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Taking the River Denial All the Way to Atlantis

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“Hey! Be careful with that!” Alex glowered at the beefy man hauling the box with her favorite books out of the truck. Those had been her father’s. If even one page was bent or torn, she’d…

Kara wrapped an arm around Alex’s shoulders. “Why don’t you help me unpack in the kitchen? I’m starving and we don’t have any plates or silverware for food.” She dragged Alex away from the moving truck toward the house. “What sounds good? For dinner, I mean. There’s no delivery out this way unless we do Uber or GrubHub or something. Weird, huh? All of my favorite places are going to wonder what happened to me if I’m not calling them every few days.”

The chatter washed over Alex without penetrating. Kara and food. An everyday conversation.

Until it wasn’t. “Hey! I didn’t know anyone had bought this place.” A new voice interrupted Kara’s concerns about paying delivery fees for things they’d normally ordered in National City.

Alex turned to find a woman in a too-large Coast City Clippers hoodie. “Just renting, I’m afraid,” she responded. “Waiting to see if the new job’s permanent. Allison Anders.” She held out her hand. “And my wife, Karen.” The names rolled of her tongue thanks to hours of practice.

“Megan Saunders. Welcome to the neighborhood.” Deep dimples sprang out when Megan smiled. “I’m a couple of houses down.” Then the smile turned wry. “The one with all the dead flowers. Apparently, gardening is harder than it looks.”

There was a crash from inside the house. Alex stiffened and turned. “No! No, you don’t.” Kara narrowed her eyes. “You stay right here! I’ll go find out what happened. I’m not ready to visit you in prison.”

Alex rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

Kara took a couple of steps then pointed a finger at Alex. “Stay!”

“I’m not a freaking dog, Kar!” Alex managed to use a long “a” in the usual nickname. But, to push Kara’s buttons, she bared her teeth and growled.

Megan laughed as Kara trotted off. “I hope the movers didn’t break anything important.”

“Ah, we don’t have that much.” Alex tried to play it off. J’onn had told them not to bring anything with personal value, but she couldn’t leave some of her books behind. They were part of her and Kara’s cover story. “Just books and photos.” Those were real. It helped that she and Kara had grown up together. They had a million pictures that Eliza had offered up.

To make sure Megan didn’t ask too many questions Alex didn’t want to answer, she went on the offensive. “Have you lived here long?”

“A few weeks.” Megan shoved her hands into the front pocket of her hoodie. “Nice neighborhood. Close to the city. You read the brochure.”

“Mmm.” Alex hadn’t read a single brochure; they’d picked this housing community based on detailed intel on an alien child adoption operation. The kind where alien kids got picked off the street and unwillingly sold to the highest bidders.

The front screen door slammed shut. “Your books are safe, and I found the box with all the plates.” Kara’s grin rivaled the afternoon sunlight. “As soon as we have the last box inside, I’m ordering pizza and potstickers.”

Without thinking, Alex raised her right hand and circled it around her face. “Check out my Stunned Face. I am stunned. Shocked, even.”

“Be nice!” Kara’s shoulder shove was (thankfully) only human strength. “Or I’ll call Elise and tell her you’re being mean to me!”

“One more thing for her to hold over my head.” Alex grimaced. “Unless you want me to start drinking now, you won’t make that call.” Eliza, now using the “codename” Elise,  had already informed them that a little thing like an undercover operation wouldn’t keep her from visiting on Thanksgiving. “I’ll be so drunk by the time the turkey’s done, you’ll have to take me to the ER.”

She’d forgotten that Megan was there. “In-law?” the other woman asked.

“Allie’s mom,” Kara offered, and Alex risked a broken hand to smack Kara in the stomach. She’d warned her sister not to vomit information to everyone they met. It was nice to know Kara had paid attention to the lesson.

“We should go check on the movers,” Alex said, hoping Kara got the hint.

When would she learn? “Because they need you to tell them how to carry the boxes?” Kara asked. “Let them do their job before they dump everything in the front yard because you’re driving us all crazy!”

Megan laughed. “You two should take your show on the road. I’ve seen comedy acts far less funny.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if the new job falls through.” It was time to go inside. Get settled. Call J’onn and update him on their progress. “Nice meeting you, Megan.”

Of course, Kara chimed in. “Maybe you could come to dinner one night? After we get a few things unpacked, I mean. We used to have Movie Nights back in National City. You could help us start them up here!”

“Sounds good.” Megan waved before wandering off in the direction she’d indicated she lived.

“Really, Kar? Movie Night?” Alex rubbed at the headache she’d had since J’onn had assigned them to this op. “We’re not here to make friends. We’re here to find the bastards stealing alien kids.”

A little of Kara’s enthusiasm faded. “I know.”

Kara did know. Alex knew the situation was a priority for Kara. “I’m sorry,” Alex mumbled. She was such a bitch sometimes.

A slender arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her in for a hug. “No, you’re not. You’re just that crazy person who puts up with me and tries to save the world all by herself.” Kara leaned her head down to rest against Alex’s. “And I know this isn’t really the kind of thing you like. You’d rather storm the castle with guns blazing.”

The last of Alex’s irritation faded, and she hugged Kara back. “How long have you been on Earth? And still mixing your metaphors. I thought you were raised to be a genius? Leader of the Science Guild and scion of a Great House? No one storms the castle with guns.”

They entered the house arm in arm. Boxes filled most of the space with furniture scattered throughout the remaining empty areas. “This is a mess.” Alex spotted a box labeled “Bathroom” sitting in the middle of the living room. “I told J’ohn we’d be better off with a U-Haul.”

“And wouldn’t that cause a few jokes,” Kara said with a smirk.

“Only until I kicked the joker’s ass.” She moved out of Kara’s hold. “Besides, Winn would never say that out loud. He’s terrified of me.” Standing in the middle of the entry hall, Alex regarded the mess that waited for them. “Have I mentioned I hate moving?”

“About a million times. That’s why you live where you do, no matter how many times the rent goes up or your super never fixes anything.” Kara walked over and picked up the offending box. “I could wait until it’s dark and take care of most of this in minutes.”

Alex shook her head. “You will not!”

“Wanna bet?” Dramatically checking the house first, Kara then zipped to the bathroom and was back (now empty-handed) before Alex could blink.

