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The Love of Forgetting

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“So. You’re beginning to remember?” she asks Supergirl over a very late breakfast.

The alien, two-fisting the sausage rolls Lena ordered in, nods as she chews. Then shakes her head.

“Take your time,” Lena murmurs into her coffee cup.

Supergirl frowns in concentration as she swallows. “It’s like stepping stones in a river. They’re always there, beneath the water. But I don’t know where until the current shifts, and then… then it’s like I always knew where to place my feet.”

“It seems to only be memories from Krypton so far. Or..?”

“No, you’re right.” Supergirl reaches for a scone this time, liberally spreading jam on top. “I don’t remember landing on Earth, or,” with a deep sigh of longing, “flying. Sounds pretty nice, though.”

Lena puts her coffee down and worries her thumbnail with her teeth. “How old are you in your last memory of Krypton?”

“You mean, when did I travel here?” Supergirl considers it as she fits the entire scone into her mouth. Half of Lena wants to reprimand her table manners. The other half is weirdly fascinated. “Not too old. Maybe twelve? We have a celebration when you complete thirteen solar revolutions on Krypton. I mean,” A little quieter, “they had them.” She’s quick to shake off the melancholy this time, though. “I’d really want to be able to remember mine, but I don’t, so I’m hoping I just never got it. Why?”

“Just… trying to work things out.” What if Supergirl used to be older than Superman, but something slowed her aging process? Space travel could have been a factor, if she’d been forced to go a longer way around… “What kind of things help you remember? Maybe we can spark Earth memories once we establish a pattern.”

Supergirl shrugs.  

“Hmm,” Lena says, sitting back in her chair. Her phone rings. The number is listed, but it’s no one in her contacts. Which isn’t supposed to happen. “Hello?” she says as she picks up, hesitant.

“This is my personal number,” Alex Danvers’ voice crackles over the connection. “I’m not supposed to be calling you like this, but I – listen, this is taking longer than anyone could have anticipated. The Swiss are citing all kinds of legislation to keep us out of their borders, my boss was on the phone with the embassy for five hours yesterday and we’re not seeing any movement. You have every right to complain to my supervisors and try and get me suspended for using your private information, I just – I wanted you to have a way to contact me, contact us, as quickly as possible. Just in case.”

She delivers this tirade in a breathless rush. Each word has the clear-cut articulation that speaks of equal parts determination and desperation, as well as massive amounts of caffeine.

“Alright,” Lena says after a pause.

“… wait, seriously?”

“As they say: politics makes strange bedfellows, Agent Danvers.” She gets up from the breakfast (brunch?) table. Supergirl watches her, but seems content to continue her assault on the sausage rolls as Lena steps away. “I take it this is your backup plan after they denied giving me a direct number for DEO higher-ups.”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Victory won, the strain starts to seep into the agent’s voice. Lena looks at the clock – it’s not even six in the morning in the states. She wonders how much sleep Danvers is working on. “Apparently they would have to put it before a committee for approval. This was faster.”

“This could get you suspended, apparently.”

“It’s worth it,” comes the quiet reply. “She – you need to be able to reach me if something goes wrong.”

Maybe Lena’s been underestimating recruitment at the DEO. Danvers is brash and a bit of a strong-arm, but Lena knows for herself it’s loyalty to a company’s mission that really defines an employee. This is above and beyond. “She’s lucky to have you looking out for her,” remembering at the last second not to name names (or aliases) over an open line.

Danvers’ reply, when it finally comes, is subdued. “She’s vital to the safety of the nation. We’re lucky to have her.”

Lena knows when not to push it. And besides, she’s hardly got the high ground when it comes to over-investment in Supergirl. Who knows how much worse it could be if they worked together. “So, how do we do this? What if something does happen?”

“You call me. And I…” A deep sigh. “I will make it work.”

“A truly impressive plan.”

Another sigh, this one with an edge of annoyance. “There are always emergency options, Ms. Luthor. They’re there because we save them for emergencies.”

“Good point,” Lena concedes. “But don’t you think we’re past Ms. Luthor if you’re calling on your personal line?”

She can almost hear the agent wrestling with it. “Lena.” Oh, so grudging.

“Alex,” Lena returns sunnily, because it’s taken her this long to get in good with the elder Danvers sister, she’s allowed a brief victory lap. “I’ll let you go. But,” why not, when her opponent is down for the count, “give my best to Kara, okay? When you can. Tell her not to worry about me.”

“Yeah,” Alex says, stilted, and Lena didn’t figure her for such a sore loser, but oh well. “I’ll – I’ll keep you updated. Bye.”    

 

 


 

 

 

The weather today is full of spring bluster and showers, so Lena doesn’t feel all that bad about suggesting they stay inside. Supergirl seems a little relieved at the idea of staying in, and Lena wonders, despite her seeming nonchalance, how much the revelations from yesterday have knocked her off her stride.

There aren’t many books in the apartment aside from a few milquetoast best sellers, but there’s a nice big TV screen, speakers in the walls, etc. All Earth media might as well be new to the alien, in this state, so Lena picks something out. On a whim, she chooses one of Kara’s favorite movies.

“Try this out,” she says as the credits start. “But don’t feel like you have to watch it. We can switch at any time.”

The alien bounces down onto the other side of the couch and immediately stretches out, tucking her toes under Lena’s legs. Lena meant to set her up and then go off and do her own thing, to be honest, and she’s not sure… there’s nothing intrusive or presumptuous about how Supergirl moves into Lena’s personal space, just pure creature comfort. And she did have a rough night.

“Oh.” Supergirl looks over, blinking, as if it suddenly occurred to her: “Were you not going to watch..?”

“Of course I am,” Lena says, making a decision. “As long as my doing some work doesn’t bother you. Let me just get my laptop.”

They spend the next several hours on the couch like that, Lena trying to keep her typing sounds to a minimum while Supergirl is wrapped up in the movies. She loved the first one – laughing in all the same places Kara did, swooning for the love story – and so Lena lets Kara’s taste guide her with each new selection. Supergirl shows no signs of being bored, or wanting to move from the couch. She only switches her position a few times, or grabs more cushions. When Lena puts her work away for a break, Supergirl takes advantage by throwing one into her lap and following it with her head. Lena stiffens, but Supergirl lets out a small sigh of contentment as she curls up, and so Lena lets it stand.

And Lena doesn’t really mind. In fact, she hasn’t become so comfortable so quickly with another person since…

God, Lena misses Kara. It hasn’t been that long since they had a chance to hang out, but Lena feels it more keenly in the last few days than she has over longer periods where they were both slammed with work.  

She knows why. She’s not obtuse, she can see the obvious: when off-duty and at loose ends, at least, Supergirl reminds her a lot of Kara. They both derive a deep joy from simple pleasures, and that joy is infectious. They both have an ease which makes other people comfortable. They’re both, uh, blondes.

Lena frowns. She can admit she has a type, but it’s unlike her to be… predictable.

Her phone vibrates. There’s a notification that Kara updated her twitter, and Lena smiles as she pulls it up, eager for even that low level of interaction.

You disaster, she thinks to herself.

Why isn’t there a loyalty rewards program for takeout? the tweet reads. Spend over 50 bucks, get a free appetizer? Come on, @dynastygarden_nc!

Lena feels the center of her go very cold.

It’s Kara, of course. Only Kara would come up with something like that and then say it without any sense of irony.

Lena knows that for a fact, because Kara already said it.

Quite a while ago. Months before Lena moved to National City – and Lena knows, because Lena is aware of her obsessive focus and her need to feed the beast when it raises its head. Which is why she spent hours looking deep into Kara Danvers’ social media history when they first became friends. Kara tweeted this exact thing, way back then.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. People repeat themselves. Even – especially – on social media.

Calling herself a paranoid idiot, Lena pulls up a program that allows her to easily access old tweets. Searches.

… it’s not there.

And she knows it was there. Lena’s memory isn’t photographic, like her brother’s, but it’s damned near impeccable. She didn’t get her doctorate by forgetting small details.

“Are there any snacks?” Supergirl asks suddenly, raising her head from Lena’s lap.

Lena looks at her, still tangled in her own brain. “Of course,” after a moment. She had the kitchen stocked while they were out yesterday. “Help yourself.”

The alien gets up, and Lena follows her almost blindly, lingering in the doorway to the kitchen as Supergirl rummages through the fridge.

Could it be a glitch in the site’s code? Maybe. But it’s a reach. And Lena knows better than to look for complicated answers – the simplest being that someone copied and posted the old tweet to make it look like Kara was updating, and then tried to cover their tracks.

Lena closes her eyes. Stop that, she scolds herself. Not everything is a giant conspiracy or cover-up. Once she starts to assume everything is sinister, she might as well share a prison cell with…

Besides, why wouldn’t Kara be updating her own twitter? Maybe Danvers had let slip something about this thing with Supergirl, and Kara was so nervous about giving away sensitive information she over-corrected. Maybe she copied and deleted her own tweet.

Yes, that was the most obvious explanation. It was weird, but a lot of living in National City was weird. And besides, if Kara wasn’t updating her social media for some meaningful reason – if she was in danger, or being prevented – Danvers would know. And Danvers would not be calm about that; she would not ignore her sister in need to focus on work.

God, if anything ever happened to Kara, Danvers would be a wreck. She wouldn’t rest for a second until Kara was back home and safe. She’d move mountains. Call in every favor, cut every corner…

… break every rule…

Looking back to her phone is not a decision Lena makes, or not consciously. Her gaze is dragged, as if by high-powered magnet, to where she placed it on the table by the couch. The lock screen still displays the notice of a call from a new, unnamed contact.

No.

