Chapter One: Rescue
“J'onn?” Alex said, voice shaking as she stood.
The martian smiled at her and answered with a proud look on his face, “This is real. You are free of the Phantom's powers. You did it. You all did it. We have the Phantom back in full containment, but this trip's not over yet.”
J'onn looked at each of them in turn. Kelly looked up at Alex from her seat and took her hand, giving it a quick squeeze. Nia and Lena exchanged a look as each blinked at the tears welling up in their eyes. Lena gave her a reassuring smile.
“We're close, we have a lock on Surpergirl.” Brainy pointed at the screen as the ship shuddered again.
Alex looked at the screen hopefully, “Are you sure this is real?”
“Yes,” J'onn replied, “but we're still being swarmed by phantoms. We'll have to get as close as we can to Supergirl, and have that yellow sun bomb ready.” He threw a look and a nod at Lena.
“On it!” She turned and took the bomb in her hands. Her fingers flew over a small panel in its side, then she loaded it into the launcher. It sealed shut with a hiss.
Brainy called out over his shoulder, “Nearly there but the Tower's shields won't last much longer.” He threw the throttle back as the Tower's engines whined and a shudder ran through the hull.
“Everybody hang on! We're only going to get one shot at this so let's make it count.” J'onn turned and leaned over the command console, rolling his shoulders back as he spoke. “As soon as I've found her, drop the phantom from containment. Any others nearby should sense it and come running. That will buy me time to get to her.”
J'onn felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. Alex' hand was firm and when he turned to face her he could see the tension in her frame, stance taught like a drawn bow. Her face was a picture of fierce determination, one he had seen many times before and he knew then that she would not stay there and wait for him to bring her sister back to her.
“No, J'onn. You're not benching me for this.” She poked him stiffly in the chest. “No one knows Kara better than me, she's my sister. If anyone can get through to her it's me,” Alex said with a glare. She puffed up with her shoulders thrown back the way she always does whenever she’s being protective of Kara. Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. “I have to do this, J'onn. Please.”
The martian hung his head for a moment, jaw clenched as he considered her point. He too wanted to protect Kara. He wanted to protect them both. After a moment of consideration he looked up and met Alex' eyes then nodded.
“Okay. Brainy, bring us in low. Close enough for Alex to jump down,” he said, eyes searching the map of the terrain displayed on the screen. “There.”
J'onn pointed at a shallow slope in the walls of the canyon near Supergirl's location. Brainy nodded and his hands sped across the Tower's controls as Alex turned and stood at the airlock door. She pulled up her hood and bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet. Her hands clenched at her sides and she took a deep breath, then let it out slowly through pursed lips. They sped towards the slope and drew up above it with a quick turn. Alex took a last look back, her eyes meeting Kelly's for a moment. Her heart caught in her chest and Alex smiled then brought her fingers to her lips. Kelly gave her a little nod, their love hung between them for a moment and they both hoped it wasn’t meant to be a goodbye. Alex leapt from the doorway and was gone.
A grunt escaped her chest as she hit the ground, breath knocked loose from the impact as she tucked her left shoulder and rolled to soften her landing. Alex sprung up to her feet and brushed herself off. The air smelled stale and old and still as if it had been caught in some long ago moment in time. She imagined for a moment it must be what the air inside a tomb must smell like. She grimaced at the thought and tried to shake the feeling of dread from her thoughts. Alex scampered down the rocky slope to the chasm floor and touched the communicator behind her ear with the tip of a finger.
“Brainy, directions would be nice!” she hissed under her breath as she frantically looked around. Alex knew there could be phantoms anywhere and though she had been on more dangerous missions than she could even remember she didn't think any of them had been even half as important as this one. She swallowed hard and wiped the dust from her hands nervously.