“Karen Anders!” It was harder to get the name correct this time. Alex glowered at her grinning sister.

A sister who winked – and then zipped away again. Before Alex knew it, the kitchen was unpacked and the living room furniture was arranged around the television. “I got most of the bedroom done, too. At least we’ll have someplace to sleep.”

Alex sighed and gave in. She hadn’t been looking forward to a night on the floor, either. “Can you see if anyone’s around the house? We need to check in with J’onn.”

Tilting her head, Kara peered at the walls for a minute. “Megan’s on her front porch and there’s a couple walking their dog two streets over. And…” The head tilt grew, and The Crinkle appeared. “Megan isn’t who she says she is. She’s a cop. She’s on her cell with some FBI agent.”

Perfect. Alex grabbed her own phone. “Just what we need. Local PD and the Feebs getting in the way.” She was a little surprised they’d even noticed the crimes. Missing aliens didn’t normally grab the attention of regular law enforcement.

“Aren’t you in the FBI some days?” Kara had her phone out, and Alex saw her perusing the UberEats app.

Rolling her eyes, Alex grabbed her own phone and dialed J’onn. “Alex? Any news?”

“We haven’t made contact yet,” she answered. “We do have a problem, though. One of our neighbors is a cop. She’s using the name Megan Saunders.”

“Has she seen through your cover?” Alex imagined J’onn in the Command Center, polo crisply ironed and tucked into his cargo pants.

Alex glanced at Kara. “What do you think? Did she make us?”

“No. I couldn’t catch all of her phone conversation, but her heart rate was steady while she was here.” Kara shrugged. “It’s not foolproof but most humans react strongly when they make a discovery.”

“Did you hear that, J’onn?” Alex considered what she’d seen of Megan. There hadn’t been any tells. The woman hadn’t stumbled over her name or any of the information she’d provided. Of course, Megan hadn’t really answered many questions.

Megan had asked questions. And, Alex admitted silently, she and Kara had been quick to offer details.

“I’ll have Agent Schott do some careful digging,” J’onn said. “If you think the operation is in danger, or you’re in danger, shut it down. You’re in charge of this op, Agent Danvers. I trust you’ll make the right decisions.”

Shoulders straightening, Alex responded crisply. “Yes, sir. Understood. We’re going to unpack a little,” she left out the Supergirl Spree, “and get ready for tomorrow. If the information Winn and Kara dug up at the alien bar is correct, we’ll need to go into Coast City and talk to a few of the adoption agencies. There are three at the top of the possible suspect list. Kara and I will start there.”

“Let me know if there are any updates, Agent. Until then, don’t forget to stay in character even in the house. If you do make contact with the kidnappers or your cop grows suspicious, they might place listening devices in your home.” J’onn’s reminder made Alex grimace.

Damn it! She knew that. Having Kara on the op, though, was throwing her off-stride. Living together was too much like…well, like living together the way they’d done as kids. “Yes, sir,” she said again then hung up.

“I’m not making this easy for you, am I?” Kara’s voice was solemn in a way Alex rarely heard outside of Supergirl call-outs.

“What do you mean?” Alex stalled. It would crush Kara to know Alex had fought to do this op alone or with another partner. One with more undercover experience.

She wasn’t expecting Kara to meet her gaze and push for the truth. “You think I might blow our cover. Like with the unpacking. You’ve always said I can’t lie, and it’s a miracle everyone doesn’t know my secret.”

What was Alex supposed to say? She hesitated a heartbeat too long.

“I ordered pizza and potstickers while you were on the phone. They should be here in about thirty minutes.” Shoulders slumped, Kara climbed off the couch. “I’m going to start working on the rest of the boxes – like a normal human.”

Alex raised a hand. Took a step after Kara. Then stopped. Kara was right, in a way. Alex had believed Kara wasn’t ready for this type of work. And she’d done a piss-poor job of helping Kara understand what to do and how to act. Rather than helping Kara learn, Alex had pouted and basically been primed to blame Kara the minute anything went wrong.

Grabbing one of the bottled waters they’d bought and stored in a cooler, Alex retreated to the porch. The light near the door cast a sliver of illumination over the porch swing. Alex curled up at one end, using a foot to set it into motion.

She smelled charcoal from someone’s grill and listened to children arguing over a video game. The neighborhood teemed with people. Houses stacked on top of houses. Enough like Midvale to help her relax, and yet enough dissimilar to keep her off-kilter.

Alex closed her eyes and contemplated the mess she’d made of this mission.

“I don’t need a partner, J’onn!” She’d rounded on him. Been scared enough…angry enough to risk getting into his personal space to argue her case.

Unfortunately, J’onn didn’t give ground. “You can’t make the connections we need without a partner, Agent Danvers.” Was that disappointment in his voice? With her? “From a tactical standpoint alone, this operation calls for backup. We don’t have the manpower in Coast City to do remote surveillance of you or the kidnappers.”

He was right. Alex knew he was right, but she couldn’t admit it. The stakes were too high. “I can…”

“You can – and will – move to Coast City with a partner, Agent. That’s final.” J’onn crossed his arms and met Alex’s glare. “Agent Schott is already creating a background for you and Supergirl. You leave tomorrow.”

Alex shook her head. “If I have to do this, I don’t want Ka…Supergirl anywhere near this. I’ll take Vasquez.”

J’onn paused as if considering Alex’s suggestion. Hope had risen. And hope had been crushed. “You and Supergirl know each other. You’ll be more believable as a couple.” He’d walked away while Alex tried to find another reason for Kara to stay in National City.

If only she’d been able to convince J’onn. With a sigh, Alex gave up. Gave in. She was a highly trained agent. The current second-in-command of the DEO. Setting aside her personal issues, this mission required two agents. Two agents able to convince the kidnappers (and now a cop) that they were a happily married, middle-class couple ready to adopt an “underprivileged” alien child.

Susan might be gay, or some part of LGBTQ community (Alex had never asked), but only Kara would know without months of preparation that Alex preferred ketchup to mustard on her hot dogs or automatically substitute a non-alcoholic beer for whiskey when Alex complained that her nose had gone numb.

It wasn’t Kara’s fault that Alex hadn’t wanted her on this mission. It wasn’t even that Kara wasn’t ready to go undercover.

