Actions

Work Header

for all the things my hands have held

Chapter Text

As it turns out, tracking down and harnessing the seven all-powerful Totems that combine to make one master of reality itself is somewhat easier said than done.

In the grand scheme of safeguarding all of existence, Kara supposes this is a good thing. But when she's the one who's drawn the short straw on this impossible task, she sure doesn't have to like it.

“I don't know what I'm gonna do,” she huffs, drumming her fingers against Lena's workbench with a sigh. Sympathetic green eyes gaze up at her and Kara has to fight the urge to sink into her best friend's arms and forget about everything else for a while. She forces her mind back to the task at hand, shaking her head. “When I accessed the Totem's gauntlet at the Hague, it said I needed to inspire a hope that burns longer and brighter than the sun.”

Saying the words aloud now doesn't make them seem any less impossible than they had in the Netherlands, and Kara sighs.

“But it didn't give me a starting point like last time, and I can't afford to try and fail, I mean—” She shakes her head, as if that will help shake the ugly memories away. “You saw how bad things got when I didn't pass the courage gauntlet.”

Warm green eyes are still gazing at her in understanding, in expectation, and Kara wrenches herself out from beneath the weight of her failings and back to the crisis of the hour. It's easy, it's so easy to get lost in Lena. But now is not the time.

“I try to provide people with hope all the time— what can I do differently now?”

The petulant tone of her voice is grating even to her own ears but hey, okay, she's the freaking Paragon of hope. She's singlehandedly overcome Myriad's mind control, the legacy of red Kryptonite, Obsidian North's VR stranglehold, by inspiring people to believe. Yet now, now she can't conjure one measly bit of faith? It's not fair. If she was going to have a shot with any of the Totems, this one should have been a shoo-in.

Lena huffs out the faintest hint of a chuckle. “Well on the bright side, if it's a race between you and Nyxly to provide hope for a Hope Totem, I know where my money's going.”

She smiles a little, the lines of her face softening, and something about the depth of compassion in her eyes stills the anxious roiling of Kara's stomach for just a moment. It’s a shame the gauntlet isn't about finding her own source of hope, Kara muses absently. Because she's got that right in front of her.

Kara returns her smile, practically a reflex at this point, then sighs as the hopelessness of it all hits her once more. She sags against the side of the workbench, barely resisting the urge to throw herself dramatically across its surface.

Lena quirks an eyebrow like she knows exactly what Kara wants to do, and is just daring her to try. Kara shuffles her feet, cowed, and Lena shakes her head fondly.

“A burning hope?” she repeats, low and thoughtful, fingertips tapping against her chin as she considers.

Kara tugs a despairing hand through her hair. "Longer and brighter than the sun.” Stupid gauntlet and its stupid flowery language. God forbid any of the challenges en route to dominion over everything in existence be straightforward.

Lena gazes at her another long moment, green eyes arresting and impenetrable, and then she's pushing back on her stool, rounding the table to stand before her. She steps close, right into her space, and Kara feels her breathing hitch.

"What— what are you doing?” she stammers as Lena's hands come up, fingers fluttering against her collarbone.

“I have an idea of how you might beat this gauntlet,” Lena hums, a corner of her mouth quirking as Kara's cheeks flush scarlet, her palms beginning to sweat. Soft hands slip round to the back of Kara's neck, fingers linking at her nape, and she just barely manages to restrain a full-body shiver at the sensation.

"But, um. What?” she manages eloquently as Lena's hip presses against her pelvis, the lengths of their bodies slotting together.

Lena arches one perfect brow. “Well, I'm not going to fly myself to the Hague, am I?”

“Oh. Oh.” Kara's fairly certain she's swallowed her own tongue by this point, but that's not exactly an essential body part for flying, so she doesn't dwell. She just loops one arm across Lena's lower back, stooping to slip the other beneath her thighs and then Lena's cradled in her arms, chin tilted against her shoulder, fingers toying with the fine baby curls at the base of her skull.

She straightens, shifting her precious cargo more comfortably in her grip, which is a mistake as it turns out because the motion puts her face to face with Lena, the tips of their noses almost brushing.

"Alright, then,” Lena whispers, all soft lips and laughing eyes and sweet breath tickling her cheek. “Take me away, Supergirl.”

 

The conference room is deserted when they arrive in the Hague. This is good, in that it means there's no one around to witness this if things go south. It is also bad, in that it means that negotiations between the delegates have broken down and they've likely devolved into punching each other in alleyways, but. One problem at a time.

“You really are a very efficient method of transportation,” Lena muses as Kara sets her gently back on her feet. "Next time we've had a particularly long day at the Tower, do you think you could shoot me over to the Maldives for an evening on the beach?”

“Sure,” Kara manages, mind definitively not mere seconds from combusting beneath the mental image of Lena in a bikini. “Whatever you want.”

Lena smiles at her, a bright, beautiful smile, and turns to survey the room.

“Alright, where's this Totem?” she asks, hands stacking on her hips in a move eerily reminiscent of Kara's own Supergirl stance. The sight sends a thrill of warmth down the length of her spine.

She stands quietly while Lena appraises the carved flower of Elpis, fighting the urge to shuffle her feet. After a long moment Lena straightens decisively, holding out a hand. “Okay. Let's do this.”

"Do what?” Kara asks, even as she reaches out and tangles their fingers together anyway. “I have no idea what we're doing.”

"Just put your other hand on the Totem,” Lena says calmly, manoeuvring them so they're facing one another directly in front of the carving. Kara does, feeling the stone warm beneath her skin. Lena reaches out, wrapping her free palm around where their fingers are already linked together, both her hands cradling Kara's.

Lena's eyes are fixed on her own feet, scuffing against the parquet floor. She takes a deep breath as she raises her head, their gazes meeting with a jolt of sudden intensity. “Okay, I have no idea if this is going to work,” she starts, teeth worrying absently at her bottom lip. “And if it doesn't, well. You're not allowed to laugh, and we'll never speak of it again. Deal?”

Despite herself, despite the seriousness of the situation, Kara smiles. “Deal.”

“Okay. Okay.” Lena seems like she's steeling herself, working up her nerve, and Kara squeezes the fingers threaded through her own in gentle encouragement.

“Okay,” Lena says again. “Kara. When you described the Hope Totem's gauntlet, all I could think was that it makes no sense for it to ask you to do something you've already done so many times before. And then I thought, maybe it can't be in the past, maybe you have to prove yourself anew, but— well, what about something you're already doing?”

Kara can feel her own brow furrow. “What do you mean?”

“I mean—” Lena sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth. “I mean, what if you're already inspiring a hope that burns longer and brighter than the sun? What if— what if you have been all along?”

Kara feels her stomach tighten. She thinks she might know where this is going. “Lena—”

“Kara.” The hands around hers tighten. “Let me say this. Let me try.”

She acquiesces with a wordless nod, heart thrumming fast as a hummingbird's in her chest.

Lena swallows, tongue darting out to wet her lips. “You are my hope, Kara,” she whispers, quiet in the cavernous hall. “You have been since the day I met you. You've saved me, supported me, encouraged me more times and in more ways than I can count. You've inspired me to be a better person, you— you've brought light to the darkness of my days.”

The lump in Kara's throat swells until it's all-encompassing, tears prickling the corners of her eyes. She holds fast to Lena's hand, an anchor in the storm, and wills herself to keep it together.

“And even, even when things were bad between us, you were still—” Lena chokes off, throat working, but keeps their gazes locked. “That belief never faltered. Everything I did— I went about it completely wrong, I know, but everything I did was to try and make the world a better place. Because— because you gave me hope that I could, that a goal like that was possible. That it was worth fighting for.”

There's a roaring in Kara's ears that's probably got something to do with the way her heart is throwing itself against her ribs like a caged beast, longing to be free.

When Lena speaks again, it's so quiet it's barely a sound at all.

“Here's the truth,” she breathes, and they both pretend not to notice the way her voice is trembling. Green eyes glitter with unshed tears. "When I lose my way, lose my hope, lose myself, I think of you. I think of you, and I find the strength to keep going. Because when I have nothing else, I have this.” Lena's hands squeeze hers again, deliberate and unmistakeable. Two diamond tears track their way down her cheeks, and she smiles. “That feels a lot like burning hope to me.”

The silence that follows in the wake of her words feels holy.

“Lena,” she whispers, because nothing else comes close.

“It's okay,” Lena manages, still smiling even as her breathing shudders, even as more tears spill hot down the curve of her cheek. “It's okay. Just try it now. Try the Totem.”

Heart in her throat, pulse howling in her ears, Kara reminds herself why they're here. Keeping a tight grip on Lena's fingers with one hand, she flexes the other against the smooth stone carving. Sucks in a deep breath, lets it out in a shiver. “Cgyrzyx.”

For a moment, nothing happens. Lena's fingers tighten around her own, nails digging into her skin. And then, a flash of glowing, electric blue.

You have performed admirably, booms the disembodied voice in her ears as the Hope Totem materialises in her palm.

 

Later, after she's faced down Nyxly, after she and William have wrangled back the Courage and Humanity Totems and they're sitting side by side with the Hope crystal in their neat little energy-dampening cases, she looks for Lena.

She finds her, as is so often the case these days, curled up on a couch in a cosy corner of the Tower. Heels kicked off, hair pulled back in a messy bun at the nape of her neck, she looks so soft and inviting huddled inside her oversized knit cardigan that Kara can't resist the temptation to pull her close for a too-quick hug as she settles in beside her.

They split Korean takeout – if an 80:20 ratio can be considered splitting – and discuss the endless controversies in the most recent episode of Bake Off that they'd binged, and it's so familiar and comforting that Kara almost forgets they're in the midst of a quest to prevent total world annihilation.

But when they fall into a comfortable silence, bent legs brushing, she sees the lines of worry carving themselves into Lena's face, the exhaustion behind her eyes.

“Hey, thanks,” she murmurs, nudging Lena's knee with her own. “For today, I mean. I wouldn't have gotten the Hope Totem without you.”

I wouldn't have gotten anywhere at all without you, is what she means but doesn't say. For now, she knows it. That's enough.

Lena only smiles, ducking her head so a loose strand of hair falls into her face. Kara's fingers twitch with the urge to smooth it back.

“I didn't do anything.”

Lena,” Kara chastises lightly, but she knows better than to try and convince her best friend of her own worth when she's firmly entrenched in her self-deprecation, so she doesn't say anything more. Just shuffles a little closer, nudging until Lena's bent shins rest against the tops of her thighs.

"Hey,” she hums, leaning her temple against the back of the couch, eyes fixed on the woman in front of her. “Why did you think I might laugh, today? Why did you say we could never talk about it again, if it didn't work?”

Lena's cheeks flush a mouth-watering pink. Her hands come up to cover them, pressing herself back into the cushions as she huffs out a chuckle. “Because it's embarrassing!” she mutters, peeking out at Kara through her fingers. “I just spilled a whole emotional waterfall on you with no warning. I mean, it did work, so I guess it was worth it, but if it hadn't— God, it was ridiculous. So stupid.”

“What? No,” Kara protests, reaching out to tug Lena's hands away from her face. “It wasn't stupid at all, it was—”

Beautiful, she thinks, heart somersaulting in her chest. Mind-blowing. One hundred per cent reciprocated.

"—what I needed,” she manages at last, squeezing the hands in hers. “It was exactly what I needed.”

Lena shakes her head, still blushing. This time, Kara doesn't fight when she pulls her hands back, pressing them to the warmth of her cheeks again. She's frozen, her own words ricocheting around the inside of her skull like a bazooka, hitting a billion little lightbulbs on its way.

“Exactly what I needed,” she mumbles again, squinting into the middle distance. “I wonder—”

She's up and moving across the room before Lena can even lament the loss of warmth, retrieving the ancient slingshot from its protective cage and crossing back to the couch again.

A time when your courage failed, she thinks as she holds the Courage Totem reverently in her palms.

“Hey, Lena?”

Green eyes blink up at her curiously. “I have an idea,” Kara mutters. “I'm not sure, but maybe—”

She focuses in on her best friend again, lets the sight of Lena fill her up. Takes in the soft frizzy curls at her temples, the faint echo of laughter lines at the corners of her eyes. Lets the feelings that always accompany her proximity to this woman – devotion, regret, heartbreak, love – build inside her chest until they're all she feels, all she knows.

She looks at Lena like she's the only thing in her universe. It's not so far from the truth.

Cgyrzyx.”

A crackle of sharp, electric blue, and then everything goes dark.

 

Kara opens her eyes to a field.

It's a field she's been in before. Lined with bare trees and banks of low cloud, the wet grass still holds the imprint of the Kryptonian pod that had been here just moments before. Kara lifts her hands to her own cheeks, pulls them away wet.

Rain, she thinks, blinking the droplets from her lashes. Rain, and tears. Mon-El. She's just said goodbye.

The force of the grief hits her like a tidal wave, the loss of the last living relic of the life she'd once known and all her hope along with it cracking her ribs, hewing her open.

She's flying before she's made the conscious decision, desperate to get away. Kara remembers this, remembers doing this, five years ago. Or rather, she remembers not remembering. Not knowing what she'd needed until she had it. Not knowing where she was going until she was already there.

She lands on L-Corp's balcony without a sound. Perches on the high concrete pillar at the edge of the railing, legs swinging out over empty air.

Lena is there. Of course Lena is there, her heartbeat thudding out like a homing beacon so powerful Kara had followed it even through her haze of incognisant agony. She leans against the railing, profile silhouetted by the dying light, whiskey glass dangling precariously from her fingertips. When Kara lands, she doesn't turn.

"They're gone, then.”

Something about the way Lena says the words, the pain and self-loathing rooting through them, scratches at Kara like an itch beneath the skin.

She blinks the lingering tears from her vision, bringing up a hand to the hollow of her throat where her mother's necklace once lay. Her fingertips brush empty skin, and she shudders.

“Yes, they're gone,” she manages in Supergirl's tone, Supergirl's cadence, speaking words she's spoken before. It's a pre-written script, flowing from her lips without the need for conscious thought. “Every Daxamite ship has left Earth's atmosphere. The invasion is over, thanks to you.”

Lena snorts, a harsh, derisive sound. “Hardly.”

Kara's brow furrows without instruction, her body moving on autopilot through a scene she's played out before. “What do you mean, Ms Luthor?” she asks, careful to keep her voice quiet in the hush of the impending darkness, to keep her eyes fixed on the city. “You helped S— me save the world.”

“Only after I brought the Daxamites here in the first place, all but handed them National City on a silver platter,” Lena says lowly, and the self-flagellation in her voice is so evident that Kara’s fingers twitch with the urge to reach out. She clenches them into fists, as she has so many times before.

“You couldn’t have known—”

“No,” Lena half-laughs, but there’s no joy behind it. “So everyone keeps telling me.”

She takes another sip from the glass dangling loosely from her fingertips. “And it would be fine, you know? I'd be able to come to terms with it, but when my device saved this city it broke my best friend’s heart. I sent the man she loves away, and she's going to hate me for it. I don't— I don't think she'll ever forgive me.”

Lena cuts herself off with a sigh. Kara’s stomach bottoms out. This, this is something she hasn't missed in the years since the final reveal of her identity. These moments in which the two halves of her, Kara Danvers and Supergirl, had clashed so sharply she'd felt the reverberations to her very core.

And always, always because of Lena. Everything, really, has always been because of Lena.

“I’m no stranger to being alone, Supergirl,” the woman in question says suddenly, interrupting Kara’s thoughts. “Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not looking for pity.” The young CEO’s face twists into a bitter smile. “I suppose I had— let myself get used to friendship again. Always harder to get back on the wagon once you’ve had a taste, right?”

Kara's heart, already broken, shatters into dust. She remembers this night, this talk. Remembers this pain, these slick coiling ropes of guilt and regret. This is why she's here, she realises. This is the reason.

Lena clears her throat, ducking her head. “God, I’m sorry. Forget I said any of that. Scotch has been known to make me melodramatic on occasion.” She lets out a quiet exhale, eyes down. “The city’s safe now, thanks to you. That’s what matters.”

And this, this is so Lena that Kara almost wants to cry. Pushing down her own pain, hiding it, focusing on the greater good. She watches the neutral CEO mask slip back over Lena’s expression, and Kara aches.

She knows what comes next. Knows the script by heart; feels the words already pushing against her teeth.

Well, I would say your friend is very lucky to have you, Ms Luthor, she'll just about manage around the lump in her throat. She'll tilt her head, catching the gaze of those green eyes for the first time. I would say we all are. This city, myself included.

And Lena will smile, and it won't reach her eyes. And Kara will fly away from the weight of the lies she's told, her own half-hearted platitudes still ringing in her ears. She won't see Lena again for almost two months, cocooned as she is inside the shell of her own pain, oblivious to the outside world. And when they do fall back together, there will always be that undercurrent of wariness in Lena's gaze. That kernel of doubt that screams you left me, once. How do I know you won't do it again?

This is it, she realises. All things being equal, this is the moment she should have told Lena the truth.

Before this, it had been too early. The secret, her secret, is not one she shares lightly. But when Lena moved from acquaintance to best friend, when she cemented her place in Kara's life and in her heart, Kara began to owe her honesty more than she'd ever owed herself secrecy.

Only yesterday, yesterday, she'd stood beside Cat Grant staring up at the Daxamite ships hovering above the city, and she'd looked her boss in the eye and said two people I love are trapped on that ship and if we destroy it, then they're destroyed too. And that— that would break my heart.

And it was the truth. She'd loved Mon-El, and now he's gone. She loves Lena, too; has admitted that much to herself at this point in her own timeline. She loves Lena, and Lena is still here, and this is when she should have been brave enough to be honest.

Every moment she'd spent with Lena since had been a moment in which her courage had failed.

Kara takes a deep breath. Pushes off the pillar to stand beside her at the railing.

“Lena,” she says, before she can chicken out. Two perfect eyebrows shoot upwards, surprised by the sudden lack of formality but Kara can't even bring herself to say it, can't Ms Luthor a woman she knows better than her own heartbeat. Not now.

"Lena,” she says again, turning so they're face to face, hips propped against the frosted glass. “Kara doesn't hate you. She never has. I don't think she's capable of it.”

She steps closer, proximity without contact.

“You don't know that,” Lena whispers, whiskey-slack and tremulous. “You can't know that.”

“I can.” She rolls back the sleeve of her suit a little, slides the hair tie from her wrist. Gathers her rain-damp curls into a ponytail, secures it with a sharp snap. “I do.”

“Oh my God,” Lena breathes, the wine stain of her lips a perfect o in the darkness. “Oh God. Kara?”

“It's me, Lena,” she whispers, heart pounding so heavily in her chest she fears she might vomit. “I'm Kara. She's— I'm Supergirl.”

“All this time,” Lena murmurs, face a blank canvas of shock. “All this time you were really—”

She swallows. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I'm sorry I didn't tell you from the start.”

But Lena waves her away. Her hands are trembling so violently that the whiskey glass slips from her fingers. Kara catches it before it can shatter, depositing it safely on the ground.

“No, I don't care, I—” Lena's face twists, apprehension clouding her features. “But, Mike. Mon-El. Kara, I— I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry.”

"Lena.” She reaches out at last, finds Lena's shaking hands with her own. “You have nothing to apologise for. There is nothing to forgive.”

Lena only stares up at her, eyes wide and disbelieving. “You don't— you don't hate me?”

Kara absorbs the question like a knife to the chest, jagged and biting. "Never,” she breathes, using the hands still in hers to pull Lena into her arms. She comes willingly, clutching at the material of Kara's suit with a tangible wonder.

"Never,” she says again, a vehemence bordering on violence. “Not in this world, this lifetime, or any other. Do you understand me? Never.”

"Kara,” Lena sobs, tears hot and liquor-sweet against her skin. “Kara. Thank you. Thank you for telling me.”

And then the whole world burns electric blue, and the warmth of Lena against her chest fades back into the expansive nothingness of the universe.

You have performed admirably is the last thing she hears before everything is darkness once more.

 

When she opens her eyes again the first thing she sees are Lena's, wide and worried. She's leaning towards her, hands braced on Kara's knees, mouth forming sounds she can't yet hear.

“Are you alright?” is the first thing that filters in past the ringing in her ears and Kara nods, blinking hard. She looks down. There, in the centre of her palm that only a moment ago held a centuries-old slingshot, is the glowing red crystal of the Courage Totem.

Lena follows her line of sight, breath whistling sharply through her teeth. “You passed it?” she asks softly, gaze searching. “How?”

Kara swallows. She can still taste the coolness of the night air, smell the bite of scotch on Lena's breath, feel the warmth of her in her arms. “It was different. The gauntlet was different.”

Lena's hands are still on her thighs, thumbs sweeping the inner edges of her kneecaps. “What did it show you?”

She looks up at her then, looks straight into Lena's eyes. Sees the years of their relationship laid out before her, the highest highs and lowest lows like waves cresting and breaking toward the inevitable shore. Sees the heartbreak and pain and betrayal inflicted by her secret, the wounds that will scar but may never fully disappear.

How can she look Lena in the eye and tell her how much simpler it could have been for both of them, if only Kara had been braver from the start? How can she tell her that all the misery inflicted by her failed attempts at cracking this gauntlet could have been avoided, if only she'd had Lena by her side since the beginning?

How can she tell Lena – Lena, who looks at her sometimes like Kara singlehandedly lifts the sun from beneath the horizon each morning – that her suffering, that all this suffering, is Kara's fault?

How can she tell her how easy it could have been?

She can't bear to do it. But. But. She will never, she's vowed. She will never lie to Lena again.

“I don't know how to, um, it took me, like, it was— I can't, I don't—”

Kara's chest feels too tight suddenly, ribcage crumbling beneath the weight of her regret, the yoke of her mistakes dragging her down, down, down.

“Alright, hey, it's okay,” Lena hums and then she's reaching out, pulling Kara into her. “Breathe, Kara. You don't have to tell me about the gauntlet. You passed it. That's all that matters.”

She lets herself fall into Lena, lets herself be wrapped up and held and soothed until the thudding bass of her heart downgrades to a less frenetic beat.

“I'm not trying to lie to you,” she mumbles, face smooshed against the softness of Lena's cardigan-covered shoulder. “I'm not keeping secrets again, I swear, I just—”

“I know, I know that,” Lena soothes, gentle hands rubbing Kara's back over and over, tracing the dip between her shoulder blades. “Darling, of course I don't want you to lie to me, but that doesn't mean you're obligated to tell me anything you're not comfortable sharing, okay? Not ever.”

“I do want to tell you,” she whispers, reluctant to pull her face away from the comforting darkness of its warm cradle. “I want to, soon.”

“Whenever you're ready,” Lena says, soft and reassuring. "What was it that old Kryptonian crone said to us? That the gauntlet would make you pay a terrible emotional price?”

Lena's voice drops low in a cackling approximation of Vita's unidentifiable accent, and Kara can't help but giggle into her shoulder.

Lena's voice turns serious again, fingertips skating the archipelago of Kara's spine. “You deal with that however you have to, Kara. Take your time. I'm not going anywhere.”

Kara rolls her head until her cheek rests atop Lena's shoulder. Is reminded suddenly of another time, another couch and another embrace and another whispered vow just like this. “Promise?”

She thinks Lena might be remembering too, because her grip on Kara's shoulders tightens just a fraction. “I promise.”

A calmer kind of quiet enshrouds them like a blanket, soft and warm and comforting. Kara lets herself stay tucked up beside Lena, lets the unwavering thrum of blood through her veins ground her, steady her.

“You don't have to talk about it if you don't want,” Lena says a while later, cheek pressed to the crown of Kara's head as she traces light fingernails up and down her bicep. “But why do you think it changed? Why give you a different gauntlet?”

Kara considers the question for a moment. Thinks of the relief in gauntlet-Lena's eyes when she finally told her the truth. Thinks of how it loosened something tight and strangling inside her own chest, made her feel like she was floating on air. Like, with Lena by her side, fully and completely, she could do anything.

“I don't know,” she hums, nuzzling a little harder into the warmth of Lena's skin. “Maybe it knew that some things are more important to me than the night I became Supergirl. Maybe— maybe my priorities have changed.”

Lena hums, accepting her cryptic half-answer without pushing for clarification. At length she disentangles them, scooting forward to sweep their empty takeout containers into the bag.

“Come on, let's go home,” she says around a soft smile. “Want to stay at mine? I've got Goldfish snacks.”

And Kara nods, and pushes up from the couch to deposit the newly materialised Courage Totem into its protective container, and doesn't bother mentioning that the bribe is completely unnecessary. That she hadn't for one second so much as considered the existence of a home that didn't automatically have Lena in it.

She just takes the hand that's proffered, presses the barest of kisses against Lena's knuckles, and follows her best friend out the door.

 

With the Courage and Hope gauntlets vanquished and the Humanity Totem safe in its protective case, their attention turns to the Dream Totem. Nia heads home to Parthas to search for it, leaving an anxious Brainy to rattle around the Tower in the intervals between each of her texts, driving the rest of them crazy.

“Jeez, Brainy, enough already,” Kara snaps after the third time he drops his soldering iron onto various flammable desk detritus, blowing a hurried blast of freeze breath over the sparks before they can reach Lena's fingers. “I know you're worried about your girlfriend, but you've got to cool it a little.”

The Coluan pouts, snatching his soldering iron back and stabbing it aggressively into its cradle. “I have to say that's pretty rich, coming from you,” he grumbles into his motherboard, and Karra's brow furrows. “You moped around the DEO for an entire year without Lena, but two days of my concern for Nia is too much for you?”

Kara freezes, cheeks heating, intimately aware of the bright green eyes that flash to her face in surprise. She stoutly avoids Lena's gaze, shuffling an assortment of random scientific objects around on the desk. “That's— that's completely different.”

Brainy slaps the back of her hand, rescuing his CPU chip from her fiddling fingers. “It's exactly the same. Only, you were more annoying.”

“Completely different,” Kara mutters under her breath, decidedly not transfixed by the barely-there quirk of Lena's pink lips, and promptly decides to change the subject.

Aside from Brainy's nervous fretting, they actually manage to pass a relatively calm few days free from life-or-death battles or universe-annihilating ultimatums. Kara spends her time prepping interviews for Catco, scanning for Nyxly's ship in the Tower, and generally living her life.

She pitches new article ideas to Andrea, takes Esme flying, eats twelve pizzas at sister night and spends every other evening binge-watching Schitt's Creek with Lena.

For a hot second, things actually feel good and safe and normal. Naturally, it's only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down.

Nia returns after five days with the news that she'd found the Dream Totem. Found it, fought Nyxly for it, and lost it.

And just like that, the gut-churning, stomach-clenching anxiety that's plagued Kara since her return from the Phantom Zone comes rushing back full force.

The knowledge that her greatest enemy is now in possession of what might well be the most powerful individual Totem, that there's not even a gauntlet for Nyxly to overcome before she can wield it, is all but incapacitating.

It drives her crazy. Kara barely eats, barely sleeps. Spends every moment in the Tower, in the lab or at the control panel, searching for Nyxly, trying to parse out her next move.

Together with the rest of the Superfriends they concoct a plan to create a fake Love Totem intended to lure Nyxly out, to contain her in Lena's proto-trap. It almost works, too. They almost have Nyxly, Dream Totem and all, right where they want her.

And then, like a summoned demon, a waiting devil, Lex Luthor appears.

The gasp that forces its way from Kara's lungs is mirrored by the rest of the Superfriends. Alex growls low in her throat and Brainy lets out an anguished cry that prickles the hairs on the back of Kara's neck, but it's Lena her eyes seek out.

In the shadow of the trees at the edge of the clearing Lena is frozen, her face a mask of blank horror. One arm still grips her mother's spellbook to her chest, the other hand extended before her, and even from this distance Kara can see that her fingers are trembling.

"Miss me, sis?” Lex leers at her and just that, the slick violence of the glee he finds in his sister's suffering, is enough to boil Kara's blood.

Ice builds in her throat as fire builds behind her eyes and Kara is a split second away from incinerating the man where he stands when Lex smirks, one finger extended to hit a button on his suit gauntlet.

Then there's a flash, an explosion tinged sickly green, and everything goes dark.

 

The next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to the comforting glow of artificial sunlight.

Kara struggles upright, wincing. A hand lands soft on her elbow. “You’re awake, thank God,” Lena breathes, rounding the sunbed towards her. Her face is pale, dark curls falling haphazardly from her messy bun. “How are you feeling?”

Kara swings her legs over the edge of the bed, pressing the heel of her palm to her forehead. “I'm fine. I'm fine.” She blinks her eyes open to squint at Lena. “Are you okay?”

Lena's gaze drops, fingers fiddling anxiously with nothing as she props her hip against the edge of the sunbed beside Kara's thigh. “I'm not the one who just got blasted by her greatest weakness,” she says around a self-deprecating little chuckle, jutting her chin in the direction of the Kryptosuit.

But Kara hasn't known this woman for so long, hasn't loved her for so long only to let her get away with such blatantly halfhearted evasive manoeuvres.

“Lena.” She waits until green eyes meet her own, leaning closer so their shoulders brush. “We just faced off with Lex.”

At the sound of his name Lena shivers, then tries to pretend that she hasn't.

Kara shuffles closer on the gurney so the length of Lena's arm presses against her own, their bodies at right angles to one another. Lena sighs, fidgeting hands dropping to rest atop Kara's bent thighs.

“I thought I was done with him,” she whispers, barely audible over Kara's lingering Kryptonite-induced headache. “I really— I truly thought I would never have to see him again, if you can believe it. I thought he was gone.”

“I know. I know. I'm so sorry.” The words feel paltry in the face of all Lena's suffered at the hands of her brother. She reaches out, finding Lena's cool fingers and twining tight.

“He won't hurt you again,” Kara whispers and Lena's breath shudders out of her, the proud line of her shoulders caving. Their bodies soften, drawn toward one another like opposing magnets. Lena's forehead tilts against Kara's temple, eyelashes fluttering against her cheekbone. Kara's heart aches. “I promise I will do everything in my power to make sure he can never hurt you again.”

Lena only nods, swallowing thickly, the anxious thud of her pulse rattling through them both.

“I almost had him,” Kara hums, silky hair tickling her cheek. “Almost. I would have lit him up like a firecracker if it weren't for that dang Kryptonite grenade.”

Lena huffs out a shaky chuckle, wrapping her fingers a little tighter through Kara's. “So inconsiderate of him.”

“Honestly,” Kara quips, shaking her head as a flimsy excuse to nuzzle her cheek against the crown of Lena's head. “Incredibly impolite. I'll be sure to leave him a scathing review on Yelp.”

Lena sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth. “Shit. That'll show him. He may never recover.”

“Good.”

A hush falls over the med bay as they breathe quietly together, Lena's pounding pulse at last beginning to slow. “How are you, really?” Kara asks at length, voice quiet in an effort to preserve their temporary bubble of peace. “You know— I hope you know you can talk to me, if you want.”

“I do,” Lena reassures and her voice sounds stronger already. “I'm okay, really. It was a shock to see him last night, but we've beaten my brother before and we'll do it again. I'm just glad you're alright. You're okay, so I'm okay.”

“Of course I'm okay,” Kara hums, slipping one hand free of Lena's to wrap it around her shoulders, pulling her in for a brief half-hug. “You healed me.”

Lena clicks her tongue, pressing close for a beat before pulling away, mouth quirking into the shadow of a smile. “Science healed you.”

She shrugs. “Potato, po-tah-to.”

