The screen fades from black to a wall of granite, spanning over the top to show a 3,200 foot drop. The audio comes in slowly, a gentle crescendo of ambient noise. As the shot zooms out and away, a lone figure in a red t-shirt is visible part of the way up the wall. There are no ropes or harnesses in sight.
The figure moves a foot, then a hand. She lifts herself up a few inches, then farther.
The world around her is quiet. Kara Danvers is alone on the wall.
“Come on, Kara,” her dad says. “You’ve got this.”
Kara grips the holds as tightly as she can with her fingers. The harness is pinching her waist and her upper thigh. After sucking in a deep breath, she manages to push out three more grip changes and reach the top.
The pinching is worse when she rappels down. The moment her feet touch the mat of the climbing gym, she rushes to take the harness off.
“Great job, Kara,” her dad tells her, helping her free herself from the buckles. “You got yourself out of a tough spot up there. I’m proud of you.”
“I do not like the harness,” Kara complains, rubbing against the still tender part of her hip. Her English is heavily accented, but slowly improving. “I want climb like you...y mamá.”
Her dad just laughs and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “I don’t know if my heart could take that, princesa. Maybe bouldering when you’re a bit older, huh?”
Kara pouts. It’s not what she meant, and they both know it.
Kara’s voice speaks over various shots and angles of her climbing at ridiculous heights above Yosemite’s valley.
“Anybody can die on any given day,” she says. The audio is less than perfect, with a faint background noise giving the impression that she’s speaking in front of a crowd. “Soloing makes it feel far more immediate, and much more present, but I could die crashing my car on the way to a climb, you know? Climbing without a rope or harness is a totally different experience. Bigger risk, bigger reward, and the focus required is a whole ‘nother level. It’s like another world.”
The visual shifts to show Kara on a stage, filmed from the audience, sitting next to a moderator with a microphone in her hand. Even from a distance and with her glasses on, the blue of her button up shirt makes her eyes pop. Behind her is a blown up image of a book cover, which reads ‘Ser Fiel by Kara Zorel Danvers.’
The audio and the video finally match up. “There’s no comparison to how I feel when I’m soloing,” Kara says, a slight smile on her face. "Almost," she adds after a second of thought.
“We can take the next question,” the moderator says.
A voice from off the screen asks, “how do you deal with being scared on a big climb?”
Kara’s head tilts while she thinks. The audience is near silent as they wait for her answer. “I don’t think I ever feel scared when I climb,” she finally says. “Don’t get me wrong, I definitely get scared. I’m claustrophobic, which is kind of nuts because I live in a van with my sister.” The audience laughs, and Kara laughs with them. “But I guess the answer to your question is that, if I feel scared by a climb, I don’t do it. Or, at least, I work until I’m so prepared and ready that I don’t feel scared anymore.
“There’s risk, and then there’s consequence, you know? The risk—of me falling, that is—is super low, but the consequence is potentially super high. Every route I’ve soloed I have planned for months, sometimes even years. I practice it until it’s all my muscles know. I could tell you every grip of Half Dome right now, if I needed to, and I soloed that over two years ago.” She sighs and looks directly at the camera, easily able to pick it out in the crowd. “My sister makes me practice extra, too. She’s a real hard-butt.”
The audience’s laughter fades into the next question as the shot changes to one much closer on Kara’s face.
“Do you think being a rock climber has had a positive or negative effect on your dating life?” someone asks.
The camera stays close on Kara as she grins. “My dating life?” The crowd gives its biggest laugh yet, and again she laughs right along with them. “Overall, I think it’s been a negative. I travel too much.” She thinks for a second, then adds, “plus, I live in a car. With my sister.”
The crowd laughs once more, and the screen goes black.
Biting back a groan, Kara shifts her weight from one foot to the other. Why she’d chosen heels for this event, she has no idea—it’s not like she gets much practice wearing them. She’s proud of herself for finishing her book, and is flattered that her publisher has so much faith in its future sails, but gosh…Ms. Grant could’ve at least warned her about how long she would have to stand.
The conversation she’d been dragged into simply by being close to the food table drones on around her. Everyone looks fancy, ready to throw money at charities, and even though Kara spent a good portion of her shower making sure that all the chalk was gone from the grooves of her fingernails, she feels a bit like the charity case herself. The climber with the miracle book deal.
She slides a hand behind her and snags another piece of bacon wrapped shrimp. They're about as un-kosher as it gets, but Kara's semi-permanent life on the road has loosened some of the rules she grew up following. The man currently speaking to the little circle she’s found herself a part of says something that causes raucous laughter, and slowly the group makes their way to the bar.
Kara, relieved, doesn’t follow. There’s more bacon wrapped shrimp with her name on it, and it’s because of that tunnel vision focus that she entirely misses the fact that one of the group has lingered behind. Kara is reaching for another snack, her mouth still full, when someone speaks a mere foot to her left.
“Sorry, I don’t think I caught your name…”
Kara whirls around and looks into the most green-blue kaleidoscope eyes she’s ever seen. Time around her seems to stretch, until she’s stuck waiting an eternity for the next beat of her own heart.
She swallows hard. “Kara,” she manages to say, through some kind of divine intervention. “I’m Kara Danvers.”
The woman smiles, a perfect quirk of deep red lips. “Lena Luthor.”
Their hands meet between them. Something monumental shifts.
A man sits and speaks directly to the camera. He wears a plaid shirt and has a sunburn across his nose. The text along the bottom of the screen identifies him as Winn Schott, Filmmaker.
“Gosh, how do you even begin to describe Kara?” he asks. “She’s definitely not what people expect.” He looks to the side and talks to someone off screen. “Is Ms. Grant giving us enough to pay the royalties for that song? I think we just need to show the clip from Morocco.”