“The food should be here any minute.” Kara’s hesitant voice interrupted Alex’s increasingly despondent thoughts. “And it’s getting cold out here.” A blanket settled around Alex a second before Kara curled against Alex’s side. “What’s wrong, Allie?”

“There’s so much riding on this mission,” Alex said softly. She prayed Kara wouldn’t hear the layers of meaning in the comment. “I guess I’m more nervous than I realized.”

Tucking Alex’s head under her chin, Kara murmured, “Me, too. I’m sorry if I’m making things worse for you.” Alex heard Kara’s throat work as she swallowed. “I don’t mean to cause trouble.”

“You’re not!” Alex drew back enough to peer up at Kara. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you. God, I’m so sorry I said that.”

A little of Kara’s despondent expression eased. “I promise I won’t screw this up.”

A car pulled up to the curb in front of the house, interrupting Alex’s response. She pressed a quick, reassuring kiss to Kara’s cheek and got up. A teenaged kid in a rumpled t-shirt staggered up the front walk with two thermal bags stuffed with pizzas.

Alex made a mental note. They’d have to eat “in” more to avoid the neighbors noting the Supergirl-level food deliveries.

“Delivery for Anders?” the kid asked.

“That’s us.” Alex grabbed the receipt sticking out of one of the bags. She waited patiently while he pulled ten boxes from his bags. Kara had joined them, and the boxes (and Kara) disappeared into the house.

The kid patted his pockets before offering a pen. “Must be a big party. Biggest order all night.”

“Mmm.” Alex signed her “new” name quickly.

“Have a good night!” With a wave, the kid ran back to his car.

Marveling at the difference in attitude between National City and the suburbs of Coast City, Alex retrieved the blanket off the swing and went into the house. Pepperoni, sausage, and grease scented the house. With the television tuned to Brave, and Kara scrunched into the corner of the couch, this might have been a normal Sister Night.

If Sister Night involved invisible, emotional landmines. Alex dropped onto the far end of the couch with the blanket draped across her legs. “Are we good?” she asked.

Kara’s eyes widened and then she crawled across the couch to nestle against Alex. “Of course, we are!”

Warmth soaked through Alex’s shirt and skin. Settled deep inside her soul where she had tucked her most hidden dream and labeled it “Kara”. “I love you,” she whispered against Kara’s hair. Her hug would have broken a human but didn’t garner so much as a grunt from Kara. Pushing the emotion back, Alex relaxed against the couch. “I’m starving. Hand over the pizza before you shove it all into that black hole you call a stomach.”

***

“Professor Anders. Mrs. Anders. So lovely to meet you!” The woman striding toward them didn’t hold out her hand. Alex filed that information and simply nodded in response. “I’m sorry you had to wait. I’m sure you understand there are many couples seeking to adopt.”

If she and Kara really were in the market for a child, Alex would have given the woman a piece of her mind and stormed out. They’d had to use some of Winn’s hacking skills and no small amount of money to even get this appointment. Feeling sorry for another couple? That wasn’t Alex’s style.

“We enjoyed the chance to look through your Happy Families book,” Kara answered. She gripped Alex’s hand. “I really hope we can be one of them soon.”

“We’ll do everything we can to help you both. I’m Taryn. Please, why don’t we go to my office and talk through the process?” Her professional smile grated on Alex’s nerves. This was the third private agency they’d visited in Coast City. One of the top three agencies suspected of handling the kidnapped alien kids.

As they followed Taryn, she closely observed the other employees and prospective parents. The offices were impeccably decorated in cream and brown. The photos on the walls were of smiling families with children of all ages. Unsurprisingly, none of them looked alien.

Alex settled into a comfortable chair in front of Taryn’s massive desk and automatically reached for Kara’s hand. She could sense Kara’s tension. It radiated from the stiff shoulders and the absent-minded fiddling Kara did with her glasses. Alex’s thumb dragged over the soft skin of Kara’s hand until Kara linked their fingers.

“Your application is complete,” Taryn announced. “And we’ve finalized the background and financial checks.”

Of course, they had. Winn had already alerted Alex. “Where do we go from here?” she asked. “I’m sorry if we seem impatient, but yours isn’t the only agency we’ve spoken to.”

“Easy, Allie.” Kara raised Alex’s hand and kissed her knuckles.

They’d played this routing twice already. It was easier now to remember the plan. “We’ve been trying for over a year, Kar. Spent more money than I want to think about, and we still aren’t a family.”

Kara’s smile was teasing. She’d started to enjoy their undercover work, and Alex had to stay on her toes because Kara had a tendency to ad-lib without warning. “Ouch! And here I thought I was enough for you. I’m just here to give you a kid.”

“Brat!” Alex’s tension eased at Kara’s comment. She needed to trust Kara more. In the last few weeks, Kara had been a rock as they’d worked their way into the adoption agencies.

The tension returned with a nearly audible snap when she glanced up at Taryn. Taryn showed no signs of being affected by their interactions. Everyone reacted to Kara’s smile and the way she and Alex were with each other. At the other agencies, they’d gotten indulgent smiles and one woman, sitting in the waiting room with her husband, had glanced at him and muttered, “We used to be like that, Frank.”

Taryn’s face was so bland she might have been made from wax. Alex went on high alert and squeezed Kara’s hand in warning. “Allie’s impatient,” Kara reiterated. “I am, too. Is there any way to move our application forward? We’ve paid all the fees.” Crazy exorbitant fees that J’onn hadn’t stopped complaining about. “I’m sure we can scrape up some more, though, if that’s what it takes.”

Unlike the previous agencies, there was no immediate denial of Kara’s offer. In fact, Taryn…smiled. Not the professional smile they’d received in the lobby. No. This one turned Alex’s blood to ice. “Well, we do have other options.”

“Really?” Kara’s voice took on the excitement normally reserved for an extra order of potstickers.

“It’s unusual,” Taryn continued slowly. Her gaze raked over Alex, leaving a sense of slime behind. “Most couples aren’t willing to go the extra mile.”

Alex glanced at Kara and pretended to be cautiously interested. “You know our history. We’ve tried everything. In vitro. A surrogate who got cold feet at the last minute. Nothing’s worked. If you have something…” Alex didn’t press harder. They couldn’t entrap Taryn.

“Let’s meet again next week. I’m sure you and the lovely Mrs. Anders have plans for the holiday.” Taryn backed off whatever other “option” she’d dangled in front of them. Alex ground her teeth. “Would Monday suit?”

