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it stood thus in our stars when we were born

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6 hours into their overnight ferry ride, the sound of lapping water has inevitably become the white-noise background of Kara’s thoughts. Gentle waves rock the boat slightly, a muggy breeze shifting the rolling fog over the English Channel but not taking it away. She still can’t see a thing, and she has no idea how much longer this crowded ride is going to take.

Each member of their party is taking the journey differently. The horses are uneasy on the moving ground, crowded into the back with all of the equipment they paid to be moved with them. Lucy is snoring in the corner, and Jack is scribbling notes that he huffs frustratedly at every time the movement makes his pen go off course. Winn is keeping as close to the side of the boat as possible, his face rather green – as Kara watches he shudders slightly, letting out a gentle dry heave. And Alex is the most alert of all, her eyes dead set in the direction of the English shore, her leg jiggling so fast that Kara fears it might put a hole in the wood and sink them to the bottom.

Kara just wishes Lena were here.

Lena and Lex, of course, have their own commissioned private boat to London. Lena is probably already there, having left almost a full day ahead. Kara likely could have afforded to do the same, with all the extra gold they gained after her win in Paris, but Alex had insisted on frugality – it seems like, the closer she gets to getting home, the more she’s aware of needing to put money away for their planned hasty retirement.

Kara had agreed to that promise, she knows. Compete for a while, build up some gold, retire with her family and live like a real person. Start a farm or something, perhaps, or a mercantile business. Spend the rest of her days selling woven rugs or something. But that had all been before she had ever thought she might have a chance with Lena; and now, retirement would mean never seeing her again.

Lena may profess to love her, but Kara doubts she’d follow her into poverty, even to escape her mother. It’s just too much to give up. Money means safety, security, a guarantee of food and shelter that isn’t determined by the chaos of peasant life. Poverty is so hard, so dangerous, that Eliza had sent both her children away on the unlikely chance they could rise above it, rather than watch them grow up struggling.

She was only 10 years old when it happened, but she can still remember every detail. Eliza had always struggled to support them alone, especially once she decided to take Kara in and had an extra mouth to feed. As one of the only healers in Cheapside she could have made a tidy profit, but Kara remembers how she used to help people free of charge when they couldn’t afford to pay. She would exchange favours or take promises, always determined to get everyone the help they needed even if they didn’t have the means. It meant that Alex and Kara often had to work as well, helping Eliza with her medicines or running errands to keep themselves afloat.

It was a stability that Kara needed after she lost her parents, but even as a child she could see how it wore on Eliza. How much she wrestled with the decision after Corben had come in for medicine and seen them playfighting, and mentioned he was looking to train young squires. They’d be fed and clothed, learn valuable and useable skills, and get to see the world. He had seemed impossibly lordly standing in their low-ceilinged hovel, and even through the uncertainty, Kara had felt the thrill of adventure.

Alex had never quite shared it. They had both cried the day Eliza had sent them off, but Alex had barely spoken at all. She can remember the anxiety leading up to the morning they had to leave, the fear of the unknown as Eliza had lovingly bundled up their meager belongings and led them to the docks, holding tightly to each of their hands. Can remember Eliza’s kind face as she kneeled in front of them, her voice choked with tears as she told them to work hard and learn everything they can. To change their stars, and live a better life than she has.

You’re both my girls, she had said. No matter where you are. If you ever want to come home, all you have to do is follow your feet. I’ll be waiting at the end of the path.

Kara is shaken from the memories by a glow that cuts through the fog. A lighthouse. She can hear not just the water and the boat but seagulls too, now, and the clamour of faraway movement. Wagons and horses and people, shouting in the morning din.

London.

Kara looks down at her feet, wiggling her toes under the leather of her boots, and then up at Alex. Alex gives her the happiest smile Kara has seen on her face in years.

“It’s just like I remember it,” Alex says quietly, as they unload their equipment and deal with hitching the horses. “Exactly the same.”

“Right down to the smell,” Kara chuckles, and Alex grins. She hasn’t seen her sister look this elated in a long time – all just from setting foot on English soil again.

“The fish market. Remember when Nia stole that flounder, and the merchant chased us through half the city?”

Kara laughs, loud and surprised at the memory she’d forgotten until now. She remembers, all right – Nia, several years younger than them but twice as feisty, getting screamed at by the vendor for accidentally knocking the fish off a table. The vengeful, determined look on her face as she grabbed it, slung it over her tiny shoulder, and sprinted into the crowd with Kara and Alex on her heels.

“That girl had no fear,” Kara says fondly, securing the last of her weapons to the cart and patting the neck of the horse pulling it. “That fish was almost as big as she was, and she still dragged it through half of Cheapside.”

Alex laughs. “It was delicious, as I remember.”

“I wonder what became of her?” Kara asks, half to herself. Alex shrugs, leading the cart away from the docks.

“Impossible to tell.”

 A sort of tension pulls between them as the familiar streets open up, the dirty pathways and crooked buildings of their childhood leading them inexorably towards the stadium. Kara remembers exactly where it is – it’s less than a mile from the house they were raised in, close enough that they could hear the cheers and clashing of steel from the windows on competition days. They don’t pass by their old house on this route, but they come close enough that Kara can see Alex’s knuckles turning white on the horse’s bridle.

She clearly wants to go home, but fear is keeping her from saying so. A fear Kara shares.

What if there’s nothing to go home to?

A problem for later, Kara decides as they get closer to the knight’s camping grounds. Future Kara’s problem. Right now, she has other things to focus on – like setting up, stabling the horses, getting signed into the lists, and the slender hand that wraps around her wrist and tugs her forcibly into an alley on her way back to camp.

Lena is insistent, pinning Kara to the nearest wall in a shadowy side-street and slotting their mouths together firmly, and Kara melts into it like always.

“I missed you,” Lena breathes against her lips, fingers sliding into Kara’s hair and tugging firmly. Kara holds in a whimper, instead seizing Lena’s waist in a firm grip that makes the brunette shiver visibly.

“It’s been three days.”

“Exactly. Far too long.”

Kara can’t hold in her beaming smile. She loves any and all reminders that Lena is as invested in this as she is, and after their mutual declaration in Paris, Lena seems happy to give them at every oppourtunity.

“Back to your room?” Kara pants, but Lena shakes her head.

“Lex and I are sharing. Everything’s booked for the tournament.”

Kara frowns. It’s not like she’ll die if they don’t get any alone time, but with her body still on fire as it always is in Lena’s presence, it certainly feels like it right now.

“Shoot. Everyone’s back at camp, and I don’t think they’ll leave us alone –“

As if she was expecting this, Lena nods, grabbing Kara’s hand from her waist.

“Follow me.”

Lena laces their fingers together, and with total confidence she leads a dazed Kara through the streets as if she’s the one who grew up on them. They weave through the crowd, Lena miraculously avoiding dirtying the hem of her dress on the muddy paths, until they come across an upscale storefront in a part of town Kara has never been to before. There’s a display of colourful dresses and expensive-looking fabrics out front, and Lena stops abruptly just outside the door.

“If she asks, you’re my bodyguard,” Lena says urgently, straightening the collar of Kara’s shirt and fussing with her always-messy hair. “Assigned to me by Lex, so that I could go shopping. Understand?”

Kara nods mutely, still unsure of exactly what’s going on, and Lena grins.

“Follow my lead.”

She steps through the doorway with total confidence, and Kara stumbles after her with considerably less.

A tiny bell above the door tinkles when they enter. There’s a blonde woman behind a small counter, scribbling in some sort of ledger and wearing a dress in a shade of pink so bright that it makes Kara’s eyes water – she looks up at the sound of the bell, and seems to recognize Lena.

“My Lady Luthor!” the woman says in a high, breathy sort of voice. “It’s an honour to see you again. It has been some time!”

Lena gives her a small, polite smile, exchanging the kind of airy half-cheek-kisses that Kara always sees highborn ladies greeting each other with.

“Eve. A pleasure.”

“Are you perhaps here to grant us your patronage?” Eve asks, smoothing her hands somewhat nervously over her dress. “We have several new pieces in just this week –“

“That sounds perfect,” Lena says cutting her off neatly. “I’d like some time in your showroom, if you don’t mind. Alone.”

The shop is smaller than Kara thought at first glance, but the size is explained by a small door to the right of the desk. It’s open, and beyond it Kara can see dozens of wooden mannequins adorned with beautiful outfits.

She’s starting to understand what Lena’s plan is.

“Alone?” Eve says, glancing between Lena and Kara meaningfully. “But, who will lace you in -?”

“Eve,” Lena says firmly, slipping a sizeable leather pouch out of a fold in her dress and setting it on the counter, “I’d like a few minutes alone, to look. Give me twenty, and your discretion, and I’ll put in an order for five dresses.”

Five?” Eve gapes, looking down at what is clearly a small fortune and blinking rapidly. “Goodness! I – of course, my lady. It’s…time for my midday meal, anyways.”

Lena doesn’t show her relief visibly, but Kara can feel it on the air. Eve emerges from behind the counter with a deep curtsey, and the grin she offers Kara before she climbs the small staircase to the upper level is just a little too knowing.

If she knew what was really happening, Kara’s sure her bubbly head would explode.

Eve has hardly disappeared to the next landing before Lena is pulling Kara into the showroom and shutting the door, pressing herself to the length of Kara’s body with only 5 words whispered into her ear.

“We’ll have to be quiet.”

Eve promised twenty minutes but she gives them at least thirty, all of them spent trying their damndest to keep their knees from giving out as they take each other silently apart. It’s heated and desperate and furtive, Kara’s fingers pressed deep into Lena’s cunt and a hand over her mouth as she whispers into her ear, and by the end of their given time Lena’s knees do in fact give out. They spend their last few precious moments leaning into each other, Lena pinned to the wall by Kara’s weight, and breathing each other’s air while they still can.

Ever since they took that leap together, keeping their hands off each other has been a challenge. They’re forced to spend so much time apart that when they finally come together, it’s hard to wait to find a time they’ll actually be alone – Lena especially seems reticent to wait, usually dragging Kara away the moment they meet up at any tourney. It’s fairly common, knights passing through for tournaments having clandestine meetings with local women, but technically speaking Lena is unwed and expected to be chaste. While their courtship would not be looked down upon, their physical relationship is pushing the boundary.

The boundary pushing seems to excite both of them more than deter, based on how quickly and desperately Lena comes on her hand. Three times.

“I needed that,” Lena murmurs, still catching her breath. Kara nods into the space between neck and shoulder, still breathing the enticing combination of perfume and sweat.

“Me, too.”

“Do you think you can empty the camp for a while tonight? Have a few hours together?”

