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“Listen to me. I am your echo. I would rather break the world than lose you.”

- Amal El-Mohtar, "This Is How You Lose the Time War"

 

“You don't know the first thing about pain. But I do.”

Lena, who is not Lena, who will always and never be Lena again, crouches in the splintered shards before her. The fist of Kryptonite where her heart should be gnaws at Kara; corrodes every cell in her body with a preternatural hunger.

Kara is burning. But Lena, Lena is already ash.

“I can show you. Make you feel what I feel.” Her voice is an echo. An empty casket. An effigy to a light long extinguished, a soul long departed. The stone set of her features doesn't flicker. Doesn't soften.

Kara forces her final, fatal breath from her lungs just to be able to speak. “I won't fight you, Lena.”

Can't, she should have said. Could never, maybe.

But then again, no. This is no ordinance, no dictum from on high. To surrender, to submit, to yield— this is a choice, consciously made. A gift, freely given. A promise, drenched in blood.

Lena straightens and her voice is soft and the deep crinkle between her brows could almost, almost be mistaken for pity. “Then you'll die screaming.”

And Kara does.

 

She screams.

She screams as her body boils alive and her soul simmers within its mortal shell. She screams as the world glows green and her very essence sears itself apart and all of existence implodes around her, and even that brings no relief.

She screams until her voice gives out, and then she screams some more. She screams, as though it might lessen the pain. As if it is a transmutation, a conversion of the Kryptonite coursing acid-bright through her bones into sound waves. A trade-in; one type of radiation for another. Harmful to harmless.

She screams as if someone out there is listening. She screams as if anyone who hears might care.

She screams, and she screams, and she screams.

When she stops screaming – when the green fades dark and the insensate agony lessens by degrees and her cries give way to guttural retching and hoarse, broken sobs – Lena is there.

Lena is there, kneeling beside her, the tips of three fingers pressing into Kara's breastbone. Pressing right in the centre of the glyph on her chest, right above the hollow where, behind her own sternum, flesh and blood have given way to metal and death.

Kara is shaking so hard her body disrupts the halo of broken glass ringing it; the high, thin sound of shattered crystal filling her ears. Lena's fingers press firmly, index, then middle, then ring, stilling her ribcage against the linoleum.

Her voice is a vibration through the molten core of the planet. “Why won't you fight?”

Kara cannot speak, cannot breathe. Can only stare up at her through eyes spotted dark with death, the glowing afterimage of ineffable pain clinging slick to every thread in the fabric of her being.

“I know about you,” Lena says, and Kara trembles and cries as tears leak from her eyes, trying hard not to remember a time when that same sentence, less its penultimate word, from those same red lips a snap and a reality away had been all she'd ever hoped to hear.

“I know your capabilities, Supergirl.” Lena's voice is calm, her demeanour impassive. The pressure of her fingers at Kara's breastbone never falters for a moment. “So why won't you fight?”

And Kara doesn't know how to explain to her that her powers are the root cause of this, the very slingshot that had catapulted the two of them into this hellscape in the first place. Doesn't know how to articulate that for all the things her hands can do – crush steel, crumble mountains, cleave bone – the best, the kindest, the most powerful act they are capable of is release. Capitulation. Acceptance.

Lena's hand flattens, palm curving to the arc of Kara's ribs above her diaphragm. It's the most intimate touch of Lena's skin that Kara has ever felt upon her body and the thought dislodges something thick and igneous behind her trachea.

Her head rolls to the side and she retches as bile, red-tinged and ferrous, forces its way from her mouth. Lena only watches, her apathy so complete it suffocates.

“Your name,” she says as Kara spits astringent blood from her lips, chest heaving beneath Lena's heavy palm. “You said your name is Kara.”

She forces herself to meet Lena's gaze, eyelashes fluttering. The hard ground is a hundred million nails against her skin; the shoal beneath the shipwreck of her poisoned body. Lena sees the confirmation she can't articulate aloud in the desperate crease of her brow.

"Kara,” Lena says again and she wishes she could say it doesn't matter, doesn't hurt, doesn't ignite; her name from those red lips. But it does. It does. It does.

“Kara. Two syllables. Such a small thing.”

Lena's hand has not moved. Her fingers channel the grooves of Kara's ribs, the tips hollowed in the concavity of her solar plexus.

