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it stood thus in our stars when we were born

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The hot sun beats down almost unbearably on Kara’s face as she stands beside her sister, looking down on the unmoving form of their master. She wiggles her nose, a scrap of linen shoved in each nostril to block out the stench that seems to be coming from Sir Corben’s direction.

“Do you think he’s okay?” Kara says somewhat nasally, and Alex rolls her eyes.

“Judging by the smell? Probably not.”

Flies buzz irritatingly around the motionless knight, and a few try to land on Kara before she swats them away. The sun, combined with the smell of Sir Corben and his horse, munching on grass nearby, and her own unwashed self in the sticky heat is starting to get to her. She frowns, gnawing at her lower lip and tasting salt.

“He said he just needed a rest. He’s due in the lists in two minutes - two minutes, or we forfeit,” Kara says, feeling panic start to hum at the edges of her mind. “We need this win.”

With a sigh, Alex hold her hand out, gesturing to Kara’s improvised nose-plugs. “Give me those.”

Kara hands them over, and Alex shoves them into her own nostrils before approaching the form slumped against a nearby tree. She squats next to him, reaching a reluctant hand under his helmet to feel for a pulse.

After a few moments, her hand drops in a very worrying way.

“Dead,” Alex calls flatly, and Kara blinks dumbly back at her. Before Alex can repeat herself, Winn approaches from behind her, dropping his armful of newly-polished equipment onto the wagon. Equipment that Corben isn’t ever going to need again.

“Three points to none after two lances! All Sir Corben has to do now is not fall off his horse!” He sounds unusually cheerful, as if the promise of a tournament win – a rarity, these days, with Corben getting up in age and more miserable with every passing month – is lifting his spirits, and she’s a little sad that she has to break it so soon.

“He’s dead, Winn.”

Kara isn’t broken up about it, really. Corben was always a hard taskmaster, a decent swordsman but a mediocre jouster with a lazy streak which meant his skill declined quickly as soon as his body wasn’t in top shape. He got crueler to his squires the less frequently he won, and was liable to use their meagre winnings to feed himself and leave everyone else to starve. She won’t miss him.

But, they’re stuck in the middle of rural France, with no money, at a tournament they can no longer win. Corben’s purse is empty, the last of it spent last night on beer and female company at the inn, and now he’s not even here to win them a little of it back.

Without him, they have nothing.

“What do you mean, dead?” Winn asks, his grin starting to fade.

“I mean he’s ceased to be alive,” Alex deadpans, standing up and taking the nose-plugs out. “Departed from this earth and bound for hell, probably.”

“No, he just…he’s just sleeping!” Winn says, gesturing at the clearly-slumped form of Corben wildly. “We should wake him up, we’re going to be late –“

“Winn –“ Kara says consolingly, but Winn isn’t having any of it.

“I haven’t eaten in three days!” he says, his voice high and angry, and Alex’s temper breaks.

“None of us have, Winn!” she snaps, and Kara steps between them, holding her hands up placatingly.

“We should all calm down,” Kara starts, but Winn interrupts for the second time.

“No, he’s not dead!” he says, slightly manic, and he picks a stone up from the ground, throwing it at the body. It hits Corben’s dented armour with a plonk, before falling to the ground. “Come on, you fat bastard, you dirty old man, wake up –“

“He’s right, Alex,” Kara says quietly, as Winn throws another rock. “How are we going to eat? What do we do, now?”

Alex, who has never been without a plan in all the time Kara has known her, looks at a loss for the first time. Kara can tell that the lack of a tangible strategy is making her nervous, and Kara glances back at their former employer, the seeds of a crazy idea taking root.

Winn seems determined to bring the knight back by any means necessary. He grabs one of Sir Corben’s arms and wrenches it up, kicking at his lifeless body, and Alex snaps at him again.

“Winn, leave him –“

“You couldn’t wait an hour to die?! If you weren’t already dead, I’d kill you myself –“ Winn keeps kicking, and Kara and Alex can’t do much besides watch him take his anger out on the man who left them with nothing.

Distracted as she is by Winn’s display of mania, Kara almost doesn’t notice the page who rides up behind them.

“Squire!”

At the unfamiliar man’s voice, Kara and Alex whirl around in tandem, both hurriedly stepping together to hide Winn and Corben from view.

“Er…yes?” Kara answers tentatively, the thunk of boot hitting steel worryingly loud.

“Sir Corben must report at once, or forfeit the match,” he says with authority, and Kara knows that it’s now or never. This is their last chance to come up with a plan.

Suddenly, Kara understands what people say about working under pressure.

Alex opens her mouth, likely to relate the news of his death, but Kara elbows her hard enough that she wheezes, doubling over.

“He’s on his way,” Kara says pleasantly as Alex coughs, still catching her breath. The page looks suspiciously behind them at Winn, who is still kicking violently at Corben’s form, but Kara’s most charming smile seems to be enough to send him on his way with a curt nod. When he’s ridden out of earshot, Alex smacks her on the shoulder.

“What the hell, Kara!”

“I’ll do it,” Kara says, with startling clarity.

The plan was only half-formed when the words left her mouth, but now it seems obvious. She knows how to ride, how to hold her seat, and she’s helped Sir Corben train since she was 12. She can do this.

And, she’s not too proud to admit, she’s had idle daydreams about this since before she even became a squire. Since she and Alex were kids, listening to the cheers and cacophonous noise from the stadium only a few miles from their hovel in London. The two of them used to watch the parades of knights heading to the field, their banners flying in a rainbow of colours, draped in finery and shiny steel, and Kara had thought – someday, that could be me.

The fact that her gender and the poverty of her upbringing made that impossible didn’t matter to her 7-year-old mind, so full of childlike wonder. This might be her only chance.

She doesn’t even let Alex voice her predictably negative reply before she’s striding back over to Winn, pulling him off Sir Corben’s body.

“Strip his armour. I’m finishing the match.”

It takes Winn a surprisingly short amount of time to adjust. He takes Kara at her word, quieting and getting to work unbuckling the various pieces with skilled hands.

Alex’s voice makes Kara bristle, but it doesn’t stop her in her work.

“What’s your name?”

Kara doesn’t answer. She pulls Sir Corben’s helmet off, ignoring his pallid face and instead helping Winn with the pauldrons.

“It’s not sir Kara,” Alex continues, and Kara grits her teeth. “It’s not even Lady Kara.”

“I know that,” Kara grunts, hauling Corben forwards so she can pull off his chestplate. Together she and Winn pull at the padding underneath, and Alex continues, seemingly undeterred by their work.

“You have to be of noble birth to compete! And, have you not noticed the gender issue?”

“A detail,” Kara says firmly, wrapping padding around her arm and strapping the gauntlets on with dextrous fingers. “The point is, we have no money, Alex. We have to do something, and this is our only option.”

Winn starts to buckle the overlarge chestplate onto her torso, and Alex’s reticence seems to melt into reluctant worry.

“If anyone finds out, we’re all dead,” she warns, finally uncrossing her arms. Kara grins.

“I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Alex grumbles her protests, but she hurries to help strap Kara into the armour nonetheless. It’s their only viable plan, and she knows it.

It’s not exactly how she’d always daydreamed her first real tilt, she thinks as Alex leads the horse to the field. Corben’s armour is too big for her, and the padding isn’t quite enough to compensate, so it jerks and rubs against her uncomfortably. It still smells awful inside, and she has to keep the visor shut lest anyone figure out that she isn’t who she pretends to be. And the whole way Alex is whispering to her under her breath, giving her advice that she doesn’t need.

But the crowd is cheering, stomping and clapping in a rhythmic chant, and as nervous and uncomfortable as Kara is, she can’t help but be buoyed by their enthusiasm. It’s infectious, the way they cheer for her. Sure, they’re really cheering for Corben and, even then, they don’t care who wins the tilt so much as they just want to watch the spectacle. But something inside her reacts to it, and she wants to give them a good show.

Through this realization, Alex is still talking quietly at her.

“Hold your seat, and brace yourself when the lance comes. You don’t have to hit him, and he might not even break his lance on you, his aim has been abysmal so far and he needs 3 points –“

“I know how to score, Alex. I’ve tilted against Sir Corben before, you know,” Kara says irritably, her voice echoing inside the closed helmet.

“In practices, as his target!”

“…details.”

Alex grits her teeth, and her next words are more of a growl than anything else.

“Fine, Miss Expert. The landscape is, stay on the damn horse.”

Kara nods, as much as she can in the bulky armour.

The opening trumpets are already sounding, and there’s hardly any time at all for her to prepare herself before the marshal is yelling.

“Lord Philip! Stand ye ready!”

Her opponent raises his lance into the air, and Kara scrambles to grab her own before she’s required to do the same. Winn thrusts it into her gloved hand, and she holds on for dear life.

“Sir Corben! Stand ye ready!”

Kara hauls the heavy lance into the air, and then brings it to her side, trying to remember what Corben used to snap at her when she was holding it improperly during practice-tilting.

“Keep it in the cradle of your arm, lest you let it fall to the ground. And for god’s sake, girl, keep it straight, or there’s no use in practicing with you. No knight will tilt against me crooked.”

She tucks the lance into her arm as best she can, and before she knows it, the flag is raised and Alex and Winn have slapped the flanks of her horse. She’s careening down the field at top speed, the lance drooping limply from her inexperienced arm, and there’s a knight in full armour with a thick piece of wood and metal bound for her chest.

It’s the single most exhilarating moment of her life.

It almost doesn’t matter, when the lance falls out of her hand and hits the grass. It doesn’t matter, because she’s found her calling, and it’s this. She’s never enjoyed anything as much as she’s enjoying this single joust, as ineffectual as her own technique is. Riding out of control, with no weapon and barely any balance, with a crowd screaming in the background, is everything she’s ever wanted.

When her opponent’s lance smashes into pieces against her face, denting the metal so much that she can feel it push painfully against her nose, she stops enjoying it, because she’s blacked out.

When she comes to, everything is still dark – the helmet is still crushing her face – but, miraculously, she’s still in the saddle. She did it.

Somewhere to her left, Alex and Winn are screaming.

“She’s breathing! She’s alive – get off me, Winn -”

“We’ve won! God bless you, Kara, we’re eating tonight!”

Hidden under the helmet, dazed and tasting blood in her mouth, Kara smiles.

She’s still riding the high of her first tilt when she stands in a line with the winners of the other categories, waiting for the lord of this town to award her with her prize. Her helmet is still firmly in place, the slit in the visor so dented that she can hardly see, but none of it matters. She’s on cloud nine.

At least, none of it matters until the mounted joust prize is being awarded.

“Sir Corben,” the announcer says authoritatively, “remove your helmet.”

Kara’s insides freeze.

She can’t remove her helmet. She can’t. It’s the only thing concealing her identity from the nobles sitting in plush seats in the stands before her, and god only knows how she’d be punished if they found out. She’d be put in the stocks, at the very least, if not hung. She feels Alex stiffen beside her, and somehow her sister’s panic makes her mind spring back into action.

“Unfortunately, my lord, the uh…final blow of the lance has…dented it…onto my head,” she says haltingly, deepening her voice and tapping the bent visor with her gauntlet for good measure. On her other side, Winn pipes up to repeat the message.

“She says, the final blow of the lance has – ow!” he recoils as Kara hits him with a sharp metal elbow. At the pain, he seems to realize his mistake, and he quiets immediately.

It’s a tense few seconds following Winn’s pronoun slip. Kara’s stomach twists itself into a knot, and Alex seems ready to bolt and drag Kara with her, armour be damned.

Thankfully, after a moment’s pause, nobody seems to notice the slip-up. She can see movement from the thin slot of the visor, and then Alex is grabbing her arm and holding it out to receive something – she grasps blindly at thin air, until finally something thin and delicate is in her grasp. She holds it up, and the crowd gives a modest cheer.

The relief she feels as Alex and Winn lead her back to their small campsite is unparalleled.

“I can’t believe we actually got away with that!“ Winn crows, as Kara finally wrenches the helmet off and hands it to Alex, breathing fresh air again. After the stifling heat of the closed visor, even the sticky outside air is a relief, and she wipes at the crusted blood under her nose with the wet rag Alex hands her. “God, after I said ‘she’ I thought we were done for –“

His celebration is cut off by Alex, who shoves him so hard that he skids and falls into the dirt.

“You almost got us all killed, you moron!”

But Winn’s good mood can’t be dissuaded, even by Alex’s anger. He just lays back in the grass, laughing.

“Push me all you want, I’ll have a full belly tonight.”

That, at least, Alex can agree with. She starts helping Kara to remove the armour, and with every piece unbuckled Kara can feel the happiness of the afternoon slipping away.

It’s over, now. Her one chance to change everything. To change her stars. Now, it’s back to struggling every day just to eat.

As Alex barters with a travelling merchant over how many silvers they’ll get for Kara’s prize, an ornate golden peacock feather – 15 silver florins, in the end – Kara sits on the back of the wagon, swinging her feet back and forth and plucking at her filthy clothes, her tangled hair. They made 15 florins from a single tiny rural tournament, in a single category. How much could they make if they went to Rouen, or Paris? At the height of his career, Corben had been able to outfit them all nicely, feed them, keep his equipment in order. He sometimes won horses they could sell for a lot of coin, and he competed in two or three events. Sometimes they even got to wait on him at banquets, and they’d get to eat the scraps.

He was never good enough to win larger tournaments. But she could be.

“Five silver for you, Winn,” Alex is saying as the merchant leaves with the gold feather, dropping the coins into his hand. “Five for me, and five for Kara. We can sell the equipment in town, and then we’re going straight back to England.”

Alex, of course, wants to go back to London the second they’re free of their obligation to Corben. She’s yearned for home for as long as they’ve been away in France, ever since Eliza sent them away in the hopes that they would be able to make a better life than she could provide. Kara misses home too, of course – since her parents passed when she was almost too young to remember, Alex and Eliza have been her only family – but she also yearns for adventure in a way that Alex never has.

She’s not ready to go home yet.

Winn grins, pocketing the money and starting to pack the wagon up. “You guys can sell the equipment – I’m going straight to the pub. Steak and kidney pie, cakes with peppermint cream, and a good ale…god, it’s been ages since I’ve had a decent meal.”

Alex rolls her eyes, but Kara doesn’t budge to help. She’s too busy thinking. Thinking about how good today felt, and how they could do it again.

“What if we didn’t?”

Her comment garners almost no response from her companions.                                 

“Didn’t what?” Alex says absently, gathering all the spare lances into a bundle to put on the cart. Winn already has the armour loaded, and is working on hitching their donkey to it. Both of them are set on Alex’s plan, and it’s going to take a monumental argument to convince them to abandon it. Kara reaches into her shirt and grasps the necklace that's always hung there - a bronze ring on a simple chain. She can feel the design on the front of it against the pad of her finger, the dragon inside a 5-pointed diamond. It was her mother's, she knows, the only thing she has left of her birth family, and it's always made her feel brave. 

“Didn’t sell the equipment,” Kara says, already knee-deep in a proposal. “didn’t leave. What if we…stayed?”

“Why in the sweet fuck would we stay here?” Winn says loudly, dropping the wagon hitch, and Alex elbows him. Kara, though, just continues with her idea.

“Look, give me your coins.” Kara grabs the money from Alex’s hand before she can protest, and then holds it out for Winn’s share. He looks reluctant, but he gives it to her. Counting the coins out in her palm, she separates two of them.

“So that’s one for each of you,” she says, giving them each their single coin, “and that leaves thirteen. Thirteen for training and outfitting.”

“What are you talking about?” Winn asks frustratedly, and Kara sighs, her fist clenched around the 13 coins that she knows could change her life.

This is her chance to convince them.

“We could do this.”

“We’ve done it, Kara,” Alex says, warningly. “We have the silver, and now it’s time to go.”

“No, I mean…we could do this. We could be champions.”

Champions…?” Winn asks, and Kara nods vigorously.

“The tournament in Rouen is in a month. In one month, we could be splitting a prize bigger than this. No more struggling for coin, no more sleeping in the dirt. We could be champions.”

“In one month, we could by lying in a ditch like Sir Corben,” Alex mutters, swiping at Kara’s hand in an attempt to get the coins back. Huffing in frustration, Kara spins on her heel, coins still in hand, and stalks off towards a nearby field. She can hear Alex and Winn running to catch up, and it’s Winn that reaches her elbow first.

“You can’t even joust, Kara. We all saw you back there,” he says, and Kara waves in irritation.

“Most of it is guts, Winn. The constitution to take a blow, the strength to give one. I have that! And technique? I have a month for Alex to teach me.”

“For Alex to what?” Alex asks breathlessly, but Kara doesn’t stop.

“And besides that, I’m great at the sword. Even Corben couldn’t beat me.”

“In the practice ring!” Winn practically yells, and Alex raises her voice too, harping on the point she can’t seem to forget.

“You have to be of noble birth to compete!”

“So we lie!” Kara says, exasperated. “How did the nobles become nobles in the first place? They took it! At the tip of a sword. I’ll do it with a lance!”

“A blunted lance…” Winn grumbles, and Kara could punch him in his stupid face.

But she resists.

“That doesn’t – look, no matter what, a person can change their stars. Alex…” Kara pleads, turning to her sister directly. Alex sighs, not meeting her eyes.

“Alex, Eliza sent us to squire for Corben because she wanted us to have a better life. To do great things. This is our chance. We can make her proud. We can make my parents proud.”

Alex looks slightly teary, and her mouth screws up into a tight line like it always does when she’s thinking something over.

“We’re peasants, Kara,” Winn says, his arms crossed. “We’re the children of peasants. We were never meant to be champions. But eating tonight? Sleeping in a real bed? That goal is reachable.”

Kara pinches the bridge of her nose, the coins feeling heavy in her free hand under the impatient gazes of her sister and friend. She’s dangling on a precipice right now, holding on with her fingernails, and it feels like her whole future rests on Alex’s wavering stubbornness.

“Alex, please,” she says quietly, pleadingly. “With 13 silver coins, 3 people can change their stars.”

There’s a few beats of silence, where she and Winn both stare at Alex like she’s the judge in some huge cosmic trial, making her verdict. When Alex finally meets her eyes, heaving a heavy sigh, the twinkle in her eyes lets Kara know that she’s won.

“You’re lucky I love you, Kara.”

Kara whoops in victory, and beside her Winn groans.

 


 

Once the decision is made, Winn agrees to stick with them, and Kara isn’t sure if it’s because he’s her best friend or because Alex threatened him with dismemberment. But either way, he has one demand before they start anything – that they go to the pub, and get him fed.

While he buries his face in a bowl of stew and half a loaf of bread, Kara and Alex share a pint in the noisy tavern.

“I still think this is a bad idea.”

“I know.”

“If anyone finds out who you really are –“

“I know,” Kara says, taking a swig. Alex takes an even bigger one, coughing a little when she puts the tankard down.

“I mean, you’re a woman, Kara. How are we supposed to get past that?”

“I can cut my hair, bind my chest,” Kara insists. Alex might be anxious, but Kara has been thinking about this since she was a child. She has ideas. “I used to bind it anyways, to spar. I could pass as a man!”

“Forever?” Alex says skeptically. Kara waves her off.

“Just in public. Outside that, I can still be me.”

Alex sets her forehead on the table for a moment, taking a few deep breaths. When she raises it again, she looks resigned. “I just want to protect you. I promised Eliza that I would.”

“We’re going to be fine, Alex,” Kara says, with complete certainty. “Nobody will catch us.”

“You don’t know that.”

“And you don’t know we will get caught!”

With a weary sigh, Alex sets her head on Kara’s shoulder. “How on earth are we going to teach you to joust?”

“We’ve been watching Corben train for years. How hard can it be?”

It is, as it turns out, very hard.

They try to start out easy, at first. They still have Corben’s old training equipment, tilting dummies and practice lances and wooden swords, and the first thing they work on is just holding the lance properly. They take to the woods, setting up a small campsite with as much food as two florins can buy them, supplemented by Alex and Kara’s basic trapping skills.

It would easily be the best few weeks Kara has ever had, being with her sister and her best friend and learning to joust, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s not very good at it.

Over and over again Kara tilts, riding the horse at a slow canter to try to learn how to grip and thrust, and over and over again she misses the dummy by a wide margin, dropping the lance or occasionally even smacking the horse in the side of the head with it, much to his annoyance. More than once she even hits the dummy with her shoulder as she rides by, and it swings around faster than she can hurry the horse and hits her in the back.

She’d rather not admit the amount of time she ended up face-first on the forest floor.

Kara knows how bad she is. Every time she misses, Alex and Winn shout encouragements, assuring her she’ll get it next time, but she can hear them talking as she rides by, claiming that she’s actually getting worse.

Clearly, the dummy isn’t working. Alex, seemingly determined to see this plan through now that she’s committed to it and spent so much of their coin, recruits a protesting Winn to be the dummy instead, holding a large wooden shield up for Kara to aim for; but every time Kara rides close, Winn seems to panic and drop the thing, or else run until Alex drags him back to his place.

Alex seems to abandon this plan when, on one of Kara’s passes, Winn drops the whole thing onto her foot.

“Do you see how dangerous it is?!” he exclaims as Alex grunts in pain, and Kara knows they need to find another solution.

Alex’s next idea comes when they find a small, deteriorating boat near the river. After some basic patchwork, they attach a length of rope to either side of the craft and put Kara on it in full armour. Alex and Winn string a small wooden ring between two trees, give Kara a practice lance, and then pull the boat from either side of the river, shouting instructions as Kara gets closer to the target.

“Faster, Winn! She has to work on her balance,” Alex shouts, but Kara counters it.

“No, no, slow and steady, keep it even!”

It’s slower than a horse, and yet it still seems too fast. But finally, for the first time, Kara’s lance goes through the ring.

“I got it!” She shouts, throwing her free hand into the air. “I got it, I got it, I –“

Her victory is cut short when the ropes holding the ring up pull taut, and with her lance still hooked into it, she’s pulled off the boat and into the river.

For a moment, she couldn’t care less. She’s just had her first real victory in this whole endeavour – she actually hit a target, kept her balance and held the lance right and got it. Nothing can bring her down now, not even being wet. But as she kicks her legs towards the surface, she realizes she isn’t moving.

She’s in full armour.

It’s okay, she thinks to herself. It’s fine. I can just walk towards the bank. But the current is stronger than she thought, and her boots seem to be stuck in the mud at the bottom of the river.

This was a bad idea.

Just as she’s starting to feel a bit afraid, she feels two hands seize her arms and haul, and a few seconds later she’s surfacing near the bank, sputtering as water pours out from the bottom of her helmet. She pulls the thing off as she struggles onto the grass, and flops onto her back, coughing and laughing in equal measure.

“Kara! Are you all right? Can you breathe? Winn, go get some rags to dry her –“ Alex is saying, but now that she’s above water, Kara feels just fine. More than fine.

“Kara, hey! Look at me. Are you okay?” Alex looks panicked, and she’s completely soaked – she was clearly the one who hauled Kara out of the water. But Kara feels no fear.

“I’m great!” she yells, coughing up a bit more water. Alex looks at her like she’s grown a second head.

“What?”

“I did it, Alex! Did you see? I can do it!”

Alex hangs her head, all concern leaving her and being replaced with mixed relief and irritation. Winn returns holding an armful of the rags they use to dry themselves after bathing, and Alex grabs one and thrusts it into Kara’s chest, looking exasperated by her happiness.

“Let’s get you out of the armour so we can oil it. If it gets rusty, we’re screwed.”

After that, Kara’s confidence is buoyed so much by her small victory that she decides she can handle the dummy again. After a few unsuccessful runs she finally breaks a lance on it, hitting it squarely and avoiding the swing-back, and before long one becomes ten, and ten becomes every practice lance they have. Time after time Kara hits even the smallest target, and for the first time since they started training, Alex seems to fully believe in Kara’s crazy plan.

Winn ends up carving more lances from nearby fallen trees as Kara and Alex move on to practicing for the sword event, which Kara is much more confident about.

“Switch, switch, switch –“ Alex wheezes, barely keeping up with Kara’s flurry of blows against her raised sword. The force of them makes her drop to a knee, leaning back against the trunk of a nearby tree. “Damn it, Winn!”

Winn doesn’t look up from his task, scraping down straightened tree boughs with their hatchet. “I’m busy, Danvers.”

With an adept flick of her foot Kara casts the wooden practice sword from Alex’s hands, and holds her own to her sister’s throat. “Give?”

“Give,” Alex mutters, knocking the sword away with her arm. “Get out of my face.”

“I told you I was good at the sword,” Kara says smugly, and Alex half-heartedly kicks a pile of leaves in her direction.

“Well, at least there’s one small thing we don’t have to worry about,” she grumbles.

“Alex, there’s nothing to worry about –“

“There’s a hundred things!” Alex explodes, whirling on Kara with a vengeance. “We have to permanently dress you like a boy, so they don’t find out your gender. You need a believable name, and a sigil. We have to find a way for Sir Corben’s armour to fit you, when it’s far too big. We need to make sure you actually win something, so we aren’t wasting the entrance fee. We have no proof that you’re nobility, so if they ask us –“

“They won’t,” Kara insists, but Alex shakes her head.

“They might! I don’t think you understand the line we’re walking, here.”

Kara is relieved when Winn pipes up in her defense, handing Kara a newly-finished lance and standing at her side.

“We’ve put all this effort in, Alex,” he says, shrugging. “Shouldn’t we at least try?”

Alex’s jaw tightens, but as always, she gives in.

“…fine. We need to leave in a few days, so come here. We need to cut your hair.”

One week later Kara’s formerly long hair hangs bohemian-like around her collar, her chest is bound in linens, and they’re halfway to Rouen towards what she’s sure is her destiny.

The excitement of it, though, is a little marred by her travelling companions; Alex walking beside the cart and biting her fingernails until they bleed with worry, and Winn, who takes just about every oppourtunity to complain.

“How much longer until I get a turn on the horse?” he whines, jogging up beside Kara on said beast and looking up at her with a frown. “I’ve been walking for forever.”

“Winn, how do you think it would look if my squire rode and I was walking? We’re trying to blend in, here,” Kara tries, and Winn throws a pebble at her.

“What do I care? My feet hurt!”

“It is his turn,” Alex says, entirely unhelpfully.

“Ugh, fine,” Kara huffs, tugging the horse to a stop and swinging her leg out of the saddle. As her foot hits the dusty road, a figure moves between them and further up the path, which would ordinarily be unremarkable – however, since this figure is as naked as the day he was born, it warrants some confusion.

“Why, sir!” Kara cries, and even Winn is distracted enough by the man’s buttocks that he stops in his quest to mount the horse. The stranger turns to address them, and Kara winces, throwing a hand up to block her view of his fully visible genitals.

“Yes?” He asks, as if nothing is out of the ordinary. He’s handsome enough, if a little bedraggled – his shiny black hair is just long enough to tuck behind his ears and, Kara assumes, would ordinarily be slicked back. His beard looks as if it was once well-kempt; his dark skin is clear, and he’s rather tall and decently built, if a little wiry.

The effect would be better if he was wearing clothes, but that’s another matter.

“What are you doing?” Kara asks, and the man turns towards them fully.

“Trudging,” he says, cheerfully.

“…what?” Alex asks, her eyes averted from him completely. He seems to pay her discomfort no mind.

“Trudging!” he repeats, and on their continued confusion, he explains. “To trudge – the slow, weary, depressed, yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in his life except the impulse to simply…soldier on.”

It’s all said with the flair of a seasoned orator, loud and impressive but overly rehearsed. Kara chuckles quietly, gesturing to his lack of garments.

“Were you robbed?”

The man laughs loudly, putting his hands on his hips and looking to all the world as if he isn’t naked in the breeze. “Interesting question, actually. In some ways, yes – but at the same time, no. Definitely not. More a sort of…involuntary vow of poverty.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Winn asks, and the man regards him thoughtfully. Winn blushes under the scrutiny, very clearly trying and failing not to look below the man’s waist.

In part to rescue Winn from his panic, Kara speaks up.

“Who are you?” she asks, and Jack immediately comes forward with hand outstretched, shaking each of theirs in turn.

“Ah, of course! Jacob Spheer’s the name, my friends call me Jack.” There’s a few beats of silence, and he repeats himself. “Jack Spheer, the writer.”

At their blank looks, he actually looks almost affronted that they don’t recognize him. He sighs, his shoulders falling a little.

“Well, I suppose business has been slow lately,” he mutters. “And you don’t look like the reading sort.”

“Hey!” Alex protests, but Jack has already moved on, his demeanour brightening again.

“Well, for a penny I’ll scribble you anything you want,” he says, slapping his hand on his bare thighs. “Warrants, edicts, patents of nobility –“

Alex looks over at Kara sharply, a surprised and almost urgent expression on her face, and Kara curses her sister’s openness as she tries to inquire a little more tactfully.

“Did you say…patents of nobility?” she asks, and Jack blinks at their sudden interest in him.

“I did,” he says, and he looks them up and down with a more appraising expression. Then he smiles slowly, reminding Kara altogether too much of a predator in pursuit. “And, you gentlemen are?”

Kara almost jumps at the abrupt spotlight. It’s the first time she’s been called upon to really sell their little ruse, and her voice feels high and nervous, distinctly feminine in a way she’s terrified of.

“Right! I’m, uh. Clark. Sir Clark Zorelle, of…Kryptonia,” she says haltingly, trying to call to mind the story they created on that long walk from Angers. Her name she has conjured from memory - she can vaguely remember a childhood friend named Clark, someone who had been around before she came to live with the Danvers. For the last name she had combined those of her parents - her father, Zor, with her mother, Alura El - to make it sound exotic. And Kryptonia is a real place, Winn assured her, but so remote in the northern reaches of the known world that it’s unlikely anyone would be able to contest her limited knowledge on it. “And these are my squires. We’re heading to Rouen, for the tournament.”

“Rouen?” Jack says, his eyebrows raising. “Hm.” He looks amused, irritatingly so, like he knows something they don't. It sets Kara's teeth on edge.

“Is that all, Master Nude, or can we be on our way?” Alex asks irritably. Jack laughs, shaking his head.

“Well, you may, but I rather think you’ll be in for a surprise when you get there,” he says. His voice is amused, but Kara detects no lie in it. “They’re limiting the field at Rouen, and it’s soon to be implemented at all tourneys. Noble birth has to be proven for at least four generations. Patents of nobility must be provided.”

Patents of nobility. The one thing they don’t have. Kara has seen them before, of course – Corben had one, a thick scroll of vellum listing his family lineage in fancy illuminated letters, crests and shields and signatures lining the edges. They had considered trying to alter it, but none of them are handy with a quill, and it was too risky to try to enter a tourney using the patents of a dead knight.

Now, they might not get to enter at all.

What?” Winn says, aghast, and Kara elbows him hard in the ribs. He wheezes, but quiets quickly.

“What makes you think we don’t have them?” Kara says, more cautiously. Revealing to a stranger that they don’t have the paperwork they need is a bad idea, and they all know it.

Jack shrugs. “Lucky guess. Do you, Sir Clark?” He says it with an intonation that implies he knows the answer, and Kara bristles at the truth of it.

“Of course we do!”

Right,” He drawls, holding out a hand. “And I’m Richard the Lionheart.”

Kara’s heart leaps to her throat.

He doesn’t believe them. Their cover is blown, they couldn’t even make it past one lousy naked man in the French countryside, and without the patents of nobility that they apparently need, there’s no way they’re making it to Rouen intact. All the training in the world can’t get them past guards or patent offices, and this was all a huge waste of time.

Unless they get help.

Jack, unaware of her internal struggle, has continued on with his joke, apparently very pleased with his own sense of humour.

“No, I’m Charlemagne,” he says, laughing to himself despite Alex’s harrowing glare. “No, St. Jean the Baptist -!”

Her frustration boiling over, Kara finally loses it. She throws her arm hard into his bare chest, hard enough that he stumbles back, and when he tries to right himself she pushes the advantage and shoves him even harder. He ends up sprawling into the grass beside the road, scrambling back as she advances on him, a hand on the dagger at her belt.

“Hold your tongue, sir, or lose it,” she says lowly, and for the first time, he actually looks at her with respect in his eyes. He nods slowly, his hands raising.