“Supergirl's signal is 53.5 yards from your current position...turn to your left and follow the ridgeline. She is not far,” Brainy replied tersely. He sounded distracted. Alex knew she didn't have much time. She stood up on the balls of her feet and took off along the ridge at a run. Behind her she heard the hiss of the containment chamber opening to the Phantom Zone and the chilling presence of gathering phantoms lured by the release of one of their kin. Alex prayed silently and fervently to whatever gods might be listening that she would find her sister and that she would still be alive as every worst case scenario flashed through her thoughts. Kara, lost to the visions of the phantoms forever. Kara, pale and dead on the chasm floor. Kara, utterly changed by the torments of the Phantom Zone. She picked up her pace, running on past walls of bland, lifeless stone.
“You're there, we are a little busy up here-” came a curt response and the blaring of alarms that cut Brainy off. She winced at the sound and narrowed her eyes.
She stopped, closing her eyes for a moment to center herself and slow her wildly beating heart. “Come on Kara, where are you...” she said softly. Her eyes caught a splash of deep red set in the shadows of a stony alcove. Alex gasped and felt a hot surge of hope rise within her chest and her heart began to pound anew, rattling against the prison of her ribs as if it could fly out to Kara all on it's own. Hidden within a gash in the rock was her sister. Kara had crawled inside and against the chasm wall almost out of sight. Only the corner of her cape could be seen. She had pulled it up and around herself like a blanket, face hidden from sight like a child afraid of the dark.
“Kara! Kara...it's me, Alex!” she smiled hesitantly as she called out softly to her sister and received no response. “Guys, I found her.” Alex moved slowly, worried she might startle Kara but her sister didn't even move when she pulled the super's cape from in front of her face. Alex' cursed. Kara's eyes were clouded over, lips moving in an unending murmur and the look on her face was one of heart wrenching sorrow. Ragged claw marks stood out in stark relief against the tan stretch of Kara’s neck. Alex wedged herself into the alcove and began to smooth her hands over the kryptonian’s troubled features.
“Hey...Kara. I’ve got you. We're here,” she said, choking back a sob. “Remember when I made J'onn take my memories, and I forgot you were Supergirl? I told you I felt like a piece of my heart was just out there in the world and wandering around? I couldn’t protect it. That's you, remember? You’re my heart. I'm here now. I will never leave you ever, not while I'm still alive so you gotta come back to me. I was wrong when I said that. I said it's on it's own but that's not true because I'm never gonna let you be alone.”
Alex combed her fingers through tangled blonde hair and leaned down to rest her forehead against Kara's. She continued in the same low tone she used when they were kids and Kara would be overwhelmed and anxious. “We're here, your family. Everyone needs you to come back now. I know you can hear me. I know you're still in there because you're the strongest person I know. Even after every bad thing that's ever happened to you, you came out kinder and stronger and I know that this is gonna be just like that.”
Kara's brow furrowed into that famous crinkle, the one Alex never failed to point out with gentle teasing. She turned her head, listening to the sound of her sister's voice as if she was hearing it from far away. Maybe she was.
“Kara! Oh my god, Kara,” Alex said, words coming out all in a jumble. “Kara, I'm here! Come on Kara you have to come back to me now we gotta go.”
Kara sat up slowly. Her hands dropped to her lap and she hung her head, face hidden by a curtain of golden hair. “You're not real. You can't be here, there's no way out. I've already tried...so many times. They just come, and come, and come, and they take you all away from me again.” Kara picked at her hands idly and shook her head. “I’m so alone,” she mumbled.
“Kara, that's not true, this is real. I am real. Look at me,” she begged, cupping Kara's cheeks in her hands as she lifted her sister's face up to hers. Kara felt the rough texture of her sister’s hands on her face. Blue eyes clouded by doubt met that of warm brown and for a moment there was a flicker of recognition. Alex beamed and took a deep breath as she tried hard not to cry. “I'm here Kara, I could never leave you here. I would find you anywhere in this galaxy or fucking all of them if I had to Kara, you're my sister. Who else is gonna fight with me about the last potsticker? Where else am I gonna find the ultimate game night partner? Kara Danvers is my favorite person. I need you.”
