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a foregone conclusion

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When the walls of her cage collapse around her, the air doesn't burn anymore. 

The pain has stopped. The skin searing itself off her bones, the nails running through her blood, they've stopped. The light is bright, blinding after the dim screens of her cell, and she blinks hard to clear her vision. 

There's a heartbeat nearby. Alex. He's returned for her, as he promised.  

But, the heartbeat. There's only one. The men, военный – military, she remembers; Alex wants her to speak English now – they're gone. Strange. She is never alone. Never unguarded. 

The bright white clears from her eyes at last and then— even more strange. The heartbeat does not belong to Alex. 

Instead there is a woman. Long hair and pale skin and dark clothes, black and white and red and green. So, so green. The colour should scare her now, after the pain and the burning air and the sickly starburst of agony veining beneath her skin.  

But the woman's eyes do not scare her. They hurt, but not like Kryptonite. They burn, but in a different way. The woman's eyes are so green she cannot look away. 

The woman clears her throat. Her voice is light, lilting, lovely. She thinks back to The Great Gatsby, to the lushness of language that had entranced her so. Absently, she wonders how F. Scott Fitzgerald would describe this woman's voice. He would have the words, she's sure. 

She doesn't have the words. This woman is beyond her, that much is clear. 

“Lex is gone,” the woman is saying. “You're safe now.” 

Safe, she thinks, hands tightening around the edges of the hard metal chair. Безопасный. Safe. The woman says it like it is a gift, newly arrived and freely given. She is safe now.  

When, she wonders, was she not? 

The woman is still speaking. “Let me introduce myself. I'm—” 

But she knows. She knows. Black hair and green eyes and a magnetism so complete it's no wonder she had seemed to motivate Alex's every move. She interrupts quickly, voice hoarse and cracking from disuse. She hasn't spoken aloud in days. If she is to break her silence, let it be with this. 

“Lena.” 

 

For a moment, the room is silent beyond the staccato beat of the woman's— of Lena's heart. 

“I— yes,” Lena says, her features creasing in surprise. "How— why do you know that?” 

She looks at Lena for a moment, and says nothing. There is nothing to say. She may as well have asked why the sky is blue. She could no more forget Lena than she could forget how to breathe. 

Lena recovers quickly, pressing her red lips together. “Are you alright?” she says softly, and it throws her for a moment because no one has ever asked her that before.  

“Are you hurt?” Lena continues, jaw tight with something thick and encompassing. Concern, she thinks, filing the sight away for future reference. “What happened? What do you remember?” 

“Alex,” she says, both an answer and a question. Much like the man himself. 

“Alex?” Lena repeats, voice tilting up at the end. Shock, she thinks. Lena is so expressive. There's so much about her to catalogue, to learn. 

Lena's brow furrows, eyes squinting slightly. “You remember her?” 

"Her?” Now it's her turn to squint. She may only have been learning English a few weeks, but object pronouns were mastered on the very first day. “Him,” she corrects, doing her best to mimic the soft tone Lena had used to address her. Perhaps Lena is confused. Perhaps she can help.  

She will help Lena, if she can. 

Those green eyes are still staring at her, wide and questioning. “He is your brother,” she says into the silence. Surely that will remind Lena. Surely that will end this misunderstanding. 

“Oh,” Lena says quietly, immediately. “Oh, I see. Alex.” 

Satisfied, she straightens in her chair. Her hair falls forward into her face and she brushes it back with her knuckles. Lena is still staring at her. She is staring at her, but it is as if she is seeing someone else. 

Silence falls. Eighty-six seconds pass before Lena speaks again. Her mind counts the moments as her eyes count the dark lashes fanning over the satin cream of Lena's skin. 

“Are you alright?” Lena repeats eventually, and still she does not have an answer to that question because she has never needed one. 

“Can you move?” Lena rephrases as the quiet stretches taut. “Do you feel strong?” 

Glad of some familiarity, of some understanding at last, she nods. Tightens her grip around the edge of her chair, feels the metal buckle and warp as it moulds to the warm shape of her skin. She looses her grip and stands, moves sideways so Lena can see. When red lips quirk into the shadow of a smile, pleasure blazes through her like wildfire. 

“In that case, let's get you out of here,” Lena says as she turns, dark hair ringing her like a halo. 

Eyes narrowing, jaw tensed, she doesn't move. Lena speaks as if she is trapped. As if she couldn't rip her way through these thick concrete walls in a second. She is not trapped. She has always been able to leave. 

But Alex is not here. He has not returned; he is not here to tell her what she should do. Whether she should go with Lena, with his sister, or wait here for him. 

Lena notices her hesitance. Her expression turns thoughtful. “Would you like to come with me?” she asks quietly, each word measured as if testing a theory. 

And— though everything about her reality since her release from the decontamination chamber has seemed muddled and confusing, Lena's question is simple. It cuts through the haze of complication, clearing a path just wide enough for her to walk if she chooses. 

Lena's question is simple. She finds her answer is too. “Yes.” 

 

Lena takes her to an airplane. 

She stops. “You know I can fly.” 

Though perhaps it should be a question, it does not sound like one. Alex has told her how clever Lena is. She must know this already. 

So, it is not really a question, but neither is it really a joke. Nevertheless, Lena laughs. 

“Yes,” she chuckles, quick and bright and musical, and suddenly her entire life's purpose seems to narrow down to deciphering how to make that sound to fall from Lena's red lips again. 

“I don't like to fly,” Lena continues as she leads her up the stairs into the plush-carpeted interior. "But if I have to, I'd rather have four walls around me than two arms.” 

Her brow creases as Lena busies herself in the cabin, sealing the door and checking the control panel. It seems foolish to her that Lena so freely admits this fear, so readily offers up this weakness. She must be confident in her ability to defend herself, to mitigate her own failings, or else— or else she does not believe she is in the presence of a threat. 

How strange. Lena appears to have full knowledge of her superpowers, her deadly capabilities, and yet she takes no defensive action. And yet, she offers herself freely.  

She does not know what to make of that. 

Lena spends a few moments in the cockpit, charting their course. Where they are going, she does not know, yet she does not feel afraid. Once the coordinates are set and the plane is taxying down the runway, Lena gestures to two large leather armchairs that face each other over a low table.  

“So,” Lena says as they take their seats. “We have a few hours. Tell me about you.” 

So, she does. She tells Lena everything, from the very beginning in the snowy dark of the Kaznian wilderness right up to the days she'd spent in the decontamination chamber learning about the problems facing this world. Learning about her own destiny as her country, her  planet's  saviour. 

She tells Lena every detail of her existence. It does not take long. 

Lena listens quietly. She nods occasionally, or asks for clarification, but otherwise she does not speak. When her story is over, Lena watches her for a long moment. She does not offer any platitudes or inane comments, and for this she is grateful. There is no reason to speak when there is nothing to say. 

Eventually Lena stirs from her thoughts, leaning forward slightly in her chair. “I just realised, I never asked your name,” she says quietly, green eyes filled with something she cannot decipher. 

It takes her a moment to construct a response. “красная дочь.” 

Again, Lena squints. She wonders if the other woman has trouble with her eyes. 

“Red Daughter?” Lena asks, though the translation is unnecessary. 

Remembering the television clips she'd seen in the containment chamber, the mannerisms she'd observed in the guards who shadowed her, she shrugs. “That is what Alex calls me.” 

Still Lena is observing her carefully. “Is that the name you want?” 

Again, she shrugs. The motion is beginning to feel more natural already. “I do not know another.” 

Lena leans back in her seat, her lips pursing thoughtfully. “You could choose one.” 

“Why?” 

Lena's head turns, green eyes gazing out over the wilderness beneath them. “Names can be important,” she says eventually. “They can make us feel like ourselves. Allow us to share ourselves with others.” Still, she stares out of the window. “I can call you красная дочь, but only if that's what you want. Your name should be something that feels right to you.” 

She considers this for a moment. “I do not know what feels right.” 

“You don't have to decide right now,” Lena says, meeting her eyes at last. “As there's only the two of us, I don't imagine you'll struggle to figure out who I'm talking to.” 

Though Lena's tone remains sombre, her words factual, a corner of her mouth quirks up as she speaks. The twinkle in her eye, the arch of her brow, they seem to be indications of humour and despite herself, she smiles. 

“Sometimes our names mean something,” Lena continues a moment later. “They tie us to our family, our history. To the people that matter to us.” Her face softens. “If you don't know what you want yours to be yet, that's okay.” 

She swallows. That's okay. A reassurance she hadn't even known she needed, given without request. Permission to label this perceived failing of hers as something else. As, perhaps, a work in progress instead. Lena says it's okay, and she has no reason not to trust her. Thus, she trusts her completely. 

She nods, and silence falls over the cabin. It takes a long time for her to remember to ask the question that should have been the first thing to fall from her lips hours ago. It's strange, the effect Lena's presence is having on her. 

"Where is Alex?” she finally thinks to ask, and Lena tenses. “Are we going to him?” 

“Le— Alex is gone.” The words seem to pain Lena.  

They pain her too. “Is he coming back?” 

Lena stares at her for a beat too long, nibbling on the soft flesh of her lower lip. Later, she will realise that Lena is deciding whether or not to lie to her. 

"No,” the other woman says eventually. “No, he's never coming back.” 

Something clogs up the cavity of her chest and she recognises the feeling, after a moment of thought, as sadness. “He is gone... because of me?” 

"No,” Lena says immediately, speaking so quickly the words trip over themselves as they leave her mouth. “No, not because of you. None of this is your fault.” 

She wants to ask what this is, but the thick stuffy feeling in her chest will not allow it. "What will I do, without him?” 

Lena swallows heavily, composing herself. “You can do whatever you like.” At her blank look, Lena's features soften. “You can stay with me,” she offers. “I can help you, if that's what you want.” 

She wonders how many more times she will have to say this. “I do not know what I want.” 

