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Kara stumbles backwards, reeling in more ways than one.

“How can you, how can you say that?” she gasps as her shoulders hit the cool glass wall. “God, Lena. If love doesn’t matter, what does? What the hell is left?”

“I’m not saying it doesn’t matter,” Lena says, frustration leaching into her tone as she reaches up to tug a rough hand through her hair. “But it’s not some cure-all, some magic bullet! We can’t just say, oh, I love you, you love me, we’ll be fine. Love doesn’t guarantee us a happily ever after.”

Kara’s entire body is trembling hard enough that her joints rattle faintly against the window behind her. Adrenaline is flooding her bloodstream, throat tight and hot and this feeling in her stomach, this thick churning feeling— it’s panic, pure and unbridled, and she couldn’t temper it down if she tried.

“So, what? You’re saying we shouldn’t even try?” Kara asks more hotly than she intends. She watches her words land, watches the sting they inflict but she can’t help herself, can’t reign it in. “That there are no guarantees in life so we might as well give up now? Cut our losses?”

Lena’s face contorts. “No, that’s not what I—”

But Kara barely hears her. “What is this for you? The path of least resistance? The safer bet?” She shakes her head. “After everything we’ve been through, all the work we’ve put in, how can you just—”

“Kara, I’m scared!”

Lena’s voice rises suddenly, loud in the empty room. It snaps Kara out of her spiral for a moment, just long enough for her to look at Lena and realise that she’s barely holding back fresh tears. As she watches, Lena’s teeth dig into her bottom lip so hard that blood blooms bright on the tender flesh.

“I’m so fucking scared,” Lena whispers into the stunned silence between them, tiny and terrified. “You love me, I know that. You say you’ve loved me for years. So you loved me even as you lied to me every day.”

That thick, churning feeling is back, but Lena’s not finished yet.

“And I love you,” Lena gasps, her body folding in on itself as if trying to protect the battered heart thudding quick and terror-stricken in her chest. “I love you so much I can’t breathe, sometimes. I love you more than I knew it was possible to love someone. You’re— you’re like the sun to me, Kara. Like oxygen. I don’t know how to be without you anymore. And I still hurt you,” she whimpers, arms wrapping tight around her own torso like she might be able to hold herself together.

“Every time you say goodbye you also say you love me, like it means everything will be okay. Like it will protect us from pain. But it won’t.”

Lena crumples then, knees giving out at last. Only the sight of her body on a collision course with the hard marble tiles is enough to snap Kara out of her trance and she darts forward, scooping Lena into her arms and cushioning the impact with her own limbs. They end up kneeling together on the living room floor, Lena half on top of her as she clutches at the sheer material of Kara’s suit with trembling hands.

“Every single person I’ve ever loved has either betrayed me or died,” Lena sobs, breathless and agonised. “Or betrayed me and died.”

She looks up at last, green eyes meeting blue. “You’ve already betrayed me,” she whispers but it’s not accusatory, only afraid. “What’s next?”

“Lena,” she whispers, breath sighing out of her as their foreheads tilt together, eyes sliding closed. “Are you… are you scared that I’m going to die?”

“Of course I am,” Lena says immediately. “I’m terrified every day that something will happen to you. Every single time you walk out that door. That would just be the cherry on top of my lifelong streak of shitty, shitty luck.”

She shakes her head again, pulling back a little from the contact only to drop her face heavy into the cradle of Kara’s neck and shoulder. Kara wraps her arms fully around the trembling woman, one hand splayed warm and reassuring between her shoulder blades while the other traces the divots of her pelvis at the base of her spine. “Lena. You’re not going to, I don’t know, jinx us, by allowing yourself to love me. The world doesn’t work like that.”

“You don’t know that,” Lena mumbles petulantly into the meat of her shoulder. “But anyway, it’s not just that. We— we need to be on the same page. We need to be sure about what we’re doing. This thing between us, it’s too big and too important to just fall into blindly.” She lifts her head, sniffling. “What if everything explodes again? What’s changed since the last time we went to shit, really? Have we changed enough to guard against it?”

Kara frowns even as she fits her hands to the smooth curves of Lena’s hips, thumbs stroking over the slight jut of her hipbones. “Things are different now,” she says quietly, but the words don’t come out as convincingly as she’d hoped. Hearing Lena’s fears aloud is beginning to tug at thoughts, uncomfortable thoughts, buried deep within her own psyche. Thoughts that she usually shoves down and secures with an iron will, buried beneath the overwhelming imperative to get to Lena, wherever she is. To have her. To hold her.

“Things are different now,” she tries again, a little stronger this time. “We’ve made progress, lots of it. Fear doesn’t have to hold us back.”

Lena stares at her wide-eyed, one palm falling again to settle over the red and gold crest above Kara’s breastbone. Her voice is very, very small. “Aren’t you scared?”

“Yes,” Kara says, because it’s true. There’s a terror that tugs at her heart sometimes, when she thinks about Lena. When she thinks about the possibility of a life without her. “But— but only when we’re apart. Lena, we love each other, we have each other now. When we’re together we can—”

“No, see,” Lena pulls back, shaking her head. “You’re doing it again.”

“What?” Kara blinks. “Doing what?”

Lena sighs heavily. “Kara, your persistence. The fact that you lied to me for years just to keep me in your life. The way you’ve pursued me ever since I found out.” She shakes her head minutely, her jaw twitching. “You will not let me go.

Kara sits back too, sinking down onto her heels. “What?” she repeats inelegantly. “Why would I let you go? I don’t want you to go.”

Lena smiles then, even through her tears. “Exactly,” she whispers. “I’m afraid of being hurt again. But Kara, you’re afraid of being left.

 

Whatever else Kara had planned to accomplish with her day disintegrates quickly and quietly in the wake of Lena’s words.

For a long time she’s frozen, unmoving. Kneeling uncomfortably on Lena’s tiled floor in the middle of her apartment while Lena sits quietly, watching her.

Eventually, after what feels like a small eternity she remembers how to blink, manages to shake herself out of her daze. “That’s—”

She clears her throat, voice cracking. “That isn’t even— that’s not what’s going on here.”

Lena’s eyes are so green, so soft and earnest and gentle that it almost hurts to look at them. “Isn’t it?”

Kara scoffs, to hide the way her hands have begun to tremble. “You think I would say all of this to you, confess my love with a Truth Inducer attached to my arm, just because of— what? A fear of abandonment?”

She hopes Lena doesn’t notice the way her voice wavers on the final word. Lena’s gaze is tender, and all too knowing for Kara’s taste. “Not just because of that, no,” the younger woman acknowledges quietly. “But can you honestly tell me it doesn’t factor in at all?”

“Pfft, that’s not—” Kara stars, something hot and thick beginning to congeal in her airways. “This isn’t just some, some—” she clenches her fists hard, casting around for the word, “defence response, or whatever. I love you.”

She says it like a challenge. Lena doesn’t rise to it. “I know,” she murmurs instead. “That’s why you’re so afraid to lose me.”

Kara ignores her, not feeling particularly inclined in this moment to dig into the root cause of the ropes of slippery, shameful panic coiling through her gut. “You asked what we’re working towards, where this is going,” she says instead, a heavy-handed attempt to divert the conversation away from this particular patch of thorns. The look in Lena’s eyes tells her she’s well aware of the deflective manoeuvre Kara’s trying to pull off, but she chooses to ignore that too.

“Well, I told you when I was wearing the Truth Inducer,” she continues, pushing every last ounce of earnestness trembling through her body out into her voice. “I’m not looking for anything else. Like, ever. I’ve already found you.”

Lena’s eyes slip closed at her words, teeth sinking into her lip again. A fresh drop of blood wells on the marred flesh and Kara hisses quietly through her teeth, reaches out. She runs her thumb gently over the swell of Lena’s bottom lip, wiping away the smear of crimson with a touch so reverent it almost hurts.

She bites down hard on the inside of her cheek, cradling Lena’s chin in her palm for the briefest of moments. “But I’m getting the impression that maybe you don’t feel the same.”

Lena’s eyes snap open, face tilting forward slightly when Kara withdraws her hand as if chasing the heat of her skin.

“I love you, I do,” she says softly and there’s a power, a quiet certainty to the words that has goosebumps erupting over Kara’s skin. “So much that it scares me. But for most of our relationship I only knew a part of you, Kara.” Lena’s eyes soften. “I think, to some extent, I was in love with the idea of you. The partial image you presented to me.”

Kara blinks. To feel that she’s shared her heart and soul with this woman, more than she has with anyone else in her life, only for Lena to claim not to really know her at all, is extraordinarily painful. She grits her teeth. “But— Lena. You know me. You do. No one else— no one else sees me like you do.”

“I know,” Lena says, reassuring, and the hundred billion blades slicing Kara open from the inside out ease their cleaving slightly. “I know. And I think, I think I’m starting to know you now, all of you. And everything I learn makes me want to know more. But I can’t roll the dice, I can’t take this step on the idea of you, Kara. It has to be real. We have to be sure.”

Kara doesn’t even realise she’s twisting her fingers together anxiously in her lap until Lena reaches out, lays her own hands over them to still the movement. “We have to be sure,” she says again. “That means you, too. I need you to see me, Kara, for all that I am. Not for who you wish I was, not for the person you’ve built up in your head.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Lena smiles sadly. “I know how you’ve defended me over the years, how you’ve supported me. Lena Luthor, nothing like her family,” she says, inflection mimicking Kara’s own before dropping back to her natural timbre. “Your faith has been almost unwavering, Kara. Was that wise? Do you stand by it?”

Kara’s mouth opens, a barrage of reflexive rebuttals on the tip of her tongue but Lena squeezes her hands, effectively silencing her.

“No, you don’t have to say anything right now. Just think about it. I need you to think about whether I’m what you want,” Lena says with the quiet resignation of a defendant awaiting the final ruling. “I need you to think about whether you truly know me well enough to make that decision right now.”

Lena pulls back, the fingers of her right hand moving to trace over the contours of the object beneath her left sleeve. “You put this watch on my wrist like— like a promise. You’re trusting me with it, with your secret. You’re trusting me to protect it. Protect you.”

“Lena,” Kara breathes, staring down at her still-clenched fists. “You’ve been protecting me for years.”

But Lena shakes her head. “Kara, you’re trusting me with everything and I just— I don’t know if I deserve it.” Her voice cracks. “I don’t know if I’m good enough for you.”

Kara gapes, head snapping up. “Of course you—”

“No, stop,” Lena interrupts. “I’m serious. I don’t know if I’m right for you. I don’t know if I can be what you need.”

You’re what I—”

“Will you stop with the grand declarations long enough to actually hear what I’m saying?” Lena asks but the question isn’t accusatory, only pleading. She inhales shakily. “You put this watch on my wrist and you said always. But can you promise me that, really? Are we ready for that?”

She blinks, and her eyes fill once more with tears. “Seeing you again, coming back to the DEO, all of our pain, all of our work— it hurts, Kara. It hurts, and it’s hard, and it’s filling me with the kind of hope that I won’t survive losing again.”

Lena straightens a little, squaring her shoulders. “So this has to be real. I don’t want us to fall together out of fear of the alternative. I want us to walk into this with our eyes open. To be able to say always, and mean it.” She sucks in a deep, shuddering breath. “Because if I’m in this now, I’m in it. For life.”

She blinks up at Kara, gaze overflowing with equal parts worry and wonder. “So we have to be sure.”

 

Even hours later, tucked up on Alex’s couch for a better-late-than-never sister night, she’s still reeling.

She’d left Lena with the mutual promise to think about everything that had been said, really think about it (Lena’s emphasis, not hers), and then check back in with each other in a couple of days.

She runs through a play by play of the afternoon’s entire emotional maelstrom for her sister over eight cartons of Ben & Jerry’s and even after a second recap, she still feels a little lost.

But Alex’s expression is thoughtful as she sifts around in her carton for the little chocolate fish like an archaeologist on the dig of a lifetime, and instead of the backup she thought she was going to get from her sister it seems Alex is actually on Lena’s side.

“Would it really be so bad to make sure you’re on the same page before you start this thing?” Alex asks, caramel sauce smeared across her chin as she returns to her Phish Food hunt. “Y’know, Maggie and I ended because we didn’t feel the same about having kids. Because we very definitely weren’t on the same page. And that must have been, like, meant to be or something,” she says, smiling and shaking her head when Kara lays a sympathetic hand on her knee. “Because I couldn’t be happier now with Kelly. But if we’re talking about things that are meant to be— Kara.” Alex abandons her spoon for a moment to lay her hand over Kara’s, squeezing lightly. “You and Lena…”

Kara swallows hard around her mouthful of fudge brownie. “I know.”

“And I get why she’s hesitant, why she’s scared,” Alex continues, swearing softly as she attempts to drive her spoon into a hunk of frozen-solid marshmallow. “She’s been hurt before, real bad.” Her gaze flicks up to Kara for a moment. “You both have.”