“You know, I’m really glad I didn’t forget what I like to eat,” Supergirl says, sitting down at the kitchen counter.

Lena looks at her and thinks: same build, same coloring.

No.

“Lena?” Supergirl frowns, leaning forward. “What’s wrong?”

no no no no no oh please –

“I’m going to be sick,” Lena forces out, before walking off to the bathroom to do just that.

 

 


 

 

 

She’s crazy.

Lena leans over the sink and takes deep, even breaths.

That’s what this is, right? Whatever flaw ate away at Lex’s brain and sent him off the deep end, she’s reached that sequence in her genetic chain. Maybe the famous Luthor breeding finally, truly fucked itself, and they’re all doomed to madness onset in their mid-twenties.

It would help explain Lillian.

… jesus, what if it’s something in response to Kryptonians? What if prolonged exposure is like radiation? Lex was openly enamoured of Superman before the break, and spent as much time as possible in his company. Maybe the effect is intensified by concentrated proximity, like close-dancing by a river and sharing a bed –

She unclenches her white-knuckled hold on the porcelain sink and turns on the water, splashes some on her face. Three more deep breaths, and then she sends a text to her first assistant to schedule her a full physical and genetic workup once she returns to National City.

Bases covered, she tells herself to start thinking like a scientist.

What was the popular cocktail party game? Who have you never seen in the same room with Supergirl.

It was a joke, of course. Everyone knew what she looked like, her face splashed across TV screens and accompanying newspaper articles. But it had started in Metropolis in the days when Superman was a camera-dodging cipher, and various iterations (Batman, Catwoman, she’s even played a round about Penguin) never quite died out.

There was only coffee in her stomach from this morning, but her mouth still tastes foul. She puts some toothpaste on her brush with shaking hands.

Kara works a job that doesn’t always require her physical presence at a desk. Kara works a lot, and often won’t say what on. Kara has intimate ties to the DEO. Kara is…

Lena stops in mid-brush, her mouth full of foam.

Kara is adopted.

It’s not something she often talks about, but it comes up in passing. The first time Lena heard about it was one of those bursts of serendipity, that surprising warmth of maybe this was meant to be.

Nothing is, of course. The universe doesn’t work like that.

Lena spits and rinses. Stares at herself in the mirror.

Kara… cannot be Supergirl. It can’t be true.

She doesn’t want it to be true.

Kara is important. If she’s been lying to Lena’s face this entire time – if she’s been a Super, an alien, this entire time –

She forces her breathing to slow and her neck to straighten from where she finds herself hunched, shoulders up around her ears as if in expectation of a blow.

Kara is something new, for Lena. A person who gives as much of herself as she thinks Lena needs and never demands anything in return, never trades on the possibility of withholding that care and attention. Lena didn’t know how to deal with it all, at first. The closest she’s ever come to a purely personal connection with other human beings has been in partnership, not friendship. Those were important, formative relationships – in sex, and romance, and business – but she always knew, conclusively, what the other person was there for. She knew what would make them stay. What would make them leave. She was, as much as anyone could be, in control.

Kara comes and goes freely. It had sent Lena into panic mode at first. She spent hours reading over Kara’s social media and trying to figure out what this girl wanted, what Lena could do or be to make her a sure thing. She would search strings like “grown-up friendship activities,” suggesting spa retreats and kale smoothies to Kara after it led her to a bizarre franchise involving several well-known charity matrons posing over credit sequences and reciting catchphrases. (“Have you seen this?” she asked her second assistant, who informed her that yes, everyone had. Lena made a mental note to take a deeper look into L-Corp’s media properties and what exactly they were; money is money, but some things are not worth the money.) Kara disliked kale and the mud baths made her giggle uncontrollably – but she was still here. Being Lena’s friend.  

Before Lena knew it, the same quality that had first made her panic was now as indispensable as oxygen and water and a well-indexed internet. Kara rounded out her days and smoothed all the sharp edges Lena had taken for granted. Kara’s friendship was something Lena never even knew she wanted, until she realized how much she needed it.

(And yes, Lena is more than a little bit in love with her. But that’s such an easily-suppressible thing. Lena has lost count of the people she loved who couldn’t return it – or not in the same way, with the same intensity of feeling. But Kara likes her. And Kara likes her, not her name, her money, or her connections. What’s the sting of an unrequited crush, in the face of all that? Everything has a price. This one is more than worth it.)

… and that’s why she has to ask Supergirl to remove her cloaking tech.

It’s painfully obvious, what with this episode she had just now. She has no objectivity. She can’t be relied on to make any disciplined observations, or come to any worthwhile conclusions, until it’s proven that Kara is not Supergirl. There’s absolutely nothing to link them beyond coincidence, no reason to suspect they’re the same person. And yet here Lena is, trembling like a leaf in a rented apartment bathroom in Europe at the mere possibility.

Clearly, she’s compromised. She can’t move forward until that possibility is off the table.

It won’t be Kara, of course. Once the tech is disabled Lena will see a stranger’s face. She’ll call herself ten kinds of idiot. She’ll probably be investigated by the DEO when they find out she removed the tech, hell, they might even bring her up on some kind of charges. God, they might even – could they alter her memories? She’s heard rumors of magic, she wouldn’t put it past them to try.

(It will be worth it to be rid of this feeling. It’s not even suspicion, it goes too deep into her bones. It’s dread.)

It won’t be Kara.

“Supergirl,” she says, coming back to the kitchen, “I need to ask a –”

“Are you alright?” the alien interrupts. Which seems out of character, even in their limited acquaintance, but she’s searching Lena’s face with an anxious look.

Oh, right. Because Lena got… emotional. “I’m fine. I’m sorry if I worried you. But on another note, will you do something for me?”

The alien nods. Like it’s that simple.

“Can you,” and she takes a half-second, in which she looks down from the cliff of inevitability she feels like she’s falling from but she has to know, “remove the device we discovered behind your right ear from your skin?”

Supergirl stops chewing her banana. “You said it helped keep me safe,” she says through a mouthful. Lena had shared her theory about it earlier, fearing what might happen if Supergirl removed it on a whim in public.

“It does.” It does, what is she doing? “But I’m asking you to take it off, now. If you’re willing.”

She swallows her food. “Why?”

Half a dozen ready, easy lies come to mind. Lena breathes out and makes a leap for the truth. “Because I think I might know you. I want to be sure.”

Supergirl’s face brightens, and then dims. “Lena, if you can tell me who I am, that’s amazing, but…”

“I will keep you safe,” Lena promises. “Whoever you turn out to be, until you are back under the protection of the DEO I won’t let any harm come to you. I swear.” She means it. She does. 

Supergirl’s face clears of tension. “Okay,” she says, reaching up under her hair.

Lena braces herself. It won’t be Kara.

There’s a faint tearing sound, like velcro coming apart, and Supergirl winces. Lena is already opening her mouth to tell her to stop, leave it, it doesn’t matter this much if it’s going to hurt –

The alien’s face flickers. The tech is in her hand.

And it’s –

It’s only a few steps to Lena’s phone. She brings up the last number to contact her and hits the call button.

“Is there a problem?” Alex Danvers picks up, frantic. “Lena, what happened?”

“Use the emergency option.” She’s proud of herself for speaking so clearly. Her face feels numb.

A pause. “Are you sure? I’d really hoped to have more time, a day or two at most, so if you could just tell me why you –”

“I know why your sister isn’t returning my calls, Agent Danvers.”

She hears a sound she thinks is the phone creaking in Alex’s grip. “I need a few hours make the necessary arrangements and fly over. I swear to god, if you even –”

“Do it now,” Lena says, and hangs up.

 

 


 

 

 

She’s in her bedroom. She hasn’t locked the door, but she’s sitting with her back to it. On the floor.

She hasn’t done this since she was a kid. A coping mechanism, which she could have guessed before several highly-paid therapists gave their highly-paid opinions on it. (She never lasted long with any of them. Inevitably she would feel like she was telling secrets which weren’t really hers. “This is common for survivors of toxic relationships,” the last one had told her. “Secret-keeping creates a closed system, and a feeling of emotional investment which keeps a victim tied to their manipulators.” Which was all well and good, except the line where Luthor family secrets ended and Luthor company secrets began was razor thin, and having a lawyer in the room with her therapist seemed to invalidate the whole exercise.) It was crudely metaphorical but satisfying: her own space was hers, and safe. The world outside it was not. But it couldn’t come through the door without going through her first.

“Lena?”

Lena shuts her eyes.

Eventually something would force her to leave her room: school, meals, Lillian tiring of her “sulks.” Nothing was truly kept at bay, and Lena didn’t really have a choice in deciding when she was ready to join the wider world.

It’s a charade. But even the emptiest of rituals can have resonance.

“Lena, are you okay?” Supergirl asks from the other side of the door. It sounds like she’s also crouched low. Lena pictures her hand hovering at the spot where Lena’s head rests against it.

It’s Kara’s voice. There was some kind of buzz or distortion added by the tech. She didn’t notice at the time, but she knows this voice like… so there must have been something like that. For her to not recognize, before this.

She looks down at the device in her hands. She thinks the alien offered it to her right after, and she took it. She thinks. She’s having trouble on details.

It’s a beautiful piece of technology. Elegant. Efficient.

If Lena has the pleasure of meeting its creator again, she’s going to break all of his fingers.

But why stop there? Raze DEO headquarters to the ground. Kryptonite-salt the earth within the boundaries of National City. Strip the skin from the bones of everyone who knew she was being tricked, used, everyone who must have been laughing at her and her pathetic –

“You don’t need to come out. But can you tell me if you’re okay?”