Lena nods, mouth twisting as if in reluctant understanding. She bites her lip again, the pink flesh bleaching beneath the pressure of her teeth. “Well, would you like to stay with me?” 

This is better. Questions like these – simple, straightforward questions free from wider meanings and vague hypotheticals – these, she knows how to handle. Again, the answer comes as easily as breathing. “Yes.” 

 

Lena's apartment is huge. 

It is huge and white and light and beautiful. It is nothing like anywhere she has ever lived.  

This is life in America, she supposes. Alex had told her that life in America was evil, corrupt, ugly. Lena's apartment is in America, yet it is beautiful. Lena herself is American, yet she is beautiful too. 

She does not know what to make of that, either. 

They have been in the apartment for six minutes and nineteen seconds. Lena has shown her where to leave her shoes, pointed out which bedroom will be hers. It is nothing like what she’s used to, and she wonders how she will ever manage to merit the space she’s been given. 

They're back in the kitchen, and Lena is showing her the food in the fridge, and they have been in the apartment for six minutes and nineteen seconds when someone else joins them.  

Not just any someone. A woman wearing her face. A woman wearing her face and a red and gold crest that, Alex had told her, stands for everything that is wrong with this world. 

"Lena!” the woman calls, her voice frantic. “You're back, when did you—” Blue eyes fall on her. They widen, then narrow. “You—” 

But the newcomer doesn't get to finish whatever it was she had planned to say because suddenly she is launching herself at the woman wearing her face, eyes blazing hot and throat burning cold. This is Earth's greatest hero, Alex had told her. This is who she must defeat. 

Her world narrows to her target, nothing more. Vaguely, peripherally, she hears shouting. 

“No!” Lena screams and it's almost enough to make her pause. Almost. But this is what Alex wants from her, this is what she'd sworn to him she would do, and so she knocks aside any barriers that get in her way as she charges across the apartment toward America's false idol. 

The strange thing is, the impostor barely reacts to her attack. In fact, she isn't even watching her approach, her eyes fixed instead on a spot to her right. The woman's expression twists in horror and the fear in her voice is palpable but she does not call for help, for mercy or surrender.  

Instead, she calls for Lena.  

This makes her pause. Retinas smouldering, muscles quivering with barely-restrained force, she follows the woman's line of sight. Lena is on the ground, crumpled amidst the shattered glass of the coffee table. She is not moving. But when had— how—  

She's diverting her own course, turning to check on Lena's buckled body, when the furious response she had been expecting finally materialises.  

“Don't touch her!” the woman wearing her face screams, cheeks red and fists clenched, cape snapping as she launches herself across the room to knock her backwards, away from Lena's body.  

“You will not lay another finger on her,” the blonde growls from above her as she pins her body to the ground, pressing down hard on her throat, and with a jolt it all clicks into place. The barriers she had knocked aside in her single-minded determination to attack her own clone— one of them, one of them had been Lena. 

Lena had tried to stop her, and she had thrown her halfway across the room. The shock and guilt and shame of this realisation rise up like a tide and she does not fight back, even as the woman above her presses harder on her windpipe. She had hurt Lena. She had hurt Lena. 

Her vision begins to blur black-white at the edges, every cell in her body screaming for oxygen. She welcomes it. Her punishment fits her crime. 

But in a heartbeat the pressure is gone, and Lena is there. “Stop it, Supergirl!” she shouts, shoving hard at the body still pinning her to the ground. Her feeble human strength is little match for a Kryptonian but the woman – Supergirl, Lena had called her – allows herself to be shoved anyway.  

Around the burning in her throat and the ringing in her ears she wonders what it means, that Supergirl chooses to bend to one she could so easily break. To obey when it would be so simple to overpower. 

But what matters is that Supergirl's hands are gone from around her throat and Lena's are there instead, stroking gently, helping her to sit up and smoothing across her skin. “Are you alright?” she asks, green eyes wide with worry, and only then does she notice the streak of crimson trickling from Lena's temple. 

She ignores the question in favouring of reaching up her own hand to wipe away Lena's blood, regret burning hotter than asphyxiation ever had. “Are you alright?” she counters hoarsely. Lena nods immediately but for the first time since they'd met, she finds it difficult to believe her. 

“I am sorry,” she manages through wheezing gasps. “I did not mean— I did not know my strength.” Her eyes fall to the shattered coffee table, to the hard metal frame bearing Lena's bloodstains. “I did not want to hurt you.” 

Lena nods again, her rapid breathing at last beginning to slow. “I know. I know.” 

"Lena, are you okay?” Supergirl asks from behind them. She is kneeling a few feet away, body locked and rigid as though she's fighting hard to hold herself back. "Let me call— I can get Alex to check you over, you might need stitches—”  

Her ears perk up at the mention of that name but Lena is already speaking over Supergirl, shaking her head. “I'm fine. It's nothing. I'm not hurt.” 

Supergirl's mouth drops open indignantly. “Lena, she—” 

"No,” Lena snaps. “She is a welcome guest here. You are not. You could have killed her!” 

“She could have killed you!”  Supergirl parries, and shame wells scalding once more. "She's dangerous. Lena, she hurt you—” 

“Oh, like you've never hurt me!” Lena bites out. “Kara.”  

Supergirl's – Kara's –  body slackens, the fight draining from her immediately. How curious. She sits quietly, watching the exchange between the two women as she rubs absently at her throat, and wonders how heinous a crime Supergirl must have committed for the simple utterance of her name to hit her like a death sentence. 

“I think you should leave,” Lena says into the tense silence that blankets the three of them, and she's just about to comply when she realises the dismissal was not directed at her. 

“Okay,” Supergirl-Kara whispers, small and broken. “I'll go. But can I just— can we talk? Just for a minute? Please.” 

Supergirl had fashioned herself a god on this planet, Alex had told her. But this woman seems far more devout than deified, a supplicant kneeling at the altar of Lena's mercy. 

"Fine,” Lena sighs, turning to her once more. “I'll be right back,” she murmurs with a small smile, a reassuring smile, and then she's up and following Supergirl out onto the balcony. Though the door closes behind them it does little to hamper her superhearing, and she has little impetus to pretend that it does. 

"Lena, I'm not sure it's safe for you to be around her,” Supergirl is saying and though part of her rankles in defensive irritation, a larger part agrees with her clone. The thought of never seeing Lena again is as bad as the thought of never again seeing Alex. Perhaps it is even worse. But if it will keep Lena safe, then perhaps it is worth it. 

“You gave up any claim on my wellbeing when you hid your identity from me,” Lena counters, a venom in her voice that runs deeper and more deadly than she could have imagined. “When you lied to my face every day for four years. When you let me kill my own brother for you. When you left it to him to reveal your secret, because you never would.” 

“I'm sorry. Lena, I'm so sorry.” Supergirl-Kara sounds close to tears. If this is Earth's champion, it's no wonder this planet is dying. “I know I can never make up for the mistakes I've made. But I just, I want you to be safe and I don't— we don't really know anything about her. We don't know how dangerous she could be to you.” 

“I've seen all my brother's data,” Lena retorts. “I know plenty about her. She's  you,  Kara. That's all there is to it. So, you're right.” The pregnant pause, the lull before the hammer blow falls, has goosebumps prickling up her arms. Lena's voice is low, lethal. “I'd say she could be very dangerous to me. In fact, I'd say no one else on Earth could hurt me more, so maybe I should be worried. But then again, I managed to survive you,   didn't I? 

The anguish pulling at Supergirl's features is so complete that to witness it suddenly feels like an intrusion. She turns away from the figures on the balcony, busies herself clearing up the mess their meeting had created. 

She can still hear them, though. “Lena, I—” Supergirl-Kara gasps and she's definitely crying now, the words snot-thick and drenched. 

Lena's dismissal is as abrupt as it is complete. “Don't.” 

“Okay.” She's never heard a sound more defeated. “I'll help you with her, though,” Supergirl continues, grasping at composure. “Anything you need. We all will. You don't have to do this alone.” 

“Oh, but I am alone,” Lena says immediately, hollowed out and resigned. “You made sure of that.” She sucks in a deep breath and, inside the apartment, she turns in time to see Lena drag a tired hand over her closed eyes. “Goodbye, Supergirl.”  

In the next breath, she's alone on the balcony.  

It takes her a long moment to come back inside. "Well,” Lena sighs as she takes in her ruined living room, pulling a strained facsimile of a smile from a reserve of strength too deep to fathom. “Now that that's over, what do you say to getting some dinner?” 

But she will not answer. She will not be distracted. “Supergirl,” she says instead. “She must be stopped?” 

She can hear the urgency in her own voice, can see the way Lena jumps a little at the sudden volume, but this is important. This is her purpose, her prime directive, and if it needs to be adjusted, she'd really like to know. 

Lena blinks at her as if she'd suddenly begun speaking another language. “What?” 

“She is dangerous?” she asks, loud and insistent. “She is a threat to this world?” 

Lena shakes her head, as if emerging from deep underwater. At last, the other woman seems to notice the way her fists are clenching, her eyes beginning to glow. “No,” Lena says quickly. “No, she's not dangerous. She protects this planet.” 

Her brow furrows. This is not what she has been told. And yet— this is what Lena is telling her now, and she has no reason not to trust her. Thus, she must trust her completely. 

Lena seems to realise the urgency, the potential catastrophe of the situation at last because she raises her hands, palms out. It is a gesture of pacification, and she feels her own fists unclench a fraction in response. “Supergirl is a hero,” Lena says, softer now. “She is a protector. You don't— she doesn't need to be stopped.” 

She clenches her jaw, trying to slot these words into her framework for understanding the world. They do not seem to fit. “Then... she is a good person?” 

A shadow passes over Lena's face, pain pulling at her features. “Jury's still out on that one.” 

She blinks, shaking her head. The idiom is beyond her, and these contradictory messages are stuffing her skull with cotton wool, making it hard to think straight. 