An entire week. It was the closest they’d gotten to an actual clue, though. Alex didn’t bother to hide her scowl. As a prospective parent, waiting would still suck. “Monday is fine. Can we do morning? I have to be at work by eleven for a meeting.” The job was real to make their backgrounds airtight.

“Eight sharp.” Taryn stood. “Let me walk you out.”

The return trip was silent. Alex held Kara’s hand. The rest of the employees were still at desks and on phones. There were three new couples and a single man in the waiting room. Alex committed their features to memory.

As soon as they were out on the street, Alex rolled her shoulders. “Think we’re in?”

“Yep.” Kara pushed her hair behind her ear. “Taryn’s on the phone to someone. We need to let Winn know to watch out for deeper background checks.”

Adrenaline made Alex jittery. She strode to the car at a ground-eating pace. “Anything else?”

“No.” Kara easily matches Alex’s pace. “It was a man on the phone. Well, male. I couldn’t tell from the voice if he was human or not. No accent. Taryn didn’t use a name, either.”

Climbing into the car, Alex shrugged. “Winn and Vas can hopefully trace the call. God, I’d love for this to be over before the weekend.” Although, she’d really enjoyed a regular forty-hour week in a lab and no reason to think Kara might run into a threat even Kryptonian powers couldn’t handle.

“You just don’t want Eliza to visit,” Kara teased.

Alex glared then relented when she noticed Kara staring despondently out of the window. “Hey, what’s wrong? We’ve got a lead. A good one. Things are going right for once.”

“I’m fine.” Like Alex believed that. Kara normally exuded sunshine from her pores. Leaning against the window, lower lip caught between her teeth, Kara looked like she’d watched an entire Kindergarten class find out that Santa Claus didn’t exist.

“Kar…” Alex prodded. “Don’t make me pull this car over.” An idle threat since she’d never actually started the car in the first place.

It was enough to garner a real smile, though. Kara shook her head. “Let’s go home. We need to pass along the information.”

Something was still off. Alex reluctantly started the car and pulled out into traffic. “I’ll let Mom know not to head out. No need to host Thanksgiving if we’re working.”

“Not happening, Allie.” Kara poked Alex’s thigh. “We can’t not have Thanksgiving, especially because Megan’s coming, too. If we were a happily-married couple who’d just moved, it would look suspicious.” Her voice wavered, and Alex risked glancing away from the road. The Crinkle sat prominently between Kara’s brows. “Besides, do you really think Eliza would cancel her plans now?”

Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Alex thought longingly of the whiskey stashed in her National City apartment. Kara had banned anything remotely alcoholic for the upcoming celebration. Not even cheap Walmart Wine-in-a-Box. She was going to have to face Eliza and an undercover cop over burned turkey and stuffing without her usual drunken haze.

“It’s worth a shot,” Alex muttered. What if she convinced J’onn they needed to stake out Taryn or the agency?

The finger poking her thigh turned into a warm, supportive hand. “I won’t let her steamroll you again.”

Alex snorted. “What are you going to do? We’ll burn the turkey like always and she’ll mention how I almost burned the kitchen down that time when I was four and tried to heat a Pop Tart in the toaster. Megan will compliment the stuffing or the table setting, and Mom will gush about how you’ve always been so good at getting color schemes to match.”

Dear God! Alex gripped the steering wheel and pressed her lips over more whining.

“We aren’t burning the turkey this year. I ordered a Thanksgiving dinner for twenty from one of the local restaurants. We just have to pick it up Wednesday.” Kara shifted in the passenger seat until she was able to press her left leg against Alex’s. “Eliza’s flying so she won’t have any pie to start the usual arguments. I ordered your favorites for dinner. If she says anything this year, I’ll melt her face!”

The image was too much. Alex chuckled. “Keep the face-melting for the kidnappers, Hot Stuff.” She dropped her right hand off the wheel and linked fingers with Kara’s. “A dinner for twenty? What are you going to eat?”

“Mean! You are mean!” Kara huffed.

“And don’t you forget it,” Alex riposted. Traffic loosened ahead. She stepped on the gas – and spotted a car that she’d noticed sitting at the curb near the agency. “Text Winn,” she said, barely restraining a quick lane-change and alley dash. “We’ve got a tail.”

Kara had her phone out instantly. “Can you see the plate?”

“No. Can you?” The possible tail car was far enough back that she couldn’t read the numbers through the rearview mirror. “Red sedan three cars back.”

Flipping the sun visor down, Kara opened the vanity mirror. She moved the visor a few times. “Got it. Sending it to Winn now.” Her fingers flew faster than humanly possible, but Alex let it slide. They were alone in the car.

Alex’s skin crawled as she pretended to be a normal person. One who wouldn’t notice a car following them. One who couldn’t have evaded the tail, doubled back, and possibly caught whoever was behind them.

When she pulled into the driveway, only Kara’s quick move around the car to wrap Alex in a hug, prevented a scan of the street. “It’s down a street. Parked now,” Kara murmured. She cupped Alex’s cheek. “It’s a CCPD undercover car. Winn already texted back.”

God damn it. “I’m going to fucking kick Megan’s ass!”

“No, you won’t.” Kara pressed a kiss to Alex’s cheek. “Megan doesn’t know who we are. CCPD has two other couples under surveillance, too. Anyone who moved into the area in the last six weeks and are working with an adoption agency.”

That didn’t mean…

“Stop worrying, or you’ll have a crinkle to match mine.” Kara put her hands on Alex’s shoulders and gently marched her toward the house. “Come on. We have decorating to do. Only two days until Thanksgiving!”

***

“Please. Please, let me have a drink,” Alex begged. She’d gotten up excruciatingly early to search the cabinets for a beer or a hidden bottle of Scotch. Nothing. There wasn’t even alcohol in the mouthwash. Alex would never be ready for a holiday dinner with her mother if there wasn’t the chance for a good blackout drunk.

When had Kara started glaring like that? Lips pressed together and one eyebrow buried in her bangs. She was spending entirely too much time with Cat Grant.

A second later, Alex forgot all about Cat Grant.

Kara’s lips landed on hers. Cat, Eliza, kidnappers. All gone in an instant. Stiffening, Alex first tried to pull away.