“Now that, I actually believe. Sir Clark.”

“Oh,” Kara says, her hand dropping in surprise. “Right. Yes. That’s me.”

Jack rolls his eyes, the respect evaporating. “You’re really going to have to do better than that if you want to convince the entry committee at Rouen. You’re lucky you at least have me to do your patents.”

Kara blinks, rocking back on her heels. “Wait. So, you’ll do it?”

Jack looks at her thoughtfully, rubbing his overgrown chin. Behind her she can practically feel Alex seething with rage at the way he makes them wait, but finally he nods.

“Clothe me, shoe me, for God’s sake feed me, let me ride that horse a bit, and you’ll have them.”

Alex shakes her head, resolute in her resistance to letting anyone else in on their plan – but Kara holds up a finger to indicate that Jack should wait, and heads back to the cart. Winn and Alex huddle around her, and she shrugs.

“We need him.”

“How are we supposed to trust him?” Alex hisses, glaring at Jack over her shoulder. He’s whistling cheerfully, plucking at blades of grass and shredding them while he waits for the consensus. “We don’t even know why he’s naked.”

“Does it matter?” Winn says, glancing back over at Jack and then back at Kara with a blush. “I mean, we can’t get into the tournaments without patents. That’s the long and short of it.”

Alex huffs, arms crossed. “You’re just saying that because you think he’s handsome.”

“I don’t –“ Winn sputters, his face turning beetroot. “He’s not – I was just saying –“

Kara waves a hand to shut them up, and Alex and Winn both stew in silence as she makes her decision.

In the end, it’s easy. She turns back to Jack, nodding her head.

“Done.”

“Wonderful!” Jack says, clapping his hands together and rubbing them purposefully.

Decision made, Kara makes her way back towards Winn to dig through one of the bags on the cart and find some suitable clothes for Jack. Alex, on the other hand, approaches the naked man and kneels down in the place Kara just vacated. Slowly and menacingly she pulls a knife from her own belt, pointing it threateningly at his groin.

Alex speaks quietly, but loud enough that Kara can hear it.

“Betray us…and I will make sure that whatever children you might have hoped for will be but a distant memory.”

Jack smiles, the confidence never leaving him. “I have no use for children. I am however rather attached to that particular part of my body, and I’ll take you on your word. But you have nothing to fear from me. I can respect anyone trying to make a name for themselves – man or woman.” His eyes flick to Kara as he says it, and she gets the distinct impression that he knows far more than he’s letting on.

“Listen, pal, whatever you think you know –“ Alex starts, brandishing the dagger again, and Kara steps forward, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Alex, stop. We’re trusting him, right? Just let it go.”

Alex steps away reluctantly, still pointing at him.

“Pain,” she says firmly. “Lots of pain.”

Kara shoves her towards Winn and offers a hand up to Jack, who takes it and pulls himself to his feet. She hands over the trousers and shirt she has in her other hand, and he takes them gratefully, pulling the linen over his head.

Once he’s dressed, Kara holds out a hand to shake. A clean slate.

“Let’s start from the beginning,” Kara says, swallowing her nerves. If he’s getting himself tangled in this, he deserves the truth. “I’m Kara. Kara Danvers, of London.”

“Kara,” Jack says, his shake firm and his smile genuine. “Nice to meet you.” He nods, and seems to take the revelation in stride.

“Right. Let’s get those patents started, hm?”

 


 

Their arrival at Rouen is a quiet affair. They work together to set up the tent with the rest of the competitors, and soon enough it’s time for Jack to bring their documents to the panel of three officials who get to decide her future. Jack has been working on it by the firelight every night since they picked up the materials he needed, and the finished product looks impressive – it’s even fancier than Corben’s was, bound in thick leather and lined with tassels, and Kara reminds herself to thank Jack for his hard work after all this is done.

While she sits astride her horse nearby, trying to copy the haughty, devil-may-care attitude she sees on most knights at tourneys, she watches Jack approach with the patents in hand, bedecked in the ostentatious fur-lined yellow coat he won in a card game with some passing merchants on the way here.

The men at the table don’t even look up.

“Patents and lord’s name, please,” the man in the middle says in a bored tone, and Jack responds with what Kara has come to recognize as his usual vigour.

“My lord, may I present Sir Clark, whose mother's father was Shilhard von Rechberg, son of the Duke Guelph of Saxony, son of Ghibellines, son of Wendish. Wendish inherited the fief of Lumberg –“

It’s clear that Jack could go on for ten generations or more, but he’s interrupted before he really hits his stride.

“That'll do, herald,” the man says impatiently. “Six generations is more than enough. Show me the patents.”

Jack hands over the carefully-faked documents, and Kara watches with her heart beating like a hummingbird’s wings. Her entire future rests in the balance, the difference between glory and prison, and she’s never in her life felt a relief like the one that sweeps over her when the man nods, adding the patents to a nearby pile and handing Jack a long stick.

“Indicate in which events your lord Clark will compete,” he says, scribbling something on a piece of parchment. Jack uses the stick to hit two shields that hang behind the table, each with a weapon indicating a tourney event – the sword, and the joust.

And then, it’s over.

“And you doubted my skills,” Jack chuckles as he rejoins Kara out of earshot. “No trouble.”

“You’re a wonder, Jack, truly,” Kara whisper-yells, clapping him on the shoulder from her place above. “They called you my herald - I hadn’t thought about a herald, but most knights have them, don’t they?”

Jack nods, indicating the next herald in the lineup choosing his lord’s events. “Most of them, yes. Did Sir Corben not have one?”

“We had a tight budget,” Kara drawls. “Look, I know Alex is going to complain, but…act as my herald, and you’ll get a portion of our winnings.”

Jack considers it for a moment, looking around at the bustle of activity around him. When his eyes turn back to her, he’s more chipper than she’s ever seen him.

“Done!”

He clasps his hand in hers, and immediately he’s disappearing into the crowd. “I’ve got something to see to, but I’ll be in the lists for your first joust!”

And then she’s alone, firmly on the other side of one of the biggest struggles of this whole endeavour.

It’s a happiness like Kara has never felt, knowing she’s successfully pulled off their ruse and bumbled her way into her first tournament. She’s full of restless energy, so buoyant that she’s sure she could fly, and she spurs her horse onwards through the crowd, reveling in the joyous squalor of the city. It reminds her of home. Of London, the tiny hovel in the cheapest part of the city beside the river where Eliza worked her fingers to the bone as a healer to support her and Alex. It was a hard time, but a good one, and she has high hopes for today as well.

It’s in this mood, as she meanders through the streets grinning at anyone who will give her a second look, that she sees an angel.

It’s the only explanation for the woman Kara sees stepping out from a nearby archway and onto the street. She’s dressed entirely in white, a daring feat considering the muddy streets she’s stepping onto, and it makes her pale skin glow in comparison to the dingy, dusty people that brush by. Her overcoat is thick, paired with a stylish cap over her dark hair, and Kara traces the sharp line of her jaw with a fascinated eye.

She’s beautiful. But beyond that, there’s something else about her, something that hooks Kara immediately, like this woman has reached a hand right into her ribs and tugged.

The woman stands for a moment, looking at the street around her with a sharp, interested eye, and Kara stares and stares until she’s sure that it must be burning into the side of that beautiful face. Look over here, Kara pleads inwardly. Look at me. She wants the heat of that gaze upon her, wants to be the object of her fascination even for a minute.

Only a few moments later, she gets her wish. The woman moves her head, their eyes meet, and Kara’s heart stops.

Directed towards her, the woman is even more startling in her beauty. Her brows are thick and even, her cheekbones stark under those eyes – and, God, those eyes. Under their scrutiny, Kara is startled by their colour – a bright, vibrant green, piercing even from 100 yards.

A thread between them pulls taut, and the woman turns away, falling into step with a taller woman that Kara guesses is her handmaid and slipping into the moving crowd.

Suddenly desperate for this not to be their only interaction, Kara is spurring her horse forward before she can lose sight of her.

“Excuse me, milady?”

She’s dutifully ignored, although the small, knowing smile on the woman’s face tells Kara that she’s at least been heard. She trots the horse closer, coming up on the woman’s left, and the handmaid looks over with an expression that says this is not out of the ordinary. She whispers something in the lady’s ear, and she’s waved off with an eye-roll.

It settles Kara’s mania, the knowledge that this poor woman probably gets propositioned more often than not; so she eases back a little, accepting that if she’s rejected, she needs to move on.

But she needs to try at least once. Even if there’s no chance of it going anywhere, given Kara’s lack of both nobility and male parts.

“I understand why you won’t speak to me, even if I wish it weren’t the case,” She says, and for the first time since they arrived she allows her voice to ease back into its natural higher and more feminine register. Even, and nonthreatening. As honest as she can manage, in the circumstances.

The woman actually seems to falter at that, the surprise showing on her face, but still refuses to look over even as she finally speaks.

“I’m surprised you ask. My sex are marked by their silence.”

The woman’s voice is low and rich and smooth, like that dark liquor Alex once had her try at a tavern in Lyon. It burned on the way down in the best way, and afterwards made her feel tingly.

And, it wasn’t a rejection.

Hope sparks in Kara’s chest. She knows well what’s expected of women, and she’s spent her life being told she’s wrong for not fitting into it. The last thing she wants is to put that onto another person. She’s just so fascinated by this person, so interested that she burns with it.

“Oh, I would hear you speak if it cost me my ears,” Kara replies, not bothering to keep the breathy earnestness out of her voice. The woman scoffs, sharing an amused look with her maid.

“That’s good – I have no interest in silence in my life. However, I also have no interest in the companionship of knights.”

Kara smiles. The woman is fiery in a way that makes her even more intriguing, and while she knows following her through the streets is untoward in a major way, she can’t seem to stomach the idea of not speaking to her.

“I am no ordinary knight.”

The woman only smiles at that, the same small, enigmatic smile she’s sported for most of the conversation. “A sentiment I hear from most men.”

“What’s your name?” Kara asks. The woman still refuses to turn and acknowledge her, speaking as if to someone ahead rather than to Kara, who lags behind.

“What does it matter, if I aim never to see you again?”

The woman’s handmaiden hides a grin in her hand, and Kara chuckles, sensing that they’re both enjoying having someone intelligent enough to verbally spar with, rather than the run-of-the-mill masculine thickheads these tourneys usually attract.

“If you aim never to see me again, why not take pity and give it to me?”

The woman smiles again, genuine this time if brief and quickly hidden, and Kara would give up a thousand victories in the joust to make it happen again. She follows the two of them under an arch, hardly caring of their surroundings as her horse’s hooves start to clack on stone instead of dirt. When she finally stops and turns towards Kara, her gaze is a blend of suspicious and appraising. She looks Kara over from head to toe, something in her gaze makes Kara feel as if this woman has some kind of magic power to see past her disguise – as if those green eyes can see who she truly is, behind the clumsy veneer.

Before she has a chance to confirm or deny the theory, they’re interrupted by a loud, booming shout.

“You desecrate the house of God!”

Kara startles so badly that she almost falls off the horse. The man doing the yelling is a Bishop, and the Bishop is present because Kara has, somehow, followed this woman unknowingly into a cathedral, beast and all. The man holds his hands above his head, his reddened face rife with indignation behind his bushy beard, and Kara starts to pull back on the reins as she’s shepherded out of the building by a line of priests muttering prayers in Latin.

Please, tell me your name,” she pleads, backing further and further away until she’s almost at the door. “I would die to hear it.”

The woman laughs, crossing her arms. “And what would you do with my name? Call me a fox, for that is all I am to any of you. An object to be caught.”

“You are no object, but if that is what you wish, a fox you shall be until I find your name. My foxy lady!” Kara calls back, finally stepping out onto the street and cursing the priests still chanting in the doorway and blocking her view.

However, she’s always had superlative hearing – almost freakish, Alex has always said – so before she gets too far away, she hears that now-familiar voice speaking to her maid.

“He is certainly the most handsome hunter I’ve seen yet. In comparison to the rest, at least.”

This time, Kara does fall off the horse.

 


 

Kara’s first victory as Sir Clark is even more thrilling than her singular tilt impersonating Corben. She and her opponent both miss entirely on their first two runs – it’s a new environment, tilting in an open arena on sandy ground with stands full of screaming fans, rather than alone in the woods with Alex yelling at her. What the other knight’s excuse is, she isn’t sure, but by the third run, she has the hang of it. Her lance shatters on impact with her opponent’s torso, and his only glances her armour without breaking.

Alex and Winn are yelling and jumping as she rides towards them, and she throws the remnants of her lance down when she reaches the end of the track. The announcer at the podium nearby shouts her victory:

“Sir Clark Zorelle beats Roger Lord Mortimer, one lance to none!”

The banner with her crest on it – a shield with a stylized red dragon curled into an “S”, exactly like her mother's ring, backed by a blue field – is placed over Lord Mortimer’s shield, signalling her win, and she’s riding the high of her life.

“Yeah!” she yells at the crowd, pulling her helmet off and running a hand through her sweaty hair. “Thank you, thank you! I’ll be here all week!”

Alex tugs at the horse’s reins impatiently, guiding them to the stable, and Kara laughs.

“Give me a second to bask, Alex!”

“You’ve had your second,” Alex grumbles. “You’re due in the sword ring in a minute.”

Kara sighs, handing her helmet to Winn and dismounting. “Doing two events was a bad idea. I feel like I’m constantly late for something. Maybe we should withdraw?”

“But the sword is what you’re best at!” Winn protests. Kara shrugs, starting to fiddle with the straps of her jousting armour. A few pieces have to come off and be replaced with smaller, more agile ones for the sword, and she has about the amount of time it takes to walk to the arena to do so.

“The prizes are better in the joust. And the prestige, as well,” Kara says distractedly. Winn starts to help, handling the buckles on the other side of her.

“Yeah, and you’re up against knights who have been at this for 10 years.”

Kara rolls her eyes, but before she can take more than a few steps towards the sword ring, there’s a firm hand on her chest from a perfect stranger. It’s slim and feminine, and Kara follows the arm it’s attached to until she’s meeting the gaze of a very attractive (if severe) woman. Her dress is bright and slightly more revealing than Kara is used to, and the smile on her face is distinctly predatory.

“Sir Clark Zorelle?” she says, in a low purr.

“Yes?” Kara drawls, stepping back so that the woman’s hand falls.

“I’m Roulette.”

“And I’m overdue in the sword arena,” Kara says, with a polite smile. She tries to sidestep the woman, but she’s stopped by a surprisingly strong grip on her arm.

“I must detain you on behalf of your herald.”

Roulette leads her to a tent on the edge of the arena, and for the second time in as many days Kara ends up with an eyeful of a very naked Jack Spheer.

“So you really weren’t robbed,” Kara sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose as Jack shuffles from foot to naked foot. “You wagered your money away. And the second we helped you out, you did it again.”

“I have a gambling problem. I’m sorry,” Jack says, his eyes downcast. He looks, for the first time since Kara met him, genuinely ashamed. “And these people will…quite literally take the clothes off your back.” He gestures weakly to his current state of nudity, and behind him Roulette snickers.

“What are we supposed to do, here?” Kara says, barely hiding her frustration.

Roulette is the one who replies. “He assured us that you, his liege, would be able to pay his debts.”

Kara clenches her jaw. Roulette’s smug attitude grates on her nerves, and her treatment of Jack – no matter how angry she herself is at him – makes it even worse.

“How much does he owe?” she asks, refusing to meet Roulette’s eyes. She keeps them on Jack, who squirms under the scrutiny.

“Ten gold florins.”

Alex explodes, flying towards Jack, and she’s held back only by Winn throwing a quick arm around her middle.

“You son of a bitch –“ Alex shouts, and Kara steps in, pushing on her chest.

“Alex, calm down.”

“We trusted him, and he fucked us over!“

Alex!” Kara barks, and Alex stills, although her eyes still say murder. “I’ve got this.”

She turns back to Roulette, her jaw still set tight.

“What would you do to him, if we refused?”

“We, on behalf of God,” Roulette drawls, holding up her elaborately decorated cane and setting it threateningly on Jack’s bare back, “Would take it from his flesh. So that he can understand that gambling…is a sin.”

“You’re the one who runs this gambling ring –“ Winn protests, but a sharp look from both Kara and Roulette silences him.

“Please, Ka –“ Jack starts, but he catches himself before her full name comes out, and Alex twitches beside Winn. Jack swallows, correcting himself before Roulette can catch on. “Please, can you help me, my lord?”

Kara bites at her lip, but stops soon after, realizing that it probably takes away from her noble masquerade. Instead she inhales deeply, shaking her head.

“I don’t have the money.”

The defeat sweeps over him like a wave. He puts two shaking hands over his face, looking truly repentant, and Kara’s heart aches for him. He did help them – he made her patents, and kept her secret. Even here, in front of Roulette.

She wouldn’t be here, if not for Jack.

She sighs, looking to Roulette with all the lordly command she can muster.

“Release him.”

Roulette raises a brow, and her cane seems to dig deeper into Jack’s back.

“Excuse me?”

Kara draws herself up to her full height, crossing her arms and standing her ground. “Just…let him go. For god’s sake, give him back his clothes…and you’ll have it by tomorrow. You have my word.”

Roulette regards them both for a moment, before finally taking her cane off Jack’s back and nodding.

“Done. But don’t think you can leave this town without me knowing about it. I will have my money.”

Kara nods sharply, and one of Roulette’s armed guards tosses Jack his clothes.

“You lied,” Kara snaps as they leave the tent, and Jack struggles into his pants before jogging to catch up.

“Technically, I didn’t lie – I simply withheld the truth,” he says reasonably, shoving his hands through the arms of his bright coat.

“It’s the same thing!”

“Not exactly –“ he starts, but their arrival at the sword ring interrupts his justification. Before Alex can even wish her luck Kara is being shoved into the ring, her open-fronted helmet shoved onto her head and a sword thrust into her hands, and her opponent is waiting. The moment he sees her he shouts, swinging his sword wildly and bringing it down.

She manages to parry, barely – but she’d been in such a hurry attaching her armour that her right shoulder catches, the leather strap pulling taut and keeping her from deflecting his next hit. It clangs heavy on her armour, making her breath catch.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she mutters, scrambling to avoid another swing. She fails, and the second hits her lower back. “Stupid armour, stupid Jack –“

The announcer shouts the two hits in favour of her opponent, and Kara can feel the anxiety of a possible loss descending. Five hits from her opponent, and she’ll be out in the first round.

A third hit lands on her shoulder, and she’s forced to a knee with the impact. She can hear Alex shouting from the sidelines - “Stop letting him hit you!” – and she’s able to catch her breath as the opposing knight turns around, grandstanding to the crowd. He raises his arms, yelling his presumed victory, and Kara grits her teeth.

She won’t lose. She can’t. Not after all of this.

Heaving herself back to her feet, she hefts the sword in her hand and advances, and by the time he turns back around they’re on equal footing. He has the audacity to laugh when he sees that she’s back up, and the anger of it burns in her chest. Fuels her.

Her first swing is a palpable hit on his shoulder, and it takes only a few moments for her to get in four more – arm, torso, shoulder again, and then a pivot leading into the final blow to his head. He’s still reeling when her last one lands, and it happens so fast that it takes a moment for the crowd to catch up.

Jack seizes the moment. While the scorekeeper struggles to mark down her sudden victory, he jumps into the ring, seizing her gloved hand and thrusting it into the air.

“Behold, my lord Clark!” he shouts, his voice booming through the stands. “The rock! The hard place! Blown from his northern homeland in search of glory and honour! We walk…in the garden of his turbulence!”

It’s entirely too poetic a sentiment for the crowd of peasants that surround them. They’re met with a sea of blank looks, the quiet stretching out to an uncomfortable level, and it continues until Winn comes to their rescue.

Yeah!” he shouts, throwing his fist up in the air, and almost immediately everyone around him follows suit. The crowd erupts into cheers, screaming their support for her win.

She could get used to this.

Her second victory is almost as quick as her first. Her third and fourth get consecutively harder, but she comes out on top, even with the shoulder of her armour still acting up. By her final fight she’s exhausted, but when she looks over and sees her friends cheering for her before the championship match, it buoys her.

“For the championship!” The announcer cries, sweeping his arms open to gesture at Kara and her opponent, who faces her in armour shinier than Kara has ever seen. It has an almost greenish tint, and the sun hits the crest on his chest and throws it into stark relief – a gothic “L”, encircled by a griffon. “Sir Clark Zorelle, to face Lord Alexander Luthor. Sir Clark to receive first!”

Luthor comes forward. He’s not much taller or broader than Kara, likely part of why he’s facing her for the championship – they’re both light, fast, agile rather than bulky. She avoids his first two attacks and parries his third, and she can see him grin, his face brightening at the introduction of a worthy opponent.

But Kara is stronger than she looks.

The moment he lets his guard down she pushes forward, landing two hits before he can parry and move away. The rest of the match is almost an even draw – he lands three attacks, and she lands two more – and he fights her like the devil on the last one, not giving up until she pulls out her hardest maneuver. She feints a hit to his torso, twirls when he tries to parry, and slams her blade into his other side.

Before the crier can even announce her victory Alex and Winn have leapt the barrier into the arena, and Jack follows them to half-hoist Kara off the ground. It takes all three of them, with the combined weight of Kara and her plate armour, but they manage, Jack yelling at the crowd all the while – “Champion of the sword coming through! Do you wanna touch him?”

As she’s carried from the arena, Lord Luthor catches Kara’s eye. His helmet is off, and he's mopping the shine from his bald head with a rag handed to him by his squire. He looks charming and haughty, but when Kara catches his eye he gives her a small, respectful smile, and inclines his head. An acknowledgement of a peer.

Her heart full to bursting, Kara nods back.

It’s the last event she has until her next joust tomorrow, and the high of her victory lasts until they get back to their tent and removes her armour. Holding it up to the light, Kara sighs, her stomach sinking.

A crack runs through the steel from the buckle of the shoulder down to the middle of the chest. Under the strain of her flurry of activity today and with her badly-secured shoulder piece, the decades-old metal finally broke.

“Shit,” Alex breathes, assessing the damage against the sunlight. “It was a matter of time, I guess. Corben’s had this armour as long as I can remember.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Kara huffs, throwing the whole thing down next to their campfire. “We can’t afford a new set. Can we get it repaired?”

“We don’t even have enough money for that, until you get your prize at the ceremony tomorrow,” Alex sighs. She rubs her face tiredly, picking the plate up again and running her finger along the crack. “And you’ll need the armour fixed sooner than that, if you’re going to joust tomorrow morning.”

“So, what do we do?”

The only thing to do, in the end, is wander the blacksmith’s district and beg. And blacksmiths, as it turns out, are famously resistant to doing work without money up-front.

“I can’t pay you now, but I promise, as soon as I get my prize tomorrow –“ Kara tries to argue to their third smithy, but he shakes his head. Gesturing wildly with his hammer and tongs.

“Cash first, not promises.”

“But –“

He waves his hammer again, sending them away, and Kara has to struggle not to let her lip quiver. She’s never been one to shelve her emotions, but it wouldn’t exactly be noble of her to burst into tears in front of every smith in Rouen.

“Hey, we’ll find someone,” Alex assures her, but her voice is far from confident. Winn frowns, chewing at a fingernail.

“Maybe Jack could convince someone? He’s a good talker,” he says, but Alex rolls her eyes.

“I know you think the sun shines out his ass, Winn, but he’s the last person I want to see right now,” Alex grumbles. Winn kicks a puff of dirt at her, flipping two fingers, and Alex is about to shove him for it when one of the smithy’s assistants pauses in his task of dousing a piece of plate in water, wiping his brow.

“You might try the Ferrier, m’lord,” the man says, tipping his head towards the stall across the street that Kara hadn’t looked at yet. There, in the midst of a plume of steam, is a short, wiry woman hammering at a piece of iron.

“A woman?” Alex asks, clearly interested. “That’s unusual. She must be very good.”

“She took up the trade when her husband passed, sir.”

Kara nods, holding up her breastplate. “And, she does armour? I thought ferriers just did horseshoes.”

The assistant shrugs, picking up the piece of plate he’s working on and taking his leave. “No idea. But, beggars can’t be choosers, m’lord. Perhaps she’ll help.”

Before Kara has even fully crossed the street, the woman is shaking her head, not pausing in her task.

“I don’t work for free,” she says loudly over the clang of her hammer, and Kara deflates.

“And I can’t joust with broken armour!”

“Not my fault your armour’s shit.” Despite her tiny stature – she hardly comes past Kara’s shoulder – it’s clear that her will is as strong as the steel she works with, and a sort of panic rises in Kara at the idea that she might have to withdraw from the joust.

This is her last chance.

“No, it’s not your fault, but – I can pay you tomorrow. Please,” Kara begs, hearing her voice break dangerously on the last word. It sounds distinctly feminine, and the woman stops hammering at the horseshoe she’s working on as soon as she hears it. Her eyes track slowly over Kara this time, taking in every detail from head to toe, and her eyes narrow when Kara swallows nervously.

“Okay,” she says slowly, holding out her hand. “Let me look.”

Kara hands over the breastplate, her heart pounding. The woman looks it over, tsking at the dull, dented state of it.

“It’s hardly worth the steel to repair it,” she mutters, and Kara nods.

“Maybe. But it’s all I have.”

The woman purses her lips, and finally she nods. “Fine. But if you tell anyone I was this charitable, I’ll melt the whole suit.”

Letting out a laugh of pure relief, Kara holds out a hand to shake. “Deal.”

The woman takes it, her grasp firm and her hands as calloused as Kara’s.

“I’m Lucy,” she says, her expression unreadable. “Lucy Lane. And you are?”

“I’m, uh. Clark. Sir Clark.” Kara curses internally, vowing to practice her new name and story over and over tonight until she can say it without stumbling. Lucy just laughs quietly to herself, shaking her head.

“I’ll have it done by the end of the day.”

Lucy is true to her word, and by the next morning Kara is suiting up in the lists, vibrating with excitement at her next chance to prove herself.

“Lucy was right, you know. This armour is shit,” Winn grumbles, as he fastens the worn leather straps.

“Armour is armour,” Alex says. She holds the reins to the horse, which Kara pats on the neck affectionately.

“I’m just saying, maybe we should invest in some new pieces.”

“With what money?”

Kara means to interject, but their banter fades into the background of her mind when she thoughtlessly casts her eyes into the crowd, and they land on a familiar face. She’s dressed in blue this time, a dress that dips provocatively low without being completely indecent, and Kara’s body flares into high alert.

Her angel is here.

“Jack,” she whispers frantically, leaving Alex and Winn to argue and tugging on the sleeve of his yellow jacket. “Jack! I need your help.”

“Whatever for?” he asks, his thick brows furrowing. “I can’t teach you to be as handsome as me, you know.”

Kara ignores his snark. “You’re a writer, right? I need good words. Romantic ones.”

Jack clutches his chest, gasping in a way entirely too dramatic, as usual. “Kara Danvers, as I live and breathe, are you wooing someone?”

“Shh!” Kara hisses, flapping her hands in a way most unbecoming. “Don’t say my name here, you dummy!”

Jack makes a face, but he acquiesces. “Fine, my lord Clark. Is she here? Point her out to me.”

Making no mention of the fact that Jack seems to have immediately picked up on her sexual preferences without her ever mentioning it, Kara points into the stands.

“The lady in blue,” she says quietly, and once Jack picks her out he spins away, his face in his hand.

“Jesus, Kara, you aim too high.”

He’s right, Kara knows. This woman is far above her in every conceivable way. But she can’t fight the pull she feels towards her, and the idea of going over and talking to her again unprepared gives her cold sweats.

“I don’t know how else to aim! She’s an angel, Jack. I can’t stop thinking about her.”

“And what if she finds out about your little secret, hm?” Jack says, nodding his head towards her bound chest. “You can’t exactly get far without blowing this whole thing.”

“I know that,” Kara mutters. It’s been on her mind since she saw the woman in the street – no matter how much she flirts, how much they talk, there’s nothing she can offer this woman. Her knighthood is a farce, she doesn’t own property, and it’s doubtful that she would be interested in a woman underneath it all.

But in the face of her beauty, it’s so easy to forget.

“Alright,” Jack finally sighs, slipping an arm over her shoulder and talking quietly into her ear. “Okay. If you’re really bent on this, here’s what you should say.”

Chapter Text

“How many hagiographies can one look at in a single day?”

Lena chuckles as Sam throws her hands up and abandons the small corner of the shop that houses books. She runs her own finger over the spines of the books in question – mostly saints lives and prayer books, not at all what she’s looking for – and sighs.

“These back-country shops never have a good selection.”

“I suppose you’d rather go back to your mother’s estate? Her library is impressive, as I remember,” Sam quips. She’s delved into the small table display of basic jewelry, and she holds up a crudely-made cross necklace with a wink.

Lena almost throws the nearest tome at her.

“I’d rather never pick up a book again than go back to the Luthor estate,” she grumbles, picking up a manuscript and scoffing at the shoddy calligraphy. She could do better, and she’s not even a scribe.

“Perhaps the cathedral has more?” Sam suggests, slipping a ring on each finger and making a fist in Lena’s direction. “They tend to hoard all the good copies.”

“More religious texts? No, thank you,” Lena says, but Sam shrugs.

“Better than nothing.”

When she leaves the shop, Sam behind her, she still hasn’t made up her mind. She stands for a moment just on the threshold of the street, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the city – the shuffle of people bearing burdens or babies, the rattle of carts and the shouting of merchants, the distant clang of the melee arena, warring scents of baking bread and mud and people – and smiles. It’s a gift that she gets to even be here, away from her mother’s clutches, and she appreciates every moment.

She’d rather like a walk to the cathedral, even if she doesn’t find anything worthwhile.

It’s just as she makes this decision that she notices the telltale feeling of being watched.

It’s something she’s used to, here – accompanying Lex to tourneys usually means bearing the attention of men. In fact, it’s this exact phenomenon that convinced her mother to let her accompany him in the first place, in the hopes that one will finally wear her down and convince her to get married. But much to Lillian’s eternal frustration, men simply don’t interest her. They have no more impact on her mind or body than a passing fly. Suffice to say, she’s gotten used to ducking and weaving their attention.

But this feels different, somehow. Less uncomfortable, but more…intense. When she turns her head to look at her admirer, it takes her a few moments to figure out exactly what she’s seeing.

It’s a man on a horse, as she expected. A knight, presumably, although he wears no armour – just simple brown pants and a white shirt, rolled up to his elbows – and he’s much slighter and less bulky than the men she’s used to seeing. Muscular, sure, but not overbearingly so. His hair is blonde and unruly, hanging around his collar and tucked behind his ears, and his clothes are a bit on the worn side.

He looks, overall, like a bit of a ruffian. But his eyes are bright, the expression on his handsome face full of awe, and there’s something about him that strikes her as…unique. Nonthreatening. Something in his bearing, perhaps. Soft brows, full lips, and a distinct kindness around the eyes.

Odd.

Even so, Lena steps into the street, trying to put it out of her mind. She has no interest in men, unique or otherwise.

Sam falls into step beside her, and for a minute, the walk is peaceful. But it’s not long before the clacking of hooves is coming up on her left, and she stifles a weary sigh.

Yet another over-eager suitor.

“Excuse me, milady?”

Sam snickers beside her, clearly anticipating Lena’s usual caustic response to the clumsy advances of a knight, but she holds back this time. It’s the most polite proposition she’s had, at the very least – asking for her attention, rather than demanding it.

Leaning close to her, Sam whispers in her ear.

“He’s quite pretty, for a boy.”

Lena rolls her eyes, and keeps walking. No matter how pretty he is, she’s not interested in his company.

What she truly isn’t expecting, though, is what he says next.

“I understand why you won’t speak to me, even if I wish it weren’t the case.”

His voice is markedly higher than she expected, and another bolt of recognition goes through her, like the one Lena had when she saw his face. It’s a high register. Almost feminine, if a bit husky. Impossible, and yet unmistakable.

She barely resists the instinct to look at him again and try to figure it all out.