Honestly, Kara’s not sure she can. She can already see in her mind’s eye the look on Alex’s face when she asks everyone to clear out for a few hours and go to the pub, the way Jack will grin like he’s been given some kind of wonderful ammunition.

But then her mind’s eye flashes back to Lena just a few minutes ago, panting into Kara’s palm as her fingers were crushed into the back of Kara’s damp shirt. To Lena in her tent in Paris, naked and wanting and beautiful, spreading her shaking legs and asking for Kara to touch her.

Suddenly, the ridicule seems worth it.

 


 

An event as huge as the world championship comes with a lot of fanfare, being hosted by the royal family, and there are days upon days of pre-tournament festivities so lavish that Kara hardly knows how to comport herself. She’s lucky to have Lena to help her understand the intricacies of it – Corben had never been talented enough to make it this far, and Kara is in terrain completely unfamiliar.

It all starts off two days after they arrive, with a parade.

This part of things, Kara can remember. The procession passes nearby their old neighborhood in Cheapside, going right past the gallows and the big wooden stocks where prisoners were kept as punishment – she and Alex used to climb on top of them when they were unoccupied, so as to get a better view of the knights riding by. They used to marvel at the shine of their armour, the size of their horses, the brightness of their colourful heraldry.

Now she’s on the other side of it, her own heraldry waving from the banner Alex is carrying as she sits astride a powerful horse in her own shiny armour. She can see children in the crowd waving at her, and jumping in excitement when she waves back – she even, as they pass a set of stocks Kara recognizes intimately, sees two kids crouching on top of it. Siblings, it looks like, a boy and a girl who wave at her wildly.

She shares a look with Alex as she waves back, and her sister grins at her with obvious pride.

What she didn’t get to witness as a child, though, is where the parade ends. It leads from the campground to the stadium, where everyone dismounts, leaves their horse to their squires, and pays their respects to the queen and prince, who stand on an ornate wooden dais that lifts them up above the sand of the arena.

And Kara, of course, falls into line beside none other than Morgan Edge. The smarmy smile on his face makes her want to scream, and it only gets worse when he opens his mouth.

“At last we will face each other again, Sir Clark,” he says, quietly enough that nobody else can hear. “And at the world championship, no less.”

Kara fights to keep her expression neutral as they move up a few spots closer to the dais. “As I promised you before – when we do meet, you will look up at me from the flat of your back.”

“I hear you’ve done well in my absence,” he continues, heedless of her discomfort. “On the field and off, so I’m told. Winning trophies, horses…women.”

Kara’s gut lurches. He sounds far too self-satisfied to not be talking about Lena, and the idea that he knows makes her feel ill.

“Is that the order you put them in?” she says tightly, and he chuckles, looking up at the stands and waving to the crowd as if the conversation means nothing to him.

“Generally. With a few exceptions.”

God, she hates him.

The crowd around them continues to cheer, as little by little they move closer to the royal family. Instinctively Kara seeks Lena out in it, looks for the bright colours and pale skin that always make her feel more centred – and she finds her in the second row, looking right back at her. Lena smiles and gives her a tiny wave of encouragement, seeing who she’s next to. Kara can’t help but smile back.

The smile disappears when Edge speaks again.

“Beautiful, isn’t she?”

“Who?” Kara says blithely, her jaw clenched. She can see Lena’s brow furrow in concern, even at a distance.

“Don’t play stupid, Zorelle. She’s a real thoroughbred trophy.”

It takes everything Kara has not to lunge at him. To force his face into the dirt, where he belongs. Her willpower is hanging by a thread – but a glance at Lena in the stands helps. She looks angry too, just sensing Kara’s distress, and it settles her enough to speak.

“You speak as if she is a target,” she says, and Edge laughs.

“Isn’t she?”

“No,” Kara says firmly, looking away from the crowd to address him directly. Putting aside the pretense. “She is the arrow.”

Edge’s eyes narrow. She can tell she got a rise out of him, if only for a moment – his jaw flexes, and finally he shrugs. “Either way, she’ll be mine.”

A horrible, creeping feeling starts to crawl up Kara’s spine at those words.

“Excuse me?” she says, fighting to control her voice. She knows that it creeps upwards in pitch when she’s angry, and the last thing she wants is to attract his suspicion. Edge just smiles – just smiles and smiles, as if he’s winning something.

“I’ve entered into negotiations with her mother.”

Every organ in Kara’s body feels like it’s going to drop out and onto the sand. She manages not to vocalize the pained grunt that fights its way up her chest, but it’s a close call, and it only gets harder.

“I’m to make her my bride,” Edge continues, taking a few steps forward. They’re only a few knights away from the dais now, and Edge’s voice is even quieter – but Kara hangs onto every word. “She’ll be saddled, broken, and placed on my mantle. Arrow or target, it makes no difference. I will have her.”

Kara’s fists are clenched so tightly that she can hear her gauntlet creaking under the pressure. Edge finally takes his leave to step onto the platform, and Kara makes a silent oath.

Over my dead body.

It takes some deep, controlled breaths to force the anger back down. It helps that the royals seem to have very little interest in Edge at all – she watches him speak to the Prince, who nods at him with a polite expression, and then the queen, who watches him placidly as he bows and pays her insincere compliments. She accepts them with a wave, and as he turns away, she rolls her eyes in a way most unqueenly.

It makes Kara snort, even when her guts are still roiling.

She’s still smiling when she steps forward to greet the Prince, and although she tries to stifle it for a more serious expression, Prince Carter’s face breaks out into a matching grin when he sees who approaches.

“Sir Clark! We meet again,” he says, actually reaching out and grasping her hand in a firm shake. The knights standing behind her titter and whisper, clearly wondering who she is to have gotten the Prince’s favour – but best of all, in her periphery she can see Edge turn back to look at the commotion. He sees the easiness of their interaction, and even from the corner of her vision, she can feel his anger.

“My Prince,” Kara replies, hiding her surprise with a respectful bow of her head. “I’m disappointed we won’t be meeting on the field, this time. You were a joy to compete with.”

Carter laughs, clapping her on the shoulder. “As were you, sir. Mother, this is the man I told you about. The one who was brave enough to ride against royalty.”

Queen Catherine Grant is at least a foot shorter than her, but Kara feels about an inch tall as the woman looks her over from head to toe.

She’s suddenly very glad she wore her best tunic.

“Clark Zorelle,” the queen says slowly, a brow raised. “I’ve sat through a hundred of these tournaments, and I’ve never heard that name before.”

“I’m…from Kryptonia, your Majesty,” Kara says, willing her voice to stop shaking. “It’s quite far. I travelled south only this past year.”

“For a Northerner, your accent is remarkably…regional.”

Kara gapes at her, gobsmacked that somehow, her accent is something she had never thought of before.

She’s spared by having to answer by the queen herself, who inclines her head in a clear indication that it’s Kara’s time to leave. “I look forward to watching you compete, Sir Clark. My son speaks very highly of you.”

Kara takes her leave as quickly as is polite, after that.

Meeting the queen isn’t even close to the last of the social obligations. There are feasts, and heraldic competitions (Jack cleans up, naturally, and spends half his prize money buying everyone drinks at the pub), and practice sessions. She’s hardly able to slip away for a private moment with Lena until the morning of her first joust, when Lena seems to get fed up of the distance and slips into her tent in the pre-dawn light.

Lena lets her coat drop to the floor and slips between the covers, and Kara goes from groggy to alert faster than she ever has in her life.

The lovemaking is incredible. Earth-shattering, really. Kara feels like an entirely new person every time Lena touches her, every time she begs to be touched in turn. She feels more powerful when Lena comes for her than she does after any win in the joust. But just as good are the moments after – when they’re lying tangled together, naked and intimate, letting their bodies cool with gentle kisses. Lena is beautiful always, but especially so when Kara has brought her over the edge a few times and she her walls are completely down. It’s when Kara gets her best smiles – the ones that go right to her eyes, and bring out the double dimples that Kara loves so much.

Even so – in her happiest place, with Lena nuzzling happily into her neck, her dark hair tucked over her shoulder – she can’t stop thinking about what Edge said.

Apparently, Kara is less apt at hiding her feelings than she thought, because Lena notices in record time.

“Kara?” she murmurs, her voice satisfyingly raspy. “What’s wrong? You’re usually more talkative.”

Kara manages a small smile. Lena cups her face, her eyes soft and affectionate.

“There you are,” Lena whispers, her broad thumb sweeping across Kara’s lower lip. “What’s going on?”

Kara bites her lip. She can taste salt there from Lena’s thumb, and it makes her smile for real.

“I was talking to Edge, during the parade,” Kara says, swallowing thickly. “He said – he said he’d been talking to your mother.”

Lena’s face shifts into understanding. She moves closer, if that’s even possible, and runs her foot gently up Kara’s calf.

“Yes, mother wrote to me. She thinks it’s a good match, but I think I’ve fended her off for now.”

Kara is flooded with immediate relief. She’d been worried that Lena didn’t know – but she does, and she’s fighting to stop it. Even with the resolution uncertain, that gives Kara hope.

“How?” Kara asks, and Lena props herself up on an elbow to drape over Kara’s torso. She trails her fingers up Kara’s ribs, through the valley of her breasts, to play with the ring Kara’s necklace like she always does. It’s equal parts distracting and comforting.

“I told her my heart is set on someone else,” Lena says, tracing the edges of the ring’s design. She taps it against Kara’s clavicle, grinning. “On the knight who I’m sure will win this tournament, and have an incredible upwards trajectory.”

Kara lets out an awkward guffaw, knowing she’s blushing by the pleased look on Lena’s face.

“I mean, If I do win, the prize is huge,” Kara says, clearing her throat of its sudden tightness. “I’ll be able to buy some property, somewhere far away where they don’t care that I don’t have noble blood. We could…”

Her voice stutters to a halt, the realization of what she’s suggesting stealing her words. She’s suggesting that she and Lena run away together, that Lena abandons it all and disappear with her, that she do exactly what Kara knows she shouldn’t –

Lena cuts off her internal rambling with a firm, deep kiss. When they part, she soothes Kara’s fears in a matter-of-fact sentence.

“Wherever you go, I’ll follow you, Kara.”

“Oh,” Kara says, and that’s that. No room for argument. Lena is coming with her.

“So,” Lena says, settling back down and into the curve of Kara’s arm while Kara reels from this new revelation. “How are you feeling, being back in London? You grew up here, as I remember.”

Kara seizes the new conversation piece happily. She pulls Lena closer, kissing the top of her head, and hopes that her embrace says what she means it to – thank you. I love you.

“It’s strange,” Kara says, to answer Lena’s question. “It’s familiar, but I’m a completely different person now. It feels so different.”

“I can imagine.” Lena sounds thoughtful, focused on Kara’s words, and it makes her want to talk more.