Oh, yes, always so obliging. Guileless from day one. Just a sweet-as-cream CatCo representative on a ride-along to meet the latest Luthor with her Daily Planet… reporter… cousin.

Oh.

Oh, fuck, she thinks in dismay: now she knows the secret identity of both Supers.

Lex would be so…

Proud.

“Lena?” comes the soft whisper again, and it’s the combination of how dejected the alien sounds, and how pleased she knows Lex would be, that has Lena getting to her feet and opening the door.

Ka – Supergirl doesn’t rise from where she’s crouched on the floor, arms wrapped around the knees drawn up to her chest. She raises red eyes up to Lena. She isn’t crying, but her face is a picture of misery.

Lena has spent the last ten minutes in her bedroom shoring up her defenses. This tears through them like they’re wet paper.

Supergirl’s face, before, had been incredibly attractive – the kind of good looks that set you at ease and prompted immediate trust. Lena imagines now they tested different iterations on focus groups: if this face appeared to you in a burning building, would you climb into its wearer’s arms?

Kara’s forehead is a little rounder, the line of her chin and jaw not quite as strong. The device also made her hair appear a touch blonder. She’s amazingly pretty, of course – a normal kind of pretty, not walking and talking propaganda for truth, justice, and the American way.

But it’s Kara.

And so Lena is ten times more helpless to the instinct to sink down to her knees in front of her, putting her hands on the other girl’s shoulders. Somewhere deep inside her she dredges up the gentleness she knows is needed right now, even if the jury is still out on whether it’s deserved.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I’m sorry if I scared you. But everything is… everything will be alright. The DEO will be here soon.” And then this won’t be Lena’s problem. Then she can lick her wounds, and plan her next move, in private.

“You know who I am, don’t you?” Kara asks, soft, eyes searching.

Lena has a flash of insight where she gets it, she gets the over-the-top monologuing and the grandstanding, because the very last thing she wants in this moment is to be honest. She’d rather play a role, even that of a villain, if it meant she didn’t have to actually feel what she’s feeling. Much less talk about it.

So maybe Lillian did have a soul somewhere, or the remnant of one, if melodrama was her fallback. But Lena has wanted to be better and do better than that woman from the moment she grasped that literally nothing on this earth was going to make Lillian love her.

It still takes a lot of effort. She takes her hands off Ka- Superg- Kara’s shoulders, ignoring the sad noise that inspires. She picks up Kara’s hands in her own, instead, chafing them a little. She’s not sure the slight friction is comforting to a Kryptonian, but from the way Kara clings to her maybe it’s the thought that counts.

“Your name on Earth is Kara Danvers. I don’t know what it was on Krypton –”

“Kara Zor-El,” Kara breaks in. “Kara Zor-El,” she repeats in a tone of quiet relief.

Lena moves her mouth into something she hopes resembles a smile. “Another stepping stone?”

“Yeah.” She grips Lena’s hands so hard Lena can’t contain a wince. Kara’s hands immediately go limp. “I, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Lena murmurs, and resists the urge to flex and check she hasn’t lost any mobility. It hits her: Supergirl’s Kryptonian name. She knows that now. How many people know that?

Certainly Kara never intended for Lena to find out.

… god, the wealth of things Lena could get out of her, right now. She’s so vulnerable and lost. And trusting.

It’s another precipice. One that Lena looks down into and contemplates for what feels like a damning amount of time, but in reality she’s sure is less than a second. Still: a moment weighted with eternity. 

Before she, mentally, steps back.

It makes things better. Her heart still feels like it’s rending into two parts, slow and excruciating, another meaty rip every time it strikes her fresh that Kara is Supergirl. She has been taken advantage of and taken from, and she will take back what she is owed.

But not from this girl. Not this version of Kara. This girl never decided to hurt Lena, and Lena… doesn’t want to hurt her. If she’s being honest.

“Come on,” she says gently, standing and pulling the other girl to her feet. Kara takes the excuse to resume her death grip on Lena’s hands, although not so hard this time. Her eyes dart to Lena’s face, and then the floor, ducking her head so that she’s half-hidden under a curtain of hair.

“It’s okay,” Lena says again, and this time it really is. “Let’s go sit somewhere comfortable, and I’ll tell you all I know.”

She can afford patience. To wait. Eventually Kara’s full faculties will return, and then? Then she’ll be deserving of anything and everything Lena will throw at her.

 

 


 

 

 

They spend the next few hours on the couch huddled over Lena’s phone. Lena pulls up articles on Supergirl’s greatest hits to start them off, but she knows that’s not what Kara really wants to see. She has every photo Kara ever texted to her, which would be a lot more embarrassing if Kara could remember texting her, but she can’t. She just watches, wide-eyed with her hands in her lap, as Lena scrolls through candid shots of Kara’s workplace and apartment, the silly selfies with her friends sharing the frame.  

“Is this helping?” Lena asks when she’s reached the last picture, of Kara’s chopsticks about to pluck a dumpling from the takeout container in her sister’s lap. Danvers is sitting on a couch with her head tipped back against it, eyes shut, mouth slightly open as she (Lena guesses) snores. The picture included the caption SHE WHO SNOOZES LOSES. “Are you remembering anything new?”

Kara shakes her head. “It’s not like the other stuff. It’s like there’s nothing there.” She pulls in a hard breath, and Lena can guess she’s holding back tears again. Kara still tries for a smile, though. “It’s nice? It looks like a nice life.”

“You seem very happy with it.” What does Lena know? Didn’t the last few hours prove she has no business, no business at all, in speaking with authority on Kara Danvers? It doesn’t matter how many stupid pictures she has saved to her phone.

“What about you?”

Lena’s head jerks up. “Me?”

“How do you know me?”

“I… we met fairly recently. I moved to National City to take over my brother’s corporation, and you –”

“Are we friends?”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on coaches for personal speaking, and Lena is made speechless by an alien with an impatience for social niceties.

“Because you know me, and you have all of – this,” Kara gestures at the phone, “but when you saw my face you got really upset.”

“I wasn’t that upset,” Lena says on autopilot: admit no weakness.

“Lena,” Kara says, with a look. “I know exactly how upset you were.”

Goddamned biorhythms.

“I was surprised,” Lena says, keeping her tone even. “I didn’t know you were… you,” she finishes, feeling idiotic but somehow unable to say it: you are Supergirl. Not to that face. Not yet.

Kara’s forehead furrows. “Why not?”

Lena looks at her helplessly.

She’s saved by a knock at the door. Lena barely has time to undo the chain before Agent Danvers is shouldering her way inside, at least five more DEO agents securing the hallway behind her.

“Where is she?” she demands, but Lena was anticipating this from the look on her face and she’s already pointing to the couch. Danvers doesn’t advance, careful not to put Lena at her back, but she directs a quick, intense scan at her sister. “Are you hurt? Is anything wrong?”

“No,” Kara says, standing. Her nonchalance at their reunion is jarring, compared to Danvers’ emotional intensity – the woman is practically vibrating – and their usual… connection. The same one that put Lena on edge when she first saw them together in the same room, the ease they had in sharing space. That’s gone, now.

“What happened to your dampener? Was there an attack? Was it damaged? Where is it?” Danvers asks.

It takes a moment to click. “Do you mean that device disguising her face?” Lena asks, reaching into her pocket. “I’ve got it here–”

She looks up and into the barrel of Danvers’ gun, and Lena can tell the agent has been longing to point it at her from the moment she walked through the door. Possibly before.

“That is DEO property, and if you do not hand it over I will shoot –”

“No!”

A blur of motion and color, and the next thing Lena registers is the thud of Danvers’ gun striking the far wall. The damn thing fires, and the bullet blasts the TV screen into a volcano of sparks.

… with the cost of all these damages, Lena might just buy the apartment after all.

When she comes back to herself she’s pressed against the wall by Kara, who’s stretched out to shield her. Just beyond Kara’s shoulders she can see the DEO agents aiming their weapons, radios at the ready. Danvers is staring at them both with wide, wide eyes.

Kara,” she gasps out. She’s holding her wrist in her other hand, where it hangs oddly.

Kara is facing away from her, so Lena can’t see her face. But she can see the muscles in the girl’s shoulders tighten and she can picture the accompanying expression: pinched and stubborn. She places a hand on Kara’s back.

“Kara,” she says softly. “I’m fine. She’s just looking out for you.”

Kara relaxes. It’s incremental, but it’s immediate. Lena can’t afford to be distracted by how that makes warmth uncurl in her chest.

“You don’t need to use guns,” Kara says firmly. “She doesn’t have any guns.”

The DEO agent doesn’t respond. She isn’t even blinking.

Lena feels a pang at that. Danvers looks like someone’s pulled the rug out from under her.

“And she’s coming with us when we go,” Kara adds.

… wait, what?

 

 


 

 

The DEO are more than happy to include Lena on their ride back to the states. She’s pretty sure they were planning for it, although she’s also pretty sure their scenario involved handcuffs, and maybe a bag over her head. They clearly hadn’t expected Supergirl to literally growl at them whenever they breached the two-foot radius around Lena’s person, but you weren’t recruited to work for the dealing-with-aliens-and-possibly-magic section of government black ops if you weren’t capable of thinking on your feet.

Lena is feeling less sanguine about the change in plans.

“I have a trillion-dollar international company to run, you know,” she tells Danvers, wedged up against the tinted window of their town car. Kara had insisted on taking the middle seat and placing herself physically between Lena and the other agents. She apparently didn’t feel that Alex was a threat anymore. “I removed her gun,” she’d assured Lena, confident and a little smug. Lena hadn’t the heart to tell her that Alex probably had at least two more – along with various other weapons – secreted on her person. She figured one of them should get a win.