"The people of this city would have screamed that name, if they could.” Her nails dig in slightly, a deliberate pressure exerted upon one of the most vulnerable points of Kara's body. Not enough to incapacitate her further. Just a reminder of the possibility.

“Shorter than screaming for Supergirl. Easier,” Lena says, voice soft and cold as moonlight. "They would have screamed for you, when my brother was ripping their world apart by the seams. I would have screamed for you. But they didn't know.”

Lena's fingertips relax against her sternum. Her thumb traces the lower edge of the crest on Kara's chest, the way it moulds to the swell of her breast. “They didn't know, and you weren't here.”

There's blood coating her teeth, she can taste it. “Why am I not dead?” she rasps with exorbitant effort, watery and wheezing. “Why haven't you killed me?”

Lena's head tilts. “Do you want me to kill you?”

The casual nature of the question, the impartiality of her tone, they're a knife through Kara's mangled, mutilated heart. “No.”

Red lips part the slightest amount, only darkness visible within. “Will you stop me?”

Kara tries to swallow. Fails. “I'm not going to fight you.”

The abject cold in those green eyes grows colder still. “I asked,” and a tightening of her fingers, nails biting into weakened flesh, “will you stop me?”

When is a question not a question? When there is only one possible answer. “No.”

The hand on her chest slackens. Lena regards her curiously, the detached interest of a dispassionate observer. "That's foolish.”

Kara ignores the comment. No sense wasting time on truths long acknowledged. She spits another mouthful of blood onto the scuffed linoleum beneath her cheek. “Will it help?”

Lena's lips purse infinitesimally. “Will what help?”

“Will it help,” she manages, gasping and stilted, “to make me feel what you feel?”

A furrow of Lena's pale brow this time, a narrowing of dark-hewn eyes. “What?”

Kara's eyes slide closed. She's so, so tired. “Will it help you, Lena, to hurt me?”

The face above her turns guarded, scanning for a trap. “Why do you ask?”

As if it isn't clear by now. “Because you can,” Kara breathes, meagre strength waning. Her overwrought muscles slacken, cheek lolling against the bloody bile coating the floor. “You can, if it will help.”

Darkness presses in, blood-thick and Kryptonite-deadly. The last thing Kara registers is a pressure, the flats of Lena's knuckles pressed to the valley between her breasts, traversing the archipelago of her sternum.

And then time dissolves, and Kara along with it.

 

When she opens her eyes again, long enough has passed for the blood on her skin to have dried, sticky-sweet and flaking. Not long enough, though, for the sky beyond Catco's wall of windows to have lightened at all. Not long enough for her body to have had any real shot at healing.

She rolls her head, sharp cracks enunciating each individual vertebra of her neck. Across the desolate expanse of the decimated office Lena sits, silent, a mutable shadow in the faint red glow. She's watching Kara closely despite the space between them, legs crossed, hands folded across her abdomen.

She raises one brow as Kara's eyes blink open. The flap of black fabric has been replaced across her chest, the glowing green poison once more hidden from view. The shrieking in Kara's bloodstream has slackened, the blaze in her marrow reduced to smouldering embers. The panel must be lead-lined.

No amount of clothing can disguise the truth, though. Nothing can mitigate the horror of what's been done here.

It's fitting, Kara thinks. Kryptonite, and Lena. Her greatest weakness, welded into the heart of her greatest weakness.

“You're alive,” Lena says into the ringing cavern between them.

Kara blinks her eyes wider, working her tight jaw. “You haven't killed me.”

“I wanted to know,” Lena says with an air of neutral disinterest, addressing the unspoken question without preamble, “why you won't fight me. Why you volunteer to be hurt by me. I can't find out if you're dead.”

With enormous effort, Kara forces her throbbing body to roll onto its side. She licks her dry lips, tastes iron. “Can— can I have some water?”

Lena stares at her flatly. “No.”

Silence for several long, unending moments. Head spinning, stomach churning, limbs trembling, Kara presses up. Half crawls, half drags herself on knees and elbows to the overturned desk at the back of the office. This had been Cat's desk, once. Then James’. Then Lena's.

She props herself against it, wheezing, eyes squeezed shut as she waits for the wave of pain and nausea and dizziness to pass. It doesn't. Eventually, she's left with no choice but to open her eyes again anyway.

"Why have you given up?” Lena asks again. If she's affected by Kara's suffering, nothing about her betrays it. “Why won't you fight?”