After that, their banter is surprisingly enjoyable. When he laughs at her barbs, his voice is light and pleasant – she’s never heard a grown man laugh like that. Even he seems to catch himself, clearing his throat and blushing. He even manages to make her laugh, a feat unheard of by any knight previous, and she feels shockingly comfortable even as he follows her on horseback into a damn cathedral, like a moron. He persists in his gentle flirting laced with self-deprecation, even while he’s ushered into the street by chanting priests. Lena chuckles, turning to Sam.

“He is certainly the most handsome hunter I’ve seen yet. In comparison to the rest, at least.”

She hears something heavy hit the ground outside, but Sam pulls her attention away from it.

“Why, Lena Luthor, are you being receptive to a suitor?”

“Shut up,” she scoffs, shoving at Sam’s shoulder as they head towards the offices behind the altar. “You know I’m not. It’s just nice to speak to someone with a modicum of intelligence for once.”

Sam clutches her chest in fake injury, and Lena has no luck looking through the cathedral’s book collection. Sam insists she deserves it, for being so cruel to her handmaids.

Lena tells her to shove it, and buys her a new bracelet at a stall outside the church.

Their next destination is the jousting arena. Lex agreed to meet her there to watch together - even though she doesn’t care much for the sport, she enjoys time with her brother, even if he usually abandons her for the first woman who bats her eyelashes at him. He’s also always late, but surprisingly this time he almost collides with her at the entrance to the stands, sweaty and grinning in his lighter set of armour. He’s rubbish at jousting, no matter how many times he tries, but the sword is his secondary event, Lena remembers. He must have just finished.

“Found a good man yet?” he asks pointedly as they sit down, and Lena scoffs, shoving at his laughing face.

“Oh, stuff it. You know I haven’t.”

“Oh, but mother will be devastated!” he says delightedly. “That’s the whole reason she sent you here, after all.”

“She sent me because she thought being surrounded by men would cure me of my preference for women,” Lena mutters, as two men gallop towards each other full-speed. She flinches when they collide with a loud crunch, but Lex cheers and claps, apparently pleased with the result.

“Too bad for her, women are irresistible, aren’t they?” Lex says, putting an arm around her. He stinks like a peasant, and when she tells him so, he just laughs and nods.

They’re interrupted by two knights she’s never seen before. They ride up together, one with greasy ginger hair and the other with a dark, patchy moustache, and it’s clear that they’re in some sort of competition with each other as they shout up into the stands at Lena.

“My lady! I will win this tournament for you!” the ginger man yells, his accent unmistakeably French and his expression unbearably smug. His friend elbows him, pointing up at Lena directly.

“Nay, I will win it for you!”

Lena rolls her eyes at the interruption, and calls down with a haughty voice.

“I’d rather you focused on bathing, first.”

It seems to take them a moment to register that Lena has replied at all, let alone with an insult; and when they do, they can’t seem to think of any comeback better than riding away, egos bruised.

“Better luck next time, boys!” Lex calls after them, and they glower at him almost in unison, affronted by their mutual derision.

“You look like you’ve had a good fight,” Lena notes, as Lex wipes his brow. “You’re in a remarkably good mood.”

Lex nods again, rubbing the back of his neck. “I did! Got my ass handed to me, in fact. Only took second. First time I’ve been beaten at the sword in 6 years!”

Lena blinks. It’s true – Lex hasn’t been beaten since she was a teenager. Whoever managed to do so must be incredibly talented.

“And who’s the man who trounced you so easily?” she asks, and Lex shrugs.

“Some northern knight named Clark. His armour was ancient, with some strange crest I’ve never seen, but he fought like a demon. Couldn’t get a hit in!”

As he describes the fight Lex catches the eye of a woman in the next section of seats, and the way she fans herself and bites her lip tells Lena that he won’t be here for long.

“I’d like to meet this knight so I can shake his hand,” Lena chuckles.

“I would too, Christ! Maybe I could take some pointers.”

As much as Lex likes to win, he can also accept an opponent who bests him, and it’s gratifying to see his competitive nature tamed a little. It also helps that, apparently, he has more than enough to occupy his attention - just as she thought, Lex starts to stand up as soon as the lady that caught his eye shoots him a wink.

“Going somewhere?” Lena drawls, and Lex shrugs helplessly.

“You know I’m a slave to a pretty face. Not all of us can be intellectuals like you.”

“You’d be smarter if you didn’t get hit in the head so much!” she calls after him, but he’s gone as quickly as he arrived, and Sam shakes her head as he lumbers over to the woman sending him signals.

“Your brother really doesn’t think with his brain, does he?”

Lena shakes her head, sighing. “Unfortunately, no.”

Another two knights run at each other on the field, both missing by a country mile, and Lena drums her fingers on her thigh. She came here specifically to spend time with her brother, and now that he’s gone, she has less than zero interest in watching the joust.

She’s just deciding to take her leave when Lex’s empty seat is filled, and a large, rough hand takes hers without so much as a hello. She turns with intent to snap at the audacity, but she’s met with a man she’s been hoping she wouldn’t have to meet.

His herald, a weedy little man that stands at his side with a falcon on his arm for no reason whatsoever, bows as he introduces the man holding her hand hostage.

“May I present my lord Morgan Edge, count of Anjou, winner of the joust in France, and champion at Saint-Emilion.”

“And all of it forgotten,” Edge says, bringing her hand up to his lips and kissing it, “now that I’m sitting next to the most beautiful woman in Christendom.”

He says it with complete confidence in himself, and it makes Lena’s skin crawl – but this time, she holds in her instinct to insult. The young knights who shouted at her are one thing, but Morgan Edge is another beast entirely. She knows of him, knows his reputation. He runs in the same circles as her mother, and he’s a formidable fighter, with a temper to match. She knows when to pick her battles. If she has to suffer through a few jousts with him, so be it. It’s better than him reporting to her mother that she’s been openly defiant.

“Count Edge,” Lena says evenly, subtly taking her hand back and casting her eyes onto the joust instead. “Your list of victories is impressive. Do you only pretend to fight, or do you wage real war as well?” It’s a dangerous question, teetering on the edge of insulting, but Edge just gives her a smug smile.

“I am leader of the free companies, yes. My army is in southern France, at the moment. How do you like the joust?”

“I find it…rather abrupt,” Lena says diplomatically. Edge laughs condescendingly, and she can see Sam on her left side clenching her jaw against the instinct to snap.

“Ah, you simply don’t understand the rules. Allow me to educate you.”

Lena purses her lips, and prepares herself for an excruciating ‘lesson’.

“A match is three runs,” Edge says, gesturing at the two knights galloping towards each other. “One point is given for breaking a lance between the waist and neck, two points for breaking on the helmet. The helmet is more difficult – the head tends to sweep back on impact, and most blows glance off it rather than breaking. And three points are given for knocking a rider to the ground. Also, should you do so, you win your opponent’s horse.”

None of this was unknown to Lena. She’s been attending jousts since she was a child, even more regularly since her mother sent her along with Lex on his tour of French tournaments, and having it explained in childlike terms by a man like Edge makes her insides burn. But she pushes the anger down, acting the clueless woman. Hopefully it’ll be over soon.

“And do men die, in the joust?” she asks, the sarcasm going completely over his head.

“The tip of the lance is made of blunted iron. It makes them safer, but accidents happen.” He leans close, his breath reeking of beer, and whispers what she’s sure he thinks is something impressive. “I myself have been unhorsed by no man.”

Finally fed up, Lena smiles, and leans away pointedly.

“We have that in common.”

Before Lena has to pay for her insolence, their agonizing conversation is interrupted by someone that Lena finds herself alarmingly happy to see.

The knight who followed her into the cathedral has ridden up to the stands, grinning in that sunny way he has, his hair flopping about his shoulders, and Lena is smiling before she can stop herself. She might not be interested in his advances, but at least he’s tolerable. Anything is a better alternative to Edge. And, just like before, there’s something about him. Something different about the way he fills out his clearly oversized armour, the way he holds himself.

She needs to investigate.

“Your name, my lady,” the knight says, his voice just as gentle as she remembers. ”I’d still love to know it.”

Lena laughs lightly, Edge completely forgotten. “Even after being escorted away by priests, you persist.”

“I’m starting to think that perhaps angels have no names,” the knight continues, his expression open and earnest, “only beautiful faces, and acerbic wit.”

Lena isn’t usually the type to blush. Especially in response to unbidden compliments paid by jousters. But her cheeks get hot without her consent, and she can’t keep the smile off her face as the knight pats the neck of his horse gently.

He’s by and far the most sincerely charming knight she’s ever met. The compliment is a good one, given without pressure and acknowledging her personality rather than just her looks. And, just as before, she sees a flash of something in his face, his bearing. Something familiar, something she’s been captivated by since she realized that her attraction lay with women. A certain softness to his smile, a sparkle in his eye.

Two things are at war in her mind, her knowledge of what is and what could be, and the latter starts to win out when the knight in question speaks again.

“I hope I have not offended, my lady?”

His voice is practically melodic, now that she’s paying attention. It would seem perfectly in place on a teenager, a boy who hasn’t yet hit manhood –

Or, perhaps, on a woman.

It’s not unheard of, women dressing as men to go to war or enter priesthood. She’s read dozens of stories with such a plot. But it seems impossible. There’s no way a woman could have made it past the guards, past the patent officers, could have the training and oppourtunity to make it here, even posing as a man.

Even as she tells herself this, she still can’t undo the perception shift. The larger part of her is no longer seeing this charming but clumsy knight. She’s seeing probably the most attractive woman she’s ever met, sitting in full armour astride a horse and looking at her like she hung the moon.

She doesn’t even have time to properly reply before their moment is broken by Edge, who elbows his way back into the conversation with the finesse of an angry bull.

“And, you are?” Edge huffs, looking down his nose at the scruffy person Lena is so fascinated by, and the knight falters.

“I am, um –“ he stammers, thrown off by the new presence in the conversation, and Edge takes advantage of his hesitation.

“Are you sir ‘um’? Or have you forgotten your own name?” he sneers. The younger knight bristles at the insult, straightening in his saddle and replying with more authority than before, with a bit of steel in his tone.

“I am Sir Clark Zorelle, of Kryptonia.”

Kryptonia. She can vaguely recall reading about such a place, somewhere in the northern reaches of the world. Northern Germania, perhaps, or Scania? It’s far, wherever it is, and this Clark speaks with no discernable accent to help her place it. His crest is one she’s never seen, as well – a coiled red dragon on a pointed blue field. 

Interesting.

“Good lord, I’d forget too, with a name like that,” Edge laughs cruelly. “And, your armour.”

“What about it?” Clark replies evenly, and Edge seems to get even angrier at the lack of reaction.

“How stylish of you to joust in an antique. My grandfather will be able to wear his in public again.”

Under such scrutiny, most knights would deflate. They’d ride away with their tails between their legs, pouting over being bested – or, worse, they’d get aggressive and insist on a fight or a duel. But this one – Sir Clark, she now knows – does not. He simply regards Edge coolly, nodding.

“My armour might be old, but at least I’m not desperately trying to prolong a dying career, Count Edge. I look forward to proving myself on the field.”

A hush falls over the rest of the stands, their attention drawn by the battle of wits that Clark is clearly winning, and Lena can feel Edge boiling like a dormant volcano next to her.

She’s going to have to deal with his anger, but it’s worth it, to see him so thoroughly trounced.

Before Edge can gather a verbal parry Sir Clark nods in Lena’s direction, nudging his horse towards the lists.

“My lady. I hope we can speak again.”

He’s gone before she can reply.

“Poor country hedge knights,” Edge spits in Clark’s direction, his jaw a harsh line. “Little better than peasants.”

Lena says nothing, but she crosses her fingers for Sir Clark as he lines up for his joust against another knight Lena has never seen. The two scorers prepare for the match as well, collecting their flags and setting a large wooden shield bearing each knight’s heraldic crest in its place on the front of their respective booths. Lena is surprised to find that, along with not recognizing Clark’s heraldry, she’s also never seen his opponent before.

Clark’s opponent’s herald announces him as ‘Sir Carter Colville’, the third Earl of Warwick. He looks, in Lena’s opinion, extraordinarily young – he’s even more slim and wiry than Clark, his immaculate armour fitted to his body and standing in stark contrast to Clark’s battered chestplate, but Clark at least has the advantage of a better herald. He’s a tall, bearded fellow, handsome in his own way despite the atrocious yellow leather coat he’s wearing, and his speech is moving enough that even the nobles in the crowd are forgetting their propriety and cheering.

Everyone but Edge, anyways, who watches Clark like a hawk. As they advance on each other, their horses churning up the sand, she actually finds herself holding her breath.

The impact is hard, both men landing solid hits to the chest, and their lances shatter on impact as they both try to keep their seats. Clark succeeds, righting himself and steering his horse over to his two waiting squires – one of whom is a woman, a definite rarity – who both seem overly invested in his wellbeing.

Colville, though, teeters dangerously, and only manages to stay on the horse because his herald props him up at the last minute. It seems his armour, for all its pomp and shine, failed him at the last – it’s caved in slightly over his sternum, where Clark’s lance landed.

He must be very strong, for his size.

“Colville has perfect technique,” Edge comments to his herald, Lena’s presence apparently entirely forgotten. “But I’ve never seen him before.”

The herald nods, stroking his thin moustache. “Nor I. And, this Clark Zorelle. His technique is rudimentary, his style nonexistant, but still – he’s fearless.”

“How so?” Lena asks, and Edge seems to remember her for the first time. He explains, somehow avoiding the condescension from before. He seems to be too invested in examining Clark to waste his time on flirting, and Lena is grateful.

“The slit in the visor of a helmet is small, but splinters can penetrate it and pierce the eyes,” Edge explains. “I’ve known a few men who have died that way. Most knights raise their chins or move their heads away at the last moment. You lose sight of your opponent, but it’s safer. This Clark doesn’t move.”

“He keeps his eye on the target,” Lena says quietly, sharing a look with Sam, but Edge waves the sentiment away impatiently.

“He’s too stupid to protect himself.”

Lena thinks otherwise, but she keeps her mouth shut.

At the left end of the field Clark seems ready and eager for the next tilt, but something is holding the match up. Sir Colville is still struggling to stay on his horse, his squire handing him a lance that he can hardly hold.

“He seems injured,” Lena says quietly to Sam. “Another hit could kill him.”

And, down on the field, Colville seems to have the same realization. He shakes his head, and slowly urges his horse forward at a walk, the lance abandoned. When he reaches the middle of the barrier he stops, and Clark meets him there, his helmet visor open.

“What’s happening?” Sam asks, gesturing at the standstill. Clark and Lord Colville seem to be in an intense conversation, and Lena shrugs just as they seem to come to an accord, shaking hands and riding back to their respective ends. Neither ready themselves for a joust, though – instead Colville’s herald carries a white flag to the scoring booths, and drapes it over his Lord’s shield in a final gesture.

“Colville withdraws,” Edge says, incredulity in his tone. Colville’s squires help him to dismount, and Clark returns to his own crew to do the same. “Zorelle advances. Why didn’t Zorelle finish him?”

“He shows mercy,” Lena says, more determined than ever to understand the mystery of Sir Clark Zorelle. “He let Colville keep his honour intact.”

Edge seems much less impressed.

“Then he shows his weakness, for that’s all mercy is.”

Edge takes his leave soon after, needing to prepare for his own upcoming match, and Lena takes the opportunity to escape back to her rooms at Rouen’s most posh inn with Sam in tow. Lex is nowhere to be found in their shared suite, his adjoining room dark and empty, and Lena sighs, reclining on the bed as Sam works at undoing her complicated hairstyle.

“Today was…interesting,” Sam comments, pulling at pins and loosening the tight braids wound around her scalp. Lena rolls her eyes.

“Sitting with Edge was like pulling teeth,” Lena grumbles, but Sam just laughs lightly.

“I wasn’t talking about Edge.”

“Well then, who were you –“ Lena starts, but the realization hits her before she finishes her sentence. “Oh. You mean Clark?”

“I’ve never seen you flirt before. Since when do you respond to people calling you angelic with a blush instead of an insult?”

Lena shakes her head, and Sam makes a noise of protest as the movement scatters pins across the stone floor.

“Hold still, will you?”

“Sorry,” Lena mutters, trying to sit still as Sam brushes out her hair. “He’s just…different, Sam. The way he holds himself, the way he speaks. Have you noticed?”

Sam shrugs. “I assumed it was cultural. He’s from the far north, right? He certainly seemed interested in you, but perhaps they have different norms there. His squire and herald certainly seemed…cozy.”

Lena shakes her head again, and Sam gives her a warning tap on the head with the hairbrush.

One more move, Luthor –“

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Lena sighs. “It’s more than that. He’s gentle, and kind, in a way I’ve never seen in a man. And, his face…something about it strikes me as…I don’t know. Feminine?”

She says it hopefully, inching the possibility into conversation so that someone, anyone, can validate this ridiculous thought.

“Feminine?” Sam parrots, but Lena keeps going.

“His face, his eyes, the way he carries himself,” Lena says in a rush, twisting her hands together. “I can’t get his ridiculous face out of my head. It’s driving me mad.”

“What are you saying?” Sam says, a smile growing on her face that tells Lena she knows exactly what Lena is saying.

“I just think that, maybe, he’s not – I don’t know,” Lena trails off, frowning. “It seems absurd. I can’t imagine how a woman would get to his position.”

Sam sits beside her on the bed, her face contemplative.

“I can’t say I haven’t had the same thought,” she admits, and now more than ever before Lena is intensely, unbelievably grateful that Lillian made the mistake of assigning Sam as her handmaid all those years ago. Nobody understands her like Sam does. They share everything, including a mutual love for women, and without her Lena probably would have ended up either running away from home or forced into a miserable marriage by now.

Sam gets up off the bed again, grabbing Lena’s nightgown and gesturing for her to come closer so she can be laced out of her corset. “I think what we need is proof. I believe Sir Clark is tilting against Lord Edge for the final match tomorrow, if you’d like to watch.”

Lena grins as Sam gets to work on her dress. “I think I’d rather like to see Edge lose.”

“As would I.”

“I may have an idea,” Lena says, slipping out of the heavy fabric and into her comfortable chemise. “For how to find proof. Could you do something for me, tomorrow?”

 


 

A cool breeze rustles the canvas walls, carrying with it the sleepless activity of the tourney grounds. The clank of armour, the snort of horses, the sounds of blacksmiths and ferriers and men shouting – it’s like white noise to her now, mixing with Winn’s snores and Jack’s occasional mumble. They’re pressed together close in sleep, which she knows Winn will deny doing on purpose and Jack will tease him mercilessly for in the morning.

But Kara doesn’t notice any of that. Her head is full to the brim with one thing, and one thing only.

Her lady had been watching, today. Watched her win, even if it was a withdrawal – Lord Carter Colville had been gentlemanly in his request for a dignified loss, and Kara had been happy to agree. And, when he lifted his visor to speak to her, he seemed so young. In the sport for the love of it, like her. He knew his limit had been reached, and Kara could respect that. She’d never intentionally hurt anyone.

Even if she is a little proud that she managed to cave in his armour in front of the one person she cares about impressing.

Kara made her laugh, today. She saw a blush stain those pale cheeks, saw every one of the smiles that she can tell the woman tried and failed to hold in, and nothing has ever made Kara happier. Even if the whole experience was marred by Lord Scumbag.

She knows who Edge is, of course. He’s won quite a few tournaments in his time, big ones that Corben lost miserably at, and he likes to make himself the centre of attention at banquets. His insults stung, but Kara could see her own disdain for him mirrored on the faces of both the woman and her handmaid, and it helps massively.

For probably the hundredth time Kara sighs and shifts on her blankets, and finally Alex pokes her.

“For the love of god, Kara, go to sleep. I can hear you thinking.”

Kara shrugs. Sleep eludes her, and she’d much rather spend her time thinking about the striking face that hovers behind her closed eyes anyways.

“I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about her, Alex. I can’t explain it. She…she makes me feel like a poet.”

Alex turns over, groaning and rubbing her face. “You may feel like a poet, but you sound like an idiot.”

Kara sighs dreamily.

“You don’t even know her name!” Alex protests in a raised whisper. “You know nothing about her!”

“Her name…” Kara whispers back, “Is Aphrodite. Calypso. Venus. Take your pick.”

“If you knew anything about Greek mythology, you wouldn’t be using any of those examples.”

“But Alex, her eyes –“

Alex interrupts her, her voice no longer a whisper.

“We’re pulling a long con here, Kara. You need to concentrate, especially if you want to beat Edge tomorrow.” There’s something intense in her face, something Kara knows isn’t just competitiveness, and it tempers her mania a little.

“Alex, are you okay?”

Alex sighs, rubbing her face. She has dark circles under her eyes, and Kara can see the stoic mask she usually wears slipping away until it leaves just Alex. Just Kara’s sister, who is going mad with worry.

It makes guilt stab at her insides.

“I’m scared for you,” Alex admits quietly, like a confession. Like she’s been keeping it inside, worried that letting the thought out will make it become real. “We got into the tourney, but every day we do this is a risk to your life. I know mom sent us away to find a better life than she had, but somehow I don’t think this is what she had in mind.”

“Eliza would be proud of us,” Kara tries to assure her, but Alex’s frown stays fixed. “We’re being brave. Taking a leap.”

“You don’t know that. She was always harder on me than you. If she knew that I was letting you compete, letting you put your life in danger –“ Alex cuts herself off, shaking her head.

“I’m an adult, making my own decisions,” Kara says firmly. “What else is bothering you? I know it’s not just this.”

Alex’s mouth twists up into the anxious line Kara knows so well, and sure enough her next words hit Kara in the gut.

“I thought we’d be home by now.”

For the first time in years, Kara can see tears forming in her sister’s eyes. She looks angry at herself, offended that her body would betray her like this, and Kara immediately moves closer to clasp her hands.

“What do you mean?”

“I thought – mom sent us away when we were kids, and I figured eventually Corben would retire and pay us off and we could go home. To London.” Alex sniffs, wiping harshly at her face. “To mom. But then he kept competing, and the longer we stayed with him the more likely mom wouldn’t even be there when we got home. We don’t know if anything’s happened to her, Kara. And we couldn’t leave, until –“

“Until he died,” Kara says quietly, her heart sinking. “You wanted to go home. And I made you follow my plan instead.”

“It’s fine,” Alex insists half-heartedly, but Kara squeezes her hands.

“No, it’s not. I mean, if you’d have told me this when I came up with the plan, maybe we could have avoided all this, but…I pushed you,” Kara admits, and Alex gives a wet sort of chuckle.

“You know I’m shit at saying what’s on my mind.”

“Well, you’re really good at saying what’s on your mind if it’s a threat,” Kara jokes, and it breaks the tension a little. Alex’s shoulders relax, and she swipes the last of the tears from her eyes.

“Look,” Kara says, following Alex’s eyes until she finally meets her gaze. “I promise, we’ll go home soon. The more I win here, the more likely we can retire before we get caught. We can go back to London and win the world championships, and live in riches.”

Alex laughs. “You’re far too optimistic.”

“That’s what you love about me.”

Alex opens her mouth to retort, but Jack pipes up from Kara’s left to interrupt her, groggy and irritated.

“Now that the emotional bonding is over, could the two of you please shut up? Some of us need beauty rest.”

They both settle back with a sigh, and Alex sends her one last warning look.

“Just…promise me you’ll concentrate, Kara. Keep us out of trouble.”

Kara nods, but her thoughts stray back to her dark-haired lady without her permission. She’ll do whatever she can to keep away from the authorities, sure – but she’s not sure she can keep herself away from her.

The next morning dawns bright and clear, and despite her lack of sleep Kara is raring to go from first light. She puts on her armour with a determination she’s never felt before, and Winn notices right away.

“What’s got you so focused? You’re usually bouncing right before your tilt.”

“I’m facing Edge today,” Kara replies, fiddling with the hinge on her visor. It’s never quite been the same since her first tilt, when it was dented so far in that it almost broke her nose. “I have to win.”

“He’s pretty good, Kara,” Win says doubtfully. “I don’t know if you’re going to take this one. He won the world tournament in London two years ago. I’ve never seen him lose.”

“Well, he didn’t win last year, did he?”

“Because he was away at war,” Winn argues, and Kara huffs in annoyance. “Just…don’t get your hopes up too high.”

“I can take him –“

A pebble hits Kara’s armour with a twang, and their argument is halted when Kara follows the source of the throw to Alex, who’s making a dramatic shushing motion.

“What the heck, Alex?” Kara asks, rubbing the mark out of her armour where the stone hit. “What’s your –“

She shuts her mouth with an audible click when the reason for Alex’s dramatics makes herself known – a woman has entered the lists, tall and well-dressed, and Kara recognizes her immediately.

She’s the handmaid of the woman Kara can’t stop thinking about.

“Uh…hi,” Kara says, her words leaving her entirely. The woman blinks at her, a tiny smile on her face, and clears her throat.

“Good morning. Sir Clark, if I remember correctly?”

Kara nods silently, and thankfully Alex steps in.

“Yes, uh, he is. And, you are?”

“Samantha,” the woman says, extending a slender hand for Alex to shake. “Samantha Arias. But you can call me Sam.”

And, to Kara’s utter shock, Alex giggles. Giggles! She hasn’t heard her sister giggle since they were teenagers, and this Sam draws it out of her as easily as water from a well.

“Right! Sam. What can we, um. What can we do for you?” Alex says, and Kara gathers her wits enough to notice that her sister is probably more nervous than she’s ever seen her, staring up at the handmaid with a starry look.

Oh, the irony.

“My lady asks that Lord Clark wear this token today, and joust in her favour,” Sam says, and impossibly, she draws a soft green gossamer handkerchief out of her sleeve and offers it to Kara.

Her lady wants Kara to wear her favour. Against Edge.

Immediately Kara comes forward on shaky legs, taking the fabric and nodding enthusiastically. She almost trips over herself fastening it to her armour, and it’s only when it’s secured and she’s controlled the dopey grin on her face that she notices Sam is looking at her with a startling intensity. Her eyes flit around Kara’s face like she’s looking for something specific, and she only stops when Kara frowns.

“Is there anything else?” Kara asks nervously, clearing her throat and trying to deepen her voice. “Do I…should I send something in return?” She knows her complete lack of knowledge in the arena of courtly romance is showing, but Sam seems kind.

Sam chuckles, her serious expression gone as quickly as it came. “No. But she did ask me to give you one last thing.”

“She did?” Kara asks, hopefully. “What is it?”

“Her name.”

Kara’s stomach does several backflips. She feels like her whole being is bent towards Sam now, waiting, waiting for the answer she craves. Her name. It’s probably something poetic, something as beautiful as she is.

“Her name…is Lena.”

Kara’s heart grows wings, and the name etches itself into the fabric of it even as it soars towards the woman in question.

“Lena,” Kara whispers reverently, and Sam curtseys with a knowing smile, picking her way back across the field towards the stands. Alex’s eyes follow Sam the whole way, hardly breaking away for a second - but Kara’s track over everyone else, searching, searching, until finally she spots the brightest dress in the crowd. Her pale skin and dark hair are unmistakable even at a distance.

Lena.”

Her lady’s name is Lena, and she wants Kara to wear her favour.

Well, she can’t lose, now.

Edge is every bit as intimidating as Winn said, as they sit on their horses waiting for the starting flag to wave. His armour is jet black and gleaming in the sun, his lance tipped with an iron fist. Even his horse is black, looking threatening as it stamps at the sandy ground.

He’s just putting on a show, Kara thinks as the referee comes forward with a flag, holding it out and preparing to start the match. He’s all flash.

In their first tilt, she realizes how right Winn was.

She gets a hit in, at least. Her lance breaks satisfyingly on his armour, and she’s happy in the knowledge that she’s scored a point against Edge in her first run – for exactly half a second, until she feels the impact of his lance on her own chest. It hits with a force she’s never known, pushing her almost out of the saddle, but she holds on for dear life and manages to keep her seat. She’s wheezing as Alex and Winn grab the remains of her lance and push her back up.

“Kara!” Alex hisses, rapping on the old armour with her knuckles. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Kara rasps, still trying to catch the breath that was forced out of her with Edge’s hit. “Christ almighty, he hits like a hammer. It’s amazing! Did you see?”

“Leave it to you to turn this into a learning opportunity,” Winn says, handing her another lance as the flag goes up again. Alex turns the horse around, and Kara shifts around in the saddle, trying to find a position that lets her breathe easier.

“He’s good, but he’s not perfect,” Alex says quietly, as Edge takes another lance from his bowing squire and levels it in her direction. “He aims high. Roll your left shoulder back when he hits you, and it might glance off your armour.”

“Well, that might work, if he strikes me on the left,” Kara agrees, rolling her shoulder back to practice the move. “If he hits me on the right, I’ll be obliterated.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t a gamble.”

Kara doesn’t have a chance to reply before the flag is waving and they’re smacking the flanks of her horse again, sending her off.

Roll your shoulder back, she thinks, watching as his shiny black armour advances through the slit in her visor. Roll back…now!

She moves her shoulder out of the way just as her lance makes contact, and she feels –

Nothing. Her lance is broken, and his is still intact. Alex’s gambit worked.

She can’t contain her yell at the realization. She throws her broken lance into the sand, waving into the screaming crowd as she goes back to her end to meet Alex and Winn, and as she passes Edge it’s confirmed – he’s staring up at the iron fist on the end of his unbroken lance, and she can practically feel his anger hitting her in a wave.

He turns and gallops back to his own starting point, throwing the perfectly good lance furiously, and Kara swallows hard.

“It worked!” Alex yells as Kara comes closer, taking the new lance she offers. “I figured it was a long shot, but it actually worked! You might have a chance at – shit, Kara, go, go!”

Alex looks panicked, and Kara turns to see that Edge isn’t waiting for the flag like he should. He’s riding towards her at full speed, and nobody seems to be stopping him.

“Shit,” Kara hisses, urging her startled horse forward. “Shit, shit –“

She’s barely up to half speed when they meet. She’s jerky and thrown off guard, and when his lance crashes into her helmet and sends it flying off her head, she knows hers remains unbroken before she even blacks out.

She comes to in the middle of the field, her horse stomping nervously at the change in routine as Alex slaps her gently in the face.

Clark!” Alex says loudly, slapping Kara’s cheek again. “Clark, wake up.”

Kara groans, holding a gloved hand up to her head. It’s ringing like a bell, and her helmet is nowhere to be seen, but at least she managed not to fall off the horse. Winn is behind Alex looking worried, and Jack is frowning in the direction of Edge’s end of the stadium.

“We lost, didn’t we?” Kara mumbles, blinking into the light, and Winn nods, a grim look on his face.

“Only because Edge cheated. And he’s so popular here that nobody is saying anything.”

Alex looks like she’s about to say something much less polite, but she stops Edge’s black horse steps into range. He’s carrying his broken lance, and caught up on the splinters of it is the green token Lena had given her, fluttering in the breeze.

“You dropped this,” He says, raising his visor with a look of smug satisfaction. “Gain more bearing, Clark. See me again when you’re worthy.”

He rides away with the token still held aloft, and Kara can see Alex’s temper snap in real time.

“That dirty, cheating, son of a bitch –“ she says lowly, and before Kara can stop her she’s gone, heading towards the referee standing near the nobles.

She doesn’t get far, though, before she’s shoulder-checked by Jack so hard that she almost hits the sand.

“Well done, my lord!” Jack calls towards Edge’s retreating back, clapping politely as if he didn’t just tackle Alex to the ground unprovoked. “Noble victory.”

“What the hell –“ Alex says, getting up and obviously about ready to box him into next week, but he just puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Go and see to Clark.”

“Did you not see what he just did?” Alex says loudly, her face flushed red with ire. “He should be disqualified –“

“I saw,” Jack says more gently, with a nod in Kara’s direction. “Go and see to your sister, Alex. This isn’t the kind of renown you want.”

Alex looks like she’s about to fight him on it, but right at that moment Kara groans and slumps forward on her horse, and the decision is made for her. While she ensures that Kara doesn’t have a concussion, Jack watches Edge offer the handkerchief back to Lena in the stands, who takes it with a look of barely-restrained anger.