“We let you bring your phone and laptop,” Danvers replies.

Lena tries to stare her down. She had about seven minutes to send messages to her assistants re: the change in plans, with orders to pack up her things and make arrangements about the apartment’s damages. Kara had nothing to bring but her suit and the shopping bag of clothes they’d purchased yesterday at the boutique. Danvers had handled the latter with all the ceremony of a skunk carcass. Lena suspected she would have tried to chuck it out the window of their car on the way to the field just outside city limits, where the high-powered jet was waiting to whisk them out of Swiss airspace, except Kara had made a show of watching her store it in the trunk. “Yes. You put them in your bag.”

Danvers gives her a smile that’s nothing but bared teeth.

 

 


 

 

 

Superman is waiting for them when they arrive.

It brings Lena up short. She doesn’t like him. Oh, it’s completely irrational, and it puts her at a disadvantage, she knows that. Even as – especially as – a Luthor, it’d behoove her to cultivate something friendlier than outright distaste for the hero of Metropolis.

It doesn’t matter. She’ll never be able to hate Lex, and displacement is so human.

And what’s life without an irrational grudge against at least one superpowered alien, anyway? Downright pedestrian, is what. From the dark looks he shoots her as they’re escorted deep into DEO headquarters, passing several security checkpoints, it’s not as if she’s rejecting an olive branch.

“What are we doing about her?” he demands once they reach the bowels of the building.

Kara makes another growly noise, and he startles.

“Nothing yet,” Danvers supplies. “Because of, well,” nodding toward her sister, “that.” She sighs. “The director called you back from Almerac?”

“As soon as I heard about Kara’s condition,” Director Henshaw says, entering the room. “If things went south, we needed backup that could put her in check.”

Danvers opens her mouth, but Lena finds herself beating her to the punch. “She’s fine,” she assures the older man. “You don’t have to worry about her – you know, doing anything you don’t want.” She has a brief flash of Kara being dragged away in kryptonite-powered restraints, and her mind actually whites out for a second of unexpected… something. “Everything is fine,” she repeats.

Kara’s hand creeps up to intertwine their fingers.

“Be that as it may,” Henshaw says, “Alex radioed me with the update on Kara’s memory. I also thought, as a possible link between Earth and Krypton, Superman might be the one who could help spark the return of more recent remembrance.”

“He’s wearing my family’s crest.” Kara says. Her tone says she’s not sure how she feels about that.

“I am family, Kara.”

Lena thinks part of her must have always hated him, even before the business with Lex. That smooth, comforting tone, the boyish earnestness – something about him makes Lena itch to find the foundations of his world and shake them, just so he can stop being so sure of it.

But then, Superman has never really been separate from Lex in her mind. Before the murders he was Lex’s newest fascination, the preoccupation that siphoned away the part of Lex’s focus he usually gave to Lena. Not that she wasn’t used to it, as part of the cycle Lex went through every few years with a new patent or business merger. Once, even, with one of his (many) wives – and no surprise that she’d turned out to be one of the few smart enough to leave him. All Lena ever had to do was bide her time. She’d get her brother back. She always had before.  

Except that cycle had ended in a string of lifetime sentences, and now they would never be a family again.

Kara is shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize you.”

“Well, obviously,” Lena mutters. She puts one hand on her hip and cocks it, but the attitude is a little hard to pull off when Kara’s still holding her other one. “Don’t cover up on my account, Kent.”

Everyone else’s faces undergo a series of expressions she’d find funny if the circumstances were different. Superman is the worst of all. “I… don’t know what you –”

“Please,” Lena bites out. It feels good to be angry – she can be, about this trick and this person who played it. Not like – “Aside from being duped by a close friend, I am capable of putting two and two together.”

There’s a lot of anger in general, really.

“And we’ll deal with that later,” Henshaw says, with warning looks at the alien and Danvers. Lena is already making mental notes to record the past day’s revelations with – her phone? No, they have that. And her computer. They have to give it back eventually. If she can get ahold of a pen – or maybe just a sharp pin and the privacy she needs to scratch Morse code into her thigh – “You have permission to turn off your dampener, Superman.”

Superman doesn’t need to remove the device, apparently, he has the memories needed to reach up behind his ear and flip whatever switch there is.

It’s even worse seeing it confirmed, with Clark Kent’s head above the suit and cape. He hadn’t been an obsession. He and Lex had been friends. God, Lena might actually have pictures of them at one of Lex’s bachelor parties toge–

“Uncle Jor-El?” Kara breathes. It throws Lena off her train of thought and brings up the hair on the back of her neck. Because Kara’s eyes are wide and hopeful, but Kent’s are filled with sudden panic and, oh, Lena has no idea what the hell is going on, but she knows it’s going to hurt.

“No,” Kent forces out, bringing his hands up. “Kara, I’m not –” He swallows, throat bobbing. “I’m Kal-El. His son.”

Kara laughs. “Don’t be silly. How did you survive?” She steps forward, letting go of Lena’s hand in the process. Lena wants to yank her back like she would a child walking into traffic.

“Kara, it’s not a joke.”

Something in his tone must register through her wonder, because Kara halts a few steps in front of him. “No,” she says. “Kal-El was a baby. He can’t be more than a little boy by now.”

“There was an issue with your pod, Kara.” He takes in a deep breath. “It was knocked off course. You were trapped with it in the Phantom Zone. For twenty-four years.”

“The prison dimension?” Kara whispers. 

I have to move, I have to be somewhere, someone is waiting for me, but it’s like the whole universe is pressing down, Lena remembers, and a pit opens up in her stomach.

“By the time you reached the Earth, I was… older.” He swallows again. “I’m sorry, I know this has to be disorienting –”

“So I failed.” The color has drained from Kara’s face. “You grew up alone, and I failed.”

“No, Kara – I know you were sent to protect me, but I was raised by a wonderful family, and they kept me safe. I was never in any real danger as I grew up, so even if you weren’t there, you didn’t fail –”

“Of course you weren’t in any danger,” Kara says, her hands curling into fists at her sides. “They sent us to a planet with a yellow sun – almost nothing in this system can harm us! You thought I was supposed to keep you safe? I was supposed to keep you Kryptonian.”

Lena sucks in a breath despite herself. Everyone else in the room is frozen and staring, with faces that say they’re just beginning to understand what a train wreck this will be.

Someone barrels in through the door – Winn Schott, she recognizes him. “Alright,” he announces, looking down at his phone, “I’ve isolated the isotopes from the kryptonite on the site Kara lost her memory, and –” He looks up to see the tableau and stops short. “… guys?”

“I am Kryptonian,” Kent says to Kara.

“Oh, are you?” Lena wants to reach out, pull Kara back from… she’s not sure what. But the pain radiating from the girl she thought was her best friend is so intense, she expects to feel it like heat when she raises her palm. “So you can explain to me the threefold symbolism of our house crest. You have to know the history of the House of El, of course, what am I saying – and you can at least tell me who you’re named for. And why. Right?”

Lena’s glad she’s not the only one staring in shock. She knew Kara was hiding a lot, but she never suspected this depth of resentment, this blistering judgement that seems as much directed inward as anything.

“No,” Kent finally admits. “I don’t know any of that. But I try to uphold the… the legacy of –”

“So you live like a Kryptonian?” Kara asks, too quietly. “You know our traditions and keep the rituals alive?”

“… Kara…”

“Do you light the rocks with me on summer solstice and sing the hymn for wanderers?” Kara’s voice begins to shake: “If I die, can you perform the seven rituals for seven days of mourning that will send me safely back to Rao?”

“I don’t know them, but I can find out,” Kent says. His tone is desperate, and god, Lena can see he means well. But Kara turns her head away, eyes closing, and Lena’s heart breaks. “The pods survived, and everything our family sent with them. They included a program that… it created a database, a massive computer, and every single piece of recorded Kryptonian history is on it. I promise you, we didn’t lose anything.”

That makes Kara open her eyes. “I lost everything,” she chokes out. “You were too young to remember. You don’t see their faces. You don’t dream in a language no one else speaks. It’s just a story to you – it isn’t real.” Her whole body is now shaking, Lena realizes, but even that isn’t enough to break the horrific spell that has them all paralyzed. “I was the one who gave it up. So that at least you and I, we would have each other in an alien world, surrounded by outsiders.” The look in her eyes is pure desolation. “But you might as well be one of them.”

The shaking intensifies, and she puts her hand over her mouth. She turns from him and walks out into the corridor, clearly needing to be somewhere else in that moment. Even with all those terrible words said, Lena feels like this is the most damning action yet.

“Woah,” Schott says, a beat later. “Uh. I take it this was a bad time.”

Superm- Kent is standing stock-still where Kara left him, staring sightlessly, chest rising and falling a little too rapidly for calm.

But he’s not her problem. That would be –

“I need to –” Danvers cuts herself off, swinging around and making as if to follow her sister. Lena’s stomach swoops, and she prays reason will outstrip protective instincts, but Danvers doesn’t seem to realize how this can only make things –

“Alex,” Lena says under her breath.

The agent stops at the door, takes a moment. Slams her closed fist against it.

Opens the door and stands aside, gesturing for Lena to step through.

“She needs someone she trusts,” Danvers says tightly.

Lena can only begin to guess how much that cost her, and so she does the polite thing by only acknowledging with a nod as she goes in search of Kara.

 

 


 

 

 

Kara hasn’t gone far. She’s found what looks like a break room, with couches and a coffee pot in the corner.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” she says as Lena walks inside.

Lena picks her way across the rough carpet, settles beside her on the couch. The upholstery is scratchy. Part of her really can’t wait to be back at L-Corp and far away from interior design on a federal budget. (Even a federal military budget.) “You had big a shock. I think he understands.”