Lena notices, and takes pity. “Yes,” she whispers, and it is strained. “She's a good person.” 

She thinks back to the exchange she'd overheard, to the words throbbing like bruises between them. “Even though she hurt you?” 

Lena's eyes slide closed. Words appear to desert her then; her nod is shaky but certain. 

She huffs out a breath. “So...” This, all of this, she doesn't like it. These notions are too big, unwieldy and contradictory and she's never had to puzzle this out for herself before. She searches for something solid, a command to hold onto. “So, you do not want her to hurt?” 

When green eyes blink open they are blanketed in unshed tears. It takes a very long time for her to speak. “No,” Lena manages at last, hoarse and strangled. “I don't want her to hurt.” 

She nods, satisfied. Now she knows what Lena wants, she can act upon it. Though it goes against the core of her training, Lena's will is clear. Supergirl is not to be harmed. Perhaps, she is not even the enemy. Absently, anxiously, she wonders which other truths of her life may soon unravel before her. 

Lena is still standing by the balcony door, rigid and tortured. Tears well in her eyes and she's biting down on her lip so hard she fears she may break the delicate skin. It hurts her, she realises. It hurts her to see Lena hurt. 

Her throat is knotted with some rough combination of emotions too potent to pin down. She crosses the room as if pulled by a magnet, coming to a stop in front of the dark-haired woman. She remembers how Lena's fingers had felt against her skin, the solace that had radiated out from each point of contact between their bodies. 

She raises her own hand, fits it to the delicate curve of Lena's cheek. Lena's soft gasp hits the sensitive skin of her inner wrist, and she has to fight down a shiver. “Lena,” she says quietly, and green eyes meet hers with a desperation that almost undoes her. “You are not alone.” 

When Lena's eyelids flutter closed, she feels dark lashes graze the pad of her thumb. When Lena sighs, soft and sad, she feels the exhale against her lips. 

“I know.”  

 

Lena orders food. More food than she's ever seen in one place at one time, and she thinks they will never possibly be able to eat it all. Twenty minutes later, all the food is gone. 

She particularly enjoys the small round dumplings. Like perogies but crispier, spicier. Pot stickers, Lena had called them. Strange name. 

It's not until they've finished eating, seated across from one another at Lena's dining table, that she gives voice to the question she's been chewing on for longer than just the meal.  

“Alex...” she starts, and Lena freezes with her water glass halfway to her mouth. “He is dead?” 

A muscle in Lena's jaw flickers. She replaces her glass on the table without taking a sip. “Yes.” 

She does not want to say it. It is for this reason that she did not speak earlier. To permit herself the illusion of comfort her wilful ignorance had provided for just a little longer. 

She does not want to say it. But what she wants has never mattered. “You killed him.” It is not a question to which she requires an answer. It is a statement, for which she is seeking confirmation.  

Lena's eyes snap to her face and stick there, her gaze hard. “I loved him.” 

She considers this for a moment as the silence around them wears thin, the ticking clock on the wall counting down to some inevitable end. “I do not think I understand what love is.” 

Lena's hard eyes soften. The breath held hostage in her lungs goes free. “I'm not sure I do either.” 

She squints a little. Already, Lena's mannerisms are rubbing off on her. “But you loved him.” 

Lena sighs. “Yes. Love— it's not simple. It's not an answer. It's more like a million more questions.” At her look of confusion, Lena tugs a hand through her loose hair. The edge of her nail catches the graze on her temple and she winces, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth before she continues. “You can love someone and want to be with them always, and you can love someone and not like them at all. Sometimes, with some people, it's both at the same time.” 

She nods slowly. “Is that how it was with your brother?” 

Lena's eyes are glistening wet in the low light. “Yes. Him, and others.” 

She falls silent a moment, trying to fit the pieces together into something recognisable. “So you loved him, and you killed him.” 

Lena's voice is choked and thick. “Yes,” she whispers into the chasm between them. “Sometimes, if you love someone enough, the only thing left to do is let them go.” 

She presses the flats of her palms against her thighs beneath the table. Thinks of Alex. Thinks of the excitement of a package bearing his handwriting, the flush of pride when she recalled the stories he set her correctly. Thinks of patient hours above a chess board, of harsh mistakes and harsher reproaches, of promises of perpetual protection. She thinks of all of it, and she is sad. 

“I think I loved him, too.” 

Lena does not laugh or jeer. She does not tell her she is wrong. She only sits, quietly. She only cries, silently. “I know.” 

 

She goes to sleep in Lena's spare room, wearing Lena's biggest sweatpants and a science camp t shirt as she slides between lavender-scented sheets. She wakes in Lena's spare room and showers in Lena's en suite, washing her hair and her face and her body with Lena's products and dressing in a long-sleeved black shirt and a pair of Lena's leggings. Everything is so soft and so warm that it makes her mouth water. Lena is so soft and so warm that it makes her mouth water. 

A routine of sorts establishes itself. She and Lena live together. They eat together and they read together and they talk together. Lena answers every question she can formulate, listens attentively to anything she wishes to share. She never snaps, or tells her to be quiet. She never seems to tire of her. 

On the third day, Lena brings her clothes. A sweatsuit, slate grey and sturdy and far closer to what she's used to than the decadence of her borrowed wardrobe.  

On the fifth day, Lena brings her an image inducer. She sits quiet and careful as Lena's deft fingers attach it to the skin behind her ear, as she explains how it works and what it's meant for. And then she watches in the mirror as Lena presses the button and her own features distort, not hugely, but enough that she no longer resembles the smiling face splashed across every billboard in the city quite so closely. 

“Now you can go out,” Lena says from behind her, the two of them staring at her altered reflection in the bathroom mirror. Lena's hands are resting on her shoulders. She feels the contact like a white-hot brand. “Or come to work with me. As long as you don't use your powers in public, you can do anything you like.” 

Lena catches her frustrated expression, lips quirking. “I know, I know. You don't know what you like,” she says quickly, pre-empting the words poised to fall from her own lips, and it makes her smile. Lena is smiling too, playful and a little teasing. “Well, I think it's time we do something about that, don't you?” 

That's how Lena comes to give her an American education. That's how they come to try anything and everything they can think of, because how else will she find what she likes and what she does not? 

They eat deep-fried ice cream and go roller-skating and learn all the names of the stars they can see from Lena's balcony (good). They try kale smoothies and go to the opera and watch Star Wars (bad). They try anything and everything that comes to mind and the next time Lena quirks her brow and then her lips and asks what would you like, she doesn't have to wonder. She knows. 

She knows what she likes, and she knows what she doesn't, and the thing she likes the most out of everything is Lena. And because she likes her so much, she wants Lena to like her too. 

That's why she reaches out one evening when Lena goes to pull up a documentary about the Amazon rainforest for them to watch, stilling her hand on the remote control. 

"My image inducer,” she says, the words rolling from her tongue much more easily than they had even a week earlier. Her accent is plenty faded now, each one of her harsh edges softening the longer she spends in Lena's company. “Should I keep it on?” 

Lena squints at her, a crinkle forming between her brows. She likes that crinkle. On the list of everything she likes, that crinkle is very, very high.  

“At home? Of course not,” Lena says, like it's obvious. Her mind catches on the word home and sticks, even as Lena continues speaking. “Why on earth would you?” 

“Because, my face,” she huffs in response, because this should be obvious also. “It is her face, too. And— she makes you sad.” 

Lena presses her lips together hard, her eyes pricking bright with tears. “She does,” she concedes after a moment too long, and those two hoarse syllables sound like surrender. 

Lena slides her hand out from beneath hers and then replaces it on top, thumb stroking over her knuckles as her fingers squeeze gently. “But you don't.” 

Suddenly, Lena's eyes are not the only ones misting over. She nods tightly, swallowing hard lest the torrent of emotion rising within her manages to claw its way clean out of her throat. 

The documentary starts and though the remote lays forgotten on the cushion between them, Lena's hand stays curled around her own. “You are not her,” Lena whispers over the cacophony of wildlife chirping onscreen, fingers squeezing tight. “You are you.”  

With a careful strength she has only very recently learned to control, she squeezes back. 

 

She does not ask what had happened between Lena and the woman with whom she shares a face. She does not have to. 

Supergirl-Kara— no, Kara. Just Kara. That is what she has asked to be called, and far be it for a girl with no name to disrespect someone else's.  

So. Kara visits every so often. She brings others, too; others with whom Lena is clearly familiar, though there is a tension that coats every surface between them like an oil slick, viscous and deadly. 

She learns their names. Strange names. J’onn and Brainy and Nia and Alex.  

They are not unkind to her. They regard her with interest more than anything, ranging from clinical to friendly. Since she knows now what she likes and what she doesn't, she is able to decide that she likes Nia. Nia is kind. Nia teaches her to braid her hair and asks her for book recommendations and treats her as if she is her own person, not just a carbon copy of another. 

Brainy is kind too, if decidedly strange. He seems to miss many of the unspoken hints and cues that she herself struggles to pick up and so she feels a certain kinship with him, even if their interactions tend toward stilted confusion more often than not. 

J’onn is quiet. Stoic. She does not know how to feel about him. She does not know if she trusts him. She is fairly certain he does not trust her. 

Kara visits the most. At first, it seems her presence is merely a pretence for Kara to see Lena but gradually, over time, she comes when Lena is working, too.  

Kara tells her about their powers. She shows her how to control them. She talks of Krypton, of the planet that had borne them both. She talks of its destruction. Of the loss of her family, her life, her world.  

Everything belongs to Kara. None of it belongs to her. She does not know how to feel about that. 

She cannot get a handle on Kara. Of all of them, the woman who wears her face is the hardest to read. She supposes there is a certain irony in that. 

“You have an Alex, too,” she says once, and Kara chokes on the chips she's inhaling. Crumbs spray across the counter as she splutters, red-faced, gasping for air.  

“What do you mean, too?” she manages at last, her eyes streaming. 