With Edge being determined the champion of the joust, the tournament is over, and the awarding ceremony comes swiftly enough that Kara doesn’t even have time to change out of her armour. She and Edge stand side by side as the prizes for the other events are given out – spear on foot, the melee, the carrousel – and when her own trophy for her win in the sword is awarded, the victory sours a little when she realizes that the prize is a statue of a jouster, made of solid gold.

Edge steps forward to accept his own chest full of gold coins, and while they stand and wave at the cheering crowd, she hears him address her from the corner of his mouth.

“And all is as it should be,” he says, smiling. Something burns in the pit of her gut, something hot and unfamiliar – a rage at the injustice of this whole thing, a system that won’t let an honorable poor person compete but will award glory and riches to a noble who cheats.

This whole thing isn’t just about her own destiny, anymore. Edge has made it a calling, a purpose. She’s going to get better, she’s going to win every tournament she can, and she’s going to try to change this whole system.

“The next time we meet,” Kara replies, her own smile and wave not hesitating for a moment, “You will look up at me from the flat of your back.”

Edge laughs. He turns fully towards her, brushing an imaginary speck of dust from the embossed crest on the front of his shiny armour. “Clark, you have been weighed, measured, and found wanting. In what world would you have ever beaten me?”

And then he’s gone, his squire and herald struggling to carry his prize.

Kara’s anger, while still there, simmers down to a controllable level as Alex takes the golden trophy from her, and Winn claps her on the back.

“Look at that thing! It has to be worth a fortune. Keep winning the sword, and we’ll be rich!”

“We’ll have enough to eat, and be comfortable,” Kara corrects, following the line of other knights out of the arena and towards the field where their tent is pitched. “We won’t be rich. The joust is where the real prizes are, and the prestige.”

“But you’re better at the sword,” Alex counters. “If you only competed in the joust, you might not win at all.”

“I almost won this time!” Kara pushes. “I came second! And if Edge hadn’t cheated, I would have at least had a chance. I’m good at this, Alex. How much better will I get if I stop splitting my time and energy?”

Alex is still mulling it over when they arrive at the tent, and Kara immediately grabs the nearest pile of equipment and heaves up over her head, tossing it into the wagon.

“What are you doing?” Winn asks, moving out of the way as Kara starts fiddling with the ties of the tent.

“Packing. Alex can go sell the trophy and pay Lucy and Roulette, and then we should go.”

“Go?” Jack says, his incredulous laugh putting Kara even more on edge. “The festivities still go for another two days!”

“And the next tournament is in two weeks, in Tours,” Kara argues. “If we leave now, we can take our time and walk most of the way. Save the horse. He’s getting old, after all.”

Jack pinches the bridge of his nose, moving to intercept Kara in her quest to take the tent down. “Kara, you’re champion of the sword! You have to go to the banquet tonight, or you’ll be insulting the Lord who hosted the tourney. You have to dance, make an appearance –“

“And have Edge laugh at me again, in front of Lena? No thank you.”

“Kara, don’t be an ass –“ Jack says, grabbing the bundle she just threw into the wagon and handing it to Winn.

Kara huffs, grabbing it back and tossing it into the wagon again.

You’re being an ass! I’m not going.”

“Yes, you are!”

“No, I’m not!”

Damn it, Kara –“

A throat clears loudly behind them, and four heads whip around to see Sam standing there, arms crossed and an amused grin on her face.

“Sam!” Alex says breathlessly, abandoning the argument and focusing on the pretty girl so fast that Kara is worried she might have whiplash. “What can we do for you?”

Sam, for her part, seems perfectly happy to talk to Alex as well. She looks down from her great height with an affectionate expression, and if Kara wasn’t so nervous she’d probably think it was adorable.

“My lady would like to know what colours your lord will be wearing to the feast tonight.”

“What…colours?” Alex asks, her brow furrowing, and Sam chuckles lightly.

“So she can dress to match him.”

Kara’s stomach, which had so recently been soured by the idea of going to a banquet, erupts in butterflies.

Lena wants to dress to match her. It seems impossible, completely insane, but Sam is looking at her expectantly, and how on earth could she say no?

Jack, now standing beside Kara, clears his throat and starts to address the situation. “We regret to inform you that we will not be attending –“

Kara cuts him off with a sharp elbow in the side, and he ends the sentence with a wheeze.

“Herald!” Kara says, her voice high and panicked. “Don’t answer questions that you don’t know the answer to.”

“Absolutely, m’lord,” he grunts, holding his ribs. Guilt tickles the edges of her mind, but she can’t pass up this oppourtunity to be close to Lena. Lena, who wants to dress to match her at the banquet.

Good lord, she is so unprepared.

“Uhh – Winn!” she says, trying to keep the nervous squeak out of her voice. “What colour will my tunic be tonight?”

Winn blinks, still holding an armful of wooden practice swords. “Your…tunic?”

Kara looks at him pointedly, borderline desperately, and finally it seems to click.

Oh!” he says, dropping his bundle. “Right! Yes. It’s, um…” He casts his eyes around, and finally they land on the fluttering fabric of their tent.

“His tunic is…blue,” Winn says, and Kara looks at the tent and back to him with a raised brow.

“Blue?” Sam asks, clearly looking for elaboration, and Winn nods.

“Yes! Blue. Trimmed in a sort of…pale blue. With, um. Wooden buttons.”

Sam looks at each of them in turn, from Alex’s blushing face to Kara’s wide, panicked eyes, and nods her understanding.

“I will tell my lady.”

“Oh, god,” Kara whimpers as Sam disappears, sinking down until she’s sitting in the grass. “This is a disaster.”

“No, it’s not!” Winn says brightly, grabbing a handful of the tent. “It’ll actually make a really nice tunic. Alex, lend me your dagger?”

He starts cutting out swatches, but Kara shakes her head. “That’s not the disaster, Winn.”

“Then, what?” Jack says, still holding his sore ribs and clearly at his wit’s end. “Why are you so resistant to this idea?”

Kara bites her lip, rubbing her face tiredly and looking up at him with a miserable expression.

“I don’t know how to dance.”

There’s a few beats of silence while everyone takes in that information, and exactly what it means. Kara can’t dance, and she’s heading to an event where half the activity is taken up by dancing. If she messes this up, it will be fairly obvious that she wasn’t raised in a noble court. Their cover will be blown.

“Oh,” Jack says, understanding finally hitting him. “Oh. Well, shit. I didn’t think about that.”

“Clearly,” Kara grumbles. “I grew up poor, and even Corben didn’t go to banquets half the time. I have no idea how to even begin to –“

“Am I interrupting?”

Four heads turn abruptly to the opposite end of their campsite, where another woman has materialized – Lucy, the blacksmith. She salutes sarcastically, and Alex sighs.

“Is this camp completely bereft of privacy?” Alex grumbles, but Kara raises a hand in a friendly wave.

“Hey, Lucy. The armour worked great today, thank you.”

“No problem,” Lucy replies, shrugging. “Since you won an event, I assume you have my money?”

Kara points at Alex, who holds up the trophy they haven’t yet sold.

“Just a second.”

Walking calmly over to the wagon, Alex holds the golden jouster against one of the firm edges, and without hesitation she presses her body weight into it until the soft metal of the horse’s head breaks off completely.

“Alex, what the hell!” Winn says, aghast, his hands frozen halfway through sewing an arm of Kara’s new tunic. “You broke it!”

“What? We’re selling this thing for the gold anyways, not the craftsmanship.” She tosses the head at Lucy, who catches it easily. “This should cover what we owe you.”

Lucy nods, examining the gold and then pocketing it. She turns to leave, but when she sees Kara fiddling with the now-dented visor of her helmet, she hesitates.

“Your armour,” she says, coming closer and examining the aged steel. “It wasn’t made for you, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t,” Kara says, moving the squeaky joints. “But there isn’t much I can do about that. As you can tell, we aren’t exactly rolling in cash right now.”

“I could make you armour so strong and fitted that you wouldn’t even know you wore it.”

Lucy seems completely earnest as she says it, totally sure, and she’s faced with four doubtful faces in return.

“You can make armour?” Winn asks incredulously, and he’s met with a glare from Lucy so strong that he immediately points his attention back to his sewing, his face red.

“I make better armour than any other blacksmith here. They just don’t let me sell it because I’m a woman. Tell me I should stick to easy stuff.”

“And how much would that cost us?” Alex says suspiciously, but Lucy just shrugs. She looks bone-tired, and a wave of empathy hits Kara as she realizes – they aren’t so different, the two of them. Lucy is also struggling to survive in a field that men don’t think she belongs in.

The only difference is, Lucy is allowed to be herself.

“Just let me travel with you as far as Paris,” Lucy says, a tiny note of pleading in her voice. It’s more vulnerable than Kara has heard so far, and it makes her blink and sit up straighter as Lucy makes her unexpected request.

“Wait. You want to come with us?”

“I want to get out of here,” Lucy clarifies. “The shop I have is nothing – my husband left it to me, and not much else. I’m making horseshoes when I should be making weapons. I need to leave, and you clearly have no issue working with women.” She nods in Alex’s direction, and Alex frowns, her protective nature clearly fighting with the desire to help the woman who helped them.

Clark,” Alex says pointedly, “can I speak with you for a moment?”

Kara scrambles to her feet, brushing bits of grass and dirt from her pants, and follows Alex to the other side of the tent. Lucy seems happy to wait, looking around their campsite with interest, and she even offers a pointer to Winn on his stitching.

“This is a bad idea,” Alex says before they even round the corner. “We don’t know her, or how she’ll react to you-know-what.”

“She seems nice,” Kara shrugs, and Alex looks at her with mingled annoyance and pity.

“I know you want to see the best in people, but the stakes are too high, Kara. It’s bad enough that we let Jack latch onto us like a barnacle, we don’t need another tag-along.”

“But, she could make me new armour!”

“Is that worth risking your secret?”

A twig snaps somewhere behind Kara, and they turn in unison to see Lucy standing there, her eyes wide and guilty. Kara can see Alex’s hackles rising in real time, but Lucy speaks before the bomb can go off.

“I know you’re a woman.”

The statement hangs between them for a moment. Alex’s mouth hangs open, and Lucy looks ready to fight, but Kara just feels a bit deflated, honestly.

“Ugh. Really?” she whines, throwing her hands up in defeat. “I thought I was pulling it off!”

Lucy laughs, visibly relaxing with Kara’s casual mood. “You might be able to fool the lummoxes around here, but you haven’t quite got the nuances of being a man yet. I could help you with that, and whatever other things you’re trying to hide.”

“And how exactly could you help?” Alex asks. She’s still in defense mode, her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed, but the fact that she’s even open to listening to Lucy’s suggestion is a good sign.

“I’ve been working among knights for years. Day in, day out.”

“So have we!” Alex protests. “We’ve been squiring since we were kids.”

Lucy laughs. “Well, being attracted to men as well as women has its benefits. I was probably watching them a lot closer than you were.”

“She’s right,” Kara admits, and Alex throws her hands into the air in exasperation.

“Fine! It’s your funeral.”

Her sister puts on a good show, but Kara can tell when she’s secretly relieved about something, and this is definitely one of those times. Having someone around who can help them tangibly with something so important – armour, and blending in – is going to be a huge advantage, and they all know it.

“One question, before we say yes,” Kara says carefully, and Lucy tilts her head.

“What?”

Kara kicks at the ground until little puffs of dust rise up and settle on her boots, her lips forming into an anxious twist.

“Do you…know how to dance?”

Lucy does know how to dance, it turns out; an hour later Kara finds herself in an unused barn with Jack keeping time with a stick on an upturned bucket, learning the Farandole.

“And one, and two, and - twirly, twirly, twirly!” Jack calls over his own rhythm, swirling his hand in the air as Kara tries to follow Lucy’s instructions. “And one, and two – and, you’re still getting it wrong!”

“I’m nervous!” Kara huffs, frowning while Lucy kicks at her feet until they’re in the right position. “I might end up dancing with Lena tonight. I don’t want to mess it up!”

“The best way to learn is to relax,” Lucy emphasizes, holding her hand up in the starting position again. “You got the other two I showed you. This is the hardest, but you can do it.”

“She has to be at the banquet in an hour and a half,” Winn pipes up from the corner, where he’s making the final alterations to her new tent-tunic. When he realizes that every set of eyes in the building are glaring at him, he gulps, snipping a loose thread and holding the pants up like a shield.

“Don’t hurt me?”

Lucy shakes her head, wiggling her hand until Kara reluctantly puts hers up too.

“Ignore him. You’ve almost got it, I promise.”

It feels like a white lie, but Kara tries again anyways. The opportunity to actually have a full conversation with Lena is too good to give up, and she at least needs to be able to not fall on her face.

 


 

Lena has been to what feels like a hundred banquets in her life. She’s sat bored at a hundred tables, fended off the advances of a hundred pushy knights, watched her brother make a fool of himself over a hundred women and sat coolly on the sidelines, waiting for the first oppourtunity to politely excuse herself.

Of all those banquets, this is the first time that she’s been nervous.

Even Sam notices. Lena is fidgeting, something she thought had been drilled out of her years ago, and she drums her fingers incessantly on the table as knight after knight enters the hall. Each has to be announced, with all the pomp and frills that accompany their name, and she’s beginning to get impatient.

Sam puts a gentle hand over hers, stopping her frantic fingers in their tracks.

“I have never seen you like this, Lena. Truly.”

Sometimes, Lena curses how well Sam knows her.

“Well, I’ve never gone to a banquet with the sole intent of figuring out if the knight I have strange, confusing feelings for is actually a woman, have I? I mean, what happens if I’m wrong?”

“Then we leave, and you hope he stops pursuing you? Play the aloof noblewoman who loses interest,” Sam says with a shrug, letting Lena’s hand go. “If it’s any consolation, now that I’ve talked to him, I’m about as sure as I can be without asking him to take his shirt off. I don’t think he’s – you know – fully living as a man, identifying that way, you know? When I went to ask him his tunic colour, his herald called him by another name.”

What?” Lena hisses, ripping her eyes from the door for the first time to glare at her friend. “You didn’t tell me that!”

“You were too busy panicking over your dress.”

Lena huffs, smoothing her hands over said dress and sitting straighter. The panic was worth it – she looks incredible in aquamarine silk, and she knows it – but she resents Sam not telling her this new information right away.

“Now that you’re capable of absorbing information again, I can tell you,” Sam continues. “They called him Kara.”

Kara. She’s never known a male Kara.

“That certainly doesn’t sound like a man’s name to me,” Sam says, shrugging. “And, his squires seemed very familiar with him. Usually they’re obedient, you know? Scared of their lord. But Clark’s are relaxed in his presence. They seem like friends.”

“You only noticed that because you think the female squire is attractive.”

Rather than embarrassment, Sam is as infuriatingly unflappable as always. “Her name is Alex, Lena. If you’re going to tease me about my crush, at least make an effort.”

Lena opens her mouth to retort, but the words fade into an exhale when her eyes find the door again. Clark is standing there, looking lost and nervous, and Lena has half-stood from her seat before she realizes what she’s doing.

Thankfully, Sam grasps her sleeve and tugs her back down before anyone notices.

“You’re really twisted up over this knight, huh?”

“Shut up.”

When Clark is finally announced, he looks unsure of what to do until his eyes sweep over her table and firmly lock with hers. The nerves melt from his features, replaced by a bright smile, and he makes his way over as she stands fully from her seat.

“Sir Clark,” Lena says, her own smile escaping in reaction to his. “You look fantastic.”

And he does – the blue of his tunic brings out the bright blue of his eyes, the golden tones in his hair, and now that Lena is mere feet from him with no other distractions she can see what Sam means. He’s not just handsome, he’s pretty in a way grown men usually aren’t – delicate brows, full bow lips, soft cheeks with not a whisper of facial hair. There’s a definite shape to his hips in his fitted trousers that Lena has been trained by attraction to notice in women, and his shoulder-length hair is pushed back from his face with some kind of macassar, making it smooth and soft-looking and highlighting the details of his face. 

In short, he has all the features she finds attractive in a woman and none of the features that repulse her in men, and she’s almost positive that her suspicions are correct. But something in her needs confirmation, something concrete that will let her stop doubting herself and let this Kara into her life.

“And, you my lady. You look…” Clark looks lost for words, looking her over with clear reverence, and Lena pinks complacently at the compliment.

“You remind me of the Bible," Clark finishes.

Lena deflates slightly. The possibility of Clark being a religious nut is…unappealing, and she has no idea how to parse being told she reminds him of an old book, and her least favourite one at that. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

To her right Sam snorts loudly, her hand flying over her mouth as Clark (Kara, Lena’s brain reminds her) reddens.

“I’m sorry,” Sam says, clearly struggling not to laugh fully. “If you’ll excuse me, my lady, I’m going to go…somewhere else.”

And then she disappears into the crowd, laughing, leaving poor Clark trying to explain the strange statement.

“I mean –“ he stammers, sitting down in Sam’s vacated seat. “It’s difficult to – it’s been years since I’ve even been to church, I just had this thought and then I said it, and - do you remember the story of Joshua?”

Lena frowns. She knows the story, of course, like everyone who’s ever been to a few church services, but she doesn’t know how on earth Clark is going to relate it to this conversation.

“Yes?” she says, and Clark nods in relief.

“Well, in the story, God stops the sun in its tracks so that he’ll have more time to win a battle.”

“I’m aware,” Lena drawls, Clark’s flustered demeanour endearing him to her even if he makes no sense. It’s not even among her favourite stories, and Clark’s explanation isn’t shedding any light so far. “Am I supposed to guess how this applies to me?”

“Well, if I had one wish, it would be to stop the moon,” he says, his eyes wide as they move around her face like he’s trying to memorize it. He takes one of her hands in his – his fingers are long and tapered, calloused, but surprisingly delicate – and finishes his explanation. “Stop the moon, and make this night – and your beauty – last forever.”

Oh. Well.

If uttered by anyone else, a compliment like that would do nothing but make her roll her eyes. But when it’s from Clark, possibly from Kara, something erupts in her chest. Something warm and flustered, and she can’t stop it from showing on her face. Clark, for his part, looks incredibly pleased with himself.

And now, she really needs to confirm the suspicion that feels distinctly like a hope.

After that the night is easily the most pleasant she’s ever had. Clark is a perfect dinner companion, giving her a conversation as stimulating if not more so than any of her discussions with Sam. He’s respectful and kind, genuinely thanking every servant who brings them food or wine, all the while not noticing the way Lena is watching his every move like a hawk. The way he eats, drinks, even holds things – all are so markedly different than every knight around him that it’s a wonder nobody else seems to have noticed. Perhaps, like Sam, they put it down to a strange cultural difference.

But Lena knows better. Her instincts are rarely wrong, even one so ludicrous as this, and she only regrets that it isn’t prudent to have parchment and ink at the dinner table to take diligent notes on Clark’s mannerisms.

“So, do you live here in Rouen?” Clark asks, after their third course has been served and they’re both far too full from the previous two to even touch it. “Or are you only here for the tournament?”

Lena shakes her head, swirling the wine in her cup. It was unintentional, but any mention of the place she has to return to after Lillian has decided she’s been gone long enough is unpleasant.

“No, the Luthor estate is in Aquitaine. I’m travelling with my brother, Lex.”

Luthor?” Clark asks, his eyes widening. “You’re…Lord Luthor is your brother?”

“He is,” Lena confirms, and she puts a gentle hand on Clark’s forearm when he starts to look a little panicked. “You beat him quite soundly in the sword, I hear. He was very impressed by you.”

Clark visibly relaxes, and looks strangely surprised at the news.

“He was?”

“He can recognize a worthy opponent. It means he’s going to fight twice as hard next time, though.”

“I’m not sure I’m going to compete in the sword, next time,” Clark says with a frown, and Lena tilts her head.

“No? Why not, when you’re so talented?”

The compliment is a mild one, but nevertheless Clark blushes, reaching up to fiddle with his hair in a thoughtlessly feminine gesture before seeming to realize what he’s doing and setting his hand back in his lap. “It, um. You know, it was just too much strain. I was constantly running from bout to bout, and the joust is where I want to focus my energy.”

“I must say,” Lena says mildly as she gazes out over the dance floor, “I don’t ordinarily enjoy the joust, but watching you this afternoon was…entertaining.”

Clark blushes prettily again, and Lena makes another mental note. And underlines it several times.

That, of course, is when Morgan Edge decides to make his presence known. He appears at their table like a spectre, dressed in black velvet from head to toe. It makes him look like an undertaker, and she can see Clark’s hand curl into a fist in his lap at the intrusion.

“My lady Luthor,” Edge says, making a low bow, before flicking his head in Clark’s direction. “And, with Zorelle. You’re far too lovely to waste your time at his table, Lena. Shall we adjourn to mine?”

The condescension, the sheer assumption of his question, the fact that he addressed her by her first name with no qualms whatsoever, makes Lena’s blood boil.

“I’m perfectly happy where I am, Morgan,” she says, purposefully leaving out his title as she slides a firm hand over Clark’s thigh.

It’s a power move that she’s not entirely sure she’s going to get away with. Clark jumps so suddenly that his knee hits the bottom of the table, and Lena uses the confusion to further her investigation, to press in closer, her hand edging dangerously close to what she’s seriously starting to think might be a roll of balled-up socks.

“You are?” Clark asks, his voice cracking.

“Of course I am.” Lena squeezes gently, watching Clark’s knuckles go white in tandem - but he looks at her with a smile that looks both alarmed and ecstatic, and Edge’s anger doesn’t seem quite so important anymore. She’s halfway through forming a plan to continue her investigation of the possible rolled-up sock situation when she remembers that Edge is even there, fuming like an active volcano.

And, he is certainly angrier than Lena has ever seen him. His face goes dark, and when he realizes their attention is barely on him anymore he storms back towards his waiting retinue, shouldering one of them violently out of the way. Lena retracts her hand soon after, and Clark sags in relief so comically that Lena has to stifle a giggle.

“What is his problem?” Clark asks, looking after him with a knitted brow as Lena’s hand retreats back to a safer distance. “He’s been antagonistic to me since the minute we met.”

Lena sighs, taking a sip of her wine. “He’s a tiny man, who can’t accept someone he sees as lesser becoming an equal.”

“You think I’m his equal?” Clark asks genuinely, and Lena quirks a brow over the rim of her goblet.

“I think you’re his better. If he hadn’t cheated during your match, you would have won.”

Clark’s eyes widen, and he grabs at her hand excitedly. “You noticed that? Nobody would say anything, but my sister almost tackled him off his horse, she was so mad –“

Clark’s hands are warm and rough, and they grip her own in a way that’s oddly pleasing. So pleasing that she almost misses her next clue of the night.

“Your sister?” she asks, tilting her head in an affected show of confusion. Clark’s blue eyes widen immediately, his hands receding back into his lap to wipe nervously on his trousers.

“Oh, uh. Did I say sister? I meant – squire, Alex is my squire. We’ve just, you know, we’ve known each other so long that sometimes I think we’re sisters.”

It takes him a few extra seconds to pick up on his secondary slip – long, agonizing seconds of Lena staring at him with hope rising in her like an unstoppable tide.

“Sister and brother!” he says loudly, panicked. His eyes are wide, and she can practically see his rapid heartbeat at the base of his throat. “That’s what I meant. Slip of the tongue. Totally common. Right? It’s not weird, let’s dance!”

He tugs her up and out of her seat before she can grill him with another question, and when one song switches to another at the moment them come together, he pulls her closer with very little confidence.

“I know this one!” he says, sounding far too proud of himself as they take the first steps. “I’m sorry if I step on your feet, though. I’ve, uh…never been a great dancer.”

“Looks like I should be leading, hm?” Lena replies, a brow quirked.

Clark doesn’t get the chance to step on her feet, though. The dance is interrupted by a loud voice, startling the band into stumbling on the notes and finally stopping altogether.

“Sir Clark!”

It’s Edge, standing tall and red-faced with ale consumption. He looks angry, but somehow smug, as if he’s just won a great victory. He waves a hand over the crowd, grandstanding in a way that makes Lena grit her teeth.

“Why not show us a dance of your homeland, Sir Clark?” He says, his voice booming through the stone walls. “Show us a dance of Kryptonia.”

Clark looks to be just a hair short of a panic attack.

“My…homeland?” he says, his voice high and squeaky. He clears his throat, and Edge sneers.

“You do know the dances of your own country, don’t you?”

“Of course! Yes. Dances.” Clark wipes his hands on his trousers again, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. “Right. There’s one that’s, uh, a lot like a Farindole?”

It comes out more like a question than a statement, and Lena starts to feel anxious for him as he takes a hesitant starting position. He goes through a few steps that do resemble a Farindole, if done perhaps by a drunkard, but after a few he looks lost. His eyes go to Lena in a silent plea, and she springs into action.

“Perhaps Sir Clark hesitates because in Kryptonia, the women lead the men in dance. Isn’t that right, my lord?”

Clark nods frantically, stepping back with palpable relief as Lena takes over. Summoning an air of confidence, she takes up Clark’s starting position, and gestures for everyone to follow.

“Sir Clark was kind enough to teach me this particular dance earlier. Ladies, if you’ll join me?”

The next few minutes are a riot of activity, Lena working with Clark in a silent back-and-forth to create a dance they both know doesn’t actually exist. It’s fun, in it’s own way, and interesting enough to draw Lena’s mind away from the issue at hand tonight – at least, until she adds a move where she has to press her hand gently over Clark’s chest and push him back two steps, and she feels something different. The surface of his chest is ever so slightly uneven. There’s a bit of a swell under his loosely-fitted tunic, and the texture of it isn’t smooth skin.

It’s as if there are bandages there. Binding something.

It could be medical, the overly logical part of her brain rationalizes. He just competed in several gruelling events. Perhaps he’s bandaged a muscle strain, or a bruised rib. There are other reasons to bind one’s chest besides hiding breasts.

Even so, the perhaps is all she can think about. It’s all she can think about when their improvised dance changes to a more intimate one, and it’s all she can think about when it ends and the band takes a break. Clark doesn’t move away, and neither does Lena. Now is her chance.

She’s never been this close to Clark, before. Close enough to see the baby-soft skin of his jaw, how long and dark his eyelashes are. He licks his lips nervously, shifts from one foot to the other, and they’re close enough to kiss before Lena gets her final confirmation. The thing that finally lets her drop the last bit of resistance. She runs her hand up Clark’s arm in an experimental move, and he swallows hard in response, and -

Clark has no Adam’s apple. And, for some reason, when stacked next to the rest of the clues that have been screaming at her all day…that’s enough.

The relief that floods her at that realization, at the knowledge that her feelings aren’t unfounded, that she was right, is unparalleled. It’s enough to weaken her knees, and she tightens her grip enough to feel Clark’s muscles flex in a way that does not improve her condition. She’s almost faint as she uses her free hand to trace a soft finger over her saving grace, over his throat –

Her throat. Hers. Kara, not Clark.

Like a castle of cards, every resistance she’s put up since meeting Clark flutters to the ground at their feet. All the evidence – the name, the soft features, the magnetism Lena feels, the lack of facial hair and the chest bindings and his (her) own slip of the tongue from earlier tonight - each took a chunk out of the walls Lena built, and now she stands in this open hall bare and unprotected. Trusting in a person she’s only just discovered.

Clark is Kara, and Kara is a woman, and Lena is falling for her.

“Lena?” Kara asks – Kara – her voice rough and sweet. She looks confused by Lena’s sudden intensity, by the hand now trailing down her collarbone, but seems perfectly happy to let it happen. “Are you all right?”

“I’m…sublime,” Lena whispers, finally dropping her hand and intertwining it with Kara’s instead. Her heart is pounding with her revelation, with the now-hundreds of possibilities her imagination is presenting her with. “Would you like to join me for a walk? I find myself wanting fresh air, suddenly.”

“You do look flushed. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Lena grins, tugging on Kara’s hand.

“Never better.”

The night air is bracing, and it cools Lena’s overheated body and mind. Kara seems content to trail slightly behind her with a gobsmacked expression, like she can’t quite believe any of this is happening, and for once Lena is in the same condition. She’s alone in the castle gardens with a woman she’s wildly attracted to, a woman who the wider world would assume is a man. Even if they weren’t alone, nobody would likely bat an eyelash if she kissed Kara right now. It would be considered perfectly average, two young lovers sneaking a moment to themselves.

Christ, Lena wants to kiss her.

“It’s a beautiful night,” Kara says quietly, taking a deep breath of the cool air. “A walk was a good idea.”

Lena nods, her gaze never leaving the side of Kara’s face. “The night is lovely – but I’m more grateful to be alone with you.”

Kara blinks at her, hardly moving when Lena pulls at her hand and presses in closer than is strictly decent. Kara smells like clean skin and leather, she feels warm and solid and strong, and it’s truly incredible how the shift in perspective means that Lena now wants nothing more than to be swept into her arms like a common damsel.

“Well, um. We certainly are alone,” Kara says, her voice cracking as Lena has noticed it does when she’s nervous. The blonde rubs at the back of her neck, looking torn between moving away to be proper and stepping closer, and Lena makes the decision for her. 

“We are. What are you going to do about it?”

Lena replaces Kara’s nervous hand with her own, trailing her fingers over the soft hairs at the base of her neck. They’re mere inches apart, practically sharing breath, and Kara’s eyes are so dark that the blue Lena has become so familiar with is almost gone – Lena can practically feel the heat of her kiss, can almost taste her lips –

“My Lady Luthor?”

Kara springs away from her like she’s been burned, and suddenly the inch of space becomes several feet. For a moment, Lena honestly considers protesting, pulling Kara in and getting the kiss she so craves, but a page steps into the secluded corner of garden they’ve been monopolizing and spots her before she can move an inch.

“Ah, my lady! Your brother is looking for you. He said he saw you come this way.”

“Tell my brother he can shove it up his arse,” Lena says firmly, still staring resolutely at Kara, who seems unable to meet her eyes.

“My – my lady?” the page stammers, and Lena sighs, taking pity on the boy. Lex probably saw her disappear into the gardens with a knight and assumed she needed a rescue – it’s happened on more than one occasion, after all. The page can’t be a day over 14, and she won’t make him bring her message back to Lex. No matter how much she wants to stay here and explore every inch of her new discovery.

“Tell him I’ll be there in a moment.”

Kara clears her throat as the boy takes his leave, and now that the veil of impropriety is gone she finally lets her gaze meet Lena’s again.

“You have to go,” Kara says, with the air of someone giving a eulogy at a funeral. Lena reaches up to stroke the side of her face, and Kara’s expression brightens slightly at the attention.

“I do, as much as it pains me.”

“Will I see you again?” Kara asks, the hope in her voice as clear as a bell. Lena smiles, leaning in close, close, until they’re sharing breath again – and with clear intent, she places a delicate kiss on Kara’s cheek. It leaves a bright red stain just left of Kara’s mouth, and it gives her a thrill of pleasure to see the physical evidence of her desire on the other woman.

“If you’re lucky.”

Lena leaves with her heart lighter than it’s felt in years, the absolute potential in front of her forming into dozens and dozens of tangible plans.

Her mother sent her here to find someone, and she had assumed it would never happen. This was to be her swansong, a last-ditch experience of freedom before Lillian forced her hand into a marriage. But someone has caught her eye. And, with some work and some dedicated lying on both their parts, her mother might even approve.  

Chapter Text

“So, what do you think?”

Kara looks down at her chest, at the seemingly wafer-thin panel of metal shielding it, and tries not to openly wince.

When she got back from the banquet, she’d been practically floating. She traipsed through the encampment and back to their tent – now with several sizable holes in the fabric, where Kara’s current outfit was harvested from – in a daze, still drunk on the events of the night. She has no idea how long she stared at the ceiling, reliving the events of the night before she drifted to sleep. But in her defense, it was the best night of her life.

Lena is the most deeply, profoundly beautiful person she’s ever met. Seeing her from a distance is one thing, gazing at her from the stands or talking to her from horseback and marvelling at her sharp features, her bright green eyes. But sharing her table? Dancing? Their walk in the garden, where for a moment Kara truly thought Lena might kiss her? Nothing else compares. Kara didn’t consume a so much as a drop of wine, but she felt tipsy just from the feeling of Lena’s hand on her thigh, or her chest, or tangled in her own. And besides her obvious beauty, Lena is wickedly clever, whip-smart and quick to laugh at Kara’s stupid jokes. There’s a marked difference between the reserved twitch of the mouth Lena gives to others and the unrestrained, dimpled smile she points at Kara, and she treasures the memory of every single one.