“Yeah, that’s the other thing,” Kara mumbles around an astronomical spoonful, her tone incredulous but confident that in this, at least, she’ll have her sister’s agreement. “She said I’m afraid of being abandoned.”

But instead of the indignant solidarity she expects, Alex’s gaze only softens, bridging the space between them and landing like a soft hand curved to Kara’s cheek. “Aren’t you?”

Okay, Kara thinks. What the fuck, Alex.

Because, yes. Obviously she’s afraid of being abandoned. Solitude, isolation, desertion; these are the fears that have plagued the darkest recesses of her mind since time immemorial. But Kara happens to think that she’s been doing a relatively good job of hiding these irremediable terrors, these most profound of anxieties, for a good long while now.

So for not just one, but the two most important people in her life to admit to being able to see right through her carefully-constructed defences in the space of just a few hours— it’s not sitting well with her. Alex and Lena could have at least pretended that they weren’t quite so intimately familiar with the aching anxieties Kara works so hard to cover up every day. For the sake of her dignity, if nothing else.

Alex reaches out one socked foot to prod at her thigh. “Don’t pout. We’ve all got our own shit.”

Kara continues to pout and her sister leans over, plucking the ice cream carton from her protesting hands to switch their flavours. “I’m not judging you for your baggage, Kara,” she says quietly. “And neither is Lena. But by the sounds of it, she laid all her own trauma and anxieties out on the table for you today. She’s clearly making an effort to be honest, to own her fears.”

She nudges Kara’s thigh again until she reluctantly raises her gaze to meet her sister’s. Alex’s expression is pointed, but gentle. “I think she’s probably just hoping that you’ll do the same.”

 

Kelly finds them two hours later, chocolate-smudged and snot-nosed as they sob into matching throw pillows to the end credits of Up.

Kara sits up, wiping her face with one cuffed sleeve and taking the gentle hint to vacate the premises. Kelly joins her in Alex’s kitchen as Kara’s depositing their spoons in the sink, moving comfortably around the space as she brews herself a cup of tea.

“Hey,” Kara says quietly before she can lose her nerve, glancing over her shoulder to make sure her sister is still absorbed in the kitten video she’s watching on her phone. “Can I ask you something?”

Kelly puts down her mug and, with that gentle unflinching calm she’s come to expect from James’ sister, gives Kara her full attention. “Of course.”

“I don’t, um. I don’t know how much Alex has told you about what’s been, ah, going on with me lately,” she starts haltingly. It’s probably a redundant question, given the way she’d literally crashed into Alex and Kelly’s date night two months earlier, but whatever. The quiet understanding in Kelly’s eyes gives her answer for her and Kara nods roughly.

“Right. So. If I, if I wanted to, you know, talk to someone, about everything that’s happened— like, discreetly,” she says pointedly, and Kelly nods. Kara swallows. “How might I, how might I go about doing that?”

Kelly smiles, and it feels like a warm hug. She reaches out a hand, lays it softly over Kara’s tightly folded forearms for a moment. “Oh, Kara. I’ve been hoping you’d ask.”

 

That’s how Kara ends up in Dr Elias Levenson’s office two days later.

Kelly had informed her that the good doctor was the best of the best, specialising in psychological support for non-human refugees and immigrants on Earth. He’d been President Marsdin’s personal therapist before her resignation and as such, was well-versed in the need for discretion surrounding high-profile aliens. He’d amiably signed the slew of NDAs Alex had sent her off with that morning, and seemed utterly unphased by her decision to introduce herself only as Kara, no last name.

Kara, after a sleepless night of extensive consideration, had opted to fly to Levenson’s office and change in a back alley, slipping inside wearing a nondescript black sweatsuit with her hair down and loose and no glasses on her face. Even without the skirt and cape, she knows Levenson will clock her as National City’s resident Kryptonian in seconds, but that doesn’t mean he needs to know her civilian identity too.

He seems nice enough, tall and clean-shaven in a tailored navy suit, jacket draped across the back of his leather armchair. His smile is warm, his handshake firm – by human standards, at least – and he’d come very highly recommended by Kelly, and Kara has no reason to doubt her professional judgment.

Nevertheless, she twists her fingers anxiously as they settle into their respective seats, slipping her hands quickly under her thighs to still them when she notices her own nervous tell. She regards Levenson with a critical eye as the silence between them grows. It’s not that she doesn’t trust Kelly’s recommendation, it’s just— how can this man, this human, with his casually unbuttoned collar and shiny brown Oxfords, be equipped to deal with her intergalactic baggage?

Her reservations must show on her face because Levenson quirks an eyebrow amiably, gaze falling on the groove Kara hadn’t even realised she’d been carving into the solid oak floorboards with her restlessly scuffing feet. She blushes hard, covering the indent with one boot as she clears her throat awkwardly, an apology poised on the tip of her tongue.

But Levenson beats her to it. “Don’t worry about it,” he says with a small smile. “I can imagine you’re apprehensive. I imagine you’re thinking that this office is no match for the strongest being on the planet. I imagine you’re thinking, how will this man ever understand what it’s like to be me?”

Kara gapes.

Now I imagine you’re wondering if I’ve fitted you with a mind-reading device somehow, and how quickly you’ll be able to shoot out of this office if you need to,” Levenson smiles and Kara’s heart thuds hard in her chest. She’s a split-second away from carrying out that exact escape plan when Levenson holds up a hand.

Her attention snaps back to his face and, as she watches, the doctor’s dark brown eyes suddenly glow a brilliant purple.

Kara’s mouth drops open. “You’re Phorian,” she gasps, realisation crashing into her. “You’re telepathic.”

“Only with others of my species, before you panic,” Levenson says calmly, his smile never wavering. “To be clear, I cannot read your mind. From you, I can simply pick up general impressions of very strong emotions, particularly negative ones.” Kara thinks of J’onn and his psychic abilities, and her pounding heartrate slows a little. Levenson’s smile widens. “Anything else I surmise about you comes only from my psychological training, I promise.”

Kara’s fists unclench. “Your planet was destroyed,” she murmurs. “You’re a refugee here, too.”

“Terraformed by invaders, actually,” Levenson says quietly. “But, yes. Phoria became uninhabitable for my people. So I, too, have some idea what it’s like to lose everything.”

At his words, Kara feels something tight and crushing in the very centre of her chest, something she usually keeps under lock and key for fear of overwhelming those around her, begin to unfurl. It takes her a moment to identify the feeling for what it is, but then it strikes her. Understanding.

She knows suddenly and with overwhelming certainty exactly why Kelly had recommended this particular therapist. She makes a mental note to buy her some thank-you flowers on the way home.

The doctor smiles again at the way her tense muscles relax a little as she sits back properly into her chair. “So, now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way,” he smiles, a knowing twinkle in his brown-again eyes. “Shall we have a chat?”

 

Levenson is surprisingly easy to talk to. Whether it comes from his latent telepathic abilities or just some innate affability, Kara finds herself opening up more than she’d intended to when she’d first taken a seat in this chair.

She tells him about her life. Fudges some names and identifying details but keeps her answers to his gently probing questions honest otherwise. Tells him about her family, her friends, her jobs. About how things have been recently, in the broadest of strokes, though she does gloss over the merging of her dead clone’s consciousness with her own inside her head. Somehow, that feels like more of a second appointment kind of admission.

Inevitably, she tells him about Lena. Not by name, though she imagines it wouldn’t be too hard to put the pieces together if he wanted to. Knowledge of the public Super-Luthor alliance is widespread enough in National City that she couldn’t really be talking about anyone else.

She’s just finished telling him about her own guilt over Lex’s death, about Lena’s suffering in the aftermath – in the loosest and most generic terms, of course – when Levenson straightens a little in his chair.

“We’ve been talking about this woman for quite a while,” he remarks as Kara takes a sip of water. His tone is amiable, reflective and non-accusatory, but Kara feels her hackles begin to rise anyway.

“Yes, well,” she says more huffily than she intends, setting her glass down before she can do something stupid like shatter it. “She’s— she’s very important to me. She’s partly why I’m here, actually.”

Levenson – call me Elias, she reminds herself – tilts his head inquisitively. “How so?”

Kara’s throat tightens of its own accord. “I don’t want to lose her.”

Levenson – Elias – crosses one polished Oxford over his knee. “Why would you lose her?”

Kara presses her lips together, hard. At her stony silence, Elias’ expression softens. “Have you lost many people, Kara?”

They’re back again, those slick coiling ropes of panic in her belly and she doesn’t mean to snap at him, but it happens anyway. “That’s irrelevant,” she says sharply. Elias’ face remains impassive, open and neutral, even as Kara’s palms begin to sweat.

“You’re looking at me like she looks at me,” she says before she can think better of it. “Like everything I do is driven by a fear of, I don’t know. Abandonment, or whatever. But it’s not. I’m not.”

“Okay.”

“I’m capable of making my own decisions, you know. Ones that have nothing to do with being afraid,” Kara continues, unable to stop the stream of words gushing from her lips now it’s started. “I have agency. I can do more than just react.

Elias seems unphased by her outburst. “I have no doubt.”

“I don’t want to be with her just because I’m afraid to be alone,” she says hotly. “I love her.”

Again, Elias’ features soften. “I can tell.”

“Well, I don’t know why she can’t,” Kara says in frustration, more to herself than the man across from her. “This is stupid. I know how I feel. I know what I want with her. I don’t need you to tell me that.”

Elias shrugs one shoulder. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

Kara feels too hot suddenly; flustered and cornered, like the walls are closing in around her. “Then why am I even here?”

“Only you can answer that.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be,” she says, clamping her hands around her own knees so she can’t start digging a groove into Elias’ floorboards again. “I don’t think I need this.” She presses her lips together. “No offence. I just don’t think it’s for me. I need to be talking to her, not you.”

Elias’ tone is so calm it’s almost irritating. “Maybe talking to me will help you talk to her.”

“I don’t need help talking to her!” she snaps, though she knows as she says it that it’s a bald-faced lie. If talking to Lena were easy, she wouldn’t have lied about her identity for four years. But she’s too far into this to back down now. “I don’t need relationship advice. I love her.”

The harshness of her voice seems to echo through the airy office even after she’s snapped her mouth shut. Kara can feel her cheeks flushing, embarrassed now by her outpouring. When it becomes evident that she’s finished her tirade, at least for the moment, Elias straightens in his seat.

“Okay,” he says amiably. “So, look at it this way. You come and see me a couple times. We talk. Who knows, it might even help, and I don’t just mean with your partner. And if not, I’ve been told I’m not a bad conversationalist,” he quips, and Kara feels a corner of her mouth tug upwards in response, the sudden temper that had flared in her body dissipating back into nothing.

Elias folds his hands loosely in his lap as he meets her eyes head on. “If, after a few sessions, you still feel the way you do now, great. You haven’t lost anything, and you can be sure of where you stand.”

Kara sighs, reluctantly taking the obvious bait. “And if I don’t?”

Elias only smiles, warm and sure. “That’s entirely up to you. But if you like, we can try and figure it out together.”

 

She decides to see Elias again.

In fact, she books in two sessions a week for the foreseeable future, and resolves not to let herself miss a single one. After their first meeting Kara had gone home, sat in silence on her couch for two hours without moving, punched a throw pillow so hard it had exploded on impact, and cried uncontrollably in the shower until the hot water had run out. She hadn’t been able to parse out the logic behind her own rollercoaster of emotions, hadn’t located the specific triggers, but had at least acknowledged that the net result had been significant enough that she could probably do with seeing the therapist again.

She’d also phoned Lena, listened to the call click through to voicemail with no small measure of relief, and left a bumbling message explaining that she needed time to process some things – that’s what she was doing, right? Processing? – and asking if they could hold off on their biweekly meetings for a while.

Lena had texted back her acquiescence and a single, tentative red heart, and it had taken every fibre of Kara’s being not to throw her newfound resolution of processing to the wind and call Lena immediately, fly over there, crawl into bed beside her and hold her until everything started to make sense again.

But she thinks of Elias, of the gentle understanding in his eyes and the hot spike of fear in her gut when he’d asked, have you lost a lot of people, Kara? And somehow, by the skin of her teeth, she manages to resist her strongest impulses. Manages to stick to her newfound commitment to figuring out her shit.

She moves through the next week on autopilot. Sleepwalks through Catco commitments and Supergirl saves. Re-paints the orphanage kitchen and bathrooms in a semi-present daze on Saturday morning. Visits her favourite bookshop and sits for five hours in a worn armchair with Soffi on her lap, staring unseeing at an open book as her fingers pet the purring cat without conscious thought, her mind light years away.

By the time Monday and her next appointment with Elias rolls around her stomach is tied up in knots, anxiety thrumming through her veins at the thought of what he might ask her, of what she might have to say.