Alex cried. She scrubbed at her eyes with a gloved hand, unable to say anything as she was overwhelmed with a volatile mixture of hope, sadness and worry. She shook as arms wrapped around her shoulders. Looking up with a sniff, her eyes met the clear, stormy blue stare of Supergirl. Alex threw her arms around Kara's waist and squeezed her like she was afraid she might disappear and for a moment they held each other and let a shared feeling of relief wash over them.
Alex said softly, “I've got you.”
Alex swallowed hard and pulled away to stand, taking Kara's hands and pulling her to her feet. They regarded each other across the span of their joined hands. She laughed, breaking the tension, “And besides if something happens to you, mom's gonna kill me. In any dimension.”
Kara let out a short, harsh laugh and rolled her eyes. She ran her hand through her hair and took a shuddering breath to shake off what had held her in it's grip there, alone in the alcove with every terrible thought a person can have. For a moment they just stood there looking at each other, held together by the invisible tether of their bond. The silence was broken by a sharp whine and a crack, followed by an intense pulse of yellow light overhead. Alex turned away and shielded her eyes behind her hood while Kara tracked it like a flower seeking sunlight. Her face split into a wide grin as she was awash in the golden light of a yellow sun. From her toes to the wispy hairs on the back of her neck she felt a rush of energy sweep through her and she was suddenly hale and whole for the first time in what felt like an age, bursting with vitality.
“You're really all here, my family,” she laughed and looked at Alex, face beaming. “Lena's here...” She said Lena's name with a reverent whisper and turned to Alex as the light died out and she finally saw the ship hovering not far above the chasm. Kara pulled her into a hug as she launched them into the air.
“Guys, we're on our way, open the doors!” Alex called in to her communicator hurriedly as she clung on to Kara for dear life. They shot through the Tower door and into the safety of the ship in a blur. Inside, Kara set Alex down on her feet reluctantly as if she were unwilling in that moment to let her go. Almost as suddenly as their appearance through the door, Supergirl was swept up and off her feet by J’onn who had gathered her up in a fierce hug, squeezing her tight. She closed her eyes tight and grabbed him around the shoulders, knuckles white as she clutched at the angles of his armor.
“We’ve got you, Supergirl. Brainy, Lena, take us home!” He set her down and held her out at arms length with a relieved smile on his lips. “Alex, Kelly, take Supergirl to the medbay.”
Kara opened her mouth in dissent, hands on her hips with a predictable protestation of being fine on the way but the martian just cocked his head to the side with a serious look on his face and a finger held up as if to say ‘no buts young lady’. She huffed and dropped her hands to her sides as Alex grabbed her by the arm and led the grumbling kryptonian away. Kelly fell in behind them with a chuckle. The air in the room took on a vibrant atmosphere of excitement at seeing Kara in one piece and the success of their mission gave the team a renewed energy. Lena and Brainy worked the Tower’s controls together like a well oiled machine as they swung the ship around in a wide arc and through the projected portal home.
Kara sat up on her elbows and watched Alex tapping away on a tablet. After Kara obediently laid down on the medbay bed under the sun lamps she went to work. They didn’t say anything as Alex performed the routine scans she had repeated numerous times over the years as doctor, sister, DEO agent and partner. Alex chewed the inside of her lip as she did so and Kara watched her with soft affection. Kelly sat next to them silently, considering them both and marvelling at the love she saw between these women from different worlds who were nonetheless held together by some invisible glue. Alex glanced at her girlfriend and gave her a small smile, blushing as she realized Kelly had been observing them. Her smile was returned in kind and Kelly mouthed ‘I love you’, not wanting to break the quiet of the moment. Alex grinned and swallowed as her heart leapt into her throat. For the first time since they left the Fortress without Kara, the elder Danvers felt like things were going to be alright. Overwhelmed with emotion, she took Kara’s hand in hers and set the tablet down. Kara sat up and wrapped her hands around her sister’s, a crinkle forming in her brow as she traced a circle on the back of Alex’ hand with a thumb.
“Alex…?” she asked with a serious look on her face. Alex looked up as Kara pulled her from deep in her own thoughts and grounded her in the present.
“Kara?” Alex answered shortly. The weight of everything that had happened in her sister’s absence suddenly caught in her chest and her face tightened into a frown.
