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Glitch

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First Heat

Kara dreamed of endless darkness. It wasn’t dark on Earth. Not ever, really, with the moon and the stars and the silver reflection they painted on everything, but she’d been in the dark longer than she’d been anywhere else. Twice as long as she’d lived under Krypton’s red sun. Six times as long as she’d lived under Earth’s yellow one.

The screams of a doomed Krypton roared through the void - anger and terror and futility - before fading into silence, and she yearned to hear them again if only to hear something other than the static/thump of her own heartbeat. Silence still, and she thought it might never end, then, “I knew you would come,” she heard Alex say, warm and proud. She reached out, desperate to exchange the passionless grip of the phantom zone for the comforting pressure of a grateful hug, and...

She awoke to the sound of a pained moan. It startled her into consciousness, and she reacted before thinking. Her feet tangled in the sheets, and one ripped in half as her foot hit the floor hard, anchoring the part she hadn’t flung behind her. She searched for the danger, still half-trapped in a memory dream, but sure something was wrong. The air was redolent with something earthy and rich, something not at all like the floral, grassy scent of soap/shampoo/body spray that usually hung over her shared room. It registered as different, as a threat, compounding the feeling of danger.

“Alex?” she whispered, finding the familiar curve of Alex’s back in the darkness.

Alex turned to her, eyes fever bright in their silver limn of shadow, and Kara felt a spike of fear.

When Alex spoke, her voice was hoarse. “Don’t tell Mom,” she said, and pressed her face into the pillow, shoulders trembling.

She pulled helplessly at the hem of her pajama shirt, vaguely aware of the sound of threads tearing. Alex was sweating and her heart was beating unnaturally quickly. There was something wrong with her, and Kara tried not to let fear overwhelm her. Humans were so fragile, alarmingly susceptible to injuries and illnesses and seemingly always perilously close to incapacitation or death. She tried not to think about it, tried to pretend that her humans were immune to such dangers, but it was a thin shield of a lie. If the engineered perfection of Krypton could be turned to dust, then humans, with their breakable bones and their vulnerable bodies, were always little more than a breath away from death. “What’s wrong, Alex?”

“I think it’s…” Kara heard the creak of Alex’s jaw as she ground her teeth together. “I think I’m…”

In the blink of an eye, Kara was at her side, hovering nervously and afraid to touch. “You’re what, Alex? What can I do? How can I help?”

Alex looked at her, miserable acceptance in her eyes. “I think I’m in heat.”

------

Earth was uncultured. It’d been the feeling that stayed with her as she came to understand its ways. Compared to Krypton, the science and math were primitive, so much so that something deep within her mourned the loss of what she would never be. There was nothing Earth could teach her, no ways in which it could challenge her. Under the yellow sun, that was doubly true. The only limitations were her own, laid out in the unwieldy way she learned to come to grips with the ways she’d been changed. Her challenges lay in trying not to be extraordinary, and in trying to navigate a distressingly ordinary world.

Most barbaric of all, though, was the way the people of Earth let their biology define everything. The tendencies they built their lives around had long been removed from Krypton’s gene pool. There’d been no need for the kehiehk of the thronivrrosh, not with the Codex and the birthing matrix. No need for the kysh of the chadhrev either, which caused more chaos and division than it was worth. And yet she’d found Earth’s versions of both here, thriving.

When she asked about it, which was rarely, she was told that things were better. “So much better than they were even 20 years ago,” Eliza had said, gently amused. “Back then, you had people who would say that certain things were Omega work or Alpha work, as if your genera had anything to do with your competency. We don’t see things that way now. With the way population dynamics have shifted, we probably won’t even have genera in another thousand years. Alphas and Omegas will be a relic of our past, too.”

She wasn’t entirely convinced, but she also got the distinct impression that these weren’t the sorts of things you were supposed to think too hard about. After all, only the week before, a top U.S. military leader had scoffed at a reporter’s question about integration of the armed services. “Would you really want to put your life in the hands of an Omega?” he’d asked, and the smile on his face made it clear he expected the world to agree with him. “It’s a simple question of biology. Wars don’t stop for heats.”

Maybe wars didn’t, but everything else did. There were titters at school when the names of known or suspected Omegas were called without answer during roll call. Gossip would tear through the school, murmured conjecture accompanied by giggles and lurid speculation about how the Omega in question was handling their heat or how advanced it might be or just who might be called upon to satisfy it. Alphas boasted about their prowess and bragged about their exploits, touting their supposed fitness in a useless contest to woo someone who wasn’t even there to hear them, and those in the middle who just didn’t really care about any of it wound up caught up in it all regardless.

She remembered how sad Alex had been when her friend Vicki Donahue had disappeared from school for nearly a week.

“I know it’s stupid,” Alex had told her in confidence, scowling down at her hands, “but it’s like she’s not really the same person anymore, you know? She’ll never really be normal again. She’ll always have this thing hanging over her. She won’t just be Vicky. She’ll be that Omega Vicky.”

She ran icy cold water over a washcloth to lay on Alex’s forehead only to have it thrown back at her.

“That’s not going to help,” Alex said bitterly, curled up into herself and so unnaturally hot that Kara was convinced she could see it shimmering off of her. She’d shed all of the bed’s covers, her hands pulling absently at her pajamas. She was constantly in motion, smoothing her hand down her thigh or running the sole of her foot against her calf, and Kara ached to soothe her.

“Then what will help?”

Alex’s eyes flashed. “You know what will help.”

In a vague, uncertain way, Kara did. It was impossible to avoid, the undercurrent of jeers and taunts that all a thronivrrosh - an Omega - needed was to take a chadhrev’s knot. Fuck you, knot you, breed you… thrown at this world’s Omegas like angry knives. At Alex, now, with her body wracked by the compunction of her heat.

“Can you just go,” Alex snapped, fingers picking at the waistband of her pajama pants. “Go far away, and let me take care of this.”

“I can’t leave you like this.”

Alex’s nostrils flared and her expression hardened. “I don’t want you here,” she said, the words so cold they burned.

So she left, but she went only as far as the roof over Eliza’s room. There was no way she could go far, no matter what Alex said she wanted. Not with Alex vulnerable and scared and terrified that someone might notice.

The scent stayed with her, a trail linking her back to Alex. Arousal, she knew now, rich and full. Wet, and she could hear it, could hear Alex’s fingers moving between her legs. She could hear her moans and gasps, pained and desperate, and the frustrated whine of release that didn’t quite satisfy.

It wasn’t supposed to happen to Alex. It wasn’t supposed to be something Kara ever had to worry about, this new way in which one of the ones she loved was put at risk. Eliza and Jeremiah were urvish. Betas, in the nomenclature of her new world. The chance that Alex would be otherwise was minimal, dependent on a quirk of recessive genetics, and so there’d been no worry. No preparation.

She heard the thump of Alex’s feet on the floor, the stumble of unsure steps, and the hiss of the shower. It muffled but didn’t entirely hide the sound of another attempt to negate the want of heat, and did nothing to disguise the sob of frustration and futility that followed. Her hands clenched into fists and the muscles of her stomach tightened. She could call Eliza, but there was nothing Eliza could do with the news of Alex’s suffering other than worry. She was on the other side of the country, at a conference that didn’t end for another two days. Kara could have her back in minutes, but the last time she’d flown, Jeremiah Danvers had disappeared.

She watched dawn break over the distant swell of the ocean. In her bed, Alex slept, her breathing quick and labored. Kara crept in through the front door. She moved on tiptoe, conscious of every creak and groan of the floor, and put together the only breakfast she felt comfortable making on her own - toast smeared with butter and jelly.

“Alex?” she called softly, nudging open the door to their shared room. She peeked around the corner and nearly dropped the glass of orange juice she’d filled nearly to the top.

Alex was naked, sprawled out across her mattress and with her face dug into her pillow. Her hair was tangled and messy, and her skin was flushed.

After a long moment, Kara closed the door, put the toast and juice down on the floor, and fled back to the sanctuary of the roof.

------

Second Heat

Kara knew it was coming days before Alex slammed the door behind her, dropped her bag on the floor, and threw herself on her bed.

“I can’t do this,” she groaned into the pillow. “Not again.”

Blue and white lights twinkled in their bedroom window, the only concession to the season Alex would make.

“You should tell Eliza.”

Alex glared up at her. “No.”

“She can help. She can take you to the doctor and get you pills.”

“I said no, Kara.”

“Why are you like this?” Kara’s hands balled into fists, tight enough she felt a hint of pain at the way her short nails dug into her palms. “Why are you so stubborn?”

“Look, isn’t it enough that you get to be the perfect one? Can’t you be satisfied with that?”

It wasn’t true, but even if it had been, Kara didn’t see what that had to do with anything.

“You don’t need to suffer, Alex.”

Alex perched on the edge of the bed, hands digging into the mattress, and glared. “You don’t know anything about what I need.”

“I do.” The smell of Alex’s upcoming heat had been burning in her nose for days, a constant reminder of danger, of uncertainty, of Alex weak and in need, and of her own inability to keep Alex safe. “You need a mate.”

“Like I said, you don’t know anything about what I need.” Alex shook her head angrily and looked away, and Kara saw a thin tendril of sweat-wet hair stuck to the side of her neck.

“Your body has initiated a series of biological processes designed to lure in a mate. Over the course of your heat cycle, you will become increasingly aroused as your body prepares itself to be mated with the express goal of you becoming impregnated. Your decision-making capabilities will become progressively impaired the longer you delay so that the standards and inhibitions that would usually keep you from acting on impulses that would be unwanted at any other time will no longer stand in the way of your biological imperative. Your own efforts to alleviate the effects of your heat will fail, and you will create unnecessary hardship for yourself for no reason whatsoever.” She grinned, triumphant. “I know exactly what’s happening to you.”

Alex’s face was a roil of fury. “You know everything, don’t you.”

“I know Eliza can help you.” Kara steeled herself. “I know that I can help you, if you let me try.”

“Yeah? What are you going to do? Tell Mom?”

Kara tried to keep her voice even. “I’ve read that the presence of another can help temper an Omega’s heat.”

Alex rolled her eyes. “You’re going to find me a fuck buddy?”

“No.” She swallowed down the flutter of nerves. “I’m offering to be your--” she couldn’t say the words Alex had used-- “partner. To help you with your heat.”

She hadn’t expected Alex to laugh.

“You?” Alex brought her hand to her mouth in an attempt to hide her sharp-edged smile. “You’ve never even kissed anyone, Kara.”

“It’s not like what you need is to be kissed,” she shot back, shoulders stiff with her own fury. She was trying to help. She’d made the offer because she cared about Alex. Because she didn’t want to see Alex suffer. Because this was one of the few things she could do for Alex to make up for all the ways her arrival on Earth had changed Alex’s life. She could make this, if not easy, then at least easier.

Alex flung her hand out in an exasperated gesture. “Is there something you’ve been hiding from us?”

“I don’t need to be a chadhrev to help.”

“A what?”

Kara blinked and forced the clunky, loaded English word onto her tongue. “An Alpha. I don’t have to be an Alpha to help.”

“So, what? Were you an Omega back on Krypton?”

“I wasn’t anything back on Krypton.” Kara took in a deep breath in an attempt to recenter herself. “We long ago eliminated these rudimentary aberrations from the Kryptonian genetic structure.”

She could tell it was the wrong thing to have said by the way Alex’s eyes went cold. “This lower life form doesn’t need your help. You understand? Just keep Mom off my case.”

------

When Alex came downstairs the following morning, Kara assumed that any attempts at hiding would be undone. She was wan, with dark circles under her eyes, and Kara watched, waiting for the moment when Eliza would notice.

“I have to run in to the office for a while. I left some money on the counter if you want to order take-out later,” Eliza said, tucking a folder into her messenger bag. She deposited a quick kiss on Alex’s forehead, did the same for Kara, and grabbed a bagel from the toaster, sticking it between her teeth when it was too hot for her fingers.

Kara watched her leave, and wished that at least one of the powers granted to her by Earth’s sun was psychic.

“You can’t wait to tell her,” Alex accused, and her voice was rough, as if she was on her way to developing a sore throat.

“I can’t wait for you to tell her.” She tried not to leave handprints in the wood of the table as she pushed herself away from it. “I can keep a secret, Alex, even if it’s a stupid one.”

She could feel Alex’s gathering anger and braced herself for whatever it might drive Alex to say next. When nothing came, she cut her eyes in Alex’s direction to find her with her fingers wrapped firmly around the edge of the table. Her eyes were closed and she was taking in deliberate, steady breaths. Her shoulders rose and fell, rose and fell, and Kara’s nose twitched at the sudden influx of the rich smell of Alex’s arousal.

“I don’t know why it’s like this.” All the anger was gone from her voice. It left her sounding small and vulnerable, and Kara wanted nothing more than to wrap her up, protect her. “If I could predict it, or if there was a reason…” Her eyes fluttered open, big and dark, and Kara took an unconscious step closer. “I just want, and I can’t stop it.”

Her own anger fizzled away. Alex looked dejected and apprehensive, and Kara knew the misery of being unable to trust your own body. “I can hold you. Just hold you, nothing else. Maybe that will help.”

------

She slotted in behind Alex, knees curled up, with her face pressed against the back of Alex’s neck. Alex had pushed the sheets down to the foot of her bed, and Kara wondered if this, the heat of someone else pressed against her, would be too much.

“This is okay,” Alex said shakily, an answer to an unasked question, but Kara could feel the tension in her.

She slid her hand down Alex’s arm and over the back of her hand, twining their fingers together. “When I was young, I was very sick. We were engineered to be immune to most illnesses, but this came from off-world. It was a virus. I broke out in a rash and it itched. I was miserable.”

Alex breathed out slowly, her voice distracted. Her hips shifted restlessly and she held tight to Kara’s hand. “Sounds like chickenpox.”

Kara felt a pang of sadness. “I don’t remember what we called it. It wasn’t dangerous. I knew it would go away and that the only thing I could do was wait it out, but it seemed like I was going to be sick forever. Even though I knew I was going to be okay, it was the first time I’d ever felt vulnerable like that, like something could hurt me. I was… pretty sheltered growing up.”

Alex laughed, indulgently this time, and Kara nestled into the shake of her shoulders.

“I always thought my parents could solve anything.” Later, she would let herself think about just how wrong she’d been. Instead, she tightened her hold on Alex, who helped her push back against the dark. “I could see how much everyone around me wanted to help, but there was nothing they could do. It’s how I got my scar, the one by my eyebrow. My parents wanted to have it healed, but after all the time I’d spent miserable and itchy, I felt like I’d earned it. I refused. It drove them crazy.”

Alex squeezed her hand again. “So what you’re saying is that you’ve always been all about the drama.”

“I’m trying to be comforting. Can you please just let yourself be comforted?” She smiled against the curve of Alex’s shoulder as she felt Alex shift against her, still uneasy but perhaps not as much so. Perhaps settling, now that she knew Kara was there. “My Aunt Astra would slip into my room once it was dark, and she’d tell me stories about all of her travels.”

“Did she have good stories?”

“She had very good stories. She was in the Military Guild, so they probably weren’t age appropriate, but I enjoyed them. I used to dream about all of the places I’d go when I was older.”

Alex made a soft noise of compassion. “You should write them down, if you remember them.”

“Maybe.”

After a moment of silence, Alex sighed. “I don’t want this to be the rest of my life, Kara.”

“It’s not. It won’t be.” She wrapped their joined hands around Alex’s waist and pulled her in tight. “And I’ll be here for you, always. I promise, Alex.”

Alex shivered. At the words or at the tight hold, Kara didn’t know.

“Do you...” Alex’s voice was shaky. “Do you still want to help?”

She slid onto her back, and Kara looked down at her, at her flushed cheeks and her dilated pupils, and at the rapid rise and fall of her chest.

Kara nodded.

“Do you…” Alex paused, swallowed hard. “Do you know what to do?”

She bit her lip. Couldn’t meet Alex’s eyes.

Alex pulled their joined hands up to just below her sternum, her thumb rubbing soothing patterns against Kara’s skin. “It’s okay.”

“You can show me.” She felt a blush burn across her cheeks and tried to will it away. Alex wouldn’t want bumbling. She wouldn’t want to have to teach Kara this, too, like she’d had to teach her everything else. “You can show me what to do.”

“I will.” Alex’s expression turned serious. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to do this,” she said, too quickly. Too forcefully. “I mean, I want to help.”

Alex looked at her for a long moment and Kara held her breath in anticipation of her coming judgment. “Okay,” Alex said, and there was something about her, something fragile and bereft, that made Kara want to wrap her up and keep her safe. “Okay.”

------

She settled in between Alex’s spread legs and swallowed hard. Alex had wriggled out of her pajama bottoms, shy but resolute, and Kara had never been quite so close to so much bare skin.

“You should do what you enjoy, I guess,” Alex said, nervous and tense. “I mean, we’re pretty much the same.” She paused and looked up at Kara quizzically. “We are pretty much the same, right?”

Kara felt her blush in the tips of her ears. “I don’t… I haven’t really…”

She trailed off and looked at Alex in mortified desperation.

“You haven’t touched yourself?”

She shrugged.

“Okay. That’s okay.” A pause, and then Alex’s voice, so soft and gentle that it hurt. “Kara, are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“I can do this, Alex. I want to do this.” She forced herself to meet Alex’s eyes. “Show me what you want. Please.”

After a long moment, Alex nodded, her expression as helpless and lost as Kara felt. “Maybe you should, you know, explore a little bit.” She drew Kara’s hand down to her side, still covered by the soft cotton of her pajama top. “See if you’re comfortable, and if you’re not…”

Kara had touched Alex more than she’d ever touched any other human being. It was a quantifiable fact. She hadn’t touched her like this, though, running her fingers down along her side until cotton gave way to hot, smooth skin. Alex shifted under her touch, arching into it, and Kara pressed her palm against Alex’s hip and pushed, giving her the pressure she seemed to need.

Alex whimpered.

“Like this?” Kara asked, drawing her palm down the tight clench of muscle along the front of Alex’s thigh.

Her answer was a pained, breathy yes.

She chased after the sudden, frantic increase in Alex’s heartbeat and the sounds she understood to be vocalizations of pleasure. They were soft noises, needy. Unaccountably deep sometimes, like Kara had found a way to touch that pulled from somewhere buried below Alex’s conscious reckoning. Alex watched her, her body shifting and moving in response to Kara’s touch in ways that begged to be calmed, but instead of calm, the strain only seemed to build.

“Can you…” Alex’s voice trailed off as Kara’s hand slid under the hem of her pajama top, fingertips sliding over the ridges of her ribs.

She paused, her thumb brushing against the soft underside of Alex’s breast. “What do you need?”

Alex’s bottom lip trembled as she looked up at Kara, her eyes so dark and soft that Kara felt something tight and desperate rise in her throat.

“Do you need more?”

Alex nodded and looked away, face tight with tension.

Kara slid her hand down, acutely aware of the soft skin under her fingertips. She came to rest just above the tickle of hair at the junction of Alex’s thighs. “Here?”

Please.”

Down, further still, and Alex parted beneath her touch. She was hot. Slick with arousal.

“Like this,” Alex said, sliding her hand over the back of Kara’s and directing her fingers to a spot where the texture differed. Pliancy turned to tension, and when Kara drew her finger over it, testing, Alex dug her nails into the back of Kara’s hand and shuddered. She did it again and Alex’s hand abandoned hers, anchoring itself under the bottom edge of the headboard. A few more tentative brushes and Alex’s hips jerked and she turned her face into the pillow and bit down, the fabric doing nothing to muffle a low, desperate moan.

She caught herself leaning forward, drawn in by the look on Alex’s face and the helpless twist of her body. As she watched, something seemed to resolve itself. The tension left Alex’s shoulders and she relaxed her bite. For a moment, her body seemed to settle, loose and easy in a way she hadn’t been since the day before, and she’d done that. Alex had agreed to let her try to help, and she had.

Another tentative brush of her finger, and Alex looked up at her. Relief was replaced with desperation just as quickly as that and for a moment she was trapped, held in the grip of a yearning so intense she wasn’t sure if it was hers or if it was Alex’s.

“What can I do?” she asked, possessed by the need to see Alex unbalanced all over again.

“Can you--” Alex’s hips rolled up against her touch and her words trailed away, lost in a shiver and a gasp cut short.

“Can I what? What, Alex?”

“Can you… inside.”

They’d had sex ed the year before. Kara remembered the broad strokes of it. She hadn’t truly paid attention, not in the way she wished she had now, but there’d been nothing strong enough to block out the whispered asides and the jokes and the sheer mortification of sitting there and pretending like she couldn’t hear and smell and see the tells from classmates who were overly invested. Still, she remembered enough to remember this.

She readjusted her glasses with the hand that wasn’t between Alex’s legs. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t.”

“But they say it does, the first time.” It occurred to her, unbidden, that this might not actually be the first time Alex had been touched in this way. Alex kept secrets; maybe she kept them from her, too.

Alex gave her a half-smile, soft and nervous, and a nascent tension diffused. “Then go slowly, and we’ll find out together.”

------

When Kara slid into Alex, it took a moment for her to connect what she was feeling - all of that heat, hugging her so tightly - with the knowledge of what she’d done. She was captivated by the look on Alex’s face - almost like pain, almost like relief - and by the shaky way she said, “Keep going. Please.”

So she did, not quite sure of what she was doing, but unable to look away. It was difficult to decide upon a focus. Should she watch the way her fingers disappeared into Alex or the way Alex responded? She found her attention drawn to Alex’s face more often than not. It was where everything else started, from the way she dug her shoulders and feet into the mattress, body straining up into Kara’s touch, to the way she looked up at her, so helpless, as if Kara was the only person she could trust to lead her through this.

It made her feel… something. Something expansive and weighty and other things, less pretty things, like a surety that she never wanted anyone else to see Alex looking up at them like that.

“More, Kara.”

Kara’s two fingers became three, and Alex pressed back into the pillow and made a surprised, satisfied sound that settled high in Kara’s chest. Alex was tight around her, impossibly so, and she moved with care, desperate to preserve the open-mouthed, heavily lidded look of pleasure on Alex’s face.

“I need… Can you come down here?”

It took Kara a moment to figure out how to make it happen without breaking their connection, and Alex had to meet her halfway. A strong arm behind Alex’s back kept her in a half-curl, able to wrap her arms around Kara’s shoulders, and before Kara knew what was happening, Alex’s lips were on hers. She blinked, startled, immobile for a moment before she gave herself over to it, bumping into Alex as she surged into the kiss.

It left a bruise they didn’t notice until much later, a sweep of blue-black that curved under Alex’s right eye, feathering out before it reached the far corner. Long after Alex’s breathing had grown rough. Long after she’d whimpered and her body had clenched tightly around Kara’s fingers and Kara had felt something hot and wet spill out over her hand.

She coaxed a shy, awkward Alex into a picture before the bruise could fade completely, their faces pressed together.

Alex blushed every time she saw her for so long that Kara was afraid that things might not ever be the same as they had been before. She made excuses whenever they found themselves alone together until she absolutely couldn’t anymore, until they were in their room tucked away in matching twin beds and Kara had to pretend that the measured inhales and exhales had fooled her into believing that Alex was asleep.

“Are we okay?” Kara asked when she couldn’t take it anymore. For a long time, the words hung in the darkness. Alex was awake, she could tell by the way her heart had started to thump just that little bit faster, but, if she chose, stubborn enough to pretend like she didn’t know Kara knew.

On the other bed, Alex’s outline curled up into a ball. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

“You know why.”

“We are. We will be.” A pause. “I will be.”

“Do you regret--”

“No.” Her voice was sharp, almost angry. “I don’t regret you.” After a moment, she turned. Sighed. Pulled the covers back in invitation. “Come on.”

Kara slid in, letting Alex wrap an arm around her shoulders.

“But we can’t tell anyone, you understand?” Alex’s heartbeat was nervous quick. “It’s not the kind of thing sisters are supposed to do.”

Everyone called them sisters, but Kara knew sisters. She knew her mother and her aunt Astra, and how they had circled the same star since birth. They were a whole separated, with shared blood running through their veins. She knew family was more than blood, that it could be sewn together out of shared loyalties and commitment and belief and love, and Alex was family and Alex was sister, but, “We’re not sisters. Not like that.”

“It doesn’t matter what we are. People see what they want to see. People see what we show them to keep you safe. What happened… that doesn’t keep you safe, Kara.”

She wrapped an arm around Alex’s waist and pressed her face into her shoulder. “It keeps you safe.”

“I’m not the one we need to be worried about.”

It wasn’t true. Wasn’t even close to true, but she knew Alex, and sometimes Alex had to be ignored for her own good. “Then we don’t tell anyone,” she said, and held Alex a little tighter. “Problem solved.”

Kara.”

She relaxed into Alex, letting her take her weight, and grinned when Alex wriggled fruitlessly against her. “It’s all solved, Alex. I solved it.”

Alex huffed. “You’re so annoying. I’m being serious, Kara.”

“You’re worrying about things when you could be not worrying about them because there’s no need to worry about them.”

“That’s why I have to worry. Because you won’t.”

It wasn’t true, but Kara didn’t see any need in correcting Alex’s misapprehension. Kara worried constantly. She worried about making her parents’ sacrifice worth it. She worried about doing something that would put her Earth family in danger. She worried about Alex, who didn’t seem to know how to treat herself with care.

“Go to sleep,” she said, and pressed a feather-light kiss to the soft fabric of Alex’s sleep shirt.

Chapter Text

Third heat

“What does it feel like?”

Alex shifted sleepily against the pillow. Her heat was sated for the moment and she was limp and boneless, one hand curled into the rumpled sheets beside her head and the other stretched out above her. Kara had been entertaining herself by drawing pictures on Alex’s skin - mountain ranges that erupted from the valley of her spine, a cocoon of feathers stretching down from her shoulder blades, a Kryptonian canto for a long life, love, and prosperity etched along the curve of her ribs.