Lena shakes her head fondly and Kara tugs on the fingers still intertwined with her own. “Hey, we're gonna face this together. You know that, right?” She dips her chin, eyes locking with Lena's. “Your brother, and all of it. You're not alone.”

The smile that pulls at Lena's lips is heavy with something Kara can't quite decipher, curious and captivating in equal measure.

“I know,” Lena breathes, and then she's bobbing up on her toes and nudging the barest of kisses to Kara's pink-flushed cheek. “El mayarah.”

 

After endless hours of frustrated failures, Nia charges into the control room where the rest of the team has gathered to scan for Lex and Nyxly and announces that she's managed to dream the location of the Love Totem.

Kara barely has time to throw a quick nod and a smile in Lena's direction as her Kryptosuit helmet materialises in front of her face before she's flying, Alex and J’onn at her side.

They touch down in Lisbon, scouting out the cathedral that houses the grave of Ines de Castro cautiously. The church is deserted and Kara's almost made it to the round pink engraving on the front of the tomb, has almost convinced herself that just for once, things might actually be easy, when Nyxly materialises before her in a shimmer of white energy.

The imp makes a beeline for the Love Totem without even stopping to gloat and Kara's heart sinks all the way to the bottom of her Lena Luthor-designed thigh-high boots. But just as Nyxly's fingertips are about to make contact with the smooth pink stone, the Love Totem disappears.

Nyxly whips round, face twisting in fury. “Where'd it go?” she shrieks, glaring at each of them in turn. “What the hell did you do?”

Kara, for her part, is just as confused as the imp. But, thanks to her blacked-out visor, Nyxly doesn't need to know that.

“You'll never get the Love Totem,” Kara yells even as Brainy's harried voice through her comms informs them that he has no idea what's just happened or how to remedy it. “Give it up, Nyxly! You can't win this!”

The imp's eyes darken, unbridled rage flashing across her features and then she's pressing the watch at her wrist, a green grey Lexosuit gauntlet materialising around her forearm. Even the sight of it is enough to make Kara's stomach drop and she braces herself for Lex's imminent appearance, registers Alex and J’onn readying the proto-trap at her back.

But, as it turns out, the threat is much closer to home.

Nyxly raises her gauntlet, and for the first time Kara catches sight of the Dream Totem glowing midnight blue at her wrist.

Her response is little more than a reflex; she doesn't even have time to think. Before she's made the conscious decision, the twin beacons of her smouldering laser vision hit the crystal full force.

The lasers refract with the high, keening sound of sheared metal and then she and Nyxly are both on the ground, the Dream Totem clattering loose and unencumbered across the stones between them.

They both lunge for it at the same moment. Kara's fingers strain, barely a hair's breadth from their goal when a preternatural chill envelops her even through the sturdy material of her Kryptosuit. Her breaths fog cold against the inside of her visor and she knows without seeing her own reflection that her eyes are hazing milk-white beneath her frosted lashes.

Phantoms. There are phantoms here.

The air splits around the sound of the phantom's call; a thin, desolate ringing, the gaping maw at the end of existence. Fear wraps its fingers around Kara's windpipe as her body locks up, immobilised by the frigid numbness that heralds the phantom's arrival.

She's back there. She's all the way back there in the Phantom Zone watching creation burn around her. Watching her worst nightmares play out over and over before her waking eyes, never ceasing, never easing, never relenting.

She's back in a place worse than death, and nothing can save her now.

“Supergirl!”

J’onn's voice. But how?

“It's only a nightmare,” he calls, from somewhere far beyond this godforsaken place. “From the Dream Totem.”

Kara's brow furrows, ice crystals crunching against her skin.

“You're dreaming, Supergirl!” Alex's voice next, and the barest flicker of warmth flares to life in Kara's chest.

“You can fight this!” her sister calls from the other side of the universe. “It's not real. It's only a nightmare, and you can wake up!”

As if from deep underwater, she hears Nyxly scream. “Brother,” she begs, a wail of pure desperation. “Brother, please!”

Brother, Kara thinks. Nyxly is dreaming. And if Nyxly is dreaming, perhaps she is too. The kernel of heat glows brighter for a moment.

But then the phantom is there, it's there, right in front of her. Nails like blocks of ice trace the column of her spinal cord and she writhes in the phantom's grip as everything warm and good and lovely leaches from the world as surely as sunlight leaches into black at the end of each day.

There's shouting all around her, yelling and screaming and a great infernal howling that drowns out all sense and reason. But then through it all, through the noise and the panic and the paralysis of terror, there's a voice.

“Kara,” Lena whispers and she's not far away, dulled through water and glass and galaxies upon galaxies like Alex and J’onn. She's quiet and close, right there in Kara’s ear.

“Lena,” she whimpers and the fear only ratchets up a notch at the thought that Lena is here, here with her, trapped with her, suffering with her.

“Listen to my voice,” Lena says, firm but soft, gentle without yielding. “Focus on me. The Dream Totem has thrown you into a nightmare but it's not real, I promise. I promise you're safe.”

“I'm so cold,” she gasps, teeth chattering so loudly Lena must be able to hear it too. “It's so cold here, all alone.”

“I know, darling, I know,” Lena coos, her voice so close that Kara cannot believe she can't feel the exhale against her skin, the whisper of breath over the shell of her ear. “But you're not alone, Kara. I'm here. I'm right here with you. We're going to get you out of this, together.”

"Together,” Kara parrots numbly, trembling limbs curling in tighter.

“Together,” Lena repeats, and at her sure tone that glimmer of warmth reignites behind Kara's breastbone. “So just listen to me, darling. Listen to my voice. The things you're seeing right now, the fear you're feeling, that's the Dream Totem's doing. It's not real.”

“Not real.” Kara's lips form the shape of the words without sound. A clawed talon slices through her vision, the pallid death-grey of the phantoms’ rotting flesh, and she flinches.

“Shall I tell you what is real?” Lena is still here, still talking. Lena isn't afraid of the phantoms.

“I'll tell you,” she says decisively. “I'm sitting here in the Tower, Kara, and I'm looking at the drawings Esme made for us the other day. They're pinned to the edge of all our monitors, remember? You helped me stick them up there.”

At Lena's words, another image blooms to life in Kara's field of vision, more vivid than the frozen haze of the Phantom Zone. She sees her niece's bright pencil strokes, her own yellow hair and Lena's sharp green eyes. Sees Aunt Lena, Aunt Kara, love Esme in wobbly black script, the es written backwards. She sees the drawings tacked to the bank of screens, feels the warmth of Lena's skin against her own as their hands meet, reaching to secure the top corners.

“She's quite the artist,” Lena hums, feather-soft and weightless as sunlight against her ear. The spark in Kara's chest burns brighter. “She's going to be amazing at pottery-making. We're taking her tomorrow morning, remember? You and me, for Aunties’ Day.”

Aunties’ Day, Kara thinks, remembering the way her niece had stacked tiny fists on her hips as she'd demanded a scheduled weekly timeslot with her favourite aunts.

That's real, Kara.” Lena's voice buoys the warmth of her memories, fanning the embers within her ribcage into flickers, into flames.

“I'm reaching out right now, touching the paper with my fingers,” Lena tells her. “I can feel the waxy crayons, feel the dents of Esme's pencil strokes. It's left a smudge of blue on my fingertip. That's what's real.”

She hears Lena inhale, can almost see the flutter of her lashes, the press of teeth against her bottom lip. “We're real. Esme, and me, and you, and pottery-making tomorrow morning. And you're going to accidentally crack at least three pots that we'll have to hide, and Esme's going to get paint all over her clothes even though she'll be wearing an apron, and I'm going to take both of you to get crepes at that place by the water that you love and we'll all be covered in chocolate and clay and powdered sugar and you're going to be happy, Kara. So happy that the Phantom Zone won't be anything but a distant memory.”

Heat is cutting through the phantom's chill like sunlight through cloud. She can see the picture Lena is painting with her words, can smell the paint and hear the laughter and taste the sugary dough. It's real, Lena says it is. It's real, it's real, it's real.

“Don't let the phantoms take anything else from you,” Lena whispers, hushed and earnest. “This is your life, your reality, your happiness. Don't let them take it. Reject the nightmare, Kara. Wake up.”

The flames inside her build until a bonfire roars in her chest, crackling and blazing and drowning out every last hint of a chill in the air.

“Wake up, darling.” Lena's voice floats distorted through the haze of heat encasing her, a roaring building once more in her ears. “Kara, wake up.”

And then everything, the hot and the cold and the howling and the screaming, it all evaporates. Kara's eyes snap open, vision focusing on the worn floorboards beneath her, the draughty halls of the Portuguese cathedral above.

A few feet away, Nyxly is still writhing on the ground, tears streaming from her closed eyes as she keens. Alex and J’onn are advancing on her, proto-trap primed and ready.

The terror of the Phantom Zone fades as her eyes adjust, taking in her surroundings. She feels the thick material of the Kryptosuit against her skin. Sees the air around her, clear and unfrozen and blessedly free of phantoms. Hears, through the comms in her helmet, the cadence of Lena's steady breathing.

And Kara takes a deep breath, reaches out with trembling fingers, and takes the Dream Totem in her hands.

Chapter Text

The second the crystal is in Kara's palms, the nightmare holding Nyxly captive seems to end.

The imp pushes up from her foetal position on the ground, blinking hard as tears track scalding paths down her cheeks. Her gaze falls upon Kara, the deep blue crystal glowing between her fingers, and her face twists in fury.

Alex powers up the proto-trap and Nyxly howls, fighting the energy that seeks to contain her. “Mitch, now!” she yells over the din and in a flash of whiteish energy, she's gone.

Kara is no help in the aftermath.

She can only sit, hunched over on her knees, as Brainy arrives and J’onn and Alex search the cathedral for the Love Totem, righting toppled chairs and generally trying to contain the wreckage wrought by their fight.

Kara tucks her trembling fingers into fists, pressing them hard against the tops of her thighs as she fights down the sensation of the phantom's frigid breath on the back of her neck, its talons down her spine. A nightmare, she reminds herself. Not real.

The chill feels real, though. It clings to her, a ghostly afterglow lingering in the hollows of her skin, the dips of her bones. She shivers on her knees, tremors so violent they're almost painful.

“Lena?”

It takes everything she's got to force the word out in a whisper. But then, immediate and sure—

“I'm here.”

And just that, just those two little words, they're enough. The chill enveloping her is replaced by a spreading warmth, a flood of reassurance that Lena is still here, quiet and close in her ear. That she is not alone.

Buoyed, she finds the strength to stand. Joins Alex and J’onn and Brainy at the altar to examine the indentation where the Love Totem once lay.

“I don't understand,” Alex huffs, proto-trap slung over one shoulder. “How could it just disappear? None of the other Totems behaved this way.”

“Actually, according to lore, there are legends of it disappearing and reappearing throughout history,” Brainy informs them. “It seems to seek out love and be repelled by hate.”

The phantom's ghastly face flashes before Kara's eyes, and she shivers. “Nyxly certainly wants it for hateful reasons.”

“Well, she doesn't have any Totems now,” J’onn says. “And we have four, thanks to you.”

Four gazes drop to the midnight blue crystal still clutched in Kara's palm.

“That won't make her any less dangerous,” Kara mutters, shaking her head. “In fact, it might make her even more reckless. She has nothing to lose. When the Love Totem reappears, she's going to go after it with everything she's got.”

“Then we have to be prepared,” Alex says firmly. “We have to get there first, and be ready to defend ourselves.”

“Our defences aren't enough.” Kara sighs, thinking of the inefficacy of their shields, the horror of the Dream Totem's nightmare. “We need more. To face Nyxly and Lex, we need more.”

“Well, we're not going to come up with any new weapons here,” J’onn says resolutely, wrapping an arm around Alex as he prepares to shoot into the sky. “We're in a waiting game until the Love Totem reappears somewhere new. Might as well head back to the Tower.”

Kara nods, her stomach choosing that moment to let forth a deafening growl. “For snacks.”

Her sister shoots her an unimpressed look. “For weapons.”

“Right, weapons,” Kara parrots dutifully as Alex nods her approval.

“And snacks,” she adds under her breath as she shoots into the air, the quiet sound of Lena's laughter through her comms keeping her warm all the way back to National City. 

 

The moment she lands in the middle of the control room she's being pulled into Lena's arms.

“Are you okay?” Lena's voice is as insistent as her hands, pressing sure and searching between her shoulder blades. "Are you alright? How are you feeling?”

Kara wraps her own arms around Lena's shoulders in turn, presses her face into the warm darkness of soft silky hair and her own sleeve. “I'm alright,” she hums, in no hurry to end the embrace. “I'm fine, thanks to you. I mean, it was only a dream.”

She chuckles self-consciously. Lena's fingers tighten against her back.

“It was a flashback to one of the worst experiences of your life,” she says, firm and reproachful. “You don't have to be fine, Kara. If I'd been thrown back into the middle of one of my deepest traumas, I certainly wouldn't be.”

A breath shudders out of her, gratitude welling up in her chest like a tide. To be understood, to be validated, to be seen like this still knocks the air from her lungs.

“I am alright,” she manages at length, quieter and more honest than she'd initially intended. “Not fine, but okay. It was awful, but— but you made it bearable. You really helped me. Thank you.”

“Always,” Lena whispers and Kara holds her tighter, swaying them a little on the spot.

“You know, you're pretty great at nightmare navigation,” she hums against Lena's neck, breathing in the warmth of her skin. "Makes me think I should have been calling you after every night terror.”

She's joking, really, just trying to lighten the mood. But Lena pulls back, green eyes flashing with intensity as they meet blue. “You should have,” she says without hesitation. “You should. Please do.”

Kara swallows, mouth dry. Lena's gaze on her feels weighted; a challenge and a promise in equal measure. “Okay,” she manages. “I will.”

Lena smiles, victorious, and lets her go. “Am I right in thinking somebody mentioned snacks?”

Kara grins, stomach growling, and follows her to the twenty-four tray of donuts on the workbench.

They munch in companionable quiet as J’onn updates the others on the events that had transpired in Portugal, as Nia skims all the research they have on the disappearance of the Love Totem and Brainy reconfigures the scanner to search for its unique signature.

“Hey,” Kara murmurs, catching Lena's wrist to hold her back a moment as the others gather around the bank of screens. “Thank you, really. I don't know if I would have shaken off that nightmare if it weren't for you.” She can feel her cheeks heat but forces herself to say the words, gaze fixed on her own shuffling boots. “Alex or, or whoever it was did the right thing, asking you to talk to me.”

“Alex didn't ask me.” Lena squints at her, nose scrunching. “She didn't have to. I was on the comms, I heard what was happening to you.”

Kara shakes her head. “But I thought— Nia said you were in the lab redoing the protective charms?”

“I'm always on comms when you're in the field, Kara.” Lena's looking at her like she can't believe this isn't obvious, lips pursed and brow furrowing. “I'm always there. Always.”

Oh. “Oh.”

Lena clicks her tongue, shaking her head fondly as she turns back to the others. Kara stands there a moment unmoving as something stronger and more vital even than sunlight floods her body, inundating her cells with warmth and strength.

Then she takes a deep breath, straightens her spine, and gets back to work.

 

Their scan for the Love Totem turns up nothing. Either it hasn't reconstituted itself yet, or they just don't know how to detect it. Either way, the mood in the Tower turns increasingly despondent as the hours drag on with nothing to show for them.

Lena, Nia, and Brainy retreat to the lab to see if they can come up with any ways to fortify their defences for when they inevitably have to face Nyxly again. J’onn stays back to monitor the scanner, a task with which Kara and Alex are ostensibly helping. In reality, the Martian sits diligently at the computer doing one hundred per cent of the work while Kara and her sister huff loudly from the couch in the corner, alternately grumbling and stuffing their faces with the remainder of the donuts.

“How are you doing?” Alex asks around a mouthful of red velvet. “Shaken off the nightmare okay?”

Kara nods, inhaling her third maple glaze and slumping further into the cushions. “I'm alright. It just feels like we're always on the back foot, always one step behind Lex and Nyxly. It makes me feel a little hopeless.”

Alex nods, cheeks bulging like a chipmunk. “I know the feeling. We're so preoccupied trying to play catch up that there's no room for anything else. I mean, Kelly's been in Calvintown with Esme for the past two days, and the worst part is that I haven't even had time to miss them because we've been so damn busy trying to pre-empt Nyxly's next atrocity!”

Kara grimaces in sympathy, holding out a honey cruller as consolation. Alex accepts, the donut disappearing in three enormous bites that put even Kara's appetite to shame.

“It must be so hard for you guys,” Kara fudges out through a mouthful of icing. “I mean, everyone I care about is here with me every day and I still don't feel like I get to see you all enough. I don't know how you and Kelly make it work.”

“I'm not convinced we do,” Alex says despondently before brightening, digging her fingers into her jacket pocket. “But I plan to rectify that tomorrow night.”

And Kara looks down and there, nestled in her sister's palm, is a diamond engagement ring.

“Alex!” she shrieks, making J’onn jump clean out of his seat as her bad mood melts away, replaced by a buzzing excitement that has her levitating off the cushions. “Oh my God, you're finally gonna do it? When? Where? Tell me everything.

Alex beams, blushing as she hands the ring over for appreciative inspection. “At Al's, tomorrow,” she says bashfully, biting her lip. “It's the anniversary of the first night I realised I was in love with her. Esme and I are going to decorate the bar with candles, flowers, the whole works.”

“It's going to be amazing and she's going to love it,” Kara says resolutely, twisting the glittering diamond back and forth between her fingers. “Alex, I'm so happy for you. For both of you.”

She hands the ring off to J’onn so he can admire it too and tugs her sister into a tight hug. Alex squeezes back, but Kara can feel her shaking her head.

“Do you think it's wise, though?” Alex asks, quiet and tentative. “I mean, with everything that's going on with Nyxly and the Love Totem— maybe, maybe I should wait. Maybe this isn't the right time.”

"This is the perfect time,” Kara interrupts, pulling back to look her sister in the eye. “The fact that everything is so up in the air and terrifying right now just makes it even more important to hold the people you love as close as you can. You want a life with Kelly, and she wants one with you. Grab onto it with both hands, Alex. Don't let anything get in your way.”

If her throat clogs around the words, tongue tripping over the syllables, it's only because she's so happy for her sister. It's got absolutely nothing to do with a nagging sense of regret at not following her own advice. Nothing at all.

But regardless, her little speech seems to do the trick. “You're right,” Alex breathes. “I'd never forgive myself if something happened before I got the chance to make Kelly my wife, just because I'd been too scared to take the leap.”

Something hot and tight twists in Kara's chest and she swallows shakily, patting her sister's knee. “Exactly. You're gonna propose tomorrow and it's gonna be great, I know it.”

Alex flushes, accepting the ring back and storing it in her pocket with reverent fingers. “Just as long as Nyxly doesn't show up and ruin it.”

“She won't,” Kara says firmly, a newfound resolution thrumming through her veins. “Nothing is going to ruin this day for you. I won't let that happen.” She bites her lip, mind whirring. “We've been playing catch up with Nyxly from the beginning, but what if— what if we play her at her own game? Get the upper hand the next time we face her?”

Alex's brow furrows as J’onn frowns at her. “And how do you propose we do that?”

“Nyxly uses the Totems as weapons,” Kara muses, synapses firing at a million miles per hour. “That's why she's always more powerful than us.”

“Kara, we can't stoop to her level—” Alex begins, but she's already shaking her head.

“I don't think we should do what she does,” Kara interrupts. “I don't want to use the Totems we have to make her hurt. But what about making her feel?”

“The Humanity Totem,” J’onn surmises, and Kara nods. “You want to use it on her again.”

“If she's flooded with emotion, flooded with empathy, it might incapacitate her enough for us to capture her,” Alex muses, fingertips tapping against her chin. “But, Kara. Giving Nyxly more humanity means stripping you of yours. We can't. No matter how much I want an uninterrupted proposal tomorrow, we can't risk that.”

“What if we don't have to?”

Alex and J’onn squint at her in confusion. Kara takes a deep breath. Thinks of Lena's voice guiding her through the Dream Totem, Lena's tear-stained face in the Courage gauntlet, Lena's hand in hers as she claimed the Hope Totem.

“I think I know of a way I can protect myself.”

 

“You want me to use my magic with Lex still around?”

Lena's already shaking her head before Kara's question has even been fully articulated. She leans heavily on the lab bench before her, breathing hard.

Kara holds up her hands. “Just to protect me from the blowback of the Humanity Totem. If I use it to give Lex and Nyxly more humanity, I run the risk of losing some of my own.” She takes a deep breath. “Unless— unless your magic can protect me.”

“Kara, I'm not good enough!” Lena's fingers tighten around the metal edge of the bench as she swallows. “My powers are unwieldy at best, I— I can't do it.”

“You can. I believe in you.”

Lena looks up at her, and the pain and fear shining in her eyes is enough to flip Kara's stomach.

“If I use my magic, I could end up hurting you,” Lena whispers, and before Kara knows what she's doing she's rounding the workbench to take Lena's hands in her own.

“It's a possibility,” she acknowledges, stroking her thumbs over the backs of Lena's knuckles. “But I don't think you will. I trust you, Lena.”

I don't trust me,” Lena breathes, her face crumpling. “Using my powers already makes me feel so out of control, and if you add my brother to the equation? All the pain and rage and fury I feel when I'm around him? I— I don't know what might happen. What I might be capable of.”

“We're all capable of terrible things,” Kara breathes, stepping closer so their joined hands press against their stomachs. “Just like Lex and Nyxly. I know—” She swallows hard, throat working. “I know we've both done things we're not proud of.”

Lena nods, and Kara takes a deep breath. “But you know what sets us apart from them? This.”

She tightens her grip around Lena's fingers, thumbing sure circles against the backs of her hands. “We have this team, this family, to pull us back whenever we get close to the edge. Whenever we risk going too far. Lex and Nyxly distance each other from their humanity but you, Alex, J’onn and the others, you tether me to mine. We have something they don't, Lena. We have each other.”

Lena gazes up at her from beneath twin sweeps of dark lashes, eyes wide and shimmering. “What if I'm not strong enough?” she breathes, barely audible. “What if I lose control?”

"That's what we're here for. That's what I'm here for.” Kara stares down at their joined hands, marvelling at how soft Lena's skin is against her own, how naturally their fingers intertwine. “I know you've only ever been surrounded by people who've pushed you toward becoming the worst version of yourself, but Lex and Lillian don't have that hold over you anymore. They're not your family now. We are.”

She takes a deep breath, forces herself to meet Lena's gaze. “I am.”

Moisture gathers in Lena's eyes as she releases a tiny shuddering breath. Kara nudges closer. “Kelly, Nia, Brainy, Alex, me, God, especially me— we're here for you, Lena. To help you and support you and pull you back if you come close to losing control. Focus on that; use it to fuel your magic. Believe in us, like we believe in you.”

A single tear breaks free from Lena's lash line, rolling down the curve of her cheek. Kara reaches up, uses the softest part of herself to wipe the moisture from Lena's skin with the pad of her thumb.

“I know I can always count on you to bring me back to myself, so I know I can count on you to protect me from the Humanity Totem,” she breathes, knuckles skating the proud cut of Lena's jaw. “I trust you to keep me safe. Can you trust that I'll do the same for you?”

There's a long pause, a suspended inhale that teeters on a knife's edge of bared souls and heartfelt confessions. And then, beautiful and delicate as a flower beginning to bloom, Lena nods.

 

At Lena's request, Kara leaves her alone in the lab to begin preparations for the protective spell she's asked for. She joins the others in the control room the next day, passing a fruitless few hours trying to decipher how she can possibly beat the Humanity Totem's gauntlet without losing herself completely.

When they reach their fourth brainstorming stalemate of the day Kara gives up, pulls her sister in for a hug and gives her a gentle shove in the direction of the elevator so she won't be late meeting Kelly and Esme at Al's.

“Good luck,” she winks as Alex hops nervously from foot to foot in the elevator, wringing her fingers. “See you soon, future Mrs Olsen.”

Alex scoffs, but can’t hide her beaming grin as the doors slide closed. Kara sighs, pushes the stinging twinge of something hot and viscous that feels suspiciously like jealousy back down into the darkest recesses of her chest, securing it with an iron will.

She's back to contemplating the orange crystal of the Humanity Totem in her palms, lulled by the rhythmic beeping of Brain's Love Totem scanner, when her superhearing picks up on a tiny shrill voice screaming her name.

Esme.

Kara doesn't even stop to think. “Nyxly's shown up!” she yells, suit materialising around her as she whips her glasses off. “Brainy, tell Lena to get ready. J’onn, let's go!”

She doesn't wait for confirmation that she's been heard, shooting across National City and skidding to a halt in the middle of Al's beautifully decorated bar. J’onn materialises beside her and Kara positions herself between the looming forms of Lex and Nyxly and the bodies of her sister, niece, and— sister-in-law? Absently, she wonders whether Alex and Kelly had had the chance to make it all official before their party was crashed.

"Get her out of here!” she calls to Alex and Kelly, making sure they've scooped Esme up and out of harm's way before turning back to their adversaries.

"The Love Totem!” Alex yells as they retreat, keeping Esme tucked behind Kelly's shield. “By the bar!”

Kara squints in the direction her sister had indicated, x-raying through the wood to glimpse the pale pink rose beyond. “J’onn!” she calls but he's already moving, closing in on the Totem as he faces down Lex.

A blast of lurid green and Kara barely throws her cape up in time to shield herself from the force of Nyxly's Kryptonite canon, the proximity of the poison setting her blood alight. “Brainy, how's Lena doing?” she gasps through her comms, fighting to stay upright in the face of the onslaught.

“She's getting herself under control,” comes Brainy's voice in her ear and Kara grits her teeth. Waits for a lull in Nyxly's attack and drops her cape, turning the full force of her freeze breath on the imp and freezing her momentarily in place.

“Alright, Lena, it's your turn,” she manages over the din. “You've got this, I know you do.”

Silence through her earpiece, the deep breath before the exhale. Nyxly breaks free of the ice encasing her with a vicious crack just as Lena's low voice crackles through her comms. “Now.”

A sudden warmth suffuses Kara, a shimmering blanket of golden energy materialising before her eyes. Lena's magic wraps around her like a second skin, an impenetrable barrier against anything Nyxly tries to throw at her.

Kara slips the Humanity Totem from her sleeve, watches in amazement as the orange crystal remains separated from her skin by the thinnest shield of glowing golden light even as she clutches it tightly. She takes a deep breath, raises the Totem in her grasp and, without hesitation, sends the full force of its power directly at the imp.

Nyxly buckles instantly, her face contorting in anguish as the weight of her amplified feelings hits her full force. “Why are we doing this?” she gasps, eyes glassy blue. “Why is there so much pain?”

“It's working!” Kara calls over the rushing howl of light and noise, feels Lena's tiny chuckle of disbelief ricochet around her ribcage.

She feels closer to Lena than ever before in this moment; she can see the other woman, see the warmth and power and boundless light in Lena's soul like a physical presence in her mind. Something deep inside her reaches out, searching, and with a breathless jolt makes contact. The air in Kara's lungs is forced from her in a gasp as some intrinsic circuit completes, the shimmering bounds of Lena's essence slotting against her own.

She feels Lena, sees her, loves her more deeply than she ever thought possible, and the force of the realisation sparks tears at the corners of her eyes.

“We've got her!” J’onn yells from her elbow, using his psychic powers to increase the empathy and compassion Nyxly's drowning in. “Brainy, now!”

And then Brainy's there, proto-trap primed, and Nyxly screams as her captors close in around her.

From the corner of her eye, Kara sees Lex Luthor reaching for the Love Totem. Sees the pink rose dematerialise a hair's breadth from his fingers.

She hears Lex's howl of frustration, sees him turn his gaze to Nyxly. And then there isn't time to even shout a warning before he's activating his portal watch, disappearing just before he can be hit with J’onn's psychic energy.

He reappears behind Nyxly, wrapping an arm around her waist, and before Kara can make a move to stop it the two of them are gone.

 

“So it's gone again?” Alex asks breathlessly, Esme on her hip as they survey the carnage that's overtaken Al's bar. “The Love Totem disappeared when Lex tried to grab it?”

“If it's repelled by hate, it's no wonder it was repelled by him,” Kara huffs, slipping the orange crystal of the Humanity Totem back into her suit pocket with a sigh. “Rao, we almost had Nyxly. We almost had her.”

“Trapping her was the least she deserved,” Kelly grumbles as she digs through the strewn rose petals scattered across the ground. “She interrupted at a pretty crucial moment.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Alex's eyes narrow as she sets her daughter on her feet. Esme runs over to Kara, who scoops her niece up with a grin and a kiss to her cheek.

“But, I never had time to actually ask— why do you think it was a crucial moment?” Alex asks slowly, crossing to Kelly in the centre of the flower-strewn bar.

Kelly squints at her, fingers moving unconsciously to her jacket pocket. “Why do you think it was a crucial moment?”

“Well, I— because I, I was going to—” her sister gabbles before she forces herself to take a deep breath, centring herself before she continues.

“It was crucial to me because Nyxly interrupted before I could give you this,” Alex breathes, tugging the black velvet box free from her jacket pocket. “Your turn.”

Kelly's eyes fill with tears as she pulls a matching black box from her own pocket. “Same reason.”

There's a beat of stunned silence as Kelly and Alex stare at each other in shock, oblivious to Kara and J’onn grinning stupidly at them from across the room.

“You were going to propose to me?” they gasp in unison, letting out identical watery chuckles before they both beam “Yes!”

Alex reaches out, taking Kelly's hands between both of her own. “All that stuff I said before we were so rudely interrupted by the damn Love Totem materialising in my pocket, well— I meant it,” she breathes, tears building at her lashline as she smooths her thumbs over Kelly's knuckles. “You're my perfect match, Kelly Olsen, and it would be the greatest honour of my life to be able to spend the rest of it with you.”

“Alex, you're my person,” Kelly manages through the happy tears threatening to spill over at any moment. “My partner in everything. Parenting, work, life. And especially at game night. I don't want to face another day without you by my side for as long as I live.”

Kara's breath catches in her chest at the unbridled joy on both their faces. She squeezes Esme a little tighter against her chest as Alex opens the box in her palm, as Kelly does the same.

“Kelly Olsen, will you marry me?” her sister whispers.

“Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” Kelly breathes, twining their free hands together tight. “Alex Danvers, will you marry me?”

“I thought you'd never ask,” her sister quips before they're falling into each other, laughing and crying and sealing their promise with the sweetest kiss imaginable.

And then Esme is catapulting herself into her mothers’ arms for a hug and then Kara and J’onn are joining in and they're smiling and joking and crying together and Kara thinks, no wonder the Love Totem materialised here, with them.

With this amount of love flowing between them, she wouldn't be surprised if it reconstituted itself in Alex's pocket all over again.

 

Back at the Tower, the impromptu party for Kelly and Alex's engagement goes off with a few less hitches than the proposal itself had.

Kara hoists Esme onto her hip, blowing raspberries on her niece's cheek as J’onn prepares her a Shirley Temple in her own pink plastic champagne glass. Nia is fawning over Kelly's ring as Brainy earnestly discusses best man duties with Alex in the corner, all of them liquor-loose and smiling as Kara's carefully curated happy jams playlist plays in the background.

Her Kara Danvers phone vibrates rapidly and she slips it out of the back pocket of her jeans, bouncing Esme on her hip as she scrolls through the twelve unread messages from Andrea.