“No, I’m not supposed to… I’m the older one, I –” She squeezes her eyes shut, rubs at them. “I used to be the older one. I’m supposed to take care of my cousin.”

Lena reaches to gently take her hand away from her face and hold it in her own, on the cushion between them. “It sounds like a lot of memories hit you all at once.”

Kara is silent for a long, long moment, until Lena is wondering if maybe Danvers would be the better choice for this. And then:

“It was supposed to be the two of us.” Kara is looking down, instead of at Lena, and her voice is almost too soft to be heard. “I would raise him in our traditions, and then we’d go and make our own families, raising them to remember, and this way, there would be an unbroken thread of living memory. It wouldn’t – Krypton is gone,” with sudden savagery, “I know that, we always knew it wouldn’t be the same. But between the two of us, we would make sure it was never truly lost.” She raises her head to look at Lena with eyes swimming with tears. “It’s just me, now. He isn’t – and I can’t do it alone. It’s too much, it’s too much to carry all alone –”

Lena opens her arms and Kara curls into them, shuddering, not quite crying, not yet. Maybe in shock from the seeming impossibility of this legacy, dropped in her lap out of the sky.

Lena remembers the day she received Lex’s shares of the company. Her first day as official CEO. The day she submitted the papers to change its name. Every single time it had taken the wind out of her, as it hit her anew how small she really was compared to the vastness of what was required. How much bigger she had to become to suit her purpose.

That was only in the face of one family’s legacy. A whole world…

Maybe, a voice whispered inside her, that would be enough to make you wary and hide your face even from your friends, knowing what was ultimately at stake.

She… doesn’t want to think about it right now. But speaking of.

“You should know,” she says, and allows herself to stroke Kara’s back, gently, “Krypton isn’t forgotten. People all over this world know where you came from and what happened to its people. They don’t always know much more than that. But the database your cousin mentioned – there are campaigns all over the world from professors and academics and specialists who want to know more about its language, and history, and culture. You remember those articles I showed you?” She waits until she feels Kara nod. “You and your cousin are heroes. The symbol of your house now stands for everything righteous and admirable.” Lena pauses, trying to find the right words. “You have a right to your grief. You have lost so much. Even your family’s legacy, in a way. But there is still a legacy.”

She feels Kara nod again, slower this time. “You’re right. I see what you mean, I… I understand.”

“… Kara?”

A quick, deep breath, and then another, as if Kara is now trying to hold back her tears. In a very, very small voice: “It’s not the same.”

When Lena was very young her father used to take her and Lex to tour the Luthorcorp factories. He’d introduce them to the workers, who’d grin and offer their hands, making jokes about how tall Lex was and how beautiful Lena would be. Lionel was the king of the castle, his children his prince and princess. “One day,” he would tell them on the ride home, “this company will belong to you both. Like being family, it will be something no one else can truly understand – but you will share it with each other.”

“I know,” Lena says.

Kara finally lets out a sob, and she presses even closer into Lena’s shoulder to muffle the sound of her crying. Lena holds on as tight as she can.

 

 


 

 

 

They all reconvened in one of the larger conference rooms. Kara was surprisingly calm by the time they return to the group, even making her way over to Kent and exchanging a few words before coming to sit by Lena. By contrast, everyone else is jumpy and awkward. Lena is certain now they’ve never seen an outburst like that from Kara. The way Kent’s eyes keep flicking over to her, and the thoughtfulness when he does, only settles it.

“It’s kryptonite,” Schott announces. “Red kryptonite, actually.”

At this, everyone in the room except Lena and Kara exchanges charged glances. Kara, noticing, looks to Lena, who gives her a shrug.

“This is nothing like the effects of red kryptonite,” Danvers says flatly from where she’s leaning against the far wall.

“Well, it’s not exactly red kryptonite. It isn’t even red, really, it’s more of a blood orange. But I analyzed our sample,” here Schott turns to a whiteboard, picking up a marker and sketching out the model of a cell, “and it seems to be a variation of the established element. See, if green kryptonite looks like this… and red kryptonite looks like this…”

While everyone else – a little surprisingly, but Lena guesses organic chemistry is more intriguing for the layman when it has real-life application – is absorbed in Schott’s findings, Kara leans over to speak in Lena’s ear. “I’m really hungry,” she whispers.

“Do you want to go get something to eat? I’m sure they have a cafeteria. And that you have clearance.”

“I…” Kara wets her lips, eyeing the other occupants of the room. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“They’re not going to do anything to me knowing you’re around the corner,” Lena says, gently. Kara makes a moue, so she adds: “And if anything does happen, you have a ready suspect list. Which is the best anyone can ask for in this uncertain world.”

Kara raises her eyebrow, unimpressed. It makes Lena sad for a split second: usually that would shock Kara a little, and then make her tease Lena for being so… Luthor-like. Right now, Kara simply rises to her feet and informs their company of her intentions, and Henshaw radios for a guard to be her escort.

“This might be easier with her out of the room,” Schott says, as Kara shoots Lena one last worried glance and the door closes behind her. “We have to get a bit personal.”

There’s a pause while they all, very obviously, do not look at Lena.

Kent is the one to break the tension. “I think we’re well past that.” It’s not a rousing show of support, but Kent sounds less grim than anticipated. More tired than anything.

“Okay,” Schott nods. “Okay.” He drags out another whiteboard. “So, let’s try to develop the theory that these kryptonite samples are like different branches of the same tree. Hear me out. You guys familiar with Freud’s threefold sense of self? Yes, I know, he’s totally gross, but let’s just run with it.”

Henshaw nods. Kent looks thoughtful, and Danvers shrugs.

Schott pops a marker top and scribbles on the board: ID, EGO, SUPEREGO. “So, we have the me sense of self,” drawing several arrows to EGO, “and then we have the factors working on it. One of those is the id. That’s, like, all your darkest desires, the messy stuff. No scruples or limitations. Sound familiar?”

Lena is already lost as to what this has to do with anything, but the others are back to those significant looks. “Like the influence of red kryptonite,” Kent says.

“Exactly! So what if – I know it’s weird but what if – this new stuff, what if it works from the other end of the spectrum?” He taps the board just beneath SUPEREGO. “This is the rules and morality and ethics. Like, the fundamental understanding of right and wrong, and I’m talking early stuff, they think this worldview is established as early as three and four years of age.”

“Wait, wait,” Danvers puts up her good hand. She’d gotten her wrist splinted on the plane ride back, but refused all manner of pain meds. “Kara’s been exposed to red kryptonite, and there wasn’t any memory loss then.”

Lena blinks at her. Kara was..? What Lena would have given to see –

“Yeah, but that’s different! Look,” Schott says excitedly, “the id is selfish. It preserves the self, it’s with us from birth. So the superego is selfless and, when given full reign,” crossing out EGO to illustrate his point, “erases it. You can’t have ulterior motives if you don’t even know what you, as a person, want.”

“But her memories are returning,” Lena says.

“Yes! Exactly!” Schott says excitedly, waving his marker in the air. “But only Kryptonian ones!” He spreads his hands as he looks to each of them. “Don’t you guys get it?”

“Walk us through it, Winn. Slowly,” Henshaw says.

“I mean, what did Kara even do on red kryptonite? Showed an inch of bare midriff at work? Manhandled James? And yeah, let Cat Grant fall forty stories, but like… Come on, can you imagine what she could have done? What anyone else would have done with that kind of power and no restraints – I mean, we just have to look at the Luthors to… um…” He winces, throwing Lena an apologetic look.

“No, you have a point,” Lena murmurs.

“So what if it’s subject to an individual’s perception of right and wrong?” Schott continues gamely. “Red kryptonite had Kara doing the things that were personally abhorrent, even if on the sheer scale of possibility it was,” he snaps his fingers. “So when she’s exposed to the opposite flavor, the kind that evokes your ideal self? The self that’s way too demanding and difficult to actually live as on a day to day basis?”

“She’s Kryptonian,” Danvers says softly.

Schott nods vigorously. “I’ve asked Kara a lot about life on Krypton, okay. She doesn’t remember all that stuff! At least, not in the detail she was talking about. Who does? I mean, who is ever the same as they were, with the same ideals, as when they were a kid? That’s what we’re really dealing with here – not Kara as she would have grown up to be on Krypton, but the morality instilled in her back then. If red kryptonite's effects are internally driven, this stuff works with the external, socially-imposed stuff. All those memories, none of the… compromise of growing up and realizing the world isn’t so simple. I think that’s also why she’s also so, uh, malleable.”

“Ah,” Henshaw says, grim. “So do we think someone was testing its effects? Making sure it would render Supergirl open to their influence?”

“No, wait,” Lena feels she has to interject, “she said she can tell when someone is lying. It doesn’t matter if she’s trusting because she believes everyone operates on the same moral code, she'd be able to know when they were trying to deceive her.”

“It doesn’t really work like that,” Kent says quietly, from the other side of the table. “It’s as fallible as any lie detecting machine, really – all we can sense is a change in heart rate or perspiration. That can come from any number of factors or false indicators. It’s only close to reliable when the response is totally at odds with a person’s demeanor, because then we can guess they’re hiding something. If they’re in control of their responses – worse, if they don’t feel they’re acting in a way that deserves an anxious response – we won’t sense anything at all.” He meets her eyes, and she’s a little disturbed at the depth of sadness in his own. “Even those we know pretty intimately can end up fooling us.”

… oh. She’s an idiot, and she should have put it together before. If Superman had been able to catch Lex every time he lied, they would all be living in a very different world.