Kara's head is spinning so badly she pitches sideways, body sliding against the charred edge of the desk. She manages to throw out a hand, bracing herself against the floor a split second before she hits it face-first. “Why is it so important to you that I fight?”

“You're Supergirl,” Lena all but spits, calm veneer cracking to reveal a hint of the venom within, and isn't that the crux of everything, really?

She's Supergirl, and all around her, worlds burn because of it.

“You could be a god,” Lena says, calm once more, words detonating in the space between them. “Hero or terrorist, there's no doubt that you're powerful. Yet you won't raise a hand to me. I want to know why.”

Kara sighs, only it's more of a pant, which is really more of a gasp as she struggles to bring air into her convulsing lungs. “Because I don't want to.”

A muscle in Lena's jaw jumps. “Why?

And Kara thinks, honesty, because maybe if she'd thought that a little earlier they never would have ended up here at all. "Because I would do anything for you.”

Lena's lip curls. “Anything but save my life.”

Kara's eyelids flutter closed. “Even that. Especially that.”

“But you didn't.” Lena's voice is hard as stone, every word a death knell. “You weren't here.”

“I know. I'm sorry. I promised I would always protect you, and I failed. I let you down.”

The words are spoken here, in this nightmare world to this hollowed-out shell of this precious, treasured woman, but really she's speaking them everywhere. To every Lena, in every timeline, for each innumerable time she's failed her. Even, and especially, her own.

“You've never met me before tonight. I don't know who you promised, but it wasn't me.”

Kara smiles, small and sad. “It was. It was you. In a manner of speaking.”

And then she tells her. Tells her about Mxyzptlk and the do-overs and each agonising timeline disintegrating before her eyes. Tells her about the betrayal that had prompted it all. Tells her about Lena, her Lena; about what they'd meant to each other before the snare of Kara's deceit had snapped taut around their throats. Tells her what Lena means to her still.

This Lena's eyes harden when Kara finishes. Her stare could pierce diamond.

“You're telling me this world, my world, isn't real?”

Kara winces. “It— it is real. For as long as I'm here. If I never get back, if I never get home, then it will become reality. Permanently.”

“For as long as you're here,” Lena parrots, face a wide canvass of shocked incredulity. “So everything, everything, is about you.”

Kara's throat works. “No, that's not what I—”

But Lena doesn't even give her the chance to try. “You really do have a god complex.”

It's as painful as the Kryptonite had been; those same words from those same lips, that same despondent fury. It doesn't matter which world they're in, it seems. Doesn't matter which Lena stands across from her. For as long as Kara is the common denominator, she's destined to disappoint.

She licks her dry lips, tastes the hollowness of oblivion. “Lena, I'm sorry.”

“Why?” The impenetrable mask is back, that same detached tone. “Why are you apologising to me? I'm not the one who started all this. I'm not the one you hurt.”

“But you are.” Kara pushes fractionally closer. “This world is my responsibility. My decision brought it into being. Brought— brought you here, like this. I have hurt you. I've hurt you by not knowing you. By not being here for you.”

Lena stares at her levelly. “I'm not even real.”

“Your pain is real. Your suffering— I feel it too. Right here.” Kara's fist presses against her solar plexus, an unconscious mirroring of Lena's own centre of agony. “You want me to feel what you feel? I do. When you hurt, I hurt.” One corner of her mouth tugs into a smile so sad it scalds. “I always have.”

Lena's jaw tightens. “Maybe with her.”

Kara shakes her head, palm unclenching to lay flat over her ribcage, over her heart. This is what Mxy's timelines had been trying to show her, she realises. This is the point of it all. “With you. Always you.”

Lena's spine straightens. Her face is a fortress, her eyes the spike-adorned parapets. Silence reigns, tense and tempered, until she speaks again.

"But this woman, this other— your Lena,” she says, cool and calm. “She is not me. I am not her.”

“No.” The disagreement flows from her, smooth and natural as an exhale. “But it doesn't matter. Any world, any universe. You're always mine.”

She says it without pause, without thought. But. But.

“Well— no.” She can't say that. After all, it's not true. “I suppose what I mean is— I'm always yours.”

She watches Lena watch her, all hard jaw and ashen skin and dark lashes quavering over narrowed green eyes.

She sees herself in those eyes. Sees her past and future and her mistakes and her dreams. She sees her own regret; a writhing twisting living thing, many-headed as a hydra. Sees every tear, every plea and apology and time she's tried to make it right, tried to slaughter it where it stands, to no avail.