“What does what feel like?” Alex asked, turning her head so that she was facing Kara, and for a moment, she wanted to take the question back. She wanted the Alex of a moment before, peaceful and comfortable enough to let Kara curl up alongside her, a self-appointed protector allowed to see her vulnerable in a way that Alex wasn’t with anyone else.

“Your heat.”

Distracted by her thoughts, she’d let her hand settle along the flat of Alex’s shoulder. She was surprised when Alex nudged up against her, as lazy and demanding as a cat in the sunshine. “Don’t stop.”

So she ran her fingers up along the ascending slope of Alex’s shoulder and then down the back of her neck, enjoying the shiver that trailed after her.

“It’s like a… an infection.” Alex’s voice had the quality of someone only half-aware of what they were saying, uncensored and open in a way she almost never was. “I don’t know it’s there until it’s already too late to do anything about it, and by then, it’s spread. There’s no off switch. I just have to let it happen.” Her shrug was a small, helpless thing. “The part of me that’s me gets packed up in a little box and the box keeps getting smaller and smaller. It gets tucked away in a dark corner, and the things it’s saying get harder and harder to hear. I try to fight it, but there’s two of me and the other me is winning. And then fighting it seems stupid because I want the other me to win.”

She pressed a kiss to Alex’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Alex shifted a little closer, lithely, as if it was instinct and not intention. “It’s surreal. Nothing matters anymore. I may still seem like me, but everything inside of me is dedicated to satisfying this thing that can’t be satisfied. It can be quieted for a little while, but it’s never satisfied. Not until it’s over and I’m me again.” Alex smiled at her in a way that was so, so soft, and it wasn’t that Kara kept track of her smiles, but she was pretty sure she’d never seen this one before. “I’m glad it’s you. Even when I’m the me that’s the other me, I know I’m safe with you. I know you won’t let me disappear.”

Kara thought about that, thought about Alex disappearing, and something deep in her chest burned with pain. The need to make sure that never happened, that it couldn’t even conceive of happening, pushed itself to the front of her brain. It felt uncomfortably primal, and she didn’t let herself examine it too closely as she slid a leg over Alex’s hips and settled astride her, chest pressed to Alex’s back.

“What are you doing?” Alex asked, amused and muffled.

“I’m keeping you here.” She hooked her chin over Alex’s shoulder, wrapped her hands around Alex’s wrists, and used her full weight to anchor Alex in place. “I’m not letting you disappear.”

She wished she’d taken off her pajamas so she could feel Alex’s skin against her own, but that wasn’t… She helped. She didn’t… didn’t...

Beneath her, Alex went liquid. She didn’t struggle or shift uncomfortably or complain that Kara was too heavy, and Kara felt as though she was growing roots. She felt as though they sprang to life everywhere she was touching Alex, that they burrowed down through Alex, through the bed and into the floor below, wrapping themselves around the very bones of the house. Alex breathed deeply and steadily beneath her as Kara made herself an impenetrable, immovable shield tied so tightly to the core of the Earth itself that no force in the universe could dislodge her.

Earth’s yellow sun had given her nothing but things that made her different in ways so dangerous and threatening that they had to be hidden away. It put the ones she loved in danger, so it could give her this, too. It could give her Alex calm and pliant beneath her, her ever-present tension momentarily quiescent. It could give her the certitude that Alex would never, ever disappear, not while she watched over her. Not as long as Alex let her hold her. Not as long as Alex trusted her to keep her safe.

------

Fourth Heat

She’d told Alex, laying pressed tightly together, that she would be there for her after she left for college. That she would help, the way she’d helped every time since the first time Alex had let her. Alex had looked at her with those wide, dark eyes, the ones that could convince her to agree to almost anything, and nodded. Slowly and seriously, and Kara had kissed her and pressed her down into the mattress. Heavy like Kara-the-Kryptonian, not like Kara the trying to be something else, because her last heat, Alex had pressed her face into Kara’s neck and whispered to her how much she liked it.

“I just do,” she’d said when Kara asked why, and had blushed and ignored her until Kara had cajoled her out of her silence with talk of other things.

Silence had turned into a theme with Alex. Kara had known things would change. They’d have to, with Alex away at college and her finishing out her last interminable year at Midvale High, but she’d thought that would mean days without talking. Not weeks. Not spells when texts and calls weren’t returned, and when they were, by an Alex who always seemed to have somewhere else to be.

And now, well, she wasn’t an idiot. She knew. It was well past time for Alex to have called her, and she hadn’t.

The implication was clear: she’d found someone else. Maybe she should have expected it, but she hadn’t. Alex might have escaped Midvale, might have escaped her, but to have found someone else she trusted, and so soon? Not the Alex that had let herself be hugged too tightly and for too long in front of her dorm at Stanford before pushing Kara toward Eliza’s car with a laugh and a smile and a promise that they’d see each other soon. Not the Alex she’d watched out of the car’s rear window until they’d turned the corner, who’d waved indulgently and shook her head and texted Kara that she was a giant dork.

She’d heard the Earth saying out of sight, out of mind, but she hadn’t realized its application would be so brutal.

Eliza noticed her moping, if the fond, indulgent looks she received were any indication. “You’ll see,” she’d said when Kara checked her phone for the fourth time in half an hour. “It’ll be your turn soon.”

As if the “allure” of college would ever make her forget about Alex. Not the way Alex had forgotten about her, leaving a voicemail on the house’s main phone that she’d be staying on campus for a few days after finals ended. Tending to the rats, she’d claimed, in the lab job she’d gotten midway through her first quarter.

Kara knew the truth. She was staying on campus until her heat passed. Away from home. Away from her.

She wondered who it was. Some Alpha, probably, and Alex had decided that she was done with Kara, who could never be that for her. She’d been convenient, good enough until Alex had realized she could have more. Good enough for Midvale but not for the world beyond it, with all of the choice she undoubtedly had. An Alpha with a knot that could satisfy her, because they’d both been deluding themselves by thinking that Alex didn’t need that. There was a reason why it was a cliché, the overcome Omega submitting to the irresistible call of an Alpha. Her logical brain told her no, that that wasn’t what Alex wanted, but her heart… Her heart ached.

“She shouldn’t work so hard,” she grumbled to Eliza, who’d ordered them two extra-large pizzas and let Kara have all but the two slices she saved for herself.

She wanted Alex back, in their shared space. She wanted Alex under her, looking up at her the way she did when her heat was at its most intense, like Kara was the only person who could set her world right again. She wanted to pin Alex to the mattress because Alex wouldn’t say it, but Kara knew there was something about being held that way, without the possibility of escape, that she found comforting. No struggle, just acceptance, from someone who spent most of her life struggling against something.

She could find out. She knew Alex’s dorm, knew her room number. She could fly there in minutes if she eschewed all caution. She wouldn’t even have to interrupt. Look through a wall and see the truth, that’s all there was to it. A lie exposed, as easily as that.

“It’s just a few more days,” Eliza said, exasperated, as Kara slouched mulishly on the couch.

A few more days until Kara saw proof of the betrayal in Alex’s eyes. A few more days until what? She had to pretend like she didn’t care?

Her phone rang at 2 am, face down and muffled. She let it go to voicemail, not ready to see Alex’s name on her display. Not ready to see anyone else’s, either, because it’d mean that Alex hadn’t called after all. Another call, and she stared at it, eyes growing hot. Another, and she imagined closing her fist tightly around it until it broke under the pressure. A few seconds later it vibrated with the notification of a text, and she pushed herself out of bed, because what if it was Alex? What if Alex needed her?

There, in her unread messages, were two words. Please answer.

A minute later and her phone rang again. She let it, counting the rings until she knew it was about to go to voicemail, before she pressed the answer button and held the phone to her ear, throat too tight to speak.

Faint and distant-- “Kara? Are you there?”

“What do you want, Alex?”

“I need...” A sigh. “Can you… would you come?”

“Why? Did your first choice say no?”

The silence was damning.

“Okay. Wow. Okay,” she said faintly, because everything she’d been thinking had been true. She’d tried to write it off as irrational jealousy, but it’d been true.

“It wasn’t… Don’t be like that. I had to try,” Alex muttered. “I can’t keep taking advantage of you forever.”

Kara wasn’t sure which part infuriated her more.

“You let someone else...” She choked on the words, unable to say any of the things she was imagining. “You let them…”

“I didn’t.” It was a whisper, shameful. “I tried, but… Please. Will you come?”

Kara wiped at the tears gathered in her eyes. “Alex…”

“I need you. Please.”

She hung up.

------

Alex met her at the door to her dorm room with a wet, tear-stained face, wrapped up in one of Kara’s old hoodies.

“You came,” she said, stiff with surprise. “I didn’t think you would.”

Even though she wanted to reach out, Kara kept her arms crossed over her chest. “You said you needed me,” she said to the patch of door just above Alex’s left shoulder.

Alex checked the hallway nervously and pushed her door open a little wider. “Will you come in?”

She could smell the lingering reek of Alpha when the door closed behind her. From the way Alex moved to the window, throwing it open, she could tell. Even with it open, the scent lingered, ugly and acrid to Kara’s nose. When Alex stepped back to her, she directed a concentrated blast of freeze breath at the places where it was most oppressive, ruffling papers and disrupting the contents of the desk as she chased the smell of someone else from the room.

Alex’s voice was bitterly unamused. “Better?”

Kara spun with a growl and pinned Alex to the door, hands hard against her hips. “No,” she said, and kissed her. She kissed her until Alex was pliant against her, and her hands were curled in the weave of Kara’s sweater. Until she was whimpering against her, mouth open to allow Kara’s tongue to explore at will.

She pulled away only long enough to reach beneath Alex’s thighs and hoist her up. “There’s nothing one of them can give you that I can’t,” she said, keeping Alex’s legs wrapped around her waist as she dropped her onto her back on the mattress. She straightened, pulling off her sweater and her bra, unwilling to play at the charade of barriers in between them. A flurry of movement and she was naked and Alex was almost so, still pulling her own shirt over her head as Kara handled the rest.

“Kara,” she said, chest heaving, “the window.”

Her fingers found Alex sloppy wet. “Let them hear you.”

Beneath her, Alex keened.

“Are you ready for me?” she asked, the tips of her fingers stroking at Alex’s opening.

“Yes.” A moment later, like a confession she could no longer keep secret, “I tried, Kara. I tried to do this without you, but I couldn’t. It was… I don’t want anyone else to touch me. I hated it. I stopped before anything could happen. I don’t want to do this without you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

She leaned down to kiss Alex even as she slid inside of her. “I will always take care of you,” she said, and nipped at Alex’s lower lip. Two fingers became three as she brushed Alex’s tongue with her own. She fucked her through her first orgasm, steady and unforgiving, because Alex had tried to forget. Through her second, as Alex’s moan echoed against her mouth and her fingers dug into Kara’s back. Through her third, to the sound of her name ringing in Kara’s ears, and Alex’s body going soft and limp against her.

“Can you take more for me?” she asked as Alex panted beneath her, trying to catch her breath. “Let me show you, Alex. Let me show you that there’s nothing they can give you that I can’t.”

“What do you--” Her eyes widened as Kara pressed a fourth finger alongside the three already inside of her, -- “oh."

Alex grew tight around her as soon as she processed Kara’s intentions, and Kara faltered at the implication. Alex, so tight, with her body primed by heat to accept, but maybe it was too much? Maybe she was wrong, and this was something Alex would never want, not from her. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said, mournful and uncertain, because she didn’t, but she wanted Alex to know.

Even in the low light, Kara caught Alex’s blush. “In the desk,” she said, her voice incongruously shy. “In the bottom drawer.”

The barely used bottle of lube was a surprise she decided to ask Alex about later.

Alex watched with wide eyes as she poured a liberal amount over her fingers, over her palm and the back of her knuckles, until her hand was shining with it.

“Tell me if it’s too much. Tell me if you can’t and I’ll stop.” Kara found her again. She pressed her fingers together tightly and waited for permission.

“Okay,” Alex said breathlessly, hands clutching at the sheets, eyes bright with barely tempered anticipation.

She’d spent the many weeks Alex had spent ignoring her thinking about all of the things she couldn’t offer her. Normalcy, first and foremost. She’d never be fully of this world, no matter how hard she tried. That was clear from the door handles that still wound up mangled under her grip on occasion and the way people looked at her sometimes, whatever she’d said a clear clue that she wasn’t quite what she seemed. There was the way people saw them, as foster sisters, but Midvale wasn’t the world. Away from Midvale they could be whatever they wanted to each other, with no one there to say differently. But the rest…

Alex had never seemed overly invested in what it meant to be an Omega, at least not beyond her fears. Some things made themselves known, like the exigencies of her heats, but she’d found a way to satiate them. At least, Kara had thought so. She’d thought she was that way, that she’d been giving Alex everything she needed. As Alex pulled away and her doubts and fears grew, she started to think that maybe she wasn’t. She would never call Alex to her with the oft-cited seductive pull of pheromones. She would never leave Alex covered in her scent, with all of the subtleties that came with the kinds of displays a claimed Omega could find comfort in. She could never knot her, never give her children, never satisfy the desires that would always be there, just under the surface until suddenly they weren’t.

It had come to her one day as she ruminated over all of the things she could never be, that maybe there were other ways. At least, for some things. And Alex hadn’t complained, but maybe it would be best to show her what she could have before she realized what she was missing.

“You feel so good,” Kara said, thumb tucked against her palm and knuckles resting just outside of where she desperately wanted to be. She worked Alex open as thoroughly as she could, spreading her fingers out when she was deep inside her and testing how long she could keep them that way as she withdrew. She rocked her hand from side to side, twisting as she pushed in, a little deeper each time, and Alex’s face betrayed her. It let Kara know when to stop, when to slow down, and when to move faster. A bitten lower lip, the crinkle between her eyebrows, her head thrown back to display the long line of her neck - each was a story.

Now, Alex, who’d slipped into something like a trance, looked up at her with eyes gone hazy.

“More,” she said, and curled her foot behind Kara’s thigh.

Alex cried out at the wide stretch of her knuckles, and Kara would have stopped, would have pulled free, if Alex hadn’t wrapped a hand around her wrist, holding her still. Her hips moved, rolling up into her, slow and lazy. The look on her face was one of wonder, and Kara realized she’d been taken in. Her hand had curled into a fist on instinct, and she was filling every spare millimeter of space Alex had to give.

She hadn’t expected it to feel so overwhelming. She hadn’t expected the heat, or the way that every small movement brought about a gasp or the furrowing of Alex’s brow. And Alex, laid out before her like an offering, stretched tight around her wrist, was the most beautiful thing she’d seen on Earth.

It took a long moment for Alex’s breath to even out. “Kara,” she said, her voice full of astonished awe, “I can feel you everywhere. Is this what it’s like to take a knot? Fuck, it’s so much. I’m so full. I’m--”

Kara moved, just a fraction of an inch, and whatever else Alex was going to say was overtaken by a sound of such unfettered pleasure that Kara felt herself go weak at the knees. She looked up from where she was crouched between Alex’s legs to see Alex’s face subsumed by bliss, and she had done that. She had, not some stupid Alpha. Alex would never need some stupid Alpha, not when Kara could make her feel like this. Not when each gentle thrust of her hand had Alex crying out.

“Oh god, Kara. Please,” she gasped, desperate and tractable, any reserve she might once have had stripped away.

She brought her other hand to Alex’s clit and stroked with the pad her of thumb in a rhythm she’d long since learned drove Alex crazy. It brought a sharpness to Alex’s expression, an almost angry predicator of an unwillingness to be denied, not if she’d been brought so very far. To see it dissolve in the wash of orgasm, bleeding into helpless acceptance of the inevitability of the pleasure Kara had drawn from her, stoked something inside Kara as primal as Alex’s uncontrollable need to be brought to that place. Alex held her tightly inside of her, a bond that couldn’t be broken. Kara felt possessed by her, part of her, secured deep inside in a way that couldn’t be dislodged.

“Stay,” Alex said, after Kara had wrung from her all that could be given. She stopped her retreat and let Alex’s body pull her hand back inside, careful to support her own weight. “Just stay like that for a little while, okay?”

So Kara settled down, head resting against Alex’s hip, and stayed.

------

Alex was stretched out in the backseat as Kara drove, silent and with her heat thoroughly quelled, and Kara was terrified.

“Fuck,” she’d hissed that morning, pushing up off of the mattress almost as soon as she’d sat down. And Kara thought she’d been gentle, had been sure she had, but apparently even an Omega in heat didn’t emerge entirely unscathed from an evening spent wrapped around someone’s fist.

She’d been distressed and Alex had been embarrassed, and maybe the worst part was that Kara was sure neither of them would take it back. Alex might be sore, but she hadn’t exactly said never again. She’d handed the keys to Kara with a glare. “Next time,” she’d muttered, “maybe we don’t do that the night before a six-hour drive.”

And now they were stuck in sluggishly moving traffic north of National City and Kara was going to have to figure out some way to explain to Eliza that it was, in fact, okay that she’d decided to drive Alex home from college even though there was no human way she could have covered that distance, and Alex had said next time but she’d also not said much of anything else. True, she’d fallen asleep within half an hour after they’d left, but still.

“Take this exit,” Alex said suddenly, startling Kara so badly she nearly disconnected the steering wheel from the car entirely.

She was instantly alert. “Do you need to stop?”

“Just take the exit, Kara.”

Considering silence and compliance the better part of valor, Kara did. With Alex directing, she followed the road signs leading to National City National Forest, and soon they were in the midst of scrub and scruffy pine.

“Turn in there,” Alex said, pointing to an outlet upcoming on the left.

Kara started to then stopped, the car’s back-end still awkwardly half on and half off of the main road. “But the sign says the road is closed.”

Kara.”

“Okay!” And even though she waited for helicopters to appear and national park service agents to rappel out of the trees in response, she drove past the sign telling people to stay out.

“This is good,” Alex said, when the rutted, long abused asphalt became too much. “Pull off onto the side.”

Kara did, gratefully. Alex got out of the car and so she followed, not quite sure why they were in the middle of nowhere and not wanting to think about it too closely in case the implications were less than favorable.

“We need to talk about what happened,” Alex said, and Kara’s heart stopped beating. “What we’re doing… I think it’s gone a little beyond help, Kara.”

Every molecule of her being sank.

“I’m not sure when it stopped being just about help, but it’s been that way for a little while. Am I right?”

Kara dug the toe of her shoe into the ground, leaving a furrow behind. “What do you want me to say?” she asked helplessly, hands shoved deep in her pockets and shoulders around her ears. It had never worked out the way she wanted, not when Alex put on her big sister voice and asked the kinds of questions to which she already knew the answers.

“I want you to tell me the truth.”

“Okay.” She took in a deep breath and figured, why not? What could be worse than what she could feel coming? “It hurt when you didn’t call. I was jealous, and it turned out that I was right to be. This is our thing, Alex. My thing. I take care of you. I give you what you need. I promised and you promised, and you can’t just decide that’s not the way it is anymore.” She blinked, willing away the sting of involuntary tears. “You can’t replace me. You can’t abandon me. Not like that. Not with no warning. Not when I miss you every day. Not to take something that’s ours and… and give it away, like it doesn’t matter.”

“Our thing,” Alex scoffed, like she hadn’t called Kara the night before. Like she hadn’t let Kara touch her, or looked up at her like Kara was the only thing that mattered. “How are you supposed to be normal if we have this between us?”

As far as Kara could tell, this was the most normal thing about her.

“How am I supposed to be normal if we don’t?”

Alex hissed out a frustrated breath. “Don’t you understand? Nobody is going to think this is okay.”

“I don’t care what anybody else thinks. Why do you?”

“Because I’m supposed to take care of you.” She pressed her palms against her forehead and looked up to the sky. “I’m supposed to keep you safe.”

“I’m safe, Alex,” she said, hands outstretched, palms up, as if inviting the world’s dangers to present themselves. “The only thing that can hurt me is you.”

“That’s not fair.” Alex dropped her hands and glared at her. “It’s not fair, Kara.”

“I thought you wanted me to tell you the truth.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Alex looked angry enough to punch one of the spindly, knot-filled pines looming over them. “Do you love me? Are you in love with me?”

“Are you in love with me?”

Alex regarded her stonily. “This never would have happened if I wasn’t an Omega.” She said it like it was a curse. Like she was flinging it at someone else, someone she despised. “I wouldn’t have wanted things I’m not supposed to want.”

As bitter and angry as they were, the words etched a crack in the protective armor Kara had been building. “Like me?” she asked, stepping in close enough to lay her hand on Alex’s hip, a faint spark of hope growing in the sudden darkness.

Alex flinched but didn’t pull away. “I don’t know what this is,” she said, and looked so lost so suddenly that Kara wanted nothing more than to wrap her up and spirit her away. “I thought it’d be okay if I could make it through my heat without you. If I could find someone else, and it’d be true, what they say. That anyone could do what you do for me, because that’s the way we are.” She shrugged, blushed. “A door that can be unlocked by anybody who happens to have a key.”

She closed her eyes as fury washed over her, not wanting Alex to see it. Not sure who or what she was angry with, Alex or the world that had taught her to think that might be true. She gave in to her desire to pull her into a hug, squeezing until she heard the quiet oof that indicated that it might be just a little too tight.

“I couldn’t do it,” Alex whispered into her neck. “I wanted you, not somebody else.”

“I don’t want you to want somebody else.”

They stood that way for so long that the quiet rustle of the wind through the branches crept up on her, like something she should have been hearing all along.

“So, what does that mean?” she asked finally, not sure she wanted to know but not sure she could move forward if she didn’t.

Alex pulled away from her with a sigh. “I don’t know. All I know is this can’t just be about me.”

“It’s never just been about you.”

“But it has.” Alex shrugged. “I’ve never touched you, Kara. Not the way you touch me.”

And Kara, who hadn’t really thought about what they did beyond fulfilling what Alex needed from her, was left blinking at her in confusion. “You would want that?”

The expression on Alex’s face melted into something fond, and Kara took in a deep breath for the first time since the conversation had started.

“If you would.”

Kara nodded, not quite sure, but not opposed to at least trying. “Okay.” She startled when Alex took a step closer, and looked around at all of the open space around them. “Right now?”

“No, you dork,” Alex said, and kissed her.

------

Kara found herself perched on the back of a 12-year-old four-door sedan, pants abandoned in the dirt, feeling a lot like not right now had turned into right now after all.

“Do you think we should be doing this here?” she asked, lifting up so that Alex could ease her panties down over her hips.

Alex stepped in between her spread legs, hands resting on the tops of Kara’s thighs, and grinned up at her. “Let them hear you.”

And, oh. Right. She’d said that, hadn’t she?

Maybe she would, because she didn’t think she wanted Alex to stop any of the things she’d been doing. She didn’t want her to stop kissing her, or to take away the way it felt when she ran her thumb over the curve of her breast so that her nipple found itself trapped between thumb and forefinger. Certainly not the way Alex stretched up on tiptoe to take it in her mouth, all wet tongue and sharp teeth. It was a vestigial bit of flesh, something that hadn’t served any useful purpose for generations upon generations on Krypton, but Kara couldn’t quite bring herself to worry about evolutionary peculiarities. Not when it felt like that.

“Is it okay if I touch you?” Alex asked, the words muffled against her skin, and it took Kara a moment to answer because Alex was touching her. It wasn’t until she felt Alex’s hand shift to cup between her legs that she understood what she meant. This was Alex asking to be allowed something more, something sacred.

“Yes,” she said, heart full to the brim with the knowledge that this was something they would share.

The touch of Alex’s fingers there, against the parts of her that she knew better on Alex than on herself, was soothing. It was attention to an ache that Kara hadn’t realized was building, and she ran her hands through Alex’s hair, watching the play of sunlight across her face as it drifted through the trees. She looked so serious, so eager to please. So beautiful.

“Kara, can you feel this?”

“Uh-huh.” She nodded, and drew her hand along the side of Alex’s sharp jaw. “It feels good.”

Alex’s expression shifted over to worry. “Don’t just say that.”

“I’m not.”

She felt like she’d been lifted closer to the sun, like she’d absorbed all of the energy her body could hold and had been left lolling in a continuous, gentle updraft that let her settle without settling. Everything in her being was urging her up, against Alex’s touch, into the sky, away from the hold of Earth’s gravity.

“What about this?” she asked, and Kara took in a deep breath as Alex’s finger pushed inside her.

“Oh. Oh.”

“Is it too much?”

She focused in on the sensation, on the way it felt to be on the other side of the equation. “I didn’t think it would feel like this.”

“We don’t have to--” Alex began to pull out, mouth twisted with regret.

Kara wrapped her legs around Alex’s back and pulled her in close. “No,” she said, not yet ready to lose the connection. “Don’t. Please. Could you… More. I want to feel what you feel.”

“Okay. Another, okay? We’ll try that.”

And then she was so full, and how had Alex taken her whole hand? How had she, when Kara could feel the delicious pressure, the slide and the way the tips of Alex’s fingers seemed to reach something deep inside of her? She collapsed back, the glass of the back windshield cool against her overheated skin, and looked at Alex with what she knew to be wonder.

“Tell me if it’s too much,” Alex said, and leaned down to press an open-mouthed kiss against her khehth tahn, and the word wouldn’t come to her, not in English, and why had she never known this was possible?

“You can do that?” she asked, out of breath for no discernable reason. Alex looked up at her and drew her tongue up, so soft and warm, and Kara clamped down hard around the fingers still pressed deep inside of her. Her hand instinctively settled on the back of Alex’s head, pulling her down even as she pressed her hips up. Alex moaned, and it seemed to vibrate straight through her. She forgot about the open air and the unforgiving metal beneath her. She forgot everything but Alex, and the pull of her mouth and the push of her fingers.

“Kara,” Alex said some time later, panting against the crease of her thigh, and the angle of the sun had shifted, highlighting the way Kara’s fingers disappeared into her thick, dark hair, “let me breathe. I won’t stop. I promise.”