Then…Where had Kara learned to kiss? Jesus Fucking Christ.

Kara tasted like peppermint gum and her teeth tugged gently at Alex’s lower lip. Alex’s hands rose and fell uselessly as she floundered.

This was…It was wrong. Alex should move away. Should push Kara…

She finally gripped Kara’s sweater and pulled. Closer. Not close enough. The sweater twisted as her hands fisted. She’d waited a lifetime for this kiss, and it was already so much better than any fantasy.

“I’m going to find a picture of you on Instagram. Hashtag ‘relationshipgoals.” Megan’s voice was like a bucket of ice water. Alex jerked away, only Kara’s hands at her waist keeping her from tripping over her own feet. “Oh, shit! Sorry! I’m so sorry.” Megan held one hand in front of her face. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Heart pounding, Alex stared at Megan in confusion.

Megan and Eliza.

Kara came to Alex’s rescue. She gently maneuvered Alex behind her. “Sorry. I didn’t hear you knock.”

Alex buried her snort in Kara’s shoulder. Eliza wouldn’t have knocked. She’d have simply strode in.

“I blame it all on Allie. If she wasn’t so sexy, I’d be able to keep my hands to myself.”  One of Kara’s hands reached back and stroked Alex’s hip. “I could put a bag over Allie’s head. Maybe it will help.”.

“You gonna dress her in a gunny sack, too?” Megan asked.

Enough was enough. Alex leaned around Kara. “I’m right here, you know.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Kara winked at Alex. “I’m not sure a sack would do the trick. She’s really hot.”

Alex held up The Hand at Kara. “Not. One. More. Word.”

Kara’s smirk indicated any silence would be short-lived. All of three seconds. “Yes, dear,” she said and then sprinted for the kitchen leaving Alex to face their guests.

“Is your wife always like that?” Megan hovered in obvious unease in the empty space between foyer and living area.

“Like a kid hyped up on sugar?” Alex tilted her head and pretended to consider the question. “No, she’s usually worse. I’ve cut down on her doughnut intake since we moved. Thankfully, Primo’s is too far away for her to consider GrubHub.”

Eliza hadn’t said anything yet. Alex wondered if she was saving up for a big, disappointed speech.

“Why don’t you…both, why don’t you both make yourself comfortable?” Alex waved at the couch and chairs arranged facing the television. “We’ve got soda, water, and juice.” Maybe she could get PrimeNow to deliver booze.

At least the house was comfortable. In fact, it felt strangely like home despite Alex knowing it was a temporary rental for the mission. They’d managed to bring enough personal items to avoid the house looking impersonal. And Kara had spent the time since they’d arrived buying an eclectic collection of colored pillows, throws, and rugs. A bigger, better version of Kara’s National City apartment.

“Damn! This is nice. Which of you decorated, and how much do you charge?” Megan spun around. “I’m as good at décor as I am at gardening.”

“I’ll give you a hint,” Eliza answered for Alex. “It wasn’t Allison. Otherwise, the whole house would be done in shades of black, brown, and gray with skull and crossbones pictures on the wall.”

So it began. Sighing, Alex dropped onto the couch. “I wouldn’t have put up skull and crossbones,” she muttered. Kara couldn’t use her powers with Megan present. If Alex sprinted for the door, she might make it to the car before Kara could catch her.

“Nothing wrong with black.” When Alex looked up, she noticed that Megan was wearing black jeans and a black button-up. Megan’s expression was hard to read. Her eyes darted around the room. Not, Alex thought, to observe like a cop, but to…find an escape route? The poor woman probably sensed the Family Drama ready to explode.

“What’s wrong with black?” Kara appeared so suddenly in the kitchen archway she had to have used Superspeed.

Eliza, of course, turned. “Megan and I were complementing your use of color in the house, honey.”

“Oh.” Kara waved her hands as she walked over to Alex. “I’ve been pretty busy since we moved. Allie did most of the unpacking and decorating since she had some time off before her new job started.”

Even Megan stared at Kara in disbelief. “What?” Kara settled on the arm of the couch next to Alex, phone in hand. A second later, the television sprang to life and soft music filled the room. “She may have a scowl that terrifies grown men – not a bad thing, you know – but she’s a big marshmallow inside. You have to look under the surface.”

Alex’s face burned with a blush that she tried to hide by pressing her face into Kara’s hip.

The conversation gradually moved away from Alex. She relaxed, little by little. As usual, Kara drove the topics. A local shelter she’d found that needed help after the holidays. A pizza place she discovered that had the best pizza on the West Coast. It washed over Alex, warm and comfortable. She’d never realized how much she always relied on Kara to be the peacemaker. The voice of reason between Alex and Eliza or Alex and any shared social situation.

Guilt rose, and Alex started to straighten from her position against Kara. Until Kara gently cupped the back of her head and ran her fingers through the fine hairs. She melted back into place.

Time passed. Alex barely noticed until Kara slowly stood. “I’m sure you’re tired of listening to me go on and on about the possible gallery show I’m lining up. Come on. Let’s eat. I’m starved.”

Alex grumbled at the return to reality. Eating meant sitting across the table from Eliza. Listening to her gripe about the food, and the table setting, and the fact it was somehow Alex’s fault that the weather was too hot or too cold.

“I didn’t smell smoke when I walked in.” This was a nightmare. A yearly lesson in all the ways Alex failed at life.

She was therefore surprised when Kara stopped moving to the kitchen. “We aren’t doing this again, Elise.” Kara’s voice crackled with every bit of Kara Zor-El’s authority – and it froze Eliza in her tracks. “I’ve let you denigrate Al…Allison,” not even the stumble over Alex’s undercover name lessened the impact of Kara’s speech, “too many times in the past. If you can’t see how beautiful and amazing your daughter is then I’m sure you can find your way to the door.”

No one moved; although, Alex cringed at Megan’s wide-eyed expression at the scene playing out in front of her.

“I’m sorry, Karen.” Eliza apologized to Kara then slowly pivoted to Alex, where she sat in stunned disbelief. “I never realized…”

“It’s…” Alex began.

Kara cut her off. “Now you do, Elise.” A warm hand touched Alex’s face. “Come on, baby. Let’s move into the kitchen. There’s a face-meltingly good feast waiting for us.” A tiny, conspiratorial grin and a wink reminded Alex of Kara’s promise to protect her from Eliza’s usual list of failures.