Lena takes her time forming her response, as if weighing the words on her tongue. She watches Kara, makes sure their gazes meet, makes sure they lock before she speaks.

“You're always mine,” she repeats, chilled as the press of sharp steel to the jugular. “And yet.”

And yet.

And yet here they are, two broken hearts in beaten bodies, bleeding out on the ground as what ifs and if onlys seep from their veins. And yet, somewhere out there, in a time and a life and a world Kara cherishes more than anything, in a reality she might never get back, another woman with Lena's face is also falling apart. And yet, despite the love that swirls oxygen-rich and just as vital in every gasp of her heaving lungs, Kara has failed her. Failed them both. Failed them all.

Yes, Kara thinks. And yet.

 

It's silent a long time, after that.

The sheer quantity of Kryptonite irradiating her body thanks to Lena's assault is too much for her cells to filter on their own. She's poisoned, contaminated to her core, and she's probably going to die here.

Mxy has no way of getting them home, likely won't find one before Kara's body gives out, and it's not like she'd deserve the easy escape even if it were to materialise.

So Kara is going to die here, desperate and agonised and more sorry than she's ever been in her life, and the people she's hurt still will hurt. The damage she's caused will endure.

Lena, her Lena, will likely be blotted out of existence. It is a curse, Kara realises, an unbearable curse, to know that oblivion is sometimes a kindness.

But she's not dead yet. There's still time so perhaps, there's still hope.

She forces her slumping body to straighten. “You haven't killed me.”

Lena eyes her dispassionately, gaze flitting between Kara's green-thrumming veins, her tremulous bones, the dried blood smeared from her mouth. “You'll die soon enough.”

“But you haven't killed me.” This is important, she can feel it. This might be the key. “Why did you really stop, Lena? Why couldn't you do it?”

A sharp uptick of a proud chin. Familiar defiance shining in pain-hollowed eyes. “I could have. Keep this up, and I still might.”

“I don't think so.” With astronomical effort, Kara pushes onto her knees. The world tilts sickeningly away from her and she sinks onto her heels, hands braced on bent thighs. She looks up at Lena through strands of bile-matted hair, willing herself not to vomit for long enough to get this out.

“I don't think you want to kill me,” she wheezes, every word a brand through flesh already set aflame. “I think something stopped you. Something deep in your heart.”

Lena's lip curls. “I don't have a heart. Not anymore.”

“I don't believe that,” Kara heaves. “I can see it.”

She thinks of the tears in Lena's eyes as they'd faced down across this red-hewn office, the way her voice had cracked around the accusations she'd hurled like missiles. Thinks of a pain so complete it could only mean death, thinks of it ending, cutting off before annihilation took hold.

“Everything is different here, but you're still her.” The words are choked, dripping with the bitter sting of bile. “You're still Lena. I know you, and I think— I think you know me.”

Lena's posture has tightened, defensiveness clawing its way into the lines of her shoulders. “No.”

“Yes.” Kara pitches forward, shaking arms half-crawling, half-dragging her blistered body across the floor. “You feel it too, don't you? A connection between us.”

Lena pushes up from her chair, its base scraping sharply against the floor. “No.”

“We're important to each other,” Kara gasps, more to the blood-stained linoleum than to Lena as she continues her torturous traverse. “In any universe. In every universe. You can feel it. That's why you couldn't kill me. That's why you can't finish this.”

“Careful,” Lena warns, icy as the grave. “The Girl of Steel has shattered, now. One more solid hit from me and you'll be dead.”

“But you don't want to do it,” Kara insists, words firm even as her vocal cords weaken. “You don't want to.”

“There is nothing I want.” Lena's tone is as hard as her eyes. Harder, even. “There is nothing to want. I'm dying. I've been dying since the day my brother shot my helicopter out of the sky, and this—” One long finger taps lightly against the panel covering her disfigured chest. “This only sped up the process. I won't live to see another year. I don't want to live another day.”

“If you have nothing left to lose, if there's truly nothing stopping you, then do it.” The desperation of the damned pushes these words from Kara's mouth. She's halfway across the office. She's halfway to her. “Do it. Kill me, right now.”

Lena growls, low in her throat. “I will.”

“Okay.” Kara's strength gives out at last and she collapses, face-down in the middle of the floor. “Go on, then.”