She half-understood what Alex was saying, but then Alex’s fingers were moving faster, curled inside her just right. She could hear herself, the sounds she was making high-pitched and breathy. She would have been embarrassed by it at any other time, but she couldn’t be. Not with the way Alex was looking up at her, like she was delighted that Kara couldn’t find the wherewithal to construct words, much less string them together. Then her thumb was there again, pressing against the place where her mouth had been, and her orgasm tore through her like an unstoppable force. She gave a half-choked cry and searched for Alex’s hand, not at all sure she could make it through without the connection.

“You’re okay.” She heard the words as if from far away, through layers of release. “I’ve got you. You’re okay.”

She closed her eyes against the world, centering herself on the steady thump of Alex’s heartbeat and the warmth of their hands pressed together. Okay was insufficient for what she was, but for the moment, it would do.

Chapter Text

When Alex had said she was coming home for Spring Break, Kara had imagined Kara&Alex time. She’d imagined it in detail, movie marathons and endless pints of ice cream and maybe a little covert exploration of some of the things she’d learned about over Alex’s holiday break. She hadn’t imagined eavesdropping, and yet…

Eliza sounded lost and spinily exasperated, as if she’d been awakened from a sound sleep into a world that had changed around her in the night. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.”

“This isn’t the kind of thing you hide, Alex!”

“I didn’t hide it. I just wasn’t ready to have this conversation with you.”

“How long have you known?”

“Does it matter?”

How long?

Quietly, reluctantly, “The summer before Senior year.”

Eliza sounded dumbfounded. “That’s two and a half years ago. Where have you been getting your medications?”

“I haven’t been taking any.” She could picture Alex’s face, obstinate and stern. “I’ve been fine.”

“Fine? There’s no fine. There’s well managed and then there’s uncontrolled and unsafe. Is that what you’ve been? You’ve had, what? Four or five unregulated heats? With no protection, nothing to help you manage the symptoms. Have you been… Alex, what have you been doing?”

Alex, sharp in the way she was any time anyone hinted that she might have a weakness. “It’s been fine, Mom. I’ve been handling it."

“Oh, really. How?”

Silence.

Again. “How, Alex?”

A growl. “I have a friend who helps me.”

“A friend who helps you?” Eliza was incredulous. “Are you even listening to yourself? Do you understand how irresponsible that is? Who is it? Some Alpha? Have you been letting some Alpha knot you? All it takes is one slip-up. One broken condom and you might as well say good-bye to college because you’ll have a baby to raise. Is that what you want for your future?”

“They’re not an Alpha, okay. They’re not… they can’t get me pregnant.”

“Well, that’s a small favor.” A pause, and then, quietly, almost defeated, “I could have helped you get the resources you need, Alex. I know you say you have a… a friend, but there are other ways. Safer ways.”

Kara could picture the cagey, tense set of Alex’s shoulders. It wouldn’t take much to push her straight to flight.

“They keep me safe, Mom. You don’t have to worry about me.”

Eliza sighed. “I hope you called on whoever it was because you wanted to be with him, or her, I guess, that way, and not because you felt you had to because of the way you are.”

“The way I am?” Alex was a mix of wounded and affronted, and Kara ached for her. “What does that mean?”

“I didn’t mean it like that.” She heard the splintery apology in Eliza’s voice. “I know this isn’t something we ever discussed. We didn’t prepare you for the possibility because we didn’t think it was a possibility.”

“Well, I am, so I guess you better get used to having an Omega for a daughter. One who isn’t out there getting knotted by random Alphas because she doesn’t know how to manage herself.”

“Alex, honey, you caught me by surprise. That’s all. This is just another part of who you are, sweetheart. It’s no different from the shape of your nose or the color of your eyes. It doesn’t change anything about you, and it doesn’t change the fact that I love you. It will make things harder, but you’re strong. You’ll manage it. You’ll overcome it. I know you won’t let this stand in your way.”

Sniffles, likely from Alex. Possibly from both of them. Definitely from her, Kara acknowledged, swiping a hand across her cheek.

“I can’t imagine Kara doesn’t know.” After a moment, Eliza sighed again, disgruntled but accepting it. “Of course she kept your secret. When she came to live here, I acquired a daughter. You got a co-conspirator.”

“Don’t be mad at her. She’s wanted me to tell you from the start.”

“At least one of you has some sense.” Silence again, and then Eliza’s voice, hesitant. “So, you have a friend.”

“Oh, god.”

“Maybe you could bring your friend home with you so that Kara and I can meet them.”

Alex laughed, a helpless sound that edged into hysteria. “Mom, no.”

“I’ll be nice. I promise. I’m sure Kara will too.”

“It’s not happening.”

She heard the sound of a kiss, and imagined Eliza pressing one against Alex’s forehead. “On your own time, but sooner rather than later. I’d like to meet the person my daughter cares for enough to actually accept help from them.”

Alex sounded affronted. “I accept help.”

“Since when?”

“Since now and since before now. Since always.”

Unseen and unheard, Kara snorted.

------

They were laying on a blanket on the floor, having long since learned that the sound of creaking bedsprings echoed through an otherwise silent house and having recently become exponentially more paranoid about it, when she tugged Alex down to her. “So, when do I get to meet your friend?”

Alex scowled and slapped her bicep. “Don’t even. Did you listen to all of that?”

Kara shrugged.

“Was privacy not a concept they had on Krypton?”

“It’s not my fault that your planet…”

Alex kissed her, possibly just to shut her up. By the time she pulled away, Kara was too happy to bother calling her on it.

“I’m glad you told Eliza--” she said, immediately rushing on to-- “Do you want to go out on the roof and look at the stars? It’s supposed to be a good night to see Venus.”

“Are you flirting? What that innuendo?”

It wasn’t, and she wasn’t entirely sure why it might be interpreted as such, but she tried to recover quickly enough to imply that it might have been.

“I’m not going to explain it.” Alex shook her head, but she did so in a way Kara was pretty sure could be described as fondly. “The last thing you need is an arsenal of bad pick-up lines.”

“Why would I need pick-up lines--” she floated a few inches off the floor, taking Alex with her, “--when I can literally pick you up?”

Alex yelped then glared at her, probably as much for making her look undignified as because she was actually startled.

“That’s awful,” she said, shifting so that her legs were dangling on either side of Kara’s hips as Kara continued to rise. “I’m embarrassed on your behalf.”

“I’ll make it up to you.”

“How?”

“I’ll show you where to find Venus.”

When Alex examined her suspiciously, she just grinned.

------

She awoke to Alex’s hands on her shoulders, face hovering a foot away.

“It’s just a dream,” Alex said, her thumbs stroking along the cut of Kara’s collar bone. “It’s just a dream, Kara. You’re safe.”

She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Behind her eyelids, debris flew by on tails of fire.

“Which one was it?”

“The pod. Explosions.”

“Okay. Okay. Look around. You’re in your room. You’re in my bed. Look to your right. Do you see the bookshelf?”

She nodded.

“Good. Find a book. It doesn’t matter which one. What is it?”

She looked through the wall and to the lawn beyond.

“Take your time.” Alex rubbed her upper arms, pressure firm and steady, and Kara let it anchor her to the moment. “There’s no hurry.”

She blinked and brought the room into focus - walls, ceiling, decorations, bookshelf, Alex. “Wintersmith.”

“Where are you?”

“Earth. Midvale. Our room.”

“And I’ve got you and I’m going to keep you safe. I’m not going to let anything hurt you.”

“You’ve got me.”

“I do. I’ve got you. Let’s sit up. That’s right. Take my hand.”

She let herself be pulled into a seated position, legs crossed in front of her to make room for Alex.

“What are you going to take with you when you go to college?”

She knew what Alex was doing - distracting her, talking her down - and she let herself be tugged gently away from the edge. “I haven’t thought about it.”

“That poster, I think.” Alex pointed to the one Kara had tacked onto the wall. It was a portion of space, not Krypton, but at the edge of Rao’s reach. “Definitely the honorable mention ribbon you got at the science fair.”

She snorted and slapped her hand over her mouth, chagrined.

“And that picture of us. The one you like so much.”

Alex didn’t even need to clarify. She knew which one - the two of them on the beach, with Alex leaning against her surfboard and Kara leaning against Alex, both dusty with sand. Alex had stripped off her rash guard, leaving her in a tiny bikini top. She had a trail of freckles over the bridge of her nose, and Kara had been grinning at her, face in profile.

“It’s a good picture.”

Alex rolled her eyes.

“It is!” Kara protested, reaching forward to lightly shove Alex’s shoulder.

“I think we both know why you like it.”

“Yeah. So? You’re my… my--” she bit back the English word and hid away in a language Alex barely spoke-- “zehdh. My :zhao.”

“Are you trying to call me your girlfriend?”

“Can I?”

Alex blushed. Shrugged. “I mean, I guess. If you want.”

She squeaked in surprise as Kara tackled her to the bed, nearly sending the both of them toppling over the edge of it. “I want.”

“But just between us, okay?” Alex said seriously, arms wrapped around Kara’s shoulders to keep herself anchored.

“For now.”

Kara.”

Okay. Just between us.” She pulled Alex up and settled her back in the spot she’d been in before. “In which case it’s entirely appropriate that I take a picture of my girlfriend in a bikini with me when I go to college.”

------

Eighth heat

It was a maybe for so long that Kara had convinced herself she wouldn’t be sad when it didn’t work out. It was the only way she could handle the I don’t know, Kara’s and the I’m going to try to figure it out, but’s… At least a third of it was talking Eliza into agreeing it was okay because with the potential of her mother’s disapproval hanging over her head, she knew Alex would waffle, so Kara had crafted arguments and used her best puppy dog eyes and Eliza had finally rolled her eyes at her with a fine.

“You girls…” she’d muttered, exasperated and indulgent, and Kara had held her congratulatory dance in check until she was back in her room.

“Okay,” Alex said, half distracted and a little breathless, “so I’ve got things worked out with the sublet, but you’re going to have to get a job, Kara. I don’t know what, but something, because what Mom’s giving me will only cover two-thirds of the rent. My paycheck covers the rest, but we haven’t even gotten to bills yet. On top of that, we have to feed you, so maybe you should get three jobs.”

“I don’t eat that much.”

“Or maybe you can find a job at a restaurant so you can get an employee discount.”

Alex--” she interrupted, reaching a point where she couldn’t stifle her hopes any longer and desperate for it all to not be a cruel misunderstanding, because she’d be crushed-- “Does this mean I can come?”

Alex let out a breath. “Yeah. I won’t be able to move out until the middle of June, but after that…”

After that, Alex had the summer session and Kara had almost two months before she had to be back at Stanhope, and they were going to spend it in a sublet one-bedroom apartment. Together.

The wait was interminable. Alex was only a little more than halfway through her Spring quarter when Kara finished up finals at Stanhope. She couldn’t move into Alex’s dorm. Alex was adamant about it, no matter how intrinsically convincing her arguments felt, so it was back to Midvale and their childhood room and dinners with Eliza whenever she wasn’t working late. Alex said no flying, so she couldn’t even really see her on weekends. By the time Alex’s move-out date finally rolled around, she was past the point of even pretending she had any patience left. She needed Alex-all-to-herself time, because outside of the odd school and holiday break, they hadn’t been able to spend any significant amount of uninterrupted time together since Alex had started college. Moving from literally cohabitating in the same room to seeing each other for maybe a few weeks at most was wildly insufficient.

And still, she had to wait through the three days Alex spent back in Midvale for a quick visit before starting the summer session and taking Kara with her.

“I’ve missed you,” she said fervently as soon as they closed the door behind them in the unfamiliar space they’d be sharing for the remainder of the summer, and hugged Alex so tightly she squeaked.

The sublet was tiny, but she didn’t care. Her job offloading pallets and stocking shelves at a local grocery store was mind numbing, even if she did work with some moderately interesting people, but that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was being there when Alex dropped her backpack on the floor inside the door with a sigh of relief, and the way she’d smile when Kara popped up over the back of the couch. The way she’d let Kara rub her shoulders and the way she always ate whatever Kara had cooked for dinner, assuming it was her night to cook, even if it hadn’t turned out exactly right.

All of which came later, because they’d spent most of their first week together attending to Alex’s heat.

“Okay, so I joined this online forum for Betas and Omegas who are dating Omegas - don’t look at me like that, Alex - and the people there have all of these recommendations and suggestions for how to, you know, really make your Omega’s heat good.” She offered up a shrug at Alex’s glare. “I probably shouldn’t have said ‘your Omega.’ It implies that you’re my Omega, which you are but only because you’re my girlfriend, and that was a bad way to sell it. I can see that now. Can we forget that part, because it’s not the important part?”

She assumed the only thing that was buying her any leeway was the fact that she’d done a rather thorough job of addressing Alex’s heat, at least for the moment.

Alex rolled out of bed on unsteady feet and padded into the kitchen for a glass of water, and she was completely naked because it didn’t matter because this was their house, for now, and Kara was… she was just… She lost her train of thought.

“So, what’s the important part?” Alex asked, handing Kara a glass of water before setting hers on the bedside table, and Kara had to hold back a wince. She should have gotten the water. Omegas liked to be taken care of when they were on their heat. That was at the top of every list she’d ever seen on what to do, and she’d just lain there like a dummy while Alex had taken care of herself. She was whiffing on the basics and she wanted to introduce advanced maneuvers? Things were looking worse by the minute.

“Kara,” Alex prodded, “the important part?”

“Wait here.” She was gone and back in a second, holding out a plain, brown delivery box. She’d ordered it months before and had it delivered to her dorm at Stanhope and hadn’t opened it, sure that the second she did, someone would see it. Presenting it to Alex was a little overwhelming, because she’d kept it secret for so long, and maybe Alex wouldn’t be interested anyway. If it just stayed in its little brown box forever, no one would know she’d ever done it in the first place. That might have been for the best for all involved, but it was too late because Alex was prying up the tape and looking at her strangely and they’d passed the point where Kara could have come up with any reasonable explanation for yanking it out of her hands and throwing it directly into the sun.

“Oh,” Alex said, clearly a little shocked as she pulled the not entirely tasteful package free. There was a guy with his ass in the air on the box, clearly ready to be mounted, and a decidedly lascivious Omega tested, Omega approved emblazoned just above him.

“It has a knot,” Kara said weakly. “It came highly recommended.”

Once it was taken out of the box and its cozy internal clamshell, the toy seemed somehow even more obscene.

“You want to use this?” Alex asked, holding it gingerly.

Everyone on the forum had said that this was the most lifelike model, but Kara had a hard time squaring true-to-life with the disembodied penis Alex was studying as if it were a particularly surprising specimen under her microscope. “I thought I would see if you wanted to try it?” she offered, a little less confidently than she would have liked. “People said the dimensions were great for an… I mean, great for someone who might enjoy dimensions of the kind it possesses at any point when said dimensions might be most appreciated.”

Alex picked up the box and read aloud. “The Magnum Opus 2.0 is anatomically molded to satisfy an Omega in heat. With a thick knot designed to quench the thirst of even the most shameless Omega, the Magnum Opus 2.0 can be used solo or with a partner. The Magnum Opus 2.0 is harness compatible, with a firm, dual-density core that will have your Omega begging for more.  Made of the highest quality silicone on the market, the Magnum Opus 2.0 never tires and never flags. Perfectly proportioned and with a realistic texture, the Magnum Opus 2.0 is guaranteed to make any Omega sing.”

Kara’s face felt like it was on fire.

“The Magnum Opus 2.0 is pretty proud of itself,” Alex said, giving the shaft an experimental squeeze.

“Please don’t say its name again.”

Time seemed to stretch into eons before Alex asked hesitantly, “Do you have a harness?”

She did, in another unopened box. “Uh, yes?”

“I--” Alex’s voice was strangled and her face beet red, and Kara was convinced that her mortification had become contagious, “do also have a… something similar. It does not have a knot.”

Kara blinked. “You do?”

“I… yes.”

“So we had the same idea?”

“I would like to say yes, but that wouldn’t be entirely correct.” Her blush deepened. “I sometimes use it, as the box says, solo.”

The implication unfolded itself in Kara’s mind almost instantly. It made sense. Probably. Ever since she and Alex had come to the understanding that something more than just helping was happening between them, they’d branched out to having sex outside of Alex’s heat. She had definitely appreciated that, if only because it reassured her that it was okay to have those kinds of thoughts about Alex when it wasn’t just about satisfying an overwhelming biological imperative. She hadn’t been sure at first because it all seemed like an officially sanctioned thing that she was allowed to do when Alex needed her, but after, it’d felt indulgent and oddly wrong. There was no purpose to sex outside of Alex’s procreative cycle, and wanting something that didn’t appear to serve a purpose felt selfish. Even sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to microwave and eat all of the leftovers didn’t feel selfish in the same way because her body could process and use that energy, but thinking of being with Alex that way when there was no real reason for it had.

She’d felt guilty at first, doing those things with Alex just because she enjoyed them. The understanding came later. There was a purpose. If asked by her parents, she would have characterized it as an activity that strengthened key emotional, physical, and prosocial bonds with her prospective life partner. If asked by Alex, she probably would have blushed and spluttered and tackled her to the bed, taking advantage of Alex’s ticklish spots until she admitted defeat. If asked of herself, she would have admitted to a growing sense that it was okay to want things because they brought her pleasure, regardless of whatever other role they might play.

So of course Alex would enjoy finding pleasure, even by herself, and in ways Kara hadn’t considered but would now like to entertain in greater depth.

“Kara?”

“Sorry.” She snapped out of her ill-timed moment of reflection. “I was thinking about that. I could possibly stand to know more.”

Alex thwacked her with Magnum Opus 2.0.

“I was going to say that you should find your harness, but now I’m not so sure.”

To be honest, Kara wasn’t entirely sure herself. She liked the idea of what she’d read about, especially the way she’d have both of her hands free to touch Alex in other ways, but she was worried about it, too. Feeling the way Alex reacted to her touch helped her keep a leash on any accidental outbursts of inappropriately applied strength, so the idea of not being able to corroborate the way Alex felt against her with the other visual cues upon which she relied was vaguely terrifying.

“Maybe, at first, I could just hold it,” she ventured. “I could make sure that it’s safe for me to… do that.”

Alex’s expression softened, and she felt her flagging spirits rebound the way they always did when Alex looked at her with so much love.

“Go wash it off, then. Use warm, soapy water.”

It felt like an escape to be given something to do that didn’t involve talking about Magnum Opus 2.0 or its intended use, until Kara really focused in on the toy in her hands. She ran her hand down the shaft and over the knot, nervous at the bulk of it. Her fingers didn’t quite meet when she wrapped them around the thickest part. She didn’t want to hurt Alex. That wasn’t the point. The point was to provide the kind of thing Kara couldn’t, not naturally, the way she’d tried to do when she...

Her thoughts skittered to a halt as she tentatively closed her hand into a fist and held it alongside the toy’s knot. Compared to her fist, the knot was unimpressive, and Kara was suddenly terrified. She’d worked her hand inside Alex during her last heat as well, and Alex had let her, and she was half again as big as something that’d been made specifically for that purpose.

“Alex--” she burst back into the room with a still dripping Magnum Opus 2.0-- “how could you let me do this?”

Alex looked at her quizzically.

Look.” She held the toy next to her closed fist, and the size differential was immediately and clearly obvious. Her stomach roiled at the implication. “You should have told me.”

“Told you what?”

“That I was asking for too much! That it wasn’t normal for me to… to do that!”

Alex seemed to take a moment to assess the situation. Once she had, she shifted uneasily and picked at the sheets, and Kara felt awful.

“I didn’t think you were,” she said, in a small, tight voice that tore straight through Kara’s heart.

Alex.”

“No, you’re probably right. It’s probably not normal.” She pulled the sheets up higher, wrapping them over her breasts.

Kara’s heart seized. She didn’t stop to think about it, just launched herself onto the bed, flattening Alex into the mattress and hovering over her, stricken.

“Alex, no. I was afraid. Because I… I asked you to do that. No, I didn’t even ask, and it wasn’t fair of me, because maybe you couldn’t say no. You trust me to take care of you, but I didn’t do that. I took care of me, and my insecurities, because I was jealous. I wanted to prove that I was better than some stupid Alpha, that you didn’t need someone else.” Her voice cracked around the words. “I was careless with you. Reckless.”

Alex shoved at her shoulders and she sprang off, realizing she’d done it again.

“You don’t get to do this,” Alex said, curling up so she was braced on one hand, and glared at her. “You don’t get to have a crisis when I’m trying to decide how mad at you I’m going to be.”

“You should be mad at me. I’m sorry.”

“I know.” Alex ran a hand through her hair and looked at Kara in exasperation. “I can tell you no, Kara. I’m not completely helpless.”

Kara nodded, because Alex wasn’t. Alex was a lot of things, like stubborn and occasionally infuriating and pretty much perfect, but she wasn’t helpless.

A delicate blush fell over Alex’s cheeks. “And I didn’t tell you no. I didn’t tell you no the time after that, either. I’m not going to tell you no next time, and I need you to not make me feel self-conscious about that.”

“I won’t,” Kara said, mouth suddenly dry. She reached out tentatively, brushing against the back of Alex’s hand and feeling a wave of relief when Alex let her twine their fingers together. “On Krypton, it was thronivrrosh, not Omega. Thronivrrosh meant… the best way I can describe it is as a shelter. A shelter from the storm. That’s what you are, Alex. You’re my place of safety. You’re my shelter from the storm.”

“I like that,” Alex said, and pressed her cheek to her shoulder, shy, Kara thought, in the face of her own earnestness.

“Being the one you choose to help you with your heat makes me feel like I can be that for you too.” She shook her head, frustrated, because that felt incomplete. Insufficient. “It feels wrong to say that because it’s sex. It’s physical. It’s something our bodies do to make each other feel good, but it’s… it’s more than that. It’s trust and love and reassurance and comfort. I don’t want to make that into something selfish. I don’t want to make it into something I take. I want it to be something we give to each other.” She dropped her head. “But Alex, it is selfish. You choosing me makes me feel like it doesn’t matter that I’ll never be an Alpha or Omega or Beta. It makes me feel okay that I’ll never really understand it, because I’ll always be different. Sometimes it seems like that’s the only thing that matters in this world, which one of those you are, but you don’t care. You chose me, and I’m pretty much the worst choice, really. I can’t do anything but try and make it up as I go.”

She slumped back, suddenly tired. “I don’t even know what people did on Krypton, but we had the Birthing Matrix and the Matricomp so it couldn’t have been centered on passion and need the way it is here. But then, what do I know? Krypton was gone before I could learn for myself, so I’m pretty much useless across whole galaxies.” She bit her lower lip and sighed. “But when I--” She turned her palms up helplessly-- “You’re the shelter to my storm, and I’m not an Alpha, but I’m enough.”

She wiped away a traitorous tear, and great. Now she was crying, and could she make herself any more unattractive?

“You’re enough.” Alex let the sheet drop. She crawled out from under it and onto Kara, pushing her back and straddling her hips to loom over her. “You were enough before this even started. You’re the best thing about Earth.” She traced her thumb beneath Kara’s eye, catching another tear.

Alex settled herself on top of Kara the way Kara so often settled herself on Alex, pressed together and heavy, chest to chest and hip to hip, with her feet curled under Kara’s knees. She trapped her hands against the mattress, fingers wound together, and laid her head on the crook of Kara’s shoulder. “It’s not fair that you’re taller than me now,” she grumbled, and pressed a soft kiss to the underside of Kara’s jaw. “It’s not fair that you came here and we made you hide everything about yourself. It’s not fair that my body came programmed with an overwhelming need to make babies twice a year when there are so many other things I want out of life. It’s not fair that you lost everyone, and that I lost my Dad.”

Alex’s words weren’t helping with her tear situation, but with her hands trapped, the only thing Kara could do was let them fall.

When Alex pushed up on her elbows, Kara could see that her eyes were dark. Heat had sunk its hooks in again, but despite the growing hunger drawing her features tight, Alex held herself out of reach. “I never know the right thing to say, but you will always be more than enough for me in the best possible way.” She shook her head and frustration crept into her words. “If it wasn’t for all these stupid hormones, maybe I’d be able to say that in a way that’s as sweet as you deserve. Right now, I can’t, so I’m going to take care of you the way you take care of me. I’m going to be selfish with you for a little while, because I love you more than I knew was possible.”

The word caught in her mind as Alex kissed her way down to her breasts, fingers no long twined with hers but instead digging into her, just shy of rough. She arched into it, into the pull of Alex’s teeth and the wet flat of her tongue, but the word wouldn’t let her go.

She pulled Alex away from her with fingers tangled in her hair. “Do you love me or are you in love with me?”

Alex surged up and kissed her, teeth sharp against her lower lip. “Yes,” she said, and was gone again.

Alex slid her hands down her sides and her lips along the line tracing down between her breasts and further still, until she pressed them with gentle reverence against her mons. She looked down to see Alex looking back up at her, keeping their eyes locked as she kissed her again, lower, and again. Kara spread her legs as she curled up on her elbows, desperate to hold Alex’s gaze as long as she could. When Alex’s tongue slipped between her labia and retraced her path, Kara failed. Her head fell back on a sharply inhaled breath, eyes looking suddenly and blankly at the ceiling.

When she gathered herself enough to look down again, Alex’s eyes were closed. She’d kissed her way down Kara’s thigh and was on her way back to where Kara wanted her most as if she, too, had felt overcome. Alex’s hair was loose and wild in a way that tickled against her thighs. They hadn’t tied it back earlier, so Kara gently gathered it together at the crown of her head and wound her fingers through it, and Alex laid the side of her face against Kara’s upper thigh and grinned up at her.

The possibility that Alex might be in love with her made tears sting in her eyes.