The shot changes to a slightly shaky take of Kara climbing a pale orange wall, with the kind of plants far below her that indicate a desert climate. She’s clipped into the wall and moving confidently from grip to grip. The person holding the camera is above her, and the downward shot shows off her impressive shoulder muscles where they bulge out from her bright blue sports bra. Her hair, looking much blonder in the direct sunlight, is pulled into a messy French braid.
Her voice can be heard faintly above the wind. “Always gonna be another mountain,” she sings. “Always gonna wanna make it moooove.”
“Is Little Danvers singing again?” someone asks off screen.
Kara’s voice grows louder over the laughter that starts to trickle in from her climbing partners. “Always gonna be an uphill battle,” she croons, looking up at the person recording and grinning. “Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.”
“I’m not singing,” a voice very close to the camera’s microphone says.
“Ain’t about how fast I get there,” Kara plows on. “Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other siiiiiiiiide.” She holds the note, her voice a stunningly clear soprano, and it echoes on the towering walls around them. “Alex, come on. You gotta finish it. Together.”
A deep sigh can be heard. When Kara finally opens her mouth to sing a final, triumphant “it’s the climb,” her voice is joined by everyone else with her on the wall.
Back to Winn. “Or the one from Utah if we can’t,” he says.
Back to Kara, this time a good thirty feet off the ground, holding herself between two tall parallel slabs of red rock by counter pressure from her feet and back. Her legs are almost exactly perpendicular to the walls, and a paper bag rests on her shins. The camera zooms in and focuses on the Big Belly Burger logo, only to zoom out just in time to catch Kara putting half a cheeseburger in her mouth in one bite.
It’s then that she notices the camera. She says something intelligible around the food in her mouth, shaking a fist towards whoever is filming.
“I think that can explain Kara way better than I ever could,” Winn says when the shot returns to him. “She’s beyond words.”
The screen transitions to the same interview spot, but Winn is gone, replaced by a woman with a short, asymmetrical haircut. The bottom text identifies her as Alex Danvers, Professional Climber.
“Kara’s an idiot,” she says, “but she’s my kid sister, so.” She shrugs.
“Alex,” comes Kara’s distressed cry from off screen. “Eliza’s going to watch this!”
Alex rolls her eyes, a small smile breaking through her stoic expression. “Yeah, alright.” She sighs deeply and begins again. “Kara’s the best person I’ve ever met. She’s kind and generous and never gives up. Life’s really shit a lot of the time, you know? But Kara never is. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. She deserves it all, and more.” Alex nods resolutely, and then repeats, “she’s my kid sister.”
Alex is then nearly knocked over by a blur of blonde hair. Kara wraps her up in a hug that can only be described as aggressive, throwing the shot entirely out of focus. When the camera corrects, Alex’s face is mostly blocked by a messy ponytail, but the shine of tears is visible in her eyes.
“Eliza is in the chicken,” Kara says, carefully pronouncing each word. After a moment her eyes go wide. “Kitchen! I said kitchen!”
Alex is already laughing. “Chicken,” she gasps out, leaning over.
“Cierra la boca,” Kara hisses out.
Alex’s giggles fade. She narrows her eyelids into slits, taking in Kara’s pink face and clenching fists. They stare each other down, and then both take deep inhales at the same time.
A tall man adjusts the size of his visor, squinting in the sun. The text on the bottom of the screen declares him Barry Allen, Professional Climber.
“Barry’s the best flash climber in the world,” Kara says to the camera as she passes, carrying a coil of ropes over to a wall of craggily stone. "He's great to prep with."
Barry grins, shoving his visor onto his head. “She says the sweetest things.”
“I’m better at everything else, though,” she calls over her shoulder.
“Can you explain that?” An un-mic'd voice asks as the camera stays focused on Barry, subtitles clarifying the words. “Flash climbing?”
“Oh, that’s doing a climb on the first try, no falls or anything,” Barry says, fiddling with a carabeaner. “I’d say it’s all about preparation, but that’s all of climbing, really. It’s more about instincts and figuring out problems on the fly.”
Kara wanders back over, fixing her hair into a high ponytail. “He’s flashed some of the hardest routes I’ve ever seen. It’s gnarly.”
“I’ve never free soloed Half Dome, though,” Barry says, “because I have a fully developed prefrontal lobe.”
Kara ignores him. “He’s going to be the first to flash a 9a+, mark my words,” she says.
Barry shrugs. His grin is ever-present. “Anything’s possible,” he says.
The shot morphs into one of the two of them on the wall, laughing about something as they speed upwards. Barry’s voice speaks over the montage of their climb.
“You listen to her explain it, and people who don’t know climbing are like, ‘well, she says she feels safe, and she’s done it loads of times and is fine, so she must know what she’s talking about,’ you know?”
The montage fades to Barry sitting in a staged interview spot, this time clean-shaven with his hair carefully combed. “And then you talk to climbers and they’re like, ‘oh, Kara’s fucking insane.’” He tilts his head to the side and gives the camera a grin. “But then they’ll tell you that she’s the best in the world, because she is.”
The shot changes again to show Kara in her van, enthusiastically eating a family size bag of veggie straws. “I’m not going to say it’s not dangerous—it definitely is. Climbers die all the time, especially those who climb without ropes. John Bachar. Sean Leavy. Derek Hersey.” She pauses, a veggie straw suspended in midair. “My parents.”
She eats the veggie straw calmly. “They weren’t free soloing when they died, though, so maybe that isn’t fair.”
“When did they die?”