A furious, strangled snarl hits her ears and the next second she's being lifted, reality swaying around her as Lena plucks her from the ground by her collar.

Her face is twisted in fury, blazing heat melting the veneer of ice from within. “You've struck the fault lines one time too many, Supergirl,” she spits, apparently unperturbed by the way Kara's body dangles from her grasp like a limp rag doll. “Watch them shatter.”

One hand comes up, ripping back the flap covering the noxious green heart of her. Agony pierces Kara's body instantly, a billion trillion needles burrowing beneath what's left of her skin.

“I wanted to be the Luthor that shared her home with a Kryptonian, but I never got the chance,” Lena snarls, grip bruising against Kara's clavicle. The Kryptonite heart glows brighter, a split second's warning before it discharges. The last thing Kara sees is the green of Lena's eyes, more consuming even than the poison.

Lena's voice doesn't tremble. “Now, at least, we can share a grave.”

 

The Kryptonite hits her.

Each individual cell of Kara's body sings out at the impact, a funeral's lament. It's the high, thin note that shatters crystal, a heartbeat before the implosion. It's the scream at the end of the world.

Everything is pain and haze and green. Green Kryptonite, corroding life itself. Green eyes, shimmering with tears.

But it's not like before. It can't be, because she isn't thrown backwards by the force of it. Lena is still holding her, her feet dangling a few inches above the ground, as Krytponite smashes into her from a hair's breadth away. Half-mad with it, Kara almost laughs. Straight from Lena's heart into her own.

"Fight back,” Lena growls over the howling in her ears, the ceaseless call of a death too long evaded. “Fight me, god damn it. Fight back!”

The Kryptonite blast lessens incrementally, the blaze in her body shifting from incapacitating to merely paralysing.

"Stop me, Supergirl!” Lena screams and the desperation in her tone is the realest thing she's let slip past her lips all night. “Hit me. Kill me! Just fight back.”

With an effort so monumental it could invert a star, Kara manages to suck air into her lungs. “I won't hurt you, Lena. I won't.”

The hands at her collar tighten, shaking roughly. Kara's head snaps back, muscles limp, neck lolling.

“It's too late for that,” Lena grinds out and there are definitely tears in her eyes now, a noticeable tremor to her voice. “So do this for me instead, please. Fight back. Kill me. Just— stop me.”

They want the same thing, Kara realises in a flash of clarity so blinding it burns right alongside the Kryptonite. She, Lena, even her Lena back home— all they really want is for all of this to stop.

So, Kara does the only thing she can do. The bravest, easiest thing she's ever done.

She forces her muscles into compliance, pitches forward in mid-air, and presses her lips to Lena's.

It's hard and rough and imperfect, teeth clashing, mouths gasping. Velvet-soft pressure for one beat, two, three, and then the Kryptonite blast stutters and fades. And then, there is nothing left but her mouth on Lena's, blood and tears mingling, an indelible brand painted between them.

Kara parts Lena's lips with her own, the Kryptonite blaze in her muscles paling in comparison to the inferno that rips through her like wildfire at the first touch of Lena's tongue against her own. Her shaking hands come up, cut-glass jaw cradled in her palms. Her head tilts closer across the meagre space between them, more out of exhaustion than anything as her mouth brushes once, twice, three times, gentle as a lover's caress across the quiver of Lena's bottom lip.

It should never have happened like this, Kara finds herself thinking. And yet, she wouldn't change it. And yet, it could never have happened any other way.

When their mouths at last separate, they don't go far. A cool forehead rests against Kara's own, two sets of eyes tightly closed. Lena's breaths shudder out unevenly, high and pitched in the back of her throat. One pale hand stutters up into the space between them, fastening the lead-lined panel back over the Kryptonite in her chest.

There's a moment where they simply exist there, together. Where Lena's nose brushes her cheek and Kara's hands curl against her jaw, her neck, the delicate hollow beneath her ear. And then Lena's other hand, the one still wrapped in Kara's collar and quite possibly the only thing keeping her upright, releases.

Lena all but drops her, shoving away and staggering backwards. Her cheeks, pale as death, now burn high with a rosy blush. Her hands are trembling. She tugs the black fabric of her sleeves down to cover them, fists clenching tight in the material, and Kara's heart ruptures inside her chest at the familiar vulnerability of the move.

Crumpled on the ground and too weak to do anything about it, she looks up at Lena. Her muscles shudder, body shivering so hard her vision shakes with it.