Kara sighs. She'd been absent from a staff meeting at Catco while they'd been fighting Nyxly in Lisbon, had missed an article deadline while locked in battle at Al's bar. Her boss isn't happy, and she's determined to make sure Kara knows it.

Kara grimaces. Has to force herself not to flinch at a feather-light touch against her brow.

“Why you crinkle, Aunt Kara?” Esme asks, tiny fingers prodding at the offending crease. “What's wrong?”

“Oh, it's nothing, little bug,” Kara promises, peppering kisses across Esme's cheeks until she's giggling once more. “Just Aunt Kara being silly. Hey, I heard Uncle Brainy say he was gonna make a treasure hunt for you around the Tower. Wanna go see if he finished it?”

Esme squeals in delight as Kara sets her back on her feet, careening across the room and crashing into Brainy's legs. "Now, you must promise me you won't mimic any powers of telekinesis to complete this hunt,” she hears Brainy say sternly as he leads his niece away by the hand. “Standard psychic abilities only.”

Kara watches them with a fond smile, lets the sound of her niece's laughter melt away her work-related anxieties, at least for the time being. Across the room, Nia is unsuccessfully attempting to teach Alex her latest Tiktok dance as Kelly and J’onn look on in despairing resignation. Kara chuckles, turning to the drinks table to pour two flutes of champagne.

She's still watching them, wrapped up in a haze of vaguely melancholic happiness, when the elevator doors at last ding open.

"There you are,” she breathes as Lena appears, carefully choosing not to think too hard about the nagging sense of incompleteness that had suffused the party thus far, nor the evaporation of the same sensation the second her eyes land on her best friend. If the way Lena's shoulders soften around a silent sigh of relief when she realises Kara has been waiting for her is any indication, she's not alone in the feeling.

“You almost missed the party!” she grins as she hands Lena the champagne she'd been saving for her, the pads of their fingers brushing.

Lena accepts, ducking her head. “I just wanted to take a minute to clean up downstairs.”

Kara nods, swaying closer to the warmth of Lena's body without conscious thought. “Hey, uh, thank you. For taking that risk today,” she breathes after a moment, the memory of the connection she'd felt within the safety of Lena's spell prickling the fine hairs on her arms. “You protected me from losing a part of myself. You always do.”

It's true, she realises even as she's saying it. Lena has never once allowed her to compromise on her beliefs, to give into external pressures or take the easy way out. She's helped Kara, challenged her, pushed her to better herself just to prove herself worthy of Lena's presence in her life. She's kept her her, even and especially when Kara couldn't do it herself, and cogs begin to turn in Kara's mind.

But Lena only shakes her head, chin dipping as her cheeks flush pink. “Well, you protected everyone else, so.”

Yes, Kara thinks. So.

So, when every person in this city is asking what Kara can do for them, Lena is asking what she can do for Kara. So, the weight of the world feels that much easier to bear when Kara herself has a shoulder to lean on. So, it's only with Lena in her corner and by her side that Kara becomes the person she's always striven to be.

“Besides, it should be me thanking you for pushing me to use my magic,” Lena hums, snapping her out of her thoughts.

Green eyes are arresting, captivating in their sincerity. “Because, I now know for sure,” Lena breathes, meeting Kara's gaze with a quiet kind of bravery. “I really am free of Lex. I don't need to seek out his poisonous imitation of love anymore. I— I've found the real thing.”

Kara's heart stutters against her ribcage. There aren't words in the English language to describe the warmth that blooms in her chest at Lena's admission and even if there were, she isn't sure the sudden tightness of her throat would allow them to be spoken.

“Well,” she manages at last, little more than a hoarse croak as she tilts her glass against Lena's. “I will drink to that.”

Their flutes clink and they both take a sip and Kara isn't sure which is sweeter, the honeyed bubbles that burst over her tongue or the sight of Lena's quiet smile.

“Hey.” She nudges Lena's hip with her own, grins when Lena nudges back. “D’you want to come back to mine after this?”

“Sure.” There's no hesitation in Lena's voice at all. “Is there a special occasion I've forgotten?”

“Uh, yeah.” Kara pouts, rearranging her features into an approximation of disapproval. “Don't tell me that National I-Haven't-Seen-My-Best-Friend-In-Too-Long-and-I-Miss-Her Day slipped your calendar?”

“Kara,” Lena chuckles, shaking her head into her champagne flute. “We basically spent the entire day together today. Yesterday, too.”

“I said what I said,” Kara retorts primly, adopting a haughty air. “And I stand by it.”

“Well, in that case,” Lena winks, handing Kara her half-full glass back as the patter of tiny feet careens towards them, freeing her arms a split second before Esme catapults herself into them. “I'll be sure to have my assistant clear my schedule.”

Kara snorts. “Don't tell me you still have Jess on speed dial.”

“I absolutely do,” Lena says without a hint of remorse. “But that wasn't the assistant to whom I was referring. Miss Esme,” she grins, hoisting the girl a little higher against her chest. “Would you do me the honour of clearing my schedule?”

Lena holds out her hand, palm flat, and Esme swipes her own fingers across it in a decisive motion. “All clear,” she giggles, undoubtedly unaware of what her favourite aunt is talking about but thrilled to be included nevertheless.

"Thank you, darling. Remind me to give you a raise,” Lena hums, pressing a kiss to the girl's temple before turning to Kara with a quirked brow. “Satisfied? I'm all yours for the night.”

At the low breathy sound of her tone Kara shivers, then blushes, then promptly shatters both champagne flutes in her nervous grip. If Alex huffs even more loudly than usual as she cleans them all up, muttering something about intricate rituals and useless sisters under her breath, well. At least nobody hears it but her.

 

When the party winds down and Alex and Kelly decree that it's time to take Esme home, Kara bids goodnight to the rest of the Superfriends and follows Lena out into the cool of the night.

“Walk with me? I wouldn't mind some air,” she asks, hushed and almost shy. Her green eyes are luminous in the light of the full moon, and Kara is helpless to refuse.

They make it four blocks in companionable silence, elbows brushing every so often as they navigate the empty streets. Kara's phone vibrates in her back pocket twice more, and she grimaces.

“Hey, can I ask your opinion on something?” she hums, breaking the easy quiet with a sideways glance at Lena's profile, illuminated by streetlights.

“Of course.”

“I've been thinking about Catco,” Kara starts, hesitant to put a voice to the thoughts she's barely been able to admit to having within the privacy of her own mind. “About— about whether I should quit.”

“What did Andrea do now,” Lena asks flatly, one eyebrow arched to a near-lethal height as they cross the street. “Whatever it was, I'll get you her apology within the hour.”

“No, no, it's not Andrea,” she says, unable to fight the smile that tugs at her lips at Lena's ride-or-die attitude. “It's— it's me.”

Lena gazes at her questioningly as Kara takes her arm to guide her around a street grate, fingers lingering against her inner elbow. “It's just— with Nyxly still out there, I need to stay focused. If I'm distracted, if I'm spreading myself too thin, then she gains the advantage, and I can't— I can't let that happen. She’s the biggest threat we have ever faced. Surely, she has to be my priority.”

Lena nods slowly, as though weighing her words. “But, Kara, being a journalist— it's part of who you are. You shouldn't have to give that up, not for anyone.”

"I know. But this is bigger than me,” she counters, shaking her head. “When it comes to the fate of the entire universe, it doesn't really matter what I want.”

“No, I don't buy that,” Lena hums as they cross to the waterfront, the lights of the bay refracting off the waves to cast a kaleidoscope of shadows across her face. “You're not on your own in this. The responsibility of stopping Nyxly doesn't fall solely on your shoulders, and neither do the sacrifices that might be necessary to do it.”

She shakes her head. “Lena—”

"Kara.” The set of Lena's jaw is a challenge, gentle yet unequivocal. “You're part of a team, yeah? That means sharing the burden. Picking up slack for one another, splitting the load. If you're struggling to balance being Supergirl and being Kara Danvers, let the rest of us take some of the pressure off for a while. Let us help you.”

Kara's teeth work against her bottom lip, stomach twisting. “You all have enough going on right now. I don't want to ask you to do that.”

“Darling, in the nicest way possible, that's not your decision to make,” Lena chides lightly, hooking her hand through Kara's elbow and tugging her closer as they walk. “We're all adults, and we all love you, and we can decide whether or not we're capable of easing a little of what you're going through right now. And I can tell you with complete certainty that the answer from each and every one of us will be a resounding yes.”

Kara sighs, fixing her eyes on her own scuffing feet as they meander through Point Grey Park. “It feels selfish,” she works up the courage to whisper at last, avoiding Lena's gaze. “I feel guilty for even thinking about my own life when there's so much at stake.”

Lena stops them both at the edge of the sea wall, waves crashing against the rocky shoreline as she turns Kara to face her with gentle fingers.

“Maybe you're allowed to be a little selfish.”

And— God.

Lena's skin glows alabaster in the moonlight, the proud lines of her face thrown into sharp relief by the scatter of dancing shadows tossed up by the ocean. Her eyes are wide and slate-grey in the darkness, her pupils blown. Her fingers on Kara's sleeve burn hotter than a brand.

Kara's mouth runs dry. “I don't know what I'm doing anymore,” she admits in a whisper, chewing on the inside of her cheek. “I just— I feel like I'm driving blind.”

“I get that,” Lena says, equally quiet in the hush of the night. “And, Kara, if you choose to leave Catco because it's truly what you want, because it's what's best for you, then I'll support you one hundred per cent. I just— I want you to make your decision for the right reasons and ultimately, only you can make that call. But, from what I know of you? Reporting is a part of who you are. A big one.”

Lena steps closer, tilting her chin up to meet Kara's eyes. Her lips curve in a gentle smile. “Remember the day we first met? I could see it in you then, that passion for truth, for transparency, for justice. Think of the blog you published warning everyone about Cadmus’ alien abductions. Your interview with the city's first transgender superhero. Your exposé on Lex. Think of the impact they've had. The impact Kara Danvers has had.”

Lena's shoulder bumps gently against her own, and she sucks in a shuddering breath.

“Kara, you light up when you talk about your articles. You've said it yourself; reporting on what's going on with honesty and integrity can achieve things even Kryptonians can't. Supergirl is what you can do, but Kara is who you are.” Lena's eyes trace her face like the most delicate of caresses, brimming over with acceptance and understanding. "And does Kara really want to give all that up?”

“No,” she whispers, and she finds that it's true. “No, I don't.”

Lena's expression softens. She turns them back to the waterfront path, hooking her arm through Kara's once more. “Well, then. You're not losing anything that important to you on my watch, okay? So, we'll figure it out together.”

Lena hip checks her gently, laughing light and unburdened when Kara stumbles, floating them both just a little to keep them upright.

“I don't know how many times I have to remind you,” she hums, soft and warm and impossibly precious against Kara's side. “El mayarah, darling. I'll keep telling you, until you remember.”

 

The rest of the walk home passes quickly.

Kara feels a thousand pounds lighter, literally and figuratively floating as she tugs Lena up the stairs to her apartment. They settle into the couch cushions, white knit blanket strewn across both their knees as an old episode of One Tree Hill plays quietly in the background.

Kara's not watching at all. Her gaze is fixed on Lena's profile, illuminated in the shifting light of the screen as green eyes track the action absently, long fingers playing with a corner of a throw pillow. She rests her cheek against the back of the couch, body angled towards Lena's as the soft comforting warmth of their little bubble suffuses her completely.

“You're staring,” Lena murmurs some indeterminate interval later, rolling her face towards Kara's along the back of the couch with a coy smile.

“I am,” she admits. It's not like she can pretend otherwise.

Lena's brow quirks. “Any particular reason?”

Kara hums, cheek shifting against the throw draped across the back of her couch. “Just thinking.”

“Something you'd like to share with the class?”

And Kara thinks, sure. Why not.

“You really do, you know,” she breathes, knees brushing Lena's beneath the blanket. “Protect me from losing parts of myself, I mean. Not just with the Humanity Totem, but again with Catco... with so many things. I guess— I guess I just wanted to say thank you.”

Lena's eyes soften. “Well, you don't have to thank me, but you're welcome anyway,” she murmurs, nudging Kara's pinkie finger with her own in the gap between their laps. “It's like you said: family's there to bring you back to yourself. We trust that we'll keep each other safe, right?”

“I do,” Kara breathes, linking her pinkie through Lena's and squeezing. “I do trust that. I trust you.”

A tiny breath huffs its way free of Lena's lips at that, her face crumpling in an awed sort of happiness, but Kara barely notices. She's too busy gazing slack jawed at the lightbulb that's just illuminated, bold and unavoidable in the forefront of her mind.

“I trust that you'll keep me safe,” she mutters again, eyes fixed on Lena without really seeing her. “I trust that you'll always be able to bring me back to myself.”

“I know, darling,” Lena hums, brow furrowing. “You just said that.”

“No, Lena—” Kara shakes her head, pushing up straighter. “Don't you see? You can bring me back.”

Lena blinks at her, the screen before them forgotten. “From— from what?”

“We've got four Totems, but we've only really cracked three of them,” Kara mutters, pushing up from the couch to pace the length of her living room rug. Lena straightens, gazing up at her in confusion, but it barely registers. “The Humanity Totem hasn't been mastered, not really. Every time we use it, we risk losing ourselves, even with your magic. We need to beat the gauntlet, once and for all.”

Lena blinks, lips pursing. “And you think— you think you know how to do that?”

“I think you do.”

She sinks back down onto the cushions, pressing close to Lena so their gazes lock. “The Humanity Totem can only belong to one of ready heart,” she recites, the oracle's voice echoing through her mind. “Ready heart. As in, open. Unguarded. Willing to submit to the Totem completely.”

Lena's eyes widen as understanding dawns.

Kara balls her hands into fists, pressing them against the tops of her thighs to stem her eagerness. “I'm ready,” she says, fervent and sure, holding Lena's gaze with her own. “I'm willing to submit. I'm not afraid of it draining my humanity, because I've got you. I've got you to bring me back.”

Lena blinks hard, shaking her head. “Kara, no, I can't—”

“You can, you can. I trust you, yeah? We can do this, together.” She nudges Lena's knee with her own, flashes her a crooked smile. “El mayarah.”

Lena huffs. “You can't use me using your own motto against you against me.”

She chuckles. “Sure I can. I just did.”

But Lena's brow is still creased with worry. “I don't know. It's— it's a big risk.”

“It's one I'm willing to take.”

“And if I'm not?” Lena's chin rises a fraction, a hint of Luthor steel shining in the depths of her eyes.

Kara lets out a long breath. “Then— I'll respect that. It's your decision. But I want you to know that I believe you can do this, Lena. That we can do it. That there's no one else in the galaxy I would trust to tether me to my humanity. No one but you.”

Lena's breath shudders out of her as the defiant line of her shoulders caves, her body softening back into the couch. “Damn you, Kara Zor-El. Damn you and your impassioned speeches.”

Kara beams, pressing closer still. “Is that a yes?”

Lena sighs, exhausted yet fond. Her toes find Kara's leg under the tangle of blankets, wriggling beneath her thigh. “What do you think?”

 

It takes less than a minute to shoot over to the Tower to retrieve the Humanity Totem from its protective case. When she touches back down in her apartment Lena is sitting ramrod straight on the couch, chewing on her lower lip.

"Hey,” Kara breathes as she takes her place beside her, abandoning the orange crystal on the coffee table in favour of reaching out and taking Lena's hands in both her own. “I know I pushed you to agree to this but if you're really not comfortable, we don't have to try it.”

Lena sighs, squeezing her fingers with a shake of her head. “Of course we're going to try it, darling. How can we not?”

Kara smooths her thumbs over Lena's knuckles once before pulling away, holding the crystal between her palms.

“So, what exactly are you asking me to do?” Lena murmurs around a fortifying sip of chamomile tea. “How do you expect me to bring you back?”

Kara presses her lips together, considering. “I guess, with the same spell you used on me in Al's bar?” she tries, turning the crystal over between her fingers. “You managed to anchor me to my own humanity then. Or maybe—”

She thinks of the brightness of Lena's soul in that moment of connection, shining clear as day before her eyes. “Maybe what you were actually doing was anchoring me to your humanity. Either way, if you can, you know, do that again, that'd be great.”

Lena huffs out a tiny laugh, nails digging anxious half-moons into her palms. “And this will be different to last time, how?”

“Because I'm not afraid this time,” Kara says without hesitation. “There's no doubt or uncertainty in my mind. I'm going to submit myself to you—”

She blushes as her words land, clearing her throat awkwardly as Lena smirks. “You know, as it were. And in doing so, I think I'll be submitting to the Totem. I think that’s the only way to become one of ready heart. Surrendering to the possibility of losing my humanity completely, but trusting that I won't.”

“Your logic sounds a little suspect,” Lena admits, nose wrinkling. “But then again, we've pulled off far weirder plans in the past.”

Kara grins. “That's the spirit.”

Lena pushes the blanket to one side, turning so they're face to face on the couch, knees pressed together. Her hands raise a few inches, hovering above her thighs, and Kara notices that they're trembling.

"Hey.” She leans forward, right into Lena's space. Strokes up and down her biceps a few times, squeezing tight. “Together, okay?”

Lena sucks in a deep breath, lets it out in a shudder. Her hands still in mid-air. “Okay.”

Kara nods, retrieving the Humanity Totem and holding it in the flat of her palm. “Whenever you're ready.”

Lena's eyes slide closed, the air around them thrumming with latent energy. A pause the length of one exhale, two, and then they're flickering open again, once-green irises glowing a shimmering gold.

The warmth of Lena's magic envelops her once more, familiar and welcome as a lover's embrace. On instinct Kara reaches out, finding Lena's fingers and pressing the Totem between all four of their hands as the spell encases them both in a blanket of energy. The points where her skin meets Lena's sing with vitality, the Totem growing hot in their palms.

Kara takes a deep breath. Focuses her gaze on Lena's, on the eyes she knows so well despite their current golden hue. Summons all her strength, all her courage, all her determination, and then just— lets it go.

Cgyrzyx.”

A crackle, a flash, and electric blue cuts through the golden haze surrounding them.

The Totem can only belong to one of ready heart booms the disembodied voice of the oracle, deafening in the hush of her loft. Is that you?

Kara fights the urge to allow her eyelids to flutter closed. Keeps them fixed instead on Lena's face, on the firm set of her lips and the intensity in her eyes as she concentrates every fibre of her being on her spell. Her spell, which will keep Kara safe, the way Lena has always kept Kara safe.

No matter the threat, no matter the risk, no matter how strained their relationship, Lena has always kept her safe. She's protected her, challenged her, fought with her and for her, and never for one second let her lose sight of who she wants to be.

Kara doesn't know if this spell will work, she realises in a sudden flash of silent clarity. She doesn't know whether Lena's abilities, so recently discovered, are enough to protect her from the might of an All Stone Totem.

Kara could lose her humanity right here, right now. Could become a callous, cold shell of the person she's fought so hard to remain. And, paradoxically enough, a lack of humanity in National City's resident Kryptonian is perhaps the most dangerous prospect of them all.

And yet, she's not afraid. Because she knows, somewhere deep and fundamental and rooted in her bones, that even if this all goes to hell, even if she loses every last scrap of who she is and becomes a mindless, power-hungry machine, she won't stay that way for long.

Because she knows that the woman sitting before her now, the woman whose hands are clasped tight in her own, fingers twining together so hard they're almost a match for bulletproof skin— she knows that this woman would move heaven and earth to bring her back to herself.

She knows Lena would turn over every rock in existence, would scour every inch of the galaxy for a solution, a remedy, a way to undo the damage. She knows, suddenly and unquestionably, that there's nothing Lena wouldn't do if she needed it. She knows it because she can see it, can see the bright devoted earnest heart of her beating fast as a hummingbird's right beside her own.

She knows that Lena would stop at nothing to save her, just as she'd stop at nothing to save Lena.

And that? That is so much more than enough.

Is that you? the oracle asks again, and the last of Kara's hesitance melts away like snow beneath the first warmth of spring.

Yes, she thinks. Yes, yes, yes.

The Humanity Totem burns hotter still, almost scalding against their palms. Even Lena's magic warms by degrees, the golden shroud encasing them seeming to shiver in the dim light of her apartment.

A single flash of heat so intense it singes the back of her throat and then the golden light is gone, the crystal is cool in her palms, Lena's eyes are green again.

You have performed admirably booms the oracle's disembodied voice as Kara holds her fourth conquered Totem in her hands.

 

Lena is exhausted.

Maintaining her magic throughout the duration of the Humanity Totem's gauntlet has sapped her of her energy and she allows herself to fall into Kara's side, wrapped up against her in comfortable silence for a long time, Kara's nails scratching lightly through the warm dark curls at the base of her skull.

“Thank you,” Kara murmurs from time to time, pressing her gratitude against a crown of silky hair. Lena only sighs, only softens further, fingers tightening in the front of Kara's sweatshirt in response.

Eventually, around a final, enormous yawn, Lena decrees it's time to go home. She gently refuses Kara's offer to stay the night, citing the need to change her clothes before they take Esme pottery-making in the morning, but accepts the offer of a ride back to her penthouse with minimal complaints.

Kara flies her home carefully, reverently. Sets her on her feet on her balcony and nudges in closer, pressing a kiss that's a little too intimate and a lot too lingering against the down-soft curve of Lena's cheek.

A last smile and a quiet wave and then she's airborne again, depositing the newly vanquished Humanity Totem at the Tower and landing back in her loft with tiredness tugging at her bones.

She crawls into bed, buries her face against the softness of the cardigan Lena had forgotten on the arm of her couch, and sleeps better than she has in weeks.

The next day dawns bright, vibrant and thrumming with the excitement of seeing her niece, of seeing Lena. Kara speeds through her morning routine in double time, singing *NSync under her breath as she touches down outside her sister's building.

“You were gonna quit Catco?” Alex all but shrieks the second she pulls open the door.

Kara sighs, sliding past her sister into the warm apartment. “Man, Lena works fast.”

“You do realise what a terrible idea that would have been, right?” her sister calls at her back as Kara flops down at the breakfast bar, helping herself to a cup of coffee. "Like, monumentally stupid.”

“What my fiancée means to say,” Kelly smiles, emerging from Esme's bedroom with the little girl in tow, “is that we both know how important being a reporter is to you, and we're gonna do whatever we can to make it easier for you to balance it against all the other stuff going on right now.”

Kara smiles gratefully, leaning back a little so her niece can clamber up onto her lap for a hello hug.

“Yeah, sure,” Alex huffs under her fiancée's disapproving stare. “What Kelly said.”

"Thanks, you guys,” Kara hums around an enormous sip of coffee, setting her mug down so she can help Esme pull on her boots.

"Thank you,” Kelly counters, wrapping an arm around Alex's waist and kissing her cheek, “for taking Esme out so we can have some time to get ready for our bachelorette party tonight.”

“Are you kidding?” she grins, tickling the little girl beneath her ribs. “What better way to spend a Saturday than with the best niece in the galaxy!”

Esme giggles, kicking her legs to be let down and running off to find her backpack and zebra stuffy. “Lena's booked us all at Club Rialto at eight,” Alex says around a mouthful of bacon sandwich, cheeks bulging like a chipmunk. “So ,I guess just bring her back late afternoon so we can do dinner and bath time before Kelly's mom gets here to babysit?”

Kara nods, pushing off her stool and re-donning her coat as Alex buttons Esme into her pale blue parka. “Be good for Aunt Lena, yeah?” she grins, kissing her daughter's nose. “And make sure Aunt Kara is good for her too!”

“Impossible,” Kara winks as she takes her niece's hand, ready to head out the door.

"Hey,” Alex calls just as they're turning to leave. “We really do have your back, you know. You can be Supergirl and be Kara Danvers and kick ass at both, yeah? We've got you.”

She smiles. “I know you do. Say bye to your moms, bug!”

A chorus of byes and love yous flies back and forth through the apartment, and then at last they're on their way.

 

They stop off briefly at a florist en route to Lena's apartment and Kara lets her niece pick out the best bunch and carry the brown paper-wrapped bouquet up to Lena's front door.

Lena's face lights up when she sees them, delighted gaze flicking from Kara to Esme to the flowers and back again. "Oh, thank you, sweetheart,” she beams as she accepts the bunch, turning to fill a vase with water at the sink. “These are beautiful.”

“They're a present from Aunt Kara!” Esme chirps as she shadows Lena into the kitchen, watching her with rapt fascination. “But, but I helped!”

“I can tell,” Lena winks, lifting Esme to the height of the counter so the child can help arrange the stems. “It couldn't have been just anyone who picked out a bouquet this gorgeous.”

She glances up at Kara over Esme's head, the little girl utterly engrossed in her task. “Plumerias?” Lena asks, a playful twinkle in her eye as their gazes meet.

She shrugs. "Just to say thank you. You know, for everything.”

Lena's eyes soften. “Well, you certainly didn't have to, but they are my favourite.”

Kara grins. “You're my favourite.”

Lena's cheeks flush as Esme pushes to be let down, running over to the door to tug at the handle on her tiptoes. “Let's go, let's go, let's go!” she squeals, bouncing up and down. “I wanna do pot!”

"Pots!” Kara gasps at the same moment Lena shrieks “Pottery, darling! Pottery.”

Their eyes meet across the kitchen island for a split second before they both dissolve into laughter, Esme frowning up at them with her bottom lip sticking out.

“I can't believe you're teaching your six-year-old niece to do pot,” Lena giggles as she shrugs into her pea coat, locking the door behind them as Kara takes Esme's hand.

She snorts. “What can I say? I'm a terrible influence.”

Pottery-making turns out to be even messier than Kara had anticipated. Despite the enormous apron double-knotted around Esme's waist the young girl is covered head to toe in clay within seconds of them walking through the door. She stands between Lena's knees, allowing her aunt to guide her hands in shaping the clay on the wheel, giggling all the while.

True to Lena's prediction, Kara does in fact shatter three pots and crush a foot pedal into dust throughout the course of the day, but it's not like it's her fault. She'd defy anyone to witness the sight of billionaire genius Lena Luthor laughing loud and uninhibited as the world's most adorable six-year-old crawls into her lap to smear clay across her cheeks and not be at least a little distracted.

Once Lena's completed her bowl, Kara's put the finishing touches to her lumpy mug, and the three of them have corralled Esme's misshapen mound into something vaguely resembling the vase that will be her mothers’ wedding gift, they decide to call it a day.

Lena's washing up at the sink in the corner as Kara spins her niece so she can untie Esme's apron for her, slipping it over her head. The move shifts her pigtails over her shoulders and Kara's gaze catches on a mark on the back of the girl's neck, her brow furrowing.

She runs her fingers over the faint markings, a ring of dwindling concentric circles loosely resembling flower petals. “What's this, bug?” she asks, frowning as the pads of her fingers trace the slight indentations. “Did you get this at school?”

Esme shakes her head, shrugging.

“Hey, Lena?” Kara calls, gesturing at her niece's neck. “What d’you make of this?”

Whatever it is, it's not stuck to the surface of Esme's skin, nor does it hurt her. In fact, it seems indelible, but otherwise unnoticeable; Esme has no idea how long it's been there, or even that it had appeared at all.

They call Alex and Kelly, forgoing the promise of crepes on the waterfront to meet them at the Tower. Neither of them had noticed the mark either, and the crinkle between Alex's brows deepens with each passing second as she takes her daughter into the med bay to run some tests.

Preliminary results don't show anything— Esme's pulse, breathing, and bloodwork are normal, and there's no indication that the mark is causing her any kind of harm. With more questions than answers and no way to clarify them they eventually give up, deciding to leave further tests till the next day so they're not late for their evening reservation.

Esme catapults herself into Kara's arms as they're getting ready to leave, holding up her toy zebra so the stuffy can kiss her resoundingly on the nose. “Thank you for the best Aunties’ Day ever,” she says solemnly. “I wanna do pot with you and Aunt Lena every day!”

Kara cringes, setting her niece on her feet with a kiss to the forehead and superspeeding out the door before her sister's outraged yell has even left her mouth.

 

Club Rialto is all black and chrome and expensive gold lighting, upscale and exclusive and exactly as fancy as Kara would expect a Lena Luthor-recommended venue to be. They have a private suite, a bartender well versed in both human and alien cocktails, and a killer sound system pumping out tune after tune until the beat pounds through her bloodstream, heady as a pulse.

The laughter is loud, the drinks are flowing, and Kara's head is spinning. This is due partly to the potency of the Aldebaran rum in the Hurricanes she's mainlining, but mainly to the fact that forty-five minutes ago Lena had walked into the bar in a long-sleeved black dress that sheathes her body like a second skin, clinging to every swaying curve and complimenting her smoky eyes and dark-painted mouth like a match made in expensive perfume-scented heaven. Kara can't take her eyes off her.

They cheers toast after toast, throwing back shots as around the table, cheeks flush hotter and sloppy giggles flare louder. Kelly drags a reluctant Alex to the dancefloor in a chorus of cheers and wolf-whistles. Brainy slinks off to the bar with Nia in tow. She and Lena and J’onn trade embarrassing stories around the table until the music switches to an early JT classic and Lena rises from her seat with a grin.

“Well, I'm going to go dance,” she announces, long braid slipping over her shoulder as her gaze locks with Kara's. “Because what's the point in saving the world if you don't get to enjoy it sometimes?”

Kara watches her go with her heart in her throat and a mouth as dry as the Sahara. Lena is all laughing eyes and hypnotic hips as she twirls beneath Kelly's arm, and Kara's staring must not be as subtle as she'd thought because a moment later J’onn's nudging an elbow against her ribs. “You can go, you know. You deserve to have fun tonight, too.”

Kara jumps, then tries to pretend that she hasn't. “Oh, no,” she mutters, ducking her head. “I shouldn't, I mean— I can't just, like, take the night off.”

“Sure you can,” J’onn says easily. “The Tower's scanning for Lex and Nyxly, and there's nothing we can do until the Love Totem reappears. And anyway, you deserve it. You're allowed to live your life, Kara. You're even allowed to enjoy it, sometimes.”

The ghost of Lena's voice echoes through her mind. Maybe you're allowed to be a little selfish.

She feels her cheeks heat.

“And besides,” J’onn murmurs, leaning closer conspiratorially and jutting his chin in the direction of where Lena and Alex are performing an exaggerated waltz in the middle of the dancefloor. “I think somebody just asked you to dance.”

Kara gapes at him. “What? You mean that was— she was— me?” she manages at last, blinking fast.

J’onn snorts. “Well, I don't think she was inviting me.”

“Oh.” Kara's brain has disconnected entirely, mouth open and head empty. “Oh. Okay.”

J’onn shakes his head at her, smirking. “Go on, then.”

And then Kara's on her feet and stumbling out of the booth, drawn toward the dancefloor, toward Lena, like a fish on a hook.

And then they're all dancing, laughing and cheering as Kara whips out her most embarrassing theatre kid dance moves, as she and Alex resurrect the cringey routines they'd perfected in junior high, as Brainy and Nia join them and Brainy launches into a robot impersonation so uncanny Kara has to resist the urge to check him for a motherboard and off switch.

Alex and Kelly perform an enthusiastic and unsteady Cancan, Nia twerks, Kara dabs, and Brainy executes what can only be described as a slut drop against a pink-cheeked Lena's front. Kara feels dizzy with it; drunk on the booze and the music and the oasis of carefree joy in which they find themselves, the peaceful eye of the raging storm that's enveloped them for months now.