“I grew up not far from here, you know. The parade route goes right past the street we lived on.”

Lena looks up at her, brow furrowed. “Not truly?”

Kara nods. “I know Alex wants to go back there. I think…I think Eliza might still be there. My adoptive mother.”

Lena sits up completely, the blanket falling away from her torso and entirely distracting Kara from the subject at hand.

“Are you serious?” Lena says, and Kara’s eyes snap up from her bared chest to her eyes. “Kara, you should go find out!”

Kara sighs, averting her eyes. There’s a reason she hasn’t gone to Cheapside yet, and she suspects it’s the same reason Alex hasn’t brought it up either, despite being a short jaunt from it for almost a week.

“I’m afraid of going, and finding out she’s…” she can’t even finish the sentence past the way her chest constricts. Lena seems to understand, anyways.

“I know what it’s like to be effectively motherless,” Lena says gently, lying back down and resting her chin on Kara’s breastbone. “It’s clear that you loved her, and she you. If you think Eliza might still be there, don’t let fear keep you from finding her. The curiosity will kill you otherwise.”

Kara makes a face, and Lena laughs, tapping a finger on the point of Kara’s nose.

“You know I’m right.”

“I know,” Kara groans, catching Lena’s hand and kissing it. “I know. If I promise to go, will you kiss me again?”

Lena does. They spend a long, luxurious morning in each other’s company, and she endures the affectionate catcalls of Kara’s friends with good humour when they finally emerge around noon. Her morning of vigorous activity means she’s more than ready for her first few tilts, and she moves up the ranks easily, beating opponent after opponent.

Many of her matches are against men she’s beaten before, some multiple times, and a few new names she doesn’t recognize. Not knowing their talent level would usually be a cause for some concern, but not here. Not with Lena watching. With Lena watching, she can’t lose.

She sees Edge’s name climb the ranks as well, higher and higher to match hers, until at the end of the fourth day, theirs are the only names at the top.

A final stand-off. A fight for the title, against the one person she’s been wanting to face for months.

The match is set for the next morning.

Normally, she’d be finding any possible way she could to spend the night with Lena and vent her nerves. But she’s been thinking more and more about what Lena said earlier in the week, haunted by her promise, and instead she gathers her courage and does what she knows she needs to do – she puts on her least ostentatious outfit, and drags Alex to Cheapside.

It’s sort of refreshing, wearing her old clothes and wandering the streets she remembers. Nobody gives them a second look, like this. No heraldry, no fine fabrics – just an old white shirt, cotton trousers, and anonymity. Here, they aren’t Sir Clark Zorelle and his squire. They’re just Kara, and her sister –

“Alex Danvers?”

In tandem they freeze, right at the cusp of the street their old house was on. The female voice is unfamiliar, but she knows Alex somehow, which means there’s a good chance whoever it is might recognize Kara too.

It’s with no small amount of anxiety that she turns to address the woman, and Alex squints at her suspiciously.

“Do I know you?”

The woman laughs, and her wide smile rings a bell in Kara’s brain. “I should say so. We got in heaps of trouble together. You’ve hardly changed at all. Who’s the boyfriend?”

Alex shakes her head, her arms crossing in a defensive stance. “I’m sorry, I don’t –“

But it hits Kara then, as the woman hefts a basket of washing onto her hip and tilts her head in amusement at Alex’s confusion. She knows exactly where she remembers that laugh from. It’s the same one she remembers from sprinting through the fish market, following a head of messy hair with a flounder on her shoulder.

“Nia Nal!”

Nia turns her eyes to Kara, now, and Kara’s mouth snaps shut with a click.

Fuck.

Kara -?” Nia starts, loud with disbelief, but Alex rushes forward and urges Nia into the shadow of the nearest shop, clapping a hand over her mouth.

“Shh!” she hisses urgently, while Nia looks at them both with wide eyes. “She’s not Kara, here. She’s Clark. Understand?

Nia nods. Slowly Alex removes her hand, and Nia gapes at Kara, looking her up and down with a growing smile.

“Looks like I’m not the only one defying what God saddled me with, huh?” She says, that cheekiness Kara remembers only exacerbated by time, and Kara chuckles. Nia has always been fearless, all right. In so many ways.

“I’m not a man,” Kara corrects quietly. “Not inside. I’m still Kara - this was just the only way to compete in the joust.”

Compete –“ Nia says, her face all kinds of perplexed, but Alex waves her hands frantically for her to keep it down.

“I promise you, we can discuss this another time, when we aren’t in broad daylight,” Alex says, a note of desperation in her voice. “But for now, can we table it before someone overhears?”

“Of course,” Nia whispers, instantly apologetic. “I’m sorry, I just – this is a lot of information.”

“I know. Trust me.”

Nia shakes her head, but she seems to process fairly quickly because she smiles genuinely at the both of them after just a few moments. “Well, it’s good to see you, anyways. Are you here to visit home?”

Alex shrugs, rubbing the back of her neck in the same way Kara knows she herself does when she’s nervous. “Something like that. Is it – I mean, our house, is it still –“

She asks nonchalantly, but Kara knows her sister. She can hear the hope in her voice, and the tiny thread of fear at the possible answer.

Nia assuages their fears quickly.

“Of course, your mom is still there! Still helping out, healing people who can’t afford a doctor. Have you not seen her since you left?”

“No,” Alex breathes, sagging in such relief that Kara can feel the easing of her tense body from a foot away. “No, we haven’t.”

Kara grabs her hand, squeezing it tight, and Alex looks at her with shiny eyes.

“I think it’s time we do that.”

When Kara steps under the eaves of the crumbling building she called home for so long, a wave of sense memory comes with it. She can remember the sound of the neighbors’ loud footsteps, the smell of Eliza’s stew on the fire when she and Alex came in after a day of working running errands for the butcher. Their payment was always meat scraps, and Eliza would add them to dinner and act like they were priceless treasures, like the two of them were doing something exciting and world-changing instead of just keeping themselves fed.

After losing a family she barely remembers, Kara was happy here. Eliza and Alex took her in, saved her life. Made it a home. Until just now, surrounded by the memories she’d mostly left behind, she had no idea how much she’d missed it.

She hopes beyond hope that she’s made Eliza proud.

She knocks with a slightly shaky hand, and the voice that answers is so achingly familiar that Kara could cry. Alex clearly feels the same, squeezing her hand so hard that she’s sure her bones will crack.

“The door’s unlocked!”

Kara eases open the cracked wood, and steps into the damp hallway with her sister behind her.

The hall is smaller than she remembers. The ceiling is so short that Kara’s head almost brushes it, the walls cramped, and the single room at the end of it isn’t much bigger. The mat next to the door where they used to keep their cold-weather shoes has one pair instead of three, and the colours of it are faded so much that the pattern is almost indiscernible – but she can remember them, can remember watching Alex weave it under Eliza’s watchful eye from thick wool they traded some medicine for. Alex had been so happy, and Eliza had always been sure to point it out to anyone who came by, so proud of her work.

She can hear the crackle of a fire in the kitchen, the swish of a dress moving around the packed dirt floor, and behind her Alex is breathing so hard Kara is worried she’s going to start to hyperventilate. Whether it’s excitement or nerves she doesn’t know, but she pushes on anyways, pulling Alex behind her.

The room they step into is warm, and inviting even in its smallness. It’s always served as kitchen, bedroom, and shop all in one, and she can see a narrow bed tucked into the corner close to the fire. How they all used to share a space so small she has no idea, but her eyes are torn away from it when a familiar figure steps into her field of view.

Eliza’s back is to them, reaching up to a rack suspended from the ceiling to affix a bundle of drying herbs. She struggles to tie them, pressed up onto her toes, and Kara intervenes without even thinking. With her extra inches of height she takes the bundle and fixes it securely to the rack, and Eliza turns to her with a smile, dusting off her hands.

“Why thank you, young man!” She says, her hands landing on her hips as she takes the two of them in. “I used to have no trouble with the racks, but the older I get, the further away they seem to be. Without help, soon I’m going to have to have them at table height.” She says it lightly, with a slight laugh, but there’s a sadness behind it.

She doesn’t seem to recognize them at all.

It’s fair enough, Kara’s rational brain reasons. She and Alex look nothing like the little girls Eliza saw off at the boat dock, bound for France and adventure, and Eliza herself looks different as well. Her yellow hair has more than a few streaks of grey and white, and there are more lines on her face than Kara remembers. She seems so small, too – whether she’s lost weight or Kara’s childhood memory just features her as larger-than-life, she’s not sure.

Either way, she looks at them like they’re strangers, and Kara isn’t sure how to proceed.

Alex seems absolutely speechless, frozen in the doorway, and Kara’s own mouth is dry as a bone. She licks her lips nervously, and Eliza gets back to work, gathering some ingredients and throwing them into a mortar and pestle.

“So, what can I do for you? Need a remedy?” she says, grinding the herbs into a fine powder and starting to pour them into a small leather sack. “There’s a cold going around, I’ve got a mix that helps with the congestion. I accept any payment you can offer, Mr. -?”

She trails off, clearly expecting Kara to answer, and in her nervousness she does so instinctually.

“Sir Clark Zorelle.”

The second the name leaves her mouth, she winces. It makes her sound like a ponce, marching into Eliza’s house and announcing her fake noble name.

Zorelle?” Eliza says, frowning. “That’s a name I hear chanted from the stadium. What on earth are you doing here? I’m sure you can afford a real doctor, dear.”

“No, we – we don’t need medicine,” Kara says absently, still frustrated by her seeming inability to just fucking say it. She rubs her hands together, not sure what to say but not willing to leave, and Eliza pauses in her task to look them over curiously. “I…actually have news. Of your daughters.”

The bag of medicine hits the floor, its contents spilling across the dirt, and Eliza pays it no mind.

“My – my girls?” Eliza says tightly, all lightheartedness gone. Her hands are trembling, and she presses them hard into her belly to hide it. “Are they all right? Are they – are they –“

She can’t seem to finish the sentence, torn between elation and dread, and Kara rushes to reassure, mortified by her mistake.

“They’re fine! They’re healthy, they’re – they aren’t, you know. Hurt or anything,” Kara says, and Eliza’s sigh of relief is heartbreaking in its own right. She rubs her face with a shaky hand, and Kara kicks herself for starting a sentence with something so anxiety-inducing.

Alex remains behind her, visibly shivering, being absolutely no help at all.

“Then, why are you here?” Eliza asks, her eyes flicking to Alex and back to Kara again like she’s trying to piece together the puzzle. Kara swallows hard.

“They just wanted me to tell you…they changed their stars after all.”

Eliza blinks, and her brow twitches into a furrowed line. And then, her eyes widen. She looks Kara up and down much slower this time, with an expression of dawning awe, and then her eyes move to Alex.