“But that proves my point, doesn’t it?” Schott resumes. “Kara’s seeing everything as black and white, lying or not lying. She’s not taking into account those other factors – just like she’s not living a sense of herself that has any fear of consequences. No room for second-guessing or self-protection. The image of your ideal self.”  

“Kara’s best sense of self knocks my weapon out of my hands?” Alex asks.

Schott holds up his hands. “She’s working on a very rigid worldview, okay? Right is right, wrong is wrong. And you were pointing a gun at an unarmed civilian. Or so I heard,” he adds quickly. “At which point she came down on you like, well, like an avenging angel.”

“She fractured my wrist.” 

“That shouldn’t be taken as a judgement against you,” Lena breaks in. “She doesn’t have her usual control. Remember?”

There’s a flash of what might be gratitude from Alex, but she ducks her head and nods too quickly for Lena to be sure.

“That,” Henshaw says, “worries me even more. She could potentially be very dangerous like this.” Uncontrollable, is the subtext, but Lena wonders if anyone else is picking up on that.

“I think we lucked out there. She doesn’t have the same finesse, and she’s way too trusting that the world around her is operating on the same level, until they don’t. But she seems to have developed an external dipstick to tell her when she’s taken things too far.” When they stare at him, he gestures to Lena.

Apparently they no longer feel a compunction against staring.

“I didn’t do a damn thing,” she says, just managing to make sure it’s not through gritted teeth.

“Well, you obviously did something. Not on purpose! We’re not thinking anything, like, nefarious,” Schott rambles. “But she seems to have, uh, imprinted on you? It would have happened easily enough, maybe something you said or did when she was first affected?”

Lena fights the urge to shrug. “I only walked over to say hello.”

“And then?”

“Well, I noticed something was wrong, and I said…”

“What?”

“Supergirl?”

“Is that my name? It doesn’t sound like a name.”

“I told her she should come home with me,” Lena says, dismissing the voices in her memory and the panic – completely disproportionate panic – she felt on hearing that response. She had panicked. When was the last time she allowed herself to do that – to act on impulse, on emotion? She hadn’t even considered the danger of placing herself in the alien’s orbit. She just… protected Supergirl.

The others look perturbed. Except – surprisingly – Alex Danvers. Who gives a long, slow blink and then relaxes, half the tension bleeding out of her frame in a breath.

Lena eyes her, but Alex turns her gaze to the floor, as if by coincidence.

Oh, she’s not going to escape that easily.

“So,” Henshaw sounds grim, “what do we do next? Introduce the concept of moral compromise?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s not going to do anything,” Schott says. “If this is like the red kryptonite, we can’t reason with her. If I’m right, we’re not really dealing with Kara – not like we know her. We’re dealing with Kara’s perception of her most lawful, moral self, and if we want to change that perception we have to access the,” he taps the board again, “core identity, which means reversing the effects of the kryptonite. That should bring everything back to normal.”

“So…” Kent starts up, “Kara doesn’t really think of me as… like that?”

“Of course not. I mean – well, part of her does, but –” Kent flinches, and Schott hurries on: “She can’t blame you. Even if she hadn’t been trapped for so long in the Zone – and that’s not your fault – this is just… assimilation is a part of all diasporas, right? Kara gets that, when she’s not so. Uh. Uncompromising.”

“But you think we can undo the effects,” Henshaw says. The three of them start talking about someone named Maxwell, but Lena keeps her attention on Kent, watching him out of the corner of her eye.

He looks gutted.

And a terribly small, terribly mean part of Lena thinks: Good.

“The only concern is if there’s any permanent brain injury,” Schott is saying. “Which isn’t likely, it’s much more probable she has all her memories stored in her subconscious and just isn’t accessing them, but without any solid proof so far that she can remember anything besides Krypton –”

“She dreams about the Phantom Zone, I think,” Lena says quietly. “She has nightmares about being cold, and unable to move.”

Danvers face creases in a deep frown. “She wouldn’t remember anything about that.”

“She might,” Schott says excitedly, tapping out something onto his phone. “Remember she was detoured for years. We say time stands still there, but it doesn’t actually, it just… well, it’s complicated. Kara wouldn’t have aged regardless, but she remained unconscious because of her pod, and the pod had finite resources. She might have woken up once or twice if it was conserving power.”

“But she’s never mentioned –”

“Oh, she’s repressed it, you know, that and childhood trauma go together like –” He catches sight of everyone’s faces when he looks up and stops, clearing his throat. “Anyway. It should mean everything is intact, brain-wise. So I just need to go back to the lab and reverse-engineer an antidote from the one for red that we’ve already got.” His eyes snag on Kent. “And maybe call my bubbe,” he adds to himself, before hustling out the door and down the corridor.

 

 


 

 

 

“We have one other problem,” Henshaw says when it’s just the three of them, after Kent also excuses himself. He says it to Danvers, really. “We can’t keep her here overnight.”

Danvers sends a glance Lena’s way. “Why not? We have a couple empty holding cells –”

“We cannot hold a citizen without due process,” Henshaw interrupts firmly. Not one with such a prominent public profile, anyway, Lena adds in her head. “And I wasn’t speaking of Ms. Luthor.”

Kara chooses that moment to re-enter the conference room. They all look at her.

She already has a protein bar unwrapped and in her hands, but at the attention she begins to pat her pockets, “I, uh, I think I have enough for everyone?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re going to keep her here,” Danvers says.

Henshaw presses his lips together, but Lena is guessing a sister’s amnesia gets you a free pass on an insubordinate tone. At least the first time. “I cannot have a Super at full powers and an unfettered conscience inside this building any longer than strictly necessary.”

… not just Super, but Super-morality… Lena’s eyebrows go up. Oh. Oh.

No, you wouldn’t want that wandering around your top secret base full of inconvenient government secrets, would you.

Kara plops down next to Lena, having realized she misread the room. She still offers a protein bar to Lena, though, shyly. Lena takes it with a smile.

“Superman can make sure she stays in her room –”

“And if it leads to a confrontation? Our job in this situation is to minimize risk, Agent Danvers. No, Kara needs to stay somewhere secure, where she’s safe from outside threats. But also someplace that won’t trigger her current… scruples. And, optimally, with someone who won’t be tempted to sue the DEO for damages, should she continue to struggle controlling her powers.”

Lena gets it almost right away, stops mid-bite of her protein bar. It takes Danvers another second.

“Oh, come on,” she protests.

 

 


 

 

 

Danvers at least insists on heading the team that sweeps Lena’s apartment of… well, their search parameters felt deliberately broad.

“They’re making sure I don’t have anything in here that could hurt you,” Lena says to Kara, as they stand together in her kitchen, before pitching her voice a bit louder: “Although I’m not sure what that might be, since I’ve just come home myself, and with completely unexpected guests.”

“Standard procedure, Ms. Luthor,” Danvers shouts back from another room. Lena thinks she’s itemizing the contents of the wine fridge. That ‘12 Chateauneuf du Pape better still be there when the agents leave.

Lena kills time by putting in take-out orders for dinner – the one thing that’s easier, now that Supergirl’s identity has been revealed. She already has menus from Kara’s favorites.

Lena puts in an order for the agents as well. 'Kill them with kindness' was never part of her childhood curriculum, but Lena’s not so set in her ways that she can’t pick up new tricks. It’s more than worth it for the way Danvers eyes a pizza slice like it’s radioactive before cramming it into her mouth with bad grace.

Lena’s not the only one who notices. Kara levels the DEO agent with a look. “Say thank you.”

The two of them enter a wordless stare-off, neither of them moving a muscle for almost half a minute. Lena squashes the urge to rest her chin in her hand and start grinning like an idiot.

Danvers breaks first, nodding at Lena with her eyes downcast. “Thank you for the pizza. And,” she presses her lips together before prying them apart, “this,” indicating Lena, Kara, the situation Lena is learning to love more with every passing second.

“Any time,” Lena simpers, just to annoy her, but Danvers swallows it.

Lena has just enough time to wonder who all this good behavior is for as Danvers confers with another agent, and then turns back to Kara. “We’ll be back tomorrow at 7:30 AM sharp. If anything goes wrong – if you feel uncomfortable for any reason – use your panic button. Yeah, that,” as Kara holds up her arm and displays where it dangles on her wrist.

Danvers is silent for a moment, worrying her lip as Kara looks back at her, guileless. “Can I hug you goodbye?” she asks finally.

Kara nods. Danvers wraps her arms around the alien’s shoulders, Kara’s hold around her waist is loose, and relaxed, bending her head to the other woman’s shoulder. Lena only catches a glimpse of Danvers’ face, the sudden strain she allows to show on it as she holds on as if for dear life.

Lena looks away.

She escorts the agents to the door afterward, leaving Kara in the kitchen. “A word,” she says, just as Danvers is about to follow the rest of her team.

Danvers turns to face her, one eyebrow raised.

“I saw your face when Schott was talking,” Lena tells her. “You know what happened – why Kara…”

“Imprinted on you?” Danvers finishes drily.

“Listen.” She can’t help lowering her voice even as she knows it’s useless against superhearing. “She’s already too… open, like this. We don’t want to reproduce the effects and make her even more suggestible. Or leave her vulnerable to someone else.”

“Someone who isn’t so closely monitored by the DEO?”

“I know what you think about me, but –”

“No, you’re right. And if I’d thought that was any sort of possibility, I would have brought it up at the meeting. As it was, I figured Clark’d already had an earful about failing to live up to family obligations.”

What the hell did Kent have to do with it? “If you don’t want to tell me –”

“You claimed her.” The agent steps away from the door and leans to press the button for the elevator. “She was lost, and alone, and you claimed her right away. If Winn’s right, and she has subconscious possession of all her memories? That would have… resonated.”