She squints. She had believed Kara to be more intelligent than this. “You have an Alex,” she says slowly, as if spelling it out to an infant. “And I had an Alex. I think it is strange. A strange— what is the word?” She wracks her mind, visualising the pages of the dictionary. “Coincidence.” 

“His name was Lex,” Kara says, and it is cold. She is cold. “They are nothing alike.” 

Her brow furrows. She struggles to comprehend this, to make sense of the other woman's suddenly icy demeanour. “His name was Alex,” she says, but it is weak. She cannot shake the feeling that there is much about her own history she does not fully understand. “And we both love them. It is not so different.” 

Love?”  Kara says sharply. Her fists clench around the smooth edge of the marble countertop. “You don't— you can't love him. He did terrible things, evil things. That man was a monster.” 

Her brow furrows, mouth opening in confusion, but Kara isn't done yet. “He was manipulating you from the start. You get that, right?” For the first time since she'd met her, there is an edge of true cruelty to Supergirl's voice. “His name is not Alex. You are my clone, and you remembered my sister, and he capitalised on that. He used it to win your trust, but believe me.” Supergirl's chest is rising and falling rapidly, her eyes hard. “He is nothing like Alex. The world is better off without him.” 

Kara leaves then, with a clipped promise to be back soon, and she is left alone. 

That's how Lena finds her hours later, work-weary but smiling as she slips her heels from her aching feet. “What are you doing in the dark?” she calls, flicking on the lights. 

In truth, she had not even noticed the gloom. She had not noticed anything.  

Lena's eyes find her where she's curled unmoving on the couch, chin resting on her bent knees. She's beside her in a second, a warm hand reaching out to cover her socked foot. “What's wrong?” Lena asks, quiet and close in her concern. “What's happened?” 

It takes her a long moment to remember how to speak. “Supergirl was here while you were gone.”  

Lena's eyes narrow. “What did she do?” 

It is difficult even to speak the words, to put them out into the world again. “She said that Alex – Lex – was an evil man. That he was a monster.” 

Lena's jaw clenches, fire dancing in her eyes. Her entire demeanour hardens in anger, though the hand wrapped around her ankle remains soft, gentle. “She did, did she.” 

She swallows hard around the words that lodge in her throat like shards of glass. “She said I cannot love him,” she whispers, and Lena's eyes slide closed. “Is that true?” 

Green eyes blink open as Lena takes a deep, steadying breath. The fingers circling her ankle tighten, skimming her bare skin beneath the hem of her sweats. “Supergirl doesn't know what she's talking about,” Lena says, quiet and restrained. She meets her eyes, brow arching in sincerity. “I'm serious. She doesn't understand— she has never understood. And even if she did, she has no authority to tell anyone how they can or cannot feel.” Warm fingers squeeze, stroking gently. “Okay?” 

She wants to nod but finds she cannot manage it, throat tight and eyes stinging. The anger in Lena's gaze dulls, softening into something so deep and encompassing she wishes she could drown in it. 

“We all have the capacity for good and evil inside of us. No one is only one or the other,” Lena says and her voice is much quieter now, more temperate. “And when we love someone, we can forgive them almost anything. That doesn't make us wrong for loving them.” She leans closer, imploring. “I loved Lex, and so did you. Whether he deserved it is irrelevant. Anyone else's opinion is irrelevant. That's the only truth that matters, now.” 

She does manage to nod, then, grateful beyond measure that somehow, Lena understands. That she can decipher this maelstrom raging in her chest, that she knows the very words to calm it into a storm she's able to weather. That they are joined by this loving, this suffering. That they are bound. 

Satisfied, Lena leans back a little. Her hand drops from her ankle to tug the tight bun out of her hair and she misses the contact immediately, viscerally. “Besides,” Lena mutters, and it seems she is speaking now more to herself than anything. “Supergirl ought to be careful, throwing all those stones from inside her glass house.” 

The complicated idiom, she struggles to understand, but the meaning behind Lena's acerbic tone is clear as day. She nods again, reassured, and allows the familiar routine of her evening with Lena to rinse the last remnants of her hurt away. 

 

Supergirl reappears early the next morning, before Lena has even left for work. 

Lena meets her at the balcony door with a hard, pointed gaze. A wordless exchange passes between the two women for a long moment before Supergirl ducks her head, contrition etched into the slumping line of her shoulders. 

The blonde crosses the room to join her at the kitchen island while Lena remains by the door, arms folded and expression expectant. Her watchful presence smothers the space between them and Supergirl has to swallow hard before she's able to meet her gaze. 

“I'm sorry,” Supergirl-Kara says softly, her blue eyes wide. “I'm sorry for what I said to you yesterday. It was insensitive of me, and cruel. I don't— I didn't know Lex, Alex, like you did. It wasn't my place to pass judgment.” 

She doesn't know what to say to that, so she says nothing. Her hand curls loosely around the mug of sweet tea Lena had prepared for her earlier. Sweet tea is high on the list of things she likes, too. 

Behind her, Lena clears her throat, and Supergirl takes a deep breath. “I said what I said because I was angry. I'm angry at Lex because he, he did something I should have done first. Because he beat me to it. And because— because he hurt someone I care about very much.”  

Across the room Lena inhales sharply, but neither of them react further. Kara squares her shoulders and continues without looking back at her. "But my anger at him is my problem. I'm sorry for trying to make it yours.” 

Still, she's unsure what to say. She thinks of Lena, of the words she'd choose in moments of difficulty to smooth the wrinkles away. She has to clear her throat twice before she manages to speak. “That's okay.” 

Kara's eyes snap to hers in surprise, but she doesn't say anything more. Lena crosses to the pair of them at last, and whether the look she exchanges with Kara is born of approval or gratitude or some complicated mixture of the two, she cannot say. Kara nods once, sharply, and says her goodbyes. 

She and Lena are left alone, and the apartment feels less suffocating than it had a moment ago. Lena refills her tea and sets it before, lays a gentle hand on her back as she does so. “Okay?” she asks gently, eyes roving her face intently.   

And when she nods in response, she really believes that she is. 

 

Days pass. 

She and Lena take to cohabitation well. They cook together and they clean together and they laugh together. They do not sleep together. Lena bids her goodnight each evening, and she crawls alone between her lavender-scented sheets and listens to Lena's heartbeat through the darkness, a room and a world away. 

There is one night, just one, where she is woken by sounds of pain. She is out of bed before she has made the conscious decision to move, pushing open Lena's bedroom door with unsteady hands.  

She hasn't been in Lena's room since the tour she had received on the very first day and she pauses in the doorway, unsure. But there on the bed in the darkness lies Lena, her face contorted in distress, tears leaking from beneath her closed eyelids. 

She knows a nightmare when she sees one and she crosses to the bed, intent on helping if she can. “Lena,” she says softly, a hand on her quilt-covered shoulder as gently as she can find it within herself to manage. “Lena. Wake up.” 

Green eyes snap open, Lena's chest heaving in the faint dregs of moonlight filtering in through the wall of windows to her left. "Kara,” she breathes, tear-filled and trembling. “Kara.” 

The way Lena's lips curve around the name is reverential. Those two syllables sound like longing, like desperation, like love. They sound like a prayer. 

She withdraws her hand. 

Lena blinks, hard, and comes back to herself. “I'm sorry,” she says shakily, pushing herself upright and closing the distance that has opened up between them. “That wasn't— I'm sorry.” 

She nods, because there is nothing else to do. Sits with Lena in the dim-lit kitchen as they share a pot of chamomile tea and talk about anything and everything else. They do not mention that Lena had called her by the name of another. They do not mention that she still does not have one of her own. 

She accompanies Lena to L-Corp. Spends hours with her in her private lab, pouring over prototypes and inventions and equations. She likes it, she finds. Science and math and engineering, it all clicks in her mind in a way so many things in this loud confusing world never seem to. 

She goes to the DEO, with Lena by her side. Sits quiet and still in the medical bay as Alex runs tests, diagnostics, work ups. Alex is almost as unreadable as Kara, and she thinks at first that the redhead does not like her. She is certainly hesitant around her, tight and restrained as though unsure of where she stands. But when she winces at the sting of the Kryptonite needle Alex uses to draw her blood, breath hissing sharply through her teeth, Kara's sister clicks her tongue and reaches out to rub a comforting hand up her arm as if by instinct alone. 

They both stare down at Alex's fingers curled around her bicep, faces identical pictures of shock. She flicks her eyes up to Alex's face to look for a heading, a lead on how she should react to this development, and after a long moment the redhead's eyes meet hers. Alex does not pull away. 

J’onn asks if she would like to train with him. She does not know how he knows, how he manages to hone in on the restless itch that scratches through her unused muscles. She thinks, perhaps, that he recognises a solider when he sees one. She certainly does. 

J’onn is not human. This, she learns in the training room, after he manages to block her blow with a strength that sends a shiver of strain up the length of her arm. Martian, he calls himself. So. He knows how it feels to be a stranger on this planet, too.  

She returns to Lena's apartment that evening, tired and spent in a way she hasn't been since Kaznia. She stands under the blaze of the hot shower, relishing the fatigue, the soreness pulling at her muscles, and feels just that little bit more whole. 

 

“You haven't asked me why.” 

Lena's voice is loud in the companionable quiet of the kitchen. Her hands freeze around the knife she's using to chop mushrooms with concentrated care. Lena is teaching her to make coq au vin. She says it is her favourite and so, she needs it to be perfect. “Why what?” 

Lena turns from her position by the stove, eyes wide and apprehensive. “Why I killed my brother.” 

She considers this for a moment. Lays down the knife. “Do you want me to ask you?” 

Lena's eyes widen, a shocked half-laugh forcing its way from her throat as she shakes her head.  

“You are amazing,” Lena says quietly.  

She doesn't answer that. She doesn't know how to. 

Lena stirs the pot at her elbow absently, entire focus fixed on her. “Do you really not want to know?” she asks quietly. “Does it truly not matter to you?” 