“I’m hungry,” Kara said with a cheeky smirk and squeezed her sister’s hand before she tugged her into another hug. Alex and Kelly burst into laughter, but for Alex the sudden levity turned quickly to tears. Weeks of compartmentalizing and keeping herself together for the sake of her sister and their family came undone like the crumbling of a sandcastle to the incoming tide. Kara held her sister close and they cried together while Kelly wrapped her arms around them both, offering her silent support. The three of them stood there laughing and crying as the Tower settled into its dock. They parted, wiping their eyes and sniffling. Kara looked at Kelly and smiled sheepishly.
“Kelly...ummm...I’m Kara Danvers,” she admitted. She knew that her sister’s girlfriend probably already knew but felt with the intimacy of the situation and the harrowing rescue that telling her the truth felt right.
Kelly sighed with a smile and replied, “I know, sweetie. Alex told me. Things got kind of complicated while you were gone.”
“Complicated how?” Kara asked. Worry edged into her voice. She looked from Kelly to Alex. Her sister just shook her head.
“You know how it is, nothing is ever not a complete disaster. Look, I promise I’ll catch you up on everything but for now can we just...have this? We got you back. That’s all I care about right now.”
“Okay,” Kara said as she let out a long breath with the stress of unknown problems always looming at the edges of their lives. She glanced away and saw the team shuffling wearily into the medbay. Everyone looked wrung out from running on stress and adrenaline. J’onn took up next to Alex and squeezed her across the shoulders with one arm. Nia gave Kara a radiant smile as she held out her arms.
“C’mere, you,” Kara beamed as she and Nia embraced. Supergirl felt her protege relax, tension melting away from her slim shoulders as the woman she had come to see as a sister and a role model held her in a fierce grip.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Nia whispered.
“Yeah...me too,” Kara replied with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. In her heart she knew she was not in fact, okay. There was a distressing undercurrent of anxiety and she felt a yawning feeling of isolation in her gut despite being surrounded by her chosen family. Nia pulled away. She stepped to the side and took Brainy’s hand in hers as he was pulled into a quick hug by Kara. It was brief, but that kind of vulnerability coming from Brainy was rare and Kara knew it was no less heartfelt than any of the others. A quiet fell over the room, exhaustion settling over the Superfriends as elation and relief turned to well earned weariness they each felt. Weeks of stress were finally catching up to them. They had been fighting, and grieving and trying to hope with little reprieve from ancient gods and villainous geniuses, always a sliver away from total calamity. Brainy and Nia were the first to leave. Brainy had thrown an arm across her shoulders and they walked out together, Nia’s arm wrapped around his waist. Kara watched them go with a smile at the corners of her mouth. She hoped they would find their way back to each other and the love that had struggled to grow between them but had persisted despite all the difficulties they had been navigating as a couple. Seeing them walk out together filled her heart with a joy that for the moment at least stifled those creeping feelings of unease. J’onn excused himself and gave Supergirl a last squeeze on the shoulder before he retired for the night. Kelly kissed Alex on the cheek and said, “I’ll be downstairs.”
Alex nodded, “Okay, I’ll be down in a sec.” After Kelly slipped from the room Alex took a deep breath. “I think you should come stay with me tonight. I don’t like the idea of you going home and being alone tonight Kara.”
Kara shook her head and crossed her arms on her chest. “Alex, I’ll be fine, you should go home and be with your girlfriend. I’ll be alright.” She leaned back against the gurney and scrubbed at the floor with the toe of her boot. Her lips were set in a hard, stubborn line as she looked up at her sister defiantly.
Alex knew her sister well enough to know she was covering up whatever was going on in her head and putting on a brave face to cope. “C’mon Kara can we not do this right now, I know you’re not ‘fine’,” she said, gesturing with air quotes then continued, “You should know by now I can see right through-”
Kara cut her off with the wave of a hand and a stony look. “Alex, please. I just...I want to go home. I’m tired and I’m hungry. I just want to get takeout and maybe a hot shower and sleep. I’m so tired.” She punctuated her statement with her hands.