Alex settled into place as if claiming a space she planned to occupy until she decided otherwise, with an arm circled under one of Kara’s thighs and her hand pressed firm against the inside of the other. Kara tried to hold onto the word - love - but it was difficult with Alex’s mouth against her, tongue tracing along every inch of her as if learning her anew. She collapsed onto her back and tightened her fingers in Alex’s hair in a way that might have earned her a caution to be gentle at some other time but that only elicited a deep moan as Alex pushed her tongue inside of her.

It felt as if Alex was indulging herself, working with a purpose only she could divine. She seemed content to keep Kara in a state of pleasure just short of completion, to drive away any sense of coherency or belief that Kara might be in control of this or of anything, really, at all. She sank into the softness of Alex’s mouth, chased after the delicate pressure of her tongue, arched into gentle suction, and shivered at the low, pleased sounds Alex hummed against her.

By the time Alex’s licked her way upward, found her clit, and drew her in, Kara was ready to come out of her skin.

A moment later and Alex’s fingers slid inside her. Kara planted her feet and surged up as she was filled, suddenly desperate. The bed creaked beneath them and Alex looked up, a little dazed, and bit down on her inner thigh hard enough to bruise less impenetrable skin.

“Be still,” she chastised fondly, and Kara wanted to obey, but she couldn’t.

Two fingers became three and she moaned. They didn’t even move, just filled her while Alex sucked, and her tongue was soft and the occasional edge of her teeth sharp in a way that made Kara tighten her fingers in Alex’s hair. Just like every time before, she felt herself trying desperately to hold herself together while every instinct urged her to fly apart, until it wasn’t her decision any longer. She was both anchored and aloft, her only touchstone Alex.

“Again?” Alex asked, dragging the nails of her free hand down Kara’s side.

Kara whimpered, nodded, and dug the back of her head into the mattress as Alex’s mouth found her once more.

------

She would have liked to ask for further clarification on the question of love but from the way Alex was kissing her, it was clear there were more pressing priorities. At some point, while she’d been recovering, Alex had resettled herself with her knees on either side of Kara’s hips. She had a hazy memory of tasting herself on Alex’s lips and of the scrape of Alex’s teeth against the base of her throat, but there was a moment of time that eluded her. She’d fallen into orgasm with Alex’s mouth between her legs and had come back from it to the feel of Alex hot and wet against her abdomen, rocking into her with a rhythm that spoke of urgency.

“I need you, Kara. Please.”

She shivered as the words brushed against the shell of her ear, pulling her firmly back into the present. With a twist of her hips she put Alex underneath her. The mattress’ sound of protest hinted that it may have been with a bit more force than warranted, but not for Alex, who surged up into her with a moan. For a moment, she was worried that they’d let Alex’s need grow for too long.

“What do you need?” she asked, brushing Alex’s hair away from too bright eyes.

“You.” Alex slid her leg around Kara’s thigh, changing the angle enough so that she could ride up against her. “I need you inside me.”

Kara caught her leg and hiked it up around her waist. She bore down against Alex, taking over the rhythm as she began to thrust against her. “How?”

“The toy first, then you. Your hand. All of you.”

Kara had forgotten about the cock, but there it was, abandoned and almost lost among the sheets. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Now.”

She needed lube. There was some in the box with the harness, she knew, but she didn’t want to leave Alex. Not when she was like this, heat leaving her on a knife’s edge. “Soon,” she promised instead, knowing Alex was close. Her thigh was slick with Alex’s arousal. All it would take was a little nudge to send her over the edge. So she slid a hand under Alex, fingers digging into the curve of her ass, and urged her to rut against her thigh. Alex was always a little freer during her heat, less self-conscious and prone to abandoning concerns around what might be right and proper, and Kara thrilled to it. It was Alex, raw and unvarnished, taking what she wanted and not caring about the optics, and it was hers.

“That’s it,” she said as Alex’s hips snapped against her. “Take what you need.”

Alex did.

After, Kara left for only a moment, to the other room and back with a box torn to pieces in her wake. She returned just as Alex noticed she was missing, and slid back into place. “I’m here,” she reassured her, pressing a kiss to her jawline as Alex held tight to her shoulders. “I’m going to take care of you.”

When Alex’s grip changed, no longer for comfort but on the edge of desperate once again, she disentangled herself and pushed up on her knees. Alex moved to follow but she put a hand to her chest, pushing her back against the mattress with a gentle force that couldn’t be countered. The sound Alex made in response was sinful. Her head fell back, baring her neck, and she wrapped a hand around Kara’s wrist, holding her in place. She knew, in a distant sort of way, that many Omegas were susceptible to shows of dominance and aggression during their heat. She knew, too, that Alex wasn’t immune to them, but seeing her melt under her was something else entirely.

“Kara, please,” she said, squirming under Kara’s hold in a way that wasn’t at all about escape. “Please.”

She needed both hands to coat the cock with lube. Alex whimpered when she pulled away, distraught, and she fumbled with the bottle under the pressure to hurry. After a few wasted seconds, she managed to flip open the top. A few seconds more and the cock was slick and she set the bottle aside and turned back to Alex, hand fast around the bottom of it.

“Will you help?”

Alex reached down, hand sliding over her abdomen and down further still. Kara took in a shaky breath as Alex’s fingers slid through her own wetness and over the sensitive peak of her clitoris. When Alex hissed, touch lingering, Kara wanted to abandon the plan. She wanted to lean over and nip Alex’s fingers, to lick the taste of her off of them, and move them aside. She wanted to draw Alex into her mouth and stay there until Alex begged her for mercy.

Alex wrapped her hand around Kara’s, and her frantic thoughts receded. Slowly, steadily, the cock slipped inside under their combined direction, and Alex moaned in what sounded like relief. Her hand dropped away, leaving Kara’s alone, with the knot pressed up against her snugly.

“Move,” Alex said impatiently, and Kara obeyed.

It was mesmerizing, watching the shaft disappear and reappear, and Kara could imagine it. She could imagine it was her, the cock slung low on her hips as she hovered over Alex, and she wanted it. She wanted Alex’s legs wrapped tight around her waist, the way they would when Kara was between her legs with her fingers buried deep, so she could wind her fingers in Alex’s hair and feel every moan and whimper vibrate against her lips. And then Alex hooked a hand behind her neck and pulled her down and she did just that, meeting Alex’s tongue with her own, and everything was slick and wet. Their kiss, the slide of the cock, the sound of them together, and she felt Alex’s chest start to stutter against her own. She felt her take a deep breath in and hold it, and she knew Alex was close.

“Tell me when,” she whispered, with a sharp nip to Alex’s earlobe.

She was vaguely aware of Alex’s hand slipping down between her legs to bring her fingers to her clit, but the difference it made was clear in the way Alex tensed against her and the way her head fell back, neck once again bared. Kara took the invitation. She kissed her way down the slope of Alex’s neck and gently, delicately bit down over her pulse point.

“Oh god, Kara. Now. Now.”

She pushed through the tension until she felt the knot slip inside, moving with Alex as she bucked up against her. Keeping her teeth where they were, she slid on top of her, thigh braced against the base of the cock, and replaced Alex’s hand with her own. She drew her fingers over Alex’s clit, and Alex’s nails dug into her back in a way that would have left bloody furrows had Kara been human.

She imagined the way Alex’s body wrapped tightly around her in orgasm and missed it keenly. It was there in the way Alex trembled against her and the way she panted against her ear, each hot breath eliciting a shiver of her own, but she missed the warmth and the connection. This had things to recommend it, certainly, but being inside of Alex was better. Still, she sucked gently at the base of Alex’s neck and held her through the tapering aftershocks, until Alex’s breathing was slow and measured once again.

As if Alex had read her mind, she shifted restlessly, pressed a kiss to Kara’s temple, and murmured, “It’s good, but it’s not you.”

“No?” she asked, embarrassed by the eagerness in her voice.

This time, Alex’s kiss landed on her cheek. “I wouldn’t say no to trying that again, but it’s not you.”

Kara felt an inexplicable shyness come over her. “Do you want…” She trailed off and bit her lip and hoped that Alex couldn’t see her blush.

“I want to stay like this for a little while,” Alex said, brushing a soft kiss against her lips. “Then I’m going to need you to feed me.”

------

“Dinner,” Kara said proudly, bringing the bags of delivery Chinese into the bedroom.

Alex stirred, looking up at her sleepily. There was a dark bruise on her neck, her hair was an absolute mess, and her lips were still a bit swollen. She stretched, hands above her head and toes pointed, lazy and louche, and Kara felt a sense of pride that she would never, ever tell Alex about.

“Plates,” Alex chastised when Kara laid out boxes and cartons, but she accepted the chopsticks and tee shirt she was handed without further argument.

It was comfortable and easy, crouched over cartons of lo mein. Kara didn’t want to push too hard, but it was pretty much what she wanted to be doing for the rest of their lives.

“I’ve missed this,” she said, stretching out her leg so that her toes were brushing against Alex’s knee. “Not just this--” she looked meaningfully at the rumpled sheets-- “but you here with me, not over the phone or a computer screen.”

She expected a reassurance that it was only a few more years, like she’d always gotten from Alex and Eliza when she was melancholy.

“Me too,” Alex said instead, nudging the bottom of Kara’s foot with her knee. “Maybe I can come visit Stanhope for a long weekend.”

“I could always fly--” She shut her mouth abruptly at Alex’s look of disapproval. “Or I could enjoy the time we have together right now and worry about later later.”

Alex relented. “It won’t be forever.”

“I know. It just feels like it will be. Maybe I should transfer.”

It was a conversation they’d skirted around before. She knew the arguments, that Alex was already at capacity with her course load, and having Kara there would be too much. Stanhope was supposed to prove that she could live on her own, away from Eliza’s oversight and Alex’s comforting, protective cocoon. And she could, but she was lonely and listless, uncertain around people from whom she had to hide the secret of who she really was. It all seemed so pointless, when everything she did was just so she could come back home.

“I can’t believe you picked Stanhope,” Alex said, even though they both knew why. It was close without being too close to Metropolis and Kal-El. She didn’t know what she’d expected, because her relationship with him had always been a mix of polite distance and an underlying current of sameness unrealized, but they had lunch sometimes. Kal asked her clumsy questions and she yearned for him to be more than he was, an unformed fragment of Krypton that had been molded by hands other than her own, and she loved him all the same.

A flame of hope sprang to life. “If I transferred to National City, I’d at least be on the same coast.”

Alex poked at her lo mein with a studied indifference that betrayed her investment. “Maybe next Spring. I don’t know the deadlines for that kind of thing.”

“Or maybe Star City U.”

It’d be across town, close enough for them to find a place together, maybe.

“Maybe,” Alex said with a shrug, eyes fastened on her chopsticks as if any deviation would ignite a bomb.

Kara knew it to be a tacit admission of mutual want, as bold as Alex could bring herself to be.

“I wish you didn’t have to start classes soon. Don’t you miss having the summer off?” She bumped Alex’s knee again and grinned at her, so that Alex wouldn’t take it as the kind of disappointment she’d have to diffuse.

“You don’t get a joint MD/PhD before 30 if you spend all your time taking breaks.”

“I’m tired of school. I don’t see how you can want to stay in it for another decade.”

Alex looked scandalized.

“It’s so boring!”

“Then pick something that’s not boring.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” Alex jabbed in her direction with her chopsticks. “Be a sociologist or an economist or something. Figure out how Earth works so you can fix it.”

“If the people who were born here can’t fix it, what makes you think I can?”

“You can be better than us. You can show us the stuff we can’t see because we’re stuck in it.”

“That implies that I’m not stuck in it, too.”

Alex huffed in frustration. “Okay then, be a radiologist. You wouldn’t even have to have equipment. You could just look at people.”

“I don’t think people would appreciate me looking at their insides.”

“Whatever you do, don’t quit school.” Alex narrowed her eyes and there was no playfulness to it. “Somehow, it would end up being all my fault.”

“I’m not going to quit school. I’m just saying that on the list of things I want to be doing with my life, it’s kind of low.”

“Okay, then, explain how you’re going to take care of yourself.”

“I’m going to let you do that, Dr. Danvers.” Kara bit her lip to try and stifle her grin.

Alex dug a pillow out from behind her back and flung it at Kara’s head. “Yeah, I don’t think you understand how much money it takes to feed you.”

That wasn’t entirely true, Kara wanted to protest. There was a reason why she went out of her way to be friendly to the people working in the campus cafeteria at Stanhope, even if she was on the 7 day-a-week unlimited meal plan. It was easier if they thought they were sometimes helping her sneak meals for a friend. After all, the system only let her swipe one meal every 15 minutes, and some days she was in a hurry.

“Seriously, though, it feels like I should be doing more than trying to stay awake in Intro to Biology.”

Alex softened. “I know it’s frustrating, but this is how you stay safe, Kara.”

“Kal doesn’t stay safe. He helps people.”

“Yeah, and look at all the supervillains he has trying to kill him.”

It was a fruitless fight, and Kara didn’t want to have it. Not when she was together with Alex for the first time in so long.

Alex must have seen the fight leave her because she put her dinner to the side and scooted in close. “You don’t have to give up on the things you love just because they’re different here. Be a scientist, like you were going to be before.”

“Yeah. I’ll just invent the ability to create interdimensional portals on a world with technology that won’t be ready for it for centuries. No one will notice.”

“You could do that?”

“Why?” She tucked a piece of hair behind Alex’s ear and closed to kissing distance, smile mischievous. “Are you into that?”

Alex rolled her eyes. “You’re such a nerd.”

“Luckily for me, you’re into nerds.” She crawled into Alex’s lap, upsetting the mostly empty cartons scattered around them. “And you love me.”

Alex blushed and pushed at Kara’s chest. Kara let herself sway back and then forward again, so close that her nose brushed against Alex’s. “Admit it,” she pressed, nervous and sure it was too much but unable to stop herself.

“You know I love you.”

She hooked her fingers into Alex’s shirt and slid them upward, bringing the fabric with her. “So tell me.”

When Alex looked up at her, it was unflinching in a way that pared away all the layers of playfulness and banter. “I love you, Kara Zor-El,” she said, awkwardly sincere, and Kara felt her chest grow tight in response. “More than anything.”

“I love you, Alex Danvers,” she echoed, a sense of lightness infusing her. “Throughout all time and space.”

Chapter Text

“Be cool,” Alex said, bumping against Kara’s shoulder.

“I’m always cool.”

“I mean it.”

Like she’d do anything to mess this up. Being introduced to Alex’s friends? She was on best foot forward, don’t say anything weird, don’t be embarrassing, absolutely do not screw this up until further notice. If this didn’t go well, Alex would restrict their relationship to out-of-public-view only. It would take years to get her to reconsider.

In preparation, Alex hadn’t left anything to chance. She’d briefed Kara on everyone she was going to meet to minimize the possibility that something would go horribly wrong. Kara thought of them in clumps of character traits, since that was the way Alex had described them. She’d outlined them, like chapters for Kara to study.

Mandy: study group member, painfully optimistic, a little sheltered, weird quasi-relationship with her roommate that it was best not to ask about, Omega.

Camila: TA’d a class together, sarcastic, seemed intimidating and was, jealously guarded her soft side, Alpha.

Van: lab partner, study group member, extroverted, funny, sometimes a little more than Alex could handle, ridiculously talented, Beta.

Aaron: study group member, shy, appeared to have been engineered to spend the rest of his life in a lab coat crouched over a microscope, Omega.

The all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet had been a mistaken out of keeping with Alex’s meticulous planning, but in her defense, it’d been a last minute change of plans.

“Your girlfriend can eat,” Van said, partly amazed and partly horrified.

Kara looked up sheepishly from her third plate. Truthfully, she had already planned out her fourth and fifth trips to the buffet before she moved on to dessert. She opened her mouth to offer a justification - what, she wasn’t yet sure - when the final member of their party bustled in, late and with another person in tow.

“I’m so sorry,” Mandy said, sliding into one of the remaining chairs with a huff. “Everybody remembers my roommate, right?”

There were nods all along the table until attention settled on Kara, who half-stood and reached out to shake Mandy’s hand with a mindless, “Kara Danvers. Hey. Nice to meet you.”

She sat to silence, and to Alex’s hand digging into her upper thigh.

“Holy shit,” Camila said, eyes wide as she turned her focus to Alex. “Are you two married? You’ve been hiding a whole wife?”

Kara dropped her chopsticks in horror, because they’d agreed. She was Kara, just Kara, because no one needed to know her last name anyway. It would only make things complicated and weird, and since all of that could be avoided just by being a little vague, it made no sense to be otherwise.

She could hear Alex’s teeth grinding together.

“No--” she looked uncertainly to Alex for guidance-- “we’re…”

“Kara came to live with my family after her parents were killed.” Alex’s voice was preemptively defensive, and Kara wanted to bang her head against the table. “She’s my foster sister.”

Bewilderment spread across Camila’s face. Mandy looked confused. Aaron looked like he was trying to decide how best to disappear from the suddenly tense situation. Van looked like she’d encountered a particularly tricky logic project.

“Oh. I thought you were dating?”

Alex’s jaw could have been mistaken for a steel trap that had been decisively sprung. “We are.”

To anyone else, the look on Alex’s face would have read as stony stoicism. To Kara, it was a dangerous mix of fear, embarrassment, and incipient flight. Even though she knew she was probably only going to make things worse, she jumped in, voice vibrating with nerves. “My parents were killed in a fire when I was 13. I didn’t have any other family who could take me in, so I came to live with the Danvers.” She tried a smile, but it came out a bit wobbly. “To be honest, I don’t think Alex liked me very much for most of the time I was there, which was totally fair.”

“That’s not true,” Alex said quietly, hand gentling against Kara’s thigh.

“Have you ever had somebody just kind of ruin your life? But you can’t get rid of them because somebody dropped them off in your front yard so now they live in your house? Yeah, that was me.”

Kara.”

“And I was grateful, but the truth was that I didn’t want to be there either. After my parents, after I lost my home… nothing was the same. I didn’t think I’d find home again.”

Alex’s face softened, the way it did whenever Kara talked about the things she’d lost.

“But now, I can’t imagine a life where Alex’s not my home.”

Camila dabbed surreptitiously at her eye with a crumpled napkin. “That’s stupidly romantic.”

Kara waited for the censure and the name calling to start, but it didn’t. Unbelievably, as easily as that, the matter appeared to be settled.

“It’s like a real-life Romeo and Juliet,” Mandy said with a wistful sigh.

“Why does everyone always pull out Romeo and Juliet?” Van looked like she was ready throw something. “Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy. Do they look like foolish, emo teenagers?”

“That’s a little harsh,” Mandy’s roommate murmured, wrapping an arm around her.

“Harsh? How is that harsh?”

As the argument raged on around them, Alex edged her chair to the side so she was facing Kara. Kara turned at the soft pressure of Alex’s hand against her face.

“If I could go back… Kara--”

Kara shook her head, cutting the apology in half. The rest of it played out in Alex’s eyes, sorrow and regret slipping into affection. She startled when Alex leaned forward and into a kiss. It was soft, a brush that was neither too short nor too long, not trying to prove a point or to sneak itself in without notice.

“I love you,” she said, too soft for anyone but Kara to hear.

“I feel like I don’t even know you, Alex Danvers.” Van took time out from the still raging debate about the romanticism or not of Romeo and Juliet to look at Alex in disbelief. “You’ve gone soft on me. I mean, I can see why. Your girlfriend’s adorable, but still.” She turned her attention to Kara. “To be honest, before she showed up with you today, I thought we might be dealing with one of those girlfriend in Canada situations.”

Though Kara nodded and smiled, Alex picked up on her complete lack of understanding. 
“She’s saying she thought I might be making you up.”

“Like that.” Van smiled triumphantly, as if she’d uncovered a long-held and closely guarded secret. “I thought you were as tough as nails, but you’re a marshmallow.”

Alex had been dealing with the teasing better than Kara could have anticipated, but the tension gathering where her palm still rested on Kara’s thigh indicated a breakpoint soon to be reached. “She’s not a marshmallow,” she said solemnly. To Alex, a softly repeated, “You’re not a marshmallow.”

Camila snorted, apparently drawn away from the now impossibly stalemated Romeo and Juliet controversy long enough to add another layer to Alex’s growing blush. “The way she’s looking at you is the definition of marshmallow.”

The mostly silent Aaron ventured, “I think it’s sweet.”

Van rolled her eyes. “Of course you do.”

“I don’t think we’ve met,” Kara said to Mandy’s roommate, desperate to turn the conversation to safer topics. “How long have the two of you been dating?”

She felt the collective groan from the rest of her tablemates save Alex, who found her hand under the table and squeezed.

------

When she returned, Stanhope was… different. It’d turned from a muddy field she was forced to slog through to a way station. There she was, camped out on a hard bench with her books spread out around her, eyes always turned toward the direction from which the next train would come. It wouldn’t come for a while - the service was absurdly slow - but all she had to do was wait. She’d wait through the falling leaves of Fall and the quiet snow of Winter until Spring brought the promise of the end of her time in a neverland of life paused. She’d already submitted her transfer application to Star City University, and a few others as well, because even if she couldn’t manage to get herself in the same city as Alex, she could get herself close. If none of those panned out, well, maybe she could use a year off to think about what she really wanted out of her future.

She’d nearly cracked her phone in half answering her first call from Alex once she was back on the other side of the country. They’d parted before and it had hurt, but Kara didn’t remember it slicing as deeply. Maybe it was because Alex hadn’t yet said I love you in the way she did now, as much promise as reassurance. Maybe some part of her had been excited to explore more of this world, but now she had and it didn’t compare. With Alex beside her, it might. Alex would probably argue that she was beside her, and there was some comfort in the knowledge that Alex would be there at the end of the day, waiting to catch up. It wasn’t entirely the same, though. Kara had spent 24 years alone in the dark, not aware of it as a clock ticking slowly but as a void from which she’d never emerge. Pulled free of it and back in the light, not Rao’s but all she had left to her, she wanted to walk with, not alone.

And she would, but first she had to make it through the year. She wouldn’t have returned at all if she hadn’t been sure that staying would ultimately cause Alex more stress. Eliza’s disapproval was forever a specter in the offing, and as much as it would have been her decision to leave school, it would have become Alex’s fault. So, she sat through classes and entertained herself with thoughts of Alex doing the same, only far more studiously. She wondered what it would be like to become mates, and what it would mean. They hadn’t really talked about it, but she wasn’t quite sure what would change. Some things would, of course. Many Omegas accepted bites from their mates. Some gave them in return. She’d like that, wearing a bite. She’d like the indelible mark of their relationship forever etched into her skin. It was a hopeless fantasy under Earth’s yellow sun, but maybe there was a way around that. Maybe.

An Omega’s scent changed once they’d accepted a mating bite. She knew it and had even learned how to pick out the subtle differences. They didn’t register with her the way she imagined they registered with those who had pheromone recognition keyed into their genetic code, but her nose was sensitive enough to discriminate. Alex’s scent would change too, she hoped. She wasn’t quite sure, but she thought she’d scented it, the subtle changes in bitten mates no matter the configuration of the pairing. The change in pairs of Betas and Omegas was slight. That between Omegas and Omegas even less so. Betas paired with Alphas picked up some of the sharpness of their Alpha mates. Alphas with Alphas could be as discreet as an Omega pairing or they could be an ongoing war, forever volatile despite their connection. Betas didn’t always bite their Beta mates, but when they did, the change was slight. It was the way the quickly forgotten scent of home crept into the people who lived there, slowly, over time and without a lot of fanfare.

She didn’t smell like much of anything as far as she could tell, at least not in the way that everyone around her did. Maybe there was nothing about her that would alter Alex’s scent, bite or no. Maybe the thing that would have spurred it had been edited out generations before she’d been conjured up from the Codex. Alex never made a big deal out of it, and continued to stealthily snuggle into her hoodies and wrap herself around Kara’s pillow when she thought Kara wasn’t looking. She’d asked her why once, and Alex had grinned and shrugged and said because, and considered that the end of it. She’d remembered it the next time she’d met someone new and had seen the twitch of their nose and the confusion building behind their eyes before they dumped her into a box marked Beta with the faintest of markers.

The question hung at the tip of her tongue, a revisited but why, but there was no Alex to answer it. In ways eerily reminiscent of the Fall before last, when Alex had disappeared only to re-emerge with a plea for her help and the scent of an Alpha lingering in her room, she’d signed on for scheduled video chat sessions only to find no one on the other end. Apology texts would come, sometimes, with a sorry or a busy or a study group ran late. Those things happened, so she’d shoot back a text that she was free, that they could reschedule, and watch her phone like a pot on the edge of boiling. As the minutes ticked by, she shifted from anticipation to confusion to despair to irritation. As the days ticked by, dark thoughts crept along the edges of her mind, insidious and sly. She replayed their conversations over the past weeks, looking for signs or clues she may have missed. Had it been too much, their summer together? Had her idyllic time wrapped tightly into a world of Alex&Kara been hers alone?

Alex had seemed happy too, but Alex was better than Kara would have liked at hiding her truths.

She tried not to be angry, tried not to worry, but silence had never boded well. Silence meant Alex had gotten twisted around herself, or that she wasn’t taking care of herself the way she should. If she could only see her, she’d know. It wouldn’t be a gnawing, burning thing in the pit of her stomach, and she could help. She always could, whenever Alex agreed to let her.

It settled in the back of her mind, a pitch black darkness, the memory of Alex’s dorm room with the lingering scent of Alpha, her tear-stained face when she opened the door, and her confession that she hadn’t but that she’d tried. That she didn’t want to have to rely on Kara. Her memory chimed in, pointed out that those weren’t the words Alex had used, but her heart knew it didn’t matter. She hadn’t expected it then, finding out that she wasn’t enough, that what she’d thought was understood wasn’t. But that wouldn’t - that couldn’t - happen again, not when Alex loved her and their future together was so close that if Kara stretched far enough, she could feel it against the tips of her fingers.

-----

Her life had been filled with unexpected, painful things, but she hadn’t seemed to have learned from them. Each one hurt just as much as the last. There had been precious little warning before she was put in a pod while her entire world had ended. Earth had been a series of shocks all in a row: Clark had grown up without her and didn’t need her any longer. More than that, he didn’t want her. He’d handed her off to a family of strangers with words of encouragement and a sad, placating smile.