But the second she sinks down in the chair opposite him that same sense of calm, of ease that had so compelled her to open up at their first meeting, washes over her once again. They move through greetings and a reminder of the things they’d discussed in the previous session and by the time Elias looks at her with knowing eyes, nudges the Kleenex box surreptitiously in her direction and asks in what may be the gentlest voice she’s ever heard, who have you lost, Kara? it feels like the most natural thing in the world to choke out, everyone.

 

She sees Elias again on Thursday and by Sunday, she thinks she might just be ready to face Lena.

Kara invites her to her apartment. Screw neutral ground, she thinks as she swipes various takeout containers off the counter and into the trash. For the conversation they need to have, the same one she’d played out eight times in her head this morning in the shower, she wants to feel comfortable. She wants to feel safe.

Lena arrives ten minutes early. She dithers outside the building and then again at the end of the hall and outside Kara’s door, repeatedly raising her arm to knock before dropping it again. Eventually Kara just pulls the door open herself, and Lena jumps.

“Fuck,” she gasps, shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot. “I mean, hi. Sorry. I forgot you could, um. Hear me. See me? Through the door.”

“Both,” Kara says, stepping back to let Lena enter with a small smile. “Hi.”

Lena moves through her apartment with hesitance, an uncomfortable formality, placing her bag carefully on one of the dining chairs and draping her coat delicately over its back. Kara bites at the inside of her cheek, trying to focus on the woman before her now and not the memories that crowd her vision. Memories of Lena draped sleepily over her couch cushions, Lena tucked up snug in her bed, Lena brushing her teeth while Kara washes her face at the bathroom sink, giggling so hard at Kara’s off-key singing that she spits toothpaste all over the mirror.

She brews them a pot of tea, sets it a little unsteadily on the coffee table in front of the couch and motions for Lena to join her. Tugs a cushion into her lap to knead at with her knuckles, leg bouncing restlessly against the floorboards.

“Do you remember that day in the elevator in Alex’s building?” she asks quickly, before she can lose her nerve. “When you told me you knew Supergirl had asked James to break into your lab.”

Out of the corner of her eyes she sees Lena nod, but Kara keeps her gaze fixed on her chipped orange teapot. Her breathing is erratic, her voice unsteady, and she swallows hard before continuing. “That was the first day I realised I was losing you. That I had lost you. You just didn’t know it yet.”

She barely hears Lena’s sharp intake of breath over the thudding of blood in her ears. “Every day since then, I’ve been watching the hourglass of the time I have left with you drain. Every day since I realised you were eventually going to leave me I’ve just been waiting for you to realise it, too.”

She chances a glance at Lena at last and finds herself fixed under a gaze so heavy, so heartbroken, that it knocks the remaining breath clean from her lungs.

“I was wrong to lie to you for so long,” she whispers, the words strangled and airless. “But I’ve lost so many people. I wanted to make the time before I lost you count. I wanted to make it last.”

She swallows and it feels like gravel is coating her throat, eroding her airways. “You were right,” she manages. “I’ve been abandoned before. I didn’t— I don’t want to be abandoned again.”

She doesn’t realise Lena has reached out until a hand lands softly, lightly on her shoulder. It’s the barest hint of pressure, the most hesitant of offerings, and Kara latches onto it like it’s the safety net standing between her and oblivion.

Maybe it is, and maybe Lena knows that, because as Kara leans into the touch with everything she has Lena’s hand slides from her shoulder to the nape of her neck. Her fingers bury themselves in the thick warm curls at the base of Kara’s skull, thumb extended to stroke lightly over the hollow beneath her ear, and Kara feels herself crack open.

She splinters beneath Lena’s touch, body folding until she’s hunched over the pillow resting on her knees, arms wrapped around it as she quakes. She’s not crying; her eyes are dry even as her breathing stutters and stalls. She feels, somehow, like tears wouldn’t help. Like the astriction of her body, the immense pressure in her soul is not something that needs to be forced out of her in screams and sobs and saline.

Instead, for the first time, she’s being taken clean apart not to release all the darkness inside her but to let the light in. She feels empty but open, baring that which she’s for so long kept hidden, with the goal not of ridding herself of it completely but of offering it up. Of not having to mould herself into the image of perfection in order to obtain approval but of presenting herself, demons and all, and asking for acceptance anyway. Not in spite, but in recognition of.

Sitting here in her living room with Lena’s skin against her own, she thinks she might finally understand what Lena had been getting at. She thinks, as she reaches up to cover Lena’s hand with her own, as she slides it around to her cheek so she can lay a gentle kiss to the centre of Lena’s palm, that this might just be the beginning of being able to walk into this thing between them with her eyes open.

To be able to say always, and mean it.

 

“I’ve been going to therapy,” she says some indeterminate time later, blinking them out of the warm comfortable silence they’d fallen into and squeezing the hand still in hers.

Lena doesn’t look surprised, but she does look pleased. “How’s it going?”

“Good. Well. Not good, but,” she amends, smiling ruefully. “You know how it is.”

Lena huffs out a chuckle. “I do. It’s a pain in the ass.”

Kara’s lips quirk. “Yeah. A necessary, expensive pain in the ass.” She keeps her gaze fixed on their joined hands, focuses on how warm and soft Lena’s skin is beneath her own. “Do you think it’ll help?” she asks quietly, wincing at the poorly-concealed hope in her own voice even as she half-dreads the answer. “Will it help us trust each other? Will it give us back that certainty? Can we be us again?”

Lena sighs, running her thumb lightly over Kara’s knuckles. “I don’t think we’re ever going to have certainty, Kara. There are no sure things. That’s what trust is.”

She smiles, only a little sadly. “I have to trust that you’re being honest with me, without any assurance that you actually are. And you have to trust that I’m here because I want to be, and that I’ll stay for as long as it’s what’s best for both of us.” She tugs lightly on their joined hands until Kara raises her eyes to meet Lena’s. “You have to trust that I won’t abandon you, without any guarantees.”

Kara must do a particularly bad job of hiding the involuntary terror that shudders bone-deep through her body at the thought, because Lena’s face softens. “I know it’s scary,” she says quietly. “I know it seems like it would be easier to just, I don’t know. Make a Truth Inducer.” There’s a quick flash of a self-deprecating smile before her face turns solemn again. “Or weave a web of only the most appealing parts of the truth in order to keep someone by your side. But at some point we have to face those fears. We have to face reality.”

Lena shifts closer on the couch cushions, pressing them together from elbow to hip to knee and tugging their joined hands into her lap. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to lay her head against Lena’s shoulder, to breathe in the smoky richness of her skin beneath the fresh scent of her expensive moisturiser.

“You can’t keep people, Kara. Believe me, I’ve tried,” Lena whispers, her cheek pressed to the crown of Kara’s head. “I know you’ve been abandoned before. I know you’re terrified of it happening again. But you can’t keep people just because you want them. If you hold on too tightly, you’ll still lose them.”

“I want to hold onto you and never let go,” she murmurs into Lena’s sweater. She’s not sure where the words come from, only that they’re primal and visceral and so real they ache in her jaw.

“I know,” Lena says shakily, and there’s something guttural in her tone that makes Kara think she’s not the only one familiar with this feeling. “But don’t keep me, Kara. Choose me. And give me the space to choose you back.”

It’s a long time before the barbed wire twisted around Kara’s windpipe loosens enough to allow for speech again. “Okay,” she whispers, and Lena’s fingers tighten around her own. “Okay. I’ll try.”

Lena shifts, and Kara feels lips press so gently to her hairline that the scar tissue of her heart feels like it splits down the centre, something new and raw and tender pushing up in its place. “Thank you,” Lena murmurs, a whisper across her skin, an osseous echo. “Thank you. So will I.”

“So,” Kara says at last, unwilling to raise her head, unwilling to leave the warmth and safety of Lena’s body cocooned around hers. “What now? What do we do next?”

It’s an incredible thing, Kara thinks, to be able to know when someone’s smiling just because of the way the air around them changes. To feel the bright thrust of their happiness even without being able to see it; to know it from the warmth and light that radiates to the outer reaches of their gravitational field, encompassing all in their orbit.

“Well,” Lena says, her voice rough with emotion, the sound of it so precious Kara feels her very cells straining to absorb it, to commit it to physical memory to be stored forever within her own genetic code.

“I think I’d like to face reality with you. I think I’d like to get to know you, Kara Zor-El.” Lena says her name like it’s holy, and Kara’s heart swells with the rapture of the sanctified. “And, even though it scares the shit out of me, I think I’d like you to know me, too.”

 

So, that’s what they do.

They get to know each other, again. Really and properly, free from their illusions, and out from under the weight of all their false pretences.

There are no more scheduled meetings, no more rules and formalities. There’s just them, she and Lena, and the conscious choice to bare everything they’ve spent most of their lives trying to hide.

They go to the movies, to the beach and to the ballet. They go to yoga, for bike rides along the sea wall and long hikes in nearby national parks. They take a cooking class together, and it’s hard to say which of the two of them is worse at it. After Kara cracks her third mixing bowl and Lena forgets to turn the oven on the teacher, despairing at the way the two of them giggle together like a pair of unruly schoolgirls, throws her hands in the air and gives up on them.

They go to the Luthor mansion. Lena walks her through the dusty, shrouded halls; shows Kara her childhood bedroom. It’s a stern, austere room, bearing little sign that Lena – or indeed, anyone – had ever inhabited it. Lena runs a hand over the wrought-iron bedframe sadly, expression heavy with the weight of the past. She shows Kara the gouges in the white-painted doorframe inside her walk-in closet, the progression of marks showing Lena’s height as she grew. She tells Kara how she’d carved these marks herself, a ruler balanced on top of her head as she reached up blindly with a pencil to note the spot, because she’d seen parents do the same with their children on television.

She tells Kara how no one had ever been there to do it for her; how Lillian had sneered at the idea and reprimanded Lena for wanting to deface the expensive décor. Kara’s chest tightens, heart lurching against barriers designed to contain it, and she doesn’t even need to think twice.

She lifts a pencil from the writing set on the desk. Walks Lena backwards with gentle hands on her hips until her shoulder blades hit the doorframe, ignoring her questioning glances and the tiny gasp she releases at the contact. Keeps one hand warm on Lena’s waist as the other lifts the pencil to rest against a crown of dark hair, gouging her mark into the wood that had been more precious to Lillian than her daughter’s fragile heart.

She spins Lena in her arms, tugging the smaller woman back against her with a hand splayed wide and tender over her stomach and she can feel the way Lena’s heart is pounding, hear her heavy swallow. She marks Lena’s height carefully, zealously, scoring proof into this cold unfeeling building that it had, despite itself, born witness to something so radiant and vital and loving within its walls.

Lena watches her, transfixed by the motion of Kara’s hand as she scratches the date into the paint. When it’s finished she reaches up, traces her fingertips over the grooves with something like wonder in her touch. “No one’s ever wanted to keep a record of me,” she whispers, barely audible. “My whole childhood was spent trying to take up as little space as possible. To not exist, unless it was convenient.”

Kara says nothing, confident that if she were to open her mouth in this moment nothing of substance would come out. The only thing she can fathom doing right now is sobbing, or pressing her lips to Lena’s, and neither of those are particularly appropriate. So she just holds Lena that little bit tighter, nudging just up to the limit of human-tolerable pressure, and shows her through the press of their bodies if nothing else that she is not alone.

But the next night, when Lena comes over for Thai food and an indulgent evening on the couch in front of reruns of The Bachelor, Kara cuts off her complaints about the lab tech she’d had to fire that morning by tugging her into her bedroom and pressing her back against the door to the en suite.

“Kara, what on Earth—” Lena starts as her back hits the frame but she falls silent as her gaze drops to the pencil already poised in Kara’s hand.

“You don’t have to do this,” she says quietly as Kara marks her height, adorns it with Lena’s name and the date and a tiny carved heart a few inches below the haphazard self-measurement she’d attempted earlier that afternoon.

Kara smiles, determined not to let the gravity of the moment overtake the light-hearted evening she’d planned for the two of them. “I know,” she says gently, looping her fingers round Lena’s wrist to tug her lightly back toward the couch. “I want to. I want a record of you.”

And later, when they’re tucked up together on the couch, when they’re snug and warm and full and Lena laughs so hard she dribbles sweet chilli sauce all over her own jeans, Kara knows with unflinching certainty that her doorframe isn’t the only thing Lena’s been scored indelibly onto.

 

That’s just one of the many things she learns about Lena over the next few weeks.