Tray after tray of shots appears, softening the edges and blurring the lines as the night wears on and the lights dim low. Alex and Kelly are wrapped up in each other, giggling and attempting selfie after drunk selfie as they sway on the spot. Brainy’s swept Nia up into a complicated routine involving crossed limbs, enthusiastic leaps and a series of clicks and claps that's as endearing as it is weird. Kara thinks she hears the words Wanathian mating dance thrown around at some point, and shakes her head.

She turns to find Lena leaning against the bar, sipping delicately from the scotch glass trapped between her fingers. A corner of her mouth lifts as their eyes meet and Kara presses in close, lifting the glass from her hand and replacing it with her own. “Dance with me?”

Lena bites her lip, grinning. “I thought you'd never ask.”

It feels intimate somehow as she leads Lena to a shadowed corner of the dancefloor, private and close in a way an airy club suite probably shouldn't. But J’onn has disappeared back to the Tower for his hourly check-in and the other two couples in the room are too far lost in one another to notice what anyone else is doing. Kara knows the feeling.

The music shifts and softens, earlier club beats replaced by something smoother, slower, unhurried and sensual. Buoyed by the rum in her veins and the twinkle in Lena's eyes she reaches out, fits her hands to the curve of Lena's hips as they sway together under the dim lights.

“You look really great tonight,” she hums as Lena's arms settle on her shoulders, fingers linking at the nape of her neck. “Like, really great. I mean, that dress— that dress. Wow.”

Lena's coy smirk belies her flushing cheeks, the subtle uptick of her heartrate. “You too,” she murmurs, lips quirking. One hand comes up, fingers twisting into Kara's rogue curls.

“I like you like this,” Lena breathes, loose and honest as her gaze flits from Kara’s dress to her loose hair to the glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. “Not Supergirl, not Catco Kara, just you. Just you.”

Delicately, reverently, Lena's fingers come up. A feather-light touch at her cheekbones and then Kara's glasses are being lifted, slid atop her head to hold back the unruly wave of her curls. Lena stares up at her, fingertips resting lightly at the hinge of her jaw, every last barrier between them well and truly dismantled.

“I like me like this, too,” Kara admits in a breathless whisper, palms tracing the velvet heat of Lena's ribs, her waist, her hips. “This me has you.”

Lena smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners. “Every you has me.”

Kara's breath catches in her throat. Green eyes gaze up at her, pupils blown wide. A pink tongue darts out to wet dark-painted lips. And then the lights come up, the club manager's voice sounding over the loudspeakers to inform them that the bar is closing.

Lena drops her forehead to Kara's shoulder, breath hot on her clavicle as she chuckles. She breathes out a faint huff that sounds almost like typical and then she's pulling back, hands leaving Kara's neck to link their fingers together instead.

“Come on, I'll call you a car,” she smiles, tugging on their joined hands. “Can't have you arrested for flying while intoxicated, now, can we?”

Kara, buzzed off far more than alien liquor, can do little more than stumble along behind. She barely remembers to slip her glasses back onto her face as the group says their goodbyes and before she knows what's happening she's thanking Lena's driver and stumbling up to her apartment.

She all but trips into bed, unconscious almost before her head hits the pillow, the smoky richness of Lena's perfume still clinging to the tip of her tongue.

 

The knock on Kara's front door comes early enough that she groans, slapping a hand over her eyes. She feels as if she's barely slept at all, mouth dry and head pounding, a lingering embrace from the Aldebaran rum.

She squints through her shock of bed hair, x-raying through the door. The sight of the two figures on the other side of the white-painted wood is enough to banish all thoughts of a hangover clean from her mind, face breaking into a blinding smile as she superspeeds it open.

“Kiddo!” she greets as Esme catapults herself into her arms, squealing in delight as Kara floats them off the ground to blow raspberries on her belly. She sets her niece down, grinning at Lena as she pulls the door shut behind her, shrugging off her coat. “You could've let yourself in, you know. You don't have to knock.”

“I know,” Lena hums as she sets her bag down on the table, toeing off her shoes. “But I wanted to give you a heads up in case you were still in bed.” She quirks an amused brow at Kara's sleep shorts and Cookie Monster t shirt, her tousled hair, the pillow indentations criss-crossing her cheek. “Which I assume you were.”

Kara flushes. “It's just— early.”

Lena chuckles. "That's exactly what your sister said when I picked Esme up this morning,” she smirks, making her way into the kitchen and filling the kettle. “And she looked even rougher than you do. Hence why I wanted to give the brides-to-be a morning to recover from their bachelorette party. I'm pretty sure Alex was asleep again before we even left their apartment.”

Kara tugs a hand through her sleep-matted curls, fingers getting stuck halfway in a ferocious snarl of hair. She runs a distasteful tongue over her fuzzy teeth. “I don't blame her. I feel like I've been hit by a truck.”

Her gaze skims Lena's body from head to toe and back again, taking in her soft sweater, her freshly washed hair, the brightness of her eyes. “Yet you look as gorgeous as ever,” she observes grumpily as Lena's cheeks flush a delicate pink. “What gives? Don't tell me you're not hungover at all?”

Lena chuckles, pulling down two mugs and rooting through Kara's cupboard for her favourite tea. “No one holds their liquor like a Luthor, darling.”

Kara reaches down to take the remote Esme proffers, navigating to her niece's favourite cartoons with a practiced hand. The child squeals and throws herself onto the couch, immediately engrossed.

Kara turns back to her best friend, pouting. “I'm simultaneously extremely troubled by and jealous of that sentiment.”

“I'll make you a coffee,” Lena laughs, the early morning light picking out strands of glowing amber in the dark wave of her hair. “Extra-large, extra cream, extra extra sugar. You'll be fine in no time.”

“You're my favourite,” Kara hums as she floats herself onto a bar stool, pillowing her head on her folded arms as Lena expertly navigates her kitchen, the bright sound of chattering cartoon animals filling the apartment. "Hey, have you two eaten?”

Lena shakes her head as she plunges Kara's Aeropress into her favourite blue mug. "We were supposed to go get waffles, but Esme wanted to come see her favourite aunt first.” Lena glances at her over one shoulder, a corner of her mouth quirking. “And maybe I did too.”

Kara leans back on her stool, clasping her hands dramatically over her heart. “Lena!” she gasps, mouth wide and eyes wider. “Am I truly your favourite aunt? What an honour.

Lena tuts, sliding her hand beneath the faucet and flicking a shower of water droplets in her direction. Kara shrieks, falling backwards off her stool in an Oscar-worthy display of faux horror, floating surreptitiously upwards before she can hit the ground.

Esme giggles from the couch as Lena clicks her tongue at the dramatics, fighting off a smile. “Just for that, you're buying breakfast.”

Kara flips herself back onto her feet, shooting upright to beam at her best friend. “Done,” she chirps, turning to the child on the couch. “What do you think, little bug? Waffles?”

Esme claps her hands in delight. “With chocolate!”

Lena's brow quirks, one hip braced against the kitchen island as she folds her arms. “With fruit.”

“With fruit,” Kara parrots solemnly before throwing a wink in Esme's direction. “And chocolate!”

Esme cheers as Lena sighs in defeat, nudging a mug across the counter toward her. Kara takes an inhuman gulp, the hot creamy sugary goodness an immediate balm to the pounding behind her temples, and grins.

“I'll get you extra fruit,” she promises, shifting into her suit as Lena sighs fondly. “And I'll even go to that café you love in Brussels. Real Belgian waffles!” She wiggles her eyebrows and Lena shakes her head, a grin tugging at her lips. “Real healthy Belgian waffles.”

Lena smiles then, a real smile just for her, and the last traces of Kara's hangover melt clean away.

“Back in a flash,” she promises, nudging open the living room window, and then she's flying.

 

It turns out to be less of a flash and more of a seven minute and eighteen second round trip, but Kara doesn't think her guests will mind. The waffles had to be baked fresh, after all; just because she moves at the speed of sound, that doesn't mean anyone else does.

It'll be worth it, she's thinking as she touches down in her living room once more, takeout box warm and deliciously chocolatey in her hands.

“I got you so much fruit it could keep the entire navy scurvy-free for years,” she's calling before her feet even make contact with the carpet. “And for me and bug there's enough chocolate to build a—”

She cuts herself off suddenly, the sweetness of the morning turning bitter on her tongue.

Her apartment is empty.

Chapter Text

Her apartment is empty.

And not we just stepped out to say hello to a dog on the street empty. This is overturned-mugs, smashed-coffee-table empty. This is a purse and coat and phone still on the dining table where they were first discarded, this is Esme's shoes still stacked neatly beside Lena's next to the front door still locked from the inside. This is strewn throw pillows and cartoon animals shrieking and the signal watch she'd given Lena eighteen months ago lying shattered on the ground.

This is something is very wrong empty, and the back of Kara's neck prickles.

Waffles forgotten, she shoots out of the window once more, hovering high above the city as she strains her superhearing to the limits in search of one specific heartbeat. Esme is still relatively new to their family but Lena, Lena's heart is more familiar to Kara than the sound of her own breathing.

She listens for one minute, then two, then three. Nothing.

Heart pounding, stomach twisting, she pulls out her phone. Ninety seconds later they're all in the Tower, everyone but J’onn looking decidedly like they'd just rolled out of bed.

Alex's hair is sticking up at odd angles, last night's mascara still caked beneath her eyes. Neither that nor her panda-print pyjama pants make her any less intimidating as she advances on Kara with fire in her eyes. “Where the fuck is my daughter?”

Kelly rests a calming hand on her arm but the worry in her gaze is just as deep, just as savage as Alex's. Heart in her throat, Kara tells them everything she knows. That she'd left Lena and Esme happy and safe and warm in her apartment for seven minutes and eighteen seconds, and come back to them gone. That she hasn't been able to find them. That she doesn't even know where to start.

Alex looks ready to murder something by the time she's through. Kara has no doubt that given the opportunity, that something could very well be her. Just as her sister opens her mouth, no doubt to hand Kara her entire ass on a platter for allowing something to happen to her daughter on her watch, the screens in the Tower's control room flicker to life.

“Well, this is awkward,” comes a disembodied voice and Kara whips round, blood turning to ice in her veins.

"Lex.”

His smug face beams at them from the bank of monitors, cool and calm and utterly in control. “I can only imagine emotions are running high right now,” he says benignly as Alex lets out a guttural yell, fingers reaching for the gauntlet at her wrist.

J’onn catches her before she can destroy their only link to Lena and Esme, stilling her hand. “It's a recording,” he mutters, keeping a tight grip on Alex. “He's too much of a coward to face us himself.”

“You have something I want,” Lex leers from the screen. “Or rather, four somethings. Four totems. Courage, Hope, Dream, and Humanity. You're going to give them to me, tomorrow at noon on Shelley Island, right inside that lovely little perimeter of power-dampening pylons. And in return, I'll give you something you want.” He pauses a moment, just to smile, and Kara sees with sickening clarity just how much he's enjoying this. “Or rather, two somethings.”

Kelly's shaking her head so hard tears arc from her cheeks. Alex is growling, fighting hard against J’onn's iron grip. Kara, for her part, is frozen. Rooted to the spot, numbed by a dread so chilling, so complete, that there's no escape.

“That's right.” Lex's disembodied head nods down at them, his grin rapacious. “I only wanted the little alien, really, since she's the one with the Love Totem embedded in her skin.”

Six mouths drop open in silent shock. The recording of Lex's face pays them no mind.

“But my dear sister just wouldn't let her go,” he says, thick with a facsimile of regret, and Kara feels her eyes fill with tears even as the tell-tale burn of impending laser vision begins to pulse behind her retinas. “She insisted on coming with, so now we've made it a party. Oh, but don't worry, they're safe!”

He holds up his arm to reveal the small black creature attached to his wrist. “Baby Truth Seeker, always keeping me honest. Lena and Esme are safe, and they'll stay safe, until noon tomorrow.” Lex's cavalier mask drops, replaced by something harder, colder. "But my sister's already killed me once before. Fail to fulfil your side of this bargain, Supergirl, and I might just have to return the favour.”

Kara's chest caves, stomach dropping. Brainy's hand on her arm is the only thing that keeps her upright as Lex's threat ricochets through the fear centres of her brain like a missile.

“And the girl, well. Once I've extracted the Love Totem from her, she won't be much use to me.” Lex's expression is calm, smooth, as though he's discussing the weather. “If I can't trade her back to you for your Totems, I suppose I'll have to find another way to— dispose of her.”

Alex's knees give out and she crumples, held up only by J’onn's arms around her. Kelly lets out a sound so raw and desperate it prickles gooseflesh across Kara's skin.

“Shelley Island. Noon tomorrow. Four Totems, for two lives.” Lex's face is all business now, cut steel bared and ready for the assault. “Any tricks, any traps, and I'll kill one of them while the other watches. Which way round would hurt more, do you think?”

He regards them languidly, one brow arched in a chilling display of apathy. “Hey, I'm a reasonable guy. Maybe I'll let you choose.”

The screen goes black. And Kara screams.

 

It's not even a conscious decision.

It's deeper, more visceral, an unconscious physiological reaction to the threat, the ultimatum, the knowledge of the danger encircling two of the people she loves most in the world. She finds she can't stop it, can't quiet it or rein herself in even when Brainy's hands tighten on her biceps, even when Nia's arms slip round her shoulders.

It ends only because it must, when Kara eventually runs out of oxygen. The scream becomes a sob, then another and another, choked and ragged and equally unrelenting.

Across the worn boards of the control room, Kelly and Alex are just as distraught, crying in each other's arms as J’onn projects waves of calming psychic energy at each of them in turn.

Once the three of them have calmed enough to speak, the drying tears give way to blistering anger.

“We have to do it,” Alex bites out, head snapping back and forth as she looks for the Totems in their protective cages. “We have to hand them over.”

“We can't,” Brainy and Nia say at the same time as J’onn shakes his head, laying a consoling hand on Alex's arm.

“Alex, be rational,” he says gently. “If we give Lex and Nyxly four Totems – five, if they get the Love Totem – they'll be almost unstoppable. It'll be that much easier for them to find the remaining two and then, if they form the All Stone, we'll be powerless to oppose them.”

“If Lex Luthor becomes master of the universe it will mean countless dead,” Brainy adds, his expression solemn. “Billions, perhaps more. On this planet, and spreading out across the stars.”

“We want them back too,” Nia chimes in, slipping an arm around Kelly's shoulders. “But two lives at the cost of billions? You— you know we can't do that.”

Three faces are set in grim determination, resolve dripping with regret. Even Kelly is nodding, albeit shakily. Only Alex remains unconvinced.

Her gaze meets Kara's across the table between them and she knows her sister is thinking the same thing she is. That it's not just any two lives. That it's Esme. That it's Lena. That normal rules do not, cannot apply.

Kara squares her jaw. “Find them,” she snaps, so harshly that her family jump. “We have to find them ourselves, before the deadline. If we don't, if we can't—”

She takes a deep breath. Straightens her spine. “Then I'm with Alex. We make the trade.”

Three mouths drop open, faces creasing with admonishment, but Kara doesn't stick around to hear it. Before any of them can even voice their opposition, she's gone.

 

She circles the globe almost two hundred times.

Flies its circumference at every possible orientation, crossing and recrossing continents. She skims low over deserts and high over mountains, x-rays through sea and sand and stone. Scours the planet's airspace, listens in to radio transmissions, sneaks into covert military and intelligence agencies worldwide to get a look at their scanning systems.

Nothing. Hours and hours of searching, and she's got nothing. No sign, not even the slightest trace of Lena or Esme anywhere on Earth.

High in the air above National City, Kara howls. Sends a furious blast of laser vision straight up through the clouds, water molecules sizzling as they vaporise around her.

There's a pain, a desolate fury hooking in behind her ribs and hewing her open. She feels raw, exposed, a wound bared to the elements before it's even had a chance to heal. That's all Lex Luthor has ever been, she thinks bitterly. A festering wound in the centre of the delicate process of she and Lena healing.

When she can fly no more, scream no more, she drops. Sneaks back into the Tower through a downstairs window, eager to avoid the inevitable confrontation with the rest of her family.

There's a frantic restlessness thrumming through her muscles despite the day's exertion so she makes her way to the training room. Fishes out an enormous slab of nth metal from the stores and sets about methodically punching it into oblivion.

The release is so sweet, the ring of near-impenetrable metal so loud as it moulds like cookie dough around her fists, that she barely notices she's no longer alone.

"No luck?” Alex asks from the corner of the room. Kara doesn't halt, doesn't slow. Doesn't dignify the question with an answer. As if she'd be here if she'd found them.

“We're scanning the planet for fifth-dimensional energy,” Alex informs the tense line of her shoulders. “For Nyxly's ship and any use of Kryptonite. But there's been nothing yet.”

Kara growls low in her throat. Launches a particularly vicious right hook at the slab, which folds with all the resistance of a piece of paper around her knuckles.

“You know, she was like this,” Alex says after a long moment of silence broken only by the high keening sound of pulverised metal. “When you were in the Phantom Zone. Lena was ready to make the trade, too.”

Kara pauses, the knuckles of her right hand embedded as neatly in the centre of the block as if it were a soft cotton glove and not the strongest metal on the planet. “What?”

"Long before we actually brought you home, Lena developed a device that could have used your DNA to track you through the Phantom Zone,” Alex says, almost casually. Kara stops breathing.

"But there were phantoms in National City, and her device was also the only thing that could save the people infected by them.” Alex lets out a heavy breath, squaring her shoulders. “She didn't want to give it to me, so— so I took it from her.”

Kara whips round, and whatever emotion is showing on her face is enough to wrest her sister backwards a few steps, jaw working as she swallows hard.

“I gave her the same speech the others just gave us,” Alex whispers. “I told her you wouldn't want to be rescued if the cost was that high. That saving one life wasn't worth losing countless others. Not even— not even if it was you.”

Kara can only stare at her sister in silence. It's not that she's angry, upset or betrayed. She's never had a problem sacrificing herself for others. It was her own philosophy from which Alex had taken that lead. Before today, she would have made the same call herself. But. But.

But— Lena didn't care.” Alex's voice is so quiet she has to strain to hear it. “She would have chosen you, Kara, if I hadn't taken the device from her. She— she chose you.”

Every last molecule of oxygen has vacated Kara's lungs. “Why are you telling me this?”

Her sister takes a tentative step closer. “Because I need to do now what I did then. I need to see the bigger picture, and so do you. We'll get them back, we will. But not at the cost of the rest of the universe. There's always another way.” The tiniest shadow of a smile ghosts across Alex's mouth. “You taught me that.”

Something molten and desperate cracks open behind Kara's sternum at the loss of her last, her staunchest ally in this fight. “But— it's Esme,” she gasps, half-wild. “How can you even— Alex, it's your daughter. It's my—”

She chokes off, trembling. Alex takes another step toward her.

“Your Lena,” she supplies, that same knowing smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I know. I know. That's why we can't be trusted to be rational about this, Kara. That's why we have to listen to the others, trust that their judgment is clearer than ours. That they'll help us find another way.”

The tears she's been holding back for hours come then, pouring down her cheeks in a silent cascade. Alex closes the distance between them and then they're both on the floor, wrapped up together and wracked with sobs. Kara burrows her snotty face against her sister's shoulder as she cries. Cries because Alex is right. Cries because it's not fair. Cries for every single force in the universe that has ever tried to keep her away from the woman she loves.

“I would choose Esme over anything,” Alex whispers, teary and tremulous against Kara's hair. “I would, just like you would choose Lena. But even if we got them back that way, they wouldn't want it. They wouldn't be able to live with the knowledge of what had been lost to save them. And eventually—”

Alex sucks in a great gulping gasp of air, fingers digging so tight into Kara's sides that she can almost, almost feel it.

“Eventually, neither would we.”

 

Her sister is right.

She knows that, she does. She's even come to a shaky, trembling facsimile of acceptance on the subject. But that doesn't mean she has to swallow it with good grace.

“I am going to roast Lex Luthor alive,” she growls in lieu of greeting, following Alex into the control room and joining the others at the bank of monitors. “I am going to boil him in his skin and then I am going to peel it off of him like string cheese.”

Nia blinks hard, wide-eyed in the shocked silence that's fallen over the group. “Uh huh,” she manages at length. “Sure, babe. Once we get him, you, uh. You go right ahead. For now, though—”

“For now, our scans have revealed frustratingly little information as to Lex and Nyxly's whereabouts,” Brainy takes over, darting nervous glances at Kara from the corner of his eye. "There's no sign of their ship, and no trace of fifth dimensional energy anywhere on Earth.”

“Nyxly knows how to shield her powers from us,” J’onn grumbles as Kelly nods.

“We need another way to find them. If only they had their own individual energy signatures that we could monitor for, something we could use to track them.”

A muscle in Alex's cheek flickers as she quirks a brow at her wife. “Putting a GPS tracker in our daughter's stuffy doesn't seem like such an extreme idea now, does it.”

But Kara's mind is still stuck, whirring repeatedly over her sister-in-law's words. “Energy,” she mutters to herself, an idea forming in her mind. “Energy! That's it! We can track Lena's energy.”

Five sets of eyes narrow as they regard her. Nia purses her lips. “Uh, what kind of hippy voodoo shit—”

"Her magic,” Kara interrupts impatiently. “Lena's magic has its own unique energy signature, right? We can figure out what it is, from the enchantments she's put on the Totems we have here, and then scan for that as well! If she uses her magic, we'll find them.”

If she uses it,” Brainy says, scepticism pulling at his features even as he retrieves the Totems, hooking them up to the monitor to analyse them. “Lex may be preventing her—”

“Do you have a better idea?” Kara snaps, and whatever Brainy sees on her face is enough to have his mouth shutting with an audible click.

“It's the best we've got,” Alex agrees as the six of them crowd round the monitor, gazes fixed on the screen. Kara's sure the rest of them hear the unspoken end of her sister's sentence just as clearly as she does.

It's the best they've got, because it's all they've got.

 

She can't stay in the Tower.

She can't stay there, watching the screens in tense silence while panic and anxiety radiate out in unstoppable waves from Alex and Kelly and everyone else. She can't absorb their worry right now. She has enough of her own.

And she can't stay because— because Lena is in the Tower.

Because Kara looks at the bank of monitors in the control room and sees Lena's long fingers flying over the keyboard. Because she looks at the worn floorboards and hears Lena's heels clicking towards her; looks at the lab and sees the precious indents on the bridge of Lena's nose after hours behind safety goggles. Because she can't look at the couches and comfy chairs littering the space without thinking of shared pot stickers and socked feet tucked beneath her thigh, of warm hugs and cosy evenings and so much love overflowing in her chest that, without Lena here to absorb it, is building and building until she can't breathe.

So, she flies. Keeps circling the globe, on the lookout for any trace she might have missed. Walks the halls of the Luthor Mansion, the Fortress of Solitude, every covert DEO facility she can find.

She checks back in every hour or so. Lands back in the Tower only to be greeted by a row of faces that look grimmer each time.

Around 2AM she touches down to find Alex pacing the balcony, tugging her hands roughly through her hair. “I should have realised,” she mutters without looking up. “That tattoo on the back of Esme's neck. I should have put the pieces together.”

Kara tries very, very hard to keep a lid on her own emotions. “Don't blame yourself. None of us realised it was the Love Totem.”

“She's my daughter,” Alex spits but there's no venom behind the words. Only a deep, aching sadness shot through with the bitter sting of regret. “If I'd seen it, if I'd known, we could have protected her.”

Kara says nothing. Reaches out instead, cups a hand around the back of her sister's neck to tug her into a tight hug. Alex's arms scrabble for purchase against her, the desperate grip of a drowning man on the only thing keeping him afloat.

“You don't think Lex would—” she whispers into Kara's suit, tears hot on the slick fabric. “To extract the Love Totem, you don't think he'd— you don't think he'd hurt her, do you?”

Kara clamps down hard on the inside of her cheek, bites and keeps biting until the metallic tang of blood blooms across her tongue because yes, she does think Lex Luthor would hurt Esme. Doesn't think he'd hesitate at destroying anything that gets in his way, no matter how young or innocent the casualties may be.

But that won't help Alex, won't help any of them right now.

“Lena wouldn't let him,” she says instead, because as much as she's certain of the abundance of darkness inside the elder Luthor, she's equally sure of the abundance of light in the younger. “She would never let him hurt Esme while she’s still breathing.”

Neither one of them comments on the implication Kara hadn't meant to let slip; that Lena might not still be breathing, in which case they're both lost. In which case, Kara will burn every inch of existence to the ground until she finds Lex Luthor and releases upon him a destruction so complete it will put even the annihilation of Krypton to shame.

But that's a bridge they haven't come to, as yet. One she prays they'll never have to cross.

For now, she holds her sister and her sister holds her, and somehow they make that enough.

 

On her 5AM check-in, she accepts the coffee and tray of donuts Nia nudges in her direction with a smile that's more of a grimace. She's just swallowed the last maple glaze whole, is already turning on her heel ready to push into the air once more, when a ferocious ringing starts up from the wall of screens.

She whips round as Brainy types frantically at the keyboard, the others running over from their various positions of despair to get a better look.

“Lena's magic,” Brainy mutters, brow creasing as his fingers fly. “She's used it. We've found them.”

Kara already has one foot off the ground, a heartbeat away from cracking through the sound barrier when a hand snags tight in the fabric of her cape.

“Don't you dare,” Alex hisses. “Don't you dare try and solo this one. We are all going, and we're going together. Kara Zor-El, you pick me up right now.”

Even the cosmic imperative to get to Lena can't outweigh the fear inspired by her sister's best death glare, so Kara does as she's told. Wraps one arm around Alex and the other around Brainy, lets J’onn grab Nia and Kelly and then they're flying, shooting towards the coordinates of Nyxly's expertly cloaked ship.

Now that they know, thanks to Lena's magic, exactly where the spaceship is, Kara's all for just flying at it head-first, busting it open with the sheer force of her skull. But the sharp disapproval she can feel radiating from J’onn in waves of psychic energy is enough to restrain her and she slows at the ship's invisible outer wall, hovering high above the Arctic Ocean. Waits for J’onn to catch up with his two passengers, waits for him to lay his palm against the hidden hull, then wraps her fingertips in the edge of his cape and waits for him to materialise them all inside.

The sight that greets her within the ship makes her blood run cold.

They've found themselves in a grim approximation of a child's bedroom, pink blankets and wall hangings a crude disguise for the industrial grey of the spaceship's interior. There's a doll’s house in the corner, a child's table and chairs set up for a tea party.

And there in the centre of the room is a pink-quilted bed. And on the bed, tiny and trembling, is Esme.

Kara’s heart stops. Lena is standing at the foot of the bed, her back to the child, one arm extended behind her to ensure Esme's body is shielded by her own. On the floor at her feet are the cracked and shattered remains of what was once a pair of DEO power dampening cuffs. A few feet away, Nyxly is on her knees on the ground, scrabbling desperately through a fine sheen of pinkish powder coating the floor.

And opposite Lena, the focus of her furious glare, is Lex. Lex, who has his glowing suit gauntlet aimed directly at Lena's unprotected head.

Four heads whip round at the sound of their arrival, four mouths dropping open in shock.

“Mommy!” Esme screams at the exact moment Lena's eyes lock with Kara's own, chapped lips moulding to the shape of her name.

It's a tableau of perfect stillness; one distinct moment of clarity in which time stops its ceaseless marching. And then, a heartbeat later, everything goes to hell.

 

It's as if they can all see what's about to happen a split second before it does.

Esme makes a tear-filled break for it, throwing herself off the bed in the direction of her mothers. Lena, catching the murderous glint in her brother's eye, lunges after her, but Lex is quicker.

A second later he has Esme gripped tightly by the shoulders, gauntlet cannon aimed at her head. Lena flies at him like a banshee but then Nyxly is there, Lena's throat snagged in the crook of her elbow, squeezing hard enough that she gasps.

Kara, with Alex and Kelly hot on her heels, are almost to them. They're almost across the room, almost within reach, when Lex presses a button on his gauntlet that sets it aglow with unearthly blue light. “One more step,” he yells into the dwindling space between them. “One step closer from any of you and I'll blow her sweet little head off.”

They freeze, all of them. Of course they do. Rigid and panting, body thrumming with latent energy, Kara straightens. Holds up her hands. “Okay. Alright. Don't hurt her. Don't hurt them.”

Lex juts out his chin and Nyxly manoeuvres Lena up beside him, two adversaries lined up with their two hostages before them. “Though it's a little rude of you to show up six hours early,” Lex pants, his fight for composure evident, “if you recall, I have no reason to hurt them. So long as you've brought what I asked for, that is.”

"The Totems,” Nyxly says, tightening her grip on Lena's windpipe when she tries to squirm free. “Hand them over, all four of them, and you can take these two and go.”

Kara's mind is racing even as her stomach sinks. Whirring, calculating, searching desperately for a way out of this that keeps them all alive.

Lex reads the hesitation on her face for the death sentence it is. His expression hardens. "Don't tell me you haven't brought them.”

Nyxly lifts the arm not cutting off Lena's airways, uses her gauntlet to scan the six of them. “No trace of fifth dimensional energy,” she confirms with a curl of her lip. “The Totems aren't here.”

“Now, that is very rude,” Lex sneers, tightening his hold on Esme's shoulders until she whimpers in pain. At Kara's elbow, Alex tenses so violently she has to reach out and lay a hand on her sister's arm to ensure she won't do something monumentally stupid.

“Not only do you show up to a party at the wrong place and the wrong time,” Lex condemns, taking a step backwards with Esme and motioning for Nyxly to do the same. “But you haven't brought anything at all for the hosts. As my dear sister will tell you, that's a punishable faux pas.”

He regards the six of them with an air of abject disappointment. “Did you truly think you could smash your way in here and leave with your own prize without granting me mine?” he asks softly, head tilting. “How disappointingly Super of you.”

“Enough,” Nyxly snaps, shifting her gauntlet cannon so the barrel presses against Lena's temple. “This interruption means nothing. You have our terms, Supergirl. Deliver us the Totems in your possession and these two are yours. Until then—” She tilts her head toward Lex. “Let's go.”

But the elder Luthor's cat-like eyes narrow. “Unfortunately, I don't think our dear Kryptonian is taking us as seriously as she should,” he purrs, pressing another button on his gauntlet until it flares a violent orange. “I think she may need another incentive. Proof of the severity of her situation. So. Which one of these two shall I kill?”

No!”

It's as if they all scream as one, the sound echoing off the curved metal walls, bouncing back in a symphony of desperation. Though her feet are rooted to the spot, Kara's entire body is trembling. Esme's quiet whimpers grow louder. Tears stream silently over the curve of Lena's cheek.

"My sister is an inviting prospect,” Lex says, tilting to regard Lena with an air of casual interest. “It would be so nice to level the playing field of siblicide between us.”

“Please,” Kara chokes, heart spilling out of her mouth to shatter on the ground. “Please.”

“Then again, she at least is valuable,” Lex muses, as if she hadn't spoken. “An intellect like hers would be a shame to squander. Whereas, without the Love Totem, this little cherub is neither use nor ornament.” He shifts his gauntlet back to Esme with a shrug.

“What do you mean?” Kelly gasps as Alex lets out a sound somewhere between a growl and a wail. “Where's the Love Totem? Did you get it out of her?”

Lex's eyes narrow. His jaw clicks shut, his grip on Esme tightening further.

“He didn't,” Lena manages, choked and gasping. “I did. And then I destroyed it. It's gone.”