Like a piece of failed infrastructure, she was a bridge to nowhere. Of a dead planet and a dead culture, she was made up of long dead dreams and futures unmade. Earth had never quite fit, so many of its priorities so alien and petty, until she’d found a part of it that had. That part, that one small part, had grown into something perfect. She had never - would never - stop grieving for the life that could have been, but she’d found a reason to believe there was a path forward in the new one. She had been trusted and had given trust. She had been valued by someone she valued in return. She had been seen by someone who knew her imperfections and flaws, and been accepted and loved all the same.

Out of everybody, she had been chosen.

“We have to stop.”

From the other side of a computer screen, Alex refused to meet her eyes.

The world stilled. “What do you mean, we have to stop?”

“I mean we stop this. Us. We’re not kids anymore. We need to stop pretending.”

“Who’s pretending, Alex?” She swallowed, felt the words like the rush of bile working their way up her throat. “Are you pretending?”

“I’ve been acting like I could have a relationship with my sister, so you tell me.” She grew quiet for a moment then shook her head. “That’s not a future. That’s an aberration, and I need to move on. I have moved on.”

It was like a nightmare holding her trapped. Nothing worked, not her brain and not her mouth, and she couldn’t reach out, couldn’t pull Alex to her and make her take it back.

“Moved on?” she echoed dully. “What does that mean, moved on? Is there someone else?”

Another tick of silence.

“I didn’t want to tell you like this, but yes. I met somebody else.”

“Who?” Something inside of her withered. “An Alpha?”

Alex bit her lip and nodded, gaze focused at a spot just above Kara’s forehead. “An Alpha. Yeah. An Alpha. I’m sorry, Kara. It’s just… it’s better this way.”

“No.”

Alex blinked, and looked her in the eyes for the first time. The connection was grainy, but even so, Alex looked tired. Her eyes were red, the corners wet with the remnants of tears. “No?”

“No, Alex. You don’t get to just… just break up with me.”

“I do, actually.”

“Who is it?”

“Who is who?”

“This Alpha you’re leaving me for.” She blinked as she felt her eyes become dangerously hot, unsure if it was just tears or something more.

“No one you know.”

“How long has it been going on?”

Alex’s jaw clenched tightly. “Long enough for me to know that we can’t do this anymore.” She looked down, hair falling over her eyes. “Once you have time to think about it, you’ll see it’s better this way. Go out and live your life, Kara. Find out what it’s like when you’re not tied down to literally the first person you met on Earth.”

“You’re not literally the first person I met.”

Alex huffed in frustration. “I might as well have been. Why else would you have let yourself believe it was okay to have a relationship with your sister?”

“Don’t do that. Don’t treat me like I’m a child.”

“I shouldn’t have pulled you into this.” Alex’s face twisted into something angry and bitter. “It was wrong.”

“This is wrong. This. Now. You with someone else. That’s what’s wrong, Alex.” She shook her head, as if a strong enough denial would be enough to whisk the conversation out of existence. She felt a tear break free, and then another. “How could… Am I not enough?”

Alex put her face in her hands; her hair spilled over her fingers in a wild curtain as she shook her head. For a moment, the image froze in a glitch, a pixelated, still life painting of her world crumbling. When it resolved itself, Alex was moving in a way that let Kara know she was preparing to sever their connection.

“Alex--” she had to try one last time-- “I love you.”

“I love you too, Kara.” Alex’s face was blank. She took in a deep breath, eyelids fluttering for a moment before she focused on Kara. “Like a sister, and that’s all. That’s all it can ever be.”

It was the final word, connection ended, as if Alex could rewrite history with a five-minute phone call. Kara cracked her mouse in two as she clicked on the button to call Alex back, but an error message popped up. User offline, it taunted her. She scrambled for her phone and found Alex’s name listed the length of the screen in her recent calls. She pressed the call button, felt her heart jolt as the first ring came through, then nothing. No more rings. No Alex on the other side of the line to tell her it was all a very bad joke.

Alex with someone else? It had to be a joke. Alex loved her. She’d said so with softly whispered words that might as well be tattooed into her skin. They’d spent as much time together as they could during Kara’s last few weeks in their small sublet. She’d relearned the weight of Alex’s body against her own as they’d snuggled on the couch, television on with the volume turned down, talking about everything and nothing. Alex shared secrets - fears that she wouldn’t live up to her parents’ legacy, the good she wanted to do for the world, her worries that she wouldn’t be taken seriously.

“It’s not everyone,” she’d said, face tucked against Kara’s chest, “but some of them think I lost most of my capacity for serious thought the second I presented.”

She’d wanted to tell her that on Krypton, they would have been in the Science Guild together. No one would have questioned her, and certainly not for something so insignificant as a quirk of biology, but there was no more Science Guild. If there was still a Science Guild, she never would have met Alex. She never would have imagined her in its monochrome robes, or had cause to wonder what it would have been like for them to spend their days together puzzling their way through complicated theorems. If there was a Krypton, there was no Alex. But now there was no Alex, either.

No Alex even though Alex had held her with an unaccustomed ferocity on the day she’d left. “It won’t be much longer,” Alex had promised her, with her serious, dark eyes red around the rims. Her heartbeat had been a quick but steady thump thump thump. It’d been a promise, not a lie. And now she was supposed to believe it was over? She was supposed to believe that Alex had found someone else? That she’d been replaced as easily as that?

For the next week, she texted. She called. She emailed. She watched her computer for any sign that Alex was online.

Nothing.

Ignoring the voice in her head that told her she shouldn’t ever use her powers, that it was a risk, that it wasn’t safe, she flew cross-country, setting down in a small grove of trees just off the Stanford campus green. The walk to Alex’s graduate apartment complex was mostly quiet, pools of light like beacons along the pathway. The students she passed seemed either tired, preoccupied, delirious, or hungry, walking in solitude or pairs or trios, but all without seeming to notice her. It felt like they should know, somehow, the importance of her mission, and that their eyes should follow her like they followed a prisoner on their way to the gallows. That they didn’t reminded her that she was one, alone, a singular, meaningless speck in this world.

She stood outside of the low-rise apartment building, fighting against the urge to use her x-ray vision to see inside. Alex’s heartbeat was clear, the way it had always been, so she knew she was home. The building thumped with heartbeats, spreading across floors and down hallways. If she concentrated, she’d be able to place them, but she didn’t want to concentrate. Not yet. Not when she wasn’t sure Alex was alone, and she didn’t know what she’d do if she wasn’t.

“Kara?”

She startled at the sound of her name and had to imagine her heels glued to the ground to keep from springing back into the sky.

“Mandy. Hey.” She waved weakly and fought the urge to disappear back into the darkness.

“Alex didn’t say anything about you coming to visit.” She analyzed Mandy’s tone, looking for hesitation, distrust, or distaste, but found nothing but mild curiosity and welcome. “I mean, of course you’re here. She’s been pretty down since that big fight she had with her mom a couple of weeks ago. Your mom too, I guess.”

“Eliza is my foster mother,” Kara corrected automatically. “They had a fight?”

“Right. I knew that.” Mandy laid a reassuring hand on her arm. “I know her mom isn’t really all that supportive, but she’ll come around. She has to. The two of you are perfect together, and the idea that Alex could be a bad influence on anybody, really, is kind of ridiculous. What’s she going to do? Talk you into joining her study group?”

“I didn’t know they had a fight,” she said numbly. “Alex didn’t say anything.”

From the awkward, sheepish smile on Mandy’s face, Kara deduced that her own wasn’t doing an excellent job of hiding her feelings. “I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t seen part of it,” she said, gesturing to the patch of grass in front of the building as if pointing to the scene of the crime. “I think it was just before our first paper was due in Biomemetics, which was, I mean, I literally thought I was going to die. Who assigns something like that so early in the quarter? Maybe one of the two brain cells she had left forgot. I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re here now, which is exactly what she needs, I bet.”

“Yeah. I’ve been stressed out too.” Kara blew out breath, and hoped she’d at least landed in the vicinity of normal. “It’s been a tough semester. That’s probably why she didn’t say anything.”

“So go see her already.” Mandy waved her forward with a wide smile. Their paths diverged at the apartment’s main entrance, when Mandy veered off to the left and Kara trudged up the stairs. Her teeth dug deeper into her bottom lip with each step; by the time she stood in front of Alex’s door, she was nauseous with nerves.

Her knock summoned slow footsteps. There was a pause and a held breath on the other side of the door, and she imagined Alex looking out at her from the peep hole.

She heard a thump, and then, tired and muffled, “What are you doing here?”

“I want to talk.” She glared at the flimsy piece of wood dividing them. “Please open the door.”

“Kara, you shouldn’t be here.”

She gave in and let her x-ray vision overtake her intact view of the world, looking through the door to see Alex leaning against it, forehead and palm pressed to its surface. “Alex, please.”

After a long moment, the door swung open slowly. Behind it, Alex stood with her shoulders slumped, face wan. She looked small in an oversized, long-sleeved tee and worn and wrinkled flannel pajama pants. Kara wanted to pull her into a hug but was uncomfortably aware of the way Alex’s arms were crossed over her chest, an unforgiving and unmistakable barrier.

“You flew here?” Alex’s anger was a weary, sure thing. “You know better, Kara. This is how you get caught. This is how you put yourself in danger.”

“I had to see you.”

“Why? I’ve said everything I need to say.”

The coffee table was a mess of opened books and scattered papers filled with Alex’s tiny, exact handwriting. There was an empty glass resting securely on a coaster and an empty plate dusted with crumbs. She’d interrupted Alex’s dinner, maybe, or perhaps Alex had simply left her dishes for the morning. Either way, it was distressingly ordinary, as if the act of excising Kara from her life hadn’t even bothered to disrupt its rhythms.

Instead of dwelling on it, she decided to deploy her newly acquired information. “You had a fight with Eliza.” Alex looked up sharply, but Kara forced her way forward. “What did you fight about?”

“What do you think?” Alex’s expression turned tight and bitter. She curled her fists in the sleeves of her overlong shirt and looked away. “The usual. Try harder, Alex. Do better, Alex. Focus, Alex. Take care of your sister, Alex. This is your future, Alex. Quit fucking it up.”

The last part didn’t really sound like something Eliza would say, but it very much sounded like something Alex would hear.

She thought back to what Mandy had said, about how she shouldn’t be deterred by Eliza’s disapproval of them. “So not about me? Not about us?”

Alex’s eyes grew dark, flat. “Why would we fight about us? There is no us.”

“Because you met someone else?” Kara challenged.

“Yeah. Because I met someone else.”

Just like the first time, Alex couldn’t meet her eyes.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Well, that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

She tried to read the pattern of Alex’s heartbeat as if it would share her secrets. “What’s their name?”

Alex shifted uncomfortably.

Kara felt furious and hopeful and like she could strangle someone, because she knew Alex. She knew every twitch and tell, and standing there, separated by feet and not the breadth of the country, she could read the truth on her face. “Alex, why are you lying?”

She saw the moment when Alex decided to drop the lie. Her eyes hardened and her shoulders straightened and she looked at Kara in a way that left her cold.

“Because I need to be done with this,” Alex said sharply. She took a step forward, and for a moment, Kara thought she was going to find herself on other side of a closed and locked door again. “We’ve been lucky so far, but every time someone sees us together, it risks your secret. Sisters, together? It invites questions. It invites investigation. One day, the wrong person will notice. There are powerful people who would want to use you. They’d take you away and it’d be my fault, Kara. I can’t live with that. I don’t want to live with that. I’m tired of shaping my life around you and your secrets. I need something that’s not about you, and I can’t have that if you’re everywhere.”

The words found every place she could hurt and dug in. She grew dizzy with it, because underlying everything was a kernel of truth. As soon as she’d come into Alex’s life, it hadn’t been Alex’s life anymore. She’d taken Alex’s family, her childhood, her chance to be normal, even her room. Alex had asked for her help and she’d stretched it into love. Once she’d had Alex in her grasp, she hadn’t let go. She’d assumed Alex’s future wound tightly around her own.

“Not everyone is like my friends.” Alex shook her head derisively, and Kara knew this too. This was Alex angry with the world, but with herself most of all. “People have been talking, Kara. Talking about us.”

“That’s what all this is about? Gossip?”

“Don’t pretend like anything about this is normal.”

“Who cares about normal?” Kara clamped down on the urge to stomp her foot, to shout that she’d never be normal, no matter how expertly she might learn to lie and obfuscate. “You’d give us up for normal?”

Alex’s jaw ticked.

“Fine. Admit you’re a coward, then.”

“Kara…”

“If this is going to be the reason why you turn me away, then admit it.”

Alex laughed, and it was humorless and ugly. “Fine. I’m a coward. Does that make you feel better?”

It really, really didn’t. “No. You’re the one thing I treasure above all others, Alex, so no. It doesn’t make me feel better. A week ago, you loved me, and now…” She held her hands up helplessly, her tight throat making it difficult to speak.

“You shouldn’t have come here.” Alex’s shoulders slumped. She looked at Kara as if memorizing what she looked like in that moment, nodded, and shrugged; Kara thought she knew every one of Alex’s expressions, but she’d never seen this one. She’d never seen her give up. “Don’t do it again.”

Alex went over to the door, pulled it open, and waited. Looking at her, standing there with her hand on the knob and her eyes focused on the floor, Kara realized that it didn’t matter what she said. Alex had taken everything they’d been and locked it up tight, the way she did with things she’d decided she was no longer allowed to have.

When the door closed behind her, she turned and watched as Alex slid to the floor, hand over her mouth to stifle a sob. She reached for the door knob, heart breaking at the sight of her distress, but remembered, as her fingers brushed against cool metal, that Alex had revoked her right to offer comfort. She’d been clear, so Kara took a step back, and then another, and then she was running down the stairs and launching herself into the night sky.

Chapter Text

Ninth Heat

She had hoped to find Alex in Midvale over Winter Break, if for no other reason than to see if she was suffering too, but the days stretched on and Alex didn’t come. Eliza was tight-lipped about it, her answers to Kara’s delicately fielded questions about whether or not Alex had said anything about when she’d arrive growing increasingly strained as the days and hours passed. She heard coldly angry voicemails left when Eliza was hidden away in the master bedroom, tirades that ended with something a little more broken than angry. Alex, please, just call.

The house echoed with its emptiness when Kara and Eliza would sit down to eat, two plates at a table that had once hosted four. She tracked the way the circles under Eliza’s eyes deepened and the way the pursed set of her mouth brought forth otherwise unseen fissures to radiate out. Her Earth family had always been small, contained, and even more so after Jeremiah’s death. Even though Kara had little to compare, she’d sensed that their traditions and routines had lost their shine, then. A future had been lost, grieved. It’d had to be reconciled - Alex without a father, Eliza without her life’s partner. They’d done it, slowly and with the knowledge that it would never again feel like something wasn’t missing, until something new had been rebuilt. Something not quite perfect and not what it had been before, but enough.

Sitting at the table, silence stretching between them once attempts at normality failed, it felt a little like that first holiday season after Jeremiah’s death. Incomplete, and Kara wanted to ask why. She wanted to ask Eliza what had happened. She wanted to know the truth about why she’d fought with Alex, but it felt like it would be poking at a festering wound.

She slept on the couch in the den. Being in their old room, seeing Alex’s bed neatly made and empty, was a pain still a little too sharp to handle. She’d spent her first day there, picking out all of the ways they’d intermingled. The closet was a jumble of abandoned tee shirts and other things so far out of fashion they’d been left behind. It took maybe half an hour to partition them, leaving the closet neatly divided down the middle, with her things on one side and Alex’s on the other. The bookshelves were the same. She slid Wintersmith from its resting place on her side of the room and ran her thumb over the soft edge of the paperback’s pages. It’d been Alex’s first, read and then handed over, and she’d watched Kara work her way through it with watchful eyes, anxious to see her reaction. She slid it back onto the bookshelf allotted for Alex’s things - they’d both been hers before Kara had come along and she’d been forced to share - spine even with the edge.

The Polaroids hanging from their clotheslines of string above Alex’s bed presented more of a challenge. The earliest pre-dated her. Her first appearance was little more than half of her face peeking around a tree in the background, watching as Alex and her friends posed playfully on a sunny school-day afternoon. She hadn’t been on Earth long when it’d been taken because she’d still had her hair styled the way her mother had preferred, but it’d grown unruly, with bangs that fell long enough to threaten covering her eyes. She left that one, but she took down the one of the two of them with their cheeks pressed together, nearly healed bruise curving under Alex’s eye. The one of them at her high school graduation joined it, with Alex beaming at her as she held her diploma aloft like a trophy. A few more joined the pile and she flipped through them one last time, looking for clues of their inevitable end, before tucking them away in Alex’s bedside table.

By the time she was finished, they had been unjoined. The room was as it had been when she’d first arrived and both she and Alex had jealously guarded their space. If Alex came back, when Alex came back, Kara wouldn’t be everywhere. She’d have space that was hers alone, space that hadn’t been shaped around anything else.

She moved from the couch to the second-story deck in the second week, when it became clear that Alex wasn’t coming home and Eliza’s temper continued to fray at the edges. The cool air coming in from the ocean didn’t bother her, and she liked being able to look up at the night sky. She traced the constellations she’d learned on evenings spent escaping nightmares, aware of the phantom sensation of Alex’s hand wrapped around hers. She wanted to find Alex and force her to confront the stupidity that was the two of them separated, but she wanted her to have her freedom, too. Alex had never asked for much, but she’d asked for that.

With a few days left before she had to go back, she crept back into their room. She opened the drawer where she’d stashed the photos, pulled out the one they’d taken after the first time she’d shared Alex’s heat, the one with the bruise under her eye gone a faint and mottled blue-green, and tucked it into the pocket of her robe. She pulled down the covers on Alex’s bed, slipped under them, and pressed her nose into the pillow. It smelled of the laundry detergent Eliza had always used, slightly faded, and nothing else.

It was just a bed. Just sheets and a duvet and a mattress probably in need of updating. There wasn’t anything magical about it. It didn’t hold her memories, but there was still a sense that it was a sacred place. Years of her life had been shaped by what had happened in that bed. She’d known comfort, love, and happiness there. They lingered like ghosts, tethered by the intensity with which they’d been felt.

She heard Eliza’s slow ascent up the stairs and rose, making the bed between one footfall and the next. For all that Eliza had been caught in a fog of distraction through the time she’d been there, Kara knew Eliza had noticed the diligence with which she’d avoided her room. She thought about exiting through the window and onto the roof, aware that she’d been crying. Superpowers couldn’t drain the bloodshot quality of her eyes or the red heat in her cheeks, but indecision held her hostage. She’d hoped to hide in the dark, but when Eliza saw her silhouette, she stepped into the room and flipped on the light.

They regarded one another for a moment, and Kara saw the knowledge in Eliza’s eyes, an understanding of why she’d been there in the dark, burrowed into a pillow now soaked with tears.

“So, you and Alex.” Eliza looked tired, as if she’d been holding in the words just as Kara had. “I know it’s not easy, but you have to understand that this is what’s best for everyone.”

Kara bit her lip and shook her head because she didn’t understand.

“Every time someone saw the two of you together, it risked your secret. You can’t be involved with your sister that way and not bring attention to yourself. It invites questions. One day, someone will notice, and it will be the wrong person. They’ll investigate and they’ll find things that don’t add up, and you’ll be in danger, Kara. There are dangerous people out there. People with resources. People with organizations at their beck and call. Someone could take you away, and where would that leave Alex? She’d blame herself. Where would that leave me, knowing that I could have prevented it?”

The words were painfully familiar and Kara stiffened. She wanted to copy them down and take them back to Alex, point at them and make her explain why. After so much time trying to squirm her way around her mother’s expectations, why had Alex decided that, in this, she would bow down?

“I understand that living together like you did, over the summer, could have amplified the natural affection you have for one another, but it did no good for either of you, pretending that a momentary aberration could be anything real.” Eliza rubbed her forehead tiredly. The stilted way she said the words left Kara wondering whether she was choosing them carefully or whether she was struggling to say them in the first place. “I hope Alex was smart enough to arrange things so that she didn’t have her heat while you were there. I don’t know if she’s still seeing her friend. If her heat is what prompted all of this... I understand it’s an emotionally and physically intense process. If you found yourself caught in the middle of it, I can understand how you may have been led to think it was something more, and I’m sorry.”

She was struck dumb, caught off-guard by just how wrong Eliza was, and about so many things; she spoke before considering the ramifications, even if she couldn’t be sure the words were still true. “Eliza, Alex has never shared her heat with anyone but me.” A hint of despair crept into her voice. “It’s always been me.”

Eliza’s face slowly suffused with horror. “But her friend…”

“Was me."

From the way Eliza rocked back on her heels, it was as if the words had hit her with the weight of a punch. “No,” she said, and Kara was getting tired of hearing that particular word of denial from Danvers women.

There was no sense in clarifying further, not when the truth was obvious no matter the reluctance to accept it.

“You’re sisters.” The accusation was sharp-edged, angry in a way Eliza never was with her.

Kara recoiled. “We’re not sisters, Eliza. We’re...” She felt the mantle of her alienness spread over her for the moment. This accrual of bonds reified by the repetition of their supposed existence, as if calling her sister over and over could make it so and no more, was nothing like the extension of family on Krypton. She loved Alex with the same depth of love that her mother and Aunt Astra had had for one another, but she loved her, too, in the way her mother must have loved her father. She wanted - had wanted, before Alex had withdrawn her own love - a lifetime of companionship in every sense of the word. Family. Partner. Lover. Shelter. This word, sister, crumbled under the weight of all she wanted. She could accept the concept of sister if it came wrapped in everything else, but the way it was used, as a bludgeon to divide and beat down, made the very fact of it antithetical to the entirety of her love.

So she shrugged, helplessly. “I’m in love with her.”

She watched as Eliza - who had opened her home to her, lost her husband because of her, fought with her daughter over her - looked at her as if she didn’t know her.

“How could you lie to me about this for years?”

Kara searched for a way to explain. How was she supposed to frame the pained, nauseated look on Alex’s face whenever she’d broach the possibility? The grumbles that she didn’t need even more maternal disapproval? She heard the reproaches, the way there was always something Alex could have done just that little bit better. She heard the lectures and admonitions. Take care of your sister, Alex. Be patient with your sister, Alex. It’s your job to protect her, Alex. She’d felt Alex’s shame on those occasions when she’d remember, just for a moment, who Kara was supposed to be to her. Chasing it back into the dark had always felt like an accomplishment, like she’d taken on the task of battling one of Alex’s demons for her and won.

Tangle all of that up alongside her complicated relationship with being an Omega and the way she drew her vulnerabilities in tight, forever on guard for the day when someone would inevitably seek to exploit them, and there was no explanation that wasn’t destructive. Alex might not be all that interested in her protection any longer, but that didn’t mean that any cross-section of their various relationships would benefit from her telling Eliza that Alex had been conditioned to believe her mother’s love was dependent on an unreachable standard that must nevertheless be reached. Eliza didn’t love without edges, at least not since Jeremiah had died, and Alex was already ribboned with scars.

She would not make that worse.

“It’s my fault,” she said, and felt the rush of standing defiantly on a cliff’s edge. “I convinced Alex to keep it a secret. I’m not used to the way relationships are put on display here, in this world. It doesn’t feel right to be so open about something so private.”

“She let me think it was new. The two of you have always kept each other’s secrets. I guess that’s my fault.” She shook her head as if chiding herself. “I should have known. I should have seen it. I shouldn’t have let it get this far. I was as blind as they say I was.” With a tight grin, Eliza swept the matter away. “I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, now that it’s over.”

It felt like an accomplishment to be on the receiving end of the sudden chill in the air between them, absorbing it in Alex’s stead. Kara ignored the ache in her chest, the one that never seemed to go away. “No. I guess it doesn’t.”

------

It took two days to find the first thread and, once she had it in her grasp, two hours to tug and pull at it until she could piece together what had happened: Van posted a photo on Facebook.

From the background, Kara could tell they’d been at that coffee shop the study group would descend on en masse when everyone reached a caffeine low and someone had transcended to I-will-kill-you-I-fucking-swear territory over notecards or that one irritating tic of any given group member that could usually be ignored. She was still in her stocker’s uniform, so she’d texted Alex after work, probably, and gotten an invitation. The timestamp wasn’t needed for her to know that it was near the end of the summer, because she’d been a part of the group by then. It hadn’t been new or novel or weird for her to show up, and Alex hadn’t been stiff, like the first few times. There was no tension in her shoulders or in her face, and she’d moved beyond holding Kara’s hand under the table so she could squeeze a warning whenever she felt like Kara might be on the verge of doing or saying something she shouldn’t.

There’d been exhaustion-related euphoria in play on Alex’s part, maybe, because public displays of affection were generally forbidden territory. Then again, those last few weeks before Kara had to leave to start Fall semester at Stanhope had been intense. Alex had started to cling a little tighter, like she wished it didn’t have to end either. Every lingering touch and wistful, longing look had crawled into Kara’s chest to roost, each a gathered wisp of Alex loves me Alex loves me. She’d collected them as assiduously as if preparing for a long winter, because she might know Alex loved her, but there was nothing like the thrill of seeing it. Better still were the times when Alex forgot that she should be doing anything otherwise, and let it settle into her eyes and touch and shine out recklessly.

The table was littered with books, notebooks, and the detritus of caffeine infusion - empty cups, rumpled sugar packets, abandoned spoons. In the foreground Mandy waved. Aaron was stacking notecards, apparently oblivious. Van was leaned back in her chair, one hand curled around a coffee cup. And there, in the back, Kara was draped across Alex’s lap with an arm slung around her shoulder, grinning down at an Alex who was grinning back up at her. There was an undeniable comfort and intimacy in the moment. She’d just arrived, maybe, after missing Alex all day. She probably hadn’t even ordered yet, instead sneaking up on Alex and plopping down on her. They looked seconds away from a kiss in a way that couldn’t be staged.