Lena watches her step into the elevator as it arrives. She’s not sure she understands. But Alex’s expression, for the first time all day, is surprisingly free of rancor. “Goodnight, Agent Danvers.”

“Good night, Ms. Luthor. Pull any tricks tonight, and they’ll never find your body,” as the doors close over her face.

 

 


 

 

 

She can’t sleep.

Lena pulls on a robe and goes down to the kitchen to make herself a mug of warm milk. She doesn’t drink it. She lets it cool on the countertop as she thumbs through the emails on her phone. She forwarded the NDA the DEO made her sign before allowing her to leave the premises over to her lawyer, but she hasn’t heard anything back yet. She’s not that worried – they didn’t have time to sneak anything in there, from what she was able to see when she scanned the document. To their credit, they seemed first and foremost concerned with protecting Kara.

She puts her phone down and picks up the mug. It’s gone cold and she puts it down with a face.

“Can I have some?”

Lena looks over to see Kara leaning against the doorjamb, hair a mess. Like maybe she’s been tossing and turning on her pillow. “Did I wake you up?”

Kara shakes her head. There are lines of exhaustion on her face Lena has never seen before.

Mentioning how exhausting and overwhelming the past day has been feels like the utmost of inanity, so Lena simply moves to re-microwave the milk. She hears Kara pad across the floor behind her, and so manages not to jump when the other girl drops her head down onto Lena’s shoulder with a sigh.

They were never this comfortable with each other, before, not even with Kara Danvers at her most conciliatory. Lena wonders if she should have figured out how much of it went past amnesia before now. She also wonders if she should say something – make it clear to Kara that her emotional and physical comforts are historically found elsewhere. The endless amusement of Danvers’ hurt little face aside, wasn’t there some kind of boyfriend, of a sorts, for a while there? That male partner who’d tagged along on rescue missions and made puppydog eyes at Supergirl?

(Yes, she should remember his name, she was almost married to him. But he hasn’t been around lately and she doesn’t believe in hanging on to outdated information.)

She doesn’t even know why she’s so concerned. It isn’t her responsibility to maintain Kara’s status quo. She hadn’t even been part of that status quo, not where it counted. She angrily yanks the door open to the microwave as it dings.

The heat radiating from the ceramic has her yanking back before her fingers make contact, and the sudden movement makes Kara raise her head. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Lena mutters. “It’s too hot.”

“Here, let me.” Kara reaches past her easily, her arm coming in across from Lena’s side. Lena would turn and make her escape, but when she tries Kara’s other hand comes up to rest against the flawless metal sheen of Lena’s industrial refrigerator.

Lena knows when she’s been pinned in place, if not why. So she merely folds her arms and leans back against the refrigerator door with an eyebrow raised as Kara tips her head back and downs her milk.

“Question?” she asks as Kara finishes with a satisfied sigh, and pretends she wasn’t watching the movement of the alien’s throat the whole time.

“Yes.” Kara places the mug carefully back on the counter. “The ritual that woman enacted before she left, is it expected of intimate contact?”

It takes Lena a second. “You mean, when Alex asked you for a hug?” She frowns a little. “Not explicitly. I’m sure the two of you hug all the time without going through all that. But since you have no memory of giving previous permission, she was being… respectful.”

“So, permission is sought in first encounters?”

“If there’s any hope of follow-ups.”

Kara nods, once. “Can I kiss you?”

… she should have seen this coming.

And she knows there’s a dozen – just to start – reasons to say no. She’s not sure how ethical it is to kiss someone with no memory of their previous relationship, or any other relationships. Or even how she, Lena, feels about being kissed by Kara, who has been lying to her day in and day out with a smile.

But Lena hasn’t gotten what she wants so often in life that she’s about to start turning it down now.

“Yes.” She barely gets the word out before Kara’s mouth is on hers.

She’d be lying if she said she hasn’t thought about this.

She’d always imagined it to be tentative, though, shy and exploratory. Lena had no idea if Kara even liked women, and had to factor that into her calculations – where and why it might happen anyway, the negotiations after, Kara flushing and not quite able to meet her eyes.

Never – ever – being pressed firmly against the nearest flat surface and kissed like Kara was staking a claim. That answers that question, Lena thought, and then gave herself up to the feeling of it: one of Kara’s hands curved around her waist and the other cupping her jaw, thumb brushing against her cheekbone. Lena brings up her own hands to rest on the alien’s upper arms and, oh, mistake, miscalculation. The curve of muscle there and the awareness of leashed force is like a haze rising in her brain, and Lena can feel her control of the situation slipping.

Possibly Kara can, as well, because she angles Lena slightly, and deepens the kiss. Her mouth opens a little further and her tongue touches to Lena’s lower lip with a soft moan. Kara presses forward – Lena has nowhere to go (not that she wants to go anywhere) and this slots them together like puzzle pieces. Lena’s body lights up, it feels so fucking good, so of course that’s the shock she needs to break the kiss and gasp: “Wait.”

She turns her head to the side to catch her breath. Kara doesn’t go anywhere, probably because Lena’s still got her fingers firmly wrapped around her biceps. She just tips her head until her forehead rests against Lena’s temple, taking in deep breaths of her own.

Lena shuts her eyes. It would be so easy to not care. Not think about it. Just turn off her brain and – “Why?”

“Well, you’re beautiful.” Kara laughs, a little huskily. “And you’ve been so… you’re wonderful. You make me feel so good.” Her hand slips from Lena’s face down to where her neck meets her shoulder, in a caress. “I’d like to make you feel good.”

“That simple?” Lena makes her tone light, as if her heart didn’t feel like it might beat itself right out of her chest.

Fingers press lightly, teasingly, into the dip above her collarbone. “Does it have to be complicated?”

“I think the situation warrants it, yes.” She has to say it. “You never wanted this before.”

“Didn’t I?’ Softly contemplative. “Maybe I never said anything, but… this doesn’t feel new.” The following silence is expectant, and so Lena turns back so that their eyes meet. “It feels like I haven’t told you a lot of things I should have,” Kara says.

“You obviously had your reasons. You’ve just forgotten them.”

Kara’s face scrunches in frustration. “I just don’t get it. Why wouldn’t I trust… you’re amazing. You wouldn’t ever hurt me. You couldn’t,” she says, with a soft smile.

Dammit. If only she hadn’t… dammit.

Because whether Lena would or would not hurt Kara in the future, yes, that was up for debate. Lena understands being doubted, even if she’s not sure she’s ready to forgive it. Lena is ready for the argument she knows now for an inevitability: her ethics versus Kara’s, their differing priorities, what it means for them going forward. But whether or not she’s capable of hurting Kara? Or Supergirl?

Of course she is.

And that goes beyond the secrets she still hasn’t shared, the precautions she’s always known to take, or the formulation for kryptonite – just in case, just in case – she’s been working on since before she even arrived in National City.

She’s a Luthor. She’s capable of anything.

She releases Kara’s (gorgeous) arms with a sigh. A light push is all the other girl needs to step back and give Lena her space, although she doesn’t look thrilled about it. Lena’s not happy herself, but she’s even less so at the thought of being wanted purely for her altruism. That’s not even a thing she has, really, and Lena’s been fucked by people who thought she was someone else, before, but… No. Not here and now. Not acceptable.

“We should both try to get some sleep,” she says.

Kara tilts her head to the side. “Really?”

“Yes,” firm.

Kara’s smile is wistful, this time, but she doesn’t argue. She leans in a little with a question in her eyes and Lena offers her cheek in answer.

The kiss is right at the corner of her mouth, and soft, and it lingers. But Lena’s the one who said an amnesiac alien could kiss her in the first place, so now they’re even.

Or that’s what she tells herself as she stares up at her bedroom ceiling until the morning light creeps in.

 

 


 

 

 

“You’re still here,” Superman says.

Lena is watching as they hook Kara up to – actually she’s not sure what to, it’s some kind of contraption with electrode patches and a fast-blinking interface. Lena is allowed to watch the procedure, but is confined to the observation area behind a thick pane of translucent material, might be glass bonded with something extra for that edge when experiments go wrong. She understands the precautions, but she really wants to get a better look at whatever they’re using on Kara. She’s pretty sure some of those components are alien tech. She very badly wants to sneak it out of here and dismantle it in her own lab. Focus, she tells herself, but doesn’t look away. “Kara wants me here.”

She can feel his eyes on her after that, but he doesn’t say anything, so she imagines she’s headed off any excuse he has to hustle her out. Until:

“You really do remind me of Lex.”

Lena turns fully around to face him.

With anyone else, she would know what that meant: a hidden barb, a slap in the face, even the greasy slick of sycophancy. (Wherever he ended up, Lex made a lot of money. Most of the people she deals with on a daily basis respect that far above the death toll. Possibly because, if indirect action was held as accountable as direct action, they’d have their own.) For the half-second before she sees his face, Lena thinks it’s an accusation.

But it’s not.

“He used to talk about you all the time. Your grades in school, the projects you were working on – he was so proud of you.” He hesitates. “He told me you were adopted.”

It’s not a secret. The legal documents are public record, if you want to look, and even her father wasn’t able to suppress a few headlines when she first started appearing with them in public. There’s no reason for the wash of cold prickling all over her skin, as if Lex’s openness also left her vulnerable.

“He only brought it up after… well, he looked into my background as Clark Kent, and he found my adoption papers. I was pretty ticked off at first. And scared, I mean I had to wonder… but then he talked about you. He asked me what it was like, and what my parents had done that might have helped me grow up like that. I figured he was just looking out for you, instead of investigating me.” He frowns. “I guess it might have been both.”