It’s just one, but it’s a big one. Impermanence, she comes to realise, is a huge sore spot for Lena. After her birth mother died and she’d been shipped off to the Luthors, every trace of her life before them had slowly and surely vanished. Throughout her time with Lillian and Lionel there was rarely a physical acknowledgment of Lena’s existence; no photos of her adorned the walls of the Luthor mansion, no shrine was erected in honour of her many achievements the way several were for Lex. Never did one of Lena’s drawings or report cards grace the fridge, never were her toys or books allowed to remain out in full view. Aside from the family portraits the Luthors sat for religiously every year at their Christmas charity gala, barely any photos from Lena’s youth exist at all.

And she realises too that when everything between the two of them had fallen apart, there’d been no physical evidence to affirm to Lena that the four years she’d spent building a home and a family in National City had ever existed at all. Without photos and mementos and reminders of her loved ones – without her loved ones themselves – what proof did Lena have that she’d mattered to Kara, to all of them? That she’d be missed?

Kara can see the way this transience, this lack of physical affirmations of her significance to those around her, has scarred into Lena the belief that she is expendable, unimportant. She can see, now, the way Lena’s eyes wander to the mark on Kara’s bathroom doorframe each and every time she visits, taking in the set of matching carvings with an air of dazzled disbelief. She can see it, and it breaks her heart.

And so, she sets about quietly trying to rectify it.

Kara does anything and everything she can think of to demonstrate to Lena her own permanence in Kara’s life. Because, she realises, while Kara may fear abandonment, Lena fears rejection. Fears being neglected, disregarded; to be surrounded by people yet deemed unworthy of their attention.

So Kara decides to make explicit that which she’d felt implicitly for years. She decides to make Lena the centre of her world. And more than that, she vows to make sure Lena knows it.

She fishes out the Polaroid camera Alex had given her last Christmas, invests in a few packs of film, and starts snapping. Photos of she and Lena hand in hand at the ice rink, of Lena tucked into the couch between Alex and Nia at game night, of Lena and Brainy arguing over the best brand of electron microscope in the lab. Photos of Lena laughing over a game of pool at Joe’s bar, or sound asleep with her head on Kelly’s shoulder at movie night, or in matching green face paint with the whole gang for St. Patrick’s Day. Photos of Lena with her friends, her family, so she can never again doubt how much they love her. How much they need her.

Increasingly, she starts snapping photos of Lena on her own, too. Candids, mostly; Lena deep in thought at her desk with her pen lid between her teeth, Lena in her favourite bookstore with Soffi in her lap, Lena staring up at the giant trees in wonder when Kara takes her to Sequoia National Park one weekend.

She gives some of the photos to Lena, the ones she sees the young woman gaze most wistfully at when they’re done developing. The rest, she strings up on her bedroom wall with pegs and twine and fairy lights. Before too long they start to overflow and Kara expands her gallery into the living room, too.

The first time Lena sees them, she flushes to the very tips of her ears. But it’s not embarrassment colouring her cheeks, Kara soon realises. It’s happiness, and she pulls out her Polaroid and snaps a photo then and there.

She does other things, too. Buys Lena a toothbrush and keeps it permanently beside her own on the bathroom counter for their frequent-again sleepovers. Tacks up photos of the two of them in pride of place on her fridge, alongside press cuttings of Lena’s greatest achievements. Buys Lena a pair of fluffy koala slippers for her ever-cold feet and keeps them on her shoe rack beside the front door. Stocks Lena’s favourite tea in her kitchen, Lena’s expensive shampoo in her shower, Lena’s preferred scented candles on her living room coffee table.

Her apartment becomes something of a shrine to Lena, to their relationship, and the thought only makes her love her home more. Alex teases her gently for it, complains in good humour that Lena gets all her favourite things supplied for her while Alex still has to bring her own beer at game night. But the gentle ribbing is accompanied by a smile so warm and so knowing that all she can do is pull Alex into a hug and try to fight back the tears as her sister whispers good job, kid into her hair.

 

In turn, Lena notices things about her.

She notices the way Kara tenses up at the old Star Wars rerun playing in the background one Saturday afternoon and quickly changes the channel. Pulls up Wall-E instead and winds herself around Kara, pressing her down into the couch cushions with warmth and weight and reassurance as they giggle-turn-sob-turn-giggle their way through the film. She never points out the obvious; never brings up the fact that a movie about the protagonist’s home planet exploding into nothing is enough to tip Kara over the edge. She just stays, quiet and calm and close, and they never mention Star Wars again.

She notices the way Kara hugs her extra tight whenever they’ve been apart for longer than a day; the way her fingers twist almost desperately into Lena’s shirt whenever she returns from a business trip.

In response, she takes to texting Kara. Short messages, usually; sometimes silly, sometimes sweet. She checks in, updates Kara on where she is and how she’s doing. If she’s stuck in the lab or an out-of-town meeting keeps her away for longer, she calls Kara every night as she’s getting ready for bed. They chat about their days, about colleagues and deadlines and what they had for lunch, and as she listens to Lena’s soft breathing down the line, to the quiet rustling and clanking of whatever she’s working on, Kara feels the tight ball of anxiety in her stomach begin to unravel.

Lena does all of this without asking, without questioning or pointing it out. And Kara appreciates it more than she could ever hope to articulate aloud; that with every call and text and snapchat Lena is telling her without ever saying the words, I haven’t left you. I’m coming back.

And she notices that Kara always sleeps with her windows open, blinds and curtains thrown wide. She doesn’t mention it, but Kara sees the way Lena’s eyes linger on the open plan layout of her apartment, on the bathroom door that always stands ajar.

The next time she stays over at Lena’s apartment the young woman doesn’t close the blinds. She just cracks a window, leaves her bedroom and en suite doors open, and climbs into bed beside her. So moved by the gesture that her heart has migrated right up into her throat, Kara tells her about the interminable years she’d spent in the Phantom Zone as a child. About the tight, dark, airless nothing stretching on forever, infinite and unrelenting. Lena just listens, holds her and presses a tender kiss to her temple, and tells her she hopes she’ll never have to feel trapped again.

This honesty, these fears and anxieties they’ve shared with each other, have had the opposite effect to the one Kara had so feared. Instead of repulsing Lena, of scaring her away, it seems instead that she’s handed Lena a roadmap of her vulnerabilities, which the other woman intends to set about methodically soothing one by one.

When Kara mentions offhandedly the orb she used to use to study astronomy on Krypton – an intricate device that, once opened, would project an interactive holographic map of the cosmos – Lena rents out the entire National City Planetarium and asks Kara to teach her everything she knows about the stars.

They sit together in the empty auditorium, the tapestry of space weaving together above their heads, and Kara tells her. She tells her about how different the night sky had looked on Krypton, about the myths behind the constellations visible in her part of the universe. She tells her about the various planets she’d visited with her parents, about space travel and anti-gravity and the way the air on every world smelled ever so subtly different.

She tells her about her obsession with astronomy after landing on Earth; the way she’d had to learn to identify new patterns in the heavens, to call stars and planets by their English names rather than using her native tongue. She tells her about how she’d memorised the exact position Krypton used to hold in the sky. About how even now, all these years later, that one empty spot is always the first place she looks in the darkness.

She tells her everything, and with Lena’s hand in hers beneath a star-speckled velvet sky, Kara Zor-El doesn’t feel quite so alone.

 

Perhaps it’s an inappropriate analogy for a Kryptonian gifted with the power of flight, but Kara is beginning to feel lighter than air.

She still sees Elias twice a week. She doesn’t keep anything back from him now, tells him about Krypton and her life there, her double life here. Her triple life, once Red Daughter’s existence had been assimilated back into her head. She tells him about the struggle, the exhaustion of walling off parts of herself. She tells him about the constant effort it takes to hold onto who she is.

Elias says to her once, in that calm, non-judgmental way he has, that she seems to have spent most of her life closed off from those around her. Kara thinks of Alex’s warm embrace when she’d told her about Red Daughter, thinks of Lena’s hand in hers under the endless night sky, and she’s smiling when she whispers not so much anymore.

Without the weight of all her secrets, all her enforced solitude, she feels like she can breathe again. Feels a little like she’s floating through life. Sometimes literally floats through her life quite without realising it, prompting her sister to grab her wrist and tug her roughly back down to Earth in public before anyone can notice, muttering something about premature greying under her breath.

But this lightness, it doesn’t come from a sudden absence of struggles, an absence of problems. Her life has not suddenly become uncomplicated and easy. She still grapples with the empty chasm Red Daughter’s death has hollowed out inside her chest. Still has to contend with the immense anger inside her, the outrage over all she’s lost that feels insurmountable some days.

She worries herself sick over Alex when her sister takes on an angry Hellgrammite who proves to be just that little bit too strong for her, when he leaves her in a crumpled heap on the ground and then concussed in a hospital bed for the next two days. She ties herself up in knots when L-Corp becomes the target of yet another ruthless smear campaign, working herself into the ground to try and clear Lena’s name. She frets over Nia’s hot-headedness, her personal involvement in cases they work together. She despairs over Brainy’s compartmentalisation, the way his withdrawal is driving a wedge into his relationships. Her life has by no stretch of the imagination suddenly become easy.

But now, she has Elias to talk to. She has exercises to work on and new thought patterns to try to wire into her brain. She has strategies and coping mechanisms and more than that, she has an understanding of herself, her problems, and her reflexive reactions to them that she’d always felt herself lacking.

It’s a learning curve, and far from a smooth one.

She misses a crucial article deadline because of a deadly gas leak at a nearby power plant and Snapper puts her on probation for two weeks, downgrading her to assignments on new traffic calming measures and a spate of fires at the county dump.

But more than that, in clearing the gas by using her own lungs as an air filtration system in order to save the humans suffocating inside, Kara had blown out her powers. Solar flaring always leaves her on-edge and irritable, frustrated at being sidelined from the action and cloaking the vulnerability she’s so unused to feeling by lashing out at those around her.

She and Lena fight. It isn’t pretty. Lena accuses her of recklessness when Kara wants to intercede in an armed robbery taking place at a jewellery store downtown sans powers, cites a latent god complex as the explanation underlying Kara’s inability to let the NCPD handle it on their own. Kara snaps into self-righteous Super mode without thinking twice, hands on hips and a classic heroism isn’t about powers, Lena, you can’t stop me being who I am speech spilling from her lips almost on autopilot.

They yell. They shout and they argue and they trade accusations and insults that would never normally be voiced, and certainly not like this. Lena’s eyes are filled with tears even as she hurls her last barb across the apartment towards her and she’s slamming out of Kara’s front door before Kara can realise she’s crying, too.

She doesn’t even need to think about it. She follows Lena – at a frustratingly human pace – corners her at the end of the corridor and scoops her up (she may not have super strength right now, but she’s no slouch). She presses Lena back against the wall, the young woman’s feet hovering a few inches above the ground as she buries her face in Lena’s neck and whispers apologies into her skin.

They stay like that a long time, until Lena’s pounding heart begins to slow and Kara’s human arms are getting sore from holding her up. She sets her back on her feet, takes her hand to tug her back into her apartment and wraps them up together on the couch, as closely intertwined as she can manage.

She and Lena can fight, that’s fine. But they can’t leave. They can’t walk away, not without talking. Not without trying.

So, they try.

“I know you believe that everything is good and kind, and that’s still one of the things I love most about you,” Lena says quietly, cheek pressed to Kara’s, hands fisted tight in the front of her sweater.

Kara sighs. She knows this script. “But? That’s not the real world, right?”

Lena traces her index finger thoughtfully along the plane of Kara’s forearm where it’s draped over her stomach. “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it is. Maybe you’re helping me to see that it might be.” Her voice is cautious, awed, and she wraps her fingers in Kara’s sleeve as she contemplates her next words, anchoring them together.

“I’m just hardwired to believe that it’s not, so taking the chance feels risky,” she whispers, hand warm through the soft fabric. “And if I’m taking a risk on anything, I don’t want it to be you. I don’t doubt your abilities, Kara, with or without powers. And I never want to stop you being who you are.”

Kara opens her mouth, ready to apologise for the low blow she’d dealt that she hadn’t even truly meant, but Lena stops her with a squeeze of her wrist. “I’m just scared,” she breathes, and Kara knows the bravery it takes to say those words aloud. “What if you get hurt? What if their bullets reach you before your de-escalation tricks reach them?” Her voice is small, anxious and afraid. “What if I lose you?”

And so, Kara stays. Because, Lena is right. The NCPD have it covered and the robbery is stalled within the hour, all the merchandise recovered with no casualties. And because Kara does need to work on relinquishing the burden she feels, the personal responsibility to right every single wrong in this city singlehanded.

But mainly, she stays because Lena is scared. She stays because even though this city, this planet needs her, Lena needs her too. She stays because, if she’s honest with herself, there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.

And she stays because even though helping people the way she does, being Supergirl, is an intrinsic and inextricable part of who she is, she’s coming to realise that Lena is, too.

 

When Viktor calls to inform her that the orphanage’s roof has begun leaking under the weight of the spring snow melt, Kara decides it’s time to tell Lena.