Kara’s eyes flick to the person behind the camera, then briefly look directly into the lens. Her attention shifts to the bag of veggie straws before she speaks. “Few months after my thirteenth birthday. You drove past it on the way in, actually.” Kara points off to the side. “Right when you leave 120, the exit onto Big Oak Flat Road? That’s where they crashed. They were coming to climb and hike and stuff for their fifteenth anniversary.” She looks out the open sliding door of her van and her eyes move upwards, tracing something the viewer can’t see.
“I mean, they were coming for a lot of reasons, but...they were coming to climb El Cap.”
“What is it with that hunk of granite?”
Kara looks up from her phone, mind stuck on conversations about space and reality and quantum physics. “What?” Her fingers stutter out a nonsensical reply to the most recent text attempting to explain the quantum realm before she deletes it, closes the text conversation, and gives her sister her attention.
Alex’s head hangs over the edge of her bed and out the back of the open van. Her upside down gaze is focused on a rock formation in the distance. “El Cap,” she says. “I don’t get it.”
Kara turns to stare at it, like she doesn’t already know every crack in its 3,000 foot tall formation. She pauses as she thinks about Alex’s turn of phrase. Maybe it can be just a hunk, if you look at it right. “Some people just get bit by the bug,” she finally answers. Some people see it and can feel the grooves of it in their fingertips already, she doesn’t say. Some people are only brave enough to touch its magnificent face in their sleep.
Alex snorts. “The El Capitan bug?”
‘I guess,” Kara says. She doesn’t have any other words to describe it. “You know how some climbers get.”
“Yeah, I know.” Alex rolls her eyes. “I’m just saying I don’t get it. It’s not the Dolomites. It’s no Half Dome.”
“It’s taller than Half Dome.”
“Well, obviously, Kara.”
Kara sticks out her tongue. If she turned her head to the other side, she could see Half Dome stretching up to the sky above them. At this point, she knows every grip. It’s what they’ve spent the season doing, after all.
It’s their last day alone. Tomorrow, James will join them for what Alex thinks is a long overdue week of climbing together, the three of them. James will bring his camera, because he always does, and Alex will flex ridiculously in every picture he takes so she can post them on whatever dating profile she uses when they’re in a city again.
Except one morning this week Kara is going to wake James up early, and leave Alex sleeping.
She’s going to go up Half Dome, and she isn’t going to bring a rope.
Alex sits in the kitchen of the camper van, looking uncomfortable. “I hate it,” she says, “but Kara’s going to do it whether I’m here or not. So I’m going to be here. And she’s going to know every centimeter of that rock before I let her at it.”
“These shoes are total crap.”
“So buy new ones.”
“I just bought these, Alex.”
“If they’re shit then you need new ones! What's the thing from that show you made me watch? Treat yo’ self, or whatever.”
“You know it's Parks and Rec.”
“'Whatever'—Dios mío, would you look at this blister?”
“Ew, Kara, what the fuck? No, stop—get that away—”
“This is nasty, who recommended these shoes to me? Ay, I’m gonna be days behind now.”
“Wasn’t it Queen? I thought his little company was—”
“You’re right! Oliver!”
“I thought I just needed to break them in, but this is ridiculous.”
“Kara, get your foot out of my face before I shove you out of the van.”
“Oh, it’s barely even near you.”
“Fine, whatever. Happy? You’d think there’d be more variety of climbing gear, it’s the 21st century.”
“Not exactly the most lucrative direction for Nike to go in, I’d imagine.”
“Ha! You lose so many that you might just single handedly make them a profit, actually.”
“I don’t lose my shoes!”
“Yeah, right, Kar. Tell that to someone you don’t have to borrow shoes from.”
“I don’t! They...they lose themselves to me.”
“English doesn’t work like that, kiddo. Lo siento. You lose shoes.”
“I’ll show you—”
“Who’s got shoes now?”
“Get that away from me, oh my God—”
“Get off me, you giant—”
“Move it! Seriously!”
“Say I’m cooler than you. Say I’m—”
“No, Kara. Kara, stop it. Don’t you fucking dare, Kara Danvers. Kara—”
The camera focuses in on Kara sliding her feet into her climbing shoes. They’re bright blue, with a stylized capital L on one side. Kara crams the heel of her foot in and turns to the camera, throwing up a shaka. “Brought to you by L-Corp,” she says. “Proud sponsor of me climbing stuff.”
“Proud sponsor who’s constantly giving you tiny shorts to climb in,” Alex mutters from where she’s organizing the gear on Kara’s other side. “Who ‘needs’ to see pictures of how they fit you for ‘R&D purposes.’”
“James,” Kara nearly whines, “you have to cut that.”
Laughter comes from behind the camera, and the documentary flows on.
“Who was that?”
Kara blinks slowly. Her hand feels warm. There’s a strange sort of phantom pressure gripping it, the lingering memory of someone who’s long since walked away.
“Kara?” Alex snaps her fingers right by Kara’s ear. “Hello?”
“Who was that you were talking to?”
“Lena,” Kara breathes out, still staring in the direction of where her figure had vanished into the crowd.
Alex’s jaw drops. “Luthor? Lena Luthor?”
Kara just nods.
“CEO of L-Corp? Lena Luthor?”
Kara’s annoyance at the unrelenting questions finally leaks into her voice. “That’s what I said, Alex.” She blindly reaches for another piece of bacon wrapped shrimp.
Alex whistles. “Shoot. Think you could hook me up with one of those new smartphones?”
“Oh, shut up.”
Kara alternates biting from the two granola bars she’s got, one in each hand. She might be stretching, but the way she shifts her weight and hops every few moments betrays a truly restless energy.
“What’s got you so excited, Kara?” asks Alex’s voice behind the camera.
“You know what,” Kara says through her most recent mouthful.
“Tell the camera.”