She reaches out one frail hand, fingers smarting with dried blood and the touch of Lena's skin as they strain feebly across the smooth floor. “Lena—”

“Get out of here.” Lena's voice is hard yet brittle; a hollow, echoing thing. She's half turned away, one hand clutching the collar of her black jacket closed. She won't meet Kara's eyes. “Leave, now. Let your imp take you home.”

Kara's stomach twists. “Can we just—”

“No.” A whipcrack. The sound of the gunshot in the split second before the bullet's impact is felt. “Get out of here. Go back to her.”

Tears spill down Kara's cheeks, their heat negligible beneath the smoulder of the poison in her blood. “Lena, please—”

“I don't want this!” Lena explodes, nails clawing through her carefully regimented bun, biting, scratching. “I don't want to live in a world where you can— where we are—”

She chokes off, agonised in her anger, pale fingers trembling where they press over her chest, over her heart. "No,” she says again, firm even as tears course crystal-bright and scarlet-tinged over the curve of her cheek. “No, you have to go. Let this, all of this— let it end. Go back to your Lena.”

She all but spits the words, red-rimmed eyes and spit-slicked lips facing Kara fully for the first time. "May you be gentler with her.”

In the next breath, she's gone.

Kara collapses, last vestiges of strength giving out as she hits the floor face-first. Liquid pools beneath her mouth, her nose, thick and choking. She doesn't have the strength now to even roll her head away.

It could be blood, it could be tears. It's likely both. In the end, like so many things, it doesn't really matter.

 

At some point, through the pain and the dark and the cavernous despair there is a flash of electric, glowing blue, and suddenly Kara is face-down not on the hard floor in a twisted shadow of Catco, but in the softness of her living room rug.

A hand lands on her shoulder and she can't help it, she flinches. But it's only Mxy, wide-eyed and desperately apologetic, helping her to sit up and lean against the edge of the couch.

Her body is trembling. Even though she's no longer poisoned, even though the Kryptonite that had irradiated her now never existed, she feels it still. A ghostly burning in her bloodstream. A phantom noose around her throat.

“Let me make it up to you,” Mxy is gabbling, too fast and too loud to be tolerable in her fragile state. “I feel like we learned a lot from that one. Let's choose another time, another moment for you to tell Lena the truth, I know we can—”

"No,” she interrupts, pain-slurred and tremulous. “I don't need another moment. I need this one.”

She bids the imp goodbye with as firm a shove as she can muster and then she's flying, erratic and unsteady, zig-zagging through the cool night air.

She lands on Lena's balcony— crashes into it, really. Her feet clip the railing as she descends and then she's crumpling, a red and blue heap on the cool white concrete.

Lena's making tea in her kitchen, sleeves pulled down over her hands. Her balcony door stands open— good. She jumps at Kara's arrival, eyes narrowing— bad.

"Let me guess,” she says coolly into the empty air between them. “You're here to tell me once again that I should forgive you.”

But Kara can't speak. Can't do anything but tremble, curled up on the ground, staring up at Lena. Her Lena, with her soft ponytail and her socked feet poking out beneath her jeans, her cosy purple sweater that dips into a tasteful V over her chest.

Her chest, whole and unblemished and unscarred by metal and Kryptonite and death.

Her lips, full and free of makeup. Her fingers, clenching in her sleeves. Her body, beautiful and vibrant and so alive Kara could cry, does a little, tears pooling molten at her lash line.

Lena's brow furrows at her hunched form, her lack of response, her desperate gaze.

“Why are you here, Supergirl?” she asks, cold hostility shot through with something else now, something hot and urgent she's trying very hard to hide. “What's wrong with you?”

Still, Kara can't find it within herself to speak. The sight of Lena before her, so warm and vital and flush with all the promise of the future, lodges itself in her throat.

Reluctance colours Lena's steps as she approaches, wariness clouding her features. She stops short a few feet away, arms folded tight across her chest, the threshold of her living room separating them. It's simultaneously the most insignificant and most insurmountable barrier Kara has ever faced.

“You don't get to just turn up here anymore,” Lena says, eyes narrowed as though trying to decipher Kara's strategy. “That privilege is long gone.”

There's coldness in her voice, yes, but it's such a far cry from the frigid ash coating the throat of the woman this woman could have become that to Kara, Lena's tone is like a splash of sunshine.