A swell of love stole Alex’s breath. Kara was perfect. This wasn’t a role. Alex saw the determination in Kara’s stance and expression. Kara would absolutely go toe to toe with Eliza over the cranberry sauce.

For Alex.

Eyes prickling with the onset of tears, Alex threw herself into Kara’s arms. “I love you,” she whispered into Kara’s neck. “So much.” If only Kara new how Alex loved her. And just how much.

Lips pressed into her temple. “I love you right back,” Kara whispered in return. Her hug was just this side of painful, and Alex snuggled into it, happier and more at peace than she could remember.

If only it was real.

If only Coast City and the mundane lives of Karen and Allison Anders weren’t a complete and total (temporary) fabrication.

If only Kara’s rumbling stomach hadn’t broken the mood. “That thing’s gonna eat us all,” Alex pulled back reluctantly. “Let’s go eat.”

***

“To a successful op!” Winn’s voice was already slurred; although they hadn’t been celebrating long.

Alex automatically tossed back the whiskey in her glass. The burn felt good. Yet it wasn’t enough. Raising her empty glass, she summoned one of the barbacks. “Whiskey. Neat. Keep ‘em coming.”

“I thought you’d be cheerier,” Winn said. “And where’s Kara? She promised to show me pictures of your house in Coast City. I only saw the ‘before’ photos, not the ‘after.’ It’s all she’s talked about since you got back last week.” The word vomit meant Alex felt no need to actually answer, and Winn kept right on going. “Is she coming? I texted her a million times today, but she didn’t respond.”

Kara hadn’t responded to Alex, either. Not today. Not yesterday. Not any day since they’d crashed the warehouse holding the kidnapped children. Supergirl responded when Agent Danvers used the official DEO phone. Kara, though, was suddenly radio silent.

Alex threw back her drink and considered swiping Winn’s crappy beer until the next round arrived.

“Is something wrong?” Now Winn decided to pay attention to something other than his phone. He leaned across the table and peered myopically at Alex. “You scare me. Every day,” he muttered. “The way you look now? Are you planning to kill me tonight? Right here?” His voice rose at the end.

Without thinking, Alex gave in to the sick, twisting rage churning in her gut. She reached across the table and gripped Winn’s shirt collar. “Shut. Up.”

Winn nodded so enthusiastically that his chin banged into Alex’s knuckles.

“Thanks.” Alex let him go as her next drink arrived. She held up a finger, holding the harried young man in place, and emptied the glass. His eyes widened. Alex didn’t bother to explain that she planned to be falling-down drunk as quickly as possible. “Maybe just bring a bottle?” she asked. “It’ll save time.”

She was too busy working on the bottle the barback delivered to notice (or care) that Winn scurried from the bench across from her. Alex poured with increasingly bad accuracy and kept drinking. The whiskey worked. Her head swam.

Unfortunately, as the bar and its rowdy patrons wavered in Alex’s vision, her memory sprang to life. Like an old school movie projector, Alex watched her last night in Coast City play on the screen in her mind.

“I really liked this place,” Kara said. She stared fixedly at the framed photos of them they’d hung.

Alex had, too. She didn’t say that, though. Instead, she shoved clothes in a box. “Come on. Grab your stuff. If we’re going to make it back home before midnight, we need to go. J’onn’s sending a team of agents to pack up the rest in the morning. I want to be on the road in a few minutes.”

Kara didn’t respond. She remained frozen in front of the photographs. Her posture was so unlike Kara’s usual constant state of motion that Alex grew concerned. “Kar?” Putting the next handful of clothes down, Alex walked across the room. “What’s wrong?”

“I wanted more time,” Kara whisper.

Panic hit Alex like an out of control semi. Kara was crying! “Jesus! What the fuck’s wrong? Who do I have to kill?”

Kara’s laugh was watery and…broken. “Me.”

“What?” Alex stared at Kara in confusion. “If this is about the mission, you were great. We got the bad guys and recovered all the kids. You’re a hero – and not as Supergirl.” Sure, Kara had helped clean up the warehouse as her alter-ego, but the legwork and late nights researching had all been “plain” Kara Danvers. Or Karen Anders. Wrapping her arms around Kara, Alex rocked them back and forth. “Movie Night tomorrow? Curled up on your very comfy couch with Mr. Wang’s famous potstickers? He’ll probably give them to you for free when he finds out you’re still alive.”

Kara turned in Alex’s embrace. Her eyes shimmered behind a curtain of tears. “It won’t be the same, will it?” One hand rose, fingers brushing Alex’s cheek so fleetingly Alex wondered if she’d imagined it. “Nothing will ever be the same after this.”

This wasn’t their time undercover.

This wasn’t their time living in Central City.

This was the hand Kara threaded into Alex’s hair and the soft, searching, soul-destroying kiss she pressed to Alex’s lips. The kiss was different this time than the one on Thanksgiving. Kara’s lips were wet with her tears, and her hand pulled Alex in so tightly there was not a hairsbreadth of space between them.

Alex lost touch with their reality. Kara became her only anchor. She grabbed onto Kara’s ugly Christmas sweater. She needed Kara closer. Closer. Alex heard a whimper. Her? Kara? The sound was choked. Desperate.

Kara pulled back. Enough for them both to breathe. “Alex?” A hint of disbelief and boundless happiness infused the name. “Do you…I mean…Rao.” She kissed Alex again. “I love you so much. I didn’t think you could love me back!” She grabbed Alex in a hug and whirled them around, kissing Alex’s neck and face.

Despite Kara’s merriment, the separation shocked Alex back to the real world. She shoved at Kara’s chest. “Put me down!”

“What?” Kara wasn’t paying attention. She continued to smile, her patented thousand-watt Sunny Danvers smile.

“Put me down, Kara!” Alex’s strident shout gained her the requested freedom. She stumbled backward, staring at Kara. Her mind grappled with what was happening while her heart…Her heart tried to leap from her chest and return to Kara.

Kara, who had owned all of Alex’s love since she’d been a scrawny, scared kid abandoned by her only real family to live with the Danvers..

Kara. The little sister Alex had been charged to protect. The little sister Eliza held over Alex’s head every chance she got.

The little sister Alex could never love as…more.