Alex hung her head then looked up at the ceiling with her hands on her hips. She huffed out a long, exasperated breath. “God, you’re so stubborn. Okay. On one condition Kara…” Kara opened her mouth with a retort on her lips and Alex cut her off, “Seriously Kara I mean it. I’m here, don’t shut me out okay? Call me or text me, I don’t care what time it is. If you need to. Promise,” she insisted and held up her right pinky.
“I promise,” Kara swore and wrapped her pinky around her sisters to shake on it.
Satisfied, the elder Danvers sister caught a glimpse of Lena lingering at the far side of the room fiddling with a tablet as she snuck glances their way. God, these two... Alex thought to herself. She pressed a quick kiss to her sister’s temple and walked over to Lena. She took the tablet out of her hands and tossed her head in Kara’s direction.
“Go on,” Alex said softly. She knew that aside from herself, there wasn’t anyone who wanted to find Kara and bring her home as badly as Lena did. Lena needed Kara home, she needed her to be safe just as much as Alex did. Over the weeks since Kara has been sent to the Phantom Zone an understanding and a bond of their own had formed in the shadow of their shared love for Kara. Alex had given considerable thought to her beliefs regarding the youngest Luthor since the day she took the tracking device from her and they were back where they started and no closer to finding Kara than they were before. With their best hope shattered the moment Alex took the burden of choice away from her, Lena persisted. Though they found another way in the end Alex didn’t think she would ever forget the look of devastation on her face, as if Alex had reached inside her ribs and torn her very heart from her chest. That was the night Alex knew in her bones with certainty that Lena Luthor and Kara Danvers were never just best friends and that what lay untouched between them was far deeper than either of them were yet willing to admit. She hoped now with their relationship on the mend that the pair would find their way to it themselves. Lena gave Alex a smile shot through with nerves as the elder sister gave her arm a squeeze and left her alone in the medbay with Supergirl. Supergirl, with whom her fraught relationship was only just beginning to heal after everything they had done to each other. Taking a deep breath, she stood up straight and wiped her hands on her jeans. Her mouth felt so dry she thought she might literally kill for a glass of water to chase away the feeling of being both full and empty of words at the same time. From across the room their eyes met for the first time since Kara had been taken from them so suddenly, weeks feeling like years in her absence.
“Hey,” Kara said softly. A soft smile blossomed on her lips. It was the one she only ever smiled for her. For Lena. A flush of pink crept to Lena’s cheeks and she ducked her head, feeling shy and overwhelmed by a rush of emotions that gripped her chest and trapped the breath in her lungs. There was that old shame and the lingering heat of anger at not only Kara but herself. Above it all though, was love like a balm to cool the hurt of old wounds.
“Hey,” she whispered back.
They stood frozen at first, rooted in the spot by uncertainty and the gravity of so much shared struggle still weighing down on them both. It was Kara who moved first. Always Kara, all impulsivity and restless energy. Long strides took her across the room and without a word uttered she slid her arms around her best friend’s waist and pulled her close with a shudder and a soft sigh. Lena clung to her and closed her eyes, suddenly surrounded by Kara’s warmth. Silent tears of joy, relief and guilt fell for what Kara had endured because of her. She pressed her face into the crook of Kara’s neck and willed her thrumming heart to settle. Their desperate hold relaxed. Unknowingly they found a similar solace in the steady presence of the other. Kara found it in the staccato beat of Lena’s heart, the familiar smell of her bespoke perfume and the smooth skin of their cheeks pressed together. In Kara; the soft locks of her honey gold hair in Lena’s hands and the warmth of her body pressed against her own. She clutched her arms tightly around Kara’s shoulders and felt warm, soft lips ghost across her cheek only to press against her temple and withdraw just as quickly. Her breath hitched in her throat and she bit back a breathy gasp. The lingering warmth of the kiss burned her skin as if it were a brilliant light lingering in her eyes long after looking away. She stilled as Kara began to pull away, hands lingering for a moment before brushing across her lower back and then were gone. She pulled her arms from around the kryptonian’s shoulders and they regarded each other quietly for a time with a sudden intensity. It was Lena who broke the silence, buried just then with the crushing weight of self imposed guilt not even Alex’ words to her in the Tower had been able to assuage.