She takes her to the Museum of Modern Art on Friday evening, and as they walk the lofty halls and admire the newest instalments she tells her about Mikhail. Everything about him, from the way Red Daughter had first saved him to the hole he’d left in both their hearts when he’d died. Hand in hand in the quiet of the Annie Leibovitz exhibition, she tells her about the orphanage. About the months she’s spent working there, the problems they’ve been having. And then, with sweaty palms and trembling voice, she asks Lena if she’d like to come with her to visit the next day.

Lena’s eyes are shining in the low mood lighting, her hands clasped tight tight tight around Kara’s own when she murmurs I’d be honoured, love.

That’s how she ends up flying Lena to Kaznia early the next morning. Lena, and her enormous supply box that almost weighs more than she does.

She spends twenty minutes balanced on a rickety old ladder in the corner of one of the dormitories, investigating the water dripping through the ceiling and patching the leak with a temporary cover. Kara stands behind her like a sentinel, handing up tools and flashlights as instructed, arms tensed and ready to snap out and snag her around the waist at the slightest wobble.

Satisfied in her appraisal, Lena climbs down and puts in a call to one of L-Corp’s warehouses. She arranges for a new polymer underlay for the roof to be delivered the next day, an L-Corp specialty that’s lightweight, waterproof, and an excellent insulator against the cold Russian winters. She also organises a team to install it, and to re-surface the roof while they’re here.

When Kara leaves for a moment to go to the bathroom, she returns to find Lena already sketching out designs for a solar-powered roof heating system that would melt the snow before it could gather and collect the water for household use, eyes narrowed and lips pursed as she scribbles feverishly on a scrap of paper from her bag.

As is becoming increasingly common, Kara has to fight down the urge to press her lips to Lena’s right then and there in the middle of a Russian orphanage, cold and windswept and still damp from meltwater. She settles for pressing a kiss to Lena’s cheek, and packing up her supplies for her as they make their way downstairs.

Lena meets the children. They tug on the trailing belt of her winter coat, reach out stubby fingers to touch her silky hair. They’re enamoured by her, all of them, following her around as they stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Kara knows the feeling.

She meets the other staff, and Viktor too. Over mugs of steaming black tea Kara blushes while Viktor regales Lena with tales of the work she’s done around the orphanage, and of the many and varied items she’s broken in the process. Still breathless with laughter after telling the story of Kara putting her fist through the wall and her foot clean through the staircase after slipping on an unfortunately-placed toy race car, Viktor turns to Lena.

“She’s very special, your girl,” he says, his strong accent rolling the words into something thick and warm and welcoming.

The smile Lena gives her then is so bright and so beautiful that Kara finds she has to look away, lest she start crying right here in the middle of Viktor’s office.

“Yes,” Lena says quietly, achingly earnest. “Yes, she is.”

Later that evening, back home in her apartment and stuffed full of Malaysian takeout, she and Lena settle down at opposite ends of the couch and pull out their laptops. Lena ploughs through her endless email inbox while Kara gets cracking on the article she’s writing on food insecurity in National City and she’s so absorbed in her research, so warm and comfortable with Lena’s socked feet tucked snug underneath her bent shins, that she jumps when Lena lets out a loud huff of exasperation.

She looks up questioningly and Lena sighs, then brightens. “Hey, you speak Russian now, right?”

Kara nods, closing her own computer and sliding it onto the coffee table before taking the laptop offered to her. “What does this say,” Lena hums, crawling across the cushions towards her and collapsing into Kara’s side as she points at a wall of text on the screen.

Kara scans the words quickly, relaying their meaning without conscious thought. Her brow furrows as Lena mutters her thanks, tugging her laptop back to continue inputting her details.

“Why are you setting up a Russian bank account?” Kara asks as Lena’s fingers fly over the keys. “What’s going on?”

“No reason,” Lena says guiltily, looking for all the world like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. At Kara’s pointed eyebrow raise she sighs. “I’m setting up a new credit card for Viktor. A company account, so he can pay for any maintenance work or supplies the orphanage needs himself.”

“Pay for it himself?” Kara asks suspiciously, and Lena blushes. “Lena, who’s footing that credit card bill?”

Lena’s flush deepens, and Kara falls that little bit more in love. “It’s not like I can’t afford it,” Lena mutters, embarrassed, ducking her head so her hair obscures her face as she confirms her account setup.

Kara doesn’t say anything more. She just wraps an arm around Lena’s shoulders and presses a kiss to her temple, her cheekbone, her jaw. “You’re amazing,” she hums and Lena only blushes harder, batting her away even as she burrows deeper into Kara’s side. Eventually they abandon their work in favour of a documentary on octopuses, curled up beneath a shared blanket under the soft glow of Kara’s fairy lights.

Lena’s oversized glasses are slipping down her nose as she cuddles impossibly closer, eyelids drooping with tiredness even as she marvels at the breathtaking South African scenery on their screen and Kara thinks to herself, suddenly and with resounding certainty, I’m going to marry this woman.

She knows it, just like she knows that the sky is blue and that Earth is home and that kale is gross but still worth eating if it will bring a smile to Lena’s face. She knows it like she knows her own name, like she knows her own place in this world. Like she knows that that place is wherever Lena is.

 

She’s halfway through flying Lena home from work a week later when Alex uses her signal watch.

Kara doesn’t think twice. Doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t waste time dropping Lena off. She just rockets to the DEO as fast as she thinks Lena’s human body can withstand, depositing her unceremoniously on top of Brainy’s desk chair – with Brainy still in it – on her way down to the holding cells.

She arrives to find Alex on the ground inside an open cell, one of the ex-Children of Liberty kneeling on her chest as he wraps his meaty hands around her throat and snarls down at her with pitch black eyes. Kara knocks him into the wall like a ragdoll without a second’s thought, lifting Alex with one arm to drag her out of the cell and sealing the door behind them with the other before the goon can catch enough of his breath to wind up for another attempt.

Alex is gasping for air, tears streaming from her eyes as agents flood the corridor around them.

“Don’t take your eyes off him,” Kara snarls at the closest black-clad figure, jutting her chin in the direction of the maniacal man now pounding on the door of his cell as she sweeps her sister fully into her arms and rushes her to the med bay.

Lena and Brainy meet them there and Kara feels a soft warm hand slip into hers as the medic on call assesses Alex, checking her blood pressure and oxygen saturation and fetching cold compresses for the dark bruises already blooming at her throat.

It’s only the knowledge that she’ll crush the delicate bones of Lena’s hand to a pulp if she’s not careful that forces Kara to consciously relax her tense muscles, focusing on the steady rise and fall of Lena’s chest against her arm in order to regulate her own frantic breathing.

It’s not long before the medic – Rocio, Kara remembers from previous incidents – straightens. “Director Danvers is going to be fine,” she says calmly and Kara sags into Lena’s side, trembling. “The strangulation was brief enough that there’s no sign of permanent damage. With the bruising and swelling she should take it easy for a couple days, but there are no lasting injuries.”

Kara releases a sigh of relief so long and so deep that Alex’s hair ruffles in the breeze, darting forward to envelop her sister gently in her arms. “Thank God,” she breathes, adrenaline washing over her like a tidal wave. “What the hell happened?”

“I thought he was having a fit,” Alex manages, still a little breathless, one hand holding an ice pack against her inflamed skin. “Choking or something. So I opened the cell door, and then he jumped me.” Her eyes flick to Lena. “There’s still Harun-El in his system.”

Lena nods sharply, throat working. “The compound I gave you to counteract the serum was designed for the final product, not the early experimental prototype he injected himself with. Brainy and I will get to work on another antidote right away,” she says and at her shoulder, Brainy nods.

Lena looks like she’s about to leave but at the last second she turns back, stepping closer quickly to squeeze Alex’s hand. “I’m so sorry,” she says quietly. “I thought the compound had worked. I thought we’d neutralised the Harun-El in his system permanently.”

“Not your fault,” Alex says hoarsely, flipping her hand palm-up to squeeze back. “You didn’t ask him to steal it from you in the first place. Hey,” she says sternly, pulling Lena back when she tries to turn away. “Listen to me, Luthor. Not your fault.”

She punctuates each word with a deliberate squeeze of her fingers and this time, Lena almost looks like she believes her. She nods, squeezing back, and follows Brainy down to the lab.

Kara hops up on the gurney beside her sister, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and holding the cold compress gently to her skin as Alex sags a little against her.

“Hey, thanks,” Alex mutters against her shoulder. “For coming when I called.”

Kara tuts if only to hide the way her throat tightens, heart pounding at the thought of what could have happened if she’d been just a minute or two later. “Don’t be stupid,” she chokes out gruffly, tilting her head to press a kiss to the crown of Alex’s head. “Always. Always.

 

Lena and Brainy crack the formula of the specific compound needed to neutralise the unstable Harun-El in the goon’s system within the hour. Sedated, restrained, and heavily guarded, he’s injected with the new serum and sent back to a maximum security cell for close observation.

She helps Alex – who’s already feeling fully recovered, if the way she keeps batting off Kara’s assistance is anything to go by – into the conference room where they’re joined by Brainy and Lena, Nia and J’onn.

“So,” Alex starts, fixing Kara with her best no fussing glare when her hands twitch toward the ice pack lying discarded on the table. “We need to do something about the Harun-El.”

Brainy nods. “Agreed. Though we’ve neutralised it completely in the attacker’s system, the craving for the substance doesn’t appear to have lessened at all.”

“And those Children of Liberty thugs knew to come after Lena to find it,” Alex jumps in. “There’s nothing to stop others from trying again. It’s too dangerous for you to keep it,” she directs at Lena, concern tugging at her features. Lena nods, and Alex sighs. “So the question is, what do we do with it?”

“We haven’t been able to devise a way of destroying it safely within the Earth’s atmosphere,” Brainy says, steepling his fingers together in front of his chest. “Any attempt to do so could trigger an explosion great enough to level an entire city.”

J’onn sighs. “And if we found a way to scan for its unique chemical signature, others may too. They’ll likely be able to track it to wherever we try to hide it.”

“So we can’t bury it, and we can’t blow it up,” Nia summarises succinctly. “What other options do we have?”

The room falls silent for a long moment before Lena clears her throat. “We could return it.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Lena shrugs. “Harun-El is too dangerous to stay on Earth. But on Argo, it’s a precious resource.” She glances at Kara, biting her lip. “You could take it back there.”

Kara’s chest tightens at the thought. She can feel the weight of the gazes of everyone in the room on her face, and heat begins to spread up the back of her neck.  She glances first at Alex, then at Brainy and J’onn, who all nod their approval of the plan.

Kara swallows hard. “We could take it back there,” she says quietly, ignoring J’onn’s raised eyebrow and Nia’s dramatic gasp to lock her gaze onto Lena’s. Her face is glowing hotter than a fire hydrant as Lena’s mouth opens in surprise but Kara doesn’t falter, doesn’t waver. Just meets her eyes, steady and sure. “You could come with me.”

 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Lena asks for the twelfth time in five minutes, wringing her hands anxiously over her open briefcase.

Kara had followed her down to the lab where Lena had worked with Brainy to create the Harun-El antidote, watching as the young woman collects her belongings in a fluster.

“Lena,” she smiles, legs swinging from the edge of the workbench she’s perched herself upon. “I’m sure. If you don’t want to come, that’s fine. But if you’re asking for my opinion—” She ducks her head to meet Lena’s eyes and the young woman’s fingers still their restless drumming for a moment. “I’m sure. I’d love for you to come to Argo with me.”

Lena returns to her frantic packing, bottles and vials clinking as she slides them back into the padded briefcase in front of her. “This is a big deal, right? I mean,” she mumbles quietly, teeth worrying at her bottom lip. “Argo was your home. Your— God, your mom will be there.”

“You’ve already met my mom.” Kara grins. “She liked you.”

Lena huffs. “Yes, but I didn’t know she was your mom then.”

Kara shrugs. “She still liked you.”

“Kara, please be serious,” Lena says quietly, and the anxiety in her voice has Kara slipping off the table to stand in front of her, tugging Lena’s fidgeting hands into her own.

“This is a big deal, isn’t it?” Lena asks again, eyes wide and apprehensive.

Kara sighs. “I don’t know. I suppose it is if we make it one.” She runs her thumbs over Lena’s knuckles, caressing the delicate skin on the backs of her hands. “But whether it’s a big deal, or a small deal, or a medium-sized deal…”

She trails off, distracted by her own mangled aphorism, and Lena shakes her head fondly. Kara smiles. “The point is, whatever size deal it is, it’s a deal I want to make with you. I want you to come with me, Lena. If you’d like that.”

Finally, finally, her smile is returned. Lena bobs up on her toes, winding her arms around Kara’s neck. “I’d like that very much,” she whispers against Kara’s hair, and Kara can’t stop herself lifting the smaller woman off the ground to spin them around the lab a few times, the two of them floating on air.