Kara rolls her eyes. “Lena’s coming today.”
Loud rustling is heard as the camera shifts to show Alex’s face, wildly out of focus. “Lena’s coming today,” she whispers.
The shot changes to show a car pulling up beside the van. A figure in a gray hoodie with dark hair gets out of the driver's seat. Kara is on them with an enthusiastic hug as soon as the door is slammed shut.
The camera zooms in as the hug lingers. The arms wrapped around Kara’s waist slip lower, until fingers are hooked into the belt holding her climbing chalk. They rock side to side, faces tucked close together, having a conversation no one else can hear.
The camera quickly goes to focus as they break apart and begin walking over. The person with dark hair—a woman in sunglasses—becomes more and more clearly visible. Kara gets edged out of the shot until all that’s left is part of her arm and her hand, which is entertained with one that’s much paler.
Text appears on the bottom of the screen. It reads:
Lena Luthor. CEO, L-Corp Technologies.
“I confess, I don’t know all that much about climbing.” Lena pushes the remains of her appetizer around with her chopsticks. “Rock climbing?”
“Sport climbing, technically,” Kara says with a smile, “but rock climbing isn’t wrong.”
Lena seems relieved at how easily Kara takes her true ignorance in. “How does one...get into that?”
Kara laughs a little, shrugging. “My parents were climbers. They used to say I was climbing stuff before I walked, actually. And then when the Danvers’ adopted me, they signed me and Alex—my new sister—up for a climbing gym. I think they thought it would make us bond, or something.”
Lena’s eyes are soft, somehow, in a way Kara struggles to understand. She put her chopsticks down as Kara was speaking and leaned forward, fully engaged. “Did it work?” she asks.
Kara grins, half caught in a memory. “Not at all. Alex is older and absolutely hated how much better I was than her, which just made her more determined to get better, which annoyed me because climbing was kind of mine, you know?” She gestures a bit uselessly with one hand. “And the language thing definitely didn’t help.”
Lena leans her chin on one hand. “Language thing?”
Kara blinks, brought back reality and just how little Lena knows about her. “Oh. Right. I’m, uh—I’m from Barcelona, originally. Spain. I moved to California when I was adopted, and I already spoke English pretty well, but I had a super strong accent. Alex just pretended she couldn’t understand what I was saying.” She shrugs, a smile still lingering around her mouth. “We get along really good now, though. I feel like I’m painting a really bad picture of her, but she’s honestly great. We spend most of our time together.”
Lena is still staring, her half-eaten appetizer long forgotten. Kara tries not to stare at it, wondering if it’s too soon to just start eating off of her plate. “Lena?” she asks.
Lena sits up straight again, blinking rapidly. “Yes, sorry. I was just...well, honestly, I’m just surprised by how much we have in common.”
Kara’s head tilts to the side. “Huh?”
“I was also adopted and teased by an older adoptive sibling about my accent. One named Alexander, actually.”
It’s like something blooms in Kara’s chest as she hears that, something warm and lovely. “No kidding,” she says a little lamely, at a loss for more eloquent English words.
“I was quite young, but yes—I moved from Ireland when I was almost five.”
“I had just turned thirteen,” Kara breathes. She's used to what people usually say when they hear that her parents died—that she was so young, that she lost them so early. They're not wrong, and Kara's never had an issue with that phrasing before, but...
"That's old," Lena says softly.
"Yeah," she agrees, her voice just above a whisper. Clearing her throat, she attempts to move on from a moment she can't quite wrap her head around. “Wow, that’s—wow. What a world, huh?”
Lena smirks, holding up her water glass, and Kara rushes to clink hers against it. “Let’s hear it for the EU.”
Lena sits on a camping chair, Yosemite’s valley spread behind her. Her legs are crossed and her posture is perfect, but she’s wearing jeans, sneakers, and a gray National City University hoodie.
“My company focuses on biomedical engineering,” she says, sounding polished. “We were developing and testing new synthetic polymers for a myriad of different projects when I first met Kara. She’s the brain behind most of the advancements we’ve been able to contribute to climbing gear and materials in the last five years. L-Corp is incredibly proud to be Kara’s primary sponsor as she pushes the envelope of what people consider possible.”
“L-Corp is proud,” A voice asks faintly, “but what about you?”
The press-ready smile on Lena’s face goes a little frigid. “I do everything I can to keep Kara safe,” she finally gets out after a pregnant pause, “and I’m constantly afraid that it’s not enough.”
Kara’s climbed Half Dome—well, she doesn’t even know how many times. Alex loves it, for one, and Yosemite is close enough to Midvale that it’s always a great place to spend their time. It’s also got the lingering shadow of a taller rock formation, but Kara’s belly still goes liquid and uneasy at the thought of that. Not yet. One day. Not yet.
But Half Dome...she might just be able to do Half Dome. It wouldn’t be hard to convince Alex to spend more time there, until she knew each hold so well she could finally go up alone. Finally alone, just her and the rock in her hands and the sky at her back. Weightless. Free.
It’s been so long since she soloed something challenging. It’s been so long since she felt like she could breathe that special kind of air, the one that only seems to be around her when she’s untethered on the wall. She’s never soloed something like Half Dome, sure, but if she’s ever going to...well, Half Dome has to come first, doesn’t it? And Kara feels ready. Kara feels like she’s in the best shape of her life, honestly—
“Kara?” Lena asks, her voice gentle. She reaches out and lays her hand on Kara’s forearm, snapping her back to the moment. “Where’d you go?”
Kara blushes. The world comes back to her: Lena’s living room, her couch, the mostly gone bottle of wine on the coffee table before them. “Oh, you know,” she says, waving a hand around. “Thinking about the immortality of the crab.”