“And…did they follow their feet?” she says in a choked whisper, taking a single step forward. Her eyes are starting to fill with tears as she looks them over, drinks them in, and it makes Kara’s throat feel thick. “Did they find their way home?”

Alex finally steps forward, her face white and her eyes shining to match, and Eliza stares at her like she’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.

“Alex?” Eliza whispers, reaching out to them like they might disappear at any second. “Kara?”

Mom,” Alex sobs, grabbing at Eliza’s outstretched hand and pulling it to her face.

Eliza pulls them both into a crushing hug, and almost simultaneously, Kara starts to cry.

“My girls,” Eliza whispers raggedly, kissing whatever part of their faces she can reach. They both have to bend to meet her shorter frame, but nevertheless they both end up weeping and clinging to her like the children they were when she saw them last. “You’re home. My girls.”

They stay like that for longer than Kara would readily admit, just soaking up each other’s presence. Now that they’ve found each other Kara is loath to leave again, and Eliza bustles around the kitchen to rustle them up a meager supper as evening falls outside.

“You don’t have to feed us, Mom,” Alex says, as Eliza sets down a rough clay plate with some bread and cheese and a jug of water. “We should be feeding you. We brought you money.”

“My children are home for the first time in 15 years. Let me be a fussy mother, tonight.”

Kara still leaves the money pouch on the table, as much as Eliza ignores it.

The whole thing brings back a sense of comfort she hasn’t had since they left London. Eliza moving around the tiny kitchen and stoking the fire, the beginnings of a gentle rain outside the cozy house, the smell of Eliza’s herbs and decades of smoke in the old wood. Alex is as relaxed as Kara has ever seen her, and the tiredness she sensed in Eliza seems to have eased.

“So,” Eliza finally says when she finally sits down, looking Kara over with a detailed eye as they tuck in, “It looks like you two have quite a story to tell.”

Kara and Alex’s eyes meet, and there’s a moment of the kind of silent argument only experienced by siblings. Alex’s face is screaming it’s not my job to tell her, Kara’s is urging please please please I don’t want to get in trouble, and it continues until Alex takes a huge bite of hard bread. With her mouth full, she shrugs in smug victory, and takes her sweet time chewing.

Kara accepts her fate.

“Okay. So, we found Sir Corben under this tree, right? And we thought he was sleeping –“

The rest of the night passes more happily than most Kara can remember. Eliza does give Kara a sound smack on the arm for playing such a dangerous game for so long, which Alex seems deeply vindicated by, but she does so with an expression of clear pride and she immediately asks for any and all stories of their adventures. Kara then gets the pleasure of talking about Lena for almost an hour, to an audience who actually seems interested.

The rain gets even harder outside the window, but the crackling fire keeps them all warm – save for the steady drip of water near the stairs, which falls into a leaky bucket Eliza clearly placed there.

“A leak?” Kara says, investigating the dark patch in the ceiling with interest. “In the Danvers household? This won’t do.”

“Well, I don’t exactly have time to climb up there myself, nor the money to pay someone to do it for me,” Eliza explains. Alex puts a hand over hers, and smiles.

“Don’t worry, Mom – you’ve got us, now.”

“You mean, she’s got me,” Kara says, rolling up her sleeves. “The sister with skills. You can’t even fix the wagon.”

“My sweet daughters,” Eliza laughs, as Alex gives her the finger and Kara disappears up to the roof to fix the leak. “So demure and ladylike.”

None of them notice the dark figure by the window, listening to their every word.

 


 

Kara wakes on the morning of her final match with a light heart. Her mind is clear, her step is springy, and her usual intuition does nothing to warn her of the shitstorm she’s about to walk into.

Usually, walking into the stables to don her armour and finding Lena there would be a fantastic development. A chance to have Lena wish her good luck in person, and maybe even sneak a kiss. But the look on Lena’s face when she turns away from Jack and Sam, with whom she’d been having an intense-sounding whispered conversation, makes a fog-like anxiety creep into the edges of her very good morning.

“Lena!” she says, laughing nervously. “What are you doing here? You’re usually in the stands by now.”

Lena’s grave expression doesn’t change, and there’s something urgent in Jack’s face too that makes Kara’s back straighten a little.

“Not today, Kara,” Lena says, and her voice is quivering. The fog rolls in entirely, and Kara is officially on edge.

“What?” Alex pipes up from behind Kara, having followed her in. “Somebody die?”

“Sir Clark Zorelle,” Jack says quietly.

A spike of panic pierces the haze. Jack is solemn in a way that Kara has never seen him before, but somehow the reason behind it isn’t allowing itself to manifest in her mind. She knows why they’d be this serious; she knows. But it can’t be true.

“What are you talking about?”

Alex’s voice is loud in the way it only gets when she’s really scared, and Lena and Jack share a meaningful look that only makes the panic more pronounced.

“Lena?” Kara asks more quietly, stepping closer and taking hold of her hands. She holds them between their bodies, like somehow their clasped fingers can stave off the inevitable. “What’s going on?”

The look in Lena’s eyes tells Kara everything she needs to know – but Lena elaborates anyways.

“Edge…followed you to Cheapside, last night,” Lena whispers, clearly trying to hold tears at bay. “He saw you with your mother.”

It feels like acid has dissolved her insides. She can hear what Lena is saying, but it doesn’t make sense.

“How?” Kara manages to croak, and Sam shakes her head.

“We don’t know. He must have been tracking you. Looking for a weakness.”

“They asked me for your patents of nobility,” Jack adds, his voice slightly hoarse. “I had to give them over, Kara. I’m so sorry. They’re waiting in the lists to arrest you.”

Kara swallows. With it all laid out like that, matter-of-fact, her brain starts to work again. She looks to her friends, all of whom are still here. Still with her, even now.

“Well…we have to run, then. Right?”

Alex, already throwing things into the wagon, nods vigorously.

“Grab everything you can. We have to get out of here, before they turn up looking for you.”

The stable bursts into a flurry of activity. Lucy sprints out of the barn entirely, headed back to the campsite to pack up her forge equipment. Jack and Winn start to deal with the horses, and Alex is already distracted by the equipment with Sam helping her out.

And in the middle of it all is Lena, looking a little bit lost.

“Lena,” Kara says, her heart wrenching. She knows she should be helping, but she can’t ignore Lena when this might be their last few moments together. “I – I’m sorry. I wanted more than this for you, for us, but –“

The lost look clears a little, and Lena’s brows furrow. “You’re talking like this is the end.”

“I mean…isn’t it?” Kara asks, desolate. “My life as a knight is over. Whatever we might have been able to convince your mother, that’s gone now. I can’t offer you anything else.”

For a few long moments, Lena just looks at her, frowning. She looks like she’s torn between several things she wants to say; but in the end she just shakes her head, and looks Kara dead in the eye.

“Kara,” Lena says firmly, “Ask me to go with you.”

Kara blinks dumbly in her face.

“What?” she says, almost in a laugh, but Lena’s expression doesn’t change.

“You heard me.”

Earlier this week, Lena had said she’d follow Kara anywhere, but Kara was sure that she couldn’t have been serious. She’d thought Lena meant to a lesser estate that Kara purchased with her winnings. Or…Spain, maybe. Not to god only knows where, on the run from the authorities with a dwindling stash of money.

Lena wants to come with her. Lena does love her, truly. Even without all of this.

“Will you marry me?”

The second it leaves her mouth, Kara claps both hands over it as if it will make the words return. It doesn’t help that everyone else also stops in their activity to stare at her with open mouths, rendering the stable almost silent and reinforcing the absolute stupidity of her question.

Lena’s expression certainly changes, then. Her eyes widen, looking genuinely flabbergasted for the first time since Kara’s known her.

Marry you?” Lena whispers, her hand pressed to her breastbone. Kara can see her throat bob as she swallows, and is overcome with a sudden fear that’s even more powerful than the one she felt at the prospect of being arrested. That she might have gone too far.

“I don’t know why I said that,” Kara stammers. “That was…not what you asked me to do, and it was wildly out of line, I don’t think it’s even possible, god, I am so sorry –“

Kara is cut off when Lena takes two long strides forward, seizes Kara by the front of her shirt, and kisses the breath from her lungs.

“Yes,” Lena murmurs against Kara’s lips, their teeth clacking together through both of their smiles. “Yes, yes, I’ll marry you, you idiot –“

The feeling those words invoke is indescribable. It fizzles up inside her, bursting like shooting stars. Lena has thrown her arms around Kara’s neck, pulling her so tight that it’s hard to breathe, but who needs air when the most wonderful woman on earth wants to be your wife

“Not that this isn’t heartwarming, but we are in a bit of an urgent situation here?” Alex interrupts loudly, punctuating the statement by throwing Kara’s helmet onto the top of the pile with a crash.

“Right,” Kara breathes, her forehead still pressed to Lena’s. “Right. Let’s go.”

For a few minutes, Kara truly thinks they might get out of this. They get everything packed successfully, deciding to meet Lucy at the edge of town, and the coast looks clear when they emerge from the stable. All they have to do is make it to the road, and they might be able to cover their heads and blend in with the crowds.

They get about 10 steps from the stable door before they hear a horribly familiar voice.

“I had a feeling you’d be getting some forewarning.”

Kara’s heart drops to the floor, and Lena squeezes her hand to the point of pain as Morgan Edge and two hulking men she recognizes from his banquet table step out of the shadows. He looks flush with victory, a pair of iron manacles hanging from his belt, and Kara knows she’s sunk.

“Edge,” Kara says carefully. “You don’t have to do this. I’m already withdrawn, you’ve won the tournament. We’ll leave, and you’ll never have to see me again.”

But Edge shakes his head smugly, the two men behind him subtly moving closer. “And miss the oppourtunity to humiliate you? I don’t think so. Unless you want all your friends to suffer your fate, I’d suggest you stand down.”

What follows is an eruption of chaos. Lena starts protesting loudly, seemingly unafraid of the bodyguard walking towards her menacingly; Alex launches herself at Edge, only to be caught around the middle by Jack; and one of Edge’s men puts Winn in a headlock after he tries to step in front of Kara.

Desperate to save her friends, Kara does the only thing she can do. She willingly submits to the manacles Edge clamps over her wrists, and lets him take her away.

“Lena, it’s okay,” Kara shouts, as Edge drags her bodily down the street and away from her family. Lena is crying openly, held back from following her only by Lucy, who appeared sometime during the struggle. “It’s okay. I love you!”

She can still hear Lena’s screaming after her, even after she’s out of sight.