“Kara, I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t been working with Lex...if I hadn’t been so angry with you, none of this would have happened and I’m just so sorry. I wish-” The words tumbled from her in a breathless mess. Lena hid her face in her hand as she struggled to string together her apology as it stuck in her throat. She felt a warm hand envelope hers and pull it gently away as Kara took Lena’s hand in her own and held it close to her chest.
“Lena. I don’t want to do this anymore with you,” Supergirl said softly. She held Lena’s hand gently but her grip tightened as she started to pull away. Fearing the worst, Lena started to spiral under a deluge of cynicism and the terrifying sensation of rejection.
“Stop. Look at me.” Blue eyes met green as Lena’s gaze met Kara’s. Her eyes were wide and afraid and the look on her face was raw as if she had no walls or carefully hidden boxes left to hide inside.
“Just listen,” Kara whispered huskily. She pressed Lena’s hand between both of hers and held it tenderly as if she were holding the Luthor’s heart in her hands. “It’s not your fault. I think we’ve apologized enough, don’t you? I do. After everything that happened I don’t think we owe each other any more ‘I’m sorry’s’. I don’t want to do it anymore, this apologizing and feeling guilty. I don’t want you to feel like that either,” she said as she absently rubbed her thumb across Lena’s knuckles. She continued, “I think we owe it to each other to be forgiven. And to forgive ourselves. We’ve been hurting long enough, Lena.”
Lena looked from Kara’s face to their joined hands and the tension drained out of her shoulders. She reached up and wrapped the fingers of her free hand around the kryptonian’s wrist, holding it like a lifeline.
“I’ll try,” Lena promised.
“Besides, I don’t think I would even be standing here right now if it hadn’t been for you. I know you saved me Lena. Just like you did at the Fortress. And so many other times before that. You always do, every time I’m in trouble you save me. As Supergirl, and as Kara,” she assured as she smiled fondly.
“You always come through for me.”
Lena’s face shifted from sorrow to a look of surety and she lifted her chin to meet Kara’s eyes and said with a fierce conviction in her voice, “Always.”
Kara let go of Lena’s hands and sighed wearily. “You know I never thought I’d miss my lumpy old mattress as much as I do right now.”
With a laugh, Lena gave Kara a pat on the arm and offered, “Need a ride home? I could take you?”
She shook her head and replied, “I think I’m gonna fly. Thanks though.”
“Text me when you get there, so I know you’re safe?”
“I will, you too?”
Lena nodded as they walked towards the stairs, Kara reluctantly trailing behind. She looked up at the kryptonian from down the stairs, hand resting lightly on the rail. She tucked a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too Lena.”
That night, National City slumbered while it’s hero, Supergirl, did not. She arrived home and texted everyone that she was in fact safe, sound and ‘fine’. She promised to take it easy. She did try. She took a long, hot shower. She got takeout delivered from one of her favorite restaurants and ate a double order of potstickers. She curled up on the couch under her favorite fuzzy blanket in her softest pajamas and tried to relax. Eventually she gave up and went to bed but sleep proved to be elusive despite the bone deep feeling of exhaustion that had settled into her every cell. Supergirl felt like an old dish rag that had been used too many times then wrung out and washed until it was just a bundle of ragged threads barely holding together. What sleep she did manage to get that night was plagued by memories of the things she had seen under the influence of the phantoms and in the morning she woke still tired, heart heavy with feelings of loneliness and unidentifiable dread.
Across town, Lena couldn’t sleep either but for entirely different reasons as the memory of her best friend’s lips on her skin lingered and lingered like ripples from a stone dropped in still waters. After a sleepless night, her last in the penthouse that had never really been a home but was nonetheless the place she had been living for years now, Lena turned to take one last look around before turning the lights off for the last time. She knew she wouldn’t miss it at all.