Lena blinks and then bursts into befuddled laughter. “What?”
Kara blushes even harder, until she herself much resembles a crab. “Is that not—is that a Spanish one?”
Lena laughs so hard that she tilts sideways and her face gets smushed against Kara’s arm.
“It’s a thing in Spanish, I promise!” Kara protests, her synapses finally firing and connecting the phrase to the right language. “Pensando en la inmortalidad del cangrejo. Thinking about the immortality of the crab! Like, when you’re daydreaming!”
“Kara, please,” Lena wheezes. “Stop.”
Kara can’t help but begin to laugh along, so unused to seeing Lena truly let loose in the way she’s only recently been comfortable doing when they’re together. She doesn’t often mix up idioms—actually, she usually avoids English ones altogether—but maybe there’s something to be said about the way she’s beginning to feel loose and comfortable around Lena, too. About the way some of her walls don’t seem quite so high anymore, or the way that Lena might just know exactly how to climb them now.
It takes a while for them both to calm down, between Kara attempting to explain and Lena bursting into periodic giggles, and by the time they do they’ve both slouched farther down on the couch, heads knocked back and leaning slightly towards each other. The quiet seems natural, not awkward. It’s a gentle kind of peace between them, and Kara wants to wrap herself up in it in preparation for every cold winter day she can see on the horizon.
She didn't know she was waiting for this, right up until the moment she had it.
“Do you remember any Irish ones?” she asks some point later, as Lena plays with the fingers of her hand. “Little phrases like that?”
“Not really,” Lena says, “though I know some now.”
Kara squeezes her hand and turns to look at her. Their faces are closer than she'd realized. “Like?”
“Well,” Lena begins, a smile twisting around her mouth, “There’s an equivalent for yours, I guess. ‘Away with the fairies.’”
Kara snorts. “That’s whenever anyone comes to Yosemite to climb with me and Alex, huh?”
Lena collapses into laughter again, and when Kara joins her, she swears she can feel something in her chest slot into place.
Kara frowns down at a grilled cheese, either the steam from her van’s stove or the color balance of the shot making her face pink.
“Did you put the swiss on mine?” Alex asks from somewhere behind the camera.
Kara hums. The two of them putter around in the cramped space, Alex doing most of the talking. Kara, for once, is mostly monosyllabic.
“It was fun to see Lena today,” Alex eventually says around a bite of her grilled cheese. “Is she going to swing by again? Now that we’ve basically got a whole camp set up out here?”
“No,” Kara answers, her voice quiet but final. “I won’t see her until after.”
“Thank you for coming,” Kara says, lingering by the driver’s side of Lena’s car. “I know it’s...not easy, for you. To be here.”
“I’m glad I came.” Lena fiddles with the sleeves of her long-borrowed hoodie. “It’s nice to see you train. Comforting. Alex really puts you through the paces.”
Kara groans. “Don’t I know it.” She shifts her weight back and forth from one foot to another before speaking again. “Thanks for letting James talk to you.”
“Kara,” Lena laughs, “you don’t have to thank me for everything. I’m here because I want to be.”
“Right.” Kara flushes a bit. “I wasn’t sure. You haven’t been out since...well, since before.”
“It’s not easy,” Lena admits, the even expression that’s been stubbornly on her face all day beginning to crack. “None of this has been easy.”
Kara’s restless shifting reaches its boiling point; her arms reach out and pull Lena into a hug. It lingers, like their hugs always used to, back before it all changed. “It means so much to me,” Kara says, “that you came. It really does.”
“I hate seeing you up there,” Lena gasps out into Kara’s shirt. “I’m sorry, I know—it isn’t even like—I know you had a harness on all day today, it wasn’t even dangerous, but I can’t bear it. The thought of you…” Lena doesn’t manage to say the words.
“I don’t think I’ll fall,” Kara breathes, her lips grazing Lena’s temple. It’s as close to a kiss as they get.
“Kara, please,” Lena says, her voice weak and more than half a desperate plea. “Not today.”
“I need to say this.”
Lena pulls her head back to look Kara in the eyes, and she must see something that lines up with those words, because she just nods mutely.
“I know what falling is like,” Kara says. “I’ve fallen more times than I can remember, and every time there’s this…this second before, where I know it’s coming. It’s the longest second in the world.”
Lena doesn’t want to hear this, but there’s an intensity of blue staring her down, and she listens. Kara’s hand comes up to hold the side of her neck, thumb against her jaw, and Lena’s world shrinks to the space between them.
“Once you’re falling,” Kara continues, “it’s just you and the sky, and everything else disappears. Falling is all there is.”
“Kara,” Lena sobs out, still staring into her eyes. Just her and the sky.
“Lena,” Kara says urgently. “Lena, the second I met you was the longest second in the world.” Her thumb catches the tear that streaks down Lena’s cheek. “I’ve been falling for years,” she whispers, inching closer. “I can’t fall again when I’m already in the air. I can’t fall when I can see a life after El Cap for the first time. I can’t—”
“No, Kara,” Lena interrupts, terror trembling inside her ribcage. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I can’t, while you’re still…”
“I know.” Kara gives her the saddest smile, the most understanding pair of sky blue eyes she’s ever seen. “I know, baby. You can go.”
Lena cries harder. Kara presses a kiss against her forehead, for once with more pressure and intent than a gentle brush of her lips.
“I’ll call you from the top,” she whispers, her voice holding a promise that she can’t quite voice. “Drive safe.”
“Soloing is such a weird, personal experience. I mean, I’ve done all my soloing without telling anybody because I don’t want any extra pressure. And when it gets down to it, it’s just you and the rock and the air behind you. I didn’t tell anyone about it for so long.