She thinks of Alex – Lex –  and of the love she felt for him. Everything with him had occurred on the surface, immediate and all-encompassing. He had been consumed with her physical form; with strengthening her, testing her, protecting and directing her. He had sharpened her mind, too, but with tools. Carving and moulding her from a distance, with books and films and carefully chosen words until she thought for him, fought for him, lived for him. He had been everywhere, all around her. There had been no escape. 

He had enveloped her from without. But Lena, Lena envelops her from within. 

Lena does not try to shape or sculpt her. She provides her with everything she could need, but imposes nothing. She offers choice. She offers freedom. She has never once asked her to fight. 

She offers help and interest and care and she seems to have no grand plan, no ulterior motive. She does it simply because she wants to. 

Lena lives inside her, blooming in her marrow and threading through her bloodstream. Lex had been her whole world, but Lena is an inextricable part of her existence. She felt her in her bones before she ever knew her, and she will carry her in her heart long after they part. 

She turns her mind to Lena's questions. Turns her mind to her own answer. “Am I safer, now that he is gone?” 

Lena's face pinches in surprise, but her answer rings with truth. “Yes.” 

She purses her lips, considering. “Are  you  safer now that he is gone?” 

Crystalline tears well in bright green eyes. Lena's throat closes over, her voice little more than a strangled whisper. “Yes.” 

She nods once. “Then, you can tell me if you wish. But it does not matter to me.” 

Lena chuckles again, thick and wet. She shakes her head, face painted in shades of quiet awe. “I don't know what I did to deserve you.” 

What a strange thing to say. “You do not have to deserve me,” she says, slowly and clearly, in the hope that this will make Lena understand. “I am already here.” 

 

Ever since she had apologised, Kara has been— not kinder, exactly. More careful, perhaps. 

She still visits often. Still offers help to Lena as frequently as she can. She visits her, too, when Lena is gone. Takes her flying, once, far from the city. They speed over the dull red desert in perfect synchronisation, perfectly matched. Indistinguishable, but far from interchangeable. 

But Kara is distant with her. She holds her at arm's length, forever braced for some unknown catastrophe. It wears on her more than maybe it should, and eventually she has no choice but to speak. 

“You hate me.” 

Kara's blue eyes jump to her face in surprise. “No, I don't.” She pours them each a glass of water in Lena's kitchen, the pair of them panting from their aerial sprint back to the penthouse. “Of course I don't. I— I want to help you.” 

Kara always appears earnest, but right now she is not convincing. She takes the water, emptying it in one long pull and wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand. “I think you hate me.” 

Kara sighs, weary and worn. “I don't hate you. Truly, I don't. I—” Her face twists. It will cost Kara to speak these next words, whatever they are. She wonders if it will cost her to hear them. 

“I'm jealous of you,” Kara breathes out in a rush. She will not meet her eyes. 

This, she was not expecting. This, she cannot understand. “Why?” she asks, and identical blue eyes snap to her own. “You have a life. You have a job, a family. You have a history. A future.” 

The words come out with more bitterness than she expects. There must be a reason for that. She will examine it later. 

Kara drops her head to her hands, digging her fingers into thick golden waves. “Yeah,” she breathes, and her voice is guilty. “But you have her.”   

The room falls silent beyond the ticking of the clock on the wall. She lets her gaze wander, falling upon the open book Lena had been reading to her last night, her sweater draped on top of Lena's work blazer on the back of the dining chair, the pair of empty tea mugs on the draining board.  

“You love her.” 

Kara doesn't even look up, kneading her knuckles against her temples. “I love her. But you have her.” 

She stays quiet for a moment, considering. Thinks of the sadness in Lena's eyes and the poorly-concealed longing in her voice. Thinks of a wound so deep, so catastrophic, that it could only have been inflicted by one already inside the fortress walls. Thinks of blonde hair and blue eyes and the name Lena calls out in the middle of the night. 

“I do not think it is me that she loves.” 

She doesn't really know why she says it. It's a truth that pains her to admit; an acknowledgment of her own second-rate position in the face of her staunchest competition. But it  is  a truth and so, how can she not speak it? Hiding the truth brings nothing but pain. She knows enough of Kara to know that. 

Kara looks up at her then and her eyes are wet and for a moment the space around them seems to hold its breath, waiting to see how this final chip will fall. And then Kara is launching herself across the kitchen towards her, and suddenly she is in Kara's arms. Supergirl clings to her, holds her so tightly the blunted edge of her ribcage bites into her flesh. 

“I'm going to be better,” Kara whispers into her shoulder. She remembers herself then, brings her own arms up to hold Supergirl in return. It's a foreign feeling, but not unpleasant. 

“I'm going to be better, for you,” Kara repeats, thick and raw and resolute. “For both of you. I promise.” 

“Okay,” she says after a moment because really, what else is there? 

 

Things are different, after that. Kinder. Calmer.  

She and Kara have found a new understanding that allows them to harmonise in one another's company. To enjoy  one another's company. 

They go flying often. Whenever Kara isn't busy, with Supergirl or Catco or Alex or Lena, they go flying. They fly around the world, up to the North Pole and down to the South. They fly high over mountains and low over canyons, skim sand and soil and salt and sea.  

She thinks the sea is probably her favourite. The shifting changing mass of it, always new, always rejuvenating. How it is so vast that it is easy to lose herself in it, only to look up and find that she's right where she thought she'd been. How humans try to separate it, sever and divide it with names of individual oceans and seas but how really it is all the same in the end. One source with many faces. Unique, yet indivisible. 

She spends time with Alex, with Brainy and Nia and J’onn.  

She trains her body and hones her powers and quiets her mind under J’onn's patient instruction. She discovers Earth through Alex, who gives her a crash course on the Internet, presents her with a smartphone and a pair of earbuds and introduces her to the wonders of the audiobook. She watches Disney movies with Nia and Brainy and cries into their shared tub of ice cream. 

Every day she learns more. Every day Lena teaches her something new. 

“Your name,” she says one morning over breakfast, breaking the companionable silence of clinking cutlery and crunching toast. “It means something?” 

“It does,” Lena says as she stirs her tea. Her dark hair curls loosely over the straps of her tank top, shot through with lustrous amber by the blaze of the morning sun. “Have you been thinking about what you want your name to be?” 

She nods, reaching out for the strawberries and depositing a generous handful atop her stack of pancakes. “I do not think I like красная дочь. Names mean something.” She pauses, looking to Lena for confirmation and continuing only when the other woman nods. “My name should mean something. But I am nobody's daughter.” 

Lena regards her quietly for a moment, reaching out to refill her mug with tea. “My name means ‘ray of light’ ,”  she says softly. “Bright, beautiful, shining. That sort of thing.” 

She looks at Lena then, radiant and glowing against the golden backlight of morning, and thinks that her parents, the world, the whole entire cosmos knew exactly what they were doing when they named her.  

“And in my family,” Lena continues, pulling her from her reverie, “every name begins with the letter L. It binds us together, I suppose. So my name has that meaning, too. It marks me as a Luthor.” 

Lena's voice changes on the last word, suddenly dark and bitter in the sun splashed kitchen. She sits quietly, and doesn't comment, and wonders how being tied to Lena in any way – even through one so superficial as a name – could ever be anything but a good thing. 

Perhaps that is something else she's yet to learn, she thinks. Something else Lena has yet to teach her. 

 

She is on her way to her standing lunch date at L-Corp, image inducer on and human façade firmly in place, when she hears raised voices. 

Her fists clench of their own accord and she's just about to launch herself through the twelve walls separating her from Lena's heartbeat, ready to pummel whatever it is that's making her shout into oblivion, when a second voice rings out in familiarity. 

“No, explain it to me,” Lena is saying, and her voice is loud and hard like a challenge it would be equally as detrimental to face as to avoid. “Tell me, Supergirl. Tell me what could possibly have been so important that it forced you to lie to my face for four years.” 

It seems she has arrived in the middle of an argument. She has not heard Lena this angry since the first day she brought her home, since she'd hurt Lena and Kara had hurt her in return.  

“Try and tell me again how sorry you are, how much you care about me. So much,” Lena says, voice high and mocking before it plummets back into a pained bitterness too deep to fathom. “Just not enough for it to actually mean anything.” 

“My amnesiac clone who remembers nothing and no one managed to remember that she's in love with you, Lena!” Kara yells, loud enough that even nearby humans must have heard it. Three corridors and two doors away, she freezes. Kara's voice rises again. “What does that tell you about how much I care? What does that mean?” 

The silence that follows Kara's outburst is so complete that even from this distance, she can taste it. Lena doesn't speak. She isn't sure she's even breathing. Inside her bright white office, two heartbeats hammer hard as drums. 

Quiet reigns another long moment, and then— “She's here,” Kara says, tight and soft, and she knows she's been discovered. No way to avoid this encounter now. She unsticks her feet from the floor, forces them up to Lena's office door and through it into the tension that awaits. 

Kara and Lena face each other in the middle of the room, chests heaving in tandem. Kara's cheeks are flushed, Lena's hands clenched tight into fists against the sheer fabric of her navy suit. Two sets of eyes flash lightning-quick to her entrance. In this room, three hearts are breaking. 

“I'm going to go,” Kara says rigidly. She spares her a single taut smile, and then she is gone. She does not look at Lena. Lena does not look at her. 

Lena sucks a deep breath through her teeth, shakes her head as if wiping her slate clean. “Hi,” she says with a smile that stretches the limits of her composure. “Sorry about— that.” She glances up warily from under dark lashes. “How much did you hear?” 

For the first time, she understands that lying, too, can be a kindness. “I didn't.” 

Lena's shoulders sag in relief, and she knows she has made the right decision. The tension dissipates and Lena's face splits into a genuine smile as she pulls out takeout menus and starts to plan what they should order for lunch. 