The cell they throw her in is cold and dark, lit only by a fist-sized hole in the ceiling. Edge had handed her over to the authorities as soon as they reached the prison, and they’d stripped her of all her belongings before they threw her onto the dirt floor and slammed the barred door shut. She can hear hushed voices outside the cell, and when she strains to hear them, they stop abruptly. She heavy footsteps of the guards fade into the distance, replaced by a single set coming closer and closer.

The rusty door opens with a shrill sound, and closes again with a decisive click behind Edge. Alone.

He looks at her for a moment, hunched over on the floor with her hands still in chains. He looks almost wild with his own triumph, his hands flexing at his sides eagerly.

“Stand.”

Kara huffs, not rising from her place on the floor. “Why would I do that?”

She doesn’t have a choice, in the end. Edge hauls her to her feet by the manacles, wrenching her shoulders painfully, and as soon as she’s off the ground he drives his fist into her stomach.

“Because I ordered it,” He says in her ear as she doubles over in pain. “And here, you have no power.”

Kara wheezes, bent double but managing to stay on her feet as Edge starts to circle her like a vulture.

“You have been weighed.”

Another fist slams into her side, right under her ribs, and she bites hard on the inside of her cheek to keep from making a sound. She doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

“You have been measured.”

An elbow slams into her lower back, and she jerks up and out of her bent position as the spasm races up her spine. She can tell it’s going to bruise, badly, and Edge seems to know it too based on his grin.

“And you have been found wanting.”

He seizes her by the hair, using it to throw her off balance and towards the wall – and, with her hands bound and her knees already weak, she can’t offer much resistance. She slams into the damp stone and sinks to the ground with a grunt, managing to stay on her knees as Edge stands over her, lit by the stream of light in the ceiling.

He smiles, and in it Kara can see the madman beneath. A man so afraid of losing that he sentenced her to death.

“In what world would you have ever beaten me?” he says, and Kara can’t stop herself from replying, even when it feels like all her breath has been stolen.

“This one, had you not been too afraid to face me.”

With a rage-filled roar Edge’s fist swings down to connect with her jaw, and the world goes black for a while.

Her first thought upon waking face-first in the dirt is that, even though she can taste blood in her mouth and feel it crusting on her chin, the comment was worth it.

For a while, all she has to occupy herself is her own thoughts. Her mind is consumed with her friends – Edge had warned that they would be punished if they tried to protect her, and all she can think about is the possible consequences of their struggle. Did they make it out okay? Are they here, somewhere, being jailed with her?

She studies the four walls of her cell for weaknesses for the first few hours, but finds none. There’s a steady dripping sound somewhere in the distance, a bucket in the corner, and not much else. She can only tell the passage of time by the darkening of her tiny skylight, and it’s just as the light is turning orange with sunset that she hears the only voice that could offer solace right now.

“I need to see the prisoner.”

“Miss, I’m sorry, but we aren’t allowed –“

“I know Morgan Edge was here earlier. How much did he give you?”

“I – he didn’t –“

How. Much.”

The voices lower to a murmur Kara can’t hear, but the conversation ends with a sound Kara does recognize – coin, being passed from one person to another. Heavy footfalls move down the hall, and an angel appears in the doorway. She’s wreathed in torchlight, even more beautiful than the day they met. 

Lena,” Kara gasps, dragging her bruised body to touch Lena’s outstretched hands through the bars. “I’m so happy you’re okay, I – I was so worried –“

“I’m fine,” Lena says, her voice choked and quiet. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” She strokes Kara’s face gently, wiping away the dried blood and sweat, and kisses her as much as she can through the gaps. Kara worries that she’ll dirty Lena’s perfect skin, but Lena seems not to care.

“Is everyone else okay?” Kara asks, while Lena strokes a concerned thumb over her broken lip. “Alex?”

“I spoke to the Alderman. He agreed to let them go. Alex is fine.”

The relief hits her so hard that Kara sags against the bars, leaning fully into Lena’s hands.

“Thank you. Thank you.”

Lena nods, her eyes shiny in the low light. She seems unwilling or unable to take her hands away from Kara’s face, and Kara soaks up the comfort for as long as she can.

“I tried to get them to reconsider your case, but –“ Lena’s voice breaks, and Kara shakes her head.

“I know. I’m sorry, Lena. I should never have dragged you into this.”

Lena’s face shifts then, into something fervent and genuine.

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Lena says, with a passion Kara didn’t expect. “I love you. Do you hear me? You gave me something I thought I could never have. I love you, and nothing can take that away. Not even this.”

Kara can feel tears gathering, hot and insistent as they streak down through the grime. Lena wipes them away, and presses their foreheads together through the bars.

“I’m probably going to die in a few days,” Kara whispers, the fear finally making itself known as she voices it. “They hang people for less than this.”

“And I’m going to love you for the rest of my life.”

There isn’t a shred of doubt in Lena’s face, and even with her grim future, Kara is grateful for the tiny bit of peace it brings her. They sit quietly together for a while, being present in their final moments together while the cell darkens around them. It’s not until she can hear footsteps approaching them again that she breaks the quiet with a question.

“Would you really have married me?”

She can feel Lena’s sad smile, even if she can’t see it. “If I could do it right here, right now, I would.”

“Miss?” Kara can hear the guard from before ask, the torch he’s holding flickering in the dark. It throws beautiful lines of orange across Lena’s face, and Kara’s heart seizes with sudden, desperate love. “The rotation is changing soon.”

Lena’s jaw clenches. She nods towards the guard, but her eyes don’t leave Kara.

“I have to go,” Lena whispers, and Kara nods, trying to be strong. This should be as painless for Lena as possible, even if it means Kara hurts more.

“I know. It’s okay.”

Lena presses a hand to Kara’s chest, right over her heart, and Kara feels the bite of metal against her skin. The one thing they didn’t take from her, when they threw her in here.

“Lena?” She says, bringing her bound hands up to grab at the piece in question. “I want you to have my ring.”

She manages to grab it, and pulls it free of her shirt to offer to Lena. She doesn’t take it right away, instead frowning down at it like it’s a complex puzzle.

“But…it’s your mother’s.”

“It’s what I would have given you,” Kara explains, her throat thick with emotion. “If we – you know. I want you to have it, when I’m gone.”

“Kara –“ Lena shakes her head, her eyes bloodshot with tears, but Kara presses the ring into her hands anyways.

Please.”

Lena’s hands tremble as they reach around Kara’s neck, unclasping the chain and gathering it in her palm. It glints in the firelight, and Kara lets out a long, relieved breath. This way, Lena will carry her wherever she goes – and Kara’s family will live on.

The guard clears his throat insistently, but he lets them share one final, desperate kiss before he ushers Lena out. Kara watches her go, her face pressed against the iron bars until she disappears into the darkness.

And she’s alone.

Time passes indistinctly. She has no concept of the days, here – on some days there’s no light but the ones carried by the guards, no way to tell one day from another besides the food and water that sometimes gets shoved through the bars of her cage. Often, she thinks, they forget to feed her entirely. It feels like she’s dying of thirst at all times, but death refuses to come. Whenever it rains, the water drips through the hole in the ceiling and wets the floor, and she shivers her way through the pitch-black nights with her manacles chafing at her wrists.

It could be days that she rots there, alone. It could be weeks. She feels horribly lonely, unsure of her fate and knowing that nobody could likely visit her even if they wanted to.

That makes it all the more astounding when her solitude is broken by a visitor of the highest caliber.

Queen Catherine is just as stately here, in Kara’s filthy cell, as she was the day they first met. She’s dressed head to toe in dark silks, and though she wears a cowl over her head, she lowers it as she kneels next to Kara on the dirt floor. The crown on her head matches the gold of her hair, glittering in the torchlight.

She seems entirely uncaring of the filth she’s getting on her dress. Kara wonders, not for the first time, if the dehydration is finally causing her to hallucinate.

“What a pair we make, hm?” the queen says quietly, a look of soft sympathy on her face that Kara would never have expected from a monarch. “Both caught in a desperate attempt to rise above our lot in life. Both struggling to do so.”

“Your – your majesty?”

Cat smiles enigmatically. “Here, now, in this place of truth, I’d rather we call each other by our true names. You may call me Cat.”

Kara blinks.

This has to be a dream. The Queen of England just asked Kara to call her Cat, as if they’re friends, and she’s hardly cognisant enough to say no.

“Okay,” she rasps, swallowing past her parched throat. It makes her voice sound like someone has rubbed sandpaper up her windpipe. “Um, Cat.”

The queen frowns. She casts her eyes around as if she’s looking for something, and finally she lands on the long-empty tray near the door where Kara’s last meal was. She had hardly been able to eat it, her hands still being bound, but when it’s all the food she’s had in days, she makes do.

The water cup has been empty for longer than Kara cares to recall. The queen picks it up, looking at the dry clay with an expression of distaste. She marches to the door, rattling the bars until a guard comes running, his armour jingling.

“Bring me drinkable water!” the queen snaps, as soon as he’s in earshot. “You are charged with watching prisoners, not starving them. Remind your cohort that it is I who pays their salaries, and I expect them to do their jobs.”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

The man runs back down the hallway at full speed, and Catherine whirls back around to face Kara. Her face softens again when she sees the pitiful state she’s in.

“The world we live in is cruel,” Catherine says, coming closer again and kneeling down to Kara’s level. “And people like us have to fight to keep our heads above water.”

Quite honestly, Kara can’t see how Cat’s position and hers have anything whatsoever to do with each other. She says nothing, of course, but something on her face must betray her thoughts – Cat chuckles, lacing her fingers together.

“Our struggles are quite different, of course. I am royalty, with all the rules and restrictions that implies. A life of luxury, in a gilded cage made of poison,” Cat sighs, pursing her lips. “I am a queen, trapped in social conventions with a son born out of wedlock to an unnamed man, who outright refuses to marry. Every day, I awaken surprised that one of my courtiers hasn’t assassinated me in my sleep.”

“And you,” Cat continues, piercing eyes landing on Kara’s exhausted face, “You are a woman born of poverty, trying to change the unfair course of her life.”

Up until this point, Kara had only been half-listening. Enduring the pity party of a woman who probably has enough wealth to lift every person in the country out of poverty is not something Kara’s starved brain is capable of right now. But at that sentence, Kara starts to pay attention.

“So…” Kara rasps, her mouth painfully dry. “They know, then? That I’m –“

“A woman? Yes, unfortunately,” Cat says, and Kara’s shoulders slump. If she had a chance in hell to get out of this as simply a poor man posing as a knight, all that went out the window when they found out her gender on top of it. “Count Edge saw to that. Evidently he followed you to your mother’s home, and overheard quite a bit. But, not to worry. Lady Luthor is in no danger. Nobody knows that she was aware of your secret.”

Kara gapes at her.