Van’s mom had shared it. It’d made its way to a Stanford parents’ group, where Van’s mom was an incredibly active member, picking up innocuous comments along the way.

So studious!

Where is this? I can’t find a decent cup of coffee anywhere near that campus.

We need to get together for lunch soon!

A few days later, it’d been shared again, ending up on the feed of one of Alex’s high school classmates.

Aren’t those the Danvers sisters?

From there, a snide:

Sisters? Maybe somebody should remind them of that.

It hadn’t gotten any better.

I certainly never looked at my sister like that.

Weren’t they the ones who got Mr. Bernard fired?

Please do not resurrect that gossip. Everybody’s moved on, and all it does is open old wounds.

Those girls were always getting into some kind of trouble.

Is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing? Flowers in the Attic alert. Do you think their mother knows?

Yeah, I was in the same grade as the blonde one and they were always weird. I mean, she was like super weird, but they were both weird.

Isn’t the older one an Omega? Figures.

I think I saw a documentary on that on [site redacted - hi mom, totally legit documentary site i promise]. Very realistic. Two thumbs up.

This is what happens when the home breaks down. TWO PARENTS. It’s obvious. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more secrets.

Are you serious? You know Jeremiah Danvers was killed, right?

They’re just sitting in a chair together people. Why does everything have to be a conspiracy theory?

I make $500 dollars a week working from home!!! Ask me how!!!

Okay, but they’re gonna kiss, right? Where’s the one where they’re kissing? For science.

Called it back in high school

And on and on it went until somebody shared the photo with Eliza.

She placed the date in her memory. A few days after it, Alex had dropped out of contact. A few weeks after that, she’d broken up with her, Eliza’s words on her tongue.

------

Tenth Heat

There was no one to know Kara-from-Krypton, so she became Kara Danvers. Kara Danvers liked all of the things she was supposed to like. She liked the things that other people liked - pop music, the tv shows everyone talked about, books with stickers on their covers. She pulled her hair back and bought comfortable clothes in colors that faded into the background. They were soft colors, the way people painted the walls of horrific places in soft colors. She wore the beiges and baby blues of jails and hospital rooms, the seafoam green of sad basement cafeterias. She covered herself in natural fibers - of the Earth, just like she was now.

She watched people the way she had when she’d first come to Earth. A girl in her class talked about what it was like to be more than what the world wanted to allow her to be. She talked about how others chose to view her truths through their own lens, like looking through a telescope backward. They made her smaller when instead she was magnificent. They reduced her not because she was small but because they were.

In whispers and taunts, their classmates called her fiery, derided her as a deluded Omega activist, and ventured that she’d probably be an absolute spitfire in bed.

Kara Danvers didn’t have an opinion either way. People were what they were, or they weren’t what they were, or they weren’t what they’d never been. Kara Danvers rarely said anything deeper than okay, and she smiled and she didn’t have anything interesting to say, ever.

If anyone asked, which people sometimes did, she was a Beta. A bland, bland Beta in her bland beige clothes, with no original thoughts in her head. She did well, but not too well, in her classes. Everyone knew her name and she knew theirs, and her day was a series of smile and wave, smile and wave, and wasn’t she dependable? Did you need notes? Did you need a pen? Did you need directions? Kara Danvers would be able to help. Who was Kara Danvers? She was that girl, you know, that Beta. The blonde one with the glasses, and yeah, she was pretty if you looked, but no one ever really seemed to look. Well, some people looked, but she never seemed to look back. Probably one of those Betas that didn’t date, someone said, and it seemed right. Before long, it was an accepted fact, and that’s who she was. Helpful, polite Kara Danvers who was a good but not great student, and who didn’t have time for relationships, not if she was going to get a good but probably mediocre job after she graduated.

No one soothed her nightmares. She painted, angry, violent images - fire and darkness and broken things - and ripped the canvases to pieces before they were even dry.

The calls started coming early in her fourth year. They were from Alex, because the caller ID said so and Alex hadn’t bothered to try to obfuscate that, and it took a few before Kara learned to answer without speaking. Alex would hang up at the first word, but if Kara stayed silent, Alex would stay on the line. There was something wet and heavy about her breathing, and Kara wanted to ask why, but it was useless. Alex would hang up and she’d be without an answer and without even this thin, stingy bit of her, and her heart would hurt even more.

Do you miss me like I miss you, she wanted to ask. What’s the good in being safe if being safe means this? I think I should have died on Krypton with everyone else. I should have died while I still could.

Kara Danvers existed. She didn’t live.

“I miss you,” she said to the quiet, and heard a sob before the silence of a dead line.

She called Clark and met him at a counter-style hole in the wall in Metropolis with food cheap enough not to stress the budget of either a student or a burgeoning reporter.

“Would you go back, if you could?” she asked, and his sandwich drooped, slack in his hands. “Would you go back home?"

In the dim interior lighting, she could see herself reflected in his glasses. Even with her, he still held on to bumbling Clark Kent, midwestern farm boy with a life too boring for secrets.

“I don’t know,” he said, placing his sandwich back in its basket gently. “It’s not an option, so I try not to think about it. I can’t change the course of history. I can’t rewrite what I’ve lost.” He spread his hands out on the table. “I do good here.”

“Superman does good here.”

Clark blinked at the anger in her voice.

I do good here,” he said quietly, eyes flitting nervously to the empty tables around them. “Superman saves lives, but the articles I write give me the opportunity to influence the people who can make real change, and that’s just as important as being a man in a suit.”

She pushed back in her chair, listless and tired.

“You have to hide who you are.”

“Everybody hides parts of themselves.”

“Not on Krypton. Everything made so much more sense there. Loyalty to your House, devotion to the goals of your Guild - those were the things that mattered. Not like here. It’s all secrets.” She swiped angrily at an errant tear driven loose by frustration more than anything else. “Pretend to be a human, Kara. Pretend to be normal.”

Clark’s uneasiness was clear in the way his hands clenched into loose fists. “I can see you’re upset, but maybe in public isn’t the best place to have this conversation.”

She wanted to say that she sometimes wished her parents had never put her in her pod, but she could tell from the tight lines of his face that he wouldn’t understand. He’d been her reason for coming to Earth, or at least the mission her mother had given her, and he hadn’t needed her. He’d grown up just fine without her, as sterling an example of the fabled American boy-next-door as could be found. She’d failed, and everything had been okay anyway.

If she’d never come to Earth, she wouldn’t be so very, very alone.

It’d been fruitless, expecting Clark to understand. Clark had a purpose in life, and an Alpha girl he sometimes talked about with a shiny, starry look in his eyes who was named Lois and who apparently thought he was mostly useless. Clark had thought he was a Beta until she’d told him he wasn’t anything at all, but she’d gotten the feeling it hadn’t mattered in the end. Clark Kent, once Kal-El and sometimes Superman, had grown up a chameleon in a way she’d been too old to master by the time she’d landed on Earth. He was from the stars and nowhere and the very soil of Kansas all at once, and she just… wasn’t.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, and shoved an almost literal handful of fries in her mouth, talking around them. “Tell me about what you’re working on.”

“Kara--”

She put a hand up, too tired to deal with the comfort she’d been hoping to find in the first place. “You’re right. Nothing can change the past. We have to move forward. It’s all we can do.”

“Has something happened?” he asked, undeterred.

Everything had happened and nothing had happened, and she didn’t know how to explain it in a way that made any sense. “I lost something,” she said, with a smile she hoped told him there was nothing more to be said, “and now I can’t seem to find my place.”

“Something important?” Clark asked, with his kind eyes growing soft behind his useless glasses.

“Yes.” The word was short, anger-filled, and she took a deep breath before she spoke again. “I lost it before I knew I had a reason to worry.”

“Is it something you think you can find again?”

“It’s not the kind of thing that wants to be found. If it did, it wouldn’t be lost.”

He smiled a half-smile and nodded, as if any of it made sense, and she softened at the longing to help her share her burdens she saw in his expression. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you the way I should, but you can talk to me about anything.”

It wasn’t the truth, but it wasn’t his fault. She didn’t have it in her to trace the story back as far as it needed to go, and even if she did, she wasn’t sure she was ready to trust him with it. She wasn’t sure she was ready to trust anyone with it.

“Tell me about Lois,” she said, and she could see in his eyes that he accepted the deflection, grudgingly maybe, but that he wouldn’t push. “Is she still treating you like a worthless cub reporter?”

“Maybe--” he waggled his hand-- “three percent less than the last time we talked.”

She reached for another handful of fries. “That’s progress.”

“It’s not byline progress, but I’m getting there.”

Because, right. He was still trying to convince her, and possibly himself, that he wanted Lois to respect his work.

“Yeah. Well, at least one of us is going places.”

She stole half his fries before he could attempt to comfort her, and after he was too indignant to try.

------

Instead of wishing Clark could be a little more like her, she decided to try to be a little more like Clark. It was too late to change her major but she took a few journalism electives, and she could see why he liked it. There was allure in uncovering truths in a way perhaps ironic considering her own. She tried on a little of his aww-shucks demeanor - stumbled over her words, over her feet, over normal human interactions - and the more of Clark she pulled over her, the more people seemed to warm to her. It was nothing like high school, when she was awkward and weird and barely tolerated, and a little less like her first few years at Stanhope, when people had seemed to instinctively sense that she didn’t quite fit.

Clark wore dapper button downs and slim fit pants and had a messenger bag appropriate for an up and coming reporter on the go. He combed his hair back, presumably so he didn’t have to worry too much about the wind-blown look after impromptu flights around Metropolis, but it gave him the impression of a professional unafraid of the application of hair product.

She pulled the sides of her hair back, securing it at the back of her head. Button ups looked good on her, she discovered. When it got cold, she put them under sweaters and cardigans and found she liked playing with patterns and color combinations. The messenger bag she found online, in a sleek, chocolatey brown leather that came with a patina of wear that spoke to a history she was trying to create.

It was perhaps a bit derivative, but she’d tried finding her own path and that hadn’t worked especially well. She might as well try following one that had already been forged.

She dated an Omega boy until they reached the join where things either became serious or they didn’t, found herself unable to commit to either course, and spent the next few weeks ducking her head whenever they happened to be in the same vicinity. Not because of him, but because seeing him reminded her of just why she’d frozen in indecision. Kara Danvers, revised edition, moved past things. She didn’t get mired in the past, in her failures, or in what she’d lost.

She said yes when an Alpha girl from class asked her if she’d like to grab a coffee, determined to at least continue to try.

“I’m sorry,” she told her after the third date, pulling away from a kiss that was objectively very good. “It’s not you. You’re great. I’m…” She shrugged helplessly.

“Still hung up on Alex?” her date suggested, with a wry smile that hinted that she’d been there herself.

Which meant she’d talked about her, which Kara hadn’t even realized she was doing. Which… great.

“I hear I make a pretty good distraction.”

She thought about it, playing out the next steps in her mind. They’d go inside, kiss some more. That’d be good, possibly. She liked the kissing. It wasn’t what she was used to, but it was nice. At some point, clothes would be shed. It’d be awkward at first as she unlearned all of the things that’d been etched into her. This girl wouldn’t react to her touch in the same way Alex had, wouldn’t have the same secrets. Maybe that was what she needed, something to break the lingering hold Alex had on her. She could learn new patterns, find new weak spots, and draw new maps.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said with a regretful smile, and walked back to her dorm in the balmy spring evening air, hands shoved deep in her pockets.

Chapter Text

Eleventh Heat

Catco Magazine, an award-winning lifestyles and current events publication housed in National City, is accepting applications for an administrative assistant position starting June 1. Applicants must have good interpersonal skills, be self-motivated and self-sufficient, and be able to adapt to new challenges quickly. Attention to detail and the ability to handle multiple projects simultaneously is preferred.

Catco Media Incorporated (CMI) is an Equal Opportunity Employer. CMI does not discriminate on the basis of genera, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factor.

More information about applying for an internship at Catco Magazine can be found at www.catco.com/employmentopportunities/position3579273/application

Kara submitted her application without a great deal of expectation. Moving back to the West Coast would be nice but she wasn’t a journalism major. She didn’t have experience working on the school newspaper or smaller or regional publications. Her grades were acceptable but not spectacular, and she hadn’t really picked up a lot in the way of extracurriculars. As far as applicants went, she was probably as average as she’d spent her life on Earth trying to be. Thus, she wasn’t exactly prepared for the notification that she’d been selected for a phone interview. She was even less prepared for the invitation for an in-person interview.

“Is this the one from the phone round who told us she could fly right over in an hour,” she heard one of the interviewers ask of another member of the panel.

The second interviewer snorted. “From across the country. Yes. She’s the one. She sounded so earnest. We had to bring her in.”

So, okay. She hadn’t necessarily gotten the interview based on her phone interview skills, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t wow them in person. Footsteps on the other side of the door indicated that she’d be called back imminently, so she squared her shoulders, smoothed down the front of her button up, and straightened her glasses. She was already extending her hand when the door swung open, catching the emerging interviewer off-guard.

“Hi--” she tightened her grip just a hair beyond firm-- “My name is Kara Danvers.”

“Oh my god,” said the one on the far left - Stephen - as the door closed behind her after her interview was complete. “Can you imagine her with Cat? Disastrous.”

The offer to interview with Cat Grant, who was fortuitously looking for nothing more than average, didn’t come until August. She learned later that she wasn’t the first choice. She wasn’t the second. She wasn’t even the fifth. She did end up being the selection who lasted for longer than 10 days - which, take that Stephen.

“I can’t believe you’re working for Cat Grant,” Clark said when she told him, hesitantly happy for her. “I mean, wow. That’s really exciting, but Cat is… Well, you’ll see.”

Eliza appeared on the doorstep of her new apartment with a freshly baked pie and a bag full of household essentials. “This is cozy,” she said, stepping into the cramped studio Kara was fairly certain she could afford just so long as absolutely nothing went wrong. “It’s certainly convenient to have you and Alex in the same state again.”

She wanted to ask about Alex, about how she was doing and when Eliza had spoken with her last, but she trapped the questions behind her teeth. Alex hadn’t been back to Midvale for any of her breaks or holidays since the day she’d closed her apartment door in Kara’s face. From Eliza’s sporadic, gentle prods for information, she had the sense that Alex’s absence wasn’t confined to just when she needed to avoid Kara.

“Did you send her your new address?” Eliza asked, voice studiously void of emotion.

“I will,” Kara lied.

“If she comes to visit, tell her to call.”

“Of course.”

“And tell her I expect her home on her next break. I know she has a full course load, but honestly, it’s getting a little ridiculous at this point.”

Kara hummed noncommittally.

“I know she wasn’t thrilled when I reminded her of her responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean she should be so dramatic about it. Look at you. You understood what was most important, and you accepted what had to be done. Of course, I guess I should expect her to be more emotional about these things.” She shook her head, and Kara noticed the dark circles under her eyes. “Yet another reason you should be glad you don’t have to deal with this Alpha and Omega nonsense. It can make even the simplest thing unmanageable.”

“Eliza,” she said softly.

Eliza looked up from where she was unpacking the bag she’d brought with her, tired in a way that was painfully obvious under the harsh florescent lighting in her little studio apartment.

“Please don’t.” Her thoughts flashed to the many times she’d watched Alex wilt under Eliza’s ever-present edge of disapproval and faint disappointment before emerging even more defiant.

For a moment, Eliza’s eyes softened. “Some things are more important. You know that. Your parents knew that. It’s why they sent you here, and that’s why I’ve worked so hard to keep you safe.”

Everything inside Kara froze. She tried to breathe in and found her chest too tight to do so. Had anything been in her hands, it would have been dust.

Was this what her parents would have wanted for her? She didn’t think so. She’d failed at her given task of raising Kal-El, but one of the last things her mother had said to her was that she would do extraordinary things. A life spent dedicated to keeping herself safe committed her to a life of deliberate ordinariness.

“You know I appreciate everything you’ve done for me,” she managed. Before she’d arrived, Eliza and Jeremiah had been scientists, with peaceful but interesting lives. They’d had the time and energy to dote on their daughter and had been, she imagined, quite happy. Then, she’d landed on their front lawn. Only a few years later and Jeremiah Danvers was dead, all because she’d been careless. Because she hadn’t listened. Because she’d been selfish. Eliza knew exactly how quickly and how casually disaster could find someone and how carefully peace had to be protected.

She looked away, down at her feet. “I think tomorrow’s going to be pretty stressful.”

Eliza folded the reusable bag carefully. “Of course.”

“I appreciate you driving up, but I think maybe I need some time to decompress.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I know how important first impressions can be.”

She accepted Eliza’s parting hug, brittle and a little desperate, and watched from her window as she made her way down to her car. Before she could second-guess herself, she crafted a text to Alex, just a hello and a short update, and sent it before she had time to reconsider. No reply had come by the time she went to bed. She tried to tell herself that she hadn’t expected one anyway and rolled onto her stomach, watching the bright red numbers on her alarm clock tick past.

------

Twelfth Heat

The number wasn't familiar, but with a California area code, so she answered. There’d been a time when anyone who might ever have wanted to call her was a known entity, but not anymore. Not as Cat Grant’s assistant, and sometimes, she had to wonder if there was a black-market trade in giving out her phone number to people trying to weasel their way into the presence of the Queen of all Media. So, she answered, but with a fair bit of skepticism.

A beat of silence, then, “Is this Kara? Kara Danvers?”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“I’m looking for Kara Danvers. It’s been a couple of years so maybe the number’s changed. My name is Camila. From Stanford. I’m a friend of Alex’s.”

A flash of terror stopped her in her tracks. The noise of the busy newsroom fell away and she had to force herself to relax her grip so she didn’t snap her phone in half. “What’s wrong? What’s happened? Is Alex okay?”

“Okay, so, this is the right number?”

“What about Alex? Is she--”

“Yeah, she’s okay. I mean, maybe not okay okay. That’s why I wanted to call.” Camila’s sigh filtered through the speaker. “Look, it’s not really my place and I know you guys aren’t together anymore, but I’d want to know. If it was my Omega, I’d want to know.”

The phrase rankled. Alex wouldn’t have appreciated it, for one, but also, it just wasn’t true. Not anymore, and Kara preferred to keep that truth buried away so she could pretend the prick and drag of its untruth wasn’t a subtle, inescapable irritant she could never quite soothe.

She ducked out of the office and into the stairwell, which was nearly always empty up that high.

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly, burrowed away in the corner.

Camila sounded nervous and conflicted, and Kara wished she could reach through the phone and drag the words free. “I wouldn’t have called, but it’s gotten really bad.” She paused, then, with resignation, “I know Alex hasn’t been back home since it happened, since the two of you split. I don’t know what you know.”

“I don’t know anything,” she said, an admission that hurt more than she would have liked. “Please, just tell me what’s going on.”

There was a sound of frustration on the other end of the call. “She started drinking, but, you know, who doesn’t? The program, it’s stressful, and I get the sense that the two of you… that it wasn’t good, however it went down. But I know you care for her. I know that even if you’re not together like that, you’re family. We didn’t notice for a long time, and that’s on us, but it’s gotten so much worse. She needs… I don’t know what she needs. Help, if she’ll take it.”

“So she’s drinking?” Kara ventured, almost relieved. In contrast to the images her mind had conjured - Alex in a hospital bed somewhere, Alex injured or dying - this seemed, if not okay, then at least not that.

“She’s on academic probation,” Camila said flatly, the first trickle of a flood. “At least, that’s the rumor. She barely comes to class, not since early last year, and when she does, she reeks of alcohol and Alpha. She locks herself in her room every heat, heat sick because she won’t let anybody help. I’ve offered. You probably don’t want to hear that, but I thought if it was one of her friends, then maybe, you know, she wouldn’t make it so hard on herself. I know it’s none of my business, and Mandy told us about Alex’s mom and how she thinks it’s wrong, and I only knew you for a little while, but you don’t seem like the kind of person who’d just walk away. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think you’d do that. I know these things are complicated and Alex said it was all her fault, but she never talks about you anymore. She never talks about anybody anymore, and she won’t… She won’t accept help. I don’t know how you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.”

Kara thought of her name being a hidden, shameful thing, and dropped her forehead to the wall in front of her. The rest she couldn’t think of at all. Not now. Not yet.

“I don’t think any of us realized how much she relied on you until you weren’t there. She doesn’t let people take care of her. You’re the only person I’ve seen her let do that. She needs somebody she’ll listen to and it isn’t one of us, because we’ve tried. Look, Kara, this is the rest of her life, and if she doesn’t fix this, it’ll be too late. It’ll be something that can’t be fixed. I would call her mom, but I think that’d make it worse. So, I don’t know. Maybe you can do something.”

“She doesn’t talk to me.” Kara’s throat felt tight, dry. “She hasn’t talked to me since…”

Since Alex had decided she wasn’t worth fighting for.

She straightened, drywall crumbling under the force of her fingertips as she pulled herself together. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she said, and wiped at the tears that had gathered in her eyes. “I’ll fix it.”

The drive took five and a half hours on a good day, when traffic was light, so Kara left a little after midnight. She enjoyed but didn’t really need sleep, and the long stretches of mostly empty road gave her time to think. Radio silence for two years and then showing up at Alex’s door uninvited meant there was probably no good way to start a conversation.

So, I hear you’re failing out of school and drinking a lot and maybe having sex with strangers. I didn’t hear this from you because you haven’t talked to me in two years, but your friends are so worried one of them called me. Let’s pretend like I don’t want to cry every time I think about how you told me you needed a life without me in it and see if we can’t straighten out your GPA. You can’t get a joint MD/PhD by 30 if you’re on academic probation.

Alex might throw her right back out onto the street. She might refuse to talk to her or deny that anything was wrong. More than that, she might confirm everything Camila had said. It was bearable for the moment, an amorphous maybe truth. All of it was horrible, the drinking and the failing out of school, but those could be fixed. She’d quit her job and force her way in if necessary - walk Alex to every class, destroy every bottle. The other part, the part that clung to her and couldn’t be shaken, was a reopened wound she couldn’t bring herself to touch. Alex with others, Alex with Alphas… She’d known, in an abstract sort of way, that Alex’s life had carried on after she’d removed Kara from it. She hadn’t been trapped in stasis behind the door she’d closed on their life together, hung in suspended animation until Kara pushed her way back through.

She’d deal with it. Alex could do whatever Alex wanted to do. She’d been quite clear on that.

It was still dark when she pulled up outside of Alex’s apartment building. The crack of the car door opening was disconcertingly loud in the otherwise still pre-dawn, as was the sound of her shoes against asphalt. She felt on edge, wound tightly, because it’d all been almost hypothetical as she’d driven through the night. Alex had been on the other end of her journey, waiting, but she’d been a destination as yet unreached, not close enough to touch.

Kara took in a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. She put one foot in front of the other until she was standing in front of Alex’s door, because Alex needed her and she wasn’t going to let something as insignificant as fear keep her away.

She closed her eyes and listened. No heartbeat echoed through the apartment. Kara didn’t want to think about why Alex might not be home at six o’clock on a Saturday morning. Then again, she didn’t want to think about Alex at home in bed with someone else at six o’clock on a Saturday morning, either, and definitely didn’t want to have to stand by as she ushered someone out of her apartment. Her head sagged against the door at the thought, because she’d been better off when she’d lived with the fantasy that maybe she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t move on.

The soft thump echoed. There was something odd about the sound. It was more expansive than she would have anticipated, so she brought her hand up and knocked softly, cautious of Alex’s neighbors who were no doubt still sleeping. Again, the echo spread out, travelled, and with a growing sense of unease, she took a step back. She slipped off her glasses and looked, this time through the wooden door and into the apartment beyond.

It was empty. Wholly and completely empty, no furniture, no clothes, no dishes hidden away in the cupboards, and most certainly no Alex. She didn’t give it a second thought, just put her shoulder to the door and gave it a gentle bump, shattering the lock. The air inside had a staleness to it of a room undisturbed, and Kara felt her breath leave her. Everything was gone. The divots where furniture had once sat had been vacuumed away, and the countertops had been wiped clean. The fridge was empty, and the shower curtain was missing. She drew in a deep breath, but even Alex’s smell had been chased away.

Panic rose in her with a swift violence that left her reeling. She pulled out her phone and dialed Alex’s number. It rang until it sent her to voicemail, and she left a message full of worried questions. She called Alex’s friends, knocked on her neighbor’s doors, and found nothing. No one had seen her leave. No one had noticed how long she’d been gone, or knew where she might have gone.

She tuned out the world and listened for Alex’s heartbeat, but Alex’s heartbeat wasn’t to be found. A call to the police yielded a detective who came out to look at the smoothly vacuumed carpet and empty cabinets with a sad, pitying look in her eyes. Adults can go missing if they want, she was told, and that would have been it if she hadn’t pressed. Not Alex, she insisted, terror-stricken and fretful, and stayed on the detective’s heels as she worked her way down the checklist of people to speak with and things to check. They retraced steps and received the same answers, and she shouldn’t have let things get this far. She shouldn’t have let Alex push her away, shouldn’t have accepted radio silence and the new status quo. Shouldn’t have lost her so entirely that she let her disappear.

“Wait outside,” the detective said as she entered the university’s administration offices, patience clearly running thin.

From the busy lobby, Kara listened as a university official talked in a low murmur interspersed with the clacking of keys on a keyboard. The lease had been broken, he said apologetically, the deposit forfeited. Alex Danvers had withdrawn from school. It wasn’t uncommon for students on academic probation. It was a shame, of course. She’d been such a promising student, but even promising students sometimes failed.

The detective relayed the information with tired kindness, handed her a card, and said she’d keep an eye out but chances were Alex had wanted to walk away. Kara sank down onto a nearby bench, still straining to catch the rhythm of Alex’s heartbeat and on the verge of calling Eliza, when her phone beeped with a text.