She takes a seat beside her on the soft white couch, and she lets Lena grasp the topic change she's so desperately reaching for. She lets the familiarity, the comfort of their easy company soften the tense set of Lena's shoulders. Lets Lena take whatever she needs from her in this moment. 

But quietly, privately, she wonders how much good a band-aid on a bullet wound can really do, if the bullet is still lodged inside the heart. She fears she may soon be forced to find out. 

 

She and Lena do not talk about Kara, after that. They do not see her. In fact, there is no mention of her at all for six full days. 

Life continues as she has come to expect it will, delineated by tea in the kitchen and laughter in the lab and documentaries on the couch. It is mostly the same as it was before, and she likes it. 

But Lena watches her with an intensity that is new. She can practically hear the gears whirring in Lena's mind, can see the inevitable inquiry creep closer every day. When, four days in, Lena at last works up the courage to broach the topic, it's almost a relief. 

Her restraint cracks over noodles. “Can I ask you something?” Lena says from across the dining table, quiet yet exigent with the release of long-held pressure. 

She pauses over her Pad Thai. “You can ask me many things.” 

Lena smiles quickly, but then it is gone, replaced by a twisting wave of nervous apprehension. “In Kaznia, with Lex,” she starts slowly, dragged out as though she may somehow delay hearing the answer by prolonging the question. “Before you met me, did you— did you know me?” 

She lays her chopsticks on the table. She has learnt not to shatter the delicate wood, now. She has learnt so many things here. 

“Yes,” she says, because it is the truth. “Yes,” she says again, aware in this moment that she is signing her own death warrant, even if she does not fully understand why.  

She takes a deep breath. “When I woke up, when I began, I remembered nothing.” She meets Lena's heavy gaze across the table. “Only Alex. Only you.” 

Lena's breath whistles past her teeth as she gasps.  

“I understand it now,” she continues, as gently as she can manage. Lena seems close to breaking, and she does not wish to see her shatter. “The people Kara carries in her heart, I carry in mine.” 

Lena's face crumples, teeth digging hard into the plush of her lip. It's quiet for a long moment as Lena collects herself, as she swallows repeatedly against the tightness of her throat.  

“And do you—” she heaves at last, voice high and squeaky from lack of oxygen. She does not seem to be able to force the words from her body. “Do you—” 

She thinks of all the times Lena has pre-empted her pain, and soothed it. She decides to return the kindness. “Yes. I love you, Lena,” she says and maybe, despite all her fears to the contrary, she has understood what love is all along. “I do not know how not to.” 

Lena reaches out with trembling fingers, grasping her hand as her chest heaves with dry, silent sobs. She squeezes back, then relinquishes the softness of Lena's hand in favour of rounding the table to wrap her arms around her.  

Lena clings to her, buries her face in her neck and clutches her shoulders so tightly that the blunt points of her fingernails would have torn clean through all but the most impermeable of barriers.  

Lena says nothing, and Lena's silence says everything, and her heart, which has never truly belonged to her at all, falls just that little bit further out of reach. 

 

She and Lena do not talk about it, after that. They still do not talk about Kara, or see her. Life continues as she has come to understand it must, delineated by lingering gazes and weighted silences and an unspoken tension that says more than their words ever have. 

And then, Supergirl gets hurt.  

She and Lena are in the kitchen. Lena is washing dishes at the sink and she is waiting patiently at her side, dish towel poised and ready for each new item to be presented to her. The news is playing quietly in the background, and that's when it happens. 

The force of the explosion is so great that it actually shakes the ground beneath their feet. She turns in time to see the grainy footage of the factory exploding, the tiny red and blue caped figure that is thrown backwards a good thousand feet by the strength of the blast. 

Lena drops the plate in her hands against the edge of the sink. It shatters clean in two. Lena doesn't even flinch. “Will you take me to the DEO?” she gasps instead, turning to her with wide panicked eyes. “Will you fly me there now? Please?”  

As though she could ever deny Lena anything. She gathers the young woman into her arms, holding her precious cargo as delicately as she can. Pushes off from the balcony with the television still playing in Lena's apartment, the lights still on, Lena's purse and phone still lying on the hall table. Lena does not seem to care. She doesn't even seem to notice. 

They touch down in the DEO to a flurry of movement. The med bay is a hive of activity; Alex and Brainy and Nia crowd around a gurney, reaching for wires and monitors. In the gaps between their bustling bodies she catches sight of a limp blue-clad arm dangling over the edge of the bed, torn and soot-stained. 

The second they arrive Lena is pushing from her grasp, elbowing through the door to the med bay with a steely determination coating the panic in her eyes. She's moving to follow, unsure what else she should do, when J’onn lays a careful hand on her elbow. 

“The factory is still burning from the explosion,” he says in a low voice, watching her carefully. “The fire department can't put it out on their own.” 

She blinks at him, unsure why he's telling her this. J’onn sighs. “They need Supergirl.” 

Her brow furrows. “Supergirl cannot go.” 

J’onn's gaze is pointed. “No. But you could.” 

Realisation is a lightning strike. Her mouth falls open. “But— I shouldn't. I can't.” 

“You can,” J’onn counters quietly, and for the first time she sees that this hardened hulk of a man is capable of gentleness. “I can help you.” His dark gaze flicks to the med bay at their backs. “I know Kara would really appreciate it. We all would.” 

She squints at him, face pinching in uncertainty. “This... is what Kara wants?” she asks, hesitation clouding her tone. “This is what Lena wants?” 

J’onn nods. His hand is still on her elbow. 

She swallows hard. “Okay.” 

 

J’onn is true to his word. 

He accompanies her, directs her, helps her. They fly together to the burning factory, and for the first time she does not need to turn on her image inducer. Instead, she is wearing a small earpiece J’onn had given her and a spare red and blue supersuit. 

She does as he says. Uses her freeze breath to contain the worst of the blaze. Uses her superspeed to rescue the workers still trapped inside, her strength to shift rubble and debris until every last human is safe.  

She does not speak to anyone. Once the fire is all but out, the city's fire department extinguishing the last dregs, she hovers high above the scene. Pauses there, above the ambulances and the firemen and the television cameras, waves once, and is gone. 

The news coverage is impressed that Supergirl had managed to recover from the force of the explosion quickly enough to return and help with the fire. She thinks the people of National City must be stupid, to believe that. Or, perhaps, they believe what they want to. What they must. 

By the time she and J’onn return to the DEO, it is close to four in the morning. The bustle of activity has slowed; Brainy taps furiously at a computer screen, Nia dozes in a desk chair. The other agents have disappeared, leaving only Alex, face pale and drawn above her dark fatigues. 

Nia helps her out of her blackened borrowed clothing, presents her with a soft sweatsuit to wear instead. Alex brings her a sandwich and three bags of chips, and only then does she realise she is starving. 

"Thank you,” the redhead says quietly as she falls upon the food like a wild animal. “Thank you for doing that. You don't know what it means to all of us.” 

At the reminder she stops chewing, sandwich falling limply from her grasp. “Kara is okay?” she asks once she manages to swallow, and Alex sighs. 

“She will be. We hope.” 

She nods. Gives voice to the question she really wants to ask. “And Lena?” 

Alex bites her lip, suddenly uncomfortable. Her eyes dart sideways, toward the heavy doors of the med bay, and she understands. 

Food abandoned, she crosses to the double doors. Presses her face to the glass. Alex lets her go.  

Kara lies unmoving on the same gurney she had occupied earlier. She is clean now and soot-free, but her face is deathly pale, her eyes closed. She is hooked up to innumerable wires and monitors beneath the blaze of artificial sunlight, a rhythmic beeping filling the small space as it charts her continued existence. The sight is harrowing, and she feels a tug of anxious sympathy deep in her stomach. But what really catches her attention and refuses to relinquish its hold is Lena. 

She is curled in a chair beside the sun bed, both her pale hands grasping Kara's limp one. Her forehead rests upon their entwined fingers and even from this distance she can see the tears dripping hot onto the ground beneath.  

The doors to the med bay are not soundproofed, not lead-lined. “Please be okay,” Lena is whispering, over and over. “Please, Kara. Please. I need you. Please.” 

The doors to the med bay are not soundproofed, not lead-lined. In this moment, she wishes they were. 

She takes a deep breath. She turns away. 

 

Kara is unconscious for two days. 

Lena doesn't leave the DEO at all, so neither does she. She sleeps in the cribs and she eats with Brainy at his desk and she wanders the halls and even her image inducer, perpetually on, isn't enough to stop some of the agents giving her more than one sideways glance. 

Lena doesn't leave Kara's bedside. She's there more even than Alex, pale and mussed and wrinkled and uncaring. She gets up only to use the bathroom and collect another coffee before she folds herself back into her chair in the med bay, standing vigil over Kara's unmoving form like it is the very purpose for which she'd been created. 

“Shit,” Lena mutters, forty hours in, when she at last notices her presence by the heavy glass doors. Lena swivels in her seat to face her, holds out a hand in invitation. She moves forward and takes it hesitantly, circles the delicate bones of Lena's fingers as if they were made of glass.  

“I'm so sorry,” Lena says, spare hand dragging tiredly over her dark-shadowed eyes. “You shouldn't have had to stay all this time. I didn't think—”  

I didn't remember you were here, is what she doesn't say but both of them hear anyway. Lena clears her throat, averting her eyes. “You don't have to wait for me,” Lena continues as Alex bustles through the doors, tablet in hand to check on her sister's vitals. “You can go home.” 

But where, she wonders, would that be? Not that big white beautiful apartment, that's for sure. Not without Lena in it. 

She shakes her head and Alex notices, pausing in her assessment of Kara's many beeping monitors to regard the pair of them. “Why don't you come back to my place?” the redhead asks, and her voice is sincere. “I'm overdue for a change of clothes anyway. We can go together, grab a shower, maybe find some real food instead of this vending machine garbage.” 

She looks at Lena, who nods encouragingly, and so she looks at Alex and smiles. 