Nyxly presses sharply against Lena's windpipe and she cuts off, strangled. Lex's face twists in fury. “Like I said,” he growls, wrenching Esme backwards until she screams. “The child is no use to me now. I think it might be time she said her goodbyes.”

They're all screaming, all of them, but one voice cuts through, louder and clearer than all the rest. One voice, and one voice only, makes Lex pause.

“You swore to me!” Nyxly accuses, tugging Lena by the throat until they're facing Lex. “You swore to me you wouldn't hurt her. Are you betraying me now?”

Lex snarls, lips pulled back to bare his teeth. “Times change,” he spits, “and needs must. She has no value to our plan anymore, except as a martyr.”

“She's a child,” Nyxly screams, raising her gauntlet from Lena's temple. “She's innocent! I told you I would not let you hurt her, and you promised you wouldn't try. Are you breaking your vow to me, Lex Luthor? Is everything you've told me a lie?”

“Honour is a romantic notion, my love,” Lex hisses, the sound of it turning Kara's stomach. “But pragmatism is the way of the world. This is necessary. Nothing more, nothing less.”

He turns back to face the six of them, a ball of glowing orange flame flickering to life at the end of his gauntlet. “Say goodbye to your daughter,” he leers, sickly sweet. “Perhaps, once she's gone, you'll take my ultimatum a little more seriously.”

Time seems to slow once more. Kara observes every detail of the moment as if from outside a snowglobe, gazing down at the scene enclosed within.

She sees the flame on Lex's gauntlet glow brighter, the clench of his fingers as he prepares to fire. She sees Alex and Kelly break free from the shackles of their restraint, barrelling across the room towards him. Sees Nia conjure dream energy between her palms, Brainy raise his Legion ring, J’onn's eyes flash red.

She sees Esme, crying as she clutches her stuffed zebra between trembling fingers. And she sees Lena, face purpling from lack of oxygen, craning to gasp words into Nyxly's ear. Watches her mouth move over the din of noise, watches Nyxly's eyes widen, then narrow.

And then, impossibly, incredibly, Nyxly's arm at Lena's throat drops.

Lena gasps, crumpling to her knees as tears stream from her eyes but she pays them no mind. Her hands are outstretched, her lips still moving and then, in the split second before reality resumes, her eyes flash gold.

 

The force of the explosion levels them all.

Lex's wrist gauntlet explodes in a shower of glowing shards that ricochet harmlessly off a wall of golden energy thrown up between him and Esme. Everyone is hurled backwards by the blast, winded and gasping. Everyone but Lena, who darts forward and scoops Esme into her arms, crouching over her protectively.

Lex struggles to his elbows, face slashed to ribbons by rebounding shrapnel. His furious gaze darts between his sister and the red-raw skin of his newly bared forearm, mouth opening in outrage. There's a split second where the two siblings lock eyes, a silent battle of wills amidst the carnage of the room.

Whatever he sees in his sister's face is too much for Lex. A heartbeat later he's shoving upright, pressing a button on his watch as he reaches blindly for Nyxly's crumpled form. Stumbling and gasping, the two of them all but fall through the summoned portal, disappearing in a flash of lurid purple.

And then they're alone in the smoking ruins of the ship, and then Kara and everyone else are running, closing the distance between them and dropping to their knees and then they're there, Lena and Esme, whole and real and unharmed in their arms.

Alex and Kelly pull Esme between them, pressing desperate kisses all over her face as they sob into her hair. J’onn and Brainy and Nia drop down around them, radiating watery smiles and gentle touches and quiet reassurance.

Kara, though. Kara only has eyes for Lena.

Without conscious thought she's reaching out, tugging her into her arms so forcefully Lena huffs out a little breath at the impact. Any other time, Kara would pull back, would apologise. But not right now.

Right now, she just gathers Lena closer, half in her lap as she presses her face to the silk of her hair, tears dripping hot onto her neck. “Are you okay?” she gasps, over and over, the only audible sound above the rushing of blood in her ears, the frantic pounding of both their hearts. “Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?”

“I'm okay,” Lena coughs, squeezing back just as tight. Without letting go of Kara or moving away at all she reaches out a hand, finds Esme's tiny fingers amidst the jumble of her mothers’ limbs and gives the child a watery smile. “We're okay, sweetie.”

Esme squeezes back, her little hiccupping sobs at last beginning to quiet as she clutches at her mothers with all the strength in her tiny limbs. “Aunt Lena said you'd come get us,” she whispers, gazing up at Alex and Kelly with tear-filled eyes. “She said you didn't forget me. She promised.”

Kelly laughs even as more tears fall, tightening her hold on her daughter as Alex cups Esme's face in her hands. “We could never forget you,” she says firmly, dropping a kiss to the end of Esme's nose. “We love you so much, pumpkin. More than anything in the universe. And no matter what happens, we will always come get you. We will always find you, always.”

Always, Kara thinks as her eyes flutter closed, pressing her lips to Lena's temple.

“The other Totems,” Lena rasps, voice hoarse. “Are they safe?”

Kara pulls back just enough to take in the harsh red marks already purpling at her throat, sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth. Brushes Lena's hair over her shoulder to get a better look. “Can I?” she whispers, and Lena nods.

“They're safe,” Nia confirms as Kara blows a short blast of freeze breath across her own palm, lays it as gently as she can manage over the angry bruises marring Lena's skin. Feels her sigh just a little as the cold starts to take effect, constricting blood flow, reducing swelling, numbing the pain.

“We should probably make sure they're still safe,” Brainy remarks and Nia nods, the two of them pushing up and readying themselves to return to the Tower.

But Kara's not in the mood to move yet, not particularly inclined to release the woman in her arms for any reason in the galaxy and by the looks of things, Alex and Kelly aren't either. They're too absorbed in their daughter, smoothing her hair, kissing her cheeks, stroking her back.

“What about the Love Totem?” Kelly asks as Alex tilts Esme's head with gentle fingers to examine the back of her neck. “You said you got it out of her?”

“Not deliberately,” Lena rasps, the stress and tension of the ordeal seeming to catch up with her at last. She sighs heavily, head tilting against Kara's shoulder, leaning harder into the palm still cupping her throat. “Lex and Nyxly wanted to try all sorts of things but I— I wouldn't let them near her.”

Green eyes drop to where Esme has burrowed her head against Kelly's chest, stuffed zebra clutched tight in her arms. "That's when they put the power dampening cuffs on me. Lex tried to touch her and I— I set fire to his eyebrows.”

Despite herself, Kara chuckles. Blows another blast of freeze breath across her hand and replaces it tenderly over Lena's throat.

“So once I couldn't hold her anymore I just, I tried to keep talking to her,” Lena says softly as Esme's eyes slide closed, thumb slipping into her mouth. “Telling her it was okay, that she wasn't alone, that you would find us soon. And I guess it worked, I guess she felt— well. Loved.”

Lena's throat works against Kara's palm as she swallows, voice trembling. “Because the next thing I knew, the Love Totem had materialised in the pocket of her overalls.”

“Shit,” Alex mutters as Kelly drops a shaky kiss to Esme's forehead. Kara wraps her free arm more firmly around Lena's waist, thumb rubbing at the jut of her hipbone as she continues her story.

“It's— it's all a bit of a blur,” she admits, fingers clenching in a corner of Kara's cape. “But Lex— he saw the Totem and he was trying to grab Esme, grab it from her and I just— I got so angry. And I felt this rush of power and all of a sudden the dampening cuffs were gone and the Totem was in my hands instead and I knew it couldn't stay here, that Lex couldn't have it so I just— God.”

She chuckles weakly, sucking in a shuddering breath. “I don't even know what I did, but the next second it was gone. Just a pile of dust on the floor.”

Every pair of eyes in the room flits to the pale pink powder still bearing the imprints of Nyxly's scrabbling fingers.

“It’ll reconstitute itself,” J’onn murmurs. “Find another host. We've seen it before.” He takes in the fear, the apprehension in wide green eyes, reaches out to lay a reassuring hand on her arm. “Lena. You did the right thing.”

Lena nods shakily and Kara presses her face to the side of her head, nosing into her hair. “You did,” she whispers. “You did it. You kept Esme safe, kept yourself safe— hell, you kept the Love Totem away from Lex and Nyxly. You kept the world safe.”

"Thank you,” Alex hushes, achingly earnest as Kelly reaches out to squeeze Lena's hand. "Lena, thank you. Thank you for protecting our daughter.”

When fresh tears drip hot onto the hand Kara's still stroking lightly over Lena's throat, she has the good grace not to comment.

“Well,” Lena manages around a shaky smile. “I couldn't let anything happen to my favourite niece, could I?”

A chorus of teary chuckles, and J’onn pushes to his feet. “It's been quite the night,” he says gently, extending a hand to help Alex stand. “Let's get you all home.”

Kelly gets a sleeping Esme situated more comfortably in her arms, covering her carefully in J’onn's cape. Kara supposes Lena's legs are probably fine, that the injuries she's sustained are mostly confined to her throat, but that doesn't stop her from scooping her off the ground and into her arms, cradling her close as they prepare to leave. For once, Lena doesn't even argue.

“Hey, what did you say to Nyxly?” she asks softly as J’onn prepares to materialise them all back out of the ship. “Why did she let you go?”

“I told her the truth,” Lena manages in a hoarse whisper, one hand pressed gingerly to the bruises purpling below her jaw. “I told her Lex would never care for anything more than he cares for himself. That there's no vow he wouldn’t break to further his own interests. And I told her that I could save Esme, if she let me go.”

Kara shakes her head in quiet awe, lips quirking. “You're amazing.”

Lena only clicks her tongue, head tilting snug against Kara's shoulder as they rematerialise high above the Arctic Ocean, the sun just beginning to break over the eastern horizon. “Thank you for coming for us,” she murmurs, an exhale on the wind as they begin the cold flight home. "Sorry about our breakfast plans.”

Kara smiles. “Hey, waffles can wait. Finding you couldn't.”

Her fingers tighten just a fraction against Lena's waist, her thighs. “You know I'll always come for you, right? Always,” she breathes as they swoop over the Rockies, a tapestry of snow-capped peaks rose-tinted by the rising sun.

Lena nods, and the invisible band that's been tightening around Kara's lungs since she'd first touched down to an empty apartment finally snaps, disappearing back into the ether.

“Not that I'm gonna need to any time soon,” she adds as National City comes into view, following the dot that is J’onn and the others towards the southern horizon. “Because I am not letting you out of my sight.”

 

It's only a figure of speech, of course.

That's all it can be, what with the race to beat Lex and Nyxly to the remaining Totems closing in around them. There's too much to do, too many crises that need their attention, and far too soon she's forced to relinquish Lena from her arms.

Then there's med bay examinations and ice packs and painkillers, clean clothes and coffee and breakfast bars all round. There's checks of the Totems still in their possession, upgrades to their power-dampening containers, a re-casting of protective charms.

Then there's Kelly and Alex taking Esme home and Kara pressing a lingering kiss to her sleeping niece's forehead, stepping back so Lena can do the same.

And with them gone it's onto the debrief, the analysis, the next plan of attack. They spitball some ideas for the location of the remaining two Totems, brainstorm theories as to where Lex and Nyxly may have fled to. Come up with a list for Kara and J’onn to check one by one while Brainy and Nia stay back at the Tower.

“You need to sleep,” she murmurs to Lena when Nia gets up to refresh the coffee pot. “You must be exhausted. Go get some rest, we've got this.”

“No, I can help, I can—”

But Kara's already shaking her head, shepherding Lena to her feet with a hand on her elbow. “Absolutely not,” she interrupts gently, mind stuck on the warmth of Lena's skin even through her sweater. “Anyone who's been recently kidnapped has to take at least twenty-four hours off work. Company policy.”

“Well, in that case I suppose I'd better go," Lena smirks, accepting the bag of pastries Kara nudges into her hands without protest. “I'd hate to get on my boss’ bad side.”

“Impossible,” Kara winks, walking her to the elevator. “Hey, you can stay here, you know. Curl up on a couch downstairs if you don't fancy going home. It might be—” safer “—easier.”

But Lena's already shaking her head. “Thanks, but I have a waterfall shower and a king-sized mattress calling my name.”

She reaches out suddenly, stilling Kara's hand over the elevator call button. “You— you will be careful, won't you?”

Kara squints. “Always.”

“Kara, I'm serious.” Lena's expression is heavy, worry tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Lex and Nyxly, they're not on good terms. God knows my brother could probably incite Gandhi himself to violence, but Nyxly— she's dangerous at the best of times, and if she's at odds with her only ally? Who knows what she might be capable of.”

She nods, feeling Lena's hand drop from her arm and forcing herself not to chase the contact. “I'll be careful.”

“And no half-baked revenge schemes either, alright?” Lena says pointedly, ignoring her innocent protests and dipping her head until their gazes lock. "They're too dangerous. It's not worth it.”

Kara means to keep her cool, really she does. But.

“Not worth it?” she echoes almost without meaning to, eyebrows knitting. “Lena, they kidnapped you! They kidnapped our niece, scared her half to death. Plus, have you seen your throat recently?”

Not worth it,” Lena repeats, firm and unflinching. “Getting you so riled up that you make a mistake is exactly what my brother wants. And this whole kidnapping scheme reeks far more of his particular brand of sadism than of Nyxly's.”

Kara's face scrunches. “Don't tell me you're defending her? Lena, she strangled you!”

“She also let me go.”

Kara feels her mouth drop open in indignant fury, but Lena holds up an appeasing hand.

“Look, I'm not defending her, of course I'm not. I'm just saying that she's not the same as my brother. She's— she's not that far gone.” A pain eons old flickers across Lena's face before she shakes it loose, gaze refocusing. “You saw it yourself. Nyxly wouldn't hurt Esme. And she wouldn't let Lex hurt her either.”

Kara's teeth grind. “But did she hurt you?”

Lena's jaw tightens, a muscle in her cheek flickering.

It's all the confirmation Kara needs. Her throat burns cold, retinas searing under the blaze of impending laser vision. “I'll kill her.”

“Kara, no.”

Lena's soft hand on her arm stops her. Grounds her.

“We will get them,” Lena hushes out, low and imperative. “We'll stop them, both of them, but we'll do it together. Don't let them goad you. Don't give my brother what he wants, please. Promise me, Kara.” Her fingers slip down, circling Kara's wrist. “Promise me you won't go after them alone. Promise you'll wait for me.”

Kara's eyelids flutter beneath the breath-taking weight of being seen, being known.

“I promise,” she manages at last, meeting Lena's clear gaze with her own. She flips her hand palm-up, encircling Lena's wrist in turn as she reaches into one of her suit pockets. “And you, you promise me you'll use this the second something doesn't feel right, yeah?”

Reverent fingers fasten the new signal watch, its buttery leather strap the same deep red as the crest on her own chest, above the delicate notches of Lena's wrist.

Lena smooths a thumb over the watch face, one corner of her mouth lifting. “I promise.”

“Alrighty then,” she hums, satisfied. “Looks like you've got yourself a deal, Ms Luthor.”

Chapped lips tug into a smirk. “Pleasure doing business, Ms Zor-El.”

She presses the button and the elevator doors slide open at last. Lena steps in, turning to throw Kara one last smile. “See you tonight?”

“Of course.” She waggles her fingers goofily. “Sweet dreams.”

The sound of Lena's giggle, the sight of her smile as the doors slide closed, they set alight a warmth in Kara's chest that doesn't stop glowing for the rest of the day.

 

Between her and J’onn, they check every one of Lex and Nyxly's potential bolt holes off their list by sundown, with no luck. Tired, frustrated, and wrung out by unprocessed stress and worry, they decide to call it a day. Kara's already shooting back into the sky before J’onn can even call a goodbye.

Lena's apartment is empty when she touches down on her balcony.

There's barely enough time for panic to swell in her throat, a ghostly echo of the mind-numbing terror that had gripped her these past few days, when the phone in her boot vibrates. Kara reads her sister's message with a sigh of relief so vociferous it ruffles every paper in the apartment, and then she's airborne again.

She's knocking on Alex and Kelly's door less than a minute later. Her sister pulls it open immediately, waving Kara inside as she scans the room for the face she's so desperate to see.

But Lena isn't there, and Kara's heart flips over in her chest as her mouth opens.

“She's in with Esme,” Alex tells her around the neck of her beer, pre-empting Kara's anxious outburst by a matter of milliseconds. “Until she falls asleep.”

“Esme started crying when we turned the lights out.” Kelly takes over the explanation, the two of them tag-teaming their effort to explain the situation to her before she loses her shit completely. Absently, Kara wonders what her sisters can see on her face that makes them feel the need to manage her.

“She thought it meant Lex was coming back,” Kelly continues quietly, and Kara's fists clench. “She was screaming for Lena, so we called her and asked her to come over. Esme needs continuity to feel secure right now. Stability, something she can count on. Lena was with her the whole time, with Lex and Nyxly. She kept her safe. She makes her feel safe.”

Kara watches Alex's shoulders tighten at her fiancée's words, knows how much it pains her sister to know that someone else can provide comfort to her daughter in a way she can't, at least right now.

Kelly notices too. “It's likely a temporary reaction,” she says, soft and reassuring, reaching for Alex's hand and squeezing tight. “Once she settles, once she can trust that she's safe again—”

She'll come back to us goes unspoken, but all three of them hear it anyway.

Alex nods tightly and Kara reaches out, squeezes her sister's shoulder. “Can I see them?” she can't stop herself from asking. “Can I see her?”

Alex nods, collapsing into Kelly's side. She looks as wrecked as Kara feels, face drawn and eyes dark-shadowed. Losing the person you love most in the world will do that, she supposes. “Quietly.”

And then she's knocking feather-light on Esme's door, pushing silently inside.

The room is dark and cosy, warm with the scent of wax crayons and baby powder. "Lena?” she breathes, the band around her lungs returning, constricting to the point of asphyxiation

A quiet hum in response, soft and low, and suddenly Kara can breathe again. Her eyes adjust to the gloom enough to make out the two figures cuddled together on the narrow bed in the middle of the room and she crosses to them, a comet swept willingly along by a gravity far greater than itself.

Lena is curled on her side, Esme tucked close into the curve of her body. The young girl's eyes are closed, her breathing deep and steady, but even in sleep her tiny fingers cling to the arm Lena's wrapped protectively around her.

“I know she's asleep, but I don't want to leave her,” Lena admits around a quiet exhale, the words pressed against a crown of chestnut curls. "Not yet.”

Kara watches the two of them, heart a clenching fist behind her ribs.

“Hey, shuffle over,” she whispers before she can second-guess herself. “I know there's room for me in there.”

Lena huffs out a shaky chuckle, wriggling obediently closer to the sleeping child as Kara slots in behind her. She moulds herself to Lena's back, holding her as tight as she dares, one arm pillowed beneath Lena's head as she slings the other over her waist. Her knuckles graze Esme's pyjama-covered back and she strokes the sleeping child's arm for a moment before reaching up, finding Lena’s free hand with her own and twining their fingers tight against her chest.

“How are you doing?” she asks the creamy curve where Lena's neck meets her shoulder, bared by the loose hair fanning across the pillow. She hears Lena's heart tick up at the question, feels the quickening through the linked fingers pressed to her ribs. Kara tightens her grip, hooking a leg over Lena's, nosing into her hair. Anything to make her feel grounded. Anything to make her feel safe.

“I'm okay,” Lena whispers at last, a vibration between their bodies in the hush of the darkness. “Just— worried about Esme, I suppose.”

“She's okay,” Kara reassures, firm and sure. “You kept her safe, you brought her home. She's okay, because of you.”

When Lena shakes her head, her curls tickle Kara's cheeks. “I didn't do enough, I should've—”

“Hey, no.” Now it's her turn to shake her head, lips brushing the back of Lena's neck. “No. You were kidnapped, Lena. Kidnapped by the most powerful fifth dimensional imp in existence, and your brother. The most dangerous man in the world. Your abuser, the person who's tormented you your entire life. And still, still, you kept Esme safe. I can't even imagine how difficult that must have been.”

Lena swallows hard, her body trembling. “I promised myself,” she whispers, barely audible, the arm around Esme's body tightening. “I promised myself I would never let Lex hurt another little girl the way he hurt me. That he would never make another child afraid.”

Another piece of Kara's heart breaks, crumbling into dust beneath the pain in Lena's tone.

“I'm so sorry you had to go through that,” she chokes out, throat tight and eyes stinging beneath the hot press of unshed tears. “I'm sorry you had to face him again. I'm sorry you ever had to face him.”

Lena's ribcage shudders beneath Kara's arm and she knows she's not the only one fighting back sobs.

“You should never have had to do that, but you did,” she muffles out against the warmth of Lena's skin. “You're so brave, Lena. The bravest, strongest person I've ever known. And no matter how much it hurt, you did for Esme what no one ever did for you. You kept her safe.”

“I didn't, though.” Lena's whisper is pitched and gasping, fingers clutching at Kara's own with a tangible desperation. “She is afraid.”

Kara wants to crumple at the defeat in her tone. She forces herself not to, to take a leaf out of Lena's book and be strong for the person she loves. She presses closer, curling over Lena, dwarfing her trembling body with her own. Nudges her lips against the hammering pulse beneath Lena's jaw and keeps them there, deliberate and unmoving.

Lena swallows hard, the vice of her fingers through Kara's relaxing a fraction. Buoyed, Kara's mouth begins to move, pressing kisses to every inch of bare skin it can reach. Lena's throat, her shoulder, the back of her neck and the hinge of her jaw are criminally soft beneath her lips, her fluttering pulse slowing the more the contact between them is prolonged.

Kara untangles their fingers only to cradle Lena's hand fully in her own, fingertips tracing the ridge of her knuckles, thumb rubbing gentle circles into her palm. When Lena's pulse ceases its panicked thrumming, some of the tension draining from her frame, she lifts her mouth from Lena's skin just enough to press her words against it instead.

“It's normal for her to be scared,” she hums against the cradle of Lena's neck and shoulder. “For you both to be scared. You went through something terrifying. But when Esme got scared tonight, what did she do?”

She feels Lena swallow against her cheek and nuzzles closer.

“She called for you,” she breathes, and a tiny gasping sigh slips free of Lena's lips. “She wanted you, because she knew you'd protect her. She wanted you because you make her feel safe. Make her feel loved. There are always going to be things that frighten her, Lena. But, because of you, she knows she doesn't have to face them alone.”

It's quiet for a long moment beyond the stifled sound of Lena's tears, the ragged breathing she's fighting hard to control. “Thank you,” she whispers at length, lifting her hand out of Kara's to wipe at her wet cheeks. “I know— I know it's silly to worry so much, to stay even while she's sleeping, but—”

“It's not silly,” Kara interrupts softly. “Not at all. You don't want to leave her because you love her.”

She slides her hand down to Lena's hip, fingers curving to the slope of her pelvis, thumb stroking back and forth over the warm strip of skin exposed where her sweater has ridden up. Takes a deep breath, screws her courage to the sticking place.

“I get it,” she breathes against the nape of Lena's neck. “I don't want to leave you, either.”

She thinks Lena might tense at the admission, might stiffen beneath the weight of the words, but she doesn't. Instead there's a quiet softening, a gentle exhale as Lena's body slackens that little bit further into her own.

Kara lets out the breath she'd been holding, thumb tracing the skin of Lena's hip. There's a roughness there that she doesn't expect, the slightest indentations marking out what feels like a ring of dwindling concentric circles.

“Hey, Lena?” she hums, brow crinkling. “Do you have a, like, a tattoo or something, right here? Because it feels—”

She cuts off suddenly as the darkness around them takes on a pinkish tinge, a disembodied voice booming through the quiet room.

Fill your heart with love, comes the mouthpiece of the Totems. Only then will love be given to you.

She doesn't know if Lena's heard the voice. If she can see the rosy glow through the gloom, if she knows what it means. What Lena does notice is the sudden tightening of Kara's body against her own and in less than a heartbeat she's reaching back, smoothing her own fingers over Kara's hip.

“Hey, what is it?” she murmurs, the sound distorted as if passing through deep water. “Darling, what's wrong?”

And it's so immediate, so unthinking, her care and support and concern, that that's all it takes.

You have performed admirably, the voice decrees, and there in the darkness of Esme's bedroom with Lena clutched to her chest and their niece asleep in her arms, the glowing pink crystal of the Love Totem materialises in Kara's palm.

Chapter Text

Kara wakes to warmth and sunlight.

Cracking an eye open to take in the pale lilac ceiling, the painted mural and the stuffies lining the walls, it takes her a moment to figure out where she is. But then a stage-whispered Aunt Kara? hits her ears and realisation dawns like the morning sun.

She's in Esme's room, curled up in a child-sized bed with both Lena and her niece. Esme's brown eyes appear above a sleeping Lena's shoulder and the little girl pushes up and out of her aunt's arms with a yawn. As soon as Esme wriggles free of her embrace Lena turns on the narrow mattress, seeking out body heat. She ends up curled into Kara's side where she lies on her back, cheek rising and falling on Kara's chest with the gentle rhythm of her breathing.

Kara's cheeks heat from more than just the sunlight streaming through the rainbow-print curtains and she wraps her arms more comfortably around Lena's ribcage, stroking her back gently beneath the blankets.

“Did we have a sleepover?” Esme whispers loudly from Lena's other side, pushing up on her knees to peer over at Kara.

“Seems like it, little bug,” she smiles, fighting the urge to stretch. She doesn't want to do anything to disrupt her current position. Would stay here quite happily for the rest of her life, given the option.

But her six-year-old niece has other ideas, draping herself over Lena's sleeping body to gaze up at Kara with excited eyes. “That's so good. When we have sleepovers Mama lets us have pancakes for breakfast! With chocolate.”

Kara arranges her face into a suitably awed expression at the revelation as Lena begins to stir at her niece's excited bouncing. She sniffles adorably against Kara's neck, pushing a little closer into the curve of her body as her eyes blink open.

“Aunt Lena, wake up, we gotta get sleepover pancakes!” Esme cheers as Lena's gaze meets Kara's, pink lips quirking into a shy smile.

Kara grins, keeping her arms snug around her. “Hey, you.”

It might just be the early morning light, but it looks like Lena's cheeks pinken just a touch. “Hi.”

She rolls her head to take in her niece who's mid-way through clambering over her body like it's a tactical assault course. “Sleepover pancakes, you say?”

Esme squeals in agreement, finally summiting the peak of Lena's hips and sliding down the other side of her body, landing soundly in the nonexistent gap between her aunts. Kara and Lena both huff out a breath at the impact, widening the interlocking crescents of their bodies just enough to make space for their niece in the centre.

The little girl wriggles deeper into the cuddle, seemingly content to put off the hotly anticipated sleepover breakfast for just a few more minutes of snuggles. One of her squirming limbs catches Kara in the hip and she flinches as something hard and sharp digs into her pelvis.

Snaking a hand down she retrieves the glowing pink crystal of the vanquished Love Totem from beneath the blankets, bringing it up to examine it properly.

Lena's eyes catch on the movement, her eyes widening. “So— so you passed the gauntlet?”

She bites her lip, meeting Lena's gaze over Esme's head. “We did.”

Lena's eyes are more gold than green in the soft morning light. “How?”

Kara feels a flash of heat zip up the length of her spine, a thrill of anticipation settling deep in the pit of her stomach. She meets Lena's gaze steadily, not breaking it even to blink.

“Don't you know?”

Pink lips part, a tiny inaudible sigh slipping free as Lena watches her, unmoving.

Absently, Kara wonders if this is it. If, here in this purple-painted room, tucked beneath a mermaid-print bedspread with a zebra stuffy looking to make its forever home embedded in her kidney, she and Lena are finally going to stop dancing around the amorphous magnetism that swells in every molecule of space between their bodies. If maybe, at last, they're going to face it head on.

She thinks back to the previous night, to her own thinly veiled confession. Thinks of quite how many of those there'd been lately, on both their parts. Thinks of how those words, a coward's substitute for another three that have sat leaden on the back of her tongue for years now, have the potential to change everything.

Kara thinks, and thinks, and thinks, and still Lena doesn't speak. They just watch each other in the quiet warmth of the bedroom, noses almost brushing, cheeks resting a hair's breadth apart on the same seahorse-patterned pillow.

And then Esme pops up between them, bouncing and over-eager and so excited for breakfast that she headbutts Lena in the chin on her way to sitting and just like that, the moment is shattered.

Then they're all pushing up from the blankets and Lena's laughing and rubbing her jaw and Esme's pressing wide-eyed, smacking kisses to her aunt's accidental booboo and Kara's reaching out to trace the backs of her fingers down Lena’s ribcage, a silent show of comfort and support.

And as they make their way out to the kitchen, yawning and smiling like it's any other morning as their niece chatters away between them, Kara realises that even with those three words all but spoken between them, it doesn't really change a thing.

 

Alex and Kelly are already in the kitchen when they emerge.

“I cannot believe you all fit in that bed,” Alex smirks as Esme barrels over for a hug, holding her arms high in the air as she waits to be lifted onto her mother's lap. “Cosy night, was it?”

Kara flushes, palms sweaty and heart pounding as she fumbles her words. But at her side Lena only smirks in return, one eyebrow quirking as she leans surreptitiously into Kara's body. “We made it work,” she says, dripping faux innocence as her eyes widen angelically. “I can be very flexible.”

Alex promptly chokes on a large gulp of coffee, red-faced and wide-eyed as she splutters.

Lena bats her eyelashes beatifically. “I can explain it to you if you like,” she hums, guileless. “Walk you through each one of last night's— positions.”

Alex's face twists in disgust. She claps the hand not anchoring Esme to her lap over her ear, grimacing. “Gross, Luthor. With my daughter in the bed? Jesus.”

Lena laughs, high and bright and musical and Kara loves her, loves her, loves her.

“Well, you did ask,” she points out, still giggling. “Don't start a game you're ill-equipped to win, Danvers.”

"Mommy, Mommy, we had a sleepover!” Esme interrupts, bouncing in Alex's lap and inadvertently kneeing her mother in the stomach. “So, so, so we get sleepover pancakes, right?”

By the coffee machine, Kelly freezes guiltily. Alex narrows her eyes, pointing an accusing finger at her fiancée. “You,” she complains. “You've set a dangerous precedent with this one.”

Esme, sensing her mother's reluctance, sticks her bottom lip out as her eyes widen. “Mommy?” she all but whispers, lip quivering. “Sleepover pancakes?”

“Oh, no fair,” Alex moans, cupping Esme's cheeks in her palms. “The puppy dog eyes? You can't do this to me!”

“You can!” Kara cheers her niece on, her own stomach rumbling at the prospect of imminent chocolatey goodness. “Your mommy has a special weakness for puppy dog eyes, little bug. It always used to work when I did it, so you've definitely got this.”

Alex throws her head back with a huff, pressing her palm over her face. When she opens her eyes again it's with a look of steely determination that Kara knows first-hand has reduced multiple grown men to tears.

Her sister wags her finger firmly in Kara's direction. “You, stop corrupting my child.”

The accusing finger turns to Lena. “You, stop enjoying this so much.”

Her attention turns to Esme. “And you, suck that pouty lip back in where it belongs,” she admonishes gently, pressing a kiss to the tip of her daughter's nose. “Fine, you can have sleepover pancakes.” She quirks a sly brow in Kelly's direction. “But Mama's gonna have to make them.”

“For the sake of our kitchen, that's probably wise,” Kelly acquiesces as Esme and Kara cheer loudly, high fiving each other over top of the breakfast bar.