The only thing that dampens the bliss of the night is the persistent voice in the back of Kara’s head. The one that sees fit to remind her that she’s keeping some monumental secrets, and eventually, Lena will find out. As much as she thinks Lena might be open to her right now, she’s sure that will end when she finds out Kara is really just a peasant woman from the London slums.

That’s a problem for another time, though. Presently, Kara has more urgent matters to worry about.

When Kara collapsed onto her bedroll and read the note left on her pillow – a missive from Lucy, asking that they meet at her forge in the morning – she hadn’t thought much of it, consumed as she was with thoughts of Lena. But in the bright light of morning, on only a few hours of sleep, it’s hard to hide her alarm when Lucy buckles her into a brand new set of armour that barely covers her exposed parts.

“I mean, it’s really nice, but it’s…too small,” Kara says hesitantly. “And it’s really light. How is it going to protect me?” The suit is fitted to her torso in a way she isn’t used to, contoured to her body perfectly under the light padding. It looks sleek, the metal dark and dangerous-looking, but after wearing Sir Corben’s oversized chestplate for so long it makes her feel like the first hit is going to cave her chest in.

Alex raps her knuckles on the greaves, frowning at the thin sheet that covers Kara’s arm. “She’s going to be crushed. Killed. This is barely enough to deflect an arrow.”

Lucy sighs, standing up from her seat on a nearby hay bale. “I found a new way to heat the steel. It’s thinner, but just as strong. I promise.”

Alex and Winn exchange doubtful looks. Lucy rolls her eyes, and approaches Kara to grab at her arm and move it up and down.

“Twist! Bend. Feel the movement. Imagine how much freedom this is going to give you, how much control. You won’t have to contend with armour that could fit two of you. Your aim will be better, and you’ll take less injuries. I swear it.”

Kara does feel a remarkable amount of mobility, it’s true. It almost feels like she isn’t wearing armour – the joints are oiled so well that movement is easy, and there’s none of the usual strain on her muscles to carry this suit around. But she can’t get the image out of her head of an opponent riding towards her at top speed with a dull spear bound for her naked chest.

“Lucy, we really appreciate this, but –“ she starts, but Lucy interrupts impatiently.

“Do you at least have the courage to test it?”

It comes out as a challenge, and Kara frowns even when Alex tries to intervene.

“Kara, we don’t need to –“

“What did you have in mind?”

Kara agrees to the plan almost without thinking about it. Only when she’s in position and about to be pummeled by half a tree swinging at her does she full comprehend that Lucy’s plan involves standing Kara in front of a huge pile of flour sacks, rigging a log to some chains from the roof, and letting it loose at full speed in her direction.

This is a very bad idea, Kara thinks in the split second before impact. And I am going to die.

And then she’s flying, landing against the flour sacks with a whumph and a puff of white powder.

Alex runs to her right away while Winn and Lucy catch the log on its backswing. She tugs Kara up into a sitting position, wiping the flour from her face and shaking her slightly.

“Are you okay?” Alex asks, and Lucy appears behind her, excitement clear on her face. “Did it hurt?”

Kara takes stock of her body, and after a few seconds the verdict is clear. She laughs joyfully, shrugging in her shiny new armour.

“I didn’t feel a thing!”

Lucy’s spot in their troupe is solidified, and they help her pack the essentials from her smithy into her own second wagon before they all head to their next tourney in Tours.

Unlike the trip to Rouen, which was mostly Jack working on her patents of nobility while Winn pretended not to watch him and Alex worried incessantly, the journey to Tours is actually enjoyable. Lucy and Jack get along like a house on fire, and as the days progress Winn gets brave enough to abandon his badly-concealed admiration for open staring. Alex even relaxes, joining in the frivolity around the fire every night without her usual aura of worry. It’s relaxing, and easy, and good.

It feels like having friends.

Their second tourney entrance goes off without a hitch, and she can practically see Jack’s ego growing in size when his patents are accepted without question again. One of the men at the entry table even recognizes Kara from Rouen, and when Jack only chooses the joust, he frowns.

“No sword this time, eh? After you wiped the floor with Luthor?”

Kara chuckles, fighting the urge to fidget under his scrutiny. “What can I say, the joust is where my interest lies. I like a challenge.”

“Ah,” the man nods, accepting her excuse without question. “Well, Count Edge has already signed in, so you’ll get your rematch I wager.”

The fire in Kara’s chest crackles. There’s never a guarantee that any knight will turn up at all tourneys – men of station tend to have armies or family obligations to attend to, and don’t usually need the prize money to get by like Kara does. But clearly Edge is working his way to the championships this year, and Kara can’t wait to meet him again in a fair fight.

With a happy grin Kara turns away, but a thought hits her before she can go too far. Turning back to the man, she feigns a casual attitude, and asks her suddenly burning question.

“Excuse me, sir - by any chance, is Lord Luthor here?”

The man flips through his stack of papers before pulling out one with a familiar green crest on it, and Kara’s heart soars.

“He is indeed! Only entered the sword, though, so you shan’t meet him on the field.”

As if she cares whether she’ll meet Lex Luthor in the ring. Kara thanks the man, and makes her way into the tourney grounds with a spring in her step. She couldn’t give a fig about Lex – but if he’s arrived, that means something much more important.

Lena is here.

As excited as she is to find Lena after the uncertainty of the last two weeks, Kara has other things to contend with, and before she’s even had a chance to look for the subject of her daydreams it seems like the tournament is starting. They’re among the last groups to settle in, having taken their time along the road to Tours rather than leaving early like Kara originally suggested, so it’s not long before the first bout is being announced.

Lining up along the sidelines with the rest of their little group, Kara leans forward against the wooden barrier that encircles the field while two heralds take their places in front of the Lord’s seat. She perks up slightly when she recognizes both of them, though – one is the herald for Lord Carter Colville, the man who asked so humbly for Kara to accept his withdrawal rather than risk injury to himself; and the other is exactly who Kara was hoping to see. Edge’s thin-moustached servant announces him with all the accolades and titles she’s sure he doesn’t deserve, and she prepares herself to watch what should be an exciting match.

There’s something different about it, though. There’s something stalling the proceedings, and Edge looks antsy, if that’s even possible. His herald runs towards him from the stands, and Edge leans down to listen to whatever the man has to say – and then, after a moment’s pause, he nods at someone standing near the announcer’s booth. 

The man nods back, and drapes a white flag over Edge’s crest.

Her heart sinking like a stone, Kara ducks under the wooden barrier and takes a few steps towards the booth, as if somehow she’ll be able to overhear them if she moves a few feet forwards. Edge turns his horse and leaves the arena without a second look.

“There’s only one reason for a withdrawal like that,” Jack says, coming up on Kara’s right, and Winn nods.

“Royalty.”

“What do you mean?” Lucy asks, frowning, and Jack crosses his arms as they all watch the commotion at the scoring booth.

“Ruling families tend not to compete, because it’s illegal for citizens to put their lives in danger. There have been instances of minor princes being injured or killed at tournament, and then their opponent is ostracized. It’s too dangerous.”

“I can’t see Edge withdrawing for any other reason,” Kara says, gnawing at her lower lip while Colville shakes his head, handing his lance back to a squire in clear disappointment. “Who could he be that he’s important enough for Edge to give up the chance to demolish someone?”

“You know,” Alex says thoughtfully, finally joining them all on the grass. “Queen Catherine does have a son. You don’t think –“

They all look at each other, understanding dawning with Alex’s comment. The royal family isn’t a huge one – and, although the Prince of Wales was mostly kept close to Queen Catherine’s court while he was growing up, anyone who’s paying attention knows that the Queen has a young son who should be nearing manhood, if not past it.

It can’t be.

Kara’s match is next, against the winner of the last bout – Colville, by default – and while she gets her equipment sorted, Jack leaves to investigate why Edge might have withdrawn. He doesn’t return as she leaves the lists, or as the field is prepared – in fact, Kara is on the horse and facing Colville across the field before Jack comes sprinting over the sand, skidding to a halt near Kara’s knee.

“Alex was right,” he pants, speaking in a whisper-yell. “It’s him – Carter Colville is actually Carter Grant. The Black Prince of Wales, son of Queen Catherine and heir to the English throne.”

The group is quiet as the truth sinks in, and Kara’s hopes are officially shattered. She’s going to have to withdraw.

“So, he came here in disguise,” Kara says, easing the lance down but not quite relinquishing it to Winn yet. “Just like me.”

“Christ Almighty,” Alex mutters, and she smacks Jack on the arm, pointing towards the scoring booth where the withdrawal flags are kept. “Okay, go. Go, now, before the match starts.”

Jack takes off across the field again, heading for the white sheet to drape over her crest and forfeit the match. But Kara has her lance in hand already, and she can see the Prince’s head follow Jack’s trajectory and dip in disappointment. He looks resigned, even with his visor closed – he just wants to joust, Kara realizes. Just like her. He came here in disguise to compete, and he’s not being allowed to because of the station of his birth.

They’re more alike than most people would admit.

To top it off, the moment Jack leaves is when Kara finally spots Lena in the crowd. She’s a vision in white, just like the day they met – shimmery fabric wraps around her and makes her pale skin glow, and Kara can almost imagine she sees a smile on her distant face.

Lena is watching. Kara can’t withdraw.

The decision is made before Kara can doubt herself. She spurs her horse forward, ignoring Alex’s loud protests, starting slow to give Prince Carter a chance to realize what’s happening – and realize he does, immediately brightening and seizing his lance from his squire. He kicks his horse into full gallop, and soon enough they’re both at the same speed, in the thick of the competition.

They both land solid hits, managing to keep their seats and break their lances decisively. Before the last splinters have even fallen the Prince is turning around, trotting back to Kara and meeting her in the middle of the field, his hand in the air to indicate that he wants to speak.

Jack does another hard sprint across the distance between them, arriving at Kara’s side just before Prince Carter comes to a stop.

“Are you insane?” he hisses, slapping the armour on her legs as if it’s going to knock some sense into her. “You knowingly endangered a member of the royal family!”

Kara chuckles, still catching her breath. “He knowingly endangers himself.”

When the Prince comes to a stop within talking distance, he opens his visor halfway, his face still mostly concealed.

“Well fought, Sir Clark,” he says breathing heavily and nodding. “As in Rouen.”

Kara nods back, raising her visor completely in a show of vulnerability. “And you also…my Prince.”

Carter is quiet for a moment. It’s just a long enough silence that Kara starts to doubt if, perhaps, she made the wrong decision – but then a slow smile grows through the opening in his visor, and finally he rips his helmet off, revealing his boyish face completely.

Kara’s first thought, upon looking directly into the face of the Queen’s son, is that he looks young. She knows from Alex’s basic math that he can’t be older than his early twenties, like her; but his face looks no older than sixteen, round and innocent but for the mischievous smile on his face.

“You knew me!” he says, his youthful grin making a similar one appear on Kara’s face. “You knew the danger in facing me with that knowledge. And still you rode?”

Kara nods solemnly. “Everyone deserves the chance to compete, if they’re worthy and able.”

“Indeed. An admirable opinion, and one I agree with.” Carter looks around, taking in all the shocked faces in the stands. “But, it looks like my tournament is over. None but you would ride against me willingly, now.”

He sounds disappointed, but he still looks at her with a smile that seems genuine when she replies.

“I am sorry, my Prince.”

“Sir Clark, of everyone here, you have nothing to be sorry for.” The Prince puts his helmet back on, raising the visor entirely and sighing. “I wish you good luck in the tournament. You have a promising career ahead - I’ll be hoping to see you when my family hosts the world championships in London.”

He holds his gauntleted hand out, and Kara takes it for a vigorous shake before he rides away.

And she stays there, blinking like an idiot over the strangest, most unlikely interaction of her life, until Jack smacks her armour again.

“Come on, Sir Clark of the Death Wish. Your sister looks about ready to murder you, and I can’t wait to see it.”

“Now that the Prince withdrew, Edge should be back in the competition, right?” Kara asks, as they move closer and closer to a glowering Alex. “I should still be able to face him later on.”

Jack shakes his head, his mouth a grim line. “Edge withdrew completely. I heard he got a summons from the Queen to return to his army, in the south. He might be gone for the rest of the season.”

Kara’s disappointment is even more powerful than Alex’s indignation.

She won her match, technically, leaving relatively few knights who might prove challenging – but it feels hollow, considering it was on a withdrawal and Edge didn’t even compete. She wants to beat him, fair and square. And now, who knows when he’ll be back.

The tourney structure is in disarray with two withdrawals, so with the time she suddenly has until her next match tomorrow Kara gathers some of her old equipment and heads to a clearing just past the edge of the woods. She sets up a dummy, throws a few wooden practice swords into the ground, and gets to work venting some frustration.

It feels good, practicing the sword. She loves to fight this way, even if it isn’t the event she wants to compete in, and even though the dummy offers no challenge it’s nice to brush up her own attack skills.

She’s just hitting her stride, sweat starting to gather at her hairline, when she’s scared out of her wits by a voice behind her. She twirls, fake sword in hand and ready to defend herself, only to find –

The person leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing is Lena, and she’s wearing leather trousers.

“You got new armour,” Lena says, leaving her spot to approach Kara, who is pretty sure she’s going to pass out. “And it actually fits you. I almost didn’t recognize you on the field, until they called your name.”

“Lena!” Kara pants, wiping her brow and trying to straighten her outfit with shaky hands. “Hi! What are you doing here?”

What she really wants to ask is sweet lord in heaven where did you get those pants and can you wear them all the time, but it doesn’t seem appropriate, so instead she stays neutral and tries her hardest not to stare at the now very obvious shape of Lena’s hips. And her legs. God, her legs. They taper in a perfect hourglass, and Kara wants so badly to see how well her hands fit against those curves -

“Jack told me you were out here,” Lena says, meandering over to the pile of equipment Kara dragged with her and picking up a second wooden sword. She moves closer, the weapon held loosely in her hand. “Working out some frustrations, are you?”

“Something like that,” Kara replies, aware that her voice is cracking but completely unable to stop it.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to win properly today. It must be frustrating.” Lena stands close now, close enough to wipe away pretty much all thoughts that aren’t Lena-focused.

“Yeah,” Kara says, all of said frustration leaving her in a wave with Lena’s gentle understanding. “Yeah, it is.”

“I know something that might make you feel better.”

Kara isn’t sure what she expected, but it certainly isn’t for Lena to step back and give the sword a few practice swings. She handles it with practiced ease, and Kara’s eyes follow every movement with fascination.

 “Lena, do you know how to sword fight?” She asks, slack-jawed, and Lena laughs.

“Who do you think Lex used to practice with?”

Kara’s grin grows while she watches Lena execute several advanced maneuvers. She’s lightning-fast, and she ends with the wooden tip pointing at Kara’s chest. “Fancy a bout?”

Kara nods enthusiastically, taking up the first position with more affection in her heart for this woman than she ever thought possible. She hardly has time to wonder what kind of fighter Lena is before the brunette is lunging forwards, putting Kara on the defensive from the first step. Their fighting is more careful than it would be in the ring, since neither of them are armoured, but Lena is still merciless. She gives as much as she gets, and it’s only a few moments before Kara is absolutely sure that Lena is even more talented than her brother.

Lena’s talent, mixed with the level of distraction Kara is still wrestling with vis-à-vis her very visible thighs, means that Lena has her disarmed in an embarrassingly short time. With a flick of her wrist Kara’s weapon hits the ground and Lena presses forwards until Kara’s back hits the trunk of a tree, the wooden sword at her throat.

“Yield?” Lena pants, her eyes bright and alive and a wicked grin on her face, and Kara feels her knees obeying the order and starting to weaken under her. Lena uses the tip of the sword to lift Kara’s chin, just slightly, revealing the vulnerable skin of her neck, and Kara can’t help it – there’s an answering throb between her legs, a wakening and priming of something she’s always tried to repress.

It’s not that she’s ever not been aware of liking women, but she’s always known it was dangerous, ever since she “practiced kissing” with her childhood friend Evelyn and ended up getting her ears boxed by the girl’s mother for corrupting her daughter. Eliza had stood up for her, banning the woman from her shop, but Kara never forgot. 

At least, not until now. Right now, with Lena turning the wooden blade until the flat of it is pressed against her sternum, pinning her to the tree, Kara is forgetting just about any reason this might be a bad idea.

“Do you yield, Clark?”

Lena is so close now, close enough to kiss, close enough that the length of her body is almost pressed to Kara’s, and she can feel it in all the most intimate places. Lena’s thigh pressed into the cleft of her trousers, her breath on Kara’s neck – for the first time, the bindings around her chest feel too tight, like her body wants to break out of them just to be closer, more honest.

More honest.

Whatever feelings Kara is battling, they’re taken over by a wave of guilt. She knows she can be obtuse sometimes, but it’s pretty damn clear that Lena wants to kiss her right now, with her soft lips hovering somewhere near Kara’s chin – but Kara is lying to her. Lena thinks she’s interested in one person, when Kara is another entirely. Clark is a façade, and no matter how much she wants to give in, Lena deserves to know the truth. She can’t take advantage.

“Lena,” Kara breathes, her heart flittering like a hummingbird when Lena drops the sword entirely to let her long, tapered fingers slide up and rest on Kara’s chest. “Before we do…this, there’s something I should – I mean, you should know – I don’t know how to -“

“Kara,” Lena says, clear and decisive. “I know.”

Lena knows her name.

Kara’s heart stops. She can actually feel it stutter in her chest, miss a beat, and it’s followed by an acute chest pain that leaves her breathless for a moment before she gasps a reply.

“You – know?”

“I know,” Lena says, the smile on her face as enigmatic as ever. Kara has no idea if what Lena thinks she knows is actually the truth, but she seems so sure, and Kara settles on staying neutral until she can figure it out.

“But…how?”

“Well,” Lena says, her hands moving to slowly unbutton Kara’s shirt. “I knew something wasn’t right when I saw you in Rouen and felt an attraction.” Her hands are the tiniest bit shaky as the shirt drifts apart to reveal the bandages wound around Kara’s chest, and she can detect the tiniest, almost imperceptible relaxation of Lena’s shoulders.

Lena is nervous. Not as nervous as Kara, of course, but still – it settles Kara a little to know that it’s not a one-way street.

And, Lena knows she’s a woman.

It’s almost too much. It’s too wild a concept, that Lena knows, that Lena is attracted to her – it bubbles out in an uncontrollable laugh, a goofy braying sound that Kara can’t control, and Lena raises an amused brow at her.

“Sorry, I just – it’s still a little difficult to believe that you actually. You know. Like me.”

Lena rolls her eyes, and Kara can see the genuine affection there. “Despite my best efforts, I do. Which meant there had to be something different about you. So, I investigated. And I found that you are…shockingly agreeable.”

Kara snorts, getting brave and wrapping her arms around Lena’s waist. Lena doesn’t fight it but actually leans into it, melting into Kara’s hands in a way that makes Kara throb all over again. “Wow. That’s quite a compliment.”

Lena smiles, this one actually reaching her eyes. “From me, it is.”

“So…you really don’t mind?” Kara asks, needing a final confirmation before they go any further. “That I’m not…a man?”

Kara,” Lena murmurs, and an unimaginable thrill runs up Kara’s spine as Lena’s warm voice wraps around her name again. Her real name. “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

And then Lena rocks up on her toes at the same time Kara dips her head, and her world narrows to a single point of contact.

Kara has no earthly idea who actually makes the first move. It seems like one moment, Lena is revealing that she knows her secret and likes her better for it, and the next their lips are pressed together in the sweetest kiss of Kara’s life. Kara’s shirt is still hanging open and Lena’s hands are on her bare skin, one splaying open over her collarbone like she’s trying to touch as much as possible and her hands just aren’t big enough. The other curls around the back of Kara’s neck, tangling in her hair, and it’s all she can do to just cling to Lena’s waist and try to stay upright when her whole body is in a hurricane of feeling.

It’s not until Lena introduces tongues into the mix that Kara finally hits her stride.

It’s just so good in a way that Kara wasn’t expecting, the feeling of Lena’s tongue flicking against her own. It’s hot and wet and sinful, and Kara wants more – she tightens her hold on Lena’s waist and spins, pinning her against the tree instead so that she can press forward, tilt Lena’s chin up, and chase the feeling. And, lord, does Lena respond – the noise she makes when Kara kisses her deep and slow gets filed away in Kara’s memory for later use, and in the moment it causes an unfamiliar, involuntary reaction in her. Kara’s hips twitch, snapping up and into Lena’s without a thought, and it’s surprising enough to finally make them part.

When Kara eases back, the summer air feels like an arctic chill on her lips after the warmth of Lena’s mouth.

“Lena,” Kara whispers, her voice low and husky, and she can feel Lena shiver against her. “That was – ”

“It was,” Lena says, and if Kara didn’t know better, she’d almost think she sounded dreamy for a moment. But soon Lena blinks a few times, like she’s clearing cobwebs from her mind, and clears her throat. Kara steps away respectfully, almost embarrassed at the way her body had reacted – but Lena catches the front of her shirt, pulling her close again before the feeling can solidify.

“So, um,” Kara says, her hands coming to rest on Lena’s waist again. “Are you going to call me Kara now?”

Lena chuckles breathlessly. “I’d like to. If you’re okay with that.”

“I like how it sounds in your voice.”

Lena blushes, ducks her head until her forehead rests on Kara’s chest. Kara just wraps her arms more securely around her. It’s a privilege to even be here, to be in Lena’s life in any way, and she’s going to soak up every second.

“And besides,” Kara continues, feeling her heart lift as Lena absently nuzzles into the crook of her neck. “Getting called Clark all the time gets kind of tiring. I thought posing as a man would be easy, since I’ve never really fit into being a woman anyways, but it’s harder than I thought.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to do my best to remind you you’re a woman,” Lena murmurs, and her true intent is revealed as soft lips start making their way up her neck. “I have a few ideas. Would you like to try them?”

Kara doesn’t answer with words. She’s always been so much better at doing.

 


 

For a while, Kara’s life is pretty much perfect.

With Edge gone, there’s nobody to cheat their way to the top anymore, and Kara starts to win tournament after tournament, winning money and horses and making Clark Zorelle the biggest new name all over France. They’re all getting used to the life it provides – Jack is amassing a collection of hideous coats, Winn more and more openly following him around like a puppy. Lucy is having the time of her life, repairing all Kara’s equipment and upgrading the things that are decades old for only the cost of materials. She forges decorative dragons on the grips of her lances, inscribes them into the shiny surface of her new armour, and Kara starts to feel like she can compete with the other knights in more than just skill.

With her growing winnings, she has the whole team outfitted in her colours, tunics and vests with the red and blue dragon of Zorelle that she painted over Sir Corben’s crest all those months ago, trimmed in gold thread. Within a month Kara is as well-outfitted as any wealthy knight in the country. Less and less often now Lucy mentions leaving when they get to Paris, and something tells Kara she’s starting to enjoy life on the road with their little group.

Even Alex is definitely warming to their new lifestyle, managing their prizes and the keeping or selling of the horses Kara keeps winning, and more and more she mentions the fact that the next logical step after winning the French national tournament will be going home to England to compete in the World championships. She looks endlessly pleased at the possibility.

And on top of it all, every tournament means more time with Lena, with whom she no longer needs to keep up the façade. Lena knows who she is, and she likes her more for it. 

Well…the fact that Kara is not really a noble still hasn’t come up, but. One big secret at a time.

In the few weeks since their first kiss, she and Lena have established somewhat of a routine. Lex and Lena usually arrive before Kara does, what with their entire retinue having horses and Lena and Sam travelling in a carriage. Being one of the few noble ladies attending the tourney who doesn’t live in the city, she always stays in the inn’s most expensive rooms, and having a gentleman caller – even a noble one – would be improper. So when Kara arrives at the tourney grounds she helps to set up the camp, signs into the lists, and immediately heads to the inn, where she finds the window Lena has inconspicuously hung a green kerchief out of and throws rocks at it until Lena comes down and they can find a secluded place to talk.

Usually, they do more than talk.

It never goes further than kissing and heavy hands. Kara is respectful, of course, but even more than that she has absolutely no idea what she’s doing, and letting Lena take the lead is the easiest way to hide it. She seems so much more experienced, more confident in a way that Kara can’t compete with.

Like at their last meeting two weeks ago, when they found an empty equipment shed. Lena had done something completely new and eased Kara’s mouth open to suck hard on her tongue, and Kara pressed her hips forward so vigorously in response than Lena had whimpered loudly, her nails digging into Kara’s lower back. She thinks it was a positive response, but she had pulled away and cooled things off anyways.

Every night she thanks God that she can now afford her own private tent with a double cot-bed; because if she was still sharing with everyone else, bereft of private time, she’d probably have perished by now out of sheer sexual frustration.

Their latest meeting is in Calais, one of the last competitions before they head to Paris for the French national tournament, and Kara is itching to see the object of her affection. It’s been over two weeks, Lex having left the last tournament early so he could make a stop to visit a friend’s estate, and she misses Lena so much that she’s almost mad with it. She’s taking off in the direction of the inn before Jack has even handed over her patents.

Luckily, for the first time Lena’s rooms are only on the second floor – so, when she finds the open window with the green kerchief, Kara leaves the pebbles behind and hauls herself up to it with the drain-pipe. Direct action, as it were.

She hears a feminine gasp when her hands alight on the sill, but the face that peers over the edge and down into Kara’s isn’t the one she was hoping for. Sam rolls her eyes, moving back into the room and letting Kara struggle alone.

“Oh, Christ above – Lena! Your moron is here.”

“Hey, Sam!” Kara pants, pulling herself up until her torso is in the windowsill. Lena emerges from a doorway off to the left, and her eyes widen comically when she sees Kara there in the flesh, her arms trembling slightly with the effort. “Lena! You look beautiful.”

Lena’s mouth opens and closes a few times, before she glances behind Kara towards the lawn. Nobody is there at the moment, but it’s clear that Lena is worried someone might see. Kara hauls herself up completely in response, spilling into the room and onto the floor quite effectively, if ungracefully.

“Sam, could you –“ Lena starts, and Sam chuckles.

“Yep,” she drawls, already gathering her things. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“And, let Lex know –“

“Got it!” Sam shouts, the door already closing behind her. Lena crosses the distance with a few quick steps and locks it decisively, and Kara swallows hard from her place on the floor.

She hadn’t really considered the possibility that Sam would leave them alone. In a locked room. With a bed.

“I have to say, I wasn’t expecting you to come in through the window,” Lena drawls, sitting on the huge, pillowy bed and patting the spot next to her. She looks like the cat that got the canary, and Kara is feeling distinctly birdlike.

“I figured it might be nice to hang out indoors, for once.”

“We were indoors last week,” Lena counters, and Kara takes a seat next to her, sighing happily when Lena leans into her immediately.

“Sheds don’t count.”

Without speaking, Lena pushes insistently on Kara’s shoulder until she reclines on the bed, and then gracefully spreads out and settles onto her chest. Her face tucks into the crook of Kara’s neck, and it feels new and intimate but innately, absolutely right, more so than anything Kara has ever felt. More right than jousting, better than any prize she could win.

Just as Kara is having this thought Lena reaches a slender hand into the gap of her shirt, and Kara’s heart stutters so dramatically that she’s surprised that the brunette can’t feel it under her fingers. But before she can ask what on earth she’s doing, Lena pulls out the ring Kara wears around her neck, her thumb brushing over the dragon motif.

“You’re always wearing this. Is it a family ring? Are you close with them?”

Kara nods, taking advantage of the opportunity to stare at Lena’s hands unhindered. There’s something mesmerizing about them, in a way she can’t explain – in the lines, the contours of her fingers, the shape of her fingernails. “It was my mother’s.”

“Was?” Lena toys with the ring, zipping it along the chain. She’s never seen Lena this relaxed, just lying languid against Kara’s body and fidgeting with her jewelry.

“She died when I was young,” Kara explains, breathing through the little wave of sadness that always comes with the reminder. “It helps me remember her.”

Lena’s hand stills, and then picks up again, turning the ring gently in her fingers. “It’s nice that you knew her, at least. Not everyone gets to know their mother.”

Lena’s fingers seem almost restless now, and Kara puts a soft hand over them, pinning them to her chest. “I thought your mother was waiting at your estate? You said she was, and I quote, a “poisonous viper of a woman”.”

Lena laughs humorlessly. Her hand relaxes again, and Kara lets it go to tuck a strand of dark hair behind her ear. “She is. But she isn’t my real mother.”

In the time Kara has known her, Lena has never opened up like this before. The book of her life is usually firmly closed, and she derails most of Kara’s attempts to open it with distracting kisses or abrupt changes in conversation – and Kara, who has a fair few secrets of her own, doesn’t pry. But right now she seems remarkably willing to share, and it seems like a waste not to take advantage of it.

“She isn’t?” she asks softly, like Lena is a deer who might be startled away by too pointed a question. Lena nods, her mouth twisting into a grim smile.

“Technically speaking, I’m a bastard.”

That’s just about the last thing Kara was expecting. Children born out of wedlock aren’t uncommon in noble families, but usually they’re raised separately from the legitimate children. They don’t usually inherit property, and girls are often married off as soon as possible. How Lena managed to get to the age she is without marriage and with a good relationship with her half-brother Kara has no idea.

Thankfully, Lena answers most of her questions without being asked.

“My father spent a lot of time away at war when Lex was young,” she explains, her voice unnaturally even. “He went off to Ireland, and came back 3 years later with me. Apparently he had fallen for my real mother while he was away. When my mother died, he came back to Aquitaine, and insisted I be brought up a Luthor.”

“So, Lillian –“

Lena scoffs. “Hated me from the moment I entered her house. And then my father died, and Lillian has never let me forget that my mother was a whore.”

She says it nonchalantly, but there’s such a strong undercurrent of hurt that it makes Kara’s chest ache. She can imagine Lena, tiny and frightened and alone, with the specter of some evil stepmother towering over her. Their stories are similar, but they diverge there – while Kara was lucky enough to find a loving home, albeit a poor one, Lena lived in luxury and fear. A double edged knife for both of them.

“That must have been so hard,” Kara whispers, and Lena shrugs, fiddling with the chain. She slips the ring onto her middle finger, and it fits perfectly just under her knuckle. Kara’s hands have always been too big for it to fit anything but her pinkie.

“Lex helped,” she says, twisting the ring this way and that. “He always protected me. Lillian never would have let me attend all these tournaments without his help. As much as he tries to pretend it isn’t so, he likes having me here.”

Kara grins, imagining the man who nodded respectfully at her after she beat him. He seems like a good big brother, and she’s grateful to him by extension. “Well, I like him already.”

She kisses Lena’s knuckle over the metal, and her smile is bright as the sun. She pulls Kara in for a proper kiss and she can feel it against her mouth, dimpled and real even when Lena tries to hide it.

“I don’t know about you,” Lena murmurs against her mouth, “But I’ve had just about enough of talking.”

Clearly Lena is done opening up, reverting to her usual tactic of rapid topic changing via kisses, and Kara takes it for what it is.

Kara is the one grinning now, letting herself be led as Lena practically climbs her body and effectively pins her to the bed. “I’ve been told talking isn’t my strong suit, anyways.”

“God, I’ve missed you,” Lena breathes - and for a blissfully long time, they don’t talk at all.

Kissing is different in a bed. It’s the first time they’ve been horizontal, and having Lena’s weight pressing her into the mattress rather than leaned against a vertical surface is another beast entirely, the whole length of their bodies pressed together with no space to speak of.

It scares Kara sometimes, the strength of her want. She knows all too well how to take care of herself, but she’s never so much as touched another woman - and the thought of doing it to Lena immediately brings forth that wildness Kara can’t seem to keep under wraps, the desperate wanting that she worries will scare Lena off.