“How did you –“

“Call it feminine intuition,” Cat drawls, her expression wry. “I know you must have very little sympathy for my situation, and rightfully so. But I have a…grudging respect for you, even when you’re caked in filth. It can’t have been easy to get this far, with Count Edge determined to see you fail.”

Kara is silent. She has no idea what to do – is this a trick? Some sort of ploy to get her to confess? A detailed delusion conjured by her dying mind?

She’s kept from having to make a decision by the guard returning, panting with exertion and holding a bucket of water. Kara’s whole body aches at the sight of it, her punishing thirst feeling worse than it has in days with the cure so close.

Cat takes it from him, sending him away with a vague wave of her arm. She dips the cup into the bucket, and while Kara makes what she’s sure are pathetically desperate slurping noises, the Queen of England holds the water to her mouth in small sips until she’s finally sated.

“Why are you doing this?” Kara finally asks raspily, when Cat has set the cup down and moved the bucket closer. “I can’t have been the first person to try this. Why help me?”

Cat looks thoughtful, offering a hankie to wipe Kara’s face with. It’s scented with lavender, and Kara is still fairly sure this is a very detailed dream.

“Because…I suppose I see myself in you,” Cat finally says, quiet but confident. “A braver version, that actually tried to strike out and break the system rather than just survive in the status quo. And, because my son Carter has talked about you being the most knightly person he’s met in his life ever since he came back from that damnable tournament, and perhaps I want more people like you to infiltrate the ranks. It would be a boon to society, undoubtedly.”

Kara has no idea how to answer that. She blinks dumbly at Cat, who finally rises to her feet and tucks the handkerchief.

“I’m afraid I have to go. Spending too long in here might draw undue attention. But before I leave, I want to ask you again. What’s your name?”

Kara swallows, her mouth not dry for the first time in days.

What does she have to lose?

“Kara,” She says, letting it out in a big breath. A final confession. “I’m Kara Danvers.”

Cat smiles, slow and secretive, but it doesn’t make Kara uneasy. It makes her strangely hopeful.

“Well,” Cat says, making her way to the door and giving one last unreadable look. “I’ll be seeing you soon, Kara.”

She wants to trust that. She does. But Kara can hardly dare to hope. Especially when, the next morning, she’s hauled to her feet and dragged into the blinding sunlight to face a massive, jeering crowd. She can see the set of stocks they’re leading her to, and beyond it, a platform with a hanging noose.

It makes her legs feel like lead.

She gets a moment of relief from the rawness of her wrists when they unlock her manacles, but it’s short-lived. She’s shoved into the stocks immediately, bent over and humiliated as the crowd cheers. She knows that they would be cheering for anyone being put in the stocks – people love a spectacle, love being able to punch down at the rare person who’s unfortunate enough to end up below them. But it feels personal.

“Enjoy the stocks while you can, vagrant,” the guard grunts, as he shuts the mechanism and locks her in. “Once the tourney is over, you’re getting the noose.”

Kara doesn’t even have the energy to panic. She’s going to die, and she knows it. The most she can do is try to accept it with some dignity.

Dignity proves hard to muster when the first tomato hits the stocks above her, and drips down to the back of her neck. The beginning of the end. She’s seen this happen dozens of times, how people pelt criminals with rotten fruit and vegetables in a last bout of humiliation before they’re executed, and she winces, bracing herself for the onslaught she knows is coming –

It never comes. There’s a murmur in the crowd, and out of the mass Kara sees a face so wonderfully familiar that tears spring to her eyes, uncaring of her audience.

Alex!”

Alex looks grim but determined as she climbs onto the dais with Kara and stands at her side. She’s holding a club-like piece of wood like a weapon, as if she’s prepared to protect Kara from the world. Just like she always has.

“I’m the only one who gets to bully you,” Alex says quietly, and Kara lets out a choked laugh. “I’m with you ‘till the end. We all are.”

True to Alex’s words, three other faces emerge and come towards her. Lucy, holding a hammer and tongs from her forge; Winn, looking pale but resolute; and Jack, weaponless but already turning to the crowd and drawing the attention to himself. Her friends, here with her in her last moments. Her family.

She only wishes Lena were here – but, she’s a little grateful that she doesn’t have to see her like this.

“Listen to me!” Jack cries, his hands raised and spread wide. “Listen –“

He takes half a head of cabbage directly to the face, and the rest of his speech is cut off with an indignant squawk.

Kara can see things starting to skew towards chaos. Alex’s grip tightens on her club, the crowd is getting louder and more rowdy, and Jack is starting to look worried. It looks like things are heading to a breaking point.

But then, a hush descends. She can see something parting the crowd, people moving hurriedly out of the way and finally opening up to reveal the form of a slight woman in a long black cloak. The hood of it is raised, shrouding part of the woman’s face, but Kara recognizes her immediately.

Queen Catherine is here.

Her cowl is still up at first, so the crowd doesn’t react automatically. However, the presence of several bodyguards among Kara’s friends is cause for some interested murmurs as Cat approaches the stocks and bends over, meeting Kara’s watering eyes.

“Your majesty,” Kara chokes, trying not to let the desperation shine through. “What are you doing here?”

Cat simply smiles. She reaches out with an immaculate hand, flicking a stray bit of tomato from Kara’s forehead.

“The brave thing.”

Cat looks around, at the faces of the people Kara loves. Alex, Winn, Jack, Lucy – her friends, with her even at risk of their own safety. Each of them is looking at her uneasily, a slow realization of Cat’s identity dawning on them as they notice the crown that sits under her hood. Cat smiles at them, too, and then turns to the guards.

“Release her.”

The guards who put her in the stocks immediately fumble to follow orders, unlocking the device and pulling Kara out by the back of her shirt. Her knees feel weak, after supporting her body for so long, but she manages to stand with help from Alex and Winn on either side, staring at Queen Catherine in absolute disbelief.

With flourish Cat turns towards the crowd, and as she does she lowers her cowl in a sweeping, dramatic gesture that makes a hush fall over the people like a wave. She radiates command, and everyone listens.

Hear me,” Cat says loudly, her voice echoing over the whole square. It gives Kara goosebumps.

“I speak as your Queen. This woman –“ she gestures back at Kara, who gapes at her silently, “may appear to be of humble origins. However, my personal historians have discovered that Kara Danvers descends from an ancient, royal line. The House of El, stewards of the marquessate of Louvois.”

What?

Kara shares a look with Alex, one born of complete and utter shock. She’s still not entirely sure what’s going on, but one of Cat’s bodyguards hands the queen a large roll of parchment, and she unfurls it to reveal something Kara can just barely see.

Patents of nobility?

“As you can see,” Cat is saying, holding the paper out for all to see, “Her lineage goes back through generations of French royalty. Her seal is true, marking the bottom of the page. And her last surviving family member has claimed her as kin.”

Sure enough, there’s a red wax seal at the bottom of the parchment, signing off on the whole thing. The patents are full of names she doesn’t recognize, but right at the bottom is one she does.

Alura, of House Elmarquise of Louvois.

Her mother. Alura is her mother. And the seal is the one she’s known her whole life – the curled dragon in a diamond. The one she’s traced with her finger as a source of comfort since the day she lost her parents.

But above all, the phrase last surviving family member is what’s sticking in her mind like a burr.

“My last what?” Kara croaks, the shock of the statement giving her strength to stand on her own – but her knees almost give out again when another woman emerges from the carriage Cat came from. A woman with a face that Kara still recognizes, even 20 years later.

But, it can’t be.

Mother?” she chokes, the lump in her throat feeling insurmountable as the impossible unfolds before her – but the woman with her mother’s face shakes her head, her expression soft.

“No, my darling. My name is Astra.” Her voice is accented, unmistakeably French, although her English skills are impressive.

Astra.

Kara knows that name. Her mother had talked of a sister when Kara was young, a sister she loved and missed but could never see again. Kara had known it in the same way she knew most things, then – that her mother was correct in all things. So much so that after she died, Kara had more or less forgotten that she had a living aunt somewhere, until this moment. Her mother could never see her again, and thus she was a non-entity, and faded from Kara’s memory.

The woman standing before her dressed in finery as rich as anything Lena might wear is pretty much the opposite of what she might have expected.

“So you’re my…aunt?” Kara asks as the woman comes closer, her head still reeling. She can feel Alex’s grip on her arm tighten when Astra nods.

“Yes. Your mother left when we were still very young, to be with your father – but she still wrote letters to me, which I intercepted as much as possible before our parents found them. When she told me of your birth, I was overjoyed.” Astra reaches a tentative hand to Kara’s face, and her touch is warm. Almost comforting, even from someone Kara has never met. She can see the differences, now – Astra’s face is a little more angular than her mother’s was, her eyes hazel rather than blue, and she has an unfamiliar white stripe in her auburn hair. But Kara still feels like she knows her, and her eyes are burning with tears she’s too dehydrated to cry by the time Astra pulls her into a firm hug.

“Why did I never meet you?” Kara whispers into her hair, as Astra holds her tight. “Why weren’t you there, when she died?”

Astra looks desperately sad when she pulls back from the embrace to answer.

“I was the one left to shoulder the burden of our parent’s expectations. I very rarely left the estate, until after they and my husband had both passed. And by then…” Astra’s face grows solemn, her eyes wet and sad. “By then, I knew that Alura had not simply stopped writing to me. I had no way of knowing if you had perished in the fire, as well. But here you are.”

Astra looks overjoyed, at that. She looks proud. She looks at Kara like she’s a miracle.

Alex’s grip on her hand is almost painful, now, and Kara tugs her forward with a sudden knowledge of what she has to do in this moment.

“Aunt Astra,” Kara says, her hand never leaving Alex’s, “This is my sister. Alex Danvers. She and her mother Eliza took me in. They’re my family, too.”

Alex looks surprised, and hurriedly holds out her hand for a stiff handshake – but Astra pushes it aside, pulling Alex in as well.

“Thank you,” she whispers, while Alex hesitantly returns the hug. “Thank you for taking care of her.”

They separate when a throat clears loudly to their left. Cat is still standing there, as is the crowd, looking amused but somewhat impatient.

“Perhaps the family reunion can continue later?” Cat says quietly, and Kara agrees, wiping at her eyes.

Cat nods.

“Astra of the House of El has accepted Kara as an heir. But even so,” Cat continues, her dress sweeping the ground as she paces in front of her subjects, “The rules surrounding knighthood that have suppressed the entrance of worthy individuals for so long are antiquated and limiting. Anyone who has the means and the skill should be able to try their hand. I, as your queen, promise to knight any man or woman who can prove their skill and character. Regardless of social standing.”

The crowd, previously hushed by Cat’s presence, erupts into conversation. Alex’s mouth hangs open as Cat finishes her speech. The hammer and tongs hang loosely from Lucy’s shocked hands, and even Jack is speechless.