“Oh!” Lena says once Kara finally sets her back on her feet, keeping her hands firm on her waist to steady her against the dizziness. “I have something for you. I was saving it to do a few more adjustments, but if you’re going back to Argo you’ll want to look your best.”

She breaks free of Kara’s arms to turn to her briefcase, pulling a pair of slim black glasses out of a padded pocket. “I remembered you complaining about how your skirt is kind of impractical for flying and fighting,” she says almost shyly, crossing back to stand in front of Kara and holding the glasses out with faintly trembling hands. “And how annoying it is to have to wear your suit under your civilian clothes. So I thought, maybe I could help.”

Kara takes the proffered glasses reverently, unfolding them to slide them onto her face. “The frames are lead-lined, of course,” Lena is saying, teeth working nervously over her bottom lip. “And there’s a hidden quick release on the right hand side.” She indicates the corner of the frame and Kara’s thumb finds the tiny button. “Your suit will materialise whenever you press it, and dematerialise if you press it twice.”

Kara gapes at her. “You— you made me a suit?”

“There’s some anti-Kryptonite shielding built in, and a few other adjustments too.” Lena’s eyes are wide and worried, fingers twisting together anxiously in front of her stomach. “I’m, I’m sorry if it’s inappropriate,” she stammers, reaching up to tug a hand through her hair. “Or if I’ve overstepped. I can just take it back, don’t worry about—”

But Kara’s already pressing the button, watching in wonder as royal blue fabric encases her limbs like a second skin, her family’s crest – edged in the same fine gold as her belt and the clasps on her cape – emblazoned proudly across her chest.

Lena is still staring at her wide-eyed. “If you don’t like it I can always—”

Lena,” she gasps, darting forward to wrap the younger woman in her arms again, closer and tighter than ever. “I love it,” she breathes, overwhelmed in the best way. “I love you.”

Lena manages a smile even around her heavy swallow as Kara sets her back on her feet, spinning so she can admire her new suit from every angle.

“Lena,” she crows, elated and exultant. “You gave me pants!”  

 

Later, after she’s dropped Lena at home so she can gather up all the components of Harun-El and pack a bag, she flies to Alex’s apartment. Presses the button on her glasses and shows off her new suit to her sister, parading around the living room as Alex catcalls and wolf whistles.

When they finally drop onto bar stools at the kitchen island, they’re both flushed and giggling. But Kara sobers again at the sight of the dark blush of bruises ringing Alex’s throat, shooting over to the freezer to pull out another ice pack and depositing some pain killers and a glass of water on the counter in front of her.

Alex takes the pills stroppily, holding the ice pack to her neck with a pout to rival Kara’s best. “Stop fussing,” she mutters, shaking her head. “You’re worse than mom.”

Kara has to chuckle at that. “I don’t envy Eliza’s stress levels, having us as daughters.”

Alex snorts. “No. Poor woman.”

The apartment falls silent for a long moment, both of them sipping the tea Kara had made. But, because she knows her sister, knows what it feels like when something’s brewing beneath the surface, she’s ready for it the moment Alex clears her throat deliberately.

“So, speaking of mothers and daughters,” Alex says, her tone landing about as far from casual as it’s possible to get. “You’re taking Lena home.”

“No,” Kara says immediately, no conscious thought required. “Not home. You won’t be there.”

Alex tries to smile, even as her face crumples in that very specific way that means she’s trying to hold back tears. Kara reaches out, smooths her thumb over the crinkle that’s formed between her sister’s eyebrows, heart swelling at the way Alex nudges into the contact slightly.

“We’re coming back,” she whispers, taking an educated guess at what this is really about, chest tightening as Alex digs her teeth hard into her lower lip. “I’m coming back. This is not a goodbye.”

Alex nods roughly, her throat working as she swallows. “Besides,” Kara murmurs, reaching out to pull her sister in for a real hug, warm and all-encompassing. “I, um. I invited my mom. Here, to Earth, for the Kryptonian summer solstice in July.” She runs a hand warm up Alex’s back, ruffles her short hair. “It’s always been my favourite holiday. I was hoping that maybe you’d celebrate it with us.”

Alex’s hands tighten in the fabric of Kara’s suit as she nods shakily against her cheek. “I’d love to.”

“Well, then,” she manages thickly, soaking in the weight and press of her sister in her arms, committing it to memory in preparation for the days they’ll spend apart. “Like I said, this isn’t a goodbye, so. Kau-sha,” she says softly as they at last break apart.

At Alex’s inquisitive look Kara smiles, wide and open and real. “It’s what we used to say on Krypton,” she hums, reaching out to squeeze her sister’s hand. “It means to be continued.”

 

J’onn lends them his ship. Fixes Kara with a pointed glare and informs her in no uncertain terms that if there’s so much as a scratch on it when she returns, she’d be better off not coming back at all.

Lena hugs everyone goodbye first, then steps gratefully into the convertible as Kara holds the door open for her. She does her own round of goodbyes next, smiling and hugging her sister extra tight when Alex whispers kau-sha in her ear.

And then they’re off, J’onn’s light blue car converting into a Martian spaceship around their ears. Lena marvels at the technology, at the sight of the ozone layer burning around them as they exit Earth’s atmosphere. She’s entranced by the lack of gravity once they make it into open space, and the childlike glee on her face as she watches her pen float weightless around the cabin makes Kara feel warm from head to toe.

Once clear of Earth’s solar system they settle in for the journey, switching on the sound system – “you have a space playlist?” the young woman asks incredulously, and Kara rolls her eyes. “I’m an alien, Lena, not a monster” – and pulling out the snacks. They chat idly for a while, remarking on the stars passing by, the occasional burst of a meteor shower. Lena takes to space travel like a duck to water, just as Kara had suspected. But when the cabin falls silent and the air seems to thicken between them, she knows there’s something weighing on the other woman’s mind.

“I wanted to say thank you, Kara,” Lena starts quietly, tugging lightly on her fingers in her lap. “For inviting me to come with you. For— for trusting me with this part of you.”

“Lena,” Kara says gently, staring out at the dark ahead of them. “I think I would trust you with every part of me.”

She hears the sharp breath Lena sucks in, loud in the confined space. When no response is forthcoming, Kara interprets the reaction the only way she knows how. “I don’t mean to overwhelm you by saying that,” she murmurs, listening to the way Lena’s breathing shudders unevenly. “I know— I know trust is still a difficult topic for us. I want to be honest with you about where I’m at, but I don’t mean to put pressure on you in the process.” She swallows hard. “If you don’t feel the same, if— if you still can’t trust me, I understand. I mean, I’ll never stop working to win it back, but I understand.”

But Lena’s shaking her head. “You don’t have to do that, Kara. You don’t have to keep proving yourself to me. I think—” She sucks her bottom lip into her mouth, considering. “I think I do trust you. In a manner of speaking.”

Kara’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Lena sighs so heavily that Kara feels anxiety begin to roil in the pit of her stomach. Her voice is quiet, measured. “Being hurt like that again, being betrayed— that’s what I’m most afraid of. That’s where our trust broke. And I don’t think I trust that you won’t ever hurt me.” Lena purses her lips, as if weighing her words before speaking them. “But I trust that you won’t hurt you.”

Now Kara’s really lost. “What?”

Lena sighs, tugging a hand through her loose hair. “I think you were selfish, Kara.”

Her mouth drops open, ready reflexively to argue the point, but Lena holds up a hand. “No, listen. You’re Supergirl. She doesn’t get to be selfish, not ever. And Kara Danvers – Kara Zor-El – is one of the most selfless, giving people I’ve ever known.” Lena sucks in a breath, meeting her gaze levelly. “But I think you were selfish, with just one thing. I think you were selfish with me.”

Kara says nothing. Something sticky and oozing is pooling in her throat; the guilt and shame of a nerve struck with pinpoint precision, a nail hit square on the head.

“And I don’t mean that you were self-absorbed, or that you didn’t care about my needs and feelings,” Lena clarifies, though Kara already knows what she’s getting at. “I mean that your reasons for lying to me were selfish. You didn’t keep your identity from me to protect me. You did it to protect you.”

Kara flinches involuntarily at the gentle accusation and Lena’s brow furrows. She twists in her seat so they’re face to face, expression appeasing. “Kara, I’ve seen the lengths you’ve gone to to keep me in your life, by keeping me in the dark. I suppose, in a twisted kind of way, it’s almost a compliment?” The corner of her mouth tugs up into a wry smile. “You give so much to other people. You’ve never tried to take anything for yourself. But you tried to keep me.”

Still, Kara is silent. It’s unnerving to be understood, to be seen like this. No one, not even Alex, has ever cut right to the core of her so deftly.

“I’ve seen what you would do for me. To keep me safe, to keep me with you.” Lena pauses, swallows. “To get me back. And we’ve been through enough screaming and crying for me to know how much it hurt you to lie to me. To think you’d lost me.”

Lena’s face is set in gentle resignation, a firm kindness born of painful experience. “That’s what I trust. I believe you won’t do that again, not because it would destroy me, but because it would destroy you.”

“Lena, that’s—” She doesn’t really know what to say. What is there to say, in the face of the truth?

But true or not, that doesn’t mean she has to like it. “You make me sound so selfish,” she manages at length, trying and failing to cloak the hurt behind the words with a light chuckle. “So egotistical. Is that— is that really what you think of me?”

Lena smiles, only a little sadly. “I’ve always thought the best of you, Kara. Always. I think perhaps now I’m seeing you, really seeing you, for the first time.”

At the implication in her tone Kara can feel her face crumple and Lena leans forward, reaching out to brush her knuckles lightly along Kara’s jaw. “This doesn’t mean I think less of you, darling,” she murmurs and if Kara wasn’t ready to cry before, the reinstatement of the familiar endearment after months of absence is sure to do the trick.

Lena clicks her tongue fondly, the pad of her thumb swiping gently beneath Kara’s tear-filled eyes. “Kara. This isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t an ending. This is just me doing what I should have done from the start.” She takes a deep breath and Kara can’t help the way her face tilts, nudging harder into the contact of Lena’s hand curved against her cheek.

“I’m taking you down from the pedestal I’d put you on,” Lena whispers, voice soft as a lover’s caress. “Maybe now we can stand on equal ground.”

 

It’s not until much later, eons from home with nothing but empty space around them as far as the eye can see, Kara’s hand captured between Lena’s own in her lap as she traces her joints and tendons with an attention that borders on adoration, that Kara thinks to give voice to the question plaguing her mind.

“Lena?”

“Mmm?”

Lena’s fingers still their investigation of her hand and Kara whines until they resume their tender ministrations. “So, if we’re equals now,” she murmurs softly, “and I’m selfish…”

The younger woman picks up Kara’s meaning without her even needing to finish the sentence.

“God, Kara, I’m so selfish,” Lena rushes out, and the tight knot of anxiety in Kara’s stomach eases at the lack of hesitance in her tone. Maybe they are on the same page at last. Maybe they can come out of this as equals. Open, honest-to-god equals.

“I didn’t mean to make you think that I was naming flaws in you while canonizing myself,” Lena hums, fingers dancing over the sensitive skin of Kara’s inner wrist. “I’m selfish, too. Greedy. Covetous.”

Kara opens her mouth to protest, gripped by the knee-jerk reaction to forbid any disparagement of this wonderful woman, not even from Lena herself. But she’s cut off before she can even begin.

“Don’t,” Lena whispers, gentle but firm. “Don’t defend me blindly. The rose-tinted glasses are off, Kara. We have to see one another for who we really are. Only then can we choose, consciously choose— only then will we have a hope of this working.”

Kara nods, swallowing down the lump in her throat. It goes against every fibre of her being to acquiesce, but Lena’s right.

“I am selfish,” Lena murmurs softly. “I am, with you.”

Her hands tighten around Kara’s, bending and unbending her fingers absently, gently. “I wanted you. I wanted you to want me. And— I wanted you to be the person I needed you to be. It wasn’t fair of me to put those expectations on you; to punish you if they weren’t met.”

Kara stays quiet, listening. She and Lena have had more soul-baring conversations in the past month than perhaps in the entire rest of their friendship and even so, she’s not sure they’ve ever talked about something so vital as this. That they’ve ever been more honest, ever seen one another quite so clearly.

“I wanted all of you , Kara,” Lena whispers. “I was selfish, and I was greedy, and I wanted everything. I felt that you owed me honesty when in reality, you don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe anyone your identity. It’s something you should share only if and when you ever want to.”

Kara’s throat works and she twists her hand in Lena’s grip to interlace their fingers. Keeps her gaze fixed on the gentle rise and fall of Lena’s ribs as she breathes, avoiding her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispers, only a little strangled. “It means a lot, to hear you say that. But— but I disagree.”

Lena huffs out a quiet chuckle. “Why am I not surprised.”