Right now, though, it seems like Kara has nothing to worry about on that front. Lena is apparently different in a bed, too. She moves differently, kisses differently, the movements of her body lithe and unselfconscious as she nudges Kara’s thighs apart to slip her hips between them. Their bodies start an unconscious rhythm, rocking into each other until Kara is gasping, and the wanting resurfaces with a vengeance the less controlled their kisses get. She’s not sure why Lena panting and licking messily into her mouth is hotter than kissing normally, but it absolutely is. Something about the loss of her usually tightly-held composure.

It comes to a head when Lena pulls away. Her eyes are dark and wild, the flush of her skin visible all the way down to her heaving chest, and when she shifts her legs subtly it makes Kara very suddenly aware that she is very, very wet.

They’re on the precipice of something Kara has no goddamn idea how to do, and it’s as terrifying as it is exhilarating. As are Lena’s next words.

“Do you want this? With me?”

It doesn’t take a genius to understand what this is, and Kara wants it so badly that it’s a physical ache deep between her hipbones. She wants to slip between the complicated layers of Lena’s clothes, find every secret place and how it makes her feel. She wants Lena to do the same for her. She wants to re-enact every thought she’s ever had while in her tent late at night, her hands shoved down her pants and her blushing face buried in the pillow.

Of course, there’s one problem with what she wants. She has no earthly idea how to make it happen. But looking up at Lena’s face, flushed and nervous and beautiful with their hands clasped together on the pillow, all of Kara’s selfish worries melt away.

“Yes,” she whispers, before she curls her hand in Lena’s dress and tugs her forward firmly.

Lena presses in hard, grasping Kara’s hand and sliding it up her body, up and up until she’s pressing Kara’s palm into her breast – and the sound she lets out at the pressure is so clear, so unbearably hot, that Kara flexes her hand. Lena arches into it beautifully, grinds her hips down into the suddenly open space between Kara’s thighs and, lord, it feels – it feels

The three resounding knocks on the door feel like a bucket of ice water over both of them.

Lena freezes, breathing hard into Kara’s mouth, and her head drops onto Kara’s shoulder resignedly when the knocking continues.

“Lena?” Sam’s voice is clear through the thick wood, and Lena calls back loud enough that Kara winces at the volume.

“I’m a little busy!” Lena's voice is high, uncomposed in a thrilling sort of way, but unfortunately it doesn’t last.

“I know, and I’m sorry, but – there was a messenger, with a letter. It’s from your mother.”

That’s enough to put an end to whatever else might have happened today. Lena is up off the bed immediately, leaving Kara to scramble out of the fluffy sheets herself, and when Sam enters she’s still trying to get the back of her hair to lie flat.

Kara knows exactly how serious the matter is by the fact that Sam doesn’t so much as send a pithy comment in her direction before she hands the letter over.

Lena opens it with shaky hands, and her eyes only have to scan a few lines before her entire posture changes. Her shoulders sink, and one of her hands comes up to rub at her forehead.

“Is it –“ Sam starts, and Lena nods solemnly.

“Yes.”

“What is it?” Kara asks, and both of them startle like they had forgotten she was there. Lena’s jaw tightens, and she can’t quite meet Kara’s eyes as she crumples the letter in her fist.

“She wants me to come home.”

Kara’s heart drops like a stone. All previous thoughts, chaste and otherwise, are forgotten. Lena sinks into a chair next to the window, and Sam perches on the arm of it and puts a comforting hand on her arm.

Lena is quiet, staring out the window at a sky that seems to have lost its colour – so Kara asks.

“Will you at least be able to stay for the tournament?”

Lena exhales slowly. “She wants me home by the end of the month, which is…less than a week from now. Just when I’ve found something that actually makes me happy…” She cuts herself off, shaking her head. “I’ll have to leave today. Even leaving right now, I still won’t make it there in time. Another thing for her to criticize me for.”

“Good thing we haven’t had time to unpack yet,” Sam says, and she squeezes Lena’s shoulder kindly. Lena puts a hand over hers, patting it with absentminded thanks.

“Could you give us a moment, Sam?” she replies, and Sam nods, slipping out the door with a last sympathetic look.

The air is stock-still and quiet between them, even after Sam’s footsteps have disappeared down the stairs. Lena looks stony as she stands up and moves to stare out the window, completely shut down, and Kara has no idea how to approach her. If she’s even going to get a response at all.

In the end, she settles for a soft hand on Lena’s shoulder. The muscles beneath tense, and then melt under her fingers as Lena turns around and buries her face in Kara’s neck, letting out a quiet but completely unexpected sob.

“I know,” Kara murmurs, wrapping her arms fully around Lena’s shaking form and squeezing gently. She’s close to crying herself, but she fights it for Lena’s sake. One of them should have clear eyes. Gently, like she’s handling a baby bird, she eases Lena’s face out from it’s hiding place in the crook of her neck, cupping her face and wiping away some of the tears with her thumb. “Hey. There you are.”

Lena sniffs loudly, exhaling shakily into Kara’s palm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be losing it like this, I shouldn’t –“

Kara is firm in her interception of that line of thinking. She kisses Lena’s forehead, and then follows her eyes until they meet her own, tears and all.

“You have nothing to apologize for, Lena.”

Lena presses into Kara’s hand, her eyes darting around Kara’s face like she’s trying to memorize it. Which, Kara thinks with a pang, maybe she is. Maybe they both should be.

“Am I ever going to see you again?” Kara whispers, not trusting her own voice not to betray her. Lena closes her eyes, and a few tears squeeze out past her lashes to wet Kara’s fingers.

“I don’t know,” Lena admits in a small voice. “Once she has me back, I’m…I’m not sure I’ll be able to convince her to let me leave again, unless it’s for my own wedding to some Duke she decides is the best match for me.”

Until this moment, Kara thought she could keep it together. At least until Lena leaves. She can comfort her, send her off with good memories, and then break down in the privacy of her own tent. But the confirmation that she truly, honestly might never see Lena again is too much to bear. Tears burn behind her eyes, and they slip out before she can stop them.

“Oh, Kara,” Lena says, her face contorting with the same pain. Her hands come up to cup Kara’s cheek too, pressing their faces together until their tears seem to intermingle.

“It’s okay,” Kara says, her instinct to comfort overriding her feelings that scream exactly the opposite. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.”

Lena nods, but doesn’t move away.

“Kara, these weeks with you have been the best of my life,” she says quietly, hardly above a whisper. Like she’s afraid the bare honesty will flay her if said at a higher volume. “I’ve never been as happy as you’ve made me. No matter what, I have that.”

“Me too,” Kara whispers back. “Whatever happens, I’m glad we met, Lena Luthor.”

Lena laughs wetly, wiping her face and sniffling. “Right. I need to go soon.”

“I know,” Kara says, but still their hands are clasped together. Lena clenches her jaw, her brow furrowed like she’s deciding something.

“Kara, I’m going to try. I promise. I’ll try to get out.”

Kara nods. That tiny bit of hope might be the only thing that keeps her going in the coming weeks. And then she steels herself, and leans in for one last, lingering kiss.

“I’ll be waiting.”

It seems like the blink of an eye before Lena is gone, waving from the window of her carriage as it rumbles into the distance. Kara stands near the road for much longer than necessary, watching it retreat into the afternoon sun with Alex and Jack on either side of her.

Jack claps her on the shoulder reassuringly. “I’m sorry, mate.”

“It’s not your fault,” Kara says quietly, knowing that if she speaks up, her voice is going to break. Even in front of her friends, she’d rather not break down crying in public.

Jack, ever the optimist, shrugs. “Who knows, maybe she’ll be able to come back. Until then, you should try to keep your head up, right?”

She’s not sure how she’s ever going to be happy again, but she nods, and she soldiers on anyways. She turns away from the dot on the horizon, and if she wasn’t so absorbed by her own pain, she probably would have asked Alex exactly why she’s watching the retreating carriage with an almost matching expression.

As it is, Kara lets it go, and focuses on the tournaments ahead of her. Without Edge present her wins are challenging but fairly straightforward, and without Lena there to keep her company, Kara insists each time that they pack up and leave as soon as she’s gotten her prize – and now, Jack doesn’t argue. Their journeys are still full of camaraderie but Kara often finds herself disassociating from it, retreating to the edges and staring into the fire morosely.

Alex clearly worries, but to her credit, she lets it be.

By her third tourney without Lena, Kara is starting to lose the fire that’s always driven her to win. She knows she should focus, that she needs to support herself and her family, but every time she looks into the crowd and doesn’t see Lena there she just feels…listless.

Lost.

It doesn’t turn around until the tournament in Angers, their final stop before the French National tourney in Paris. They make it to there in record time, the mere week and a half journey meaning that they have a few days before the tourney proper begins; but it’s only an hour or so of hanging out in the camp with everyone studiously avoiding the subject of Lena as usual before Kara is leaving, headed for the pub.

There’s enough of a crowd there when she arrives, laughing raucously and making a fuss over the waitress, that she almost turns right around. But her eye catches on a figure at a corner table, and it makes her pause.

She’d recognize Lex Luthor’s bald head anywhere.

He’s alone for once – he’s usually surrounded by his retinue with a woman or two in his lap, part of the rowdy crowd in the middle of the room. But tonight he looks forlorn, and Kara feels a strange kinship with him. She makes her way carefully across the crowded floor and sits opposite him, politely ordering a pint from the flustered waitress and waiting quietly.

Lex looks up, and Kara can tell that he knows who she is. He seems to size her up for a moment, but when her pint arrives he raises his own tankard, clacking it against Kara’s in a somber salute.

“You miss her too, huh?” he says gruffly, and Kara chokes on her first sip of ale.

“I, uh – who - what?” she coughs, wiping the foam from her upper lip, and Lex lets out a quiet laugh.

“She watches every one of your matches. I can’t even get her to come to mine, half the time.”

He swirls the liquid in his mug, seeming to contemplate the dregs with every ounce of his brainpower, and Kara takes a long, deep pull of her own before she braves her next question.

“And has she told you…anything about me?”

She holds her breath, literally and metaphorically, as she waits for his answer to come. He thankfully puts her out of her misery quickly with a laugh.

“She hasn’t told me much, but I’m more observant than people give me credit for. I know what she does and doesn’t like. And she likes you.”

Kara relaxes into her chair. Even if Lex does know something of her identity, he seems willing to keep the secret, and the last of her reservations about him melt away.

“I assume you share her affection?” Lex asks, with a grin so charming that Kara can see how he manages to woo so many women. “You’d be mad not to.”

The reminder of Lena’s absence twists at her gut, but Kara nods, scratching at the worn table with a fingernail. “Yeah. Yeah, I really do.”

“I’ve gone to dozens of these things without her, but it still feels strange not having her here,” Lex says, more quietly. The almost performative charm he usually exudes is lessened, and he looks lonely. It echoes something in Kara’s chest. Just two completely different people, both missing Lena.

“Don’t you usually leave her to chase whatever woman catches your eye?” Kara jokes halfheartedly, making a weak attempt at lightening the mood. It half works, and Lex laughs, even if it’s a bit grudging.

“I do, but I miss her yelling at me for it.”

“And I suppose there’s nothing you can do?” Kara asks, trying her damndest not to sound as desperate as she feels. Lex sighs.

“I’ve written to Mother. Told her there’s a young knight here that’s caught her eye. Hopefully my word and the promise of a possible betrothal will help, but I don’t know.”

Something besides the gloom that’s hung around her since Lena left pangs in her chest. Guilt. A betrothal, as much as she wants it, is virtually impossible. Lena might know and accept her gender, but Kara still has no property, no real title. What could she possibly offer someone as noble as Lena?

Still, her heart yearns.

Lex finishes off his ale and waves for another. It appears almost as soon as he asks for it, and Lex winks at the waitress in a manner that makes Kara think that his melancholy might be ending soon, at least for the night.

She clears her throat, trying not to fidget too obviously with her still-full tankard. “So. The young knight, um. Is it –“

Lex pauses, and gives her a look that she’s seen on Lena’s face so many times that their sibling resemblance is suddenly uncanny.

“It’s you, Clark.”

The ‘you dumbass’ is unspoken, but implied.

“Right!” Kara says, taking a gulp of the ale she’s starting to realize she really doesn’t want. “Right. Of course.”

The waitress walks by their table again, and Lex follows her with his eyes – they snap back to Kara at the last minute, but it’s clear that he’s wrapping up the conversation.

“It might help if you gave Lena some encouragement,” he says, before he finishes off his second drink and stands up pointedly. “Something to fight for.”

And then with a pat on her shoulder he’s gone, and Kara is left alone with a half-drunk mug of ale and a bewildered expression.

“Like what?”

It takes her longer than she’s proud of to get the message, but she abandons her empty table as soon as it hits her.

Jack!” Kara announces the moment she arrives back at camp an hour later, a rose that she plucked from a bush outside the stables dangling from her hand. “I need to write a letter.”

Four sets of eyes stare at her blankly from around the campfire, and Jack’s immediately narrow.

“Congratulations. There’s paper in the tent.”

“Come on, Jack,” Kara whines, taking on a more pleading note. “You know my penmanship is atrocious. I need your help.”

He raises a thick eyebrow, crossing his arms in a familiar way, and Kara sighs.

Please?”

“That’s more like it,” Jack says, rolling his eyes. “Ungrateful, I tell you.”

He sets himself up a writing station on an overturned storage crate, and when his pen is sufficiently inked and his parchment rolled out, he looks up at her expectantly.

“Um,” Kara says, every thought she’s ever had leaving her head the moment she’s expected to voice it. “Right. Uh. Dear Lena – no! My dearest Lena.”

“Better,” Jack says, already writing the line down in beautiful cursive. “What next?”

“…I miss you?”

Lucy scoffs, and Kara bristles indignantly at the criticism.

“What? I do miss her!”

“You could say it a bit more romantically,” Lucy says, rolling her eyes. “Be specific. What do you miss about her?”

“I miss…” Kara starts, trying to think in specifics. She misses Lena’s smile, her laugh. Her kisses. Her soft skin, the arch of her neck, how her dresses hug her curves and accentuate everything. The way she moved when they were in that inn bed together, how she looked down at Kara dishevelled and wild and asked, do you want this -

 “I think it’s pretty obvious what she misses,” Alex mutters after Kara trails off, and Winn laughs, throwing a shelled peanut into the air and catching it in his mouth.

“Shut up, Alex,” Kara says distractedly, her mind still stuck on how she misses the softness of Lena’s hair against her fingers. “I miss her –“

“Breasts?” Winn offers, and the raucous laughter that follows shakes her from her reverie.

He’s not wrong, but still.

“I’d look above her breasts, I think,” Jack says somewhat derisively, and Kara blinks, confused by the directions.

“Her…throat?” she says hesitantly, and Lucy’s laughter only gets worse. “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

“Her face, dumbass!” Lucy says, tossing a pebble at her. It hits her in the shoulder, and falls away while she realizes just how widely she missed the point.

“Oh,” Kara says, suitably embarrassed. “Right.”

Jack sighs, tapping the feather of his pen impatiently, and Kara clears her throat.

“Okay. My dearest Lena,” she starts again, tapping the rose against her lips. She knows what she wants to say is inside her somewhere – she just needs to voice it.

“It’s strange to think that I haven’t seen you for a month,” she says quietly, pacing and trying to conjure up words for how Lena makes her feel. “I’ve seen the new moon, but not you. I’ve seen sunsets and sunrises, but nothing of your beautiful face.”

The rest of the group blinks up at her, looking shocked at her sudden eloquence.

“What?” she says self-consciously, crossing her arms, but Jack just shakes his head, dipping his pen and starting to write her words down in a flowy script.

“Nothing, Kara, that’s just…very good.”

“Oh! Great,” Kara says inelegantly, relaxing a little. “Okay. What next?”

Alex sighs, looking for the first time like she’s about to offer something genuine.

“Do you remember Maggie?”

“Your first love?” Kara says, nodding. “Of course I remember her. You were miserable for months after she left.” She can remember just how morose her sister was those years ago, when Maggie joined their retinue as another squire for Corben and Alex fell head over heels. When Maggie left to be a handmaiden to a noble instead for higher pay Alex was heartbroken, and Winn replacing her soon after added insult to injury.

“I used to think that…this sounds stupid,” Alex says, starting to close off again, but Kara doesn’t let her.

“Tell me!” Kara insists, and Alex sighs.

“I told her that the pieces of my broken heart were so small, they could be passed through the eye of a needle.” Alex looks mortified to have shared something so personal, but Jack nods, adding her line to the letter. Winn sits down next to her in the meantime, putting an arm around her shoulders.

“Oh, Alex. You do have feelings!”

Alex punches him so hard that he falls off the bench with a wheeze. Kara laughs, glad that after all this time, Alex’s slight resentment about him being Maggie’s replacement has eased into brotherly affection and occasional violence.

“You bare your soul, then, if you’re bent on being a dick about it,” Alex grumbles, while he picks himself back up out of the dirt.

“I had a beau once,” Winn says, rubbing his sore arm and glancing at Jack from the corner of his eye. “He used to cook for the Duke of York. He was good with words, and he used to tell me that he missed me like the sun misses the flower. I always thought it was a romantic idea.”

“It’s perfect,” Jack says softly, smiling as Winn meets his eyes.

“I do miss her like that,” Kara says, looking down at the rose in her hand while Jack continues to write. “When she’s gone, it’s like…it’s winter. Without her to focus on, my heart feels…frozen.”

Jack nods. “I can work with that. I miss you like the sun misses the flower…” he mutters as he writes, continuing after re-inking his pen. “Without beauty to direct its light to, my heart hardens…like the frozen world your absence has banished me to.”

“Jesus, Jack,” Lucy says, putting down the piece of parchment she was sketching a new design onto. “You write as if she’s died.”

“If Kara never gets to see her again, it’ll feel about the same,” Jack counters, posing his pen to write again. “We’re not writing anything Kara doesn’t feel. We’re just helping her put words to it.”

“Tell her I’m competing in Paris next, and I’ll find it empty and in the winter without her. And that I miss her terribly,” Kara says, and Jack dutifully writes.

“Alright. It’s pretty good so far,” he says, blowing gently on the wet ink and sprinkling some sand on the letters. “We just have to end it.”

“With hope,” Lucy says, not looking up from her drawing this time. “This letter has been depressing. End it with some hope.”

“I like hope,” Kara says, starting to pace again. “Okay. Say: hope guides me. It’s what gets me through the day, and especially the night. Hope that…um…”

“Hope,” Lucy finishes quietly, “That after you’re gone from my sight, it won’t be the last time I look upon you.”  

The group goes quiet again, and Lucy looks up with a start.

“What?”

“Wow, Luce,” Winn says, and even Alex looks impressed. “Where’d that come from?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Kara hovers over Jack’s shoulder as he finishes, marveling at how romantic the stylized letters look. “Is that a good ending, do you think?”

Jack nods, his eyes scanning over the text. “Honestly Kara, I think it’s perfect.”

“Okay. Sign it, with all my affection…your Kara.”

Jack pauses before the final words, looking up at her with concern. “Are you sure you want to write your name? There’s no guarantee someone else won’t read this.”

“I didn’t think of that,” Kara frowns, tapping her chin with the flower again. “Um. How about, the knight of your heart?”

“Gross,” Alex says under her breath, and Kara laughs.

“That means it’s perfect.”

She uses her mother’s ring as the signet, pressing it into the wax and giving the rolled-up parchment a quick and surreptitious kiss before she gives it to Winn. All she can do now is send the letter with all her love and their swiftest horse, and hope.

Chapter Text

Even in the beautiful summer weather of southern France, the Luthor estate is just as cold and cheerless as always.

The sun may shine outside, but Lillian enforces strict rules about how much time she can spend on the grounds. She wouldn’t want to colour her pale, even complexion and look like a peasant, Lillian assures her. Instead Lena is confined to the halls and rooms of the sprawling manor, looking out the windows at the shapes of trees warped by the uneven glass. She drifts from room to room like a ghost, spending hours in the library staring at books without actually comprehending a word – and all the while Sam stays at her side, almost as melancholy as she is.

When she asks why Sam is so glum, Sam’s response is simply, Alex. And Lena understands.

The days drift by uneventfully for both of them, and Lena can feel herself being lost in the swirling despair that she almost succumbed to before Lex had convinced Lillian to let her accompany him. All she can see in her future is the machinations of her mother – banquets and entertaining mindless peers, marriage and children with a faceless lord. Never seeing Kara again. Never. Day after day she repeats the same cycle – reading the same books, strolling the grounds before being ushered back inside, sitting quietly with Sam in mutual mourning, dinner with her mother in uncomfortable silence.

Everything starts to lose its colour, and her brief time with Kara starts to feel like it was another life entirely.  

When a messenger arrives with letters from Lex, one each for her and her mother, it’s like waking from a dream. A glimpse of the life she left behind only a month and a half ago, but it feels like a year. The wait until she can be alone to read it feels agonizing, but when she finally escapes to the quiet of the library she opens the letter hastily, and settles by a window to read.

Lena,

I know being pulled back home with mother must be weighing on you heavily. I’ve done my best to tell her that her plan of getting you hitched at tournament was working until she took you away – hopefully she’ll loosen her hold on you soon, for I hardly know what to do with myself without you here, and nor does your paramour.

Lena pauses in her reading, fanning herself with the letter as a hot blush stains her cheeks. She hadn’t told Lex much about Kara – or, Clark, as Lex still knows her – because she didn’t know how to explain that she had taken a fancy to someone without revealing Kara’s secret. Lex knows she likes women, and her suddenly falling for a knight would be suspicious. But clearly, Lex figured it out, and his lack of gendered language is telling.

His letter continues with his trademark humour.

Sir Clark has been winning handily, but I see those eyes linger on me in the stands all too often in their search for you, and I would prefer you returned to take my place. Blonde and wiry isn’t my type.

Lena snorts, the first real laughter she’s had since she returned here – but the next line makes her brow furrow.

Something tells me you’ll be receiving another letter soon. Call it a hunch. Either way, don’t give up the fight. If you lose yourself, you’ll never get back here – and poor Clark will be stuck staring at me until we both retire.

He signs off with his name, and Lena folds the letter carefully and tucks it into her book.

There’s little in Lillian’s behavior at dinner that night that indicates Lex’s letter outright changed her mind, but it’s the first night since she returned that her mother hasn’t badgered her with possible suitors. It’s a welcome relief, and for the first time in weeks she goes to sleep that night with a feeling of hope.

Around lunchtime two days later her mother’s chamberlain interrupts her small window of garden time to inform her that she has a visitor, that tiny nugget of hope expands.

It can’t be her. There’s no way Kara could be here, not when she’s trying to qualify for the championship in Paris. It has to be someone else. But something tells her that Kara is involved, and she hurries to the entry hall where the visitor awaits.

When she opens the door to Kara’s squire, covered in dust and horsehair and clearly waiting for her, the hope grows again. She recognizes him, vaguely – he’s one of the people who always receives Kara at the end of her tilt, and noticeable as her only male squire. He’s usually the one switching out her lance for a new one, and smacking her horse’s flanks as she takes off again like it’ll somehow make her ride faster. Perhaps it does, considering how easily she always seems to win.

“My lady,” he says, bowing low and offering an envelope with a red wax seal. “My lord sends his deepest affection.”

Lena takes the letter in a trembling hand. Her name is written on the envelope in elegant, swooping letters that she knows without a doubt Kara didn’t inscribe herself, but the wax bears her crest – the serpentine dragon in a 5-pointed diamond. It looks like she used the ring she wears around her neck to seal the letter. Lena can remember exactly how Kara’s body felt against her when she slipped the ring onto her own finger, how she bared her whole childhood to her without any provocation. She’s never felt so comfortable around another person before.

And she definitely remembers the heated kisses that followed.

Remembering is like opening a window for the first time after a long winter, letting the spring sunlight filter in and warm her face. Ever since she left, remembering what she had with Kara has been too painful to bear, with no guarantee of seeing her again – but now the hope is stronger than the despair, and the memories come rushing back with force. Dancing with Kara at banquet, the unimaginable thrill of realizing she was a woman. Their first kiss in the woods. Watching her unhorse knight after knight while wearing Lena’s favour, each time looking to Lena in the stands and flashing that wild smile.

Each memory is precious, and she wants more than anything to make more of them.

The squire shifts somewhat nervously, his feet scraping on the flagstones, and Lena tears her eyes away from the crest and up to him. He looks like he rode day and night to get here, and her heart warms to him a little. Even if it’s purely by his association with Kara. She should at least be cordial.

“What’s your name?” she asks him, and he blinks at her in surprise, like he wasn’t expecting to be addressed at all. He reaches a hand up to rub at his neck in a way that reminds her almost painfully of Kara, but seems to think better of it at the last moment, clasping it behind his back and bouncing on the balls of his feet instead.

“It’s, um. It’s Winslow, my lady. Winn, for short.”

“Winslow.” Lena smiles, brushing her fingers over the wax seal. It’s clear that he and Kara have known each other a long time purely by their mannerisms, and it makes her miss Kara all the more. “It was very kind of you to deliver this directly.”

Winn chuckles. “My lord insisted. He wanted it to get to you as soon as possible.”

“Of course she did,” Lena murmurs, slipping her thumb under the seal to break it. She unfolds the letter with great anticipation, and starts to read.

My dearest Lena,

It’s strange to think that I haven’t seen you for a month. I’ve seen the new moon, but not you. I’ve seen sunsets and sunrises, but nothing of your beautiful face. Since the day you left, the pieces of my broken heart are so small, they could be passed through the eye of a needle.

I miss you like the sun misses the flower in the depths of winter. Without beauty to direct its light to, my heart hardens, like the frozen world your absence has banished me to.

Lena grins, shaking her head. The prose is beautiful – and as much as she can hear Kara saying most of it with genuine enthusiasm, she’s heard Kara’s bespoke poetry yelled at her inn window in the middle of the night before, and it is not this good. She doubts that she came to this wording by herself. Lena’s gentle idiot, as Sam likes to call her.

“She didn’t write this, did she?” Lena asks with a wry smile, her eyes flicking up from the letter.

Winn blushes, digging his toe into the cracks in the stone floor. “She, uh – I mean, she wrote most of it?”

Lena raises a single brow, and Winn laughs, rubbing the back of his neck at last.

“We all helped, a bit. But the essence of it was – was Kara.” He seems to struggle to say her real name – he whispers it, and Lena nods. She shouldn’t be so blasé with Kara’s identity either, especially here, where her mother could be lurking around any corner. Whether Kara wrote it or not, the pure fact of her asking for help and crafting it in Lena’s name is meaningful.

Lena keeps reading.

I compete next in the city of Paris. After these last few tourneys, I know I will find it empty and in the winter without you there. I miss you terribly, Lena. Every day I think of you with fondness, and every day I will continue do so, no matter how far apart we are.

At that paragraph, Lena’s heart flutters. It’s more genuine than the rest, and even in another’s handwriting she can hear Kara in it.

Kara misses her, just as much as she misses Kara. She has to admit, some part of her worried that once they were separated with no real hope of reunion and the flame of their sudden affair dimmed, Kara might forget about her. But here she is, a month later, writing as if she’s given up on life entirely if it’s not with Lena.

She keeps reading, and each word makes her feel warmer and more joyful than the last.

Hope guides me. It’s what gets me through the day, and especially the night. Hope that after you’re gone from my sight, it won’t be the last time I look upon you. I will hold out hope, Lena – and I hope you do, too.

With all of my affection,

The knight of your heart.

Kara’s name isn’t signed, assumedly because she couldn’t bear to send such a genuine letter bearing her false one – but there’s only one knight who holds her heart, and Lena can feel her in the letter all the same. Just as she’s about to read over it again the hall door bursts open and Lena jumps, fully prepared to hide the missive from her mother – but it’s only Sam, breathing heavily as if she’s just sprinted here.

“Lena! The chamberlain said that a squire had arrived with a letter for you from –“ Sam’s voice is almost excited, but when she sees Winn standing in the foyer wide-eyed and definitely not the squire she was hoping for, the excitement visibly leeches out of her.

“Oh. It’s you.”

Her disappointment is palpable. Winn takes it in stride though, as if he was expecting it – he shrugs, and rummages around in his pocket for something. He pulls out a much smaller piece of parchment, folded into a neat square, and hands it to Sam.

“Alex asked me to give this to you. She acted like we don’t all know she’s sweet on you – I mean, I think Kar-Clark is still clueless, but he’s all hung up on Lena, so –“

Sam snatches the letter from him and waves her hand at him until he quiets, which he does with a weary sigh. Her smile grows larger and larger as her eyes scan the page, until finally she folds it again and tucks it into her bosom, looking more cheerful than Lena has seen her in over a month.

“Looks like we both have something to fight for,” Sam says with a wink, and Lena laughs.

“So it would seem. Don’t think I’m not going to interrogate you about your little romance later.”

Both of their gazes land on Winn again, who looks around surreptitiously and then leans close, speaking quietly.

“Kara was hoping that perhaps you could send her a token? Something to keep her hope alive?”

Lena looks Winn over, from his windblown hair to his dusty clothes, and grins.

She has some work to do.

 


 

Winn arrives in Paris just two days after the rest of the group, looking surprisingly clean and well-fed considering he’s been on the road alone for the better part of 3 weeks. He finds them at the lists, where Kara is checking for the 5th time for Edge’s name – when the attendant shakes his head at her, her stomach sinks in disappointment.

Even here, at the French national tournament, he’s not competing. She was hoping that the promise of winning such a prestigious prize would draw him in, but apparently not.

“No Edge?” Jack asks as Kara walks back towards the group, and Kara shakes her head.

“No Edge. He must still be with his army.”

“Well, this ups your chances of winning the championship?” Lucy offers, and Kara sighs.

“I want to beat him. Winning is great, but I feel like I can’t prove myself until I face him again, you know? I want to see him lose.” Kara kicks at the dirt, feeling a bit like a petulant child. Jack tries to buoy her, giving her an encouraging pat on the back.

“There are plenty of competitors here that can prove a challenge!” he says, but Kara just shrugs noncommittally.

“Yeah. I guess.”

She’s just considering going to the pub and seeing if Lex is there to commiserate again when there’s a familiar yell from across the square. The moment she sees Winn, his horse kicking up dust as he rides towards them, all her melancholy falls away.

Lena got her letter.

She’s at his side before he’s even properly dismounted, practically tugging him off the horse in her haste. She then has to catch him when his foot gets tangled in the stirrup, but eventually he gets both feet firmly on the ground, and she can ask the questions that have burned since the day he left.

“Did you see her? Did she read the letter?”

“Hello to you too,” Winn snarks, his hands on his hips, but Kara ignores his tone. She just bounces on the balls of her feet, impatient for news of her lady.

“Did you? Come on, Winn, tell me!”

“Yes, and yes,” Winn finally replies, and Kara has to hold herself back from jumping for joy. She can hear Alex, Jack, and Lucy approaching from behind her, but her focus is on the information Winn holds.

“Did she like it?” she asks, her joy tempered a little by nerves. It was one of the few worries she had, when sending the letter in the first place – firstly, that Lena might not like it, and secondly, that perhaps Lena had started to move on. It had been over a month by then, after all – Kara has had people move on from her more quickly than that.

Winn’s answer puts her heart at ease.

“Judging by the fact that the moment she finished reading it she practically stormed her mother’s study, I’d say she liked it.”

Kara grins, bringing her hands up to her chin excitedly at the news. But Winn is still withholding the most important answer, the one she needs.

And?” she presses, and Winn’s face falls. He hesitates, like he doesn’t want to give her the bad news, and Kara’s heart starts to droop – but then he grins again, mischievous and delighted at his trick working.

“And…she’s coming to Paris. She left just after I did.”

Kara’s excitement at that announcement explodes out of her in a wordless, uncontrollable yell to the heavens. She jumps into the air, punching the sky, and pulls Winn into a tight hug – and then Lucy, and then Alex. Jack puts up two defensive hands, trying to fend her off - but she grabs him anyways and hugs around them, picking him up and spinning him as a circle as he protests.

“You’re getting sweat on my jacket!” he moans as she finally puts him down, but she ignores him, turning back to Winn.

“Did she send something for me in return?” she asks excitedly, rubbing her hands together. “A gift? A letter? A token? She sent me a token, didn’t she?”

Winn’s face falls again, and he looks like she’s just brought up something he was hoping to forget.