I’m okay, it read, with Alex’s grinning face at the top of a text thread 2 years old. I just need some time to figure things out.

Kara nearly sent her thumb through her phone in her haste to text back.

Where are you? Is everything okay? Alex, please. I’m worried. Call me.

Call me.

Call me.

She sped through the city at night, searching each street for the sound of Alex’s heartbeat.

Alex, please call me.

Please call.

Please.

Alex, please.

The voicemail appeared as if by magic. Kara’s phone didn’t ring and her call history didn’t show Alex’s number with an incoming call, but there it was nonetheless, Alex’s voice, infuriatingly nonchalant.

“Hey Kara, I know it’s been a while and I’m sorry. I’m going to be away for a little while, but I’m okay. I promise. I need some time for myself. Things weren’t great, but they’re better now. I think I’m ready to be your sister again, or I will be soon. I’ll come find you when I get back.”

It made her want to scream.


Her eyes grew hot with anger, but there was nothing upon which she could unleash her rage. It grew as she retraced her route back to National City until it turned in on itself and slid into a simmering, aggravated apathy she stuffed down deeply. She settled back into her life, popping into Cat Grant’s office with a smile each of the dozens of times a day she was summoned, and couldn’t shake the knowledge that that was all she was worth. Five dozen unanswered text messages and a twenty second voicemail, when her body had been tight with panic and fear. When she’d broken open Alex’s apartment door to a life erased. When she’d seen a room devoid of life and known, with a cold, creeping anguish, that she’d lost her forever this time. 

She tucked her grief away in the mental vault holding all of her other hurts and tried to forget the way her heart had skipped a beat at the sound of Alex’s voice after so long.

------

Alex was not there one day and there the next, like she hadn’t disappeared for eight months. Like it hadn’t been nearly three years since they were in the same space, and she’d somehow forgotten that the last time they had been, she’d excised Kara from her life with surgical precision. She’d dropped out of life entirely for eight long months with no more than a single text and a voicemail. No warning, and then there, in the very same city, in a bright, sunny loft with big windows and exposed brick.

She’d joined the FBI, apparently, and if Eliza had been furious when Alex had dropped out of grad school, she was somehow even less pleased about that.

“A waste--” Eliza had lamented as they’d stood outside the door to Alex’s new apartment, waiting for Alex to open it and admit them to her new life, and looked at Kara as if she expected Kara to agree with her-- “but surely they won’t put her out in the field.”

And then the door was opening and Alex was there and she hadn’t seen her, not for so long, hadn’t been close enough to feel the heat of her or fill her nose with the smell of her. She’d told herself she wouldn’t let it matter, seeing an Alex who hadn’t bothered to want to see her, not for so long, but her heart seethed with pain with how much she’d missed her. Alex was Alex but not-Alex, with her hair cut short so it followed the contour of her jawline and her shoulders set, stern and serious. She moved like a tightly coiled spring, economically and with a sense she was seconds away from needing to be somewhere else, and her smile was bright, too bright, a pasted-on pastiche of a smile.

Half of Kara wanted to pull her into a hug and the other half wanted to hold her in place until she explained why.

“Come in,” Alex said, sham smile growing broader. “I ordered food. It’ll be here soon.”

She watched while Eliza received a tour, not quite sure how someone who’d apparently been on the brink of disaster just eight months before could have her life so well in hand. Alex didn’t look like someone who’d been so direly in need of intervention that her friends had given up on the possibility of helping her and taken it upon themselves to reach out to a last, desperate option. She looked like she’d taken up crossfit and stumbled upon a ‘new year/new you’ post and followed it to the letter.

Kara hated her and loved her, couldn’t look away and couldn’t bear the sight of her.

They settled down for lunch at a butcher block table, spooning noodles from boxes into the same bowls Alex had taken away with her when she’d first gone to college. It felt like make-believe, like they’d been trapped in a spy drama and the only way to convince their captors that nothing was wrong was to be a perfect, happy family. They weren’t, and Kara knew she couldn’t be the only one who saw it. Alex had collected the delivery and laid out the cartons and Eliza had rolled her eyes and made a joke about Alex and her propensity for kitchen disasters, but mother and daughter were running on misaligned tracks. She could see the yearning in Eliza’s eyes for things to be right between them again, for this re-entry into Alex’s life to be a promise that she’d never again go months and years without seeing Alex, without hearing from her or knowing anything about her life, and she’d meant it as indulgent, gentle teasing. Kara knew that. She’d learned that Eliza hid her fears of loss and failure, that they came out as criticism and disapproval and bitter anger, and that in some ways, she and Alex were too much alike for their own good.

She saw, also, the imperceptible stiffening of Alex’s shoulders and the strain in her already strained smile as she poured even more wine into her glass, and pushed past it like it hadn’t hurt. This Alex was a stranger and not, distant and different and still the same, and Kara nudged her plate away, stomach tied in too many knots for her to eat.

“Tell me about your new job,” Alex said, looking at but not focusing on her. Kara wanted to slam her hand down on the table and rattle the plates, so very furious with Alex that she wasn’t sure she could hide it. This pandering pretense of interest dug into wounds she’d thought at least half-healed to slowly pull them apart again.

“I’m working at Catco Magazine.” She looked at Alex’s freshly refilled wine glass and wished she had her own, that there was something that could dull the sharp edges of her world. “I’m Cat Grant’s assistant.”

“Hmm,” Alex said around a swallow of wine, with a tight nod and eyes that still wouldn’t meet hers.

Eliza smiled proudly. “What better way to learn the publishing industry inside and out than to work directly with one of the most powerful women in the field?”

“Absolutely.” Alex jabbed at a carrot, redistributing food but not, Kara noticed, actually eating any of it. “I didn’t know you wanted to be a journalist.”

The bitten off remnants of a dozen angry replies weighed on her tongue. “I guess a lot of things have changed.”

Alex’s jaw ticked and her hand tightened around the stem of the wineglass, knuckles blanching white. Something about it caught Kara’s attention and she looked, really looked, at the hand she’d once known as well as her own. Under the scrutiny of her enhanced vision, she saw the faint cracks in the skin over Alex’s knuckles, like they’d been bloodied a few weeks before but were nearly healed. Silver scars peeked from the back of her hands, gouges and winding trails. She shifted her inspection up to Alex’s face, catching sight of make-up blended well enough to pass human inspection but not Kryptonian. There was a bruise on her jaw, green with age, and the faintest yellow tinge under her eye of one nearly faded away.

“They must push you hard at the FBI.” The impulse to reach out and trace her fingers along now healed wounds caught her by surprise. She’d forgotten, for a moment, that she wasn’t allowed to comfort.

She could tell by the way Alex narrowed her eyes and pulled her hands under the table that she knew Kara had seen more than she’d wanted to show. “I had a lot I needed to learn. We spent a lot of time on self-defense and hand-to-hand combat at Quantico.”

Eliza looked vaguely horrified. “Surely they’re smart enough to use you for your brain and not have you out on the streets chasing after common criminals.”

“It’s standard training for all agents, Mom.”

“I hope they at least divided you up with other Omegas and didn’t make you roll around with Alphas all for the sake of some training exercise.”

A hot weight settled in Kara’s stomach and she lashed out, voice low but loud enough to be heard. “Not that it’d be anything new.”

Irritation, surprise, and shame flashed across Alex’s face before she managed to smooth it all away. “I don’t think criminals care about what you are.” She tossed back the last of the wine in her glass, reached for the bottle, and emptied out the dregs.

“I’d rather you not encounter criminals at all.” Eliza brought a hand to her forehead as if trying to stave off a headache. “It’s not too late to go back to school. You’re halfway through your program.”

“I’m not going back to school, Mom. I’m where I need to be. What I do is important. What I do keeps us all safe.”

Eliza looked doubtful. “Is the FBI really a good idea? I’ve worked on government contracts before, but not since your sister came to live with us. The background checks are extensive. As much as we’ve tried to lay down a valid paper trail, I don’t know if it will stand up to that kind of scrutiny. Have you really thought about this, Alex? Think about what you could be risking. You could be leading them straight to Kara.”

Another tick of the jaw, this time in concert with a deep inhale held, as if to let it out would spew all of her anger out with it. “It’s not an issue. I’ve already gone through the clearance process. There’s nothing to worry about. Kara’s safe.”

Kara scowled. “I don’t need Alex to keep me safe.” The rest of it burned in the back of her throat, that if she’d been relying on Alex to keep her safe, then she’d been adrift for years.

Alex’s eyes met hers for the first time that day, burning darkly with an emotion Kara couldn’t read. She stared back, defiant, daring her to say something, but as she watched, the fire in Alex’s eyes died. A few rapid blinks and it was gone, and her face was smooth again. Placid, like the deepest of lakes, its waters preternaturally still.

“Of course,” Alex said, no fight in the words. “You’re right.”

She searched the words for meaning, played them back in hopes of uncovering a secret inflection, but they were what they were - acceptance that if that was what Kara wanted, that’s what she’d get. Alex, no longer needed, would back away. She’d had her life free of Kara, the way she’d said she wanted, and if given the option, that was the way she’d stay. Forget worried friends, silent phone calls, and Eliza’s pushing. The Alex sitting in front of her had looked back on a half score of years and invalidated them in four words spoken with flat agreement.

Noise turned to static around her, all of the world crashing in at once. She hated it, hated that she’d been left behind and had never caught back up. She’d thought she had - her job, her apartment, the life she’d built - but it all came back in a rush. It’d been there under the surface all along, just barely submerged, and she was 13 years old and abandoned all over again. Twenty years old and pushed aside, the space she took up suddenly too much to bear. Twenty-three, and she was a page in a book long abandoned, not worth the effort of cracking it open again to find out what meaning she might have held.

By the time she pulled back into herself, Eliza was standing, taking a last, long look around the loft. “This is what you need, Kara,” she said, caught on the wide floor to ceiling windows. “Look at all this light. Doesn’t Cat Grant pay you well enough to move out of that cave of a studio you’ve been living in?”

“She should move in here.” Alex looked startled at her own words, but didn’t take them back. Instead she stuck out her chin defiantly, doubling down. “I need somewhere closer to work anyway. It would save me the trouble of breaking another lease.”

Kara thought about being in Alex’s space, surrounded by the ghost of her. “I can’t,” she mumbled, mouth working around words that wouldn’t come.

“Nonsense.” Eliza looked pleased and Alex looked like it didn’t matter and Kara felt herself sinking. “It’s the perfect solution.” She beamed at Alex, and Kara saw some of Alex’s stiffness melt away. A tentative, tattered pride rose in her eyes, and Kara knew she couldn’t say no, not now. She wouldn’t take this away from Alex, this small heal in the rift between her and Eliza.

With that, Alex was back as Kara’s big sister, who made way for her if nothing more.

Chapter Text

Kara settled into life in Alex’s old apartment, which was nice enough that she could forget, sometimes, that it was yet another monument to the fact that she was destined to try to find happiness in what was left behind. She settled back into life with Alex in it, who wore business suits now, and was serious and stern. Alex had always been serious, but this was serious on an entirely different level. She was brisk, always brisk, like she had somewhere she needed to be and was already ten minutes late. There was no time for softness. No time for happy reunions or even just an explanation. No time to help Kara pick out a blouse for her destined to be shitty date, because the date wasn’t the purpose. Getting a reaction out of Alex was the purpose, but the only reaction Alex seemed to have was frustration because she had a plane to catch for something ostensibly a lot more important than Kara.

She looked at Kara as if looking through her. Like Kara was a task to be checked off of her already full list. So Kara talked about Clark and about how they were no different, about how she could do more, could fly, could save lives, could be someone important, and Alex watched her indulgently, like she knew Kara wouldn’t. She was Alex the big sister once again, and if she hadn’t known better, Kara would have thought she’d never been anything but.

“Wear the blue,” she said, and her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “It’s your color.”

She was the last daughter of the House of El, and she was fetching lattes and lettuce wraps. She’d shared everything with Alex for years, and Alex barely tolerated her.

She saved Alex’s life, and Alex was furious.

“What were you thinking? You exposed yourself to the world. You’re out there now, Kara. Everyone will know about you, and you can’t take that back. What if people figure out who you are? What you are? It’s just… It’s not safe for you to do anything like that ever again.”

Everything she’d felt in that moment, when she’d saved Alex, saved all of the people on that plane, collapsed under the weight of the disappointment and disapproval in Alex’s eyes.

“You risked everything. All these years keeping you safe, and you put that in danger.”

“So I should have let you die?” She looked up at an Alex she no longer knew and felt hollow inside. If no one else, she’d at least expected Alex to understand.

Alex’s expression turned cold. “Do you know how much I’ve given up to keep you safe? It has to be worth it, Kara.”

Something in the air between them changed. It moved from this moment of hurt to all of the hurt that’d come before it, and she couldn’t believe they were finally talking about it. Not now, not when she’d finally done something that felt right. Not after so long.

All of that lay heavily in her voice. “You didn’t give up anything you weren’t willing to give up.”

Alex nodded, as if it was a blow she deserved, and Kara watched, again, as something behind her eyes packed up shop. She became stern Alex, with better things to do. “I have to go. They’ve pushed the meeting, but I still need to get to Geneva.”

She wondered if she’d imagined everything, if she’d imagined all those times Alex had looked at her like she was special. She blinked back tears because she wasn’t going to cry. Not now. Not in front of this Alex, who wouldn’t care.

“Yeah, you should go. I’m kind of tired. I just carried a plane on my back.”

“Kara--”

“I’m gonna go to bed.”

“Kara, I… I am grateful.”

She shrugged, unconvinced. “Are you?” The answer didn’t really matter. “I can’t live this life anymore, Alex. I can’t be meaningless. If nothing I do matters, then what was it all for? I didn’t survive to be inconsequential.”

The words came softly, sadly. “You’ve always mattered, Kara.”

“You don’t get to say that,” she said bitterly. “You threw me away when it got too hard.”

Anger flared in Alex’s eyes, and Kara was grateful. Anger, at least, was something. “I kept you safe,” she hissed, hands balling into tight fists at her sides.

“You kept yourself safe.”

“I--” Alex had already advanced two steps before she caught herself, and Kara watched as she reeled in her anger, tucking it away behind a clenched jaw and pursed lips. “I did what I had to do.”

“You abandoned me.”

Another flash of anger, and Alex’s voice like the crack of a whip-- “I loved you.

“Then you loved me when it was easy, but not enough to be there when it wasn’t.”

Alex’s chest heaved at the accusation. “You want to matter, Kara? Well so do I, but what I want doesn’t matter. It hasn’t, for a long time. The only thing that matters is you and keeping you safe and you risked all of that. My life, everything that I let go, I did so that you could be safe. So do that, okay? Stay safe, so that everything I’ve done isn’t meaningless either.”

“I don’t want to be safe. Not if being safe means I can’t live.” She felt spent, wrung out. “I should be used to being left behind by now. Was I supposed to fight for you, Alex? Would that have made a difference, when you weren’t willing to fight for me?”

“All I do is fight for you.” Alex shook her head, flinging a hand out as if she could push the moment back. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. Next time, you let the plane go down, okay? You keep yourself safe and you let me go.”

She grabbed Alex’s arm as Alex made to leave. “No, Alex. It’s not okay.” She pulled her in close, ignoring Alex’s sound of outrage. Ignoring the part of her that screamed that this was a bad idea, that it wouldn’t help anything, and especially not her. “It does matter. You matter. You matter to me.” And Alex was blinking back tears, her face twisted into something angry and sad, and Kara had missed her. She’d missed her so much. She wanted more than anything not to be helpless in the face of it, but she was. Alex had left her, forgotten her, betrayed her, and still, she was lodged so deeply inside of her that Kara only knew how to function with the lodestone of her love forever pulling her along her path. “You’re my zehdh. My :zhao.”

Alex pulled away from her and wiped a hand against her cheek, sharp and furious, taking with it a rogue tear. “I know what that means now, and I’m not, Kara. I’m not either of those things.”

Kara, momentarily rocked by the knowledge that Alex had learned Kryptonian - and why, when it was too late to matter - said hoarsely, “You don’t have any say in that. You are, Alex, whether you want to be or not.”

“You should forget about… all of that.”

“Like you have?” Something flashed across Alex’s face at the accusation. Hurt, maybe. Regret.

“Yes,” Alex said, smoothing it away, but Kara knew her. She felt the lie in her bones, but it was an empty comfort. “Like me.”

This time, Kara let her go.

------

Just because no one else seemed to believe in her didn’t mean she couldn’t believe in herself. Taking to the air again was like sliding out from under a crushing weight. It was like rediscovering the use and function of her limbs after years spent inert, and her heart filled with purpose and joy. In the suit Winn had sewn for her, with her family’s coat of arms on her chest, she was finally embracing her destiny. She was of Krypton, with the gifts it gave her under the yellow sun, and she wasn’t going to let suffering go unanswered. Not when she could stop it. Not when she’d been saved from destruction so that she could do better, be better. She was the literal last remnant of Krypton’s living legacy, and she would draw on her mother’s commitment to compassion and justice and her father’s hope for and dedication to the creation of a better way of life, and she would help. She would do good, in memory and thanks, and because she couldn’t live life as a passive participant any longer.

Winn directed her to a nearby emergency, and she felt that strength of purpose suffuse her. Fire blazed in the distance and she adjusted her trajectory, corralled excitement and nerves, and drew in a breath. She straightened her shoulders and flew faster and…

The projectiles buried themselves in her torso, shredding through her suit and her skin. She pulled up, confused and uncertain, and then she was falling, tumbling end over end. Power drained from her, and she couldn’t arrest her descent, couldn’t stop it, couldn’t fly away or brace herself against the coming impact. The euphoria of the moment before bled into panic. She closed her eyes as she crashed through the roof of a car, down over its hood and onto the street, arms and legs useless, and laid there, immobile, as her body grew weaker. She felt unconsciousness creep in and struggled to keep her eyes open, but it was impossible. The thought came to her, perversely ironic, that Alex and Eliza had been right all along. Less than a week in the sky and already she was laid low, as helpless as a newborn baby as figures in black rushed up to her with guns drawn. Her last sight was of a looming form in a faceless black mask reaching out for her, the devil she’d always been warned about here to claim her at last.

She came to in a sterile concrete room, strapped down and surrounded. Powerless, in kryptonite cuffs, with a stern-faced man looking down at her without compassion. And then Alex was there, with her worried eyes, unlocking the cuff and trying to hold her hand, trying to comfort her, like she hadn’t done this to her. Like Alex hadn’t shot her down out of the sky to teach her a lesson.

She pulled her hand free and stared up at the ceiling. At anywhere but Alex, with the way she was looking at her, with concern and apology and care, such care that it burned. She wasn’t going to cry, wasn’t going to let Alex see just how badly this treachery hurt. When Alex reached for her, hands gentle, to try and help her off of the table, she shrugged them away. She pushed to her feet, still a little woozy, and listened to Hank Henshaw, Director of the Department of Extranormal Operations, talk about how the government had built an entire organization in response to Kal-El’s arrival, to her arrival, as Alex trailed three paces behind.

All of this, and over a baby and a little girl sent away from a planet minutes away from destruction. All of this to protect against the threat that there might be more aliens like her, refugees in need of a safe haven, no matter how they tried to blame it on Fort Rozz and the threat of a handful of prisoners facing the destructive ingenuity of the whole of humanity. And Alex… Alex was part of it. Alex was in front of her, trying to convince her that it was a secret she hadn’t wanted to keep. That she was doing this for Kara, and Kara looked at her and saw a betrayal of a kind she’d never expected.

Alex had lied to her. Alex had joined a governmental organization dedicated to overseeing and controlling aliens like her, so sure that the best thing Kara could do was continue to lurk in the shadows. She’d aligned herself, her future and her life’s work, with an agency made proud by the fact that they didn’t need the help of someone like her.

“I can’t help but think the real reason you were recruited was because of me,” she said, too angry to hold it back, and watched as Alex shrank away, hurt, and tried to pull the remnants of her pride together. It was the first time that Alex had looked at her, really looked at her, in years. She was raw, hopeful, and defensive, all undercut with a hint of sorrow that Kara didn’t know how to square with the uniform she wore and the rough rock walls of the place where she’d chosen to plant her flag.

She stomped away, tears burning in her eyes, aware but uncaring of the too quick thump of Alex’s heart and the strangled wheeze of her breath.

The betrayals didn’t stop.

Cat Grant called her Supergirl and tried to feed her manufactured spin that it was somehow empowering, but Cat Grant was concerned with Cat Grant, first and foremost, and with spoon-feeding the public the kind of image she thought would sell second. Cat Grant made her into a little girl in a suit. Into someone who wasn’t a threat, like she was a playful and whimsical dilettante and not the most powerful being on Earth, with a force of purpose behind her she was finally going to fulfill.

When Vartox, one of the supposedly fearsome Fort Rozz escapees, summoned her to a fight, she embraced the challenge. She’d show Alex. She’d show the DEO and Cat Grant, and she’d prove herself. She was Kara Zor-El, last daughter of the House of El, and she was tired of hiding away.

Hubris.

Vartox threw her through walls. He beat her soundly, leaving her bloody. He nearly killed her, and maybe would have, had Alex not come to her rescue. She didn’t scare him. She didn’t even rate. Instead, he fled in the face of the DEO’s ordnance, defiant and victorious, and she’d lain there, shivering, in the destruction their fight had wrought.

And Alex rappelled down out of a helicopter, pulling off her helmet and standing tall under the mid-day sun, heedless of her own safety as she crouched down at her side. “Hey. Hey, I’m here. I got you. I got you,” she said, drawing Kara into her arms, bravery hiding fear as her eyes traced the bleeding cut on Kara’s arm.

Alex held her hand as they rode in the transport back to the DEO’s desert base, fingers tight around her own and face grim, and bustled her away to the medbay once they were there. Someone in scrubs rushed up, but Alex turned them away, hands steady on Kara’s shoulders as she urged her up onto an examination table. She sat there, numb, as Alex pulled the shard from Vartox’s weapon from her wound and Hank Henshaw gloated about how useless she really was. Her mother had always been the one she looked to for the answers about what was right and what was wrong, but how could it be right to sentence people to the Phantom Zone like Vartox claimed she had? She could understand the need to punish those who had done wrong by society, but not that. Not by consigning them to an eternity of futility, not alive and not dead, with only ghosts for company. She’d been lost in the Phantom Zone for 24 years, but it’d felt like forever, and no one deserved that. No one.

“I’m trying to protect you,” Alex said, looking at her the way she had before everything had turned to dust in her hands. Before lies and betrayals, when they were young and in love and Kara had found her world again.

She felt like a fraud, like the little girl playing dress-up that Cat Grant’s name for her evoked. They’d been right, all of them. Eliza and Alex. Hank Henshaw. Even Vartox.

“The world doesn’t need me,” she said, and walked away.

------

She was sitting on the couch, the weight of her mother’s pendant heavy in her fingers, when Alex knocked on her door.

“I know you can see me,” Alex said, and Kara looked through her door to see her standing there, shifting from foot to foot and chewing nervously at her lip. After a second, her resolve seemed to stiffen. She looked up, as if she could see Kara through the wood, and tightened the grip she had on the big bag hanging from her shoulder. “Kara, ever since you came to live with us, I’ve been told that it’s my job to protect you. It was hammered in, that the only way I could keep you safe was by making sure that you never show the world who you are. That you hide away and pretend you’re human. That you make yourself unremarkable. Before you came, I was the extraordinary one, but it’s hard to pretend to be anything other than ordinary when you see what extraordinary really is. You’ve always been destined for great things, Kara. The world needs you to fly.”

When Kara opened the door, Alex took a half-step back, skittish but determined.

“I can’t.” She slumped against the doorjamb, weary and worn down, and not sure she could hold herself together with Alex watching. Content, for the moment, at having Alex within arm’s length, with that expression on her face again, the one that had once told her just how much Alex loved her.

“You can.” Alex swallowed hard. Her eyes grew soft, like a caress, and it pulled at something Kara thought she’d buried away. “I believe in you.”

She shrugged helplessly, too many emotions crowding into too small of a space making it impossible for her to speak.

Alex reached into her bag and pulled out an artifact from Kara’s childhood, something she’d never thought to see again. The hexagonal cylinder had the stark lines of Kryptonian tech, with the language of her native tongue etched into its surface. Inside, she knew, she’d find a crystal, and a piece of her lost heritage returned. “I’m not the only one who believes in you. This was in your pod. The DEO retrieved it and put it in storage, but I thought you should have it.”

When the crystal activated, her mother shimmered to holographic life in the otherwise dark apartment. She was vaguely aware of Alex moving closer, of finding their hands clasped together, as her breath caught in her chest and her mother spoke to her for the first time since she’d been lost to her for what she’d thought would be forever. This was a piece of the past trapped forever, something that would never vary or answer the questions she’d long wanted to ask, but it was more than she’d ever thought she’d get to have again.

The image faded away, its message of love and support imparted. Tears ran down her cheeks and for a moment, her heart was so full it hurt. It’d been so long since she’d felt loved, and yet, unexpectedly, she found herself drowning in its promise.

“You can do this, Kara,” Alex said from behind her, voice soft. “I can help.”

She turned to find matching tear tracks on Alex’s face.

“I know what it’s like to lose your way--” Alex met her gaze and held it-- “and I know what it’s like to live with regret. I am tired of being someone who holds you back.” Her voice cracked and she blinked back another rush of tears, and Kara reached out, tangling their fingers together for the second time that night, unable to keep her distance from an Alex in pain. “I gave up everything that was important to me because I let myself be convinced it was the only way to keep you safe. The only good thing to come of it was having Hank pull me out of a jail cell and offer me a place in the DEO and a way to really protect you for once, because that means I can be there for you now. I can help you, and if I do, then maybe all of it will mean something.”