Alex nods in satisfaction, gathering up her things. Thank you, Lena mouths to the redhead when she thinks she's not watching, and she thinks of a parent handing off a difficult child so they can focus on more important things. It leaves a bitter taste behind her teeth. 

Alex's apartment is warm and lived in. The redhead points her to the shower, digs out a spare sweatsuit not dissimilar to her own slate grey uniform and presses it into her arms. When she emerges, smelling of Alex's coconut shampoo instead of Lena's floral brand and feeling a hundred thousand shades of wrong, there's enough Chinese takeout in Alex's kitchen to feed an army. 

They eat in companionable silence. Her eyes fall upon a framed photo of Kara and Alex as teenagers, heart knocking uncomfortably against the too-small confines of her ribs. 

“Kara will be okay?” she asks around a pot sticker that suddenly tastes like ash in her mouth. 

Alex sighs. “I think so. Her body's healing itself. She'll wake up when she's ready.” 

She considers this, toying with her chopsticks. “And Lena, she will not leave?” 

The redhead smirks, mouth quirking at the memory of some inside knowledge to which she is not privy, to which she never will be. “I know better than to try to make her.” 

These slick coiling vines of unhappiness in her gut, this sour taste searing the back of her throat— suddenly, she knows what it is. Kara had said it, once. How completely their positions have changed. 

“They love each other,” she says, more a statement than a question as jealousy soaks into every cell of her body like Kryptonite. “Even though they hurt.” 

Alex glances up at her in surprise, but her answer sounds genuine. “Yeah, I think they do.” 

Envy blisters her tongue. “Why?” 

Alex chuckles, but it is not cruel. Somehow, it feels kind. “Beats me. That's just how love is, sometimes.” The redhead spears a spring roll with the end of one chopstick, glancing at her out of the corner of her eye. “She cares about you too, you know. Lena, I mean.” 

Does that make this ache in her chest better, or is it worse? “Not enough.” 

If she raises her head to find pity in Alex's gaze she will crack in two and no force in the universe will be able to make her whole again. She keeps her eyes on her plate.  

“I don't know about that,” Alex says, her voice thoughtful. “She wants you here. We all do.” 

This surprises her. “Really?” she can't help but ask, shocked into raising her head. “You do?” 

Across the table, Alex nods. “I do. It's like— Kara's a part of you, you know? And you're a part of her, so you're a part of me. We're family.” 

“Family,” she repeats, sampling the word on her tongue like a fine wine. 

“You're not on your own, kid,” Alex hums as she gathers up their plates, depositing them unceremoniously in the sink. “Having a family means having people who've got your back.” She glances back over her shoulder then, and Alex's eyes are kinder than Lex's had ever been. “It also means you have to help them with the washing up.” 

 

When they arrive back at the DEO, Kara's eyes are open. 

She's still pale and weak, propped up on pillows in a bed that seems far too big for a body that all of a sudden looks remarkably breakable. But she's awake, she's breathing, and at her side Alex lets out a sigh of relief so heavy she fears the redhead may crumple to the ground from the force of it.  

Alex makes to join her sister in the med bay, and she makes to follow without conscious thought, so when the redhead stops short outside the double doors she almost bowls straight into her. Narrowly avoiding knocking Alex clean through the plate glass, she stops, confused. But the redhead's attention is fixed on the med bay and its occupants and when she raises her own eyes, she sees why. 

Lena is still at Kara's bedside. It seems her endless hours of sentry duty have finally caught up to her because she's fast asleep, head pillowed on the gurney by Kara's hip. Kara's fingers are threaded through long dark waves, the knuckles of her other hand tracing reverent entreaties over the down-soft curve of Lena's cheek. Her gaze is fixed on Lena's sleeping form, the blue of her eyes magnified by the tears glittering unshed, and her expression is so honest and hesitant and hopeful that even to witness it feels like an intrusion. 

Outside the med bay, Alex puts a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. Together, they turn away. 

In the command centre is a man she's never seen before. Lithe and strong, his broad shoulders are encased by a blue suit and red cape that are all too familiar. 

“So,” the man says, turning at her approach. “You're my new cousin.” 

She blinks, looking to Alex for guidance. The redhead nods encouragingly just as the tablet in her hands begins beeping. “I've gotta check on this,” she says, flashing a reassuring smile in her direction. “I'll let you two get acquainted.” 

And then Alex is gone, and so is her last touchstone of comforting familiarity. The broad-shouldered man turns to her with a warm smile. His face is proud and strong but open, too, a quiet kind of confidence permeating the air between them. She recognises the assured quirk of his mouth, the inspiring set of his jaw, from Kara. This is the face of a hero. 

“Hi,” the man says, warm and secure. “I'm Kal. Kara's cousin. Yours, too.” 

Family, she thinks, and says nothing.  

"What's your name?” the man, Kal, asks, and— well. What was that expression in English? She's fallen at the first hurdle. 

“I don't know,” she says, cheeks burning with a shame she cannot articulate and doesn't fully understand. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but what of one with no name at all? 

But Kal does not seem phased. “Okay,” he says amiably, glancing at the agents milling around them with unsubtle interest. “It's kind of crowded in here, huh?” he asks, leaning closer to her conspiratorially. “Want to get some air?” 

She squints at him. “Where from?” she asks. “Air is everywhere.” 

Kal chuckles, but not unkindly. She is learning, slowly, that laughter does not always mean mockery. “Excellent point,” he smiles, and inclines his head toward the wide metal staircase to their right. “Would you like to see the balcony? This place has one of the best views in National City.” 

She follows him out into the cool evening air and mirrors his position, leaning against the concrete railing to gaze out at the twinkling lights. Kal talks, and it is comforting. He tells her that he is from Metropolis, on the other side of the country, but that he has come to see Kara because she is injured. 

“And to meet you,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, and she wonders if family always means kindness or if she's gotten particularly lucky. “There aren't many of us left, now. The House of El has to stick together.” 

She shakes her head blankly, and he points to the red and gold crest on his chest. “Our family,” he says by way of explanation, and at her own inclusion in his statement she feels warm despite the chill of the evening breeze. “This is our crest, the symbol of our house. And our motto, el mayarah, it means—”  

“Stronger together,” she says with a confidence she does not expect. Something unlocks deep within her mind, uncovering depths she had not realised she possessed.  

“Exactly,” Kal says, pleased, bumping her shoulder gently with his own. “And if you're in the market for a name, remember that you have this one, if you want it.” 

“Names tie us to our family,” she remembers, Lena's soft voice echoing through her head. “To the people that matter to us.” 

“They do,” Kal agrees. “Kara and I are Els. I know we'd both like it if you were, too.” 

She considers this for a moment. “It means something, that name. Our name,” she says, brow furrowing. “I know it. But— I cannot remember.” 

“It means ‘star’,” Kal says softly. “A light in the darkness.” 

Another piece of the puzzle slots into place. 

A companionable quiet falls over the wind-tossed balcony as she considers the man at her side. Kal is kind and strong and sure, confidence and certainty emanating from him in waves. Perhaps he is the right person to ask, she thinks. Perhaps he will understand. 

“Family means belonging,” she says into the night, and in her peripheral vision she sees Kal nod. “But I do not belong here.” 

Kal does not tell her she is wrong. He doesn't try to placate her. He just stays quiet, considering. 

She works her teeth against her bottom lip, sighing. “I— I am different,” she says, remembering a time she'd spoken these same words to another man who'd professed to care for her. She'd been wrong, to trust him. She hopes she isn't wrong now. “I do not know if I would fit anywhere.” 

Kal purses his lips, his expression thoughtful. “I can think of a place that might work,” he says slowly, as if still formulating the idea in his mind. He turns to her then, and his smile is warm and solid and real. “Would you like to give it a try?” 

 

When Kara eventually goes home, Lena does too. 

She stands off to the side outside the DEO med bay, patient and quiet and pretending to be anywhere else. Pretending that she doesn't see Kara wrap her arms around Lena. That she doesn't see the blonde nudge a kiss to Lena's hairline, doesn't see Lena bob up on her toes and press her lips to Kara's. That she doesn't hear Kara whisper kau-sha, zhao’te against dark curls or that Lena doesn't tighten her own grip in response. 

They go home together at last, and Lena stays in the shower for a long long time. When she at last emerges, dark hair dripping darker spots over the shoulders of her teal sweater, everything is ready. She's collected the takeout from the fancy French restaurant Lena loves in the West village, has set everything out on a table on the balcony, complete with wine glasses and candles and flowers from Nia's rooftop garden.  

"Goodness, this is beautiful,” Lena says with a laugh that trips on the breeze, green eyes flecked with gold by the setting sun. “What's the occasion?” 

She only smiles, and says nothing. 

Once she has pulled out Lena's chair for her and they're both seated, once the food has been dished out and she's poured a glass of Lena's favourite merlot, once she's run out of ways to put it off, she says it. 

“I'm leaving.” 

Lena freezes. The forkful of confit never makes it to her mouth before it is replaced on her plate. “What?” she says around a half-laugh, disbelieving. “What are you talking about?” 

“I'm leaving,” she says again, wondering if Lena's question is born of an inability to understand, or merely a reluctance to. “Kal is taking Lois to Argo because she is pregnant. He says I can go, too.” 

Lena blinks rapidly, mouth opening and closing. “Wait, what? Kal? And Lois is— she is? Hold on, Argo? That's, that's leaving Earth. You can't, you—”  

“I must,” she says softly, stomach twisting. She has never known Lena so ruffled. “I cannot stay here.” 

Meal forgotten, Lena leans across the table towards her. Her eyes are imploring, fair skin burnished rose gold as the sun dips below the skyscrapers of National City, setting the air on fire. “Why not?” Lena asks, and the desperation in her tone sparks goosebumps up her arms. “You can't leave. I— I need you.” 

“You don't.” 

“I do.” Tears well in Lena's eyes, each one a searing brand on her soul and her resolve. 