“Uh,” he winces, shifting from foot to foot. His eyes flick to Jack, standing behind her, and then back again. “I mean, she did, but –“

“Come on, Winn!” Kara whines. “I haven’t seen her in two months. What is it?”

Winn sighs resignedly.

“We’re both going to hate this,” he mutters, and a few seconds later his lips are on hers in the shortest, most awkward kiss she’s ever experienced. He immediately rears back out of it like he’s been burned, wiping his mouth vigorously and looking at her like he’s just as grossed out by it as she is.

Kara blinks silently. She hears Lucy snigger behind her, all of them watching as the gears slowly turn in her head – and then it hits her. Although she did it in the strangest, most uncomfortable way…Lena sent her a kiss.

“Oh,” she says, touching her lips and then pointing at Winn, and back at her own mouth. “Oh! You mean she – yes! She made you, because – yeah!”

Winn doesn’t seem nearly as enthused. He wipes his mouth again, shaking his head as she jumps around her friends, high-fiving anyone who indulges her.

Just as abruptly as her celebration began, Kara skids to a halt, looking at Winn again.

“Wait…did you say she left right after you did?”

Winn nods, giving the reins of his horse to Alex, who pats its neck. “She’s probably about a day behind me.”

Kara looks down at herself – at the grungy clothes she’s been existing in since Lena left, her tangled hair and grimy hands. She hasn’t had much reason to put any effort into her appearance, since she hasn’t been appearing at banquet and the rest of the knights in the camp generally don’t bathe either. But now Lena is coming, and she’s not going to want to come anywhere near Kara if she looks and smells like she slept in the stables.

“I have to go,” she says, and then she turns tail and sprints towards the bath-houses.

As Kara makes for the camp to make herself presentable, Jack throws am arm around Winn’s narrow shoulders.

“You’ve been missed, mon ami,” Jack says loudly, with an exaggerated French accent. Winn looks a mix between delighted and mortified, especially when Alex snorts.

“More like mon copain,” she mutters to Lucy, who hides her laughter behind her hand.

Before Winn can ask what Alex means Jack leans a little closer, and sniffs dramatically at the air near his neck.

“…why do you smell like honeysuckle?”

Winn laughs nervously, smoothing a hand over his hair and trying and failing to hide his grin. “Oh! Uh. Lena gave me some gifts for my trouble.”

“Which included perfume?” Jack asks, one thick brow raising. Winn shrugs.

“She told me I smelled like a barn animal.”

Jack roars with laughter, giving the shorter man a more-than-friendly kiss on the top of his head, and Winn blushes so deeply that it’s clear the trauma of his experience with Kara is long forgotten. Jack leads him away towards the pub, and Alex calls after them, throwing up her hands.

“Wait! Winn, what about my letter? Winn!”

Once Kara has been suitably scrubbed, dressed in clean clothes, and barbered, the wait for Lena to arrive feels like an eternity. For a day and a half she paces the camp, wearing a track in a circle around the campfire before Alex stops her forcibly with a hand to her chest and insists they all go to the inn for a drink. They get a large table to themselves, ordering drinks and food, but Kara is only half-checked in to the lively conversation – and when Jack disappears for several minutes, she doesn’t even notice until he comes back and demands everyone’s attention.

What, Jack?” Alex says as he pounds on the table with his mug. “We’re not going to listen to a dramatic reading of your new book again. Not after last time.”

Jack just motions for her to shut up, leaning close and indicating that everyone else should follow. Kara is the only one left out, until she realizes everyone is staring at her.

“Oh,” she says, leaning forward. “Right. What’s up?”

“I have a proposition,” Jack starts. Lucy and Alex both roll their eyes, making to sit back down, but Jack grabs both of their shoulders.

“Wait! It’s a good one, I promise.”

“What is it?” Winn asks, unsurprisingly the only one truly invested in their little team huddle. Jack looks carefully behind him at a table against the far wall, where three men are watching their group carefully.

“Those men over there want to make a bet.”

“Oh, Jack,” Lucy sighs, shaking her head. “Not gambling again. I thought you learned in Rouen?”

“But this is barely a gamble!” Jack counters. “The bet is, they think that a Frenchman will win this tournament, and not Clark.”

Alex snorts. “As if. How much is this bet?”

That’s where Jack hesitates. He winces slightly, not quite meeting Alex’s eyes.

“50 gold florens.”

Fifty!” Alex hisses, shoving him hard in the shoulder. He hits the bench with a slight wheeze, but stands up and joins the huddle again immediately. “Fifty gold is all we have! That’s all our money.”

“Yes, that’s the point. If we had sixty, the bet would be sixty.”

Alex shakes her head, but surprisingly, Lucy seems to be considering it. While Jack bites nervously at his cuticles she looks at him carefully, and then at Kara.

“I mean, she has won every tournament we’ve been to,” Lucy says hesitantly.

“Except one,” Kara grumbles, but she’s largely ignored.

“And Edge isn’t here,” Lucy continues with slightly more confidence. “And besides that, she won’t lose with Lena watching.”

“Do I get a say in any of this?” Kara complains, crossing her arms petulantly. Four voices reply in unison.

“No.”

Kara huffs, standing up and finishing her ale. “Well then, I’m going to go. You can decide on this stupid bet without me.”

Her storm-out is not nearly as effective as she hoped – the four of them just wave at her absently as she leaves, and then she’s alone on the street with nothing to distract her from the long, agonizing wait. She can hear a bawdy song erupting from the closed door behind her, but she ignores it, rubbing her arms against the cool breeze and turning towards the sword practice ring. She put too much effort into bathing to join in, but she can at least watch some of the younger competitors sparring to pass the time.

The ring is lively when she gets there, with several pairs of fighters facing off, and Kara follows the line of the wooden barrier idly while she watches their technique. There are a few with talent, but she’s pretty sure she could wipe the floor with all of them.

Her attention is pulled away from the ring when a familiar bald head rushes past her, clapping her hard on the shoulder as he goes. Lex looks like he’s in a hurry to get somewhere, but his face is practically beaming, and Kara’s heart jumps into her throat.

Maybe – if he’s that excited, then perhaps – but he’s already far past her, practically jogging towards the road. He twists around before he gets there, walking backwards and meeting her eyes.

“Look alive, Zorelle!” he calls back to her, his hands cupped around his mouth. And then he’s gone, and Kara is left standing alone and gobsmacked.

Thankfully the mingled confusion and excitement takes a backseat when someone tugs on her sleeve, and she turns to see a nervous-looking pimple-faced boy in a messenger’s cap.

“Sir…Clark Zorelle?” he says tentatively, holding out a small folded piece of parchment. “Delivery for you? The lady said to give this to the man with the dragon crest. The…” He trails off, blushing terribly and leaning closer. “The handsome one, sir.”

Kara takes the paper silently, turning it in her hands. There’s no mark on the outside, but she could swear her skin tingles where she touches it.

It’s from Lena. With a comment like that, it has to be.

“Thank you,” she says absently, fishing a full silver coin out of her pocket and pressing it into his hand. He takes it with wide eyes, sputtering his thanks and praising her generosity, but he might as well be a ghost for all the attention she pays him. She opens the note instead, and reads the five words within over and over until Lena’s handwriting is seared into her memory.

Meet me at the Cathedral. - L

There’s the faint imprint of a pair of lips in dark red carmine underneath the words, and she just barely resists bringing it up to her own. She’ll have the real thing, soon enough. The thought brings even more tingles, and she tucks the note into her pocket with an uncontainable smile.

She’s already sprinted the two leagues to Notre Dame and is standing in its shadow, sweating and panting for breath, before she realizes that Lena never specified a time.

So much for her bath.

Another thing Lena failed to specify in her cryptic letter was whether she wants to meet inside the cathedral, or outside. Kara’s never quite felt comfortable in churches, especially ones with massive judgmental statues that stare down at her from above the doors, but Lena is nowhere to be seen and she’s more than desperate to see her whatever the cost. So she takes a deep breath, and moves inside.

If she has to be in a church, she muses when her eyes adjust to the dimness, at least it’s a beautiful one. Candles flicker from tall stands at the base of every pillar, lining the space with warm light – and making it almost unbearably hot, Kara notes, plucking at the sticky collar of her shirt – which makes it seem mystical and cavernous. A brighter light filters down from the massive rose window, the stained glass casting shafts of riotous colour on the stone floor. Someone she can’t see, probably near the pulpit, is singing a song in Latin that’s equal parts beautiful and eerie. The notes seem to crawl over her skin, making her shiver even in the stuffy heat.

But even with all this light, she can’t for the life of her see Lena. There’s nobody in bright silks, no shiny black hair, no musical voice. She has no idea when Lena will be here, and no idea how to pass the time in a church.

She approaches a nearby baptismal font, dipping her finger in the water and doing a sloppy cross in what she hopes is the right way – and then, suddenly self-conscious of her sweaty skin, she glances around surreptitiously. Everyone seems to be going about their own business, lighting candles or dipping their head in prayer, and while nobody is looking she dips her hands fully into the cool water, bringing them up quickly to scrub her face.

Perhaps it’s sacrilegious. But if she’s going to say a rosary to anyone, it’s Lena, anyways.

When she’s dried off on the sleeve of her shirt she rubs the excess water off in her hair, only then noticing no less than three people looking at her in mild to moderate horror.

“Sorry,” she whispers, wiping her hands on her pants nervously. “I was just, uh. Really feeling…the Lord?”

They all go back to their business, tutting in disapproval, and Kara relaxes slightly for about five seconds. Before she can escape the mortification zone she hears a voice behind her, throaty and teasing, and everything else is forgotten.

“Why, Sir Clark. I had no idea you were so devout.”

Kara hardly dares to turn around. Hearing Lena’s voice in this ethereal place, her actual voice, feels like a dream. Like if she moves too quickly it’ll dissipate like smoke, and she’ll be facing another set of endless months alone.

But she does turn, slowly and carefully, until she can see Lena’s smiling face for herself.

Splashing her face with holy water from the font was refreshing, but looking at Lena in the flesh is like dipping her whole body in a cool spring. The details that had started to slip from Kara’s memory with the distance come back in a rush – the flecks of grey in her green eyes, the double dimples that appear in her cheek when she’s smiling without reservations, the freckle right in the centre of her perfect throat that always invites Kara’s lips to her neck. She’s dressed in deep green, and there’s nothing but a soft shine on her lips, and it makes Kara want to kiss her so badly that she feels wild with it.

Her presence is a balm on a part of Kara’s heart that’s been ragged and bleeding since she left, and the brightness of Lena’s eyes makes it clear the feeling is mutual. It takes all the strength Kara has not to just throw herself at her, to breathe deep of Lena’s perfume and cover her face in kisses regardless of their audience.

“Lena,” she breathes, the word leaving her like a whispered prayer. Her throat feels too thick to speak, and Lena’s eyes start to glisten in the candlelight. “…hi.”

“There’s the knight of my heart,” Lena replies, her own voice quavering almost imperceptibly. “Eloquent, as always.”

Screw propriety. Kara won’t tolerate a single second more of not touching the woman she’s been missing for over two months. She steps into Lena’s space and throws her arms around her, squeezing so hard that the boning of her corset creaks – but Lena gives as good as she gets, clinging to Kara’s shoulders without shame.

“God, I missed you,” Kara half-laughs, half-cries into Lena’s shoulder. Her hand reaches up to cup the back of Lena’s neck, tangling in her soft hair. “I missed you so much.”

Lena’s answer is quiet, whispered into Kara’s neck, but the feeling behind it is absolute.

“This is the first time I’ve felt alive in two months.”

Kara squeezes her harder. They stand in each other’s embrace for much longer than is proper, and by the time they separate they have a small audience of side-glances and disapproving tuts to greet them from the pews. Kara chuckles, trying to wipe her eyes without being too obvious; Lena sniffles, and clears her throat. The veil of her station falls back around her once there’s more than a few inches of distance between them, and she stands taller, her usual public haughty expression returning.

“I think I’d like a stroll in the gardens,” Lena says meaningfully, turning towards the door. “Perhaps you could escort me, Sir Clark? My handmaid is busy, and I so detest walking the city streets alone.”

Kara almost trips over herself in her haste to offer her arm.

“Of course, my lady,” she says, too excited to mask her eagerness. “I’m happy to assist.”

Lena folds her arm into Kara’s offered one, and Kara feels a gentle, affirming squeeze before they retreat into their personas. Knight and lady, walking close but not too close, sharing the secretive looks of courting lovers as they discuss banal topics like the newest royal edicts and the unseasonably cool weather. They walk along the façade of the cathedral, and it’s difficult for Kara to keep her eyes and hands to herself - but she manages at least until they reach the gardens near the Seine. That’s when Lena’s grip on her arm tightens, and she finds herself being pulled into a secluded spot between two well-manicured bushes.

Then Lena’s lips are on hers, and all propriety is forgotten.

She’s been thinking about Lena’s kisses since the day she left. The soft kisses and the deep ones, the taste of her mouth, how Lena felt pressed into her, moving on top of her. But of all the kisses they’ve shared, this one blows the rest out of the water.

If every other kiss was a flame, this is a forest fire. Lena comes at her with ferocity, desperation, her hands wound up in Kara’s hair and her mouth hot and open from the first. Kara feels devoured in the best way, completely out of her depth but following pure instinct, and without thinking too hard she grasps Lena through the seemingly endless material of her dress and pulls her in with all her strength.

Lena responds beautifully. She groans deep in her throat, relaxing and letting Kara maneuver her body. There’s nothing to press her against, but she holds Lena as close as she can anyways. Every bit of space between them feels like an affront, absolutely unacceptable – she has to be touching Lena in all ways, pressing her close enough that they could be a single person. Even when Lena speaks she seems loath to let their lips part – she murmurs them into Kara’s, lets her swallow the words like sweet wine.

“Until I got your letter…I worried that you might have forgotten me.”

“I could never,” Kara breathes into her, pulling Lena into more kisses only barely broken by words. “Never. I thought of you every moment.”

She can’t see it, but she knows Lena’s smile is brilliant. She can feel it between their lips; the warmth of it fills her from head to toe.  

“And I, you.”

The sweetness turns into something more subterranean when Lena’s hands start to wander beyond their resting place at Kara’s neck, slipping up and under Kara’s loose shirt and smoothing over the heated skin of her stomach, her hip. Her fingers dip briefly into Kara’s waistband, and Kara inhales sharply.

“It almost feels wrong to do this in the shadow of a church,” Kara chuckles shakily, glancing around them, and Lena’s grin is almost predatory as she nips sharply at Kara’s lower lip.

“Then call me a blasphemer.”

Lena kisses her again, deep and slow, Kara never wants this moment to end. She wants to stay here kissing Lena for the rest of time – tourney be damned, life be damned, this is the only place she wants to be.

The whiplash is severe only a few seconds later when Lena is suddenly out of her embrace, fixing her hair and straightening her dress – and Kara sees why when two ladies appear at the garden entrance, strolling leisurely and looking at the flowers. One of them waves coquettishly at Kara, but Lena very firmly takes her arm again and guides her less-than-gently in the opposite direction.

Kara, still spiritually living in about 30 seconds ago when she was having the life kissed out of her, follows silently on wobbly legs.

“Unfortunately, I think they’ll be here a while,” Lena grumbles, fanning her flushed face. It’s gratifying to know that Lena is as affected as she is, and as unhappy at the interruption. She takes two deep breaths, and then seems to collect herself somewhat. “Well. Perhaps you could tell me exactly how much of that letter you wrote.”

Her grin is wry, and Kara blushes, the fog of arousal clearing a little at the clear sarcasm.

“Uh. Most of it?” she tries, and Lena raises a single brow.

She tries again.

“I mean, Jack helped. And Winn, and Alex.” Kara pauses, frowning. “…and Lucy. But I did more of it than you might think!”

Lena chuckles, those dimples Kara adores so much making a brief appearance. “Well, whoever did the writing, it meant more than I can say. I was starting to lose hope.”

There’s still a thread of sadness in Lena’s voice, and the smile fades. Like she can’t quite shake the shadow of her mother, even when she’s been freed. Like she’s still living in fear.

“I’m going to do more than a letter,” Kara says matter-of-factly, clasping Lena’s hand briefly before letting go, mindful of their audience. “I’m going to win the tournament in your name.”

Kara had hoped that the statement would grant her another smile. A blush, perhaps, Even a giggle. But instead Lena snorts, rolling her eyes as she tugs Kara towards a large cherry blossom tree.

“Every knight I’ve ever met has told me that.”

“But I’m different!” Kara insists, unable to restrain her pout at the lack of response. “And, I’m actually going to win! It’s not an empty promise.”

“I don’t doubt that. It’s just lost its shine, that’s all.” Lena chuckles, seeming to talk more to herself than to Kara. “If you really wanted to show me you care, you’d lose for me. No knight would ever give up their own honour for another. That would really be something.”

With a brief glance around to ensure their privacy, Lena pecks her firmly on the lips, and keeps walking along the path.

It’s clear that it’s a joke. But it strikes Kara, suddenly, that Lena fully thinks Kara wouldn’t do it. She undervalues her own worth, assumes that Kara shares the average knight’s towheaded need to win at any cost. She has no idea that Kara would truly do anything for her.

And that just won’t do.

Lena pulls her into another secluded spot not long after, and for a while jousting is the furthest thing from Kara’s mind.

Her friends, she thinks, start to sense that something is off when the flag waves to start her first tilt, and she stays exactly where she is.

“Uh…Clark?” Winn calls nervously, smacking the flank of her horse again as if somehow the first one didn’t register. The horse starts forward, but Kara keeps the reins tightly locked, and it stops again a foot or two later. Her lance points to the sky, not so much as lowering into the proper position.

Her opponent has no such issue – he’s careening down the track towards her, his lance pointed right at her chest, oh god how did she not realize how fast people go in the joust, why does it feel so much worse when she’s standing still –

“Clark, he’s, uh – he’s going to hit –“ Winn’s voice is high with a kind of panic now, like he’s genuinely worried for her health, but she ignores him as the knight comes into range.

The lance smashes into her stationary chest, spraying bits of wood all over Alex and Winn, who let it happen with absolutely dumbfounded looks. Lucy and Jack aren’t close enough to be in the splash zone, but she can hear Lucy’s noise of confused, sympathetic pain when the force of the hit almost bends Kara backwards in the saddle.

The crowd makes some rather confused and scattered noise, and a little one-point flag is put on her opponent’s side of the scoring booth.

The moment the other knight starts to ride back to his end Alex is beside her. The dopey smile she’s had ever since Lena (and Sam) came back is gone, replaced with alarm and whisper-yelling.

“Have you gone blind?” Alex asks, gesturing towards the flag-bearer. He’s preparing to start another tilt, and Kara still doesn’t move. “Didn’t you see the flag?”

“I saw the flag,” Kara replies evenly, breathing through the pain. She’s doing this for Lena. Lena is watching, and Kara is going to prove that nothing is more important.

Winn comes closer too, slapping Kara’s thigh with a nervous laugh.

“Oh, I get it. You’re dropping behind for a more dramatic victory! Right?” he says with a note of desperation. “It’s all for the show. Right?”

Kara shakes her head. The flag-bearer waits, looking down at Kara’s end as if he’s wondering if perhaps she wasn’t ready – but she stays still, her horse pawing impatiently at the sand.

“No, I’m not. I’m losing.”

Winn blinks, his expression shifting to one of a man whose dreams were just shattered.

“…on purpose?”

Kara sighs. Her opponent is receiving his new lance, and she only has a few moments before she’s going to get hit again. “Lena thinks I would never lose for her. Would never give up my own vanity in her name.”

Jack and Lucy are in the mix now, the four of them surrounding her as if they can somehow shield her from her own decision. Jack’s voice is high and incredulous.

“Yeah, and for good reason! We have money riding on this, Kara! Why on earth would you think this is a good idea?”

“Because I love her.”

It comes out before she’s really thought it through. Once she’s said it, though, there’s no second thoughts, no self-doubt. It’s true, and she knows it.

She loves Lena Luthor with all her heart.

She can just see Lena’s place in the stands, as the flag waves and her opponent starts his approach. As he takes off and Kara very obviously does not, Lena stands from her seat, coming forward as far as she can and clinging to a support beam. She can’t see Lena’s face, but there’s enough in her body language to show that she’s worried. Worried for Kara.

The warmth of Lena’s care for her welfare persists, even when it seems like her entire team is yelling at her.

Alex looks about 30 seconds away from some kind of heart attack. She throws her hands up, like she’s appealing to God for help in knocking some sense into her sister.

“How does that have anything to do with this?”

“I love her, Alex!” Kara says, shrugging helplessly. It’s the only answer she can offer. “And if she thinks I won’t give up my own honour for her sake, I need to prove to her that I will.”

“Kara, you’re going to get yourself killed –“

“We made a bet! We’re going to lose so much money -“

“What if this costs you the world championship?”

They’re all talking at once, all trying to convince her to change her mind, but let it never be said that Kara Danvers is easily convinced.

“I’ve made my decision,” Kara says firmly, before gesturing vaguely forward. “You guys should move.”

They dive out of the way just in time for a second lance to hit Kara squarely above her diaphragm, and all the air leaves her in a rush. The tip of it actually breaks quite cleanly, and as the other knight rides away victorious, Alex picks it up from the dirt and stares at it as if it holds the answers she seeks.

It doesn’t. Kara loses three matches in a row, managing not to be unhorsed but letting her opponents hit her with no resistance whatsoever – and while the ninth lance of the day actually doesn’t break, it does force her left shoulder out of its socket with a sickening pop.

The pain blots out just about every other sense, but as Alex hurriedly leads her horse off the field she could swear she sees flurried movement from the judge’s booth.

“I mean, nobody has come out firmly on top yet,” Winn says, counting on his fingers in a mental tally of the matches so far. “If you win the rest of your matches, and some of your opponents take key losses, you could make the semi’s. Even the finals!”

He seems much more hopeful than everyone else while Alex sits Kara down and straps her into an implement they only ever saw Corben using a few times. It holds her shoulder in place and her hand gets lashed to a huge wooden screw – Alex hands her a piece of wood to bite down on, and with a grimace she turns a crank until Kara’s shoulder shifts painfully.

Kara grunts, just barely keeping from yelling as her shoulder doesn’t quite set properly. Lucy, doing her usual task of caring for Kara’s equipment after her bouts, holds up the barely-damaged chestplate.

“At least the armour’s proven itself,” she says cheerfully, and Kara moans.

“And your love? Have you proven that yet?” Alex makes a final, vigorous rotation of the crank as she says it, and Kara’s world narrows to pain pain pain – and then finally her shoulder seems to slip back into its socket, and the relief is so great that Kara’s groan is almost sexual.

“I won’t have proven it until I lose,” Kara says once the pain stops radiating to her fingertips and stays in her shoulder, where it belongs. She detaches the leather straps, and lets her weight fall forwards onto the table the torture device sits on. The relief of her shoulder being re-set makes her aware of all the other aches in her body, and she breathes carefully through gritted teeth. “Just a few more matches.”

Alex sits next to her, her sarcasm ebbing with the obvious pain Kara is in. She lifts Kara’s sweaty shirt slightly, and tsks at the beginnings of mottled purple bruises across her torso where the force of the lances pushed her armour into the skin.

“God, look at you, Kara. Look at your ribs. If you’re seriously going to do this, just withdraw. Lose that way. Stop taking all this punishment.”

There’s a pleading note in Alex’s voice, and Kara feels an answering twinge of guilt even through her determination. She sighs and rests her head on her bruised forearm, not quite having the energy to fight back but not willing to give up the ghost just yet.

“How are you this injured?” Jack asks incredulously, peering at Kara’s bruises himself until she swats him away like an insect. “You’ve competed in hundreds of matches, and it’s never been this bad.”

“I don’t usually get hit very much,” Kara mumbles into the table, not dignifying him with eye contact. “I’m very good at not letting them break lances on me.”

And the armour is shaped so that a lot of blows glance off,” Lucy adds with a warning tone, and Kara acknowledges her with a small wave.

“Right. And that. Anyways, apparently I can’t avoid the hits when I’m sitting still.”

“So stop sitting still!” Alex pleads, while Jack perches on the table next to Kara and folds his legs. Kara winces at the clear frustration in her tone, and the sudden proximity of Jack’s thighs to her face.

She’s fortunately saved from having to answer by Sam, who sweeps into their tent with a determined look and immediately distracts Alex. Kara doesn’t raise her head to greet her, but Alex makes up for the lack of enthusiasm by springing to her feet the moment she sees the taller woman.

“Sam!” Alex says, her voice suddenly high and nervous. “Hi! What are you –“

Sam’s frown eases when she sees Alex, and she greets her with an easy kiss on the cheek that makes every inch of Alex’s exposed skin turn crimson.

“Hi, love,” Sam says softly, but she seems to have very little time to take in Alex’s hilarious reaction to the pet name because she immediately turns on Kara, pointing an accusing finger in her direction.

“Lena wanted me to tell you that you’re being an idiot.”

Kara, sore and tired of defending herself, doesn’t think before she grumbles her answer.

“Well, I’m an idiot in love.”

Sam’s eyes widen dramatically, and Kara realizes her mistake as soon as the words leave her mouth.

“I mean –“ Kara sputters, starting to stand up but wincing as it makes her shoulder flare up. “I was just being – Sam, please don’t tell her.”

To Kara’s horror, Sam shakes her head. “Kara, you know I like you, but there’s no way I’m not going to tell her the second I see her. Even if I wanted to lie, I’m incapable. This is way too good.” She looks absolutely delighted, and Kara is doomed. She sits back down heavily, and lets her face fall onto the table again.

“A fantastic way to top off losing – Lena’s going to laugh at me.”

Sam chuckles knowingly. “I think you’ll be surprised.”

The embarrassment coursing through her halts for a moment. Could Lena – could she actually -

“…really?” Kara asks cautiously, and Sam winks.

“Not my place to say, of course. Speaking of losing,” Sam says, artfully avoiding the subject, and Kara raises her head slightly to look at her with half-open eyes. “Lena sent me with another message.”

“What now?” Alex says, finally recovered from her momentary kiss-induced paralysis. She pulls the bandage around Kara’s shoulder tighter. “Isn’t this enough?”

“It’s too much, actually,” Sam replies with a chuckle. “She says, if you want to show her you care, to take care of yourself. Win this for her.”

Win?” Jack exclaims, his feet dropping down from the table with a thump. “How is she supposed to win? She’s lost two matches already!”

“There’s been a withdrawal,” Sam answers, looking inordinately pleased with herself. “Just now. It seems that one of your fiercest competitors was bedding the wife of the Royal Provost.”

“The who?” Winn asks, and Jack rolls his eyes affectionately as Sam explains.

“The highest administrator in Paris, and the person bankrolling this tourney.”

“Oh,” Winn says, and his eyes widen. “Oh! So –“

“They’ve had to re-shuffle some key bouts. If Kara wins all of her jousts from this point on, by a wide enough margin, she can still be tourney champion.”

Five sets of eyes turn to Kara, still half-slumped over on the table.

She hadn’t expected this. She had been fully committed to losing the whole tournament, focused on her task, and now Sam is telling her that not only does Lena want her to win, but she’s being given an oppourtunity to do so.

And, if she wins, perhaps Jack won’t murder her in her sleep for losing him 100 florens.

“What do you think?” Alex asks tentatively, while everyone else watches with baited breath. “Can you do it?”

Kara takes stock of her body. The pain in her shoulder has calmed a little, and she still gets twinges all over when she flexes various muscles – but honestly, the more she thinks about getting back on the field for real, the less the pain seems to bother her. She sits up properly, looking to Sam for absolute confirmation.

“You’re sure this is what she wants?”

Sam nods, handing over Lena’s familiar green gossamer handkerchief. Kara takes it gently. “She hated every moment of watching you get hurt.”

Kara smiles, and with a new confidence she takes her chestplate back from Lucy and affixes Lena’s favour to the shoulder of her armour. “Okay. Let’s go break some lances.”

 


 

It feels strange to be in the stands again, watching Kara compete when she thought the door to that part of her life had been slammed closed. She’s not sure if she’s just lucky or if word of her association with Sir Clark has gotten around, but either way the volume of knights invading her space or ineffectually flirting from afar is almost nonexistent in comparison to before, and she’s grateful.

Being here, seeing Kara again, is like a dream. It feels like one of the elaborate imaginings she sometimes let herself have in her weakest moments at the Luthor estate – meeting Kara at the cathedral, the look on her face when she saw Lena standing there, clandestine kisses in the gardens with the threat of being caught only making it more exciting. Kara seems to hardly believe it’s true, either, and it helps to ground her in the realism of the situation. She’s here, and Kara is here, and they have more time. She doesn’t know how much more, of course – but she won’t take it for granted.

Lex had been happy to see her, too. Happier than she thought he would be, in fact – she had sent word of her arrival ahead to both Kara and Lex, but she hadn’t expected the latter to meet her at the door of the inn, beaming and sweeping her into a hug.

Her brother actually felt her absence, so it would seem – and he gave her definite reason to think that he encouraged Kara to send her a letter. Thought you might need a push, he had said. From two idiots who missed you.

He’s always been too observant for his own good.

Even if it doesn’t quite feel real, it feels undeniably right to be here again. Kara in her distinctive armour takes her place at the end of the track, and takes her lance from Winn. Lena straightens, readying herself for an easy victory. Kara always cleans up in the early rounds against inexperienced newcomers, often unhorsing them in a single run. She expects nothing different, even at the French championship.

She does not expect for Kara to seemingly ignore the starting flag.

Her opponent starts at an uneasy pace, clearly expecting Kara to approach soon – but she doesn’t. She stays still, holding her lance but not pointing it, while Alex and Winn get very obviously more panicked, while the other knight gathers speed, careening towards her with a wooden stick bound for her chest –

The hit lands, shattering all over Kara’s stationary chest, and Lena’s heart lurches painfully.

“What the hell is she doing?” she whispers frantically to Sam, who shrugs. She looks slightly worried, even in her usual nonchalance.

“Maybe she didn’t see the flag?”

“She’s not an idiot, Sam.”

Sam makes a face. “Well…”

“Shut up!” Lena hisses, smacking her on the shoulder. “She isn’t!”

“What?” Sam protests, batting Lena’s hand away. “When we were in Lyon, she stood outside your window at the inn and recited poetry.”

“I thought it was sweet,” Lena mutters, and Sam scoffs, gesturing to the field where Kara is, once again, remaining stationary as her opponent rides.

“Well then, you deserve each other.”

Another lance explodes against Kara’s armour, the impact making her whole body bend back in the saddle, and she doesn’t so much as spur her horse forward.

“What is she doing? It’s like she’s losing on purpose!” Sam says incredulously, and something clicks in Lena’s mind. A memory from yesterday, one that had been clouded by the kisses that preceded and followed.

“Oh my god,” Lena whispers as Kara shifts in the saddle, clearly in pain. “Oh, Kara.”

What?” Sam asks, and Lena stands, walking mindlessly to the railing that boxes in the upper-class stands and leaning against a column.

“She is losing on purpose. She – god, she’s such an idiot!”

Kara rolls her shoulders a few times while her opponent rides back to his starting point, still holding the lance. The crowd seems uneasy and confused, and Sam is just as confused in her questioning.

“Well, yes, but why?”

Lena bites her lip. “Earlier today, she said she was going to win the tournament for me.”

Sam snorts, and Lena nods. “Exactly. What every knight has said to me since I was 14. So I said, as a joke, that if she really cared for me she would lose. That giving up her own vanity and competitive nature would be more meaningful, broadly speaking.”

“Oh my god,” Sam says, with a short, incredulous laugh. “Oh my god. She’s losing for you.”

The third lance smashes to pieces on Kara’s chest, and Lena can see her almost double over in pain. A sympathetic twinge hits her stomach at Kara’s obvious pain, and she’s relieved when the match is finally pronounced over and Kara can leave the field until her next one.

“She can’t mean to do it for every match,” Lena says, sitting back down shakily. “She’ll be pulverized.”

“It’s sort of romantic, actually,” Sam says absently as two new knights take the field, and Lena looks at her sharply, dumbfounded.

Now you think she’s being sweet?”