Tears break free from her lashes and Lena huffs out a heavy breath.

“What is it, Kara?” she snaps, gaze roving her suit, her body. “Are you hurt? Do you— fuck.” Frustration bleeds into her tone, irritation jerking her hand through the loose end of her ponytail. “Do you need me to call someone?”

She asks it like it's the last thing on Earth she'd like to do. The fact that it is still something she would do, despite despite despite, does nothing to staunch Kara's deluge of tears.

“Lena,” she manages to gasp at last, body wracked with emotion, with the scars of a battle never fought. "Lena. I swear I will always be here.”

Lena's chin snaps up, eyes narrowing, but now that Kara's found her voice she will not lose it again.

“I will always be here for you,” she gasps, nails digging rough into the meat of her thighs. “I promise. I will never leave you and, and— and I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. I am so sorry for what I've done, for how I've hurt you, but the only thing I can do now is try to be better.”

She sucks in a shuddering breath, vision bursting at the seams with green, green, green.“I— I will learn to be gentle with you, Lena. I swear.”

Pink lips are drawn taut with apprehension, mistrust creasing the proud line of her brow. “What is this?” Lena asks, each syllable quivering as it hits the air. “Are you dying?”

Kara huffs out a watery laugh at that, snot-thick and tearful, because she is, isn't she? She's been dying since the day Lena walked out of the Fortress of Solitude with Myriad in one hand and Kara's shattered heart in the other. Really, she's been dying since the first day she opened her mouth in front of this woman, and all that came out was a lie.

“I know that you're hurt,” she says instead. “I know that you're angry. You're right to be. I understand. But I think— I think that maybe, what you want more than anything is for this to just be over.”

She chances a glance at Lena then, the impervious set of her jaw, the fingertips tapping against her folded elbows. No disagreement comes, which, given the circumstances, feels like as much of a white flag as she can dare to hope for.

“I want it to be over, too,” Kara whispers, pushing up until she's kneeling in front of the woman she loves for the second time tonight, the second time in as many universes. “Not to erase what I've done. But to soothe it, maybe, instead of always making everything worse. I just— I need you, Lena.”

Her voice cracks as images flood her retinas; despairing darkness, the burnt-out shell of her loft, blood streaked across linoleum. A heart that glowed green.

She shuffles closer, closer and closer still and, when the other woman doesn't retreat, she pitches forward, face pressed to Lena's sweater-covered stomach, fingers scrabbling for purchase against her hips. She holds Lena, clings to her. Breathes her in, desperate and gasping, tears soaking into expensive cashmere.

“I don't want to let you go,” she muffles out against Lena's stomach. “I don't want to let us become what we'll become without each other. I need you, and I want you, and I love you, Lena. I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Later, hours later, curled on Lena's couch with skin raw from crying and voices hoarse from fighting and hearts bruised from bleeding, she will explain what she means. With Lena's hands warm and soft and real in her own, she will tell her. Tell her about Mxy and his offer and the worlds she's seen and burned. Tell her about what they could have, might have, will now never become, without one another.

She'll kiss the tears from Lena's cheeks, lick the salt from her lips, and when Lena's hands come up, one trembling palm pressed over each of their chests, above their sternums, above their hearts, she will know that Lena understands.

She'll repeat the sentiment till the words blur together, unintelligible but no less ardent; a hundred billion I love yous pressed to Lena's hair, her fingertips, her throat, her mouth.

And Lena will cry, and shake her head with something like resignation in her eyes, and her knuckles at Kara's breastbone are a pressure that reminds her that this isn't over, they can't just be okay, but her lips at Kara's cheekbone and the three words pressed to Kara's jaw like a surrender she's no longer strong enough to refute are a promise that one day, maybe they will be.

All of this will happen later, hours later, away from the hush and the chill and the stars of this moonlit balcony.

But now, right now, as Kara's face presses into Lena's sweater and her pain and her fear and her sorrow and her pleas come streaming out of her with the force of a Kryptonite blast, only a little less destructive, a little more healing, Lena's arms unfold.

Now, right now, Lena's hands drop, one to the side of Kara's neck, the other to the back of her head. Now, Lena's breath shudders out of her as her fingers thread lightly through Kara's hair, and Kara feels the promise of everything that will come later in the palm warm and sure at the nape of her neck, the thumb stroking at the hinge of her jaw.

And now, right now, that's enough.