“You may have one squirt of chocolate sauce for breakfast,” Alex instructs as Esme runs over to help with the cooking, hopping up on an orange stool beside Kelly to mix ingredients in a bowl. “You've got your big baking competition today and I'm dead certain that more than half of the chocolate chips intended for your cookies will end up in your tummy instead.”

Esme only beams angelically as her family chuckle. Kara pulls out a stool for Lena at the breakfast bar, hopping up on her own seat beside her.

“Are you excited to bake today, sweetie?” Lena asks as Kelly deposits a fresh pot of coffee on the counter between them.

Esme nods so vociferously her loose hair almost finds a new home in the bowl of pancake batter. Kelly swoops in with a hair tie to avert the crisis as the little girl bounces on her toes. “Is gonna be so fun! We get to make a cake all together and decorate it with our friends at the end of the day. We're gonna draw all our faces on it so we can see who helped!”

Kara grins, angling her mouth close to Lena's ear so as not to be overheard. “You can really see Kelly in her sometimes, can't you.”

Lena chuckles, nodding as Esme's face turns serious, tiny hands stacking on tiny hips. “But first we gotta do the cookie competition, and I'm gonna win.”

Kara snorts behind her palm, crowding into Lena's side. “Yep, and there's Alex.”

Alex shakes her head fondly, cradling her coffee cup to her chest. “I just hope the little Phorian boy— what's his name? Matteo? I hope he has someone who's helping him learn how to lose with grace,” she hums, sharing a knowing look with Kelly. “When he lost in the warm-up round last week he threw a tantrum and fried every computer in the building telepathically.”

Lena chuckles, but Kara's mouth drops open. “There are aliens in Esme's class?” she asks, shocked. “Like, out aliens? No image inducers? No secret identities?”

“Well, yeah,” Kelly hums like it should be obvious, squinting at Kara over her shoulder. "Like, half the class. Including Esme.”

Kara blinks hard, reeling. Lena lays a questioning hand on her forearm, brow pinching in confusion, but Kara doesn't know how to put words to the emotions warring in her chest right now.

Luckily, Alex is looking at her like she knows exactly what she's thinking.

“Bit different from our day, huh?” she says softly, giving Kara a rueful smile. “Times are changing, Kar. Kids don't have to hide anymore. Schools have alien teachers, special classes on controlling powers, cool-down rooms kids can chill in if they get overwhelmed. Now, they're taught that just being themselves and accepting that others will be too is the bravest, kindest thing they can do.”

Kara's throat tightens, the hot sting of tears prickling behind her eyes. Lena's fingers stroke reassuringly up and down her arm as her sister's expression softens.

“I know it sucks that you never had that freedom,” she says quietly. “And I'm sorry you've always had to hide. But do you know why things are changing? Do you know why Esme doesn't have to disguise who she is? Because of people like you, Kara. Because of the trail you're blazing for her.”

Alex's attention is pulled away by Esme's excited squealing as she helps to pour the batter into the frying pan and the moment passes without further comment but Kara can't breathe suddenly, can't force oxygen into her lungs past the raging ball of joy and jealousy and pride and regret clogging up her throat.

A hand lands warm on her thigh, squeezing reassuringly. "Breathe,” Lena whispers, quiet enough not to attract the attention of anyone else in the noisy kitchen. "Breathe through it, darling. You're okay.”

She manages to at last, sucking in a shuddering breath. Once her heartrate has slowed and the maelstrom of conflicting emotions has ebbed somewhat she drops her own hand to cover Lena's, squeezing gratefully. They smile at each other, small and private, and some of the tension in Kara's gut begins to unspool. But when their joined palms brush the lump in her pocket, she bites her lip.

Amidst the laughter and sunshine and aroma of melting chocolate blanketing the kitchen Kara digs into her pocket, sets the bright pink crystal on the breakfast bar before them. “So, um—”

Alex's eyes snap to the object immediately, her mouth dropping open. “Is that what I think it is?”

Kara shoots her sister a closed-lipped smile as Alex examines the crystal. Her head snaps up, stare suspicious as she regards the pair of them. Lena clears her throat a little awkwardly. Kara shifts guiltily on her stool.

Alex's eyes narrow.

“You're telling me that sometime between walking into my daughter's bedroom last night and walking back out again this morning you two managed to not only conjure but also vanquish the Love Totem?” Alex gapes, shaking her head. “How in the hell—”

Lena's eyes light up with mischief, mouth already opening to deliver some devastatingly inappropriate retort that will undoubtedly have Alex gagging into her coffee for the rest of the morning.

Sensing her own impending defeat-by-sisterly-embarrassment, Alex holds up a pre-emptive hand.

“You know what? Never mind. I don't want to know.”

 

After breakfast, Kara shoots over to the Tower to deposit the crystal into yet another protective case, chest swelling a little with pride at the sight of the five power-dampening cages containing the Totems they'd managed to acquire so far.

She's barely had time to run an appraising eye over the Tower's scanning system when the elevator dings open and Nia comes tumbling out in a whirlwind of unkempt hair and Squidward pyjamas.

“Truth Totem!” she yells across the empty control room, staggering over to Kara and draping herself over the edge of the desk. “Found it. Dreamed it. Know where it is.”

“What?” Kara stares down at the mess of bed hair spilling over the keyboard. “You have? Hey, are you okay?”

Nia only groans, face-down on the wooden desktop. “Haven't had coffee yet. But had to tell you. Truth Totem, you know. Gotta catch ‘em all.”

Kara swallows against a sudden wave of excitement, the knowledge that they could claim six of the seven pieces of this universal puzzle within the next few hours sending a flood of adrenaline through her system.

“Okay, great job, Nia,” she grins, whipping off her glasses so her suit materialises around her. “Send me the coordinates over comms. And can you ask Brainy and J’onn to meet me there too?”

Without raising her head from the desk, Nia shoots her a weak thumbs up.

Kara pauses a half-second more, reaching out to pat the young woman's shoulder delicately. “And then, um. Maybe go back to bed?”

Nia groans into the wood. “Copy that, boss.”

Kara shakes her head, chuckling as she barrels into the sky. She touches down a few short seconds later in the Italian mountain town of Aosta, sneaking in the back entrance of a stone-walled mansion on the edge of the village. J’onn and Brainy appear beside her just in time to amble casually through the three-foot-thick solid steel door Kara's just wrenched open, all of them gaping open-mouthed at the rows upon rows of collectibles lining the vault.

“Some people just have too much money,” she mutters as she takes in the antique coin collections, the marble statues in the corner, the original Piccasos and Cézannes and Van Goghs lining the walls. "What's the point in keeping all this stuff locked up like this?”

"My understanding of the human psyche informs me that collectors often value exclusivity above all else,” Brainy informs her as they scan the shelves. “Such purchases stem less from the desire to own the objects themselves, and more from the imperative to ensure no one else can.”

"That's stupid,” Kara scoffs. A corner of her cape whips out and catches the edge of a Ming vase on a low shelf, and it takes every fibre of her superspeed to catch it before it hits the floor. She rights it carefully, straightening with a huff. “Stupid thing to spend a fortune on.”

Brainy quirks a brow, steepling his fingers in front of his chest. “What would you spend a fortune on?”

“Pot sticker vending machine.”

There isn't so much as a second of hesitation in her answer. Brainy stares at her flatly as behind them, J’onn sighs. “Fascinating as this conversation is,” he grumbles, “might we be able to focus on finding the Truth Totem? What form did Nia say it would take?”

“An old film camera,” Kara supplies, shuffling her feet in contrition. “You know, because the camera never lies.”

“Actually, with the advent of modern digital technologies, it's certainly possible and indeed highly probable that cameras can and will lie,” Brainy says serenely as they move between the shelves. “Editing software and database hacking actually mean that—”

Kara sighs, shaking her head as she does her best to drown out Brainy’s latest infodump. “I'm not sure that's really the—”

Her eyes fall upon a small film camera inches from her fingertips. Kara freezes.

“—point.”

She reaches out slowly, fingertips a hair's breadth from the worn leather exterior. “Hey, guys? I think I've—”

The pads of her fingers brush the camera and suddenly she's alone in the empty vault. Brainy and J’onn disappear as the air around her begins to glow a faint green.

Kara swallows, squaring her shoulders. This isn't her first rodeo.

“Cgyrzyx.”

The air around her splits with the deafening boom of the oracle's voice. To see things as they truly are, you must reveal the truth within yourself.

“The truth within? What truth within?”

Kara glances around the room. It's not like she's really expecting any answer to her question, but it never hurts to ask. “I don't have any truth within that isn't also, you know, without,” she calls to the empty vault. “I'm a pretty open book, so.”

A few long moments pass. Nothing happens.

Kara sets the camera down, stretches her neck, cracks her knuckles. “Alright. Truth within. Here we go. I'm afraid of what will happen if we master all seven Totems.”

She waits a beat, listening, but hears no response.

“I know we have to do it, to beat Lex and Nyxly, but I'm afraid of forming the All Stone,” she admits. “I'm afraid of what I could do with that much power.”

Still, the vault around her is silent.

Kara clicks her tongue. “Alright, not a fan of that one. Maybe I should try a different tack. Um, there's a part of me that wants to kill Lex Luthor.”

The words feel explosive on her tongue, but even their detonation in the air prompts no reaction.

“I know I shouldn't,” she continues; quieter now, realer. “I know it would break my own rules, to kill him. But— but part of me still wants to. To keep my family safe.”

Silence still, loud and accusing.

Kara sighs. “Yeah, okay, you're right. That’s not the only reason. I want to kill him because of all the pain he's caused. Because of how much he's hurt me. Because of how much he's hurt Lena.” She sucks in a trembling breath. “I— I want revenge. Is that what you want me to say? It's true, I do. I want revenge. I want to make him pay.”

She waits a beat, then two. Still, the green-hued air around her is silent and still.

Kara narrows her eyes. "Playing hard to get, are we?” She tugs a rough hand through her curls, scuffing one heel against the floor. “Well, joke's on you. I could do this all day.”

 

She does, in fact, do it all day.

It feels like she's been at this for hours, sprawled on the floor with her back propped against the wall of the vault, feet kicked up on the edge of a nearby shelf. She's moved through an account of her life's history, a play-by-play of her blackest nightmares. Has outlined the darkest thoughts she's sometimes entertained in the depths of the night, run through every sin she'd committed under the influence of Red Kryptonite, admitted to her deepest-held childhood crushes and provided an itemised list of every single item she'd ever accidentally broken with superstrength and lied about guilelessly.

And still, nothing.

Kara rubs tiredly at her eyes, pinching hard at the bridge of her nose. “So, like, what's the deal here?” she calls to the empty room, irritation leaching into her tone. “Until I say something you like, you're just going to keep me here? Alone?”

No answer from the green-tinted air.

Kara's eyes narrow, annoyance prickling beneath her skin. “Well, joke's on you,” she announces, defiance dripping from every syllable. “I'm used to being alone. Always have been, always will be.”

Something hot and uncomfortable spikes in her gut then, the words leaving a bitter taste on her tongue. But why? It's not like it isn't true, isn't a fact Kara has accepted, assimilated into her most basic worldview since the moment she'd touched down in a world that wasn't her own.

She thinks, unbidden, of Barry Allen's smiling face, of tuxedos and fancy champagne and quiet requests on shadowed balconies. Thinks of the look in his eyes as he'd asked her, “And you're, what? Other than an alien?”

Thinks of the twist in her own gut when she hadn't even had to think about her answer. “Alone.”

The memories keep coming, then. She thinks of the days after her return from the Phantom Zone, of cosy evenings cuddled up with her sister on the couch. Thinks of how, even after facing all that terror and making it out the other side, it had felt like the bravest thing she'd ever done to look Alex in the eye and admit that she didn't want to be alone anymore.

But then her thoughts shift, the bitter undertone of those memories replaced by something lighter, sweeter. She thinks of the solid weight of Alex's arms around her, thinks of the feel of Esme at her hip and J’onn's hand on her arm. Thinks of Kelly's kind laughter and Brainy's earnest eyes and the press of Nia's head on her shoulder when she falls asleep during movie night. She thinks of Jeremiah handing her a pair of lead-lined glasses, of Eliza staying up all night to hold her, soothing her through nightmare after nightmare.

She thinks of Lena's hand in hers at the Hague, Lena's weight in her lap on Nyxly's spaceship, Lena's body in her arms in Esme's bed.

She thinks of how ungrateful, how unforgivably foolish she would be to overlook all of that.

“I'm not alone,” she breathes, brow furrowing as she gazes unseeing at the smooth floor beneath her. “Maybe— maybe I never have been. Even, Rao. Even in the darkest times.”

She shakes her head, remembering. “When Reign almost killed me, I knew my family were right there in the Legion ship, waiting for me. In the Phantom Zone, I knew it was only a matter of time before they found me. Even here, even now.”

She blinks hard against the sudden sting of tears. “I know Brainy and J’onn are here with me, even though I can't see them. I know my sister and her fiancée and daughter are cooking dinner for all of us tonight, and I have to bring the strawberries for dessert. I know Nia's expecting me to email her my most recent article so she can proofread it before the deadline. I— I know Lena's waiting for me.”

Her throat tightens like a closed fist, throat clogged with emotion as her vision clouds over, eyes swimming with unshed tears.

“I know Lena's always waiting for me, whenever we're apart. I know she is. Just— just like I'm always waiting for her.”

She swallows thickly, raising her head to glare defiantly at empty air. “You can keep me here as long as you like,” she calls, voice echoing off the thick walls of the vault. “I don't care. Because no matter how hard you try, I'm not alone, not even here. I am not alone.”

The air around her glows brighter, a deep forest green reminiscent of new leaves and fresh growth and bright, beautiful eyes.

“If I were truly alone, I wouldn't even be here,” she says, firmer now, steadier. She pushes to her feet, reaches for the camera again as she squares her shoulders. “I wouldn't have found a single Totem without my friends, my family. We're a team, in this and in everything.”

The glow gets brighter still, the hairs on the back of Kara's neck prickling beneath the building static in the air.

“And I wouldn't have beaten a single one of the gauntlets without Lena,” she says, realisation dawning even as the words leave her mouth. “She's the reason I've passed every test. I couldn't have done it without her, none of it.”

She thinks of the softness in Lena's gaze when they'd said goodbye that morning, the quirk of her lips as she'd murmured see you tonight?

“I'll never be alone, as long as I have her,” Kara realises, heart thundering a timorous crescendo against her ribs. “All that's left is—”

She swallows hard, understanding a sudden sledgehammer to her skull.

“All there's left to do is tell her.”

The air around her burns so bright suddenly, so verdant green, that everything else disappears.

Now you may see the truth of who is worthy of your trust, the oracle booms as the camera shivers and warps in her palms.

And then she's back, the green hue gone from the air, Brainy and J’onn pressing in around her as they lay questioning hands on her shoulders.

“Are you alright?” J’onn asks as Kara gazes blankly down at the bright green crystal now nestled in her palm. “What happened?”

But Kara barely hears him. The voice of the oracle is still echoing in her head, drowning out all else.

Wield the Totem upon whomsoever makes you doubt, the oracle whispers, tendrils of its essence still curling at the edges of her mind. And you will see the truth of them, within just as without.

Kara closes her fingers around the crystal, teeth digging hard against her lower lip. She thinks of the crinkle between Alex's brows, J’onn's steady smile, the earnest vulnerability in Lena's eyes as they'd laid together in bed that morning.

No thanks, she thinks back, narrowly resisting the urge to say the words out loud. I already know exactly who is worthy of my trust, and they have it, unreservedly. If I use the Totem to check up on their intentions then it's not trust, is it?

A beat, a pause, a moment of perfect stillness. And then the crystal in her hands burns hot once more, scalding brighter than the sun. The air around her shivers, warmed by the ghost of a smile.

And then, once more, a voice.

You have performed admirably.

 

Landing back at the Tower, Kara is immediately jumped by the excited forms of Alex and Nia, both bouncing on their toes and tugging at Kara's arms.

“Did you get it?” they chirp in a noisy chorus. “Did you find the Totem? Did you pass the gauntlet?”

Kara nods, holding out the crystal to be snatched up and examined by the two of them, chattering heatedly about how they might use the six Totems now in their possession to find the seventh before Lex and Nyxly. Kara lets them go, waves J’onn and Brainy away when they ask if she's alright, and sinks down tiredly onto the couch in the corner.

The Truth Totem's gauntlet, the nagging weight of the truth she'd been forced to face, has stripped her of her energy completely. Kara barely notices that she's sagging sideways into the cushions until the pillow her cheek is smooshed against is replaced by a warm, cashmere-covered arm.

Lena slots herself in at Kara's side, lifting her head gently and arranging their limbs so Kara can lean comfortably into her body. “You okay?” she hums, one hand landing warm on her thigh.

It's all she can do to nod, cheek nuzzling against Lena's bicep.

“You were gone for hours,” Lena breathes, fingers tracing airy patterns over the sheer material of her suit. “J’onn said you were inside the gauntlet all that time. You must be exhausted.”

“Hmngh,” is all Kara manages in response, eyelids fluttering closed as Lena's fingertips continue to chart the length and breadth of her thigh.

Lena chuckles, angling her body closer so Kara's head can rest more comfortably against her chest. “Do you want to talk about it?”

All there's left to do is tell her floats unbidden through her mind, and Kara's stomach twists. She just wants to stay right here, in the bubble of warm safety Lena's providing for her, and not endure any difficult conversations or relationship-altering revelations.

She just wants to stay right here. So, she does.

“Mm, no, not right now,” she muffles out against Lena's sweater, twisting her fingers into the hem to keep her close. “Just wanna, mm. Stay right here. Just for a little bit.”

She feels Lena’s chuckle against the crown of her head, feels suddenly warm from the inside out.

“Okay,” Lena breathes, the smile undoubtedly gracing her face translating clearly into her voice. “We can do that.”

Kara sighs, utterly content as Lena's thumb continues to stroke her thigh.

“Just for a little bit, though,” Lena murmurs after a few long moments of peace, voice taking on a teasing lilt. “Because your sister has informed us that we're due at hers for dinner at six PM sharp, and that any latecomers will not be fed.”

Kara manages a gasp of mock horror, pressing her face to the curve where Lena’s shoulder meets her chest. “Oh no.”

Lena giggles. “Yes, I thought that might worry you.”

Kara huffs out a breath which, had she had more energy, would have been a laugh. "What time is it, anyway?”

“Five thirty,” Lena informs her. “So we should leave in—”

“Twenty-nine and a half minutes,” she interrupts sleepily. “I'm very fast.”

“Are you offering me a ride, Supergirl?”

The teasing tone of Lena's voice tells Kara her best friend knows exactly how her words are going to land, and is enjoying every moment of Kara's pink-cheeked squirming. She presses her face tighter to the darkness of Lena's shoulder, tongue tripping over her mumbled words. “Sure, I mean. Whatever you want.”

Lena laughs lightly, and takes pity on her. “How kind.” She squeezes Kara's thigh once, twice, three times. “Hey, I picked up the strawberries Alex asked you to bring tonight, they're in my bag. One less thing for you to worry about today.”

Kara musters the strength to lift an arm, wrapping it snug across Lena's stomach and tucking her fingers firmly into the dip of her waist. “God, I love you.”

All there's left to do is tell her. Tell her, tell her, tell her.

It's on the tip of her tongue, then, the second half of her confession. Flowery language and bold declarations and a detailed and exhaustive summary of every way in which Kara loves her, is loved by her, is in love with her.

But Lena only hums, and slips her own arm around Kara's shoulders in turn. “I love you,” she murmurs. “Koala cuddles and all. Now, hush. If you're quiet, there's just enough time for a twenty-eight-and-a-half-minute nap.”

Kara grins, sleep already reaching out to wrap its arms around her. “Lena Luthor, you are my hero.”

 

Dinner is loud and messy and perfect.

Kelly and Alex host, insistent upon having all the Superfriends over and introducing themselves to everyone at the door as the future Mrs & Mrs Danvers-Olsen. Their excitement over their engagement and looming wedding is infectious, bolstered by Esme's first-place prize in her school baking competition. The food is great, the wine and grape juice flow, and the winning cookies are passed out and enthusiastically enjoyed with strawberries and cream for dessert.

By the time the evening draws to a close Kara feels heavy and sated, brimming over with happiness. She says goodbye to her family with fist bumps (Esme) and cheek kisses (Lena) and enormous bear hugs (everyone else) and flies home, dropping into bed and falling asleep almost instantly.

But her dreams are less peaceful than the hours preceding them and terror plagues Kara in the darkness, wrapping around her like vines constricting her mouth, her throat, her lungs.

In the swirling void of her nightmare, she sees Lena. Sees a gun pressed to her temple. Feels the whisper of an unknown voice in her ear as an object is thrust in front of her face.

It's a microphone.

“Say your name,” the voice instructs coldly. “Tell the world who you are, and she lives. Simple as that, Supergirl.”

Her throat closes over. In front of her, close as a caress and distant as a comet, Lena is crying.

"Kara,” she gasps, no hesitation, no alternative. “My name is Kara.”

The gun at Lena's temple is cocked. Green eyes widen in silent terror.

“Kara what?” the voice sneers, the shiver of fingernails down the length of her spinal cord. “Now's not the time to be shy.”

“Kara Zor-El,” she chokes out, straining hard against invisible restraints. “Please, please.”

A coil of vicious, maniacal laughter. “It's sweet, Kara Zor-El. It's sweet that you ever thought you could save her.”

Lena sobs. Kara screams. And then, the gun fires.

Kara wakes in a cold sweat, caustic and stinging as she calls Lena's name over and over. Over the thudding of her own heart and the pounding of blood in her ears she manages to pick out Lena's steady pulse, deep and slow in her penthouse half a city away.

It's calming, yes, but it's not enough. It's not enough to hear Lena's heartbeat. She needs to hear her voice.

She reaches out, fingers fumbling for her phone in the darkness. Taps blearily at the screen, cupping the phone to her ear as if it will bring her closer to the person on the other end of the line.

Lena answers on the third ring, sleep-thick and mumbling. “Kara?”

She's shaking so hard her teeth are chattering. “Lena,” she gasps. “Lena, I—”

“What is it? What's wrong?” There's urgency in her voice now, worry pushing the words from sleep—slackened lips. “Are you hurt? Where are you?”

“No, no,” she manages through the tears she can't stem. “Sorry, no. It was a dream, it was— it was so horrible, Lena. It was so bad, it was so horrible, I couldn't—”

“Okay, it's okay. Breathe, Kara.” Lena's voice is warm and sure down the line. Across the city, Kara hears the soft brush of cotton on skin, the rustle of bedsheets being pushed back. “Do you want me to come over?”

Kara forces herself to match Lena's steady exhales, clenching her free hand so tight she punches four distinct finger holes through the edge of her quilt. “No, it's okay, I just— can you just talk to me?”

“Of course, darling. For as long as you need.” The panic is ebbing from Lena's body; Kara can hear the way her pulse begins to settle as she curls back into bed, voice quiet and close in her ear. “Do you want to be distracted? Or do you want to tell me about it?”

“I couldn't save you,” Kara gasps almost before Lena's finished speaking, the words pushing themselves from her mouth like the cracking of a dam. “I tried, I did everything they wanted but I couldn't— you still—”

“Oh, Kara.”

“I told them who I was,” she breathes, hardly able to give voice to the images still playing technicolour-bright behind her eyelids. “I revealed my identity to the world and they still killed you. They didn't even hesitate.”

“That's— oh, darling.”

Lena seems as lost for words as Kara feels, the hopelessness of it all weighing down on her like a yoke around her neck.

“That was what the Courage Gauntlet wanted from me,” she gets out, the words snot-thick and strangled. “The first one. I've figured it out now. It— it took me back to the night I became Supergirl and it wanted me to be brave enough to save my sister's plane as myself. But I couldn't, I can't, I—”

She swallows hard, sweat-soaked sheets sticking uncomfortably against her skin. “I'm so tired of hiding, Lena. I'm so, so tired. But if that's the cost of just being who I am? I can't do it. I— I won't do it.”

“Do you have dreams like this a lot?” Lena asks softly. “Where your secret identity gets people hurt?”

Kara's voice cracks, more tears spilling hot down her cheeks. “All the time.”

“I'm so sorry," Lena whispers, barely audible over her own ragged sobs. “I'm so sorry you have to shoulder that burden. I know your secret has caused its own set of— challenges in our relationship, but regardless of my own hurt I want you to know that I'm sorry I never understood the toll this takes on you. I'm sorry I haven't known how much you've been suffering.”

“I think it's the thing that scares me most in the universe,” Kara admits around heaving breaths and gulping sobs. “That my identity will get someone I love killed.”

“Yet it's a fear that you bear alone,” Lena hums and it's not accusatory, only sad.

Kara swipes a rough hand over her tear-damp cheeks. “Because it's mine to bear.”

“I want to bear it with you,” Lena says immediately, hushed and earnest. “Please, Kara. Anything that hurts you hurts me. Your fears, your worries, your pain— let me share it. Let me carry it with you.”

Something hot and sharp catches in her throat. “Lena—”

“I want to protect you every bit as much as you want to protect me,” Lena insists, achingly sincere. "Let me in, darling. Let me help. Trust me with your shadows as well as your light.”

Kara sucks in a sharp breath.

The Truth Totem had offered to show her who in her life was worthy of her trust, and Kara had refused. She'd refused because she'd already known, beyond any flicker of doubt. So maybe, just maybe, she can do what Lena asks.

“Okay.”

Lena sighs, and it sounds like gratitude.

“Okay,” she echoes softly. “Okay. So. We are going to talk about this, in the daylight with hot chocolate and blankets and a triple order of pot stickers. We're going to talk about how you're no more responsible for my safety than I am for yours, or anyone else who loves you. We're going to talk about family and teamwork and how el mayarah means that you don't have to face anything alone, not even this. And we're going to talk about danger and secret identities and how you might feel about taking off your glasses if you didn't have to fear the consequences. We're going to talk about all of it, and we're going to figure it out together, okay?”

More tears break free of Kara's lash line then, hot and sweet with relief. “Okay.”

“But right now,” Lena says, so soft and so gentle that Kara's eyelids flutter of their own volition. “Right now, you're going to curl up in bed and close your eyes and I'm going to tell you all of my most embarrassing college stories until you fall asleep. How does that sound?”

“Perfect,” she breathes, tension leaching from her muscles with every syllable that falls from Lena's lips. “That sounds perfect. I knew you were the person to call for nightmare navigation.”

“I take my responsibilities very seriously,” Lena says, and even from across the city the smile in her voice warms Kara down to the very marrow of her bones. “Now, try and sleep, darling, and let me tell you all about the time I got drunk and wandered into a tattoo parlour in Athens...”

 

The next few days pass quickly and quietly.

Their scans for the Destiny Totem turn up nothing, and Nia's dreams haven't revealed any information as to its location. Kara passes her time cross-referencing their database of historical objects with strong links to the concept of destiny, flitting around the globe to check out potential candidates, and curling up on her couch with her head on Lena's shoulder and pretending, just for a little while, that everything's okay.

They don't have any difficult conversations.

After Kara's latest nightmare, she can sense Lena's eagerness to broach the topic of her identity in the daylight conversation she'd promised. But she holds back, aware perhaps of Kara's lingering fragility, her persistent tenderness around the subject.

Or maybe Lena just doesn't want to make their lives any more stressful than the looming prospect of the last Totem has already rendered them. Kara understands; she's remained quiet on her own burning confession for the very same reason.

The limbo in which they're existing – the state of suspended anxiety surrounding Lex and Nyxly's whereabouts and the location of the final Totem – is exhausting. It's so draining, to constantly worry where the battle for dominion over all existence will manifest itself next, that when Nia pops up from her lunchtime nap with the Dream Totem clutched in her palm to inform them that she's figured out the final Totem's location, she actually feels relieved.

“We'll all go,” J’onn declares, straightening his cape, but Kara holds up a hand.

“No, I'll go.”

Six brows furrow in disagreement, six mouths opening to argue, but Kara beats them to it.

“The last Totem felt almost too easy,” she sighs, tugging off her glasses and running a hand through her newly-loose hair. “Lex and Nyxly have been quiet too long. If there's going to be a battle for this Totem, I'd rather have you guys arrive as back-up with the element of surprise on your side. Let me go alone first, please. I'll be on comms the whole time; I'll tell you the second I need you.”

Not one of them looks convinced, but they agree to her plan after another round of coaxing and a series of tight hugs. “Be safe,” Alex says sternly as Lena bobs up on her toes, pressing a lingering kiss to Kara's cheek. “Call us the second things start going south.”

A nod, and a wave, and then she's gone.

She touches down in northern Nepal on a deserted Himalayan plateau. In a notch cut into the rockface she finds the object Nia had dreamed of; an ancient carving of two figures embracing, their joined hands bound by a frayed red thread.

Taking the stone carving in her palms, Kara takes a deep breath. Inhales the fresh clean scent of the cold mountain air, squares her shoulders once last time.

“Cgyrzyx.”

The effect is immediate. The air around her begins to glow a faint purple, the sky splitting with the boom of the oracle's voice. In order to take the Totem, you must face your destiny without it.

Images flicker gunfire-quick before Kara's eyes. She sees Lex and Nyxly, arm-in-arm before a world set ablaze, the rainbow glow of the fully formed All Stone clutched in the imp's palm. She sees a planet subjugated to the whims of a madman, sees totalitarianism and death and destruction.

She sees herself, broken and beat down. Sees her own shoulders slumping under the weight of failure, the knowledge of her own culpability in this grave new world chipping away at her piece by piece. She sees her family begin to turn away from her in disappointment, in shame. Sees how they can no longer bear to be around her, her own myopic guilt eclipsing everything good in her life.

She sees Lena, sees how she tries. How she coaxes Kara, cajoles her, begs and pleads and shouts and screams. Sees how even she can't try forever.

She sees how, shattered as she is by Lex and Nyxly's triumph, the bravery needed to tell Lena the truth of her feelings for her seeps steadily from her heart like blood from a wound.

She sees how Lena waits for her until she can wait no more. Sees flashes, then, of how their lives progress. The steady estrangement, the singular agony of the cream-coloured invitation that arrives in the mail, the image of Lena resplendent in a wedding dress and Kara, not beside her at the altar but behind her, the maid of honour, fading unnoticed into the background.

She sees Lena beside the distant, muted blur of her husband, sees the dark-haired, cherub-cheeked infants cradled in her arms. Sees the emptiness in the depths of her eyes, the what ifs and if onlys just too little, too late.

She sees Lena, resigned to marriage, and herself, resigned to solitude. Both of them, miserable. Both of them, alone.

Kara sees what will happen if she lacks the courage to beat Lex and Nyxly in this final, most crucial of fights, and she sees what will happen if she lacks the courage to open her mouth and tell the love of her life the truth.

And Kara vows to herself right there, right then, that she will not let it happen.

 

She's barely blinked her eyes open, has barely registered the sharp angles of the purple crystal cooling in her palm when a flash of lurid lilac opens up in front of her, blinding.

So good of you to run the gauntlet for us before we got here,” Lex leers, stepping out of the portal and adjusting his tie with a dignified air. At his side, Nyxly's expression is twisted in resentment, her body language rigid and closed off from her partner.

Lex's lips split in a slick smile. He raises his suit gauntlet, Kryptonite canon glowing hot at his wrist. “Come now, Supergirl. Hand it over.”

Kara's eyes narrow. She squares her jaw. “Now.”

Her family are listening, as she'd known they would be. A heartbeat later they're touching down beside her, fanning out in a defensive formation as they face down their nemeses on an isolated mountain plateau high above the Nepalese clouds.