“You have Kara,” she says firmly, truthfully, and with less bitterness than she expects. “You have your—” She pauses, searching for the phrase. “Your happy ending.” 

Lena sniffles, tears overflowing to course silver-gold down her cheeks. "But what about you?” 

She smiles, and it is sad. “No ending is happy for everyone.” 

Lena only cries harder at that and she winces, determined to ease her pain. “Lena, I love you,” she whispers, breathing the words into the air between them with all the delicacy befitting the most precious gift she has to give. “And so, I must leave.” 

Lena gasps out a breath, heaving through her tears. “You are the most selfless person I have ever known.” 

She presses her lips together, and it is almost a smile. It is easy to be selfless when there is no self to hold onto. 

The balcony falls silent a long moment, broken only by the muted hum of the city below and the ragged rhythm of Lena's sobs. The sun has dipped below the horizon now and colour leaches steadily from the world around them. She doesn't think it's just the twilight that makes this moment cold. 

At length Lena steadies her breathing enough to speak. “I think—” she starts, thick and wet, dabbing her face with the soft cotton of her napkin. “I think I love you, too.” 

Her heart skips one single beat. And then life resumes. 

“You love me because I am her,” she says. A truth unworthy of any further concealment. “Enough, but not too much.”  

“No,” Lena says immediately. "No, that's not why.” Pale fingers reach out, threading through her own. “I love you because you are caring and kind and loyal and lovely. Because you inspire me to fight for what matters to me and open myself up to the world and eat deep-fried ice cream at ten in the morning. Because you remind me that life can be so beautiful when we let ourselves see it.” Lena's fingers tighten, thumb grazing her knuckles. “Because you learned the names of every constellation we can see from my balcony, and when I look at the stars I think of you.” 

Lena is telling her this out of kindness. That is what it must be, because she has never known Lena to be anything else.  

Right now, it doesn't feel like a kindness. Right now, it only hurts. 

She smiles, and it is sad. “Sometimes, if you love someone enough, the only thing left to do is let them go.” 

Fresh tears spill down Lena's cheeks at the reminder of her own words. She bows her head and lifts the hand still cradled in hers, and her heart skips yet another beat as Lena's lips press feather-soft and reverent against her knuckles. 

“Well,” Lena whispers, and her tears drip hot onto their entwined fingers. “I don't suppose I can argue with that.” 

 

The preparations do not take a long time. 

Kal tells her that Argo is already equipped with anything and everything she could want; food and clothing and books and a mother, her mother, who's dying to meet her. 

“Dying?” she asks, horrified, and Kal grimaces apologetically as Lois rests a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She likes Lois, she's learned. Lois is whip-smart and funny and kind and unafraid of anything in the galaxy. 

“She's excited,” Kal rephrases, knocking her elbow with his own, and a tentative sort of happiness blooms through her bloodstream like liquid gold. “She's really, really excited.” 

The goodbyes, though— they do take a long time. 

Kara is the hardest to convince, and this surprises her. The blonde lands on Lena's balcony the next day without a sound, stalking into her bedroom where she's packing her meagre belongings into a suitcase Lena had bought for her. The set of Kara's jaw is stubborn and the look in her eyes is obstinate to a fault and she knows in an instant that Lena has told her. 

But the heated reproach she is expecting does not materialise. 

“You could stay,” Kara says instead, and her voice is sad. Why is she sad? “We could work together, be heroes together. You— you could stay with us.” 

“I cannot,” she says because she knows it is true with every fibre of her being. She folds the soft grey sweater Lena had given her, tucks it into her bag with delicate fingers. “I do not want to be a hero. I do not want to be worshipped. I just want to belong.” 

“You do belong,” Kara says thickly, fingers twisting together in front of her, and for the first time she truly understands what Lena sees in this woman. Why she would choose her over anything. There is a kindness in Kara, born not from a lack of pain-hardened edges but from a conscious decision to smooth them over. A kindness illimitable by any force in the cosmos. 

“You belong here,” Kara is saying, and it almost sounds like she will cry. “You're my family. My— my sister. This is where you should be.” 

“There is no space.” She says it. Even though it hurts, she says it. “You are already complete. You have Brainy and Nia and J’onn and Alex. You have Lena.” She swallows, as if that will wash the bitter taste of the words from her tongue. “There is no more space.” 

“But—” Kara says, but she does not say more because there is nothing to say. Because she knows it is true, no matter how much they may both wish otherwise. 

Kara is crying now and so she abandons her packing completely and reaches out, twisting their fingers together. She knows exactly how their hands will slot together, exactly how much pressure to use, and when, and how. She knows, because they are the same.  

“We are family,” she says and though it is still foreign, it feels more right than it ever has before. “And so we will still be together, even when we are apart.” 

“I'm sorry,” Kara mumbles, her throat clogged with tears. She does not say why, but they both know. 

She is sorry that she touched the Harun-El, that any of this ever happened. She is sorry she created something for which she cannot now find a home. She is sorry her love for Lena runs so deep it's permeated her as well. She is sorry this ending was inevitable. She is sorry she set her up to be heartbroken. 

She squeezes Kara's hands. Kara squeezes back. “I know.” 

 

The day she leaves, it hurts more than she could have prepared for. 

J'onn rests a heavy hand on her shoulder and the air around her shivers for a moment, warming with the acceptance and affection he is projecting out to her, a lighthouse to cling to through the storm of her emotions. Nia does not cry as she pulls her in for a tight hug, as she makes her promise to learn all about Kryptonian braiding traditions and to teach her the next time they have a movie night. 

Nia does not cry, but Brainy does. He pulls her in for a hug that teaches her the meaning of the word brother and then he's pulling back, dabbing distastefully at his wet cheeks with an air of unmitigated horror. “Sprock,” he says thickly as Nia wraps a comforting arm around his waist. “I'm leaking again.” 

Alex steps forward then and she sees at last what Kara has always seen; not the soldier, but the sister. The redhead's arms wrap around her shoulders at exactly the right angle, with exactly the right pressure, and her heart aches with the longing to spend just as long repeating this hug as it must have taken the Danvers sisters to perfect it. 

“We have spaceships,” Alex mumbles against her shoulder, squeezing tight. “And more than half of us are aliens. There's no excuse not to visit.” She pulls back, and her eyes glitter with unshed tears. “This is not goodbye.” 

“No,” she says, throat and heart clogged with what she feels for this woman who was never hers to claim, but who has chosen her anyway. “It is not goodbye. Kau-sha,” she says instead, the Kryptonian vowels and syllables rolling from her tongue with ease. “To be continued.” 

And then it is Kara's turn, as the others move away to make their final checks on J’onn's spaceship and wipe surreptitiously at their eyes. The blonde disentangles herself from Lena where the two of them had been standing wrapped up in each other, tears cutting identical tracks down their cheeks, to stand before her. 

When Kara hugs her, she feels as if she is complete. No, she feels as if she completes, some interminable process drawing to a close at last, leaving her ready and waiting and whole. 

“Thank you,” Kara whispers against her ear, holding her tight. “Thank you for making me better.” 

“Thank you,” she answers, tightening her own hold in return, “for making me me.” 

Kara laughs then, even through her tears, and lets her go. “Say hi to Mom for me.” 

She nods, wiping at her own eyes, and watches Kara go. 

And then, there is only Lena. Really, there has only ever been Lena. 

She does not know which of them moves first. It does not matter. She is in Lena's arms and Lena is in hers, and they are laughing and crying and smiling together and she wishes she could stay here forever. Eventually Lena pulls back, but she does not go far. Her hands smooth gently over her shoulders, her clavicle, her jaw, reaching up to wipe away her tears with the pads of her fingers. 

“Asking you to stay would be selfish, I know that,” Lena says roughly. Her lips quirk and she leans in to whisper conspiratorially in her ear even as her voice thickens with tears. “I really, really want to be selfish right now.” 

“Lena,” she says hoarsely, to stop herself doing anything suicidal like encouraging her. “I've chosen my name.” 

Lena's eyebrows raise, mouth quirking into a pleased smile even as her lower lip continues to tremble. “Oh?” she asks sweetly. “Might I hear it?” 

She nods, straightening, squaring her shoulders. Here she is, at last, claiming her identity, her place in this life. Claiming herself. 

“My name ties me to the people that matter to me,” she says, because she needs Lena to know this. She needs her to understand. “To the people I love. It is the name of my— my family. It is the initial of yours. My name means ‘star’, because when you look at them you think of me. Lena,” she says, sucking in a breath so deep it burns. “My name is El.” 

“El,” Lena breathes, and it is the most beautiful sound she's ever heard. “I'm really, really going to miss you.” 

 

The trip to Argo is long and dark and beautiful. The cosmos wheels above their ship as they leave behind the only life she's ever known, speeding toward the one she can't remember but will soon reclaim. 

Kal, twisting in the pilot's seat to face her, tells her that Argo is a place of second chances. Of rebirth, reinvention, and new beginnings. “I think it'll be a good fit for you,” he says with a smile, reaching out absently to twine his fingers with Lois’.  

She is quietly, hopefully, inclined to agree. 

When the walls of the ship retract around them, the light is so bright it burns. But the breeze is cool, the air fresh and sweet, and as her eyes adjust she finds the sunlight to be welcome. Beautiful, even. 

They've touched down in a soft green field lined with trees and on one side, the quiet ripple of a glittering lake. In the distance, a city skyline rises against a cloudless sky. 

A woman is waiting for them when they exit the ship. She has blue robes and brown hair and kindness in her eyes and something deep inside her cracks open in relief, in joyous recognition. 

“Hello, El,” the woman says, light and gentle as the press of lips against her hair. “My name is Alura. It's wonderful to finally meet you.” The woman, Alura, steps forward and takes her hands, and in that instant she is found.  

Alura's eyes are full of love, full of promise. “Welcome home.” 

And here in this impossible world with this impossible woman, her mother, healthy and whole and incredibly, inexplicably, happy to see her— she really believes that she is.