind her, close enough that Kara feels the warmth of her body on the back of her neck and her breath brushing the shell of her ear. Kara shivers minutely.

“Seriously, Sam, I can do this myself. You go back and join the others. I’ll only be a minute.”

“Your heart is racing, Kara. I can hear it.”

Kara turns around, finding herself a foot away from Sam. Sam leans in even closer, boxing Kara in with her arms, until Kara’s lower back is pressed right up against the edge of the counter. She cranes her neck to make some space between them, stopped by the microwave behind her head. The person in front of her grins, slotting her chin over Kara’s shoulder, like Kara had all those weeks ago.

“Where is Sam?” Kara asks.

“Why?” Reign breathes into her neck. She slides her fingers over Kara’s, her hands turning vice-like around them. “Do you want her instead?”

“I―no, I―” Kara gasps, her eyes falling shut as Reign drags her teeth lightly over a sensitive spot in her neck, almost like a mistake.

“Do you want me to pretend to be her?” Suddenly, Reign transforms entirely, her touch softer, sweeter. “Kara?” she asks, concern lacing her voice. “Is something wrong? Do you want to stop?”

And damn it, Reign even gets the upturn of her eyebrows right, the squeezing fingers.

“Don’t do that,” Kara says, turning her face away and closing her eyes again.

“Why not?”

“You’re not her. She wouldn’t want to―want this.”

“Oh, but she does. She wants you. Constantly.” Sam’s lips curl with disdain. Reign has stopped pretending, at least. “You’re the only thing she ever thinks about. Kara, Kara, Kara. ‘Is Kara happy, is Kara sad, does Kara need Reign right now?’ It’s pathetic, just how much she wants you,” Reign says, and the arch of her mouth turns mean, “especially when it’s you who doesn’t want her.”

“Of course I―I do want Sam!”

Then why am I here, Kara?” Reign pulls in close, just a few inches taller than Kara at her full height. “Why am I here?

“I―” She lets out a breath like a moan, distracted by Sam’s mouth on her collarbone. The hands over hers are still soft, suggestible, but Kara doesn’t move, unwilling to part from the warmth of Sam’s body on hers.

“Hey mom, Kara―”

Ruby screams, stumbling backward and falling to the floor, scrambling as fast as she can away from her mother. There’s the thundering of feet on stairs, and Alex bursts into the kitchen, followed closely by Lena, James, and Winn. They take in the scene: Kara standing at the kitchen counter, Sam clutching her head, and Ruby on the ground, a spot in the wall behind her head still smouldering from the blast of heat vision Reign shot at her.

“Sam!” Kara shouts, grabbing her shoulders and crouching to look at her. Her pupils are still glowing, backlighting her eyes and her irises, which flicker red and brown and red again without stopping.

Alex is already on her phone, calling for backup, and the others are crouched around Ruby, helping her onto her feet and ushering her out of the room as she calls out for Sam.

“Kara,” Sam groans through clenched teeth, rough and unsteady, like it’s taking all her strength to get the words out. She claws at Kara’s shirt where it sits on her chest. “Get me―out of here.”

Kara wraps her arms tight around Sam, and she flies.

-

The media doesn’t get ahold of the story that Reign went out of control again – Kara flies them all the way to the outskirts of the city, where a Myriad-controlled Alex once fought Kara.

The DEO arrive a few minutes later, vans full of agents surrounding them on all sides. There, they find Sam writhing on the spot, still clutching her head, and Kara standing uselessly at her side, helpless, knowing only that, if Reign is the last one standing in this fight, Kara will have to stop her.

Twice, Sam fires shots of heat vision at Kara, and then she melts a hole in the ground and buries herself in it. Among molten rock and stone, she screams, again and again, at herself, at Reign, at Kara, making horrible sounds that break Kara’s heart.

It’s three long hours before Sam regains control.

Once she’s gone quiet, Kara carefully digs her out of her self-made prison. Most of her outfit has been burnt away, and Kara rips the cape out from under her civilian clothes to drape it around her shoulders. Then, once more, she holds Sam in her arms, and flies, this time to the DEO.

Sam stays in bed for most of the night, with Alex and J’onn at her side, running tests on her all the way into the morning. She doesn’t speak unless spoken to, and only demands to know whether Ruby is okay, before submitting fully.

Hours and hours later, long after the sun has risen in the sky, Alex takes her home.

-

Sam comes to her door a week later, quiet and awkward as ever, her hands loose at her sides, and she moves past Kara without a word when she invites her in.

They don’t talk about the past few days of radio silence, about her absences at get-togethers. They don’t talk about the other night, when, in a moment of weakness, of bravery, Sam asked Kara to kill her.

Instead, Sam tells Kara about something funny Ruby did that morning, and Kara laughs, and Sam laughs, and Kara thinks of how beautifully resilient Sam is, of how they’ve made lives of their own on this planet, outside of the plans their parents laid out for them. She thinks of chance encounters and fortunate meetings, of the rose perfume Sam is still wearing because it makes Kara happy.

The sun is setting when Sam prepares to go. She’s already leaving, has one foot out the door, when she says, “I can’t be what they wanted me to be.”

There’s a practised quality to her words, like Sam had recited them to herself in the mirror, again and again, until they became firm and absolute, and Kara wonders how long she’s been psyching herself up to say this: I can’t be what they wanted me to be, not for you.

“No, you can’t,” Kara agrees. Sam frowns a little, eyes downcast and actually disappointed, despite herself and her friends and Ruby, and it makes Kara smile. “No more than I can be anything but who I am.” Sam looks up, wide-eyed. “So I won’t ask you to.”

They stand in silence for a moment. Across from her, Sam’s face scrunches up a little, and now that Kara’s thinking about it, that really didn’t come out right. Their eyes meet, and Kara begins to laugh nervously, pushing her glasses up and looking away.

“How about this?” Kara suggests, holding her hand out, palm up. Sam places her hand in Kara’s without a second thought, like it’s easy, ducking almost subconsciously to match the softer, more intimate tone Kara has assumed. Kara’s heart jerks in her chest at the motion, a shiver of warmth racing all the way to her fingertips. She grasps Sam’s hand tighter, running her thumb over the delicate bones in her middle finger. Perhaps that will distract Sam from the very visible pulse in her wrist. “Can we just be this?”

Sam considers her, dark eyes dancing between Kara’s, quiet and thoughtful. Her gaze darts down to their hands, catching on the pale inside of Kara’s arm, and Sam’s face clears, her expression smoothing gradually into a lovely smile. She steps back into the apartment, closing the door behind her.

Sam grips her hand, and answers, “I think I can manage that.”