“Actually, my best friend Lena—I didn’t tell her that I free soloed for years. I don’t think she even knew what it was, really. She knew I, like ‘climbed,’ but that was just about it. All in the abstract. I knew she didn’t know sport climbing stuff, so I just...never explained it. I let her think I did all my climbing with Alex, lead or top-roping or whatever. Hooked into the rock.”
“What changed?” James’ voice asks.
Kara smiles a little ruefully. “I soloed Half Dome, and your picture of me up there went on the front of Catco Magazine. Hard to hide it, after that. She didn’t, um...take it well.”
“This is how people die, Kara,” Lena growls out, stabbing a finger into the picture. “This isn’t climbing. It’s an adrenaline-junkie death wish.”
“It’s my life,” Kara says quietly. “It was always what I was going to do.”
“Half Dome was the last one, right?” Lena asks, desperation mixing its way into the anger in her voice. “This was your grand finale. If I open this up, that’s what the article will say.” She sounds like she’s trying to convince both of them that it’s the truth.
Kara sucks in a shaky breath, trying to keep herself from blinking so the tears gathering in her eyes won’t fall. Her throat is too thick to speak. She's glad that she's seated, even though Lena looms over her.
“Kara,” Lena nearly begs.
“El Cap,” she chokes out. “I’ve always been—it’s always been about El Cap.”
Lena blinks at her, still breathing heavily. Her eyes glaze over a bit, as though she’s doing a complicated equation entirely in her head, and when they clear up again she pins Kara with a thoroughly focused stare. “El Capitan,” she seethes, her accent showing more than usual as it hits the last syllable, “is three thousand feet tall.”
Kara nods. Lena nods back as she straightens up, clenching her jaw. She takes a few deep breaths, still nodding, and then takes the magazine and throws it in the trash.
“No,” she says.
“No?” Kara responds, spluttering.
“No,” Lena repeats. “Absolutely not.”
“I—it’s not up for debate,” Kara argues. “This is my life, Lena.”
“It’s not a life,” Lena says, now frustratingly calm. “It’s a death wish.”
“I’m not asking your permission.” It’s Kara’s turn to get angry. “I’ve done hundreds of free solos. I’m on the cover of Catco Magazine. This is what I’m good at. I never feel unsafe on a climb.”
“You sound like an addict, you know that?”
“Oh, come on.”
“Of course you don’t think you’re going to die, Kara—nobody does!”
“Nobody’s as good as me!”
“I don’t care!”
“Well, clearly, since this is supposed to be one of the best moments of my career, and all you want to do is tear me down.”
“Argh!” Lena covers her face with both hands and takes a deep, steadying breath. “Okay,” she says, wiping at her eyes. “Okay, this is—you—” She shakes her hands out before putting them on her hips. She has, in a matter of seconds, transformed from Kara’s Lena into Lena Luthor, CEO businesswoman. “You’re right. It’s not a debate.”
“Thank you,” Kara says, slumping back in her chair and severely misunderstanding the direction the conversation is about to go in.
“I’m not debating anything with you,” Lena plows on, as if Kara hasn’t spoken, “and I’m certainly not going to stand by as you willfully endanger your life to such an outrageous degree, personally or professionally.”
Kara goes pale. “Lena—”
“I misspoke, previously. I do care, though it’s abundantly clear at the moment that you do not. I care enough to tell you this to your face, which apparently no one else has been able to: I will not watch you die. I won’t.”
“Lena,” Kara breathes out, her voice just above a whisper. “I’m not going to die.”
“Stop lying,” Lena nearly shouts. “Stop—just stop. I thought that you—that we…” She clears her throat, jaw clenching as she searches for a sentence she can complete. “I can’t do this. El Cap, Kara, I can’t believe that you would throw away—no, I’m not doing this.” She picks up her purse and slings it over one shoulder. “L-Corp will be in contact with your team, Miss Danvers.”
Kara gets up and takes a step forward. “Lena, please.”
“My company will not sponsor your death,” Lena says with absolute finality in her voice. “Call me when you’ve come to your fucking senses.”
Winn rubs a hand across his face. “I’ve definitely thought about it, you know? Like, how us being her might affect her. How filming her might put her under undue pressure.” He shrugs and smiles weakly.
“What if we film her, and she falls?” His voice cracks. “What if she falls because we’re there? She’s never soloed with pressure like this before. With people knowing she’s going up. So, obviously we’ve talked about it. Our climbing plan has us almost entirely out of her sight. She should be able to completely tune us out, even forget that we’re there. But still…” He sighs. “Yeah, I’ve thought about it.”
Lena looks up from her tablet as there’s some kind of commotion outside her office door. Her assistant’s voice rises until Lena makes out the “miss, you can’t go in there—”
Her office door flies open, and Alex Danvers strides in. “Lena,” she says evenly.
Jess steps valiantly between Lena and the older Danvers sister, shooting her boss an apologetic look. “I’m so sorry, Ms. Luthor, she—”
“It’s alright, Jess,” Lena interrupts. “Give us a minute?”
Jess seems reluctant but does as she’s asked. Alex is seated in the chair on the other side of Lena’s desk before the office door even closes. “Lena,” she says again.
“Alex,” Lena says back.
They stare each other down. Alex puts up a good fight, but Lena isn’t exactly in the mood to fuck around. She had a board meeting earlier that very day, and is more than content to keep channeling her stone-cold-bitch business vibe.
“You can’t stop sponsoring Kara,” Alex finally says, giving up whatever contest they were competing in.
Lena just raises an eyebrow. “Yes, I can.”
Alex huffs and crosses her arms. “What I meant was, you won’t stop sponsoring Kara.”