“Not with your main point,” Kara amends, a smile tugging at her own lips. “That’s pretty solid. But it’s different, with you.” She sucks in a deep breath. “It’s always been different with you.”

Lena hums questioningly, fingertips tracing the network of veins beneath Kara’s skin. Kara tightens her grip, turning towards her in her seat. “If you’d only known Supergirl, or Kara Danvers, that would have been different. My colleagues at Catco don’t need to know about Krypton, and the aliens I arrest don’t need to know about Catco. But I—”

Just because it’s a truth she’s acknowledged, that doesn’t make it any easier to admit outside the confines of her own head. “I crossed a line once I started a relationship with you with both sides of me. That was unfair of me, and it was cruel.” She winces, squeezing Lena’s hand again. “I set you up to be devastated, and then resented you when you were.”

Lena’s breath hitches in her chest, but she doesn’t respond beyond the idle patterns she’s tracing over the back of Kara’s hand. Kara swallows. “It was selfishness, like you said. I wanted you to be open and honest with me, without having to return the favour. The moment I first asked you for something I wasn’t prepared to give was the moment I started making the biggest of my life.” She turns her eyes to Lena’s at last, finally meeting her gaze dead on. “I’m sorry, Lena.”

Lena’s breath shudders out of her, her entire body softening. “I’m sorry too, Kara. Truly.”

Her eyes are wide and earnest as she brings Kara’s hand closer to her mouth. Lena’s lips press against each one of her fingertips fervently, lovingly, and Kara forgets how to breathe.

“Do you think maybe we’re done with the apologies at last?” Lena murmurs around the tiniest, most hopeful of smiles, her exhale whispering over Kara’s hyper-sensitive skin.

Kara sucks in a breath so deep it feels almost like a reset. Like a clean slate. “I sure hope so,” she whispers around her answering smile as the console in front of her begins to flash, beeping softly. “Because we’re nearly there.”

 

Kara has always been aware of Lena’s beauty.

She’s seen her in every shape and shade of gorgeous, from her thousand dollar gala dresses to her borrowed movie night sweats. She’s seen Lena sweating through spin class, dolled up for a press conference, soft and casual over brunch or loose and unguarded in sleep. She’s watched every tint and hue of sunlight, of moonlight, of rain and of stormclouds play across the planes of Lena’s face, the softness of her hair, the curves of her body. She’s had her breath knocked clean from her lungs by Lena’s mere existence in Kara’s general vicinity more times than she can ever hope to count.

So, she’s always been aware of Lena’s beauty. But Lena on Argo is a different matter altogether.

The light is different here. That’s the first thing she notices. Everything is less blue-tinted, more golden, likely as a result of Argo’s artificial atmospheric shield, its absence of oceans.

Kara remembers Argo, remembers the subtle differences in its air, smell, environment. But evidently this is a distinction she’d overlooked on her last visit, because the flaxen edge of daylight here draws attention to details of Lena she’s never so much as considered before.

Here, the light picks out strands of shining amber in the waves of Lena’s hair, the loose waterfall cascading down her back appearing almost russet rather than the blue-black it sometimes seemed on Earth. Here, flecks of gold sparkle in the irises of Lena’s green eyes, teasing at the promise of invaluable treasures hidden in their depths. Here, Lena’s creamy skin glows warm and radiant, lustrous in the sunlight. Here on Argo Lena is, in short, more beautiful than Kara has ever seen her.

And it’s not just her physical appearance that contributes to the overall effect. It’s the way the blue of the traditional dress gifted to her upon arrival – the specific blue of Kara’s eyes, the colour of the House of El – seems almost as if it was made for her. As if the flowing lines of her dress were designed specifically to bare the perfect amount of skin, to cling to every curve and angle more precisely and exquisitely than if she’d been carved by the grace of Rao.

It’s the way Lena looks lighter, here. The bounce in her step, the buoyancy of her laughter. The way the troubles and the fears and the scars of Earth have faded, as if left behind on her home planet. It’s the way she seems free here, Kara thinks. It’s the way she seems happy.

There isn’t much in the universe that could divert Kara’s attention away from the joy and excitement of returning to her home, her people, her mother, but Lena’s almost managing it. She draws Kara’s gaze and keeps it on her, captivating in the way she stares open-mouthed at her first glimpse of a new world.

In fact, Kara’s so absorbed in Lena – in her first moments on Argo, her wide-eyed wonder as they wait together in the antechamber of Alura’s home after concealing their ship and changing into the dresses given to them by Kelex – that her mother has to say her name twice before Kara even realises she’s arrived.

But that soft voice, that warm assuaging scent of her childhood, of home, washes over her like a spell and she’s in her mother’s arms in an instant, clutching at her like she’s reliving their last goodbye on Krypton all over again. Somehow, every time she sees her mother after believing her dead for so long, it almost feels like she is.

Alura’s hands smooth down her back, over her hair, her arms warm and sure and moulded to the exact shape of Kara’s body even after all this time apart. Kara blinks back the tears that spring unfailingly to her eyes as she finally pulls away. “Mom,” she manages around the lump in her throat. “This is—”

“Lena,” Alura beams, stepping forward and sweeping the young woman into her arms. For a moment Lena is frozen, her face the picture of shock. But then she softens, melting into Alura’s embrace the way Kara herself had, her expression a wide-eyed mixture of happiness and bewilderment.

“It’s wonderful to see you again,” Alura says as she steps back, keeping hold of Lena’s hands to take her in. “It seems Argo agrees with you.”

Lena’s cheeks flush the prettiest shade of pink under the gentle appraisal. “It’s an honour to be here,” she says quietly, eyes darting to Kara over her mother’s shoulder. “Thank you for welcoming me into your home.”

“Nonsense,” Alura says kindly, squeezing Lena’s hands. “From what I hear, you’re already a part of my daughter’s family, which makes you a part of mine. This is your home too, Lena. I hope that you’ll treat it as such.”

She smiles at Lena’s flushed cheeks, chucking the young woman lightly under the chin. “Come, let’s have some tea in the garden. I want to hear about everything you girls have been up to.”

 

It’s easy, it’s so easy, to be here on Argo with Lena.

To sit around a table with her and her mother, drinking moonflower tea and talking about their lives on Earth. To tell Alura about Catco, to explain the importance of a Pulitzer prize and feel herself swell with pride when Lena tells her that Kara won one. To fill her in on L-Corp, on Lena’s most ground-breaking innovations; to watch the way two sets of eyes light up as they discuss science, technology, invention. To talk about Alex, Eliza, Brainy and Nia and Kelly and J’onn. To be able to share one part of her family with another without having to give any of them up.

They hand over the Harun-El and all its chemical components almost immediately. Technically, their purpose here has now been fulfilled, but Kara knows from the quiet fascination in Lena’s eyes as she takes in this world that their time on Argo is really only just beginning.

She shows Lena around her home. Tells her stories of her childhood, of the mischief she would get up to in these halls. She shows her her bedroom – their bedroom, at least for the duration of their stay – and the books and trinkets that had survived Krypton’s destruction. Watches Lena file each new revelation away somewhere deep inside, and loves her all the more for it.

She shows Lena her father’s lab. Tells her how Zor-El would spend hours in here tinkering away, running his ideas and theories by a seven-year-old Kara as if she were his lab partner, not his daughter. Lena’s smile is wide and amazed as she runs her fingers over the equipment, dusty from lack of use. “You’ve been holding out on me,” she accuses gently, shaking her head. “Making me explain scientific concepts to you as if you didn’t have a clue. I hope you know I’ll picking your brain a lot more from now on.”

Kara just grins in response, wrapping Lena up in her arms and hooking her chin over her shoulder as they examine her father’s bookshelf together. “I look forward to it.”

She introduces Lena to Thara and her husband, accepts their offer of dinner that evening. Any apprehension she may have had over Lena getting along well with her childhood best friend melts away within minutes of the two women meeting. What they may lack in common ground on most any topic, from culture to profession to their very species, they more than make up for in their one overlapping interest: Kara.

She, accordingly, spends most of the meal hiding her flushing cheeks behind her hands as Lena and Thara trade increasingly embarrassing stories about her, from childhood right up to the present day. But when Thara smiles that dimpled grin Kara had so cherished in their youth, and when Lena reaches out beneath the table to lace her fingers with Kara’s own, she finds she doesn’t really mind at all.

 

They fall into a rhythm. A routine, of sorts.

Every day they have breakfast and dinner with her mother and in between, she and Lena explore. Kara takes her to every old haunt she remembers in the city, and then branches out into plenty more that she doesn’t. Re-discovering Argo this way, with Lena wide-eyed and slack-jawed at her side, takes some of the pain out of her homecoming. Instead of a sickening sense of regret over the time she’d been denied here in her childhood home, she finds she’s able to focus on the singularly beautiful gift she’s been given through the mere opportunity to experience it again at all.

They visit the citadel and Argo’s many great libraries, spend hours in the various marketplaces chatting with the stall owners. She buys Lena her own orb and gives it to her that night as they’re lying together in bed, teaching Lena the combination to open it correctly and showing her how to manipulate the holographic map of the cosmos to show her what she wants to see.

She lays there, propped up on pillows with Lena’s head resting on her chest, arms wrapped tight around her ribcage, and journeys with Lena through the universe. She shows her the Milky Way, their solar system, shows her Earth from far, far above. She shows her Argo, hurtling through space. She shows Lena her birthplace; points to Daxam, to the empty space where its sister-planet Krypton once orbited. Shows her Rao, her first sun, and feels her god move within her again as Lena repeats the unfamiliar names with wonder dripping from her tongue.

They visit the arboretum many times. Lena loves the great domed structure, the variety of plant life still thriving within it. Kara loves it too, loves the peace and tranquillity she’d always been able to find there. Loves that she can share that now with Lena. Share another little piece of her heart with her.

“You told me a while back that Kara Zor-El was gone,” Lena says during one of their visits, trailing her fingers over the soft peach petals of the opal lily in front of her. “Do you still feel that?”

Kara pauses, considering, captivated by the way the muted light of the arboretum plays over Lena’s skin like starlight caressing the heavens. “No,” she manages after a long, long moment of silence. “Not here. Not— not with you.”

As the days pass, Lena becomes comfortable on Argo. Kara can see it in the easy way she interacts with Alura, in the newly-developed reflex to ask Kelex for help when she needs it. Slowly, Lena relaxes enough to feel happy spending time alone, reading in the shade of the garden or tinkering in Zor-El’s lab at Alura’s invitation.

Any time she spends apart from Lena, Kara spends with her mother. Though the three of them get along better than she ever could have dreamed, so many years of believing herself an orphan has created a craving for quality time with Alura that she never manages to sate.

They talk about Kara’s life on Earth, about Alura’s work on Argo. They talk about light, easy things, but they talk about the real stuff too. Slowly, painfully, Kara finds the strength and the opportunity to ask her mother every single question she’d spent her life without her saving up. She asks things she’s ashamed of, things that make her angry, things that make her feel weak for even wondering. She asks, and she listens to the answers she receives, and she hears Elias’ soothing voice in her mind as she works with her mother to rebuild their relationship; to forgive her for the first, the worst abandonment of Kara’s life.

It’s during one of these precious afternoons, tucked together on the couch in her mother’s study while Lena busies herself exploring Zor-El’s extensive scientific library, that her mother brings up the topic of their relationship.

“Lena seems happy here,” she says, voice soft in the late afternoon sunshine streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Kara smiles, half-absorbed in her examination of the holo-crystal she’d discovered on her mother’s desk. “She is.”

Alura’s voice is gentle, warm. “You seem happy, with her.”

Kara pauses, fingers stilling over the projection of the documents she’d been scrolling through. “I am.”

“So, the two of you are…”

Alura allows the half-question to hang in the air between them and Kara feels herself blush as if she’s thirteen again. “No,” she manages, cheeks flaming. “Well. Sort of. I don’t know. It’s— complicated.” She shakes her head at her own cliché, biting her lip. “There’s so much between us, so much history, but— I think we could be, now,” she finishes lamely. “I know I want to be.”

Alura nods in understanding despite her inarticulate bumbling, reaching out to lay a hand on Kara’s knee. “I’ve watched the two of you together,” she says with a smile. “And I think you are, too. Do you remember the old saying on Krypton?” Her mother’s voice is gentle, the Kryptonian syllables rolling from her tongue like ambrosia. “She moves as you move.”  

Kara sucks in a sharp breath at the adage, once so familiar, but one she hasn’t considered now in almost two decades.

Her mother’s hand tightens on her knee. “Lena moves as you move, Kara, and you as she. Whatever pain there was between you once, I do not think it remains strong enough to predict your future.”

Kara bites her lip hard, blinking back tears that have gathered quite without her permission. Her mother reaches out to cup her face in her hands, thumbs swiping gently beneath her damp eyes.