Even though she knew she shouldn’t ask, that the answer might not be what she wanted to hear, Kara had to ask. She had to know, needed to know. She needed to be more than an unfortunate mistake, so she took a step forward, close enough to touch. “What did you give up that was so important?”

Alex took in a shuddering, shaky breath. Her face, always expressive, was as far as possible from the robotic mask she’d been wearing since she’d returned to National City. Regret and fear bled through alongside a muted, terrified love. “You.”

“You sent me away.”

Anguished sorrow settled on Alex’s brow. She nodded, and her body drew into itself, as if the weight of everything that had happened had settled onto her shoulders.

“Why, Alex?”

“Because I’d been selfish.” Alex smiled a rueful half smile and shrugged, and something in her eyes let Kara know she believed it to be true. “I’d put my own happiness above yours, above your safety, and I was never going to stop.”

“It was a picture, Alex. One picture on a website.”

“Exactly.” Alex shook her head and looked at her with a hopeless kind of acceptance. “One picture of you and me, and hundreds of people were talking about us. I was selfish. I forgot what was important. I would have kept making mistakes.” She looked at Kara as if willing her to understand. “I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop loving you. I couldn’t – can’t – have you in my life and not love you. I couldn’t hide it. I needed you to hate me enough to stay away, because I wasn’t strong enough to give you up.”

“I went back to Stanhope after our summer together and dreamed of us becoming mates.”

Kara...”

“I know Eliza found out about us. I know she came to see you. I know she made you feel like we were wrong and that the two of us together put me in danger. I know, Alex. I know you were scared. I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but it still hurts.”

Alex absorbed the words with a visible flinch. “I’ll make it right, Kara. I know how, now. I have the resources of the DEO behind me. I’ll keep Supergirl safe. I won’t hold you back. Not anymore. I know how you can fight Vartox. I know how you can win. We’ll do it together.”

Kara ignored the promises. “It still hurts, because I can’t stop loving you either. I have been in love with you for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to be anything else.” She looked to the ceiling to try and hide the way she was blinking back tears. “I don’t know what to do, Alex. I’ve been so angry with you for so long, and now you’re back and I want you by my side.”

“I am. I will never leave your side again. If I do nothing else for the rest of my life, I will be by your side, keeping you safe, or I will die trying.”

“What good is safe? I lost everything. My whole world.” She took a step closer, forcing Alex to look up at her. “Look at me, Alex,” she said, and Alex did, eyes wide and dark and terrified. “You’re my zehdh. My :zhao. My home. My love. Why is it you can risk everything but your heart?”

“You’ve had my heart for years, Kara, but what good does that do either of us? All I do is hurt you. And look at you. You’re better, so much better, without me.”

Suddenly, she was transported back to their house in Midvale, to when she’d been furious at an Alex fighting uselessly against her heat and determined to take the hardest route possible. “Why are you so stubborn?”

An impulse, a split-second’s thought, and she wrapped her arms around Alex, lifted her off of the ground, and sped her into the bedroom. She deposited her onto the bed, settled onto her – hip to hip and chest to chest – and pressed her wrists into the mattress. If Alex had forgotten, had let herself disappear from the history of their life together, Kara would bring her back to it.

Ow. Fuck, Kara. Fuck.”

Of all of the possible reactions, the last thing she’d been expecting was a wince of pain. She popped up, hovering above Alex and releasing her wrists, and watched nervously as Alex brought a hand to her shoulder. Terrified that she’d been too rough, she scanned for broken or cracked bones, but saw only a dark, muddled mass of a bruise covering her bicep and stretching up toward her neck.

She dropped down onto her knees beside Alex, boundaries momentarily forgotten as she surveyed skin and bones. Alex was awash in injuries and aggravated inflammation, with a scar running along her left hip that hadn’t been there the last time Kara had had reason to see. She was mottled with bruises, some nearly healed and some bone deep, and all hidden away. “Alex, what happened?”

“Nothing,” Alex said, curling up into a seated position and drawing her knees to her chest. “Nothing happened.” At Kara’s unamused stare, she crumbled. “Training. That’s all. They're just training injuries, mostly.”

“What kind of training could possibly do this?”

Alex looked away, shrugged. “I can’t protect you if I don’t know how to fight. Why do you think I joined the DEO, Kara? Hank found me, and they already knew about you. They knew. If I’m there, I can make sure they never, ever come for you. And, Kara, I can do so much more. I have access to their archives, to the things they’ve pulled from your pod and from Clark’s, to all of the pieces of Krypton that made it to this world. I have access to their tech, to all of the alien tech they’ve ever collected, and--”

She cycled through confusion and horror and ended up where she’d spent most of the past three years – anger. “So this is the way you’ll fight for me? You’ll give me bruises and broken bones and pretend like it’s the only way to love me?”

Alex pulled back, stung, and drew her knees in more tightly. “What do you want? Do you want me to beg you to take me back?”

“It’d be a start.”

“I don’t deserve it.” Alex looked at her as if she was delusional. “I don’t deserve you, Kara.”

“I don’t care what you think you deserve.” Her hands drew into fists so tight that her nails dug painfully into her palms. “Forget about what you think you deserve. What about what I deserve? There are some things that, once you have them, you don’t let go. I can’t go back. I can’t stand by and do nothing while bad things happen, just so that I can be safe, and I can’t do it without you. I don’t want to do it without you. You’re the only thing that’s ever made me feel like I belong in this world. I’ve lost too much to lose even more. If you think you don’t deserve me, then earn it. Earn it or help me figure out how to let you go, Alex, because I’ve tried. I’m tired of trying.”

Suddenly exhausted, she stood and looked down at Alex wrapped around herself in the middle of her bed. “Now tell me how to beat Vartox.”

------

They walked into the DEO side by side, with Kara in the suit a silent Alex had helped her don in the pre-dawn dark.

“She’s here to help us fight Vartox,” Alex said, standing in front of her boss with her chin held high, as if daring him to contradict her.

Hank Henshaw, dismissive as ever, looked spectacularly unimpressed. “I told you I don’t trust aliens.”

Alex looked at her, and Kara wondered if she was hallucinating the pride and love visible even under the shield of Special Agent Alex Danvers, before she turned back to face him. “There’s no one I trust more,” Alex said, and Kara wrapped the words around herself like a warm blanket. “Like her cousin, she was sent here, too, to help us, and if you want any more of my help, we’re going to let her.”

She waited for Vartox on an empty stretch of coastal road, there’s no one I trust more a bulwark against her nerves. When the semi he was driving came around the bend, she braced herself, grounded and sure in a way she hadn’t been when it’d been her alone. She put her shoulder through the grill of the truck, sending the engine block smashing through to the main cabin and ejecting Vartox to land in a sprawl against the pavement alongside his ax. This wasn’t the fight of the day before, when she’d been unprepared and overconfident. She was facing an enemy of considerable strength, but she wasn’t alone and this wasn’t a schoolyard fight for bragging rights and ego. This was a threat against people in the city she’d adopted as her own, and she would not let them down.

Vartox pushed up off of the pavement as she strode down the highway toward him, unphased by the explosion of the semi behind her. Like before, he was sure in his strength and in his punches, ducking out of the way as she launched herself into the air and toward him. Instead of landing the blow, he caught her by the ankle. It left her hovering six feet in the air, and in perfect position for a front kick to the face that sent him stumbling. She landed with enough force to shatter asphalt, turning just in time to absorb the energy of his melee style attack and use it to propel herself into the air. Thirty feet up, she reversed her motion, and slammed back to the ground, putting the force of her momentum in a punch that drove him to the ground.

He caught her next punch and landed an uppercut of his own. She let the motion carry her back, wanting him to think that he’d landed a solid blow. It was critical that he continued to underestimate her. She and Alex had planned it that way, spending the last few hours before returning to the DEO focusing on the fight to come and not the mess of emotions that had spilled out after Alex had shown up at her door with the crystal bearing her mother’s message. Thinking about that would come later, if at all. Containing fires and interceding in police chases might have been her abortive attempts to ease into superheroing, but Vartox was a threat to all of humanity. He’d promised vengeance, promised murder, and it was up to her to stop him. It was her duty, her responsibility. The DEO, for all its weapons and skilled agents, couldn’t go toe-to-toe with a being enhanced by alien strength, but she could.

As he wrenched his ax from where it had buried itself in the pavement, she descended with both feet outstretched before her, landing a blow square to his sternum that sent him hurtling back through the semi, splitting it in half and driving him into the road behind it. He left twenty feet of plowed pavement in his wake, jagged chunks of broken asphalt and a deep furrow that culminated in a thick, broad slab displaced and teetering on a mound of rubble. She rushed to him, dodging wild swings of his ax as they traded punches, until she took his leg out from under him and sent him to his knee. It was time, she decided, as he sprang up, using the coiled thrust of energy to deliver a strong blow of the ax to her thigh and then, as she appeared to crumple under it, across the width of her back.

She made as if to fly away, but slowly enough that he was able to grab her by the boot and throw her back onto the chunk of asphalt that comprised their battleground. Her landing rocked the already unsteady platform, and sound of pain she made had truth in it. His blows had been delivered with prejudice, and as much as she could withstand an incalculable amount of force, it still hurt to be slammed down by a strength almost equal her own.

He drew back and drove his fist into her chin, sending her crashing through the thick slab of highway beneath her. She took the full force of the blow, let him feel that moment of power, and with the most piteous look she could muster, whimpered, “Stop. I give up. I don’t want to die.”

Vartox looked down at her with smug satisfaction and drew his ax above his head to deliver a killing blow. “Give your mother my regards.”

She braced herself, timed the arc of his swing, and brought her hands up to catch the ax by its haft. In the background, Alex shouted at her over the comms, urging her to put the final piece of their plan in motion. It was her little bit of inside knowledge; the tests Alex had run on the piece of Vartox’s weapon that had lodged in her skin had revealed its weakness.

Apply sufficient heat, and it would explode.

Her eyes began to burn as she concentrated her heat vision on the ax’s blade, where the self-generating atomic charge was held. Heat it to over 2500 degrees, and he would be stripped of his biggest advantage. She was vaguely aware of the look of confusion on Vartox’s face as she strained, using a power she’d always kept hidden. It’d always been too scary, too deadly, and there was no use for heat vision anyway, not in the ordinary course of Kara Danvers’ life.

But then, Kara Danvers had been relegated to the bench. Supergirl had business to attend to.

She almost faltered. It was a task bigger than any she’d ever asked of herself, and she felt her strength begin to trickle away the longer she sustained her heat vision at its peak. Though it felt like she’d been directing her full force at the ax’s head for long minutes, she was aware that only a few seconds had passed. Just as she felt herself begin to consider that she might have overestimated – that maybe she wasn’t ready, just like everyone had been saying – Alex’s voice was in her ear, reassuring and unwavering and sure of her in a way that swept away her self-doubt.

Vartox screamed, pushing with all of his might against her and trying to close the distance between the ax’s sharp edge and her skull. With a grunt, she dug into her reserves, willing herself to give more, to hold him at bay and to finish what she’d started. The heat of her heat vision carried with it the sharp odor of burning ozone to mix with the stench of burning metal and the tar-like smell of the destroyed roadway. Her arms ached with the effort of holding up the ax against the full might of Vartox’s power and she knew, in a way she couldn’t think about without sacrificing her resolve, that even the smallest slip would be disastrous. She was nearly indestructible under Earth’s yellow sun, but didn’t want to test the limits of her destructibility by taking a nuclear-powered blade through the face.

With a last well of effort, she drew on the dwindling reserves of her power and unleased a crackling, concentrated blast of heat vision that pushed the atomic core past its limits. The ax head pulsed dangerously then exploded with a concussive blast that flung molten shrapnel in all directions and Vartox twisting through the air. She shook her head, dazed, because she’d done it. She’d done the thing she’d been sent to Earth to do – at least one of them. She’d used her powers freely and openly, and she’d saved lives.

When she stood, dirt-streaked and tired but still strong, still with wellsprings of power she could feel simmering back through her muscles, it was to find him crumpled against the pavement, weak, burned, and bleeding, with one eye swollen shut. Defeated, and she’d won.

“It’s over,” she said with a sigh of relief, euphoria rushing through her veins at her victory.

He looked at her, as scornful in defeat as he’d been in triumph. “You think I’m the threat? You have no idea what’s coming.”

Before she could anticipate the move, he pulled a shard of the ax’s blade from where it’d been embedded in the pavement and buried it in his heart. He died in front of her, in seconds, and she’d seen death, known death, but had never watched it seep into someone with irrevocable finality.

She distantly heard the cheers of the DEO staff as she stood in the midst of the carnage their fight had wrought, chest heaving and feeling a little wild, with hands still shaking as she bled off the adrenalin of the fight.

“I’m going to switch to a private channel,” she heard Alex say, and a second later her voice was low and intimate in Kara’s ear. “Good job, Supergirl.”

She caught the soft fall of Alex’s shoes and the lessening din of the operations room. “What, you can’t let the rest of the DEO agents see you being a big softie?” she teased, picking up on the way Alex’s exhales started to echo through the comm link. If she had to guess, she’d say Alex had stepped into one of the hallways, somewhere quiet and private.

“I am proud of you, but the truth is, I don’t think I could say this in front of anyone. Even you.” Alex took a deep breath, and the faint tremble of nerves crept into her voice. “I want it, Kara. I want to earn the chance. I want to be what you deserve. I’ve been lost without you. Nothing’s been right. I should have been stronger. I should have listened to you.”

Kara shot into the air.

“I--”

She landed in the DEO’s operations room and left papers flying in her wake until she was standing in front of a stunned Alex.

“--love you,” Alex finished, eyes wide and apprehensive. Her hands were twisted around themselves, but as Kara settled into stillness in front of her, she stood straighter, shoulders back and chin set with the same determination she’d had when she’d told Hank Henshaw that it was both of them or neither of them. “I have been in love with you for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to be anything else. I will fight for you, in every way you’ll let me. I--”

Kara put her hands on Alex’s cheeks and drew her into a kiss. Alex breathed in, surprised; her hands fluttered, settling against Kara’s biceps as if to push her away, but she didn’t. She didn’t return the kiss, not for a hesitant moment, but when she did, it was with a helpless, longing sigh.

It was soft and heartbreakingly familiar, and when she pulled away, Alex swayed after her. Her eyelids fluttered open a second too late to not get caught, and she blushed at the soft smile on Kara’s face.

“You’re already off to a great start,” Kara said, leaning into the light touch of Alex’s fingers as she brushed a bit of debris from the fight from her hair.

“I mean it.” Alex’s expression grew serious. Her hand slid down, thumb brushing against Kara’s cheek. “I love you, and I’m going to prove it to you. I’ll make myself worthy of you, Kara."

Kara would have told her that she already was, but she was looking forward to it. She needed it, after all of the hurt, after being left behind. “Just don’t make me wait too long,” she said instead, pulling Alex into a hug just a little too tight to be anything other than hers.

Chapter Text

Fifteenth Heat (aka 8 months later)

Alex opened the door to the loft, already blushing, and looked down the hallway as if making sure they weren’t going to get caught. Her pupils were dilated and her skin flushed, and her grip on Kara’s wrist as she pulled her inside was unforgiving.

“You’re late.”

“There was a fire!”

She would have said more, but Alex’s arms were already around her neck, pulling her down into a kiss.

“Until further notice, the only emergency--” Alex’s hands were on her belt buckle, tugging impatiently-- “you’re going to handle--” she shoved Kara’s cardigan back over her shoulders-- “is me.”

Kara grinned down at Alex, at the desperation and desire she’d once thought lost to her. “Is that an order, Agent Danvers?”

“I don’t have time for games right now, Kara,” Alex said, flicking open the buttons running along the front of Kara’s shirt with military efficiency. “I need you in my bed.” She tugged the shirt free of Kara’s pants with three rough pulls. “Inside me.” Tossed it to the floor and moved on to Kara’s bra. “Fucking me.” Fingers deft on the clasp. “Taking care of me the way only you can.”

She picked Alex up and settled her on the kitchen counter, which was at least 30 steps closer. “Is the bed negotiable?”

“For now.”

She untied the robe Alex was wearing - black silk, with flowers, and incongruously adorable - to find her naked beneath. The position put her even with Alex’s breasts, and she leaned forward, teeth scraping against an already hard nipple.

“Later,” Alex growled, wrapping her legs around Kara’s thighs and pulling her in closer. “Right now I need you to--” She trailed off, eyes rolling back in her head as Kara pushed into her with two fingers and set a quick pace, Alex already so slick and tight around her that she knew it wouldn’t take much.

She’d been in the apartment maybe five minutes the first time Alex came around her, kissing her like she’d die if she couldn’t be touching her, tasting her.

When Alex collapsed against her, breathless and apologetic, Kara hoisted her over her shoulder, carried her into the bedroom, and deposited her on the bed with a bounce. She took a moment to savor the sight of her, flushed, with her dark eyes glinting with a need that hadn’t yet been sated.

“On your stomach,” she said, and went to find their cock, confident Alex would obey. She moved at human speed, kicking off her shoes as she padded over to the dresser where Alex kept the few playthings she had. In those frantic few minutes after her arrival, Alex had managed to slip free her belt but hadn’t been able to focus on more, not when Kara’s shirt had provided such a tempting barrier to dismantle. She flicked open the button on her pants and pushed them down, taking her underwear with them, so that she was bare when she stepped into the straps of the harness. She chose the smooth cock, the one without a knot. It was thick and heavy between her legs, had become an extension of her with time and practice, and would leave Alex liquid and mellow and primed for more.

By the time she returned, Alex had abandoned her robe. She’d stretched out on the bed with her face half hidden by her arm, compliant and expectant and all hers. Kara pictured the last heat they’d shared together, when Alex had been long-limbed and coltish. There’d been only the hint of the cut and dip of muscles, not the strong columns running alongside her spine and up through the breadth of her shoulders. She’d never been soft, exactly, but her training showed in the cut where bicep met tricep and in the firm curve of her ass and the coiled power in her thighs and calves. Both versions had been beautiful, but this one maybe more so because this was the one she was going to be allowed to keep.

She slid in between Alex’s spread legs and flicked open the top of the bottle of lube she’d grabbed. Alex twisted, curious, and her eyes grew dark as Kara let a thin stream of lube drizzle down over her hand and over the cock she was stroking with lazy intent.

She let herself breathe, because this was her world when the pieces were in the right places. “I’ll take care of you,” she promised, sliding the hand that wasn’t around her cock under Alex’s hips and tugging her up onto her knees.

She slid in slowly, something in her quieting when Alex’s back arched up and she shuddered, letting out a long, low moan. There was no need to worry. She knew that; she’d slept in Alex’s bed nearly every night for the past four months, and Alex had never even hinted that she wasn’t enough. But that was Alex-Alex, not Alex-in-heat, who might let slip truths the other Alex wouldn’t. She kept her strokes slow and purposeful, hands cupped around Alex’s hips, and let every needy cry soothe her. When Alex’s arms began to tremble, she ran a hand down her spine, easing her onto her front. A little light pressure kept her there, and Alex made a noise of contentment that folded away an ache Kara hadn’t even realized had lingered.

She fucked her through her second orgasm, slipping a pillow under her hips when Alex collapsed prone before her. Needing to be closer, she crawled up the bed as Alex trembled, legs bent and shins resting over Alex’s thighs as she rocked into her, pace never changing, until Alex reached back for her with a desperate, “Please, Kara. Please.” So she slotted herself over every inch of Alex, still buried deep inside her as Alex tipped over the edge again. Chest against her back, hands tangled together, and thigh to thigh, with her feet curled around Alex’s ankles, and she sank down, letting Alex feel the weight of her. Gently, she fit her teeth to the back of Alex’s neck and bit down just hard enough for it to sting, a promise of things to come, and Alex went limp beneath her with a soft, breathy whimper.

They stayed that way long after Alex’s heartbeat calmed, after Kara pulled her teeth away and left a kiss on the faint smudge of a bruise she’d left behind.

“You didn’t…” Alex said, sleepy and sated.

“Later.”

“You can--”

“No. I want to make you mine first.”

“But I want to taste you.”

And, well, she couldn’t say no to that. Harness discarded, she settled on her knees above Alex’s face. Alex’s fingers slipped between her legs and found her dripping. She braced one hand against the wall and combed through Alex’s hair with the other, muscles tense as she forced herself not to move while Alex explored. She’d come away from the edge she’d nearly brought herself to, the dull pressure of the harness not quite enough to bring her over, not unless she really worked at it, but Alex had her right back in moments.

“Come on,” she urged, hips jumping forward involuntarily as Alex spread her open with her thumbs, leaving her clit exposed and aching. “Alex, please.”

Alex lifted her head, licked with the broad flat of her tongue, and drew Kara into her mouth, and she had always, always been weak for this. For Alex’s mouth on her, and there was something about having her beneath her, about the knowledge that she could close the distance or hold Alex to her. Sex with Alex had always done this to her. It’d always made her think these kinds of thoughts - possessive and terrible. Such human thoughts, and she suspected that if she’d been born here, had been Kara-from-Earth, she would have been an Alpha. She’d have been the kind to kind to call Alex to her and mark her, to put her on all fours and dig her teeth into the back of her neck, to be unyielding in her claim, so that everyone knew that Alex was hers.

She cupped her hand under the back of Alex’s head, her own tipping forward as she shivered through orgasm to thoughts of Alex as definitively, unmistakably hers.

“I love you,” she said as she stretched out over Alex and kissed the taste of herself from her lips, slow and lazy.

It had taken a while before she’d been able to say the words without bringing forward a hint of Alex’s lingering guilt, but in the soft afternoon light, Alex was soft beneath her. Her eyes were bright with a love returned, and she let herself hold tight. Stronger together, Alex had told Kara on the day Kara had kissed her in an austere DEO hallway. They’d hidden themselves away in Kara’s apartment, holding hands on the couch and shy and cautious with one another in a way that felt like a beginning. I should have trusted us. I should have… she’d said, and Kara had kissed her again, before they could lose each other down that path again.

The way Alex began to move against her, restless and eager, was the first hint that her heat had rekindled itself. She pulled back, met her eyes, and tried not to get lost in them.

“Are you… Do you still want…”

Alex wrapped a hand around the back of her neck, pulled her down, and kissed her with a fearsome determination that left her weak in its wake. “More than anything.”

She hovered over Alex long enough for Alex to once against roll onto her stomach. When she was on her knees again, Kara situated herself between Alex’s legs. She slid into her again, two fingers then three. Slowly, patiently, she worked in a fourth, until Alex began to rock back toward her, the hint of a whine infusing her requests for more, Kara, please. In a single, fluid movement, Kara pushed inside until her hand was cradled, surrounded by the heat and warmth of Alex at her very core. She gave her a moment to adjust before she began to move, keeping everything gentle and slow, until Alex was looking at her from over her shoulder, desperate for more.

“Up,” she prodded, shifting around so she was kneeling alongside Alex as Alex struggled up so that she was supported on her hands, arms fully extended. Kara slid an arm under her, across her chest and up to her shoulder, and drew Alex back toward her gently. With Kara supporting her full weight, Alex’s hands came up to wrap around her forearm, holding on to Kara as Kara held on to her, and looked back over her shoulder again, eyes dark and trusting as she held Kara’s gaze.

“Kara, please.”

Kara smiled softly, chest suffused with love, pride, and contentment. She drew her lips along the length of Alex’s back, and scraped her teeth across the valley between spine and shoulder blade. “I love you,” she said, and pressed her nose to Alex’s skin, drawing in the familiar scent of her. A practiced twist of the wrist and Alex was crying out, back arching and body drawing tight around her, and Kara stretched up until she could fit her teeth to the bruise she left behind. Without a second’s hesitation, she bit down, cutting through skin to leave her mark etched deeply in the curve of Alex’s neck.

She held on as Alex bucked against her, as she dug her nails into her forearm and moaned, a rich sound of satisfaction and contentment at odds with the violence of taking a mark. She held her until the fine tremors eased away into stillness, and only then, when Alex sagged in her hold, did she ease her down and work her hand free with a slow, gentle slide.

With Alex supine beneath her, she pressed her down into the mattress, covered her with the weight of her body, pinned her wrists against the sheets, and held her down, Kryptonian heavy, with her roots wrapped tight around the core of the Earth. The change came to her slowly, a faint, barely noticeable difference nearly hidden away. It was Alex but not-just-Alex. She pressed her nose to the curve of her neck and breathed it in, the subtle overlay of Alex plus more, of Alex claimed, of Alex-and-Kara now woven into the very scent of her.

“Thank you,” she said, pressing soft kisses to the tender edge of the bite she’d left imprinted into Alex’s skin.

Alex turned to look at her, sated and sleepy and content. “Love you.” She wiggled her shoulders, loose-limbed and louche. “I’ve got you forever now. Never going to let you go again. You’re the best thing about Earth, Kara. You’re my zehdh. My :zhao”

She laid her cheek against the back of Alex’s neck and let the rise and fall of her chest lull her to sleep, with her heart full of love. At peace, at home.

------

((Hank Henshaw, also known by some as J'onn J'onzz, the last son of Mars, blinked at the notification in his inbox. It was a leave request from Alex Danvers. Medical exemption (heat), it read, and wasn’t, in itself, all that startling. He approved those kinds of requests all the time, and had done so for Alex before. It was coming so closely on the heels of Supergirl in his doorway, stammering and explaining without explaining that she would be available only in the case of the most extreme of emergencies for the next few days for personal reasons that was behind the altitude of his eyebrow.

He reached out with his mind, justifying it to himself on the basis of who was involved and what it could mean. Kara and Alex together? He wasn't sure there were enough painkillers in the world to help him deal with the possible headaches he'd find himself facing if that was indeed the case. A few moments later he slammed the gate down on his mental connection, more certain than he technically needed to be that he’d been right.

He clicked on the box marked ‘Approved’ and applied his electronic signature, routing the request through the system before digging through his desk for an errant package of Oreos. He was surprised he’d missed it before, a love that big, but Kara and Alex had never been anything less than a handful.))