“I mean, stupid? Yes!” Sam acquiesces, shrugging. “But it’s definitely also sweet.”

It is romantic, Lena thinks. Intensely so, insanely so. And it’s also monumentally idiotic, putting her body through such punishment just to prove an affection that Lena already knows. But Kara dutifully loses the second match too, and before the first uneven tilt is even over she’s sending Sam to tell Kara to stop, for god’s sake.

“Tell her to win for me, instead,” Lena says, worrying nervously at her cuticle as Kara recovers from another savage hit. “I can’t keep watching her get hurt.”

“I don’t think it’s statistically possible for her to win, at this point,” Sam mutters, gathering her skirts to stand and be on her way.

But Lena pauses.

“What if…someone else was eliminated?” She says slowly, a plan formulating in her mind. One utilising the only useful thing she could say she took from the Luthor estate – her mother’s insatiable lust for valuable gossip.

“What do you –“ Sam starts, before realization dawns on her face. She grins slowly, diabolically.

“Oh, Lena. Using gossip for your own means? That is nefarious.” Sam’s accusation would be somewhat insulting, if it weren’t for the absolute glee on her face at the prospect.

“I half got her in this mess, I should be the one to help her out of it. Right?” Lena says, her decision cemented. Sam nods, giving her a sarcastic salute.

“Consider it done.”

But having Sam put their plan in motion before she talks to Kara means time – time in which Kara loses a third match, and Lena has to watch as her shoulder is clearly and painfully dislocated at the last moment. She can hear Kara’s shout of pain from where she sits, and it almost propels her up and out of her seat just by instinct, her heart leaping towards her stupid, suffering knight even when the pain is self-inflicted.

Sam thankfully returns before Kara has to take the field again, taking her seat and leaning close to talk in low tones.

“It’s done. Max Lord is frantically packing his bags as we speak, and Kara got the message.”

“Thank god,” Lena breathes, relaxing for the first time since Kara’s first tilt. “Thank you, Sam.”

“No problem,” Sam says, with an air of practiced casualness. “Turns out, she was doing it because she loves you. Go figure.”

The statement doesn’t really register, at first. Lena is too busy looking towards the lists, knowing Kara has to be coming out of them soon for her next match. But the words crash into her like a comet a few seconds later, and she turns towards Sam so suddenly that it actually hurts her neck.

“Repeat that, please?”

Sam grins, looking stubbornly forward and maintaining the casual attitude. “I told her you thought she was being an idiot, and she said, and I quote: I’m an idiot in love.”

The words repeat in Lena’s head like a mantra. An idiot in love. In love.

She loves me.

It’s not like she should be surprised, really. Kara has proven time and time again that she cares deeply, even if she hadn’t said the words. But now she has said them, and it feels like the long-awaited culmination of something Lena didn’t even realize was happening.

Despite seemingly every rule in the universe being set against them, she and Kara found each other. And Lena is in love.

While she’s mulling over this new information, Kara comes onto the field with a new confidence. Her horse is chomping at the bit, stamping and tossing its head in a seeming extension of Kara’s new energy - and the moment the flag is waved she takes her lance almost aggressively, urges her horse forward, and immediately unhorses her opponent. When her lance explodes against his armour he flies out of the saddle almost comically only to get caught by his foot still in the stirrup, and ends up being dragged along the sand behind his still-galloping horse.

The whole thing is over in 15 seconds flat.

Kara rips her helmet off at the end of her run, her hair sweaty and her face set with determination - her lance is tossed easily to the ground while the spectators chant. The ground practically shakes with Zor-elle, Zor-elle, Zor-elle – and then Kara finds Lena in the crowd. Their eyes meet, and Kara winks.

There’s an immediate, answering throb between Lena’s legs.

“Sam,” she says as evenly as possible, as Kara rides back to the lists to celebrate her victory. “Could you have the inn draw me a bath when we return? I’d like to wash before I visit Kara.”

Sam’s grin is knowing, but she wisely says nothing.

It turns out that, even being injured after her slow start, Kara was highly motivated. She wins seemingly effortlessly, unhorsing a record four opponents and winning the grand prize to boot – and while Kara doesn’t send for her that night, Lena bathes and prepares herself for a visit anyways. She cleans and primps, washes her hair, she dresses carefully. She forgoes the corset for once, and selects a very improper dress of soft red silk under a structured overcoat to mask it.

Kara loves her. And Lena loves Kara back. She’s never felt anything close to this before, never had the oppourtunity for any relationship to progress past veiled flirtation and stolen kisses. She’s never let herself be seen by anyone, never let herself be known and understood and loved. And she’s certainly never gotten as far physically as she has with Kara. But she’s acutely aware that she could be called to return home to her mother’s estate again at any time. Her time with Kara is unknown and limited, and she needs to make the most of it.

And tonight, she knows exactly how she wants to do that. Even if she’s unspeakably nervous about it.

It’s well past dark when she finally emerges, picking her way down the narrow stairs and leaving Sam in their rooms. She’s so preoccupied with what she knows is going to happen when she reaches the campground Kara stays in that she almost doesn’t notice the slim figure that bumps into her going the opposite direction; but when she instinctively holds a hand out to apologize she comes face-to-face with none other than Alex, who looks like she’s just been caught stealing a loaf of bread.

“Oh,” Lena says, blinking into Alex’s blushing face. They each step rapidly out of each other’s space, moving around each other with a wide berth like two circling vultures. “Hello. I, um –“

“Hi,” Alex stammers, taking one step up the stairs, and then another. Towards Lena’s rooms, and Sam. “I’m just, uh. Heading up.”

“Right,” Lena says, nodding rapidly. “And I’m heading…down.” Lena’s travelling cloak says everything Alex needs to know about where Lena is going, and Lena is unpleasantly reminded of the fact that Kara considers Alex close enough to be a sister. There’s no way she doesn’t know.

They stare silently at each other, caught up in this horrible, awkward moment of very clear mutual acknowledgement, until Lena finally clears her throat and ejects herself from the situation.

“I should go,” she says, moving down towards the common area, and Alex looks painfully relieved to have an out.

“Yes! I mean, me too,” Alex says, already halfway up the stairs at an almost running pace. She disappears onto the landing that leads to Lena’s rooms, and Lena leaves the inn quickly before a picture of what’s about to take place there can form in her mind.

There are more pleasant things to think of, tonight.

She finds Kara’s camp fairly easily. It’s a simple one, just three tents bedecked in her colours and crest, slightly separate from the rest of the campground. Kara has mentioned that she always feels more comfortable sequestered to the edges. Lucy’s smithing equipment is parked next to one of the tents, its flap open and showing two empty cots and Jack is parked outside the second with a book in his hands. The third tent is the largest, and Lena heads towards it, trying to ignore the fact that Jack has spotted her.

Thankfully, he doesn’t deem it necessary to talk to her. Instead he smiles, and silently dips into his tent only to come out again with Winn in tow. Winn looks confused to be dragged out so unceremoniously but he follows without complaint, and they disappear towards the city.

They’re alone, and Lena’s heart is pounding. She unties the knot keeping Kara’s tent flap closed, and slips inside.

It’s nicer than she thought it would be, on the inside. It’s actually quite cozy – Kara’s armour is on a stand in the corner, polished and shining after its abuse today, and in the middle is a double bed piled in soft furs. It looks like it could be easily packed up but it’s sturdier than a cot, and in the middle of it all is Kara, looking at her with clear surprise. She’s shirtless but for the bandages wound around her chest almost down to her bellybutton, and Lena is immediately distracted by the exposed skin. Her hair is damp and clean, and there’s a dark bruise that starts at her neck and extends down over the front of her left shoulder.

“Lena!” she says, starting to prop herself up on the pillows but ending up falling back with a wince and a grunt of pain. All of Lena’s other thoughts disappear at the clear discomfort, and she rushes over to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Kara,” Lena breathes, her face contorted with worry. She cups Kara’s face, before letting her fingers trace over the warm surface of the bruise. “God, look at you. You’re black and blue.”

“I’m fine!” Kara insists, finally managing to properly sit up. Lena helps her to stuff pillows behind her back, berating her all the while.

“You’re not fine! Why on earth did you do that? You could have been killed.”

Kara sighs, shrugging her bruised shoulders. “I think Sam told you why. You deserve someone who would do anything for you. And I would.”

Even now, when she’s being scolded, she manages to make Lena blush. Rather than give Kara the satisfaction of pointing it out she lifts the blankets covering Kara’s lower torso, gasping when she sees the mottled red and purple that extends over her ribs under the bindings.

“You need a surgeon!” she exclaims, brushing the skin with her fingers. Kara twitches and turns pink at the touch, but shakes her head.

“I can’t, or he’d – he’d know. I can’t have anyone look at me.”

She’s right, and Lena knows it. Having anyone look at this part of Kara’s body is a guarantee of arrest. It’s worrying, and guilt starts to gnaw at her insides.

“This is my fault,” Lena says quietly. Kara immediately protests, sitting up too fast and not entirely helping her cause when it pulls at her sore ribs.

“It’s not your fault I took you seriously,” Kara says, through gritted teeth. “And, it’s not that bad! Just bruises. Really. Alex looked me over.”

Lena tsks, pressing gently on Kara’s shoulder until she’s supine again. “Well, let me look you over. For my own peace of mind.”

Kara chuckles nervously as Lena lifts the blankets out of the way completely, revealing Kara’s loose linen pants. The chest bindings cover most of her skin, but there’s a strip of skin between it and the trousers that Lena’s eyes are drawn to immediately.

She has a goddamn Adonis belt. Of course.

“This isn’t exactly how I envisioned you seeing me shirtless for the first time,” Kara says, her voice slightly higher than usual. She sounds nervous, but not uncomfortable, and Lena braces herself to say the most innuendo-laden sentence she’s ever uttered.

“Hm,” she says, barely succeeding in keeping the tremble out of her voice. “Well. Perhaps I should even the score?”

Kara makes a tiny noise in the back of her throat, her eyes wide and dark, nods so rapidly that Lena worries briefly for her injuries. When she speaks her voice is quiet, but sure.

“Yes, please.”

It sends a thrill through her whole body, and Lena takes it as her cue to stand. She reaches up to undo the first clasp of her overcoat, the pop of it releasing seeming loud as thunder in the stillness of the tent.

Kara watches her fingers intently, her legs shifting and rubbing together restlessly as Lena slowly, agonizingly reveals the silk chemise beneath. A single thin layer between her skin and Kara’s eyes, and she can feel the blonde’s gaze like a physical touch. Her nipples are stiff, and she knows that Kara can see it - in fact her eyes are glued there, her tongue darting out to wet her lips briefly, and the focus of her stare only makes matters worse for Lena.

The coat drops to the ground, and Lena might as well be entirely naked for how exposed she feels as Kara’s eyes drink her in greedily.

Wow,” Kara whispers, sitting up with barely a hint of pain and reaching out an unsteady hand. Lena takes it, letting herself be pulled back to the bedside, and Kara leans forward to press her forehead reverently to Lena’s stomach, just under her chest. Her hands move hesitantly to Lena’s hips, and she can feel the warmth of them through silk. “You are…so beautiful, Lena.”

The calloused tips of Kara’s fingers catch on the delicate fabric with a rough sound, making it slide wonderfully over Lena’s skin. All Lena can think about is how the texture will feel without the dress in the way.

It gives her a new certainty, the strength of that specific desire. The force of her wanting. With a confidence she doesn’t quite understand she eases her fingers into Kara’s hair, and firmly tugs on it until the blonde is looking up at her with wide eyes. Kara sits before her in clear devotion, like a statue of queen and supplicant, and the power of it hits her all at once.

So, she follows the instinct – she pushes on the unbruised part of Kara’s chest until she’s horizontal, and climbs up to straddle her body. The dress subsequently slides up with her parted legs to sit just above her knees and she’s made very aware of her own lack of undergarments.

She feels exposed, and absolutely molten.

“Is this all right?” Lena asks, hearing the breathless wonder in her own voice – and it’s echoed in Kara’s, in her rapid nodding and affirmative words. In the way her hands move immediately and unapologetically to Lena’s thighs, a territory heretofore unexplored due to the sheer volume of fabric Lena is usually wearing.

Lena leans forward, capturing pliant lips in a soft kiss that rapidly becomes heated. Kara responds voraciously for someone recovering from an injury – like as soon as Lena’s lips met hers, the pain disappeared. Her hands tighten on Lena’s thighs, sliding over the silk and then moving down, down, until she finds exposed skin.

And there, infuriatingly, Kara pauses. She eases their kisses back, hovers just out of reach of Lena’s mouth until Lena meets her eyes.

“Do you want this? With me?”

It’s an echo of the last time they were this close, an inversion when spoken by Kara, and it makes Lena’s breath hitch. The familiarity, and the implication. This. Does she want this, with Kara. The answer comes almost as soon as Kara asks the question.

“Yes.”

Kara’s smile is brilliant, even when it’s eclipsed by Lena’s mouth again. With the trajectory of the night confirmed, she finds herself suddenly impatient to claim what she’s been craving for so long – but when she slips a hand down to toy at the waist of Kara’s trousers, Kara stops her before she can begin.

“Wait,” Kara says, and Lena immediately starts to rise, taking her weight off of Kara’s beaten body.

“Did I hurt your ribs?” Lena asks, suddenly aware of the fact that she had been pressing herself into Kara’s many bruises. “Maybe we shouldn’t, while you’re recovering –“

No!” Kara almost yells, seeming to startle even herself with the force and volume of her protest. Lena’s worry turns into an amused smile, and she settles back down hesitantly. “I mean – I’m fine, with that. Please.”

Lena chuckles, trailing her index finger along Kara’s exposed collarbone. She drops a kiss there, taking in the smell of clean skin and Kara. “Then what is it, darling?”

The endearment seems to fluster Kara, who swallows hard and tries to speak with a few false starts.

“It’s just…before we do anything, there’s something – you know who I am, mostly, but there’s something else –“

Kara’s heart is pounding. Lena can feel it under her fingers, can see it making her pulse point flutter, and Lena wants more than anything to ease her anxiety.

“Whatever it is, Kara, I don’t care.”

“No, but it’s important that you know before this goes any further,” Kara says more decisively, putting a sweaty hand over Lena’s and holding it to her own chest. “Lena, I’m…I’m not a noble.”

Lena blinks. It’s not entirely what she’d been expecting, but now that it’s out, it’s not surprising either. It would be more difficult for a noblewoman to disappear and become a knight – people would notice her leaving, possibly hunt for her. And Kara has never struck Lena as being particularly well-versed in noble etiquette, anyways.

“Oh?” She says neutrally, waiting for Kara to continue her explanation. Kara nods, staring resolutely at a spot somewhere over Lena’s shoulders.

“My name isn’t Zorelle. It’s…Danvers. Kara Danvers.”

“Kara Danvers,” Lena says quietly, her thumb rubbing the bruised skin of Kara’s shoulder. It seems to fit her like a glove, this new name, this new knowledge that Kara has been fighting not only the disadvantage of her gender but of her station as well.

Kara seems to doubt the sincerity of Lena’s reaction – or, lack thereof. She launches into what Lena thinks might be a speech she’s rehearsed in her head, so convinced of her own wrongdoing, so sure that Lena will see her differently.

As if Lena isn’t as utterly devoted as Kara is.

“You know I’m not a man, but I’m not of noble birth either,” Kara is saying, her brows knitted. “I’m sorry that I lied to you. And I know it’s illegal, but…it’s not fair that only noble men can be here! I’m good at this, and I love it, and that should be enough, right?”

Kara, clearly not seeing that Lena is looking at her with concentrated fondness, swallows and continues. “That’s…not the point. The point is, Lena…I was born into poverty. In London. Alex’s family took me in so I wouldn’t have to go to the orphanage after my parents died, and we were nothing but squires to an aging knight until Rouen. Until just before I met you.”

There’s a pause then, and Kara finally looks Lena in the face, gauging her reaction.

Where words fail, actions pick up the slack, and Lena lets her feelings be known in a firm, decisive kiss that leaves Kara practically cross-eyed.

“That’s incredibly brave,” Lena says softly, and Kara’s eyes focus again, cautiously optimistic.

“It…is?”

Lena nods, her idle fingers continuing their exploration and dipping into the edges of Kara’s binding. “The way things work now isn’t fair, and you’re fighting back. I think it’s commendable.”

Kara laughs, short and disbelieving. “Lena, I have…literally nothing to offer you. I have no title, no land. The only money I have is what I’ve won -”

Lena interrupts her with a single finger over her lips.

“Kara, you’ve given me everything. Don’t you understand that? I don’t care where you come from, or what you have. You already have my heart.”

Kara’s face settles into utter adoration of the kind that makes Lena’s chest tight with emotion, and Lena's next words slip out of her like a sigh, granting her relief.

“I love you.”

Kara’s adoration turns to shock, and her mouth opens and closes a few times soundlessly like she can’t decide what to say first before Lena takes pity on her.

“Sam told me what you said today,” Lena confirms, and Kara’s cheeks tinge with pink. “And I love you as well, Kara. No matter what your last name is.”

With everything out in the open, every declaration of love admitted and every secret between them laid bare, their embrace takes on a new intensity. Kara surprises her by rolling them both over with only a small hiss of discomfort, one that she immediately barrels past with a long, deep kiss. Having Kara on top of her is a whole new level of arousal, the solid weight of her pressing Lena into the mattress. The slippery silk drifts further up her legs the more Kara moves, and she seems to move more the harder they kiss. Lena is swept up by the current of their shared desire, and she’s more than ready to see where it takes her.

Again, Kara’s hand alights on her thigh – but, finding completely bare skin this time, she stops abruptly. And not just her hand. Her kisses pause too, her body tense and unsure.

“Kara?” Lena asks tentatively, trying to blink away the cloud of arousal. She cups Kara’s cheek, runs her thumb over the hot skin. “Are you all right?”

Kara blinks, a sweet little crinkle forming between her brows. Lena is so close that she can see the tiny scar over her eyebrow, the light smattering of freckles across her cheeks. It endears her all the more.

“Sorry, I haven’t – now that it's actually happening, I just - I’ve just never really done this before.”

Lena bites back a laugh. Her immediate reaction is yes, that’s obvious, but she keeps it to herself – she has no more experience than Kara does, after all. There’s no reason to act superior when her only real proximity to sex is the stories Sam has told of her own adventures. Sam was always the bolder one, more likely to make moves and put herself out there, to use torrid words like fuck and cunt with ease, and it paid off more often than not.

Lena had always been either too scared or too stifled, until now.

“Nor have I,” she admits quietly. Kara seems shaken from her own nerves by Lena’s admission.

“…wait, really?” Kara asks, incredulous. “But you’re so confident.”

Lena chuckles, taking Kara’s hand in hers and bringing it up to her mouth. She kisses each fingertip softly, one by one, and finally lays it on her ribs, just under her breast. It anchors there in true Kara fashion, not moving up or down, and Lena sighs.

“When you walk the earth with a thousand eyes on you, you learn to fake it.”

Kara’s hand flexes. It sends tingles of anticipation to every sensitive place, every nook of her body that she hopes Kara will discover.

“That actually makes me feel a lot better,” Kara says, the relief palpable in her voice. “But I still don’t really know where to start.”

“Okay,” Lena says, doing herself what Kara seems afraid to do - guiding Kara’s fingers up and over the curve of her breast, to cup it in her rough hand. “Tell me, Kara. Do you do this to yourself?”

“I – do I what?” Kara asks distractedly, clearly focused wholly on Lena’s nipple pressing hard into her palm. She squeezes experimentally, and when Lena’s breath hitches she can see Kara’s pupils dilate in real time.

“Do you lie awake at night, in this bed, and touch yourself?”

Kara’s skin flushes a red so dark that Lena worries her head might explode.

“I – I don’t –“ she stammers, almost retracting her hand until Lena catches her wrist and pulls it back. “What does that –“

Lena cuts off her embarrassed rambles by grasping her chin in a gentle hand. Kara cuts off, her blushing cheeks slightly squished in Lena’s fingers. She can tell Kara is a little overwhelmed, and she herself is alight with nerves – the last thing she wants to do is push either of them too far.

“Is this too much?”

Kara relaxes immediately. Like, knowing that Lena is going to do her best to guide them both, isn’t going to judge her, she can let go of her nerves completely. The tension leaves her shoulders, and she shakes her head.

“No, it’s – it’s good.” Kara’s hand flexes again, and Lena has to fight not to lose herself in it. “I’m just nervous.”

“Are you sure?”

Kara glances down, her eyes tracking over the details of Lena’s body, so visible through the clinging fabric. When she looks back up her eyes are dark and intense, and her grin is the one Lena knows so well – genuine, excited, and a little bit playful.

“Keep going.”

As if Lena wasn’t uncomfortably wet already.

“Okay. So,” Lena continues breathlessly, putting her hand over Kara’s and pressing until Kara applies some real pressure. It brings with it sensations both physical and mental, watching Kara’s hand eclipse her breast, watching her experimentally swipe a thumb over Lena’s nipple and grin at the resulting whimper. “Do you touch yourself, Kara?”

Kara’s answer this time is immediate, unequivocal.

“Yes.”

“And do you think of me?” Lena continues, her breathing coming in shorter, faster pants the more confident Kara gets in her exploration. Kara squeezes, traps Lena’s hard nipple between her fingers, moves on to the other side with rapt fascination. “Of the things you’d like to do to me? The things you want me to do to you?”

Yes.”

Kara is hovering closer and closer to Lena’s chest as she discovers what makes Lena tick, and Lena has an inkling of what she seems to want.

And god, does Lena want it too.

“So do them,” Lena murmurs - and like she was waiting for the permission, Kara leans fully down and eagerly takes Lena’s nipple in her mouth.

The sound Lena makes at the first touch of a tongue through damp silk could probably be heard through the whole camp. Something about watching Kara’s mouth work, watching the red silk turn dark with Kara’s enthusiasm, makes the barrier of fabric feel like an addition rather than an obstacle. Lena plunges her fingers into Kara’s hair, holding her head in place, but Kara seems perfectly happy to stay where she is anyways.

Finally, finally, Kara seems to have shed her nerves completely. The dress crawls up Lena’s thighs the closer Kara grinds her body forwards, up and up until it actually bunches at her waist, and –

And then she’s pressed to Kara’s stomach, intimate and completely bare.

It had been instinctual, parting her legs and letting Kara move between them. The fabric slowly moving out of the way felt good, felt right, but the suddenness of the absolute centre of her being pressed to Kara’s skin – her wetness spreading over the sliver of stomach where the bandages don’t cover, Kara’s gasp when she realizes what’s happening, the way she looks down and holds herself up on her arms so she can see Lena spreading herself over her abs. Spreading her cunt.

It unlocks something primal in both of them. It becomes a scramble of clothing removal - Lena’s dress gets hauled up over her head and abandoned somewhere on the ground, and once she’s naked she hardly has time to feel self-conscious because she’s already tearing at the edges of Kara’s chest bindings, unwinding them impatiently until she finds skin.

There’s a moment, then, of mutual appreciation. Kara’s eyes roam hungrily over Lena’s body, her hands following the path of her gaze, spreading large across Lena’s stomach and thighs as if she can’t get enough of the softness – and Lena can hardly keep her hands to herself either, as she takes in Kara without the interference of binding and loose clothes. Even scattered with bruising she’s radiant, lean and muscled in all the places Lena is soft – thighs, hips, stomach. Her breasts are small but perfectly sized, fitting in Lena’s palm like they were made for her exclusively.

She’s a wonder, completely novel, and Lena wants to memorize every inch of her. Right now, however, more pressing things make themselves known as Kara slowly, intentionally grinds her hips into Lena’s cunt.

After that it’s all pressure, and searing heat. Their lips crash together, Kara’s hand plunges down at the exact time Lena grabs it to shove it down herself, and Lena’s world reshapes itself as they breathe into each other.

Kara’s fingers feel so different from her own. Bigger, more textured, slightly clumsier but infinitely more enthusiastic. She slips through the mess of slickness between Lena’s legs with verve, but she hasn’t yet found what Lena knows she’s looking for. It must be difficult, with the distraction of Lena panting in her ear, scratching roughly at her hairline.

With a nip on Kara’s earlobe she murmurs some instruction to help out, and Kara follows beautifully.

“Up,” She breathes into Kara’s ear, spreading her legs further to accommodate Kara’s hips. “Up, a little more –“

Kara’s fingers slide obediently up an inch, and Lena twitches so hard that she almost dislodges Kara’s hand.

“Yes!” she gasps, half-surprised that the instruction actually worked. “God, right there – yes –“

Kara reacts to her pleasure brilliantly – it seems to bring her equal pleasure to see Lena lose control. She doubles her efforts and, once she’s found it, Kara’s fingers batter that magical spot until Lena is seeing stars.

The release that approaches under Kara’s learning hands is almost frightening in its intensity. If she were doing this herself, she’d be finished and half-asleep by now – but instead it just keeps building, bigger and deeper and more, until it feels like she’s bursting at the seams.

“Kara,” she chokes, not sure what she’s begging for but desperate for it all the same. She squeezes her eyes shut, willing her body to let her peak. “Please –“

A hot mouth seals around her nipple, and Lena’s eyes shoot open to see Kara finally laving at her bare skin just before she comes apart completely.

It’s better by far than any Lena has managed by her own hand. It fills up her chest with something warm, something substantial and satisfying. She’s not alone, not trying to forget that she’s trapped in her own life – she’s here with Kara, safe and taken care of.

As soon as Lena’s cries have subsided Kara is kissing her again, her hand not moving from its place. It’s as if she knows that Lena needs more.

“I want you closer,” Lena pants, still reeling, pressing on the back of Kara’s hand. “Want you inside.”

Kara nods, her mouth open and warm against Lena’s as she slips her fingers down. “Okay. Okay.”

Kara, Lena thinks just as a single thick finger presses inside her, is a goddamn natural.

She goes slow, eases Lena into it, perhaps aware of just how big her hands are. It’s a new feeling, having something inside – she’s never quite managed herself, never felt the draw of it – but it feels natural, when it’s Kara. When her middle finger is in up to the knuckle she moves it slightly, pushing deeper against her cunt in a way that might be too much if it wasn’t so fucking good. The pressure is exquisite.

It makes her want more, and so she asks. With Kara, inhibition is quickly falling by the wayside.

“Another?” she pleads, taking hold of Kara’s forearm and pushing it harder. “I want more of you.”

Kara looks surprised, but she obeys without question. Her finger retreats - when it presses back inside there’s two, so much wider than before, and the stretch of it makes Lena breathless. Kara is reverent in her movements, nothing too jarring, seeming awestruck that she’s even lucky enough to be allowed to do this.

If anything, Lena thinks as Kara gently scissors her fingers, she’s the lucky one.

The pace is slow, at first. Kara careful of her movements, Lena adjusting to the intrusion, the intimacy. But when Lena starts to move her hips insinuatingly, Kara follows, and after a few minutes she’s being fucked in earnest. Each thrust of Kara’s arm comes a little harder, a little faster, and with the way Kara is throwing herself into the task Lena starts to worry for her injuries.

“Are you – all right?” she manages to ask, half-mad with the way Kara’s thumb is resting just beside where she needs it to be. “Your ribs –“

“S’fine,” Kara grunts, not faltering in her rhythm for a moment. “Doesn’t hurt.”

Suitably reassured, the edge approaches even faster this time. Kara is tireless and focused, surrounding and filling Lena until she spills over the edges of herself unselfconsciously. Love and pleasure and contentment envelop her in equal measure. Her love is here, and even after she’s come she’s loath to relinquish Kara’s fingers. She wants them inside her forever, their bodies linked in a way that finally satisfies her need for closeness.

“I love you,” Kara whispers reverently, her lips trailing over Lena’s neck, her collar, her chest. “Lena. God, I love you.”

Lena doesn’t have the words for the depth of her love. She can’t put into a sentence how Kara makes her feel, so instead she relinquishes Kara’s hand and pushes herself up until Kara rolls over to make space. Immediately Lena throws a leg over her hips, effectively pinning her in place.

“Lie back,” Lena says soothingly, guiding Kara to recline on the pillows. “Let me take care of you.”

Kara, seeming to reach a place beyond words as well, nods silently. The silence is quickly broken when Lena shifts down and eases the trousers down her legs, and Kara whimpers high and loud. She falls back against the pillows as Lena eases her legs open, her muscular thighs parting easily to Lena’s ravenous gaze.

She has no idea what she’s doing. None whatsoever. But Kara just made her touch the stars, and there’s something unfurling in her own chest at the idea of not just touching but tasting, burying herself in Kara in every sense. Sam had told her once how a stable girl she met in Rochefort had kneeled down in the hay and taken Sam into her mouth, and how indescribably good it was. Perhaps she can do that for Kara. And, perhaps, it’s a little selfish as well.

Kara’s cunt is open, and messy-wet, and completely unfamiliar, and Lena wants it in her mouth more than anything in this world.

She starts at Kara’s knee, slowly kissing and nipping the salty skin on her way down – and then past her knees, over her thighs, until Kara seems to realize that she has no intention of using her hands at all. Lena is nosing at dense blonde hair when Kara’s eyes widen, and her hand clenches hard in one of the pillows.

“Lena,” Kara gasps, her legs spreading wide and eager. “Oh my god –“

Kara makes a noise when Lena’s mouth makes contact, but she can hardly hear it through the blood rushing past her ears.

When she looks up from her task, Kara has a pillow pressed over her face, her loud cries muffled by the cotton. But Lena wants to hear her, campground be damned. When Lena taps a hand on her hip she moves it to look down at her, and seems to understand. The pillow is thrown aside in favour of crackling eye contact, a hand sunk in her hair and unrestrained, instinctual noises.

Sam was right – this is indescribable. The taste of Kara on the flat of her tongue, the mess of her cheeks, the way her hips undulate into Lena’s mouth, the sharp cry and immediate shift in intensity when Lena’s tongue finally finds her most sensitive place. Kara is wild, chasing her pleasure on Lena’s tongue, and she understands suddenly why her pleasure seemed to be echoed in Kara, earlier.  When Kara comes apart in her mouth Lena feels as if she has too, like some invisible hand was touching her as she worked.

Lena lays her head gingerly on Kara’s pelvis, reticent to immediately leave the comfort of her spot. She’d still have her mouth on Kara if the blonde hadn’t tugged on her hair to indicate she was too sensitive, and she wants to hang on to the tenderness for just a minute more.

Kara’s hand eases out of her hair as her body relaxes, and Lena has to take a moment to press her face into the meat of Kara’s thigh. There’s something happening in her chest, behind her eyes – like she could start crying just from the beauty of the moment.

“Hey,” Kara says hoarsely, smoothing a hand over her hair again in a comforting gesture. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Lena insists, but Kara’s warm concern only makes things worse. The tears escape after all, sliding down her nose and wetting Kara’s thigh, and the concern is immediate.

“But...you're crying?”

Kara tugs on her shoulder until Lena crawls up her body, wiping her messy face and collapsing into the space under Kara’s arm. “I’m fine, I promise. I’m just…a little overwhelmed, is all.”

“In a good or a bad way?”

“Good,” Lena confirms, wiping at her eyes. “Definitely good. I’ve thought about that so many times, and I’m just…I’m glad it was you.”

Kara’s relief is palpable. She smiles softly, pulling Lena close and wrapping an arm tight around her. “Me, too.”

For a while they lie in comfortable quiet, listening to the wind flutter the tent walls and the crickets singing beyond them, soaking in the night in its entirety.

“Okay,” Kara admits, her abs flexing with every breath as her body cools down and the adrenaline of the experience eases off. “Okay, now it hurts a little.”

Lena laughs, open and joyful, and curls up onto her side so she can put a comforting hand on Kara’s bruised torso.

“I’m sorry, love.”

Kara grins down at her, flushed and natural and so beautiful.

“I’m not.”

Lena sighs, a big-cleansing breath that makes her feel like all tension has left her body. Kara’s arm is around her, strong and safe, and she’s perfectly content for the first time in her entire life.

Kara bites her lip, looking up at the roof of the tent. “Do you think it would cause any permanent injury if we did that again?”

Lena grins, slow and wicked.

“I’m willing to risk it.”

Chapter Text

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.