“My daughter,” she says softly, her touch welcome and warm as the first bright blush of springtime. “My wonderful, wonderful daughter. You know, perhaps better than any of us, how fleeting this life can be. How rarely a second chance may come around. Rao’s grace granted one for you and I and, from what you’ve told me, for you and Lena as well.”

Alura’s hands slide back into Kara’s loose hair, tilting her face down to press a kiss to her forehead. “If you find love in this life then hold onto it, my darling,” her mother whispers into her hair, thumbs stroking over her cheeks. She pulls back after a moment to reach for a small box on her desk, which she presents to Kara with a tear-filled smile. “Hold on, and don’t let go.”

 

That evening, she invites Lena for a walk.

They stroll hand in hand through the meadows and forests behind Kara’s home, trading anecdotes about their days. Lena’s excitement is palpable as she shares with Kara her most recent scientific discoveries, the ways she’s imagined applying Zor-El’s knowledge and research to the problems facing Argo, facing Earth today. But her tone turns serious as she talks of family legacy. As she asks, hesitant and unsure, if she might take what she’s learned and help Kara build upon her own.

Kara can only smile, throat so choked with emotion that it renders her incapable of speech, and kiss the back of Lena’s hand as she nods.

At length they come to a tall hill at the very limits of the city, its far side backing straight onto the bottom of Argo’s domed shield. They climb it together, no superpowers for either of them, equals in their flushed cheeks and heavy breathing when they finally make it to the top.

There’s a rocky outcrop at the summit and a smattering of plants and bushes, but Kara directs Lena’s attention back the way they had come, gazing out over the city skyline silhouetted against the dome’s illusion of a setting sun.

“I used to come up here when I was a child,” she says softly, taking a step closer to Lena so the length of their bodies presses together. “Whenever I was overwhelmed, whenever things became too much, I would come up here and look out over the city and feel like I could breathe again.”

She smiles as Lena’s hand slips into her own. “It still works,” she admits quietly, squeezing the fingers tangled with hers. “Even though I think I’ve got a whole lot more to be overwhelmed by now than I used to.”

Lena tilts her head inquisitively at the statement, and Kara smiles. “Red Daughter,” she explains, and Lena nods in understanding. “Having her in my head all the time is confusing and infuriating and exhausting, honestly. And she basically is me. But even so, trying to reconcile her memories, her life, with my own— it’s a nightmare,” she admits with a sheepish smile.

Tilting her head, she regards Lena in the blaze of the setting sun. “How do you do it?” she asks quietly, swallowing hard when green eyes blink up to meet hers. “You thought you knew two completely different people; Kara Danvers and Supergirl. How can you wrap your head around it? How on Earth can you even stand to look at me now, knowing they’re one and the same?”

“Well, for starters,” Lena smirks. “We’re not on Earth.”

Kara rolls her eyes good-naturedly, tugging lightly on the hand in hers. “Lena.”

The younger woman sighs, turning her gaze back to the impossible city laid out at their feet. “Even when I thought they were different people, I was drawn to them,” she says quietly. “Both of them. I can only imagine that was for a good reason.” She tilts her head to meet Kara’s eyes again. “I can only imagine that that reason is that they were both really you.”

Kara’s heart is pounding so hard against her ribs that she legitimately fears that it will crack clean through them. That it, like every part of her, is so unfalteringly drawn to Lena that it will stop at nothing to get to her.

She cannot believe that she’s gotten this lucky. That after all their mistakes, all the ways they’ve hurt each other, they’re both still here. Still striving, still trying, still loving.

She thinks back to their conversation in the spaceship, to the countless hours of screaming and crying and talking and healing between them. She thinks of the bond they’ve formed, in blood and sweat and tears and the commitment to come back to each other again and again and again.

It’s love between them, she’s sure of that now. But it’s not the selfless, fairytale cure-all Kara had thought she was searching for. It’s gritty and selfish and fallible and real. It’s not I could never hurt you, because they can hurt each other. They have.

Instead, it’s something closer to hurting you hurts me too much for me to ever let it happen again, and as pragmatic and unsentimental and unromantic as it sounds, Kara’s beginning to think that Lena’s right. That kind of love, she can trust. That kind of love is a bedrock upon which she’s willing to build, confident that it won’t crumble beneath the weight of all their fuck-ups.

That kind of love is I’m not sure I truly trust anyone in the world, but I trust that I need this.

That kind of love is my entire life exploded and took everyone I loved with it, and I’m never letting you go again.

That kind of love, she realises, is something she’s willing to live and die for. She hears her mother’s voice echo in her mind, her gentle encouragement. Hold on, my darling, and never let go.

Kara shakes her head, blinking back tears she hadn’t realised had gathered. To be able to show someone the very worst of herself and emerge from the crucible of their forgiveness with them still loving her—

She can’t let that go. She can’t ever, ever let Lena go. Not without her knowing that she’s scored onto the very fabric of Kara’s existence as ineffaceably as light spreads tenacious throughout the darkest reaches of the universe.

With her heart in her throat and her soul in her hands, Kara digs her fingers deep into the pocket of her white robe. Closes her fingers around the slim box her mother had given her that afternoon and pulls it out into the air between them, breathless and trembling.

“Lena,” she starts shakily, and green eyes snap to the white leather box with a gasp. She knows Lena’s been reading up on Kryptonian traditions in Alura’s library, knows she’ll recognise the significance of the box’s size, of the House of El crest embossed on its cover. And sure enough, when she opens the lid to reveal a delicate bracelet of interwoven gold strands, Lena’s eyes fill with tears.

Standing here, bathed in golden light, gazing out over a world she’d once thought she’d never see again, in front of a woman she’d once thought would never want to see her again, Kara has never felt surer of anything in her entire life.

It doesn’t matter that they’d gone about this in entirely the wrong order. It doesn’t matter that she’d told Lena she was in love with her before they’d so much as been out on a date, or that she’s plunging into this proposal before they’ve even had their first kiss.

All that matters is that they’ve made it here now, out from the shadow of their mountain of pain and standing together in the sun at last.

“Lena,” she says again, reaching up with her free hand to wipe away the tears spilling out from under dark lashes even as her own cheeks dampen with saline. “I love you. I love you more than I’m able to put into words, in any language I’ve ever learned. I love you on Earth, and I love you on Argo, and I love you in all the spaces in between. I’ll love you in any place I ever call home, because it won’t be my home unless you’re there. And I love you with every single part of me,” she finishes, voice tremulous and soft in the dying light. “Even the parts of myself that I don’t fully understand. Because the one thing they all have in common is that they all want you.”

Lena is silent, more tears streaming down her cheeks now than Kara has the capacity to wipe away. The setting sun catches on them, refracting through the droplets like a prism, shattering into something even more beautiful than its whole.

“Lena,” she says one more time, reaching into the box to retrieve the bracelet with unsteady fingers. “You told me once that I couldn’t keep you. That I had to choose you, and hope that you chose me back.” She swallows shakily. “I’m choosing you, Lena. For as long as I can. Forever.”

She holds the bracelet out between them, the delicate design glinting almost brighter than the sun by which it’s illuminated. Musters her courage just one last time. “Will you choose me?”

If Lena is surprised by the change to the typical Earth question, if she recognises that this version belongs to Kryptonian tradition instead and is just as weighted, just as binding, she doesn’t show it.

She only sighs, two more tears tracking diamond paths down her cheeks, and nods once before she throws herself into Kara’s arms.

“Yes,” she gasps against Kara’s cheek, wet and messy and desperate and beautiful. “Yes, yes, yes. I’ll marry you. I choose you, Kara. Forever. Always.”

She laughs then, they both do, breathless and disbelieving. Kara’s hands are shaking as she fastens the bracelet around Lena’s left wrist like the promise it is, just above the watch that had been its precursor. Lena’s hands are shaking as she receives it.

When their lips meet at last, it feels like Elysium. It feels like two meteors colliding, like something new and bright and beautiful forming in their wake. Kara wraps Lena up in her arms, for once not hampered by the need to be gentle, be careful. Here, as equals in strength, as equals in love and everything else, she no longer needs to hold back. Here, with Lena, she can just be.

The first press of Lena’s lips against her own is electric. The first hint of teeth scraping over the plush of her bottom lip sends shivers up the length of her spine. The first touch of Lena’s tongue sparks the beginning of a tumultuous to and fro, an exhilarating dance she’s more than happy to commit to memory for the rest of her living days.

Lena kisses her like she’s been waiting for this moment her entire life. She kisses her like she wants to consume her, to unravel her down to her barest essentials and then build her back up again together this time. To join them in a bond so integral, so fundamental, that neither one of them would ever be able to exist without it again. Kara thinks she’d quite happily let her.

When they at last break apart, gasping for air, Kara knows in the core of herself that she is undone. That she has been fundamentally changed by this, by Lena, and that whatever comes next, she’ll never be the same again.

She finds that no prospect has ever made her happier.

 

Two nights later, when their engagement party – the first of many, if Alex and Nia have any say in the matter once they get home, she’s sure – has at last wound down and the joviality of the evening has finally mellowed into silence, Lena finds her in the garden under the sempiternal glow of the stars hurtling past their tiny asteroid at the speed of light.

She’s dressed only in a light sleep shift and it flutters in the breeze when she takes a seat on the stone bench at Kara’s side. The split of the fabric that runs up the length of her thigh falls open and Kara doesn’t bother fighting the urge to reach out, to run her hand over the expanse of creamy bare skin. Because, hey, she can do that now, freely and without question, and of all the new experiences and learning curves that come from having Lena as her fiancée, Kara’s methodical and adoring exploration of every inch of her body has to be one of her favourites.

“Did I wake you, sweetheart?” she asks quietly, pivoting to straddle the narrow bench so she can tug Lena’s body snug between her thighs, hands slipping under the sheer material of her shift to stroke over the hot soft skin beneath.

Lena hums, head tilting back against Kara’s shoulder as she shakes her head. “I just missed you.” She reaches a hand up behind her to cup the back of Kara’s neck, tangling in her hair to scratch lightly over her scalp the way she’s recently discovered Kara loves. “What are you doing out here?”

“Thinking,” Kara hums, nuzzling her face into the softness of Lena’s bed-tousled curls.

“About?”

“Red Daughter,” Kara admits, and Lena’s fingers still their gentle stroking for a moment. “I’ve been wanting to do something for her,” Kara continues into the gentle quiet, fingers stroking paths of worship up and down Lena’s bare sides. “To remember her. To honour her.”

Lena nods, head tilting back further until she can press her lips to the underside of Kara’s jaw. The tender gesture gives Kara the strength she needs to form her next words.

“I want to thank her,” she whispers, hushed and reverent. “Red Daughter was the key, in more ways than one.” She sucks in a deep breath. “She saved my life. She gave me this time with you.”

They’re pressed together so tightly that she feels the way Lena swallows hard, the way her heartrate ticks upward at the reminder of how lucky they’ve truly been to find each other despite all the odds stacked against them.

“She’s the reason I realised I was in love with you,” Kara whispers against her temple and Lena spins in her arms until they’re face to face, pressing their lips together in a searing kiss that teaches Kara what it means to feel beloved.

Even after they break apart Lena doesn’t let her get far, tilting their foreheads together as her fingers play in the fine baby curls at the nape of Kara’s neck. Her whisper is low and soft and hits Kara’s lips like a wish, a prayer. “She’s the reason I couldn’t ever truly doubt it.”

Kara swallows hard, kissing her again, peppering her lips against every inch of skin she can reach. “I was thinking,” she manages at length, breathless and flushed, “of planting a Dar-Essa flower for her. Here, in the garden, under the trees.”

At Lena’s inquisitive look Kara smiles. “It’s the flower that’s growing in our bedroom,” she says softly, gathering Lena’s loose hair away from her face with one hand and tracing the line of her jaw with the other. “That one was given to me by my grandmother on my first birthday. It was supposed to grow as I grew, but things got a little messed up.”

She smiles sadly, and Lena leans in to fit their mouths together again in a kiss the feels more like home than anything else ever has.

“But if I re-plant a part of it here, maybe it can have another chance,” she whispers into the star-lit darkness once they separate. “She is me, now. So if I plant it here, for her, then maybe it will grow for both of us.”

Lena nods, smiling as she wipes away tears Kara hadn’t realised had collected on her own lashes. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

“I think she would have liked it here,” Kara whispers, wrapping her arms tight around Lena and burying her face against her neck. “In fact, I know she would have loved it. Being here in the quiet, the calm. The trees and the endless sky. Being here with you,” she whispers, and doesn’t miss the I love you Lena presses against her hair.

She inhales heavily, pulling back so they’re face to face once again. “I wish that she could be here.”

Lena smiles, reaching up to smooth her thumb across the swell of Kara’s bottom lip before chasing the path with her mouth, words muffled against Kara’s skin like the most sacred of vows.

“She is.”