A quick glance from side to side confirms what Kara had already suspected; they've brought the Totems. Alex and Kelly hold out the Courage and Love crystals respectively, Brainy clutches the Truth Totem as Nia brandishes the Dream crystal with fire in her eyes. To Kara's left, Lena's slender fingers close resolutely around the Humanity Totem and to her right, J’onn holds out a hand.

In his palm gleams the bright white of the Hope Totem. A corner of the Martian's mouth quirks. “Seems fitting you take this one,” he murmurs, too low to be overheard. “You are the Paragon of Hope, after all.”

With a sharp nod, she trades the purple Destiny Totem for the white Hope crystal.

Across the rocky outcrop, Lex's mouth has dropped open. Nyxly's face is pale.

“It's too late,” Kara calls above the whip of the wind. Never let it be said that she didn't give her adversaries a way out. “It's over. We have all seven Totems, and you have none. You'll never form the All Stone, Nyxly. Give up.”

Nyxly's lip curls, though her eyes widen as the reality of the situation sets in. But before she has a chance to speak Lex's shrill voice cuts through the air, loud and arrogant.

"Nothing's over until I've won,” he growls, fingers moving to his gauntlet with near-inhuman speed.

Kara registers the flash of Kryptonite, the sickly green of the energy blast and the sharp tang of hyper-ionised air, but the impact she braces for never comes. She blinks her eyes open in time to see the canon's blast ricochet harmlessly off a wall of golden energy thrown up before the Superfriends, a shimmering shield of molten light. A glance to her left confirms that Lena's irises are shining that same unearthly shade.

Kara allows herself a single second to feel relief before she snaps her mind back to the situation at hand. “Contain them!” she yells over the sound of the wind and the ugly howls of Lex's fury. “Combine the power of the Totems! Neutralise them, and let's end this!”

In the end, with the united might of the seven all-powerful Totems that combine to make one master of the universe, it's not really so hard at all.

Lex and Nyxly fight viciously, hurling missile after missile from their suit gauntlets but thanks to Lena's protective shield, not a single one finds its target. As one, the Superfriends advance on them; an impenetrable wall of the Totems’ energy flowing from their palms to wrest Lex and Nyxly to their knees.

“Let go!” Kara yells over the howling of wind and power and raw untamed energy, and her family do. Six Totems float unaided from their palms, drawn ineffably to the white crystal in Kara's hand. In a flash of blinding light and a blast of searing heat the All Stone forms between her fingers, a clear colourless gem refracting every colour of the rainbow from its countless faceted edges.

She feels the power flow through her, infinite and unbridled, and with the slightest flick of her wrist Kara sends out a burst of energy that levels Lex and Nyxly entirely, pinning them to the rough stone with a twitch of her fingers.

The sudden silence in the wake of all the commotion is deafening, the mountain plateau ringing with the absence of sound. Kara lowers her hand.

Lex looks to be unconscious, laid out on the rough stone like a limp rag doll. But Nyxly is still moving, groaning pitifully and clutching at her head, curling in on herself on the hard ground.

With a sense of the preternatural calm born of unlimited power, Kara crosses to her. Crouches before the imp, energy tingling in her fingertips where they wrap around the All Stone.

Nyxly glares up at her with furious, desperate eyes. “Are you going to kill me now, Supergirl?”

“No,” Kara breathes. Her body feels empty, scraped clean of its earthly toils and filled anew with raw untempered life.

“What, then?” Nyxly spits. “A fate worse than death?”

“No,” she repeats, serenity rising in her throat and coating her words. “I'm going to send you home.”

Nyxly's mouth opens, then closes, then opens again. “Home?”

Kara curls her fingers around the All Stone, cupping its warmth in her palms. “That's all you really want, Nyxly. To go home, to right the wrongs done to you by your father and brother, and to take your rightful place among your people. You told me so yourself, the day we first met.”

Nyxly's lip curls. “But I cannot right those wrongs without the All Stone!”

“You can.”

The certainty in her voice seems to strike a chord in Nyxly, because the imp falls silent. Kara moves closer, meeting her gaze head on.

“Do you know why we beat you?” she asks softly. “Do you know why I'm holding the All Stone right now, and you're not? Because of them.”

She juts her chin behind her, in the direction of the six people gathered a short distance away.

“I couldn't have done this alone any more than you could have,” Kara says, feeling the truth of the words ring out as they pass her lips. “But I had help. I had family, support, love. And with them by my side, I think I could do anything.”

Nyxly's throat works as she swallows, agony clouding the deep resentment in her gaze.

Unbidden, Lena's voice echoes through her mind. I'm just saying that she's not the same as my brother. She's not that far gone.

Kara sighs. “All you've ever known is pain and betrayal. Your support system has consisted of narcissists driven by their own self-interest.”

Both their gazes flick to Lex's unconscious form, and Nyxly snarls.

Kara softens. “But now, when you go home, you will have help. And with good people by your side you'll be able to achieve far more than you ever could have with the All Stone.”

“I have no one left,” Nyxly spits, the words tight and strangled. “Good people or otherwise.”

Kara smiles. “That's not true.”

And with a slight flick of her wrist the crystal orb hidden in the folds of Nyxly's robes floats into the air between them. Another flick and the crystal shatters in a flash of white light. When their eyes adjust once more, Mxy is sitting cross-legged on the rough stone beside Nyxly.

Kara smiles. “You have him.”

Mxy turns to the imp princess, contrition etched into every line of his face. “I never should have testified against you to your father,” he says, hushed and earnest. “It's the biggest regret of my life, and I will do whatever I can to atone for that mistake. I'll go with you, Nyxly. I still have friends, powerful friends in your father's court. Together, we can do what you and your brother set out to achieve all those years ago. We can do things right this time.”

Nyxly stares at him a long time, a quiet kind of wonder growing in the depths of her eyes. But then mistrust comes slamming back in and she glares up at Kara, frowning.

“So, I'm supposed to believe that after all this, after everything I've done to you and your family, you're just going to let me go?” she sneers, a thin veneer for the insecurity within. “Why?”

"Because everyone deserves hope, and help, and second chances,” Kara breathes, reaching out to slip the power dampening cuff from Nyxly's wrist. “Now that I've given you the first two, it's up to you to make the most of the third.”

Nyxly squints at her, shaking her head. “So that's really it?” she asks, quiet and unsure. “I can just— leave?”

“I'm going to send you both back,” Kara says, tracing her thumb over the All Stone's many facets. “You won't be able to return to this world. The Fifth Dimension is your home, Nyxly. It's where you belong. You have all the tools. What you do with them now is up to you.”

Nyxly stares at her, lips pursed and eyes dark-bruised. “Kara Zor-El,” she breathes, and buried beneath the scepticism in her tone Kara thinks she detects a single note of gratitude. Nyxly clicks her tongue. “Paragon of Hope indeed.”

And with a nod, and a breath, and the slightest flick of her wrist, Nyxly and Mxy leave Earth forever.

A deep sense of accomplishment, of the fundamental rightness of the action, floods Kara's veins. So absorbed is she in the power, the toll and the responsibility incumbent to the gem clutched in her palms, that the first she knows of Lex Luthor regaining consciousness is the moment his body barrels sideways into her own, his fingers closing tight around her throat.

 

Lex's gauntleted hands press down on her windpipe with all the strength he possesses, pinning her to the ground.

Kara sees stars. She's barely managed to register the burn of the All Stone still in her palm, has hardly so much as considered the myriad moves she could make to free herself, when suddenly Lex's crushing weight is gone from her chest and she can breathe again.

“Oh, no you fucking don't!” comes a shrill voice and Kara pushes gasping to her elbows in time to see Lena tackle her brother to the ground, slamming him hard against the stone. “You poisonous bald bastard, you will not touch her!”

And then Lena's eyes flash fire-bright and suddenly Lex's writhing form is being restrained by twisting vines of golden energy coiling around his limbs, immobilising him completely. One shimmering vine even wraps across his mouth and Lex grunts, muffled and indignant as he fights in vain to free himself.

Lena pushes to her knees, panting, and glances back at Kara with a satisfied little smirk. “There,” she hums, a corner of her mouth quirking. “Much better.”

Kara stands, rubbing at her throat as she extends a hand to help Lena to her feet as well.

“So.” She quirks a brow, gazing apathetically down at Lex's squirming form. “Now what are we going to do with him?”

“If you want to kill him, none of us will mind,” Alex calls from Kara's shoulder, a bitter sting to her words belying the resentment that still festers over her daughter's kidnapping.

“I'll second that,” Nia chimes in. “Or I can go back to the Tower, fetch the Phantom Zone projector. Maybe Lex needs a taste of his own medicine after what he did to you.”

Lex's eyes widen in silent, genuine fear. Kara feels her insides turn to ice.

"No,” she says softly, barely audible over the chill mountain breeze. “Not the Phantom Zone. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. Do you hear that, Lex?” She stares down at him, gaze flinty. “Not even on you.”

She feels Alex's hand land warm on her shoulder, allows herself to sink back into the comfort for the briefest of moments. Then she straightens her spine, and turns to the woman perpetually by her side.

"He's your brother, Lena,” she breathes, words meant for one set of ears alone. “He's hurt you more than anyone. What happens to him now is your decision.”

Lena sucks in a breath that shudders in her lungs.

"What should it be then, big brother?” she asks softly, staring down at Lex's prone form. "Prison? Torture? Banishment? Death? I know which one you'd pick, if our roles were reversed. You wouldn't even hesitate.”

Overhead, a thick bank of cloud rolls across the face of the sun. Lena's voice is nearly inaudible. “I've never been more glad that I'm not you.”

Kara reaches out, lacing her fingers with Lena's in the gap between their bodies. Lena squeezes once, squaring her shoulders.

"There are so many punishments you deserve,” Lena says, firmer now. “So much you should be made to suffer, if there were any justice in the world. But you know what? I think the best way that we can punish you is by doing nothing at all.”

Lex's eyes widen above the vine still gagging him. Lena sucks in a deep breath, lets it out steadily.

“I think we're going to throw you into the deepest darkest hole we can find, and let you rot away the rest of your days in lonely obscurity,” she tells him, lips pressing together into a thin line. “Because what my big brother fears, more than any loss or hit or punishment— what Lex Luthor truly dreads is insignificance.”

Lena's hand slips from hers as she crouches before her brother. Kara steps closer, pressing their bodies together in a silent show of support as Lena meets her brother's gaze head on.

“But you are insignificant, Lex,” she whispers. “You're not even important enough for me to bother to kill you. The world has already moved on. The media's all but forgotten you, Luthor Corp is thriving without you at the helm, and what's left of your family are infinitely better off without you. You wanted to become the master of all reality just to prove that you matter but the truth is, you don't.”

Lena's eyes are wide and wet, her voice soft as a whisper. “You don't matter at all.”

She straightens suddenly, and a subtle clench of her fist has the vines around her brother twisting tighter by degrees.

“I'm tired of bending my life around you as though you're the centre of my world when you are nothing, Lex Luthor. Not to me, not to anyone. Not anymore. You— you were my brother, once.”

Lena's voice cracks on the penultimate word and Kara reaches out, lays a palm between her trembling shoulder blades to ground her, steady her.

Lena breathes deeply, raising her chin. “But now? Now you're a monster I no longer recognise, and I'm tired of pretending otherwise. Goodbye, Lex.”

And then Lena raises her hands, murmuring quiet words in a language Kara doesn't understand but that nevertheless prickles the fine hairs at the back of her neck.

And then Lena's eyes flash bright once more, and in a crackle of electric gold Lex Luthor disappears forever.

 

As soon as the spell is complete Lena sways on the spot, body pitching heavily to one side. Kara darts forward, strong arms wrapping around her waist to keep her upright.

“It's over,” she murmurs again and again, brushing Lena's hair back from her flushed cheeks. “It's done. He's gone.”

"No kidding,” Lena hums, breathless and a little shell-shocked as her knees buckle. “Jesus, that was— wow. I think I might be done for the day,” she breathes, and Kara chuckles.

The others encircle them, all heaving chests and relieved gazes.

"Where is he?” Alex asks, voice shot through with quiet awe. “What did you do with him?”

“I stuffed him into the deepest darkest cell there was at the abandoned DEO desert facility,” Lena manages around a tired half-smile. “I suppose we could check on him in a few days, you know, drop off some stale bread and water. Or not, honestly. Either way, he's not my problem anymore.”

“You’re amazing,” Kara murmurs against her ear, too low for anyone else to hear. “You are the most amazing person I've ever met.”

Lena chuckles, leaning into Kara as she sways them gently on the spot. “Speaking of things that are still very much our problem,” she breathes a moment later, blinking long and slow. “What are we going to do about this?”

Her fingers reach down, tapping lightly at the All Stone still clutched in Kara's fist.

She sucks in a sharp breath, relaxing her hand so the crystal lays in the flat of her palm. “We have to destroy it,” she decides with barely a second of hesitation. “This much power should never be concentrated in one place. The imps’ high council knew that, when they destroyed the original. No one could wield this. No one should.”

J’onn tilts his head. “Not even Supergirl?”

Kara huffs out a laugh, shaking her head. “Especially not Supergirl.”

“Alright, so.” Kelly steps closer, squaring her shoulders. “How might one go about destroying the most powerful object in all of existence?”

Kara laughs again, the impossibility of the request hitting her like a tidal wave. She sways a little on the spot and Lena's fingers find her belt, pulling her in close.

Kara bites her lip, rolling her eyes to the sky. “Honestly? I have no idea.”

“Well, we already know someone who can make Totems disintegrate into thin air,” Nia pipes up, nudging an elbow against Lena's ribs. “Couldn't you do the same to the All Stone? Just, like. Disperse it back into the universe, or wherever the hell all that energy was before it solidified into crystals.”

“I made the Love Totem disappear by accident,” Lena reminds them all with a self-deprecating twist of her lips. “I wouldn't even know how to begin doing the same thing to an object this powerful.”

Kara pulls back until they're face to face, brow furrowing. “Are you kidding?” she chides gently. “Lena, you can conjure shields that protect people from the most dangerous substances in the universe. You can create vines out of thin air, summon fire with your bare hands— Rao, you can zap people halfway round the world.”

She slots a finger beneath Lena's dipped chin, lifting her head until they're eye to eye.

“Your powers are incredible, Lena,” she breathes, willing her sincerity to land. “You're incredible. And I have absolutely no doubt that you can figure this out, just like you've figured out every other obstacle that's ever dared to get in your way.”

Lena stares at her a long moment, lips pursing as she shakes her head fondly. “I might know a spell,” she starts, tapping her fingertips against her chin. “It wouldn't destroy the All Stone, more like— reconstitute it. Like Nia said, we don't want to get rid of its power, just dissipate it. Send all that energy – hope and love and courage and the rest – back out into the world, where it's supposed to be.”

Kara beams, mouth opening in anticipation of giving an impassioned I always knew you could do it speech when Lena holds up a hand, her brow furrowing.

“But, the amount of power it would take to perform a spell like that on the All Stone— I'm not that strong.” She raises a brow, as if daring any of them to argue. “I'm just not.”

“If the All Stone is the single most powerful object in existence, then wouldn't the only thing strong enough to destroy it be itself?” Nia asks, holding her palms up questioningly. “You know, like how only diamond can cut diamond?”

“Okay, so, Lena uses the power of the All Stone to fuel her spell to demolish the All Stone,” Alex says slowly, face scrunching. “Cool. No doubt. Anyone else feeling a little Back to the Future-y about all this? Just me?”

Brainy shrugs at her helplessly. “Have you got any better ideas?”

“Kara, I can't wield the All Stone,” Lena mutters urgently as Alex and the others descend into a noisy debate about time loops and infinite paradoxes. “You formed it, you— you have to do it.”

Kara sucks in a sharp breath. “How about we do it together?”

Lena's eyes are wide and worried. “What if I can't? What if I try and it doesn't work?”

She reaches out, takes Lena's hands in both her own. “Then we'll try something else. Together.”

“Alright. Oh, Jesus. Alright.” Lena sucks in a deep breath, meeting her gaze head on. “Ready?”

Kara nudges at their joined fingers, cupping Lena's palms around the All Stone crystal and her own palms around Lena's hands. “Ready. You just focus on the spell. Leave this thing to me.”

Silence falls around them as Lena's lips move, forming words without sound as she hones her concentration. A moment later, her eyes flash gold.

Kara takes her cue, opening herself up to the power of the All Stone, allowing it to flow through her unhindered the way she had to send Nyxly back to the Fifth Dimension. The power tingles in every cell of her body, scorching her palms where they press against the backs of Lena's hands.

The intense heat radiating off the crystal clasped between their palms grows with every passing moment, with every silent word that drops from Lena's lips. It gets so hot it must surely be burning Lena's skin and Kara almost pulls back, almost calls the whole thing off.

But then green-gold eyes snap up to her own, the intensity of Lena's gaze utterly captivating as she gives the slightest shake of her head. The gem grows hotter and hotter until the heat becomes light, becomes sound, becomes everything; the All Stone a singularity of explosive energy between their bodies.

For a long, suspended moment, the light is blinding. The noise is deafening, the heat unbearable even against impenetrable skin.

And then, as suddenly as it had formed, the All Stone disintegrates. The rainbow-faceted crystal glows white hot for a second and then its fragments, its very atoms seem to separate, dispersing back into the fabric of the world with little fanfare.

And then it's over, and Lena's hands are empty, and Kara's hands are full of nothing but Lena. And then they're falling into each other, laughing and gasping and trying to catch their breath.

Lena's arms twine around her waist as Kara's come up to encircle her shoulders and everyone around them is cheering and patting them on the back and exhaling huge sighs of relief.

Lena's head tucks beneath her chin, nose cold and breath warm as they sway together on a Himalayan mountaintop.

“Okay, now I really am serious,” she breathes around an exhausted sigh, soft chuckles ghosting across Kara's skin like the lightest of caresses. “I am absolutely, one hundred per cent done for the day.”

 

They do take the rest of the day off.

In fact, at Kara's insistence, the whole team takes most of the next three weeks off. Now that the existential threat of Lex and Nyxly and the All Stone has been eliminated, she figures they've all earned a little R&R.

Kara spends her days coasting along quietly at Catco, peppering in the odd low-key Supergirl save here and there, and generally floating through her life without any clear sense of direction. Their triumph over Lex and Nyxly has vacated so much space and time in her daily routine that Kara finds herself floundering, happily rid of the constant stress and anxiety that had plagued her these past few months but lacking also a sense of direction, a burning imperative to accomplish her goals.

She feels, in short, aimless. Drifting untethered in the liminal space between one crisis and the next, one purpose and the next, unsure exactly who she is in the pauses between the people she has to be.

That's what she's doing, the day the call comes through. Meandering through her to-do list on her day off from Catco, watching the news on the TV reporting things that don't require her attention, ignoring the unfinished wedding flower arrangements on the dining table that really do require her attention.

It's such a shock – the voice on the other end of the line, the proposal it offers – that she doesn't know what to say. Doesn't know how to respond, what to think, how to feel.

She still hasn't figured it out two hours later when her front door opens and her sister charges in, eyes narrowing and mouth opening as she takes in the half-assembled centrepieces and bouquets littering the apartment.

“Kara,” she says in lieu of greeting, tone shooting straight past suspicious and landing squarely in the ballpark of pissed. “You do know my wedding is tomorrow. Not in a month tomorrow. Like, tomorrow tomorrow. Do you want me to get married without any flowers? Is that what you want?”

Snapping out of the daze she'd fallen into for the better part of the afternoon, Kara's hands flutter into action. “No. Sorry. Of course not. They'll get done, I swear. I'll get them done.”

Alex pauses, in that pointed way she has that usually means she's about to notice something Kara would rather she didn't.

“Alright, out with it,” her sister says slowly, arms folding over her chest. “What's going on? What's wrong?”

One look at the set of Alex's jaw tells her it's not even worth faking confusion. She sighs.

“Cat called me.”

Alex's eyebrows hit her hairline. “Cat? Cat Grant?”

She nods, tugging a hand through the ends of her ponytail. “Turns out she's buying Catco back from Andrea and, uh. And she offered me a job.”

Her sister's eyes narrow. “But you have a job.”

“Yeah. But she, um. She offered to make me her Editor-in-Chief.”

Alex's jaw hits the floor, flowers and fury forgotten as she rounds the table to land an affectionate shove to Kara's shoulder. “Congratulations, oh my God,” she crows, grinning wide. "Wow, that's— that is literally your dream job!”

“I know.” Oh, she knows. “But I— I don't think I can take it.”

Alex freezes comically on the spot, squinting. “Okay,” she drawls, drawing the syllables out to a ridiculous length. “Can I ask why?”

Kara sighs, pushing back from the dining table to pace over to the couch and back again. “Alex, a month ago I was considering quitting Catco for good. And now, now I'm supposed to accept a promotion?”

"But you didn't quit,” Alex reminds her, “because you didn't really want to. And this is a promotion you've dreamed about for years.”

She bites down hard on the inside of her cheek. “I didn't even have the time to be a reporter. How am I ever going to find the time to be Editor-in-Chief?”

Her sister follows her to the couch, tugging her down onto the cushions when she tries to continue her anxious pacing. “Okay, but Lex and Nyxly are gone,” Alex says gently.  “The threat of world domination is over.”

“But there will be another,” she counters, reaching out to tug a throw pillow into her lap, kneading at it with her fists. “There always is. There will always be a call that I have to answer.”

“You've balanced Supergirl and Catco before.”

“Not well!” Kara scoffs, guilt welling up in her throat. “I've hardly ever given reporting the focus it deserves, and I'm going to have much more responsibility now. How can I in good faith accept a job I know I'll only ever be able to give half of myself to? It's not fair, to Cat or to Catco.”

“You wouldn't only be giving half of—” Alex starts, but Kara doesn’t even let her finish.

“I would, and we both know it,” she says, more sharply than she intends. “For as long as I am either Kara Danvers or Supergirl while pretending the other doesn't exist, I’m half-assing both jobs. My focus, my effort, my attention, they'll always be split as long as I am split.”

“Is that how you feel?” Alex asks softly, her mouth tugging down at the corners. “Split?”

Kara exhales hard through her nose. She doesn't say anything. She doesn't have to.

Alex shuffles closer, stilling Kara's hands where they're fiddling restlessly with a corner of the cushion in her lap.

“Well, I can't tell you what to do here,” her sister says gently, nudging their knees together. “Only you can make this call. But I can tell you what I know, and what I know for sure is that there are so many people around you who love you and want to help you, who will help you, who'll stand shoulder to shoulder with Supergirl for anything she has to face. You're not a one-man-band anymore,” Alex says with a small smile. “You're part of a team, and you always will be. Put down the lone saviour complex, Kar. You're not the only hero in town, yeah?”

A breath shudders out of her lungs as she presses her lips together hard. She knows that, of course she does. But knowing and internalising are two different things and a lifetime of her parents’ whispered voices in her ear, telling her to be exceptional, to be extraordinary, to save this world the way they didn't save theirs, is no easy imperative to ignore.

Kara closes her eyes. Forces herself to listen to her sister's words, to absorb them and hold them in her mind the way she'd savour a fine wine on her tongue before swallowing. And slowly, achingly slowly, she nods.

Alex smiles. One victory down.

“I also know that times have changed since the day you first put on those glasses,” her sister continues, tapping Kara lightly on the bridge of her nose. “And I know that you've changed. Figuring out your identity, who you are and who you want to be going forward, is no easy feat. I mean, God, don't I know it. But—”

Alex reaches out then, smoothing her fingers over Kara's clenched fists, and something deep inside her relaxes the tiniest fraction. Her sister's eyes are as kind as she's ever seen them. As kind as they've always been, when it comes to her.

“But I remember sitting here on this exact couch with you, the day you told me that you understood what it was like to keep a part of yourself shut off,” Alex says, voice barely above a whisper. “About how lonely it could be. You created a space where I could come to terms with who I was, helped me shine light on the parts of myself I felt I had to hide, and— and since you did, since I did, I've never been happier.”

Kara feels tears prickle at the corners of her eyes as her sister leans closer, imploring.

“I want you to have that. I want you to be exactly who you want to be, and have it be your choice. And I will always be here to help you do that, always. If that means making a change in your life, one way or another, then make it. Just— don't be alone, Kara. Not— not if you don't have to be.”

The tears do come then and Kara falls with them, tilting forward to curl into her sister's lap. Alex's arms slip round her, rubbing at the back of her neck the way she used to to coax her out of nightmares, around heartbreak and loss and goodbyes, through every pit of darkness until Kara could see the light again.

“I'm not alone,” she whispers into the warmth of her sister, into the arms that taught her that some homes are permanent. “I have you.”

Alex chuckles, a little thick, a little wet, and Kara knows she's blinking back her own tears. “Always.”

Her sister's fingers play at the collar of her cardigan, fiddling with the exposed label. There's a beat of stillness in which Alex registers the expensive French designer, the numbers one size smaller than Kara usually wears. Another beat in which she puts the pieces together in her mind.

Kara waits with bated breath as her sister tucks the label carefully back inside the soft cashmere.

“I'd say you have someone else, too,” Alex breathes, smoothing her palm down the length of Kara's back, stroking the soft material of Lena's cardigan that she's barely taken off. “If you want her.”

Cheeks flushing, heart pounding, Kara straightens just enough so that they're face to face. Sucks in a trembling breath, bites her lip. “I do.”

Alex's face lights up, joy pooling in the pleased bow of her lips and the happy crinkles at the corners of her eyes.

“You know what?” she murmurs, leaning closer conspiratorially. “I think, underneath it all, you know exactly who you are and what you want. And I think you're going to figure out how to get it, same way you always have because you, Kara Zor-El Danvers, are the best person, my most favourite person, just because you're you.”

She tugs Kara forward once more, wrapping the two of them up in a hug that feels like something she will always be able to count on. Alex squeezes her tight, so tight, and there's a smile in the whisper that's pressed against her hair.

“And I think, if you decide to show them, the rest of the world would agree.”

 

The next day, the mania of the wedding takes over, but she doesn't forget her sister's words.

She's still thinking about them as she and Eliza and Esme help Alex get ready, as she has to swallow back a fresh round of tears at how radiant her sister looks on her wedding day. She's still thinking about them as she sings her sister and sister-in-law's favourite song as the guests take their seats, as she takes her own and blubbers quietly into her adoptive mother's shoulder through the most beautiful vows she's ever heard.

She's still thinking about them even once the ceremony is over and Kara is finally released from her maid-of-honour duties as the guests rise from their seats to make their way over to the drinks and the food and the dancing

It's there, at the rustic, flower-strewn outdoor bar, that she first sees Lena, and suddenly Kara isn't thinking about anything else but her.

She looks incredible, of course she does. Kara's eyes skate the curve of her satin-clad hips, the exposed strip of skin from clavicle to navel, the plum-painted sweep of her lips and the dark waterfall of her hair.

But where her gaze catches and sticks are Lena's eyes, always her eyes. Dark-lined and striking, green and grey and blueish gold, ever-shifting in the sunlight dappling through the trees. Warm and bright and crinkling at the corners as they land on Kara, dragging her in, holding her close.

"Hey.”

Kara grins. Pushes in to slot against Lena's side, scooping up their drinks from the bar. “Hey yourself.”

Lena accepts the champagne she proffers, the tips of their fingers brushing. “Your dress is almost as beautiful as your singing.”

Kara rakes her teeth over her bottom lip, goes for broke. “And neither are as beautiful as you.”

Lena flushes a delicate, mouth-watering pink. “Charmer,” she accuses lightly. “Don't get me flustered. I was trying to tell you that I loved your performance. And that you look gorgeous.”

“What a coincidence,” Kara hums, buoyed by the band and the bubbles and the beauty of the occasion. “I was trying to tell you the same.”

Whatever Lena is going to say is cut short by the arrival of Alex and Kelly in a hurricane of white silk and lovestruck smiles. Kara throws her arms around her sister as Lena embraces Kelly before they swap, not a cheek left un-kissed or an eye left dry by the time they're through.

“You're married,” Kara crows, still struggling to believe it herself. “It was so beautiful, you guys. It was so perfect.”

“Mrs & Mrs Danvers-Olsen,” Lena beams, holding up her glass. “If I ever have someone who makes me half as happy as you two make each other, I'll be a lucky woman indeed.”

If?” Alex snorts under her breath, gaze bouncing unsubtly between them, but Kara barely even hears her. Her eyes lock with Lena's, both their lips quirking up just a little at the corners and Kara thinks, yeah. Lucky barely even begins to cover it.

"Hey, Lena,” Kelly says, dragging their attention back to her with a knowing smile. "There's actually something we wanted to ask you. We were going to do it before the wedding, but things got a little crazy, so—”

"No time like the present.” Alex picks up where her wife leaves off, smiling so widely Kara's cheeks ache in sympathy. “Lena, we were wondering, um. We would really, really love if you'd agree to be Esme's godmother.”

Kara's face splits into an enormous grin as Lena's mouth drops open.

“No one's shown her more love and care, no one's protected her or guided her more than you,” Alex says gently, mindful of the tears now brimming in Lena's eyes. “There's no one we'd trust more with our daughter and, well. We just wanted to make it official.”

“Oh,” Lena breathes, crystalline tears gathering at her lash line. “Oh, wow. I— I was just happy being the really cool aunt but yes, yes, of course!”

And then she's being tugged in, crushed between Alex and Kelly as whispers of thank you and love you are traded back and forth and Kara thinks her heart might split open, watching them, from the astronomical amount of love blossoming inside it.

The three of them break apart only at the patter of tiny approaching feet, all of them turning to smile at Esme as she raises her arms to be hoisted onto Kara's hip. Kelly wipes a tear from Lena's cheek as Alex reaches out to boop her daughter on the nose.

"Mommy, Mama, do you like your birdhouses?” Esme squeals, flower girl dress fluttering in the warm summer breeze. “Do you, do you, do you?”

"They're beautiful,” Kelly beams as Alex turns to examine on with reverent fingers. “Who made all these?”

“We did!” Esme proclaims proudly. “Me and Aunt Kara and, an’ Aunt Lena!”

“We've been working on them for a couple weeks,” Kara explains at Alex and Kelly's shocked expressions. “As a surprise.”

“It's a lovebird theme!” Esme beams. “It was Aunt Lena's idea.”

Lena blushes as two gaping faces turn to her. “Well, I had to make sure my friends had the most beautiful wedding possible, didn't I?” she says shyly, ducking her head.

“Not friends,” Alex corrects softly, reaching out to link her arm through Lena's. “Sisters. Family, yeah? Forever.”

To anyone who didn't know her as Kara does, the heavy shifting of Lena's clogged throat and the fresh tears that gather in her eyes would hardly be noticeable.

But Kara does know her, better than anyone, and without conscious thought she's crowding in close, slipping the arm not cradling her niece around Lena's waist to pull their bodies flush. And then Kelly's nudging in too and they're all hugging, all laughing and blushing and crying just a little bit and this, right here, is all Kara has ever wanted. This, she's sure, is all she'll ever need.

 

She's busy posing goofily in the shade of a huge oak tree while James teaches Esme to use the camera he'd just gifted his niece, giggling and pulling silly faces and marvelling at how far they've all come, when her phone rings.

It's the same unknown number as the day before and Kara's heart stutters in her chest. She waves James and Esme away with a smile as they rejoin the party, answering the call with trembling fingers.