And that’s what Alex told Kara. “My God, Kara! Have you lost your mind? I don’t…I don’t love you like…like that! I could never love you like that. We’re sisters!

In that moment, Alex saw Kara crumble. Saw the hollow, blank stare in Kara’s eyes that had been there when Clark had dumped her at the Danvers and flown back to his own life. “Sisters,” Kara repeated.

And then Kara was gone. Only the sonic boom echoing from the sky left behind.

Alex lifted the bottle of whiskey, bypassing the glass in favor of drinking from the source.

“I really don’t want to arrest a hero, Danvers, but if you toss that back, I’ll get you for public intoxication.” The voice was vaguely familiar. Alex squinted at the woman who slid into Winn’s empty seat on the other side of the table. “Did you drink that bottle by yourself? How are you not on the floor?”

In defiance of the order, Alex tilted her head and guzzled whiskey. It burned like fire, and she choked, coughing against the flood of liquid.

A hand grabbed her arm. “That’s it! Come on. I’m taking you home.”

Alex tried to pull away and nearly tumbled to the ground.

“It’s amazing you haven’t died of alcohol poisoning.” Alex blinked at the woman propping her up and dragging her through the thinning crowd of the bar.

“Megan!” Alex stopped walking in order to stare down at the other woman. “Why’re you here?”

There was no dimpled smile or light-hearted response. If anything, Megan appeared annoyed. “It’s Maggie. Maggie Sawyer. Which you’d know if you hadn’t just drunk your body weight in whiskey. And I’m apparently here saving your sorry ass.” She yanked on Alex, propelling her toward the exit.

The comment rankled. Alex growled. “Don’t…don’t need saving.”

“Sure. ‘Cause you can barely stand up without me holding on.” Cold air smacked Alex in the face as Megan – no, Maggie shoved open the bar’s heavy door. “Where do you live? I’ll get you a cab.”

Alex didn’t answer. She was too busy lurching away from Maggie and vomiting helplessly against side of the building. By the time the heaving stopped, Alex was shaking and covered in cold sweat.

“I’m not taking no for an answer.” Maggie was back or still there. Alex couldn’t track the conversation. On autopilot, she let Maggie guide her to the street and into a waiting cab.

***

It was so bright. And loud. Alex inched her hand across the bed and (gently) pulled the edge of the sheet over her head. It marginally helped with the light but woke an army of drummers behind her eyes.

“There’s water and Tylenol on the nightstand, Danvers.” Who was that?

Alex braved the sunlight and squinted through the apartment. “Maggie?”

“Someone else drag your passed-out ass all the way home?” Maggie leaned against the kitchen counter sipping something from Alex’s favorite Star Trek mug. “I got breakfast on the way. Good thing I know how to use UberEats. Your ‘fridge has more science experiments than food.”

Food. Alex’s stomach rolled. She held still, breathing slowly and shallowly.

“Water. Nightstand.” Maggie was the most irritating person on the planet. “Open it. Drink it.” Someone knocked on the door. “Guess I’ll get that since you’re worthless, Danvers.”

There was no denying that fact. Alex was too hungover to do more than reach for the water bottle.

“Alex!” Kara’s voice cut through the apartment. “Winn called this morning. He was worried you didn’t make it home…”

When Kara fell silent, Alex forced herself upright in the bed.

Standing in the middle of the living room, Kara stared at Maggie then at Alex. “Detective Sawyer?”

“Met Danvers in the bar last night,” Maggie answered. “Got her home and all tucked in, safe and sound.”

Kara turned slowly to face Alex. “I see,” she whispered. “I guess I shouldn’t have worried.” She took a step back, her eyes dropping away from Alex’s. “Thank you for…for taking care of Al…of my sister.” Alex watched as Kara seemed to curl in on herself and slink out the door, past the delivery driver who stood with raised hand and bags of food.

Maggie took the food and closed the door.

Alex remained sitting in bed, staring after Kara.

“I said last night I should have left you there.” Maggie spun to face Alex, hands on hips. “One good deed and I’m stuck in the middle of your rom-com drama bullshit!”

Rom-com? “Kara’s my sister,” Alex muttered. “You heard her. You knew anyway.” The drum corps in her head hadn’t stopped their marching cadence. Pain ballooned, sharp and piercing. It didn’t matter. Nothing fucking mattered anymore.  Kara had come to check on her, and Alex had hurt her again. Unintentionally. Because she was sure Kara had misunderstood what Maggie said.

“I saw you kiss her, Danvers.” Maggie barked a laugh. “Coast City wasn’t my first undercover gig. I’ve been a widow. Married. ‘Dated’,” and she used air quotes, “my handler. I’ve never seen a kiss between undercover cops or feebs that real. You tried to climb her like a fucking tree.

“And your mom? You look like a carbon copy of her, by the way, she didn’t act like you were sisters. In fact, she got all misty-eyed while you sucked on Kara’s tongue.” Maggie shook her head. “You either killed all your brain cells with booze or you’re so far down the River Denial that you’ll find the Lost City of Atlantis.”

“Kara. Is. My. Sister,” Alex repeated with growing heat. She couldn’t acknowledge the truth about her reaction to the kiss. To her feelings for Kara. Because there was no way Eliza had been anything other than disgusted or disappointed at seeing her and Kara together. She couldn’t give in to the need racing through her body to run after Kara and explain. To be for forgiveness for the terrible lies she’d spewed to protect herself from her emotions.

“You want to be a miserable drunk and throw away a beautiful woman, that’s your call.” Maggie hooked the plastic bag over her left wrist. “I just need to know if that same woman’s going to find me and fry me with her laser eyes, Danvers.”

“What?” Alex was rocketed into full awareness by the question. She locked her jaw and dragged on her best Agent Danvers face. “The worst thing Kara could do is write something mean about you or the NCPD in her next article. Why are you asking about laser eyes?”

Maggie’s laugh was full of genuine humor. “Really? Do you think I’m stupid?” Then she held up a hand. “Don’t answer that. I’m a fucking detective. I detect. Kara wears a pair of glasses but she’s ringer for the Girl of Steel, right down to that scar. I knew Kara/Karen was Supergirl when we met in Coast City. Even if I hadn’t immediately recognized her, CatCo cameras are always on-scene when Supergirl’s around. So are you, dressed in black ops military gear rushing to help Supergirl. You’re the worst secret agent, I’m-only-a-sister useless lesbian I’ve met. I’d give my right tit to be worth the kind of love I saw in Kara’s eyes in Coast City and again today. Go get your girl, Danvers. Not all of us have your charmed life.”