Lena taps her tablet’s stylus against the edge of her desk. Alex looks content to get back to staring her down, but Lena is unfazed. Her fury is righteous and indignant, and she feels all the more stronger for it. “Frankly, Alex,” she finally grits out, “I’m fucking stunned that you’re taking her side.”
Alex’s head snaps back. “Excuse me?”
“Your younger sister has a death wish,” Lena says, working to keep herself from shouting, “and you’re enabling her at every turn. So yes, Alex, I am stunned.”
“You think I—” Alex drags a hand over her face. “God, you’re a piece of work, you know that?”
“Me?” Lena asks incredulously.
“Yes, you! You think I want her to do this kind of shit?” Alex tugs off her leather jacket and throws it onto the empty seat next to her.
“Make yourself at home,” Lena mutters.
“The thing is,” Alex plows on, “Kara’s kind of messed up.”
Lena bristles on her friend’s behalf at the accusation, but Alex waves her off.
“No, seriously, Luthor, you’ve gotta hear this. Kara’s been messed up ever since I met her. She grew up in this weird, fucked up little community of climbers, and part of her is always trying to achieve the impossible, just like everyone she admired was trying to. She has this—this uncontrollable urge to prove herself to people that don't exist anymore. Her parents aren’t the only ones who died, you know? By the time she turned 18 she was practically the only one left. There’s some things she can’t let go of. God knows I’ve tried to get her to. It’s not healthy, or even sane, but it’s how she makes them matter. It’s how she keeps them with her—keeps them alive, I guess.”
“I don’t understand,” Lena interrupts, condescension dripping from her voice. “You know her so well. And you’re, what, shrugging your shoulders as she climbs two thousand feet in the air without a fucking harness? Give me a break.”
“I didn’t know she was going to free solo Half fucking Dome,” Alex hisses, leaning forward.
“But you knew,” Lena counters. “You knew she did that. That kind of climbing.”
Alex clenches her jaw and leans back in her chair again. She doesn’t refute the claim.
“You know what she’s planning,” Lena whispers. It’s half a question. “What’s next?”
Alex exhales shakily. Her eyes are wet. “Yeah,” she says. “I know.”
“I can’t, Alex,” Lena admits. “I can’t.”
“I woke up,” Alex says, ignoring her, “alone in the van. Kara was already halfway up. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Lena blinks and a tear falls down her left cheek. She shakes her head.
“Kara’s going up either way,” Alex tells her, her own eyes wet. “So the question isn’t whether or not you’re going to stop her. The question is: are you going to help her get to the top?”
Lena cries silently as Alex wipes at tears she doesn’t let fall.
“You don’t even have to talk to her,” Alex finally says, understanding etched across her face. “Just don’t stop sending her gear. We both know you’ve got the best gear in the world. Just—please.” Alex clears her throat harshly as she nods, her piece fully said.
Hands shaking under her desk, Lena nods back.
“We do a lot of movie nights in the van,” Kara says, going from downward facing dog to cobra in one smooth movement. Her yoga mat is set up in the grass, and it looks to be late afternoon. “Sometimes I think that’s all that’s keeping us from driving each other completely insane.”
“We go plenty insane trying to agree on which movie to watch,” Alex interjects. Despite the late hour, she’s got a pair of aviators on. Unlike her sister, she’s fully relaxed in a camping chair. “You can do as many sun salutations as you want, Kara, but I’m still going to make you do abs.”
Kara groans and shifts into a forearm plank. “Alex is terrible,” she says to the camera. “She always wants to watch Die Hard or The Shining. The Shining! When we live in the woods, basically!”
“Don’t be a baby,” Alex snarks. “I don’t make you watch Blair Witch, do I?”
Kara shudders, but doesn’t shift from her position. “I have taste,” she says, ignoring Alex’s comment. “I can see the beauty in a good rom-com. I believe in love and happy endings.”
“Kara also believes that the entire spectrum of human emotion can be found in the Hannah Montana Movie,” Alex says, moving her sunglasses down so the camera can clearly see her rolling her eyes.
“Do you mean Hannah Montana: The Movie?” Kara asks.
“That’s literally just what I said.”
“Um, it’s literally not.”
Alex looks over to the camera with an exasperated expression and the shot fades into one of Kara alone, sitting on a porch in a worn MIT hoodie.
“It’s kind of funny, actually,” she says. “My dad always said, uh, ‘ser fiel, Kara.’” Her tongue rolls the r in her name in an imitation of her father. “It means ‘keep faith,’ basically. Or, like, ‘be faithful.’ He would say that whenever anything went wrong. Keep faith. And that’s what she sings at the end, so.” Kara shrugs. “Plus, it’s a song called ‘the Climb,’ what am I supposed to do? Not sing it? Please.”
“Kara, I swear to all things holy, if you put that shit on again—”
Kara stubbornly puts the well worn DVD into the machine without a glance towards her sister. “It’s a good movie, Alex.”
Alex groans. “Luthor, please, talk some sense into her. You’re our only hope.”
Lena shrugs, grabbing a handful of popcorn. “I actually don’t mind it all that much.”
Alex gapes as Kara cheers. “How?” she asks. “How did you find another adult who will willingly sit through this Disney Channel monstrosity?”
“Lena has taste,” Kara says, throwing herself down on the couch between them. “Lena can appreciate that shot in the revolving door where she takes the wig off and Travis sees her. Lena can see the beauty of the ‘Hoedown Throwdown.’”
“I’m going to leave,” Alex threatens, trying to free herself from under the blanket. “You’re wasting one of our few movie nights in National City on Hannah fucking Montana.”
Kara throws a leg over her lap to keep her trapped. “It’s my night to pick,” she says, “and I want the power of home and family and love in small-town Tennessee. So, suck it.”