Kara feels distinctly like she no longer inhabits her body.

“This is my word,” Cat says even more loudly, shouting above the din, and the crowd quiets again. “And as such, it is beyond contestation.” Her voice is commanding even when her stature is so petite, and Kara gets the feeling nobody here will be questioning her.

Cat turns back to Kara, and holds out her hand expectantly towards one of her bodyguards. He draws a sword from his back, different from the one at his side – it’s large and ornamental, and Cat takes it in both her hands.

“Now, if I might repay the kindness you once showed my son,” she says more quietly, no longer grandstanding to the whole crowd. She nods her head at Kara, and lifts the sword. “Take a knee.”

Taking a knee turns out to be shockingly easy, considering Kara’s knees still feel like they could stop working at any second. She kneels before the queen with no small amount of shock, and Cat lays the blade gently on her dirty shoulder.

“By the power vested in me,” Cat says, her voice raised again, “and by all the witnesses here! I dub thee…Ser Kara Danvers, of the house of El.”

The blade is cold through her thin shirt. She’s about as stunned as the people watching as Queen Catherine bestows knighthood on a common woman bearing a week’s worth of filth, on her knees in the dirt. But Cat looks down at her with a strange sort of pride, and as she hands the sword back to her guard she even offers Kara her hand.

“Arise, Ser Kara.”

Gingerly, very aware of how grimy her hand is in comparison to Cat’s, Kara takes it and rises to her feet.

“Your Majesty,” Kara stammers, rubbing at her wrists where they chafed in the stocks. “How is this – I mean – “ She leans closer, speaking quietly. “How did you even find this out? How is this possible?”

Cat’s smile never wavers. She reaches into a pocket of her cloak, and pulls out something familiar – a large ring on a long silver chain. Kara’s ring. The one she gave to Lena. Cat offers it to her, letting the chain slowly spool into Kara’s palm.

“Your paramour is quite the researcher. Refused to leave the royal archives until she found the records she was looking for. Apparently, your mother was an heiress, and she left her family for the love of a farmer. Bravery runs in the family, so it seems.”

Of course. Of course it was Lena. Even when it seemed impossible, Lena saved her. Kara stares at the ring, running her finger over it once more.

“This is -”

Happening,” Cat finishes for her, crossing her arms. “Now, as I recall, you have some revenge to enact. Are you fit to compete?”

Kara takes stock of her body. She’s barely eaten this week, although she’s much less dehydrated after Cat’s visit last night. She still feels bruised from Edge’s beating, and she badly needs a change of clothes.

And, more than anything on earth, she wants to force Edge’s face into the sand.

“Oh, I’m fit,” Kara says, nodding eagerly. Cat seems pleased.

“Off with you, then. I believe you’ll find your possessions waiting for you in the lists. Wash, prepare yourself, and the match will begin in half an hour.”

The next half hour passes in a blur. Astra leaves with Cat after another tight embrace, promising to be in the stands to watch her win. Alex leads Kara in a mad dash to the lists, where she pulls her into the most bone-crushing hug of her life and then practically throws her at a bucket of hot, soapy water. After she scrapes off the grime of the prison she finds Lucy and Winn waiting with her armour, pristine and polished and ready for the match.

It’s not until she’s being buckled into it that her mind clears enough for her to notice.

“Where’s Lena?”

“I don’t know,” Alex says, busy buckling Kara’s greaves. “She left just before you were put in the stocks. She told us to go protect you, make sure everything went okay, because she had something she had to do.”

“Right,” Kara says, feeling keenly the absence of her love now that she’s noticed it. “Right. That’s fine.”

The roar of the crowd is especially loud, this time. She’s not sure if word has already gotten around or if they’re just excited that they’re getting a match they thought was cancelled, but the screaming seems to get even louder when she enters the arena. She can see Edge at the other end, the sun glinting off his ostentatious black armour, and he looks more and more visibly agitated the louder the people cheer for her.

It’s clear that he wasn’t expecting this match, and he doesn’t like it. His agitation makes Kara feel stronger.

“It’s a small target,” Jack says, as Kara takes the lance from Winn. “But, try to aim for his heart.”

At the other end of the arena, Edge is leaning down and talking to one of his squires. The boy points at the tip his lance, looking uneasy, and Edge seizes it from him almost violently.

It’s time.

The moment the flag is raised, Kara is flying. She’d almost forgotten how much she loves this, all those days in prison, berating herself for the risk she took. Almost forgotten why she started this ruse to begin with. This is why. The exhilaration of the joust, the feeling of victory as her lance connects with Edge’s chest, the reverberation back into her arm that makes her feel alive –

The joyful thought is broken by glaring, blinding pain from her chest all the way to her shoulder, and the world fades to black for a few moments.

She wakes to bedlam.

“Kara!” Alex is shouting, pulling her helmet off forcibly and throwing it to Winn. “Kara, what the fuck, what the fuck –“

Kara opens her mouth to tell Alex she’s fine, but all that comes out is a cry of pain. The source of it is quickly identified – a good few inches of the tip of Edge’s lance are embedded in her chest, piercing her armour entirely.

That shouldn’t be possible.

Reaching up with a hand that seems suddenly clumsy, Kara grabs hold of the broadest part of the wood and pulls it out with a yell.

“Oh god,” Alex is muttering, unbuckling Kara’s armour and pulling it off to see the damage. The white padded doublet Kara wears underneath is stained with red, and there’s an obvious wound where the tip struck, just over Kara’s breast on the right side. “I’ll get the surgeon.”

“It’s fine,” Kara says through gritted teeth. “It’s not that deep, I just need it bandaged. You can do it.”

“You need a doctor!”

Kara ignores her. She looks instead to Lucy, who’s holding the lance tip and staring at it with obvious rage. It’s coated in blood and sand – Kara must have dropped it, after she pulled it out – but it’s still obvious. The tip of it is pointed like a spear, covered in sharp iron, and it was concealed by the custom fist-shape Edge has his lances finished with. The remnants of the fist are jagged, and Lucy presses at one with her finger until it snaps easily.

“Spun sugar,” Lucy says gravely, her lips a tight, angry line. “To cover the iron. He’s tipped it, the fucking cheater.”

“Dirty son of a bitch,” Winn mutters, and Lucy swaps the lance with the breastplate Alex is holding. The hole in it is large, but it’s clear that the steel held back a great deal of the impact. Even so, Lucy’s eyes start to swim with tears.

“I’m so sorry, Kara,” she says, running a finger over the edges of the hole. “I – it wasn’t good enough –“

Winn shakes his head, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “If it hadn’t been for the armour, Lucy, she’d be dead.”

Lucy still looks stricken, but she nods anyways.

While Alex tries her best to stop the bleeding, Kara can see Jack sprinting over from the stands.

“Kara, she’s here,” Jack calls, as he draws even with them. “Lena’s here. And she brought Eliza.”

Kara’s eyes snap immediately to the crowd, and even through the haze of pain, she spots Lena easily. She and Sam are sitting at Cat’s right side, in a set of special seats reserved for the queen’s guests – and with her are Astra and Eliza, their hands clasped together and looking at Kara with desperate worry.

Lena left to find Eliza. She brought together both parts of Kara’s family, so they can see her win. And Lena herself, Kara can see, has risen from her chair. She’s leaning over Sam and talking urgently into Cat’s ear, while Sam nods in agreement.

Everything starts moving too fast. Alex and Lucy are still getting her chestplate re-affixed when the flag-bearer starts to move forward to signal the next bout, and her chest and shoulder are still screaming in agony, and Edge is starting to urge his horse forward already, and Kara has no idea if she can survive another tipped lance.

And then, the queen stands.

Quiet falls over the crowd in a wave, a ripple that starts with the nobility and ends with the lowest ground-level standing room. The flag-bearer, who had been about to signal the start of the next tilt, freezes in place. Even Edge stops in his trajectory.

Cat doesn’t speak. Instead she gestures to Carter, who stands with her, and slowly makes her way down to the podium where the prizes are usually given out. She raises both hands, and calls out in a voice that echoes across the stadium.

“Count Edge! Ser Danvers. To me.”

Edge hesitates. His horse paws nervously at the sand, and he looks genuinely like he might try to resist the order. But he kicks the horse forward in the end, making his slow way towards the queen. Kara follows, breathing in short bursts through the pain, as Alex leads the horse with one hand and clutches the tipped lance in the other.

“Count Edge,” Cat says, her voice stern and loud. “If you thought your misdeeds would be overlooked in my arena, you’re sorely mistaken.”

Edge lets out an uncomfortable laugh. “I don’t know what you mean, your Grace.”

He’s clearly scrambling, not expecting to have been called out for his actions. He’s spent a lifetime having people studiously ignore him when he cheated, and now it’s coming home to roost.

“Do not play stupid with me, Morgan,” Cat snaps, and Edge’s spine straightens. “Everyone in this arena witnessed Ser Danvers pulling a tipped lance from her chest just now. The fact that she’s still upright is quite frankly astonishing.”

“If an accident happened, it was no fault of mine,” Edge claims, his nervousness betrayed by the reddening of his face. “I do not carve my own lances by hand.”

“But you order them to your own specifications, do you not?” Alex speaks up, seeming to gain sudden confidence with Cat’s support. “Including the tip. Shaped like a fist. Very distinctive, and easy to hide a weapon in.”

She holds the tipped lance up, the obvious tampering clear as day, and Prince Carter takes it from her with an appalled expression.

“Count Edge…” he says, running a finger over the sharp point. “There is no running from this. This is unknightly to the highest degree. This is grounds for immediate disqualification, and barred entry from further tourneys in England.”

Edge explodes, as much as he can in front of the queen of England. He sputters a protest, his fists clenched in rage.

“Your majesty, you’d really let this pretender –“

“Wait,” Kara says, and to her surprise, everyone quiets. Even Edge. He looks at her with pure disdain, and she feels her own deep hatred pointing right back. Fuelling her.

“I want to face him.”

“Kara –“ Alex cuts in, shaking her head, but Kara won’t be quieted.

“I want to beat him. All of this, he’s done because he was afraid to face me in a fair match. I don’t want my first win as a knight to be a disqualification. Let me ride against him. If I win, he’s barred from tournaments here. If I lose, he goes free. Lives to ruin another life.”

“This is absurd,” Edge says, his tone dismissive. “You can’t seriously be considering –“

“Done,” Cat says, turning crisply on her heel and heading back to her seat. Edge stares after her, his mouth agape, before turning to Kara with murder in his eyes.

Kara faces him with no fear.

“Let’s dance, you and I,” she says impressively, before turning the horse back to her end of the arena and riding away.

Once they’re back in the starting position, Kara lets herself sag in the saddle a little, groaning under the weight of her armour.