Oh, it had definitely been both.

“I always wondered how deep his suspicions ran,” he tells her quietly. “There were a couple times –” He cuts himself off by pressing his lips together. “Every time we talked about you, he would end it with: she’s nothing like me, you know.” He raises his eyes. “Any idea why he’d say that?”

A number of reasons. So that Kent wouldn’t damn her with his journalistic pen when reporting Lex’s inevitable crimes. To hold Lena in reserve, so that Kent would discount her as a force to be reckoned with if Lex needed someone else to do his dirty work. Hell, maybe it was part of a long-range plan of hypnotic suggestion, is he really asking her to explain Lex’s reasoning and internal motivations? Lex?

“Anyway, I think he was wrong,” Superman says, turning his focus back to where they’re still fussing with Kara. “You two are a lot alike.”

“You hated him,” Lena says flatly.

“No,” he looks at her, eyes wide. “No, I didn’t, I…” He closes his mouth and it twists, the muscles standing out in his neck. “He has the most amazing mind,” he says finally. “I kept thinking: if only he used it for something better. If he’d tried to make things better, instead of –” He stops himself. “My parents didn’t want me doing a lot of normal things when I was growing up, like joining sports teams. They told me, with my powers, I had to set different goals than other people. Hold myself to a different standard.” His mouth twists even deeper into his cheek. “Lex didn’t find that as inspiring as I had.”

No, he wouldn’t have. For the first time Lena feels something like a flash of pity for Kent. He had no way of knowing do and be better wasn’t a sign of belief, the encouragement of loving parents, to someone with her and Lex’s childhood. It was a flat statement of you have failed to be worthy as you are.

Of what? Whatever commodity was running short in the Luthor household that week. Whichever of Maslow’s fundamental needs Lillian had decided was a means to an end.

If that had been Kent’s way of trying to talk Lex down from the ledge… no wonder.

“And then, well. You remember what it was like.”

Oh, does she. That had been the story of her adolescence: which months would Lex be on bail for charges brought to the public’s attention by Superman? They were always false. Or that was the company and family line: a misunderstanding, a misapplication of justice, the perception of guilt but nothing that could be proved. Public prosecutors were no match for the sheer tonnage of expert and character witnesses Lex would bring to court. And their witnesses always had a last-minute change of heart.

“It’s bread and circuses,” Lex would assure her whenever they met. “They violate my constitutional rights, and why? Because I’m a rich man and therefore corrupt, and the city’s in thrall to an alien. Panem et circenses, Lena. A case of spectacle over substance.”

After all, none of the charges really stuck, or not in any meaningful way.

(After all, Lena would whisper to herself in the dark privacy of her thoughts: none of the prosecutor’s witnesses ever went missing.)

“I had hope, for a long time,” Superman continues, “that he would change. And I wonder if I…” He shakes is head slightly. “Lex is responsible for his own destiny. But I can’t help but wonder what else I could have done.”   

Lena’s mouth drops open, just a little. He can’t seriously be saying… he can’t even be considering –

“I see you here,” he continues somberly, with that same look of noble self-sacrifice that cost Lena more than a few screens when he used it for the press junket after Lex’s lifetime sentences, “by Kara’s side, after everything. And I know you’re angry. I know it’s justified. But you’re still here, and you remind me so much of… You knew him better than anyone. Do you think – was it even possible..?”

Of course she’s angry. That hasn’t stopped, she’s still Lena Luthor, she can’t undo her nature in a few days. She’s only put it on pause. It’s a trick she’s learned: to save strong emotion for when feeling it didn’t reveal her weaknesses. She stores it deep in her body and prays she finds time to address it before it forces its own way out. It works, mostly.

But that anger is solid, controllable, compared to –

She wants to burn him. Pin him in place with a nice chunk of kryptonite and let the flames do their work.

Of course Lex would have kept his secret. Of course Lex would have forgiven him, eventually, for the lies and the deceit. Lex – well, Lex was never the best with moral high grounds, even before he turned a deaf ear to his better angels. Lex could forgive almost any crime, as long as he was your first call in covering it up.

… but would Superman’s secret have saved him? Prevented all those deaths?

Lena… honestly can’t say. Not even now.

She wants to think it. God, but she wants to throw it in Superman’s face: it’s all your fault, I lost my brother because of you. Even now, with him half-braced for it, it would be so deeply satisfying.

But she looks at his expression of sorrowful expectation and she… isn’t sure.

It was a lot easier to condemn him before all this. Before she knew Kara and Supergirl as one person; before she experienced Kara, as Schott explained, operating in the belief of a just world. Lena had been aware on a rational level what responsibilities a Super might deal with on a daily basis, even before she reached conclusive proof they lived under secret identities. But knowing is one thing; living with a truly unafraid, unfettered Kara over the past few days… she isn’t substantially different, not at the core. And yet Lena can’t help but do the mental calculations and figure out exactly how much self-restraint Kara must usually practice, what possible responsibilities and anxieties could tip the scales to that degree.

She’s still angry about all of it. But she’s not unsympathetic.

She can’t be the cold bitch she wants to be, either, looking at Kent now. She loves Lex. But she can’t, in good conscience, promise that his potential reform outweighs all the possible ways that his knowing Superman’s secret could have gone wrong.  

(And if Superman cared for Lex as well, even the littlest bit, she’s not sure she wants to add that guilt to his scales. Not anymore.)

“No,” she says, her tone perfectly even. “It wouldn’t have been the same.” She manages a small shrug. “Lex really did want to conquer the world, you know. He planned for a willing surrender, but failing that? I’m not sure what resources he would have drawn on. Better off for everyone that he didn’t have a Super in his back pocket.”

Superman stares at her, eyes growing wider and wider. She has a moment to wonder what his problem is – why can’t he just be happy with what she said, isn’t that what he wanted – before remembering his explanation of the only real way to know if someone was lying.

Danvers opens the door to the observation area, sparing them both. “They’re starting,” she says breathlessly.

She joins the two of them – either for her own protection, or to keep watch, anyone’s guess – behind the not-entirely-glass. They peer through it, close as they can be to the barrier, as one.

There’s a weapon of some kind, emitting a low, steady beam of neon light. Danvers whispers something to Kent about lowering the intensity from last time in the hopes it won’t knock Kara out completely. Kara withstands the beam for thirty seconds, sixty. Lena counts out eighty-three seconds, and then Kara holds up her hand and the beam stops. Everyone holds their breath. 

Kara hunches over, consumed with internal struggle. A fine, orangey-red mist rises from her in waves. 

“Kara?” Henshaw was the only one allowed to remain in the room with her, something Lena doesn’t understand but has most definitely filed away for later speculation. “Do you know who I am?”

“Of course I do,” comes that familiar voice, but more importantly in the familiar tones of warmth and underlying exasperation. Lena staggers a little bit, resting her forehead on the cool barrier in relief. “What – am I back in the DEO? What happened?” 

“How much can you recall?”

Lena raises her head to watch Kara frown. “There was an emergency – in Zürich, right? I flew over, and then I… I…”

She stops. Her hand creeps up under her hair, behind her ear. 

A pause. 

And Kara turns to look directly at Lena on the other side of the glass.

In the next instant she’s gone, a wind tunnel and a trail of open doors as evidence that she super-speeded away and out of sight.

 

 


 

 

 

Everyone at the DEO is very nice about it.

So terribly understanding.

Henshaw takes a moment in the midst of escorting her out the door to press a card into her hand. “I understand Alex gave you her contact info,” he says. “I’d appreciate if you’d replace it with mine.”

“Are you asking me to forget her violation of DEO policy in exchange for access?” she asks, already tucking the card away.

“Yes.” He holds her gaze. “And it includes a one-time offer for any favor I can give you that isn’t illegal or immoral.”

The car she called for drives up. She ignores it. “And you’re hoping that will make me reconsider any petty revenges I might be considering in light of the past few days. Against Alex, or…” But her mouth dries up when she wants to say the name.

Henshaw might as well be carved from marble, for all he gives back to her in that moment. “Will it?” 

Lena yanks the car door open and climbs in. “I don’t do petty,” she tells him, before closing it and telling her driver to take her to L-Corp.

The familiar sights and sounds of her work wash over her in a wave as she enters. It’s like a soothing balm, or a numbing swallow of alcohol, and she gives over to it: asking her assistants to prioritize her messages, reviewing her schedule, conferencing with three different department heads.

It’s almost seven before her second assistant says: “Oh, and Kara Danvers called just before you arrived.”

Lena looks up and the assistant blanches, stuttering, “I’m sorry, you – you’ve said before she’s only tier four priority, unless she specifically asks –”

“Did she leave a message?”

“Yes!” He taps through his tablet. “She, uh, you had a lunch scheduled later this week. She called to cancel.”

Kara cancels quite often. “Did she reschedule?”

(She always reschedules.)

More taps. A nervous glance at Lena, and yet more tapping. “No, I don’t see… should I call her back?”

“You’re dismissed for the day. Thank you.”

When she makes a motion the guard by her door closes it behind her assistant, and locks it from the outside.

Lena sits back in her chair. Considers. Her desktop monitor? No, she needs that. Her phone doesn’t feel solid enough. The chair is too solid.

She settles on an objet d’art on her bookcase: a Qianlong dynasty vase. One of the less valuable offerings from the Luthor vaults, but striking.

She picks it up and flings it against the far wall. It shatters, almost musically, into dozens of pieces.

It’s a childish gesture. It takes away whatever modicum of self-respect she felt with her parting words to Henshaw.  

It’s still a relief to have a physical manifestation of the past few days: something incalculably unique and precious, now broken beyond repair.