Lena chortles and reaches for another handful of popcorn, highly entertained before the movie has even started to play. She can’t resist adding a little bit more fuel to the fire. “Kara said it’s made you cry before.”
“You can’t tell people that. I was drunk!”
“You still cried when Billy Ray Cyrus joined in during ‘Butterfly Fly Away.’ Being drunk doesn’t erase that.”
Lena eats more popcorn.
Alex smacks her sister with a throw pillow. “I’m allowed to be sad during scenes with fathers and daughters. Without ridicule. I can’t believe you told Lena that.”
“Oh, come on, it’s Lena,” Kara protests. “She shouldn’t count.”
Lena raises her eyebrows. “Excuse me? What does that mean?”
It’s Alex’s turn to grin. “Yeah, Kara,” she piles on, “what does that mean?”
Kara blushes a bright red to match the packet of twizzlers on the coffee table. “I just—well, what I mean is…I tell Lena everything.” She grins, satisfied with her own explanation. “So, Alex really shouldn’t be surprised. Of course I told Lena.”
It’s Lena’s turn to flush, her cheeks turning the tiniest bit pink. “Right,” she manages to say in a steady voice. She turns her attention to the screen. “Can you turn it up? I don’t want to miss Tyra’s scene.”
Alex sighs as Kara gleefully cranks the volume. Kara’s right. She really shouldn’t have been surprised.
Kara stands in a t-shirt and shorts against a wall of stone. A bag of chalk sits at her lower back. Her hair is pulled into a high ponytail.
It’s just light enough for the camera to be able to pick up the shot. Kara breathes deeply and then rests one hand against the rock. “Winn’s staying down here, right?”
“Yeah,” James says from behind the camera.
“When Alex wakes up, have him tell her to meet me at the top, okay?”
“So, today’s the day?”
Kara nods but doesn’t turn around. The camera just barely picks up the movement of her thumb stroking against the rock. “Today’s the day,” she says. “I can feel it.”
“Should I say good luck? I definitely don’t want to say break a leg.”
Kara grins over her shoulder. “I don’t need luck,” she says. “I’ve got faith.”
Kara pulls herself another six inches up, then another. The sun slowly warms the granite under her fingertips. Wind whips her ponytail across her cheek.
She doesn’t need to look down. Her hands find the next grip as sure as her heart beats. It’s just her and the wall—just her and El Capitan.
The next sequence is tricky. Kara can hear Alex’s coaching in her head. Her fingertips find the right groove. Her father taught her how to do that. Just beyond the howl of the wind, she can hear the faint buzzing of the drone that’s recording her go up.
Kara grins as she moves through the section as smooth as Bisquick pancake batter. It’s just her on the wall, but she’s far from alone.
Kara fumbles for the zipper pocket on her shorts and pulls out her phone, still panting with flushed cheeks. She taps quickly and then holds the phone up to ear as she waits for it to ring. “Hi,” she says a little breathlessly. “Busy?
“I’m just looking over the valley and I wanted to call you. Hm? Yeah, I did.” She laughs in the same airy way she’s been speaking. “Yeah, I just finished…I was thinking as I was climbing, actually, ah…
“Lena?” Kara wipes the back of her hand over her eyes. “I don’t think there’s gonna be another mountain after this. And I think I really do care about who’s waiting on the other side.” Whatever’s said in response makes her laugh. “I only sang a little while I was on the wall,” she admits. “It was really hard. But I did it. And I was thinking, now that I’m done…” She clears her throat as she glances at the camera. The flush on her face gets to be a deeper pink. “Well, I’m thinking that I’m done. What are you doing for the rest of the day?”
The shot changes to one from behind her, exposure shifted to show the sky in its full early morning brilliance. Kara can only be seen in silhouette, but her audio still rings clear as she asks, “do you wanna get dinner?”
From there, it's a slow fade to Kara and Alex sitting side by side, looking over the same view. The sun is slightly more directly above them. Alex has an arm slung around Kara’s shoulders. Her cheeks are wet, but she’s smiling.
“What’re you gonna do next, Kara?” James asks.
Kara grins at him, her eyes focusing just beyond the camera. “I’m going to Disney World!”
Alex laughs, flopping down onto her back and closing her eyes. “You were waiting for him to ask that one, huh?”
“Duh.” Kara shrugs, unapologetic. “I thought of that halfway up. They give you money and stuff to say that, right? Alex?”
Alex just laughs more, shaking her head as her eyes remain firmly closed.
Pouting, Kara turns back to James. “Do you want something better for the doc? Like, about climbing?”
James sighs, but his voice is all fondness and relief. “Please, Kara.”
“Okay, ask again.”
“What are you going to do next, Kara?”
Kara twists her torso to face the camera more fully. “I’m going to take Lena Luthor on a date, and I’m gonna date her so hard. And as soon as I can get away with asking, I’m begging her to marry me. And most importantly,” she says, knocking her knuckles against the rock she’s sitting on, “I’m never thinking about this hunk of granite ever again.”
01:41:25 / 2013
Kara is driving, shot from the passenger seat. Her bangs date the recording as being a few years old, at least. It’s early, just barely light out, and she taps her fingers along the wheel as the audio fades in mid conversation.
“I mean, every climber hates falling, but honestly…” Her voice trails off as she signals for a turn and takes it a little roughly, pulling the car into her now regular parking space at the campsite. She throws the vehicle into park and looks over at the camera, or rather the person holding it. “If I tell you something, will you not tell Alex? I mean, she’ll see it eventually, of course, if we end up doing something with this, but still. At least until I make it up.” Kara must get the answer she’s looking for, because she continues on.
“There are times I really love it. Falling, I mean. On the right climb, when I let go…” She shrugs. “I might as well be flying.”