“Ow, ow, ow, shoot,” she mutters, trying to find a way of sitting that doesn’t send spikes of agony up her chest. “Alex, it hurts.”

“What happened to all that stupid bravado that got you in this mess?” Alex hisses back, but she shoves some more padding into Kara’s armour anyways. “I don’t know what else we can do besides pad it and hope you don’t get hit.”

“Well, fingers crossed, then,” Kara sighs. Winn hands her a lance, and for a few moments, she manages to heft it – but whatever the iron projectile did to her chest when it entered, it seems to have affected her grip. Her shoulder takes the weight but she drops the lance, slumping over the neck of her horse with a grunt.

Eliza starts to stand from her seat, clearly ready to descend to the field and administer medical attention herself, but Astra calms her with a few words. Lena looks as pale as a ghost, her hands gripping the arms of her seat so hard that Kara worries it might crack – but she doesn’t try to stop her.

Lena is worried, but she trusts her. She trusts Kara to get through this.

“Strap it to me.”

“Uh…what?” Winn asks, looking between Alex and Kara like he’s not sure who to listen to. Kara repeats herself, the genius of her plan seizing her.

“I can’t hold it. Strap the lance to my arm.”

Winn tentatively lifts the lance towards Kara’s arm, but Alex snatches it away and protests.

“Kara, you’re going to die if you do this. This will kill you.”

“I can’t let him win!” Kara almost shouts, her determination bubbling forth to blot out the pain. “Not like this. This day is important – I have the chance to show the world, to show all those nobles up there who look down on me, that common people are worth respecting. That they’re more than serfs. That anyone can do this, if given the chance. I can’t give up now.”

Her friends are quiet after her outburst. Winn and Jack are standing near each other, staring up at Kara in shock. Lucy says nothing, but she’s chewing on her lip as she watches Alex’s reaction. And Alex is grim and thoughtful, still holding the lance and looking down at it like it holds answers.

So, Kara waits. She can’t snatch the lance away by herself, and she won’t give in until she’s forced to, so she waits for Alex to go through whatever inner turmoil she’s fighting, hoping against hope that her sister will understand.

Across the sand she can hear Edge screaming at his squires as he mounts his horse, and Alex’s face hardens.

“Winn, get me some rope.”

The lance gets lashed to her arm, and Kara gets just a few heartbeats to prepare herself as the flag-bearer moves to start the bout again.

It feels like time has slowed. She’s aware of every detail – the weight of the lance, the way the rope clamps tight to her forearm, the movement of her horse underneath her. The pain has eased into a dull throb, slowly replaced by adrenaline. Edge’s horse chomps at the bit, its hooves dancing anxiously in the sand, almost uncontrolled – it’s frightened, she can tell. Edge has spurs on his boots, and he’s going to dig them in as soon as the flag waves.

Kara pats the neck of her own horse. It’s the first one she ever won by herself, unhorsing another knight – she’d named him Krypto, to help her remember her new alias. He’s been with her through all of this, and he paws at the ground as Kara murmurs.

“One more joust. Help me win this one, eh boy? Then we retire with all the oats you can eat.”

Krypto snorts, and stills. Like he’s waiting as much as she is. It gives her hope.

The flag goes, and Kara hardly has to nudge the horse before he’s hurtling forward at full speed. Edge is coming towards her, and in the strange half-speed state she’s in she can see his fear – how his lance isn’t quite straight, his seat not quite firm. The pressure has gotten to him. He can see his end in Kara, and all she has to do is finish it.

With a feral scream that comes from the very core of her, she throws all the strength she possesses behind her right arm, and rolls her left shoulder back.

She knows even before she turns around that she’s won. With her arm still attached to the handle of the lance she can feel the way it gives after it smashes, how it pushes Edge out of his seat and off the back of his horse. She hears the crowd go absolutely wild in the way it only does when someone is unhorsed, and she rips off her helmet and tosses it as she raises the shattered remnants of her lance into the air with a yell.

If the match itself had been happening in slow motion, time seems to catch up the second it’s over. Everything moves so fast – Alex is running towards her with their friends in tow, screaming herself hoarse while Kara dismounts. She’s lifted half in the air when they all collide, Jack and Winn hefting her so she can wave at the crowd, and they don’t let her down until Alex smacks them so that she can pull her into a hug that should probably hurt her injury, if Kara could feel anything right now.

Over Alex’s shoulder Edge is still on his back, struggling to get up with the help of his squires. He looks pathetic. He’s finished, and Kara pays him no more mind. She has much more pleasant things to think about. Like the voice she hears behind her.

Kara!”

She pulls back from Alex’s embrace, spinning towards the voice with a face-breaking grin to see Lena. She’s dressed in vibrant yellow silks that Kara had been too nervous to appreciate earlier, and she’s sprinting across the sand towards her.

Kara hardly has time to brace her arms before Lena has thrown herself into them.

No words need to be exchanged between them. There’s an understanding to their embrace, a deep joy in the kiss that Lena pulls her into that surpasses talking. The last time she saw Lena, she was sure she’d never see her again – and now here she is, kissing her in front of a crowd that’s screaming her name. Not Clark, Not Zorelle – Kara.

“You know,” Jack says, as Kara and Lena drift slowly back to earth, “I think I’m going to write this story.”

“You mean about the knights, and the tourneys?” Winn asks. Jack shakes his head thoughtfully.

“No, all of it. All human activity lies within the artist’s scope.” Jack pauses, seeming uncharacteristically nervous. “And…I think I know how I’ll end it.”

Winn grins, like he always does when Jack is talking. “How?”

Jack answer is to sweep Winn into a kiss, his ink-stained hands cupping Winn’s face as the shorter man flails in surprise. It takes a second, but as soon as he realizes what’s happening, Winn’s arms fly around Jack’s neck and stay there.

“About time,” Alex says lowly, looking nevertheless happy for the two of them.

“Does this mean I should kiss Alex?” Sam pipes up, and Alex jumps at least a foot at the suddenness of her appearance. She must have followed Lena down. “I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon, but I feel like I have to, now.”

“Well –“ Alex sputters, crimson from her forehead to her shoulders. “I mean, it’s up to you, you don’t have to –“

Sam shakes her head affectionately, already cupping a hand around the back of Alex’s neck.

The exhilaration of the moment feels like it will never end. Lena is here, with a firm arm around her waist. Her family is around her, from kiss-dazed Winn to currently-kissed Alex to Lucy, who seems to be the only one of them to have kept a cool head. Eliza and Astra are standing and cheering from the stands, and Queen Catherine catches Kara’s eye with a wink as Edge is half-carried from the field.

A most fitting end to her career, if Kara has ever seen one.

 


 

“Higher, Roland. Cradle the lance in your arm – it’s a weapon, not a pitchfork.”

Kara chuckles to herself as the estate door closes behind her. Alex’s voice is ringing out across the training field, and Kara can see her sister weaving her way through their batch of students and correcting forms as she goes.

Opening this school has been the most rewarding experience of her life. After her win in London, Queen Catherine had granted her this land in the countryside as part of her winnings, and with the small fortune she’d already amassed as well as her newfound portion of the family wealth from Astra, she was able to live easy for the first time in her life. She immediately had the estate renovated, moved her family in, and decided that she needed to give back.

While Cat’s decree hasn’t yet been protested widely, neither have many common-born people been given knighthood, besides Kara. Most don’t have the means to learn, or the equipment to enter – and so Kara provides it. She still occasionally competes for fun, and she uses the money to board and feed a small student cohort. She and Alex teach them what they know about combat and athletics, and they get lessons from the others too - reading and writing with Jack, smithing and equipment care with Lucy, cooking with Winn, medicine with Eliza, courtly etiquette with Lena. Everything they’d ever need to join the ranks of knighthood, and change the status quo like Kara set out to do all those years ago.

It’s a slight deviation from where she was headed, but Kara follows her feet to the edge of the training grounds to watch the class. They’re practicing basic lance grips, graduating for the first time to full-sized lances despite the lengths being twice the size of the kids, and Kara grins at the nearest student as she manages to hold it up for a solid 20 seconds as instructed.

“Nicely done, Kate. You’re already miles better than I was when I started.”

Kate grins, letting the lance drop as Alex moves on to the next student. “Ser Kara, when will we be learning smithing with Lucy? The older kids get to –“

“When you’re ready,” Kara says firmly. “Blacksmithing is no easy task, nor is it safe. Focus on your athletics first, and your reading and writing with Jack. You’ll move up classes soon.”

Kate nods, looking placated, and Kara moves on after a shared, happy look with Alex.

She has other matters to attend to.

She makes her way across the grounds, passing the stables and the repurposed barn that Eliza works out of, distributing medicines to all the towns in the vicinity. Across the way she can see the guesthouse Astra stays in when she visits from Louvois, and Lucy’s smithy – there’s a curl of smoke coming from the double-wide chimney. She follows the edge of the pond that marks the end of their property, until finally she reaches their spot.

Lena is exactly where Kara knew she would be. Kara built them this spot when they first moved in – a covered wooden platform of sorts at the edge of a small cliff, overlooking miles of green fields. On clear days they can see the edge of the Royal woods in the distance, on the other side of which lies London.

Lena is leaning against the barrier Kara built to keep them from accidentally tumbling over the edge, and when Kara approaches from behind she can see Lena’s shoulders relax as she recognizes her footfalls.

“Hey, you,” Kara murmurs, wrapping her arms around Lena’s waist and breathing deep of her perfume. Lena sighs happily, letting Kara put a gentle kiss on her shoulder.

“Hi. Missed you.”

“We woke up together this morning,” Kara notes, and Lena shrugs, almost dislodging Kara’s chin from her shoulder.

“Still.”

They laugh in tandem, and the cool breeze ruffles through Lena’s hair as she fiddles with the ring on her fourth finger. It’s a habit she’s had ever since Kara put it there, like she finds comfort in the reminder of their commitment to each other.

“I was just thinking,” Lena says, tipping her head back to give Kara better access to kissing her neck.

“About?”

“How glad I am that you followed me into a cathedral on horseback.”

Kara bursts into laughter, burying her face in Lena’s shoulder. “You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”

Lena turns in her arms, her smile mischievous.

“Never.”

They share a long look, just drinking in each other’s presence. Since the day she was knighted she and Lena have hardly spent a night apart, but she never tires of looking at her. And she’s confident enough in their love to know that Lena feels the same.

Lena traces Kara’s jaw with her thumb, rubbing it up and over her bottom lip until Kara kisses it gently, and Lena lets out a slow, calm breath.

“I love you, Ser Kara Danvers.”

When their lips meet again, it’s not hurried. It’s not in desperation, with no guarantee of another. It’s slow, and deep, and content. A promise of forever.

Kara’s stars must be pretty lucky, after all.