***

Eight long hours later, Alex sucked in a deep breath and contemplated her next move. Kara hadn’t answered any of her calls or texts. Her apartment was empty. Alex had gone so far as to call Kara’s boss, pretending to have news of a family emergency. Kara had called off work.

Vasquez had traced Kara’s phones, private and DEO, to Kara’s apartment. It explained why Kara hadn’t at least answered and yelled at Alex.

Kara was off the grid.

Staring out the window into the waning sun, Alex decided she knew where Kara was. Picking up her phone, Alex called Eliza.

“I wondered when you’d call.” Eliza didn’t bother with a greeting.

Alex didn’t care about the obvious censure in her mother’s voice. “Is she there?”

“Up on the roof.” The spot where Kara and Alex had spent countless nights staring at the stars and talking about Krypton. “What did you do, Alex? I haven’t seen her this upset since we adopted her.”

“Does it matter? Even if Kara was at fault, you wouldn’t believe me. The only thing you need to know is that I’m on my way,” Alex snapped. “Keep her there because I know she’s listening in.” She stopped directing her comments to Eliza as she continued. “I fucked up, Kara. I really, really fucked up. I need to talk to you. If you don’t want to see me or speak to me again after that, I’ll walk away.”

Alex hung up and grabbed her helmet and riding leathers. She’d make better time on her bike.

Several hours later, Alex cut the engine and coasted into Eliza’s driveway. The house was the same as always. Pristine white-painted porch with white twinkling Christmas lights and pine boughs wrapped around the railing. She glimpsed the Christmas tree in the large bay window facing the beach.

And perched on the roof despite the chill and the darkness, Alex saw Kara. She let herself into the house.

“Alex?” Eliza came out of the kitchen.

“I’ll be up with Kara.” Alex took the stairs two at a time. She didn’t stop to think about what reaction she would get from Kara or what she was going to say. She couldn’t. If she thought about it, she’d be too afraid for the conversation she had to have.

Grabbing the Midvale High blanket that had resided at the foot of her bed since she was thirteen, Alex climbed out of the open window to the roof. Kara looked small, knees tucked to her chest. Alex didn’t say anything as she took a similar position next to her and draped the blanket across their legs.

“I’m sorry.” Kara broke the uncomfortable silence between them.

Kara had always been quick to assume blame for any fight with Alex. It made Alex want to die of shame. Kara hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, she’d been brave enough to go for what she wanted. What Alex had wanted for over a decade.

“Don’t,” Alex whispered. “Don’t apologize for my mistake.” She raised her head to stare at the stars. Without a telescope, she couldn’t see where Krypton should have been. However, Alex knew the right direction. “You’re amazing. Some days, I don’t know how to deal with how much I admire you. How much I wish I could be a tenth as strong and brave and beautiful as you, Kara Zor-El.”

She held up her hand to forestall any comment. “You’ll get your turn,” Alex promised. “I hated you when you got here. This was my home. My family. You took the attention that was mine.” None of this was a revelation. She and Kara had talked this through years ago – and then again after the RedK debacle. “That didn’t last, though.” Now Alex veered into uncharted territory. “Remember when Vicki and I got into the big fight?”

“The last one? Over her boyfriend?” Kara tilted her head to look at Alex.

“Yeah. It wasn’t about her boyfriend. It was about something Vicki found out about me.” Alex closed her eyes, seeing a teenaged Vicki as she backed away from Alex in disgust. “That last night I stayed over at her house. We…we’d snuck some of her dad’s booze, and I was drunk.” A common thread in her life. “So drunk that I…I…”

The story stalled. Alex clenched her fingers around the edge of the blanket. “I fell asleep, and, according to Vicki, I talked in my sleep. She freaked out. Woke me up, yelling that I was a pervert and that I needed to get out of her house.”

“What? Why would she do that?” Alex knew Kara was watching her but didn’t look back.

“Because I basically rolled on top of her and tried to kiss her.” Alex opened her eyes and dragged them up to meet Kara’s gaze. “Then I said, ‘I love you, Kara.’”

Kara’s eyes widened. “I don’t understand.” There was an undertone of pleading, of fragile hope. It was a fleeting moment because bitterness overshadowed that hope when she spoke again. “You said you couldn’t love me like that because I was your sister.”

“I…” How could Alex explain why she’d spurned Kara’s love? “I was scared, Kara. Terrified that Mom would have the same reaction as Vicki. All our friends.”

She wasn’t expecting Kara to laugh. “I lost my entire planet. I don’t care what people think. Not to mention, we aren’t related! Are you scared? Or ashamed?”

Driven by Kara’s challenge, Alex lunged gracelessly forward. Their lips crashed together with bruising force. Kara had initiated the previous kisses. Alex controlled this one. Knowing Kara would never let them fall from the pitched roof, Alex scrambled to her knees and then straddled Kara’s lap. “I love you,” she said, staring down at Kara. “I’m in love with you. I’m also a total idiot for not telling you before, and I can’t believe I deliberately said things to hurt you in Coast City.” When she bent her head to kiss Kara this time, there was no crash. There was only soft and heat and beginnings.

“You’ve introduced me to all of your boyfriends,” Alex murmured when she drew back. Her lower lip throbbed from Kara’s nip. “They were all,” especially Mon-El, “horrible at taking care of you. Where the fuck did you learn to kiss?”

A delighted smile lit up the roof. “You didn’t meet any of my girlfriends,” Kara said, nipping Alex’s lip again.

“And you’ll never mention them again.” Alex’s jealousy was soothed by Kara’s laughter. She pouted as she moved off Kara and back to her spot on the roof. “If we don’t go inside soon, Mom’s going to come looking for us. I sort of ignored her when I got here.”

“You really are an idiot,” Kara said fondly. “She left the minute you climbed onto the roof. On the way out, she announced she was going to pick up pizzas from Angelo’s. Those are handmade,” she continued, as if Alex didn’t already know that fact. “We’ve got at least an hour before she comes home.” Her hands tangled in Alex’s hair. “Let me show you a few other things I learned from Those Who Shall Not Be Named.”