“Am I to assume you're in the hospital?” comes Cat Grant's dry tone. “Trapped in an underground bunker or stranded on a remote mountaintop with no cell service? I simply cannot fathom any other reason why the contract I sent you remains decidedly un-signed.”

Kara gulps. “Yeah, um. About that. I, uh, I'm—”

“Oh, please,” Cat interrupts sharply. “Please do not tell me you're stuck.”

“Actually, yes,” she admits. “Very.”

“Keira, this is not a difficult decision.”

Kara opens her mouth to protest, but Cat beats her to it.

“No, it's not. Editor-in-Chief has been your end goal since the day you first fumbled your way into my office in one of those hideously prim little cardigans you used to frequent. If you are having yet another— personal crisis,” Cat says, as distastefully as if the words have been dipped in manure, “I assure you, it is not about the job.”

“It is, though,” she insists, reaching up to fiddle with her glasses. “It's about the job, and— and my ability to do it well. My ability to do you proud. I don't— I don't want to let you down, Ms Grant.”

“Listen carefully, Keira, because I will not be saying this again.” In the background there's a distinct sandpaper-like scrape, as if Cat is filing her nails.

“You have never once let me down,” her former boss says firmly, and a sudden lump forms in Kara's throat. “Do not break that streak by being foolish now.”

“I don't mean to be,” she manages, airless and strangled. “But I just, I really don't know, Ms Grant. This job would require me to be, well, me. All of me, and that's not—”

Kara swallows hard. This secret, these lies, it never gets any easier.

“I don't know if I can give myself to this fully,” she tries again, scuffing one heel against the grass. “Because— because I don't even feel like I am myself, fully. I have— responsibilities. Conflicting ones, often; conflicting people inside of me and I can't just—”

“So you're not living your truth,” Cat interrupts drily. “Not being your best, authentic self. The only person making that decision is you, Keira. If you don't like it, if it no longer serves you, change it.”

“It's not that simple,” Kara breathes, pressing her fingertips to her temples. “I wish I could explain—”

“What? That you're Supergirl?”

Time stops, the world falling blissfully, utterly silent for the space of one infinite heartbeat. Kara reels, mouth dropping open, as years of secrets and falsehoods and lies rearrange themselves in her mind's eye.

“You— you knew?”

Cat laughs, then; a real laugh, not cruel or mocking in any way. “Of course I knew.”

Kara stares unseeing at the grass beneath her feet, unable to steady herself in the wake of this shock to her very foundations.

“Supergirl stands for hope, and help, and compassion,” Cat says firmly. “I should know. I branded her. But you made her, Keira. Those beliefs are yours. And frankly, I find it hypocritical and a little duplicitous that you preach those values to others while refusing to grant yourself the same courtesies.”

Kara's mouth opens, then closes, then opens again. “You— you make a good point.”

“I always do.” The filing sounds cuts off abruptly. “Now. Let's take a look at everything that Kara Danvers and Supergirl have accomplished separately, and then let us imagine what they could achieve as one. As you. You need to decide what you want to do in this world, Keira. The difference you want to make, and the person you want to be as you do it.”

She can feel her face crumpling. “Ms Grant, I— I'm scared.”

“Life is scary, Keira.”

The blunt, no-bullshit tone is so familiar it almost, almost gets her to smile.

“Life is scary, and things are tough, and honesty and vulnerability can be intimidating. You are going to have triumphs and you are going to have mistakes, whatever name you give yourself, whatever suit you're wearing. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you're going to split the milestones of your life off into separate compartments, or whether you're going to own them. Own everything you are, the good and the bad. Own yourself.”

“I want to,” Kara whispers, and she finds that it's true.

“Then you will,” Cat says simply, as if that is that. And then, so quiet she almost misses it, “I believe in you, Kara. I always have.”

Heart in her throat and fresh tears in her eyes, Kara nods.

Somewhere, half a world away, Cat Grant clicks her tongue. “Good. Don't make me wait any longer for those contracts, yes? You and I have important work to do. Oh,” she says, almost an afterthought. “But maybe take a vacation first, Keira. Try a mud wrap, get a massage. Lord knows you deserve it.”

 

She's still reeling, still slumped into the chair she'd collapsed onto once Cat had ended the call, when a familiar heartbeat approaches.

“Hey, you.”

And then Lena's there, sitting down opposite her, all bright eyes and warm smiles and a light perfume that lingers on Kara's tongue.

“Where'd you go?” she asks, the excitement of the day bleeding into her tone. “You missed all the fun. Nia caught the bouquet, and— hey.”

Lena cuts herself off suddenly, brow furrowing as she leans in towards her. “Hey, what's wrong?”

Kara shakes her head, tracing her fingertips along the swirling grain of the wooden tabletop. “I'm supposed to be the strongest person on Earth, but— I think I'm actually the weakest.”

Green eyes squint at her in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

Teeth digging hard against her lower lip, Kara has to fight the irrational urge to laugh. “Ms Grant— the glasses— she knows, Lena. She knows who I am. She always has and she— she wants me to be her Editor-in-Chief anyway.”

“If anyone was going to figure out your secret, it would be Cat Grant,” Lena chuckles, shaking her head. “Kara, that's amazing! Isn't— isn't that amazing?”

Lena's enthusiasm falters at the indecision on Kara's face.

“Cat told me to take the job, but I don't know if I should,” she confesses. “At least, not like this.”

She reaches up, tugging at the dark frames resting on the bridge of her nose. “My entire life, I've hidden behind these glasses. It's gotten in the way of every job I've ever had, everything I've ever wanted to do. Every— God. Every relationship, I mean—”

She gestures helplessly between the two of them, and Lena smiles.

“We didn't have the smoothest of journeys,” she acknowledges. “But we got where we needed to be in the end.”

“I'm so scared, Lena,” she breathes, tender heart bared to the hands she's always trusted to soothe its wounds. “I'm so scared of revealing myself like that. I mean, telling you the truth after so many years of lies almost destroyed us. And that almost destroyed me. I can't— I don't want to go through that again.”

“I understand that,” Lena hums, reaching out to lay her hand atop Kara's restless fingers. “You've lived your entire life with people telling you who you're supposed to be, and that if you didn't hide who you were then people would get hurt. It's tough to move beyond those type of core wounds. I get it, believe me.”

At Kara's wide-eyed gaze, Lena smiles sadly. “Ever since my mother died, everyone in my life has tried to shape me into who they wanted me to be. I was groomed to suppress my mother's magic, to be a Luthor, to protect the family name, further the business, be the best. To conquer the world, but always for someone else.”

At the pain in Lena's tone Kara flips her hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing tight.

“These past few months, when I've finally been able to loosen the hold my family had over me— for a long time, all I felt was grief. And I realised I was grieving for the person I could have been, would have been, without the taint of their poison. I was grieving for me, for the choices I was never allowed to make and the chances I was never given. And I think it might be the same for you.”

Lena tugs on their joined fingers, pulling Kara up with her as they walk beneath the dappled shade of the oak trees.

"My existence has always been framed by someone else,” Lena confesses, soft as the delicate skin pressed to Kara's palm. “But it wasn't until recently that I realised I hadn't been living my own life. At least, I hadn't been living it for me. And now that I am, now that I'm starting to— it feels amazing.”

They pause a short distance away from the heaving dancefloor and Lena turns to face her, eyes shining in the shifting golden light.

“I wouldn’t even know what that would feel like for me,” Kara whispers, raw and unguarded. “Connecting with someone as my whole self. To not be afraid, to just… be who I am.”

Lena smiles, eyes sparkling. “What have you been doing with me?”

Kara bites at the inside of her cheek, fighting a smile even as tears begin to pool at her lash line. “That's different, though,” she breathes. “You're— you're you.”

“And you're you,” Lena echoes, just as soft, just as genuine. “You're yourself with me, fully and honestly, and I love you even more for it. Why would the rest of the world be any different?”

Kara wants to believe her, really she does. But.

“What if I let myself just be who I am and someone gets hurt?” she whispers, hardly able to give voice to the darkest demons that linger in every crevasse of her mind.

Lena's face softens. “You can't always be our saviour, Kara,” she breathes, pressing closer until only a whisper of space remains between their bodies. “You shine your light and inspire others to shine theirs. Your words, not mine. If someone does come, if they try to mess with this family, then we will take them on together. El mayarah.”

And it's too much, suddenly, the love and compassion and understanding and those words from those lips and Kara feels the tears that have been building spill over, break free.

“Hey, hey, it's okay.” And then Lena is there, immediate and certain and unwavering, soft hands on her shoulders, her biceps, her collar bones. “Oh, Kara, please don't cry. You don't have to decide anything right now, sweetheart. There's no rush.”

And then she's surging forwards, wrapping herself around Lena as tight as she dares, clutching at her back, her waist, the sheer material of her blouse.

“Of all the people I have ever known, I feel most myself when I'm with you,” she whispers against Lena's hair, swaying them a little on the spot as she tries hard not to sob all over her shoulder. “I'm— I'm me when I'm with you.”

Lena's arms at her waist tighten, a cold nose pressing against the side of her neck. “I'm home when I'm with you,” Lena breathes, and fresh tears spill hot over the curve of Kara's cheek.

They break apart too soon, always too soon. Lena chuckles, sniffling even as she reaches up, wiping away the wetness on Kara's skin with the pads of her thumbs. "Hey, no tears. This is supposed to be a happy day.”

“It is,” Kara manages, still thick with tears. “Here, with you— I think this might be the happiest I've ever been.”

It might be a trick of the shifting light, but it almost looks like Lena's eyes are wet too. “Me too.”

Kara blinks back the last of her tears, takes a deep breath, and holds out a hand. “Dance with me?”

Lena's eyes are soft, so soft, shining as if lit from within by the boundless light in her soul. “I thought you'd never ask.”

And then they're dancing, boisterous and happy at first as Alex and Kelly do the robot and J’onn twirls Esme and Brainy gets down on one knee in the middle of the dancefloor and presents Nia with a black velvet box, a titanium and diamond ring. And then slower, softer and closer as the golden evening fades and fairy lights bathe them all in a gentle glow and she pulls Lena into her arms so they can sway together, close and perfect, slow dancing as one by one the stars above reveal themselves from the heavens.

And when they're waving Alex and Kelly off on their honeymoon and one of the best days of her life is winding to a close, when she slips an arm round Lena's waist to thumb at her hip, when she leans in close so as not to be overheard and whispers come home in Lena’s ear, she thinks they both know exactly what she means.

 

Later, back in Kara's apartment with their heels discarded, makeup wiped off and hair unpinned, Lena curls up beside her on the couch wearing a borrowed pair of sleep shorts and an oversized Hanson t shirt and Kara knows that she could visit a million planets, see a billion different worlds, and never again lay eyes on something as beautiful as this.

"How are you feeling?” Lena asks over the low hum of Downton Abbey in the background, reaching an arm along the back of the couch to stroke gently over Kara's loose hair. “You've had a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride today. How are you holding up?”

Kara reaches up, captures Lena's hand in her own, and kisses it.

“I'm okay,” she hums. “Today was beautiful, just perfect for Kelly and Alex. And even talking to Cat, it was— cathartic, in a way. I think she said a couple things I really needed to hear. But, at the same time—”

“You're still not sure,” Lena finishes for her. “That's okay, you know.”

Kara smiles, small and grateful. Pulls Lena's hand into her lap to bend and unbend her fingers mindlessly, stroking over tendons and joints. “It's not just some abstract fear,” she whispers, hushed with the anticipation of revealing this last truth between them. “I've seen what can happen if I reveal myself to the world. I know the damage it can cause.”

Lena's brow furrows. She leans closer. “What do you mean, you've seen it?”

And so, Kara tells her. Tells her about Mxyzptlk and the do-over and all the ways it could have been, each and every confession and heartbreak and scar and goodbye. Tells her how, when the world had demanded her name in return for Lena's life, she'd given it. Tells her how she hadn't even hesitated. Tells her how it hadn't mattered. How everything had burned anyway.

“I can't risk that,” she finishes thickly, gaze focused on Lena's hand in her lap. “Do you understand? If something happened to the people I love— if something happened to you because of my identity, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. But more than that, I— I wouldn't be able to live without you.”

“Oh, Kara.”

Lena pulls her hand from her grasp, only to push so close on the couch that she's practically in Kara's lap. She tugs until they're face to face, reaching both hands up to thread her fingers through the soft curls at Kara's temples, framing her face as their eyes meet with a depth of intensity that sends a shiver up the length of her spine.

“You know he can't predict the future, right?” Lena's gaze is imploring, hands tender as the gentle caress of sunlight as they cradle Kara's jaw.

Kara cannot, will not look away. “What do you mean?”

"Mxy might have shown you a hundred worlds, a hundred timelines where you told me and the rest of the planet the truth and it ended in pain,” Lena whispers, hushed and earnest. “But you know what he couldn't know, what he could never tell you? How this one will end.”

Lena swallows, throat working. Her tongue darts out to wet her lips and Kara can't help the way her eyes track the movement.

“I don't know who those other Lenas were, in all those other worlds,” Lena breathes, breath hot against her suddenly flushed cheeks. “But I know who I am, and I know how I feel, and I know that anyone or anything that wants to come between you and I is welcome to try, but you know what? I wouldn't recommend it.”

Kara watches Lena watching her, and she thinks absently that while she may not fully trust her own ability to protect the people she loves from the fallout of her secret, may always fear in the depths of her heart that she will be the cause of their suffering, she does trust Lena. She trusts that she will keep her word, and keep her safe, and kick the ass of anyone who gets on her bad side, because Lena— Lena is incredible.

And what does it matter if she can't trust herself, if she can trust this? Trust them?

She slips an arm around Lena's waist, snakes a hand up between their bodies. Drags the pad of her thumb across the velvet swell of Lena's bottom lip, feels heat spike low in the cradle of her hips when her mouth opens around a silent gasp.

“How?” she breathes into the thickness of the tension expanding between them.

Lena's eyelashes flutter against her cheeks, ebony on ivory. “How what?”

Kara takes a deep breath. Takes the plunge. “How do you feel?”

Green eyes lock onto her own, dark pupils blown wide. “Don't you know?”

And suddenly, with no pomp and no fanfare and not a single word of warning, the last thread holding Kara back from the woman she loves snaps like a wishbone.

She surges forward, replacing the pad of her thumb with her mouth upon Lena's, hot and wet and gasping as a slick tongue slips between soft lips and then everything is melded breaths and scorching velvet and a moan so high and breathy it sets ablaze a wildfire between her legs.

She presses Lena back into the couch with one hand at her jaw and another firm at her hip, laying her down until the lengths of their bodies are free to slide against one another, setting her every nerve ending on fire.

“I love you,” she whispers between desperate kisses and Lena's hands tighten in her hair, at the nape of her neck. “I am so, so in love with you. I fell in love with you the day you agreed to watch Wall-E with me and you cried when he held his own hand. You sobbed snot into the shoulder of my NCU sweatshirt and your hair smelled like green tea shampoo and I just knew. I knew that, for me, it was always going to be you. I'm sorry it took me so long to tell you that.”

Lena stares up at her, all heaving chest and dark-blown eyes and spit-slicked lips and Kara loves her, loves her, loves her.

“I'm in love with you too,” she breathes, and Kara thinks that the euphoria of mastering the seven all-powerful Totems that combine to make one master of all of creation couldn't even hold a candle to this moment. “I've loved you since the second time you ate kale for me. The first time, you didn't know what was coming. But the second, you knew exactly how much you hated it and you ate it anyway, to make me smile. I've never loved anyone the way I love you, Kara Zor-El. You are the great and singular love of my life. You— you are my life.”

Lena,” she breathes, leaning down to pepper every syllable with another sure kiss. “Lena, Lena, Lena. Why did we ever wait so long?”

And Lena laughs, and her mouth slots against Kara's like the last long-lost piece of the puzzle she's spent her life assembling, and then there's no more talking for a while.

Then, there's only the soft sounds of shifting cotton as every piece of their clothing hits the floor, the hushed gasps and pitching moans of their bare breasts brushing together, Kara's thigh sandwiched hot and wet between Lena's legs, Lena's nails biting into the curve of her ass.

Then, there's her mouth charting the skin of Lena's sternum, following the path her eyes had wandered through each endless hour of the wedding thanks to that blouse. Then, she closes her lips around a pebbled nipple and learns the feeling of Lena's chest arching into her mouth, the way the fingers in her hair will tighten if she uses a hint of teeth, the way Lena's voice will break around a pleading whine when she sucks just so.

Then, she's moving lower still, pausing to suck marks into the delicate slope of Lena's hip, the crease of her pelvis, the swell of her inner thigh. And then she's pressing her mouth between Lena's legs, and then there's rapture.

And then it happens again, and again, and again. Lena comes apart on her tongue, against her thigh, around her fingers. She cries out Kara's name into the mattress once they finally make it to the bed, face down and moaning as Kara drives into her from behind, so deep and so slow that Lena's toes curl against the sheets.

She learns what Lena likes, and what Lena really likes. Learns how to draw out of her the broken cries and breathy pleas and throaty moans. And in turn, Lena learns her, too. Learns how to flick her tongue, how to twist and curl and spread her fingers just right until Kara is writhing beneath her, breathless and teary-eyed and half-wild with the divinity of it all.

She learns that what she likes most of all is when they're face to face, eye to eye, with nothing in the world existing outside of the two of them. Just Kara, just Lena, just the love they whisper and stroke and press into every inch of one other until it's indelible, sanctified, sublime.

And only then, when they're both worn out, with the sweat cooling on their bodies and her head on Lena's chest and Lena's fingers working through the ferocious snarls of her tangled hair, does Kara regain the ability to speak.

"How do you think it will end, then?” she murmurs, more of a kiss than a question as she presses the words to the down-soft skin of Lena's clavicle. “This world, this timeline? Us?”

And Lena smiles, and tilts her chin up, and kisses her until she's the only thing Kara knows in the universe.

“It won't.”

 

one month later

 

"Hello, National City. You know her as Kara Danvers, Catco's ace reporter and new editor-in-chief. But tonight, it is my great honour to introduce to you: Supergirl.”

The words float through the early morning air, easily picked up by Kryptonian superhearing as Kara swoops and dives through the sky. The crisp sunrise streams across her back as she leaves Dublin behind, fresh-baked scones clutched tight in their paper bag.

County Kerry comes into view and Kara plunges down, down, down toward the rocky coastline, the emerald green of the hills and the startling blue of the Atlantic. The sun is just hitting the eastward windows as she touches down on the stoop of the white-painted cottage perched on the clifftop, running her fingertips along the seashells set into the doorframe.

“Saving all of existence from dominion by Lex Luthor and Nyxly is certainly quite the achievement,” Cat Grant's disembodied voice is saying as Kara pushes open the door, closing it quickly behind her to keep the chill of the sea breeze from permeating the warm room. “And quite the act to follow. Any plans for what Kara or Supergirl will do next?”

Kara smirks, rolling her eyes as the answer she'd recorded three days ago pours from the TV in the bedroom. “Well, I don't know if you've heard, but Kara Danvers has a new job. And between you and me, you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of her boss,” she hears herself say, hears Cat's echoing huff of laughter.

Kara toes off her boots by the door, scoops up the coffees she'd made before leaving for Dublin and hits them with a quick blast of laser vision to bring them back to the perfect temperature.

“As for Supergirl, she's going to keep doing what Supergirl does: helping those who need it.” TV-Kara's voice vibrates through the old stone wall, loud in the otherwise silent rose-tinted Irish morning. “But before all that, I think Supergirl and Kara might take a vacation. A very wise woman told me I deserved it.”

The morning's bounty cradled in her arms, Kara nudges the bedroom door open with her hip in time to catch Cat's knowing smirk on the flatscreen TV opposite the king-sized bed.

“What have you got that on for?” she hums as she deposits the coffees and still-warm scones on the bedside table, reaching back to unclip her cape, unzipping her suit and pushing it down to her hips. “You were standing right behind the camera for the whole interview. It's not like you don't already know what I said.”

From the centre of the tangled nest of sheets and blankets covering the bed, one green eye cracks open beneath a shock of messy dark curls. “Mm, maybe I just like seeing your face.”

Kara laughs, perching on the edge of the mattress in the space by Lena's hip, gazing down at the woman starfished on her stomach in the centre of the bed. “With your eyes shut?”

Lena huffs, words muffled against the pillow her face is buried in. “I'll have you know I'm a very efficient multitasker.”

Kara reaches out, runs the tip of her index finger down the length of Lena's bare back, tracing the dips and ridges of her spine exposed by the tangled sheets. Lena shivers, nudging closer to the contact. Both eyes open fully this time, and she smiles. “Or maybe I was just saving myself for the real thing.”

Kara grins, pushing up on her knees and reaching for a corner of the quilt. “Hey, shuffle over. I know there's room for me in there.”

But Lena's hand flashes out, holding the blankets down. “Not dressed like that, there isn't. Need I remind you of our bed's strict no-clothes policy?” Lena props her head against her palm, elbow bent as her mouth tugs into a playful smirk. “Lose the suit, Supergirl.”

Kara grins. Makes quick work of the rest of her suit and the navy long-sleeved she'd had on beneath, lifting the covers to slide into bed.

“Supergirl's thrown her support behind a few prominent charity ventures in the city in recent weeks,” Cat's tinny voice says from the wall. “The Dreamer Centre for LGBTQ+ Outreach, the Rojas Journalism Scholarship for low-income applicants, the Lena Luthor Foundation for Humanitarian Relief. Is there a reason for these specific philanthropic directions?”

Kara settles against the pillows, pulling Lena against her bare chest and tangling their legs together beneath the blankets. She runs her knuckles over the divots at the base of Lena's spine, fingers briefly dipping lower so Lena gasps as onscreen, Kara's oversaturated face beams at the camera.

“They're some really great causes that deserve all the support they can get,” her digital counterpart tells Cat. “And it doesn't hurt that they're run by some really great people.”

“I brought scones,” Kara mumbles, nosing into Lena's hairline and inhaling deeply as their bodies soften into the mattress.

Lena's face lights up. “From Ann's Bakery in Dublin?”

“Of course.”

Lena's thigh slips between her own. “And is there coffee?”

Kara scoffs, shaking her head in mock affront. “It's like you think I don't know you at all.”

Lena giggles, fitting a hand to the curve of Kara's cheek to pull her down into a sweet kiss that tastes of skin-warmed sheets and sunrise.

“I know you do, darling,” she hums against her lips, breath hot in Kara's open, panting mouth. “Better than anyone.”

Kara grins. Foregoes a verbal response in favour of pressing another kiss against Lena's lips, her cheek, her brow, her eyelids. Lena hums in contentment, tucking her head against the cradle of Kara's neck and shoulder, tracing a finger up and down her sternum.

She lifts a hand to tangle in Lena's hair, scratching lightly through the thick dark curls untamed by the previous night's enthusiastic activities. “Anything interesting happen while I was gone?”

“Mm, J’onn texted,” Lena tells her, slapping around for her phone on the bedside table behind her while stubbornly refusing to leave the cocoon of Kara's arms. It takes her three tries to find it. “A selfie of him and M'gann on Mars. Brainy's interplanetary phone plan upgrades sure are something.”

Kara cups her hand over Lena's to hold the phone steady, heart warming at the sight of the faces smiling widely on the screen. “They look happy.”

Lena hums, expression softening. “They deserve it.”

Kara pulls back a little, tilting until green eyes meet blue. “We all do.”

Lena watches her a moment, eyes betraying a depth of affection that knocks the air from Kara's lungs. Before she can think to catch her breath Lena's surging up, melding their mouths together. A soft tongue slips past her lips and Kara loses herself in the taste of Lena's mouth, licking past the clean edge of her teeth, sucking on the velvet heat of her tongue, swallowing her breathy gasps and quiet moans.

She doesn't think she'll ever get used to this. She doesn't think she ever wants to.

Eventually, interminably, they break apart. Chests heaving, lips spit-slicked and kiss-swollen, Kara presses her forehead to Lena's, holding her close as they breathe the same air.

“Oh, Kelly texted, too,” Lena breathes, nose nudging Kara's cheek as her thumb rubs gentle circles at the hinge of her jaw. “Said the peace of the honeymoon has well and truly worn off and Alex is already saying she needs a vacation from the life of a paramedic.”

Kara snorts and when Lena smiles in response, she feels it against her mouth. “They're planning to take Esme to Disneyland as soon as Alex completes her recertification course and Kelly's last two home placements have settled in fully.”

Kara lets out a heavy breath, her eyes fluttering closed. Against the backs of her eyelids she sees the control room in the Tower, the seven call buttons on the control panel, the seven pieces of who they are lined up neatly on the centre workbench. The Staff of H’ronnmeer, a blue eyemask, a Legion ring, a psychic wrist gauntlet, a gold shield. A spellbook, and, folded neatly beside it, a spare red cape.

These objects are a part of them, stored safely at the Tower, ready and waiting should the call come, should the need for them arise again. But they're not all of who they are.

She thinks of Kelly and her social work, Alex deciding to go back to medicine as a tangible way to make a difference in the city, Nia and Brainy at the youth centre, Lena at her foundation. Thinks of her new office at Catco, the plaque on her desk that reads Editor-in-Chief. Thinks of the lessons they've all managed at long last to learn; that what they can do is not who they are. That helping people can be achieved in a million different ways. That maybe, just maybe, heroes deserve their own happy endings, too.

The knowledge has a heady sense of peace spreading deep in her chest, seeping into every cell of her body like honey, like sunlight; sweet and warm and nourishing.

“Oh,” Lena breathes against her lips, pulling her from her musings. “Esme sent us a video, too.”

Kara grins, sitting up and tugging Lena into her lap, back pressed to her chest and hips situated snugly between her thighs. “Show me, show me, show me!”

She wraps her arms around Lena's waist from behind, stroking over her bare stomach and settling her chin on her shoulder as Lena taps at her phone, holding it up for them both to see.

Onscreen, Esme's pouting face unpauses. From behind the camera comes Kelly's voice, full of barely restrained laughter. "Tell Aunt Lena what's wrong, pumpkin.”

“Aunt Lena, why you never tell me you're a fairy?”

Esme's bottom lip sticks out as the six-year-old plants her hands squarely on her hips, an adorable approximation of Supergirl's signature power pose.

“I know you got magic and, and, an’ I know you're my godmother now, but you never told me that makes you a fairy godmother!” Esme frowns indignantly, tiny brow crinkling. “Where my princess dress, Aunt Lena? Where's my carriage?”

Over the sound of Kelly's muffled giggling comes Alex's amused voice from the couch in the background. “I knew we never should have let her watch Cinderella.”

Kara chuckles, nosing against Lena's cheek just to feel her smile against her skin.

Onscreen, Esme squares her jaw with determination. “M’gonna find some mouses for when you get home,” she tells the camera sombrely. “So you can magic spell them into people. Hey, Mama!” Her gaze flicks above the camera to where Kelly must be holding it, her tiny face lighting up. “We saw one outside yesterday! I'm gonna go get it!”

And then the camera shakes as Esme pelts offscreen in the direction of her front door, the floor and Kelly's pounding feet coming into view as she yells, “Baby, no, that was a rat—”

The recording cuts to black and they both snort as Lena swipes to the next video Kelly had sent her. In this one, Esme is seated firmly on Alex's lap, restrained from any further escape attempts by her mother's arms wrapped securely around her.

“Is there anything else you want to say to Aunt Kara and Aunt Lena, baby?” Kelly asks, slightly out of breath as she holds the camera on her daughter once more. “They won't be home for another two weeks.”

“Have lots of fun in Island,” Esme beams, brow furrowing when Alex leans down to whisper something in her ear. “Ireland,” she corrects with a little huff before refocusing on the camera. “I miss you lots and lots and I love you lots and lots more. Please come home soon and also bring me a lepry-corn. Love from Esme.”

The video ends on their niece's beaming face and Kara grins, heart filling with warmth.

“Well, what do you think?” she hums, nuzzling against Lena's hair. “Where are we gonna find her a lepry-corn?”

Lena chuckles, lacing their fingers together over her stomach. “Luthors have connections everywhere, darling,” she says primly, raising their joined hands to press her lips to Kara's knuckles. “Even in the seedy underworld of lepry-corn acquisition.”

Kara laughs, loud and carefree. “I don't doubt it for a moment.”

The room falls quiet as they sip at their coffees, the only sound the quiet drone of the interview still playing in the background.

“Maintaining two identities, living two distinct lives for so long must have come with its own set of challenges,” Cat says onscreen, tapping her fingertips against the arm of her chair. “Was it difficult, through all of that, to hold onto who you are?”

“At times,” Kara's onscreen counterpart acknowledges with a humble dip of her chin. “But I'm lucky. I have people, I've always had people around me who didn't see a Danvers or a Kryptonian when they looked at me. They just saw me, just Kara, and that was enough for them. It's because of them that I was always able to come back to myself. It's because of them that I am who I am.”

Lena's head tips back against Kara's shoulder and she takes the opportunity to nudge a kiss against her temple, lingering there a long moment just to breathe her in. “What's on the agenda for today, then?” she asks softly, watching the rising sun play across the alabaster canvass of Lena's skin. “Where are you taking me?”

Lena's body stiffens slightly against her and Kara tightens her embrace without conscious thought, squeezing comfort and reassurance into every inch of her that she can reach.

“I was thinking, um, I'd really like to—”

Lena sounds uncharacteristically nervous all of a sudden and Kara tilts their bodies so Lena's sideways across her lap, shoulder tucked beneath Kara's arm and forehead pressed to Kara's cheek. Seemingly buoyed by the increased contact, Lena takes a deep breath.

“I'd like to take you to my mother's village,” she breathes, quiet and a little unsure. “I found it when I was here in the spring searching for her and I— I'd like to show you. I'd like to show you the cottage where I was born. If, you know. If you'd like that.”

“Lena.” She skims a palm up Lena's bare side, over her shoulder and neck until she’s cupping her cheek, their gazes meeting. “I'd be honoured.”

Lena's face softens into a smile, cheek nudging into the contact of Kara's palm as she cuddles closer.

Kara strokes her hand over Lena's hair, down her back to wrap tight around her waist. “I love you, you know?”

Lena smiles, turning her head to press a sure kiss to the centre of Kara's palm. “I love you, too. More than all the Totems and gauntlets and dimensions in existence.”

Kara grins. “More than all the planets in the sky.”

Lena nods, eyes glistening the palest gold in the dawn rays streaming in through the eastward windows as she leans up, pressing her lips to Kara's in a kiss that tastes of sunlight and possibility and the promise of new beginnings.

Beyond the bed, unnoticed by either of them, the interview still playing on the TV draws to a close.

“This planet has known you by many different names,” Cat's pre-recorded voice says in the middle of Catco's press floor, half a world away. “But the woman we're meeting now is one and a whole, more even than the sum of each part she's shown us so far. No longer Supergirl, no longer Kara Danvers; neither and both of them at once.” Her expression softens, body angling forward in her seat. “On behalf of all of National City, I feel I have to say it: it's a pleasure to finally meet you.”

In front of the cameras, Kara grins. “Cat, I've known you for many years. Almost as many as I've called this city my home. And it is the greatest honour of my life to meet you now, as my whole self.”

Onscreen, Cat reaches out a hand and onscreen, Kara shakes it. Her face breaks into a smile, blue eyes shining with an infinite sort of happiness, a deep-rooted peace hard fought and hard won.

A single deep breath, the briefest of pauses, the grateful inhale before the story continues.

“Let me introduce myself properly,” she says, smile so wide it could split the sky. “My name is Kara Zor-El.”